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Chapter 69 : Year 7: Horizons
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It was springtime, and Shell Cottage was looking its best; the sea below, which had been dark and cold and noisy over winter, was calmer now, glittering under the sun, and the sand was bright and finally free of the grayish melting ice and snow that had stained it for months. Sea lavender in pink and purple added splashes of colour to the little garden surrounding the house, and to the tall grass that lay bent over, always caving under the salty winds blowing in over land.
When Ginny and her brothers had come to Shell Cottage as children to visit their aunt, they had found the solitude of the lone house on the edge of a cliff a little spooky; Charlie had come up with horrible stories of a crazy lady who had used to live there, and who had practiced pushing little children off the cliff as a hobby, and little ghost children who were now haunting the place, rising up from the sea at night to seek revenge.
As Ginny looked down on the sea now, after appearing out of thin air in front of what was now her brother’s home instead of her aunt’s, she was not scared of any ghosts hiding under the glittering surface. It had become one of her absolute favourite places in the world, with no roads in sight, which meant that the children could play outside all they wanted, no chance of Muggles spotting anyone taking Bill’s old broomstick for a fly, and, it seemed, nothing at all to worry about. It was like a little world of its own where nothing bad could ever happen.
Ginny smiled as a pop behind her announced that Harry and James were there too; she turned around to face them and stretched her arms out towards James whose eyes were full of tears as he clung to Harry’s shirt, always a little unsettled after Apparating. He reached for his mother now, and she hugged him tightly and said,
“It’s all right, darling, it’s over now…”
Harry stuck his wand into the back pocket of his trousers and leaned forward to kiss James’ forehead. “Hey, look where we are, buddy,” he said. “We’re going to see Vicky, Dom and Louis, and Uncle Bill and Aunt Fleur! Isn’t that exciting?”
James’ lower lip was still trembling as he nodded unsurely, his brown eyes moving from his father’s face on towards his cousins’ house behind him. Harry and Ginny exchanged a quick look, smiled, and started walking towards the house.
As soon as Fleur opened the door to them, it became very clear that the peace and quiet that surrounded Shell Cottage had not quite made it all the way inside. Fleur looked a little surprised to see them, and a little distressed in general; her hair, which was perfect almost without exception, looked a tiny bit messy, and her pale cheeks were slightly pink, as if she had just been running. From behind her came the noise of one baby screaming his lungs out, two little girls shouting at each other, and their father trying to yell loudly enough for all three of them to hear him. Fleur cast a glance over her shoulder and looked back at her guests, smiling apologetically.
“’Ello,” she said. “I am sorry, we were not expecting you. Ze kids are being a leettle… difficult.”
Difficult was not an understatement, Ginny thought as they walked into the little living room, where Dominique was trying to pull a rag doll out of Victoire’s hands while screaming in pain, because Victoire was using one hand to hold the doll and the other to pull hard at her sister’s strawberry blond hair. Tears were streaming down both their cheeks, and Fleur rushed past Ginny to try and break them apart. Behind the girls, Bill was pacing back and forth, holding little Louis to his chest and hushing him without much success; Louis, like his sisters, were screaming as if his life depended on it.
“You two stop zis fighting tout de suite!” Fleur scolded her daughters. “Victoire, I said stop! Look ‘o ‘as come to see you.”
Both Victoire and Dominique froze and turned towards the doorway, where their aunt, uncle and cousin had stopped, James looking a little frightened and his parents half-concerned, half-amused. Ginny smiled, and Victoire suddenly looked much happier than before.
“But Maman,” said Dominique, “I was playing with the doll first!”
“If you can’t learn to share, no one gets the doll!” said Bill irritably. “Hi,” he shouted to the three guests. “Sorry, things are a bit – actually, no, a lot – crazy here today. I think Louis has a tummy ache and these two monsters aren’t exactly making it better.”
Just then, as if by magic, Louis became quiet in his father’s arms, and as everyone turned towards him, Victoire seized the opportunity to place two hands on her little sister’s chest and push her over.
“Victoire!” Fleur scolded her, and Louis started crying again.
While she walked over to free Bill of the crying baby, Harry picked up Dominique and carried her over to the couch to comfort her, and Bill snatched the doll from Victoire’s hands and placed it on top of one of the high bookshelves behind her.
“You’ll get it back when you two learn to get along,” he said sternly, and then, turning to his sister, he reached forwards to ruffle James’ already unruly hair. “Sorry about all of this, buddy,” he said. “Don’t let your crazy cousins scare you off – having siblings can be nice too. You’ll probably see for yourself one day.”
“Yes,” said Harry, his voice slightly muffled as Dominique was in the middle of climbing up his back to place herself on his shoulders. “He’ll see in September, I guess.”
Ginny broke into a smile, and Bill’s head flipped towards her, his hands falling to his sides. “What? Are you serious?”
Even Fleur, who had taken Louis into the kitchen but not yet managed to stop his crying, seemed to have heard, as she appeared in the doorway almost instantly, suddenly not looking half as stressed as she had before.
“You’re really pregnant, Ginny? Ah, zat is just wonderful, isn’t it?”
Ginny bent forwards to put James down before stepping towards Bill to wrap an arm around him. “Listen,” she said, “I know you freaked out a little bit the last time I told you I was pregnant. And I freaked out too when I found out so I really couldn’t blame you. But this time I was nothing but happy… And I was hoping you would be too.”
Bill responded by pulling her closer and kissing the top of her head. “Of course I am, Gin. I couldn’t be happier for you.”
She beamed at him, and Bill chuckled. “What’s so funny, Daddy?” asked Victoire, who seemed to have forgotten that she was angry at him for taking her doll away.
“Well,” Bill replied, forgetting too to be angry at his daughter and bending down to pick her up and kiss her, “I’m just happy because Aunt Ginny and Uncle Harry are going to have another baby! James is going to get a baby brother or sister.”
Dominique, who was now lying across Harry’s back, both of her arms wrapped around his neck to keep from falling, sighed and cast James a sympathetic look.
“Poor James,” she said. “Baby brothers cry all the time. They’re no fun at all.”
Both Harry and Ginny burst out laughing, and Bill was grinning too as he carried Victoire over the couch to sit down as well. “You say that now, Dom, but you’re the one who can’t let me or Mummy put Louis to bed if you haven’t kissed him goodnight first.”
“I don’t think I’ll do that anymore,” said Dominique seriously, looking tiredly at her little brother, who was still crying in Fleur’s arms. “Maybe tomorrow,” she added. “I’ll see how I feel then.”
“Sounds good,” Bill smiled. “By the way, shouldn’t you be asking your Uncle Harry if he likes having you climb all over him? You might be hurting him, you know.”
“He doesn’t mind! Do you mind, Uncle Harry?”
Harry chuckled and reached up to grab Dominique and place her on his knee instead. “No, I don’t mind. Just like you don’t mind if I tickle you for a bit, do you?”
The Potters’ presence seemed to make both Victoire and Dominique much happier than before, and they remained that way until Ginny announced they had to leave again, for James had some exciting news to tell his godparents before his nap time. (“What news?” said Dominique excitedly, making Victoire sigh and say: “That they’re having a baby, silly!” “Hey! You’re silly, not me!” Harry and Ginny hurried off before the fight was back at full swing.)
Ron and Hermione were surprised to see them, but relatively happy (only relatively, because it had been a long time since either Harry or Ginny had seen them completely happy and at ease). Hermione headed into the kitchen to pour them all a glass of cloudy lemonade before they all went to sit in the backyard. All of them except James, that was, for he was practically running by the time and never sat still for more than a minute or so unless he was eating – and even then, it was a struggle.
Before Ginny could bring up what they had come to talk about, Harry reached over and grabbed Hermione’s hand, a deep wrinkle forming on his forehead and momentarily transforming the shape of his scar.
“How are you?” he said, and Hermione smiled.
“I’m fine, Harry.”
“So you’ve been saying,” he replied, “and yet there’s a part of me that doesn’t believe it.”
Hermione kept smiling. “Look, I just don’t want to talk about it.”
Harry nodded slowly, his eyes turning to James, who was running around the table, giggling, completely unaware of the tense mood.
“Just know that you can, though,” Ginny said. “Whatever it is, you can talk to us. If you should ever want to.”
Hermione nodded, grabbed her glass and took a deep sip of her drink, as if to clarify that she definitely did not want to talk now. Ginny smiled as James caught her eyes and she straightened up in her chair, knowing that she knew just how to make her brother and sister-in-law happier in an instant.
“Well, we do have some news that might cheer you up,” she said. “Don’t freak out now, Ron, but your best friend has officially got me pregnant twice.”
Ron didn’t move. Didn’t blink.
Hermione said, “What?” in a weak voice before following her husband’s example and mimicking someone who has been petrified.
“We’re having another baby in September,” Harry said, grinning and waiting for them both to start doing the same.
He didn’t see the knives, of course, the knives that had been shoved into Ron and Hermione’s stomachs and were twisting around, slicing their insides to pieces, because this was worse than the feeling of holding James and wondering what could have been, worse than the way Louis’ head smelled like only babies could smell and made them both want to cry, worse than Freddie finally learning to say Hermione’s name.
“Okay, what’s going on?” said Ginny after what felt like hours of silence, and that was when Hermione stood up and rushed inside, worried that she would die right on the spot if she stayed another second.
Harry looked as confused as Ginny felt. “I don’t understand,” he said, and Ron shook his head and covered his face in his hands.
“We were going to have a baby too,” he said. “But we lost it.”
He did not stay to explain anything else, but followed his wife into the house without another word. Moments later, they were all in the living room; Hermione was lying on the couch, Ron was on his knees next to her, and as the Potters entered, James walked straight to them, put his little hand on Ron’s cheek and said, “Won.”
And Hermione burst out crying, but she rolled over, picked James up and kissed him, and as if he understood that she needed comfort, James simply laid his head against her chest and let her hold him, hold him like she would never hold the baby she had lost.
Harry and Ginny came to sit down on the floor next to Ron, Ginny placing one hand on Ron’s shoulder and leaning her head against his while Harry grabbed Hermione’s hand.
“When did it happen?” Ginny asked.
“October,” said Ron. “The night before Louis was born.”
“I’m so sorry,” Harry mumbled. “We didn’t know, or we wouldn’t have come here and blurted that out, Hermione, I feel awful…”
Hermione, who had buried her face into James’ neck, looked up, still crying as she shook her head slowly. “I just couldn’t talk about it,” she said. “I thought I would die if I tried. It doesn’t mean we’re not happy for you, you know. You deserve all the happiness you’ve got. I couldn’t resent you for it.”
“Well,” Harry said, “you deserve to be happy too. You two are the best people I know. You’re my best friends. I can’t believe I didn’t realise what was going on all this time.”
“You did, mate,” said Ron with a shrug. “You asked us more times than anyone what was wrong. We just refused to tell you.”
None of them knew how long they stayed seated like that – Hermione and James on the couch and the other three on the floor – but they did know that James fell asleep on his godmother’s chest, and the subject went from the miscarriage to lighter ones, like the fact that Kingsley Shacklebolt had announced he would not run for office a second time, and so there would be an election at the end of the year, to Teddy’s birthday which was only a few days away, and at last, back to Ginny’s pregnancy.
“We don’t have to talk about it,” said Ginny quickly as soon as Hermione had uttered the mere word. “We understand if you don’t want to. Really.”
Hermione smiled sadly. “I actually feel a lot better now than I did this morning. I didn’t think talking about it would help… But just looking at James made me want to cry just after it happened. And now I’m sitting here hoping he won’t wake up, because I just want to stay like this.”
“So is this the real reason you left Quidditch?” Ron asked. “Because you were pregnant again?”
“No, we didn’t find out until a few weeks later,” explained Ginny. “But it worked out pretty well, didn’t it? And it will work out for you two as well, I know it will.”
“Thanks,” mumbled Hermione, changing her position on the couch very slowly not to wake James. “We’ll try again one day. I’m just not sure I’m ready to take the risk just yet.”
But she did feel different when she went to bed that night, and Ron felt just as different as he lay down next to her. It was one of those bright evenings that indicate that summer is not so very far away, and the whole bedroom had a rosy tint to it. For a moment, both Ron and Hermione lay still and quietly, and heard only the distant buzzing of a mosquito that must have snuck in through the half-open window.
They didn’t speak; there was no need. Having someone else know what they had been through somehow made that unbearable thing feel a little lighter, and they fell asleep quicker than usual, and slept better than they had in months.
They spent the following day at the Burrow. Mrs Weasley was very upset and spent nearly an hour explaining how she had bumped into a Muggle man down in the village that morning, and how he had told her about another resident of Ottery St. Catchpole who had been found dead in her own bed after being missing for weeks.
“It was her son who found her too – oh, that poor boy, Mr Walsh says he’s only twelve or thirteen!”
“So it seems someone abducted her?” Ron said. “But why would they put her back in her own bed afterwards? It would be impossible to pull that off without leaving a load of evidence behind.”
“That’s the funny thing!” exclaimed his mother. “Mr Walsh says the Muggles are baffled! She doesn’t appear to have been harmed at all!”
Ron, who was seated at the kitchen table, nearly spilled out his tea at hearing this. “Mum! Do you think someone killed her with magic?”
“I couldn’t think why,” replied Mrs Weasley as she set the teapot down on the kitchen counter before coming over to sit next to him. “The only magical folk who live around here are we, the Lovegoods – and we know they wouldn’t harm anyone – and the Diggorys. We may not see much of Amos and Isobel these days, but they are good people. And so were the Fawcetts, but they moved away three years ago.”
Ron thought his mother had a point. Ottery St. Catchpole had nothing to do with magic, really, and neither did the Muggles who lived there. Besides, who was to say that Mr Walsh had all the facts about what had happened? Yes, the more Ron thought about it, the surer he became that there was a perfectly good explanation that Mr Walsh and his mother just had not heard yet. Even so, he could not help but glance down the road that led to the village as he followed Hermione outside to Apparate home a few hours later. A formation of trees was blocking the village from his sight, but even if he had walked right past the poor woman’s house, nothing would have seemed out of the ordinary. The police had already searched the house twice, and the boy had been moved into a foster home the weekend before. It was just a regular house that could not have told Ron anything it had witnessed; nothing of the man with the long cloak who had come to seize her one night, nor of that same man bringing her back, carrying her limp body and tucking it into bed as though it were a child, even kissing her cheek as he whispered:
“I am so sorry. I really thought it was going to work.”
And he had disappeared into nothing, and the floors and the walls had no way of telling anyone.
tout de suite = right now
Maman = Mum
A/N: Thank you all for reading, again. I can't say it enough times that it actually measures up to how thankful I am. And for all your reviews, of course. I treasure each and every one of them and can't believe you are willing to take the time to write them. Thank you! Xxxx
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