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Chapter 44 : Year 5: Comfort
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Biting, bitter winds swept through Ottery St. Catchpole, and straight through Ron’s woollen sweater, as he appeared out of thin air a short walk from his childhood home. It was strange to think that he no longer lived there, that all the Weasley children had left the nest and only their parents remained in the big, crooked house that Ron had once been ashamed of, but which undoubtedly held a very special place in his heart. Of course, Ron and his siblings were there so often that he was sure his mother barely knew the difference between having her children live at home and not, and should she ever think things were too quiet, she simply organised a family dinner, always with an impressive turnup from both her children, their partners, and friends.
The Burrow was quiet today though; as Ron walked up to the front door, he could spot his parents through the kitchen window. They were seated at the table, Mr Weasley with the newspaper on his lap and his wife knitting something in a sickly green colour (Ron hoped it wasn’t for him). It hit him that Christmas wasn’t all that far away, and that Mrs Weasley had a whole lot of sweaters to make before that.
But however many sweaters she had left to knit before December, Mrs Weasley was thrilled to be interrupted by an unexpected visit from her youngest son. As soon as Ron stepped through the front door, she jumped up from her chair and put on the tea kettle, started digging through the pantry for leftovers from her last baking day, and wailed over Ron’s tired-looking eyes.
“Are you sure you’re getting enough sleep?” she asked for the third time since he came as they sat down at the kitchen table again, all three of them with a steaming cup of tea in their hands. “And don’t let them wear you out too much at work either, sweetheart. That’s what they used to do to your father when he was still new, didn’t they, Arthur?”
“Being an Auror is a lot of work, Mum,” Ron said and paused to take a sip of his tea. “But that’s not what’s wearing me out.” He put his cup down and let his eyes sweep from his mother’s worried face to his father’s calm, patient one. “It’s Hermione. And Mrs Granger – Emily. It’s just – she’s really going to die. And I don’t know what to do about it.”
Mrs Weasley’s brown eyes glistened with tears as she put her hand over Ron’s, but it was Mr Weasley who spoke next.
“Son,” he said quietly. “There’s nothing you can do.”
“It’s so awful,” said Mrs Weasley and placed her other hand over her heart as tears started trickling down her cheeks. “I have always found comfort in the thought that the day your father and I die, Ron, our children won’t be alone. You will still have each other. But Hermione…”
“Hermione is not alone either,” said Mr Weasley sharply. “She’s got Ron, and all of us.”
“Of course she does,” Ron agreed. “But as much as I will grieve for Mrs Granger, I still won’t know what Hermione’s going through.”
“Not the way a sibling would,” mumbled Mrs Weasley, who was no longer looking at Ron, but out the window, into the distance. Ron couldn’t read her face, but Mr Weasley knew that look – it was the one she had whenever she thought of her brothers. He moved his feet under the table so that they pressed against hers, and she shot him a grateful look before turning both her mind and her eyes back to her son.
Ron met her eyes and tried to imagine losing her. He imagined a kitchen that would no longer smell of her amazing cooking; himself and his family members wearing their normal clothes on Christmas morning, because there were no new sweaters under the tree; no one to sigh over Bill’s long hair and thick beard, no one to worry over Harry being skinny and Ron being tired, no one to shake her head at Ginny’s refusal to eat more than one slice of cake in an attempt to keep in shape…
Ron blinked, suddenly realizing that he and his mum were still staring at each other. And that his eyes were now full of tears as well.
He cleared his throat. “I’m glad you’re okay, Mum.” He turned his head towards Mr Weasley and added: “Both of you.”
Both father and son jumped into the air as Mrs Weasley let out a loud sob and flung herself forwards to wrap her arms around Ron. Instead of wiggling out of her embrace, like he had done so often as a child, he sat still and hugged her back until she pulled away.
“I love you,” she said then, her voice soft as cotton as she sat back down on her chair. “I’m sorry we can’t make this go away for you, and for Hermione.”
“You know,” said Mr Weasley while adjusting his glasses, “your mum and I were both much older when we lost our parents. Just tell Hermione… tell her to spend all the time she can with her mother. And to say all the things she wants to say while she still can. And let her know she’s not alone – that she’s got you, and all of us.”
“And tonight,” continued Mrs Weasley, “maybe take her out. Meet some people. Let her mind get some rest from all of it.”
A couple of hours later, back at the flat in London, Ron welcomed Hermione home from visiting her parents with dinner ready at the table. Mrs Weasley had prepared a pie at the Burrow and sent it home with him, and he had only had to put it in the oven and get it out before it got burnt. He had done so successfully, and as they enjoyed their food, he suggested they’d go out for a couple of drinks afterwards to meet up with some friends. He wasn’t sure if he had expected Hermione to refuse, but he was somewhat surprised when she gladly accepted the proposal, and headed into the bathroom straight after dinner to redo her hair and apply some new makeup.
Ron had sent out messages to their friends while Hermione had got ready, and just half an hour later, they were walking out of a hidden alley in central London close to Diagon Alley, to which they had Apparated. They walked a couple of quarters, shivering in the night and the winds, which were even chillier now than they had been that afternoon. A few leaves crunched under their feet and they walked close together, arms around each other’s waists to try and keep warm.
The door to the Leaky Cauldron opened and closed, letting out a mixture of sounds as the bell above the door rang; cutlery against plates, the clinking of glasses, loud voices, and the strumming of some string instrument. Then, as the door shut, all of it stopped, and there as nothing but footsteps against asphalt and a car engine roaring a bit further down the street.
Ron reached out and held the door open while Hermione stepped inside, and both their ears were once again filled with the sounds from inside. The first thing Ron saw was the banjo player in the corner, who, judged by his crooked position on his chair, had had something to drink a bit stronger than butterbeer before he started playing. His voice was dark and husky as he wiggled slowly from side to side and sang:
“And she broke my wand, along with my heart… My spells they stopped working, my cauldron fell apart...”
Hermione let her eyes sweep through the inn in search of their friends, past the fireplace, which kept turning from red to green as people stepped out of it, bringing with them a cloud of ash each time, which landed like a dark layer on the brick wall behind them. Hermione’s eyes swept past a couple in the corner who seemed to be having an intense conversation, all in whispers, and a man who was struggling to get his little son to focus on eating rather than the drunken banjo player who now looked like he was inches away from falling off his chair.
“Ah, Miss Granger,” said a voice into her ear, making her jump to the side only to realize that Tom, the old landlord, was standing right next to her. He was squinting up at her, the lines on his face deeper than ever as he reached out a shaky hand to place on top of hers. “Always a pleasure,” he said with a nearly toothless smile before turning to Ron. “You too, Mr Weasley. Let me show you your table – Mr and Mrs Potter asked to sit in the back… Just follow me…”
A short moment later, Ron and Hermione found themselves surrounded by their old friends from Hogwarts. Harry and Ginny were there, of course, sitting at the table next to George and Angelina. Terry Boot was standing next to them, significantly bigger than the lanky teenage boy Hermione remembered him as. A very pretty girl, who had taken Muggle Studies with Hermione in third year, was clinging to his arm. Seamus Finnigan was there, along with Dean Thomas and Neville Longbottom. Parvati Patil, still with her coat and scarf on, was standing next to the table, and she turned around with a sympathetic smile as Ron and Hermione approached the company.
“Hermione,” she said dramatically. “I’m so sorry about your mum…”
“Thank you,” said Hermione as she allowed her old dorm mate to hug her tightly. “It’s lovely to see you again, Parvati. It’s been so long.”
“We’re all sorry,” said Seamus, and agreeing hums followed from every direction.
“Thank you,” said Hermione again. “Could we... could we just not talk about that tonight, though? I really just want to hear how everyone else is doing. I haven’t seen most of you in ages.”
“I know,” sighed George a bit accusingly, placing his hand over his heart. “It’s been five whole days, Hermione.”
Hermione couldn’t help but smile. “Yes, let’s not allow it to get that far again, George.”
She sat down next to Neville at the table, and Ron, Terry, and his girlfriend all followed her example.
“So how is Hogwarts, Neville?” asked Ron. “Did you get the night off?”
“Yes, Professor McGonagall let me skip the night patrol,” said Neville. “Honestly, it doesn’t serve much of a purpose now that you lot aren’t there anyway.” He grinned before continuing: “I did catch two fifth year boys out of bed the other week though, up in the Gryffindor Tower… They had put a sticky charm on the soles of their shoes and managed to walk all the way up the stairs to the girls’ dormatories before I caught them. Even McGonagall couldn’t help but smile when I told her. Slughorn immediately invited them to his next dinner party. I still had to give them detention, though…”
Everyone laughed, and Harry placed an arm around Ginny’s shoulders and said:
“A sticky charm… why didn’t I ever think of that?”
“Because Ron would have killed you?” suggested Parvati, and Ron grinned.
“Probably.” He looked over at Harry as his grin grew wider, and then he turned back to Parvati. “Aren’t you going to sit down, by the way?”
“I was actually on my way home,” she replied, pulling her scarf tighter around her neck. “I just ran into Seamus outside and came in to say hello. But hey, Neville… you should talk to McGonagall about organising a reunion for old students. It would be nice to catch up with everyone, see what they’re up to now.”
“That’s a great idea,” said Hermione. “I’m glad you stopped by, Parvati. Take care.”
Just as Parvati’s head, which was covered in thick, black hair under a knitted hat, disappeared in the crowd just inside the door to the inn, a voice interrupted Terry Boot, who was just starting a new topic of conversation:
“Hello and welcome to the Leaky Cauldron. What can I get you this eveni… Harry? Neville?”
Everyone at the table had lifted their heads by this time, and were now staring in surprise at their waitress. She was a young woman of medium height with blonde hair pulled back into a tight ponytail, a very familiar, kind face and currently widened eyes as she stared at her old schoolmates. She had been a Hufflepuff at Hogwarts and spent hours and hours in the greenhouse with the Gryffindors, with whom she had had Herbology.
“Hi Hannah,” said George, who was one of the few in their company who didn’t seem surprised to see her – the other three were Angelina and Terry and his girlfriend. “How’s it going?”
Hannah Abbot smiled at him. “Good, thanks. Busy. How are all of you? I haven’t seen most of you in ages!”
“I didn’t even know you worked here!” said Hermione as she stood up to give her old friend a hug.
“Yeah, I’ve been here for about a year now,” Hannah smiled. “I suppose you’re not here very often.”
“It’s quite hard to… to get any privacy here,” said Ron and shrugged. “I guess it’s easier to just eat at home.”
“So what do you all do now?” Hannah asked. “Well, I know about your shop, of course,” she said, flashing George and Angelina a quick smile. “And that you play Quidditch, Ginny, and that the two of you,” her eyes paused on first Harry’s, and then Ron’s, face, “are Aurors. But what about the rest of you?”
“I’m an Auror too,” explained Seamus.
“And I just started at the Magical Law Department at the Ministry,” said Hermione. “We’re working on re-writing the ancient Wizarding laws, which were created to benefit purebloods… It’s very interesting and educational – I don’t think Professor Binns himself gets to see as much history of magic as I do on a daily basis.”
Ron caught Harry’s eyes over the table and rolled his own, and Harry tried to hold back his laughter.
“Speaking of professors,” said Neville. “That’s what I am now – I teach Herbology.”
“That’s right!” said Hannah triumphantly. “Hagrid told me a while back. He comes in quite often during the summers. I remember you being the best in our year. Maybe alongside you, Hermione.”
“Do you? Really?”
Hannah laughed at Neville’s surprised expression. “Of course I do. I used to sneakpeak at you whenever I didn’t understand Professor Sprout’s instructions. You always seemed to get it right.” She paused, and then, seeing the piece of parchment in her hand and the quill floating impatiently in the air next to it, she seemed to remember that she was working, and she hurriedly continued: “I should probably take your orders. Tom has complained to me three times tonight about how crowded it is… More tip for me though. Unless I leave them waiting all night, of course.”
Once the quill had scribbled down their orders, she span around and scurried off to another table, the quill soaring after her like a feathery tail. Neville followed her with his eyes until she disappeared behind the bar counter, after which he turned to the person next to him – Seamus – with rosy cheeks and said:
“So… still going strong with Martha, are you?”
Seamus made a grimace and shook his head. “No, it didn’t work out. We broke up a couple of months ago. What about you? Got your eyes on anyone new…?”
His question continued everyone’s minds: “Got your eyes on anyone new… since Luna left?” Neville suddenly became very interested in the napkin that was folded on the table in front of him, and Ron said:
“Has anyone heard from Lun- ouch!” He shut his mouth and placed his hand over the side of his stomach, into which Ginny had just shoved her elbow.
Hannah returned to their table with their drinks, which after a light wave of her wand soared off her tray and landed on the middle of the table. Hermione took a sip of her butterbeer and smiled at the waitress.
“I wish you could sit down and join us,” she said, and Hannah tilted her head to the side with a faint smile on her lips.
“Me too,” she said. “I don’t want to force Tom to keep up with all these guests on his own, though. Maybe a bit later, if things have calmed down by then.”
But Tom, who despite his old age had very fine ears, had heard their conversation and immediately insisted that Hannah take the night off. When she tried to protest, he lifted his wand and summoned her apron, which untied itself from her waist and soared over to his outstretched hand. With a shrug, Hannah shot him a grateful smile, pulled out the chair next to Neville’s, and sat down to talk to her old friends.
It was as if Hermione had left reality outside when she had stepped into the Leaky Cauldron. For a couple of hours, she was back at Hogwarts with her friends, with nothing bigger to worry about than exams and essays. She listened as Harry and Seamus discussed the latest happenings with the new Death Eater trials, laughed at the way George, Ginny and Angelina made bets on the upcoming Quidditch season, and reminisced the Hogwarts years, and especially Herbology class, along with Neville and Hannah. Every now and then, she would drift off from the conversation and just look around her; she’d notice the looks George and Angelina gave each other sometimes, as if they were thinking the same thought and only needed to smile each other to confirm it; she saw the way Neville couldn’t quite take his eyes off of Hannah when she spoke, and how Harry couldn’t help but reach out his hand and touch his wife’s cheek every other minute.
But later that night, once everyone had said their goodbyes and Hermione walked back out the door with Ron by her side, leaving only Neville and Hannah at the corner table, as it always did, reality came back.
There was a sense of guilt over having chatted and laughed all night while her mother was at home dying. As they started walking back to their Apparation spot, Hermione wondered how many more time she’d get to walk with her mother under the stars. It was cold, almost winter, which made her think about Christmas and all the years they would have to celebrate it without her. Shivering, she moved closer to Ron and grabbed his arm, making him turn his head down sideways to face her.
“What are you thinking about?” he asked, a line of worry forming on his forehead.
“I just…” Hermione bit her lip. “I just keep thinking about all the thing she won’t be there for. She won’t see me grow old. She won’t be there for my wedding… for when I have children. I’ll never sit her down to tell her she’s going to have a grandchild.”
As Ron met her eyes, which were flooded with tears, his expression slowly turned from sympathetic to triumphant, as if the greatest idea of history had suddenly popped into his mind. Without hesitating, he stopped walking, leaned forwards and put his hands on her shoulders, making her look up at him and blink as tears streamed down her rosy cheeks.
“Marry me,” he said.
Hermione stopped blinking. “What?”
Ron was smiling as he repeated the words: “Marry me.”
“No!” said Hermione, her eyebrows furrowing as she took a step back, and the smile quickly faded from Ron’s face.
“What do you mean no? You don’t want to marry me?”
“I mean that you can’t ask me to marry me just to make me feel better,” said Hermione accusingly. “A proposal isn’t going to fix anything.”
“I’m not saying it will. I’m saying that I love you and that I want to be with you for the rest of my life.”
“Why else would you ask me now? Just so she can be there for the wedding?”
Ron sighed as he grabbed Hermione’s hands and pulled her closer, shivering as the sky opened its gates and let the rain pour down without warning. “Hermione, if your mother lived another thousand years, I’d still want to marry you. Now.”
“I’m too tired tonight,” said Hermione half-jokingly, still trying to process what he was saying.
“I didn’t mean this very second,” said Ron and rolled his eyes. “Just that… I really want her to be there too. Of course I do. But that’s not why we should do it. We should do it because I love you more than anything, and I want you to be my wife for as long as we live. And,” he added with a twinkle in his eyes, picked up by the nearest street light, “I’ve never been a fan of those big celebrations my siblings have done. If we get married now, soon, we can keep it small. Just you, me, and our families. What do you say?”
“What I say? I guess…” Hermione hesitated. “I guess I say yes. If you swear to me you’re being serious.”
The next second, she was in his arms. He held her so tightly that her feet almost lifted off the ground, and he kissed every part of her face; her chin, her nose, her cheeks, and then finally her mouth. It was nothing like the grand, well-planned gesture she had dreamed of, not big and extravagant like she may have allowed herself to imagine – but it was the perfect proposal.
Ron was grinning from ear to ear when they let go of each other. “You guess you say yes,” he repeated. “I was hoping for a little more enthusiasm, but what the hell… I’ll take it.”
A/N: Thank you to all of the amazing people who read this. I don't where the story would be without you guys. Thanks for still making me long to write more, even when life is too hectic and busy. I'm very anxious for all of your reactions to Ron's spontanious proposal, so if you've got a minute to spare to let me know what you thought, please do so. Thank you again!!!
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