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Chapter 71 : Year 8: Expecting
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Harry’s eyelids were getting heavy again, and his consciousness was ebbing away; he could have fallen asleep over his desk just then, had it not been for a sharp knock on the door to his office, which startled him and nearly made him fall off his chair. It certainly woke him up. He pushed his glasses up his nose as he called for his visitor to come in, and the door opened to reveal Seamus Finnegan.
“Wow, you’re looking a bit drained there, Harry,” was his first comment, and Harry shrugged. “Someone’s here to see you.”
“Oh yeah?” Harry rubbed his eyes and straightened himself up again. “Who is it? I wasn’t expecting anyone.”
“It’s Hamish Burke,” said Seamus, “that bloke who’s running for Minister. He says he’s been dying to meet you, but I could tell him it’s not a good time…”
“No, it’s fine,” Harry protested. “I wouldn’t mind meeting him myself. Besides, I can’t put two thoughts together, so I’ll have to wait and go through these notes in the morning. Is he out there, did you say?”
He followed Seamus out to find Hamish Burke himself standing in the corridor. He was shorter than Harry had imagined, and a little older than the Daily Prophet photographs had indicated. His hair was powder-white but thick, he had a very thin moustache, and big, watery eyes. As soon as he spotted Harry, he reached out a slightly shaky hand and smiled, his eyes looking even more watery as they filled with tears.
“Mr Potter, sir,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to meet you for years now.”
“Oh, there’s no need to call me sir, Mr Burke,” said Harry as they shook hands. “Just Harry is fine. How are you doing?”
“Oh, very well, thank you,” answered the older man. “And if I should call you Harry, then I expect you to call me Hamish. How are you? Are you very busy? I don’t want to interrupt you if you haven’t got time.”
“I welcome an interruption today,” said Harry. “Shall we go sit in my office? I could make us some tea, if you’d like.”
Hamish Burke followed Harry into his small and rather messy workplace. Harry looked around and smiled apologetically as he cleared the desk with a flick of his wand to make room for two teacups and a plate of almond biscuits. Ignoring the fact that the piece of parchment he had been reading through now got lost in a pile of others, he then sat down, popped a sugar cube into his cup and smiled at Hamish.
“So,” he said, “I’ve read all about you, of course.”
“I’m not surprised,” replied Hamish. “The Prophet are dissecting and examining every little piece of my life. Rightly so, of course. People need to know what they will get if they vote for me.”
“And what is it they will get, Mr Burke? I mean, Hamish,” Harry corrected himself.
“Equality,” said Hamish simply. “It’s a corner stone of a great society and it has been missing from ours for too long. I admire Minister Shacklebolt’s reforms, but I still believe we have a long way to go. I grew up in a world of pureblood supremacy, Harry. I know you’ve seen the damage it has done, and believe me, so have I. And it’s not just purebloods who have been enjoying privileges, but the rich too. My mother couldn’t pay for my textbooks when I went to Hogwarts, and we had to buy a used wand from a lady who lived down the street from us. It slowed me down quite a bit, and I swore then that I would do better by my children. Now I—forgive me my megalomania, Harry—but I want to do better by all children, not just my own.”
He smiled, and Harry did too. “Well, that does sound good,” he admitted. “Much better than that article I read last week about Eunice Millais promising to bring the Dementors back to Azkaban if she gets elected.”
“Yes, I read that too,” said Hamish. “Sadly, I think it will appeal to a lot of people. Many of the old pureblood families have already expressed their support for her. Including my own.”
The two men continued chatting while they finished their tea, and when Hamish got up to leave, he shook Harry’s hand as tears formed once again in the corners of his bright, grey eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he said quickly, clearing his throat. “I won’t be taking up more of your time, Harry, thank you for seeing me. And thank you for the tea. I hope you will consider supporting my cause in the autumn. You’re an influential man, you know. I have every faith you will use it well.”
Hamish Burke reached into his pocket to pull out a purple, pointy hat which he placed atop his wavy, white hair and smiled at Harry once more before taking off. Harry stayed seated in his chair for a few moments, feeling the fatigue from before wash over him once again. He glanced at his watch and sighed. Just a couple more hours, and then he would get to go pick up James…
The entire Potter family were asleep by half eight that night. James had a blocked nose and was snoring so loudly his parents, who were both back in their own bedroom, could hear it from there; it didn’t stop Ginny from drifting off in the middle of the same conversation she and Harry had every night lately—what to name their new baby. Harry was just about suggest a new idea he had had that morning when he noticed Ginny’s eyes were closed. He smiled, moved a little closer and kissed one of her bare shoulders before wrapping his arms around her and closing his own eyes. Within minutes, he too was fast asleep.
It was the following morning that something unexpected happened, not at the Potters’ but at Ron and Hermione’s house. Hermione woke up a little later than usual, lying on her side as she rubbed her eyes before opening them. She glanced at the brass clock on her bedside table and rolled over to wake up Ron.
That was her first surprise of the morning; that Ron was up before her. The second one came when she made it into the kitchen to find him in the middle of making omelettes—whenever he made breakfast, it would tend be something that required minimum preparing, like toast with jam, or cereal. The third surprise came just as he looked up and smiled as he heard her come, and Hermione felt her stomach twist slightly as she breathed in through her nose.
She was quite sure she beat some kind of world record as she rushed to the guest bathroom and sank to her knees in front of the toilet. She could feel her eyes fill with water as she stood up a little bit later, stumbling over to the sink to wash out her mouth. She knew what it meant. She would take a test, of course, but she was already sure.
Ron, still holding a spatula with melted butter dripping from its tip was standing in the doorway when she straightened up. His eyebrows were raised and his mouth slightly open. Then, slowly, his lips grew into a smile.
“You’re not…? Do you think you could be…?”
Hermione shrugged, and he dropped the spatula which landed on the white rug and made Hermione want to puke again, and then he was holding her tightly, his chest rumbling with a mixture of laughter and tears as she pressed her head against it.
Ron’s smile died when he stepped back to look at Hermione. She was shaking as she wrapped her own arms around herself to replace his, as if to hold all of her broken pieces together, and she did not look happy at all. She looked terrified.
Ron reached out a hand to touch her. “Hermione, look,” he began, but she shook her head and stood up.
“No,” she said. “No. I thought I was ready for this but I’m not, Ron. I can’t do this…”
“You can,” Ron insisted, following her example and standing up.
“No, I can’t. I can’t go through that again.”
“We might not have to. It might work out this time. We’ll go see a Healer tomorrow, if you want, and you can take some time off work until we know everything is okay.”
“I can’t lose another baby, Ron. I can’t lose you.”
“Lose me? What are you on about?” Ron exclaimed. “You couldn’t lose me if you tried, Hermione.”
She sniffed and took a small step back to sit down on the edge of the bathtub. Her forehead was shiny with sweat and her hair was sticking to it, and she looked pale and shaky, and more scared than the morning before her mother had died, when the doctors had told them all it was only a matter of hours now. She looked more terrified than before the Battle of Hogwarts, worse than she had looked when Harry had told them that night that he was going to have to die.
“I know I wasn’t there for you,” Hermione said. “When we lost the baby, you were on your own. I really thought I was going to drown, but you wouldn’t let me. But I never helped you. I was too wrapped up in myself to be able to help you.”
Ron sank down to his knees in front of her and placed one hand on each of her knees. “Hey,” he said. “Don’t ever say that. None of us drowned, did we? And we won’t drown this time either. We will go and see a Healer – perhaps Cho Chang will be able to come over today just to take a look at you – and we will take it from there.”
Hermione leaned forwards, so that their foreheads were almost touching, and closed her eyes. “I’m already beginning to hope,” she whispered. “It’s dangerous to hope.”
“It’s also human,” replied Ron, grabbing her face to kiss her softly before he stood up. “I’m probably burning those omelettes,” he said. “How does toast with jam sound?”
Hermione smiled. “Perfect,” she said. “Absolutely perfect.”
And she followed him back into the kitchen, still shaking a little as she sat down at the table and waited while he got jam and butter out of the fridge. She was still shaking the next morning, when they stepped into their fireplace and headed off to St. Mungo’s, and later, when Ron grabbed her hand and squeezed it tightly as they walked through the corridors of the hospital.
It was not the same Healer who had treated her when she had lost a baby, but an older man in her father’s age. He had a warm smile and soft voice, and as soon as Hermione had laid down on the cot to be examined, it was as if all of her fears washed off of her, and she felt completely calm for the first time since they had found out she was pregnant again.
“Let’s take a look at this little miracle, shall we?” said the Healer, pointing his wand at Hermione’s flat stomach.
A grainy shape appeared just above Hermione’s hips, not much more than a small blot to Ron and Hermione’s eyes. It was as if the whole world slowed down as they watched it, as they prayed with every little bit of them that everything was looking okay, that the little blot would keep on growing and growing until it was big enough to come out to them, to be held and kissed and so very loved.
“Things are looking great,” said the Healer. “Of course, it’s still very early – you are about six weeks along, love. I think we should keep you on bedrest for a couple of weeks just to be on the safe side, but nothing looks out of the ordinary.”
Ron took Hermione home and put her to bed after the appointment, and they let out an almost simultaneous sigh of relief as he kissed the top of her head before heading off to work. For now, everything was okay. And if it stayed that way, they would be parents at the start of next year. Ron was sure they would not relax again until they were holding their baby; and that, he had heard, was when they would learn what it truly was to worry.
Two people who knew much too well what it was to worry about their child was waiting for Ron at the Auror Office when he showed up around lunch. He would spend the rest of that day trying to piece together how their son had vanished sometime between when the bell rang after lunch-hour at his school and his friends started filling up the chairs in his homeroom.
Little Topher had always been the smallest boy in his class; he had been a premature baby, and at 11, he had yet to catch up with his classmates when it came to size. Topher didn’t mind being small, though, because he was far ahead of his friends in most other aspects. He was the best at math in his entire year, he had learned to read long before he actually started school, and he was the fastest runner out of all the children on his football team. When the bell rang after lunch, Topher would beat all of his friends to the classroom, and was usually already at his desk, panting a little, when the second fastest in the class skidded in through the door.
There was nothing unusual about Topher really, besides the fact that he was a natural at so many things. Perhaps what was unusual was that he never seemed content—and what his friends and teachers did not know was that there was one thing, one very unusual thing, that he simply could not do, and he had been struggling to accept it for years.
Topher’s parents had waited for his first sign of magic since he was a toddler; his older sister had performed her first accidental magic when she was only two, but while Topher was ahead of his age group in most aspects, nothing seemed to able to trigger his magical ability. He was nine when his father dared utter the word ’Squib’ for the first time, making his wife cry and Topher run up to hide in his sister Cynthia’s wardrobe.
Nearly two years had passed since, and the day that Topher would have started Hogwarts had come and gone. When Cynthia had boarded the Hogwarts Express in September, their parents had already driven Topher to the same Muggle school he had always gone to. He had stopped referring to it as Muggle school, and simply called it school now—after all, he was a Muggle. It was where he belonged. And he liked it there. He liked it enough to rush back to the classroom after each break, always beating his friends, and always grinning widely at his teacher, Mr Quraishi.
It was no wonder everyone got worried that afternoon, when Mr Quarishi looked up to see Sophie Dolinsky enter the classroom first. The teacher raised an eyebrow in surprise and said, “Wow. Well done, Sophie,” but his awe turned slowly into concern when the other children appeared, one after one. Topher was nowhere to be seen.
The police came to the school that afternoon and questioned everyone. Mr Quarishi stayed until it was dark out to help search the school grounds, and returned home to have a sleepless night, pacing back and forth outside his children’s bedroom and wondering how he could have let someone’s little boy disappear under his watch. He imagined they were at the police station, Topher’s parents. They were probably crying, perhaps arguing, perhaps feeling their insides break into little pieces as they tried not to think about all the horrible things that could have happened to their little boy.
Mr Quarishi wasn’t far off. Topher’s parents were both crying, and his mother had yelled at her husband three times since they left their house and was wondering if she had gone too far or not. However, they were not at the police station. Instead, they were sitting at an old desk across from a red-headed man who had just begun to feel the worry that Topher’s parents were feeling; a man who knew far too well how it felt to get the worst possible news.
“I promise you I will do everything I can to find him,” said Ron determinedly, and how could he have known just how close Topher really was? He could not have guessed that Topher’s mother was so quiet because she was afraid anything she said might give away what she knew. She couldn’t tell her husband, and certainly not an Auror, but she knew that her precious boy was only seven stories deeper down into the underground, lying on a hard table with his eyes squeezed shut.
“Don’t worry,” said the man sitting next to him, “it won’t even hurt. And it’s going to make you all better, I promise. Your mum will be so thrilled when she sees how I’ve helped you…”
A/N: Trust me, I know that the wait has been too long this time around. I really hate that it takes me so long to get a chapter done sometimes. I guess the first months of uni and living in a new city and making new friends has taken up most of my time. But here we go, at last. I know that you deserve a chapter a day (at least) for taking the time to read this at all, and for the reviews you write and for the thousands of smiles that you have put on my face. Thank you! I can't say it enough. Xxx
I would love to hear any theories you've got about the missing boy...
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