Questions and Answers


Story Summary:
What happens when the past collides with the present and threatens to cast the Potters' and Weasleys' lives into disarray...

Chapter 75 - Tangled Webs We Weave


Ginny watched the color drain from Harry's face until the old, faded scar blazed briefly through his fringe. 'Right. We'll be right there.' Harry paused. 'Just tell me the nearest Tube station...' Harry spun in his heel and stalked into the office. Ginny followed him, concerned. She didn't like the way he looked, as if his knees would give out on him at any second. Harry scribbled something on a scrap of parchment. 'Yeah... D'you need anything, then?' His hand rose and pulled off his glasses, then rubbed over his face. 'All right, then. Ought to be there in around half an hour. And Aaron...? It'll be okay...'

Harry's hand shook as he put the mobile down on the desk. Ginny slipped into the room and closed the door. 'What is it?'

'Dudley,' Harry replied tersely. 'In Whipps Cross University Hospital. Aaron says... He says it's pretty bad...'

Ginny felt her heart begin to race. 'What happened?'

Harry shook his head. 'He didn't say. He's just asked us to come...' He shoved his glasses on his nose, and then carefully placed both hands flat on his desk, leaning heavily on it. 'Can you collect the children?' he asked in a low voice. 'I need a moment...'

Ginny gently massaged the back of his neck. 'Take all the time you need.' She rose on her toes to press a kiss against the corner of his mouth. Harry turned suddenly and wrapped his arms around Ginny.

'I'm scared,' he admitted, burying his face in her hair.

'It's all right.' Ginny stood for a moment, gently rocking Harry back and forth before he pulled away and nodded. Ginny cupped his face in one soft hand before she left the office, and ran up the stairs. 'James, Lily, Al... put your shoes on and grab a jumper or something. Hurry,' she urged.

'Why?' Al appeared in the gap of his partially-open bedroom door. His eyes flashed with a hint of belligerence.

'Just do it,' Ginny told him severely.

'Yes, Mum,' James said quickly, darting into his bedroom, after giving Al a look of mingled disgust and disbelief. He grabbed his trainers and reached for the sweatshirt that wasn't emblazoned with the Hogwarts crest or the Tutshill emblem, and met Ginny at the top of the stairs. 'Where are we going?' he asked, dropping to the top stair, so he could pull his shoes on his feet.

'London,' Ginny said shortly.

James frowned as he tightened the laces. There weren't many reasons to go to London at this time of day except... 'St. Mungo's?' he asked.

'Never you mind,' Ginny said absently. 'Just hurry.'

James rose to his full height, topping his mother by more than a head. 'Mum...' He let a note of dread creep into his voice.

'It's not St. Mungo's,' Ginny relented.

Lily emerged from her bedroom, pulling a fluffy cardigan over her arms. 'Where are we going?'

James nudged her down the stairs. 'London. It's not Grandmum or Granddad,' he said reassuringly, his voice fading as he chivvied her down the staircase.

Ginny moved to Al's bedroom, and knocked lightly on the door frame. 'Ready?'

'Do I have to go?' Al asked, inwardly wincing at how much it sounded like whining.

'Yes. You do,' Ginny snapped. She strode into the bedroom, and firmly closed the door, with a wave of her wand. 'Drop the attitude,' she ordered. 'I know you're still disappointed that your father and I didn't give you permission to play with England this summer, but sulking like a toddler and whinging about it aren't going to help, nor will it change our minds. And right now, you need to get yourself down the stairs and to the fireplace,' she informed him, glaring daggers at her son until he yanked on a pair of battered trainers.

'Whatever...' Al muttered, jerking the laces of his trainers into a tight bow.

Ginny's stern expression softened slightly. 'We'll talk about England later,' she promised. 'There's always next year, you know, or the year after-'

'Wait until I'm older, is that it?' Al scoffed. 'When do I get to be older, Mum?' he shot, as he shuffled resentfully from the room.

Ginny inhaled slowly and exhaled noisily before she joined the rest of the family in the sitting room. Harry dribbled a handful of Floo powder into James' hand. 'Leaky Cauldron,' he murmured, dipping his hand into the flower pot containing their supply of Floo powder, the opened his fist over Lily's open palm. They two of them disappeared one after the other into the swirling green flames, James first, then Lily. Al reached past Harry, rudely shouldering him aside, as he grabbed a handful of glittering powder. Harry's jaw tightened at his son's lapse of manners, but he stood to the side for Al to throw the Floo powder into the fireplace. The back of Ginny's hand brushed against his in silent commiseration, then she, too, vanished in the emerald-hued flames. Harry took a deep breath, and threw his own handful of powder into the fireplace, a corner of his mind praying everything was going to be as he had promised Aaron.

When Ginny stepped from the fireplace at the Leaky Cauldron, Al and James were in the midst of a furious, whispered argument, noses nearly touching. Crossly, Ginny grabbed each of them by a sleeve, pulling them apart. 'Not. Now,' she warned through clenched teeth. Trying keep Harry's emotional equilibrium balanced tonight was going to be all she was able to handle. Refereeing a fight between the boys was not going to be on her list of things to do that night. 'If either of you so much as look at the other one cross-eyed, you're going to wish you had detention with McGonagall,' she hissed, as Harry stumbled through the fireplace. James pulled his arm from Ginny's grasp and trudged to stand by Lily, who had been watching the argument, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth.

Harry sighed wearily. I'll deal with it later, he told himself, and jerked his head toward the door. 'Come on.' He led them out into the street. 'It's by the Leytonstone station,' he told Ginny. 'Whipps Cross Road.'

'Got it.'

Harry eyed James for a moment. 'Can you stay here for a bit? We'll take Al and Lily, and one of us will come back for you.'

James nodded. 'Yeah. I'll wait inside,' he added.

'Brilliant,' Harry muttered, taking Lily's hand. 'Back in a mo.' He tried to smile reassuringly at Lily, but he only succeeded in baring his teeth in a grimace. He turned and Disapparated with an unusually loudpop, with Ginny following, Al in tow, with a much softer pop. James retreated into the main room of the Leaky Cauldron, gnawing a hangnail on his middle finger. He mentally ran through the list of people his father knew that would find themselves in a Muggle hospital. The only person he could possibly think of was his father's cousin, but James hadn't thought they were that close. He shrugged, and propped his chin in an upturned hand to wait for either Ginny or Harry to return and Side-Along him to the hospital. He heaved a sigh, knowing in just over a year's time, he could take the test and earn his own Apparition license, and not have to be towed about like a child.

Harry's head poked through the door. 'James?'

James jumped up from the chair, and met Harry at the door. 'I'm ready.'

Harry held out his arm. 'You don't have to hold my hand...' He paused to look at James. 'What were you and Al arguing about?'

'Nothing,' James mumbled. Harry studied him, narrow-eyed, but made a motion with his elbow, indicating for James to take it. 'He's never wanted anything this badly before,' James said, as he grabbed Harry's wrist. 'He thinks you and Mum - you especially - are trying to... Blimey, what's the word he used...? Infantilize? Yeah, infantilize him. As far as he's concerned, neither of you want him to play right now, because you can't see him as anything but a baby.'

Harry's mouth worked soundlessly for a moment, before he choked, 'I see...'

'Thought someone should tell you why he's banging around like a wounded hippogriff,' James said, suddenly interested in the toes of his shoes. Harry grunted in reply before he Disapparated.

It seemed like a maze of unfamiliar names and corridors, where nothing seemed to be arranged according to any sort of rhyme or reason. 'Where did the sister say we needed to go?' Harry muttered.

'Red zone?' Ginny replied, gazing around them, perplexed.

'That way,' Lily piped up, pointing toward a bright red arrow on the wall.

'Accident and Emergency,' James added.

Harry turned to his left and led his family down a seemingly endless corridor until he came to a chair-lined alcove, heavy with the scent of stale coffee and worry. Aaron sat ramrod straight in a chair, hands clenched into fists, resting on his knees, while Sarah slept in seeming serenity in a travel carrycot at his feet. Aaron glanced up at the sound of their footfalls and a shudder ran through him. 'I'm sorry...' he breathed. 'I didn't know who else to ring,' he began to babble. 'It's not that we don't have friends I could have called, but I just...'

'No worries, all right?' Harry said, as he took the chair next to Aaron. 'Do you know anything?'

Aaron shook his head. 'No...' He slumped a little and unclenched his fists, rubbing his palms over his denim-covered knees. 'He left after dinner to run, like he does every night. I keep telling him he ought to just pack it in and get a nice treadmill, but oh, no... he likes to be outdoors. He's usually only gone for half an hour, perhaps. Sometimes a bit longer if he's worried about something. He hadn't come home after an hour, so I put Sarah to bed, and started calling his mobile. He carries it with him while he's running. Especially since we had Sarah... He wouldn't answer...'

'Had you argued about something?' Ginny asked hesitatingly.

'No. It was a normal night... And then after a couple of hours, someone knocks on the door of the flat, and it's a police officer. S-s-s-s-someone found Dudley. He'd been stabbed.'

'With a knife?' Lily blurted incredulously.

'Of course with a knife, gumby,' Al muttered. 'How else does one get stabbed?'

'That's actually what I said,' Aaron told Lily. 'They'd brought him here. I've been told he lost a great deal of blood, and they weren't certain if there was any internal damage. But it's been ages since someone's come to tell me anything. I can't quite make up my mind if that's good or bad.' He ran a shaking hand through his thick, dark hair. 'And someone ought to ring his parents.' His expression hardened briefly. 'I can't do it. The state I'm in, I might say something I'll regret...'

Harry and Ginny exchanged uneasy glances. They didn't quite trust themselves to stay neutral with Vernon or Petunia, either. Harry shrugged and pulled his mobile from his jacket pocket. 'I'll do it,' he sighed. 'They're technically my family, as well...'

'Do you need their telephone number?' Aaron asked. 'It's 01737--'

'892419,' Harry finished, surprising himself. He hadn't thought he remembered it at all, but he supposed it was ingrained in his memory, like their address, down to the postal code, no matter how hard he tried to forget it. 'I'll just be a moment.'

He moved quickly to the end of the corridor, and held the mobile loosely in his palm for a moment. What would he say? He hadn't had anything resembling conversation with either of them since he was fifteen or sixteen years old. Blurting out the situation wouldn't quite do. Harry blew out a slow breath and swiftly dialed the number before he could give himself time to think.

The Dursleys' phone rang several times before someone answered. 'Hello?' It was Petunia, her voice muffled and sharp with hostility. Harry felt his mouth go dry. 'Well? Have you something to say, or have you merely called with a prank?' she demanded. 'The nerve of some people ringing at this time of night,' Petunia could be heard muttering under her breath.

'It's me,' Harry began. 'Harry.'

'What sort of nonsense is this? You woke Vernon!'

'Believe me, this isn't on top of my list of things to do tonight,' Harry snapped. 'I'm just calling because someone needs to tell you. Dudley's been hurt and they're not certain what the outcome will be.' Harry held his breath, waiting for the expected shriek from his aunt, but silence spooled between them. 'He's at Whipps Cross,' he added. Still, no reply from Petunia. Exasperated, he hissed, 'This is Dudley! Yourson, in case you've forgot. He could die and you're just going to sit there like a lump, more concerned that the telephone woke Vernon.' Harry's hand tightened around the mobile. 'He has a family, you know. A husband and they have a daughter. She's a year old, and I'll bet you've barely laid eyes on her. Do you want one more thing to regret, Petunia? Or wasn't my mother enough for you?' Harry's eyes closed. He could hear ragged breathing through the mobile. 'Whipps Cross,' he repeated. 'Accident and Emergency.' With that, he disconnected the call and returned to the waiting room.

Ginny's head slowly followed Harry's restless pacing as if she were a spectator in a tennis match and it was one of those impossibly long rallies that only ended when one of the players did something spectacular to end it. Lily had fallen asleep on the hard institutional sofa, her head pillowed on Ginny's lap. Al had pulled his knees into his chest, and rested his forehead on them, arms wrapped around his legs. Ginny wasn't certain, but she thought he might be dozing a little. She couldn't manage to see if his eyes were closed. James had sprawled on the edge of his chair, his feet splayed in front of him, head resting on the back of the chair. He fought slumber, his eyes fixed on the ceiling. They slowly closed, then snapped open. Occasionally he yawned widely, belatedly covering his mouth with a heavy hand. Ginny idly combed her fingers through Lily's unbound hair. Aaron slumped in his chair, twisting his wedding ring around his finger. It was a gesture Ginny knew quite well. She had done it often enough herself.

She looked up at Harry, who was on the verge of heaving yet another impatient sigh. 'Harry?' she called softly. His head turned to look at her as he continued to pace. 'There's a vending area somewhere around here... I think perhaps we could use some tea?' She nodded toward their sleeping daughter. 'I'd go, but...'

Harry crammed his hands into the pockets of his jacket. 'All right...' He turned on a heel and trudged down the corridor.

Aaron exhaled slowly. 'Thank you,' he murmured to Ginny. 'I was about to go mad from watching him pace like that.'

'Harry doesn't take well to inaction,' Ginny said wryly. 'Never has. He handles things better when he's got something to do.'

'Even fetching awful vending machine tea?'

'Better than doing nothing, no?' Ginny retorted.

'I suppose.' Aaron stopped worrying his wedding ring and tugged it off his finger. It caught on the knuckle then slid off. He tilted it a little, looking inside. The inscription was simple, just their initials and the date of their wedding. He rarely took it off. 'You said last November you'd spent most of your life living like this,' he ventured awkwardly.

'Mmm-hmm.' Ginny's fingers continued their long strokes through Lily's hair.


'How... what?'

'How do you do this?'

Ginny smiled crookedly. 'My family usually comes to sit with me.'

'Do you think they'll come? Dudley's parents?'

Ginny's lips pressed together. 'I don't know. But I'm not really an expert in Harry's relations. I've only met Dudley's parents twice.' She gently lifted Lily's glasses from her nose and carefully folded the earpieces down, setting them on a small table between her and Aaron. 'Suffice to say neither time went very well.'

'We see you and Harry more than we see Dudley's parents, and they're closer...' Aaron leaned forward to tuck the blanket more securely around Sarah. His hand smoothed over her dark, tumbled curls. He looked around the waiting area at James, Al, and Lily. 'I am sorry,' he said softly. 'It's not that we don't have friends that would do come sit with me,' he said slightly defensively, feeling as if he owed Ginny an explanation for dragging them out to London from Somerset on the very night the children returned home from school. Dudley had written it on their kitchen calendar. Aaron could see it, written in bright blue ink - J, A, L home. 'But I just...' Aaron bit his lip. 'I haven't got any other family nearby. I've called my parents, but it'll take them a while to fly up from Adelaide. I do have an older brother. Daniel. But he hasn't spoken to me since... Well, since he discovered me snogging Jack Baines on the sitting room sofa when I was sixteen...' Aaron tugged at his collar, flushing dully. 'Daniel is much more religious than either my parents or I. Even as far back as then. He declared I was dead to him. He lives in Hendon now.'

Ginny reached out and laid a hand on Aaron's arm. 'It's all right. We'd be upset if you hadn't called.'

Harry appeared, carefully carrying three paper cups of tea. 'I tried it,' he told them, indicating the cup with a noticeable amount missing. 'It looks like tea,' he quipped lightly, setting the cups on the table between Ginny and Aaron. 'And that's the only thing going for it.'

Ginny picked up one of the untouched cups, tentatively sampling the liquid inside. 'Well, it's hot,' she said dubiously. She raised the cup to her lips, intending to take another sip, but her hand stilled with a scant inch to spare between the rim of the cup and her mouth. Ginny's eyes went wide and she nearly dropped the cup. She barely missed sloshing tea all over Lily's head.

'Gin?' Harry peered at her in concern. Ginny was normally quite steady in such situations.

'It's... Petunia,' she whispered hoarsely.

Aaron's head snapped around. He rose unsteadily to his feet. 'Mrs. Dursley,' he murmured, inclining his head gracefully in greeting.

Petunia ignored him. She addressed Harry directly. 'Well?'

'I don't know. Why don't you ask Aaron?' Harry said coldly.

Petunia's lips pursed and she visibly swallowed before turning to Aaron. He bent over the carrycot and lifted Sarah into his arms, cradling her against his chest. Petunia gave a stiff sniff of disapproval and Harry and Ginny both rolled their eyes. Petunia's mouth opened as if it pained her. 'Have they said anything?' She clearly didn't see Aaron as family.

'Not since I got here,' Aaron said wearily, nuzzling the top of Sarah's head. 'They said it might take several hours to try and repair the damage.'

Petunia nodded once and tried to find something to look at, but she was surrounded by the embodiment of magic. 'You can have my chair,' James announced, pushing himself to his feet. He ambled to stand next to Harry. 'Can you tell me where you got that tea?'

'Yeah, I'll... I'll show you...' Harry quickly strode off, with James in tow.

Ginny huffed quietly. 'Coward,' she mouthed, and Aaron smothered a grin. He didn't blame Harry for escaping.

Petunia perched on the edge of James' abandoned chair, with her handbag set just so across her knees. Her eyes constantly flicked toward Aaron and Sarah with ill-disguised curiosity. Aaron turned to Ginny. 'Sarah's cut another tooth,' he told her, smiling a little. 'And I could tell you what she calls Sebastian, our cat, but it sounds rather vulgar. Can't let Dudley put her to bed, because he's such a bloody marshmallow, that if she so much as whimpers, he's up in that rocking chair with her until she falls asleep. He's deathly afraid of spoiling her, though. She started walking last week.'

'Been crawling since Christmas, right?' Ginny asked.

'Yeah. I was more worried than Dudley was about Sarah not walking. She was holding on to the armchair and just let go. Toddled a few steps before she plopped on her bottom.' Aaron rubbed Sarah's back through her fluffy yellow sleepsuit. He cut his eyes toward Petunia. She had given up all pretense of disinterest and was leaning slightly in his direction, avidly listening. He winked at Ginny. 'I have a photograph of her sitting in the garden and she's clutching this flower frowning at it like she'd never seen one before. I'll send you a copy,' he promised.

Ginny sipped her tea, glancing at Petunia. 'Thank you. It sounds lovely.' Petunia's fingers gripped the handle of her handbag tightly and her lips pressed together in a white line.

Harry and James returned, each cradling white paper cups in their hands, steam curling around their noses. The surgeon was close on their heels, looking slightly wan, but Ginny couldn't detect any tension in his expression that would have betrayed bad news. Aaron paled at the sight of them, and he set Sarah back into the carrycot with exaggerated care as the surgeon approached them. 'He's stable for now. But he's still quite fragile. We're going to move him into the Intensive Care Unit soon. You won't be able to see him until four this afternoon.' The surgeon studied Aaron, beginning to droop with a combination of relief and exhaustion. 'You should probably go home and get some rest. If anything changes, we'll call you.' He left them alone and Petunia stood.

'I'll just be going...' She walked out without a backward look.

Ginny gently shook Lily awake. Lily blearily looked around for her glasses, poking them haphazardly on her face. 'Are we goin' home?' she mumbled sleepily.

'Yes...' Ginny patted Aaron on the shoulder. 'Forgive me if I'm being presumptuous, but perhaps we could take Sarah home with us and you could go home and have a nice sleep without worrying about her? We could meet you here later this afternoon,' she suggested.

'You don't mind?'

'No.' It was Harry that spoke. 'We don't.'

Aaron sniffed heavily and nodded. 'Thank you.'

Aaron met Harry in the waiting area. 'He wants to talk to you.'

'About what?' Harry asked, only a little perplexed.

'Won't tell me. Thinks I'll get spooked or something.' Aaron shrugged. He took Sarah from Harry's arms. 'Hallo, darling,' he cooed. 'Did Auntie Ginny spoil and indulge you?'

'Of course I, erm, she did,' Harry coughed. He escaped with Aaron's deep chuckle following him. He navigated the procedures to gain access to the ICU, thinking it was far easier to gain access to the Spell Damage ward at St. Mungo's. He approached the bed containing Dudley, bandaged, with tubes in his arms, and wires protruding from the neck of hospital gown. 'You look like hell,' Harry said conversationally, pulling up the hard chair next to the bed.

'No worse than you did last summer,' Dudley rasped.

'Touché,' Harry murmured. 'How do you feel?'

'Like a dartboard.' Dudley licked his dry lips. 'Need to tell you something,' he said so softly, Harry had to strain to hear him over the sounds of the monitors. 'It was one of yours...'

'One of mine?' Harry shook his head. 'No...' It can't be one of my Aurors... It's not... he thought stubbornly.

'One of yours,' Dudley breathed insistently. 'Magic,' he mouthed. 'And they mentioned you... Before I lost consciousness...'