"Fred, come on. I know you can do it!" George encouraged.
Hermione, Ginny, and George sat around Fred in St. Mungo's Hospital, and watched him work on squeezing George's hand. His damaged hand had enough strength to move his fingers individually, but making a fist was a whole other problem.
It had been a few weeks of heavy and intensive physical therapy along with speech therapy that had helped him to today. There was only so much that the Healers could do to fix him with magic, and now it was time for him to heal the muggle way. Bodies were more complicated in healing then magic could sometimes keep up with.
"I-I I'm try-try-trying Gr-Gred!" Fred insisted. He gritted his teeth and his middle and pointer finger began to twitch slightly, and they slowly touched the back of George's hand.
"You're doing really good Fred, but just a little more. Try to move your pinky this time," Ginny smiled.
Fred looked back at his hand, his brow furrowing in concentration. Magic had always come easily to him, and he knew nothing but hard work where magic was concerned. He perfected his magic over his time at Hogwarts, but now the simple movement of squeezing his own brother's hand was difficult. The frustration he felt could not be put into words, but his friends could see it clearly across his face.
"Once we show the healer that you've been making progress with your hand we can begin your physical therapy for your legs," Hermione assured him.
Fred had been angry and frustrated over the past few weeks of being out of the hospital. He was forced into a wheelchair until his strength returned. His mind remembered and willed his muscles to move like they once did, but there was no reaction.
His confinement to the chair and the need for help had driven Fred to pull away from his prankster self. It was rare to see him joking or even talking to anyone who wasn't part of the Weasley family.
George spent his days taking care of his brother the best he could, but when his own frustration became too much the family took over. They gave him a break and divided up the work that was put into keeping Fred going.
"I c-can't!" Fred shouted and slammed his good hand against the table, where they sat in the therapy wing. He bowed his head and shut his eyes tight, willing the injury to leave. "I j-just w-want to be n-n-normal."
"Forge, you are normal," George exclaimed.
"I'm no-not!" Fred Insisted. "I ne-need you all for ev-every-th-thing. Mu-mum ma-makes me b-break-fa-fast and y-you he-help m-me out of be-bed. B-bill helps m-me get in the sh-shower and yo-you have to he-help me sh-shower! Mi-mione h-helps f-feed me and I ca-can't w-walk. I c-can't e-e-even go-go to the ba-bathroom b-by my-myself!" Fred ranted.
"We're doing what we can for you. You need it, so we're helping. This is what families do," Ginny swatted his shoulder and made a hissing sound.
"It's n-not fa-fair to-to a-any of yo-you," Fred sighed.
"What's fair isn't an issue. We're just glad you're alive," Ginny pushed.
"Ha-half a-a-alive, I ca-can't e-even be…" Fred trailed off and pulled his hand from the table and placed it on his wheel chair. He pushed himself back from the table and began to push himself away and towards the door.
George's jaw locked and made his own exit, walking down the opposite way from his twin.
"I'll go talk to George and you can go after Fred. He seems to listen to you," Ginny smiled and rose from her seat to go after her brother.
Hermione moved from her seat and began to walk down the hallway where Fred had wheeled himself. She wandered the empty halls until she found him in the hospitals court yard. Others were out as well with their loved ones and care takers. Fred was sat near a bench with his head leaned back, eyes closed, listening to the quiet buzz of conversation around him.
Hermione sat next to him silently, observing him. She watched his lips curve into a subtle smile when a few children ran past his chair, playing with one another. She could hear them weaving a story together as they played make believe.
"Fred?" she asked cautiously.
"I'm no-not r-re-ready to-to talk," he replied.
"Then don't," Hermione sighed, "We love you. It's not been easy for any of us to watch you struggle, but we know what it's like without you. If this was all we had of you and we had to help you for the rest of our lives, we'd do it in a heartbeat." Hermione tapped her fingers against her knees gently and looked around before looking to Fred once again, "We've been in a world without Fred Weasley and nothing was right. I like you alive…I, I like you here," Hermione confessed.
"I'm be-being s-selfish," Fred said softly.
"No, you're recovering. There's a difference. I watched your brother bury his other half—he'd give you a thousand baths and help you go to the bathroom over having to do that again," Hermione said. She began to wring her hands together with nervousness energy.
"I re-remember be-being no-normal. Its s-so m-much t-to-to adjust to."
"You will get back to it. Sure it might not be the same, but nothing has been the same since the war. Alright? None of us came out unscathed. Some of it might be mental, but we aren't the," she put her fingers up to do air quotes, "normal people you remember either."
"Ye-yeah?" he questioned.
"I know it," Hermione sighed.
Fred and Hermione sat quietly in the garden, the sound of everyone else's chatter taking up the silence that surrounded them. There was nothing else between them that needed to be said for that moment.
After a few hours had passed Fred wheeled himself closer to the bench. His hand shook as he moved to take Hermione's hand in his own. His hand clasped over hers, her fingers sinking through his fingers until their hands were intertwined loosely. Fred began squeezing her hand softly with everything that he could muster, putting Hermione on full alert. She looked between him and their hands, a smile lighting up her face.
"Fred," she yelled excitedly and brought her other hand down on top of his, her fingers tracing over the veins on his large hands.
"I-I j-just need t-time," he squeezed her hand again.
Hermione knew that her faith in him would never waiver. Fred always tried his hardest and put his soul into everything, and it would never happen right away with him. He wasn't the type of wizard to do things on the first try, it took him time and practice mixed in with a lot of understanding and patience.
He was the type of guy who put everything into what he wanted, but it took a few tries before he got the results he wanted. It was always worth it though, to feel that accomplishment because of hard work. It was what helped him immensely with his potions at the shop.
Fred would squeeze her hand every few minutes, until he was able to hold her hand tightly for thirty seconds at a time. They were quick bursts of strength, but they were something.
They sat in the garden, hand in hand, for the rest of the day until George and Ginny came to retrieve them and bring them home to the burrow.
"Mum has something she wants to talk about," George shrugged.
Hermione helped Fred Floo home and into their fireplace inside their old shed, according to Ginny's directions. She pushed him out of the shed and towards the house.
"Hurry up! Mum has a bit of a surprise," Ginny called out.
Hermione pushed him towards the burrow and saw that there were quite a few people inside, weaving their way in and out. She hoped that Fred would be up to see more people than just his family today. He had made progress with his physical therapy, and she prayed he would be in the mood to socialize with everyone.
Mrs. Weasley always had her heart in the right place, but a party could just be too much for him.
"Surprise!" A chorus rang out when they moved through the open door.
Fred's head was spinning as he looked at all of the familiar faces that had come to his house. Lee had joined them with Angelina and even Katie Bell. There were Gryffindor's there from different years and even a few of the Hogwarts teachers.
They hadn't told people until recently that Fred was alive, and Hermione suspected it was because the Weasleys still believed it was too good to be true. She couldn't fault them, because deep down Hermione felt the same way. It also was a long story that most were intrigued about and it ended with them being in disbelief. Here before all of their eyes was the pale red head that they had missed.
Hermione held her breath every morning when she first saw him, when she watched him laugh, or even when he reached out to touch her. Her breath would get caught in her throat and the tears that were kept at bay threatened to spill over. Nothing in the world mattered except that someone who was so important in her life was back and safe.
She fought in the war to keep her loved ones safe and to create a better future. She watched other's die and sacrifice themselves for a future they would never see, in hopes that it would be worth it in the end.
She leaned down and whispered in Fred's ear, "You can do this, now go mingle. Try not to be so sour and enjoy the attention—this is your normal."
Fred nodded and with one hand began to wheel himself towards his old school mates. The group had not seen each other since the end of their seventh year. Everyone had been scattered to the wind after, so there would be a lot of catching up to do.
Fred learned that Lee and Katie had begun dating quickly after the fall of Voldemort while Angelina and George had found their way together once again. It seemed as if everyone had found the one they needed in their life.
He could only look on with awe, because everyone was moving on. They were growing up and ready to leave the life they all had behind to make a new one. The war was finally over for most of that and they accepted it, while others were still living it as if it was still going on. Fred was one of those people.
It was a new era for all of them. He observed the way his brother's hand never left Angelina's, but didn't feel any resentment or jealousy. Instead his eyes searched through the crowd for a short bushy haired girl.
His eyes landed on her and she was sitting with Luna Lovegood, discussing something with a passion. Hermione's hands moved quickly through the air as if they were illustrating all of her points for her. Fred's imagination wandered and he wondered how it would feel to have her hand in his, but not for physical therapy. Her hand would rest in his just because that's where her hand belonged; that's where her hand felt right.
He wanted to be able to stand, be taller than her once again then pull her close and take her small hand in his own. He would pull her hand up to his chest and lean down and kiss her and that would be the simple end of it.
Fred couldn't take his eyes off her and the way she lit up when talking. She looked happy, and it was the happiest that he had seen her in a long time. The last smile he could remember was the day they left in their seventh year.
They had flown on their brooms through the halls of Hogwarts and relieved the other students of their tests. Fred and George had watched all of the students rush from the great hall to watch their fireworks. In the crowd he saw Hermione shaking her head with a smile on her face, clapping for them and soon cheering them on.
Fred imagined it was the first time that his magic had made her smile instead of scold them.
He didn't mind when she scolded him though. Her hair seemed to frizz up more and her voice would raise up high. She wasn't afraid to yell at him and stick up for what she believed in, and it only made him admire her more.
She had Gryffindor courage when it came to standing up to her friends and even the people who claimed her as family.
He was lost in his thoughts that he didn't notice his eldest brother Bill walk up next to him with two butterbeer's in his hands. Bill looked between Fred and Hermione and he began to grin.
"If you stare any harder your good eye will come out," Bill interrupted him.
Fred jumped at the sound of his voice and looked up at his brother, "I-I'm no-not sta-sta-staring," Fred insisted.
"If you're not staring then I don't have scars on my face," Bill said causally. "It's okay to let yourself fall in love. If anything it heals you the fastest. Love—that is. I wasn't half the man I wanted to be when I met Fleur."
"Yo-you were whole."
"For a moment I was and then I got this pretty little present," Bill tapped the side of his face, "I wanted to die for the longest time after. Thought I wasn't human anymore—wasn't good enough—and she saved me."
"I ca-can't sa-save h-her b-ba-back," Fred sighed.
Bill laughed loudly, catching a few other party goers' attention.
"Did you ever think she doesn't need saving? Just someone to be there for her while she saves herself?" Bill posed the question and handed Fred a butter beer in his good hand, before walking off to go look for Fleur.
Fred stayed still with his butter beer in hand, contemplating what his brother had told him. Hermione was the most capable witch that he knew, but even strong people needed a safety net as well. Maybe Hermione didn't need to be saved from everything she had been through, but it didn't mean that he wouldn't try.
He would have to try, because girls like Hermione Granger deserved that. They deserved to be promised the stars and moon, then have them delivered on a silver platter.
The conversation died down around him and his attention was only on her. He observed the way her hair moved as she turned her head back and forth and the way her teeth showed when she smiled. Her dimples became pronounced while she grinned, then she was looking at him.
A light tint of red painted her cheeks and she looked down at her lap, her curls falling in front of her face. Then she was looking at him once again.
He could imagine seeing that look every day and life would be okay.
Fred had a lot of work to do in the meantime.