She sat on the ledge to the side of the backyard, on one of the many tables that had been set up for this seemingly enormous party. There was much to celebrate; it had to be done now, and they all had to be together to do it. The backyard seemed both smaller and larger than it ordinarily was tonight: how they all managed to crowd in was amazing. The one they had all come to rejoice with was over by the other side of the yard, attempting, she thought, to blend in, to hide amongst the masses. It was proving difficult. His hair was still as uncontrollable as it had always been, and the mark on his forehead seemed to shine like a beacon tonight. He seemed to be enjoying himself though, with a drink in one hand and an arm wrapped loosely around Ginny, who had been stuck to his side since they had returned. He looked relaxed. For the first time in a long time, it seemed that Harry was finally at ease.
Ron was in his element. Witches were clamoring for his attention, falling over themselves to be the closest to him, to hear once again of his brave and heroic turn in the downfall of Voldemort. Try as she might, she couldn't find any jealousy within her. Ron and she had come to a platonic accord naturally. They hadn't pushed the issue; if it happened with each other, they would allow it to develop, but they weren't going to try and make something out of nothing. Their relationship was volatile enough without adding lust and teenage insecurities to it. Whatever would be would be. For the moment she was enjoying the peace. In the heady hours and days that followed the final encounter with Voldemort, she had hardly had a moment to herself.
She was content to sit to the side and see her friends; the people that she had come to love more than she thought possible for the first time after so long, all with smiles that weren't forced, that actually met their eyes, and with hands that weren't gripping a wand fiercely preparing to cast some vicious curse. The smile that graced Mrs. Weasley's face was as bright as the moon above, and they were laughing, whether at something someone had said or just for the sake of smiling.
There was one, however, who wasn't smiling, and where once it had been difficult to tell him and his brother apart, it was now very easy. One was happy, the other, while pleased with what had transpired, had paid a higher price. Watching his fiancée die in his arms from a horrendous ancient curse, well, there didn't seem to be any higher form of torture in her mind. No one had known that he had proposed. Apparently, they were keeping that between them till later: their own little ray of sunshine in the darkness. She used to be able to count on one hand the amount of times she had seen him with a solemn expression on his face… now it was all she saw. He, like her, had sought some solitude tonight. The only difference was that hers was a time out while his had taken a more permanent twist. He hardly ever sat or chatted with anyone anymore. He was simply a shell of his former shelf.
Glancing down at the glass in her hand and seeing it was empty, she decided it was time for a top-up. And, the refreshments table just happened to be right near where he was sitting. Such a lucky coincidence; maybe she should stop and just... 'talk' with him? That seemed like a good plan in her mind.
He was quite proud of himself; he'd managed to seat himself in a perfect position. He was close enough to the action of the party to not be accused of excluding himself, but he was far enough away not to be bothered. If his position didn't put them off, the glower on his face was enough to keep them away. He didn't want to chat; idle chit-chat was not something he wanted to do anymore, and they could all bugger off and leave him the hell alone.
Fred understood the need to celebrate, and to rejoice in the fact that the darkest time in their lives was over, but that didn't mean he had to actually join the festivities. He was quite content to sit in the shadows, cradling his drink, and watch them all. Watch Ginny, with a smile so bright, her arm wrapped tight around Harry (for there was no way now she had him back, that she was letting him go!). Then watch his brothers laugh, as they watched Ron try his luck with another poor witch, his skills at charming the ladies still sorely lacking.
As much as he loved seeing his family happy, there was still a hole inside him. And it was impossible to fill. A part of him had died when she left him; they had been together in some form or another for most of his teen years: as team-mates, friends, then lovers. Angelina was as close to him as he had been to George; the few things he couldn't share with George, they had shared together. He never thought he'd want to 'settle down' and become that sort of man. He had always pictured it being George and himself, tinkering away over a cauldron, making a new trick to sell in their shop. But the war had changed his mind on that matter. He hated not knowing how she was, where she was. It seemed the only option left was to make their relationship permanent, and she had agreed. Together they decided it would be better to wait and tell everyone when everything had settled down, but they were never given that chance.
There had been an unexpected fight between the Order and some Death Eaters, in the village near their home. Every member of his family who was in the Order had raced there. With the village being so close to Muggles, it was a dangerous situation. He'd been away from her, with his father, dealing with three Death Eaters when he saw it. A flash of purple light, and some words he couldn't pronounce let alone understand, and she had fallen. Abandoning his father, he had raced to her side, and, holding her to him, he had Apparated straight out of there, to the Burrow. It was the only place he could think to take her. The time passed slowly, as of course no-one was there, and he didn't know what to do. So he did the only thing he could do: hold her in his arms and tell her that he loved her. Seeing her beautiful face, grimacing in pain as the curse took hold, was the worst thing he had ever gone through. Watching the light slowly fade from her eyes. She died before his family returned home, battered and bruised. He didn't know what to say when he saw the shock on their faces, at him sitting in the living area, cradling her, so he'd walked out, carrying her with him.
The rest of the war had passed in a haze for him. He'd fought on automatic. Casting the curses, deflecting the hexes, and even with the need to destroy these people who'd stolen his love from him, he still struggled to find the strength to carry on day after day.
The end hadn't come soon enough.
She refilled her glass with the punch, and glanced over at him. Watching the frivolity with a glazed look in his eyes, she could tell that he was watching, but not truly seeing. Hermione wasn't naïve; she knew he wouldn't want the company, but he needed it. So she grabbed another glass, and filled it with his drink of choice. She skimmed the edges of the party, and sat herself down next to him.
"Here," she said, placing the drink in front of him.
"Thanks," he said quietly.
"Nice party," she began.
"Fred, if you want to, I don't know, talk a little about what happened, I'm happy to..."
"Fred," she started again.
"No," he said more firmly, "I'm not ready to get into the in-depth conversation just yet."
"Well, when you are..."
"You'll be the one I go to."
"Okay," she sat back comfortably next to him, "Now tell me, what was that awful smell coming from your room this morning?"
"I'm not sure you want to know," he chuckled.
"I'll be the judge of that! I do need warning, especially if you plan on testing it on Ron and Harry."
As he talked about the latest innovation for their shop, it was almost as though the old Fred had returned, if only for that moment. So if she couldn't get him to open up about his pain right then, the least she could do was let a little of the old Fred out.