Hermione realized that she was done, romantically, with Ron Weasley on a Tuesday. Evening had just fallen. A storm was coming; the air was oppressively moist. She stood on the lawn outside the Burrow, arms wrapped in front of her as she stared at the ground while Harry Potter explained Ron's feelings for her.
"He…he's crazy for you, Hermione." Harry said, softly, running a hand through his dark hair. Sincere emerald eyes stared at her through the lenses of his glasses. "He wanted me to tell you, since he's so shy. Ron…he is absolutely head over heels for you. Says he always has been, just didn't realize it 'til now."
And that had been it. The moment the words had come out of Harry's mouth, Hermione felt all non-platonic feelings for Ron disappear. She had waited a long time for Ronald Weasley to come around. She had endured more than any girl could be expected to as she patiently bided her time for the day when he would realize that they were meant to be.
The moment had arrived, but the boy was nowhere to be found.
For years, she'd hoped and prayed that Ron would open up his eyes and see that she'd been waiting for him all along. And now apparently, he had. But where was he? Not in front of her, professing his sincere love and devotion. No, he was hiding as someone else did it for him.
That was the straw that broke the camel's back.
"Tell him I'm sorry, but that I don't feel that way about him anymore." Hermione said quietly, eyes directed away from Harry. It didn't matter; she didn't have to look at him. She felt his green eyes widen with surprise.
Harry gulped. "Hermione—but, I know you love Ron. You told me so, just last week, don't you remember?"
"Do you remember what else I said, Harry?" she asked, playing with her fingernails on her left hand. When he shook his head no, she continued. "I said, 'I love him, Harry, but I'm starting to think that I'll never hear him say that he loves me, too.'" A pause. Hermione watched realization dawn on Harry's face.
"Hermione—" Harry began, but his protestations fell on deaf ears. Hermione cut him off quickly.
"Tell him I'm sorry, Harry. But I don't feel that way anymore."
And with that, Hermione disapparated, leaving a stunned Harry Potter in her wake.
When the war had ended, Hermione had suddenly become aware that she had no place to live. She, Harry, and Ron had been living out of their backpacks, traveling around England in the search for Horcruxes, for nearly a year. Hogwarts was no longer standing, having been severely damaged in the last battle. Even Hogsmeade had endured heavy destruction; it had been the site of the prelude to final fight at Hogwarts. She had always assumed before that, if she survived the war, she would have a place to rest her head, whether at an inn in Diagon Alley, or at the Burrow, but the former was still being rebuilt from an attack that had happened six months before the end of it all, and she no longer felt comfortable in the latter.
When everything was said and done and the Light Side had been proclaimed the victors, Hermione had gone to the only place she could think of: her parents' house. Mr. and Mrs. Granger had been surprised to see their daughter so quickly after the war was over; they had expected that she would want to stay around her friends and fellow survivors. What with all the loss of life, it seemed like the only true comfort would be to stay among those who were still alive. Still, her mother and her father had accepted her with open arms, ushering into the bedroom. Mrs. Granger had assured Hermione that they hadn't changed a thing since the last time Hermione had used it; the second Hermione entered the room, she found it to be true. There was a rose border around the tops of the walls, which were painted a light pink. The comforter on her bed was white and pink with roses match the border stitched at all four corners.
It was an eleven year old girl's room, and Hermione was no longer an eleven year old girl. However, on her first night home, she thanked her parents, retired to that room, curled up in that innocently girly comforter, and cried for hours until she was so exhausted she fell asleep.
Minerva McGonagall saw Hermione behind the counter of Flourish and Blotts a month after that. They exchanged all the typical pleasantries. Hermione asked McGonagall when Hogwarts would be reopened. McGonagall smiled a tight smile and replied that the school was being rebuilt from the wreckage and would hopefully be open for the following year. Then they had shook hands and got on with their lives.
It was difficult, that meeting, for both parties. They reminded each other of the war, the people they'd loved and lost, the pain. So they kept to the basics: how are you good and you fine thank you instead of saying what they were really thinking.
Hermione thought that McGonagall looked old. Of course, the woman had always been old, since Hermione had known her, but she had never really seemed old. Stern, yes. Strict, without a doubt. But now, she looked less severe and more…tired.
And McGonagall thought it was such a shame that a bright girl like Hermione Granger was wasting her talents in a bookshop. But then, McGonagall supposed, if what had happened to Hermione during the war had happened to her, she wouldn't want to do anything magically strenuous, either.
The memorial for all those lost at war was held weeks and weeks after the final battle. Random survivors had kept the date pushed back; for months, people trickled in from all over the world. A banishing spell had been a popular curse for Death Eaters to use. One word, and the person they battled was sent across the globe. The banished wizard could not use conventional wizard means of return, either. No floo, or apparation. Sometimes, the person came back. Hermione herself had recently read an article in the Daily Prophet about a man who had fought for the light only to wake up in the middle of Cambodia. Most times, though, if the person ended up in an unfortunate place like Antarctica, they were never heard from again.
Eventually, the Ministry had had enough waiting; they wanted to have the ceremony and move on so that people could start to heal and begin to live their lives again. In honor of everyone that was lost, a large wall was erected with their names inscribed. Someone had the bright idea to suggest that the wall be enchanted so that names could be added or de-listed so that when those missing were found, either dead or alive, the wall would be accurate.
Hermione attended the ceremony, but only as a favor to Harry, who was supposed to cut the ribbon that hung around the wall. She knew he didn't want to do it; ever since the battle had ended, he'd been quieter. More pensive. The most she'd heard him talk was the night that he'd told her how Ron felt about her. His heart wasn't in the lavish, over the top ceremony, and any blind fool could have seen it, but he did it anyway, hoping that it would give him some sort of closure.
The wall was set up outside of Hogsmeade. Hermione thought it looked a bit tacky, surrounding the tiny town, but it had been an important battle site during the war and she understood why they had chosen the location. Hundreds of people were standing, watching solemnly as the Minster made a few remarks, then called Harry forward. The crowd parted and the let the raven haired young man through.
Harry strode forward, the limp he'd gotten from a nasty hex still quite evident. The healers told him he'd probably have it for the rest of his life. He'd joked that at least it was less noticeable than a giant scar on his forehead.
As he raised his hand, wand curled within his fingers, the crowd hushed. Harry's arm came down in a quick, even movement, cutting the ribbon noiselessly. No one spoke, or even moved. Everyone simply stared at the monument before them. There were so many names.
Harry took two limping steps forward, green eyes reflected in the shiny surface of the stone. Slowly, he lifted his hand, pressing his palm against the monument, and dropping his head toward the ground. He took a large breath; it was the only sound that could be heard. As he let it out, he took his hand away from the stone, turning away quickly, as if it burned to look at the giant memorial for a moment longer.
Hermione was by his side in a heartbeat, arm wrapped around his back so that he could lean his weight on her. He sometimes had trouble walking, and she could tell that the emotional strain of the day was wearing him down. Struggling with his weight as she moved away from the monument, Hermione chanced a glance around at everyone who was walking toward the memorial. She immediately caught site of the Weasleys, unmistakable with their flaming red hair. Ron's eyes locked with hers, and she had to turn away quickly.
His stare was accusatory, but not because she had rejected him. It was because she wasn't going toward the monument.
Even from yards away, she could read his eyes. They were asking her, aren't you even going to look for his name?
Her lack of response was an answer all it's own.
She'd apparated Harry back to the Burrow. He'd been staying there since the War ended. She helped him up to his room, made sure he went straight to bed. He hadn't seemed to mind, simply curling up into a ball beneath the comforter. She wasn't sure he even noticed when she turned out the lights and closed the door.
On the Tuesday that Ron confessed his love to her, Hermione had been invited to dinner. She hadn't wanted to come. Her parents had made her. Hermione was avoiding the Burrow long before Ron had ever decided that he needed to tell Hermione how he felt. But now that that had happened, she felt she had more of an excuse to make herself scarce, and as soon as she was outside Harry's room, she prepared herself to apparate.
Ron was there, leaning against the wall outside the door, waiting for her.
"I figured you'd bring him back." He said casually, hands shoved deep into his best dress robes' pockets. His eyes were on the ground.
Hermione coughed uneasily. "Yeah. I'll be going now."
She tried to turn so she could apparate away, but Ron reached out and caught her wrist. She looked back at him. "Let me go, Ron."
"No." he answered, tightening his grip.
"Look," Hermione hadn't wanted to have this conversation, but he seemed to insist upon it, "I'm sorry, alright? Believe me when I say that I was absolutely in love with you for a long time. But it's just not—"
Ron interrupted her. "I know, Hermione. You don't have to apologize, or anything." His voice was sad, full of longing. He kept his eyes on the ground and his hand on her wrist. "No one blames you, you know."
And with that, Hermione violently ripped away from him. "I don't want to talk about that." She hissed between clenched teeth.
He persisted. "You should, though. Talk, I mean. Maybe even to—"
"No!" she fairly exploded, before checking her voice when she heard a rumble inside Harry's room. She didn't want to wake him. "Listen to me, Ron Weasley. I don't want to talk to your mother or your father or your sister or your brothers or you or him or anyone because it won't change anything."
"But we understand. We're not mad." Ron's voice was calm, but he was looking increasingly agitated. "You did what you could, Hermione."
At that, Hermione scoffed. "I did what I could and he still died?" she gave a cold laugh, "Sounds like you got gypped to me." And with a quick turn, she apparated away.
Harry tried to contact her a million times throughout the next week. She temporarily cut her parents' fireplace out of the floo network, but that only worked for so long. Soon, their muggle telephone was flooded with messages; there'd even been one from Ron. Hermione assumed that Harry had dialed and put Ron on the phone once it had begun to ring.
"Please, Hermione…you can't do this to yourself." Ron's voice pleaded. "We're all worried about you…" he paused, "I'm worried about you…"
Hermione reached over and stopped the recording. If she listen to it much longer, she thought she might break down and actually visit.
At the end of the week, Harry and Ron showed up in Flourish and Blotts. When they walked into the store, Hermione had sensed their presences immediately and had to resist the urge to duck behind the counter. Her pity grasped hold of her, however; Harry looked so bedraggled and worn down. He was hardly the vibrant, headstrong boy she'd grown up with. He seemed so tired. She felt guilty for dragging him through her own emotional troubles. Ron stood next to Harry, beet red. From a distance, Hermione could not tell if it was from anger or embarrassment, and she wasn't sure if she was relieved or not as the pair began to approach and she noticed it was because he was uncomfortable.
"Hey." The red head said, rubbing his arm nervously. "You haven't been returning our calls."
Hermione shrugged. "I've been busy. I'm sorry."
"Stop it, Hermione." Harry said firmly, "We know you feel guilty, but you can't punish yourself forever. No one's mad at you, or blames you. You were in the middle of a huge battle! You'd just seen Madame Pomfrey get hit with the Killing Curse—" the reprisal of that memory made Hermione shudder, "—and you knew there was no one else who could help. Anyone else would have run away, but you stepped up."
Ron nodded. "It means a lot to us, you know. That you were with him…" his voice trailed off and Ron had to look away. He wiped his arm across his eyes quickly, blinking a few times. "We all knew the odds when we went in."
The things that were coming out of the mouths of her best friends made perfect sense. In the heat of the battle, she'd watched as the woman who'd been training her to become a makeshift healer was brought down by a single curse. Armed with only the cursory knowledge of healing that Madame Pomfrey had been able to give her before she was killed in action, Hermione had been overwhelmed when people, having seen the former nurse fall, began to run up to her in the middle of the fighting to be healed. Most of the wounds were superficial cuts and gashes. In other words, easy fixes; a quick medicinal charm and the skin knitted itself back together again.
Unfortunately for Hermione, it was only the skin that grew back together, and that's what occurred to her as her best friends continued to talk, despite her inattention.
Finally, she interrupted them. "So, what, then?" she asked, glancing over their shoulders to see an elderly witch waiting impatiently, drumming her fingers along the spine of the book she intended to buy, "You want me to hook my place back up to the floo network? Fine."
Reaching forward to shoo them away, Harry and Ron remained planted in their spot. Harry shook his head. "We want you to visit the Burrow."
The elderly woman cleared her throat with impatience. Hermione had to agree before the boys would move out of the line.
Two nights later, Hermione sat in her bathroom, trying to run a brush through her hair and failing miserably. She was supposed to be at the Weasley's in fifteen minutes, but the idea of facing Mrs. Weasley with her sad eyes and half-hearted smile made Hermione feel sick to her stomach. How could Ron and Harry expect her to go through with this?
And Ron—she wasn't too keen on seeing Ron, either. She still loved him very much, she simply didn't love him. She'd sat idly by too long, had suffered through too much by herself. And he wanted to comfort her, love her after all of it had already passed by? Where had he been when the war had ended?
Though, Hermione chastised herself, he'd probably been purposely avoiding her then. She would have, had the roles been reversed. No one really wants to strike up a conversation with the person who killed one's brother, accidentally or not.
In love or not.
Bile rose in her throat, and she realized she was due at the Burrow at any second. Taking a deep calming breath, Hermione envisioned their garden in her mind; overgrown with weeds and gnomes, it would be the perfect place to escape for a few minutes. She needed to sooth her nerves before she walked into the Weasley's home.
In a heartbeat, she was standing in the garden. She had a crowd of gnomes running away from the spot where she'd landed and smiled at their hurried departure. She wanted to reassure them that she'd never hurt them. She'd done too much hurting, the past few years. In all honesty, she needed a break.
"Fancy meeting you here."
From the moment the first syllable was uttered, Hermione knew exactly who it was. The timbre of his voice was burned into her brain, if only because it was so like another voice. One that haunted her dreams. Promise or no promise, she had to get away from the situation. She closed her eyes and readied herself for apparation, but then he spoke again.
"Apparate away and I'll never forgive you."
His word choice made her stop. After a quiet moment, she managed to ask, "You were planning on forgiving me?"
"Hermione…" he sounded apologetic, which only angered her. Why should he be apologizing to her? He hadn't killed Fred with his incompetence.
"Don't you dare, George Weasley." She hissed, turning around to face him. Immediately upon seeing him, she lost all of her steam. George was not the same person. The last time she'd seen him, he'd been a strong, tough young man with his a spell on his lips and a smear of blood around his jawline. Now, as he sat among a matted patch of weeds in the middle of the Weasley's garden, he bore no resemblance to that boy. He seemed ten years older than he was, at least.
George rolled a dandelion between his fingers. "What shouldn't I dare, Hermione?" he asked, his voice flat. "To forgive you?"
She looked away. "I don't deserve it."
He shrugged. "You couldn't have known he had internal bleeding. You did what Pomfrey taught you to do—heal quick, and get people back out on the battlefield. You did your job."
A vision of Fred, howling with pain and a gash across his stomach, pleading for her to just heal it quick because it hurt so bad flashed before her. Tears stung her eyes. "Poorly." She added, pressing her hand to her mouth in distress. "Oh Merlin, George. I'm so, so sorry."
The yellow weed was disintegrating as he twirled it mindlessly. "I know you are." His voice was quiet and serious, so unlike it had ever sounded before.
It was impossible to ignore that he left out any mention of forgiveness. A small sob escaped Hermione's lips, but she stifled it, refusing to cry. She'd walked around with the guilt on her heart for far too long. Taking a deep breath, she dropped her head down the ground, too ashamed to look up and meet his eyes any longer. George stood and brushed the dirt from his pants, then turned and walked inside the Burrow without a word.
That action alone was like a knife in Hermione's heart. She watched as George disappeared through the open door, and saw a surprised Ron appear in the doorframe, assumably watching his brother. Ron glanced outside and looked startled to see Hermione standing in the garden, a heartbroken expression on her face. He came outside to greet her and pull her back into the Burrow with him, but she resisted his efforts. Surprisingly, he did not insist, instead letting go of her. She collapsed onto the ground, and he followed suit, sitting himself beside her.
"He hates me." She whispered, head down, her wild hair disguising her face and muffling her voice. Ron reached out and brushed some of it behind her ear. She didn't resist his touch.
"No, he doesn't." he contradicted. "He's not angry at you, Hermione. I know he isn't." Reaching out, Ron grabbed her hand and held it gently. The motion was so comforting that her throat ached with unshed tears.
She squeezed his hand. "He is." She said decidedly, "I'm not mad about it. He has every right to detest me." A bitter laugh escaped her lips, "Everyone in your family does, actually. But knowing that doesn't stop me from wishing that he would forgive me."
"He already has."
"How do you know?" she scoffed.
Ron shrugged. "He's my brother. I just…know." He paused, looking thoughtful before continuing, "We have a bond, a connection that ties us together so that I know what he feels and thinks instinctively, and he knows the same about me."
"That's silly." She argued.
"How so?" when she didn't answer, he smiled. "A lot of people have that sort of tie with another person. Not just siblings, but…well, I don't know. Soul mates, I suppose." He ran his hand over the grass, stopping to pull up a weed. "I look at him, and I don't see anger. He's not mad. I think he just can't look at you right now, without thinking of…him."
Hermione nodded, and the pair of them sat in silence for a long time. She reached out, mimicking his actions and running one of her palms across the cool grass, the other still loosely held in Ron's own hand. The sun had just set, and part of the sky was still clinging to the glow. The rest had long abandoned it, succumbing to the darkness. She stared up at the stars, and was startled when Ron interrupted the quiet peacefulness.
"Hermione?" he asked, looking over at her nervously.
She barely registered his voice. "Hmm?"
"I know this isn't the right time," he said, awkwardly, "in fact, this may be the most wrong time ever, but…does this," he lifted up their conjoined hands, "mean anything?"
The moment the words left his mouth, Hermione pulled her hand away. She'd needed a friend, and Ron had acted as one; it had never occurred to her that she would be causing him pain. More guilt coursed through her. How many Weasley's was she meant to hurt?
"Ron…" she started.
He interrupted her. "It's fine." His voice was even. The tinge of sadness in it was barely perceptible, "Really. I get it. You needed someone, and I was here." She looked alarmed, and Ron reassured again. "It's fine, Hermione."
They collapsed into a very uncomfortable silence, each keeping their eyes trained somewhere in the distance. Ron deserved an explanation, and Hermione knew it, but what could she say? Everything sounded hollow and selfish.
"When he came to me," she began, her voice unsteady, "he begged me to heal him quickly. He said it hurt so bad, and there was so much blood. I panicked. I thought if I didn't close the wound as soon as possible, he'd die. So I did like he asked. I healed the gash on his stomach quickly, and made sure that it was secure and all. And we went back into battle together.
"It was at the point where we'd been fighting for so long, taking curse after curse. I'd just finished with some Death Eater when Fred was hit with this spell—I think it was supposed to be that banishing spell they used so much. It sounded similar, at least. But they didn't intone it correctly, and it hit Fred in the stomach like a ton of bricks. He just fell back. I hit the Death Eater with something, I don't even remember what, and then went to his side. He was crying in pain, and I opened his robe to see the damage, and his entire stomach was bruised.
I asked him if it was from the spell. I had never seen a spell do that particular kind of damage—give someone a bruise like that. And he shook his head, said that he'd noticed it a few minutes ago and hadn't said anything because I was fighting and he was fighting and there just seemed to be more important things going on at the time. And it took me a second, Ron, but all of a sudden, I understood what had happened. There was something bleeding inside him.
I tried so hard, so hard to get him out of the battlefield. I managed to get behind a tree. And I used every spell I knew, but Madame Pomfrey never taught me how to heal organs. I kept trying again and again and it wasn't working. Fred was just in front of me, asking me what was wrong, and I kept telling him that I didn't know."
Ron was staring at Hermione, horrified. His mouth was hanging open, but he didn't make a move to stop her. Tears flowed from Hermione's eyes and down her cheeks as she continued talking.
"And it felt like hours, me just sitting there and saying every spell that came to my head, hoping it would work. It wasn't hours, but it felt like it. The bruise just kept getting darker. After awhile, he just…reached out and grabbed my wrist. Said, 'It's okay, Hermione.' And I told him, 'I'll figure it out, Fred, I promise.' And do you know what he said to me?" she asked, looking straight at Ron with bloodshot eyes. The redhead shook his head no. Hermione gulped, and forced the words out of her mouth, "He said, 'There'd better be fireworks at my funeral. George will know what kind.' And then he patted my arm and then—oh Merlin, Ron—he was gone."
Ron turned away, his chest heaving, and threw up a little bit on the ground. Hermione had never told anyone what exactly had happened to Fred. When his body had been found after the battle, they had an auror test the body for the curses performed upon it—a degenerative curse had got in through the gash on his stomach and attacked his organs, causing internal bleeding and organ dysfunction. Had Hermione known about the bleeding, the auror said that she could have saved his life.
Instead, she'd seen and healed only the gash.
They hadn't had a formal funeral. There hadn't been any time—as soon as the battle had ended, another one began. Fred had been laid to rest outside of Hogsmeade. A day later, Death Eaters broke into Hogwarts, and the last battle was held on the old school's grounds.
After another moment of dry heaving, Ron collected himself, wiping his sleeve across his mouth. Tears brimmed in his eyes. "Merlin." He said, his voice hoarse and rough. "Oh…Merlin, Hermione." Suddenly, almost violently, he reached out and grabbed her, bringing the girl into a tight hug. Her head dropped to his shoulder as she cried freely.
"It's okay," he murmured into her hair as he rubbed her back gently. "It's alright."
It was awhile before she summoned the strength to move out of Ron's comforting embrace, reminding herself why she'd told Ron the story of his brother's last moments in the first place.
She cleared her throat, preparing to talk again. "When the war ended, I went back to live at home with my parents, as you know. I needed to escape from everyone for a little while. I cried myself to sleep every night for a month. I barely got out of my pajamas. I didn't eat unless my parents forced me. I've never felt so guilty or alone my entire life. And when you sent me that owl, asking me to dinner on that Tuesday, I didn't want to go. My parents made me. Said it would be good for me to get out of the house and see that no one blamed me for what happened.
We didn't talk during dinner, but I remember that I kept catching your eyes—I wanted to talk to you so bad. I wanted to tell you what had happened. I wanted to cry on your shoulder and have you comfort me. I wanted to tell you that I loved you." She paused, "I guess that sounds stupid, especially the timing. But George wasn't there, so I couldn't apologize to him, and all I wanted to do was feel better. To have something that made me feel good happen. Does that make sense?"
Ron nodded his head.
"After dinner, I went outside. It was humid. I wanted more than anything for you to join me outside so we could talk. But you never came. You sent Harry."
He averted his eyes. "I was nervous."
"But don't you see? I needed you." She insisted, turning to Ron. "I was marinating in my own guilt and grief and I needed you. But you weren't there, and I couldn't take it. When Harry said that you were in love with me, I realized that we needed different things."
Hearing her words did little to soothe him. "So that's just…it? You told me all this to let me know that we're different?"
"When I needed you to step up and be there for me, you sent someone else." She said. Her tone wasn't cold, but it wasn't welcoming, either.
"Well, gee, Hermione." He said bitterly, "Perhaps I was dealing with the death of my brother." At that, she visibly recoiled. Hermione moved as if to stand, but Ron caught her arm and kept her grounded. "I didn't mean it. Please don't go." She remained sitting, but tears had reached her eyes again; guilt had returned.
"I'm not mad at you," he promised, "I sent Harry because I didn't know if you'd want to see me. I didn't want to…I don't know, remind you of everything that had happened. You seemed to struggle a bit at dinner and I was afraid that I went and confessed how I felt…well, I just thought I'd be throwing too much at you at once. You know?"
She nodded and picked at the grass. "But you still sent Harry."
He bit his lip. "Yeah, I did." Running a hand through his hair, Ron shrugged. "Thought it might be easier to hear from someone who didn't have flaming red hair and who might remind you of what happened."
"I understand," she said, "but do you see what I mean? It felt…cold, impersonal."
"I guess." He joined her in her grass-picking. "Maybe you're right. About us needing different things."
Hermione laid back in the grass, grabbing a dandelion and dissecting it's yellow head piece-by-piece. "How so?"
Ron folded his legs in front of him and leaned back on his arms. "Well, it's like I said earlier about being able to read George. I just know how he feels by instinct. I don't need to think about it or anything. And it's because of our relationship. We're brothers. We're blood." He leaned over and plucked the dandelion out of her fingers, tossing it away and saving it from its grim fate. "But I can't do that with you. Obviously, I mean, since I completely screwed up when I sent Harry." Now that her hands were free, he reached over and caught one of them again, like they had been sitting earlier. Hermione didn't stop him. "And maybe what we both really need is that person—you know what I mean—the one who knows exactly what they should do without having to ask you. The one who knows what you need simply because they know you."
She smiled and pulled their clasped hands to her heart. "I think you're right, Ron."
The action seemed to upset him slightly, and he wrestled away from her grasp, folding his hands in his lap. "Hermione?"
Concern made it's way across her face. "Hmm?"
"I need to be alone for awhile."
She nodded. "I'll go." She made as if to stand up but he motioned for her to stop, shaking his head.
"No. You promised Mum you'd come to dinner." Ron stayed sitting and pointed toward the door. "Go in. I'm sure she's still getting everything together. I don't think Percy's here yet, anyway."
Hermione ran a hand over the grass. "You really think that's a good idea?"
"Yeah, I do." He answered, eyes trained on a garden gnome peeking through the blades of grass. "Go on. I'm fine." He glanced over at her. She looked worried. "I'm fine."
Uncertainly, Hermione stood and walked toward the back door, pausing once to glance over her shoulder. Ron was sitting, legs tucked into his chest and eyes searching the horizon. He looked so much older than she'd ever seen him look before. It almost made her wish that she loved him again.
As she headed inside and turned left toward the kitchen, she was arrested by the visage of George Weasley, standing in front of her, leaning casually against the wall. She jumped, startled by his presence, but quickly recovered. Though her instincts and guilt wanted her to run away, she felt as if she owed him more than that. She'd watched this man's twin, his other half, die, and if anyone could offer him closure, it was probably her.
To her surprise, George cut her off before she could say anything.
"I know exactly the fireworks he was talking about." He said, his voice so low she could barely hear it.
A bittersweet smile came to her lips. "You were listening."
George didn't even acknowledge her statement, but just continued to talk. "We bought them awhile ago—they're wicked. I'd tell you what they'd look like, but it would spoil the surprise." He stopped, and his face crumpled slightly as he turned his back toward the wall and slid down until he was sitting in the hallway. Hermione, at a loss, crouched beside him, hand on his knee.
"I'm not mad. Not at you. Ron's right." He said, after a moment of silence had passed. "I thought I was, for awhile."
She squeezed his knee. "You have every reason to hate me."
"When it happened…I knew he'd died. I was with him when he got that gash on his stomach. I knew Pomfrey had been killed earlier, and I saw you across the field. I sent him to you. I wanted to go with him, but then this Death Eater came out of nowhere, and I couldn't leave. But I felt it, when he died. Half of me went with him." George gulped, rubbing the back of his neck uncomfortably. Briefly, he looked up and into Hermione's eyes, but he looked away just as quickly. "And I suddenly had to see him. I felt like if I saw him, it would make it all less real. When I found you with him…"
Hermione blushed and moved her hand away from George's knee. Suddenly, she felt very awkward. She brushed a rogue hair behind her ear. "George…"
"I want to talk about it." He insisted. "When I found you with him, I went berserk." For a moment, he fell quiet. "It's difficult to be in that situation and not want to blame someone. And I did blame you for awhile. But I haven't, not for a week or two. That's why I didn't forgive you earlier, out in the garden. There was nothing to forgive."
There was a long silence where both sat. His reassurance that he bore her no ill will had greatly comforted Hermione. George sat, face toward the floor, unkempt red hair sweeping in front of his eyes. He ran a hand through his hair, and looked up, sending Hermione a half-hearted smile. His eyes were dry.
"So, I believe you were invited to dinner." He said as he pressed his back against the wall, giving himself leverage to stand. Hermione studied his actions from her position on the floor; this was not the George Weasley she'd grown up with. The wise-cracking, joke-playing boy who never missed an opportunity to laugh. He was not that boy at all.
Instead, he was a sad young man who'd lost his brother and looked like he needed a hug. And, being the compassionate being that she was, Hermione stood quickly and enveloped George in a tight embrace, stroking his back softly. At first, he seemed surprised by her sudden display of affection; there was a difference between being friends and being friendly, and they had typically only been friendly. Yet, as her hand traveled up and down his back in a gesture of comfort, George felt more whole than he had in the time since Fred had died. He had needed a hug, the warmth of a human touch.
He pulled away, eyes averted and a small smile playing at the corner of his lips. "I needed that."
Hermione blushed as the words left his mouth, and after a moment of confusion he understand why. What was it that Ron had said? That he was not the one for her because he could not read her, could not see what it was that she needed, or she him. Realization dawned on his face, and George felt his cheeks grow hot, as well.
Immediately, Hermione turned away. "I should go." She tried to turn and walk down the hall, but George held out one lanky arm, barring her way.
"Don't go," he said, a little too quickly. Hermione was taken aback, and George amended his statement. "I mean… Mum would be disappointed if you left."
"You're sure she won't mind if I'm there?" Hermione asked, her voice barely above a whisper. The last time she'd had dinner with the Weasleys, the night Harry had approached her on Ron's behalf, Molly had not been able to look at her without tearing up.
George tried smile encouragingly. "Yeah…you're part of the family, you know? One of us. She's lost Fred. She doesn't want to lose you, too."
Tears rushed to Hermione's eyes, and for the first time since the war had ended, they were not tears of sadness. She nodded and followed him down the hallway into the kitchen.
The meal that ensued was somewhat awkward for Hermione, who felt nervous about spending time with the family she credited herself for hurting, but everyone welcomed her with open arms. Molly gave her a tight hug and whispered a bittersweet hello, Arthur shook her hand, Ginny patted her arm. Bill, Charlie, and even Percy were there, each giving her a small smile. Harry apparated in just before dessert and, upon seeing Hermione present, practically flew to her to give her a hug.
After dinner, Molly invited Hermione to stay the night in Ginny's room. Ginny had begged and pleaded for her to do so, but Hermione refused. Suddenly, being there amongst those people made her feel like she had unfinished business. They had all forgiven her, or like George, thought there was nothing to forgive. Yet she had not yet forgiven herself. She stole away from Ginny when the girl went upstairs to change into her pajamas, and left without saying goodbye to anyone.
There was something she needed to do.
When Ron realized that Hermione had left, he immediately sought out Harry. He assumed she hadn't said goodbye because of their earlier encounter; he wanted to know if perhaps she'd said anything about him to their mutual best friend.
The red-head found Harry lounged in a chair with Ginny perched on his lap. Ron glared when they walked in, and Ginny rolled her eyes at her. "Oh please, Ron. Don't." Harry pushed her off his lap, and she turned to him, surprised. "Harry! What are you doing?"
Harry shrugged, his green eyes almost holding that glint of mischief that used to be so prevalent in them. "Your brother's bigger than me."
"Real chivalrous." She huffed, only half serious. She stalked out of the room, but with a small smile on her face; it had been a long time since Harry had looked remotely like his old self.
As she left, Harry stood to go after her. He stopped, however, when Ron reached out and grabbed his shoulder. "Wait, before you go…did you talk to Hermione before she left?"
Confusion crossed Harry's face. "Hermione left? But Molly asked her to stay."
Footsteps plodded down the hallway, and the two boys instinctively turned toward the open door. George trudged past them, but Ron called out to him, stopping him in his tracks. "Oi, George!"
His older brother stuck his head into the room. "What do you want, Ronniekins?"
Ron blushed at the nickname and was about to tell George to forget it when Harry interrupted him. "Do you know where Hermione went?"
"She left?" George asked, perplexed. Ron and Harry nodded their confirmation. Stepping into the room completely, George seemed to turn this information over in his mind before realization visually dawned on him. He gave the pair a smile; the first genuine smile his brother had seen from him in ages. "Yes, I know where she is."
Harry barely managed the "w" in "where" before George had disapparated, leaving the two of them behind without a clue as to where he was headed. The stunned raven haired young man turned to his best friend. "What just happened? Shouldn't we…" Harry's voice trailed off as he studied Ron. An ironic, bittersweet sort of look sat on his face, and Ron laughed, deep in his throat.
"No, he's fine." When Harry began to protest, Ron shook his head. "They're both fine. If he says he knows where she is, he knows where she is."
Harry looked less than convinced. "But how?"
Ron shrugged. "A lover's intuition."
When he found her, she was walking in front of the Memorial Wall situated around Hogsmeade. Floating candles hovered near the wall, illuminating its polished surface. George was surprised to see how many mourners were there. His heart broke with pity as an older couple found their son's name and broke into tears, weeping in each other's arms.
That's what war did, though, he supposed. Ripped apart your family. Made you cry.
He hadn't been lying when he told Hermione that he physically felt Fred die. It was like being stabbed in the heart. The worst part was that that pain did not recede, or get any better. It always remained, some section of his heart perpetually broken because he'd lost his twin.
For awhile, he'd hated Hermione. Subconsciously he'd known Fred's death wasn't her fault; she'd merely done as she was taught. Yet no one who has just lost their brother wants to hear that it wasn't someone else's fault, and George was not exempt from that rule. It killed him to think that his twin's death was nothing more than cruel happenstance; there had to be a reason, a guilty party, something.
He'd let go of that anger slowly, as the weeks since Fred's passing grew longer and hating Hermione did nothing to bring him back. His need to blame someone passed; Fred had died, and it would be hard from now on, but George no longer needed a scapegoat to feel better about it. And when Hermione had turned up, he'd felt the need to tell her that he'd changed and he no longer felt like there was someone to blame.
What he hadn't anticipated from their meeting was the sudden connection he felt between them. It didn't seem like he should feel so close to Hermione; it made more sense for him to be angry with her, not feel like their bond had been strengthened by the whole ordeal. Ron's words were still ringing in his head. Had this whole terrible experience brought him to something that could help? Was Hermione the cure, as well as part of the cause?
The questions swirled about his mind, and George was detemined to find out. Shoving his hands into the pockets of his robes, he strode toward Hermione soundlessly. She was tracing her finger down a list of names, and he knew who she was searching for.
"His name's down near the other end." George said quietly. His voice was hushed, but Hermione still jumped when she heard it, flinging herself around in surprise.
She gaped when she saw George before her. "What are you doing here?"
"Everyone was wondering where you escaped to," he explained, eyes toward the ground and shoe tracing a circle in the dirt. "I knew where you'd be."
Hermione turned her head back toward the wall of endless names, and ignoring his statement, said, "Could you…could you show me where his name is?"
George held out his hand to her, and she took it instinctively, only regretting her reaction for a moment. He lead her a few meters away from where she'd been searching, tracing his finger down the stone until he stopped, running his fingertip over a particular name. Hermione didn't want to look but felt compelled by some higher source, and so she leaned in to see the glittering letters.
"FRED WEASLEY." The wall read, the text a shiny silver against the reflective gray of the stone. Reaching out tentatively, Hermione touched the name, a lump forming in her throat. She swallowed thickly, choking back the tears that were threatening to spill from her eyes.
"Oh Fred," she whispered so softly that George could just barely hear her, "I'm so, so sorry."
George felt his eyes grow wet, too, but he sniffed loudly, refusing to cry. Instead, he turned his gaze toward the girl next to him, who was quietly weeping for his twin brother. Watching her cry awakened something in George, and a tiny voice in his brain commanded him to hug her.
Hermione fell into the embrace, wrapping her arms around George tightly as she cried freely into the front of his robes. A few moments passed, and George tried to hold her up as best he could before she managed to regain her footing and support her own weight. She smiled up at him through her tears. "Thank you," she said, "I needed that."
George took one last look at his twin brother's name on the wall and felt the familiar tug at his heart. It would always be there, he knew, there was no way to escape the pain of his brother's death. But there were ways of dealing with it, beyond blaming someone, and he finally felt as if he knew that, too. He reached out, touching his palm to the cool surface of the stone one last time before pushing off, arm wrapped around Hermione's waist. She didn't seem to mind being steered away from the monument, nestling into his side. He sent her a tentative smile and felt happy for the first time in months when she returned it with one of her own.
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter.
A/N: This was written for BlueIrishEyes. She wrote me a Cedric/Hermione (entitled "The Yellow Scarf"—it's really great, you should check it out!) in exchange for this story. The plot of this story changed drastically from what I originally envisioned a quarter of the way through, so I hope it turned out alright. And sheesh, I think it's the longest thing I've ever written. Haha.
I'm really unsure about this piece, so if I could get some feedback, I'd greatly appreciate it. Please and thank you. :D