Days Like These
Out of all the changes that had happened over the last week, meal times were one of the more noticeable changes. They used to be full of conversation, of clattering plates, and everyone was happy. They weren't anymore.
They all ate out of habit, to keep the routine going, but there was no talking, and absolutely no acknowledgment of the one that was missing.
The morning after they had all returned to The Burrow, Hermione came down for breakfast, and the chair was gone. She surmised that Arthur had come down early, and removed it, in an attempt to not force it into all their minds. It wasn't as simple as one less chair on the table, or one less place to set. An awfully large presence was gone, someone with an ever present smile, and an easy laugh. You couldn't forget that.
Hermione had become proficient in pretending to eat, grieving as she was, Mrs. Weasley still kept an eagle eye on their eating habits. She would push the food around on her plate, take a small bite at regular intervals, and for all appearances she was eating. There was no appetite in her, the food felt heavy in her stomach, her throat felt like it was constricting when she swallowed. Despite having a little toast earlier, Mrs. Weasley wasn't satisfied, and had piled her plate with scrambled eggs. Just the thought of eating them made her feel like retching.
Beside her Ron didn't have that problem, she wasn't sure if it was just habit, but she couldn't imagine how he could possibly eat so easily.
He wasn't looking at her at all, he'd be scared off in the last few days, their relationship strained more than it had ever been. Hermione was at a complete loss as to what to do, there was too much expectation placed on her, and that was mostly her own fault. There had been moments over the last year where she had thought that things with Fred were never going to work, long sleepless nights in that tent giving her plenty of time to think it over. They were too different, it would be too difficult, Ron would be hurt, but then she realised how wrong all those arguments were.
It didn't matter that they were different, plus most things worth fighting for were difficult, and if Ron really cared for her, then he'd want her to be happy. Hermione never got the chance to tell Fred that she felt the same way as he did, the last time she saw him it was so frantic, with so much going on.
She told herself that she'd tell him after, only after was too late.
Now she was all alone, and had to deal with a best friend that she had foolishly kissed in the heat of the moment, a best friend who was now more than likely thinking that they were at the very beginning of a relationship. He just didn't realise how wrong he was. There wasn't going to be a relationship, not now, Hermione couldn't see one in the future for them either. That path had faded when she had fallen in love with his brother.
Hermione felt terrible for what she was doing to him, treating him so horribly, but it was easier to do it that way. There was no way she could tell him now, not when they were all so lost in their grief, she didn't want to lead him on though. If she pretended that everything was fine, that they were together, when it came time to tell him the truth, she was afraid that there friendship would be unable to be saved. A time would come when she could tell him, but it wasn't now.
So whenever he hugged her for more than was the norm for a embrace from a friend, she would pull herself out of his arms, and when he took her hand under the kitchen table, she all but leaped to her feet. Muttering something about needing air, she excused herself and went outside. Hermione didn't need to look back at him to know what expression would be on his face, she'd seen it every day for the past week.
She crossed the lawn to the fence at the back of the yard, leaning against the rails heavily, breathing deeply. It was getting harder every day, she really didn't want to hurt him, but it would hurt him more to know the truth, and to let him do what he was doing.
"You're going to have to tell him Granger," a voice said behind her, Hermione straightened at the familiar voice, her eyes closing as she remembered someone else talking to her with that same tone.
"Not yet, not today," she sighed, running her hand over her eyes. "You know?"
"Of course I do, I suspected something for a long while, and then I heard him that night, we never talked about it though," George said quietly, stepping up next to her. "Never got the chance to."
"But he didn't say my name?"
He barked a little laugh out, "Who would he affectionately call his favourite prefect?"
Hermione smiled, as she glanced at him, her breath catching in her throat as she saw him. "Oh god," she muttered, turning from him quickly. "I'm sorry, it's just, you know what it is."
"I haven't looked in a mirror all week," he whispered, stepping closer to her, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders.
She turned into his arms, pressing her face into the soft wool of his coat, "I'm so sorry."
"You didn't do anything Hermione," George said softly, tightening his arms around her.
"But if I could bring him back, I'd do it for you in a heartbeat, if I could go back and save him," she cried, looking up at him through her tears. "You need him more than I ever did..."
"We both need him," he wiped the moisture from her cheeks, kissing the top of her head gently. "We both loved him, and he was still taken from us."
"It's not fair, I want him back so much, I want to tell him, I never got to tell him."
"I'm certain he did, after he spoke to you, it's like he knew that it wasn't just him anymore, you were right there with him. He looked a different way, and his smile was brand new, he knew."
Hermione wiped her face quickly, "I still want to tell him, to see his face when I tell him that I love him too. To kiss him, to hear him laugh, I don't know what I'm going to do without him."
She knew Hogwarts was going to be different this year, but she didn't like this at all, it didn't seem like Hogwarts at all.
The students were different, they carried themselves differently. It was like they were afraid to be themselves, scared of bringing Umbridge and her growing goon squad down on them, it wasn't right. They should be allowed to smile, to laugh in the corridors, and to speak honestly to one another. Harry pretended that his hand didn't hurt, but she could see him stroking the risen flesh occasionally, a dark look passing through his eyes.
Her classes were different, there was a line down the middle it seemed, with the believers on one side, and those that didn't on the other side. The teachers were behaving different as well, with Umbridge and her blasted clipboard in the corner, they were understandably nervous. Hermione wanted to learn though, she needed to hang onto the one thing that Hogwarts had always given her, knowledge. While everything was turning into a weird alternate Hogwarts, and everyone was turning a blind eye to the imminent war, she wanted something solid.
The last class she had, Umbridge had stood in the corner, tutting away and marking Professor Vector's performance. Hermione had steadily struggled to contain her aggravation, she wanted to slap the silly little smile off the bitch's face. But she was a Professor, so she had to respect her, and it would do no good for her to join Harry bathing her hand in Murtlap essence.
Hermione was taking the long way back to Gryffindor tower, letting off steam as she complained, and argued in her head. She could see herself slap Umbridge the way she had hit Malfoy two years ago, and the virtual violence felt as good as the real thing had.
She laughed a little as she saw her face as her hand connected with her cheek, the sound echoed through the empty halls. It was a silly little fantasy, but it felt good to hit her, even if she'd never do it.
A hand grabbed her wrist then, causing her to yelp as she was pulled into an empty doorway.
"What's so funny Granger? Threaten to tattle on some more students?"
Hermione sighed as she straightened her robes, "No Fred, and I had a good reason! They can't eat those things, you can't use underclassmen as test dummies."
"They wanted to!"
"That's not the point!" She cried, poking his chest. "They are young, naive, do you realise what you and George are to those first years?"
"Enlighten me," he said, crossing his arms across his chest.
"God I hate saying this, but you are godlike to them. You are older, you are charming, and you can seemingly to them, do anything. They look up to you, and you are taking advantage of that."
Fred smiled, "Charming? Didn't know you thought that way Granger, do I charm you?"
"No!" She said quickly, feeling her face heat up. "You annoy me, you drive me crazy, you most certainly do not charm me."
"But you say I can do anything," he said stepping closer to her, forcing her back against the door. "Surely someone who can do anything, can charm you?"
"You can't, I'm resistant," Hermione said firmly. "As far as you are concerned, no charming will happen."
He laughed lightly, stopping when he heard footsteps, pulling them into the dark classroom, letting Malfoy and his friends pass by without noticing them. Waiting till their voices were merely a sound in the distance, he turned back to her, "No charming?"
Shaking her head, "None whatsoever."
"Sorry Granger," he sighed. "Your wrong on this one I'm afraid, there has been some charming."
"No, trust me Fred, you have not charmed me."
He smiled, resting a hand on her arm, Fred leaned down to whisper into her ear, "No, but you charmed me."
"I have not!"
"Oh you have, against my better brotherly judgment, you fascinate me in ways you shouldn't."
"You shouldn't, in spite of there being several other more appropriate, and less complicated girls I could feel this way about, the only one who does is you."
"I can't," Hermione whispered, leaning away from him. "You're just being silly, I'm not the kind of girl that inspires that nonsense."
"I think that's exactly why, you aren't like all the other girls."
"We have nothing in common, complete opposites. There has to be a more suitable girl for you."
"There probably is, but there's only one I think about all the time, only one who drives me so bloody crazy."
"You annoy me too, a lot."
"Something in common," he grinned, he brought a hand up to rest on her cheek. "It doesn't have to make sense Hermione, I've stopped trying to get it to. It's just the way it is, and right now I could either be the most stupid boy in this castle, or about to get lucky. What will it be?"
Hermione looked up at him, "Lucky."
"You could never be stupid, but I think I must be," she sighed, shaking her head.
"No, never," Fred whispered, moving his hand under her chin, lifting gently to look her in the eyes. "I don't think this is stupid at all." Her eyes closed as he leaned down, she could feel the gentle puffs of his breath on her lips, before someone whistled in the hall. Fred cursed, "That's George."
"Of course it is," she sighed, her hand pulling his away from her.
"We have some plans, that need to be carried out, rather urgently."
"Do I want to know?"
He smiled, "No."
"Then don't tell me, as long as Umbridge gets a little comeuppance I won't interfere."
"And you thought we didn't have anything in common," he laughed quietly. "I think you and I will get along just fine."