They're at The Burrow, sitting in the lounge in silence. Everyone else has long since gone to bed and it's just the two of them there, the only sound in the room is the warm crackling of the fire in the grate. It's summer, and the fire is roaring but they both feel so so cold. It's a different kind of cold to that which they have experienced before, caused by omnipresent dark wizards and ex-Azkaban guards. She's felt this before, but never to such an extreme.
He's staring into the fire and looking as though he's died inside. A dragon could burst into the room and start roaring its head off and she's quite sure he wouldn't notice. He probably wouldn't even blink.
She thinks he doesn't notice when she takes his hand in hers, but she still feels that she should; perhaps in a few hours he'll remember the fleeting comfort, or perhaps the feel of her small hand in his own.
Perhaps he'll still be staring into the fire.
She doesn't say anything, even though it comes as quite a shock, when a few minutes after she has joined their hands, he gives her hand the tiniest of squeezes, so slight that had she even been thinking of anything, anything at all, she would have failed to notice. She wonders when she started being able to switch her brain off. The strange thing is that this state of mind doesn't even feel foreign to her, even though she can't remember ever having an empty head in all her life before this week.
She wants to smile, but her mouth doesn't cooperate, when a voice inside her head (which sounds remarkably like him) tells her that this is what it must feel like to be Ron.
She's been to too many funerals this week, and the whole thing is now like a routine.
The bacon sandwich that Mrs Weasley places in front of her with shaking hands should have been delicious, but her taste buds seem to have gone on strike. When she has finished, the smallest and most insignificant hole in her body has been filled. All other holes are located in her heart, and no amount of bacon sandwiches can satiate her hunger to see her fallen friends just once more, to know that the after life is treating them as heroes should be treated.
He hasn't touched his sandwich, and for once, Mrs Weasley doesn't force the issue. When they leave a short while later, the bread has started to go stale at the edges and the bacon is stone cold.
None of them want to stand next to him at the funeral, and she hopes it's because they don't feel like they could pick up the pieces, should he break down, rather than a case of not wanting to. Ginny stands on his left and she stands on his right, while on her right stands Harry, accompanied by the rest of the Weasley boys.
Mrs Weasley believes that she has run out of tears when Fred's body is brought into the ceremony. Then she sees her put her arm around his middle, in a sort of one armed hug and a fresh wave of salty tears hits her. Arthur pulls her close, but by the time she has composed herself, she sees his arm resting on her slim shoulders, bushy brown hair falling over the sleeve of his dress robes and Molly Weasley believes for the first time that her son can recover from this.
It appears she has a reservoir of uncried tears.
She's working in the shop while she decides what she wants to do with her life. He doesn't come out of the back room much, but she and Verity in their lurid magenta robes manage to get through the extraordinary amount of customers that enter the shop. She supposes that people are desperate for a reason to smile and this is their first port of call.
She's also working so she can get enough money for the flights to Australia, having turned down the offer of an illegal portkey, absolutely refused to go on a broomstick and told Ron that going from one end of the country to the other on the Knight Bus was quite far enough, thank you very much, and she wasn't prepared to go from one side of the world to the other on the blasted thing.
They go to his grave, each night after they've shut up the shop, and she is astounded, yet at the same time unsurprised, at the vast and ever increasing amount of flowers that surround the gleaming white marble headstone, the freshness of it reminding her of how fresh her grief is.
Each day he brings a single joke flower. The flowers are real, grown in a window box in the flat above the shop, but he has charmed it so that it squirts water at anyone who tries to touch it. It is a new spin on a very old muggle practical joke, but it makes people laugh all the same.
Someone has been here and cleared away the dead flowers, with just a few dried out, pale petals littering the ground amongst the fresh plants. A strange part of her thinks it was Harry who was here but she doesn't know why. She doesn't dwell on it, because the browning petals make the morbid and slightly messed up area of her head wonder if Fred's hair is still that fiery shade of red, under the earth beneath their feet, or whether it too has lost all its vividness.
She tears her eyes away from the petal before she becomes too entranced and realises that a lot of the headstones around them are fresh and gleaming.
It hits him, one day in the shop. She has been hearing the loud bangs that accompany the inventing process from the back room and it brings the smallest of smiles to her face, because maybe, just maybe, he's starting to continue his life – moving on, but not forgetting. Never forgetting.
They've closed for lunch and she's going to make them some food, but when she goes into the back room, he is slumped over the desk, face buried in his arms, shoulders shaking with each racking sob that breaks through him. She realises it's killing her to stand there and watch him go through this, but her body has frozen and she can't do anything except watch, even though all she wants to do is comfort him.
Suddenly her legs are working again and she is kneeling on the floor next to his chair, her arms around him, her chin resting on his back. She holds him tightly while tears fall down her own face, making a small patch of his robes damp. She kisses his shoulder even though she knows he won't feel it through the layers of fabric covering him and she doesn't know what to do except hold him.
She says nothing, because she knows anything she does say will probably go unheard, and besides, she doesn't want to be the one who brings him empty words of attempted comfort, because no matter how many times you are told that things will be okay, you know they won't, and every time someone reiterates this fallacy to you, you realise that things will never be okay again, at least not in the way they once were.
Passers by are only a little curious as to why Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes is still closed for lunch at five o'clock in the afternoon, but next door have got a sale on, so it doesn't hold their attention for too long.
The back room is a prankster's treasure trove. It is full of old stock, new stock, discarded ideas and ideas that are yet to be refined. She knows she must be careful in here and make sure she doesn't touch anything that looks like it might explode, or might not, for that matter. In fact, the more innocent an object looks, the more likely it is to make loud noises and scare the living daylights out of her.
She didn't realise that the 'no touch' rule also applies to the actual building. If she had realised, she wouldn't have been trailing her fingers along the bricks of the wall, like she was doing now. There is a loud clunk and metal appears from nowhere and wraps itself tightly around her wrist. She only has time to squeal before more metal bands wrap around her whole body and pull her none too gently against the wall.
At the sound of her squeal, he rushes in, wand out, expecting to see some sort of attacker. When he sees her trapped against the wall, his eyes widen and he mumbles an apology after he has crossed the room in three large strides, telling her it might take a while to get her out, because he hasn't worked out a simple counter charm yet, and then he gets started on some complicated wand work. He's so close to her that she can tell he's recently had a peppermint Every Flavour Bean, and she can see each individual dotted over his face.
When he moves her hair out of the way so he can tackle the band around her throat, his fingers brush her neck in the softest of touches and she can feel his breath as he tries to free her. For a fleeting moment she wonders what it would be like to kiss him, and for another she entertains the idea, but then there is a clang and her throat is free and the moment is gone. Their eyes lock and as he sinks to his knees they keep eye contact. She tries not to think about his hand, which is resting on her hip as he tries to break open the band around her waist. She pushes herself back against the wall to keep herself from visibly shivering and prays to Merlin that he doesn't notice her biting her lip.
She is home for the first extended period of time since she was eleven. It is nearing midnight and she has just switched off the television. She jumps when there is a loud knock at the door and her heart begins to beat rapidly as she leaves the lounge and steps out into the hallway. She sees tufts of red hair slightly blurred by the panes of glass in the front door and breathes a sigh of relief before she opens the door and lets him in.
She has only just closed it when she finds that she is pressed up against it and he is kissing her forcefully. She pulls him closer and presses herself against his chest, her hands tangling themselves in his hair. He reaches down and pulls her thighs up so her legs are wrapped around his waist and she thanks Merlin that she has started to feel the warmth from the sun again for had she not been wearing a skirt, his caresses would have been deadened by the material and that's the last thing she wants.
Things are getting more frantic and he pulls her underwear to one side. She lets him fuck her against the front door and for once she is glad that Wendell and Monica Wilkins are still in Australia.
As she bites into his shoulder, trying to muffle her cries, one hand still tightly gripping a clump of red hair, she wonders if that last year without any romance has made her far too easy, or whether it has made her just as desperate for some raw human contact as it has made him.
She gasps, the grip on his hair tightening impossibly, and he groans in satisfaction. She kisses the spot which would have been behind his ear, had he had one, and he pulls away from her, allowing himself to be led upstairs and into her bedroom. He looks like he hasn't slept in days, and after that exertion, she could do with some rest too. They sleep with their backs to each other and she stirs slightly when he moves. She is sure she hears the faintest whisper of 'I'm sorry'.
When she wakes the next morning, she wonders if it was just a dream. He has disappeared, and the few red hairs left behind on the pillow could have been left there by Crookshanks at one point or another.
It wasn't a dream though. She has round bruises on her thighs and is willing to bet all the gold in Gringotts that they would match up with his fingers, should he hold her up by her thighs again.
He avoids her eye for the entire day. She wishes he wouldn't though, because what are friends for, if not for fucking when you can't cope with your grief?
She will remember to her dying day what it sounded like when he laughs for the first time since everything happened.
Curiosity gets the better of them all sometimes, Harry knows this better than anyone, but she always flattered herself that she knew the line between curiosity and stupidity. The war should have made her more careful, but, she reasons, he would never leave anything dangerous in the shop, and so she doesn't think twice when she picks up the crate to see what's inside.
She's not just being nosy. She needs to pack up some stock to send to a shop in America who are considering having a Weasley's Wizard Wheezes corner in their shop, and there are no empty crates about. He leaves out this part of the story whenever he tells it in years to come, and she finds that she doesn't mind.
When the crate explodes, sending splinters of wood flying everywhere, she thinks that that is the end of it. She doesn't remember getting covered in fluorescent green slime, but she does remember registering its presence.
She thinks she might cry – it's funny, she didn't even consider crying after Bellatrix had tortured her, but she's on the verge of tears now – but then he comes into the room, his mouth half open in shock. She raises her eyes to meet his, awaiting his reaction, because she has no clue as to how she should react to this.
He snorts, and his hand flies to his mouth to try and stifle what comes next, but it's no use. Nothing could stifle the loud fit of raucous laughter that issues from him and she hardly dares to believe what she's seeing. It doesn't take long for her short chuckle to present itself, and then she laughs a little more, and this builds into a bout of hysteria. Quite soon they are both beyond help. Perhaps the last year has sent them hurtling into the pits of insanity, or perhaps this is what it feels like to be happy. She seems to have forgotten the latter lately, so it's hard to tell.
The back room is full of laughter and it is the most glorious sound in the world.