And I don't wanna hear you tell yourself,
That these feelings are in the past,
No, it doesn't mean they're off the shelf,
Because pain is built to last,
Everybody sails alone,
Oh, but we can travel side by side,
Even if your faded,
You know that no one really minds."
-Heal Over by KT Tunstall
The only way Hermione could think to describe it was "death watch," but that was inaccurate. Fred was already dead. She would have called it shock if she hadn't known that it was precisely fourteen days since his passing and that they were all long past shock. As it was, she could only call it some sort of twisted vigil, a cultural difference between Muggles and wizards that she had not yet encountered. She felt like an intruder sitting there, watching what was left of the Weasley family grieve. Vaguely, she wondered if Fleur or Harry felt the same and answered her own question immediately. This was the only family Harry had, and she was relatively sure Fleur was incapable of feeling uncomfortable. No, she was all alone in her uneasiness, all alone in her inability to draw some ridiculously small comfort from the familiarity of those around her.
Ron was on her left, beside her on the couch. He had pulled his legs up to his chest and his chin rested there, cobalt blue eyes staring unseeingly forward. Harry was on her right, head in his hands, and Ginny was curled, cat-like, in a love seat, eyes closed, head tipped upwards as though praying, and Hermione could see the clean streaks that her tears had made as they fell. Poor George - who was perhaps the worst to watch, to analyze - leaned over the back of Ginny's arm chair, neck craned at an awkward angle as he stared unblinkingly into the fire. His face was pale, drawn, eyes sunken. Percy seemed to find some fractionally small comfort in pacing. Hermione had passed a half hour pretending that she could see the rut that she was sure he was wearing in the already thread-bare rug. Bill was watching it rain, standing in the doorjamb protectively close to the chair Fleur was stretched out in. She had fallen silent after several failed attempts at lightening the mood and was now apparently asleep, frowning and pale faced as though even her dreams were full of despair. Charlie was splayed out on the floor biting his fingernails off slowly, one by one. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were curled up on the one remaining couch, Molly's eyes closed as she rested against her husband's chest. Hermione watched them the most when she couldn't stand the grief any longer, pretending that maybe one day that might be her and Ron - or, when her cynicism got the best of her, Harry and Ginny.
Hermione Granger didn't know much about grieving - she'd always skipped past the grieving process, bottling it up, leaving her in a perpetual state of denial and unreality - but she thought that maybe the Weasley family was taking things too slow. Two weeks from the fact and nine days from the funeral, and still every moment was spent here, waiting stiffly, silently in the sitting room, lost either in thought or in numbness, Hermione couldn't tell. She had attempted to escape several times ("Really, - I don't mean to intrude, I'll just go and be with my parents-") but every time Mrs. Weasley had shut her down without opportunity for appeal ("Hermione, dear, you know we love you like a daughter - please stay!"). She was forced to stay by the bite of Mrs. Weasley's weakness in the "please", watching the family grieve and feeling out of place. Since yesterday when Fleur had finally given up any hope of conversation and Harry had stopped smiling sadly around at them all, waiting optimistically for a smile that both he and Hermione knew would never come, it had been silence. A new routine. Which made it all the more shocking - glaringly, blatantly obvious - when Ron had slowly, long limbs popping slightly, finally risen to his feet.
All heads, save George and Fleur's, snapped towards Ron at once and the slightest ghost of a smile flickered on Hermione's face as Ron cringed away from the completely horrified looking glares as though they were causing him physical pain. He'd broken the silence - the vigil? - and, Hermione noted dryly, from the look on everyone's faces he might as well have just jumped off a bridge. Through the drowsy, melancholy fog that was enveloping her mind, Hermione wondered if people even thought about committing suicide in the wizarding world. She shook that thought aside as she was jerked back to the present by Ginny's shaky voice.
"R - R - Ron?" Ginny croaked, looking slightly surprised she had spoken at all, and Hermione found herself wondering when the last she had heard her speak was. She couldn't recall.
Ron looked just as terrified at the prospect of speaking as his little sister did, but his voice came out a little stronger even if he did look like he was afraid the entire room was about to jump up and hex him into oblivion. "I have to go… Oh, Gin, I've gotta go to the loo." With that he stalked off towards the stairs. Hermione stared after him, horrified. How dare he leave her alone here when he was the closest thing to a lifeline she had? Harry was being eaten alive by self-hatred, it wasn't as though he was any help. Nevertheless, order was quickly resumed and normality restored; or rather, this thing they were all pretending was normality was restored. Molly laid her head slowly back down on Arthur's chest, Percy resumed pacing, and Ginny closed her eyes once more.
Somehow, the lack of Ron's warmth beside her left Hermione even more nervous than she had been at first; without really realizing what she was doing, she began to anxiously tap at her teeth, fingernails clacking loudly. Hermione froze as, once again, everyone snapped to attention and fourteen eyes of varying colors settled accusingly on her. She staggered to her feet, eyes wide as she stared around at them all. "I've got to use the lavatory too," she choked out and stumbled from the room after Ron, so quickly that she didn't even hear Charlie call after her - "The other bathroom's the other way!"
She wasn't completely sure where she was going; all she knew was that suddenly she had to get away from the all-encompassing grief. Besides, Ron had been gone too long. Yes, that was it. If anyone asked where she had really gone, it was to check on Ron. Once on the first landing, she paused, leaning against the wall to catch her breath and calm her mind. Everything seemed to be bouncing around in there at a spectacular speed, far too fast for her to make sense of anything. One hand went up to her face and she stood there for a moment, just bracing herself against the wall, breathing heavily and thinking about Fred and Ron and all of them. Slowly, Hermione regained control and - raking the nails down her face as though reminding herself that, yes, she was still alive and, yes, she could still feel pain - she continued to climb the stairs. She stopped outside the bathroom door but the room behind the door was silent and - frowning slightly - she knocked.
Had Ron come back downstairs while she stood on the landing, and just hadn't said anything? This seemed highly unlikely so, concerned now, she continued up the stairs to his bedroom. As she got closer she could hear muffled words and thuds coming from inside, and her fist was hovering in front of the door, prepared to knock when snippets of words began to filter out. It sounded as though he had his face buried in a pillow and she couldn't help but listen.
"…fucking sad, and I don't even know what I'm gonna…"
"…pointless to keep on like…"
"…doesn't even love me…"
"…dead, everyone's dead, and everyone who isn't is…"
"…why shouldn't I be, too, then? No one would mind, really, so…"
"…everyone'll be better off with me…"
Hermione gaped at the wooden door, eyes wide as she eavesdropped on Ron clearly talking himself into something. Directly contradicting the way her brain had been working on high-speed only moments before, it took her forever to process what he was saying and suddenly, she was banging on the door with one fist while she was grappling for her wand with the other. There was another thud and a gasp of surprise and, looking as though he'd seen a ghost, Ron threw open the door, letting it bang against the opposite wall. His eyes went wide to see how unsettled she looked. "'Mione?"
Hermione paused; she could hear hushed voices and the groans as people rose to their feet downstairs and, ignoring Ron, she leapt back to the landing, calling down the stairs. "Sorry! Everything's okay - I … I just ran into Ron! It's okay!"
The soft hum and quieting of voices reassured Hermione that everyone had believed her and - suddenly feeling as though she was carrying an awful lot of dead weight, Hermione shuffled back to Ron. He was standing exactly where she had left him, eyes wild, face sunken and pale, one hand resting on the doorjamb. She stood for a moment, watching him, adrenaline rushing, and slowly he seemed to come back to reality. He blinked and cleared his throat.
"'Mione?" he repeated. "What was that all about, then?"
Hermione narrowed her eyes, sizing him up. Maybe she was wrong. Maybe she'd imagined it. Maybe he was just debating on whether or not he should finally clean that damned aquarium? She swept wordlessly into the room and sat lightly on the edge of his bed, studying the "CC" on Ron's bedspread. He had pivoted on his heel and was watching her - she could feel him - a slightly shell-shocked expression on his face, completely nonplussed. She knew him so well that she didn't need to look up to picture his expression. "Were you going to do what I think you were going to do?" she asked directly, glancing up at Ron.
He shifted as his eyes narrowed and behind the blue she could practically see him putting his guard up, shifting tact, changing his mind. "I dunno," he snapped, "what did you think I was going to do?"
Hermione studied him, sizing him up with an expression identical to Ron's, and she wondered which of them had picked it up from the other. They sat in silence for a moment while she tried to decide the best way to go about this before finally deciding that you couldn't go wrong with straight-forward. "Silly thing, but it sounded like you were going to kill yourself," she said directly, eyeing him wearily, voice cold. She watched as his eyes narrowed even more (half-amused, she wondered if they were closed and he was just pretending he could see) and he now shifted into a classic warrior stance: arms crossed, legs spread.
"Where would you get that idea?"
"You were talking about how useless you were, Ronald. Talking about how no one would care anyway. I put two and two together. It wasn't hard." She was amazed by her own calm persistence, amazed that neither of them had started yelling at each other yet, amazed that he wasn't denying her accusation vehemently like she had hoped.
He was losing ground, now, arms dangling at his side, spluttering for words. "I - Hermione! … I wasn't - where would - of course not… I… - dammit!" and with that he'd dropped down beside her and leaned over, head in his hands. "I dunno what to do, 'Mione," he murmured, and his voice broke on her name, and so did she.
Hermione Jean Granger had been crap at comforting people for as long as she could remember, so it was with hesitation that she gently put a hand on his shoulder blade. "Well - don't do that, for starters," she said, grinning weakly, and grimacing as her attempt at a joke fell flat with a resounding bang. She felt his muscles tense beneath her hand at her touch, and she suddenly realized that not only had they not kissed since the night of the battle, they hadn't talked or even brushed hands either. The immediate reaction was to jerk her hand back but she stiffly held it there, determined to not send the beautiful, tortured young man before her running away. Slowly, he relaxed and so did she. His breathing slowed and she realized it was her turn to speak (because you are supposed to soothe people by talking too, right?). "I mean, whatever's the right thing to do, suicide isn't it." Incidentally, whatever the right to say was, that wasn't it. He immediately tensed again, and jerked away from her to pace (forcibly reminding Hermione of Percy) back and forth in front of the end of the bed as Hermione watched.
Once more, he was talking, voice muffled as he rubbed at his eyes as though he was being blinded, fighting off tears, but this time, his words were directed at her. "Dammit, there's nothing else to do! Don't you se- can't you tel- Hermione, it's the only way! I mean, what's the point? Nobody wants me here, anyw-"
Suddenly, without knowing quite how it had happened, Hermione was on her feet, groping in her pockets for her wand and closing the distance between them at a surprising pace. She barely registered the shocked look on his face as she finally found her wand and pressed its point against his neck. It hurt to hear him say that, to hear him start to say she didn't - that no one, actually - cared after all she'd been through for him. After all they'd been through together. "Don't. Even. Say. It," she hissed, eyes narrowed, red with fury, and Ron was gaping at her, desperately trying to form words but apparently incapable. They were frozen like that for an instant - Hermione pinning him to the wall and Ron incapable of speech. Just as suddenly as it had started, however, Hermione thought better and dropped her stance to back away. "Don't say it!" Hermione repeated desperately, voice high in alarm. Her wand, of its own accord it seemed to her, was raising to point at his heart. "Don't even think about it, or I'll… I'll…"
Ron smirked. "You'll kill me?" he suggested wryly.
"Ye-NO!" Hermione said immediately, caught off guard and highly flustered. "I - Oh, God, Ron! This isn't funny!" she insisted, flopping backwards onto his bed in defeat.
For a time, neither moved. Hermione laid there, staring up at the ceiling, confident in Ron's inability to do the killing curse silently. She had made enough rash decisions for one conversation. She needed to think out her next move. She finally broke the silence, voice thick with an unidentifiable emotion she was desperately trying to fight back. She figured that if reverse psychology worked on ages one through six, it should work quite well on Ron, too. "But you know what, Ron? You're an adult, now. It's your choice." She set up just in time to see a look of dawning horror on his face. "And if you really think that the world would be better off without you, so be it." She met him stonily, and Ron blinked, looking as though he might cry. Wait a second. This was the decision she'd come too when she'd actually given herself time to think? Hermione felt her heart break in two, but she was rather sure she didn't show it. Rising gracefully to her feet, she made to step past him, beyond him through the door, to let him do what needed to be done. She had gone this far with the act, might as well follow through. Hermione paused at his side, leaning over to kiss his cheek softly, praying this would work. "I'll be up for your body later, Ron. Good-bye." With that, she headed out the door, closing it gently behind her, leaving Ron somewhere between shock and terror.
She made it down to the first stair-well before she felt Ron's body slam into hers, throwing and pinning her against the opposite wall. She cringed, and Ron jumped back away, looking apparently horrified at what he'd just done. "Bloody hell," he growled. Hermione instinctively opened her mouth to scold him before realizing this wasn't exactly the time. "Did I hurt you?"
Hermione shook her head fervently, taking a careful step towards him. He froze. "I - Ron! Look at me! - I'm fine. Really, I…" she trailed off; she had to stick to her plan now, as fool-hardy as it was. "I - why are you still here?"
Ron looked startled. "Pardon?" he snapped, "This is my house."
Hermione narrowed her eyes, managing to be irritated despite it all. "No, Ronald, I mean why are you still in the land of the living?" she hissed.
Ron took a step back, and Hermione's anger wavered a tiny bit at the amazingly hurt look on his face (and how could anyone possibly look that adorable, offended, and hurt in one expression?) but she convinced herself to stay strong. They weren't arguing about homework or Lavender. They're arguing for his life. Literally.
"I… I'm not gonna, 'Mione."
"Not going to what, Ron?" she pressured gently, voice soft.
"I… Oh, you know," he muttered, smiling shyly at her. "Don't make me say it! But… I was being stupid. Again. You were right. Again."
Hermione and Ron blushed simultaneously, but Hermione regained her composure first, as usual. "Of course," she teased lightly.
For an instant, there was uncomfortable silence after Ron had grinned and nodded in silence, until finally, he stepped the tiniest bit closer - just enough to lean over and slip his hand around her's. Yet again, they both blushed, but Hermione took the initiative this time to start off down the stairs, and Ron allowed himself to be led. She paused before they got very far, though, foot hovering above the next step. "Ron?"
She hesitated, smiling mischievously at him, one eyebrow cocked. "Don't get me wrong; I'm terribly happy that you've decided to stay with us but… Any particular reason you felt the need to throw me against the wall?"
Ron blushed, his free hand creeping up to rub nervously at the back of his neck. "I was scared…" He gave her a playfully threatening look as she started to laugh so she bit back her snicker. Even now she dreaded the moment they'd have to walk back into the living room, be swallowed once more by the depth of the Weasley family's sadness. For now, though, she could giggle and she could tease him and she could love him and forget about the sadness for a little bit.
"Don't be," she insisted softly, even as she finally put her foot onto the next step.