I've been sort of working on this since just after I wrote Breathe, adding a bit to it every now and then, so it probably doesn't read very smoothly. Appologies for that. Different to Breathe, not only in that it deals with the in-laws, but that it doesn't specify the year. I attempted to have the years, but confused myself, so decided to do it this way instead.
For the last few months, Hermione could have told anyone any little detail about her upcoming wedding. She could tell them the exact date and time of it, and exactly where it will be held. She could tell them how many bridesmaids she'll have, who they are, what they'll wear. She could tell them any detail, tell them what has been finished, and what is yet to be done, all without hesitation.
Right now, Hermione is hardly aware of the engagement ring on her finger. If someone was to bring up her wedding, she would blink once or twice, and spend several seconds confused, before remembering that she is, after all, getting married in a few months. On this day, her wedding is not important. On this day, her future is the furthest thing from her mind.
Today, she thinks of the past, and of death.
She'd loved Fred. She never quite realised the depth of the brotherly affection until he was gone. And she'd never quite realised just how much she still missed him until she was adding up how many guests there would be at her and Ron's wedding, and she counted him without thought, writing his name on her list without realising. Ron had; he'd walked up behind her, leaned over to read the list, his smile dying as he found the name that didn't belong.
Or, technically, did belong. Wasn't that what made it so painful? That he belonged there, and wouldn't be. Ron had simply put his hands gently on her shoulders, and told her quietly that she'd made a mistake. And, looking down, she realised what she'd done. It had hurt, and she realised, consciously for the first time, that somehow Fred had become something close to a brother to her over the years.
Now, on the anniversary, she doesn't think of her wedding, of the houses she and Ron have been looking at – their flat has been great for the last few years, but they want a house now – of the children they hope to have someday.
She considers, fleetingly, going to Ginny, offering comfort. But she knows Ginny too well - Ginny wants solitude right now.
So Hermione sits in silence, and misses the boy who'll never really be her brother-in-law.
One Year Later
She's never felt so completely useless. Of course, Angelina had experienced many moments where she hadn't known what to do, where she'd felt as if she was no help whatsoever and no one would notice if she left, but this...
"Are you OK?" She knows she's asked him already, countless times, but it's all she can think to say. It's redundant, really, because he's obviously not OK. At all. He nods without looking at her. There's nothing she can think to do; she doesn't know what he wants, what he needs.
"George, talk to me." She murmurs, hoping her voice is something close to soothing. "I can't help if you won't talk."
"I don't need your help." His tone is cool, almost polite.
"I'm going for some air." He tells her, in that same tone. It hurts her, that he'd speak to her as though she was a stranger; cool and disinterested, as though she was offering him double-glazing rather than comfort. But she can think of no way to help him, and so she watches him leave.
A few weeks ago, they were talking about marriage. Just casually, testing the waters, so to speak. And it was clear, to both of them, that it wouldn't be long before they were ready for that step, that commitment. Angelina had spent some time thinking about the kind of wedding they'd want, what part of the year they'd want it in.
Now, she wonders if that will happen. If it can happen. If she can't comfort George when he needs her most, can't fix the part of him that is still so obviously broken, how can she make a good wife? How can she possibly stand and make promises to him, if she can't help him through his worst days? This isn't going to be the only May 2nd, isn't going to be the only bad day George has. And how can she stand by him, year after year, useless?
She sits, neatly folds her hands, and doubts herself in silence.
One Year Later
She feels a little awkward and out-of-place, and Audrey knows there are several reasons for it. It's not so much that she doesn't know Percy's family – she's met them more times than she can count, she attended both his sister's wedding last autumn, and his brother's in January. She's been completely accepted into the Weasley family – though she and Percy are not even engaged yet, his nieces call her Auntie.
But this is the first May 2nd she's experienced with them, and everything is different. George, who has always been smiling, who's always been joking, is quite and distant. It's a horrible contrast, especially when she remembers the way his face glowed at his wedding just a few months ago, the way his eyes lit up when he saw his bride, even though she noticed the sadness behind it, as he missed his twin. Ginny is settled in a chair, a sadness on her face that takes the years from it, and leaves a vulnerability around her that Audrey knows Ginny would hate. For a moment, she considers going over and talking to her, offering some comfort or distraction. But Audrey looks around, notices the way the rest of Ginny's family are leaving her to herself, and decides that if comfort were needed, someone would give it. These people know her better, after all, have known her longer.
And Audrey knows, almost painfully so, that she doesn't belong here, isn't part of the family. She's the only one who never knew Fred – so how can she possibly offer any comfort or understanding?
"Hey." Percy murmurs, moving towards her and placing his hands on her waist.
"Hi." She whispers. It's not silent, but she feels she shouldn't speak too loudly, as though it would be disrespectful. "Percy...I know there's nothing I can do or say to make things OK right now. But if there's anything – anything at all you need..."
He shakes his head, then lowers it, buries his face in her neck. "You're here." He mumbles against her skin. "You're all I need..."
It scares her, just a little. Need. But Audrey simply winds her arms around Percy, tightly, and clings to him in silence.
One Year Later
Her son is six months old. Her youngest, and probably her last, she thinks. She and Bill haven't discussed it, really, but she doubts they'll add anymore to their family.
But today, today that doesn't matter. The unlikeliness of future children isn't important. Today, the future is not important at all, even if there are reminders everywhere that life goes on, and will continue to do so. Ginny is pregnant with her first child, due in October. Usually, her expression is some mixture of fear and excitement, ever present, even when she's thinking of or doing something else. Today, though, that is dulled almost to the point of obscurity – and Ginny is back to the lost look of sadness. It makes her look about twelve, Fleur thinks, at odds with her pregnancy bump.
George's son is seven weeks old. She knows he had a fear that his son would be born on the same day as her eldest daughter – that this day would become little Fred's birthday, too. But Fred was born almost four weeks early. A part of Fleur thinks maybe the baby knew that any sooner would have upset his father too much.
She hates this day. Hates the way they gather like this, even as she knows it's something they need to do. She hates seeing Ginny look so young and lost and vulnerable, hates seeing all the laughter gone from George's eyes. She hates the sadness and grief, both her own and the family's.
And most of all, she hates not knowing what to do. Bill is, currently, talking to Monique. Almost three, she's chatting away in the way toddlers do, completely unfazed by the date, by the atmosphere. The innocence of children, Fleur thinks, with a sad smile. Her eyes seek her eldest, finding her, finally, sat with her Uncle Ron. She is five today. Old enough to understand why her birthday party will be tomorrow. Old enough to understand why, though she opened all her presents this morning, though all family members greeted her with a "happy birthday", this is far from a celebration, far from a happy day.
It worries Fleur that her daughter will grow up this way, with her birthday tainted. Saddens her.
"She'll be fine." Bill's voice, just behind her, makes her jump. She turns to face him.
"How did you know...?"
Bill shrugs, then glances back at their daughter. "She already understands. No five year old should understand death as well as she does."
"She's not going to like it. When she gets older, she won't like having her birthday overshadowed. Having it...haunted, I guess, by the uncle she never met..." She realises what she's said, how it could be taken, and closes her mouth swiftly. "I didn't mean -"
"I know what you meant." He murmurs. "And you're right. But she'll learn to handle it, to live with it." His voice drops, almost to inaudible. "We did."
She nods, and hands him their son, knowing he needs the presence, the weight and warmth, of the baby for comfort. Her arms empty, she moves slowly away, as Bill gazes at Louis. And leaning against a wall, Fleur watches her family – which still, after all these years and the new additions, is so obviously incomplete - in silence.
One Year Later
The guilt is back. He hides it well, too used to people telling him off for it. But it's back. He can't, no matter how he tries, get rid of the feeling of responsibility. If he'd done this, if he'd done that, if he hadn't...
Once, when he was saying something like that, self-pitying and guilt-ridden, Ginny lost it with him. Started yelling about how everything wasn't about him, how it didn't all come down to his actions, or lack thereof. How selfish he was to take all responsibility. How self centred he was too make Fred's death – Fred's death – all about him, and how dare he do that?
He yelled back, a little, tried to make a good argument of it. But found that he couldn't, because she was right. But that doesn't stop the guilt, not now, not when he's faced with the broken family. His family, now. It had been his long before his wedding, really, but the marriage made it legal, and it was forever sealed with the birth of his son.
But it still feels like he had some role in destroying the family. They are not the Weasleys he first met, the family he was accepted into. They are the remnants of that family, the fragments left behind, who had to pick themselves up and form something new. They could never be The Weasleys again; but now, they are a family, with in-laws and grandkids. It isn't how it should be, isn't quite enough (because he should have brought an in-law, provided some grandkids for Molly and Arthur to dote on) but it is something, and it is still the best family he can imagine.
He doesn't feel uncomfortable. Not exactly. He is long over any awkwardness or insecurity. This is not Ron's family, who make him so welcome that he feels uncomfortable. This is not Ron's family, who love him so much that it makes him, at times, feel awkward. They are his, every bit as much as they are Ron's.
But this day, this atmosphere, when everyone is so sad, and no one knows what to do, to say, creates something akin to discomfort. It takes him back to those first few days after, though he can tell that things are a little bit lighter, every year. For him, at least. The production of every child, every new little Weasley (and despite James's surname, he is as much a Weasley as his cousins, and that brings Harry nothing but pride) lightens the mood, just a little. Hermione is pregnant, now, the last to be so.
He knows – not that they've talked about it, at all, he just overheard the end of a conversation once, and caught a few comments and looks and quickly hidden tears – that she and Ron had been trying for a child before he and Ginny were. That it's taken them this long to get anywhere. That they were stressed and worried and upset. And even, that as happy as Ron and Hermione were when James was born, it was overshadowed by their own lack of any child or pregnancy. But now, James is seven months old, and Hermione is almost that pregnant. And that brings a light into both Hermione and Ron's eyes – and even Molly and Arthur's, because they, too, know just how long and difficult the wait was – and Harry knows that this time, the mood is lighter than ever before, even if things still are tense and dark.
They're healing. Some part of him knows that, recognises that, even if something – guilt, maybe – won't let him acknowledge that. Every year that passes, every child that is born, heals them just a little. The Weasleys, Harry knows, will never again be whole, no matter how many marriages and births there are. But the void is filled somewhat by them.
And that is – has to be – enough.
Harry looks over to his wife, in her usual place, though the chair is actually new. She still looks young and vulnerable and just a tiny little bit broken, just as she does every year on this day. He's not sure if everyone else sees it, but thinks he always will. This time, though, James is on her knee, and the extra youth, the vulnerability, are dulled somewhat. Healing, he thinks, almost unknowingly, and sits back to watch his family in silence.