A/N: And we come full circle. Thanks to my reviewers and any of you lurkers for reading. This is the completion of To Carry On. Figure that this scene takes place about one to two months after the first chapter, and hopefully this one leaves you with a much happier, if bittersweet, feeling than the first chapter. Enjoy!
This time, when she knelt in front of the gravestone, it wasn't raining. The ground was slightly dewy beneath her, soaking through the denim of her jeans, but the sky above her was clear, touched with rose pink and streaks of tangerine as the sun began to climb above the horizon.
"Hello, love." She whispered. Her voice was strong and whole, not fragmented, not raspy, not tear-stricken, not a moment away from shattering into heavy sobs. She traced a finger over his name, shivering a little at the feel of the cold stone against her skin.
"That's a good way to get grass stains, you know."
She closed her eyes.
She felt a touch like a cold whisper of wind on her shoulder; opening her eyes she tilted her head back and looked up. The sunrise spread out behind him, touching him with crimson and tangerine, highlighting every facet of his features.
"You're not real."
He quirked his eyebrows at her and gave her a lopsided grin. "Why Miss Granger, I'm shocked. You, not believing something standing right in front of you?"
"I don't put much stock in illusions created by my desires." She retorted. "I saw you before, by the oak tree, and you disappeared then, just as you will now." Even as she spoke she didn't tear her gaze away from him for a moment, drinking in the familiar sight of him as if it was the ambrosia of the gods.
He tsked, grinning playfully. "Such a skeptic, as usual."
She stood, absentmindedly brushing off the dirt the clung to her jeans before folding her arms. "You being here can mean only three things. That you're a ghost, you're an illusion, or I'm insane."
"You're not insane, love."
"And my Fred wouldn't become a ghost. Which means you are an illusion."
"I wouldn't become a ghost?"
"No." She said, her chin tilting higher. "You wouldn't."
He smiled. "You're right. I wouldn't. But I'm not an illusion either, 'Mione." His voice saying her nickname sent tiny shivers racing up and down her spine; in that moment she decided that if she was dreaming she never wanted to wake up. "I'm…," he frowned a little. "How can I put it? I'm a shade, I suppose. I'm not a ghost, but a little part of me is still tied here. I could leave, of course, if I wanted to."
"Then why don't you?"
"Because there's a few things I need to say to you before I do."
She tore her gaze away from him, looking at the long rows of graves stretched out all around them. "Like what, Fred?" She whispered. "What's so important that you can't move on?" She closed her eyes. "And what can you say that will make it any better?"
"I can't make the hurt go away, 'Mione. I can't fix a broken heart. But it will get better. Give it time, and the pain will ease."
"But never stop." She said, her eyes still closed. She let his voice break over her like a wave, internalizing the sound, silently praying that it would never stop.
"I see you got my ring."
Her eyes popped open and she met his gaze; his lips were quirked into one of his warm, slightly crooked grins. He looked so real, standing in front of her, his hands shoved into his pockets, the collar of his shirt popped, his hair carefully styled so that it looked as if he had rolled out of bed.
"I must say, I never quite imagined my proposal actually coming from George." His grin invited her to laugh along; against her will her lips curled upwards the tiniest bit. "I was waiting for the perfect moment, you know. I picked that out months before, just carried it around in my pocket, fiddling with it, looking at you and imagining what I would say and how you would react. I was trying to pluck up my courage; trying to have it be the perfect moment, the moment you would never forget." He gave a little shrug. "Too bad it never came."
She looked at the diamond glittering on her finger and closed her eyes, biting the inside of her cheek to keep from crying.
"I can't change the past, love." He said. "I can't make myself any less dead. I would if I could. I would sweep you into my arms and I would ask you to marry me and our future would be filled with fights and laughter and red-headed menaces, ones with my pranking skills and your intelligence. Hogwarts would live in fear of them." He laughed a little; the sound rang through her and she curled her fist, her nails biting into the palm of her hand. "But that future is gone, now, 'Mione."
"I know." The whispered words pained her but she forced them out. Tears squeezed out of the corners of her tightly closed eyes. "Why are you torturing me, Fred? Why?"
His touch was like frost upon her cheek; the shock of it forced her eyes open.
"I love you." His words were simple and honest, and she could read his heart in his eyes, in the unfading smile on his lips. "I always will, and nothing will ever change that."
Her lips refused to part; her lungs refused to inflate.
"But you have to let me go." There was a part of her that screamed inwardly, crying out that No! She would never! but that part was silenced when he continued. "You're alive, Hermione. Alive. That's a gift, one that you can't waste. You can't spend your life wishing and crying." His thumb traced a tear, leaving a cold trail against her skin. "You can't spend your life in a graveyard, talking to a gravestone. This is where the dead belong, and you need to live. You have to let me go."
"I don't want to."
"But you need to."
She shook her head. "I can't let you go, Fred. I can't. It hurts. I'm not going to do anything stupid, like kill myself, if that's what you think. I'll live, but I'm not letting you go. I'm not going to forget."
He tilted her head. "You, forget? Blasphemy." He said, with one of his teasing smiles. "And I know you're not going to kill yourself. But 'Mione, there's living, and then there's living. You aren't really living if you walk around like a ghost, crying all the time, visiting graveyards. There are things you want to do, the things you dreamed of doing. You want to write a book and you want to teach at Hogwarts and you want to travel the world. Do those things."
"I don't have to let you go in order to do those things." She said.
He smiled at her like a parent smiling at the fantasy of a child. "Yes you do. Because if you're carrying me around with you everywhere, wallowing in your misery, you're not experiencing everything to the fullest."
She frowned at him, folding her arms. "I don't want to." She said, like a petulant child.
"We could argue all day, my love. You have to. If you won't do it for yourself, then do it for me. Move on. Not now, not tomorrow, not even next week. I don't expect you to wake up one morning and go 'Fred who?'. It's a process, of moving on, of letting me go. But you need to do it. The pain will ease. Don't be afraid to keep living without me. Don't be afraid to carry on."
She wished that his arms would go around her, that he would hold her the way he had when he had been alive, but he didn't.
"Write a book, 'Mione. Teach at Hogwarts. Travel the world. Fall in love again. Get married. Have kids. Live. I'll always be with you." He snorted, laughing a little. "I sound like a bloody greeting card."
She shook her head, smiling a little.
"I'll always be there, love. And we'll see each other again. That's a promise. But in the meantime…let go."
She closed her eyes for a moment and then opened them again.
"I love you."
"I love you too."
He leaned forwards and pressed his lips to hers. She felt as though she were touching her lips to the surface of water—there but so easily broken, as though he were about vanish with the slightest pressure.
When she opened her eyes he was gone, leaving her with the feeling of ice on her lips.
For a moment she stood in front of his grave, turning her face towards the horizon and letting the warmth of the newly-risen sun wash over her.
Then she turned away, without a backward glance.
It was time to live again.
Reviews are love. Always remember that.