A/N: Set immediately after Deathly Hallows, focusing primarily on Hermione but with a a fair amount devoted to Ron's development (While I love this pairing, I find that Ron seems much too immature to suddenly be the Ron of the epilogue. But them, that's what happens when you leap ahead 19 years without laying in any long-term character development. No, I'm not bitter. Really).

All the characters belong to J.K. Rowling, et al.


May 13, 1998

Sickly green electricity crackled through the still air. An other-worldly breeze swirled around three figures, suddenly warping into twin whirls. Two of the figures, who had moments before lain on the rough ground, began to rise into the air. Hovering in the whirlwinds, their bodies began to glow dully. The remaining figure raised her hands, guiding the figures in the air. The electricity turned a pure white and, at a flick of the figure's wrist, entered the floating pair. The figure inhaled sharply, brushing sweaty curls out of her face. She strained with the power she poured out of her hands, through the electricity, and into the whirlwinds. Around them, the air began to whisper—names, words, sounds. The figure smiled.

It was working.

Suddenly, a bright green bolt coursed through the connection, knocking the figure onto her back. Desperately, she stumbled back up, raising her hands once more. Again, the green light threw her away from the bodies and their whirls, closing her out of the spell she had created. Hitting her head against the floor, the figure searched her mind.

"How did I let this happen?"

May 6, 1998

"Is there anything else I can help with, Mrs. Weasley?"

Hermione enchanted a set of chairs, sending them out of the Burrow and into its garden. Molly lifted her head, looking from Hermione to her husband, setting up the awning. Her eyes fell on the simple urn, etched with an ornate W.

"No, dear," she sighed. "Once you're done with the chairs, go see that the boys are ready." Molly seemed to float away. Hermione turned back to the chairs, which were multiplying under Arthur's finished tent. She gave him a weak smile as he returned to the house, following his wife into the kitchen.

Satisfied with the seating arrangement, Hermione turned and made her way up the stairs. She stopped first at Bill and Charlie's room, where Bill and his wife rocked a napping Victoire. Hermione met their red eyes.

"Everything is set up. The others will probably be here soon," she told them. Bill nodded and rose to adjust his dress robes.

"Thank you, 'ermione," whispered Fleur. Carefully, Hermione closed Bill's door and continued through the endless corridor. In Percy's room, she found Charlie sitting with his dumbfounded brother.

The entire family was wracked by Fred's death, but Percy seemed to take it harder than any of them, save George. Hermione knew that he was overwhelmed with guilt for his actions during the escalation; he regretted spending the last years of his brother's life estranged from the family. Since the final battle, Percy had done little more than sit and stare into a void. Hermione rarely saw him eat and didn't know if he had slept. Charlie, who had spent nearly as much time away from the family (though under kinder circumstances) took it upon himself to care for his shell-shocked brother.

"Is it time?" Charlie asked, his eyes never leaving Percy.

"Just about," replied Hermione.

Percy blinked back another tear and stood.

"We should go downstairs, then."

Charlie started and eyed his brother with shock. Nobody had heard him speak in days.

"Yes," said Charlie slowly, "we should, shouldn't we?" Hermione offered them another weak smile and shut the door behind them.

As she reached the flight of stairs leading to Ron's room, Hermione took a moment to let her own feelings wash over her. She gripped the banister with the sudden rush.

After the Battle for Hogwarts, Harry and Hermione had accompanied the Weasleys back to the Burrow to mourn. Harry went so far as to tell Shacklebolt that he needed some "bloody time away with his family." Once they had settled in, Harry devoted his days to Ginny, listening when she cried, keeping a safe distance when she demanded to be left alone, and returning in a heartbeat the moment she began to tremble. Hermione had tried to give herself to Ron in the same way but was met with complete resistance. Ron wanted nothing more than to be alone. He had spoken to no one. Instead, he had taken to violently fixing up the garden, muttering that it had sure as hell better look nice for his brother.

Hermione knew that Ron was grieving in his own way, but she was angry that he had overlooked that she too might need to grieve. Fred may have been Ron's brother, but he had always treated Hermione like another little sister. Hell, during first and second years, Hermione had harbored a small crush on him—he was sweeter than George, after all. Being who she was, Hermione had thrown herself into helping Arthur and Molly prepare for Fred's funeral. She had accompanied Arthur to the Weasley safe box at Gringotts (thankfully unharmed during the bank's destruction) to retrieve Fred's will.

Hermione had been surprised that Fred had had the forethought to make one so young, but Arthur explained that he had encouraged each of his children to do so when they came of age. A cousin had once died young without one, and apparently the ensuing feud had lead to the Weasleys' "blood traitor" status. When Molly and Arthur had been too emotional to carry out Fred's will, Hermione took it upon herself to prepare the cremation and notify the extended family. She helped Molly run the household and intercepted the constant owls from reporters. Throwing herself into helping the family had tired Hermione out enough that the pain of Fred's loss had become a dull ache in her exhaustion.

Taking a last deep breath, Hermione wiped her eyes and let herself into Ron's room. Ron sat at his cluttered desk, picking at a loose thread in his robes. Ginny sat beside Harry on his cot. George lay across Ron's bed, absentmindedly strumming his guitar—something he had picked up while living on his own with Fred. Ron stood up and moved toward Hermione.

"Should we go down?" he asked.

"Yes," she replied, "it's just about time." George rolled off the bed and began his way down the stairs. Ginny choked back another sob as Harry led her gently into the corridor. As Ron stepped outside with Hermione, he held out his hand; she took it quickly, glad for that small comfort.

When they arrived in the garden, the air was full of apparation pops. McGonagall turned to face them, smoothing her new Headmistress's robes.

"Mr. Weasley," she said, clasping Ron's hand, "Ronald. I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am."

Hermione cringed; Ron simply nodded in reply. If there was one thing Ron hated, it was pity. In his current state, he had trouble telling the difference between pity and condolence, and Hermione suspected that he didn't care. He was tired of people telling him they were sorry—no amount of sorry would bring Fred back, after all.

Hermione thanked McGonagall and continued to lead Ron toward the row of chairs occupied by his immediate family. Aunts, uncles, and cousins—many of whom Hermione recognized from the wedding—settled into seats behind them. The rest of the mourners quietly filled the empty chairs scattered among the throng. Before the rows of chairs, Arthur had arranged a small display of Fred. His urn sat on a small table, surrounded by photos. At Hermione's suggestion, Arthur had placed an enlargement spell on one and set it on a large easel. The photo showed Fred and George walking away from the camera, arms about each other's shoulders. Photo Fred seemed to hear something from behind them, for he briefly turned back toward the camera and flashed a smile.

After a few seconds, George stood and walked before the group. His eyes were still rimmed red, but he managed to keep his voice strong and clear.

"I think we all know that Fred was never one for pomp and circumstance. He had a lot of joy, and I think he really did try to find it in every occasion."

Small smiles spread throughout the group.

"In his will, my brother asked us to forget about the somber ceremonies we're used to seeing at funerals. All he wanted was for anyone who still had a nice thing to say about him, to come forward and say it."

George sat back down and the crowd began to fidget. Each wanted to honor Fred's wishes, but nobody wanted to be first. At last, McGonagall stood and walked forward. She paused to gaze at the photos and wipe a tear away, then turned to face the rest of them.

"Fred and George Weasley are two of the most brilliant students I have ever had the great fortune to teach. It's no secret that they were, shall we say, nonconformists. Still, every prank they pulled demonstrated complex spellworking not typically seen in students their age. I'm glad they left Hogwarts when they did—I was beginning to have trouble hiding my amazement.

It's always easier to think of the twins as a pair, and that is why Fred's passing seems all the more tragic. George and Fred remained so loyal to each other that I always knew that only death could part them. I never imagined that Fred would leave us so soon. It is a great understatement to simply say that he will be missed. Fred touched so many of us in his short life, and I believe we are all the better for the laughter he brought us."

McGonagall's short speech seemed to break the ice. One by one, nearly all of the guests rose to say a few words. Distant relatives recounted tales of a young Fred, while the members of his year told of his quiet brilliance and vivacious sense of humor. Harry and Hermione spoke together, clinging to each other's arms.

"We're only children," Harry began, "and raised in the Muggle world at that."

"As early as our first year, Fred began to treat us as he did Ron and Ginny—just two more little siblings for him to torment and teach," continued Hermione.

Bill and Charlie each rose to in turn, but Percy couldn't bring himself to stand. Molly clung to Arthur, unable to speak. Reluctantly, Ron stood and faced his family.

"I'm trying to think of what to say. It seems so much of it has already been said. Fred was my brother. He could be a right pain in the arse sometimes, but he always had a kind word for us younger kids. Privately, of course. Weasley men take their reputations very seriously.

Really, I don't know what to say other than that I'm glad. I hate that Fred's gone, but I'm glad that we can all talk about what a bloody brilliant guy he was."

Before Ron could return to his seat, Ginny was up, regaling the group with tearful stories of her brother's best pranks. When Ginny sat once more, George eyed the crowd. It seemed that everyone had had their chance to share. He stood once more, this time taking his guitar with him. Quietly, George slipped the strap around his body and saluted Fred's urn. He turned back to the crowd and began to strum lightly.

"I couldn't begin to tell you all the memories I have of my brother. He's a part of me, and without him, I can't help but feel like a part of me is gone. A far more important part than my ear, I might add.

When Fred and I first started working on the store, we actually had a lot of spare time on our hands. Believe it or not, Gringotts doesn't just hand out small business loans to any old bloke. At one point, I honestly don't remember when or why, Fred decided that we should learn to play guitars. Something about picking up ladies, which never did seem to work. Nobody really cared to hear Fred play but me. Not even he cared to hear me. Still, we always thought of music as the first big project we finished as adults. We hoped that we could enjoy it together for as long as possible; we made a pact that whoever outlived the other would sing at the funeral."

The music stopped abruptly as George wiped fresh tears from his eyes.

"I thought that I'd have more time to practice."

George's strumming picked up a bit and he began,

"Tim Finnegan lived on Watlin Street, a gentleman Irish mighty odd…"

By the time George reached the refrain, it seemed that a calm had come over Percy. He stood quietly and joined his brother. Shaking at first, his baritone blended with George's tenor:

"And whack fol the dah O, dance to your partner
Welt the floor, your trotters shake,
Wasn't it the truth I told ya, lots o' fun at Finnegan's wake!
"

That seemed to be all the encouragement they needed. The rest of the Weasleys—and everyone else who knew the folk tune—joined in. Hermione was able to learn enough to sing the refrain on the second pass. George finished with a flourish as Percy leaned against him, fresh tears coursing down his face.

Without cue, the group knew that it was time to lay Fred to rest. George lifted the urn and carried his twin back into the Burrow. The guests rose and filed in behind him. As she stood, Hermione cast a quick spell for the chairs to return to their rightful places. Molly nodded her thanks.

Once inside the Burrow, George placed the urn beside his mother's clock. Ceremoniously, Arthur stepped forward and removed Fred's face from its hand. He and George carefully fixed it to a small plaque which read, "at peace."

The rest of the day blurred past Hermione. She had helped serve lunch and now found herself alone in the kitchen. The other mourners had long since departed; the Weasleys had returned to their respective rooms to continue their grieving. Hermione pushed up her sleeves and began to run the dishwater. As she scraped leftovers into small containers, she heard a creak on the stairs.

Ron appeared moments later.

"Why are you doing that the Muggle way?" he asked.

"Clears my mind," Hermione replied.

"Want some help?"

"Sure."

Hermione began washing and handing dishes to Ron to dry. They worked in companionable silence for a short while.

"What are you thinking about?" Ron asked as he slid another plate into the cabinet.

"Catharsis," Hermione responded simply.

"What do you mean?"

Ron rested his hand on her arm gently. Hermione let the bowl she was scrubbing slip beneath the water.

"Just that," she paused to wipe a tear. "good old Fred knew that we'd need to laugh. It was fitting for him, and it made us feel better somehow. For a little bit at least." Her shoulders began to slump as Hermione let out the tears she'd been holding back for most of the day. Ron pulled her closer and held her face against his chest.

"I'm sorry," she mumbled.

"What on earth could you be sorry for?" Ron asked, dumbfounded.

"I wanted to be strong for you, especially today. You were hurting so much and I…I didn't want to burden you with my pain."

"Oh, 'Mione, don't talk like that. This is because I wanted to be alone, isn't it?"

She nodded, crying harder.

"Well, I'm sorry," Ron continued. "I really did need to be alone, but I did know how hard you were trying to be there for me. I should've said something."

"Yes, you should have," Hermione said to Ron's chest.

"Okay, well, I didn't. And I'm sorry. Do you want to talk?"

Hermione nodded.

"Well, I'll finish these up in the morning," Ron replied, motioning to the dishes. "Do you want to go upstairs?"

Nodding again, Hermione followed Ron up to his room. Ron pushed open his door softly, and, seeing that Harry wasn't there, gently pulled Hermione onto his bed. She sat with her back against the headboard, face in her hands. Ron scooted around so that he was facing her.

"Just take your time, 'Mione," he said, trying so hard to sound comforting. In truth, Hermione's tears terrified him. Whenever she began to cry, a part of him froze, completely at a loss. The worst was when he made her cry—to him it seemed that nothing he could do or say would make it better. Just this once, though, he hoped that his teaspoon could hold a little more, that he could be the grown-up, the strong one, if only for Hermione's sake.

"I was so lonely," Hermione said with a small sniffle. "It seemed as though everyone had somebody to turn to, except George and me. And I couldn't ask that of George! What a selfish thing to do! Somehow it felt selfish to ask the same of you. All the others seemed to know instinctively that they were needed—you just closed yourself off from everybody. I didn't know what to do. Everyone had their hands full with somebody else!"

Ron pulled Hermione into an embrace, letting a few tears slip into her hair.

"I'm sorry, Hermione, I really am. I needed quiet, I needed space. Now I feel like a prat."

Somehow this made Hermione cry harder.

"Don't say that! You're not a prat! You lost your brother. Who was I to ask you not to grieve in your own way?"

"My girlfriend!" He wanted to say, but truthfully, he didn't know if he could call her that. Despite what Lavender had thought, one kiss did not a relationship make, at least not with someone like Hermione Granger. Ron recollected his thoughts, then pushed Hermione back so that he could see her.

"You're…" he stalled. Hermione's face began to fall. "You're Hermione. You're my best friend. I knew that you were hurting, and I ignored it. I don't care what you say, that makes me a bloody arsehole."

Hermione wiped her eyes once more.

"I can't argue with that. But I do forgive you."

"If I wasn't being so self-centered earlier, what would you have wanted from me?" Ron asked, suddenly feeling more confident. Maybe he wouldn't be a completely useless wizard after all!

"I don't know," Hermione said quietly. "I suppose, just to be near while I cried."

"Well, here I am."

Hermione curled into a ball, and as Ron settled in beside her she began to sob. Until they had cried themselves into a restless sleep, Ron's hand did not leave Hermione's.


A/N2: Thanks for reading! I intend to update as often as real life allows. All feedback is appreciated, especially any editing mistakes that I've missed!