"Hermione, I know you're in a lot of pain.." He trailed off, sighing. "But-"
She cut him off before he could continue. "Pain?" She let out a short, bark-like laugh, almost choking on the sound as it escaped her throat. Then she felt silent, shaking her head gently and keeping her eyes down.
Arthur swallowed the lump in his throat, leaning forward and placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. "I know you're hurting," he said, his voice dropping to a whisper. "We all know that, Hermione. We can all see it. But please don't act like we don't understand what you're going through. You lost Severus. We lost Fred. We understand."
His last two words rang in her ears, and she nodded, finally lifting her head to look him in the eyes. "Look, I.. I just.. I need some time alone to sort all of this out, okay? I appreciate everything you've done for me, I really do. But I need to get away for a while." Her words were gentle but firm, her expression pleading for him to understand.
He opened his mouth to protest, but shut it a moment later with a click of his teeth. Then he, too, nodded. "Alright," he said gently. "Just.. please don't leave without saying goodbye. You'd devastate everyone if you did that."
She inclined her chin, turning to look towards the door. They were out in the garden. Everyone else was inside. She'd come out here for some peace and quiet, in an attempt to calm her nerves after everyone started talking at once indoors and it got to be too much. It was Arthur who had come after her, not Harry or Ginny or Molly. The others had wanted to, he'd said, but he'd made them stay. She knew they were watching from inside the Burrow.
She turned towards the door, intending to go inside. She needed to gather her few possessions and bid farewell to her friends before she left them behind.
"Oh, and Hermione," Arthur said hastily, his fingers tightening slightly on her shoulder.
She glanced back at him questioningly, still fighting back the tears that had brought her out here in the first place earlier. She just needed to get out of here. But she waited, looking up into his face and wondering what he was going to say.
"Just," he sighed, looking like he might be tearing up, too. "Just always remember that you're welcome here, alright? Don't stay away too long." He gave her shoulder a gentle shake before releasing her. Then they both went back into the house. Hermione went upstairs to Ginny's room, picking up the few things she'd left lying around and tucking them away in her robe and her beaded bag.
Then she returned downstairs. This was going to be more difficult than she'd anticipated; everyone was standing around waiting, looking up at her sadly. So Arthur had told them. Good. Maybe they wouldn't ask her to explain herself then. But already she could feel the extra liquid building in her eyes, and she knew the tears would spill over before she left. Especially if she hugged everyone. Hugs were wonderful things on good occasions, but when Hermione was close to tears already? Being in someone else's embrace when this close to crying never ended well.
She wiped her eyes hastily before moving in to hug them, going from one to the next. George was first, and then Molly and Arthur. All three of them told her not to stay away too long and reminded her that she'd always have a place here at the Burrow, when she was ready to come back. She was on the verge of tears by the time she reached Ginny, just managing to suppress them until Ginny threw her arms around her and started crying. Then Hermione lost it, clinging to her friend and giving her a tight hug before looking into her eyes and whispering, "I'll be back. I promise. I just need some time."
Ginny just nodded, letting her go a moment later. Then Hermione looked around. Harry and Ron were the only ones left. Harry stepped forward, all but scooping her up in his arms and hugging her tightly, burying his face in her shoulder for a moment. He didn't let her go for a long time. "Be safe," he whispered.
She nodded, swallowing and biting her lip when he lifted his hand to wipe away her tears. He offered her a broken smile, then, stepping away. Then she turned to Ron. He was leaning against the wall, staring at the floor and frowning.
No one outside of the Weasley family—aside from Harry, but he was practically part of the family anyways—knew that Hermione had loved Severus. It had come as a shock to some of them, but Harry and Ginny had taken it all in stride. Molly and Arthur had followed suite, thinking Hermione was a bit strange but never speaking a word against her. George had taken a while longer to come around, but eventually he was treating her just like his little sister again. Ron was the only one who had said nothing. Granted, there had a been a string of curses muttered under his breath about Snape when he heard, but nothing more. He had spoken very little to Hermione since her initial return from Snape and the Ministry, but since she'd come back and Severus had died.. he hadn't even looked at her since then.
But he looked up at her now. And she froze, because she didn't know what to say or how to act. It had been a very long time since she'd looked into his green eyes and they'd looked back, but here they were. There was a long moment of silence and Hermione knew everyone was watching them carefully, and then she stepped forward, closing the space between them and hugging him just as tightly as she'd hugged everyone else. He tensed, freezing like a stone statue beneath her touch, but after a moment or two he relaxed, and then he was embracing her just as fiercely.
"I love you," she whispered. And she meant it. She did love him, just like she loved Harry and Ginny and the rest of the Weasleys. They were family now, more than ever before. She loved Ron, but she wasn't in love with him. And he understood her. She could feel it.
She was crying now, sniffing and trying to hold back the sobs, and she realized that he was crying, too. His voice cracked when he whispered, "Love you too, 'Mione," in her ear. Then he released her, stepping back and wiping his face quickly, glancing around as if he was embarrassed. But then his eyes fell on her again and he nodded, taking a deep breath. "Be careful," he said quietly.
Hermione nodded, unable to speak. Of all the things she'd expected from Ron, that wasn't one of them. But she wasn't complaining. She moved towards the door, glancing back over her shoulder and waving at everyone one last time before she stepped out of it. She loved them all so much, but she did need to get away. She needed some time to think on everything that had happened and to come to terms with it. She knew she still hadn't quite accepted Severus' death.
Hello again! I'd love to hear what you thought of this chapter! As always, any suggestions/additions/corrections you have are totally welcome, and I would love to hear them. Thank you all so much for reading! ~Taelr