Title: The Journey Back
Characters: Hermione Granger, George Weasley
Description: The final battle is over. Driven away from the celebration of her peers, Hermione Granger finds George Weasley at the top of the Astronomy Tower grieving for the loss of his twin brother.
Word Count: 2,661
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter.
Her footfalls made slow, scuffling thuds as she climbed ever higher toward the Astronomy Tower. Hermione Granger was beyond exhausted. The tattered clothes she wore were caked with dirt and grim from the final battle. Dried blood coated her left temple and matted her hair. They had won. After a year of chasing down horcruxes, enduring the months of lonely isolation with that cursed necklace, and suffering at the hands of the crazed Bellatrix LeStrange, Harry Potter had finally defeated Lord Voldemort. Hermione knew she should be grateful it was over, knew that many of her peers were even now down in the Great Hall celebrating the end as they began the process of grieving the dead.
For Hermione, the cost had been too high. She knew she should be grieving. Each name she knew flitted through her head in a steady rhythm. Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks. Colin Creevy. Lavender Brown. Fred.
Each echoing step reminded Hermione of the cold, hollow feeling deep in her chest. Each scream of wind through the old tower sent the knot in her stomach coiling ever tighter. She felt empty, devote of all sensation save exhaustion; a deep, dull ache; and the overwhelming urge to be alone with not but her thoughts.
She wrapped her jumper more snuggly around her small frame as she neared the top, warding off the late chill of the wind in the angry sky that seemed to grieve even as she couldn't.
The door creaked as she pushed it open toward the open platform of the tower. Hermione started when she saw him, her stomach gripping in horror at just how close to the edge he was.
If he heard her, he made no sign. Wind ripped through his fiery red hair, sending it in swirled tangles around his empty eyes, tickling at his remaining ear. He had removed his jacket despite the chill and his tattered, gray t-shirt pressed against his lank form, buffeted by the harsh winds of the threatening storm. Hermione's stomach lurched with each sway of his body as he teetered on the edge of the Astronomy Tower.
He started at her small voice and slowly turned his face to her. His expression was blank, devoid of any of the life and laughter she had associated with him for so long. Now all she could see was loss and pain and a deep-seated hurt that would likely never fully disappear.
Hermione wrapped her arms around her chest to ward off the wind and steel her resolve before she stepped out of the doorway. She made the short trek to his side, remaining several steps away from the edge.
"It's beautiful out here," she said, the wind all but tearing the words from her sore, chapped lips.
George stared at Hermione a long moment, speckled brown eyes boring into her warm honey ones. He blinked once before turning back toward the horizon. She watched as his fists clenched slowly at his sides.
Hermione felt tension in her shoulders as a deep, subconscious fear rolled through her belly. She took a small, cautious step closer.
"Do you come out here often?" she began.
"What do you want, Granger?" His voice was cold and cutting, and she flinched at his impersonal use of her last name. At a loss for words, she instead studied him a long moment.
He was filthy from the fighting. Dust coated his hair, clothes, and face save for the dried tear tracts down his pale cheeks. His shirt was speckled with holes from debris and blood, though Hermione was unsure how much of it was his. Deep scratches raked down his right arm oozing thick blood. His hands slowly clenched and unclenched and the slightest of tremors shook his body.
Softly, so softly she feared he wouldn't hear, she said, "You're stronger than this, George."
As she watched, his gaze hardened into a scowl and his breathing grew rough. A muscle in his jaw ticked and his gaze fell to his feet. Heat and anger seemed to radiate off him in waves and he clenched his hands so hard his knuckles slowly turned white.
Against her better judgment, Hermione touched his shoulder with a tentative hand. "He wouldn't have wanted this, George. Fred wouldn't have-"
At the name of his dead twin, George rounded on her. Faster than she could track, he balled the soft blue material of her jumper in his fists and yanked her to him. His eyes were wide with rage and his face was as red as his hair.
"What would you know of it?!" he screamed in her face, spit flecking on her cheek. "You don't know a thing about him, Granger!"
"George," Hermione sputtered, unable to hide the fear on her face as she eyed the edge they now both stood upon.
His entire body gave a hard tremble as he pulled her within inches of his face. She could see his pulse throbbing in his neck. "What did you ever care for us? Care for him? Don't you dare act like you have any idea what I'm going through, Granger, don't you fucking dare." His voice cracked on the last as his fists released her.
She stumbled back, dropping to her knees. Cold from the flagstone floor seeped through her jeans as she stared at him wide-eyed from her prone position.
He turned his back to her again, facing the horizon. "This doesn't concern you, Granger," he ground out through clenched teeth.
Slowly, Hermione forced herself up on shaking legs and again reached out a tentative hand. "I'm not going anywhere."
George flinched from her touch as if burned and turned his hard glare on her again. His nostrils flared once, twice. "Fine. Then I'll go," his voice was frighteningly calm.
He turned toward the doorway, his shoulders set, long strides eating up the distance. Hermione raced after him, surprising them both when she jumped on his back, tackling him to the ground. George flailed wildly before spinning beneath her. He grabbed roughly onto her wrists and easily flipped her beneath him. His eyes burned with rage, unseeing, as he straddled her chest.
Hermione cried out as his hand met her cheek in a hard slap that bruised the delicate bone almost immediately. George pulled his arm back to slap her again, faltering as Hermione flinched away.
Slowly, his hand still raised, Hermione watched as George came back to himself. His took deep, panicked breaths through his nose, his teeth beginning to chatter as his body shook.
George pushed himself roughly off her, muttering. He stood over Hermione a moment and raked his hands through his hair, eyes wide in fear. "I'm sorry," he croaked before turning quickly on his heel toward the doorway.
"George, wait!" Hermione cried, lifting herself to her feet.
He stopped in the doorway hanging his head, his breath coming in short, hard gasps. Hermione stepped quickly up to him and wrapped her arms around him from behind. Her fingers splayed out across his hard abdomen as she rubbed her face along his back, squeezing him tightly.
"Let me go." He trembled harder, and she felt his fingers gripping hers. "Why won't you just let me go?" George choked back a sob.
She squeezed him tighter, "He wouldn't have wanted me to leave you alone right now."
George stiffened in her arms, his anger returning.
"He saved me once, George," Hermione said in barely a whisper. "Fred did. He wouldn't want me to leave you like this."
George pried her fingers from around him. He turned and glared at her. "What are you on about, Granger?" he sneered.
Hermione flinched at the look he gave her. She seemed to struggle with herself a moment before finally squaring her shoulders.
"He found me up here once."
George's sneer deepened. "Failed a test, did you, Granger?"
Hermione's jaw clenched and she swallowed hard, her gaze shifting uncomfortably before resting on him again. "He found me, George," she forced through clenched teeth, "Standing where you stood when I arrived."
George's eyes dropped from hers as he shifted uncomfortably. "I don't know what you mean."
His head snapped up in surprise at her harsh language, his eyes wide. He seemed to shrink away from her. "When?" he asked in a whisper.
"Third year, after Harry and Ron stopped talking to me when I turned in the Firebolt." George glanced up to see her worry her lip with her teeth. "I was just so lonely," she whispered to the space between her and George's feet, the hollow ache in her chest becoming a sharp pain. "And angry. I didn't have any friends to turn to. I felt worthless and worried, not to mention exhausted from my course load. I just… I… I wanted it to all go away," she finished lamely.
George's jaw clenched for a tick. "But what does this have-"
"Fred found me up here," Hermione cut him off, glaring into his hard eyes, gesturing vaguely to the edge. "He found me right there, George, contemplating doing something I couldn't take back."
His cheeks flushed pink and he shoved his fists in his pockets defensively. "What makes you think I was contemplating anything, Granger?"
It was her turn to sneer. "Oh come off it, George Weasley. I'm not stupid."
Anger flashed in his eyes once more and he leaned over her menacingly, his finger jabbing at her face. "And that makes you an expert, does it? Just because you were weak once now I have to be? So he talked you off the ledge. That doesn't mean you knew him, or me for that matter."
She crossed her arms defiantly across her chest. "I did know him, George, better than you realize."
"And I know that kind of pain when I see it in someone else," she said, her voice rising.
"Am I? What exactly where you doing up here, George? Certainly not admiring the view."
"I don't have to listen to this." George spit at her, turned back through the doorway.
"Fred Gideon Weasley," her voice rang out. "Born 5 minutes before you on April 1, 1978. His favorite color was green, bright green, definitely not Slytherin green, more like springtime grass after the rain. His best subject was Charms though he liked Transfiguration better. He was always a little jealous that you were better at Potions. He had a small scar through his left eyebrow that he got from you when you were seven. You were angry, he couldn't remember why, and you threw a book at him. The corner cut him and you cried harder than he did at the blood."
George froze two steps down as she spoke, his breath came out in a gasp.
"He always secretly wanted to be a Chaser, but you two together made much better Beaters. One of his proudest moments is when you both made the house team."
Below her, George slowly sank down to the step, his face in his hands.
Hermione's voice cracked but she plowed on. "In sixth year, he felt guilty after he asked Angelina to the Yule Ball because you liked her, too. You switched places part way through the night without telling your dates because a girl wasn't worth coming between you both."
George choked on a sob that he tried to muffle with his hand. Hermione dropped to the step behind him, wrapping him tightly in her arms. Her hands balled in the fabric of his shirt as she began to rock him slowly back and forth.
"The invention he was most proud of," she swallowed roughly, her voice full of tears, "was the Skiving Snackboxes. He felt there were times in every young witch and wizard's life where there were just more important things than going to class."
Hermione's forehead fell to the crook of George's neck as sobs wracked his body. Her long awaited tears splashed warmly on his shoulder.
"You were his favorite brother," she gasped, tears choking her. "Not just because you were his twin, but because he felt you were his better half. He always worried his pranks were too cruel without you there to mellow him."
George wept bitterly in her embrace, chest wracking painfully. He both hated her and found comfort. He held her arms tightly to his chest, terrified of losing his last anchor to sanity.
"How?" he gasped. "When did he tell you all this?" he whispered hoarsely.
Hermione's voice shook as she spoke. "After he talked me off the ledge, he would check up on me. We talked, shared stories. He made sure I never again felt too lonely."
"But why didn't he tell me?" George nearly wailed, bitter tears threatening him once more.
"That was my fault," she whispered. George pulled away from her. Turning, he eyed her wearily.
"I was embarrassed," Hermione huffed, tears streaming down her cheeks in a torrent. "I didn't want anyone else to know how I almost…" She gasped, dropping her chin to her chest. She squeezed her eyes closed before taking a deep, steadying breath. "I made him take an oath that he would never tell anyone."
She lifted her head and her eyes found his, pleading. "I didn't want anyone to know," she whispered.
"I knew," George croaked, and she stiffened. "I knew he was hiding something." Hermione felt her shoulders relax as he gave her the barest ghost of a smile. "I never would have guessed you were his secret, Granger."
A pained laugh forced its way past her lips.
"I miss him," George whispered as tears once more coated his flushing cheeks.
"I know you do."
George buried his face in her shoulder as he cried bitterly. Hermione was quiet as his emotions bled down her shirt. Her hand smoothed through his hair and she rocked him gently.
After long moments, he finally took several deep, shuttering breaths in an attempt to calm himself.
"I don't," he whispered, his throat raw with emotion, "I don't know if I can do this without him. I don't know that I want to."
Her hands wrapped around his face tilting it up to meet hers, "He would want you to, George. Fred, he's relying on you."
George gripped her hands on his cheek, squeezing his eyes closed, shaking his head violently.
"They need you, George. Your family needs you. Fred would want you to be there for them."
George's shoulders shook as he sobbed once, twice.
"They can't lose you, too, George," she whispered desperately. "I can't lose you, too. Fred would never forgive me."
Hermione's grip his cheeks tightened, "Look at me, George."
George kept his eyes squeezed tight.
"Look at me," she implored.
He took several deep, shuddering breaths. Tears continued to cut tracks down his sharp cheeks and over her splayed fingers. Slowly, so very slowly, red-rimmed brown eyes opened.
Hermione rested her forehead against his, her pained eyes focused intently on him. "George," her warm breath ghosted over his face. George noticed for the first time that she was shaking.
"Please, George," her voice cracked and he could hear clearly the tears lodged in her throat.
His eyes dropped to her lap to protect himself from her pain, even as his hand came up and buried itself in her mess of curls. George's eyes closed as he nodded.
A sigh caressed his cheek. "Together then?" she asked, her relief palpable.
Hermione gripped his wrist and pulled his arm across her shoulders as if she intended to support his weight. The small, thin fingers of her left hand threaded through his thicker ones, squeezing once. Hermione's right arm came up around his waist and together they awkwardly stood from their crumpled heap on the top of the Astronomy Tower stairs. They each sucked in a lungful of the bitter air and then, with slow, shuffling steps, began the arduous journey back.