Warning(s): Language, Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Contains Spoilers
Summary: A carefree man who knows little about a life outside of pranks and laughter. A compassionate woman who must distance herself from her own wants and dreams for the greater good. When the two spend a summer together, a wonderful love blossoms. Unfortunately, even the greatest of loves is tested...
Disclaimer: Harry Potter does not belong to me and I am making no profit in the creation of this story.
AN: A very big thank you to my beta, ravenclawprincess!
Chapter Fifteen: No Regrets
It was funny how something that'd been so long-anticipated could come as such a shock. One minute Fred and George had been with Lee preparing another broadcast of Potterwatch for that evening and the next their fake Galleons were heating to let them know it was time to return to school. George had felt a rush of nervous excitement at the prospect. They hadn't been back to the castle in ages and now they were returning to defend its walls. It seemed fitting, as if there'd been only one possible setting for the final showdown all long. Everything led back to Hogwarts.
Now, answering the call of Dumbledore's Army, Fred, Lee, Ginny, and George were quickly walking the passage from Aberforth's bar to the Room of Requirement. George picked the Galleon out of his trouser pocket and flipped it over to look again at the message saying Harry was at Hogwarts and they were going to fight. It dawned on him suddenly that this meant the other two thirds of the trio were back as well. He reckoned it was silly to not have realized that Ron and Hermione would be there too until this moment. He was going to have to face the anger and jealousy they'd caused him. It was awful, but George selfishly hoped for his sake, that Hermione looked like shite.
A flash of what she'd looked like at Bill and Fleur's wedding flew into his mind without his permission. She'd been a vision; the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. Even after all this time he felt his throat get tight as he lost his balance and tripped over his own foot.
"Watch your step for cripes sake! We've got no hope of winning a bloody war if you can't even walk straight."
George caught himself on the wall of the tunnel, muttering a quick apology to Lee as the dark-skinned bloke fixed his shoe so it was completely on his foot again. George snuck a look backwards at Fred only to find his twin returning the gaze with a raised eyebrow.
There was a long pause.
"Absolutely sure?" Fred crooned, being sure to draw out the words.
George huffed an aggravated laugh. "Wanker."
They were quiet for the rest of the walk, their breaths echoing off the passageway until finally they were stepping into the gloriously decorated and fairly crowded Room of Requirement. George saw both Fred and Lee's heads tilt back to observe their surroundings with surprise. There was a lot going on: colored tapestries, hammocks, and an overwhelming amount of clutter. And yet somehow, none of it drew George's attention more than the woman standing off to the side, between his younger brother and Harry.
She looked unrecognizably small, like everything that'd made her so vibrant and loud had been stripped from her being. George thought she seemed fragile now; a person who needed to be protected instead of feared. He reckoned he wasn't the only one who thought so given Harry and Ron's body language. Both men were tight against her sides, Ron with his hand in hers and Harry with his hand behind her back. All three were talking animatedly to Neville, making it seem as though the contact between them was natural and involuntary. Her guard dogs.
Something had changed between them. George's eyes narrowed in curiosity.
"Stop what?" George asked.
"Ignorance doesn't look good on you, Gred. Now, stop looking at her like you don't know whether to kill her or snog her," Fred whispered over his shoulder with a teasing smirk. "Let's go over."
"I'm not –"
Fred's eye roll kept him from continuing the lie.
George tried to keep his eyes on everything but Hermione as they entered into the conversation. Neville was ranting to them about something.
"You don't understand, this is between the three of us. That's the plan," Harry interrupted, seeming on the verge of completely losing his temper. George felt uncomfortable heat rise to his face as Hermione placed a hand calmly on Harry's forearm, causing the bespectacled man to stop and take a deep breath.
"Harry, there isn't a plan," she gently reminded him.
Ron glanced at her with an amused quirk of his lips. "The plan was to get to Hogwarts and then figure it out later."
The three of them shared a smile.
"That's my favorite type of plan!" Fred laughed, reaching forward to drag Ron into a bear hug. "Long time, brother."
George hesitated for a moment before following suit and pulling Ron to him enough to pat him on the back and tell him it was good to see him. It felt way more awkward than it should have, which made George internally cringe. They were blood. If this was the night things were going to go down then he didn't want it to end with them being weird around each other. It should be a night of closure; of following your heart so that if the time came to take that final bow, they could do so knowing that they'd lived their lives the way they'd wanted.
A strange bubbling sensation rose in his chest. No regrets. What would he regret? Hermione's eyes were already on him when he finally let his gaze move to her after Ron had stepped back. His stomach dropped and all of the memories from the summer before began rushing in. It'd been almost a full year ago now, and even when dirty and fragile, she was still the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
George absently realized that Harry and Luna were rushing from the room. He startled, looking from side to side for an explanation.
"Harry and Luna are going looking for the diadem," Ginny told him quietly, smiling at his oblivious expression. "I hope you pay more attention when there's a Death Eater in front of you."
George smiled. "Me too. I only have one more ear to lose."
"'Mione, I was thinking," Ron began, distracting George and drawing his attention to where Ron was bent close to Hermione, whispering intimately about who-knows-what.
Something broke inside of George. They were about to go to war. They were about to look death in the face in a battle that would literally decide the fate of the entire world. He may not live to see tomorrow, and yet here he was, letting himself be so disastrously distracted by his bloody nonexistent love life. A wave of shame rose through him, turning his ear red and making him hate the man that he'd become. He'd never been this type of bloke and he refused to die as a lovesick coward instead of the brave hero that all little boys hoped to be someday when they grew up. It sounded silly, but he wanted to be someone the history books would list in honor. For the first time in his life, he felt driven to be more than the guy who could cut tension with a joke or bring about a smile when it was most difficult. He wanted to be a soldier. He wanted to make a difference.
He couldn't do that without tying up a few lose ends.
"I need to see you for a second," he announced, reaching quickly out to take Hermione's arm from Ron's grasp.
Ron's other arm snapped out so quickly that George didn't even have time to duck away. Before he could register what had happened, his younger brother had the front of his shirt clenched in a vicelike hold and seemed to be barely containing a fit of rage. "Don't grab her like that," he growled.
George couldn't bring himself to release Hermione fully, but did manage to soften the contact. He gazed up at Ron in surprise. "Let's save some of the fighting for the other guys, yeah?" he said lightly, plucking Ron's hand off his collar as casually as possible given the situation.
"It's alright Ron," Hermione reassured him, trying to ease the tension. "It's not like the others and it's the opposite arm."
This made no sense to George, but seemed to immediately subdue Ron.
"We'll be right back," she added.
It wasn't like they could go far. The most privacy they could get in the crowded room was to step behind two tall bookcases and cast a Silencing Charm. Once they were sure that the only way someone would see them was to go out of their way to do just that, they met each other's gaze. It was odd to be alone with a person who you'd been sure you'd never get a moment with again.
The silence began to feel awkward almost immediately. Neither of them seemed to know how to begin. She'd been his world, the person he'd been sure he'd marry someday. Their relationship had been so perfect that it'd felt like a dream until it'd become a nightmare. Then George had spent most of the last year being furious with her, only to find that his ranting and raving had lessened those feelings until they'd blurred into the background of his everyday life. Now he didn't know what to feel.
"Care to share what the hell that was about?" George asked finally, his palms rising to convey his confusion. He figured a good place to start was at Ron's strange behavior.
Hermione gave a grim smile. "Ron's been protective lately. Both of them have. You know the Snatchers?"
"Well, it turns out that they're good at what they do," she finished with a well-rehearsed shrug.
"Excuse me?" George didn't know if he should laugh at her cleverness or hit something. He wanted to do both. The mixed emotion felt comfortably satisfying, like coming home after a long trip. He remembered many occasions when he'd been torn in much the same way. She'd always been infuriating like that.
"We were taken to Malfoy Manor. Things happened. I don't really want to talk about it," she answered dismissively, her words trickling off until she began to sound pained.
"Then we won't," he said, automatically reaching out to squeeze her shoulder. He didn't like how much her expression had darkened. "I'm just glad you're alright."
Hermione's eyes shut at the touch. "I appreciate that. Ron was only trying to make sure I didn't get hurt again. Usually when someone besides Harry and him touches me I kind of start to panic, but you seem to be another exception."
"I wonder why that is," he muttered absently, trying to suppress the need to interrogate her about what had happened. All sorts of terrible scenarios played through his mind.
"How can you not know?" she asked, eyes flashing in unexpected annoyance.
He scratched at the back of his neck. "Well, it's been awhile," he slowly pointed out.
"Not thatlong, in the grand scheme of things," she argued, her feisty all-knowing attitude coming out to prove that he'd been a royal twit earlier to think she was in anyway fragile. "A year is nothing."
He fidgeted, unsure of what to make of that reaction. It wasn't as if he needed reminding of how long she'd left him for. He didn't think she really had the right to flip her lid over it. "I'm just saying, a lot has changed."
George sighed, lowering his voice and taking a step closer to her. This was fast-approaching a row, which would defeat the entire purpose of getting her alone. He'd wanted to lay the past to rest, not make it worse. "I don't want to argue with you, Hermione. Things have happened and even though the fallout is bloody confusing, I guess we've made our beds and have to lie in them."
She blew out a long stream of breath before directing a sad smile up at him. "You know the world is ending when a Weasley twin is the voice of reason."
"Damn straight," he chuckled. Relief coursed through him causing him to relax his stance. The tension between them seemed to ebb a bit. Maybe she realized as much as he did that it was silly to hold onto negative feelings towards loved ones at times like these.
"Look, Hermione," he continued, "I just wanted you to know that I still care about you."
She tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear and looked down at the ground. "I know you do. I want you to know that I do too. You'll always be my first boyfriend."
"You were my first everything," George grinned softly, tilting his head down to catch her gaze. "That'll never change."
They let a long moment pass, each alone with their thoughts and memories. For the first time since the Galleon had warmed, George felt completely ready to face what was ahead of him.
"I'm glad you pulled me away," she murmured at last, breaking the silence by reaching up to pat his chest lightly with her palm. "Closure and all that."
"I needed it," George agreed. "I don't want to go through this with any regrets."
She nodded, staring at him in that deep, uncanny way that she'd always had when she was considering something in that big brain of hers. "You're right. I would have regretted not talking to you one last time. Now we can put this to rest."
He liked how hopeful that sounded. Maybe one day, when the world was bright and beautiful again, they could even be friends.
Then, Hermione surprised him by leaning up on her tiptoes and giving him a gentle kiss on his cheek. All of his quaint thoughts of her dissolved in an instant. George was thrust back in time to the moment that had started them on their journey together. It'd been a kiss that mirrored this one, given in the kitchen of the Burrow. He'd placed his fingers on his cheek as if to capture the caress against his skin and had stared at her longingly as she'd walked away. Even then, the feelings he'd felt for her had been wonderful. He doubted he could've possibly guessed at the time that they'd be standing where they were a year later. The history they now shared seemed unbelievable when one thought of who they were and what they represented.
The prankster and the prefect.
He was suddenly struck by the fact that this small gesture was her final goodbye to him. If either or both of them died in the coming battle, this would be it; the end of the story of George and Hermione. The final words on the page of their book would be of a peck on the cheek between ex-lovers. It seemed ridiculously inadequate. He reckoned there didn't exist a more terribly dull way to end such an epic tale. It was the beginning of another regret which he wanted no part in. They'd been through too much together. There was no way George Weasley could sit back and take it.
Hermione had just begun to sink back onto her heels. As she pulled away from him, he took a step forward to match the distance. Her eyes widened as he continued advancing, his arms reaching out to lock around her waist and pull her passionately against him. He stepped between her legs as her back hit the bookshelf protecting them from prying eyes.
"What are you doing?" she asked breathlessly, her arms awkwardly raised in the air at shoulder level as if unsure where they should go.
George solved this dilemma by letting go of her waist with one hand and snagging both of her hands in his much larger palm. He dragged their combined grasp above her head to rest against a shelf before running a heated glance over her body, loving the idea of her laid out before him and unable to move away. He wanted her to be in this moment one last time with him before she left for some unknown future that, no matter what, he wouldn't be a part of. He wanted a goodbye worthy of them. A goodbye that spoke of how much he'd truly loved her, because he knew then that he still did. Had never stopped.
Her chest rose quickly against his. She was shocked, of that he could tell; however, her voice was low and warm as she whispered his name. He smiled at her, trying to silently convey the words he no longer felt he was allowed to say to her. He didn't know it then, but it would be his last whole-hearted smile for a very long time.
"What are we doing?" Hermione asked, sighing into his embrace as her hands caressed the wood of the shelves above her in anticipation.
"Saying goodbye properly," he stated simply.
Then he kissed her, the details of the war fading from his mind until it was just the two of them and nothing else. It was toe-curling, heart-stopping, and lip-bruising perfection.
Hermione's body bowed into his in an effort to get closer. George groaned his approval, deepening the kiss. He needed to remember her taste, needed to make sure his memory of her was perfect enough to last forever. Not fully satisfied with just her lips, he trailed his mouth down the column of her neck to caress the hollow at the base of her throat. He loved the feeling of having her at his mercy. She was more divine than he'd remembered.
Her hands began to struggle wildly against his hold until he relented and released her, only to be pleasantly surprised when she dove her fingers into his hair to guide his mouth smoothly back up to hers. A shiver ran down his spine as her touch ghosted over his missing ear. To this day, she was the only person he'd ever let touch it. His hands ran down her ribcage to the top of her thighs and pressed her up and against him. He pulled on her curls in an impossible attempt to get closer and slipped his hand beneath her jumper to touch the bare skin of her belly. She felt too impossibly perfect to let go.
Then it was over. George didn't realize at first what had made them stop. He only registered Hermione stiffening and pushing him a step backwards. She was flushed and looking over his shoulder. He followed her gaze.
George winced as he silently took down the Silencing Spell so they could hear him.
"We've got to go to the bathroom. We don't want to wait too long," Ron said to Hermione.
Hermione nodded, taking a step to the side to be fully out from under George. "You'll want to grab a broomstick from someone here so we can get back."
George's eyebrows rose. They had to go to the bathroom together for a flying lesson?
"Right. I've got to talk to Neville to make sure he knows and can tell Harry if he gets back before us. Meet me by the Gryffindor tapestry?"
"I'll be there in a moment," she agreed. The whole exchange was too polite and monotone to be comfortable.
Ron disappeared around the side of the bookcase again, leaving Hermione and George to themselves. George was proud of his brother for not blowing up. He'd been, dare he say it, mature.
"Well," Hermione began, "I obviously have to go."
"Seems that way," George said. "It's almost like there's a battle brewing or something."
She looked over at him as the joke settled between them. Then, as if sensing his apprehension, she reached up and touched his lost ear one last time. "No regrets, Weasley."
He sighed in relief. "No regrets, Granger."
She smiled – a full-blown, megawatt smile. A smile that didn't belong in a war.
The way she drew out the farewell made it sound like two separate words, "good" and "bye."
And, somehow, it was.
The world had ended. Hermione was bruised and battered. Blood trickled down her forehead from the explosion she'd been caught up in earlier, an explosion that she'd miraculously survived while Fred had not. One minute he'd been laughing, looking so alive and Fred-like that it seemed as if he were immortal, and the next his laugh was just a distant memory. It was unbelievable that such a vivacious soul could be taken in a heartbeat.
But it had. He was gone.
Now, she watched helplessly as a sea of redheads converged in the Great Hall to comfort each other over the loss. It was too much. Hermione didn't know what to do. No amount of intelligence and cleverness could prepare her for a moment like this. How was the war not over when everything that mattered had been destroyed? It defied logic and reason. She kept thinking about Fred's parting joke like a cruel punishment on replay.
Hermione looked down, only to once again find her gaze landing on the bodies of Tonks and Remus, two lovers that had fought so hard to be with each other. They'd finally found happiness, had even brought life into the world together, only to have it ripped out from under them. Tonks was supposed to stay home with Teddy. Anger over such a silly mistake rose within Hermione, only to be squashed by the guilt of thinking it. It wasn't a mistake to bravely want to fight at your husband's side.
It just wasn't fair.
She forced herself to glance away, seeking comfort but only finding more grief. Her eyes landed on George. He seemed unrecognizable. There was no way this was the same person who had looked so mischievous and playful as he'd stalked towards her like a panther to pin her against a bookshelf and snog her senseless. He had been passionate and free, everything a Weasley twin should be in the face of death. Fred and George wouldn't be who they were if they'd cowered instead of living each moment to the fullest.
Fred and George wouldn't have been who they used to be.
The tears started coming then. The finality of a pair of twins being separated and becoming just one shadow of a surviving brother was too much. She took a step towards George. He needed comfort. Despite their goodbye before, she realized that it'd be so easy to forget their time apart. She was confused by just how easily they could fall back into what they'd once shared. She'd wanted to be angry at him when he'd pulled her off to talk, but had found that the anger had dulled during their period apart. All she'd felt was warm familiarity, until he'd kissed her. That was when he'd made her question her sanity. How could someone who'd obviously wanted her so much have dismissed her so quickly? Maybe he regretted the past year and wanted to go back to the way things were. Maybe if she went up to him so he could find comfort with her, it would. They could erase all this pain and somehow find a way to overcome it together; to be each other's crutch as the world burned.
Then, she allowed herself to really look at him. She ran her eyes over not just his shaking figure, but the mob of family who had collapsed in on him in a tight embrace of shared despair. His father's arms were around his neck from behind, rocking him. His mother was half in his lap, half on Fred's unmoving chest. Ginny had her head resting against his shoulder as tears drenched her swollen face. Bill and Percy hovered a step behind them all, arms around each other with Fleur pressed tightly against Bill's side. In only a matter of time, Charlie would join them too.
George had more support than he could have ever asked for, Hermione realized. The support of a large family. It was something Hermione had never really known as an only child, so she hadn't expected it. And yet, there is was. He had a crowd of people to help shoulder this pain.
She noticed him at that moment, standing a few meters off to the side. He looked like a lost child, an outsider to a family's misery instead of a part of it. Somehow, during their year away, his familial connection had been weakened in order to strengthen his bond to Harry and their task. She'd felt it happening within herself, yet her family wasn't around anymore to really make the feeling hit home. For Ron it had. He'd lost a brother, but despite his bleeding heart he had no connection to those who were in the same boat as him.
Hermione gave a harsh sob, drawing only Ron's attention. The world outside their grief was nonexistent to the other Weasleys.
She ran to him, reaching up high to be able to throw her arms around his neck. She felt him bend so his arms could wrap around her smaller frame and pull her closer. His head dropped into the curve of her shoulder as he let out a trembling moan. His tears coated her skin as she hugged him tighter. They remained like that for a long while, suffering together in their own private way that was separate from that of their loved ones.
Finally, Hermione broke away. She kissed his cheek gently, her hand brushing his hair back from his eyes. She hoped he took this as the promise she meant it as. She was choosing him and the future they would have together with Harry. He needed her and she knew that she needed him. Hermione couldn't turn her back on her boys.
She wiped his tears with the pads of her fingers before taking his hand. When she met his forlorn gaze, she watched the change come over him. His shoulders squared and his jaw tightened. He would shed more tears later, but for now he was ready to finish this. Hermione gave him an encouraging nod before she pulled him away from the Great Hall and the heavy sadness that lay in the chamber. They had a war to win. For Fred. For Tonks. For Remus. For Moody and Sirius and Dumbledore. For those who they'd lost and those who were left to pick up the pieces.
So all this pain would not be for nothing.
Then, they set out towards the future, together.
AN: The only chapter remaining in this story is the epilogue! I hope you can appreciate how I choose to bring this story to an end. I'd love to hear your thoughts! I know some of you will be a bit miffed by the decidedly non-Hermione/George turn of events; yet, maybe the epilogue will help. Also, I'm currently on the second chapter of the sequel! :) Please review!Amanda