Category: Harry Potter
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 and final thank you to my beta, ravenclawprincess! You're wonderful for having stepped in to help me when I really needed it!
Epilogue: The Fallout
It seemed impossible for the sky to be so dark in the middle of the day. It reminded Hermione of the time when the war was impending, hovering over the Wizarding World with its inescapable sorrow. It was like some sort of cruel joke played by the cosmos; the wake of the war wasn't supposed to mirror the time before it. Where was the fairness in that? The war being over was a cause for hope and celebration. Not pain. And all Hermione felt was pain.
She fidgeted in her simple black dress, worriedly playing with its lacy hem as she leaned against the wall behind a crowd of her dearest friends and family in the once warm and comfortable Burrow. The comparatively small number of those gathered had long since taken away the pleasantness of the home. She wondered if the way things had turned out could truly be called a victory when it was so clearly devastating. The world around them had crumbled into ruins, and there was a lengthy road of rebuilding ahead.
Hermione squeezed her eyes tightly shut as her stomach flipped. Maybe if she closed them long enough things would go back to the way they should be. Tonks and Remus would be bent together, whispering and smiling in that soft romantic manner that only couples who were truly in love could. Mad-Eye would be grumbling at Sirius over some asinine comment about the "good old days." Fred would be cracking jokes and planning some grand prank for after dinner with George that would surely have their mum in a fit. And maybe Harry, Ron, and herself would be able to go places without each other and not succumb to an episode of blinding panic.
"It's almost over," Harry whispered gently. He had come to lean against the wall at her side as if her thoughts had summoned him. "This is the last one."
Hermione nodded, running the pads of her fingers under her eyes. They were dry. "This is the worst one," she murmured, as if he really needed the reminder.
There was a pause of commiseration and Hermione looked over at Harry, taking in how utterly knackered he looked in his dress robes. He hadn't gotten a full nights rest for the last two weeks. She knew this because the trio had been sharing a room since Voldemort's demise, pushing Harry and Ron's beds together and crawling into a heap for comfort each night. There were too many funerals to be had, too much loss to grieve over. The sadness was draining, but the shock of it all had them wired. She reckoned they hadn't truly slept at all in the last year.
"I feel numb right now, to be honest," Harry sighed, hands shoved into his pockets. "Is that awful? Fred was my brother in all but blood."
"I think that's merely the safest feeling right now," she said automatically, reaching for his hand as her heart clenched at his words. "It's a safety mechanism. Once the mind has all it can take, it starts shutting the unwanted thoughts and memories down in order to survive."
"Stop being so clever," Harry responded, his eyes crinkling with their usual fondness for her. "Does your mind ever shut down?"
She flushed, dropping her eyes to the floor. "Sorry, that just came out."
"It's a safety mechanism," Harry teased with a shrug.
Hermione's insides warmed at his quip, allowing her to relax her shoulders and lift her eyes back to his. The green in them danced and she suddenly thought that maybe there was hope for the world after all. She shared a small smile with Harry as he took a step away from her, obviously content to see that she was feeling at least a little bit better. He said something about going off to find Ron and then disappeared toward the yard after a departing kiss to her palm.
Harry and Hermione had been trying to keep Ron in their sights all day, which was ridiculously impossible with the rest of his family dragging him off every other second. They couldn't seem to understand that he felt lost in the presence of the Weasleys, a feeling that sprouted from his time away with just Harry and Hermione and which was made worse by all the suffering they had experienced. The large, impossibly close family just didn't get how he shied away from his mother in favor of wrapping his arms around Hermione. They didn't understand that a pat on the shoulder from his father made him flinch, but a pat on the shoulder from Harry made his stress ease. All they seemed to see was one of their own refusing to grieve with them.
Only the other two parts of the trio understood, which was why they took turns hovering on the outskirts of rooms he was in so they would be there to swoop in to help if he needed it. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were each others family now. They were hopelessly and inescapably bonded to each other in a way that no one else could ever fathom. The boys were the only people who didn't make Hermione feel like a freak for her many emotional scars from the war. She would sacrifice everything for them, knowing they felt the same.
Hermione reached her hands up to her shoulders, squeezing tightly as she rolled her neck. She was worn out and facing the crowd seemed too daunting a task. Things had changed since the night at Malfoy Manor. She had changed. The trauma she had been through had made sure of that. Now crowds seemed to make her blood run cold and people besides Harry and Ron touching her made her breath come in short panting gasps. It had taken until the adrenalin of the war had left her in order for the damage to become truly apparent. But she wanted to be there for them on this day.
Suddenly, tears blurred her vision; tears of frustration. She only seemed capable of crying nowadays when she was feeling confused about where she stood in the world. Hermione no longer felt like she was the woman others saw her as. She wasn't strong and she wasn't passionate. She just was. She was coasting through existence in a body that was her own, with a mind that she couldn't always control. It was slowly suffocating her. Her mind had always been what had made her special. Now it made her weak.
With a shuddering breath and clouding vision, she quickly made her way down the nearest hall and toward the creaky old stairs that she had been racing up and down since she was fourteen. She made the long trek up the two flights necessary to get to the bathroom, throwing open the door and hurling herself inside the moment she reached her destination. She flew to the sink, turned on the nozzle, and started flushing cold water over her face until she felt her heart rate begin to slow.
She slowly picked up her head, running a tired hand over her forehead to keep her curls out of her wet face. It was only then that Hermione's gaze fell upon the reflection of the person that she'd been too hurried to notice prior. She gave a harsh gasp and inadvertently stepped away from his reflection in the mirror yet closer to his body hovering behind her like a ghost. The hairs on the back of her neck rose, and she didn't know whether it was due to the eerie likeness he bore to the man they'd buried hours earlier or because of the electricity that always rushed into her chest when she thought of him.
Hermione hadn't let herself be alone with George since the day of the Battle of Hogwarts. The last she'd truly seen of him for the past couple of weeks was when she'd watched his family enclose around his shaking body with Ron hovering off to the side like a lost child. He hadn't come to the other funerals, which no one ever questioned considering what had happened. In fact, she hadn't even seen him at Fred's burial earlier. Maybe he couldn't bring himself to face the reality of the devastation.
Her eyes skimmed over the reflection of his black robes, hating herself for thinking he looked handsome in them. It was a tacky thought considering the reason they'd all gathered today. Her hands hastily wiped at a drop of water that ran into her eyes, embarrassed to have been caught in such a meltdown. She felt like she had no right to her sadness bearing in mind his.
George lifted his face so that his red-rimmed eyes met hers through the mirror. Hermione felt the penetrative glance like a punch to her chest. How could eyes that had once held so much brilliance seem so dull? She hated that this was what everyone should expect now. He'd lost his twin. His other half. Would he ever be the same George he'd been before? Would any of them ever go back to normal?
Hermione almost didn't notice the outstretched towel. She'd been too distracted by the croak of his voice and swollen skin around his blackened eyes. It was obvious he'd been weeping, and she wished he hadn't chosen to do it alone. It was worrying to think of how low someone may get because of their grief. She didn't want him to do anything rash. It was painful to think about losing him too.
"Thank you," she whispered, wiping the rest of the moisture off her skin. Only then did she allow herself to turn around to face him. "I'm sorry for bursting in on you like this. I didn't realize it was occupied."
George gave a weak shrug. "It's fine."
Their eyes met without the mirror acting as a buffer and Hermione felt her knees tremble. A wave of panic immediately began to rise within her. They'd been able to find closure during the battle, but in the wake of it she couldn't decide whether she was still angry at him or not. Could she really be angry after witnessing his sorrow? What he'd experienced was so utterly terrible that she was ashamed of herself for even having to ask herself that. Of course she couldn't be angry with him. Nonetheless, if she was no longer angry at him than what was it that she felt?
The correct answer should have been nothing.
"I should, um, you know," she said after the silence started to feel charged. Hermione vaguely pointed toward the door, chucked the towel into the sink, and then took a step toward her escape.
His arm lashed out and wrapped firmly around her waist. She was pulled into his chest so that George's breath fell on her forehead. Hermione stared at his collar bone in surprise. Her mouth fell open to make breathing easier once it became clear that his proximity seemed to make it more difficult for oxygen to reach her brain. Her thoughts became frayed and she was at a loss of how to turn away. Somehow, even after all their time apart, his embrace felt perfect.
"George, I –"
A trembling hand reached up to cup her chin, forcing her to meet his mercurial gaze. He seemed so lost, so tired, and so noticeably desperate.
"Don't go," he urged quietly, his hand pushing gently past her temple to run through her curls. His voice was gravelly, which sent a shiver over her body as she subconsciously leaned into him. "I just… I know we're over. I've known it. I meant everything I said that day. But…please. I need you. Just one last time."
The thought had never been spoken before. Their break up had been left untouched until it sort of just became the truth. Even at the battle, they'd never quite said it. Hermione froze in shock at actually hearing it out loud, and then she remained frozen as his words truly soaked in: he needed her.
Hermione squeezed her eyes tightly shut as a wave of tangled desire loomed over her. The temptation was too much. She had longed for him so badly and for so long, a desire that was not lessened at all by their brief moment two weeks ago. She couldn't bring herself to care that all of her good sense screamed at her not to. It was inappropriate considering the day, and it would cause nothing but hurt later. She needed to consider Ron.
Then, as if knowing she needed one final push, he groaned, "Just one more time, baby, please."
Her control snapped. It had been too long since she'd heard him utter those words. A wave of need crushed over her, fueled by his impassioned plea. Hermione's hands flew into his fiery red hair, yanking his head down so that her lips could crash against his. All her thoughts and reason disappeared and she moaned as his arms wrapped around her waist, pulling her against the hardened panes of his chest. Her dress began to ride up as George stepped forward, hurriedly pushing her until her back met the side of the sink. He bent to trail his calloused hands reverently up the back of her bare legs, coming to a stop at her upper thighs so that he could lift her up to rest on the edge of the white porcelain.
Their mouths were level now, and Hermione thought she saw a flash of the old George for a moment. It was there in the slight smirk that turned up the corners of his lips for no more than a heartbeat before he groaned his appreciation as her thighs wrapped around his waist. It was then that she realized that she needed this just as much as he did. She'd needed to offer this to him, to make him feel something. To make her own numbness go away, if only for now.
"Need this, baby, need you," he murmured huskily, his hair tickling her as he trailed open-mouthed kisses up the column of her neck to nip at her pulse point. "Something to get me through it. It hurts so badly."
She gave a few dazed nods of agreement before reaching to hurriedly shove his robes off of his shoulders. She gasped when cold air filled the space between them as he took a step back only long enough for him to slide her knickers down her legs and lift her dress over her head.
Hermione allowed herself to just be in that moment, let herself relax into the comfortable passion she had felt all summer long with him, what felt like forever ago. He was her first love, and that was never going to change. Hermione's eyes paused on his, tenderly noting how she could see the green specks in his again. She liked how out of control she felt, yet somehow she felt safe at the same time. She knew she couldn't keep this feeling, but instead of that being a reason to stop she reckoned it was a reason to make the most of it. She melted into his embrace as he stepped towards her again.
"Beautiful," he whispered against her lips, almost making her believe their separation was all in her head.
She caught the thought before it could hurt her.
Then she was lost to her desire.
That evening, Hermione lay awake curled on her side between Ron and Harry. She was haunted by the afternoon, haunted by the confusion that being with George had brought on. It wasn't supposed to feel like this; then again, she wasn't supposed to have sleep with him either. She'd made her choice after watching Ron stand to the side in a daze as his family banded together over the loss of Fred right in front of him. He'd looked far away from the tragedy, making Hermione realize the he needed her more than anyone else ever would. She was scared he wouldn't make it through the wake of the war without her. George had an endless support system of family and friends. Ron had Harry and Hermione.
Hermione eyed Harry from where he lay in front of her. He was facing her way, his eyes shut tight and his eyebrows pinched as if even sleep wasn't easy anymore. She frowned at the thought. The hand at her hip tightened suddenly, making her realize she must have moved without meaning to. She nestled backwards into Ron's chest, feeling the need to reassure him rise quickly within her. The hand relaxed.
She felt a soft smile light her face before she registered the feeling behind it.
Hermione then felt the pit in her stomach as she was hit with the memory of George's hands against her bare back, his body between her thighs, and his face pressed into her neck as he panted against her. She felt shame well within her. She'd have to tell Ron it had happened if they were ever going to work out in the future. And she wanted them to work out. Not now, but eventually. Despite how wonderful the love she had felt for George was, she couldn't let herself be carried away from Ron by it. She closed her eyes and forced herself to remember the pain of George's rejection once the summer was over, how much it had killed her that he never wrote to her.
Hermione breathed a sigh and moving quickly but quietly, crawled out of bed. She reached down for her handbag as she backed toward the door while keeping her eyes on the boys in case she woke them. She didn't want them to ask questions.
She slipped out into the hall, using her wand to charm the door to silently close. Then, Hermione started down the stairs, pausing only on the second floor. She peeked down toward the closed door of the twins' old room. For a moment, she contemplated checking in on George to make sure he was alright. She didn't. Instead, she turned and continued downstairs until she was standing in the living room in front of the fire in the hearth.
Reaching into her bag, she withdrew the familiar plain leather-bound journal that had consumed too many of her thoughts. It was time to set herself free. She didn't want to feel the ties to George that seemed to have a hold over her emotions. It was time to let him go.
Hermione held out the journal until the heat of the fire began to lick at her hand. She closed her eyes, remembering.
I will love you, come what may.
At the last moment, she yanked the journal back into her chest.
She couldn't do it. Not yet.
AN: Don't hurt me! I know a few of you had expressed your opinions about Fred dying, as well as a non-Hermione/George ending. I'll tell you that I didn't like killing Fred off either, but it will be a catalyst leading into my sequel. The whole epilogue is a setup for later.
Now, I hope beyond hope you decide to tune into the sequel, which will be entitled A Beautiful Ruin. If not, I'm glad you gave this story a chance and I appreciate all the wonderful reviews I have gotten over the course of my time spent writing it. I look forward to hearing from those of you who read the sequel so you can let me know how well the stories go together and how Hermione and George progress. If you like my writing style, check out some of my other stories too! I've got two new stories I'm working on in tandem with ABR. One's a Draco/Hermione called Guarded Hearts and the other is another George/Hermione named (Soul)Mates.
Happy Reading and Writing, folks! It's been fun!