Category: Harry Potter
Warning(s): Contains profanity, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/theme/issue, Spoilers
Summary: Hermione chose a life without George after the war. Years later he returns, uprooting her perfectly imperfect world and forcing her to confront the reprecussions of her decision. It's there, in the hopeless ruin of his destructive habits, that they may at last find peace. [Sequel to A Wonderful Love]
Disclaimer: Harry Potter does not belong to me and I am making no profit in the creation of this story.
AN: A gigantic thank you to my beta, ravenclawprincess!
Chapter Two: Afterwards
Hermione sat at her usual table in the back of the Leaky Cauldron. She enjoyed coming to the old pub in the early afternoon to have a cuppa since the popular drinking hole was not nearly as crowded then as it was in the evening. She sipped her tea now, turning over her newspaper to read the ministry's announcement about the latest amendment regarding werewolf rights. She smiled, knowing Remus would be proud of the strides the world was taking. There was still a lot to do, but steps were being made in the right direction. Hermione was making sure of that.
Glancing up at the smiling blonde barkeeper, Hermione shook her head politely. "No thank you, Hannah. How's Tom doing?"
Hannah frowned grimly as she wrung a dishtowel between her hands in obvious anxiety. "Not well. Did you hear he's officially signed the pub over to me to take care of once he's gone? He's such a wonderful man. I hate seeing him so sick. He's always been wonderful here and I don't want to let him down."
"Nonsense, I'm sure it makes him very happy to know his pride and joy is in good hands," Hermione reasoned kindly, reaching out to pat Hannah on the shoulder in gentle understanding. "Keep me posted. I know Harry loves Tom and would want to know. And let me know if you need anything."
"I will," Hannah assured with a thankful smile before disappearing over to another table after a parting wave of her dishtowel.
Hermione watched the woman go, absently tapping her cup with the tips of her fingers in thought.
"What's got you looking so lost?" Ron asked as he slid quite suddenly into the seat opposite of her with a wide, cheerful smile.
She jumped in surprise. "Gods, how do you do that?"
"Sneak up on you? Auror training," he shrugged, leaning over to kiss her cheek in greeting. "I'm sly like a cat."
Hermione gave an inelegant snort. "Yes, that was my first thought. Closely followed by: 'That Ron sure knows how to stop a girl's heart'."
He reached forward to lift her tea to his mouth without asking. She glowered at him in protest, which he ignored with practiced ease. "Stop, as in skip a beat?"
"Nope, just as in murder."
Ron laughed, glancing over at Hannah with a grin and nod as she walked by their table to say a quick hello to him. "So, what were you thinking about?" he asked Hermione, turning to lean towards her over the table on his elbows.
Hermione folded her newspaper up and put it on the seat next to her. "Well, Tom's not looking good. He's officially stepped down, gave Hannah the pub and everything. I think she's a bit overwhelmed by it all."
"Sad," Ron whistled, eyes downcast. "Let me know if you hear anything else. Harry will want to know."
Hermione almost smiled at how he'd voiced the same thought she'd had earlier, but figured the smile would be misconstrued given the current subject matter. Instead, she nodded her assent. "I will."
"Hey, take a walk with me," Ron urged after a moment of fiddling with the buttons of his shirt and giving her his usual look-over to ensure she was in one piece. Harry and he seemed to think it possible for her to get into trouble even if only an hour had passed since they'd last seen her. He stood and reached for her leather shoulder bag once he seemed satisfied she hadn't fallen off a cliff without telling him.
"You don't need to do that," Hermione said quickly, trying to prevent him from taking it.
He ignored her, grabbing it and then wincing at how heavy it was. "Someone's been at Flourish and Blotts."
She gave a bashful grin before tapping the bag with her wand to place a Feather-Light Charm on it. "I have no idea what you're talking about. You must be getting weaker."
Ron glared without malice before following her out into the busy streets of Diagon Alley. They strolled next to each other, smiling at familiar faces that passed them by. There was always an endless stream of friends and fans from the war around them. It made Hermione anxious and claustrophobic, but it was something she was slowly learning to get used to. It'd only become worse with the passing of time. Now people had turned them into legends; they didn't just have stories of their perils from the war to contend with, but also made up facts.
They were just passing Gringotts when Ron reached out to gently grasp Hermione's elbow, drawing her to a stop. She looked up at him expectantly. He opened his mouth to speak, but was immediately interrupted as a young girl jumped in front of them with gleeful excitement.
"You're Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger!"
The girl had dark brown hair pulled back into two low pigtails and was smiling at them in a heartbreakingly adorable manner. Hermione immediately softened. "Can we help you?"
"Yes please! My name is Gemma and my mum said it'd be alright to come over and ask for your autograph." The way the word "autograph" slipped off the girl's tongue made it sound like "ought-ee-graft."
Ron and Hermione both looked over to where Gemma was pointing enthusiastically over her shoulder. There was a dark haired woman who seemed to be in her mid-thirties standing with an armful of what appeared to be Hogwarts supplies. She saw them looking and immediately blushed, lifting her bags to shrug apologetically. Hermione reckoned Gemma's mum had only given in after persistent pleading from her daughter.
"Can't say no to that, can we?" Ron responded, giving his most winning smile as he bent down to Gemma to take a piece of parchment from her nervously trembling hands. "Are you off to school for the first time this year, Gemma?"
The girl nodded vigorously.
"Ah," Hermione began, taking the parchment that Ron passed her. She grimaced at his messy handwriting before signing her own name in pristine cursive. "That's so exciting! What House are you hoping for?"
"Gryffindor!" Gemma announced, clutching the autographs to her chest like a lifeline. "I want to be just like you."
"Well, hopefully a bit more rule-abiding," Ron murmured for Hermione's benefit, waving as the girl giggled and then ran off to tell her mother about their entire exchange.
Hermione shared a grin with Ron after Gemma left. That had been one of the more pleasurable encounters they'd had with a fan. It was much easier to enjoy the unwelcome thrill of fame when it was a cute little kid instead of a war-ravaged widow coming up to them. Those cases were awful.
"You were saying?" Hermione prodded now that they were alone again.
"Well, er, I wanted to talk to you about George," Ron said, his mouth falling into a tense line.
Hermione winced. She'd been waiting for it to come up again. Ron had taken one look at George at the Burrow two days ago and had frozen up for the rest of the day. He'd seemed eerily relaxed to the unknowing eye, but she and Harry had both known he was fuming inside.
"I know I've been…"
"Brooding?" she supplied, turning to face him with what she hoped was a playful smirk.
He rolled his eyes. "I was going to say that I know I've been avoiding the topic since Sunday."
"I just wanted you to know I'm alright with it," he sighed, reaching out to grasp her shoulders and guide her a step closer. "I've thought about it, and it's silly for me to hold a grudge over what happened between you and him three years ago."
Hermione's eyebrows rose in surprise.
"I'm not happy," he assured her quickly, reading her expression. "It was easier to forget you'd ever slept with him when he wasn't around serving as a walking reminder, but it's nice to see my brother again."
Placing her palms over his hands, Hermione leaned in to kiss him. "I'm glad you've had this remarkably mature realization. I'm so proud of you."
"See? You're with me for more than my looks," he insisted with a grin that turned guilty moments later. He scrunched up his nose sheepishly. "Though for the sake of being honest with you, I should also add that Harry let me blow up about it to him already so you wouldn't have to see."
Hermione gave a bark of laughter at the unexpected admission and threw up her hands. "There's the man I grew up with. All is right with the world. I knew you couldn't be this okay with it!"
"I am now, but we both figured it'd be better for your temper if you didn't see the initial outburst. We're always thinking about your wellbeing," he declared with a charming smirk.
"I appreciate that. And, who knows, maybe we can put this behind us and be friends with George now," Hermione said keenly, meeting his eyes in a blatant challenge.
"We'll see," he sighed, taking one of her hands and starting to walk again. "Let's not push it, though."
"He's your brother. It's a given that he's your friend."
"Yes," he agreed. "But it's not a given that he's yours. You didn't have the pleasure of growing up with him and, last time I checked, you don't share blood."
"Thank goodness, because otherwise I'd have some crimes to report," she teased, jumping away as he swatted at her halfheartedly. "I'm sorry, it was just too easy."
"Apparently, you're too easy," Ron corrected before immediately releasing his hold on her and spinning off in the opposite direction as her mouth fell open in a gasp of appall. "On that note, I'll see you at home! Love you!"
"I hate you, Ronald Weasley!" she yelled back, ignoring the confused onlookers that'd gathered around the bickering war heroes.
"I know!" he called with a wink before turning a corner back in the direction of the passage to the Ministry, which she assumed was where he was heading. Harry and Ron usually found her on their lunch breaks.
She couldn't help but give an amused chuckle as she shook her head after Ron, standing with her hands on her hips for a moment longer before heading home. She couldn't really be mad at Ron for making fun of her. After all, she spent a majority of her time trading joshing insults with both him and Harry. It was the nature of their relationship. Sometimes it made her question whether she and Ron were actually in any way romantic, but she figured that was just because they'd jumped straight from boyfriend and girlfriend to old married couple in the mere year since they'd finally started seeing each other openly. They knew each other too well for all the gooey stuff.
Still, the niggling thought that it was a bit weird for it to be so easy to discuss George in a teasing manner with Ron entered her mind unwelcomingly.
It'd taken a long time after the war had ended for the pieces to fall into place, leading Hermione and Ron to finally give their relationship a go. For a long time, it'd been a matter of coping with grief and figuring out their place in the new world in the wake of a rebirth. Then, they'd both been haunted by George despite how much they tried to pretend her relationship with him had been insignificant. Often they'd find themselves in fights where his name was dropped just to hurt each other. Ron would say he was her second choice. She would say he was jealous. It was always awful and unfair on both of their parts and Hermione felt shameful just remembering.
After they'd finally allowed themselves to begin dating, George had slowly stopped looming over their shoulders as a reminder of the past and they stopped using him against each other. She no longer brought up the fact that Ron was jealous, because it was an obvious truth that she hated rubbing in her boyfriend's face. Ron no longer brought up how he'd been second to George, because that too was obvious. They'd grown closer while hiding the past from each other and living in the present. Maybe they'd even grown too close, to the point where it no longer felt like a romance. Now there was no difference between how Ron treated her and how Harry did.
Hermione bit her lip, looking up from where she'd been scanning the ground absently. The moment her eyes rose back to the cobbled streets of Diagon Alley, a witch and wizard passed her in an intimate embrace. She watched intently as the couple strolled by in the opposite direction, staring at each other instead of looking forward. They both seemed to be only a few years older than her, yet as they locked hands and shared a smile it seemed as though their love was old.
It was a love that Hermione wanted. A love that was passionate and consuming. She bet if the woman brought up her ex-boyfriend to the man, he'd be jealous; he wouldn't make a joke about it. But was that even a good thing? Maybe the fact that Ron made light of the situation was nice. Maybe it simply meant that he trusted her completely and knew George meant nothing to her anymore.
She stopped walking then, suddenly feeling lost and confused. Her eyes scanned her surroundings, falling on the abandoned building with a faded sign reading "Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes" that stood directly in front of her. Hermione ran her hands over her face as a pit formed in her stomach at the sight. She didn't want to think about what had led her there.
That night when Hermione was waiting for Ron to get home, she found herself crouching down towards the flooring of their bedroom. She stopped and listened to be sure he hadn't apparated into the flat yet, then tapped her wand on a particular floorboard three times. It disappeared, allowing her to reach in and gently grasp the item she'd been unable to relinquish the night of Fred's funeral.
She ran her hand over the cracked spine and worn cover of the journal reverently, wondering for the millionth time why she did this to herself. At first, keeping the journal had been a way to help her overcome the loss of her first boyfriend. It'd been hard to give up that love, especially when her grief made her crave it. Over time, the journal had stopped serving as a means to move on and instead had become a way of holding onto that relationship.
Hermione opened the journal. Glaring back at her were years of almost daily snippets that she'd started writing the night that she'd spared the book from the fire. The passages she'd added could no longer be called letters, as had been intended when she'd created the charmed journal. Instead, what had originally served as a means for writing to George while out hunting for the horcruxes had become a record of her ideas, musings, and lastly confessions. The only commonality the more recent entries held to the originals was that each and every passage was still addressed to the man that she'd promised was in her past and would stay there except for friendship.
The name taunting her from the top of each page, as she caressed her latest addition, was the reason she'd kept her very first secret from Harry and Ron since the war.
Hermione clenched her eyes shut, hating herself. Then, she began writing.
AN: There's chapter two for your reading pleasure! I must say I'm so pleasantly surprised by the turnout for this sequel. I knew I was going to be upsetting a lot of people by ending AWL the way I did, but I did it anyway because it made the most sense to me for the characters. I'm so appreciative of the kindness you've all shown me in your reviews. I will say that, for those of you who are anti-Ron, starting next chapter we'll be seeing more George. ;) Also, if you haven't already, head over to my profile and take the poll there. Thank you! I look forward to your reviews!