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]
AN: Thank you to my beta for this chapter ravenclawprincess!
Chapter One: Just Breathe
"You're going to make us late again!"
"Honestly, Ronald, spare us the act!" Hermione shouted back at him while bending forward to tug on one of her more dashing pairs of short red heels.
She was balanced on one foot against the bureau in her bedroom giving her reflection in the mirror a cursory glance over her shoulder. She needed to make sure she wasn't about to flash her bum the moment she bent down to pick up Victoire later. She never wanted Arthur Weasley to see that sight again and figured the soft-spoken older man felt wholeheartedly the same. Hermione didn't know which one of them had been more horrified.
"She has you there, mate. Stop pretending you give a shite."
"Sod off, Harry. Mum's going to take it out on me, not you, and you know it."
"Mama's boy!" Hermione yelled down the hall with a laugh. She loved their natural banter, built from years of it being just the three of them against the world. It made her feel special to be a part of something so intimate.
"We can't all be as charming as Hermione and I are," she heard Harry tease. "It's not our fault you're about as charming as a Blast-Ended Skrewt."
Hermione grinned widely at them even though they couldn't see it as she smoothed down the skirt of her white sundress. She quickly grabbed her earrings and necklace for the day off her nightstand and raced into the living room of their flat where her boys were waiting. They were both lounging lazily against the opposite armrests of their sofa, looking as if she'd left them out there for decades instead of ten minutes longer than she was meant to. With hair like hers, she figured they should consider themselves lucky it was only ten minutes.
Harry jumped up as soon as she came around the corner. He whistled his appreciation playfully. "Someone sure cleans up nicely."
She smiled her thanks, swatting his arm as she always did when he complimented her. Then she offered her necklace to Ron and turned her back to him. He made quick work of zipping up the top of her dress which she'd been unable to reach on her own while she popped her earrings in. He then dutifully pulled her long curls to the side and fastened the clasp of her necklace for her.
Harry squeezed her shoulder then stepped off down the hall in the direction of her room, only to return with her depthless handbag and a red cardigan. "Wand," he commanded, holding out his palm.
Hermione pulled her wand out of her bra and handed it to him. Harry slipped her wand inside before giving the bag to Ron so that he could then help her slip into the cardigan. When they were done, Ron offered her the bag back and took her hand, kissing the spot on her forearm where the "M" of her scar peaked out of her left sleeve.
"You know, this dinner happens every Sunday," Ron commented vaguely, steering her toward the fireplace.
"And?" Hermione prodded with a grin, slipping her handbag over her shoulder and rolling her eyes at where this was going. Where it always went. It was their Sunday tradition; she accidentally waited too long to start getting ready, Harry and Ron sat in their living room bickering impatiently, and then Ron scolded her as they finally whisked out of the flat.
"I'm just saying, it's not like it should sneak up on you every week."
Harry gave a quick, barking laugh. "She's never going to be perfectly on time for dinner at the Burrow, mate. Just give it up already."
Ron smirked. "As I've been told repeatedly, I'm too much of a 'bullheaded prat' to stop hoping."
"Whoever told you that was very insightful," Hermione said innocently.
Then they were off.
As usual, the moment the three of them burst from the fireplace and into the Burrow, they were crowded by friends and family on all sides. There were the couples: Fleur and Bill, Percy and Audrey, Andromeda and Ted, and Arthur and Molly. Then there were the others: Ginny, Charlie, Kingsley, and Hagrid. It appeared Luna, Dean, Seamus, and Neville had stopped in as well. Then there was the little ones to mention: Teddy, Victoire, and Molly.
When had Sunday dinners turned into a weekly party?
Everyone was cheerfully saying hello, patting shoulders, kissing cheeks, and unwittingly overwhelming Hermione with their sudden vicinity. She tried to look normal as she fell away from all contact. She found it easier to avoid everyone's eyes and instead turn to greet someone else the moment the conversation started to venture past hello. She also wasn't above pulling Harry and Ron in front of her as a shield, knowing they understood why she did it. No matter how often they visited, she would never get used to how uncomfortable it was coming to Ron's childhood home.
She tried to look excited as Victoire ran over for a quick squeeze. For some reason, the beautiful little girl adored her. Hermione never had the heart to avoid her touch like she would to the others. She bent down to quickly run a hand over the back of the girl's lovely strawberry blond waves.
"Bonjour, little one," she whispered with a soft smile. The tinkling laughter and dimpled grin she received in return made it worth it. Then, in a flash, Victoire had disappeared over towards Teddy. Hermione watched the two dart off with Molly racing in their wake, always hoping to be a part of the cool older kids' games.
Hermione stepped back between Harry and Ron with a sigh. Her grip on Ron's hand had tightened since their arrival. She was relieved to feel Harry clasp her free hand just as she swept it searchingly out to the side for him. It'd been like this for the last three years since the war had come to an explosive and devastating end – The need to be surrounded by her boys, protected by them. The need to protect them in return. She couldn't breathe easily unless she knew where they were. They were her family, the only two people on the planet who knew everything that had happened to her and whom she felt she would never be judged by. She seriously doubted she'd have made it through the aftermath of the war without them.
Molly Weasley came sweeping toward them then, boisterous with arms outstretched. She managed to get her arms around both Harry and Ron's shoulders for a group hug which made Hermione feel painfully claustrophobic as she was pulled in as well. When Molly pulled back, she clucked her tongue in reproach at Ron before kissing his cheek with a gentle swat of her hand to the other.
He shrugged and nodded his head in Hermione's direction, already guessing why his mother was miffed. This was a weekly occurrence after all. "It's her, mum, I swear. Harry and I have been ready for twenty minutes! She takes ages getting ready. I grew a beard and shaved it off in the time it took her to get her shoes on."
"Don't listen to him, Molly," Hermione said, trying to look as innocent and amiable as possible. "Your son made us late by choosing to pick a fight with me. He was terribly rude."
"I resent that!" Ron argued with mock outrage. "Back me up, Harry."
Harry looked up at the ceiling. "I'm sorry, I can't hear you over the sound of this marvelous woodwork."
"I can't win," Ron sighed, shaking his head ruefully before smiling at Hermione. She knew for a fact that he loved it.
"If Hermione says you have dreadful manners then you have dreadful manners," Molly stated merrily, ignoring her son in favor of hugging Hermione again.
It was a painful moment. Hermione found that she couldn't for the life of her release her vice-like hold on Harry and Ron to return the embrace, at least not while twenty people were so close to her. Her body tensed from the unwanted contact and her arms seemed glued to her sides, palms sweating in a manner she was sure the boys were not entirely pleased with. She flushed as she cast her eyes downward, feeling too awkward in her own skin to meet Molly's eyes.
She could feel the curious gazes of her friends and family burning a hole in her skull. She was mortified, but couldn't do anything about it. Even though this was not her first episode of weirdness, it hurt just as much. She felt like an outcast.
Molly let go and backed away, but not before she gave a quick scowling glance at Hermione's hands wrapped firmly between Harry and Ron's. The cold glare was gone so fast that Hermione almost doubted it'd ever been there at all. She tugged Harry and Ron protectively closer to hide their hands behind both of their sides. Hermione wanted to disappear, hating how strange she must seem to others. Hating how even after the past few years of peace, she still psychologically had too many scars to count.
"Just breathe, 'Mione," Ron whispered, kissing her temple quickly so that no one else would notice.
She nodded helplessly.
"Ten tiny breaths," Harry murmured from the corner of his mouth, releasing her hand so he could press his palm encouragingly into the small of her back.
Hermione did as she was told, keeping her eyes on the floor and letting her boys step in front of her to chat with one person or another to give her a much needed moment to calm down. She loved them for it.
"Out to the garden, everyone! Food will be out shortly!" Molly exclaimed a few minutes later, probably having realized that the crowd didn't seem to be moving of their own accord. "You're clogging my work space!"
Everyone laughed good-naturedly, only then realizing they'd taken over the living room and kitchen area without meaning to. Hermione gave a relieved sigh as people dispersed before moving to follow behind Harry as he made for the yard behind everyone else. She had lost sight of Ron for the moment as he went off to talk to Charlie. The dragon tamer was rarely around, and Hermione knew that Ron had a particular soft spot for him. She sometimes thought that if Ron hadn't wanted so badly to be an Auror with Harry after the war then he may have gone a similar route as Charlie, simply because he thought it was so wicked.
She grinned at the thought of Ron's boyish crush on dragons, forgetting herself for a moment.
It was a long enough moment for her to fall behind the rest of the family. Harry had slipped away without realizing she had stopped. Hermione looked around, relaxing automatically at the sudden solitude. She may not appreciate being far from the boys, but she did appreciate being alone.
Hermione leaned against a wall, staring at the fireplace and absently playing with the hem of her dress. No matter how pretty she tried to be for the Weasleys and the rest of her friends, she couldn't blend in. She was always doing something peculiar. There was the time Bill startled her and she cast a Body-Binding Curse at him. She had also woken the entire household screaming bloody murder after a few nightmares, which was the reason that the trio had moved into their own place not long after the war ended. And one could never forget how she had accidently punched Kingsley in the throat for trying to hug her too quickly on her birthday last year. No amount of Auror reflexes could have helped him.
Her behavior filled her with shame. What made it worse was that she knew she was doing it, but she couldn't seem to stop. Hermione bit her lower lip hard, trying not to let her frustration lead to tears. She hated crying, and knew once she started she would never get back to the party. That was the last thing she needed.
Then, the fireplace flared to life, surprising Hermione into a standing position and causing her to hastily wipe at her eyes. She glanced up just in time to see the green flames of the Floo fade back to the early colors of a sunset and the tall frame of the last person she expected to see step through the grate.
She was shocked into stillness, which was the absolute worst thing that could have happened when all she wanted was to make a run for it. She'd been merrily avoiding him for ages. Ever since Fred's funeral actually; a feat that was made entirely possible due to the fact that he never came to Sunday dinners, or any family event for that matter. She hadn't even heard about him for longer than it took for someone to ask after his wellbeing and Molly to mutter a quick "fine."
George dusted himself off and ran a hand over his forehead, allowing Hermione to give him a quick once-over. His flaming red hair was just long enough to cover the tips of his ears, which minimized the effect of the missing side. He wore a mint green button down, rolled up to his elbows, and an old pair of faded denims. It'd been a very long time since she'd seen him looking so casual. Whenever she'd allowed herself to think of him in the past few years she'd remembered him as he'd been at Fred's funeral, in his formal black dress robes.
When Hermione glanced back to his face, she flushed in embarrassment at having been caught. He had frozen mid-dust, finally seeing her standing there like an imbecile. They both stared, seeming unsure of how to react to each other. George recovered quicker, his expression melting away until she no longer could even guess at his thoughts. He unfurled himself up to his full height, looking down at her in the mercurial way of his that she remembered so well. She missed the days when he was an open book.
"Hello, George," she murmured weakly, raising a limp hand in a lame attempt at being welcoming. That was what friends did, right? They greeted each other. But, they weren't exactly friends, so she figured she was probably acting like a complete idiot.
"Granger," he said simply, quirking a brow while his lips twisted into a little frown.
It'd been ages since he'd said her name. Hermione was shattered by it. Her breath caught and she began fiddling with the hem of her dress again anxiously, drawing his darkened brown eyes down to her legs for a moment. The moment stretched on. She was pissed that he seemed so relaxed while she was losing it. Memories long buried began to pop into her head.
The feel of her back pressed into a sink. The back of her thighs in calloused hands. The brush of shaggy red hair against her neck. The caress of lips against her pulse.
"Just one more time, baby, please," he had begged.
A great deal of time had passed since she'd let herself remember that day.
"Something to get me through it."
Hermione had blocked the memory for good reason.
"Everyone's outside," Hermione choked out suddenly to stop the visions. She spun away from him to prevent herself from doing anything else disastrously bizarre. She could barely handle normal interactions, never mind interactions with him. It was too much. It would be one thing to have expected his presence, but now she felt bombarded. She hated surprises and this was a completely unwelcome one. She needed a breather. She needed to go find Harry and Ron.
She rushed out into the garden, practically tripping over a gnome on her way out. Her heels sunk into the grass and she reached out to correct her balance, only to feel a shoulder sweep under her scrambling hand just in time.
"Whoa, 'Mione, where's the fire?"
She sank into his arms in relief. "I was just coming to look for you."
Harry sighed. "Too much?"
She nodded. "Way too much."
He brushed a stray hair from her temple, looking over his shoulder at the crowd gathered in the garden. "I'll go find Ron, then we can go."
"We can't do that," Hermione said begrudgingly. "I haven't even made the rounds yet. People will notice if we leave after five minutes and I don't need to draw more attention to the fact that I'm a freak."
"Hey, that's my best friend you're talking about," Harry admonished, tweaking her nose playfully before tugging her toward a table with various refreshments on it. "If you're a freak, then what am I?"
"An angel," she stated firmly. "A guardian angel."
Harry smiled tenderly at her. "How about a glass of water to cool down? Would that help?"
He chuckled, immediately pouring her a glass. He'd just passed it over when George strode out of the house and into the yard. He was carrying a plate of something delicious with Molly a step behind with another plate. Harry stiffened at Hermione's side, no doubt just as shocked as she'd been to see the long-lost Weasley brother present at the Burrow after the past few years.
"Hermione," Harry started slowly, casting a narrowed glance over at her.
"I didn't know," she said as a reflex. Wincing at the lie, she amended quietly, "Well, I did know. I mean, I ran into him in the house just as he got here."
"Great, just great. Ron's going to flip," he sighed, already resigning himself to the blowout that was sure to happen later. "Wine's not strong enough. Where the hell does Arthur keep the Firewhisky?"
"His brother hasn't shown his face for three whole years. It's a good thing that he came today, because maybe this is George's way of finally moving on from Fred's death. Ron will realize that," Hermione reasoned levelly in an attempt to reassure them both. "It's childish to let misplaced jealousy prevent him from seeing how nice this is. Ron should be happy."
She felt rather than saw Harry's pitying gaze. "Misplaced jealousy?"
Hermione flushed. Something about the way he said it made her think he knew about her.
Ron was not going to be happy.
AN: There you have it: Chapter 1 of the sequel to A Wonderful Love! Thank you for reading! I wanted to get it beta-ed and up as quickly as possible for all of you who were thrown by the cliff-hanger non-Hermione/George ending of the first story. Let me know what you think of this so far! Review!