Continuing Tales


A Harry Potter Story
by MsBinns

Part 17 of 45

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The sitting room went silent as Ron and George swung open the door. It was more crowded than it had been for his brother's wedding. He detected the familiar flaming red mops of the extended Weasley clan and he saw a smattering of family friends and neighbors. The Prewetts were there and the Diggorys, who Ron now sadly realised had more in common with his parents than either would ever wish. He saw many of his dad's coworkers as well. Even the Minister of Magic was there. Really, the room looked like more of a Ministry function than a family gathering.

Everybody, strangers and non-strangers alike, halted their conversations and stared at the two brothers with ashen faces, almost like they were looking at ghosts. Amid the mass of people, it was Percy who Ron's eyes found first. He looked awful, paler than usual, with an almost greenish tint as he ate a piece of pie in the corner. Ron could see little of the brother he remembered in the miserable curly-haired man. Though the room looked to be full of high-ranking Ministry employees, including the Minister of Magic himself, Ron noticed Percy stood by himself. It wasn't Percy the Prefect or Percy the Head Boy or even Percy Junior Undersecretary to the Minister. It was Percy the brother. Ron recalled the way Bill had had to help him back to his seat after he tried to speak at the funeral. Bill and Charlie really had been the rocks for his family this week.

He could see them scattered about the room. Bill and Fleur were deep in conversation with Professor McGonagall in her stately emerald robes and Charlie was difficult to miss as he was standing beside Hagrid and another hairy man Ron didn't recognise with long bushy sideburns.

"Say something, Ron." George prodded him, uncomfortable at the sudden silence and many pairs of eyes fixed on them.

"Say what?" Ron muttered back from behind tightly pursed lips.

"Anything. You're the celebrity." The words reminded Ron of the page three spread in yesterday's Daily Prophet and he suddenly realised that might be why so many people were staring.

"What's going on?" His mum came hurrying out from the other side of the staircase, clearly puzzled by the sudden silence and unaware that her two youngest sons had appeared.

For a moment she simply stood and stared at them, both dressed smartly with neatly combed hair. She seemed to sense by looking at them that they had both at least tried. Ron knew, after his conversation with his father that morning that if anyone realised why they hadn't attended it would be his mum. He wondered if she'd gone to her own brothers' funerals. Unable to muster up any words, Ron gave a weak shrug of the shoulders in greeting. Her eyes quickly began welling with tears as she drank in the sight of her two youngest sons standing there together. The crowd parted as she walked briskly to the front door and threw her arms around them both.

"My boys!" Her words were muffled into George's shoulder. "Oh, my boys!" Gripping them tightly in an awkward embrace, she repeated the words over and over.

"We're all right, mum," Ron muttered sheepishly, rubbing her back in assurance.

"You're all right," she repeated as if for confirmation. The words were muffled into his arm, but Ron could tell that she was still crying.

"We're all right." He murmured while she smoothed down the hair on George's head.

"We're all right." She repeated the phrase, still gripping them both tightly. Ron sensed she was talking about their whole family as she said the words, not just the two of them. When she finally broke apart, he saw his dad was beside her with a handkerchief to wipe away her tears.

"I told you they'd be okay." His dad smiled at him and George then, in an understanding manner that told Ron he was somehow forgiven for missing the funeral. It was all right. He'd been with George.

"I know, I know." She dabbed at her eyes and wrapped an arm around his waist. "Well, come in and get something to eat!" She ushered them into the kitchen then where every available surface was holding a home-cooked dish visitors had brought. It reminded Ron of the Great Feast at the start of term at Hogwarts. There was the ham from the Diggorys and roast chicken and mutton and all kinds of jellies. He saw bacon cakes and Cornish pasties and every kind of pie he could think of.

"George, there's brandy snaps and Luna even brought by roly-poly, Ron. She said she knew you liked it."

"Brilliant," Ron murmured as he shuffled toward the kitchen with his mum. At the mention of Luna, his eyes scanned the crowd in the other half of the room behind the staircase for her and his sister, for Harry and Hermione, and anyone under the age of twenty, but it looked to be all adults. Ron tried to contain his disappointment while his mum went about fixing them both plates. She looked up every now and again, seeming to grow teary each time she did. He couldn't imagine what her reaction had been when neither of them had shown up that morning. He knew he should have been there for his mum, like Charlie and Bill were, and he felt a wave of guilt suddenly course through him.

Yet as he looked to his right he realised if he'd gone to the funeral, he wouldn't have been there for his brother. George would have been alone atop that hill, crying by himself as he watched his twin get buried. He wasn't sure what to feel. He hadn't let George down, but he'd certainly failed the rest of his family, not to mention Harry and Hermione. He recalled Harry's words to be there for Ginny and the way Hermione had implored him to stay with her. He wasn't sure if he'd fucked up again.

"Here you are." Four plates piled high, two with roast meats and gravy and vegetables and two others with every kind of pudding in the room, quickly hovered in the air in front of them, but Ron found he had quite suddenly lost his appetite.

"Thanks, mum." He took a plate in each hand anyway and stood there uncomfortably. The entire room seemed to still be staring at them.

"You want anything else, Georgie?" She straightened out George's collar and smoothed Ron's hair down in the front, fussing over them both in a manner she usually reserved for her only daughter.

"No, this is great, mum." George offered a bright smile and it seemed to give his mum strength somehow. She straightened up a bit and offered the same bright smile, this time with no tears in her eye. She looked like she'd just taken a bit of Pepper-Up Potion or been the recipient of a Cheering Charm, so strong was the effect of George's smile. His father's hand clapped down on his and George's shoulders then. He smiled despite the tired lines in his face and for the first time, Ron realised his dad's hair was nearly grey. Had it been like that all year? Had it even been that grey hours ago when they'd talked in the garage? Ron wondered if it was possible for hair to go grey in a single morning.

"Sorry we weren't – I mean – this morning – I – I - " he stumbled uncomfortably over an explanation for why he hadn't been there with them all this morning.

"You're here now." His father squeezed his shoulder just like Ron had to George atop the hill. "You both are. That's all that matters."

"I tried," Ron confessed then. "I got dressed. I just - "

"I know." His dad's grip tightened. "Hermione told us."

Ron tried not to imagine the faces of his mum and dad as she told them the news that he wasn't coming. Perhaps they'd expected it. They didn't seem angry or disappointed with him or George. The mention of Hermione made Ron even more eager to find her, but for the first time all week he didn't immediately give in to the urge to run to her. He could feel his father's weight, quite literally, resting on him.

"Who's that bloke talking to Charlie?" Ron inquired suddenly, eager to steer the conversation away from his desertion this morning. He looked across the room to his brother and the bushy sideburned man.

"That's Jameson Fitch. He works with Amos Diggory."

Ron wanted to ask why a coworker of Amos Diggory's was at his brother's funeral, but he swallowed the words, trying to display a bit of tact, like Hermione always told him he should.

"Nice of him to come," he replied instead.

"Yes, he's been picking up the slack for me a bit at work. The Ministry has been great this week. So much to do to get back on our feet and so many people needing time off for…for family." He swallowed and took in a deep breath. "Everybody's really pitching in, interdepartmental cooperation, you know? Working together and helping each other."

"That's great," Ron mumbled. As he looked around the sitting room, he suddenly realised all the nameless faces and people he didn't recognise weren't really there for Fred. They were there for his parents.

"And the Portkeys! They've been so wonderful setting up Portkeys for you and Hermione, Ron. I ought to introduce you to Harold Hargreaves. He helped out tremendously with the one through India. George you'd like him too! Quite the joker. Now where did he get to?" Dad looked out in the crowd. "Harold, eh Harold? Come on over here and meet my sons!" He bellowed across the room before Ron could offer any protest. Not that he would have said anything really. His dad seemed to need this, Ron could tell, and as long as they were talking about Portkeys and Ministry business he was fine. George crept away before the old balding wizard could reach them, giving Ron a mischievous smile at his success in avoiding what promised to be a boring and likely uncomfortable meeting.

"So this is the famous Ron!" Harold Hargreaves had a surprisingly strong handshake as he gripped Ron's hand tightly and pumped it up and down. He was very fat and his dress robes looked entirely too tight to be comfortable, but he didn't seem to mind at all.

"Er – yeah - hi," Ron greeted uncomfortably, unsure what to make of somebody calling him famous. He wondered if Harold Hargreaves had read page three of the Prophet.

"Heard a lot about you now, haven't I? Special services to the school years ago? Prefect and Gryffindor Keeper? Heard you even earned seven OWLs !"

"Yeah," Ron muttered sheepishly, somehow embarrassed at having a stranger list his accomplishments. When he dared glance up, he saw his father beaming at him.

"Of course, that's not even counting what you were up to this year. I knew you weren't home with Spattergroit. Your dad was a great old liar, but I knew it, didn't I, eh? I knew you were helping Harry Potter." Ron gave an uncomfortable smile to the jovial man. "Now I hear you're escorting your lady to Australia." Ron felt his ears burn at the reference to Hermione as 'his lady'. "Quite an extraordinary witch, I'm told. Your brother Bill said she could put me out of a job!" Ron was unsure what to say in reply. He wasn't even sure what Harold Hargreaves did at the Ministry.

"She's a remarkable witch, Harold! Absolutely remarkable," his dad piped in then. He looked oddly proud, almost, Ron thought, like he was talking about one of his own children. "She could probably put most of the Ministry out of a job, even Kingsley!" Ron felt a wonderful feeling of pride swell in his chest at the compliment to Hermione. "She and Ron have been friends ever since their very first year at Hogwarts." Still the proud look remained on his face.

"But it took a bit of danger to get you together, eh? I'm not surprised! Saw the same thing the last time. People getting married left and right." Harold Hargreaves waved his hands about. Ron shifted his weight uncomfortably at the mention of marriage. "Sounds like you ought to put a ring on this one quick if she's as remarkable as your dad says."

"Oh, lay off him will you, Harold?" his dad laughed then, coming to Ron's rescue. "You'll have to forgive him, Ron. His wife writes the wedding announcements in the Prophet."

"Oh, don't tell me you and Molly aren't hoping for a wedding! That would be front-page news, that would. Harry Potter's two best friends getting hitched! Where is Harry Potter by the way? I heard he was at the ceremony."

Ron was sorely tempted to offer to go find Harry himself and escape this horribly uncomfortable conversation, but he felt a duty to stay with his dad, who seemed to smile every time Harold Hargreaves mentioned him.

"We're just happy he's happy." He beamed at Ron, as if on cue.

"Do you – er – do you know where Harry and Hermione are, dad?" Ron inquired innocently then, eager just to know where she was.

"Harry is with your sister and Hermione was with Fleur helping your mum earlier and I think I saw her talking with Professor McGonagall for a spell, but they all disappeared about an hour ago."

Ron was about to inquire who 'they all' meant and where they had disappeared to, but another coworker of his father's came charging over then. As his dad quickly fell into conversation with the two men, Ron used the opportunity to find Charlie, whom he hadn't seen since last night and was anxious to make amends with. He tried to ignore the many pairs of eyes on him as he walked across the sitting room with both hands clutching a plate. Several people looked like they wanted to talk to him, but thankfully nobody bothered him while he walked to his brother.

George and Charlie stopped talking almost as soon as Ron reached them. For a moment nobody said anything. Ron desperately hoped George would break the silence and cut a joke, but he was oddly silent. Ron wondered if perhaps Charlie had caught him up to speed on last night's incident. George obviously knew about the liquor, but Ron wasn't sure if he knew about the fight. Charlie had gotten rid of the purple knot above his eye, apparently not holding the same scruples about when to use magic as Hermione. Ron instinctively reached up to touch his fat lip as he looked at Charlie's clean face.

"I'm sorry I hit you," Charlie spoke first, an apologetic smile on his face.

"S'alright. I reckon I deserved it," Ron muttered in humiliation.

"A bit, yeah." The warm smile remained on his brother's face

"I feel like a complete prat."

"Well, that's 'cause you were." Still Charlie kept smiling.

"I don't remember half of what I said."

"Believe me, that's a good thing. You were going on about Hermione smelling like an ice cream cone."

George burst out laughing at the comment, his laughter so loud several people looked their way. Ron felt his face flush for the second time that day regarding his drunken ramblings.

"And you also had a go at me for being so far away this year - "

"I didn't mean - "

"- and there was some truth to what you said," Charlie continued.

"No, I was bang out of order," Ron insisted shamefully.

"I could stand to come home more often."

"You're doing what you love."

"I love my family." The simple statement silenced anything more Ron had been about to say. He was accustomed to such vocal displays of affection from his mother, but he did not expect it from Charlie. Ron could hear rowdy noises sound from upstairs then and he turned his eyes upward.

"Yes, they're all up in Ginny's room," Charlie informed, upon seeing their curious glances through the floorboards. "I expect they'll be glad to see you."

"How is Ginny?" Ron asked, feeling suddenly guilty as he recalled Harry's bequest that he stay with her today.

"Worried about you both," Charlie admitted. "She'll be glad to see you."

"You think we should – I mean is it all right to go upstairs?" Ron looked around the room at his mother and father and poor Percy, who was now joined by Bill and Fleur in the corner. For the first time all week, he felt a strange sort of obligation to stay down here with the rest of his family, not run upstairs with Hermione. Staying here was an unpleasant prospect for sure. He'd much rather be with Hermione, but when he recalled the way his mum had hugged him and the way his dad's face had lit up talking about him, he felt a strong sense of duty. He could help. He should help. He should stay down here.

"Upstairs it feels a bit more like Fred." Charlie gave a wistful smile then.

"But - "

"We'll be all right." Charlie looked across the room to his family while he spoke the words. "You both should be upstairs."

The assurance was all George seemed to need. He started walking toward the steps before Ron did. The noise, a cacophony of music, shouting, and laughter coming from behind Ginny's closed bedroom door grew louder the closer they got. Ron pushed it open and was thoroughly surprised to see most of Gryffindor tower and what felt like half the school packed into Ginny's tiny bedroom. Ron realised this is what his dad had meant when he had said they all disappeared. This is where everybody who had known George, really known him, was.

The old wireless that was usually downstairs had been moved here and was playing music that echoed throughout the space. Bottles of Butterbeer and Knotgrass Mead lined the room and there was an open bottle of Red Currant Rum that people looked to be mixing with several glasses of Gillywater. A drunken game of cards with an Exploding Snap deck was going on beside it. It looked very much like a slightly older and more mature Quidditch celebration in Gryffindor tower, save for the fact that Ron couldn't quite figure out what they were celebrating.

Much like the room downstairs, the festivities halted quite suddenly as soon as they caught sight of Ron and George in the doorway. Ron's eyes locked first on his sister. She was standing at the back wall with Harry, of course, and several of her old Quidditch teammates. Her eyes were red-rimmed and her cheeks unnaturally red. He didn't say anything; he just looked at her, trying to show her with a simple head nod that he was here now. He was trying. His presence there with George seemed to acknowledge that he had been with his brother and when he gave a half-hearted shrug she just nodded her head back in, what Ron hoped was, understanding.

"Don't stop on account of us." George broke the uncomfortable silence with a laugh just as Lee Jordan came barreling through the crowd to them. He charged toward George and they embraced in a hug so fierce it made even Ron turn away. He recalled that the two hadn't seen each other since dueling Yaxley in the Great Hall. When they finally broke apart, Lee just gave Ron a thump on the back and handed both he and George large dark bottles of Knotgrass Mead. He had never tasted the honey wine before, but he'd seen several bottles in Hagrid's hut. Though he was curious to try it, he could still feel the effects of his last encounter with alcohol so instead of taking part in a toast with Lee and George, he just raised the bottle while scanning the room for Hermione.

She was seated on her camp bed in the corner along with Angelina Johnson and a glass of the same red substance the Exploding Snap players were drinking. Her eyes looked puffy and her cheeks splotchy like they had after Dumbledore's funeral. Though she was still talking to Angelina, her eyes were clearly fixed on him. His path to her was blocked by countless Gryffindors, all wanting to talk to him however. Oliver Wood wanted to talk about retiring Fred's number and getting his photo up in the Quidditch trophy case. Kenneth Towler, a heavyset boy in Fred's year told him how much he had envied Fred's confidence. Seamus wanted to tell him how much he'd looked up to him.

Ron was reminded again of his miserable Quidditch practices fifth year and Harry's loyal defense of his poor keeping skills. Wood would never recommend retiring Fred's number if he hadn't died. Kenneth Towler had never said a word to him his entire life. Seamus would never tell Ron things like that if they weren't where they were. His eyes looked straight through Seamus to Hermione, who was still in conversation with Angelina and eyeing him every few seconds. Seamus glanced over his shoulder and, catching sight of Hermione, seemed to take the hint. He raised his eyebrows, grinned at Ron and quietly slunk away.

Ron walked closer to the camp bed so he could hear Hermione and Angelina's conversation better. They were talking, of all things, about N.E.W.T.S, which made Ron smile to himself.

"I thought the Examinations Authority fifth year was absolutely dreadful. The Protean charm really should be assessed."

"Are you actually complaining that the test wasn't harder?"

"I just think it ought to be on there."

"You know you'll get top marks regardless."

"I tried to tell her you get points just for showing up and having a wand, but she didn't believe me," Ron joined the conversation suddenly. He plopped down the plate of trifle and roly poly still in his hand.

Angelina looked back and forth between him and Hermione. Like Seamus, she seemed to detect the heavy air between them and quickly excused herself. She paused as she passed by Ron though, opening up her mouth like she was going to say something. Ron looked to her expectantly, waiting for her to speak. Her mouth hung open, but no sounds emerged. Like both Hermione and Ginny, her eyes were bloodshot and showed evidence that many tears had been shed before this celebration began. He knew Fred and Angelina had done more than just go to the Yule Ball together, but he was never quite sure what the extent of their relationship had been.

"He was so proud of you," she finally whispered, taking hold of his arm and steadying herself.

"Right," Ron acknowledged awkwardly, not knowing what else to say. He swallowed the large lump that had suddenly formed in his throat. His brother had been proud of him. Ron tried to turn over in his head what exactly that even meant. Proud of him for what? For being Gryffindor keeper? For following Harry? For almost getting himself killed? Angelina held his gaze for a moment, her fingers still grasped around his arm.

"You know, he talked about you all the time." She managed a grin and then glanced past his shoulder to Hermione, who was now attempting to focus her gaze elsewhere. "And he always said he reckoned she was the best thing that could ever happen to you if you ever got the stones to make a move."

"Fred said that?" Ron gaped at Angelina, who just nodded her head and smiled before releasing him and returning to the party.

Ron looked back to Hermione, wondering if she had heard the confession. He hated that Fred never got to see him finally be with her. He hated that he'd never get to hear Fred tease him about snogging her up in his room or take the piss the way George had out in the garden. He hated that he had to hear his brother's words through Angelina and that every sentence began with the words 'would have'. His gaze fixed on Hermione, the best thing that could ever happen to him according to his brother, and he plopped down on the bed beside her. Though her eyes had been locked on him since he'd set foot in Ginny's room, she now turned them away from him, focusing instead on the fizzy red liquid on the table beside her.

"I'd think after my performance last night you'd be avoiding any kind of spirit." He looked to the glass, hoping she would see that he was attempting to make fun of himself. It was the best he could do at an apology and admission of guilt for now.

"I could say the same to you," she replied shortly and nodded toward the bottle of mead in his hand. "Lee insisted we all drink a toast to Fred," she explained then, sounding none too pleased at the idea. From the amount of liquid in the glass it looked like she had hardly touched the beverage.

"That explains the party then." Ron still looked surprised at how joyful the room was.

"He said he reckoned Fred would want a party for him."

"George said the same thing." Ron couldn't help but smile at just how well Lee knew his brothers.

"It seems a bit odd to me," Hermione admitted and wrinkled her nose. "Funerals are supposed to be for being sad. I just don't think it's proper." Hermione frowned and looked out to the center of the room where Lee was pouring George a glass of rum to match the bottle of mead in the other hand. "That's the last thing George needs."

"George'll be all right."

The words remained in the air for a moment and Ron thought she was about to ask if he was all right then. He thought perhaps she might shame him for leaving her that morning, yell at him for being abandoning his family, for abandoning her again. When the words came they weren't angry though. Her voice just sounded small and weak, defeated almost.

"I wish you'd been there," she stated sadly, finally focusing her eyes on him.

"I know," Ron mumbled and scratched the back of his head in uncomfortable recognition.

"Were you with George the whole time?"


"What else were you doing?" she pressed.

"Just…walking," he murmured with a shrug. "Thinking."

"What were you thinking about?" she continued her inquiry. Her voice was soft and she wasn't prying, but with the question Ron knew the Hermione that had run away with him for the past week was gone.

"About Fred," he replied honestly. Perhaps the part of him that had hidden all week was gone too.

"Do you want to talk about it?" she asked simply.

"No." His reply was immediate and he could see the glum response disappointed her. "But thanks," he added sincerely.

"It was a nice funeral," she continued. "I think it would have helped you." Ron winced at the implication that he needed help, but remained silent. "It might help you realise…you're not the only one hurting." At the words, Ron was reminded of how Percy had come undone and the wailing sound of his mum's cries. He could offer no reply.

He felt the same turbulent mixture of emotions at her words as he had downstairs when his mum had started tearing up. Funerals were just supposed to be sad, like Hermione had said. He didn't want to feel this mixed up. He had abandoned Hermione and most of his family and he knew he'd fucked up, but he'd also been there for George, the person who needed him most. He wasn't sure how he was supposed to regret that. He wasn't sure why he didn't tell Hermione he had, in fact, gone to the funeral. He figured that fact didn't make up for the fact that he'd ignored her desperate pleas and left her on her own. Bollocks, he was a terrible boyfriend.

Still, she didn't seem eager to point that out. She didn't say anything to make him feel worse. Her disappointed look said it all. He desperately wanted to say something to explain, but couldn't form any words. He just turned his eyes back out to the mass of people packed into his sister's room and Hermione did the same. It wasn't just Gryffindors, Ron saw. Most of the remaining members of Dumbledore's Army were there and a smattering of students from other houses in Fred's year were also partaking in the celebration. Aside from a few who had red eyes and puffy cheeks, they all looked incredibly happy. Ron wondered how much of that was due to the alcohol.

Hermione laughed quietly as she looked uncomfortably out on the crowd and pushed a loose strand of hair behind her ear.

"You know, people have been asking me all morning when we happened."

"When what happened?"

"You know." The slight pink color in her cheeks indicated what she was referring to. "Us."

"Still talking about us, huh?" he laughed and leaned a bit closer to her then, grateful for the change in conversation. He knew this wasn't the end of it, of course. He'd abandoned her again and left her to cry by herself over Fred's coffin. Still, she didn't seem any more reluctant to dwell on it than he was. There wasn't much more to be said.

"I suspect they want to know if they won the bet or not. I didn't even know what to tell them."

"What do you mean?" Ron asked even though he was quite sure what she meant. Despite the fact that they'd first kissed mere days ago, he felt a bit like they'd been together all year.

He reckoned he'd never get tired of moments like these. They seemed to push everything else out of his mind. Not just thoughts about Fred and the mound of dirt behind the orchard, but the sad realisation that Anthony Goldstein should be standing there beside Terry Boot and Michael Corner. It was all just shit, the randomness that some people were here drinking Firewhiskey and others were in a box. That Parvati was smiling and laughing with Katie Bell and Lavender was wrapped in bandages and probably still in the Hospital Wing. All year, he'd imagined what life after Voldemort might be like and never had he thought about how many empty places there would be.

"I don't know," Hermione's voice brought him back. She was the only pleasant part of this new reality. "I suppose it was the other day in the Battle when I kissed you, but somehow that didn't seem like the truth."

"What else would you have said?" Ron was eager to hear what moment she might recall from the last year.

"I don't know, when you asked me to dance at Bill and Fleur's wedding." She reminded him of the night he'd secretly looked forward to all summer. "The first night in Grimmauld Place when you held my hand until I fell asleep, or when you stayed by my bed that night at Shell Cottage."

"I stayed by your bed a lot of nights," Ron confessed sheepishly.

"I know." The music and the conversation around them slowly seemed to melt away.

"Thank you for staying with me last night," he finally said the words he knew he should have hours ago. "I know I probably said some rotten things to you." He thought about how Charlie told him he should be glad he didn't remember anything.

"You weren't that bad."

"Don't do that." He frowned and shook his head. "Please."

"Do what?"

"Patronise me."

"That's not patronising - "

"It feels like it," he admitted. "I know I was pissed and I know I screwed up - "

"You didn't screw up."

" – and you telling me I didn't doesn't make me feel any better," Ron maintained from behind gritted teeth. "I don't remember what I said to you, but Charlie told me what I said to him and…I know I had a go at you too. I know I did."

"Ron - "

"And I know you were probably just trying to help and I know I was off my face and was an arse and…I know you stayed with me anyway." He lowered his head as he thought about this morning and how he'd left her so abruptly. "So thanks."



"Yes, okay. You're welcome," she stated simply.

"You're not going to call me an insensitive wart or tell me off for drinking all day?" Ron frowned.

"Do you want me to?"

"Dunno really. I think I might need to hear it a time or two." He raised the corners of his mouth slightly. "Just to remind myself it's still you."

"Well, you were a complete prat last night," Hermione laughed. "How's that?"

"Better." Ron grinned at her. He was awed at how supportive she was being of him, how supportive she'd been all week, even when he knew he was at his worst. "You're amazing, you know that?" He moved a hand up to her cheek then and leaned forward to kiss her softly. This was easier than an apology. This he couldn't mess up. His lips lingered on hers only for a brief moment however before the room quickly began whooping and hollering at the sudden display of affection.

"Who won the bet?" A voice cried out.

Hermione blushed and hid her face against Ron's shoulder. He gave a sheepish grin and wrapped an arm around her as they both rose to her feet, her face still buried against him.

"Weasley and Granger!"

"Finally an item!"

"Never thought I'd see the day!" Lee picked up his ribbing right where he'd left off in the hospital wing days ago.

"Yeah, yeah." Ron rolled his eyes, but continued to squeeze Hermione against him. This felt surprisingly good. Standing up in the Great Hall with her hand in his had been one thing, but holding Hermione against him like he was now was quite another. For a moment he could almost forget the reason all these people were all at the Burrow in the first place. They laughed and talked and the whole time Ron had Hermione next to him and everyone could see that she was his. He could do without the constant reminiscing and shared memories of Fred, but with Hermione beside him he was able to make it through. He could smile with Ginny, even make her laugh, even if it was usually at his expense. He was there for his sister though, like he realised he hadn't been all week. She seemed to delight in just having him and George beside her, frequently throwing her arms around them both and drawing them to her in a hug.

People came and went all afternoon. Charlie and Bill came up for a spell and even Hagrid poked his head in and led a toast. Harry and Ginny, Angelina, Katie, George and Lee were the only ones who still remained by the time evening set in. Percy had joined them from downstairs and they were playing a game of cards and swapping stories on the floor. Ron took the opportunity to take a moment from the toasts and the hugs to stretch out on the tiny camp bed. His long limbs nearly dangled over the edge as he let out a deep sigh. He had almost made it through the day. He wondered what life would be like tomorrow without the funeral hanging over him.

"You think there's room for two?" Hermione's voice sounded suddenly from over him.

"Er…sure." Ron did little to attempt to disguise the surprise in his voice. They laid together on the bed all the time in the privacy of his room, but he was shocked Hermione would initiate something so intimate with so many people around. He tried to look at ease as she curled her body up around him and even more when she rested her head on his chest. The tiny action still caused his heart to rattle behind his ribcage, just like the first time up in Gryffindor tower. He wondered if Hermione had been to any other funerals besides Dumbledore's either. She seemed sad, much sadder than he expected her to be. All week long she'd been so solid. Now when she curled her fingers around his shirt and rested her ear atop his heart, listening to its rhythmic thump, it was almost like she needed the closeness too. He felt himself relax, in a way he hadn't all day and moved a hand around her back.

"You cannot stay in here, Ron," Ginny called to the pair, who rapidly appeared to be falling asleep together. "Don't get any ideas."

"Oi! Am I glad they waited this long to get on! I couldn't have handled seeing that every day in the common room!" George teased and pretended to vomit. Ron remained silent and offered nothing more than a rude hand gesture to the group that was poking fun at their expense. Hermione gave an embarrassed smile, but made no effort to move.

Truth was lying like this on the camp bed made Ron think about his conversation with George and the charms he still had to learn. The thought of nearly a week together just like this made his head spin. He thought about yesterday afternoon up in his room and the way her hips had actually arched toward him, seeming to be craving the contact. He thought about the way she'd run her hands all over him and her breathy and flustered voice when she'd broken away to compose herself. Perhaps what George had teased him about wasn't that far from the truth. Perhaps he really should stop by his room later to learn the charms. She clung to him right now in a way that indicated she didn't want him to get up from the bed anymore than he wanted to leave it. If he could only convince Ginny to allow him to stay for the night, he might even agree to let her go upstairs to be with Harry tonight.

"Seriously, Ron, you two cannot sleep together in my room so get up," Ginny called out, as if to read his mind. Ron again only responded by offering the same hand gesture. Angelina, Lee, and George all sniggered like a bunch of first years at the bickering siblings.

"Were they like this all year then, Harry, with all the cuddling?" George teased. "I had no idea ickle Ronnie was such a loverboy." They all roared with laughter then and Ron couldn't help but think they all might be using the Hair of the Dragon tomorrow morning.

"Right then, we're leaving." Ron sat upright and swung his legs over the bed.

"We're just taking the piss out of you two, come on," Lee waved for them to join them. "It's been a long enough time coming. You know, I always said I knew that Ron- "

"You're full of it, Lee! Don't even start!" George scoffed before Lee could finish. "Don't you think if I'd have known, Fred and I would have taken the piss sooner?" George scoffed.

"You did!" Ron recalled being constantly teased by his brothers for going to Hogsmeade with Hermione by himself or studying alone with her in the library. They had been thoroughly amused by the fact that one of their little brother's best friends was a girl and made a point of poking fun of that fact as much as possible.

"Yes, but we didn't REALLY know you fancied her."

"You two, come on over and drink another toast to Fred!" Lee called.

"To Fred!" The group on the floor raised their glasses for the umpteenth time that afternoon.

Ron knew Hermione could feel him tense up beside her. He'd avoided most of the toasts that afternoon and most of the conversation about Fred. Every time they did one he told her he was going and prepared himself to leave. He liked being up here and seeing his sister and brother smile, but he hated the toasts.

"Ron, stay," Hermione whispered for the umpteenth time that afternoon. Her fingers wrapped around his arm tightly and implored him not to leave. He was reminded of dinner in the Great Hall that night she'd kept her hand on his bouncing thigh when he'd wanted to flee to Gryffindor tower. She'd kept him there with his family then just like she was doing now. Truth was, he wanted to face things the way the rest of his family seemed able to, but he hated how this all felt. Memorializing Fred, sharing stories of pranks he'd played and great plays he'd made on the Quidditch pitch. It all felt false the way what he'd seen of the funeral had felt false.

He hadn't heard any of what had been said, but he was confident they'd eulogized Fred with the same kind of glowing reverence Seamus and Wood had. Ron wanted to get up right now and, just once, remind them all that his brother wasn't perfect, that he was hardly a stellar student and fucked up an awful lot. But he couldn't say that to the relatively joyful group on Ginny's bedroom floor.

Lee had just said something so funny that Angelina and Katie both had tears in their eyes. His brother and sister both had broad grins on their face for the first time in what felt like days. He eyed the empty bottles of Mead and a half finished bottle of firewhiskey. All of them looked quite pissed. Maybe not to the point he had been last night, but enough so that their laughter flowed quite freely.

He was trying, staying here because Harry had asked him and because, deep down, he knew he should. Ginny's ribbing all afternoon had hardly been malicious and the teasing banter had seemed to be a comfort to her, the same way it had to George when they walked back to the Burrow. He was helping. His mere presence was helping. Ron glanced out the window he and Harry had cleaned days ago, hardly believing that darkness was finally setting in and the horrible day was almost over.

"I did go, you know," he mumbled suddenly.

"Go where?" Hermione inquired, her words muffled against his chest.

"You know, this morning…" He could not make himself say the word funeral out loud. "George and I, we were up on the hill above the field. We watched it all." Hermione's jaw didn't drop, but Ron watched her lips part slightly in surprise, almost like she wanted to say something. "I hate that that old bloke from Dumbledore's funeral was there."

"That's Ethelbert Edison, Ron. He's the most respected magical minister in all of Britain. It's quite an honor."

"He didn't know Fred."

"Yes, but he wanted to come. Your parents didn't even ask him like they had to ask him to do Bill and Fleur's wedding. He volunteered."

"He didn't know Fred."

"I didn't know Fred the way you did," she offered quietly. "That doesn't mean I can't admire him. People don't have to know him to respect what he did."

"Respect what? Getting killed by Death Eaters?" Ron retorted, anger he wasn't even aware was there suddenly bubbling inside him. He was quite sure half of the people that were downstairs in his family's sitting room were only there because of the circumstances under which Fred had been killed. If he'd blown himself up experimenting with a new product at Weasley Wizard Wheezes he doubted as many people would be there.

"No, respect that Fred was a person who was willing to risk everything for what he believed," she replied softly.

"Like blowing off his seventh year?" Ron asked. He knew the subject of the twins' departure from Hogwarts was one that often irritated Hermione.

"Yes, even that. He was being honest to himself and doing what he believed was right," Hermione spoke calmly.

"He left school." Ron raised his eyebrows, surprised at her calm reasoning and now eager to get a rise out of her, his earlier anger quickly passing. "Neglected his education."

"I know."

"He didn't take his N.E.W.T.S," he goaded. "He failed to complete the groundwork necessary for a proper career in the magical arts!" he parroted Hermione's frequent argument for why seventh year was critical.

"I never said I believed it was right!" she finally sputtered, "I just said that he did."

Ron laughed at her loss of composure and looked back to the party still going on. They were all talking about Quidditch now. Angelina and Katie were curious what Ginny's plan would be next year as team captain, asking about tryouts and the starting roster. With his sister's attention otherwise engaged, Ron dared nudge a bit closer and snake another arm around Hermione so she was now firmly wrapped in his embrace.

"Fred was always true to himself," she spoke after a slight pause.

Ron's laughter faded as he turned over her words. He thought about that bit of recklessness in Fred that caused him to make quips while simultaneously dueling Death Eaters. That bit of recklessness that had probably gotten him killed. He reckoned what Lee had said earlier that day before toast number fourteen was correct, that was the way Fred had probably wanted to go. Laughing and joking alongside his family, doing the right thing, and staying true to himself, for better or for worse.

Still, part of him was mad at his brother. Mad at him for being so careless in battle. He bet not one person had made mention of the fact that he had been cracking jokes and not paying attention in the instant he'd been killed. Perhaps if Fred had been more alert he'd still be here. He wondered if anyone at the funeral had made mention of that. Sometimes when he thought about Fred being gone, he got so angry at his brother.

Sometimes when he thought about it, he got so angry with himself. He'd been selfish. His decision to go with Harry had put his entire family in danger.

Sometimes he felt like he'd killed Fred.

"You all right?" Hermione seemed to detect the far-away look in his eye. "We can go downstairs if you want." Ron felt a rush of affection toward her. She knew the toasts made him uncomfortable. She knew he'd tried all afternoon. She'd held him together each time they raised their glasses, but he just couldn't memorialize Fred the way the rest of his family seemed to. All week he'd taken comfort in the fact that at least George had isolated himself from his family as well. But now George was laughing and drinking and recounting story after story of Fred. Now he was the only one left in the family who still couldn't even talk about him.

"I'll be fine." Ron offered a weak smile, wondering if it counted as lying if he wished the words were true, as he looked back and forth between the party on the floor and Hermione.

The group on the floor began to buzz excitedly, pulling him out of his head, and he heard his brother roar with delight suddenly.

"Come on, let's go get Charlie and Bill and do this!" George threw back the rest of his firewhiskey and scrambled to his feet. Ginny popped up just as quickly, chattering eagerly in agreement. Even Percy looked excited.

"Do what?" Ron asked.

"Fireworks, remember?" George reminded him of their conversation outside on the hill. He was practically glowing with excitement.

"You're not serious. It's a funeral," Ron frowned at the absurd notion, but George just grinned.

"It's Fred's funeral."

Hermione looked to Ron uncertainly, seeming as dubious about the suggestion as he did, but one look at George and Ginny's excited faces and he raised himself from the bed. Even Percy looked excited. He would support them, the way he hadn't all week.

"Come on." He took her hand and followed after the chattering group, stopping briefly by George's room where he filled everybody's arms with boxes of leftover firecrackers from beneath Fred's bed.

George immediately went about setting them up in the garden, gathering up the rest of the family and anybody else still at the Burrow so they could enjoy the show. Ron noticed it was just the Diggorys and a smattering of cousins who remained. Ron saw his mum and dad couldn't help but smile at George's enthusiasm as he whisked them outside. His mum sat down in the chair that Bill summoned for her and he saw Mrs. Diggory join her.

"Dear me, I hope those are safe," his mum fretted as she watched Percy help George and Lee stick an ancient looking one into the ground. Ron saw it spark and fizzle at random as he settled onto the grass with Hermione. Ginny, Harry, Angelina, and Katie grabbed a spot close by. Dusk had fallen and striations of pink and blue stretched across the sky. Despite the slight chill in the air, it was a perfect spring evening.

Ginny turned around to glance at Ron. He thought she might say something rude at the surprisingly intimate way Hermione was seated between his raised knees, but she just smiled at them both. She looked proud of him, almost like she had when they'd won the Quidditch Cup sixth year. They were here, all together, the new Weasley family minus one. Except, Ron realised as he looked about the garden, that they had grown. Percy was back, of course, standing side-by-side with George. There was Hermione, resting against his chest, and Harry, of course. There was Lee and Katie and Angelina and those who had known and loved Fred best. There was Fleur and the Delacours, who Ron had not noticed until then. There were the Diggorys, who were still talking to his parents. Ron couldn't help but think as he looked to his dad and Mr. Diggory, deep in conversation, that they would be seeing much more of their neighbors after today.

Hermione shivered against him, Fleur's cardigan doing little to keep away the evening chill, and Ron rubbed her arms in an attempt to warm her. She looked over her shoulder and offered an appreciative smile while George and Lee readied the last of the fireworks. He thought he detected the same hint of pride in her face he'd seen in Ginny's. She seemed to sense the significance of the sheer fact that he was here. He hadn't run.

"Everyone ready?" George called out. He was grinning widely as he looked out at his family. Everybody just shouted jubilantly back at him. With a flick of his wand, the first rocket went off and the sky lit up with color. Shockingly pink and orange Catherine Wheels spun around and a rocket with a long tail of silver stars painted the already colourful sky.

George whooped with a joy that Ron guessed might also be masking a few tears as he threw his arms around Percy and Lee in celebration. Ron heard Ginny give an odd muffled cry that he sensed was the same odd combination. There were tears and smiles all throughout the garden as each firework seemed to duplicate and grow stronger. Ron knew these weren't just an old box of Dr. Filibuster's that had been under the bed. These were Fred and George's own creations, the same ones that had tormented Dolores Umbridge so many years ago.

He couldn't quite make himself smile. He could hear his mum crying quietly behind him into a handkerchief, though the sound was punctuated with hiccups of laughter. Hermione was sniffling in front of him, though he too could hear her tiny laugh echo each time one divided and then seemed to double in size. He rested his chin on her shoulder, wrapped his arms around her waist and closed his eyes.

If he just focused on the laughter, if he forgot why they were out here, if he just concentrated on the feel of Hermione against him, he could smile too. But even with his eyes closed, Fred's absence was painfully obvious from the gathering. He should be here. Try as he might, that's all Ron could think.

So while the rest of his family 'oohed' and 'aahed' and celebrated Fred, Ron nestled closer to Hermione and he celebrated her. He breathed in the wonderful scent of orchids and vanilla he'd described to Charlie and he celebrated the fact that she was his. He could smile when he thought about the way they'd embraced up in his room yesterday. He could even manage a laugh when he thought about their trip to Australia and all that it might hold. But he still couldn't make himself smile for Fred.

He reckoned Hermione could feel his grip around her waist tighten. That was probably why she turned around and offered him a supportive smile. All he could manage back was a kiss. He didn't even stop to think about his mum and dad seated right behind them or the Delacours or Diggorys and what they might think at the display of affection. His lips just found hers.

The fireworks continued to burst overhead and he heard everybody continue to delight in the display. He could even hear a few murmurs and giggles that he guessed were directed at them, but Hermione didn't withdraw like he thought she might. Her mouth came alive against his and beneath the fireworks for a little while longer, he let himself forget the reason they were bursting overhead.


A Harry Potter Story
by MsBinns

Part 17 of 45

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