Title: There Are No Constants
Pairing: Hermione/Fred (Hermione/Ron)
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: All but death can be adjusted, but even then sometimes there are exceptions
Warning(s): Complete DH canon compliancy - and, no, not in the necrophilia sense – and no adultery either. Compliancy with most of JK Rowling's interview canon, though in all this I may be as inconsistent as she is. Easily evaded mild torture, and non-violent character death mentioned. Smut that is only very secondary. . . .
Author's Notes: Originally written for the hp_springsmut exchange.
Dinner at the Weasleys this time around was a more sedate affair.
But at least she wasn't quite being looked at like Voldemort incarnate anymore.
"George is going to be released in two days," Arthur explained, as the chicken was passed around. "Only a week or two past when you two had been planning to leave. So close to Christmas, I wish you could stay, but know it's best you get on your way with all the company we've got coming around. I've got everything in place I think, at least as well as I'm able. All the right documents, even a magical history tracing back four generations that you're registered with – you'll be happy to know I've kept you pureblooded. Hate too many similarities, but just in case a blood war ever breaks out over there too…"
Fred snorted. "In Canada? They've got about as much of a violent nature as Switzerland."
Hermione for her part was impressed with the Weasley patriarch's subterfuge. She'd had her doubts when he'd been the one setting their move all up, but her involvement wasn't advisable as she was already tied to this whole thing in so many ways. And she understood Arthur had wanted to be able to do something for his children, when he hadn't been able to do anything before.
"I still don't see why we can't go visit," Molly said in an annoyed tone. "I want to make sure they have a decent place over there. That they're warm enough. That…."
Harry gently cut in. "Somebody might get a little bit curious with bulk Weasley exodus's to Canada. But maybe a few subtle visits, over time, meeting up in a big city like Toronto that you would have an excuse to go to for work or touristy reasons."
Molly said nothing else on the subject, but it was obvious that she wasn't happy. Even with the words coming from Harry this time, for Hermione was sure it had all been explained to her numerous times before. But she could sympathize with the fact it couldn't be easy to let your children go, especially when you'd just regained one you thought long gone.
"Thank you for letting Fred stay with you Hermione," Bill said, changing the subject slightly. "Considering Victoire's new tendency to make her way into bed with any guest we have over, he probably appreciates the relative privacy.
Fred shot her a look, and she blushed, because her crawling into bed with him for the last two days had been just a little more invasive than his niece's could ever be. Though, as he'd proven time and time again, that kind of invasion he didn't much mind. In fact that kind of invasion he welcomed and initiated. Not that it had been limited to bed of course. They'd christened most of the rooms in her cottage, both horizontal and vertical surfaces. She wouldn't be able to do so much as laundry without being reminded of the variety of ways they'd used each others bodies.
When Percy's snort cut into the silence, their eyes all turned to him, surprised.
"Sorry," he apologized, dabbing at his mouth with his napkin, "but if nobody else is going to mention the purple-spotted hippogryff in the room, I will. Do you really think that's all we've got to thank Hermione for?"
There were a few embarrassed glanced, and others still mildly mutinous, and Hermione glared daggers at Percy, wishing he wouldn't do it – even going so far as to wave her hand to motion silence. But he wasn't to be put off, even though he seemed nervous in the attempt, taking his glasses off and cleaning them before he perched them back on his nose. "She helped George bring Fred back – much as I love my brother, I don't think he figured out that magic much on his own – and we've been treating her like some pariah for it. Even though we're all so glad to have Fred back, even though we all would have done the same thing if we could have. You can all pretend otherwise, but you know it's true."
It was probably the longest utterance he'd ever made at a family gathering, and his face was somber and red as he finished, adding softly. "She might not be a Weasley by blood, but she's been a part of our family, Ron aside. And I know how hard it is to be ostracized from you lot – and I'd actually done something wrong."
There were more guilty looks now, and an outpouring that was more for Percy and reassuring him in his place in the family than it was for her. But then most of them had the grace to look embarrassed – even Ron who wouldn't quite look her in the eye, who like she had been uncomfortable all evening with their shared presence at the time. It was Molly finally, who said something, to the surprise of Hermione. "Quite right," she said with a cough, and then went back to serving dinner. It wasn't effusive, but for the moment it was enough, and Hermione felt back in the fold again – at least as much as she ever had.
The moment was slightly broken, and Ginny addressed Hermione in the most friendly tone she had in weeks. "Still, you must be glad to finally get that prat out of your hair. Know from experience he's not easy to live with."
Hermione was about to answer the address, but Fred cut in across her, saying casually as he poured himself some butterbeer. "I want to convince her she doesn't actually want to get me out of her hair."
In the ensuing quiet, it was Fleur who asked the question they were all thinking, Hermione included. "What?"
When Fred spoke again, it was to Hermione only, ignoring everybody else at the table. They were sitting across from each other, and he looked right at her, catching her eyes. "Come with us," he said, as if it wasn't an important topic he was addressing.
"What?" Hermione said again, stupidly.
He rolled his eyes. "To Canada, you bint. And we can….see. Give ourselves a chance."
She was well aware of the avid attention from everyone else at the table, but wasn't focused on it, only on him. "You're doing this now? And…it's impossible. I mean we just….and I…." Hermione shot to her feet, her cutlery falling with a clang, pushing her chair back from the table. "If you'll excuse me."
Everyone was watching her, she was sure, as she made her way towards the loo – the only destination she could think of that would offer any privacy, without invading a private room. What the bloody hell was he doing making that suggestion here in front of his family, in front of Ron? And what was he doing making it at all? They'd just got involved, there were no…understandings. Only feelings that hadn't had a chance to formally sort themselves out - just the promise of something. And what was she doing entertaining the suggestion, thinking of ways she could make it work – for example, contemplating how it would be so easy to tell the outside world she was eloping with George, and nobody would question it, or follow. And why was she thinking already of how they didn't really need her at the Ministry, that they could get another flunky to fill her role.
As she paced, thinking, and stressing herself out, Fred slipped into the washroom behind her.
She was about to berate him – or accept – she wasn't sure which, but he slipped his hands over her hips, and settled her back against the sink as he stood between her legs.
"Come with us," Fred said quietly, recklessly. "I know it's impulsive, but don't bloody care. I'm not sure I can give you up so quickly, not when we finally got it going."
"Fred," her voice was a censure, "I'm not sure it's a good idea…"
But the rest of her arguments were cut off as his lips slid over her ear, nipping there, then dragging along her cheek, to her mouth. "I think it's an excellent idea." His hands came into play now, sliding over her hips, her stomach, cradling her breasts in the palms as he tweaked the nipples through her jumper. "Bet I can convince you," he said, trying to lower his mouth to hers, but Hermione pushed his face aside at the last moment.
"I'm not going to be convinced by sex!" She hissed, trying to swat his hands away too, but he wasn't to be deterred. One hand slipped down to the button of her jeans, toying with it, and she tried to wiggle away. "Merlins shorts! Fred, if nothing else your family is right downstairs."
He laughed against the crook of her neck where his mouth rested. "That's just fine. Think they know all about the birds and the bees."
"Fred!" Her voice was indignant, but her resolve was weakening. Already she was thinking of charms to cast around the room so they wouldn't be heard.
But whatever they were going to do was cut off by a large booming sound below, and loud yells – and spells being cast at varying volumes. For a moment they both stood there, dumbstruck, and then they were untangling themselves as fast as they possibly could – straightening garments and grabbing for their wands which had come loose in the scramble of sexual initiation and tumbled to the floor.
Before they could do anything about it however, the door to the washroom swung open, and Hermione caught sight of two masked figured in black robes before the whole world went white, and then was gone.
When she awoke, she was strapped to a chair by both magical and muggle means – wrists and ankles bound by leather cords, and as she struggled against them she could feel a binding charm holding her to the chair. A moan behind her caused her to turn her head as much as she could, catching sight of Fred out of her peripheral vision, in much the same predicament as she – bound to chairs that were back to back. "What the hell!" Hermione heard him murmur, coming back to himself, before he started struggling against the bonds in the same way as she, and having the same amount of success – or lack thereof – in freeing himself.
For her part, she was trying not to let the bile rise in her throat, reminded too much of a similar situation with Bellatrix Lestrange. A situation that she wasn't sure she was strong enough to relive.
So instead she forced herself to focus on something else, anything else – looking around. They were in the kitchen of the Burrow, which surprised her, but there was nobody else present. Hermione racked her mind, trying to remember what happened, but she was fairly sure they had been hit with a combination stunning and blinding spell to knock them out temporarily. All she could remember were two outfits that reminded her of Death Eaters, and she had no reason to doubt her memory in that respect. There was no sign of any of the family. And, as she strained her ears to listen, all she could hear was chatter in the next room. Voices that cut in and out, and voices she didn't recognize – outside of one that sounded vaguely familiar.
". . . . they all managed to get out, but. . . ."
"doesn't matter. . . . those two. . . ."
"too far to apparate. . . .no portkey. . . ."
". . . .not much time. . . ."
Fred started to speak, but Hermione hushed him, trying to hear all she could from the next room. But it was a moot point anyway, because only moments later three cloaked figures came into the room – though they'd shed the masks this time. She was fairly sure that was a bad sign.
Gormley she recognized, the escaped Death Eater. He gave her a smirking glance as they walked into the room. But he was obviously not the one in power of the group. Macnair – whom though being knocked unconscious by Hagrid at the Battle of Hogwarts had escaped – followed him. But the one seemingly in charge from the way the other two seemed to defer to him was Augustus Rookwood. Ironically enough, he was the one who had fired the curse that had killed Fred – and though stunned and captured, had managed his own escape.
"You're sure this is the dead one?" He asked Gormley, motioning towards Fred, whose head snapped up, trying to twist around. "It would be so much handier if he wasn't."
Gormley shrugged. "Based on the presence of the ear, I think so. And the other one is in a spell induced coma in St. Mungo's – he'd be the one we want anyway. But she's the most important one, she's the one who works for the Ministry and knows the ins and outs of the spell. No doubt she's the one who gave it to him, and helped him."
In the conceit that was a common trait of criminals, he sneered at Hermione, explaining. "Even after my escape, thought your stupid magic was all a bunch of nonsense anyway, not like you would have ever tested it, and I knew the ingredients you'd quizzed me about weren't something we'd looked at – but figured I should keep an eye on you anyway. And then when I saw this one sitting on your front stoop, when the story was his brother was in St. Mungo's…"
So that was how it had occurred. No fault in her wards, no random personal attack. He'd had more of a brain that she would have given him credit for, and it had paid of off in the end. Hermione would have never thought anyone would think to stake out her cottage out of town, her own fallacy. And they had been so careful after Fred's arrival, and he'd had no reason to think that sitting on her front stoop in the middle nowhere would cause him any problems.
"And now the long and short of it is you're going to tell us how you did it, brought him back," Rookwood said bluntly, "no matter how we have to…convince you. That's all we care about." His wand, he tapped against his arm suggestively.
Macnair didn't waste time with words, or magical spells. Without so much as a by your leave, he walked over to her and wholloped her full across the face, spinning her neck near around. Hermione's ears rang, and her vision blurred, as pain bloomed in her cheek and radiated throughout her face. She cried out in pain, and he gave a smile of satisfaction as he baked away. "Now, tell us everything you know."
Rookwood looked at him distastefully, like he was something on the bottom of his shoe. "We usually wait to inflict pain until they deny us their help," he said sharply; and from the tone of his voice, he would never do something so crass as using a fist. He was likely a crucio man through and through, not having to get his hands dirty. Rookwood turned back to Hermione, "But the question stands."
She contemplated the odds of convincing them that she hadn't raised Fred, but that seemed near impossible, considering he was sitting right behind her. Hermione still couldn't believe it was they who had figured it out, when the Ministry and friends and family had stayed clueless. In her mind she weighed what she could say that would suit them based on what they already knew. Besides, if the family actually had escaped, somebody would be coming with help soon, she was sure of it. She just had to withstand it until then, and they would be free.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Hermione said finally, a blatant lie, trying to force a smile onto her lips though her insides were clenching in fear, and anticipation of pain.
The first crucio that came at the hand of Rookwood was the hardest to bear. He struck without any warning, and all of a sudden pain was reverberating through her body – lighting up every inch and every orifice with agony, like a shock was coursing throughout her body – lightning striking. There wasn't a single part of her that didn't hurt, from her toenails to her hair it seemed, even if she knew that impossible. Even her mind seemed filled with pain – it filling every thought, every inclination. Hermione knew she was screaming, but couldn't stop herself, not even when she heard Fred crying out behind her – angry at them, yelling, promising them anything they wanted if they would just leave her alone. In that moment Hermione was glad that he didn't really know the process, had only been brought back from it, because she knew he would have given it up right away.
It seemed to go on for hours before he lifted the spell, but in reality knew it was only a few minutes.
When the world righted itself again, Hermione was gasping for breath, bent over, trying not to throw up. The nausea swam in her stomach, overcoming any ability to speak, and her muscles clenched from the prolonged pain – sore in themselves now.
Rookwood looked at her for a moment, then threw an annoyed glance towards Gormley. "You said she works in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, right?" At the other man's nod, he cursed, "Bloody hell, means she's got training in resisting torture." He had worked in the Department of Mysteries as a spy, so he had some idea to their prodecures. "We don't have time to break her – you saw how long it took the Lestranges with the Longbottoms. And we've got nowhere to take them they won't find us." Hermione wanted to laugh at the delusion, even if it was more hysterical than any true humour. They didn't realize she had no training whatsoever – any fortitude she was pulling out of her arse. The Ministry didn't bother to put you through intensive training until you were in the field full time, something she wasn't exactly relishing the thought of. But the illusion she might was saving her here.
Walking over towards them, he grabbed Fred's chair and dragged it so it was in front of Hermione – Fred cursing and yelling at him all the way, swearing he would kill him for what he did to Hermione. "Oh shut the fuck up," Rookwood said crossly, casting a silencing charm that cut off Fred's speech, and though his lips continued to move, no sound came out, "stop the melodrama, we don't have time for it."
Taking his wand, he placed it near Fred's head. "Now," he said in a pleasant voice, "you tell me what I want to know, how to work the magic so I can bring back all those who were loyal to the Dark Lord, or I'm going to torture your boyfriend here. Oh, not kill him, because I know you have ways around that – but torture him, pure and simple." He cast an amused look at MacNair and Gormley, "Five Galleons I can drive him insane within five minutes, he's never had to feel pain before."
"Ten minutes," Gormley said, examining Fred. "His family seems to be from sturdy stock. He'll make it longer just by virtue of having her in the room as well."
Hermione felt her heartbeat start to rise as they bantered for a moment over how long he would last, knowing it was done just to psyche her out. And she started to doubt that she could stand seeing that, them hurting Fred, torturing him. It was one thing to take it on yourself, another thing to keep silent while somebody else – somebody you were coming to care about deeply even – was put though excruciating pain. Knowing all the while that you had the key to stopping it, to protecting them. For a moment she considered telling them outright, rather than even seeing them start, but she knew she couldn't.
The debate raging inside, Hermione almost missed something stirring behind the Death Eater trio – but once she noticed, she almost wanted to weep in relief, even though at the same time she wanted to yell at them to run.
Harry and Ron, climbing carefully through the window by the door in the other room – obviously having vanished the glass before the attempt. But still, how they weren't being noticed astounded her.
A few seconds, maybe a minute, she had to distract them – and the boys would be in.
Hermione forced a panicked look to her face, which wasn't hard because they still had Fred in their grasp, and escape was no certain thing. And before any of them could either torture Fred, or turn around and notice the boys climbing in the window, she let the tears that had been threatening since the first moment they were taken start to fall. "Wait, wait," she said desperately, trying to sound sincere, "please don't hurt him. I'll tell you anything you want to know." She tried to ignore the look on Fred's face, and the way he was shaking his head violently from side to side, trying to implore her to say nothing.
Rookwood raised an eyebrow, "Just that easy?"
"You think it's easy," Hermione tried to infuse as much drama into the words as she could, "thinking about my boyfriend being hurt? I don't think he can stand it, he's been through so much already.
The Death Eater lowered his wand, but only minutely. He nodded to MacNair who brought out a dictoquill, "Start talking. And we're going to test this thing on that graveyard out back before we let either of you go." Like they were really going to do that, she wasn't stupid.
But at that point, Harry and Ron had both managed to slip unobtrusively into the Burrow, and were just getting to their feet – and she could see Bill and Fleur in the window behind them, ready to start the climb in themselves. Hermione smiled, she couldn't help it, and gave a line from a movie her parents had always sat her down with as a child as a sarcastic answer. "Just…click your heels together, think happy thoughts, and throw some pixie dust in the air."
Their gazes narrowed, but it kept their attention on her. And before they could do anything to hurt her, to hurt Fred, the boys were upon them, Bill and Fleur not far behind now that they didn't have to worry about a stealth entry. In the ensuing flourish of wands and fist, Hermione lost track of everything that was going on. Not able to do anything, restrained though she was, she rocked the chair as hard as she could – falling to the ground, hoping she wouldn't be hit by a stray spell. She could only hope Fred had seen her action, and thought to do the same – especially given his proximity to the Death Eaters. Every time she heard a familiar voice call out a spell, she felt the relief of knowing they were still alive and unhurt. Hermione strained her neck to see what was going on, but the angle made it impossible – all she could see where streaks of red and green in the air.
And then it was over almost as soon as it had begun, and as her chair was righted by unseen hands, she could see their four rescuers standing upright – and Fred alive and well, being released by Ron.
The trio of Death Eaters lay on the floor – Gormley and Rookwood bound and hovering, she assumed with imperio cast first. But MacNair lay on the ground, dead. Hermione cast a questioning look at Harry, and then Ron – but they both shook their head in turn. Noticing what she was paying attention to, Bill motioned to himself, and then she noticed the terse and haggard look on his face. "He was casting avada's at Fleur," he said, his tone slightly haunted. It was a perfectly justifiable reason, but at the same time he didn't seem to believe it had made it alright, because his gaze kept sliding to the body that was a result of him.
Then it was a flurry of activity – getting them untied, and explanations.
"They managed to drive us out of the Burrow in a firefight," Harry said grimly, as he cast spells to slash the holds on her limbs, "then we had no good position to get back in. Stormed in during dinner, calm as you please, while the wards down so we could all apparate in."
"Mum was ticked we wouldn't leave with them," Ron explained, as he managed to figure out the proper spell to reverse the binding on Fred. "Get help from aurors and come back." He rolled his eyes, looking towards Harry, "Doesn't seem to realize that we already had Harry, and none of us are slouches when it comes to fighting. Like we'd wait." At least whatever had passed between them, he was still willing to recklessly save her.
But even as Hermione hugged both of them in turn, squeezing them tightly, then letting Fred take her in his arms – both of them needing assurance the other was safe, a thought came to her.
"Oh Merlin," she said, pushing away from Fred, and beginning to pace. "The Ministry is on it's way? They can't find Fred here, there's no way we can fob him off as being George." She began by grasping tightly to Fred's arm in panic, fingers digging in, "We have to get you out of here – apparate you back to my cottage or something."
But his face was grim, as was the other four, and they had managed to come to the conclusion before her.
"Even if we get him out," Bill said quietly, "we can't explain all this away, we can't clean it all up fast enough."
Harry motioned towards the bound Death Eaters, "And they can attest that he was here, that he's alive. We can't kill them."
Why not? Hermione wanted to yell. Why couldn't they kill the bastards who had crucio'd her, and the Death Eater who had killed Fred? Why couldn't they take revenge, and keep Fred safe from the eyes of the Ministry – keep the repercussions away from her, from Fred, from George. And his family in general. But she knew that was the panic and the fear talking, she knew she couldn't play God that way, even so much as she wanted to.
So instead of casting the spells she wanted to, she let herself slip back towards Fred and hug him tightly, having no idea what was coming next – even as they heard the pops of multiple apparitions outside.
They separated them all.
Took them all for questioning.
And if George wasn't unconscious, a potion induced coma, she knew he'd be there too.
But somehow Hermione didn't think any of the other Weasley family members who were there right now – or even Harry – warranted the three aurors, and the Minister of Magic, that she had in her interrogation room. Robards was there, as was Harriet, and some colleague of theirs who's name she couldn't remember. Shacklebolt had come in after the initial questioning, but he had stood off to the side behind her, and Hermione hadn't allowed herself the luxury of turning her head over her shoulder to look, having no idea what part he had in all this. It would have been easier to face this with backup, with somebody by her side, but she wasn't given the option. She was in it all alone.
They'd grilled her on the process, every step, time after time after time. They'd asked her everything backwards and forwards, until she wasn't sure if she was giving the same story anymore. She didn't know if they were trying to understand, or trying to catch her in something. It wasn't like she was denying what she and George had done – they had raised Fred. No matter what consequences it brought, she couldn't deny it.
Where did you get the armadillo bile?
Who did you have contact with in those weeks?
How low was the sun in the sky when you began to brew the potion?
Describe what it felt like, when the soul and body were joined?
The shot at her a variety of questions, way too many questions, about anything and everything – switching back and forth between time periods instead of just letting her tell it linearly, making her struggle to keep it all straight, and keep up with them. Probing every single little detail, even single feeling, every single…everything. She supposed Robards was the 'good' cop, but only in that he was calm. Harriet's hostility seemed to cloud the room around her.
"What prompted you to do this Miss Granger?" Robards asked after it seemed like hours had passed.
And she gave him the only answer she knew, because she didn't have a good one at that point. "I couldn't not."
Again and again they continued, Harriet looking at Hermione like she'd lost all sense of faith in her, Robards with his impassive look, and the other auror simply sitting in the corner quietly in a ready position – what did they think she was going to do? Take them all on? They'd even taken her wand when they'd brought her in.
And then they started in on her personal life, what she had with Fred, like they had some ownership over it. And that was when she had started to balk. But they had threatened the veristaserum, and she had answered each question as it was asked, reluctantly – going deeper and deeper inside herself with each answer. Was he capable of ejaculation? Did he seem capable of deeper affections? Had she ever taken a sample of any of his sperm? Did his body temperature seem off? Was his look always sentient, even in the unguarded moments? So many questions, and not all ones she had answers too. His gaze had gone blank as he'd climaxed, spilling deep inside her, how did that mean that there was something essentially evil in him?
Finally, they got to the most important question. Though they were getting to it for the third time. "Does anybody else know about this?" Harriet asked, arms crossed, her one eyed stare more intimidating then the outright readiness for malice present in the other auror in the corner.
"No," Hermione stressed again – tired, oh so very tired. "I told nobody. Only George knows how - and the others, the immediate Weasley family and Harry, they only know that we did it with a general outline of how it was done. These Death Eaters knew that it was done – I don't know if they spread the word – but again, they don't know how. At least outside of the information we provided Gormley with when we interrogated him."
She felt herself stopping caring, just wanting to know what was going to happen, just wanted to be done with this all. "What now?" she asked quietly, the first time she had asked a question of her own.
Robards seemed poised to answer, but he cut off on a look over her shoulder where Kingsley stood. The three aurors walked over to where the Minister stood, and though Hermione allowed herself a glance towards them, they'd cast a good muffliato because she only heard a ringing sound in her ears as the group spoke. Kingsley did most of the talking, quietly and insistently, while the others listened – only interjecting occasionally with what seemed like questions. When they all shot her a look, Hermione jerked her head back around to the front, feeling guilty somehow just for staring at them.
When she heard the door open and shut, she assumed it was Kingsley leaving – but it was only the large black wizard who remained, walking around and sliding into the chair across the table from her that Robards had vacated. It was harder to be around him than the others, because it was he who she knew personally, and he who had bent the rules too allow her to work at the Ministry without any official recommendations and after the application cutoff as she had gone back for her NEWTS beforehand – and Hermione closed her eyes for a moment, before forcing herself to remain relatively impassive.
Neither said anything for a few moments, and there was a pitying element to his gaze that Hermione didn't understand.
"The others covered the rest ad nauseum," he began finally in a deep baritone voice, "but I'm going to ask you this part once more. You only used a single vial of unicorn blood?"
Surprised, Hermione nodded, then realized she should probably answer verbally, "Yes."
He seemed relieved, and then when he didn't speak again for a few minutes, she felt the need to break the silence. "I’m so sorry Kingsley – Minister Shacklebolt. I mean…there were no actual laws…and his family…" But Kingsley waved off her apology, and began to speak.
"When I got the owl from Robards," he said, crossing his hands on the table and leaning forward, "I went to Hogwarts. Probably not the normal course of action for a Minister, but Dumbledore's portrait hangs in the headmasters office there. And, no secret to you, that secretive wanker forgot more about magic than most of us have ever known," Hermione smiled, she couldn't help it even if it seemed stupid in the moment, to hear the former headmaster referred to as such, "and all we know about this death rising is from research – your research no less." He hesitated, looking at her, "And indeed, he was quite informative."
Kingsley continued like it was lecture, out of place with what was usually his impassive silence. "Seems this was common practise among a magical group in Zimbabwe in the fourth century. But after they…wiped themselves out to a point nobody could be brought back, and the outside world discovered what was going on - everything was wiped. No written records remained, and those who knew the methodology and theory were obliviated. Except one, and his memory was extracted and placed in a pensieve, which was stored in the bowels of the Greek Ministry of Magic, who had been lead on cleaning it all up. And there it remained, until some idiot who didn't know what it was shipped it off with some other innocuous memories the Ministry was keeping in storage. For a few centuries it floated around country to country, until many years ago when it was inhabited in the Department of Mysteries of the British Ministry."
Shifting in his chair, Kingsley kept his hands crossed in front of him, and Hermione didn't know what to make with all he was telling her. "A young man just out of school doing a project on the durability of memories when kept in a pensieve was given unfettered access to the ones the Ministry housed." He shot her a look, "Albus."
All Hermione could think about was what Harry had told her Dumbledore had said to him. There is no spell that will raise the dead. In essence he had never been lying, because it wasn't a straight spell – but till, hiding the truth all the same.
"Albus tried to raise his sister after her death, but was unsuccessful because he tried to modify the magic, believing himself capable." Hermione couldn't believe he was telling her all this, but she was absorbed in the story all the same, "but the result was….an abomination, and he had to reverse the magic and send her back to her death. And he promptly tried to forget the knowledge that it was possible, knowing that others who found out would be as desperate as he, unable to resist the lure of regaining a loved one. And like the kind of man he was, he never told anybody, only reiterating that it was impossible if anyone ever theorized about it with him."
Hermione waited, wondering where this was going, but Kingsley's voice had halted for a moment. And he adjusted the tie around his neck that was part of his dress robes attire, seemingly uncomfortable in it.
"So he was the only one alive who know everything about this magic," he gave her a pitying look, "because despite your success Hermione, you don't know everything it seems. Everything you gave the Ministry wasn't complete."
Kingsley sighed, "The reason I asked about the unicorn blood was because it's the most important aspect. That magical community in Zimbabwe, they drained the blood of a unicorn for the potion, raising each dead that way. And while it worked, it was their downfall. Because it brought death back on them sevenfold. It wasn't like the drinking of the blood for life, when only one other innocent will die. When used in the potion, seven people would die who'd had contact with the performer of the spell. That was the sacrifice inherent in the use of the last rune cut into the body. And they kept going and going, unable to accept their loved ones dead, until they were nearly all wiped out. And that's why we had to know, we had to know what the repercussions would be."
"I swear we didn't…." Hermione finally interjected something into the conversation, but he held up his hand, apparently not done yet.
"But the thing is, as atrocious as the consequences were, it was the only way for the spell to truly work. The only way to actually raise the dead – even if it caused seven other dead in return."
Hermione's forehead creased, not understanding, "But Fred…"
Kingsley broke his professional demeanor then, and slid a hand across the table, covering one of her diminutive ones with his own. As he cut her off, his tone was gentle. "A vial of blood is only a temporary solution that they discovered, for times of great need, like bringing back for a single task – or raising the dead to accuse their murdered. There are no consequences, but there are no long term results." He wiped his hand over his face, looking tired and heavy with the responsibility of knowing all this, and telling her all this. "There were eight magical festivals of the year – at least in tradition. Oh, they have certain properties, but nothing we really need as our magical abilities have grown over the years in so much as they don't need nature. From Samnhain on October 31 to Mabon in September. And the spell, with only a vial, it would only last the duration between each festival – and the person would be laid to rest again at that time."
He let Hermione absorb what that meant, still cradling his hand in hers – then added quietly. "The next festival is Yule, the days preceeding the Christmas we celebrate now, having changed the date to overlap with the Muggles." He shot her a look of compassion that she hadn't expected to receive from any of them. "Two days from now."
Unable to say anything, Hermione stared at him dumbly. She wanted to argue against everything he'd said – he couldn't know, Dumbledore couldn't really know, could they? But she had nothing to contradict it. All her research had been piecemeal that she had put together herself.
"He's going to die again?" She finally managed to choke out, needing to hear the answer even though she knew what he was implying. That this had all meant nothing, accomplished nothing.
When Kingsley nodded, Hermione turned her head away abruptly, not wanting him to see as she cried.
The last dinner at the Weasley's the next day was the most miserable night of Hermione's existence. They had all been near silent, everybody alternating between looking directly at their plates, and at Fred – nobody knowing quite what to say. He had tried to break it, but he was despondent as the rest of them, knowing that any time after noon the following day he could be…gone. As much as he'd tried to get past it, to joke about it, it was hardly a laughing matter.
And later on, as his family essentially said their goodbyes – everyone crying and hugging, and stifling him with love an affection and sorrow, Hermione couldn't take it anymore – slipping from the Burrow to sit on the front stoop.
Despite the fact the Death Eaters were caught now, and Fred would go away, and there would be no negative outcome existentially – Hermione knew there would likely be repercussions for her and George, if not for the whole family. Though, they had kept secret about Arthur's attempts to set up a life for his sons in Canada, and the aurors and Kingsley had never asked – so one less thing to be condemned for. Already at the very least there was talk of obliviating them, removing their memories of the how, and of this time, so that there would be no temptation again – and they could never tell anybody else. Hermione had fought against that, would continue to fight against it – because though she didn't care about the magic, she cared about her memories of Fred, but for the two days it wasn't a concern as they had been given a reprieve from Ministry interference. Though Harriet had objected, the others trusted the group of them enough based on past record to have the final days with their son without any restrictions save the usual admonition for secrecy.
"Penny for your thoughts," Fred said quietly, and she turned to see him shadowed in the doorway, temporarily having escaped from his family.
Hermione gave a bitter smile, "Don't think you want to know, though I bet you can guess."
Without an answer, he only sighed, settling himself on the stoop beside her – and slung an arm around her shoulders, protecting them both from the chill of the night. She was grateful for this time alone with him, because she couldn't ask for it herself, couldn't take away from the time his family had left, it being so minimal. So instead she had settled for being part of the group, consoling and being consoled, never really talking to them, but at least being able to enjoy his presence for so long as she was able.
"They're going to wake George tomorrow morning and bring him 'round," Fred said finally, "since he should be recovered enough to function outside of the induced coma. Let us have those last few hours together." He shot her a look, "If there was any more time…."
Hermione waved him off, not needing to hear it, not wanting to hear it. "I understand." And she also didn't want him to feel pressured, because she knew what it meant, knew that he had to spend whatever time he could with his twin.
His hand slipped into hers, "I know I don't have any right to ask much of you, but look after him, yeah? He….I don't think I can stand the thought of him being like he was before. Promise me you won't let him get like that."
Her smile was gentle, "I don't think they 'let' him last time either Fred."
"I know," his sigh was heavy, "I know. Just….I don't know. Pester him, don't leave him alone. Tell him the sight of a freaking frown will make me roll over in my grave. Make him actually return Angelina's owls – it's obvious he's got a thing for her, as much as he denies it. Just take care of him as best you can."
She nodded, knowing the only promise she could make was to try and help him. Hermione shifted closer to Fred, nuzzling her face against his chest, inhaling the now familiar smell of him, trying to commit it to memory. "So Fred, who's going to stop me from being 'like that'?" The words were out before she could stop them, because she'd resolved there would be no tears, and no acknowledgement of how hard it was going to be for her to let him go, when she'd only really just found him as a person onto himself.
He didn't answer, but tilted her face up towards him. "Don't tell me you're going to miss me Granger?" His tone was lightly teasing.
But unlike the last time, Hermione didn't take it as well, or jokingly. It made her mad at him, mad at the situation, mad at everything. Frustrated that it was all for naught, and nothing she could do was going to change it. For once there was no answer to be found in books, no answer from anyone. Though it was selfish she let herself take the frustration out on him, belting him in the stomach as hard as she could – which in all honesty wasn't that hard. But Fred didn't return her anger, or judge her for it, only winced and then tried to get past it. "Probably not a subject for joking is it?"
"No," she said tersely, "it's not."
They sat there in silence for a few minutes, slowly shifting back towards one another until they were in each other's arms again.
"Promise me you won't try it again," Fred didn't look at her as he extracted the promise, and the murmur of assent was authentic. Because she couldn't do this again, bring him back, only to lose him again. And the consequences of the permanent solution weren't ones she could bear. And, all that, was on top of the fact there was no way she was going to be not watched carefully by the Ministry in the future.
"Would you have come in the end?" He asked finally, not needing to explain what he meant.
Hermione had no idea what the real answer was, but she nodded, giving him the answer he wanted. "Yes." She might have been certain in that knowledge, but that got her started thinking about what might have been, and it was a road she couldn't let herself go down.
She felt his lips soft in her hair, brushing over her temple, and she closed her eyes, enjoying the moment – knowing as hard as it would be to let him go, to remember this, she couldn't let the Ministry take these memories from her. "We coulda been something great," Fred said quietly into her hair. "I swear I would have made the perfect little house husband, dinner all ready on the table when you got home."
Hermione allowed herself a smile. "Nagging me about how many hours I worked."
"And letting you take advantage of me nightly for amazing sex as a stress relief," Fred said with a contrived heavy sigh, "It would have been such an obligation…"
She swatted him lightly, without malice, content to take the moment lightly for a short period, though she didn't even know how they were finding anything humourous in it. Again, they sat in silence, not knowing what to say, until Fred spoke again. "I want you to go home when George comes tomorrow," he said, not looking at her, "not be here for…you know." When she went to object, Fred cut her off, "Please. I mean, I'm just not all about the angsty goodbyes, you know?" He tried to keep the last part like a joke.
It was obvious it was more for her benefit then his, not having to see him die all over again, but Hermione couldn't bring herself to argue with him. "I'll leave," she said finally, though she didn't exactly specify when, wanting to stay till nearly the last minute.
Knowing there wouldn't be much time for it as the hours of the night stretched on, she tilted her head up for a kiss. There was no heat of passion in it, no prelude to sex. It was simply brushes of lips over lips, innocent and reassuring – a means of communication more that a physical act. Sharing something more in intimately touching one another. It was hard to pull back, but finally she did, keeping her hand entwined in Fred's. He didn't say anything for a few moments, just raised his other hand, rubbing it against her cheek lightly.
Then finally with a regretful sigh, he went to stand, pulling her with him. "I'd….but Mum will go spare if we stay out here for too long – away from the family."
Hermione nodded, understanding, though what she wanted to do was pull him back to her and hold him there, keep him all to herself, and keep him safe. But she forced herself not to object, to make this harder for him, following him silently as they went to go inside. They were all about that it seemed, not making it harder for one another. In truth there were so many things they maybe should be doing, should be saying – because it was their last chance, but there was no time – because he had a family who had more of a right to that time than she, and because it wouldn't change anything in the end.
When Fred went to push open the door, he paused, looking back at her. "I….you know," he said, tucking a lone curl of her hair back behind her ears. He hesitated before even saying that much, and she knew what he was trying to say, and trying not to say – because spelling it out made it real, and made it a burden on her. Because she was going to have to be the one still roaming around to bear it.
"I love you too," Hermione said quietly, giving him the actual words – placing a kiss on his cheek as they went back into the Burrow.
The joke shop was as busy as it had ever been, and Hermione had to dart out of the way of a pack of giggling girls picking up patented daydream charms as she let herself into the joke shop, the bell above her head chiming. She'd been into the shop a few times in the past month, and each time seemed all the more packed with children, and not more than a few adults, at least after dark, with their new adult line. Verity waved to her from behind the counter, but didn't come over, too many customers to deal with.
She felt a kiss on her cheek, and she looked up to find George smiling down at her, before he slung a companionable arm around her shoulders. "Ah, I love the sound of weekly allowances ringing up the till," he said, waving a finger in satisfaction every time the register made a pinging noise, causing Hermione to laugh.
"You here to see me?" George asked, giving her a squeeze and stepping away, "Thought coffee wasn't until tomorrow. I kinda have a….thing right now, actually."
"It's not," she reassured him. "Leaky Cauldron at seven, don't forget. No, as hard as it is to believe, I'm not here for your amazingly entertaining self and scintillating conversation. You go enjoy your….thing." She could see Angelina letting herself into the joke shop as well, waving while she waited for George, and stifled a smile.
George's ears turned beet red. "It's just coffee, yeah?"
"We have coffee," Hermione pointed out. "And you don't get embarrassed over that."
He didn't bother with a rejoinder outside of sticking out his tongue in an amazingly mature fashion, with caused her to roll her eyes in amusement as he made his way over to Angelina – the two of them grinning hesitantly at each other. It was almost cute, to see the two of them interact, like first year Hufflepuffs dancing around each other. Hermione watched in bemusement as he held out his arm, half in jest, for her to take – and they made their way out of the joke shop. They'd been moving slowly back to each other for the last month, and she was glad to see it culminating in something, or at least the chance at something.
It hadn't been easy for him to let Fred go again, Merlin it wasn't easy now she was sure. But he'd been more accepting somehow, because he'd gotten the chance to say goodbye. At least Hermione was telling herself that was what had made the difference. She really didn't think Fred's threat to come back and kill George himself if he turned into a depressing arsehole again actually had any effect. But though he still was quieter than he was with his twin, less joking and ribald, he wasn't despondent. And he was in the land of the living – going out with her, with Lee, with his family; and now hopefully, as something more meaningful, going out with Angelina.
"You seen Ron around?" She called to Verity, who motioned towards the back room with a wave of her hand.
She'd been seeing him too. Not in the dating sense, it wasn't like she'd forgotten Fred, but in the friends sense, in the…making their way back to each other sense, though she didn't know how to describe it. Working back at being actual friends, and working past the nasty things they'd called each other. They'd settled into a companionable sort of friendship – though she knew Harry and Ginny were worried she was using him as a crutch, both for her sake and for his. But they had always been friends first, even if they bickered – and she knew Ron, liked Ron, and still wanted to be around Ron. It wasn't a crutch, it was just rediscovering the fact that he wasn't such a prat as she had made him out to be in her mind – though really, he could still be at times. But she loved Ron in a way, had always loved Ron in a way, and that would never go away. Losing her as a live in lover had also matured him in as much as the situation with Fred had – not having anybody to take care of him, and realizing being an immature prat would indeed have him living alone for the rest of his days.
The backroom was empty when she got there, and Hermione let the smile she'd kept plastered up outside dim as the effort became too much, settling into a chair – assuming he would be coming back soon. This wasn't quite the social visit that she usually made, bringing Ron food while he worked, making sure he had time to eat when she had a day off. Because now that George was actually going out, and accepting his former partner was gone, Ron was having actual responsibility shoved onto him. Including some of the inventing.
She splayed her hand across her stomach as she sat there – simply thinking.
The fall-out hadn't been as bad as she had feared in the end. There were no legal repercussions for any of them, Hermione and George included. It had nothing to do with the fact there were no written laws, because the Ministry had discretion after Voldemort's rise to…make things a crime so to speak. Harry jadedly thought that it was because if they arrested them, well known citizens, then they would have to explain. And explanations would lead to knowledge they didn't want the public to have. Hermione thought it was more of what Harriet later bitterly pointed out, it paid to have friends in high places. Kingsley had directed every aspect of the aftermath – and he knew them, knew Fred's parents even better. Knew exactly what kind of people they were.
So there had been no arrests, no obliviate's, not even firing her, or Harry – though the climate at work for her had become a little uncomfortable due to the fact Harriet hadn't agreed with the Ministers directive, but Hermione was working through it – shifting more of her focus out of wizard apprehension into the legal side of things, trying to repeal antiquated law and put new ones into place; ironically enough the first one had been about the sacrosanct state of death, but she hoped to work against the pureblood focused prejudice based laws next. You really couldn't take the activism out of the girl, though she had tried for a short time when she left for the law enforcement department.
The only result really had been unbreakable vows from all of them – never to talk about what had happened with anybody else, and to never utilize the magic again. It was a concession they all made happily, because they would have abided by that anyway – at least as far as they were able to promise regarding the magic, because Hermione knew she at least might not be strong enough depending on the situation, and she was almost glad of the restriction of the vow.
Ron broke off her thoughts when he walked into the office, surprised to see her there. "Hey," he said, giving her an easy peck on the cheek, walking around to his own chair on the other side of the desk, "wasn't expecting to see you today."
"Had a healer's appointment this morning," she said, trying to conceal how nervous she was, "thought I'd stop by before I headed off to work this afternoon."
The smile on his face was genuine, and it made the rest of what she had to say harder and easier at the same time.
"I'm pregnant," she blurted out, not able to keep it to herself any longer – and shot to her feet, not able to sit still either, pacing around the small area.
Ron didn't say anything for a moment, simple sat there with mouth agape, opening and closing it a few times with nothing coming out. "Are you sure?" He asked finally.
"Healer confirmed it," she told him, still pacing, "about three to four months along, they're not sure exactly. I'd missed my period for awhile now, but chalked it up to stress, considering I've had just a bit of it going on. But it's…it's there, and it's a girl." That knowledge had melted her heart – but only in the fact that it made it unique and real. The knowledge it was a boy would have done the same.
He nodded. Paused. Then nodded again. She wanted to tell him to do that for about another few hours, sit there with that befuddled look, and then he might be where she was right then. Then he asked the question she didn't really have the answer for, and knew would be nearly the first one he asked. "Is she mine?"
Taking a deep breath to steady herself, Hermione sat back down in the chair, meeting his eyes. "I don't know," she said quietly, reaching across the desk and taking his hands in hers, "and I'm not going to ask them to try and find out. And not just because there is no way to do ask a healer or mediwitch to do that without telling them why – testing against a ghost. People…they can't know. And the Ministry…I can't let them know either."
"You're worried about repercussions, aren't you?" Ron asked, picking up on a worry she'd had once she said that, "At the Ministry if there's any hint that it could be…you know." More perceptive than she normally gave him credit for, but he'd had to deal with this all too – with the suspicion of them, and the worry.
"Yes…no…I don't know," Hermione was frustrated. "Kingsley's been paving the way, allowing everyone to put it behind them, but this is a whole new issue. Initially I had this irrational worry they'd want to study the baby, something – but I really don't think they would. They satisfied themselves that even if the magic was meant to be forbidden, performed right it wasn't inherently dark – Fred wasn't inherently dark. But do I worry that they might go down that obliviate route again, to not share memories of the 'father' with the child. Unbreakable vow, or no unbreakable vow, I don't know how much trust they're going to have in me."
Ron played idly with her fingers, lost in thought. "And if it's mine – in actuality, or just in belief – there are none of those worries."
She worried for a moment he thought she had come here for that, bullying him into accepting that outcome, claiming this as his child no matter what. But, in truth, she hadn't. She had come here to sort it out with him, to figure it all out, to talk to somebody. But when she tried to express that to him, he waved her apology off, thinking again for a moment. And then a calm seemed to come over him, and he sat up straighter.
"I've always loved you Hermione," Ron said, releasing her hands and coming around to sit on the desk in front of her. "Might have been a bit of a prat about realizing it at Hogwarts, but I think I have ever since first year. And I know…I know a lot's gone on between then and now, between us, and there was Fred, but…nothing's going to change that, yeah? You're kind of it for me."
"So whether you came here for it or not – an whether or not biology means anything – I'm offering you me. Not just claiming of active sperm - me. As a father, as a husband, whatever you need – whenever you're ready for it."
In that statement, she realized he was a braver person than she was, a better person than she was. Because even if their situations were reverse exactly, she had too much pride to allow herself to bend like that. Too much pride to give the honest admission. Too much to put herself out there with the expectation of getting nothing real in return. And wasn't sure she could make an offer like that, without reservations or consequences, everything on the other person's terms. And no judgement. Especially when there was no doubt in her mind that she had hurt him, much more than he had hurt her.
For a moment Hermione felt choked up, because she never would have expected to get this from Ron in the past, but he had matured a lot – grown up, and come to understand her oddly enough in ways he couldn't before – and she had yet to return the favour. It comforted her in that moment too, to know that she wouldn't be alone in any of it. It was selfish to expect it, though offered she was glad to accept it – accept him.
"I love you too you know," she said quietly, standing up between his legs and pressing a kiss to his forehead. There was the element that was understood between them that it might not be the love he felt for her, that the potential with Fred was something that might have eclipsed it; but it would never ever be spoken because she didn't want him to feel like he was every a second choice. But nothing changed the fact that she did love him, and always loved him, just before it had never been in the way that was needed – and it was comfortable, safe, but that didn't make it a bad thing. He was a good man, a really good man, and the best of friends. And she could picture a life with him, could relish a life with him, growing old together and having a family.
Just like they'd always seemed destined to do.
Hermione wanted to tell him that this wasn't all about possible repercussions, that she wasn't here because he was convenient, or she knew he'd help her – or that he made logical sense. She wanted to let him know she wasn't outright hoping this baby was Fred's on the inside, and that she wasn't praying for some physical tie, because she had more important ones in her memories – though that reasoning he didn't need to hear either. She wanted to let Ron know that she cared about him for him, that they would have likely worked their way towards a future even if there had been no baby, just on a different timetable, and they still could take most of it slower if he wanted. But, possibly like her words of love, they might fall hollow in that moment.
But she couldn't change things or forget entirely, didn't want to forget, and when Ron put a hand on her stomach, asking if she'd thought about what she wanted to name the baby – Hermione hesitated for a moment. She wanted to give Fred something though he would never know, in case there was the tie. But nothing that could openly betray Ron, make him see anything but his daughter when he looked at her. Nothing that would make him uncomfortable. So she thought back to the conversation, that night when they'd got drunk together, and shared everything under the sun. And, already planning to make her daughter's first baby jumper yellow, Hermione knew the answer.
"Rose," she said quietly as Ron's hand patted her stomach, still flat to the touch despite the life fluttering in there, "I'd like to name her Rose."