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.
Sunday dinner at the Weasley's was a loud and bustling affair. But then again, it always was. The multitude of people talking to each other, around each other – over each other. Hermione had never quite been at ease among the family, even when they were trying to make her feel a part of it. Maybe it was part of the only child syndrome; dinner with her parents was hardly a boisterous affair. Well, to be fair, nothing with her parents was a boisterous affair, but she relished in that environment more than she did around Ron and his family. Quiet intellectual discussion was more her forte than ten conversations at once. And, more often than not, none of those conversations including her – though she was often referred to in the oblique sense in whatever critique Molly Weasley was sharing with the clan, though the references were now becoming more and more pointed.
"Butterbeer, Hermione?" Ron asked, levitating the jug over to her at her nod. Even if it was a crass analogy, he was well trained by now. The manners, and calling by her full name, and not the 'Mione' he'd tried to adopt when they started dating.
Again, she lapsed into silence – simply eating her roast and watching those around her. Harry was there, but then again, his presence was practically guaranteed. He was currently in a discussion with Ginny and Bill about the Harpies chances that season – as a reserve for the team, Ginny was convinced they were going to win the League championship while Bill was taking the opposite viewpoint just to annoy his sister as much as anything else. Harry was solidly backing his fiancé – though Hermione knew that his knowledge of Quidditch this season was only superficial. His work at the Ministry consumed every spare minute that wasn't reserved for friends and family. A bit pathetic, but they were all like that who worked there. He'd found his niche, as much as Ginny grumbled.
Molly was trying to convince Charlie he should move back more permanently to Britain. She did it every week when he portkeyed back from Romania, and every week he rolled his eyes and ignored her pleas and emotional blackmail. A lesser man would have caved weeks before. Her husband was leaning across her to talk to Fleur, who had discovered an ingenious way to make muggle radios, fascinating Arthur. Even Percy was getting into the mix, debating the new werewolf integration laws with Charlie when he had finally managed to extricate himself from Molly's nagging.
The only one who was as silent as she was George – lost in the crowd as he listened, but rarely spoke.
Sometimes Hermione thought she was the only one who noticed it. After all it wasn't like he was on the verge of suicide, at least not anymore. It had been stiltingly awkward, and sadly pitiable, after Fred's death – starting sentences that never got finished, and not finding that other soul behind him who shared the same sense of humour. But instead of finding his own niche as the still perfectly capable comedic Weasley, he tended more to lapse into silence rather than tease and mock, or give as good as he had got. Oh, there were a few cursory 'ickle Ronniekins', but it wasn't the same. Once upon a time Hermione would have thought that a good thing, a sign of maturation, but instead it was a withdrawal rather than anything else. She never would believe she would see the day she actually missed being ridiculed for being a bossy swot.
"So Harry," Charlie had cut into her reverie, switching topics deftly and interrupting a brewing Quidditch argument as he levitated the potatoes, "when are you going to make an honest woman of my little sister?"
The auror who worked with Hermione at the Ministry shot his fiancée a look. "Next summer I think – on the Quidditch offseason. The Harpies train too much to do it beforehand, and I think I can swing a few weeks of leave. At least," he shot Hermione a look, "if I can find a few kind souls to cover shifts for me." She rolled her eyes, as she'd already promised half her summer away so her friends could get married. Harry tended towards field work - more responsibility that they trusted him with - while she was on the tactical side more often than not, but her training was such that they could be interchangeable if need be, at least in the short term. She might have started out in campaigning for the rights of magical creatures, but the live of an activist had lost its appeal fast. The Ministry was even more of an ineffectual institution than Hogwarts was when she had formed SPEW – which was hard to do, and though she'd done something for elf rights, it hadn't amounted to much. When she'd become frustrated, needing a change, they had been only to happy to transfer her into auror training and then the squad formally afterwards – as much for getting her off their back as her peace of mind.
"It doesn't do to wait dear," Molly was telling Ginny, "you can take a game off of Quidditch I'm sure."
"Not if I want to be starting by next year Mum," her daughter said wryly, even as she levitated over the pitcher of pumpkin juice. "Even death is hardly an excuse with the manager, and I've idled on the reserves for long enough."
Molly shook her head as she speared some beef, "But your career isn't everything. It never has been to you. Now I know some girls feel…"
She was cut seamlessly off even as her head turned towards Hermione – first by Ginny as she rolled her eyes and pointed out Harry would still be there when the offseason came, so long as he knew what was good for him, and secondly by Bill, who first exchanged glances with his wife. "Shove off mum, I remember when I proposed to Fleur. I was a few years past Ginny here – and honest to Merlin, if I had a knut for every time you told me that there was time, that I should focus on me first…"
Molly harrumphed, "That….that was different."
They all snickered under their breath as conversations sprung up again. Hermione for her part felt the ball of stress in her stomach begin to breed. She hated Weasley family dinners for this very reason. This was a subtle Molly moment in comparison to some. In the beginning it had been a seamless transition from Ron's friend to his girlfriend, the latter preferable as she was seen as the prospective breeder for potential grandkids and future official daughter-in-law. It was pressure Hermione didn't appreciate, but at the same time it was always her assumption as well – that they would end up together. She and Ron, Harry and Ginny, it was expected. And she loved the prat, she really did.
Most of the time.
At least she thought she did. But she was intellectual enough to realize they weren't exactly the same thing.
But she was slowly becoming persona non grata around the Weasley household. A few years – and no ring on her finger, and no sign of one being put there. And no plan for kids - ever, possibly. She didn't want to interrupt her burgeoning career at the Ministry, and frankly, she wasn't sure she was built to be a mother. But at the least she wasn't ready yet – there was too much to do. That in itself was a point of stress with Ron, and an almost breaking point. He wanted the house and the 2.5 kids, sooner rather than later.
It wasn't that she didn't want to marry him….though it sort of was. But at the very least – it was not yet.
If Molly had known about that, she would have fallen out of favour earlier. Instead that had waited until they had committed the ultimate sin in the eyes of his mother. Moving in together without marriage – living by the grace of George in a flat across from him above the joke shop. With no plans for more. Though Hermione knew that could have been forgiven if she had accidentally gotten knocked up. But now Mrs. Weasley was only polite in general, and Hermione heard peripherally the comments to Ron through the floo calls, the stitch and bitches with the elder witches in the community in which her name was bandied about. She knew that she was labeled as the 'scarlet woman who was stringing poor little Ron along', but she wasn't going to buckle under simply because of it.
The funny thing was, she hadn't even wanted to move in with him – but she had to give him something.
"George said you're going to France on a supply trip next week," Arthur said to Ron who was shoveling food into his mouth like she didn't feed him at home. Which she herself honestly didn't.
He nodded, and swallowed. "Uh huh. Stocks are running low on deflagration deluxe, and they've stopped manufacturing the powder in Britain. I'll be gone two weeks or so, so I'll miss Sunday dinner. But Hermione'll be here Mum, don't worry."
She hardly thought that would be a consolation to Molly.
"Really dear," Molly said crossly, "I don't know you why to continue to work at the joke shop. Shacklebolt would have waived your NEWT qualifications so you could get a Ministry job like he did for Harry. I'm sure he still would." Hermione for her part had gone back to take them after an accelerated seventh year over the summer, needing that validation in a way the other two didn't understand.
"It's a good business Mum," George said dryly, speaking for the first time that evening. "Think by now you might have realized me and…I'm making a decent living from it, and things are only growing. With Ron away and Halloween coming up, I've had to take on extra staff even just for the 'holiday'. Your ickle Ronniekins is wanting for nothing."
Molly rolled her eyes. "I know that George, my point is your brother could have…."
"…done so much more with his life?" George quipped, a slightly bitter edge to his voice.
"No," she said sharply, "but something on his own. Fine that he's doing well working for you, but he's a glorified stock boy no matter how you look at it – no matter what he's making. He's latching onto your robetails!"
"Oi!" Ron interjected, "I'm right here. And don't talk like…"
With that they were off, debating his choice of jobs like they constantly did. Hermione for her part stayed silent, though it was a topic she was well versed in. And another source of contention between her and her live-in boyfriend. His career choice was one of the few things she and Molly Weasley were in complete accord on – it was a mistake. But bringing it up did nothing, only caused rows that led to him moving in with Harry for a few days, and she'd learned to bite her tongue, as hard as it was sometimes. It was one of the few sacrifices she would make to keep their relationship on a somewhat even keel – accepting this decision even if it didn't sit right with her. It wasn't that she was an intellectual elitist, not really. The joke shop was right for George, but it wasn't Ron. He might be making enough money they could buy a house next year, but he was taking the lazy way out.
As the 'discussion' started to get heated, Percy cut in desperately, speaking to Hermione directly this time in an attempt to switch the topic of conversation in the name of family harmony. She'd gotten to know Percy better these last few years, as he'd returned to the Ministry (really, the place was his niche no matter what temporary resignation he had offered) to work under Shacklebolt – acting as liason between the Minister's office and the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. "Speaking of work. I've heard about some interesting research you're doing Hermione. Regarding a few remaining Death Eaters who are causing some trouble in Cardiff?"
This was the first time she had been addressed at dinner, and Hermione temporarily fumbled. Because of that fact, and because it was really not a subject she should be addressing with those who didn't have security clearance. But as she opened her mouth to cite confidentiality, something she usually did, she caught the look in Molly's eye, and the long-suffering look in Ron's. The former would think she was being 'uppity', the latter simply frustrated that she was refusing to share things with him that Harry would in a split second; like it was her fault that Harry disregarded the rules whenever he had the chance.
So, instead she cleared her throat, and answered Percy directly.
After all they had all fought against Voldemort, and were completely trustworthy.
"They're nothing but a nuisance at the moment, but there have been a lot of…interesting magical signatures up there. They've been playing with some things best left alone."
"Like what?" Charlie asked curiously, as they all paused eating to look at her, their attention caught.
Hermione blushed slightly, not used to being the center of attention, but she pressed on. "It appears they've been. . . .well, trying to resurrect a few fallen comrades." And possibly working their way up to Voldemort, but that was a topic best not addressed at a family dinner. "As far as we can tell, they haven't succeeded, but death magic is basically unknown to the Ministry, and highly suspect. I've spent the last few weeks holed up in the bowels of the research library looking into it. We have to know what they're trying to do in order to stop it and catch them." They all looked taken aback, save Harry who was well versed in the investigation. Curious looks abounded, while he just continued to eat.
"I thought that was impossible?" Ginny asked, surprised.
"Not exactly. There's no spell, true – but there are ways of magic, based on some work done with ancient runes, and potions, that will bring people back from the dead." Ways that she was not going to extrapolate upon. She hesitated, continuing, "At least in theory." It was in truth fact more likely than not, but she was already remembering what some of the books that had alluded to - why it was so important people don't know about it as a possibility no matter the method. It had actually been Harry she had been most worried about, with the lure of bringing back the dead, but he'd already defeated that internal demon with the Hallows. "But, regardless, I have to know what they're trying – no matter how successful it is. One of the times the legwork is going to be interesting to someone who isn't me." She flourished in it, but most others in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement were all about the action.
They were all cut off from further discussion by Molly Weasley purposefully rattling a pot against the table. "Really, this is hardly a suitable topic, especially for the dinner table. I'm sure Harry," the lack of mention of her own name was notable, "will bring them to justice and stop them from getting up to any more mischief."
For one of the few times in her life, Hermione was actually grateful to Ron's mother rather than annoyed – wanting to leave the topic as vague as she could.
Though she could tell the others had questions, they dutifully went back to eating their dinner – though she knew she would be pestered later with questions that she could hopefully more easily deflect. It wasn't just that this was something to keep quiet because it was part of an investigation – after all bringing back Death Eaters from the dead would incite international panic, and people deserved peace after what they had been through – but because of the magic involved. For a population who had lost so much, the lure of being able to bring love ones back was irresistible.
"So, Gin-Bean," Bill was asking as he finished off his dinner, "What do you think your chances are against Puddlemere? I heard Wood was made captain this year."
As the discussion turned to Quidditch again, Hermione felt a sense of relief.
Not noticing George's silence on the topic – after all, it was common place for him now – or noticing the look on his face.
Monday morning found Hermione in a meeting with Harry, the rest of the task squad, and the head of the auror department about the very case she had been mildly coerced into bringing up at the Weasley family dinner. It was hardly the two of them working on it alone. Too much work for a pair, and besides they were both too junior in the department to be the head of a case so sensitive. Even Harry. Gawain Robards had assigned Harriet Fillengeny as auror-in-charge of the case, and even Hermone couldn't fault her as a taskmaster, demanding the best out of her team. The elder witch had an eye patch that bespoke her toughness after losing an eye to a conjunctivitis curse only years before from a dark wizard. Rumour had it she'd managed to sneak in an avada under the Ministry's nose against the man who'd done it.
But there was little to report, with all suspects escaping capture this far, and indications at their last site near the muggle town of Bristol they might have successfully raised the former Death Eater Yaxley from the dead given the evidence left behind.
It was enough for Robards to make them all feel about a foot tall after an hour of beration, and enough to realize nobody would be sleeping or leaving the office much until more was accomplished.
Hermione made her way back to her little out of the way cubbyhole at the back of the department she would be nearly living out of – already thinking longingly of the last Pepper-Up she had shoved towards the back of her drawer. A headache had been plaguing her since she heard about the new developments, and for once the prospect of another afternoon in the dusty library held about as much appeal as an intimate tea with Molly Weasley. She was sure she would be fine after taking the potion, but for now, she was thinking longingly of a transfer to the Department of Magical Games and Sports who did little more but laze around in their offices and take long lunches. Pushing open the door to her office – not bothering to have locked it with a spell considering it was a working day in the Ministry – she was more than surprised to find she wasn't alone. George Weasley was rifling through the papers on her desk.
"What the bloody hell?" Hermione demanded, quickly shoving the door shut behind her.
He looked up, but didn't appear truly sheepish or apologetic. "Stopped by to see Dad, and saw your door was open."
She shot him a dubious look. "You just happened to be wandering by. And, incidentally just happened to start looking through my stuff. And I know your dad is out at a family's house who thought it was a good idea to magically install a muggle toilet."
It was apparent George hadn't found what he was looking for – though he continued to search through her papers while she talked. By the time she finished, he had thrown up his hands in frustration. He didn't pay her much mind, seemingly defeated for a moment, resting against her desk. She should have offered to hex him ten ways from Sunday, but she was still so shocked that she stood there, flabbergasted at his presence. "You know those are all confidential…" she began, self-importantly.
"Don't give a bloody fuck," he cursed, and she was taken aback by the vehemence in his voice.
He looked up at her then, eyes ablaze. "Where is it?"
"Where is what?" Hermione asked, lost at what he was asking about.
"Your research," he said, his voice bordering on being heard by the office next door – causing Hermione to cast a quick muffliato, "on bringing people back from the dead."
She didn't answer, she couldn't and she shouldn't, but her eyes betrayed her, sliding to the drawer on the right-hand side of her desk. George quickly slid it open before she could draw her wand, drawing out the stack of parchment she had been taking her notes on. Already she was threatening to stun him, but he simply continued to look through the papers – skimming the information, a look of triumph lighting his face when he realized it was all there. It might not by step by step instructions of forbidden and unknown magic – but it was close. Hermione was already wishing she hadn't lost her paranoia, but in the Ministry things were supposed to be safe, and civilians weren't supposed to have free reign – but when they were heroes and known to everyone, they seemed to be looked over.
"What do you want with that?" Hermione asked, unsuccessfully trying to summon the stack away from him.
George gave a slightly bitter laugh, "Do you even have to ask?"
She supposed she didn't.
"You can't bring him back George," she continued, gentling her voice. She hadn't realized it was this bad, that she would have to guard against the idea he would want Fred back that desperately. After the years that had passed, he should have accepted the death by now, moved on to an extent. Already she was realizing she had made the ultimate mistake the night before. "You can't. Logistics aside….you can't."
"I can, and I'm going to," George was blunt. "At least I'm going to try."
"It's bordering on dark magic," she retorted, unaware that her tone was beginning to border on lecturing, which would hardly have the desired effect, "there's a reason it's not practiced anymore. I mean, the practice of bringing a person back itself is bad enough, but death is something that shouldn't be meddled in. When a person is gone – they're gone. Didn't the Tales of Beedle and the Bard teach you anything as a child? Even a simple child's tale got it right. It's a power nobody should have. I know you miss Fred. Can I empathize? Not really, I'm not going to insult your intelligence, but I know you do. But I know that's not enough of an excuse. You're just not thinking clearly, and unable to remain impartial."
"Of course I'm not impartial," he was duplicating the pages, and then packing them up – shrinking them and putting them in his pocket. "It's my brother Hermione, my twin, my fucking other half. But that doesn't mean it's not right. It's just Fred, and I'm not going to tell anyone."
Her mind was racing a mile a minute. There were a million reasons along those same lines that explained why it was a horrible idea, but she didn't quite know how to articulate them properly. Not meddling in death should be an accepted fact. It wasn't easy to let go when one understood there was a possibility – she knew that – but she didn't quite know how to put it into words as to why even he couldn't just go back around bringing relatives back to life.
"It requires a vial of unicorn blood," she decided on that track, offering that fact of her research quietly, since he wouldn't have had a chance to look it all over and know exactly what he was getting into.
George stilled momentarily with his hand over the parchments that stuffed his pocket. "It's only a vial," he said finally, "I don't have to kill it."
"I'm going to do it Hermione," he said resolutely – and there was no sign of wavering in his gaze. "I don't care if I have to slay a unicorn. I'll do whatever it takes to get Fred back."
"Even at the highest cost to you?"
"I'm not drinking it. And even if I'm cursed to….whatever it is – I've never been exactly clear on what the consequences are ….I don't care."
"If you kill it," they were going in circles, but maybe he didn't know everything, "someone else will die. Someone innocent. It's not as if you're going to be sacrificing….I don't know, Malfoy, for Fred."
"Then, like I said, I'm going to have to be careful about not killing it," George's tone was almost flippant, belying what they were talking about.
"They're not exactly fond of males…" Hermione broke off. They were straying from her original argument. They were getting bogged down in the details, when they didn't matter. There were all those philosophical reasons on top of the practical – all adding up to the fact he couldn't do this. Beyond the fact it was beyond the pale of what the Ministry would approve of. There was no specific law as far as she knew, but that didn't mean Kingsley wouldn't send him off to Azkaban for so much as an attempt.
She forced her voice to be patient, "Another very important reason this isn't going to work – if you want the blunt and unvarnished truth – is you're not good enough at advanced magic to do it. This isn't simple potions, or making up charms. This is the casting of runes, with complicated spells. You can't do it."
"That hurts," George said wryly, placing a hand over his heart. "I haven't had my intelligence so insulted since Mum did her annual lecture on me going back to get my NEWTS."
"It's not that…oh, don't be obtuse George, you know what I mean. You're not stupid, you just know nothing about any of this. Failure can mean a variety of different things. Maybe you'll only partially succeed, and he'll come back as the equivalent of an inferi. It's just one of many options."
He tried to come off cavalier, but Hermione could tell it was an act. "Then help me," he said finally, quietly. "You're the bleeding expert on this."
"No," she hated how blunt it sounded, but she wasn't going to be a party to his insanity. She didn't know if she had it in her to report him, but she couldn't help.
George made a disgusted noise, and motioned to move past her again. Hermione put a restraining hand on his arm again, clenching into the material of his cloak. "At least wait," she said desperately, "let me look into it a bit more. This could theoretically be a wild hippogryff chase. Let me give you the best odds of bringing him back, if nothing else." And, hopefully, find a way to convince him he was bonkers to even make the attempt in the meantime.
There was hesitation, and then he shook his head. "I read the first page Hermione, I'm not stupid. It has to be done at midnight on October 31 – two weeks from now. Nice try, but I'm not going to miss my only shot for another year."
This time, Hermione let him go when he moved towards the door, since she had no recourse save hexing him. Hand on the knob, he stopped momentarily. "You're not going to feel the need to report this?"
She bit down on her tongue. "I can't promise anything," she said finally.
George only nodded, and left.
" 'm knackered," Ron mumbled, collapsing on the bed beside Hermione who was using her dictoquill to make notes in her case file. Little work had been done all day, considering she had spent half of it contemplating how to stop George, and she was attempting to compensate at home.
"Oh please," Hermione's tone was mildly derisive, "you worked until eight."
"Yeah, but it was littered with orders from Hogwarts students looking for our newest merchandise to be mailed to the castle," he mumbled. "Makes me wish the stuff was still banned like when we were there."
She rolled her eyes as he rested his face against the blanket, but didn't comment. "I'll just be a few minutes," was all she promised, "don't extinguish the lamps just yet."
He managed to elevate his head enough to give her a slightly lecherous look. "We're in bed and awake at the same time," he said with a grin, shuffling over towards her and resting a hand on her hip. "Suppose I'm not that tired."
Swatting his hand away, Hermione carefully set her parchments aside before he could lose her place. Making him wait never worked, and pleading work – no matter how important it was – never went over well. Even as Ron shimmied out of his shirt, she waved her wand, casting a muffliato around the room. "Dunno why you always do that," he said in a teasing tone as she set her wand aside after quietly casting a contraceptive spell as well, "though I'd welcome the challenge to make you scream for once."
Hermione was embarrassed. "Your brother lives right across the hall. I know we can never hear him in there, but I'm always worried…."
Ron snorted. "We can't hear him in there, cause he never bloody does anything in there."
After he'd said that, she started blocking his hands attempts to slide over her breasts – swatting them away in favour of talking about a subject that interested her more at the moment. "You've noticed it too?" She bobbed her head towards the wall that bordered the hall. "George, I mean." Obviously she hadn't been giving Ron enough credit in thinking that she was the only noticing the change in his elder brother.
He gave her an odd look. "It's hard not to notice Hermione. He's not had a bird in here since we moved in, Angelina's attempts aside, and he doesn't go out with anyone – not even Lee when he comes by and tried to bully him into a pint. I swear he just goes to the Burrow cause he knows Mum will kill him if he doesn't. And he smiles about as much as Snape in potions class."
There was a hand sliding over the bare expanse of skin beneath the shorts she wore to bed, but Hermione stilled it with a firm hand. "Do you think he's allright?"
Ron gave a frustrated sigh, rolling away from her, accepting he wouldn't be 'getting any' for the moment. "Why are we on the topic of my brother? No, I don't think he's bleeding allright. Don't think he's going to turn on his wand on himself any time soon though, but he mopes around all the time. Doesn't bloody want to have a life. I end up doing a good sight around the joke shop because I think certain things remind him of Fred too much." He shook his head. "I know…I mean they were twins….but he was my brother too, you know? And George is still acting like he has a monopoly on grief. And I want to shake it out of him, tell him to get over it…but if it hasn't happened by now, it's not going to."
Hermione sounded thoughtful. "There has to be something we can do."
"Oi, Hermione," he came off vaguely annoyed. "he's my brother. We've done it all. Merlin, half the reason I started here was to try and get him back into the land of the living. The only thing he's looking for is Fred, doesn't give a bloody fuck about the rest of his family and friends."
It was obvious by that point Ron was done on the subject. Hermione easily gave into the arms that reached for her this time, and the body that rolled over her, but her mind was elsewhere – focused more on the last statement he had made than anything else. It had almost been on the tip of her tongue to ask him if he could, would he want Fred back. But she was convinced she knew the answer.
Tea with Ginny was a weekly event – well, tea or something stronger. This time it was the two of them ensconced at a back table in the Three Broomsticks, waiting for their tea, while the other woman apologized yet again for her sweaty state. "Didn't have time to apparate home," she explained with a grimace, patting her sweat soaked hair, and taking what she thought was a subtle sniff at her armpits. "Coach called an extra practice this morning, and I had the joy of a few extra laps after since I dropped the quaffle once during scrimmage."
"Not an issue," Hermione said with a wave of her hand. Though as she looked at a few of the men milling around the pub who weren't paying the attention they usually did to the youngest Weasley, she realized the woman wasn't really looking her best. "Probably good thing you've already got Harry under your spell though."
Ginny laughed. "Funny enough, that man likes the sweaty look, fortunately for me. Merlin, last week after the Portree game we had the most amazing…." At Hermione's grimace, she laughed and finished, "…game of cards. Really Hermione, you have to get over that whole prudish thing. Gossiping about sex is what girlfriends do, it's rather expected. I probably know more about Lavender's romance with Michael Corner than is healthy."
"It's that it's Harry," Hermione rolled her eyebrows. "Perhaps not my biological brother, but feels similar. Would you like to hear about what Ron and I do at night?"
"Point taken." The other woman grimaced as well. "For my sanity I maintain the two of you share that teeny tiny little flat in a platonic fashion."
Hermione laughed as she finally had the tea delivered. It was hard not to glance at her watch, because she should be back at the office already. It didn't matter that she'd skipped lunch in order to more justify keeping her ritualistic meeting with Ginny. So for all she wasn't forcing herself to leave, she always wasn't ready to languish over the meeting like they sometimes did. "Have you looked more into wedding plans yet? I know Molly is breathing down your neck, and Merlin, the Burrow isn't large enough to hold all the people that you'll feel obligated to invite."
"I just want to fucking elope," Ginny said crossly, "but can't if I value my life. Besides, I want to do this for Harry. It's more his day than mine." That whole 'getting the family he always wanted' aspect they were both well aware of. "He's turning into a sop about it too. Did you know he's even talking about inviting Dudley Dursley? Besides the headache of getting a muggle over, I don't know how he can be chummy with that wanker. One nice moment after a lifetime of misery doesn't a true relative make – but I'm resolved to let him make up his own mind. Harry's not exactly overflowing with relatives."
She dumped a spoonful of sugar into her cup, and stirred. "Sometimes I want to get rid of some of mine though."
"Ron can be a prat," Hermione was sympathetic.
The other woman shook her head with a heavy sigh. "No, not him – not even Charlie threatening Harry with bodily harm on a regular basis. It's George."
Hermione's ears perked up at that more than they usually did. "What do you mean?"
"Bleeding headache is what it is," Ginny grumbled. "Did you know he and Angelina had been seeing each other this year? Initially I thought it was a mite unhealthy, her trying to replace her dead boyfriend with his identical twin – but she seemed so good for him. A way to get him out of this…perpetual funk he's been living in. And once he realized they were starting a relationship, he started pushing her away, and won't even talk to her now. And considering she's the bloody captain of the Harpies, I get to be the one to hear all about it. That in itself is hard enough, but it's because I know it's just him. He's not letting himself get on with his life."
Hermione stayed silent, as the other woman was primed to get on a rant, and let it all out. "I know he misses Fred, maybe even more than we all do. But as unloyal as it sounds, that stopped being an excuse awhile back. It's hard on all of us too – as he's stopped acting like….well, a brother. Ron's the only one who's got any connection. At family dinners – he comes, he eats, he leaves. I miss Fred Hermione, more than I ever thought I would with how he used to torture me, but I miss George too. And it's nothing I can do anything about."
It wasn't everything, but it was something.
And it was a situation Hermione knew she could help change.
Percy had stopped by her office after a meeting on behalf of the Minister with Robards to check on their progress, as much for her perspective on the situation as because he was fond of the break from work and his own office. She normally relished these chats with Ron's brother, a kindred spirit in many ways, but knee deep in paperwork she wished he could have picked a more convenient time. Still, Hermione waved her wand to send a chair flying out for him to take a seat in front of her desk. "I was just about to head down to the stacks," she said pointedly, as a hint they would be keeping the conversation short, "the books call."
He nodded, crossing his legs under the expanse of his robes. He took in the parchments that hung on the walls, and the photos sparse though they were. A muggle one of she and her parents stood on top of the filing cabinet, and another one with Harry and Ron sat on her desk that had been taken at the one year anniversary celebration of Voldemort's demise.
"Robards tells me it's not going particularly well," he said with a sigh, "of course not so explicitly, but I caught the undertones. While Kingsley's not the type to sack the entire department, he's not going to be thrilled."
Hermione felt her own headache intensify. "No, it's not going well," she was more frank with Percy than she might have been with anyone else in the hierarchy of the Ministry. "They're proving more elusive than the original Death Eaters in their heyday. And we don't know what they're doing, we can only guess." She gave a slightly bitter laugh. "I think I can duplicate the magic they're attempting though. I'm just praying they haven't figured it all out to the final step. There are suggestions but…."
"No proof," Percy finished with a grim face.
But it was the subject of the magic that seemed to enthrall him, even as he hesitated and blustered through a bit more chit-chat and meaningless conversation before finally bringing it up.
"Do you think it's really possible?" There was no need to ask what the question was about.
The topic that had become the bane of her existence it seemed.
"Yes," Hermione didn't lie, "I do. And I think I've even got it figured out how." Merlin, but it was tempting to talk to him about it – about George. If there was someone who could be analytical, while still understanding the situation, it was Percy. He could reassure her she was doing the right thing in…..well, not aiding George, if not actively trying to stop him. It was different talking to Ron, to Ginny. She couldn't ask them, she didn't dare, but they couldn't see past the consequences she was sure. But it was obvious they wanted Fred back. Well, at least something that gave them back George in his full glory, and eased their own grief. Odd that this thought never occurred to them, but they were so conditioned to think it impossible.
She was about to broach the subject with Percy, but he opened his mouth first. "Could it bring back Fred?"
Surprised, Hermione hesitated. But then she nodded slowly, adding, "I think so."
Percy closed his eyes for a moment, settling back in his chair. When he opened them again, he looked at her ruefully. "I really wish you hadn't said that."
"Why?" She asked the question straight out.
There was no answer for a moment, as he seemed to be weighing his words carefully before speaking. Hermione wanted to snap at him to get on with it, but stayed silent - giving him the time he seemed to need.
"I want to bring him back." At her startled look, he shook his head. "I won't, I can't, but I want to. Knowing that it's possible. My mind knows it's horrifically wrong on many levels, and it goes against probably every rule out there – not to mention I'd be sacked for sure, though for once, that's the least of my worries. I want to take your research and do…whatever is involved in order to bring my brother back. It's so easy to convince myself that it's just one person. But then I start thinking, what makes him more special than any of the other dead? He's the worry of my universe, but everyone has their own losses that are just as hard."
Hermione stayed silent as Percy slipped off his glasses, cleaned them – a nervous habit, then continued without quite looking her in the eye. "It's not easy you know. I don't just miss him as my brother, I do, but there's that guilt. Maybe if he hadn't been joking around about me, he would have been paying closer attention, and wouldn't have been killed in that blast. Maybe he would have got a blocking spell up in time. And I never got to mend fences with him in the way I really would have liked. Superficially, sure, but little more. And the others, they never say anything, but I know the thought is there. Some lingering blame that gets placed on me, subconscious or not. George hasn't said a bleeding meaningful word to me in years." Personally she thought that was a function of his melancholy, not any blame for his elder brother, but Hermione wasn't going to point that out. Percy rarely confided in anyone, not the talkative sort about anything personal, only about regulations – and she didn't want to cut him off.
But, he seemed to be winding down. "Just promise me you won't share a bit of the research with me," he said on a sigh, the words hard to get out. "I want to, and I know I'll want to more, but I can't let myself. I want him back, but I can't do it. And for once, I'm a little unsure as to my own willpower. I can't be objective about this as I should be, rather obviously."
Hermione found herself curious about the objections, why he wouldn't, but then he answered her. "It's selfish maybe, either way. I might do it just to please the family that's never quite given me it's approval, not even now. It's just…lie to me if you have to when I ask. Say you were mistaken, it didn't work."
"Percy," her tone was gentle, "you know your family loves you…"
He shook his head, cutting her off. "I do, but it's…it's not the same as it is with Bill all the way down to Ginny. Don't apologize or convince me otherwise, I know, and I understand. I do. It's wrong for me to consider this for selfish reasons, but it's not stopping me anyway. "
"My own fault for bringing up work the other night," he finished, with a small apologetic smile. "I hadn't quite understood how deep this was going."
Hermione finished work in a distracted daze at a surprisingly regular time, but floo called home to Ron, telling him she wouldn't be round till later that night.
Instead, she headed down to the Ministry libraries, knowing there would be nobody there, and nobody to bother her. Books were hardly a draw for most of the other employees, except out of necessity, and certainly not after business hours. But for her part, she liked the solitude. And she loved having knowledge of all kinds at her fingertips – not begrudged to her for any reason. It was an odd compulsion that she'd had since school, one she knew that most people didn't understand, but she felt at home in a library – at peace.
Instead of heading to the table she normally worked at, the books still spread out across it, she walked among the rows, letting her fingers trail over the books as she went.
Some called to her from magical means, and some made noises as her fingertips slid over the spine, but she wasn't really paying attention to them. Sometimes before she would come down her to browse – for enjoyment, not for work. She would choose a book at random – maybe The Dualism of Magic – No Black, and No White, only Shades of Grey, or whatever chose her fancy at that particular moment. But she wasn't down there for entertainment, or even for work, she was down there in the only place she knew these days where she could find any solitude. Home was Ron, and work was…everyone, and everywhere in between didn't afford any privacy. No way to think.
The conversations with Ron, with Ginny, and now with Percy kept coming back to her. Fortuitous timing perhaps, but maybe she hadn't been paying attention in the same way before. Maybe at least with the first two she didn't prod talking about it until now – about their brother's death.
There was little doubt in her mind that they all wanted Fred back. After all, he was their brother – and in the cases of the elder Weasley's, their son.
And her mind kept coming back to George, what he would do with or without her help. But was it right? Her mind kept telling her she should tell Robards, that this fell beyond the pale of what was acceptable, but her gut wasn't quite buying it anymore. Not when these people who had become like family to her were hurting for both an actual lost brother, and a seemingly lost one. And when it was Fred, whom she missed as well, it was hard not to see the appeal. It was too easy to be judgmental when it was somebody else, their loved ones lost – an abstract more than a personal thing.
It was just one person.
Did that make it all right?
Hermione kept grappling with the question. No matter how she twisted it around in her mind, she couldn't convince herself that it was…kosher. But she kept coming back to her part in all this, what was right in that respect. George would be doing it with or without her help, and he might be fucking it up entirely. She could turn him in, try and take him on physically herself, but neither sat well with her. Wryly, she gave into self analysis for a moment, realizing that even if she never went out of her way to…push boundaries herself, she invariably always did. In this case it might just be someone not Harry and Ron looking for her help in crossing that line. It was just this time she wasn't entirely sure the reason was the right one. It was harder to justify, especially when it was something she was so against in theory.
But again, the personal factor kept hammering away at her. How happy she could make them all.
Twitchy, she reached and pulled a book from the shelf, still unable to decide what to do – not realizing until afterwards the book she had chosen was one she'd had on her list to read next after Death and the Dark Arts.
Nekromantia – A Lost Art.
Ironic, and if her brain was leaning that way – a sign.
Sighing, Hermione fingered the scarlet lettering on the front of the book, even as she meandered back to the table at which she usually sat. Her hand snagged out and reached Medium Use in Ancient Runes as she passed the appropriate section, bringing it with her. No matter what she convinced herself was the right course of action, this was a topic she had to be prepared on for other reasons. Knowing sleep would be elusive even if she left, she prepared herself for a long night of research – the thought bringing adrenaline in a way she knew few would understand.
The end of the month rolled around sooner than she would have liked. Work contributed to that factor. Harry had captured Gormley, a former Death Eater, with one of the more senior aurors – and he had provided them with useful information as to the group they were seeking. Hierarchy, plans, a few hideouts – and to the relief of all, the knowledge that there had been no death eaters raised yet. Death and life were still sacrosanct, and more importantly, there was still no means for them to bring Voldemort back. The bastard was still well and truly dead, and Hermione was confident she was farther along in the death magic department than the death eaters themselves. The man hadn't been keen to speak at first, but threat of seizure of his property had loosened his tongue. They would have tried torture next (the 'new' post war Ministry was a bit more lax in rules regarding capturing serious threats), but with this kind of man, self preservation worked better than anything else – at least the first time around.
But Hermione knew it wasn't the many hours of work that made the time go by quickly. It was the decision she didn't want to make. But the important thing seemed to be that she had done….nothing yet. Not turned George in, or tried to do anything else. In fact she'd barely even seen him with how little she'd been home, and how much he was avoiding her.
"I'll be gone for only a few days," Ron was saying, tossing his clothes haphazardly into his trunk in a way that made her cringe. "The supply trip shouldn't take too long. Still wish you'd come with me – we could skive off on business for awhile and enjoy Paris."
Hermione shook her head from her vantage point on the bed. She'd taken a long lunch to see him off on his trip, but was heading back to the Ministry after. "We've been over that Ron. I can't. Not now. Too much is going on at work. Besides," she tried to sound sincere about it, even if she thought guiltily about how much she liked having the flat to herself when he was gone, "this way you'll be back sooner, without more inducement to be distracted from work." To her, that hardly sounded convincing, but it was enough to make him smile and nod. If he'd pushed, she'd have become more suspicious, convinced he was going to try and propose to her again. He had this thing about trying what he thought were romantic locations.
Slamming the lid closed on his trunk and levitating it up, he asked. "Come with me to King's Cross?"
Again, she shook her head. "Sorry, no. Have to get back." She shook her head in mortification. "Half of them already think I've come back for a quickie before you go."
Ron laughed, leaning over and kissing her lingeringly, giving her a wink. "We could make fact a reality, save the fact I've got to catch the train in twenty minutes."
Shaking her head, Hermione shoved at him, following him out the flat and down the stairs as he went – trunk in front of him. "Be off with you then. I can't believe you left it this late! You don't want to miss the train. No matter what your connections, the Ministry isn't going to issue a portkey for a business trip."
When they reached the bottom of the stairs, Hermione stopped short, seeing George standing behind the till – nodding to Verity as the other woman left, scarf wrapped around her neck. Having apparated straight into the flat, she'd missed him on the way in. His gaze caught hers, and he met it without embarrassment or shame, while she was the one who oddly blinked and looked away. The joke shop was empty save for the three of them. Ron was saying goodbye to her, and she was kissing him quickly and giving a rote reply without thought, then he was saying a quick goodbye to his elder brother who only nodded his farewell as the door chimed behind Ron on his way out.
Silence filled the joke shop. Even the normally dependable singing bath sponges weren't filling the silence. And she only stood there, staring at George, not heading back to work like she knew she should.
They began at the same time, and neither seemed to know what to say when the overlapped, silence reigning yet again. It was Hermione who broke it first, clearing her throat, and jumping straight to the topic after checking once again that they were indeed alone. "Are you still going ahead with it?" She asked quietly, not having to explain what that meant.
"Yes," he said calmly, still totaling the receipts from the day before.
"Have you done anything to prepare?" The next question was more hesitant.
He didn't seem quite sure how honest he should be in his answer, but shrugged. "I've committed the notes to memory, and I think I've got the process down pat. I'm heading to Knockturn Alley, and Diagon Alley, for supplies this afternoon."
Hermione knew from the last weeks that there was so much more she knew now than had been in those papers, and that nothing would work without that knowledge. She could keep her mouth shut, and this would die with her – in a horrible pun of the word. He could make the failed attempt, and continue to be this shell of a man. And the other Weasley's could continue to mourn for Fred. And everyone could be fucking miserable. But the order of things would be preserved. And she wouldn't be taking any risks with…well, international security.
But the words came of their own volition. "I'll help you."
George's head shot up at her words, but he didn't respond.
"I'll help you," her voice was more certain now, like she had come downstairs planning to agree to aid him in the insanity. "Just…don't get anything, don't do anything. Just meet me downstairs tomorrow at noon, and we'll go from there."
He began warningly, "If this is a trick to stop me from…"
Hermione shook her head. "No, no trick. I swear to Merlin, I'll help you. It's just, I know what's needed, and I know more now, and I can help you get it all. And I can help you get it while escaping Ministry detection in case they ever go looking for people purchasing…certain items, if the Death Eaters ever get as far in understanding this magic as we have. Just trust me George." He seemed hesitant in that, but he nodded his agreement.
"And," she barreled on, "I have a few conditions. You have to agree to these, or I won't help you." He started to object, but she raised her hand, "Just listen. You stay, you let him…recover, or whatever he's going to need to do after he's brought back. You let him visit with the family, let them know he's alive – and then you leave. You go to some little small town in Canada, in Australia, in Somalia. I don't really care where, but you get out of Britain. You don't let anybody else know about this. Outside of the Weasley family, and Harry, nobody else gets to know about this. Not Angelina, not Lee, not Kingsley, not…whoever. This can't get out. Owl posts to the family come only from your name, never Fred's, and you give yourself different last names when you get there."
She could see him looking around – taking in the place that he had built with his brother. That had been his livelihood and home for the past few years. She knew he was thinking about how hard it would be to leave it all behind, but was hoping he saw the logic in what she was demanding. It would be in good hands with Ron, and they could start afresh somewhere else. Their's was a universal trade.
"Done." George didn't have to think about it for long, meeting her gaze steadily.
Before she could change her mind, before she could question the insanity in what she had agreed to, Hermione bolted, running of the joke shop as fast as she could, mumbling only a, "See you tomorrow," as she did so.