Shadows Settle

"Shadows settle on the place, that you left.
Our minds are troubled by the emptiness."

Daughter, Youth.

One year later and a lot had changed for Hermione Granger. Despite anyone's knowledge, she was currently living in the city of London, working every week day in a quiet bookshop away from the centre of the city called The Yellowing Pages. It was a beautiful shop, each wall lined with shelves to the ceiling, each one stocked with every book she could imagine, yet she was having to work a night shift at a dingy diner filled with drunks just so she could pay for rent, food and bills.

Rose was two years old now with a beautiful pair of sparkling blue eyes, filled with curiosity and an almost full head of red hair that Hermione would braid for her, it pained Hermione to see Rose, so obviously a Weasley, separated from the family that loved her, all because of the selfishness of her father, but the choice had been made. No one knew where Hermione was anymore, she'd had no contact what so ever with the Weasley's, not after she left the note for Fred, and no one had come looking for her, and for that, she was grateful.

She missed them more than she had ever missed anyone, possibly more than she missed her own parents, and she was almost ashamed to say such a thing after she had been the one to leave.

It still hurt, everyday it hurt her to remember what it was like to be married, to be a perfect family, in the perfect house that was now probably sold off with someone else living inside it.

However, Hermione wasn't unprepared. In fact she was the opposite. She had a nice, modest amount of money in the bank, enough at least that she could afford a small, one bedroom flat for her and Rose to live in, one they had moved into only four days after leaving Fred's flat. It was nothing special, and it smelt of damp, but it was all she had. She wasn't, however, alone.

After only a few weeks, Hermione had left work late and was on her way to the diner, far to eager for this day to end, for her to leave work and pick her daughter up from the kind old woman on the ground floor. She'd just locked up the shop and was leaving through the back entrance and into alley. It was there that she'd found him, lying battered and bloody in the gutter with his clothing torn, his usually white hair filthy and blood stained, his left eye black and his lip bloody.

She's apparated him to her house immediately, lying him on the compact sofa, cleaning his wounds and sealing them with the healing charms she'd learnt while travelling with Harry and Ron the year of the war. It was then that Draco Malfoy woke up; he explained what had happened, how he'd been attacked by the children of deatheaters who were rotting in Azkaban, Deatheaters whose names he'd given. He'd thanked her for her kindness, claiming not many others would have done what she did, and he asked for her forgiveness.

She had of course been wary. However, Hermione was in no place to be judgemental, she was a single mum at twenty-one with a young daughter, a poor paying job in a bookshop and a tiny flat clearly built for a drug addict. So she remained open minded. Draco had said he wished to make amends, and make amends he did.

No less than two weeks later, he and Hermione were sharing a two bedroom flat in muggle London, both of them splitting the cost's between them. It turned out that Draco was extremely good with children.

Life was good for Hermione, Draco (Who worked for the Ministry Of Magic) stuck true to his word and told no one of Hermione's whereabouts, in return, Hermione granted him with something Draco hadn't felt truly in his entire life - Hermione Granger was Draco Malfoy's friend.

"Draco!" she called one morning, another year on as she stood before the cooker in her grey pyjama bottoms and a vest, her hair pulled into a scruffy ponytail as the scent of bacon wafted through the flat. It wasn't a very big flat, with the kitchen and living room being the same room and only one bathroom, but it was what Hermione called home. Draco paid a larger share of the rent, Hermione having quite her diner job. She now took Rose to work with her as well, letting her sit in the back room colouring while she manned the till. Between her and Draco they'd managed to create a whole new bedroom that the landlord didn't know about so Rose could have her own space. Hermione still loved magic.

There were pictures of her and Draco around the living room, some with Rose included some without. "Draco! You're breakfast is ready!" she shouted, hearing his grumbled reply.

Hermione's favourite photo was at the centre of the mantle piece. It was her, Rose and Draco earlier that year, at least five months ago on Rose's third birthday. She was wearing a cute, white dress, her red hair pulled into two pigtails, each tied off with a ribbon. They were sat in the park, having a picnic. Hermione stood in front of the swing, pushing from that side, Draco from the back, Rose giggling and squealing with delight.

The woman who had taken their photo had said what an adorable couple Draco and Hermione were. The two of them had laughed in the poor woman's face, explaining furtively that they were not, and would not, ever be a couple.

"Hermione" Draco grumbled, walking out of his room wearing just his green pyjama bottoms, his platinum hair wild and in disarray as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. "It's Friday" he pointed out, looking at her moodily.

"I know it's Friday" she said smiling, piling Draco's scrambled eggs onto a plate as the toast popped from the toaster.

"Friday is my day off, which leads to my next question. Why would you wake me up at-" he paused to glance at the cheap wall clock ticking above the cooker "-Half eight on a Friday" he grumbled as she began to butter his toast thinly.

"Because" she said, pointing the butter knife at him. "I'm sick of being your alarm clock. You're going to start waking yourself up on your own, I'm merely helping the process" she said cheekily, planting the plate of food in front of him.

"Brilliant" he said, grabbing a fork and eating his eggs, making sure none of them touched the bacon or the toast. Draco, who had not willingly taken part in the deatheaters plans, was cleared of all charges against him by the Minister For Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, on the terms that Draco was to be stripped of his riches and forced to make a new name for himself, to reinvent the Malfoy's, so to speak. He had – however grudgingly – agreed.

"Plus, I'm going out tonight" she said, putting more eggs onto a much smaller, much pinker plate.

"As you do every Friday" Draco butt in once he'd swallowed his food.

"And I wanted us to do something before hand, you me and Rose" she said and Draco raised an eyebrow at her, which she pointedly ignored to cut up a slice of toast into thin strips, small enough for a child.

"Why's that?" he asked dubiously, watching as she placed the food on the seat next to Draco who was sat on one side of their small, square table.

"I just thought it'd be nice" she said shrugging "Rose, honey!" she shouted "Breakfast" no less than a second after Hermione had returned to the kitchen, a small little girl came bounding into the room running (still rather clumsily) on her two legs, her wild red hair was down, her blue eye's excited as she looked around.

"Dwaco!" she shouted excitedly, running towards the twenty-four year old, who stood up immediately, grabbing her around the waist and hoisting her up onto his hip.

"Morning Princess!" he said, kissing her cheek and making her giggle. "How's my favourite little girl this morning?"

"Rose, your foods on the table" Hermione said, giving Draco a look that said 'don't distract her'.

"Come one then" he said, planting Rose in her seat "mother's orders." Hermione shot him a glare and Draco went back to eating his toast, trying to hold back his laughter as Rose picked up her pink spoon and began feeding herself from her heightened chair.

"So, Rose, do you want to go out today?" Hermione asked as she placed a sippy-cup of orange juice in front of Rose, a hot mug of black coffee in front of Draco.

"Woman, you are an angel" he said, inhaling the bitter scent of the hot drink. Hermione smiled.

"We could go to the park?" she asked again and Rose smiled around her mouthful of egg, making Draco laugh. Hermione's table manners may have been impeccable, and so were Draco's but Rose seemed to eat like her father, a lot of food at once with no regard for how much of it stayed inside her mouth. "We'll get read to go after breakfast then" she said smiling as she drank her own coffee, desperate for the caffeine to kick in, and soon.

Hermione may have played the part of a perfect mother, but Draco knew she was still fighting against falling part, even now, two years on. He could see how much she missed Ron sometimes. When they'd first moved in together two years ago, Draco had left the toilet seat up while Hermione raced around with Rose. She seen it and gone mad, shouting at Draco and calling him Ronald. She'd broken down then, cried for the first time since they'd lived together. That night Hermione told Draco everything, that was when the Friday night tradition was born.

Every Friday, Hermione was allowed to go out for the night to a bar, any bar, and she was aloud to drink as much as she wanted and to forget that she had already been married, divorced and had a child and other responsibilities at only twenty-four years old. She thought it was ridiculous at first, and then she'd gotten used to it, now she longed for the night of ignorance, the night where she could finally act her age. Of course Draco would always find her before anything got out of hand, he owed her that much.

"Mummy" Rose said, looking innocently at Hermione, most of her breakfast on her face. "Fimished" she said, her big blue eyes.

"Okay then, sweetie" Hermione said, picking Rose up from her chair, wiping the egg and crumbs from her face with a napkin "Let's go get ready" she said, nuzzling her nose against her daughters. "You get ready too" she said, pointing at Draco. He nodded from above the rim of his coffee, holding up his hand. Five minutes.

Ten minutes later, Hermione had Rose wearing blue trousers and a mint green top, her winter boots and her blue winter coat. She had also managed to dress her self quickly in blue jeans, a checked shirt and converse, her crazy hair tamed ever so slightly and hanging around her shoulders.

"Come on, Rose" Hermione said, throwing her denim jacket on and wrapping her old Gryffindor scarf around her neck. "Get your scarf quickly" Rose came back a few seconds later clutching a home knitted purple and blue scarf that Hermione had made and a pair of mittens. "Let's get them on then" she said, tying the scarf around Rose's neck, tucking it beneath her buttoned up coat and slipping her mittens on. It was late November, meaning the temperature had dropped to far colder than Hermione was comfortable with.

Draco appeared then, already wearing his dark grey coat, black jeans and shoes, his Slytherin scarf around his neck, his hair surprisingly fluffy.

"Did you wash your hair?" Hermione asked, amazed at how feminine Draco was sometimes.

"I used a charm" he said, shrugging slightly, oblivious to Hermione's disbelieving face. "Time to go?" he asked, and Hermione nodded. "Come on then princess" he said unlatching the door and stepping through. Picking Rose up, Hermione followed, allowing Draco to shut and lock the door behind them. "Time for an adventure" Draco said with a cheeky smile, winking at Hermione as he led them down the stairs. "With my two favourite girls." He said brightly "What could be better!"

Rolling her eyes, Hermione followed after him.

"What would we do without him?" Hermione said to Rose who was currently playing with Hermione's curls. She was instantly reminded of Teddy with his turquoise hair and how he used to play with her ringletts. With a sigh, and pushing those thoughts from her head, Hermione set off down the stairs, following Draco on what he said was going to be an adventure, completely unaware of what fate had in store for her.

It was about nine o'clock when Hermione finally entered the bar that Friday, exhausted after her day out with Rose and Draco. Luckily, Rose had been feeling the same, since as soon as she's finished her dinner and was washed and in her pyjama's she fell asleep on the sofa.

"Ill carry her to bed" Draco had said, "you go and enjoy your night" and after a quick change of clothes and a shower, here she was.

It was a muggle bar, nothing too extravagant, but tranquil enough that it avoided the onslaught of stag nights and football fans that usually crowded the pub in London on a Friday. It was simple with dark green wall paper with pictures of the country hanging from the walls between the wall lamps, a burgundy carpet matching the tops of the bar stools and the cheap, knock-off velvet of the booths, the bar stretching the length of the wall.

Hermione sat atop a stool at the edge of the bar, wand in the pocket of her jeans, her hair falling around her shoulders and a very recently filled glass of whiskey in front of her.

It was good to get away from the stress life had her under. Neither her, nor Draco, received fantastic pay for either of their jobs, meaning what money they earned was put towards the more important needs. This namely being the rent, the bills and to buy food and clothes for the very fast growing little girl that had become the centre of Hermione's world. It was incredibly rare that Hermione would do anything for herself. She was still wearing the clothes she'd left with two years ago, patching up the rips and tears as best she could, she even made completely new clothes from the ones that no longer fit her. She'd made a rather fetching summer dress out of a crappy, old dress she'd picked up at the charity shop for under two pounds.

The one night a week she spent in this bar was all she ever truly did for herself, her escape from stress and memories. But it was also the time she reflected on the turn her life had taken, from happily married war hero, to most likely depressed single mum, it was quite the transfer. Yet the gentle burn of alcohol in her throat and veins was usually enough to quell the ache and longing for her lost family, so it was a fair balance.

That made the shock ten times worse for her when a far too familiar looking red-head wondered into the bar, seeming not to notice her on his arrival. Out of all the bars in all of London, it was only natural for Hermione that Fred Weasley would stumble into the very one she called her sanctuary.

She couldn't get past him, he was standing in the entrance, looking from person to person, clearly looking for a place to sit. She couldn't get up and hide in the ladies toilets, she'd draw attention to herself being the only person standing in a room of at least seventeen people, plus the toilets were right next to the exit, making it another unlikely escape rout. Hermione was trapped.

The only hope she had was keeping her head down and finishing her drink while he found a seat, trying not to draw any attention to herself. If he just sat down, then she could get up and leave, grabbing her coat and scarf and he need never know she was there.

But fate had already decided how this night was going to play out. Just as Hermione was bracing herself to slip off of her barstool, unnoticed, the very person she was trying to avoid pulled up in the one beside her.

"Hello, Hermione" he said, his voice slightly sad but not at all shocked, not the way she had imagined.

"How did you know it was me?" she asked, raising her eyebrow at him, trying to ignore the pull of her old life, of her family and her friends.

"I saw you at the park today" he said solemnly. "You were pushing a little girl on the swings, I didn't think it was you to begin with, I though I was going mad. But then you called out for her, you called her Rose. You left then, and I was going to follow you, but you disappeared"

"I apparated" she said, lying. She'd felt the strange sense that someone was watching her and told Draco. He'd taken Rose from her, saying he'd take her home so Hermione could slip into the busy crowd without being spotted. At least now she knew she hadn't been going crazy. Fred nodded at her response, eyeing her like he'd never seen her before.

"It's different at home" he said after a moment's silence, one Hermione was far too eager to escape from. She didn't respond, just nodded absently, twirling the empty shot glass between her fingers. "It's almost like shadows have settled on the place you left, Mum's more emotional than usual, Ron doesn't usually come round anymore, Harry's a mess and Ginny looks like she's holding it together, but I know she's really falling apart." He was obviously trying to gauge a reaction out of her, one he didn't seem to be getting.

Hermione wanted to respond, she wanted to apologise and beg for forgiveness, but the claws of guilt had wrapped around her vocal chords, strangling any words she might have said, so she stared at the glass in her hands, praying the bar tender would fill it up soon.

"Everyone's minds are troubled, Hermione, all by the emptiness you left behind you, and it isn't just you, but Rose too. We miss that little girl so much"

"Please don't bring my daughter into this" she said blandly, her voice monotonous, not even angry, she didn't have the feeling to be angry.

"Teddy asks for you a lot, even made his hair brown and curly, Harry keeps telling him your coming back, but Ginny isn't so sure. Mum still has hope of course-"

"Fred, please" she said, cutting him off mid-sentence, her eyes tightly shut as she fought back the tears that were stinging her eyes, "Don't do this"

"I'm not doing anything, Hermione, I just want to know why you left us" he said pleadingly, watching as the bar tender poured another glass of amber liquid for Hermione, taking her now fingerprinted glass away. "What are you even doing here?" he asked suddenly, looking around himself at the bar she was sitting in. She was so out of place, a beautiful, young woman surrounded by balding men a scraggly haired old women, all of them sitting alone, one of them talking to herself, all wondering where their lives went wrong.

"Setting fire to my insides" she said, swallowing the liquid in one, quick gulp, her face wincing at the burning bite it left behind in her mouth.

"Why though?"

"For fun" she shrugged, placing the glass back on the bar's worn, wooden surface. Was that why she was here, like everyone else, was she figuring out where her life went wrong? "And collecting names of lovers that went wrong, I've got a handful now. Would you like to hear them?" she said, her voice spiting sarcasm "There's Krum, Cormac, Ron-"

"Hermione!" Fred burst in suddenly, "what has happened to you? You're cooped up in a mangy bar – no offence" he said to the bar tender who gave him a curt nod and continued to wipe the bars surface, clearly unaffected by Fred's words "- surrounded by people who I'm not one hundred percent sure are still alive." He said, indicating with his head to an old woman alone in the booth by the door, her arm limp by her side, her glass on the floor beside where she sat. She was still breathing, at least. " Are you still alive, Hermione?" he asked suddenly, looking at her, trying desperately to hold her eye.

"Let's just put it this way" she said, slamming the glass down and staring at him "If you're still breathing, you're the lucky one" she said plainly, staring into his blue eyes, trying to avoid the surge of emotions that pooled in her own, more tears pricking her eyes as she looked at the man she used to care for. "Because most of us are breathing through corrupted lungs" She said, indicating to everyone in the room, including herself, with her index finger. Maybe she was trying to sound poetic, and she did, but it still made no sense.

"What are you talking about?" he asked, thoroughly confused.

"We messed up our own lives, Fred" she said boldly, gripping the edge of the bar. "We were a reckless and wild youth. We were chasing unlikely visions of the future, not realising that one day we'd reveal the truth, that one of us would die before they ever got there" she said, her eyes watering as tears slipped through her eyes. "And it looks like I drew the short straw"

"You're still alive, Hermione" he reassured, placing a hand on her bare arm, almost wincing at how cold her skin was. The bar was rather chilly, and Fred still had a coat on, but Hermione was wearing nothing but blue jeans and a short sleeved purple shirt, the top two buttons undone and a bandage wrapped around her forearm.

"Am I though?" she said, crying silently, her facing flushing from the tears. "Most of my feelings are dead and they are gone" she said bitterly "Does that sound to you like someone who's alive?"

"Hermione, I don't think you know what you're saying" Fred pressed, hoping beyond hope that this was only the alcohol talking, and that this young, beautiful witch hadn't truly fallen this far.

"I do though" she said and her voice was unnervingly steady when she spoke "I've lost it all, my husband, my family, my friends, I'm just a silhouette of who I once was, a lifeless face you'll soon forget" She said, remembering the amount of time people would come into her work, gush at Rose who was sat looking at the pictures in a story book, leaving Hermione completely overlooked.

"I could never forget you, Hermione" he said, moving his hand so it rested on her shoulder, her damps eyes looked at him and Fred wasn't sure what he expected to happen, Maybe she'd jump into his arms, begging him to take her home, or maybe she'd shout again and break down some more, but she didn't, she wasn't the girl she once was, but she was still Hermione. So she smiled at him.

"Thank you" she said, sniffling slightly. "Look at me" she said, rolling her eyes with a self depreciating laugh, tears were clinging to her eyelashes like dew on the grass "I finally see my friend again and I act like some broken , I'm sorry, Let's try again" she said, wiping her cheeks furiously, trying to regain the strong composure she'd built up over the past two years, the one that was destroyed, simply by Fred speaking to her. What had she become? "What's new with you?"

"Well Bill and Fleur's daughter, Victoire, just turned three" he said, and Hermione remembered the beautiful little girl with the silvery blonde hair, just like her mothers "And they just had another daughter, Dominique, she's called, and George got married-"

"To who?" Hermione suddenly exclaimed, shocked to how she hadn't heard of this, she still read the daily prophet daily, how this news could have been overlooked, she didn't know.

"To Angelina" he replied with a proud smile "They got married on the beach behind shell cottage this July just gone" he said and Hermione could almost picture it. Angelina wearing a beautiful white dress that floated on the breeze, lighter than air, her dark hair hanging in loose curls. Katie and Ginny being bridesmaids, and Teddy and Victiore taking part as well. "And Percy has a girlfriend now"

"Good for him" Hermione said, smiling at her memory of Percy, the smart and neat boy who was fuelled by ambition, working for power. "What's she like?"

"She's surprisingly fun, works at the ministry of course" he said, rolling his eyes "Part of the law enforcement team, I believe, she's a muggle born too, Dad's fascinated by her!" Hermione giggled then, a sound very uncharacteristic of her, but it slipped out any way. She remembered her and Harry whenever Mr Weasley was in the room, both of them sharing amused glances when he asked them the most bizarre of questions.

"How's Ron?" She burst out, regretting the words as soon as they left her lips. She was only thinking of what had happened to him had he fallen apart like she had, needing someone else to pick up the pieces, did he ever notice she'd left. "You don't have to answer that" she said, looking away from the sympathetic look on her face, his big blue eyes gazing at her like she was a kicked puppy.

"Hermione" Fred said, reaching out and taking her hands which were playing with another empty shot glass. "He's- Ron's, met someone" he said, but she didn't react, how were you supposed to react when the man you had loved and married moved on so fast.

"Who?" she asked quietly and Fred's face softened even more "Don't spare my feelings, just tell me"

"Lavender Brown" he said, following her instructions. That something she always loved about Fred, if you asked him for honesty, he gave it. He'd never sugar coat a situation in the hopes your emotions would remain whole, he knew that if it was going to hurt you, it was better to let it get out of the way.

"Okay" she said, biting her lip to hold back the tears, but they didn't come, she didn't feel the need to cry. Ron had moved on, and in some ways, so had she. Hermione had tried dating over the past year, she thought it would be healthy for her, she was still young after all, but something always got in the way. Either they were using her or they jumped the second they found out about Rose. It seemed acceptance was a hard thing to find when you were a twenty-four year old single mum living with another man.

"So what's new with your life?" Fred asked after the tension from their silence had reached breaking point. "Where are you living? How's Rose? What do you do?" he said quickly, clearly desperate for them to change the subject, Hermione was grateful for that.

"I live in a shared flat just down the street" she said, nodding slightly, her thoughts still on Ron, the thought of him being happy with someone else but most of all, the fact she wasn't distraught over it and she should be. She should be crying, kicking ad screaming like her entire world had come crumbling down. Instead she felt lighter than she had in a long time. The truth of knowing that Ron wasn't grieving her loss, it was closure, it was a green light to finally move on with her life properly. "Rose is doing great, she's walking and talking and eats like her father" she said with a laugh, remembering all too clear early the mess she'd made this morning with her eggs. "And I work weekdays in a bookshop down the street from my flat" she said, watching as Fred watched her, his blue eyes shinning with questions he didn't want to ask until she'd finished speaking.

"Who do you live with?" he asked, making Hermione laugh slightly at the absurdity of the situation.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you" she said, thinking absently that if someone had told her the same information two years ago she would have laughed in the face, maybe after she'd slapped it for being so ridiculous.

"Try me" he said, crossing his arms across his chest and looking down at her with challenging eyes.

"Fine then" she said, sitting up straighter rising to his challenge. "It's Draco Malfoy" she said boldly, watching as Fred scoffed at her, had he been drinking she was sure he would have spat it out at her.

"Draco Malfoy?" he asked gobsmacked. "The Draco Malfoy? The boy who made your life hell? Are you insane?" he exclaimed and Hermione shrugged.

"He's a changed man, and Rose loves him" she said reasonably, but it was Clear that despite he wasn't arguing, this topic was not over.

"Blimey, I never thought I'd see the day" he said, gazing blindly into nothing.

"What day?" Hermione asked cautiously, making Fred smirk at her.

"The Day Hermione Granger makes a joke better than one of my own" he said, laughing at her, she just rolled her eyes.

"As much as I'm flattered by your comment, this isn't a joke" she said and Fred's smirk fell. "He's a changed man, Fred. He's really turned his life around" She said reasonably "He works for the ministry now and he's brilliant with Rose, she called him dad the other day, it was tragic" she said chuckling at the memory.

"So, urm, are you two – you know?" Fred said awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand. Hermione could see where it had reddened beneath his dark blue scarf, his un-kept red hair sticking out at funny angles above the collar of his coat.

"Together?" Hermione asked, wide eyed, Fred nodded "Merlin, no!" she said, laughing at the relief that flooded Fred's face. "Honestly, that's ridiculous!" she said and Fred had the decency to blush slightly. "So how about you?" she said "Are you seeing someone?"

"I am, actually" Fred said shyly. Hermione hadn't quite anticipated the way her stomach would plummet at his words.

"Really?" she said appreciatively, despite the horrible sinking feeling she was experiencing "who's the lucky girl?"

Fred laughed. "Katie Bell" he said casually, his eyes not meeting Hermione's "She was one of Angelina's bridesmaids, and you know the tradition of the bridesmaid and the best man" Fred said, but Hermione heard that it was half hearted.

"And you love her?" she asked, and Fred nodded slightly, not overly believably either. "Well if you're in love, then you are the lucky one" she said, placing a hand over where his were clasped atop the bar. He looked up at their contact, his blue eyes meeting hers "'Cause most of us are bitter over someone" she continued with a smile, indicating with her eyes to the fellow occupants of the now slightly emptier pub, of all the people sitting alone. "That's why we're setting fire to our insides" she said.

"Why's that?" he asked, watching how sad Hermione's eyes looked, despite the strength in her posture and the smile on her face.

"To distract our hearts from ever missing them" she said with a sad smile that hardly reached her eyes on her face as she spoke.

"And are you missing him?" he asked carefully.

"I'm forever missing him" she said, thinking of more than one person. She missed Harry, her best friend who she'd left without any word of explanation. She thought about Ron, the man she thought she loved, and how she missed the friend that he used to be, before all of this happened. That's the Ron she'd been missing, not the husband she'd found far too young, but the friend she'd lost. But most of all, she thought of Fred, of the man who comforted her when she cried, who took time from his already busy schedule to look after a baby that wasn't his, just so Hermione could sleep. That's the Fred she missed.

"Come back with me" He said eagerly, the words tumbling out of his mouth like vomit, surprisingly and clumsily.

"Excuse me?" Hermione asked, her eyebrow raised. Fred remembered how she used to do that when she wanted convincing.

"Come back with me, you and Rose. It's perfect, George moved out ages ago so I have a spare room, I'm sure ferret boy wont mind; you can stay with me until you find a place of your own. This is brilliant!"

"Slow down, wonder boy" Hermione said, holding up a dismissive hand. He gave her a quizzical look at the name "Never mind" she said " but I cant come and live with you, Fred" she said, causing Fred's smile to fade, the action hitting her like a punch in the gut.

"But, why not?" he asked confused.

"I'm just not ready" she said, knotting her hands together in her lap. "I'm not ready to face them, and I cant just drop Rose into a new world like that" she said.

"But-" he began, but Hermione cut him off.

"I said no, Fred." She said defiantly "And I mean no" breathing out a big sigh, she stood up "I'm sorry, but I need to go" she said, grabbing her bag from the floor by her feet. "Draco will want to know where I am" she said, beginning to walk away, but Fred stopped her, his strong hand wrapping around her wrist.

"Look, Hermione, I'm sorry" Fred said, pulling Hermione around so she stood in front of where he sat, each of his hands holding one of hers. "I came on a little strong there, I know, it's just. Well, I've missed you, 'Mione" he said, smiling up at her while she looked pointedly to the floor. "Just – Just come to mine tomorrow, we'll have lunch, maybe make a day of it. What d'ya say?" he said forcing an encouraging smile.

"Draco's working, there's no one to watch Rose" Hermione replied flatly, her eyes now looking at a painting on the wall of a man on a horse. It was strange for her now, to see photographs and paintings that didn't move. She didn't belong in the muggle world anymore.

"Bring her too, it'll be the three of us" Hermione opened her mouth to reply again but Fred held up a hand, silencing her "And I promise, I wont tell anyone I found you" he said earnestly, his blue eyes still searching hers out, trying to grasp some contact.

"Okay" Hermione said quietly, so quietly Fred almost didn't hear her.

"Really?" he said eagerly, the smile on his face was far too much to resist, Hermione looked at him and soon, she found herself smiling too, more than she had in years.

"Really" she said.

"Brilliant!" Fred exclaimed so loud that the sleeping old woman jerked awake. Fred jumped to his feet, wrapping his arms around Hermione's waist and pulling her into an oh-too-familiar Weasley hug. She laughed and squealed as Fred spun her around, her arms wrapping themselves instinctively around his neck.

When he put her down, her face was flushed pink with embarrassment, but no one else bat an eyelid. Hermione stood there, her arms still around Fred's neck, his around her waist, just staring into his ecstatic blue eyes as he smiled goofily down at her. It was adorable really, his smile, his straight, white teeth grinning down at her, his strong jaw line dusted with the slightest of ginger stubble.

"So, I'll see you tomorrow" he said brightly, still smiling widely at her. Hermione nodded, returning his smile.

"I'll see you tomorrow" she echoed. Fred let her go then, kissing her cheek before heading towards the door of the pub.

"Oh, and Hermione?" he said, standing in the open doorway. She turned towards him, watching as the smile still played across his features. The wind outside was ruffling his already scruffy red hair, his scarf fluttering slightly around his neck. "I really have missed you" he said before exiting the bar, leaving a dumbstruck Hermione stood in the middle of a room filled with dead people, yet she felt more alive than she had done in years.

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