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Even in the Darkest of Times

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Hermione Granger never though that things would ever feel “normal” in the 5 years after the war. After Voldemort’s defeat, time seemed to stand still as she, Harry and Ron stood together on the bridge overlooking what their lives had become. Each not quite daring to think about what comes next, knowing the countless witches and wizards who were no longer around to worry about their futures.

Ron and Harry started their training as Aurors as soon as the Ministry had been rebuilt under the direction of Kingsley. They never had the desire to finish their education as they had seen and learned things that no classroom was ever going to be able to match. There was always a sense of urgency with them, like it was their sole responsibility to wipe out the evil in the world. Which was fair because for the past 6 years, it had been.

Hermione on the other hand, had no desire to continue living her life searching for the dark wizards that still lurked in the shadows. She had tried to return to Hogwarts with the same innocent optimism that she had when she was 11, hoping to fall back into her childhood routine of learning. However each hallway at the castle seemed to bring back a new nightmare for her. She barely made it past her first round of exams before finally giving in and leaving the school for good. She was still able to complete her N.E.W.T.s a year ahead of schedule thanks to the books she had meticulously studied during her time on the run. As soon as her N.E.W.T. scores were posted she immediately began her training as a healer. She could never get rid of the desire to use her knowledge to help people after the horrors she had seen.

Even now as she trekked down the street of Diagon Alley in the chilly drizzle she mentally ran through the list of patients she had seen during her shift at the hospital just hours before. She groaned internally at the weight of the heavy charts in her bag that she had brought with her to finish at her small flat.

Pushing open the door of the busiest shop on the street she smiled as the familiar scent of gunpower and cinnamon met her, with the slightest aroma of sick that made her wrinkle her nose. “Oi! Granger, I saw that face!” Exclaimed the redhead standing just along the aisle nearest the door. “How is it we have the most advance cleansing spells at work here and you still know when a puking pastel has gone array?”

Hermione laughed as she caught a twinkle in George’s eyes. The younger twin had matured considerably since the final battle. He cut his hair shorter now proudly showing off his asymmetric ears. Today he was wearing a bright blue robe and there was a gold band gleamed on his left hand. George wasted no time after the war professing his love to a wonderful witch who, thankfully returned his affection eagerly. Their wedding was the first celebration after the battle that actually brought joy back into their lives.

“I’m glad to hear it’s from the shop and not something that I’ve brought with me from work. God knows I’ve been vomited on enough times in the past 18 hours.” She retorted back to him.

George nodded in sympathy as he noted the dark circles under her eyes. “Welcome to the club I guess.” He gestured to her heavy bag, “I can see you’re on your way home at least so you could get some rest but I suppose you being you, that's pretty impossible. What brings you by?”

She knew full well George already knew exactly why she was here now because it was the same reason she had been stopping every chance she got lately. She paused before asking, “Has there been any news?”

“None yet,” He sighed and shook his head. “Even Ginny has stopped receiving anything and Mum is going mental with worry. It just so unlike them to go this long without a word, you know?”

Hermione sighed. Harry and Ron had been on a mission for the ministry for the past 8 months but as their last letter had arrived more than 3 months ago. No one knew anything of their welfare. Never had their missions kept them away this long, especially with Harry and Ginny just starting to plan their wedding prior to their assignment.

While the war had seemed to many as the end of an era of fear and death, there were still so many threats left. Dark magic and wizards plagued the daily news almost as much as it did in Voldemort’s reign. The Ministry’s Aurors frequently went on dangerous missions to quell the uprisings but when Ron and Harry had gotten their latest assignment something felt different. They had no prior information of where they were going or what they would be doing. Having been given only a few days’ notice there wasn’t much time to worry about details as they packed their things and spent the last few days making sure things were settled at home before saying good buys and leaving.

They had sent a few letters after that which were passed around the Weasley’s and honorary family members such as Hermione. They were lighthearted at first but after a few months the little they could relay back was dark and had a sense of fear in it. Hermione hadn’t heard Harry sound this crestfallen since after Dumbledore died when they were 16. Then the letters simply stopped coming. While everyone was worried, Ginny had had the hardest time adjusting to the unknown. She had thrown herself into quidditch practice and rarely came around to family dinner’s anymore. Even when she stayed at her and Hermione’s flat during her time off, she just lacked the light that used to emanate from her. Hermione knew that Ginny felt betrayed after Harry said he would never leave her again after getting back from being on the run. But even more so she had a deeper sense that something was wrong, the same feeling she had the entire year the older three spent searching for horcruxes.

Hermione sighed and returned her attention to George who also looked lost in thought. “They will come back you know? They always do.” George looked up and nodded.

“I know, I just wish it wasn’t so hard on everyone. They never seemed to consider who they would be leaving if something where to go wrong on these missions.” He shook his head before brightening, “Well as long as you’re here maybe you could go back and convince Fred to take a break from whatever mad scheme he is brewing in the back. He might even be obliged to make you a cuppa for the road.” George winked at her before turning back to the shelves.

Hermione laughed, picturing Fred bent over a chemistry set in a mad scientist lab coat and goggles that she remembered from her muggle upbringing. She may have to bring up a wardrobe change to them in the near future.

She walked to the back of the store, weaving in and out of kids fawning over the colorful displays. The pale blonde witch at the counter was getting swarmed by children as they itched to purchase their items and rush home to test them out. Verity gave her a quick wave over the tops of the short people that surrounded her and yelled out a quick “Be careful!” as she passed. Never a good sign that a warning was necessary when entering the back room. Hermione cautiously poked her head round the magenta curtain separating the store front from the twin’s workshop. She saw Fred near the opposite was hunched over a cauldron muttering directions to himself as he stirred the potion clockwise. She hated to interrupt him so stayed silent for a few moments before walking forward and sitting on a stool on the opposite wall.

In her new vantage point she had an opportunity to survey not only her surroundings but the tall wizard working meticulously in front of her. She knew how much work the twin's products took to develop and make. It really as impressive magic and potion skills she remembered thinking a few years back when they had given her a more in depth tour of their production room. During her summer breaks from her training she had taken them up on the opportunity to work part time in the shop. During those hours Fred had shown her how to make many of their products and had been quite impressed at how quickly she picked things up. She huffed slightly that he didn't think she would have the skills to carry out their complex and sometimes rigorous potions. That was one of the only times she had pulled the 'brightest witch of her age' card out which had caused Fred to roll his eyes, not finding it impressive at all. The potion he was working on now didn't look familiar to Hermione so she assumed it must be something new which would require all of his concentration so she held back her urge to interrupt him.

She scanned the wizard in front of her. His hair, though shorter than it had been as a teenager, was still longer than George's and stood on end, which Hermione knew was a result of his habit of running his had through the locks. She couldn't see them now but she knew that his deep blue eyes would be squinting in concentration as they tossed more ingredients into the cauldron. His features had become more chiseled over the past few years, causing a sharp jawline to become more prominent. Speaking of chiseled, she let her eyes wander appreciatively over the elder twins' back. She could see muscles bunching underneath the dark blue shirt he had worn in contrast to George's bright blue one. The sleeves were rolled up and she saw his forearms flex with each stir of the sticky liquid. Looking lower she blushed surveying his trim figure and sent a quick thanks to whoever made his jeans that showed off his slim hips, long legs and his oh so fabulous ---

Fred stopped stirring suddenly and with furious quickness added three drops of a mustard yellow substance from a vial. Hermione jumped slightly at the quick movements and brought her eyes back to the concoction on the counter. The cauldron in front of him immediately started smoking and a high pitched squeal erupted into the air. She quickly clamped her hands over her ears to block out the hideous noise and jumped up as Fred frantically ducked below the counter top. He had just looked up and caught her eye, his mouth opening slightly as if to say something, before the potion in the cauldron exploded causing a thick blanket of darkness to consume the room.

The pitch black that she was now flooded her senses made her eyes water and lungs burn. The air felt thick and gritty as she tried to take a deep breath. Something about the sensation was making her skin crawl and the had the sudden urge to curl up in a ball on the floor to stop the tingling of her flesh. All of the overwhelming sensations was sending her into a panic and she almost forgot where she was. She coughed at the intrusion into her lungs and took a tentative step as she reached out in front of her trying to find a way out. She took a few more steps before bumping into something solid that she immediately latched onto. It took her a second to realize that the object was grabbing her back. Hands gripped her upper arms and she thought she heard vague shouting but her ears were ringing too much to understand. The hands tightened and the next thing she knew she felt the familiar sensation of apparating before landing on a solid floor with blessedly clear, bright air.

Despite the escape from the suffocating blackness, Hermione could not stop coughing and was gasping for breath. Her skin continued to crawl as she gave into the sensation to fall. Her knees buckled and she collapsed to the floor, partially supported by the wizard in front of her. As she continued to gasp for breath, the burning sensation becoming even worse with each breath. Her vision was becoming spotty and she knew she had to get more air soon. She cursed herself internally, she was a healer and was going to die because she couldn’t bloody breath. Her hand clutched her throat and chest as she continued to wheeze.
- -
The sheer panic that had gripped Fred when he saw Hermione standing at the back of the room as he ducked to avoid the imminent explosion of his new potion was terrifying. He inhaled sharply franticaly wondering how she had got passed the wards he cast earlier on the back room to not allow any entrance when he was working on the dangerous product. He had cast the wards, right? he cursed himself quickly, knowing the distracted state he had been in when he first arrived in the back, eager to finally put the finishing touches on his masterpiece. Knowing the dangers of the potion he had cast protective spells about himself prior to working on it to make sure that what was happening to Hermione now did not happen to him if something were to go array. As the shrieking of the potion above him continued, there was a load bang and the room was encased in darkness. The protective shield around him allowed him to see vague shapes but enough to be able to maneuver his was to standing and then to the struggling witch. Across the room he saw easily through the darkness to the small witch who was holding one hand over her mouth and the other reaching out into the air. If he didn't know the agony she must be going through right now the sight of her blindly searching in the dark would be almost amusing to him.

He reached her in seconds, gripping her tight before apparating to the flat above the shop. The room was dim with the cloud cover outside and Fred quickly looked down at the woman in front of him, his fear returned when her symptoms did not immediately resolve when removed from the toxic environment like they were supposed to. She didn’t even look at him before falling to the ground in a fit of coughing. He quickly bent down with her, supporting her shoulders and muttered spells under his breath to help her breath. He was no healer but after years of working with George he had learned enough spells to correct whatever ailments their failed inventions caused.

After several agonizing minutes of the spells slowly doing their work, Hermione’s harsh coughing eased considerably and the wheezing became less noticeable. Her shoulders still seemed to heave with every breath and her head lolled forward onto his arm, exhausted from her fight to breathe. Fred slipped an arm around the unconscious witch's back and knee before scooping her up from the floor and bringing her to the couch where he gently rested her down and knelt in front of her. His concerned eyes scanned her face which was tipped back on the back of the couch, “Hermione, look at me." He said somewhat forcefully trying not to let his panic seep through to his voice. She should have immediately gotten better when leaving the room so when the potion continued to affect her Fred grew more fearful of the unknown results. "Hermione, you need to open your eyes and look at me.”

Her eyelashes fluttered as she slowly registered someone speaking to her. Hands were touching her face, brushing back the hair that was tickling her neck before resting there and gently lifting her head up. She slowly blinked opened her eyes not into the darkness she had expected but to the midnight blue eyes filled with concern looking back at her. Confused she looked around taking in her surroundings before settling back on the Weasley twin, events of the past few minutes came rushing back to her and causing her to shudder. She closed her eyes briefly against the memory of the horrid sensations she had experienced and looked sharply back at Fred. “All I wanted was a cup of tea,” She croaked out.

At her statement Fred breathed a sigh of relief and chuckled, shaking his head. The panic and tension leaving his muscles as he scanned her dark brown eyes looking back at him. “For such a humorless goody two shoes you sure have a knack for making jokes at the wrong time.” She smiled slightly before resting her head back on the couch, closed her eyes and sighed. She looked relatively alright to him as he did a quick once over, and he was satisfied that her her breathing had returned to normal after his spells helped sooth what must have been the intense burning in her lungs. Cursing himself and his stupidity he gave her knee a squeeze before dropping next to her on the couch.

They sat in silence for a few minutes as the adrenaline wore off and Fred continued to mentally berate himself for putting anyone in danger by not warding the room. He was never so thoughtless when working on a new product but his dreams had kept him up all night and even George stopping in with breakfast could not clear his mind. He tried to remember what else he may have missed in his morning endeavors when he felt Hermione shift, turning her body so she could face him. “So are you going to tell me what I almost died for?” She asked accusingly.

He opened one eye and looked over at her. She was starting at him with an intensity that made him flinch. He knew that she was well aware of the wards used to keep people out of the back room during development of dangerous potions and that she had most definitely demised he forgot to put them up given the recent events. The low bun he assumed her long hair had been neatly pulled into prior to the accident was coming loose and tendrils of curly hair were now framing her face. He had the urge to reach out and tuck the pieces behind her ear if he was sure his hand wouldn't get bitten off. He sheepishly turned his head towards her. “Well you will be happy to know that it did exactly what I wanted it to do, sort of.” She raised her eyebrows in mild shock.

“No, no, I didn’t mean for you to get caught up in it. It wasn’t meant for you.” He quickly explained and continued, “It’s a form of the Peruvian darkness powder for our new defense line. With the attacks becoming more frequent we wanted to start making products that people could keep on them to use if they were ever in need. Jokes are well and good but George and I decided it was time we start using our skills and product base for things that could actually keep people safe too.”

“The one you walked in to is supposed to render the room uninhabitable for everyone but the user, giving them an escape route. Instead of just darkness it consumes the victim causing all of their senses to be overloaded. I don't need to tell you that the effect is quite powerful. The user is automatically protected and can flee. Hence why you got the short end of it.” He smirked slightly, “Though I guess I should thank you for being such a great test subject.”

She swatted at his shoulder just as George burst through the door of the flat. He looked wildly around before his gaze rested on Fred and Hermione sitting comfortably on the couch. “Bloody hell!" He exclaimed marching over to them. "I walked into the back and it looked like a volcano had erupted there was so much soot! And then neither of you were there I thought you may have been blown up. What the hell happened?” He looked at his twin pointedly.

“Well you remember that new darkness powder I had mentioned I was going to work on today?" Understanding suddenly flooded George's eyes as his mouth fell open. "Well Hermione sort of walked into it.” Fred said carefully, knowing the berating he would be receiving from his twin later for not putting up the shield charms on the back and allowing their friend to walk into a disaster.

George groaned and rubbed his temple, “Gods Hermione, I’m so sorry! I completely forgot what Fred was working on back there and I sent you right into it.” Fred noted that he did not bring up anything about the lack of charms that would have prevented her from having access to the room in the first place.

Hermione laughed at the daggers George was shooting at his twin before coughing slightly, “It’s really alright. Not the first time I’ve been at the brunt end of a Wheezes product and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Though," She turned and looked at Fred. "I'd appreciate a bit of a warning next time, maybe hang a sign?" Her eyes twinkled knowing the guilt he must be feeling over the wards.

“You're okay though?" George asked. "I know what Fred had been planning that potion to do and it didn’t sound like a fun experience for the person on the other end.”

Remembering the crawling sensation and burning in her lungs Hermione shook her head. “No definitely not, though you’ll be happy to know it worked perfectly. If I was after someone and they dropped that in the room, I definitely would have been too preoccupied to continue my pursuit.” She rubbed at her eyes suddenly feeling the exhaustion of the day catch up with her. “But I really should be getting home. I work tomorrow and after this lovely, relaxing visit I feel like I could sleep all week.”

She stood up to go and Fred rose with her catching her arm with his hand. “Again, Hermione I am so sorry. Are you sure you feel well enough to travel? You are more than welcome to stay here for the night.” He stared at her concerned as she nodded.

“Don't worry, I’ll be just fine." She tried to make her smile convincing enough. "Though if you don’t mind I think I’ll use the Floo system? Apparating does not sound appealing at the moment.” Fred nodded and watched as she stepped forward and disappeared in green flames.

He sighed after the fireplace died down and turned back into the room running his fingers through his hair. He looked up and caught the smirking gaze of his twin. “What?” He asked sternly.

George chuckled, “Look I think this little crush of yours has gotten somewhat out of hand. Surely you could have found some other way to make Granger breathless?” George barely had time to raise his hands in defense before a throw pilled smacked into his face.