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Originally Posted: Feb 15, 2006

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7spells Prompt #1: A Drinking Song

Dedication: Happy birthday to shored who insisted I choose this pairing and for creating such an inspiring community!

The sound of raucous singing spilled onto the street from the doors of the pub every time they were opened. Hermione left the wild, and more than slightly inebriated, group before her headache could get any worse. She wasn’t fond of crowds anymore, never really had been even before the war, and told herself every time she came to the pub that it would be her last time.

Then Friday night would arrive and she’d find herself home alone. The silence would become unbearable and even an off-key drunken song would be better than the loneliness. There were some faces she always saw there so it was comfortable and familiar, in a way. Seamus worked behind the bar and usually led the drunken merriment even if he wasn’t allowed to drink, much, before his shift ended. Hannah Abbott would often be found at a corner table trying to drink away the loss of Justin. Nott would be at the stool on the right, sneaking looks at Seamus’ arse and getting lost in a never-empty glass of firewhisky.

And Hermione would be at a table near the window sipping a glass of wine, usually just one unless she felt particularly restless, as she tried to forget quiet flats and sleeping alone. The weekends that didn’t seem to find her at the pub were those when Ron or Harry were in town. She had a library slash guest room that would often be borrowed for a monthly visit. Well, they’d been monthly visits and lately seemed to bi-monthly. She assumed that they would become quarterly and eventually yearly as more time passed. It seemed an inevitable part of life, to grow up and drift apart.

It was fortunate that they had the type of friendship that didn’t matter if they’d seen each other yesterday or last month. They exchanged owls weekly, that was something she didn’t foresee changing any time soon, and were always aware of each other’s lives, good and bad. She didn’t tell them how lonely it was with Harry in Scotland and Ron in Spain or how she worked nearly all her waking hours just to have something to fill the emptiness, of course. An evening spent alone in a crowded pub was the extent of her social life anymore, save for an occasional lunch with Ginny and monthly dinners with Neville.

Tonight, she had stayed later than normal. Three glasses of wine had been consumed and she was just at the point where things were somewhat foggy and she had a slight headache that would probably clear up with fresh air, but she wasn’t tipsy enough to truly escape into the alcohol. Hermione didn’t allow herself to get drunk because she hated the loss of control and helpless feeling that accompanied it. Two glasses was her usual limit but something had kept her later tonight and a third glass had sounded too tempting to resist.

It was a cold evening in mid-February, a heavy snow had fallen during the morning, and it was now icy in patches. Hermione loved winter, but she wasn’t a huge fan of the cold. It was a nice contradiction, she knew, and certainly not her only one. Right now, she didn’t pay much attention to the chill in the night air or the sky that indicated more snow was a possibility. She was worried about the reason she had stayed at the pub later so weather wasn’t on her mind. There was only one thing on her mind at the moment.

Bill Weasley.

He was slightly ahead of her leaning against the wall of a building; his coat far too thin for the winter weather and she didn’t think he was even wearing gloves. His long hair was loose, falling around his face and shoulders in a curtain of dark ginger, so his ears were at least covered. He might not be affected by the temperature, but that wouldn’t mean he’d not catch cold walking around with that thin winter coat and no gloves.

His appearance at her pub had been surprising, to say the least. It was the first time Bill had been to her pub, invited by Seamus when they’d run into one another in Diagon Alley recently, she’d been told when Seamus brought her a drink. She didn’t know what he was doing in London, hadn’t heard any gossip of note lately, and had thought she was imagining things when she’d seen him step into the pub. It might be the first time he’d been there, but she knew it wasn’t the first time he’d been to a pub to drink away his sorrows.

Molly had expressed concern in Bill’s erratic behavior a few times, after all. Hermione didn’t think Bill was doing anything that anyone else in his situation wouldn’t do, though, and most wouldn’t have been strong enough to handle things as well as he had. The attack at Hogwarts years ago had left him scarred physically, but he’d not let that keep him from showing his face and he had never displayed any self-pity for what had happened to him during the attack. Personally, she thought he was still very handsome even with the scars. The death of Fleur and their baby during childbirth near the end of the war would have broken many men, but he’d managed to remain strong despite the heavy loss.

She could remember weeks of silence, though, as Bill mourned the wife and unborn baby that had been taken from him in a way no one had ever expected. An attack by Death Eaters or even a stray curse during battle was something they had all somewhat expected every time they stepped out of the protective wards and it had been a possible outcome for any of them. It had been a shock when the owl had arrived at their shelter telling Ron about Fleur and the baby’s death. Bill had been there fighting a week later, his face pale and dark circles beneath his eyes. He’d not stopped fighting until Voldemort was defeated and it was all finally over.

It had been six years since the end of the war. Bill had returned to Egypt and gone back to cursebreaking. When he came home for the holidays, he was quieter but Bill had never been as loud or talkative as most of his family. He laughed, but it never really reached his eyes, and his smiles were more often pained or fleeting than real and genuine. Molly worried a lot, though, especially about him being alone and not seeming to move on as time went by. The drinking was a concern, too, but he never appeared to drink in excess, no more than any of them really, so Hermione wasn’t sure if Molly just knew he might drink more when he was alone with nothing but memories or just assumed he, like Hannah, found solace in the bottom of a glass.

“You’re not very good at following people.”

Hermione was pulled from her thoughts by a lazy drawl that was low and either annoyed or amused. One couldn’t be quite certain with Bill these days. She looked up to find Bill looking at her. His hair covered the scars on his face and his lips were curved into a frown. “I wasn’t following you,” she denied as she pulled her coat tighter and shivered. “I was walking home.”

“You’ve never been a liar, Hermione. Don’t start now,” he muttered as he glared. “I don’t need a babysitter and I’ve already got a mum so bugger off.”

“You’re rude when you’re drunk,” she pointed out quietly. “I was having a drink at the pub where I always spend my Friday nights, for your information, so perhaps I should be telling you to bugger off since you’re in my space, Mister Weasley.”

“Who said I was drunk? Besides, it’s not rude, it’s just honest,” he defended as he met her gaze without flinching. He didn’t look drunk but she knew he’d had seven drinks. She’d counted as there was nothing much else to do at the pub and she’d been a bit worried when she’d seen him drinking so much. “You spent most the night watching me; I may be scarred but I’m not blind, Hermione”

“I spend all my evenings at the pub watching people,” she explained smoothly, her words truth even if she never spent them watching just one person. It was Bill and he was like family, after all, so it was her responsibility to make sure he was okay. That’s what she told herself every time her gaze seemed to drift to him over the past few years.

“And do you follow them all home or am I just lucky?” There was just a hint of amusement, so minor it was barely noticeable, but it was there.

“I’m not following anyone now. My flat is this way and I had a bit too much wine so I’m walking instead of Apparating,” she explained in a tone that told him she didn’t find it amusing in the slightest. “You know, I don’t owe you any explanations, Bill.”

“I’m not drunk,” he told her quietly but sincerely as he ran his fingers through his long hair. For a moment, he looked lost and confused, far younger than thirty-five. “I drink just enough to make it manageable, you know? Mum worries too much. You can report back to her that I’m somewhat sober and not seeing three of you instead of one so maybe she’ll stop being so bloody concerned.”

“You’re her son. She’ll always worry,” Hermione pointed out matter-of-factly. “Besides, I won’t be telling her anything about seeing you. If I did, she’d want to know why I was at the pub alone on a Friday night and would then probably decide that I’m an alcoholic and worry about me. I much prefer her to worry about others.”

“You didn’t even finish a third glass of wine, that’s some weak wine, by the way, and Finnegan said you usually don’t even finish one glass,” Bill said dryly in response to the belief that she would be an alcoholic. At her arched brow, he shrugged. “I noticed you by the window when I got there and asked. Considered going over to say hello but figured you were either meeting someone, hoped to pick up someone, or wanted to be alone so I didn’t bother interrupting you.”

“I don’t pick up drunken men in pubs,” she said sharply, annoyed that he’d ever think she was some common pub-slag.

“You don’t go to get drunk, obviously, and you don’t go for an easy fuck so why do you go?” he asked as his gaze focused on her with an intensity that Bill had always possessed and that always left her slightly unnerved. “Every Friday, you said?”

“That’s not any of your business,” she told him softly as she pulled her coat tighter and considered performing a warming charm but didn’t want to remove her hands from her pocket long enough to do, especially when she wasn’t very far from her flat. “It’s too cold to stand out here any longer. Are you going back to Egypt or staying at the Burrow? I have tea and cocoa if you’d like something warm before you Apparate.”

“I have a flat not far from here,” he said as he moved his head to indicate an area past her flat. At her surprised look, he almost smiled but it was so fleeting she thought she might have been mistaken. “I accepted a promotion at work and moved back to London last week. I thought it was time, I suppose.”

“I hadn’t heard,” she admitted as she started to walk, needing to move to warm up. The cold air was killing the slight buzz she had from the wine, which she actually found somewhat annoying. “Well, if you need anything, I’m just down the street. Congratulations on the promotion, of course.”

“It should be interesting. I’ll be working in England and Scotland with an occasional assignment in Ireland so it’s going to be different than being based primarily in Egypt, but I think change is good, in this case. You know, just because I live here now doesn’t mean you get out of making me that mug of cocoa, Hermione. I’d hate to tell Mum you reneged on your polite offer,” he said as he looked up at the stars. “You do have marshmallows, I presume?”

Hermione fought a smile as she glanced at him. He wasn’t smiling, exactly, but he also wasn’t scowling so that was a bit of an improvement. She wondered idly what it would take to make him smile again. He seemed so sad and she hated seeing people she cared about sad. “I might,” she drawled in a teasing way.

“Might, huh?” he asked as they reached her building. He opened the door for her when she reached out for the handle. “It’s been ages since I’ve had cocoa.”

“No cocoa in that long? That’s just horrible,” she mock gasped and shook her head, finally giving in and smiling as she led him to the lift. “I’m on the third floor. We could walk, if you’d rather, but the lift is easier after a night at the pub.”

“The lift is fine.” He looked at her again and asked quietly, “It gets lonely, doesn’t it? Sometimes work can be a great distraction, gives you something to focus on, but some nights it’s impossible to ignore the silence and you can’t stand being alone for another minute or you just know you’ll go crazy.”

“Yes,” she agreed softly as she stepped onto the lift and pushed the appropriate button. She glanced at him, somehow not surprised that he’d understand. They were silent as they rode up to her floor, but it was a nice sort of silence, shared by another who knew loneliness.

The End