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I Don't Have a Choice (But I'd Still Choose You) by KeepCalmAndWriteSomething

Format: Novella
Chapters: 11
Word Count: 17,153
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Mild violence, Scenes of a sexual nature

Genres: Drama, Humor, Romance
Characters: Hermione, George
Pairings: Hermione/FredOrGeorge, Harry/Ginny, Ron/Luna

First Published: 05/25/2016
Last Chapter: 08/17/2016
Last Updated: 08/17/2016

Summary:






Banner by beyond the rain at TDA 

Hermione Granger is struggling to find her place in the aftermath of the war. Then, the tenuous peace is threatened when the Protection of the Wizarding Population Act, a marriage law created in 1442, is implemented once more. How will she handle being paired with the last person she expected? And will two quite different people be able to come together as one?


Chapter 1: Prince Charming
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Hermione adjusted the strap of the bag on her shoulder as she navigated the crowds of Diagon Alley. It was such a nice day that the people were out in droves.

She had popped out to do a bit of shopping. She'd needed some more parchment and ink. And maybe a new book or two. Or twenty. A smile crept across her face at the thought. She'd never been able to resist the siren song of a bookstore.

"Hermione? Is that you?"

The voice that called to her was vaguely familiar. When she looked up, she had to clench her teeth to keep back the groan that was building in her throat. Cormac McLaggen stood before her wearing the same smirk she remembered from their school years.

Hermione felt his gaze rake up and down her figure. "Well, Hermione. You're looking good. It's been a long time, hasn't it?"

She rolled her eyes as he moved a bit closer. "Yes, it has."

Not long enough, really.

The last time she'd spoken to the boy had been when she'd told him off at Slughorn's Christmas party. She remembered that Cormac had backed her into a dark corner and tried to snog her. Which would have been bad enough, but then he'd grabbed her bum. He was lucky that he'd escaped with just a tongue lashing and not a physical one.

His mouth turned up into an arrogant smile. "You know, I'm working at the Ministry now. The Minister and I are rather close friends." He laughed, leaning towards her and whispered conspiratorially, "Actually, I don't think he could get by a day without me."

Hermione's eyes glazed over as she started to look for an escape from the conversation. She nodded. "Oh, that's great."

She didn't buy his attempts to impress her. Most of the things he told her were probably lies anyway. Cormac reached out to rest his hand on her arm. She hid a grimace as she took a step backwards. He didn't seem to notice.

"You know, there's going to be a party at the Ministry next week. You should come as my date. I mean, I remember that huge crush you had on me when we were in Hogwarts."

Her mouth almost dropped open at his arrogance. Was it possible that he was really that ignorant? Hermione felt a wave of frustration wash over her and she opened her mouth to argue.

But suddenly, there was a weight around her shoulders and she saw a flash of red out of the corner of her eye. Turning her head, she saw that George Weasley, wearing fluorescent magenta robes that bore his shop's logo, had appeared out of nowhere. He was now standing next to her with his arm around her and a devilish smirk on his face.

"There you are, love. I've been looking all over for you," George said. A mischievous glint filled his brown eyes as he waited for her reaction.

Hermione was dumbfounded for a moment. After all, she hadn't seen either one of the Weasley twins since she had left to find her parents a month before. And in all of the years that she'd known him, George had never once called her "love".

She wondered if this was the start of some practical joke, but found she didn't really mind too much if it got her out of talking to Cormac. She quickly seized the escape that George had provided her.

She adopted what she hoped was a sheepish look and patted his chest. She felt the hard muscle through his shirt and a fierce blush settled on her cheeks. "Sorry, dear. I saw something in one of the shops that I just had to look at."

She turned back to Cormac, who had a somewhat put out expression. "George, you remember Cormac? We were just catching up."

George nodded and held his hand out for the other man to shake. "Of course. Good to see you again, McLaggen."

"So, you two are together then?" Cormac asked, gesturing to the two of them.

"Oh, yeah." George smiled as he pulled her closer. "Been about a year now. Love this bird to death."

Hermione saw the corners of George's mouth twitch in amusement before he leaned to place a kiss on her cheek. She fought to keep her expression neutral, but her whole face was burning. Especially the spot where his lips had been.

Going for adoration, she smiled. "I love you too, George."

Cormac's smile was tight. "How lovely. Well, I really must get going. I'll see you both around."

Hermione watched Cormac swagger away before she turned to George, her eyebrows raised and a smirk on her lips. "Thanks for that, love."

He still had his arm around her as he laughed and said, "Anytime, dear."

George pointed to a nearby bench in front of one of the shops, indicating that they should sit. When they were situated, she asked, "How did you know I needed help?"

He grinned. "Well, I was on my way back to the shop when I saw you. Most people don't scowl when talking to people they like, so I figured that you needed saving. Just call me Prince Charming," he finished with a wink.

Hermione scoffed. "And what does that make me? The damsel in distress?"

"No, Granger. You're anything but that," he replied with a chuckle. "Anyway, when did you get back from Australia? How did it go?"

"Just yesterday, actually. Everything went as planned, for once. I found my parents and restored their memories. They remember everything." Hermione hesitated, staring into the crowds that passed them by. "Though, they're a bit miffed at me. They told me that I had no right to do what I did. That they should have had the choice, and they never would've chosen to give me up."

George watched her intently as her eyes misted over. "Hey, you did what you had to do. And it's all over now. It all turned out fine in the end. They'll come around eventually."

She blinked a few times to rid herself of the tears. Then she looked at him and smiled. "That's very sweet of you to say, George. And until they do, your mother said that I could stay at the Burrow."

"Well, of course she did. My mother would never turn you down. I'm pretty sure she's had the adoption papers ready since the day she met you." George sighed. "I should get back to the shop. Fred is probably getting lonely. But Mum invited us for dinner tomorrow, so I suppose I'll see you then."

Hermione nodded and waved goodbye as he disappeared into the crowd. She placed a hand to her cheek where the imprint of his lips still burned.

 


Chapter 2: Dark Wings, Dark Words
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By 6:00 on Sunday evening, the small kitchen was filled to burst with redheads. Hermione and Ginny had spent the afternoon helping Mrs. Weasley with the roast and potatoes that they were having for dinner. As Molly set the food on the table, Hermione took her seat between Ginny and Percy.

George winked at her from across the table. "Hello, love. How was your day?"

She smirked and began to fill her plate. "Just fine, dear. And how was yours?"

"Well enough," he said, as he stabbed a bit of potato with his fork. "Gred and I have been working on a new product for the shop. A new addition for the WonderWitch line."

"Just a bit more tweaking on the formula," Fred said. "And then it will be ready for testing."

The twins glanced at each other and their lips pulled into identical, roguish grins. They really were quite handsome when they smiled like that. In Hermione's opinion, they were the most attractive out of all of the Weasley sons. And they had the charm to back it up.

Of course, she would never tell them that. Their egos were big enough already.

"Hopefully, it turns out better -"

"- than the last product we tested."

"It was supposed to make you grow scales and a tail."

"But instead, it turned Fred into a lizard."

Fred nodded. "It was an enlightening experience, but not one I really want to repeat."

She snorted and rolled her eyes at their antics. She was always amazed at the things they came up with. Their creativity was endless, it seemed.

Hermione glanced around the table. Mrs. Weasley hadn't taken her seat yet and was instead hovering over Harry and piling more food on his plate, like she always did, insisting that he was simply too thin. Bill was discussing with Mr. Weasley a recent case he had worked at Gringotts, his hand resting on Fleur's slight bump of a stomach. Fred and George were leaning towards each other and whispering. Percy was informing anyone that would listen of some promotion he hoped to receive. Ron and Harry were huddled together and chatting about the training they were doing to become Aurors while Ginny merely watched the exchange.

There was a smile on every single face and joy in their eyes. A year ago, Hermione wasn't sure that was even possible. But here they all were. They had made it through mostly unscathed. The war was over and they could finally move on and begin to heal.

There was the sound of flapping wings as a great, black owl flew in through the open window of the kitchen. Everyone stared as the bird came to land on Fleur's head. The pregnant woman let out an ear-shattering screech and began to flail her arms wildly. The owl did not budge; it only stared imperiously at the room from its perch.

"Get zis disgusting beast off of me!"

Every occupant was watching in open mouthed silence. Molly jumped into action and leaned over the table to remove the letter that was tied to the bird's leg. Once its job was completed and Molly had tossed it a bit of meat from her plate, the owl left the same way it had come.

Someone snorted. Hermione wasn't sure who it was, but a moment later, the room had exploded into laughter. The sound swelled until it filled the kitchen. Fleur, it seemed, was not amused. She scowled at the twins, who had begun to reenact the incident with exaggerated movements.

"It is not funny!"

"It was abit funny," Bill said as he wrapped an arm around his wife's shoulders. Fleur rolled her eyes at him, turning her scowl in his direction. He grinned and placed a loud, squelching kiss on her cheek.

Hermione was out of breath from laughing so hard. She wiped the tears from her eyes and took a deep breath to calm herself. But when she glanced at Mrs. Weasely, Hermione's mood immediately sobered.

Molly stood rigidly, her expression something between incredulity and utter horror. She clutched the letter so tightly that her knuckles shone bone-white through her freckled skin. She shook her head and muttered, "No. No, they can't."

The rest of the room had noticed her reaction and a suffocating silence had settled.

"Molly, dear, what is it?" Arthur asked as he moved to read the letter over his wife's shoulder. His reaction was much the same as his wife's and by the time he'd finished reading, his lips had thinned into a stern line.

"What's happened? Has someone died?" Bill asked. He subconsciously tightened the grip he had on Fleur's shoulders, pulling her closer to him.

Molly shook her head. "No, no one has died. It's a letter from the Ministry. Arthur, maybe you should read it aloud."

"Er … alright, then." Mr. Weasley gently pried the piece of parchment from Molly's still clenched fingers. He cleared his throat and raised his voice so that everyone could hear him. "This letter is to inform you of an act of legislation that will soon commence. The Protection of the Wizarding Population Act, originally enacted in 1442, was created to stabilize the population in times of strife. The law states that whenever the number of magical persons drops by more than 45%, immediate action would have to be taken."

He gave a nervous look around the room. "Under this law, eligible citizens of Great Britain will be required to marry and produce offspring within two years. This applies to witches and wizards aged 18-30 who are not otherwise engaged or married."

The room resonated with cries of outrage and disbelief. Hermione couldn't believe what she was hearing. How could they do this? They had just fought a war over human rights and now the Ministry was going to force this on them? Surely, they couldn't really enforce this law?

"Did you two know about this?" George asked, jumping to his feet and aiming a glare at his father and Percy.

"No, of course not!" Percy scoffed. "I would have told you if I had."

"I'd heard of this law before, but I didn't realize that things were so dire. I had no idea that they would be implementing it again," Arthur said as he pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers. "This would have been the Department of Wizarding Relations. They kept it very hushed."

"Bloody hell! This is completely mad!" Ron shouted. His cheeks and ears were turning a blotchy sort of red. "They don't really expect people to go along with this, do they? I mean, I am not ready for a baby!" His features had twisted into a horrible grimace as his spit out the last word.

Hermione glanced at Ginny. She'd been sitting quietly, her hand clasped tightly in Harry's, and watching the situation unfold. She seemed a bit distressed, but wasn't up in arms about it. Because of that gleaming emerald ring on her finger, this law didn't apply to her or Harry. He had finally worked up the courage and asked her to marry him last month.

Hermione felt a twinge of envy. They wouldn't have to worry about their future. Nor would Bill or Fleur, who were happily married and expecting a child in the spring. And Charlie was exempt from the law because he lived in Romania.

Molly had retaken her seat and now sagged against the table. She looked exhausted, as if reading that letter had sapped her very life-force. "Read the rest of it, Arthur."

"A Ministry official, through a series of very extensive tests, will determine with whom each person is most compatible." Arthur had to practically shout to be heard over the continuing protests. "The couple will then have six months from the time they receive their results to marry. From their wedding date, they will have a year to conceive a child. The pairings will be determined and you will receive your results by letter later this week. Those who do not cooperate with the law will be sent to Azkaban until they conform."

Azkaban. A chill swept through Hermione. So, they really were serious about this. There was no way that she was willingly going to Azkaban, but the alternative wasn't much better.

How would some Ministry official know who was best for her? She didn't even know what she wanted anymore. Since the war, she had felt so … lost. She had spent years of her life fighting. What was she supposed to do when the fighting was done?

She had thought, once upon a time, that she would settle down with Ron after everything was said and done. She had kissed him on the night of the battle, when she hadn't been sure if she would be walking away from that place. But she had, and now, she wasn't so sure about their relationship. If you could even call it a relationship.

After all, they spent so much time arguing. And she didn't want to fight anymore. So, the only interactions they'd had since that kiss had been strictly platonic. Hermione wanted to be sure of her feelings before she rushed into anything. Maybe this compatibility test would tell her that she really was meant to be with Ron. And then maybe they could work together on their communication skills.

But what if it put her with a Slytherin or someone who had been on the other side of the war? Hermione shuddered. She wasn't sure she could handle that; the wounds were too fresh.

She supposed she could always run away. Far, far away where no one would know her name. Hermione would have no problems with living as a Muggle. After all, she'd been raised that way. But that would mean leaving behind the world that she had come to love. The world that she had sacrificed and bled for. Her heart broke at the thought. She didn't think she could do that either.

There had to be something else she could do. She could complain to the Ministry. Even if the people who worked there now weren't the ones who'd created the law, they could have repealed it long ago.

Or maybe there was a loophole that she could exploit. She would have to read the act in its entirety and dissect its language. That could take days. But if anything could come of it, she had to try.
 


Chapter 3: The Letter Arrives
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Hermione stifled a yawn and rubbed at the ache in her eyes. She shuffled the stack of papers and dusty tomes on the table, trying to put them in some semblance of order. She had lost track of how long she'd been hunched over at the Burrow's kitchen table.

Glancing at the clock, she saw that it was nearing 7:00 AM. Hermione had managed to turn up quite a bit of information on the marriage law. She'd been poring over it endlessly since they'd received that dreadful letter.

She'd learned that the Protection of the Wizarding Population Act had been created in 1442, after Great Britain had been ravaged by an outbreak of Dragon Pox. And that even when the law was written, many had disagreed with it. However, it was decided that the act was the best way to quickly and efficiently stabilize the population.

Hermione couldn't believe that anyone could be so stupid. Of course, it was a completely different time. Back then, arranged marriages were more common than not.

She let her head fall to the table with a groan. Hermione had been at this for days now and she still wasn't able to see any sort of loophole. Whoever had written it really had thought of everything.

"Long night, dear?"

Hermione lifted her head slightly to see Mrs. Weasley watching her, her trademark motherly smile settled on her lips. Hermione nodded her head and then let it thump back down.

"I've been looking for so long. I just don't see any way out of this." Hermione's voice was slightly muffled by the wood.

She heard the clanking sounds as Molly set about making breakfast. "I'm sure you'll think of something, dear. You always do. Now, how about a cuppa?"

Hermione raised her head again and gave the older woman a thin smile. "Sounds great."

Hermione began to pack up her papers to make room for breakfast. She might as well have set them on fire for all the good they had done her. Mrs. Weasley bustled about the kitchen for a few moments before setting a chipped tea cup in front of her. Hermione sipped at it, feeling the warmth spread through her.

Mr. Weasley stumbled into the kitchen, looking a bit bleary-eyed. "Good morning," he said as he took his seat at the table.

"Morning, Arthur. Breakfast is almost ready," she said, glancing over her shoulder from her position at the stove.

There was a rustle of wings and Hermione's heart stopped. But it was only the owl that delivered the Daily Prophet every morning. Arthur removed the paper from the bird's leg and paid it. The owl screeched and flew off.

Mr. Weasley unfolded the newspaper and breathed a great sigh. "Everyone's new favorite law has made the front page again."

"Oh, what does it say now?" Mrs. Weasley asked as she sat a plate of eggs and bacon in front of her husband.

"Ministry flooded with letters of protest," he read with a wry chuckle. "I expect every person in Great Britain has written to complain. Serves them right, of course."

Mrs. Weasely made a tsk sound. "And what about you, Hermione? What would you like to eat?"

"Just toast, please." She hadn't been able to eat properly since Sunday. Every day, she waited anxiously for the results. Any sound sent her rushing to a window, searching for the letter that was going to change her life forever.

The family had already decided that when the letters did come, everyone would come to the Burrow. Then, they would open them together. They would get through this the same way that they got through everything else. As a family.

Molly was just setting the toast in front of Hermione when the twins tumbled through the fireplace. They came into the kitchen brandishing identical scowls and clutching identical thick, grey envelopes. They sat next to each other at the table, neither speaking. Just glaring at the letters in their hand.

"Oh, dear," Molly said. She hurried across the kitchen and returned with cups of tea for her sons. She sank into a chair across from them, looking as pale as she had the other night. "You two are the first. I'm sure the others will be here soon."

Arthur clapped George on the back, and gave his sons an encouraging smile. "Everything is going to be alright. You'll see."

Fred shook his head, still staring at the envelope. "I don't think I want to open it."

"I think we should just burn them all. We could say that we never got our letters," George said with a smirk on his lips.

"You two," Molly scolded. "Always setting things on fire."

"Well, what else are we going to do with our free time?" they replied in unison.

Hermione let out a tired giggle and the twins grinned at her. It was the first time they had smiled since arriving at the Burrow.

At that moment, two owls flew in through the window, one after the other, and landed on the kitchen table. Hermione felt a queasiness rush over her as she stared at the thick, grey envelopes tied to each bird's leg. She could see that one was addressed to Miss Hermione Jean Granger and the other to Mr. Ronald Bilius Weasley. She didn't think she'd be able to move, so she was grateful when Mr. Weasley removed the letters and gave Hermione hers.

Hermione stared at the Ministry of Magic's seal that was pressed into a clump of dark red wax. She now understood what the twins had meant. Now that her future was staring her in the face, she wasn't sure that she wanted to know.

She met George's eyes and smiled grimly. "Let's burn them."

Before he could respond, Percy appeared at the back door, having just Apparated from his flat. He bent to peck his mother on the cheek and then sat down primly beside her.

"I see everyone already has their letters," he said as he removed his from the pocket of his robes. "Where's Ron? I'd like to get this over with. I don't want to be late for work."

"He's still asleep," Molly said as she started towards the stairs. "I'll go wake him."

Fred pulled out his wand. "Alright, last chance to burn them."

Percy sniffed. "Go right ahead."

Fred narrowed his eyes suspiciously at his brother and, before anyone could stop him, pointed his wand at the parchment. "Incendio!"

A thin waft of smoke drifted from the paper, but it did not catch fire. Fred's brow puckered and a tiny crease formed in the middle of his forehead. "Well, that's disappointing."

"All of the Ministry documents are charmed to be fireproof," Percy explained waspishly.

The squeaking of the staircase announced Mrs. Weasley's return. Following behind her was Ron, his eyes still half-closed. When he saw his letter though, he seemed to become much more alert.

"Would anyone like some breakfast? Or tea?"

They all declined their mother's offer. Even Ron, who it seemed was always eating. Hermione looked down at her own untouched piece of toast and her cold cup of tea. She felt the nausea sweep over her again.

"Now children," Molly said, looking a tad queasy herself. She gave them a tremulous smile. "Whatever is in those letters, whatever happens, we'll get through it together."

"I'll go first," Percy said. Everyone watched with bated breath as he opened and read his letter. His expression became thoughtful as he looked up at his family. "A woman named Audrey Shepherd. I think she was a year or two ahead of me at Hogwarts. A Hufflepuff, if I'm not mistaken. I don't really know her that well."

"Oooh!" Fred cried. "Percy's got himself an older woman. The scandal!"

Percy glared at him. "Well, why don't you open yours, then? Let's see what poor woman got stuck with you."

Fred, never one to back down from a challenge, began to rip into his envelope. "Well, whoever she is, she's one lucky bird." His grin grew as he read the name of his match.

"Well, who is it?" George asked, leaning over to read his brother's letter. "Angelina? Well done, mate."

Fred shrugged, trying to play it off as if it wasn't really that big of a deal. But Hermione could tell that he was pleased with his results. She knew that they had dated on and off during school. At least someone was happy.

Molly's eyes were glistening. "Oh, that's wonderful, dear."

Ron seemed heartened by his brother's results. "I'll go next. I'll probably get Hermione," he said with a shrug of his shoulders. "I mean, who else would they pair her with?"

Hermione resisted the urge to lean across the table and throttle him. She didn't want to tell him off in front of his mother, so she bit back all of the terrible things that she wanted to shout at him. Instead, she merely scowled.

However, he didn't seem to notice as he had already tore open his letter. She took a bit of vindictive pleasure when Ron's eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. Clearly, hers wasn't the name on the paper.

Ron was dumbfounded for several long moments. "No, no way." His voice had become rather frail. "This can't be right."

"Ron, what does it say?" his mother asked. Fear was etched across her face.

But Ron didn't answer. He just sat frozen, staring in horror at the letter. Until George leaned forward and snatched the paper from his hands.

The same shock flitted across George's face. "Luna Lovegood?"

Fred, who had been taking a drink of tea, spit it across the room. Hermione cringed in disgust. Laughter erupted out of Fred until tears poured out of his eyes. He banged his fist on the table a few times.

Ron's features took on a terrible grimace. "Oi, piss off!" he thundered and stormed out. They could hear him stomping up the stairs and into his room. The door slammed, echoing throughout the house.

Well, Hermione certainly hadn't expected that. Of course, she had seriously doubted that they would be matched. But Luna? That decision seemed a bit odd. What did they even have in common?

"I don't understand why Ron has to act like this." His mother was staring worriedly at the spot where he had disappeared. "Luna is a perfectly nice young woman. It could have been much worse."

Fred had regained himself enough to mumble, "Yeah, perfectly loony."

"He'll come around, Molly," his father replied. "Just give him some time."

"Hermione, I'm sorry." Molly had turned to face her, giving Hermione a pitying stare. "I know how close you two are."

Mrs. Weasley seemed to think that she should be upset at Ron being given to another woman. But honestly, she wasn't. She was … relieved, if anything. But she couldn't tell Molly that, so she simply nodded.

The older woman smiled. "Maybe you should open yours next?"

Hermione's stomach dropped as she opened the envelope and took out the many papers inside. The first few pages were all of the requirements and rules that she was expected to adhere to. She flipped through them until she reached the final page.

In bold letters it read, "It has been determined that you are most compatible with Mr. George Weasley."

What?

Hermione's brain ceased functioning. Maybe sleep deprivation was playing tricks on her eyes. She blinked a few times, but the name didn't change.

George? Her and George were compatible?

"Well, Granger?" Fred asked. "Who is it?"

She glanced at George, who was watching her intently. Hermione could feel the blood rushing to her face. "You. It says I'm to marry you."

 


Chapter 4: An Afternoon in the Sun
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Hermione squinted in the afternoon sun as she stepped out the back door of the Burrow. The small house had been a flurry of activity ever since the delivery of the letters. She had never seen Mrs. Weasley so frantic.

Molly had been meeting with all of the other families. She wanted to get to know her future daughter-in-laws, and there were so many wedding plans to make.

Ron was refusing to speak to, or even see, Luna. Hermione had overheard him telling his mother that he would rather go to Azkaban than be with that loon.

He was also ignoring Hermione and George. When he'd learned that she'd been paired with his brother, he'd thrown a huge tantrum which had included some vicious name-calling. George seemed to take it in stride, but it pained Hermione.

She couldn't stand being blamed for something she had no control over. However, every time that she'd tried to explain that to him, Ron would only lash out again. She had faith, though, that he would get over it eventually; he always did.

But the constant hysteria was beginning to grate on her. So, Hermione had decided that a peaceful afternoon was exactly what she needed. She headed down the long, dirt path that snaked around the Burrow, through the overgrown garden, and finally ended at a large pond.

She stripped off her shorts and tank top, so that she was just wearing her bikini. She walked onto the small, wooden dock and stood staring out over the water for a moment. It was so quiet here. Hermione took a few steps back and then ran towards the edge, diving into the deep water.

She kept her eyes closed and didn't surface immediately. She imagined that the water was washing away all of the stress and tension and anger. And when she surfaced, she would be at peace. A rebirth. She felt her breath bubble around her as it left her in a great rush.

Hermione rose to the surface, took a deep breath, and wiped the water from her eyes. Her gaze was drawn to the edge of the pond by a head of red hair. George was standing there with tousled hair and laughing eyes.

He crossed his arms and raised a single brow. "You know, I get that you are unhappy being my fiancée, but you don't have to drown yourself."

Fiancée. That was a strange thought.

They hadn't had the chance to talk since the day that they learned the results. Fred and George were always busy with the shop, and Hermione had been helping Mrs. Weasley with the planning.

"Yes, it is pretty awful being stuck with you." She moved a bit closer so that she could send a playful splash in his direction.

He laughed and began to remove his shirt. "Oh, is that so?"

A fierce blush settled on Hermione's cheeks. Her voice had risen an octave when she asked, "What are you doing?"

He was now removing his pants and Hermione had to look away. "I'm coming in."

There was a splash and Hermione felt the water ripple around her. When she'd finally gathered enough courage to look, he was less than a foot from her. Close enough to reach out and touch.

"Hello, love," he said with a wink.

Hermione rolled her eyes and tried to ignore the heat in her face. "How did you know where to find me?"

"Mum told me. After all, she knows where everyone is and what they are doing at all times," he said, smirking. "Actually, I wanted to talk to you. About this whole mess."

Hermione nodded, but could no longer meet his gaze. She began to pick at her fingernails, a habit that she'd had for as long as she could remember. "That's a good way to describe it. A complete mess."

"Hermione, are you nervous?" he asked incredulously.

"What? Of course not! What's there to be nervous about?" Her voice came out a tad shrill and she inwardly cringed.

George's smile lit up his face. He was suddenly much closer than he'd been before. She could feel his warm breath wash over her. His hand came up to tuck a stray, sodden curl back into place. Hermione's brain had stopped working again, like it always did when he got too close.

"Exactly. What's there to be nervous about?" His words sounded a bit husky.

Hermione had no answer to that. At least, not an answer that she wanted to share with him.

After a moment, a mischievous gleam entered his eyes. He raised his hand again and splashed her. It caught her in the face and left her spluttering. George chuckled and quickly backed away.

"George! You are such a child," she squealed as she blinked the water from her eyes.

He was now floating on his back, his eyes closed against the sun. Hermione could see all of the muscles in his chest and abdomen. From a lifetime of playing Quidditch, no doubt.

"Yes, I am. You should be grateful. Your life would be rather boring if I weren't in it."

Hermione snorted. "That's true. Things are never dull when you and Fred are around."

George resumed an upright position, watching her intently. "I was thinking that maybe we should hold off on the wedding." He seemed a bit uncomfortable at the last word. "I mean, we have six months. What's the rush? And in the meantime, maybe the Ministry will realize how insane this all is and do away with this bloody law."

It was difficult for her to think about marrying George. Especially, the part that came after the marriage. It's not that she hadn't wanted a family at some point. She just hadn't imagined that it would be happening so soon. She had just finished school; she didn't even have a job yet. How was she supposed to raise a child without a stable income?

And what was she going to tell her parents? They were going to be furious about this. That was assuming that they ever decided to speak to her again.

"I agree," she said as she began to pick at her fingernails again. "I'm really sorry that you got stuck with me. I'm sure I'm the last person that you wanted to be with."

Suddenly, his fingers were under her chin, lifting her face to look at him. "We really must be compatible, because I was going to say the same thing to you."

"What are you talking about?" she asked, frowning. "You're wonderful. You're smart and successful and funny and …"

Gorgeous.

She realized that she'd been rambling and quickly shut her mouth. Hermione wanted to look away, but he was still holding her chin.

The corners of his lips turned up into a grin. "And what? What were you going to say? Are you blushing?"

Hermione shook her head vigorously. The hand that was under her chin slid up to cup her cheek. He leaned forward and the only thing between them was their breath. The logical part of her mind fled, and there was nothing but instinct. She let her eyes flutter closed.

She stopped thinking. Stopped breathing.

"Cannonball!"

Hermione jerked back as she was sprayed with water. Fred was in the center of the pond, a wicked smirk on his face.

"Perfect timing, as always," George said, glaring at his twin.

Fred spit a mouthful of water at his brother. He waggled his eyebrows. "Was I interrupting something?" he asked in a tone that suggested he'd seen what had almost happened.

Hermione was so mortified that she couldn't look at either one of them. She had almost kissed George. She had wanted to kiss George. Honestly, where was her self-control? All he had to do was look at her and she was a puddle in his hands. And how long had Fred been watching? How humiliating.

"I thought you were at Angelina's."

"I was. Been there all morning. We had a lot of … catching up to do," Fred replied with that same movement of his eyebrows.

Hermione's nose wrinkled in disgust. "Fred!"

George rolled his eyes at his brother. "And what did she have to say?"

"Oh, you know," Fred said as he waved his hand dismissively. "Mostly just my name."

"Fred!" Hermione shrieked and put her hands over her ears.

"I meant what did she have to say about you being engaged? Or did you not talk at all?"

Fred nodded. "There was a little talk at the beginning. We haven't really made any decisions yet, but I think we can make it work. It might be difficult at times. Merlin knows that bird has quite the temper."

"Do you remember the last fight you had?" George asked with a grin.

"How could I forget? Angelina has a killer throwing arm."

 

 


Chapter 5: A Moonlit Stroll
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Sunday dinner was an affair filled with chatter about fiancées and marriage and weddings. Percy spent the evening talking incessantly about his future wife, Audrey. Apparently, the Ministry's decision had been a good one, because Percy already seemed completely enamored by her. Even Molly seemed to approve of the match and her eyes began to glisten whenever Percy brought up the subject. Which was quite often.

After dinner, everyone retreated to the sitting room. Except for Ron who went to sulk in his bedroom. George and Harry sat down to play a game of chess. Fred was leaning over Harry's shoulder, pointing out possible moves. Unfortunately, Harry must not have realized that all of Fred's suggestions were purposefully terrible and that George was sure to win.

Hermione had settled into her favorite oversized armchair in the corner of the room. She grabbed her new book off of the nearby end table and cracked it open. After a few minutes, she gave a huff of frustration. She couldn't seem to focus; she had read the same paragraph at least five times by now. Her eyes kept returning to the redhead across the room, who was now doing a ridiculous victory dance.

Ginny was grinning as she came to sit on the arm of Hermione's chair. "Look at you, over here making moon eyes at my brother," she said quietly enough so that no one would overhear.

"I was not!" Hermione cried indignantly.

"Mhm, sure. You're not nearly as sneaky as you think you are."

Hermione slammed her book closed. There would be no reading for her tonight. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Ginny only smirked and scooted closer. "So, how are things going?"

"Things are going … well." Remembering yesterday and the almost kiss brought a blush to Hermione's cheeks.

"You might as well confess. Fred already told me what happened. Or what almost happened," she said with a girlish giggle.

Hermione groaned and buried her face in her hands. "Ginny!"

Ginny moved closer still, so that she was practically sitting in Hermione's lap. She began to bounce up and down in the seat. "C'mon, Hermione. You have to tell me!"

Hermione peeked at her through her fingers. "Fine!" she whispered. "We almost kissed! What more do you want?"

Ginny sighed and did a mock swoon. "Was it completely romantic? Are you in looove?"

"Ginny!" she hissed. She cast a surreptitious glance at the group across the room. Now the twins were playing each other at chess, playfully insulting each other whenever they lost a piece. "Nothing even happened!"

"But it will!" Ginny replied in a singsong manner. "You're going to be marrying my brother. That's an odd thought. But that means that we'll be sister-in-laws."

When Hermione didn't respond, she continued, "You know you could do a whole lot worse than George. He's a good guy, and I'm not just saying that because he's one of my favorite brothers. You two obviously have chemistry. I think you will be good for each other."

Hermione nodded. "I know." And then, to change the subject, she said, "Let me see your ring again."

Ginny looked lovesick when she held up her hand to show her the emerald ring that sparkled there. Then, her expression turned solemn. "Can you imagine what would have happened if Harry had put off asking me by a month? Then we both would have been forced into this bloody law too. What if we weren't put together? I don't know what I'd do without him."

"Of course you two would have been matched. You're great together. And I'm so happy for you." Hermione leaned forward to hug her friend.

"And I'm happy for you," she replied.

Both of them glanced at George again. But this time, he caught them looking. He smirked and came to stand in front of their chair. His arms were crossed across his chest. "Oi! You think I can't tell when I'm being talked about?"

Hermione's eyes widened. Ginny just grinned and crept away to talk to Harry. George moved forward to take the seat his sister had just vacated. He was close enough that their thighs were touching. Hermione's heartbeat quickened.

George gave her a wicked smirk. "What were you and my sister gossiping about?"

"Nothing." Hermione shook her head.

His eyes narrowed slightly. "You are the worst liar. What was it? My charm? My devilishly good looks?"

"Actually, we were talking about Fred and how he's really the more attractive of you two," she responded with an innocent smile.

George gasped and put a hand to his heart. "That was a low blow, Granger." When she only smiled, he stood and held his hand out to her. "Walk with me?"

She allowed herself to be tugged to her feet. Then, never letting go of her hand, he led her from the room. Hermione could see Ginny performing another swoon out of the corner of her eye. She followed him through the kitchen and into the backyard. It had rained recently, and the grass sparkled like a thousand diamonds in the moonlight.

"Where are you taking me?" she asked.

He glanced back over his shoulder as he led her to a small copse of trees at the edge of the property. "I want to show you something."

Years of friendship with the twins had taught her to be a tad wary. But she said nothing. George pointed at an old, gnarled oak tree. As they drew closer, she could see that there was a small, wooden tree house tucked away in its branches.

George moved to a ladder. He gave a nod to indicate that she should climb up. "You can go first."

"You want me to climb that thing? Is it stable?"

"Of course," he said. "I'll be here to catch you if you fall."

Hermione breathed a sigh of defeat and clambered up the ladder. Once she had reached the top, she saw that the tree house was much bigger on the inside. Moonlight poured into the room through a nearby window. There were a few cushions strewn about and an old stack of comic books in one corner. A table off to one side was buried under a collection of Chocolate Frog Cards. Posters of various Quidditch teams decorated the walls.

The room was a snapshot of George's childhood. It was utterly charming.

She sank onto a cushion as George reached the top. He glanced around the room and sighed nostalgically. "This thing has been here since Charlie was a boy. He and Dad built it together." He sat down on a cushion next to hers. George chuckled. "Fred and I used to hide up here whenever we'd done something wrong. Which was always."

His mood sobered and he smiled grimly. The moonlight turned his face into a play of shadows. "I'll never forget what you did for him, Hermione. If you hadn't been there, he might not have made it."

He seemed so vulnerable that she was sure her heart would break. She knew that George hated to talk about that day. Talking about it always seemed to bring the demons back.

Hermione closed her eyes against the prickle of tears. Behind her eyelids, she could see the Battle of Hogwarts. She had been running down a corridor, having been separated from everyone else. Hermione had stumbled upon the twins, who were outnumbered by Death Eaters. She had stopped to help.

Then, there was an explosion that sent debris flying and knocked everyone off of their feet. The Death Eaters had been killed and Fred had been partially crushed under the rubble.

A tear trickled down her face as she remembered the way George had panicked. He couldn't do anything but scream desperate pleas for his brother to wake up.

Hermione had had to push him out of the way to check Fred's pulse. It was just barely there. She had cast every healing spell that she knew. Then, she and George had carried him down to the Hospital Wing, where Madam Pomfrey could take care of him.

Fred had been in a coma for two weeks. They weren't sure if he was ever going to wake up. George never left his side. And when Fred had finally woken up, George had cried harder than she'd ever seen.

"George, what I did was nothing. It was Madam Pomfrey who did all the real work."

He shook his head. "No, I'm rubbish at healing spells. If you hadn't been there, he wouldn't survived the trip down to the Hospital Wing. You saved his life and I will never be able to repay you. Not in a thousand lifetimes."

She sighed and leaned her head on his shoulder. His hand came up to toy with the curls that splayed down her back.

"I still have nightmares. Every time I think about it, I just feel so weak. Helpless," he whispered.

Hermione turned so that she was facing him. George's eyes were dark, almost black, in this light. He looked like an angel that had just fallen from Heaven. Hauntingly beautiful. Miserable and broken.

She placed both hands on his shoulders and leaned forward until they were almost nose to nose. "George, you are not weak. You are one of the strongest and bravest people that I know. But if you ever do feel like you're going to fall apart, I will be there for you."

And then he kissed her like the world was ending.

His lips moved over hers. Uncontrolled and desperate. It stole her breath away. His fingers tangled in her hair, clutching her tightly against his chest. Then his tongue swept across her bottom lip and her world shattered into a million pieces.

He pulled away and rested his forehead against hers. Hermione couldn't move or speak. There was only George and his dark eyes staring into hers.

"Hermione?" His voice was raw with emotion. "Out of all of the people that the Ministry could have chosen, I'm glad it was you."

 


Chapter 6: Sprackans
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Luna Lovegood looked out of place in the sitting room of the Burrow. She was wearing a bright orange summer dress and around her neck was a black cord with a small, glass bottle hanging from it.

She was sitting on the couch, telling Mrs. Weasley about a recent trip she'd taken with her father. Luna was staunchly ignoring her fiancée who sat beside her, albeit reluctantly. He shot her a glare every time that she opened her mouth.

Molly had invited the younger girl over for tea and, by some miracle, had persuaded Ron to come down from his room. It was progress. Though, he still hadn't spoken to her.

Hermione, who was the only other person home, had been wrangled by Mrs. Weasley into being there. Hermione sat in her favorite chair with legs crossed and an awkward smile. She couldn't remember ever feeling more uncomfortable than she did at that moment.

In an effort to keep the conversation flowing, Hermione asked, "What's that bottle around your neck, Luna?"

Luna beamed as bright as the sun. She grasped the bottle tightly between her fingers. "It's powdered asphodel. It's to ward off sprackans."

Hermione, as usual, had no idea what the other girl was talking about. But she nodded and said, "That's … interesting."

Ron scowled and shot up from his seat, upsetting his cup of tea as he did so. "You've got to be kidding me."

"Ronald Weasley!" his mother scolded. "Sit down this instant!"

"I can't bloody do this," he said as he stormed out of the room.

Hermione shot Luna an apologetic smile as she followed Ron. He had gone through the kitchen and out the back door. She hurried her pace and finally caught up with him in the garden.

"Ron, come back here!"

He came to a halt and whirled around to face her. His expression was one of fierce loathing. Hermione shrank in the face of his fury. During the many times that they had fought, he'd never once looked at her like that.

"What do you want?" he spat.

"I want you to stop being a total prat!"

"Did you hear her in there?" he screamed, pointing back at the Burrow. "That's the person that I'm supposed to spend the rest of my life with? Whoever decided that must be completely daft!"

"Open your eyes, Ronald! Everyone else is very happy with their pairing. The Ministry must have known what they were doing when they made these decisions. If you would just give her a chance, I think you two could be happy together."

His eyes were venomous. "Everyone else is happy? Does that include you, too? Now you have feelings for my brother?"

Hermione's eyes prickled with tears when she realized what she'd said. Her mouth opened and closed a few times as she struggled over what to say. Deciding to go with the truth, she breathed a great sigh. "Yes," she said in a resigned tone. "I have feelings for your brother. He's very sweet."

Ron looked at her like he didn't even recognize her anymore. He crossed his arms. "I always thought that when it was all over, it would be you and me."

Hermione's heart was breaking. She didn't want to hurt him, but she had to tell him the truth. "C'mon, Ron. You can't honestly believe that a relationship would have lasted. I mean, look at us. Arguing. Again. That's all we ever do."

He shook his head bitterly. "We could have made things work. But now, I guess we'll never know."

Hermione could only watch as he turned and Apparated away.






The next day, Ginny dragged Hermione away from her book and into the sunlit streets of Diagon Alley. Ginny said that she was going stir-crazy at the Burrow and she desperately needed a girl's day out.

"You know, the Hollyhead Harpies are having tryouts soon. I think I'm gonna go," Ginny told her as she pulled her to a shop window filled with shoes. "Oh, look at those!" she squealed.

"That's great, Ginny. I'm sure you'll make the team. You're terrific."

Ginny beamed at her. "Thanks.

After a moment of Ginny drooling over the window display, they continued on down the street. Hermione was feeling a bit dejected at Ginny's announcement. It seemed as if everyone had an idea of where their life was going. Harry and Ron were training to be Aurors. Ginny had Quidditch. The twins had the shop.

Hermione had no idea what she wanted to do. For a long time, she'd considered becoming a Healer. But then the war had happened and she'd decided that she'd seen enough blood and injuries for one lifetime. So, now she was lost and feeling completely useless. That wasn't something she was really accustomed to feeling.

Ginny grabbed her hand and dragged her to another store window. This one was full of Quidditch supplies. Hermione groaned inwardly, but it wasn't long before they were moving on.

"Do you wanna stop in at the shop?"

Those words chased away Hermione's black mood. She tried not to appear too eager as she nodded. But Ginny could always see right through her.

She grinned and grabbed Hermione's hand again, dragging her in the direction of the shop. "C'mon, let's go see your looove."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Would you stop calling him that?"

A few minutes later found them standing in front of Weasley' Wizard Wheezes. As Ginny opened the door, the sound of several pops and bangs spilled out onto the street. Hermione stepped inside and, as always, was in awe at the sheer amount of products that filled the store. The twins definitely had a knack for this.

There weren't as many customers as there usually were. A handful of people, mostly children and teenagers, was scattered about the shop.

She followed Ginny over to the checkout counter. George was leaning against the counter with his back to them. A very pretty, blonde girl was standing beside him and laughing loudly at something he'd said. Hermione fought back a scowl when she saw how close the girl was standing to him.

Ginny cleared her throat and George jumped. He turned around and, when he realized who it was, grinned widely at them. "Hello, girls. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Just came to visit," Ginny said with a shrug of her shoulders. "Where's Fred?"

"Somewhere in the back, I think. Verity," he said, turning to the girl next to him. "Would you mind going back and sending him this way?"

"Anything for you, Mr. Weasley," Verity said with a flirty smile. She turned and headed towards the back of the store, her hips swaying every step of the way.

An iciness settled in the pit of Hermione's stomach. The thought of sending a nasty jinx at the girl's back crossed her mind. She struggled to keep her expression neutral. She didn't want George to know that it bothered her.

But Ginny had always been blunt. Her eyes narrowed. "What was that?"

"What was what?" George replied, baffled.

Ginny scoffed. "That bimbo! Anything for you, Mr. Weasley," she imitated in an exaggerated, seductive tone while batting her eyelashes.

George looked as if he was trying not to laugh. "Okay, a couple things. Number one, don't ever talk like that again. It's creepy. Number two, Verity is not a bimbo." Then his gaze came to rest on Hermione. "She's just a friend."

Before Hermione could think of how to respond, Fred had appeared. Thankfully, the blonde did not follow.

Fred smirked. "Hello, Granger. I'm glad you're here. Georgie here has been yammering about you constantly. No offense, but, after a while, hearing how wonderful you are gets a bit old."

George glared at his twin and leaned forward to smack him across the back of the head. "Oi! Shut up."

Hermione stifled a giggle. Fred stepped towards his sister and offered her his arm. "Let's give these lovebirds some privacy. Well, as much privacy as you can get in a crowded shop. I'll show you some of the new products that we're working on."

Ginny linked her arm with her brother's and the two skipped to the backroom. George was watching her and the intensity of his gaze reminded her of how he'd looked at her in the dark of the tree house. Suddenly, she couldn't catch her breath. He leaned down to place a gentle, chaste kiss on her lips.

George chuckled. "In case you can't tell, I missed you."

"Is that so?"

He nodded. "Fred threatened to hex my bits off if I brought you up in conversation one more time. It's only fair, though. Merlin knows how many times I listened to him whine about Angelina."

Hermione snorted and then stood on the tips of her toes to kiss him again. "Well, that's good, because I missed you too."


Chapter 7: Beautiful
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Hermione was awoken by the feeling of something gently brushing across her cheek. She flinched, startling awake, her heart beating so hard she was sure it would pound right out of her chest.

But it was only George leaning over her with a slightly amused grin. "Shh, it's just me."

Hermione took a deep breath in an attempt to calm her racing pulse. That was what being in a war did to you. In a few years, she'd probably be as paranoid as Mad-Eye Moody had been. Cursing trash bins and chasing shadows.

"I almost hexed you, George," she scolded, shaking her head.

"Sorry, love. You've been asleep for over an hour. Everyone's already gone to bed."

After Sunday dinner, Hermione had retreated to her favorite armchair. She hadn't slept well the night before. She'd had the same suffocating nightmare that she always had these days. Something terrifyingly dark and claustrophobic. But she could never remember more than the hint of being trapped under a head of wild, black curls. And the screaming. That part was always very clear.

Hermione had tried her hardest to resist, but she'd felt her self drifting into sleep. She was mildly surprised that nothing had happened to her while she slept. No pranks at all. She wondered if she had George to thank for that.

"What are you still doing here?" she asked.

George took her hand and pulled her to her feet. He gave her a smirk as he led her from the room and up the staircase. "I'm going to escort you to your room."

Hermione giggled. "What a gentleman."

"Oh, you know me," he said as he nodded his head. "Prince Charming, and all that."

He led her through the dark and silence of the Burrow, all the way up to the room that she and Ginny shared. Hermione suddenly couldn't meet his gaze, instead staring at where her hand rested on the doorknob.

George's smirk was sinful as he watched her squirm uncomfortably. "Where are your manners, Granger? Aren't you going to invite me in for tea?"

Hermione snorted and rolled her eyes. "Alright, then. Would you like to come in for some tea?"

He pretended to ponder her question. His chocolate colored eyes were alight with a teasing humor. "As long as you promise not to take advantage of me."

Hermione spluttered. George leaned forward, placing his hand atop hers on the doorknob and turning it. He gave a flourish of his hand and a low bow. "After you, love."

She led the way into her bedroom, noting that Ginny was gone. Her nerves had already returned in full force. Especially since George had made his way to her bed and was now making himself comfortable on it.

"Where's Ginny?" she questioned.

"At Grimmauld Place with Harry. I don't really wanna think about what they're probably doing right now," he replied, an expression of distaste settled on his features.

Hermione watched as he stretched out on her bed, his movements lithe and catlike. When he noticed that she hadn't moved, he smiled innocently and patted the bed beside him.

"Come on, then."

She hesitated, biting her bottom lip. After a moment, Hermione moved forward and wriggled onto the bed in a stiff, upright position. It was a rather narrow bed, so there wasn't much more than a breath of space between them. Hermione couldn't look at him and instead began to pick at the frayed strings of the bedspread.

Her heartbeat was out of control and she could feel him staring at her. But, still, she didn't dare look at him. If she did, she would be trapped by his eyes again.

She felt his fingers, gentle under her chin, and then George turned her face towards him. He seemed troubled. She could see the worry reflected in his eyes and there were several creases in his forehead.

"What are you so afraid of?" His words were hardly more than a whisper.

Hermione sighed, shaking her head. "George, I … I'm sorry."

George frowned. "For what?"

"I'm sorry that you got paired with me. I have no idea how to handle this or how to act around you. I'm just so scared of doing something wrong. What if I do something to make you hate me forever?" she said meekly.

The corners of George's lips twitched, as if he were trying to fight off a smile. One of his hands came up to tuck a stray curl behind her ear. "I think I know how you feel."

Hermione swallowed thickly. "No, you can't possibly understand. I drive people away with my constant nagging. I did it with Ron, and I'll do it with you too."

Now, George did smile. "Granger, how long have I known you? Almost ten years now, I think. And I'm still here. Besides, Ron has the temper of a troll. Don't get me wrong, he's my little brother and I love him. But I am infinitely more patient than he is. And better looking, too."

Hermione gave a reluctant snort of laughter. "Maybe, but don't you think you would be better off with someone else? Someone like … Verity?"

"Is this about the other day in the shop?" he asked with narrowed eyes.

Hermione shrugged, not meeting his gaze. "She's very pretty."

"So are you."

Hermione was dumbfounded. She could count on her fingers how many boys had ever told her that she was pretty. Attractive was not really a word she would use to describe herself. Intelligent, yes. Witty, of course. Pretty, not so much. It was something she'd gotten used to over the years, but she would be lying if she said it didn't sting just a little.

"What?"

George's features softened as his hands ghosted from her chin to her cheeks and then to tangle themselves in her hair. He leaned forward and his warm breath washed over her face. Hermione's eyes drifted shut and her arms came up to rest on his firm chest. Then, his lips brushed against her and everything else faded away. This kiss was not like the others. It was slow and sweet and it made her heart flutter. And her soul protested when he pulled away.

"You are beautiful."

Hermione didn't know what to say to that, so she just reached up to capture his lips again. She never wanted this to end. She felt as though nothing bad could ever happen as long as he was kissing her. This time when he moved away, she made a small noise of disapproval.

His expression was hesitant now and he watched her intently. "There's something I should tell you."

Her stomach flipped at those words and her mind began to race, thinking of all of the possible things that he could say next. Hermione wasn't really sure that she wanted to know. But she took a deep breath and said, "Okay, what is it?"

George ran his fingers through his hair. "Well, there's a reason that Verity is so … friendly with me. It was one of the bleaker nights of the war. Verity, Fred, and I were all drinking, probably a little more than we should have. And Verity and I ended up spending the night together. I don't really remember much and it definitely hasn't happened since. But I thought that was something you should know."

His words brought unwelcome images into her mind. Of George and Verity laughing drunkenly, tangled together on his bed. That thought set a fire raging in Hermione's heart. She remembered the way Verity had looked at George that day in the shop. Now, Hermione wished she'd hexed her when she'd had the chance.

Hermione made an attempt to keep her feelings from showing, but some of it seeped into her voice. "Doesn't she have a fiancé?"

"Yes," he said, nodding. "But it's someone she'd never met before and I guess they aren't getting along very well. This law hasn't deterred her at all."

Hermione gritted her teeth and crossed her arms across her chest. "Maybe you should tell her that you belong to someone else and that she should stop flirting with you."

An arrogant look flitted across his face. "Oh, I belong to you, do I?"

Hermione's eyes widened when she realized what she had just said. She hadn't really meant to. It had just sort of tumbled out of her mouth. "I … well …"

He was leaning towards her again. All traces of his usual mockery had faded and now his eyes were brimming with emotion. "So, does that mean that you belong to me?"

Hermione was drowning in his eyes. She couldn't look away. All she could do was nod her head. And then he was kissing her again and there was none of the earlier sweetness. Only heat and fire and passion. His lips moved against hers fiercely and when his tongue brushed across her lower lip, she quivered. The kiss quickly became open mouthed and a small moan escaped Hermione's throat.

His hand gently pushed her shoulder until she was flat on her back and he was looming over her. Her hands slid up his strong arms and then up to twist in his hair. George's lips burned a trail from her mouth to her throat, which he set about nipping and kissing. There was another moan lost in the air and Hermione would have felt embarrassed about it if she could think clearly.

"George," she said in a breathy tone she didn't realize she was capable of making.

At the sound of his name, George moved away from her reluctantly. He seemed dazed; his eyes were wide and dark and his breathing heavy. He swallowed thickly and helped her back into a seated position. "I should probably go. If Mum catches me in here, she'll skin me alive."

His thumb brushed her cheek as he leaned down to place one last kiss on her lips. And then he stood and, giving her a strange smile, Apparated from the room.

Chapter 8: The Potion
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Hermione pushed the door of Weasley Wizard Wheezes open and began to navigate the large crowd inside. The shop seemed rather busy today. Fred was at the cash register, checking out a long line of customers. He winked at her when he spotted her and then pointed toward the back of the store. Hermione smiled, mouthed a thank you, and turned in the direction of the backroom.

She had decided that she'd surprise George at work, but was now second guessing herself. What if he was busy or didn't want to see her? What if she was being too clingy? Hermione groaned inwardly. She was being ridiculous, wasn't she? He was her fiancé, after all. Taking a deep breath, she knocked on the door labeled "Workshop".

"Yeah?"

Hermione raised her voice slightly so that she'd be heard through the door. "George? It's Hermione. May I come in?"

A series of crashes sounded from the room. And then a long string of words that Mrs. Weasley would not be happy hearing from her son's mouth. A moment later, the door swung open and George appeared, leaning against the doorway with his arms crossed.

His grin was as wide as the Cheshire cat's. "Hello, love. Just couldn't stay away, could you?"

Hermione rolled her eyes, not willing to admit how close he was to the truth. Especially when he was being so smug about it. "Hello, George. Are you going to let me in? Or are you going to stand there blocking the door with your big ego?"

"Funny, Granger," he replied with a chuckle. He moved aside to allow her through the door.

This room was obviously the testing and production area of the shop. There were several large tables in the room, buried under all manner of half-finished projects. The back wall was lined with numerous cauldrons, each one simmering gently and giving off colorful vapors. It was definitely cluttered, but there seemed to be an underlying structure to it all. Organized chaos.

"Well, what do you think?" he asked, coming to stand beside her as she peered into one of the cauldrons.

"It's all very impressive, George. What's this?" Hermione pointed at the cauldron in front of her that was a fierce shade of pink and smelled like sugared roses.

George's lips tilted into a smirk. "This beauty is the newest addition to our WonderWitch line. Would you like to try it?"

Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Is it another love potion?"

"No, of course not," he said with a growing smirk. "Look, if I try it first, then will you try it? Please?"

Hermione's first thought was to refuse. After all, she'd known the twins long enough to know that you shouldn't take anything that they offered you. But if she actually ended up married to George, she would be spending a lot of time around the shop and its products. It would probably be easier for everyone if she got used to this sort of thing.

And if George was going to drink it first, then it couldn't be too bad. She trusted him not to give her anything that would actually harm her.

Hermione gave a great sigh. "Fine. Only if you take it first."

The expression that crossed George's face was something akin to a child on Christmas morning. He turned to the table, retrieving two bottles filled with the pink potion and placing one in her hand.

He unstoppered it and smiled. "Bottoms up, Granger." Then, he tossed it back like a shot.

Hermione held her breath, waiting for whatever was going to happen. His hair was still the same color. His head didn't swell up. He didn't grow scales or feathers or a tail. Nothing happened. Nothing that she could see, anyway.

Her eyes narrowed again. "That's it?"

George gave her a dreamy sort of look and his face flushed. "That's it, beautiful. Now, go on. We had a deal."

Hermione looked down at the bottle in her hand. The liquid inside was shimmering like a thousand tiny gems. It was quite beautiful, actually. But she was already starting to regret agreeing to this. Taking a steadying breath, she opened the bottle and lifted it to her lips.

"If I die, you're not invited to my funeral," she said, pointing a finger at the still smirking redhead. And then, she tipped it back and swallowed. The scent and the appearance of the potion was nothing compared to how it tasted. Like the sweetest, juiciest strawberries she'd ever had. It was wonderful.

She took quick stock of herself. The only thing that had changed was a slight fuzziness in her mind. It made her feel warm and happy. "Oh, this is nice."

George nodded and took a step closer to her, so that she had to tilt her head back to look him in the eyes. "It's quite pleasant, isn't it? Would you like to know what it does?"

His closeness set her heart banging frantically against her chest. All she could do was nod as the tips of his fingers came up to graze the line of her jaw. His touch was hot against her skin and Hermione shivered.

"The potion intensifies any existing attraction and forces the drinker to tell the truth when they're speaking to the person that they're attracted to. Helpful for when a person is reluctant to share their feelings with someone else. Just gives them a little push."

Hermione shook her head. "I don't think I needed a push, George."

He soon replaced his fingertips with his lips and they scorched a path from her jaw to her neck and down to her collarbone. His breath against her throat made her shiver again.

"Me either," he whispered, pulling back to meet her gaze. "You know I'm crazy about you, right?"

Hermione's eyes widened. "Really?"

"Of course," he replied in a tone that suggested she was daft for not having noticed. "I thought it was rather obvious."

And before she could respond to that, he pressed his lips against hers in a fierce kiss. Hermione melted against him, her arms twining around his neck. His lips still tasted like strawberries.

She wasn't sure if it was because of George or the potion, but it felt like every single one of her nerve endings were tingling. It was almost overwhelming.

George, without ever moving his lips from hers, maneuvered her backwards until she felt the backs of her thighs hit the edge of one of the tables. He gently lifted her onto it and stepped between her legs. Hermione's fingertips danced along the bottom of his t-shirt and then slid under it, smoothing over the hard muscles in his chest. She felt his sharp intake of breath.

"What if Fred walks in?"

"Highly unlikely." Hermione moaned as he ran his tongue along her collarbone. "But … maybe we should stop," he murmured against her skin.

Her lower lip jutted out in a pout. "What? Why?"

George groaned and took a step back to separate himself. He placed his hands on her shoulders to ensure that they remained that way, as Hermione was still trying to inch closer to him.

"You know why," he said in a voice that was still slightly husky. "You don't really want to go any farther. It's just the potion."

Hermione shook her head, eyes wide and pleading, as she grabbed the front of his shirt in an attempt to pull him back to her. "George, I want you."

He hesitated for a moment before taking a deep breath. "You aren't making this easy on me, you know. This isn't what you really want. I know that and you know that, somewhere deep inside."

"But, George –"

"Hermione, I think you should go home. My self-control is crumbling. We need to stay away from each other until this potion wears off. Please."

She slid off the table, still pouting. "Fine, but I'm not happy about it."

George gave her a strained smile. "Alright, love. You can tell me all about it tomorrow."

Hermione turned and walked away without even saying goodbye. She was quite certain that he was wrong and was more than a little annoyed. Who was he to tell her how she was feeling? The whole situation was just ridiculous.

When she arrived at the Burrow, she went straight upstairs to her room and flung herself down on the bed. Stupid George and his stupid good looks.

The next thing that she was aware of was a pecking at the window. Hermione sat up and stretched, realizing that she must have fallen asleep. It was now dark outside, so she must have been asleep for a few hours.

Hermione stood from the bed and moved to open the window. An owl she recognized as one George frequently used flew into the room and settled itself on her dresser. She removed the letter from its leg and then tossed it one of the owl treats out of the box that Ginny kept in her room.

The owl hooted and flew back out into the night. Hermione sat down on the edge of her bed and stared at the letter, the events from earlier rushing back to her. She buried her face in her hands and groaned loudly. She couldn't believe the way she'd acted. She'd thrown herself at him. He probably thought she was a lunatic.

Hermione opened the letter and read:

Hello love,

Since I haven't heard from you, I was getting a bit worried. Are you alright? I think you might've had some sort of adverse reaction to the potion. It wasn't supposed to be that strong. I'm not sure what went wrong, but Fred and I'll be sure to figure it out before we put it out on the shelves.

I'm sorry I suggested that you take it. I shouldn't have done it and I want to make up for it. Let me take you out sometime this week?

George

Hermione didn't want to talk about what happened. She didn't think she could ever face George again. She just wanted to hide underneath her blankets and never come out.

But she supposed that would be a bit difficult seeing as she was going to marry him soon.


Chapter 9: A Friendly Wager
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Hermione gave a growl of frustration as one of her curls sprang out rebelliously from the spot that she had it pinned. She had been fussing with her hair for the last twenty minutes, trying, in vain it seemed, to make it look at least somewhat presentable. Every time that she thought she had it, it would spring out even more wild and unruly than before.

She muttered a few foul words beneath her breath as Ginny giggled from her position on the bed. "I don't know why you're so worked up over this. It's not like he hasn't seen your hair before."

Hermione glared at the other girl through the mirror. "This is different, Ginny. I don't want to go out looking like Medusa tonight, so would you please just get over here and help me!"

She wasn't sure why she was feeling so nervous. It wasn't as if this was the first time she had hung out with him, or even the first time they had been alone together. It had been almost a month since the letters had arrived, and they had spent plenty of time with one another. But this night had a different air about it.

Ginny rolled her eyes at her dramatics, but stood from the bed and positioned herself behind her friend. "Hold still," she murmured as she began to twist her curls into a long braid. "There, all done. You look great."

Hermione's reflection frowned back at her as she fidgeted with the hem of the navy blue dress that she was wearing. "You really think so?"

Ginny smiled. "Of course. You're gorgeous. He's gonna love it. He's gonna love you."

A light blush settled into her cheeks. Hermione glanced out the window to the darkness beyond. George hadn't told her where they were going, only when to be ready. "Thank you. He should be here soon."

"Let's go downstairs and wait."

Hermione nodded at her suggestion and both girls trudged down the stairs to the sitting room. They sat next to each other on the sofa. Ginny shot her friend a grin when her leg began to twitch.

Finally, after what felt like an age, there was a pop from the backyard and then the sound of the kitchen door opening. Hermione jumped up, realizing how frantic she must have seemed when Ginny gave a snort.

George appeared in the doorway, looking as gorgeous as ever in a teal shirt and jeans. "Wow, Granger. You look beautiful."

"Thank you. You're looking quite handsome yourself."

He took her hand in his, and she beamed when he leaned down to place a gentle peck on her cheek. "Are you ready to go?" he asked.

Hermione nodded. "Where are we going?"

"Tut, tut, no spoiling the surprise," he replied with a smirk. "See ya later, Ginny."

His sister waved at them as George led her from the room. "Bye!" she cried in a singsong manner. "You two be sure to behave."

Hermione followed George into the backyard where he paused and offered her his arm. The instant she took it, she felt the familiar tugging sensation as he Apparated them. She blinked and they were standing in a field with a great, weeping willow looming overhead, its branches swaying gently in the breeze.

Her brow furrowed. "What are we doing here?"

George's only response was a gentle smile. He took her by the hand once more and led her towards the tree. He lifted his other hand and pushed aside some of the hanging branches.

George flicked his wand and several candles lit themselves. Peering inside, she could see that there was enough space for two people to sit comfortably. There was a blanket spread over the ground and a wicker basket tucked off to the side.

"After you, love."

Hermione moved to sit on the blanket and George soon followed. The branches moved back into place, curtaining them off from the rest of the world. It was just her and George now. The candles were dancing, the shadows turning George's face into a menagerie of light and dark.

Hermione laughed in delight. "George, this is wonderful. Where are we?"

"A couple miles from the house," he told her. He shrugged dismissively, but Hermione could tell that he was pleased that she approved. "Fred and I found this place when we were riding our brooms one day."

Hermione's eyes misted over and she quickly blinked the moisture away. "Thank you for putting so much thought into this."

He placed his hand on her cheek, rubbing his thumb along her cheekbone. "This is my job now. To take care of you and make you happy. That's all I want to do."

Hermione placed her hand atop his and gave him a watery smile. "I'm so glad it was you, George." She felt her face redden. "This past month with you has been amazing."

He leaned forward to ghost his lips over hers. So softly she might've imagined it. "I feel the same way, love." George was silent for a moment, seemingly thinking over what he was about to say. "About the other day at the shop …"

Hermione groaned and buried her face in her hands. "I don't want to talk about it."

He reached out to gently pry her hands away and then gripped her chin between his fingers so that she couldn't look away. "Listen, you have nothing to be embarrassed about. It wasn't your fault." George grinned at her. "Besides, I'm used to girls throwing themselves at me."

"Yes, it must be because you're so humble." The eye contact was more than she could handle at the moment. But his hands kept her from turning away. "But … thank you. For not taking advantage."

He let his hands fall away from her face and shrugged again. George's lips thinned into a line. "You shouldn't thank me for that. Any halfway decent person would have done the same."

Hermione wanted to argue. Wanted to say that she knew a lot of people who would have gone through with it. But instead she just smiled and let the subject drop.

George chuckled and reached for the basket. "You haven't even heard the best part yet," he said as he opened it and began to dig inside. Seeing as his arm disappeared to his shoulder, she assumed that there was an Extension Charm on it. "I asked Mum to make us some snacks. Aha, here they are."

He removed a tin from the basket, taking off the lid and passing it to her. It was filled with oatmeal cookies. "They're your favorite, right?"

Hermione's jaw dropped ever so slightly. "How did you know that?"

He scoffed and raised a brow. A half smile played about his lips. "Granger, I've known you a long time. I know a lot about you."

"Oh yeah?" Her eyes narrowed in challenge. "Like what?"

He moved so that he was leaning back on his hands, still watching her with that same raised brow. "You really want to do this?"

When she nodded, George smirked wickedly. "How about we make a friendly wager?"

The way he was eyeing her made her stomach do flips. "What exactly did you have in mind?"

He reached into the basket and pulled out another tin. This one was filled with brownies. "You ask me three questions about yourself and if I get them all right, I win."

Hermione bit into her cookie. "You win what?"

His smirk grew even more sinful. "If I win, you have to come home with me tonight."

She took a sudden breath and inhaled a bit of cookie. Hermione coughed and spluttered for a few moments as George watched on in amusement. When she could finally speak, she squealed, "What?"

George laughed for a long time, tilting his head back and clutching at his stomach. He wiped a tear from the corner of his eye. "You heard me. You have to spend the night with me."

Her heart began to thump wildly in her chest. His words conjured delicious images of what they might do together in the night. A fierce blush swept across her face as she tried to push those thoughts from her mind.

Hermione's mouth was suddenly dry and she cleared her throat several times. "Um … well … I suppose … Yes, alright."

George seemed very entertained by the whole situation. He seemed to be struggling not to burst out in laughter. "Why so nervous, Granger?"

She glared at him. "Shut up, George. Okay, what's my favorite color?"

The corners of his mouth twitched and his dark eyes were dancing with mirth. "Dark blue. Like the color of your dress."

He was right. That was the only reason she'd bought the dress. Because she loved the color of it.

Hermione pursed her lips. "Correct. What's my favorite book that was written by a Muggle?"

George was looking rather smug. "Pride and Prejudice."

Hermione's stomach dropped. He'd already gotten two out of three correct. She honestly hadn't expected him to know those things. She couldn't recall ever talking about it with him. Apparently, she hadn't been giving him enough credit.

"Alright. Final question. What's my favorite flower?"

George looked about him and then picked up a small twig off of the ground. With a flick of his wand he'd transfigured it into a sunflower, which he then handed to her. Hermione was speechless and all she could do for a long time was stare at the flower in her hands.

"How did you know that?" she asked softly, her eyes shimmering again.

"I've gotten pretty good at listening to people and remembering what they say." He was watching her intently. "That's why the shop does so well, I think. Fred and I are able to figure out what products people would enjoy by listening to them speak."

"Well, I'm very impressed."

That wicked smirk had returned. He leaned forward and she could feel his warm breath washing over her face. "I won. And that means that you're coming home with me, love."


Chapter 10: Sleepover
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Hermione expected the twins' flat to be just as exuberantly decorated as their shop. But she saw that the color scheme was much calmer than she'd anticipated.

The walls of the sitting room were painted a dark, forest green. The area was dominated by two white, leather sofas that faced each other and a coffee table situated between them. There was a large bookshelf, presumably filled with the books that they needed for their research.

There were a few pictures on the wall. George and Fred standing in front of the shop, arms around each other's shoulders. Fred behind the register, waving merrily at the camera. The whole Weasley family together, cramped around the dinner table. George standing next to Ginny, his hand reaching down to ruffle her hair.

George flung himself down on one of the sofas and then patted the seat beside him. Hermione sat and he wrapped an arm around her shoulder, pulling her closer. She leaned her head on his shoulder.

"Where's Fred?" she mumbled through a yawn. It was getting rather late and Hermione hadn't slept much the night before.

"With Angelina. He's staying the night at her flat. So, we have the whole place to ourselves," he replied, waggling his eyebrows lecherously.

Hermione's stomach began to squirm. She swiftly banished the thoughts that came unbidden into her head. Dark, delicious thoughts of a night filled with tangled limbs and heat and passion. She swallowed and began to pick at her fingernails.

"Are you ready to go to bed?"

The blood rushed to Hermione's face as she met his dark gaze. All she could do was nod. He stood, taking her hand and pulling her to her feet. She followed him down the hall. There was a door on either side of them; George opened the door on the right.

The walls in George's room were a light grey. The bed was covered in a fluffy blue comforter that she just wanted to sink into. There was a dresser off to the side, the top of which was half-buried under merchandise from the shop.

He went to the dresser and opened a drawer. Searching through it for a minute, he tossed her a bundle of clothes. A t-shirt and a pair of his boxers.

"You can wear those to sleep in."

"Oh, thanks." Hermione nodded. "Where can I change?"

George smirked devilishly. "Right here is fine with me. I won't peek."

Hermione rolled her eyes, crossing her arms across her chest. "I bet. Where's the bathroom?"

"It's the door off the sitting room. Let me know if you need any help changing."

Hermione found the bathroom, slipped inside, and changed. The clothes were much too big on her, but she found that she didn't mind so much because they smelled like George. It was wonderful. She spent a moment or two primping in front of the mirror before she left. It had been a long time since she'd worried about what she looked like.

When she returned to the room, George had made himself comfortable in the bed. He was wearing just a pair of black pajama bottoms. Hermione had to make a conscious effort not to stare at his chest.

She thought maybe it was the most difficult thing she'd ever done.

"Those look better on you than they do on me," he said.

Hermione blushed. He beckoned her to the bed with a finger. But Hermione stood rooted in the doorway. Anxiety was twisting like a coil in her chest.

"Are you going to stand over there all night?"

Still she could not move. She stared at the floor as if it were suddenly the most interesting thing in the world.

"Granger?"

George's eyes widened in sudden realization. He smirked broadly, as if he'd caught her with her hand in the cookie jar. He took several steps towards her until Hermione's back was against the wall. George grabbed her wrists, pinning them to the wall above her head.

He leaned in closer, so that his lips were right next to her ear. His hot breath sent a shiver through her body. "Did you think I brought you here to have my wicked way with you?" he whispered.

When Hermione didn't answer, he chuckled. It was a husky sound from the back of his throat that had her stomach doing flips. "You know, when I said sleep together, I meant actual sleeping. But I like where your thoughts were headed, love."

He bit her earlobe and Hermione gasped. "Is that why you've been so nervous all night? Because you thought I was going to do terribly wonderful things to you?"

Hermione's eyes fluttered closed. He moved so that both of her wrists were pinned with one hand, before trailing the finger of his other hand down the inside of her arm, down to skim across her collarbone, and then to skate a line down between her breasts. She could feel the heat of his touch through the fabric of her shirt and she shivered again.

"Who knew you were such a minx, Miss Granger?"

"George," she whined.

He released her arms and took a step back. Hermione could see that his lips were twitching in amusement. He returned to the bed and made himself comfortable again.

George gestured for her to follow him and when she hesitated, he said, "C'mon, then. I won't touch you." He waggled his eyebrows again. "Unless you beg me too, of course."

Hermione rolled her eyes at him, trying to appear unaffected by his previous actions. But the feeling of his skin on hers was a hard one to shake. She crawled into bed beside him, making sure to put ample room between them.

In the end, it didn't matter because he reached out and pulled her to him. Her back was against his chest and her head was tucked underneath his chin. Another yawn tore from Hermione's mouth.

"George?" she mumbled, her eyes already closed.

He waved his wand and the room went dark. "Mmm?"

"I had a very nice time tonight."

"Me too, Granger."

And that was the last thing that she remembered before she drifted off to sleep.

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Hermione awoke in the dark. She rubbed at her eyes blearily, unsure of what exactly had woken her. Then, she heard it again. She turned to George to find him muttering and shaking in his sleep, obviously in the throes of a nightmare.

She debated for a moment or two over whether or not to wake him. Decision made, she leaned over him and gently cupped his face in her palms.

"George? Wake up."

He startled awake, breathing rapidly. She ran her fingers through his hair in an attempt to calm him. "Shh … It's just me. You were having a nightmare."

George wrapped his arms tightly around her and cradled her in his arms. He was silent for a long time and she did not pressure him to speak.

"I'm sorry," he finally said, his voice still thick with sleep. "I didn't mean to wake you."

"Was it about Fred?" she whispered.

He breathed a great sigh. "They're always about Fred."

"Are you alright?"

She felt him shake his head. "No, I'm not."

Hermione moved to place a gentle kiss on his lips. "It's alright, George. We all have our battle scars." Hermione glanced down at her arm, the word "Mudblood" pale and shiny against her skin.

He caught her glance and grimaced. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Hermione had never spoken of that night to anyone. She hadn't wanted to talk about it, as if acknowledging her pain made her weak. So she'd buried it deep, deep down. Along with all of the other things that she would rather forget.

She wasn't sure if anyone knew, if Harry or Ron had ever told anyone. Occasionally, she would catch someone staring at her pityingly. But they never asked her about it.

But this was George. She wanted to tell George everything. And she wanted George to tell her everything too.

After a moment of indecision, she said, "It was Bellatrix Lestrange."

He grabbed her arm and ran his fingers over the puckered skin. "I'm sorry. What happened?"

"She …" Her voice was quivering. "We were captured by Snatchers and taken to Malfoy Manor. Bellatrix saw that we had the Sword of Gryffindor, which she thought was in her vault at Gringotts. She thought we'd been in her vault and she … she tortured me to get information."

George was horrorstruck. He said nothing, just waited for her to finish speaking. But his hand rubbed comforting circles on her back.

"She used the Cruciatus Curse over and over again. It felt like an eternity. And I spent all of it just wishing that I was dead. I didn't think that I was strong enough to make it through. And then … she used magic to carve this into my skin. I've tried everything to get rid of it. Potions, spells, even Muggle products. But nothing has worked. This word will never leave me."

When she finished speaking, she took a ragged breath and met George's eyes. And then something inside of her broke. Everything that she'd kept pent up since the end of the war. Everything that she'd left unsaid because other people had been hurting more. The weight of it all came rushing out of her in a harsh sob.

Hot tears dripped down her face as she threw herself into George's arms. Her sobs were jagged and painful. And her chest began to ache from it all.

She felt George's hand stroking her hair. "I'm sorry that you had to go through that. I wish I could've been there to protect you from it all."

He grabbed her arm again and placed a gentle kiss on it. "This word does not define you. If anything, it defines the people who would use it against you."

Hermione cried and when she couldn't cry anymore, when her emotions were spent, she fell back to sleep in George's arms.

Chapter 11: Wedding Plans
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Hermione smiled at George as she sat next to him at the table. Mrs. Weasley had invited all of her children and their fiancées to dinner. The already cramped kitchen was now overflowing; the table had had to be extended and more chairs brought in.

Bill and Fleur, her stomach slightly larger than the last time Hermione had seen her. Percy and Audrey, who was a short brunette and worked at St. Mungo's. Fred and Angelina, who seemed very content at Fred's side. Harry and Ginny, who was leaning her head on Harry's shoulder. And even Ron and Luna, who were actually sitting together and chatting amicably.

Hermione had never seen Molly happier than when she'd looked out over the sea of faces that was her family. It made Hermione's heart clench to know that so much love and happiness could exist in one room. And Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were enjoying their place at the center of it all.

"Alright, everyone quiet down," Molly said, and the clamor in the room began to die down. "I believe that everything happens for a reason. I can't help but think that maybe this law was a blessing in disguise. It brought my children together with the person that truly completes them and will make them happy for the rest of their days. I am so thankful that we are here together. All of us safe and happy."

Fleur burst into tears and Bill chuckled and wiped them away. "Hormones," he said, staring at his wife fondly.

Hermione blinked away the mist that had clouded her eyes. George laced his fingers through hers, leaning down to place a gentle kiss on the corner of her mouth.

"There's been a lot of disapproval of that law," Mr. Weasley said. "There have been groups of protesters at the Ministry for weeks. Hundreds of letters of complaint to sift through. It's been dreadful."

Mrs. Weasley smiled again. "I think, with everyone together, this would be a good opportunity to talk about wedding dates. Now, Harry and Ginny aren't getting married until next summer. Percy and Audrey have set their date at September 24, which is in just over two weeks. But, what about the rest of you?"

"Angie and I were talking and we were thinking sometime in November," Fred said, slinging an arm around her.

"And Ron and I agree that a ceremony towards the end of the deadline would be best. So that's the beginning of February," Luna said, her eyes focusing on something above Mrs. Weasley's head that Hermione couldn't see.

Ron was nodding in agreement and he didn't even look upset about the subject. When had they gotten so chummy?

Molly nodded. "What about you two, Hermione?"

Hermione met George's gaze uncertainly. Since the day at the lake, she had been avoiding all talk of her upcoming wedding. But she supposed that she couldn't escape it forever.

"What about January?" she asked him. "It's toward the end of the deadline, like we discussed."

George nodded and squeezed her hand that was still cradled between his. "January sounds great."

"Alright, then it's settled," Molly said. "Now, let's eat."

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After a long evening of laughter, everyone had finally returned to their respective homes. Hermione was reading in the sitting room by herself, trying to unwind before she attempted to sleep. She wasn't sure how well that was going to go.

This evening had brought back all of her anxiety in full force. She was going to marry George. She was going to have to … sleep with him. And have children. And while she cared deeply for the man, she wasn't sure that she was ready to be a wife or mother. It was just too much too soon.

The sound of approaching footsteps made her glance up from her book. Ron was standing just inside the door.

"Can we talk, 'Mione?"

Hermione smiled at the old nickname. It had been too long since they'd spoken and she'd missed him dearly. "Yes, of course," she said, patting the seat next to her.

She closed her book as he sat next to her on the sofa. He seemed at a loss for words, so Hermione said, "You and Luna seem to be getting along."

Ron grinned. "Yeah. Did you know she's a huge Quidditch fan? She bought us tickets to a Chudley Cannons match. It was great."

"Really? That's wonderful, Ron. I'm glad you're happy."

Ron was watching her, remorse etched across his features. "Yes, well, I'm sure you won't be surprised when I tell you that you were right. As always. Once you get past the shock of her, Luna starts to grow on you."

Shock, indeed. Luna had worn fluorescent, polka-dotted wellies to dinner that evening. And it wasn't even raining.

"I'm sorry for those things I said, 'Mione. I didn't really mean them. I was just angry. I'm glad that you found someone to make you happy. Even if it is my brother."

Hermione leaned forward to pull him into a tight hug. "I forgive you, Ron. I've missed you so much. I'm going to be getting married. I can't do that without my best friend by my side."

He leaned back to meet her gaze, a hint of a smile playing around his lips. "You know, if you'd asked me before, I never would've thought you and George were right for each other. But when I see you together, it just seems to make sense. Just let me know if he ever makes you unhappy, and I'll take care of it."

The thought of Ron going up against George was laughable, but she said nothing. Just smiled at her best friend. "Thank you, Ronald. I appreciate that."

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