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Stepping down and shutting the door behind her, Hermione looked around to see if anyone was paying attention to her. While not yet sunrise, there was enough light in the square to see a red-headed figure leaning against a tree, watching the front door of Number Twelve.

Nodding, Hermione slipped her hands into her jacket pockets as she walked over. “Hello George, fancy meeting you here.”

Nodding, George watched her warily. “Everything good in there?”

Shaking her head, Hermione sighed. “It’s going to take a lot of talking before he’s truly over what happened last night, but at least he’s talking and the house is on its way back to normal.”

Shaking his head, George looked at her for several seconds. “You know, they’re both idiots. I’m not certain why you and Harry have put up with it for as long as you have.”

Sighing, Hermione looked at George. “They’re your sibs, George; you really shouldn’t be saying that.”

Laughing, George shrugged. “If being family didn’t stop us from calling old Percy a prat and a git when he was acting like one, it shouldn’t stop us from recognizing that both Ginny and Ron have serious issues.” Seeing the look on Hermione’s face, George nodded. “I was at the Burrow this morning and talked to Ronniekins when he came back. He doesn’t even have a clue about how badly he stepped in it.”

Sighing, Hermione looked at George and studied his face for several seconds. The usual glib smile was gone, and she saw the serious George that rarely made a public appearance. “Why were you waiting out here?”

Nodding towards the house, George smiled. “I was hoping you were smart enough to exit the house and apparate to wherever you’re going next, rather than open a floo connection and have to deal with Mum and Ginny.”

Raising an eyebrow at the expression on Hermione’s face, George laughed. “Also, I’m here to give you the Weasley family scorecard so you’ll know where everyone’s lined up before you go to the Burrow.”

Shaking her head, Hermione chuckled at the thought. “George, before you go any further, let me say that Harry and I both appreciate you doing this.”

Nodding sagely, George smiled. “There are three basic camps in the Weasley family right now. Four, if we count you and Harry as a camp.” Seeing the startled look in Hermione’s eyes, George sighed. “You two have been part of the family since you were twelve or so. No one’s going to chuck you out simply because Ginny’s being a drama queen and Ron’s being a prat.”

Nodding, Hermione smiled. “Thanks for that, George. I was hoping we wouldn’t lose everyone because of this.”

Smiling, George laughed. “Oh, it’s going to be uncomfortable and loud for a while, but a good chunk of the family thinks you two are better off this way.” Seeing the surprised look on her face, he shrugged. “We’re not all idiots; mostly we’ve been marveling that things have gone on as long as they have.”

Shaking her head, Hermione smiled. “The other three camps?”

Nodding, George was serious again. “Ronniekins is all by himself. He’s determined to be neutral in this, and he tells everyone who will listen that he’s going to get you to help him work something out between Ginny and Harry. Ginny and Mum are both together in thinking that Ginny might have been a bit rash, but Harry overreacted and now the solution is for those two to shag and make up.”

Hermione’s face froze into a scowl, which prompted George to take half a step back. “The rest of us, once we heard the details on what happened, have realized that the days of Ginny and Harry are now officially over, with side bets saying that the only reason the days of you and Ron aren’t officially over is that you haven’t had the time to spell it out for him and Ronniekins is too busy trying to jolly Ginny into apologizing to Harry to realize he’s gone too far.”

Seeing the look on Hermione’s face soften, George nodded. “Most of us will support you two, to various degrees. Fleur, Angelina, and Audrey all have said that we can have Christmas Day somewhere a bit more neutral than the Burrow so you two will feel welcome, but it’s a bit short notice to move Christmas Eve.”

Leaning over, Hermione kissed George on the cheek. “Tonight, we’re doing something different for Christmas Eve, but tomorrow afternoon, let us know where the gathering is and we’ll be there, at least until the hexes start flying.”

Smiling, George shook his head. “You can take her. Or him, for that matter. And besides, if Harry’s still in a funk, defending you will certainly bring him out of it.”

Laughing, Hermione blushed. “I doubt I’ll need defending.” Looking worried for a second, Hermione bit her lower lip. “You didn’t mention Arthur,” she asked hesitantly.

Sighing, George rolled his eyes. “Dad’s firmly behind you and Harry, he understands that his ‘precocious princess’ has a nasty temper on her and those two haven’t been really happy for years now. He’ll be with Mum if she goes off in a huff, but he made it quite clear to Bill and me that he doesn’t condone what Ginny did and he thinks that both you and Harry moving on is the best thing that could happen. He just asks that the two of you take your time, because the Prophet would like nothing better than to start up about you stealing Harry from Ginny, again.”

Blushing, Hermione shook her head. “I was kind of hoping that since they run that rumor twice a year, they might let us alone right now and wait for their usual spring-time character assassination special edition.”

Shaking his head, George looked at her for several seconds. “Going to the Burrow to have it out with Ginny?”

Shaking her head, Hermione gave George a very predatory look. “I’m going to the Burrow to tell Molly that Harry and I won’t be there for Christmas Eve, we’ll be going to Godric’s Hollow and then to Oxford for the evening. If she’s smart, your sister and I will be having words only to the extent that I’m informing her that all of her things are in Holyhead at her flat she has there and that she’s no longer on the floo open access list for the house.”

Whistling, George looked at her in surprise. “You got Harry to ban her from the house?”

Shaking her head, Hermione smiled mysteriously. “She’s not banned; she just can’t come and go as she pleases any longer. And Harry hasn’t done anything.”

Nodding thoughtfully, George slowly smiled. “I should have seen that coming. You’re back home now?”

Nodding, Hermione shrugged. “Should never have left, but I needed to find some things out, and now that I have, I’m back to stay.”

“Good for you.” Looking thoughtful, George nodded for a second. “If you need someone to sublet your flat in Kensington, Verity is looking for a place.”

Smiling, Hermione nodded. “Have her talk to me after Boxing Day, I’ll introduce her to my landlord and we can work out the arrangements.”

Nodding, George put his hand on her arm. “Just remember, you two are as much a part of this family as any of the rest of us. Mum, Ginny, and Ronniekins will all be hell to live with for a while, but eventually they’ll come around. The rest of us won’t let them divide the family over this.”

Looking worried, Hermione tried to smile. “George, you know how Harry feels about family…”

“And we’re his family, and yours. It’s exactly that reason we’re not going to let the family be pulled apart over this. If some members of the family wish to exclude themselves because they’re too immature or stubborn to see reality, then that’s their choice, but we’ve agreed that every member of the family is always welcome.” Nodding, George nodded towards the house. “You run along and do what you need to do; I’ll keep watch here to make certain no one does anything foolish trying to get in.”

Leaning up, Hermione kissed him gently on the cheek. “You’re much too nice. Careful or people will find out that George Weasley is actually a big softie.”

Blushing a bit, George smiled. “Angelina already knows, and no one else would believe you. If anyone asks, I’m waiting to prank Ronniekins if he shows up again.”

Smiling, Hermione took a step back; looked around to see that no one was out, and turned in place and disappeared.

That familiar appartion discomfort abated as Hermione found herself standing outside the gate to the Burrow. A couple of garden gnomes peaked out from behind various plants, wearing small knit caps which told Hermione that Luna had been here recently, but no one else was outside on a cold December morning.

Opening the gate, Hermione slowly walked up the path to the door. Looking around at the house where she had spent so many happy moments over the last decade, she smiled wistfully for the carefree days when all they had to worry about was Voldemort. Taking a deep breath, she placed her hand on the door and prepared to knock.

Just as she touched the door, it flew open and a very surprised Ron was standing there. The two of them stared at each other, Ron pointedly looking at her upraised hand. “Since when have you started knocking at the door?”

Shaking her head sadly, Hermione shrugged. “Since I chose sides between Harry and Ginny, I suppose. I thought it might be polite rather than barging straight in.” Looking pointedly at Ron while she stood on the stoop, she smiled thinly. “May I come in?”

Looking surprised, Ron stepped back and nodded. “Of course, you’re always welcome here, you know that.”

Shaking her head, Hermione stepped around him and into the house. “After this morning, I’m not certain of that, Ronald. We still need to talk, but first I’d like to speak with Molly.”

Looking shocked, Ron’s face became slightly flushed. “Do you mean the me waking you up this morning, or the you choosing to side with Harry this morning?”

Shaking her head, Hermione looked at Ron for several seconds before answering. “It’s all part of the same thing, Ronald. Harry’s been you best friend since that first day on the train, and mine almost as long. Even without considering that, you can’t sincerely expect me to believe that you think what your sister said to Harry was right.”

Shaking his head, Ron frowned. “It wasn’t right, and it was unnecessarily cruel and vicious. But you know how Gin is when she gets going on with something. Harry should know that by now and make allowances for her when she’s provoked.”

Stunned, Hermione stared at him for almost a minute before shaking her head. “Ronald, that’s not the behavior of someone who cares about someone. You know what Harry’s childhood was like, how he’s still paying the price for everything that happened.”

Shaking her head, Hermione began pacing around the room, becoming more agitated with every step. “There comes a time when two people have to just realize that things aren’t ever going to work, and if they try to make it work, they only end up hurting each other.”

Stopping and looking at Ron with regret in her eyes, she sighed. “I’m not going to allow that to happen any longer. It stops while all of us can still be friends, it stops before she hurts him so badly he can’t survive it. It just stops now.”

Ron was staring intently at Hermione when Ginny’s voice broke in from the doorway. “And just who appointed you Harry’s defender and mistress?”

Whirling around, Ron turned to face his sister while Hermione slowly turned her head to nod to the newcomer. “Gin, you’re still upset about what happened last night.” Ron held up his hands and stepped between his sister and Hermione. “This probably isn’t the best time to discuss this. Why don’t you go back upstairs and I’ll send Mum up with some hot chocolate in a bit.”

Eyes flashing, Ginny stepped into the room. “Ron, don’t be any more of an idiot than you have to be. You should be just as interested in this little conversation as I am.” Turning from her brother, Ginny smiled coldly at Hermione. “Well? We’re waiting to hear why suddenly you’re Harry’s defender and leash holder, again.”

Hermione stared at the younger witch as she sadly smiled. “I’ve been Harry’s friend since we met, and we’ve watched each other’s backs for ten years now. I’ll admit I haven’t been doing a very good job of it for the last several years. But that’s all changed and this isn’t going to happen again.”

Laughing coldly, Ginny tossed her head and smiled as her hair flared behind her. “Please, Harry will forgive me the way he always does when I go a bit too far. In a couple of days, everything will be fine between us.” Shaking her head, she smiled maliciously at Hermione. “He’ll probably feel guilty enough about locking me out of the house to finally let me redecorate those two rooms. I think a billiards room would serve much better than a musty old library, don’t you Ron?”

Shaking his head warily, Ron looked over his shoulder at Hermione before answering his sister. “Gin, I don’t think this is the time or place to think about remaking the house.” Turning back to Hermione he smiled sheepishly. “Harry’s doing alright, isn’t he?”

Rolling her eyes, Hermione shook her head in exasperation. “It took you long enough to ask about your best mate.” Seeing the look on Ron’s face, she shrugged. “Harry’s better. I finally got him to talk and eat. Once I convinced him to let me take care of things, that everything would work out, he was able to let go of things. Then I put him to bed so he could try and get some sleep.”

Smiling wickedly, Ginny nodded. “That’s just what he needs. A couple of hours of dreaming of me and he should be ready to talk tonight.”

Chuckling to herself, Hermione nodded as Ginny’s eyes narrowed at her lack of reaction. “And exactly what about kipping in my bed is going to make Harry dream of you?” Nodding at the shocked look on Ginny’s face, and sadly noting a similar look on Ron’s, Hermione smiled and turned to face an open space on the sitting room floor. “Kreacher?”

A faint pop heralded the appearance of the house elf. Bowing low towards Hermione, Kreacher pointedly ignored the two Weasleys in the room. “Mistress calls?”

Allowing Ginny to sputter for a few seconds, Hermione tilted her head to one side. “Kreacher, could you retrieve that trunk for me and put it in my flat in Kensington so I can finish packing.”

Nodding, Kreacher smiled. “My pleasure, Mistress. Should I begin to pack your belongings for your return to Grimmauld Place?” Kreacher’s question elicited another strangled outburst from Ginny and a stunned expression from Ron.

Shaking her head, Hermione looked thoughtful for a second. “It can wait until after Christmas, Kreacher. But you can take that excess furniture we were talking about earlier and put it where you retrieve the trunk from.” Smiling and nodding at the look on Kreacher’s face as he mentally calculated the amount of space the two bedroom suites would take up in a small one-bedroom flat, she nodded. “I’m certain they’ll get much more use there than they will collecting dust in the attic at Grimmauld Place.”

Nodding sagely, Kreacher executed another deep bow and disappeared before he could return to his standing posture.

Silence reigned in the sitting room for several seconds following the elf’s apparition ‘pop’. Openmouthed, Ginny stared at Hermione in disbelief. “He came?”

Nodding, Hermione shrugged. “He always has. I never really thought about all the implications of that until this morning.” Shrugging her shoulders, Hermione let that statement hang in the air for Ginny to think through.”

“You’re moving back?” Ron’s face was starting to turn pink again as he finally found his voice after Kreacher’s appearance.

Looking at him with sympathy, Hermione took a step towards him, but stopped when he stepped back in response. “Ron, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for you to find out this way. But, yes I’m moving back home to Number Twelve. I think I’ve found out everything I need to know now and nothing would really be served by my continuing to live in Kensington.” Watching Ron’s face, Hermione could see several emotions playing across it. Disbelief, sadness, anger, and resignation all played across his features.

Shaking his head, Ron looked at her with a curious expression. “You never did answer that question for me that night. I never realized that it would take you four years to give me your answer.”

Puzzled, Hermione thought back to where she and Harry had beenfour Christmas’ ago, and was stumped until she remembered the night, earlier in December that year, when Ron stormed out of the tent leaving her crying as he abandoned the two of them to their search for the Horcruxes. “I suppose you’re right. I have chosen Harry, and if I would have taken two seconds to be honest with myself I would have known that it’s been that way since our third year at school.”

Nodding sadly and taking a step towards him, he allowed her to put a hand on his arm. “I never meant to hurt you, it’s just taken us this long to realize you and I are friends, and we shouldn’t try to change that.” Watching him for a few seconds, it saddened her to see him shrink within himself as he processed the information.

Starting to speak, Ginny was shocked by Ron’s whispered, “Just shut it, Gin,” before he turned back to Hermione. “I can’t even argue with you, I think I’ve known for months this was going to happen.”

Blinking back tears, Hermione smiled sadly. “We’re both your friend, Ron. And it would hurt both of us terribly if we lost that. I understand that this makes things difficult, and we’ll be discrete and respect you. I don’t think any of us wants things to end badly.”

Looking lost for a second, Hermione added. “Don’t hate Harry. If you have to hate someone, hate me. He’s lost so much, had so much taken from him, I couldn’t bear to see him lose another member of his family.”

Ginny’s scornful laugh broke the moment. “Oh, please. He’ll only notice what you tell him to notice.”

Turning to face the other witch, Hermione’s face became a mask of cold indifference. “What happened Ginny? Once upon a time, you loved him. Where did all of this venom and spite come from?”

“Where?” Her eyes grew big as she stared at Hermione in disbelief. “I’ll tell you where. It came from being left behind while you ran off to save the world with my boyfriend. It came from three years of waiting for him to finally turn to me for anything important. He never let me near anything personal or deep, I was shut out of what made him who he was.” Shaking her head, she glared at Hermione. “Three years of waiting for today, the day you decided to take back what was yours all along.”

Shaking her head, Hermione looked at Ginny with sorrow and pity, not the antipathy she thought she would feel when she came here. “Ginny, you can’t continue to hurt him and yourself like this. I can’t stop you from hurting yourself, but I can and will keep you from hurting him any further.”

Tears rolling down her cheeks, Ginny shook her head. “Why couldn’t he have ever truly cared about me? Loved me?”

Surprisingly, it was Ron who answered her. “He does love you, care about you. This is why you were able to hurt him so badly.” Shaking his head, Ron stepped forward and wrapped his arms around his sister. “Gin, you haven’t been happy for two years now. If ever there was a day to let go and remember that you both care about each other, this would be the day.”

Glaring murderously at Hermione, Ginny shook her head and broke out of Ron’s embrace. “No! I’m not going to be shuffled off like a cast-off set of robes. Give me five minutes with Harry and we’ll be back to normal and you’ll be wherever it is you find yourself when you’re not desperately throwing yourself at Harry or my brother.”

Sidestepping so she was clear of her brother, Ginny removed her wand from her back pocket and glared at Hermione. “Don’t interfere, Hermione. I’m going back to Grimmauld Place and talk some sense into Harry.” Keeping her eye on Hermione, who was standing there, arms crossed and shaking her head, Ginny crossed to the fireplace and removed a pinch of floo powder from the container on the mantle.

Smiling sadly, Hermione nodded towards the floo. “Give it a go. Make certain you enunciate clearly. No telling where you’ll end up if you’re upset and mumble.”

Shooting Hermione a look of pure disdain, Ginny smiled and stated, slowly and distinctly, “Number Twelve Gimmauld Place” as she cast the powder into the fireplace. Stepping into the green flames, she disappeared from view.

Chuckling at the look on Ron’s face, Hermione simply counted off on her fingers. “Five, four, three, two, one.” As she said ‘one’, green flames erupted from the fireplace again and Ginny came tumbling out of the fireplace. A melodious but annoying voice from the fireplace announced, “The floo address you are trying to reach has been restricted by order of the householder. Please try again later.”

Looking around in a daze, Ginny shook her head slowly. “I can’t believe Harry would block me like that. This isn’t right.”

Looking at Ron, Hermione nodded in answer to the unasked question in his eyes. “Ron, you explain it to her; I need to talk to Molly.”

Shaking his head, Ron tried to smile. “This is going to take some getting used to; I don’t know if I’m ready to see you two together.”

Walking over to him, Hermione enveloped him in one of her trademark hugs. At first he stiffened when she wrapped her arms around him, but he gradually relaxed into the hug and awkwardly returned it. “Ron, we probably won’t be much different than we’ve always been in public. Harry and I haven’t gotten around to discussing anything, we just sorted out the fact that I was coming home and that we were going to be there for each other. He’s still pretty rocky after last evening. I’m going to wait until he wakes up and has a spot of lunch before we start rearranging the known world.” Shaking her head, she smiled. “That reminds me.”

Stepping back, Hermione shook her head at Ginny, who was sitting in the middle of the sitting room floor looking lost, and quietly called “Kreacher?”

The house elf returned with a subtle ‘pop’ and bowed. “Mistress, you called?”

Smiling, Hermione nodded. “Kreacher, there’s been a change in plans. Please put that excess furniture in the attic at Grimmauld Place after all. And see if you can find suitable spots to put all of the belongings from my old trunk away. If you can’t, leave them in the trunk, we’ll pick that up later after everything is sorted out.” Seeing the surprised look on his face, Hermione shrugged.

Shaking his head, Kreacher glared at Ginny once before looking back to Hermione. “As you wish, Mistress. Master Harry was still sleeping when I left; your belongings are back in your room. Will there be anything else?”

Smiling, Hermione shook her head. “Kreacher, I thank you again. I’ll be home right after I go to Oxford.”

Nodding, Kreacher bowed to her and then nodded his head to Ron. “Mistress, Master Ron.” He disappeared with a subtle ‘pop’.

Shaking his head, Ron took a deep breath before speaking. “Mum’s in the kitchen, Dad’s in there also. I’ll talk to Ginny for a bit before I go back in there.”

Crossing to the door that led to the Burrow’s kitchen, Hermione paused and looked back over her shoulder at them. “We never planned any of this.”

Smiling sadly, Ron nodded as Ginny glared at her. “We know. Or at least I know. Will we see you two tomorrow?”

Nodding towards the kitchen, Hermione squared her shoulders. “I hope so. Wish me luck?”

Ignoring his sister’s bitter laugh, Ron nodded. “Dad’s been trying to calm her down since George left. Bill’s already gone back to Shell Cottage, he finally just told her that Fleur and Victoire were going to spend Christmas Day wherever you two were, and they hoped they’d see everyone there.”

Nodding, Hermione smiled as Ron nodded in return. “Ginny, please think before you do anything else. Harry and I both care about you, but that won’t stop me from protecting Harry if you try to hurt him again.” Shrugging at the glare she received, Hermione pushed on the door and started the, suddenly, long walk to the kitchen.

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