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Chapter Five: Distractions

The following week was full of secret glances and hidden smiles. It got to the point that Hermione would start to feel so nervous in George's presence that her palms would start to sweat and her heart would race two times too quickly. He had been around much more often now that the Burrow had been made the new headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix. He was always at their meetings and had also taken to showing up at meals with his family rather routinely.

Hermione was starting to get used to constantly being in a state of nervous excitement when facing the day. Each morning she would wake up knowing that sometime before nightfall she would be seeing him again. It was a reassuring thought. She liked the newfound comfort she derived from his presence. It had really gotten her through the days following her having to say goodbye to her parents.

She could vividly remember the morning when George had helped her relax after her nightmare. She could still picture him looking down at her intently, watchful eyes tracing over her skin and making her tingle under the force of his gaze. She remembered the way his arms enclosed around her as if to protect her from her fears and doubts. Hermione hadn't wanted to say goodbye to him then. The bubble that had formed peacefully around them that morning had been perfect and solely theirs. It had given her a little piece of happiness in the wake of immense sadness.

Then the bubble had popped and the real world had come whirling in on them.

The endless stream of Order meetings were driving her insane. It made sense that stress would build as the summer went on. The war was getting worse, and Moody reported deaths in the dozens. Missions were becoming incredibly dangerous, with most members of the Order choosing to write wills and letters to their loved ones prior to going out on one. By the end of each meeting, Hermione had a feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach and growing unease. She didn't want to lose anyone else that she loved. She didn't think she could take it.

Hermione was beginning to rely on her growing friendship with George to keep her distracted from the hustle and bustle. In their meetings, George always managed to snag the seat across from hers as he and Fred strolled in just seconds prior to Moody calling the group to order. He would proceed to catch her eyes and smile before focusing on their current missions, status updates, and debriefings. Hermione would then spare a few moments to admire him while his attention was diverted before also giving the Order her full attention. They were, after all, at war. They couldn't afford to be distracted.

She was just that, though. Distracted.

She had now noticed enough minor things about George to know it was absolutely ridiculous that the people who loved him and Fred mistook them for each other. George had a scar through the right side of his upper lip. It was small and only a slightly different shade than the rest of his lips, but if you knew to look for it, then it was fairly obvious. Then there was that adorable freckle on his left dimple. The freckle seemed to play hide and seek with Hermione throughout each day. It would be noticeable until he smiled, then it would disappear.

She was almost embarrassed by how much she was beginning to notice the older redhead. She reasoned that it was merely because of their growing friendship that she paid him such attention. She was sure that once they got used to their newfound companionship, she'd stop getting caught up in his good looks and heart-stopping grin.

Nonetheless, her thoughts were drifting more and more as the week went on. She found that the more time she spent with George each day, the more time she spent with him on her mind. They had managed to talk a bit every single day, though rarely alone. She was spending most of her days with Ron, planning their hunt for the Horcruxes that was rapidly approaching the closer they came to Harry's seventeenth birthday. They were still deciding the best time to leave and how to do it without clueing anyone in on what was going on. Whenever George was around, so was Ron. The few times she had happened upon George without Ron, he was with Fred. And Ginny could always be counted on to come along at the worst times as well.

Hermione was fairly sure that George wanted to spend time with her just as much as she wanted to spend time with him. He was always happy to see her, often asking how she was doing with an intent look in his eyes that assured her that he wasn't merely exchanging pleasantries; he honestly wanted to know. His smile always caused her to forget how to breathe. That damned freckle completely threw her off and made her long to reach out and brush a finger over it. She didn't know how she had never noticed it before, especially since it consumed an obnoxious amount of her thoughts all week long.

Then there was the touching.

George seemed to always find a way to graze her arm or hand with his fingertips during their brief exchanges. This would have been easy for Hermione to pass off as merely friendly and platonic, except for the hum of electricity that would shoot through her at the contact. And there was the way his eyes would burn into hers, a beautiful caramel brown with moss green specks. She would be lost right there. In fact, on more than one occasion that week she had gazed off while talking to George about one thing or another. Even when he was right in front of her, it seemed, her thoughts couldn't keep it together.

Once, George had even waved a hand in front of her face before chuckling softly and tucking a stray curl behind her ear. When she had taken a moment too long to come back to focus, he had whispered gently to her, "Come back to me, love."

Her mouth had gone dry as she'd looked up at him.

That had been the first time that she'd admitted to herself that he was more than just the person she could rely on to listen when she had a problem. He was the number one reason that she managed to smile every day. He was the cause for rolling out of bed each morning and braving a world that looked grimmer and grimmer as time passed. George was rapidly becoming her primary focus. It terrified her, but the feelings that she felt when she looked at him were too delicious to give up. Yet she knew she had to.

It had been five days since their morning together. Hermione had taken that particular day to avoid George to the best of her ability. She truly believed that stopping her growing infatuation would be for the best. It just wasn't the right time for a relationship, and she didn't have the energy to vie for the attention of someone who might not like her the way she liked him. If it was meant to be, then they could give it a go after Voldemort was dead. Besides, the idea of being rejected by someone whose family she had been a part of for years was just plain embarrassing.

So Hermione made sure she was never in a room alone with him. She even forced herself to hide under her bed when he had gone looking for her that morning when he had first arrived. At breakfast, lunch, and dinner, she was sure to stroll in late and sit in the furthest chair from his. While eating, she would occasionally sneak a glance at him, only to catch him staring at her with an unreadable expression on his face. She'd wanted to reach across the table and smooth out the creases between his brows every time this happened, something her father had done to her whenever she was worried about something.

She had settled on simply returning her gaze to her plate.

Then the Order meeting had started, and she'd gotten stuck sitting across from him in their usual spots. Everyone always sat in the same seats, after all. This wasn't out of necessity – Moody had never given them assigned seats, or anything silly like that. It was more out of desire for routine in a time when nothing else was consistent.

The meeting had been going rather quickly. Hermione had managed to successfully avoid eye contact with George the entire time, mostly by staring purposefully at the table they had all gathered around. She had hoped by the end of the day she'd be detoxed enough to handle continuing on with him just as friends. She didn't want to lose him altogether. She just wanted to stop being consumed by thoughts of him.

At least, she had felt like that – until Fred and George were assigned a mission.

Moody had barely gotten the Weasley twins' names out before Hermione had started to feel sick. Her eyes had flown to meet George's, and she was absolutely positive he could read the panic that she was feeling. The same look that he had sent her way at breakfast, lunch, and dinner crossed his features. Hermione had never wanted to touch her favorite freckle of his more. She wanted to have him hold her and tell her it would be all right. Her heart seemed to fall to her stomach when he looked away from her and back to Moody as the older man briefly discussed the mission, mostly just saying he would talk to the twins alone with full details. Other members were only allowed to have a vague idea of the missions that others were sent on until it came time for the debriefing.

When Moody dismissed everyone but Fred and George from the meeting, Hermione had flown out of the room as fast as she could. She stepped outside the Burrow and gulped in deep breaths of air in hopes of clearing her head. Ron followed her out the door, asking if she was feeling ill. She shook her head with a sad smile as he wrapped an arm around her in a surprising display of warmth. She assumed he thought she was upset about her parents, but fell into his arms anyway.

Her situation with her parents was always in the back of her mind, wearing her down with a dull ache that flared up into a sharp pain now and then, depending on how distracted she was. As she rested her head against Ron's chest, the pain reared up. Her throat and eyes burned, but she blinked back the coming tears so that Ron wouldn't see them. Her best friend's embrace had never been more needed.

She had already lost too much. She couldn't lose someone else. She couldn't lose George.

Hermione stayed outside for a long while, simply standing there. Ron disappeared inside with a parting squeeze once dusk started to fall, after she assured him she would be fine on her own. He had hesitated until she'd given him a light shove towards the Burrow, forcing a smile so that he knew she was teasing. She had then walked over to a nearby tree and settled herself in the grass against the trunk the moment he was gone, closing her eyes and biting her lips to keep them from trembling. She let her exhaustion overtake her as the early evening sun drifted towards the horizon.

 




"Hermione?"

She awoke with a start, unaware of ever falling asleep. She panicked when she realized how dark it had gotten. The light from the house gently lit the area where she sat, casting a shadow on the face of the man in front of her.

Part of her wished it were Fred. It would have been so much easier on her if it had been. Seeing the face of the man who had distracted her all week long, so soon after hearing he would be thrown into grave danger, was almost enough to break her for the second time of the week. Fred would have yanked her to her feet and thrown her over his shoulder before running into the house. George, however, looked at her in that private way of his that she hadn't seen from him since their morning together. In the shadows of the night, he was her George again. Solely hers.

"How long have you been out here? You must be frozen," George said, taking in her now-wrinkled sundress and bare shoulders before yanking off his blue jumper. "Put this on before you get sick."

Hermione hadn't even noticed the cold. She started to protest until George picked up her hands and placed the soft jumper in them. It was warm from his body heat, and as she slipped it over her head, she was bathed in the unique scent of him. She never wanted to take it off. Especially not upon getting a good look at George without it. He was left in a white undershirt that left little to the imagination. Hermione suddenly didn't have the strong distaste for Quidditch that she'd had throughout her time at Hogwarts.

"My eyes are up here, Granger," George chuckled from where he crouched in front of her. "You're going to make me insecure."

Hermione's eyes flew up to meet his as a blush rose to her cheeks and down her neck, disappearing beneath George's jumper. She wanted to crawl into a hole. She could barely hold his gaze in embarrassment, and chose to instead look down at her knees where they were curled protectively into her chest.

She heard a sigh before two hands suddenly reached out and tugged her up to a standing position. She teetered, thrown off balance in her surprise. George put a steadying hand on her waist, keeping one hand in hers. Her free hand reached out to press into his chest in an effort to stay upright, reminding her for a moment of their morning together when they had been trapped in that closet in his and Fred's old room. The position then had been necessary due to the small amount of space. If they stayed this close right now, it would be entirely of their own accord.

"Are you going to speak with me at all?" he whispered huskily, his eyes trailing over her face as if to read what she was thinking. "Are you mad at me? Have I done something wrong?"

Glancing up at him, Hermione vehemently shook her head as she sucked in a breath at the proximity of their mouths. She had never seen such a look on George's face before. It was almost as if she were holding his life in the palms of her hands. He looked so desperate, but she didn't understand why. "No! Of course not."

"You've been blatantly avoiding me."

Hermione opened her mouth to protest when his no-nonsense look stopped her. She begrudgingly nodded, fingering the cotton of his undershirt absentmindedly.

"And?" he prompted, releasing her hand only to bring his up to brush a few curls out of her face. She loved when he did that. It felt so intimate.

Hermione sighed, trying to rein in her traitorous thoughts. "Honestly, it was nothing. I was being silly and idiotic. I regret it now that you've been..." She trailed off, a feeling of fresh hurt rising up as she thought about how he was being sent away somewhere that he could potentially never return from. Thank Merlin he was going with Fred. They would watch over each other better than anyone else would be able to.

"I'm going to be fine, love. So is Fred. We won't let anything happen to each other," he said, as if reading her mind. He tightened his grip on her waist. "It's only a few days. We leave in a few hours and get back three days from now. Maybe sooner, if all goes according to plan. I promise I'll make it back in one piece."

"A few hours? That's so soon," she murmured sadly, closing her eyes as a tear finally ran down her cheek. She had tried so hard to hold back her grief. She wasn't the one going away. She had no right to be this upset.

"Yeah, but the sooner I leave, the sooner I get back. The time will fly by."

"No, it won't."

"I know," George sighed, brushing a thumb across her cheek to catch her tear. "But I'll be back."

She felt so lost, thinking about how she would handle his absence. He was her crutch, her pillar. She was fairly positive that the only reason she'd been able to continue on with life with a semblance of normalcy since taking her parents' memories was due to him. The coming days were without a doubt going to be nearly impossible to get through. She regretted distancing herself from him that day. She had wasted hours avoiding him instead of talking and laughing with him like usual.

She had chosen to run from her feelings instead of owning up to them.

Hermione summoned all of her Gryffindor courage before raising her eyes to meet his again. His gorgeous brown eyes with green specks looked right back at hers. "I don't want you to go," she said honestly, reaching a hand up to lightly brush against her favorite freckle for the first time. His eyes shut for a moment upon her touch. Sensing the coming rejection and panicking, Hermione smiled sadly before turning to make her way to the house.

"Don't you want to know how I know that I'll make it back all right?" he asked her, grabbing her hand so that she couldn't continue leaving. She had only managed to take two steps.

She stopped, turning her head to look back at him while trying to squelch the hope that was threatening to overcome her. She took in his quirky smile, a smile that completely went against the mood of the entire conversation.

"Because I have you to get back to," he said, his voice strong and confident. "I know I'm just an immature prankster, and you are completely downgrading by choosing to humor me with this, but I figure – what the hell? I've got nothing to lose. So I'm going to make it out of this mission without a scratch on me, and then I'm going to come home and ask you to be with me. This past week has been the best of my life, which is saying something, because we're at war and Moody scares the living shite out of me."

Hermione turned to look fully at him, laughing at his last statement and wondering if she was dreaming.

"I know it isn't a great time for us to give this a go, but it's now or never. If something happens, I want to go out knowing that we tried, because it feels so bloody good to be around you that it makes up for all the hell that we're up against until Moldy-Wart is dead. I want to be with you, Granger."

She couldn't help it. She froze. It didn't make sense for someone like him to care for someone like her. She could barely remember exactly what he had said, though she knew it had been very odd and romantic in a way that only George could pull off. She also knew it basically broke down to this: He wanted to be with her. What else could she possibly need to know?

It was George's hands cupping her cheek and the back of her neck that brought her out of her musings.

"Since when?" she whispered, her voice betraying how overwhelmed and surprised she was.

"You had me at 'Orge,'" he responded, grinning roguishly.

She felt her face scrunch up with confusion, and opened her mouth to ask what the devil he was talking about, but she never got the words out. George had already covered her mouth with his own, moving his lips over hers in a kiss that she was sure would forever be ingrained in her mind as her best first kiss, no matter where their relationship went. Hermione felt George smile against her lips before she mirrored the action with a light chuckle and pressed into him to return the kiss fully. She was definitely not a kissing expert, but she knew magic when she felt it. And as George placed her hands around his neck, dropping his own hands to her waist and heaving her body up against his, she knew there was no doubt about it.

This was magic.

 




AN: At last, they've done it! Review and let me know what you think! :) George's mission comes next.
 

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