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Disclaimer: Harry Potter does not belong to me and I am gaining no profit in the making of this story.

AN: Thank you to my beta, TenthWeasleyWriter for all her hard work! Especially considering how busy this time of the year is for her!

 




Chapter Eight: Fight and Flight

The week leading up to the mission to get Harry had proved to be stressful. Hermione took it upon herself to practice dueling with Ron for hours a day, sometimes being joined by other members of the Order in a similar manner to Dumbledore's Army back in her fifth year. This time around, everyone knew the basics and everyone was rather skilled. It was only a matter of being quick to the draw and not losing one's head in the midst of a battle.

"Stupefy," Ron bellowed from the opposite end of the clearing they used for practice.

"Protego," Hermione shielded in return, sending the spell back at Ron before quickly swiping her wand forward and sending out another.

Ron dodged her casts quickly, staying light on his feet just as Harry had always taught. "Incarcerous."

"Relashio," she murmured, vanishing the ropes that caught her. "Avis!"

Ron laughed good-naturedly, breaking his concentration as a swarm of birds shot from the tip of Hermione's wand and headed toward him.

"Impedimenta," he shouted, slowing down the birds for Hermione to quickly wave away with a flick of her wand.

"I think we can stop there and safely assume we were evenly matched," Hermione said, moving forward to stand with her best friend. "I'm glad you enjoyed my birds more than you did last time I used them on you."

Ron chuckled. "Yeah, they're more likable when they don't take a bloke by surprise."

They shared a smile as they headed back to the house, having spent the whole morning practicing together. Hermione had stressed to Ron the need for them to practice their spells and continue researching Horcruxes in order for their plan with Harry to work. For the first time since she'd met him, Ron was studying without moaning and groaning about it.

Ron opened the door for Hermione once they reached the Burrow, waving her through. "After you."

"Ever the gentleman," she joked, slipping past him. She came to a stop when she spied the twins leaning against the kitchen counters, each with a sandwich in hand.

"Ronnie? A gentleman? What is this world coming to?" Fred asked after he took a disgustingly large bite out of his sandwich.

"Is it a family trait to talk with your mouth full?" Hermione asked, crossing her arms and raising an eyebrow.

George took an exaggerated bite of his sandwich. "Suppose so."

Hermione laughed, scrunching up her nose at him as Ron shrugged. "At least it's not me you're scolding for once."

"It's sad that you're the model of good behavior today," Hermione said teasingly, patting his shoulder. "Which means if you're bad, then Fred and George are absolute savages."

"Oi!" the twins exclaimed together.

"Break our hearts, why don't you?" George groaned, putting a hand to his chest.

Fred pouted. "Say it ain't so, love. Say it ain't so!"

"I must not tell lies," she stated crisply, tilting her nose up at them with an air of superiority she'd often seen on Umbridge.

"I love it when you get snippy with us," George swooned playfully as he stalked over to her. Hermione watched with mild guilt as Ron murmured a quick excuse and disappeared before George wrapped his arms around her. "How was your duel?"

She leaned up to kiss him in greeting. "It was excellent. Ron and I are evenly matched, so it's always fun to challenge each other. Maybe sometime you can have a go?"

Fred waved a hand in front of their faces, as if to remind them of his presence. "Pick me, love. I'll show you my wonderful wand work."

"Sod off, Freddie," George chuckled at the innuendo. "Granger doesn't need your wand."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "It doesn't matter to me. I'm sure you'll find that I'm far more skilled than either of you in that area."

She winked cheekily, causing both men to laugh and George to playfully swat her bottom as she made for her room to grab another book to study. She faintly heard both twins' laughter increase as she started upstairs. It was only upon reaching her room and bending down to snatch up the book from under her bed that she became aware of what had caused their further laughter.

"What's that on your arse?"

Hermione spun around to face Ginny. "Excuse me?" she asked in confusion. "You mean my shorts? They're denim cut-offs."

Ginny covered her mouth with her hand, barely controlling quite a bit of mirth. "Hermione, I know what shorts are. Why does it say 'Property of George Fabian Weasley' on your arse?"

Hermione's eyes widened as she spun to a mirror on Ginny's side of the room. In the mirror, she could clearly see her boyfriend's name lit up backwards on her bottom just where he'd touched her moments ago.

"That sneaky bastard."

Ginny burst into a peal of laughter. Hermione couldn't help but join in a moment later. George's clever humor was one of the things she loved most about him. He kept her on her toes.

After she'd altered the charm George had placed on her shorts, Hermione grabbed her book and headed back downstairs with the pretense of studying outside in the sun. She heard the Weasley twins' jovial bickering from the living room when she reached the first floor, so she quickly turned in that direction.

The redheaded pranksters both looked up from a couch when Hermione entered the room. She glared at George meaningfully before making a show of dropping her book. She spun around, bending down to pick up the large tome with her bottom facing the men. She looked over her shoulder and gave a cunning smirk, loving the possessive darkening of George's eyes as he caught sight of the new charm on her shorts, which flashed the words: "Property of Fred Gideon Weasley."

"Now, love," Fred chuckled, eyes flashing merrily as he leaned toward her. "If I'm going to be the proud owner of your wonderful rump, we must first be wed."

"Of course, Fred," Hermione nodded reasonably. "I'm very old-fashioned, afte-"

She was cut off as George heaved her into his arms and over his shoulder. She shrieked in surprise, having not even seen him coming. He took off out the door, no doubt for payback. Hermione heard Fred laughing in the living room as he waved them off.

"Does this mean you aren't proud of me for pranking you?" she asked teasingly, wrapping her arms around his back to hold her steady as blood rushed to her head.

His response was cool water on her skin, and in her lungs, as he dropped her into the pond. She surfaced sputtering just as George heaved his shirt over his head and dove in after her. She splashed him as he advanced toward her, but immediately relaxed into his arms when he pulled her close and met her lips in a long, heated kiss.

"You're perfect," George murmured minutes later once he was satiated, his face buried into her neck as he cradled her against him. Her legs were around his waist as he moved aimlessly through the water which went up to his neck, but which would have been too deep for Hermione to stand in on her own. "You always surprise me."

"My deviousness comes as a surprise to you?" she asked, resting her head against his and shivering as his teeth grazed her skin.

"I've always known you were clever. I just never expected you to use your smarts for evil."

She laughed. "You mean fun."

"I mean evil," he assured, pinching her bottom underwater. "I consider it evil to put someone else's name on your gorgeous arse, especially my brother's."

Hermione brushed his fringe back as he lifted his head to catch her eyes, the green in his bright as the sun reflected off the water and into them. "Your possessiveness always surprises me."

"I can't help it," he shrugged, smiling sheepishly. "You drive me crazy."

"I hope you mean that in the best possible way."

"I do," he nodded, cupping her cheek. "You have no idea."

She closed her eyes and leaned further into him, suddenly feeling a pit in her stomach at the thought of their mission. "We're going to be fine tomorrow, right?"

"If anyone lets you get hurt, I may have to kill them myself," George smirked playfully.

Hermione grinned halfheartedly back, knowing her fear for him far outweighed her fear for herself. And it wasn't just the mission that occupied her thoughts. The day she, Harry, and Ron would leave was fast-approaching, once the three of them finally got together and could talk it over. She only had so much time left, so she needed to forget her worries and enjoy the last few days she had with the man she was starting to think she was in love with.

 




As the fates would have it, Hermione's short time left with George wouldn't be quite as peaceful as she would have liked. The morning of the high-stakes mission dawned with immediate tension. The nervousness in the air was palpable while everyone prepared, trying not to think of the numerous ways today could go wrong.

Hermione found her palms sweating as she anxiously smoothed imaginary wrinkles out of her blouse before shrugging into a denim jacket. Staring into her own reflection, she looked for differences in herself. The month she'd spent at the Burrow had felt like a year. She'd lost her parents, plotted a mission against Voldemort, and started dating someone who might just be perfect for her. The deep mixture of happiness and sadness that had surrounded her over the last few weeks had been dizzying. But she wouldn't take any of it back — even if the stress had taken an obvious toll on her.

She spun away from the aged eyes in the mirror and made her way downstairs to face the day. The sooner it started, the sooner it ended. She could never have expected, however, that her best friend had accidentally initiated a battle of a different kind already.

"Ronald Weasley, you are going back to Hogwarts," Molly demanded.

Hermione winced at the sound of the argument. Ron and Hermione had both agreed to not mention their trip with Harry until after the mission. It wouldn't do any good to further worry anyone, and Dumbledore had made it clear that they were to tell no one about their task.

As she stepped into the kitchen, Hermione quickly noticed Molly's face was flushed in outrage where she stood over Ron with a finger pointed threateningly at him. Ron looked nauseous, his eyes wide when they met Hermione's as she hesitantly took a seat next to George at the table, slipping her hand into his to draw courage from him. "What's going on?"

"Do you know about this?" The older woman's glare fixed her to her chair.

"I haven't a clue what you're talking about." Hermione looked down as the lie left her mouth. All of the Weasleys, save for Charlie and Percy, were seated at the table. Remus, Tonks, Fleur, and Kingsley had also joined them. She hated lying in general, never mind lying in a room full of her loved ones. She felt George squeeze her hand and knew without looking that he was puzzled.

"Ron thinks you won't be going back to Hogwarts this year," Molly said, her tone chilling. "I was just telling him how foolish that would be, especially considering how important this year will be. You'll be made Head Girl. Ron could get Head Boy! All of our boys have been prefects, and now three of them will have been Head Boy!"

Fred and George groaned in unison.

"Mum, how do you always manage to treat us like we're bloody neighbors?"

"Is it so easy to block our brilliantly –"

"Underwhelming –"

"School experience from your memory?"

"Honestly, woman!" they exclaimed together before smirking widely, despite the tension in the room.

"Stop it, you two!" Molly scolded. "This is no laughing manner. First you both don't finish your education, and now you're leading your brother down that road."

"Aw, c'mon, Mum," Fred said, waving his hand in front of him as if to brush the idea physically to the side. "This is Hermione we're talking about. She would never miss the opportunity to finish her schooling and score a record-breaking number of N.E.W.T.s."

Hermione blushed and squirmed in her seat, aware that all eyes were turning toward her. Especially George's. She felt him tense as she continued to look down at her lap.

"Granger?" he murmured quietly, ducking his head in an effort to meet her gaze.

Hermione finally looked up and glanced around the room. Ron mouthed the words "I'm sorry" to her helplessly. She assumed the conversation had been initiated by Molly. He'd probably just said the wrong thing at the wrong time, which she couldn't blame him for. It was easy to omit information, yet terribly hard to lie to the faces of family.

"It's true. We're not going back. And to be honest, we're leaving in a few days," she murmured, feeling terrible as she met everyone's gaze.

Their expressions ranged from surprise to disappointment. Looking at Molly, Hermione didn't think she'd ever seen someone so red before. Then her gaze met George's and she knew that Molly would be given a run for her money.

Hermione hadn't felt George drop her hand. It was only upon seeing him grasping the edge of the table white-knuckled that she realized her hand was void of his reassuring touch. If she were being honest with herself, his reaction shouldn't have been surprising. She'd had plenty of opportunities in the past week to mention she was leaving. She'd been too cowardly. She'd told herself she couldn't let him know until all the Weasleys could know. In retrospect, he'd deserved more warning than she'd given.

She reached for his hand. "George, I know I should have told you... I wanted to so badly."

George stood, preventing her from touching him. "You knew for how long?"

"Since Dumbledore passed," she whispered, looking up at him with wide, pained eyes. "But that was before!"

"Before?" George growled, eyeing her expectantly.

She sighed in frustration, aware of all eyes on them. "Can we take this outside?"

"You're not going anywhere, Hermione Granger," Molly ordered, pointing a finger at her. "This discussion isn't over."

George ran his hand through his hair and Hermione longed to comfort him, to assure him that she'd never meant to hurt him.

"I'm going to cause an explosion!" Fred announced awkwardly, meeting Hermione's eyes.

"I beg your pardon?" Molly exclaimed. "You will do no such thing!"

Fred sighed and shook his head unapologetically. "You should know better by now."

The explosion that sounded a moment later was fantastic. Hermione didn't know how Fred did it, and knew George wasn't in the mood to explain, yet all of a sudden a loud boom sounded in the kitchen and fog filled the air. As far as she was concerned, the blast hadn't actually caused damage; however, the cover provided by the fog made it easy for a strong hand to pull her from the chaos and out into the sunshine.

George released her the moment they were on the lawn, but kept walking without looking back. Hermione followed him anxiously, nodding with timid smiles at guards they passed on the way to wherever George was taking them. Finally, they reached a clearing just beyond the tree line to the side of the pond. George came to a halt.

He didn't say anything at first, not even looking at her. Hermione found herself biting her lower lip and twisting her hands uneasily. She didn't know what to expect from an angry Weasley twin. It was so far from the norm that she'd never expected to have to know how to deal with it. She'd never fought with George before. Sure, they'd annoyed each other. This was different; this was passionate rage.

"George, I don't know what I can say other than I'm sorry," she said gently.

When he spun around to look her in the eyes, he wore a deep scowl, and the crease between his eyebrows was so deep she was sure it was now permanent. "You can tell me why you thought I didn't deserve to know that my bloody girlfriend was leaving! I don't know where you've been this summer, Hermione, but I've been with this extremely clever woman who is smart enough to figure out a way to tell me something like this before dropping the ball in front of my family a few days before it's supposed to happen!"

Hermione felt heat flood to her cheeks and tried to bite down her growing anger. "Come off it, George. Don't act like this was somehow planned! You know it was an accident. Ron would never have purposely told you like this, and neither would I."

"No, you would've waited until you were leaving and waved goodbye!"

"We wanted to wait for Harry before we told you!"

"Yeah, love, because the world revolves around Harry bleeding Potter!"

Hermione threw up her hands in frustration, wanting nothing more than to close the two meters separating them and wring his neck. "We don't know exactly when we're leaving! What would you have had me say?"

"Bloody hell, Hermione, I didn't need a date and time! All I needed to know was that you were leaving before the end of the summer for a little, and weren't going back to school!"

"A long while," she bit out, eyes flashing.

"What?" he snapped back, his hands balled into fists.

"I'm probably not coming back for a long time. And good riddance with the way you're acting, George Weasley! You say you deserved to know and I should have mentioned it, but why should I when you don't bloody care about me enough to act like a bloody adult and listen to me! I didn't have anyone to report to when we made the decision to leave! And now you're blaming me for not having the foresight to plan to tell you? Well, sorry, but you have no right to treat me like this."

"Are you bloody joking?" George shouted, glaring at Hermione in disbelief. "You bet your arse I have the right!"

"Oh, yeah? And why is that?" she yelled back, her arms thrown out to her sides in annoyance.

He clutched the back of his neck before flinging his arms out in front of him. "Gods, baby, because I love you!"

All the fight drained from her body as George's eyes bore into hers intently before he, too, sagged. Hermione felt her eyes water as she took in what he'd said. It shouldn't have been like this. The moment should have been any of the wonderful, romantic exchanges they'd shared over the last few weeks. Her heart sank.

"I wish you hadn't done that," she whispered, wiping at a tear before spinning away from the regretful look on George's face.

 




"It's good to see you," Harry said, hugging Hermione close before grabbing the redhead to her right for a tight embrace.

"Wish it was on better terms, mate," Ron said, stepping back and taking his place next to Hermione.

As members of the Order gathered around the tight living room of the Dursleys' house in Little Whinging, Hermione found herself sneaking glances at George over where he stood next to Fred. Her heart was in her stomach. She was so worried about him and all the others that she could barely breathe. Their fight only made her feel sicker than she already was. She had an awful feeling about the entire mission. She wished she hadn't walked away from George earlier. She should have been stronger.

The what-ifs were driving her mad. There was just so much that could possibly go wrong on a mission this intense. Harry's life was completely on the line, and the six fake Potters were putting themselves in the position to be hunted by Death Eaters as if they were all the Chosen One. She hoped that somehow the entire plan went accordingly and they met no resistance.

She internally cringed, doubting that possibility deep down.

With that in mind, she took a step towards George in hopes of telling him she cared for him more than she'd ever cared for someone before. It was at that exact moment, however, that Moody stepped into the middle of the group to get the ball rolling. It was only minutes later, disguised as Harry, that Hermione met George's gaze, remorse mirrored in his eyes.

 




Everything was in chaos. She didn't know which way was up and which way was down. She couldn't see any of her friends. All she could focus on was her arm around Kingsley's trunk-like waist and her other darting out behind her to cast spells and hexes behind their thestral. Hermione had completely forgotten about her fear of heights and flying the moment they'd broken through the thick cloud covering over the Dursleys' and had been ambushed.

She'd lost count of the number of spells she'd sent out and shielded them from. Her arm felt numb from the strain. It was like her mind was tunneled, preventing her from thinking outside of the bubble of Kingsley's and her safety. Her fear was overwhelming, but she knew if she lost focus it wouldn't result in a bad grade on one of McGonagall's tests.

She would die.

When the ground finally drew nearer and Hermione's body rocked from the impact of the thestral's hooves hitting the grass of the Burrow's lawn, she felt herself collapse against the larger man in front of her. The appearance of her hands and her distorted eyesight beneath her glasses told her she was back to being Hermione. She was exhausted, scared, and relieved. She'd never paid much attention to how much danger the wards around headquarters were protecting them from. It was easy to forget the war when you were shielded from it and having fun with the people you love.

Kingsley's rough hand reached down and encompassed hers once he had drawn the thestral to a halt. Hermione lifted her head from his back and gave him a tired smile of gratitude while he dropped off the horse-like beast and reached to help her to the ground.

"You did great, Hermione," he reassured her, patting the thestral before guiding Hermione towards the house.

Hermione felt so numb that she almost didn't react when Remus came from nowhere and demanded that Kingsley tell him something that only Kingsley would know. She merely watched, wide-eyed, before spotting Harry, the real Harry, standing by Hagrid. She gave a relieved cry and threw herself into his arms. He clutched her back tightly, his face pressed against her neck.

"Ron?" she murmured questioningly, pulling back after a moment.

Harry looked at the ground, guilt written plainly over his face. She recognized that look. He always sported it when someone got hurt or in trouble because of him. He'd never wanted anyone to put their lives in danger for his sake. Harry had always thought it was his battle, no one else's. Hermione and Ron had had to fight with him multiple times since Dumbledore's funeral just to get him to begrudgingly agree to let them go with him to hunt the Horcruxes.

Hermione's breath caught. "Is Ron all right?"

Harry nodded his head and gestured behind her. She turned around and saw her best friend stumbling toward them while Tonks lunged for Remus and clutched him in a tight hug. Hermione did the same to Ron. She smiled, her anxiety easing as he hugged her tightly. She felt Harry come up behind them and parted from Ron so that they could hug, as well.

Then she remembered that look that had been on Harry's face. She felt herself grow cold.

"Where's everyone else?" Ron asked for her, looking around and noting that everyone had disappeared inside.

Harry fiddled with his glasses before looking away, his green eyes pained. "It's George..."

Ron seemed to pause in surprise before anguish twisted his features and he quickly darted for the house. He was followed closely by Harry, who glanced back in confusion at Hermione before disappearing into the house.

Hermione had frozen. She felt like she was drowning under waves of pain that crashed over her each time she tried to catch her breath. For a couple of minutes, she couldn't get her legs to move. She was too terrified of what lay ahead of her. She didn't know how long she stood there, but at some point she had collapsed onto the lawn with her legs tucked under her.

"What are you doing, love?"

The voice broke her out of a haze and she looked up desperately. "I'm a bloody coward, Fred."

"He wants to see you," he said gently, reaching out to take her hand and tug her to her feet.

"I'm glad you're all right," she whispered with a sob, falling against his chest for a moment as relief overwhelmed her. If George was asking for her, then he was alive.

She momentarily thought back to their earlier fight, and her heart ached. She took a deep breath before letting Fred tug her toward the house.

The moment she was inside, Hermione noticed there was a crowd gathered around one of the couches. She could hear Molly's weak cries over all the murmurs in the room. Everyone's back was to her. She couldn't see George – at least not until Fred cleared his throat loudly, and each person in the room spun towards the duo hovering in the doorway.

She clutched Fred's hand nervously at the attention, and was reassured when he squeezed hers. Her eyes tried to peer past everyone to spot George. It was only after Mr. Weasley realized what she wanted and stepped aside that she finally saw him. She heard a sharp gasp, barely registering that it was from herself as she took in his form.

His head was cocked to the side on a pillow and his body took up the entire length of the couch. His legs dangled over the other end of it. Her attention then went to the blood. Gods, there was so much of it. And it seemed to be coming from the side of his head, to the point where she couldn't see his ear.

"Hi, beautiful."

Her eyes were wide as they flew to meet his in surprise, having lost focus while examining his injuries.

His voice was deep and gravelly, clearly reflecting his pain and exhaustion. His eyes were squinted as he gazed at her. It seemed like keeping them open was a chore for him. She quickly shoved her way through the crowd and dropped to his side, keeping her gaze on his. She felt tears run down her cheeks in relief that he was alive.

"How are you?" she asked, reaching a hand out to grasp his before hesitating at the last moment and dropping it to her lap.

George weakly lifted a hand to point at the side of his bloodied head. "Snape sliced off my ear."

She tried to keep any shock from her face as she took a closer look and saw that he was, indeed, missing a complete ear. "You were just too handsome for your own good," she said, giving a shaky smile. "Had to make it fair to the others."

The left side of his mouth tilted up into a frail grin before he shut his eyes in fatigue. "I'm sorry for before, baby."

It was the second time he'd used the term of endearment, and Hermione felt warm with happiness at how sweet he sounded as he whispered it. She gave a relieved sigh and picked up his hand to bring his palm to her mouth. "You were right to be mad."

"It's never going to be right to be mad at you," he murmured in return. "I love you too much."

Her smile was brilliant as she leaned forward, ignoring the blood, and kissed him. It wasn't the perfect moment for the confession, but at least they weren't yelling. There would never be a more perfectly imperfect moment than now, while she knelt on the floor in front of her one-eared boyfriend, as their family and friends looked on awkwardly. She was fairly sure she'd even heard Harry ask Fred what was going on at one point.

She softly caressed his mouth with a finger as she pulled back, making sure she was close enough for him to hear. "I love you, too."

 




AN: The things I had hoped to do during this chapter were have Hermione and George's first fight, catch a brief look into Ron's view toward the relationship, have George lose his ear, and capture his and Hermione's first mutual "I love you" exchange. I'm fairly positive I did all that (Ron's point-of-view was very minor with him simply disappearing awkwardly before having to witness any intimate gestures between Hermione and George, telling us he's not a fan). You'll have to let me know what you think! The next chapter there's another milestone reached (any guesses?), and pretty soon the Wedding will be unavoidable. Please review!
 

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