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

AN: Thank you to my wonderful beta for this story ravenclawprincess!

Chapter Three: Just a Dream

It was sunny. The type of sunny one could only experience in England during the middle of summer. The air was electric, the sun's heat kissing her skin and causing a tingling sensation that assured her she'd be red tomorrow if not for the potion she'd drunk earlier to prevent sunburn. Every so often a cloud would block the brilliant rays, allowing her some gentle relief for just long enough that she would miss the prickle before it began again. The rhythmic cycle of the blistering warmth and then calm reprieve lulled her quickly into a peaceful sleep.

A soft kiss to her temple woke her sometime later. She blinked into the daylight, squinting at the smiling face that hovered above. She could only see the outline of his head due the brightness of the sky behind him, but she could still make out his familiar dimples.

"How long was I out?" she murmured, raising a hand to wipe at her face tiredly.

"Long enough to be all sweaty and red," George replied, his palm sliding into her curls as she moved her hand away and met his eyes.

Her head was resting at the crook of his elbow as he curled on his side around her, each in their swimsuits. They'd journeyed outside earlier to take a dip in the pond and share in some much needed alone time. She'd been so busy planning with Harry and Ron lately that sometimes it felt like they weren't living in the same house at all. It was strange to miss someone so much when they were right in front of you.

She grinned, closing her eyes again as she turned to bury her head against his chest. "You're one to talk. Even with the potion you look like one of Umbridge's pretty pink cardigans."

"Really know how to sweet talk a bloke, don't you?" he teased, brushing the side of her head softly with his thumb before rolling over onto his back and pulling her with him. "I love when you compare me to the toad lady. It makes me feel all warm inside."

"That's just the sun," Hermione assured, pressing a quick kiss to his bare chest before settling against him once more. "It's making you both hot and delirious."

George chuckled, the sound rumbling through his torso and against her cheek. "I'm always hot and delirious around you."

"You can't mock me for my sweet talking skills and then announce that you're never in the right state of mind around me," she said in return. "This may sound absurd, but I'm fairly certain that wonderfully loving relationships don't start because someone was a raving nutter around the other person."

George's hand slid from her hair to the nape of her neck, guiding her lips down to his for a kiss. His mouth seared against hers, creating a deliberately slow and meticulous motion until her breath came in short pants and she was feeling very much in need of another dip in the pond. He pulled away slightly, looking up at her to scrutinize her expression. He must have seen the need in her gaze, because a cocky smirk slid across his features.

"Hmm… How's your state of mind right now, baby?"

"Touché," was all she managed.

"What are your thoughts on the matter, Hermione?"

She started as the memory disappeared like it were a show on the telly that she'd just clicked off. Jerking her head back in the direction of Parvati Patil, she opened her mouth in an attempt to formulate an appropriate response, only to shut it a moment later when nothing came to her. She couldn't even recall the question she'd been asked.

This was only one of what felt like thousands of interviews that she'd sat through in the past few years. The process, though uncomfortable, had become routine enough that it was almost too easy to let her mind fade until she was completely distracted. Especially when her thoughts were filled with a ghost from her past. Memories that had been carefully held under wraps had been bursting forth more and more often lately.

"Parvati, you know Hermione. She's got too many thoughts on Kingsley's reelection campaign to just choose one," Ron chuckled good-naturedly, sliding an arm around the back of Hermione's chair. He gave her a meaningful nudge as he came to her aid, his eyes locking with hers with a raised eyebrow. "Her mind works at twice the capacity of ours."

Parvati gave a polite laugh, writing something in her notes that was no doubt about Ron's obvious adoration for his girlfriend. The public loved hearing the behind-the-scenes aspects of their relationship. No matter how many times journalists like Parvati insisted an interview be purely political, a section of the article was always left aside to comment on how the romantic duo within the Golden Trio was doing. In all fairness, Hermione couldn't say she hadn't expected it from the gossip-loving woman. Parvati had been that way in Hogwarts too. The fact that she'd made a reputation for herself as a serious reporter over the years instead of falling into an advice column of some kind was really the bigger surprise.

Hermione gave a small smile to Ron before leaning forward to provide her statement. She worked hard to make her voice clear, having noticed over the years that she often sounded timid during interviews because of her awkward way of interacting. She found that she needed to formulate a response and then run it through her head before speaking it in order to come across the way people expected the Hermione Granger to. It was an exhausting but necessary practice.

"Kinglsey Shacklebolt is a very dear friend of ours," she recited after a moment of thought. "It's an honor to count a man, who has done more for the wizarding world than any Minister of Magic before him, as family. He's really been the pioneer of our Post-War rebirth. There isn't a better man for the job, in my opinion."

Parvati nodded thoughtfully, continuing her notes. After a moment of writing, she lifted her gaze to Hermione's and tilted her head slightly to the right. "A better man, no. How about a better woman?"

"What are you implying?" Hermione asked hesitantly, exchanging a bemused look with Ron.

"In a recent poll of our subscribers, the public elected you as a person they'd choose to follow into the future," Parvati explained seriously. She seemed like a completely different person than she'd been in Hogwarts. It was only when she took a moment to fiddle with her hair that Hermione saw a glimpse of her old schoolmate under the prim and proper exterior.

Ron beamed at Hermione. "That's brilliant! You'd be a bloody fantastic Minister."

"That's very kind," she assured, trying to mask her shocked panic behind indifference. She made sure her final statement left no room for further discussion. "But right now, it's Kingsley's time. There isn't a better man or woman to lead the United Kingdom's wizarding population."

It was only a half hour later, after having finished the interview together, that Ron brought the subject up again. They were just leaving the office of the Daily Prophet when he stopped her with a gentle tug to her hand. He led her in a small passage between two buildings so they could talk in private away from the hustle and bustle of Diagon Alley.

"I thought you'd be excited by the idea," he stated simply, bursting into the conversation without any precursors. "When we were in school, if someone had offered you the Minister of Magic position, you'd have fainted like a bloody fool."

Hermione gave a frustrated sigh, releasing his hand. Her voice came out more tersely than she'd intended. "That was ages ago, Ron, and Parvati didn't offer me the Minister of Magic position. Nor does she have the authority to."

"I know that. I'm just a bit confused by how cold you're being about the massive bloody compliment she just paid you," Ron insisted, trying to catch her eye as she pointedly looked away. "You do realize that she just told you the wizarding world would elect you as their leader, right? You could be the first woman ever chosen for the position in history."

"Don't be stupid," she groaned, tilting her head towards the sky as annoyance overtook her. "I'm twenty-two years old. It's ridiculous to think someone would elect me."

"I'm sure she wasn't implying that you run against Kinglsey now," he said back at her through a clenched jaw, feeding off of her attitude with his own. She could tell he was trying to contain his temper. "Parvati was just saying you have a future in the politics of our world. In ten years, you could have a massive following."

Hermione narrowed her gaze at him, crossing her arms. "Good, then we'll talk about it in ten years."

"What the hell is wrong with you?" he asked suddenly, his tone softening the blow of his words as he reached out to grasp her shoulders and gently tug her a step closer. His eyes met hers in confusion, draining her of her fight and making her flush in embarrassment over how quickly she'd flipped. It'd been a long time since she'd acted so harshly towards him. For the most part, they'd gotten their constant need to bicker out of their systems in school.

"I'm sick," she whispered after a long moment of silence, her eyes falling to the ground. "Ron, you know I can't handle public office. Not now, not ten years from now, not ever."

Ron's hands fell from her shoulders at the realization of what she meant. "Hermione…"

"No, it's alright," she continued immediately, not wanting to hear him apologize. She hated when he apologized when she was the one who should. "I just… I gave up on those dreams a while ago. It's already a struggle for me with the interviews and meeting fans. The potions are all that get me through it. Could you imagine me as the Minister of Magic of the entire United Kingdom?"

"I can," he replied softly, reaching for her again. "I can imagine it."

Hermione took a step away from him, blinking back tears. "You've got to get back to work. I'll see you at home after?"

Ron let out a long breath, nodding reluctantly after a few seconds of simply staring at her. "Alright. I'll see you at home."

He walked away from her with his shoulders hunched against the world. She'd hurt him without meaning to, which was becoming a trend. The harder he pushed to understand her weakness and her feelings about it, the worse things got. He was her best friend and her boyfriend, but this piece of herself was ruining everything. He and Harry knew her better than anyone; however, that didn't mean it was easy for them to fully comprehend what she'd gone through and how it'd changed her. Ron believed she could get better, whereas she believed she could only learn to cope.

Hermione started off in the opposite direction that Ron had set off in. She was so furious with herself. She hated that she'd changed after the war. Things that had once been so easy were now terribly difficult. When she pretended nothing was wrong, everything was wonderful. She was able to joke with her friends and operate fairly normally as long as she remembered to take her potion. But there were always going to be times like this when her future came into question and she'd have to face the reality of her situation.

She had only walked for a minute or two when she found herself in the same spot she'd wandered to the other day. The faded sign for the twins' old joke shop stared out at her defiantly from the rundown storefront. It seemed to be a ghost of a memory, a cheap shadow of its former self. Hermione came to a stop across the street from 93 Diagon Alley, pulling her jacket tighter around herself as she took in the scene. There had been a time when just being within the realm of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes had made her feel overwhelmingly exuberant. The magic of the shop had seemed to burst forth from the building, causing all who neared it to instantly smile. All she felt now as she looked upon its ruins was sadness.

On a whim, Hermione took a step towards the building. Then she took another. She continued reluctantly closer until she was only a meter from the shop's door on the sidewalk. She tried to look into its windows, but found that they were all boarded up and grimy. Suddenly, she was hit with an intense longing to go inside and see if there was anything that had once made it so spectacular left standing.

Looking both ways to see if anyone's eyes were on her, Hermione took out her wand and tapped it quickly against the lock. The moment she heard the bolt turn, she was pushing open the door and slipped inside. It was only when she was surrounded by the hauntingly whimsical décor of the main floor that she began to regret her decision. It was as though she was standing in a carnival from the last century. Well, if that carnival had been destroyed. The shelves were stripped and crooked, the floor was covered in dust and rubble, and there was glass everywhere. It was clear that nothing had been touched since the war. All the damage from those dark times remained, as if the explosions had hit yesterday and not three years ago.

The glass crunched beneath her footsteps as Hermione ventured further into the shop, curiosity taking hold. No one ever spoke of George or the shop, but she'd always assumed he'd eventually reopen once time had passed and he'd begun to overcome his grief. The sight in front of her proved that the thought had been naïve. She placed a hand on a sign advertising Pygmy Puffs, running a finger through a trail of dirt that had slowly dulled the vibrant purple lettering underneath. A pit formed in her stomach, tightening uncomfortably at the thought of how sad it was to see Fred and George's pride and joy looking like a rubbish heap.

Something shiny on the second floor balcony of the store caught her eye then, just as a scrap of sunlight broke through the windows. She jerked her head backwards to look up to see the source, but the light had disappeared as quickly as it'd come. Hermione made her way to the back of the room, finding the spiral staircase leading upwards, and quickly began climbing the steep, teetering steps. It was there, at the top of the landing, that she saw the product that had always been so special to her: the Patented Daydream Charm. The one object that she knew for a fact George had been the mastermind of.

"Who's there?" a voice bellowed from behind her just as she was reaching a hand out to pick up the golden-wrapped package.

Hermione jumped, spinning around and accidentally smacking one of the charms onto the floor. Panicking, she fell into a crouch to quickly scoop up the product. She was still bent over when George came around a corner and found her.

"Wha-?" he began, stumbling a bit as he came to a sudden stop at the sight of her. He teetered on his feet, reaching out to catch himself against the wall. "Hermione," he murmured in bewilderment, his tongue seeming to trip over her name. It reminded her of the way in which Viktor Krum had said it when she was younger.

She leapt to her feet, the Patented Daydream Charm clutched to her chest. "George, I'm so sorry. I just –"

George shocked her then by giving a lopsided smile of delight, his eyes watery and bloodshot as he straightened back up. His voice was husky and deep as he breathed, "Baby."

Hermione froze, eyes widening as memories of the last time he had uttered that old nickname for her rose to the front of her thoughts. She opened her mouth to respond in some way but what came out instead was a jumble of gurgles as she sputtered her confusion. The package she'd still been hugging like a lifeline slipped from her grasp, tumbling back to the floor. Her face heated, especially as he took a step closer.

"I love dreaming about you," George slurred, his gait wobbly as he approached.

"George…" Hermione whispered cautiously, stepping backwards and holding out her arms in an attempt to ward him off. Her heart was lodged in her throat as she stared up and into his eyes, feeling warm under the intensity of his gaze despite how wrong it was. His audacity was intimidating.

"You're beautiful," he mumbled, reaching out to cup her jaw as her hands fell to his chest uselessly. "Even prettier in my head."

As George leaned towards her, Hermione seemed to come out of a stupor. She'd been frozen, unable to process what was truly happening in her shock at seeing him. It was silly to be surprised to run into the owner of the shop she'd broken into, but she'd been so sure he'd moved to another flat after Fred's death. Now, she finally let herself dissect the situation. As George's breath fanned across her face, she realized he was sloshed. His balance was thrown off and his words were slurred because he'd been drinking. He thought she was a figment of his imagination. As his lips neared hers, she did the only thing she could think of to stop what was coming next.

She hauled off and slapped him.

AN: There's chapter three! I brought George into the story for real this time! He'll be more present from here on out. I think you'll find him a bit different than the George from three years ago, but his presence back in Hermione's life will bring up a lot of feelings. :)


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