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."
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