For Hermione, the two weeks that followed her birthday had been sweet, sweet hell.
Sure, he was a distraction before. From the first moment that she had met him, Hermione had known that George was a very lovely picture of masculinity. He towered over her whenever they stood in line together. She always felt very aware of just how much larger his frame was compared to her own. Quite a few times, she had become fixated on his arms when they were lazing about, reading their textbooks. Even at rest, his biceps were well defined, and the corded sinews of his forearms were prominent. Admittedly, the thought of him moving her furniture around had gotten her just a little hot and bothered under the collar. Had she been able to watch him move everything around, that birthday present would have been a dream come true.
So, yes—George was physically very distracting and had led her to realize that she was just like everyone else—depraved and full of hormones.
Now, he was everything, she thought wryly.
Realizing just how deep her infatuation ran had been its own hell on earth.
Now, George was shared Christmases. He was meeting each other's parents. He was late nights cuddled up watching movies, and he was early morning giggling beneath soft linens. George was lazy Saturdays filled with trusted whispers, breathy gasps, and pleas for mercy.
Or at least… now she knew that's what she wanted him to be.
So in short, things had changed for her. Her reality of what she wanted from him and what she felt about him had changed.
But to the everyday observer—nothing had changed.
Because he didn't know.
Higgins stood at the front of the lab droning on about intramolecular forces and kinetics. George sat in the back row beside her with his goggles already on, swiveling in his chair. He side eyed her, his eyes appearing larger behind the lenses.
She hid a smile.
"To summarize, I want everyone to use the utmost care with today's experiment. If you haven't read the chapter," Higgins paused and looked pointedly at George, "are you listening, Mr. Weasley? If you haven't read the chapter, please use this time to do so, and you can makeup the lab this weekend."
George furrowed his brows and pouted at her from behind his safety goggles. Hermione frowned and motioned meaningfully with her head towards the front.
"Sir, are you talking about the section that details the properties of each intramolecular force? To a name a few: ionic, hydrogen, the van der Waals dipole-dipole interaction, and van der Waals dispersion forces, also known as London forces; or are you talking about the section—" George counted them off on his fingers, looking smug.
"Alright, alright," Higgins acquiesced, "just get to work, Mr. Weasley."
"Up top, Hermione." George raised his hand and waited for a high-five.
"Proud of you," Hermione said, meeting his hand gently.
Hermione fired up the Bunsen burner and went through their materials checklist.
She felt George come up behind her.
"I think we need to make it hotter," George muttered into her ear. She felt the vibrato of his baritone all the way down to her toes. He was looking over her shoulder at the burner. Warmth was pouring off him in waves.
She felt a shiver trail down the back of her neck.
"Oh yeah? Y-you think so?" she stammered, mentally kicking herself.
"Uh huhm," he hummed, his thumb dragging slowly down the outside of her arm on its path to the fuel knob. Somewhere deep in her belly, her insides clenched at the feeling of his fingertip trailing across her skin.
She watched his hands fiddle with the fuel setting and licked her lips. He had very nice hands.
George coughed. He smiled at her in confusion before using his pointer finger to slide the materials list his way. "You alright? We need to get started, slacker," he teased, his eyes full of mischief. His teeth grazed over his bottom lip.
"Uh huh. I'm fine. I was just—thinking about something else." She hoped she didn't look as guilty as she felt.
The rest of the lab went without incident. By the time George worked through the control test and was setting up the first variable, she had managed to fend off the images that her very vivid imagination had conjured up and locked them away for a more appropriate time. For the rest of the lab, she had taken a more active role in the process. By the end, they had successful results and detailed notes with a mixture of her textbook cursive and his haphazard scrawls.
"I'm sure that I don't have to remind you that Friday is the midterm," Higgins said, looking bored. "The exam will begin at eight sharp. At 8:01, the door will be locked, and you will be out of luck. Is that clear?" He didn't wait for a response. "Good."
"I think that we should shift around our schedule. If we swap Saturday morning's Chemistry block with Thursday night's Humanities block, then we'll have more time to cram for the test," Hermione said, flipping through her color-coded planner. "Does that sound okay to you?" she prompted before sipping her Frappuccino.
She could faintly hear Fred and Ron roughhousing in the back of the shop. Their deep voices and the sound of squeaky sneakers echoed across the emptying store.
"Whatever you want, oh captain my captain." George smiled at her. "Are you worried?"
"Of course, I'm worried," she said with wide, bewildered eyes. "You're not?"
He messed with his hair and shook his head. "I feel very prepared."
Hermione scoffed, "Well, I don't. There was that whole appendix in Chapter 6 that Higgins said we could skip over and now I'm wondering if maybe that was a trick—what if the entire exam is on that appendix, George?" She chewed at her lip nervously.
She turned and watched Ron start to sweep up the dining room. The morning crowd had thinned considerably. His face was flushed from wrestling with his older brother only moments before.
"That's not going to happen, Brainiac." He smiled, crossing his arms on the table and resting his chin against them. "We got this." His blue eyes twinkled in the mid-morning light.
Ron propped his broom and dustpan up against a chair and leaned down to wipe out a booth.
"So," she said, easing into the topic carefully before whispering, "any progress with you-know-who?" She pointed with her head towards a booth near the front of the store.
George shook his head and smiled sadly. "No." George shrugged almost imperceptibly.
"Well—have you talked to him?" she pried, closing her planner and putting it away in her satchel.
George stared down at the table. "He just gets mad." Ron started sweeping again.
Hermione dropped her voice lower. "Have you tried talking to him about something other than how you think he's wrong?"
"Hermione," he whined.
Ron moved towards an adjacent table.
She gestured towards Ron subtly.
George shook his head.
She nudged his foot.
He nudged back.
She narrowed her eyes and kicked him decisively in the shin.
He yelped and grabbed his leg, scowling at her. Ron glanced at them.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" she whispered. "That was uncalled for."
George lifted his feet up in the booth beside her warily, crossed them at the ankle, and pouted quietly.
"You got this," she mouthed, rubbing his shin remorsefully. He took a deep breath and gave in.
"So, Ron," George started, looking tense. "How are things?" he asked awkwardly.
Ron lifted an eyebrow. "I'm fine," he grunted in response. He eyed the duo doubtfully.
"Good!" George said in a much higher pitch than normal. "That's just great! So—did you..." he trailed off and looked at Hermione helplessly.
She urged him with her eyes.
"Did you get into Omega… Gamma… Tri… Trip od?" George said, looking very unsure. Hermione facepalmed with both hands and shook her head.
Ron furrowed his eyebrows and propped his broom up. "Alpha Sigma Phi," he corrected.
"Yes—that. Did you—"
"Yeah." Ron looked annoyed and uneasy.
"That's awesome." George flashed a small smile. "They're treating you right? Not making you drink from the toilet or anything?" Hermione cringed and whipped her head around towards the younger Weasley.
Ron huffed. "Look— they only do that shit to thin the crowd out. There's only so many rooms available for new pledges, and that stuff just weeds out the weak ones, you know?" Ron explained quickly, avoiding George's eyes.
"Yeah—yeah. I get it," George said, backstepping a little.
"I still have to get some of the legacy brothers coffee every once in a while." Ron laughed a little. "But that's not exactly a foreign concept for me." He gestured to the store.
George grinned. "Of course not." Hermione rubbed his bruised shin absently.
"You can quit worrying," Ron insisted.
"I know—you have it all handled. I'm sorry for getting into your business," George replied, swallowing a few objections down.
"Good," Ron said, eyeing Hermione as she continued watch the scene play out quietly.
"Good," George agreed.
A tense silence settled over all of them. Hermione sipped her drink. She winced when her straw gurgled at the bottom.
"Well—I'll just get back to work." He waved and picked up his discarded items.
George leaned his head back on the booth and grumbled, "That was fucking horrible."
"Yes it was." Hermione nodded her head before flashing a smile at him. "But it's over now!"
George grinned back at her. "Hey! Why did you stop petting me?" He glared playfully, wiggling his legs. "Need I remind you that you kicked me?"
She flushed. "I wasn't petting you—"
"Hey," Ron called out as he crossed the dining room with a piece of paper in his hand. "I don't know if you would want to, but the Alphas are throwing a party after midterms. And you should totally come."
He sat a photocopied eyesore boasting brain-numbing thrills on the table.
"It's gonna be a rager," Ron explained, "Everyone is ready to blow off some steam, you know?"
"That sounds fun." George nodded, taking the flyer. "Thanks for the invite."
Ron glanced at her. "Oh right—and you can come too… I guess," he added as an afterthought.
"We'll be there!"
Hermione's jaw dropped. Ron smiled brightly and said his goodbyes a little less awkwardly this time.
She pursed her lips as Ron got out earshot. "We'll be there?" she hissed. "I am not going to a frat party."
George quickly swung around the booth and slid into the seat beside her. "Please?" he begged.
"Absolutely not." She crossed her arms. "There will be drinking and—AND sex and drugs," she rambled. "I will not be a part of that."
"You're exaggerating," George scoffed. Hermione raised a manicured eyebrow at him. "There might not be…drugs," he said with little confidence.
"Fine—maybe there won't be drugs at a frat party. Sure," she spat, "but there most assuredly will be drinking, and in case you have forgotten, we're underage."
A slow smile spread across George's face. "You may be underage, but I'm not." He watched her carefully. "I'm 21."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Oh—you are not. You're a freshman."
He continued grinning obnoxiously. "Yeah—I started college late. How could you not know how old I am?" he said, his voice light and teasing.
She huffed. "You're right. I should have IDed you when we first met. While we're on the subject, how tall are you and what's your blood type?" she asked dryly.
"Six-three. A-positive," he answered quickly, his mouth quirked at the side. "What did you think exactly?" he continued, "Did you think that Fred, Ron, and I were triplets or something?"
She glared at him quietly.
"Fine, fine," he surrendered. "I just didn't realize we were strangers."
She looked away from him and glowered out the window, her arms still crossed.
"Anyways!" George was unfazed. "Don't make me go to the party alone," he whined.
"Why should I go?" she asked the window.
"Because Ron asked us to come, and because he's been giving me the cold shoulder for weeks. And I'm not really sure that those dickheads are on the up and up," he explained earnestly. "We need to investigate."
"Okay—that's why you need to go, but why do I need to go?" she asked, eyeing him petulantly.
"Because you're the one that wanted me and him to make up. C'mon, Granger." George reached up and cradled her head, his fingertips just barely lacing into her hair, his thumb brushing lightly along her jawline. "It'll take thirty minutes—one hour tops."
"I don't—" She gulped. His eyes were so blue, and his hand was so warm, and he was so close—
"We'll just hang out all night, keep an eye on Ron, and make fun of a bunch of frat-bro idiots," he argued his case with wide, pleading eyes.
"Fine—but if you ditch me, I'm going to be super pissed," she warned him.
George beamed at her, scooting in closer to her in the booth and propping his feet up on the seat across from them. "That's never gonna happen."
She muttered quickly under her breath—definitions and formulas running through her head and spilling out of her mouth. This was it—all the preparation had culminated on this exact moment.
And she was freaking the fuck out.
Her hands were shaking, and her chest felt tight.
It was fifteen minutes to eight, and Higgins wasn't even in the room yet. Actually, no one was there yet.
Oh god—was she in the right room? Her eyes darted over to the plaque on the door.
Hermione breathed a sigh of relief before cradling her head and trying to remember every detail about the Appendix at the end of Chapter 6 that she had speed read the night before.
She could feel a migraine coming on, her head threatening to split open violently at any moment.
Her cognizance in her frantic pre-midterm state must have been very limited. She didn't notice him until his arms had wrapped around her shoulders from behind. He bent his tall, muscular frame at the middle and leaned in close. "We got this," he reminded her with a whisper, his breath tickling the shell of her ear and making her shift in her seat. The smell of George's particular brand of soap was intoxicating and comforting.
Hermione leaned back into him and let his warmth wash over her. "Thank you," she said quietly, closing her eyes.
Her breath hitched when his lips grazed her jawline. It was a little too low to be a friendly kiss on the cheek, his warm wet breath making her ache deep within her abdomen.
"See you after," he said, walking backwards for a second with a wicked grin on his face to the other side of the room.
"Good luck, George," she called out weakly as other students filtered in.
Well—at least she wasn't worried about the test anymore.
She sat on her bed with one leg tucked under her, refreshing her screen every few seconds. They took the exam yesterday—when was Higgins going to get off his ass and post her grade? She clicked harder.
"Ready?" George called out from the doorway.
When she looked up, he was leaning against the doorframe with his hands in his pockets, looking lithe and effortless in a dark brown leather jacket.
"Almost." She tore her eyes away from him and clicked refresh. The online gradebook still had a small yellow icon beside the test that said Pending. She sighed and clicked again, glaring.
"C'mon, Hermione. We need to get going." He strolled over, took the laptop, and set it on her desk.
"It'll be there when we get back." He took both of her hands and walked backwards to the hallway. "You did great, I'm sure."
She let herself be led out of her room with a worried glance back at her computer.
He opened the door to the stairwell and said, "M'lady."
She hid a smile and walked past him to the fourth-floor landing.
"Fred's coming," George said as they began their trek down four flights of stairs.
She paused and looked back him. "Doesn't that mean that there's no need for me to go now?"
George pouted at her, his eyebrows furrowing. "No, it does not mean that you don't have to go." He ran a hand through his hair. "We have an investigation to conduct, and Fred is going to be chasing skirts all night." He stuck his bottom lip out at her.
"Alright, alright," she conceded, "I was just checking."
Outside of the dorm, there was a nip in the air. She pulled her hoodie a little tighter around her and followed George to a bench where Fred was waiting on them.
"Well, well, well," Fred tutted lightheartedly, "look who's ready for a wee bit of underaged drinking."
Hermione glowered at George when he snorted. He smiled while he patted all his pockets. "Fuck," he grumbled, "I forgot my phone."
Fred winced. "Sure you need it?"
"Yeah—I don't want to get separated," George groaned. "Be right back."
Hermione watched George jog back to the dorms helplessly before turning to Fred. He scooted over to make room for her and patted the seat beside him. "Already warmed it up for ya, Granger."
She glanced once more back at the building before plopping down beside Fred dejectedly.
"Thatta girl," he quipped.
"Evening, Fred," she mumbled.
He laughed and looked her over. "The hell are you wearing?" Hermione looked down at her outfit. "Do you even know where we're going?"
"The Alphas' party," she answered, trying to figure out what was wrong with a Star Trek emblazoned tee under a hoodie, skinny jeans, and Keds. "What's wrong with it?"
"It's a frat party, Granger," he said as if the conclusion were obvious. "You're about to enter campus breeding grounds."
He laughed. "So, lovely ladies like yourself can improve their chances whilst on the prowl by showing a little skin. Not wearing a shirt that I'm sure doubles as pajamas most nights for you."
She looked down at the Starship Enterprise. He was right. She did wear it to bed an awful lot.
"Then again," he said smoothly, crossing his ankles and cradling his head back into his laced hands, "it's completely possible that you plan on leaving with who you came with, hm?"
"That is an unfounded accusation, Fred Weasley." She crossed her arms.
"Rubbish," he objected playfully, "Your mouth says no, but your everything else is hoping George finally makes his move tonight, amiright?"
She stared back quietly.
He grinned. "Who knows? Maybe he'll surprise us both, and he actually will."
Footsteps signaled George's return. "Good luck tonight, Granger," Fred whispered conspiratorially, punctuating it with a wink.
"Got it," George grumbled while trying to catch his breath. He waved his phone at them. "Next year we're getting something on the first floor. This is ridiculous."
They all started walking towards Greek Row.
Hermione tried not to read too far into what Fred had said. Sure, she had moments with George here and there, but she didn't have a whole lot of concrete evidence to go on in terms of whether or not George reciprocated her feelings.
To Fred, she could have been anyone. Despite George's protests, Fred had tried to set George up all semester with every random coed that showed the least bit of interest in him. In Fred's eyes, she was probably just another convenient girl to throw at his brother.
"So, we're all clear on the plan for tonight, right?" George had his hands in his jacket pockets.
"Absolutely," she answered immediately.
"Wait—what plan? What are we doing?" Fred asked, looking confused.
George spun around. "Are you fucking kidding me? I explained the purpose of this party to you for about an hour earlier."
"In the cafeteria?" Fred tilted his head.
George nodded tensely.
"There was a brunette in the cafeteria wearing a skirt that went down to about her belly button," Fred explained. "So uhh—catch me up on this plan."
George sighed as he trudged along. "We're going to look in on Ron and make sure that he's not in any trouble."
"Oh, you're on about that still?" Fred scoffed. "Ron is fine, mummy."
"You didn't see him that day. He would have let them do anything to him just to make them like him." George shook his head.
"He's fine," Fred repeated. "New plan," he said, tossing his arm over Hermione's shoulders, "I'm gonna get Granger here nice and drunk, soften up that uninviting edge of hers."
"I'm not drinking," she stated, shrugging his arm off and stepping away from him.
"Bollocks—it's a party," Fred said, bewildered.
"She doesn't have to drink if she doesn't want to," George said before crossing behind Fred and standing in between them.
They fell silent when Greek Row came into view in the distance. The Alpha Sigma Phi house was a sight to behold. Students were already half lit and milling about the immaculate lawn. A boy with sandy blonde hair was bent over the begonias, heaving up his first few drinks of the night. A sorority sister with an angular jet-black bob, long legs, and heels sharp enough to kill someone was sitting with a group of equally beautiful girls on the porch furniture, laughing at the unfortunate undergrad. It was utter chaos at every turn, with more people than Hermione had ever cared to be around filling every nook and cranny of the presidential brick building.
Upon entering the snakes' den behind the twins, Hermione was nearly trampled by two roughhousing frat brothers. She moved out of the way unscathed, her arms akimbo with a scowl on her face. "Oh my god," she hissed.
It was a nightmare. Bodies writhing around and music that had so much bass that the walls of the old building rumbled with every beat.
She tried to get out of the way, but there was nowhere to go, and there were just so many people. She saw Fred push into the crowd and panicked when George moved to follow him before he tossed a glance her way. He grinned at her and backtracked. He turned his back to her and put her hands on his hips like they were in a conga line. "Let's try to stick together, kay?" he said loudly over the pounding music.
In tandem, they pushed through the crowd and trailed after Fred before he could disappear. She could feel everyone else pressing in on her, smelling like cheap liquor and too much perfume. The fire marshal would probably be very eager to hear about the blatant violation that was occurring at Alpha Sigma Phi. Hermione fell into a closer step with George, letting her fingertips grasp at the front of his leather jacket.
When the dancefloor was finally behind them and the crowd started to thin, the kitchen came into view. Large bowls that had initially held a feast of snack foods were picked clean. The frat brother charged with alcohol and mixers must have gotten a lion's share of the party funds because amber bottles of every shade and shape were spread out across expensive cherry end tables and every inch of counter space. Washtubs slick with condensation were filled to the brim with ice and glass bottles of beer in various varieties.
Hermione eased her white-knuckle grip on George and took a deep breath for the first time since she had entered the house. George guided her to a corner in the kitchen and leaned against the countertop beside her, effectively blocking her off from the crowd as she straightened herself back out. He propped his elbows up behind him. Fred was surveying the room with a sharp eye. "So, step one of the plan, Granger." He gestured towards the wide assortment of contraband.
"Step one of the plan is to find Ron," George reminded him with grin.
Fred stomped a foot. "Not your mother-hen plan, Georgie. Now don't interrupt," he scolded, shaking his finger at George. "Today, Miss Granger, we will be discussing the Laws of Liquors. So, please pay attention," he said, charismatically demanding their attention.
"Do we really have time for this?" Hermione eyed him grumpily.
George smirked at her with his canines showing. "Actually, I'd love to hear this. Sounds like a bunch of bullshit."
"Alright—lay some education down on me, Fred," she requested. After all, finding Ron in this crowd meant leaving the kitchen, and she was still in the process of calming down from the dense dancefloor.
Fred looked excited, clearly expecting her to put up more of a fight. "Excellent!" he walked over to a set of square bottles with blue and silver labels. "Over here you have your tequilas. Now, initially you're going to think that tequila is the nastiest thing you've ever tasted, but don't be so quick to judge, Granger."
He held up the bottle, displaying it for all to see. "A well-mixed margarita can be one of the most delicious cocktails out there, and it's normally a safe order even in a dive bar. Tequila has some very interesting effects on mere mortals, though—so take care to drink it in the right setting," he warned. "The key side-effect is bravery. A healthy dose will have you dancing up on a bar à la Coyote Ugly and itching to undo a few buttons. In fact, the one and only time I have seen Ron karaoke involved a well-timed shot of tequila right before We Are the Champions came on."
Hermione grinned at the thought. George snorted, "Freddie Mercury ain't got nothin' on Ron in the right mood."
"Moving on," Fred approached cloudy white bottles, textured up the sides with bubbled glass. "Over here, you have your gins. Gin is commonly mixed with tonic water to create a crisp and refreshing—you guessed it—Gin and Tonic." He turned to her quickly before continuing. "If you're feeling a little fancier, you can substitute the tonic for a splash of vermouth, a little olive brine, and a plump green olive. That's a martini."
"Martinis are a tricky fellow, though. One minute you're enjoying your first drink feeling like a blue-blooded noble with unbound class and sophistication. By the end of your second, you're wondering when the world turned sideways and holding onto the floor for dear life. So, use caution, my friend."
"Will do," Hermione said with a small smile. "What's next?"
George chuckled, crossing his arms and leaning towards her. "You're encouraging him." She shrugged and scooted up closer to George.
Fred caught her eye for a second and winked, before gesturing to the cylindrical, clear bottles with red wax stamps on the front. "This, m'dear, is rum. Rum is arguably the most versatile of the liquors. It mixes with absolutely anything. Fruit juices are common mixers, resulting in your Mai Tais, Hurricanes, and Screwdrivers. Rum and Cokes are good too. In a pinch one time, I mixed it with a Sprite and was delightfully surprised at how delicious it was."
George grimaced visibly at the idea, shivering all over. Hermione hid a smile.
"Remember this, Hermione. Rum does one thing and one thing only: it makes you horny." She gulped. Fred grinned wickedly. "And that is why rum is my favorite."
"Of course, my recommendation for your first foray into the lovely world of alcoholism would be a nice Rosé." He leaned against the counter across from them and looked through the open doorway to the crowded dance floor. "You seem like a pink wine kind of girl."
"What kind of girl is that?" she said, feeling self-conscious.
Fred became distracted by a swinging set of hips. "What?" he said a moment later.
"Nevermind," she said, shaking her head.
"Well—it's been great, lads, but I'm afraid I can no longer ignore the ancient call of the drums." Fred grabbed a beer, twisted the top off, and walked up to the edge of the writhing bodies. "See you tomorrow," he called out over his shoulder. "Good luck, Granger!" he said as he disappeared into the throng.
She blushed and shook her head. George grabbed a beer out of one of the tubs of ice and wiped away the leftover condensation. He twisted the top off.
"What are you doing?" she asked worriedly. "What about our investigation?"
He sidled back up to her. "This is a prop, Hermione. We need to blend in—look inconspicuous."
She nodded. "That makes sense."
"You need a prop, too." He eyed her playfully.
"George, what kind of girl drinks pink wine?" she asked quietly, tilting her head.
He smiled, teeth grazing his bottom lip. "The kind of girl that doesn't go to frat parties."
Her stomach flipped, and a thrill poured through her at the sight of his sweet smile. Maybe today was the day; tonight was the night. Like Fred had said, maybe tonight George would surprise her.
She jumped at a loud bang in the entrance of the kitchen. Ron poured out of the crowd, grinning widely. "Hey!" he said happily, "you guys made it!"
George sipped his beer. "Yeah, of course. Fred's here too—somewhere."
Ron glanced at Hermione. "Are you not drinking?"
Oh right—her prop.
"Not yet. I'll just—" she trailed off and turned around toward the table of mixers that housed red cups, sodas, and fruit juices. That would be a safe choice. She just needed a cup and whatever was in it would just be her little secret. The rest of the party goers needn't know that she wasn't drinking.
George watched her with a smile while he distracted Ron. "So, this is crazy. You live here?" He gestured to the vaulted ceilings and expensive adornments.
She filled her cup with ice and perused the selection.
"Yeah, it's great," Ron slurred, "I have a shitty roommate right now, but next year I'll have my own room."
Oh, they had tea. She unscrewed the lid, filled her red cup up, and grabbed a straw.
"That's cool!" George said enthusiastically, "You know, I would love to have a look around."
"Definitely." Ron grabbed a few beers, stashing them in his pockets and under his arm before he tossed his arm over George's shoulder. "C'mon, Bro. I'll give you the grand tour."
Hermione slid in beside George, looking down at her drink. She wasn't sure what kind of tea they had in Long Island, but if it was anything like Earl Grey, she was bound to like it. George held her other hand as Ron pulled them deeper into the belly of the beast.
As expected, the next room was wild and disorderly pandemonium. Everyone was yelling, the music was maddeningly loud, and a couple was feverishly kissing on one of the expensive-looking chaise loungers. The girl was straddling the eager boy. Hermione's eyes widened. She wasn't even sure that they were only making out. A lot of grinding was happening, and she could see the blonde girl's panties, her skirt having been shoved up above her hips. She averted her eyes and gave them a little privacy, even though they certainly didn't seem to require it.
She sipped her tea and grimaced. It was so sweet.
"This is the den. I know it doesn't seem like it right now, but this is normally study central. It's a quiet zone. You get kicked out if you make too much noise in here," Ron said over his shoulder.
"This is Edmond," Ron continued loudly over the music. A tall, skinny guy with blonde hair wearing a tartan shirt with tight black pants and boots turned away from what looked to be a very intense game of beer pong.
"Weasley!"—Edmond high-fived him— "Beer me, bro!"
George cracked a secretive smile at her. Hermione took another sip and grinned around her straw, before biting at the end. Idiot frat-boys.
Ron pulled a beer out of one of his cargo pockets and handed it off to Edmond. "Watch out for Yaxley, man," Ron warned him, "he's been sinkin' em all day."
Yaxley, a boy with dark skin and a smug smile, chose that moment to fire off a perfect pong shot that sunk into the apex of the solo cups and made the crowd around the table cheer.
Ron tossed Yaxley a beer, who caught it deftly. "Warned you!" he called out to Edmond.
George watched the whole exchange with a smile on his face. She guessed this wasn't really what he had expected out of the legacy brothers of Alpha Sigma Phi. She licked her lips and sipped her tea. The lemony flavor seemed to get better the more she drank it.
They followed Ron into a room with a huge television and a sectional couch. "Welcome to the game room," he told them, "We have everything in here: Xbox, PlayStation, and all the old shit, you know. And you can pretty much always find someone to co-op with." Gunfire and explosions were pouring out of the sound system while a crowd of guys cheered on one particularly intense-looking boy who wasn't taking his eyes off the screen.
George snaked his arm around her waist and pulled her closer to him and away from one of the more rambunctious frat brothers that was waving his arms around wildly. She leaned into George contentedly, her face feeling warm and her cup feeling light in her hand. She ran her fingers absently along the back of his palm.
"You got this, Theo!" someone cheered in the crowd.
"Yo, Nott," Ron said, leaning over the couch beside the boy with black eyes.
"Hey, Weasley," Theo said, his eyes glued to the screen. "You seein' this shit?" Hermione blinked when something exploded violently in the crosshairs on the screen.
"Boom! Headshot!" Ron applauded before setting a beer on the coffee table in front of Theo. "I want to get in on a five v. five game by the end of the night, alright?"
"You got it. Thanks for the refill, man," Nott threw over his shoulder.
George's breath tickled her ear when he leaned in and said quietly, "I might have been wrong."
"Looks that way," she said, looking up at him, her facing feeling flushed. His hand was up under her hoodie, his thumb rubbing patterns along her waist over her thin t-shirt. She took a deep breath and swayed on her feet a little. His touch felt wonderful—warm and inviting.
Ron pushed open the sliding door to the back patio. George went to follow him. "You coming, Granger?"
"Yeah, I'm just going to grab more tea." She eyed another drink station full of sodas and mixers.
"Alright," he said before stepping outside.
Hermione pushed aside some of the cans of Coke and bottles of orange juice, grabbed what she was looking for, and filled her glass back up.
She slid the patio door open. The cool night air felt good on her skin when she stepped out. She tugged at the zipper on her hoodie and pulled it down before licking her lips.
When she looked across the back patio, her eyes widened. Ron was upside down with two other guys holding his legs up on top of a barrel.
She tilted her head. "What is he doing?" she asked George.
He smirked at her—everything around him seemed fuzzy. "Keg stand."
The horrible, blond boy had his megaphone out again. "19! 20! 21!" His voice was loud.
Twenty-one seemed like a lot of seconds.
Hermione sipped her tea and smiled widely up at George. "22! 23! 24!" she joined in.
George laughed and eyed her, his face in focus in a sea of swirling colors.
She sat her cup down on the picnic table on the patio and walked closer. She cheered for Ron, "27! 28! 29!" George's hand was on her back. She leaned into it.
"30!" George was so close—and he was so warm.
Ron flipped back down and threw his arms up as they cheered. Hermione cheered too.
Draco held the megaphone back up to his mouth. "Weasley is Our King! Weasley is Our King!"
George dropped his hand from Hermione's side and laughed loudly at a very green Ron. He looked back at her. Her eyes were dark and sparkly in the festive lights. Ron held his stomach while George joined in on the chant, "Weasley is Our King! Weasley is Our King!"
"Oh god, I think I'm gonna be—" Ron bent over the railing and spewed.
"Minus five seconds for puking, Weasley," Draco teased.
George snorted, "Ron, god." He helped Ron ease himself down onto the picnic table bench. "Hey, Hermione, do you think you could go get some—" he turned around.
"Hermione?" he called out. "Did you see where she went?" He asked Ron.
"I didn't see anything after 20," Ron groaned. "Malfoy, did you see where my brother's girlfriend went?"
The blonde looked bored. "Back inside, I'm sure," he drawled. He slid his shoulder under Ron's arm. "Come on, King. Let's get you upstairs. You smell like death."
George's stomach dropped. Hermione's abandoned red cup sat on the table. He picked it up and took a sip.
The house was a labyrinth. It had seemed simple earlier, but now, when all she needed was a bathroom, it was impossible to navigate. Maybe it would be easier if there weren't so many fucking people cluttering up the hallways.
Damnit, she needed to pee. Urgently.
Hermione avoided a group of guys and turned her nose up. They reeked of body spray and her stomach lurched. She overshot her dodge a little and put her hand up on the wall to steady herself. She scowled in their general direction.
Her head was swimming. There were just so many people—and—and she wasn't very good at being around people. She didn't like being crammed into a building with them.
She stumbled upon a grand staircase. Oh! The second floor probably had bathrooms! And less people!
She scurried up the stairs, happy when the clutter (people) started to thin, and the pound of the bass faded away. Her feet were heavy and clunky, almost like she was wearing new boots, even though she had on the same sneakers she always wore. She looked down the long hallway. Bedrooms maybe? Now—where did they put the bathroom? She did a condensed rendition of the pee dance before yanking a door open. Nope.
She closed it and made her way further down the hall. Every door was a disappointment. They contained nothing but plaid comforters and broken dreams.
She pouted after her seventh failed attempt and turned the corner. Another staircase! She frowned. But it went back down? Did she go in a circle? Was this a different staircase? She sighed. She really needed to pee.
But she was so tired.
She sat down on the top step and leaned her head against the wall. It was cold. She smiled and closed her eyes.
She opened her eyes and blinked. The air was warmer. Her head felt swimmy. She scooted back from the stairs.
Stairs were bad right now.
How long ago did she leave George? How long had she sat there?
She was sad—how would she find him again? The house had taken her now. There was only this house and endless doors and staircases that lead nowhere.
Forty fucking rooms but a bathroom ain't one.
She heard a voice and turned quickly, catching herself on the wall. Steps she didn't see before led up.
Up, up, up to the third floor.
"Did you brush your teeth?" a voice drawled.
"Thoroughly," someone replied.
"Ah ha!" she gasped. She bet he brushed his teeth in the bathroom! She took a deep breath and steadied herself. She really wasn't feeling well.
"Alright, come here," the first voice urged.
She rounded the corner slowly and pushed the ajar door open. She tilted her head trying to make sense of it.
There were bodies on the bed. Clothes were missing. There were flashes of skin, and the unmistakable sound of kissing—all teeth and tongues.
"Fuck, Weasley," what she thought was a blonde groaned lowly.
The fuzzy bodies flipped over. "Can't wait anymore."
"I—" Hermione started.
"What the fuck?!" someone yelled. Both bodies shot up. In flurry of confusing movement, previously exposed skin was covered.
"Shit." Ron was suddenly right in front of her. "Hermione, what are you doing up here?"
"Ron!" She smiled brightly when the familiar face came into focus.
"Weasley, my dad. She can't—"
Ron waved the person off and held both of her arms gently. "What did you see, Hermione?"
She tilted her head. "What?" she asked dumbly. He wasn't making sense. She just needed a bathroom. She didn't care who had hands down someone else's pants.
"When you came in—"
"I have to pee," she whined.
"Uhm"—he paused—"when you came in, did you see anything?"
She felt sad. "Ron, I've lost George. I had to pee so I left, and now I don't know how to get back to him, and this house is too big. And I still haven't found a bloody bathroom."
"There are so many doors here," she wept dramatically. "I wanna go home."
"Man, you're hammered," he said, shaking his head, "And I'm pretty drunk, but you are, like, on a whole other level."
"Yeah, look at her eyes. She's fuckin' gone"—Draco appeared, smiling—"I think we're okay."
Tile! Her eyes widened. "Is that a bathroom?"
Ron grinned. "Yeah, I think you mentioned needing to go a few hundred times." He moved out of her way as she ran and shut the door behind her quickly. She flipped the lock, unbuttoned her jeans frantically, sat down, and—
"I feel weird," she said when she stepped back out into the lavish bedroom.
Ron smiled at her. "Yeah, well—you're drunk."
"I am not!" She stomped her foot and scowled.
"Are too," Draco said from the bed.
"Now, let's see if we can put you back where you belong," Ron fished his phone out of his back pocket. "Would you look at that? Five missed calls."
She raised her eyebrows. "From who?"
He had already dialed them back. "Hey George."
"George!" she said happily.
"Yeah, I got her. We're on the third floor," Ron told the phone. "Alright—see you in a sec."
She eyed Draco's bed. She wanted her own bed. "I'm tired," she whined.
"Uh huh," Ron said, grinning at her.
A few moments later, they heard footsteps in the hallway.
"Ron?" George called out.
"Back here," Ron hollered back.
George came around the corner, eyes wide and frantic. "Oh my god—Hermione."
"I found you!" she exclaimed. How did she find him? She felt clever.
George laughed and pulled her close to him. "Thanks, Ron."
"Don't mention it."
"Now, Miss Granger," George said playfully. "You are drunk."
She snorted. "Pshhhhh. No—I'm not. We talked about this. I'm nineteen," she explained, "I can't drink, George. It's illegal."
"Uh huh—so you drank tea, right?" His voice light.
She nodded quietly, her hands up under his jacket. His skin was warm. Hmmm.
"And that is just really, really cute." She was happy that it was his face smiling in the little circle that was in focus. "The thing is—Long Island Iced Tea is not tea," he clarified.
She tilted her head. Ron cackled loudly.
"What is it?"
"It's like four shots of liquor and a splash of cola, doll," George explained.
Her eyes widened. "Oh no, George," she said, distraught, "I'm a criminal."
George laughed, his chest rumbling against her fingertips. "Let's get out of here."
"Thank god," she said, "I'm so sleepy."
He tossed his arm over her shoulder. "Thanks for the invite, Ron," he called out.
"Anytime," Ron replied with a grin.
The air was crisp and cool against her skin.
"It's cold," she said, leaning in closer to George while they trudged along the uncharacteristically tilted sidewalks. "And I'm tired."
He shuffled before she felt his coat heavy on her shoulders. She snuggled into it and pulled her arms through.
"Want me to carry you?" he suggested.
Big strong arms.
"Yes," she said honestly, her breath uneven.
"Alright." He grinned before picking her up, warm biceps under her legs and back.
She settled against his chest.
"This is okay?" he asked her quietly.
"It's nice," she mumbled into his shirt. "Am I heavy?"
"Not at all," he replied. She rocked back and forth with each step, the world rushing by.
She closed her eyes and breathed in George, hot and clean all around her.
When she opened her eyes again, the staircase door on the first floor had clanged shut behind them.
"I can walk," she slurred. "Don't have to carry me up the stairs."
"You're fine. I have you."
He didn't set her down until he got to her room. She leaned her back against the door.
"Do you have keys?" George asked.
She reached in her back pocket, grinning smugly at the accomplishment of finding keys.
He flipped through them, "Should be a little silver one, right? You have quite the collection—I'm sure you're very proud."
She could feel the heat pouring off him. Everything smelled like him. Hermione ran her hands up his chest.
As she had suspected, the boy was firm.
He gulped and looked down at her. "Hermione."
"Does that tea have rum in it?" She stepped closer, resting her body flush against his, and looked up at him with dark, blown eyes.
"Hey," he whispered, swallowing.
She placed hot, open mouthed kisses up his jawline and let her hands slide down the back of his t-shirt. Hermione smiled wickedly before nipping at his neck.
"Hermione," he groaned. Something clanged against the floor.
"George, please," she begged. "Please."
He jumped. "Hands!" he said loudly, "Hands in fun, new places." He pulled back from her and took a deep, shuddering breath.
She ran her teeth over her bottom lip. "George." She felt dangerous at the moment—reckless. "Open the door."
"This can't happen, Hermione," he told her, looking torn. "Not tonight."
"Why not?" Her hair was in her eyes, her body was warm, and it was simple.
"You would hate me in the morning," he explained.
She held his gaze and settled her body against his again. "But I would love you tonight," she whispered.
He leaned down and picked her keys back up. She let her hands trail down his chest again. He placed his hand atop hers and smiled. "You're too far gone, love," he told her patiently, "and when you and I happen, you're going to remember it the next day, okay?"
She groaned. "Okay," she pouted, "but please don't me wait too much longer."
"Don't worry, I'm right there with you." He slid the key into her lock with shaking hands. "Waiting isn't fun."
She agreed with a sad nod, her body still warm and aching.
He led her into the room and pulled her comforter back. "Get in bed, love."
"Will you stay?" she asked drunkenly.
"I'll—I can sleep on the floor, if you want," he compromised.
She nodded happily.
"Be right back," George said.
Hermione pulled his jacket off followed by her hoodie, dropping them to the floor. She kicked off her shoes and slid her jeans down to the floor.
She held her hands out and tried to carefully get into bed.
A strangled noise announced his return.
"So spinny, George," she complained as the bed lurched.
He set his bedding on the floor. "It'll be better in the morning," he said. "We're just gonna cover you up, okay?" He pulled her comforter up over her bare legs.
She reached behind her. "I need it off," she whined at her bra. "Help me."
"Well—I d-don't really think that—"
"Got it." She pulled her arms into her shirt and rerouted them. She dropped the pink, lacy deathtrap over the side of the bed. "'Better."
She watched George as he set up his bed on the floor. His footing was impressive, the light from her lamp was shaking the floor horribly.
She sighed in relief when he turned it off and settled down beside her. In the dark, everything stopped moving, but her head was still swirling. She hated it. Hermione snuck her hand off the bed and laced her fingers with his.
"Night, love," George said, squeezing back.
Sunday morning was bright.
It was sickeningly bright and loud. Hermione glared at her window. She started to get up to close the blinds when she noticed him.
George was asleep on the floor. The small spattering of scars on his face and neck shone in the early light. His shirt had ridden up, revealing a lean, taut stomach and a trail of hair that disappeared beneath his pajamas. His red hair was mussed up against his pillow, darting out in a hundred different angles. His comforter was kicked down to his feet. She followed his strong legs back up his body, pausing in her observation at an area of interest—
Was that her bra?
It was right beside him! Oh my god!
She stretched halfway off the bed and grabbed petal pink strap, jerking it up quickly and hiding it under the comforter.
She eyed him another moment before poking him.
He shook awake, blinking up at her. He sat up with dreadfully messy hair and an adorable smile. "Hey there." His voice was deep and scratchy in the morning.
"Hey," she said slowly, "why are you in here?"
He sat up straighter with a frown, eyes searching hers. "How much do you remember from last night?" He smoothed his hair out, shoving it to the side.
She thought hard. "We went to the party," she started.
"And Ron did a keg stand," she explained.
"And he made out with a blonde girl."
"Good for him. Then what?"
"Long Island Iced Tea isn't tea?"
He looked away and rubbed a hand down his face. "Alright."
"Did I do anything embarrassing, George?"
He smiled. "You got me to carry you back because you didn't want to walk," he teased. "Up the stairs and everything."
"I did not," she protested.
"I'm just joking—I offered," he said, grinning.
She laid back on her pillow. "Thank you for taking care of me," she said, watching him.
His smile seemed hesitant, his eyes somber and unhappy.
Notes: I made it through January! In my profession, surviving January is hit or miss.