I'm not entirely happy with it, but I wanted it posted by Christmas – so here it is. Have at.
By Rurouni Star
Hermione looked out her window at the darkened world below. Her intellect kept insisting that it was white – that the lake was a glimmering sheet of pristine ice, that the snow outside was pure and untouched – but the black pre-dawn sky overcast everything with a bleak grayish color.
She chewed at her bottom lip speculatively. No one else was out there – no one else was even up at this hour… she'd have it all to herself…
"Would you please shut the window?" came Lavender's half-dead voice from across the room.
"It's four in the bloody morning!" Parvati said in a pained voice. "I don't care if it's Christmas, none of the presents will be down there yet!"
She sighed and shut the window with a thud – then made her decision as her roommates burrowed back into their covers simultaneously. The only visible evidence they were even there was a neat row of lumps beneath heavy red and gold quilts.
"Going out," she muttered, knowing they wouldn't hear or remember her no matter what tone she used. Hermione grabbed her skates and moved out the door of her dorm, leaving behind a pair of snoring beds.
The cold, biting air was actually quite invigorating. Hermione rubbed her gloved hands together and blew into them before stepping down from the castle.
She nearly slipped as her boot fell two feet into the fluff.
Hermione regained her balance with some amount of dignity, despite the fact that no one was watching, and trudged through the sticky powder with a strange kind of pleasure – being the first to stomp through the snow held a kind of power. A few times, she even stopped to scatter the flakes farther, picked them up and threw them into the air. They drifted down about her, some settling on her shoulder and eyelashes. She didn't bother to remove them.
Eventually, she reached the edge of the glittering lake. Hermione admired it for a moment, taking in the utter isolation with a smile. After a few contemplative moments thinking of transcendental philosophy and other such book-worm thoughts she knew people expected her to have, Hermione pulled her skates from over her shoulder and began untying the knots in them.
She thought back to the last time she'd had occasion to use the skates – it had actually been near the middle of February if she could rightly remember.
Ah. Valentine's Day, in fact.
Hermione frowned at the thought as she tied her left skate on with a thorough knotting. She'd been skating alone that day, after being probably unnecessarily curt with Harry and Ron. They never had figured out that it was because they'd had dates and she hadn't.
As she finished the first skate and started on the next, Hermione remembered taking herself all the way over to the far side of the lake, sulking righteously and ignoring the gaggle of people skating in pairs about thirty yards away. She liked to skate alone anyway, most times. Just about everyone knew it.
She shook the thoughts from her mind and stood up, somewhat shakily, then more certainly as she gained her balance. Hermione walked a bit awkwardly out onto the ice before taking a single smooth stroke across it. Feeling her experience kick back in, she began to speed up, and then to turn in wide circles on the ice. Soon her figure eights were back, followed by a few careful spins. She decided quickly that she was too rusty to try anything better this morning. Hermione resolved to herself to simply have fun enjoying the crisp air and picturesque scenery.
After about half an hour, she tired a bit of skating and sat down on the bank to eat a few snacks she'd brought with her. The hot soup she'd magically preserved went down well – and it spurred her back onto the ice.
A few fingers of hazy pink light were just beginning to touch the ice when she decided to go back inside. Hermione turned back toward the shore, where her wand waited to warm her up – but then something very unexpected happened.
The ice broke.
She let out a squeak as the part beneath her right skate crumpled into shards – the blade plunged into icy water, instantly being suffused by the numbing cold. Hermione let out an uncharacteristic curse as she remembered the reason her parents had always told her to skate with a 'buddy' as a child.
All grown up now, are we, Hermione? a sardonic voice in her head asked as her leg slipped in to the knee. Don't take advice anymore; just give it to people who don't want it…
She moaned unhappily as the water slipped up her pant leg, sending immediate shivers through her body. Hermione knelt to one knee before pulling her leg gently up from the water and back through the hole in the ice.
A slight crackling was her only warning before the ice beneath her gave way and her whole body went plunging down into water.
Immediately, her breath was stolen – Hermione usually thought of herself as quick thinking, but in this case, it took her a full three seconds to realize she ought to swim. Her down coat was quickly becoming waterlogged, though, and her skates were as awkward to swim in as they were to walk in. Her thoughts moving infuriatingly sluggishly, she slipped off her gloves and reached for the zipper of her coat, fumbling furiously with it. While she slipped steadily downward, she tugged it off and wrestled to push it away.
The icy barely-light of the top world was confusing, and her eyes were stinging from the water, blinking despite her best efforts. She knew better than to try and get her skates off – she'd tied them very tightly, intentionally so. Pushing with all of her might, she began to swim to the top.
A burning began to build in her lungs even as she laboriously pushed closer to the top – but the light was almost upon her, and she felt her confidence swell as her original panic subsided.
Only to return in full force as her head knocked against very solid ice.
Where was the hole?
Hermione gasped involuntarily, feeling the water rush into her mouth. Barely, she regained control of herself and spat it back out. She pumped her legs furiously, moving along the top, trying to find the hole, or at least a weaker spot to push through. Her legs were numb, though, and it was hard for her to even tell if she was moving at all.
She was going to die.
The thought was incredibly ironic.
Hermione Granger, brilliant know-it-all of Hogwarts, survives being beaten on by a giant chess set, almost poisoned, petrified by a basilisk, and threatened by a convicted murderer – then dies tragically in a stupid ice-skating incident.
It would sound terribly funny to anyone who wasn't her.
Her lungs screamed desperately for air at this point – her vision was darkening – and she truly felt it was her end.
And then, her hands pushed through to frigid air. Hermione burst through the water and breathed cold, needling, life-giving air.
She almost wished, a moment later, that she'd stayed in the water.
A desperately cold breeze – unnoticeable before, when she'd been dry – wracked her body with chills. Her legs were still numb – her fingers were quickly becoming the same.
On inspiration, she looked toward the shore.
Shivers stopped the incantation before she could finish it. Determined, however, she repeated herself, consciously controlling herself.
"Acc-" She stopped and sucked in some air. "Acc- choo!"
Oh this would have Harry and Ron rolling in hysterics if she got herself free. When. When she did.
"ACCIO WA-" Her hands were tinged with blue. Her hands were blue.
Hermione let out a tiny sob, finding that, for the first time in her life, she was too frightened to do a thing.
Control, control, control, or you'll die-
Die. I'm going to die. I don't want to die!
Tears rolled down her cheeks, leaving burning trails of heat on her face.
The muscles in her legs stopped working as she forgot to pump them – when she tried to start again, she realized she couldn't remember how. The feel of moving them had left her.
She began to slip downward again.
The water closed over her head – and she thought with a strangely calm resignation that she might as well die with a bit of dignity. Hermione relaxed, and felt in surprise that she was growing quite warm of a sudden. Then she remembered sleepily that it meant she was near death.
She closed her eyes and sighed.
There was a light growing just beyond her eyelids – a beckoning world beyond…
She smiled, despite herself. This didn't really seem all that bad at all.
Her eyes opened, and she saw, of all things, a red-haired Weasley. One of the twins… George, her mind told her in a strange moment of clarity she didn't quite understand. His concerned face was limned in golden light – she thought she might have even seen a halo.
"What are you doing in heaven?" she asked him with a strange giggle.
His eyes widened, and she saw that he looked genuinely stunned for what she thought must have been the first time in his life.
"Hermione," he said again, as though it was the only thing he could manage. Then, a moment later, "You're not coherent."
She giggled again.
And then, a few seconds later, she felt stinging needles in her hands – she gasped in pain, and looked over to see him furiously rubbing them.
Then, as though he'd suddenly realized he was a wizard, George pulled his wand and pointed at her. "Fervefacio," he said quickly.
At first, she thought nothing had happened – but a few seconds later, her entire body began to scream in pain. Her skin crawled with reawakened feeling and Hermione decided quite certainly that she would have rather died. Everything hurt – the world hurt, the light hurt, everything she felt hurt more than she imagined anything could ever possibly hurt.
George seemed slightly out of his depth – somewhere inside herself, she found some amount of pity for him as she gave a barely muffled scream. But then, she was in quite a bit more pain, so the pity quickly disintegrated.
Apparently making some kind of quick decision, George slipped a hand under her back and pulled her up. With a bit of effort, and a motion she barely noticed, he picked her up and began hurrying off the ice as fast as he could while still being careful. She noticed he wasn't wearing skates – because he was being unbearably bumpy. Hermione decided to say a few things to him about how much she appreciated that, feeling pained and barely coherent.
Why couldn't the bastard just have let her die?
Meanwhile, he was muttering something to himself she couldn't quite hear. A few times, she thought she heard the word 'idiot' interspersed with certain profanities she was almost certain his mother would wash his mouth out for.
Slowly – very slowly – the needling pain stopped. Her cold limbs began to regain a bit of warmth, and she realized that he'd used a spell of warmth and not some cruel variation of the Cruciatus.
And soon, too, she became aware that he was giving off heat as well. Forgetting that she'd just moments ago been calling him the most awful things she could think of, Hermione huddled closer to him.
At one point, she was sure she was once more doomed – George stumbled, and she heard a splash from beneath them. Hermione caught her breath, feeling her strangely dilated eyes widen.
George pulled his foot from the water, though, and stubbornly kept on, repeating a certain sequence of foul words for good measure.
And then, they were on solid ground.
Hermione squeezed her eyes shut, feeling the warmth build up inside of her – then decided that they were quite comfortable that way.
A different kind of darkness overtook her, then.
"…in despair, I bowed my head… 'There is no peace on earth,' I said…"
Hermione felt a reverberating inside herself, a grasping at the concept of the words…
"…'for hate is strong, and mocks the song… of peace on earth, good will to men'…"
It was a carol. She knew it – she'd heard it before.
Hermione drew on that familiarity and clutched at it as a line back to coherence – she unraveled the meanings, listened to the caroling voices and began to pick out the slighter sounds immediately beside her.
"Then pealed the bells
more loud and deep; 'god is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.'"
Someone was humming along a short distance from her side.
She was under a thick layer of blankets. There was a strange difference to them, though – after a moment, she realized that there was a pleasant kind of scent to them that contrasted drastically with her own bed and coverings.
Hermione opened her eyes with effort, and tried to focus her eyes. A blur of color – it was a person, quite obviously – was leaning back in a stuffed chair that had been pulled beside the bed. At the shock of red topping the figure gave her pause as she struggled to remember what that might signify.
"…'till ringing, singing, on its way…the world revolved, from night to day…"
Her vision slowly became clearer, as did her mind. A few freckles – a slightly more angular face, with a strangely roguish look to it…
"A voice, a chime, a
Of peace on earth, good will to men!"
"George!" she gasped suddenly, remembering-
Oh. Oh how absolutely idiotic of her.
"Hermione!" he said in surprise, turning about with a strange look on his face. Then, despite her expectations for a derogatory bite at her supposed intelligence or a dry, witty question about her health, he did something completely unexpected.
"Of all the stupid things," George burst out, his hands moving to her shoulders and shaking her slightly. "Why couldn't you just stay in the library or take up Quidditch and get your nose broken like the rest of us-"
Hermione stared at his slightly reddened face, blinking once.
"-skating at this hour of the day, with no one to spot you-"
She felt him give her another good shake.
"You'd have died on Christmas!"
And then, seeming to realize he wasn't acting quite like himself, George sat back again. A smile set into place so quickly and easily that she found his prior actions seemed almost part of a dream.
"You'd have given Malfoy a better present than anyone else this year," he said in a suddenly smooth voice.
Hermione let her head fall back on the pillow weakly as she decided she didn't understand anything that had happened since going out onto the ice.
"Hermione?" he questioned again, suddenly sounding a bit worried.
"Sorry," she managed, dazed.
After a few moments, George seemed to realize she was talking about the incident in general.
"You'd certainly better be," he grumbled. "We've got enough people dying heroically without you getting involved in a living example of natural selection by stupidity."
Hermione blinked, bewildered both that he'd echoed her earlier thoughts and that he'd known the very Muggle term. "Where on earth did you hear that?" she asked him.
George raised an eyebrow. "You explained it to me in detail on the train here," he told her dryly.
And Hermione remembered, to her surprise, that he was correct. Harry and Ron had gone wandering part-way through the trip, and she'd been visited by a group of Weasleys – Ginny, Fred, and George, specifically. Poor George had asked her jokingly what she was reading this time – and gotten quite an earful of Darwinian thesis.
"I wasn't aware you were even listening," Hermione said in astonishment.
He shifted uneasily. "Yes, well – some of it is rather interesting, if you filter out the large words."
Hermione stared at him almost incredulously, something important clicking together in her mind. His earlier, deceptively joking remarks on the war were evidence of something else altogether.
Current events had done what nothing else in the world could: they had sobered George Weasley.
At first, Hermione reflected, the twins might not have quite understood the significance of what was happening – though it was plain for all to see, it was quite another thing to understand. Their mother had firmly forced them back into a seventh year – their similarly unyielding condition being that they would be free to sell and distribute their products during school. Hermione had, in fact, been listening guiltily to the argument that summer. It was plain to her that Mrs. Weasley had agreed very readily to their counter-decision because she wanted them safe – and in Hogwarts, under Dumbledore's watchful gaze, was the safest place in the world for them to be.
Now, though, there was no mistaking the slight panic in George's eyes that had not yet fully disappeared.
"I'm… I'm very sorry," Hermione said, fully meaning it this time. "I've been out before, I wasn't expecting any trouble this time."
George's smile wavered only slightly. "I'm sure something in the lake would have thanked you," he said in a light tone. They both knew it was an unforgivably macabre joke, but Hermione figured she rather deserved it.
"Well… thank you," she stammered out. "I mean – for the help. I don't recollect that I was incredibly cooperative either…"
George waved a hand – but it was shaking. "No problem."
There was a quiet silence for a moment – and then, the buoyant tones of the choir below began to filter up another Yuletide melody.
"God rest ye merry gentlemen, may nothing you dismay…"
A shiver went through each simultaneously, and the rest of the melody was lost in the memory of the first and most hurtful sacrifice of war.
Hermione actively directed her attention away from George's suddenly brooding eyes as the semi-silence stretched on…
"George," she said suddenly. "Where am I? And what time is it?"
He started, as though being broken of a daze. A weak attempt at a grin flitted across his face. "Why you're in my bed, of course," he offered up. "And it's about three in the afternoon."
Hermione blushed bright red: the exact reaction he had been hoping for, no doubt. The pleasant scent of the blankets suddenly made perfect sense.
"Why didn't you just take me to my own room?" she demanded, though it came out more of a squeak than she could have wanted.
George looked at her incredulously – she remembered a moment too late the wards on the girls' stairs.
"Yes, all right," she admitted, looking down at her hands self-consciously. She twisted the blanket between her fingers as he began to laugh. Not a simple, amused laugh, but a desperate, full-bodied, shaking laugh. George put his face in his hands, and she sat up in surprise and concern.
"George-" she started, her hand moving toward him.
He shook his head helplessly. "Worrying about whose room you're in after something like that," he gasped, shivers racking his body, "You're insane. No, the whole world's insane, you realize that?"
Hermione felt something in her chest tighten unhappily, and she wrapped her fingers around one of his wrists firmly, pulling the arm away from his chest.
George kept laughing, a shrill edge to his voice – and soon, he was shaking so hard that tears ran down his cheeks.
Hermione held still to his wrist, but found she was frozen in a mix of surreal horror and disbelief.
"O tidings of comfort and joy… comfort and joy… O tidings of comfort and joy…"
The voices raised harmoniously and sifted through the room. Hermione decided queerly that there must have been a crack in the mortar of the floor somewhere for it to be heard so clearly.
"I'm sorry," she whispered a third time, and this time it was for everything, for all the pain and panic and worry of the time, and for the lack of a Merry Christmas.
George straightened oddly at this, and wiped at his face. He looked at her strangely, as though realizing for the first time that she was there. "No," he said, "don't apologize for any of it. It's not your fault."
Feeling unaccountably helpless, Hermione let go of his wrist and spread her hands helplessly. There really wasn't anything left to do but apologize, was there?
George stood shakily, then brushed at his hair, which had been tousled by wind and dried water. "I'll go get you something from the kitchen," he stated clearly, straightening as though he'd found some kind of purpose. "Something warm to drink."
Hermione felt an instinctive protest rise to her lips, but decided against it as she saw him walk to the door. George quite obviously needed the time to compose himself.
Instead, she said hopefully, "Hot chocolate?"
A tiny laugh escaped him as he disappeared beyond the door.
By the time George returned, Hermione had realized yet another important thing about her situation. She happened to be in nothing but a familiar undershirt that smelled of George.
Luckily, by the time he got back with the hot chocolate, Hermione had thought the whole thing through thoroughly and discovered that it really didn't matter. She somehow doubted George was the kind of person to take advantage of such a situation, and he'd saved her life. Nothing but gratitude ought to be involved.
The idea was re-emphasized as he pushed open the door with a plate of two steaming cups of hot chocolate in his hand. George looked as though he'd re-groomed himself – though he was shivering slightly from the castle's cold air, his hair was retamed and he'd probably wiped down his face a bit.
He watched in amusement, though, as she quickly gulped down the drink.
"Thirsty much?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Just a little," she said bluntly.
George shrugged – then downed his own drink just as quickly. He eyed her speculatively as he set the plate aside. Hermione squirmed beneath his stare for a moment before he spoke.
"Do you need all of those blankets?" he asked her in a slightly plaintive voice.
Hermione relaxed and sat up, peeling the top layer off the bed and tossing it toward him. George pulled it about himself, and settled back into the chair.
She watched as he plucked at the blanket critically, pulling it around just so and tucking the corners behind himself. And quite suddenly, Hermione felt a different kind of warmth grow inside her. A kind of giddy light-headedness that almost felt like a giggle trying to escape.
It was most un-Hermionelike.
"George," she said, trying to ignore the strange feeling, "Why were you outside at four am, in any case?"
He stopped his fussing and turned toward her with a disgusted look. "Four am? Is that when you first went out?" George shook his head. "It was almost five-thirty when you fell through the ice."
Hermione was surprised by this for a moment – then she realized that he was quite skillfully changing the subject.
"George," she repeated, her eyebrows knitting, "why were you out there?"
He looked up again and put a hand to his chin. "Well. Well…"
Hermione leaned forward, quite aware that he was leading her on. "Well what?" she demanded.
He grinned. "I'm not telling."
A groan escaped her lips, and she sat back again heavily. "You're awful," she accused him.
George shrugged smugly – then frowned as it dislodged his perfect blanket placement. "All in a day's work," he remarked blithely without looking up.
The hot chocolate settled within her as Hermione watched with a strange complacency – and soon she found that her eyelids were becoming heavy again. With a deep lethargy, she lost herself in a warm and very welcoming blackness.
"Wake up, sleepy-head," George's amused voice called. His hand pulled at the covers cruelly.
Hermione contemplated biting at it.
She opened one eye – and soon both were open wide as she saw George Weasley's face mere inches from her own. Hermione squeaked and threw the covers off to immediate laughter from George.
"It's dinner," he said, straightening again. "Aren't you hungry?"
Hermione realized belatedly that she was indeed.
She pulled back the covers to stand, but stopped partway as she realized she was still wearing only a shirt one or two sizes too big for her.
"George," she said, pulling the covers back over herself, "You wouldn't happen to have dried out any of my clothes?"
He blinked – then smiled sheepishly. "Actually, the thought didn't cross my mind," he admitted. "I sort of piled them in a corner."
Hermione thought about the situation for a few seconds before realizing George had probably had more important things on his mind when the decision to throw the clothes all together had first come up.
"Well," she sighed. "There's no help for it. Do you have anything else I might borrow that wouldn't look too out of place on me?" It had crossed her mind that she might run into her dormitory for some clothes, but not only did the thought of potentially bursting in on Parvati or Lavender in George's shirt not appeal to her… but if she admitted it to herself, she rather liked whatever cologne he was using. After such a frightening situation, she decided she just might try to give into a few fun impulses more often.
Oh…and Ron and Harry's reactions…
The idea sent a warm little thrill through her. She wasn't the vengeful sort (okay, perhaps she rather was) but it was their fault they kept forgetting about her on holidays and going off with girls. Perhaps it was their turn to start worrying.
Well. It was mostly the cologne, she admitted to herself.
Some old slacks flew past her head to hit the headboard while a blue knitted sweater scored a direct hit on her face.
"Thanks," she grumbled.
George only partially stifled his laugh. "No problem."
"Water accident" was the first thing out of her mouth at Ron and Harry's gaping expressions.
George, behind her, snickered. "Come now, Hermione," he said airily, "you don't want them to know about our cozy, clandestine relationship?"
This was actually a lot less fun than she'd thought it would be.
Hermione turned about to glare at him. "No, George, I wouldn't want them to know even if there were a cozy, clandestine relationship!"
He gasped. "Hermione!" he said. "You've just admitted-"
It was at this point that Harry and Ron, sitting quietly at one of the empty house tables, decided that George was full of something or other.
"What happened, Hermione?" Harry asked, shifting his attention.
"Water accident," she gritted through her teeth, her eyes boring a hole into George's face.
"You didn't!" Ron gaped, staring at George.
There was a slight pause as both George and Hermione attempted to figure out what exactly he was implying. George, used to this sort of thing, came to the right conclusion first.
"Well what do you think?" George chuckled, looking back at Ron and drawing attention away from Hermione's stunned look.
"I think you hit her with a few water balloons is what you did," Harry put in flatly. "Did you not even think that might be dangerous on a cold day-" Ron glared at him and Hermione opened her mouth to contradict them-
"Might be," George agreed.
Hermione turned back to gape at him again, amazed at the fact that he could lie so calmly in the face of the two boys. But then… he hadn't actually spoken a lie yet.
George grinned at her.
She decided to forgive him.
"Yes, well…" she murmured, feeling suddenly abashed, "it's nothing big. I'm fine, obviously…"
Ron grabbed her by the arm and shot an unmistakable look at his brother. It spelled an attempt at vengeance. Harry sighed and turned about, helping him pull her to the table. Hermione tried to catch a glimpse of George over their heads, but found she was too short.
Ron sat her down quite firmly. "You're probably hungry…"
Hermione didn't get a chance to talk to George until very late that night. But when she went down the stairs to the common room, she had a strange feeling she'd find him there.
She was right. George was waiting quite patiently for her in the chair beside the fire, fiddling with a chess piece he'd found in a pudding.
"Why on earth did you do that?" she hissed, stamping over to sit down in another chair. "They'll make mince meat out of you!"
George shot her an amused look, as though to ask if she were quite serious.
"I'm older and wiser and I've got a twin to avenge me if I don't make it. Somehow I doubt Ron will try anything."
Hermione sighed. "But why did you do it?"
George made a face. "You think me telling them you'd had a near-death experience wouldn't make things bad?" He twirled the king piece between his fingers. "Besides, you wanted them to pay more attention to you. Nothing like being attacked by a terrible twin to get it."
Hermione caught first the ironic pitch and secondly the words. "You're not – wait, how did you know-"
George looked slightly irritated now. "Just that you kept tailing after them like a puppy, looking for scraps of attention." He sat up suddenly, looking into the fire. "Oh Harry!" he said in a high pitched voice, "would you like to go out today? It snowed last night, you know!"
Hermione gaped at him, feeling both humiliated and hurt at the same time. "I'm his friend, you dolt!" she said. "That's the kind of things friends do!"
George snorted, though, and ignored her.
"If you don't like the way I act, then why did you do it?" she asked frustratedly. Nothing George had done today made sense, excepting perhaps the part where he saved her… and well, she didn't even know why he was out at five thirty in the morning either.
He slumped back into the chair again, looking thoroughly miserable with himself. Hermione immediately felt sorry for him even though she still had no idea what it was that was bothering him.
"You're not a puppy," he murmured, so quietly she almost didn't catch it. "And you really ought to find some friends who care about you more. But I guess that's no reason to get mad with you… everyone wants attention, after all."
Thoroughly confused now, Hermione rubbed at her temples. "You're not acting like yourself," she told him.
George rolled his eyes, twirling the king again. "I am me, so I am acting like myself. Anyway, why's it so hard to believe I might have some kind of opinion on something other than pranks and being an all-around pain in the butt to the teachers?"
Hermione glared at him for being so unreasonable. "I never said that, George," she told him frustratedly. "You're just really confusing me is all. You've never said a word on any of these things. I didn't even think you noticed!"
"Noticed what?" he said loudly, shooting up out of his seat, "that you won't take me seriously?"
"No!" Hermione responded angrily, also getting up, "That you even knew I existed!"
There was a pause, during which time Hermione realized that George was inches away from her.
"Um…" she managed, suddenly losing her train of thought. "…oh."
George blinked. Hermione decided he had rather pretty eyes.
Neither could quite say later who started it – it was a moot point anyway. A moment later, their lips were touching, barely, and everything clicked together.
George pulled back first, quickly, looking incredibly embarrassed – his face was almost as red as Ron's ears when he was trying to lie.
He cleared his throat. "Um… right," George muttered, unable to look at her. "Perhaps… perhaps we ought to continue this discussion later."
Hermione nodded slowly, bewildered. A moment later, though, she gasped and shook her head. "No wait, George – I – I still have your present to give you!"
He blinked, then sat down almost mechanically. "All right then," he murmured, shaking his head in confusion.
Hermione pulled the tiny package from under the tree and held it out to him. He snatched it from her as though she might whip out her wand and jinx him if he so much as touched her.
George stared at the perfect wrapping for a moment as though wondering what to do with the thing. Then, slowly, he pulled it apart.
An intricate silver cloak clasp shone in the firelight, a lion rampant on a field. His name was etched on the back.
"Think I'll forget my name?" he asked sardonically, though there was no longer any rancor in the words.
"Um, n-no," Hermione muttered, embarrassed. "They offered to add that in for free."
George was still slightly pink – his face seemed to turn a little more so, but it might have been the firelight.
"W-well," he coughed, gathering the package carefully. "I guess it's time for bed, isn't it?"
"I guess it is," Hermione said.
They both ignored the fact that 'time for bed' had been over four hours ago.
The two split at the two staircases, refusing to look at one another. Hermione turned back at her door on a sudden thought.
"Goodnight, George," she called down.
She thought she heard an answer, but she might have been mistaken.
Hermione thought the next morning that she wouldn't be seeing George again for a while after such a strange episode. But she was wrong.
"So the beater hit the bludger at him just before he scored-" Ron was telling Harry enthusiastically, the two walking ahead of her down the halls.
"Wait, isn't that a foul, though?" Harry asked, confused.
"No, no, not in this case; see, they were far enough away from the goal-"
She blinked. Someone had said her name, just then.
"But it clearly states in section C of the rules-"
No. She'd probably been imagining it. Hermione went back to her book and tried again to tune out the boring conversation.
Okay, certainly that time.
She looked up from her book – then blinked as she found herself once again face-to-face with someone familiar.
George grinned and hefted something over his shoulder. It was a pair of white ice skates.
"Like to come with me?" he asked her, and she thought she saw his smile widen at the sudden silence between Harry and Ron.
Hermione opened her mouth to say 'no'. She was staying as far away from ice as possible for the rest of the break, thank you very much, no matter if she had a buddy this time…
…but he was wearing a tiny little cloak clasp with a lion on it.
She gave him a dazzling smile. "Well why not? I'm not doing anything else at the moment."
And then, Harry and Ron watched something amazing happen – something unexpected, stupendous, and truly the embodiment of the idea of Christmas miracles.
Hermione put down her book.
She summoned up her skates and linked arms jovially with him on the way to the lake. "Merry Christmas," he told her with a chuckle. "I'm afraid this is the next best thing to a real Christmas present."
But Hermione suspected otherwise when she later found out that Harry and Ron had mysteriously turned pink with yellow spots.