Disclaimer: "Harry Potter" isn't mine.
"You say too late to start, got your heart in a headlock" - Imogen Heap, "Headlock"
"Now, Hermione, you know you're like a sister to me, right?"
"Oh no. I'm not going to like this, am I?"
Ginny Potter laughed at the response. "Probably not, but only because you're so stubborn."
"This is sounding better and better." Hermione Granger glanced over her shoulder at Ginny's husband, who had been hovering around the edge of their conversation in the Potters' living room. "Harry, whatever she did, why didn't you stop her?"
Raising his eyebrows, Harry Potter said, "You're joking, right? I learned long ago that there's no point in trying to stop her when she gets in one of these moods."
"Ha ha," Ginny said sarcastically, though she shot her husband a bright smile. "Anyway, Hermione, remember that friend of mine I told you about a few weeks ago?"
"Julius? Just moved to London?"
"Oh." Hermione sighed. "Yes, I do remember that conversation. But Ginny, I..."
Ginny's face grew determined. "Look, I asked him if he'd like to meet you, and he said yes." Hermione buried her face in her hands and Ginny went on hurriedly, "He's really nice, I'm sure you'll like him. So I asked him if he's free this Saturday, since you mentioned you aren't doing anything --"
"So you're having dinner with him at that new Italian restaurant in Diagon Alley!" Ginny finished triumphantly.
For a second, Hermione just gave her friend an exasperated stare. She may call herself "Potter" now, but Ginny still had that Weasley trait of thinking she knew what was best for everyone around her. "You know that I'd rather deal with dating my own way." Or, she mused, not at all.
"I thought you could use a little help."
Harry snorted. "Tell her the other part."
"Oh good lord, there's another part?"
Ignoring Hermione's wail, Ginny said, "Oh, right. Since George also has trouble meeting people, I set him up too, so it'll be a double-date!"
"You didn't," Hermione gasped, horrified at the thought of two people reporting back to Ginny about this impending disaster. "Anyway, I thought George was seeing someone? Didn't you tell me that?"
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Was seeing someone," she replied. "Quite awhile ago. But they split up, and not for any good reason, as far as I could tell."
"George just was looking for something more," Harry offered. "He doesn't want to settle."
"He told you that?" Ginny asked curiously.
"He did." Harry shrugged at the bemused looks on the women's faces. "Just one of those times when we drank more Firewhiskey than was strictly sensible."
"Well, there's no harm in just seeing if he fancies this girl."
Privately, Hermione thought that blind dates always caused harm and that neither she nor Ginny's brother, George, needed any assistance in their love-lives. It was a pity she hadn't known Ginny was planning this, or she would have put a very prompt end to it.
"You should probably play matchmaker with people who appreciate it," Harry remarked.
"No one appreciates it," Hermione grumbled.
"But you'll go?" Ginny asked. "Just give him one chance, please?"
Hermione sighed. "Yes, fine. But when it turns out to be a fiasco, don't say I didn't warn you."
Ginny crossed her eyes and stuck out her tongue, which elicited a giggle from Hermione. "And when you find the love of your life, don't bother stopping me saying 'I told you so'."
This was an inherently bad idea. Hermione didn't know why she'd let Ginny talk her into it, other than the fact that she knew the young woman really did mean well. And she'd never done this before, after all. Sighing and checking her watch, Hermione hoped she'd never do it again. The worst part of it wasn't even the fact that it was a blind date. No, the worst part was the fact that George Weasley would be there. She hadn't seen a single member of the Weasley family -- besides Ginny -- for a good three years, and there was a reason for that. At best he would just ignore her. At worst...well, hopefully it wouldn't come to a physical altercation.
She wasn't really sure why she was so opposed to the idea of being set up. Some people enjoyed it, didn't they? It was an opportunity to meet someone new, and there really were no guarantees that they wouldn't get along. On the other hand, Hermione had had exactly one serious relationship. She didn't even know if she was ready to date anyone else, even though it had been years since that had ended. And there really was something that bothered her about having never seen this man before. With no chance to study him beforehand, how in the world would she know how to act?
There was a loud pop, breaking Hermione's reverie and causing her to jump. A red-headed, freckly man appeared next to her. He glanced around and looked relieved not to see anyone. Then his eyes fell on her. Hermione gulped. Maybe she shouldn't have gotten to Diagon Alley so early. Maybe showing up late would have been better. She could have snuck into the restaurant, sat down mid-conversation, and not worried about being alone with anyone. Or better yet, maybe she shouldn't have come at all.
But to her great surprise, the man's face broke into a wide grin. "Hermione! I'm so glad to see you here."
"What?" she said stupidly.
George Weasley looked very amused. "I was afraid I'd get here and find my...er...date. But I beat them both, so now we have time to formulate a plan." Hermione gaped at him and George quirked an eyebrow in response. "Surely you didn't think I appreciated my sister's meddling?"
Finally, Hermione found her voice. "It's not that," she said.
"I just --"
At that moment, two people -- a man and a woman -- strolled up to them. "You must be George!" the woman, who was petite and very pretty, Hermione couldn't help noticing, exclaimed. "Ginny's told me so much about you! I'm Fiona."
Hermione eyed the man she assumed was her date. He was tall, thin, sandy-haired, and not really bad looking, she admitted to herself grudgingly.
"Julius," he introduced himself, offering his hand.
"Hermione," she said, shaking his hand.
"Normally I don't let myself get talked into these kinds of things," Julius said to her with a slight smile. "But, well, you know Ginny. She's --"
"Persistent," Hermione finished.
"Exactly." The two of the smiled at each other, and Hermione allowed herself to consider the possibility that this evening wouldn't be so bad after all. Her date was turning out to be perfectly nice, and George didn't seem to be holding any grudges against her.
"Well, shall we go in?" Fiona asked brightly.
George shot Hermione a pained look and she stifled a snort. Really, if he hadn't managed to get out of this then she'd never stood a chance against Ginny.
Once they'd been seated at their table and ordered drinks (Hermione contented herself with just water), Julius asked, "So, Hermione, Ginny tells me you work at the Ministry. What do you do there?"
"Oh, I work in the Muggle Relations office," she replied.
"Really? You enjoy that?"
She felt herself bristling slightly at his tone. Unreasonable, she reminded herself. Plenty of people didn't think it sounded particularly exciting, especially if they recognized her name in connection with Harry Potter's. Somehow it was expected that she'd be in a more exciting field. "I'm Muggle-born," she responded in a somewhat flat tone. "Sometimes the magical community shows a lack of understanding in dealing with Muggles, and I wanted to help change that."
"I totally agree with you, Hermione," Fiona said. Hermione tried not to let the surprise register on her face. "I've always thought that we're really not that considerate when it comes to Muggle parents, for example. Surely your parents must have been confused when they brought you to Diagon Alley? I mean, it must be overwhelming! And everything takes so long when you're stuck behind a Muggle in a queue. They can never sort out our money." She glanced at George, sitting next to her, who only gave her a chilly look. "I never go into Muggle London for just that reason," she finished a little lamely.
There was an awkward silence around the table for a moment before Julius asked, "What do you do there, Hermione? Is it a lot of paperwork?"
"Any job at the Ministry's bound to be a lot of paperwork," George muttered.
Hermione caught his eye for a moment. "There's plenty, but I've had plenty of opportunities to contribute to policy making."
Julius gave her a smile that she couldn't help but find somewhat patronizing. "It's a good thing there are passionate people like you working in the Ministry."
There was another long pause, after which Fiona began, "George, I've been telling Ginny for awhile that I think your products are the funniest things!"
"Wouldn't sell if they weren't, would they?" He looked slightly abashed at his tone and added, "Thanks, though. What do you do? Ginny was very...mysterious." It looked as though he was thinking of a different adjective.
"I'm an editor at the Daily Prophet. Julius and I work together."
"Maybe we'll run a story about your department at the Ministry," Julius remarked to Hermione. "I do a lot of human interest stories."
George, who was sipping at his drink at that moment, choked and spent the next minute with his eyes watering, trying not to cough. When he'd recovered sufficiently, he said in an overly chipper tone, "Hermione, that would be nice, don't you think? You could do an interview; maybe a photo-shoot too!"
"We normally don't take many pictures for those stories," Fiona said seriously.
Hermione nearly giggled, but instead she forced her face into a neutral look and asked George, "How's business, anyway?"
He looked happy at the chance to talk to her directly. "Excellent. We're opening another branch, did you know?"
"Dublin," he told her, a note of pride in his voice. "Our first international shop. The paperwork's been a nightmare, but I think it'll be worth it. We're thinking of hiring on a couple of people from Ireland, just so we can tailor products to the area."
"Wow, congratulations!" she said feelingly.
"I adore Ireland," Fiona broke in. "Have you spent much time there, George?"
"Not much. I've just been there on business."
"You should take some time for a holiday there," she glowed. "It's such a wonderful country. So quaint!"
A muscle in George's cheek twitched. "I'll remember that."
Thankfully, at that moment their food came, so Hermione was able to eat rather than converse. She was relieved when Fiona and Julius began an animated conversation (about something work related, so she didn't feel at all obligated to join in).
"So," George began, looking at her, "Fred and Angelina were excited to hear I'd be seeing you."
"They were?" Hermione asked with some surprise.
"Yes. They ask after you frequently." After a moment, he added, "I do, too."
"I'm fine," she said simply. "How are you? And Fred and Angelina?"
"All well. Angelina would like a baby. I keep telling her she's already married to one, so why should she want another?"
Laughing, Hermione decided that even if her date wasn't working out, at least she could enjoy talking with George. The fact that she was enjoying it so much surprised her a little. It wasn't that they hadn't gotten along in the past, but when she was younger she just couldn't approve of so much of what the Weasley twins did. And of course they were older than she was. In a way she'd found them too irresponsible. And, she was forced to concede, she'd thought they weren't as smart as their siblings and that had (unfairly) lowered her opinion of them. It had eventually dawned on her that she'd been quite wrong about that. And if the twins were anything, they certainly weren't irresponsible. Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes was far too successful for that to be the case.
Eventually, dinner was finished, then coffee and dessert. At ten o'clock the four of them stood up and said their good-byes. Fiona and Julius hurried off together, but Hermione and George lingered outside for a moment.
"Will we be hearing wedding bells?" he asked her seriously.
"Not likely." Hermione leaned against a lamppost. "He wasn't exactly what I'm looking for."
"No. Nor was she. Think Ginny will be angry?"
"No. She knows better than to expect me to have success at an an enterprise like this."
George chucked. "That's what I thought, too."
"Fiona bothered you, didn't she?"
"She didn't bother you?" At Hermione's nod, he sighed and replied, "I don't care much for her type."
"I felt the same way about Julius."
"Well, I think they were perfect for each other, so Ginny had one victory tonight," George remarked. Then, with interest, he asked her, "And what does one have to do to make Hermione Granger's short list of acceptable male companions?" When this question drew a blush from her, he said, "What?"
"Nothing," she replied quickly, cursing herself for reacting so vehemently. Now he was sure to keep on about it.
"What?" he pressed.
"Nothing!" she insisted.
"Now, Hermione," he said very solemnly. "You know I have ways of making you talk."
And even though she knew that he'd only laugh and tease her, even though three hours ago the mere thought of speaking to this man had twisted her stomach into tight knots, she told him, "I have a list."
His look was blank. "A list?"
"A list of qualities a man has to have if I'm going to see him. Romantically."
George stared at her, a grin slowly forming on his face. "You don't."
"I do," she said with all the dignity she could muster.
Instead of laughing, George leaned towards her and asked, "So what's number one?"
She couldn't help but smile. "It's not really like that."
"Okay, then tell me what it's like. D'you want to sit down somewhere, by the way?"
"Sure." As they walked to a bench, Hermione said, "You really want to know what's on my list? It's silly, really."
"Yes, I want to know. Would I have asked otherwise?"
After hesitating a moment, Hermione said reluctantly, "All right. He has to bring me flowers, for one."
"All the time?" George probed.
Laughing, Hermione said, "Why?"
"I'm just trying to understand," he said, still serious. "It's for a human interest story I'm doing, you see --"
She snorted in undignified amusement, drawing a grin from him. Then, she replied, "No, not all the time." She thought for a moment. "When it's apparent that it's more than just a bit of fun. And after we argue."
"Even if it's your fault?"
"Especially if it's your fault, I'd imagine," George mused, drawing a smirk from her. "All right, what else?"
"He has to be my intellectual equal."
"Well, that's me ruled out, then," George sighed.
"Very funny," Hermione said. "Would you like me to go on?"
"I need to be with someone who makes me laugh. I...well, you know. I can be uptight." Suddenly, she felt ridiculous. "I don't know why I'm telling you all this."
"My rugged good looks, maybe?"
"That makes no sense."
"I didn't think that was important."
Hermione smiled at him. "I thought you'd mock me mercilessly."
"I was tempted, but I thought you might never speak to me again," George replied idly. "I wouldn't want that."
Unsure of how to respond to that, Hermione remained silent, and there was a comfortable pause between them, so unlike the pauses in the conversation during the disastrous double date. After a few minutes, George said, "Do you mind if I ask you a question? It's kind of personal."
"Well...all right," Hermione said hesitantly, wondering if she'd regret it.
He met her eyes, this time completely serious. "Why didn't Ron meet the criteria?"
Hermione pressed her lips together and glanced at her lap to avoid his gaze. This was the topic of conversation that she'd been hoping could be avoided. "That was my fault. Ron didn't do anything wrong. You must know all about this, though."
"No, actually. Ron never talked much about it." George hesitated, then added, "You don't need to tell me; I didn't want to make you uncomfortable."
"It's all right. I...actually it might be nice to tell someone." She tucked a couple loose strands of hair behind her ears. "I told Ron I wasn't ready to marry him. And he waited and waited. But I never felt ready, and eventually he stopped waiting. I can't say I blame him." George didn't say anything, for which she was grateful. "I've since realized that I was wrong and he was right. But we've both moved on, so...that's that."
For a minute, George seemed to be weighing his words carefully. Then, cautiously, he asked, "You've never told anyone this?" Hermione shook her head. "Why me? I never thought I invited confidences."
"I don't know." She hesitated. "I did think...well, I thought your whole family hated me. I suppose it was such a relief to find out that I was wrong that...I'm spilling my darkest secrets."
"Ah." George quirked an eyebrow at her. "You really thought my family hated you? Hermione, this is a problem."
She smiled despite the fact that this had been a very real fear for years. If she'd only told someone earlier -- why hadn't she just told Ginny? It seemed stupid now. "I should've known better," she finally said.
George nodded in satisfaction. "We'll have to remedy it."
"How, exactly?" Hermione gave him a suspicious look. "You do seem to have matured slightly, but I'm still not sure I completely trust you."
"That is precisely the problem. You're thinking of the George Weasley of our Hogwarts days. You need to familiarize yourself with successful-businessman George."
"Is he all that different?" Hermione asked, raising her eyebrows.
"In all the ways that count."
"And what are those?"
"Well," he quipped, "I normally let people decide that on an individual basis."
Diagon Alley had grown quiet during the time they'd been speaking. Occasionally a burst of sound would come from a pub, but more constant was the cooing of pigeons roosting under eaves. There was a slight mist creeping up the street, adding a chilly dampness to the night. Hermione shivered slightly but didn't mind, particularly. She hadn't enjoyed herself this much in ages.
George noticed the shiver, though, and in a concerned tone said, "I'm sorry, I've kept you hostage here and it's frigid."
"It's okay; I haven't minded."
Their eyes met for a moment and then darted away almost as quickly. Hermione wasn't even sure why, but there was something terrifying about the prospect of looking George in the face right then. Clearing her throat awkwardly, she said, "Maybe I should go, though. It's late and I'm sure you need to get up early tomorrow."
"Oh, yeah, right. I really shouldn't've kept you so long." There almost seemed, for a fleeting instant, to be a look of disappointment in his eyes. But surely she was only imagining it. Even if he didn't think of her as the girl who had broken his brother's heart, she still must be frightfully dull to him.
"Um, George," she said quickly, before he Apparated away. "I'm glad that even if the double date was a fiasco, something went right tonight."
He gave her a lopsided grin. "Yeah. Maybe we can do it again sometime. Only without my sister's choice of company."
"Okay," Hermione replied. "Well...good-night."
"'Night," he said. With that, he Disapparated. Hermione stood there for a few more moments, enjoying the peacefulness of the quiet street, then she did the same.