"I said, 'I've got to be honest, I've been waiting for you all my life.' For so long I thought I was asylum bound, but just seeing you makes me think twice. And being with you here makes me sane; I fear I'll go crazy if you leave my side." -- Dashboard Confessional, "As Lovers Go"
"I hardly even know what happened, Gin. Let alone how to fix it." Hermione looked at her friend miserably. "I wanted to tell him that I was moving past what I did to Ron, but he thought...I don't know, I suppose he thought I was about to say I still loved Ron."
Ginny pushed a cup of tea across the counter, sympathy writ large on her face. "You have to talk to him, Hermione. I know he's been a right git, but he's too thick to ever realize that he might've made a mistake." She rolled her eyes. "Honestly, I love my brothers, but sometimes..."
With a half-hearted laugh, Hermione said, "Talking to him sounds fantastic in theory, but I have no idea what I'd say."
"I tried that." Hermione snorted disparagingly. "Anyway, I'm not even sure what the truth is."
"The truth is," Ginny supplied, "that the pair of you are losing it. One of you has to just say something before you end up in St. Mungo's."
Laughing more genuinely, Hermione replied, "I think I may belong there already."
"Well, I won't argue with that." Ginny offered her friend a comforting smile. "I really think you just need to tell him exactly how you feel. Don't mince words. Corner him; get him alone somewhere and don't let him interrupt you." She reached over and patted Hermione's hand. "He'll listen to you."
Taking a sip of her tea, Hermione said, "I won't be surprised if he runs at the first sight of me. Now he knows for sure that I've got all this baggage."
"Hermione." Ginny fixed her with a steady, direct look. "We've all got baggage. You just have to live with dragging it around. You're a young, beautiful, intelligent, funny woman, and there's no reason for you to be wallowing in self-pity."
She snorted again. "This is a nice tactic to make me feel better."
Ginny shrugged and, with a giggle, replied, "It's working, isn't it?"
"Surprisingly, yes. Though I'm not overly fond of the word "wallowing," so that probably has something to do with it. I hate to have it applied to me." Hermione was interrupted by the chiming of the doorbell.
Ginny raised her eyebrows and responded to Hermione's questioning look, "I've no idea who it is."
She went to answer the door and Hermione stiffened when she heard the voice that greeted her. In a second, the visitor had come into the kitchen, a wide grin on his face. But when his eyes fell on Hermione, perched on a stool, mug half-raised to her lips, he stopped. His smile faltered a little.
"Hi, Ron," Hermione said quietly.
Ron ducked his head for a second, but when he looked back at her, the smile had returned to his face. "Hey," he replied. "How are you?"
Ginny appeared behind Ron then, looking anxious, but Hermione met her eyes and gave her a reassuring look. This was something she needed to do, she realized. Something she probably should have done a long time ago. "I'm good," she answered Ron. "You?"
"All right," he replied. "Ginny," he said, turning to look at his sister, "you should have told me I was barging into the middle of something."
"No, it's okay," Hermione said. "Ginny was just giving me advice. But I think I know what to do now."
"Oh, about George?"
Hermione shot the two Weasleys a disgruntled look. "Does everyone know about my private life?"
Ron sat down on the stool across from Hermione, ignoring Ginny's complaints that he'd just taken her seat. "Yes. Some of it, at least."
Watching him dubiously, Hermione asked, "And this doesn't bother you?"
He met her eyes and Hermione remembered the pain that had been in them last time they'd seen each other. There was none now, just a hint of an old sadness. "You seem like you want it to."
"No. I just...I suppose I think it should." Hermione shifted her gaze away from his. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Ginny quietly making her way out of the room. "I'm not complaining if it doesn't, though."
With a chuckle, Ron said, "Y'know, I won't pretend that it's not a bit...well, weird, thinking about the two of you together. But I'd like to be friends and making a fuss about your love life isn't exactly going to endear you to me."
"No, it probably wouldn't, at that," Hermione agreed, giving him a shy smile.
He held out his hand to her. "Friends, then?"
Without hesitating, she shook it. "Friends."
And though the last thing she had ever expected to do that day was reconcile with Ron, they, with Ginny, spent the entire afternoon talking. By that evening, when she returned home, she felt that she and Ron would be able to salvage their friendship.
She'd also resolved to herself that tomorrow, she would be speaking with George, even if he didn't want to hear what she had to say.
Hermione was the last customer into Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes the next day. She'd left her office five minutes early to be able to slip into the shop just before it closed its doors for the night. For a few minutes, she lurked down an aisle, listening to George tending to the last few people at the till, and then, when he shut the door, she ducked out into the open where he could see her.
"Hi," she said.
For just a split second, he looked overjoyed to see her, and she felt her heart swell happily. But then a guarded expression replaced the delight, and he replied, "Hi."
Hermione took a step towards him. "George, I'm not in love with Ron. So if that's what you've been thinking, you can stop."
His eyes, which had been wandering about the shop, snapped to meet hers. A little hope crept into them, and his voice, as he asked, "You're not?"
"No," she replied firmly.
"But then...what were you going to say? The other day?"
She walked over to the counter and leaned against it, crossing her arms over her chest. "That I had issues about Ron for a long time and that I needed to forgive myself for hurting him. And that I finally have, so I can move on. Because I don't think I could have had any kind of healthy relationship otherwise."
George was just staring at her, apparently at a total loss for what to say. "Then," he began, fumbling a little for words, "er...does that mean that you're...ready for a relationship with someone who's...not Ron?"
She smiled a little. "That's what it means."
In response, George's face split into a wide grin, and he said, "I'd love nothing more than to continue this conversation, but I really do need to clean up the shop. Hang around 'til I'm done?"
"I'll help," Hermione offered brightly.
He made a slight gesture, as if to touch her, but restrained himself. "That's nice of you."
"Well, if it'll get things done faster, I'm happy to do it."
Within fifteen minutes, the shop was almost completely straightened up. Hermione was just putting one last box of Canary Creams on a shelf when she accidentally knocked another box over, which tipped and sent some thick, foul, incredibly odorous liquid over her head.
When George saw her, his mouth twitched in what looked suspiciously like an attempt to keep from laughing. "I guess someone left a bottle of Stinksap unscrewed," he commented idly. As she made several unsuccessful attempts to clean it off herself, he said, "No, don't bother, it won't come off that way."
She gave him a horrified look through the dripping liquid. "Then how does it come off? It does come off, right?" Leave it to the Weasley twins to create a form of Stinksap that wasn't removable.
At this, George burst out laughing. "Yeah, we've got towels that will take it off right away. Otherwise you can wait a couple hours for it to come off by itself." When the horrified look didn't leave her face, he laughed again and said, "Follow me."
Feeling that she may not have the talk with George that she'd wanted to if she smelled like manure, she grudgingly followed him into the shop's stock room. Still laughing, George pulled a towel out of a box and started wiping at the Stinksap. To Hermione's immense relief, it removed all traces of the foul stuff. She'd have to ask him what they'd done, both to the Stinksap and the towels.
George toweled off her hair and wiped a lingering bit of sap from her cheek, then grinned crookedly at her. Pointing to her now very messy hair, he commented, "This is a good look for you."
"Oh, I'm sure it is," she said sarcastically.
"At least you're not covered in Stinksap anymore." He couldn't seem to resist one more guffaw at the thought. "I'm not sure that would really catch on as a fashion choice."
She smiled at him, realizing at the same time that they were standing very close to each other. George appeared to have noticed the same thing, because he carefully set the towel aside without taking his eyes off her.
"So," he said.
"So," she replied evenly.
"About that conversation we were having," he began, his eyes warmly resting on her face. When he didn't go on, Hermione raised her eyebrows questioningly, but all he did was smile a bit slyly.
Then, without warning, he leaned down and kissed her gently. Hermione felt as though she might faint. Or float away. Or stand there forever just like they were standing now.
George pulled away with a deep breath and a sheepish smile. "I was going to let you do that first."
She had just enough presence of mind to ask, "What? Why?"
"Well." He snorted, looking a bit embarrassed. "I've had no clue this whole time if you were interested in me. Thought that would be a good way to find out." He quirked an eyebrow. "Pretty dense, eh?"
One corner of Hermione's mouth curved upwards. "No denser than me."
Hesitantly, he reached out and touched her face, tracing the line of her jaw. Her pulse quickened at his touch and she knew she was grinning like an idiot, but she didn't care. For his part, George looked like he couldn't quite believe what was happening. And though the feel of his hand on her face was quite nice, she thought she wouldn't mind having it other places as well.
Determinedly, she moved forward and slid her arms around George's neck. Her lips met his, his hands quickly were at her back, holding her close, and the two of them spent some time making up for months of repressed feelings.
At some later point (Hermione had lost all concept of time), George reluctantly broke their kiss and looked into her eyes. "I have to tell you something." Hermione invited him to go on with a small nod, since she didn't really trust herself to speak. "Okay, if this isn't what you want to hear, I give you full permission to upend a bottle of Stinksap over my head." She laughed and he said in a more serious tone, holding her gaze all the while with those warm eyes of his, "I never would have imagined in a million years that...that I would actually be with someone like you. I mean," and here he flashed her that lopsided grin that she loved so much, "witty and charming as I am, I...well, there just was never anybody."
"Never anybody?" she repeated, not sure what to make of that.
"Yeah." He hesitated. "No one that made me feel like...I'd maybe go crazy if I couldn't be near her." Hermione's breath caught in her throat, anticipating his next words but hardly daring to hope that she could be right.
"I love you."
Hermione looked into his eyes, feeling herself to be, probably, the luckiest woman on the planet. "I love you too."
This clearly made him quite happy, if the expression on his face was any indication. He started to lean in to kiss her again, then stopped at the last second. "So does this mean," he began, "that I've met all the criteria on your list?"
She laughed. "You know, George, you made me forget all about my list."
"Well, I'll still buy flowers for you."
With that, he pulled her tightly to him again and kissed her deeply. Hermione twisted her fingers in his hair and held him, realizing, with an inward smile, that Ginny had been right all those months ago when she'd set up that blind date. Hermione had found the love of her life that night, without wanting to, without the aid of lists, and without looking. And she couldn't have imagined a better ending. Or, rather, beginning.