A/N: Sorry for the short chapter this time around, but it was a good place to pause. Also, warning: Rather "adult" content here. Nothing really racy or lemony, but it's a bit more "mature" than what I usually write, so just know that. Of course, you probably do. This story was never one that was going to end with a joke and a kiss, right? Anyway, please review. Would love to know you're still out there.

With the smallest of "pop"s, George Weasley and Katie Bell appeared suddenly in Diagon Alley. Unlike in Ottery St. Catchpole, where the snow had created deep, silent blankets of white over the countryside, the London snow was thin and wet, melting the instant it touched the cobblestoned ground.

Katie swayed momentarily—she had never favored side-along apparition—but George caught her and put his arm around her shoulder.

"Are you alright?" He gazed down at her from his great height with a look that—while still seemingly inscrutable—appeared more assured than the one he had worn at the Burrow. It helped Katie to nod her head, even if the gesture was slightly incongruous with her mood.

"Okay," George said. "Come on then."

He gave her shoulders a squeeze and then trailed his hand lightly across her back before taking her hand in his. In her gray woolen mittens, Katie felt more like a child George was leading out of the cold than a woman he had just kissed—twice—and then brought home.

And was this, she wondered, what it was like the come home with the infamous George Weasley? She had always imagined him more manic, more excitable and high-spirited, than the calm and self-assured young man that was now leading her up the stairs to their flat. This dichotomy cast him in a quite attractive light and Katie found herself wishing she was not wearing a pea coat and a thick knitted sweater, but something perhaps thinner and tighter.

She tried to shake her head clear of these thoughts, wishing for the old George to make an appearance—the one who looked at her with eyes full of guilt and vulnerability. She could handle that George. It was difficult, but entirely within the realm of possibility. This was just…

But hadn't she been the one to suggest they come back here? Hadn't she known, at least on some level, that this is what would happen?

Angelina's voice, which had been chirping away unheeded about physical dependency mere months before, echoed in the back of her mind as George undid the magically-enforced locks to the flat and let her in.

It was cold in here—a product of the place's emptiness—and seemed hollow, somehow, and sad despite the Christmas tree in the corner. Katie shivered.

"You're cold?" George asked, and again she nodded.

"I'll light a fire."

As he did so, Katie wandered to the large bay window looking over London's most famous all-wizarding street. There was no one about; not that that was surprising. Diagon Alley was primarily commercial and the shop owners would almost all be at home somewhere in the countryside, enjoying their friends and family. Not here. Not in this place.

Absentmindedly, Katie turned toward her tree, pulled out her wand, and muttered a spell that made the tiny lights glow. The room felt slightly more cheerful now, and she felt marginally less like a stranger here.

"Pretty," George remarked. He had come back from the hearth, where a fire was now crackling comfortably. He had removed and hung up his coat, and now stood by her with his hands in his pockets.

He was clearly waiting for Katie to make the next move, perhaps unsure of why she'd wanted to get away and be alone together. Despite this, Katie could see on his face that he wanted to kiss her again, and was grappling with the appropriateness of such a desire.

She hesitated, trembling a moment, before sinking down onto the nearest bed, which happened to be Lee's. She felt paralyzed with indecision, her body and her head crying out for two different things. She longed for the safety of childhood again—of Christmases spent entirely with family, only fleeting thoughts about boys, and other people in charge. She had always yearned for freedom, and now resented it.

After a few moments of saying nothing, George crossed the short distance between the tree and the bed and sat down beside her.

"Hey," he said in a lowered voice, as if he was afraid of being overheard by people who were not present. "We don't have to—we can just talk. About what happened. If you want."

And he meant it too, Katie knew. That was the best thing about George—he didn't press the issue with you. She could tell him she wanted to go straight to bed without speaking another word to him and he'd accept it without holding any ill will toward her. And then, once she'd fallen asleep, he would probably watch over her for a while to make sure she didn't have any nightmares before retreating to bed himself—the way he had been watching out for her for months now. Years, probably. It was something she had only newly recognized—a new perspective gained with a kiss.

The thought made tears spring to her eyes as she stared at her knees and contemplated the fork in the road in their relationship that lay before them.

"Hey," George said again. "Are you al—"

"I don't want to talk," Katie interrupted, speaking for the first time since they had disapparated from the Burrow. She blinked back her tears and placed her hand gently on his knee, sliding it slowly upward.

"Will you help me off with my coat?" she whispered in a voice that was barely audible.


The first time Katie and Fred had slept together, they were sixth years. After reconciling at the Yule Ball, while Alicia was fighting off advances from her ghastly Durmstrang date, while Angelina was crying alone in her dorm room, and while George was confessing something to Lee that he had sworn he would never, ever tell another soul, the pair of them had run briskly up to the Astronomy Tower. No one was there; no one would have wanted to be there, in a frigidly cold stone tower while there was life and love and buzz below.

Fred had wanted to take her to the Room of Requirement—a place she would come to know by name the following year as they met together with the group called Dumbledore's Army. Katie, however, had wanted their first time to be completely authentic—unaided by magic. She had wanted to be under the stars.

They had talked about previously, of course, for what seemed like years. To Fred, it was. He had started thinking about it as a fourth year, verbalizing it as a fifth year, and asking Katie when she would be ready a few months before they had had their massive falling out. Unbeknownst to the others, this issue was one of the many reasons Katie and Fred had broken up earlier that school year.

Katie loved Fred. She knew she did. She also knew she wanted him to be her first. She just wasn't quite ready.

He had never bothered her about it or held it against her when they fought, but she could see it lying in the undercurrent of their endless arguments that year. He was frustrated and couldn't quite understand why she wasn't on the same page with him.

She had tried several times—told him she was ready, only to retreat when it came down to it. She trembled and cried and he held her and promised her he could be patient.

"I love you, don't I?" he had said one of these times. "When doesn't matter. It's with who."

And yet in every instance she knew he was disappointed and she felt embarrassed that she should be so childish when he was ready to move on. She hadn't known what she was waiting for until that Christmas Eve.

"Are you ready?" Fred had asked her for the dozenth time. "Are you sure?"

"Ready," she responded, kissing him fully on the mouth. "Sure."

And yet they hadn't managed it—not right away at least. When it came down to it, Fred had been just as nervous as she had. They trembled almost uncontrollably, afraid but anxious. After two or three false starts, they had sunk back into each other, just talking until the first signs of dawn began to appear through the tower window.

Now fully calm and quite, quite sure, Fred had kissed her gently and they moved from there. At that moment, Katie knew—really knew—that she loved Fred Weasley. It was a fierce, fast, forever kind of love, and she knew she would never feel it again with another person. Not ever.


George had heard Katie's request, but wasn't moving. Deciding that he was perhaps still unsure if she meant it, she stood up and turned around to face the window, waiting. After a moment, George followed her and placed his hands gently on her shoulders. She heard him swallow with a "click" in his throat before he moved his hands slowly over her shoulders and began undoing the brass buttons on her bright red coat.

She could feel his breath lightly on her neck as he worked his way down. It made her shiver. Once the coat was unfastened, George pulled it off her shoulders and let it fall to the floor with a muffled thud of fabric. The only other sounds were the crackle of the fire and their matched, quick breathing.

After several seconds, she began bracing herself to turn around and face him, when she felt his lips press against her neck. He kissed her softly, leaving a trail of kisses up and down her shoulders and in the crook of her neck. Her knees felt like they had turned to jelly. No other part of him touched her.

Feeling she would soon be unable to keep standing, Katie turned and kissed him full on the mouth, hands moving up to his now rather messy ginger hair. His tongue pressed past her lips and she pressed up against him more firmly. As her thumb brushed near the hole where his ear had been, she suddenly remembered something and stopped.

"I haven't given you your Christmas present yet," she whispered. "I'd forgotten."

George shook his head. "This is it," he said in a guttural tone, suddenly scooping her up off her feet and crossing the room to where his bed stood. He laid her down carefully, eyes searching hers momentarily before kissing her firmly and climbing over her.

Hands now fumbled for clothing, pulling and unbuttoning until he was shirtless and she was clad only in her bra and jeans. He now kissed her softly in the crook of her neck and reached around her, very gently undoing the clasps to her bra. It was gone in a whisper.

George lifted his head and gazed down at her, his eyes wide but calm.

"You're perfect," he whispered, before pressing himself against her and kissing her again.

As his head drifted, burrowing into her neck and shoulders, Katie encircled her arms around his surprisingly broad back and tried to remember to breathe. Flashes of something were beginning to come to her, unconnected at first, before slowly joining together to create a full picture. She felt unreasonably cold despite the fire and the closeness of George's body. She seemed to recall the texture of stone and the early morning rays of the sun. Yet, here, the sleet still continued to fall, hitting the window and streaming down in clear rivulets.

She began to lose her breath now and as George's hands wandered, his thumb now tucked into the waistband of her jeans, she jerked a little.

George, oh George, this is wrong, her mind cried, as he looked up into her face, checking to see what had disturbed her. Can't you see that? What are we doing here? This is you, and this is me. Angelina was right, we should have never, ever—I can't do this. I could never do this again, after…after—


The last word escaped her lips without her knowledge. She tried to bite it back, but its effect was immediate. George recoiled, horrorstruck. She may as well have slapped him across the face. The calmness and surety melted off his face in an instant, replaced with anguish, mortification, and the deepest hurt.

Before she could say another word, he leapt up, scooped up his sweater and pulled it over his head as he nearly ran to the door.

"George," Katie cried as soon as she found that she had recovered her voice. "George, I didn't mean—"

But it was too late. George had slammed the door shut and, for the second time in two days, disappeared into a thick whirl of swirling snow and freezing temperatures.

The moment he was gone, Katie burst into tears.