The next day, Hermione apparates to the Burrow at eleven o'clock exactly and promptly runs up the stairs with her completely free mane flying out behind her. She sneaks past everyone at home; Percy reading on the couch, Molly and Arthur in the kitchen, Ginny in her bedroom and Ron and Harry out the back playing Quidditch. She stops in front of a door on the second floor, far away from Percy's bedroom and the second-floor landing.
She knocks twice, hard, sharp and insistent, expecting no answer. Astonishingly, Hermione hears a loud grunt, thump and a strangled cry as if someone is biting their tongue to keep from swearing. The door opens.
And there is George, in nothing but red flannel sweatpants, his hair long and dishevelled with stubble riddled across his strong chin and his eyes red rimmed. He peers at her. 'Hermione? What're you—?'
She shoves him through the door and right back onto his bed as if she were going to snog him senseless. Hermione tuts at the horrendously untidy room and turns to George who is sitting with his legs open and his mouth agape, sprawled invitingly on the bed, brown eyes wide. 'Oh, shut your mouth, George. I just want to talk.'
Suddenly, his face turns grey and it loses the warm glow of surprise. 'Oh. Talk.'
Hermione does not sit on Fred's completely clean, neat and crisp bed on the other wall as she speaks but on one of the chairs with a white shirt thrown over it. 'Not that kind of talk. I don't think you need or want or can take anymore pity.' She holds it up and peeks around it at George. 'Is this the Irish National mascot?' Hermione asks, studying the little green, smirking leprechaun.
'Yeah,' he says. She grins behind the t-shirt and folds it up in one fluid movement. His voice is bewildered, and that's a good sign.
'I met a fan of yours.'
'I did. She used one of the Time Stoppers on my family.'
He raises an eyebrow then lowers it as if trying not to show his interest. 'She did?'
'She did. I gave her a lecture about it too.' Hermione smirks over at him, something she would not have done three years ago. Hermione, bookworm, confused and socially-inept, is smirking as if she owns the world. Oliver's face pops into her head and his beanie with his ears poking out. She starts to smile, then starts to laugh.
'Hermione?' George calls, astonished at first, but then worried when she does not stop. 'Hermione?'
'I'm,' she coughs, picks up another shirt, 'I'm sorry, George.' She peers closely. It's red this time.
George stares at her and sits up straight with his hands on his knees. He looks at the floor. 'No… don't be sorry. I just haven't heard laughter for ages. I haven't heard you laugh… ever.'
'Well now you have.' Hermione smiles, then her eyes travel downwards and she blushes at his broad chest. She lightly throws him the red t-shirt. 'Put this on, please.'
'Why?' George asks as he catches it, genuinely bewildered.
'I am an eighteen-year-old female and you are a nineteen-year-old male with an exposed chest that is not at all bad to look at. I would not like to get sidetracked, thank you.'
'Oh.' He pulls it over his head and talks while he puts his arms through. 'Why exactly are you here?' She smiles secretly and bends down to pick up another t-shirt. It is red. As she realises what it means that everything in this room comes in twos, Hermione slowly tucks her hair behind her ears with the t-shirt dropped onto her lap. It is soft and scarlet, like blood, like death… 'Hey. Hermione?'
There are so many bits running around inside of us that sometimes it's hard to be 'strong'
…It's okay to be partial.
'Are you broken, George? Partial?'
George sits back against the wall and laughs short and bitter. 'Innit obvious, love?'
She looks up from the bloody t-shirt and leans forward with her face pulled tight into a frown. 'I know what you're going through,' she whispers.
George erupts, yelling and waving his arms hysterically. 'You do not know what I'm going through! No one does! I can hardly breathe, I—"
Hermione cannot afford him yelling. She launches forwards and lands with bent knees in-between his legs, clamping a firm hand on his mouth. 'Shh,' she hisses, 'no one knows I'm here.' They are so close, so very close. Hermione does not feel anything, though, because the Weasleys are like family to her, and this is just a fight between brother and sister. She removes her hand.
'Why not?' George asks, staring hopelessly at her.
She scrambles down next to him and stares at the giant letters reading FRED above the opposite bed. 'Because I can't stand their pity either.' The black, burnt streaks of spells gone awry draw her gaze.
George shifts next to her, bending the mattress so that she has to move her hips to stop herself from falling onto him. 'You didn't lose anyone,' he whispers, 'we did.'
And suddenly, Hermione is laughing again, though it is dark and bleak like the days in April, full of rain and wild weather that did not used to matter because April first seemed like the best day of the year. 'So they say.'
George is silent while he waits for an explanation. Hermione feels like they should be sitting on a wharf somewhere in the dead of night, staring out at the dark water while sharing hopeless stories and a bottle of whisky. She sighs and looks down at her hands. 'My parents. I think I'm dead to them.'
She looks over at him, with his too long flaming red hair ragged and knotted and his skin pale and stubble showing to see his shock displayed freely. 'Why?' he asks.
'I took away a part of their lives, they saw it as betrayal and now they are afraid of me as a witch.' She sighs and reigns in her crying. 'This isn't what I came to say, but the point is, George, your loss of your twin is like my loss of my mother and my father.'
'I don't think it is,' whispers George icily.
'They don't love me anymore.' George is silent but his arm moves against hers. 'I know what you are going through and I know you are partial.'
'I'm nothing without him, Hermione. I am him, in the mirror, in people's heads… even though I'm missing a giant chunk out of my…' Hermione puts her head on his shoulder and lets him take her hand. He breathes shakily. 'But… I'm… less than a half. Dead as dust.'
Hermione puts their hands on his knee. 'I know what can help you. I know where you can get back your life.'
George swallows and his voice cracks. 'How? Where?'
'It worked for me, at least for a time.' She slowly lets go and moves to sit across from him again. There is the sound of running feet on the stairs. They hold their breath and it fades away. 'A girl named Jean. She's your biggest fan.'
A light shines in his eyes, something each of them have gained during the past months. George makes the cycle complete. Hermione smirks. 'Yes, a very devious prankster.'
On Christmas day, Hermione Granger wakes up early, dresses in the dark and reads a Transfiguration book in the kitchen until her mother comes in. She sees her practicing a complicated spell of transfiguring her finger into a claw and frowns, telling her they are going to open presents.
Hermione, unfazed, kisses her mother on the cheek and chirps, 'Happy Christmas, Mum,' in a cheery voice.
She does the same to her father, sitting in his armchair with a cup of tea and a tired smile, and instead of frowning he squeezes her arm and wishes her back. That's progress, she thinks, nodding to herself.
Just as they are about to open the presents, two loud knocks sound on the door. Hermione looks around, wondering if they are expecting anyone but her mother shrugs in her dressing gown and disappears into the kitchen. 'Could you get that, honey?' her father asks.
'Sure, Dad.' Hermione walks through the arch and looks through the peephole in the wooden door. Her heart stops. Sweet Merlin, she thinks, patting her hair and licking her lips. She opens the door.
'Hermione…' Oliver breathes. There is no more beanie, no scarf and no coat and no protection or defence from the icy cold. He wears a dark blue woollen jumper with a high neck that accentuates his broad shoulders and the same dark jeans and boots that make her lick her lips again. 'Happy Christmas,' he mutters distractedly with his hands digging deep into pockets. He shakes his head as if to clear it of cobwebs, or like he wants to bang it on a desk.
She is confused. 'Oliver?'
'Yeah… er…' he rubs the back of his neck. 'I should be with my parents now… and Jean.'
Hermione still does not understand when her father calls out from the sitting room, 'Who is it, Hermione?'
She shoots a glance at Oliver. Both their eyes are wide. 'Er… a friend,' she calls, 'I'll be outside.'
'Come out here,' Oliver mumbles as he takes her hand and pulls her out, holding tightly even after she closes the door. It feels like fire. It should be cold but it is so very hot.
He lets go and ducks his head, as if scolding himself, then looks back.
Then they stare at each other.
'I needed to see you.' Oliver blurts out, flushing and looking earnestly at her.
Hermione laughs, spreads her arms wide. 'Well. Here I am.'
Oliver rubs the back of his neck again. 'I mean… oh bloody hell. I needed to talk to you. I can't stop thinking about you. It's driving me insane.'
Her eyes widen to saucers, seeing him in a new light. 'Oh,' she whispers.
'We're all partial, right? That day, the Lunch, I was many different Olivers… but in the hall… this isn't coming out right.'
She becomes frantic, hoping this is not one of her dreams. 'Go on,' she urges, grasping his arm 'Who were you in the hall?'
He stares at her with the undefinable expression. 'I was Oliver the Brave.'
'Brave?' she laughs, trying not to show how nervous she is, 'and there I was calling you a coward.'
'If I was a coward I wouldn't have even made it out of my door.' She almost falls over and accidentally knocks her elbow on the door. It hurts. She is not dreaming. This is real.
Hermione swallows because her throat is suddenly inexplicably dry. 'Why?'
'You're intimidating,' he whispers, seemingly more confident. Her eyebrows shoot up and she blushes a deep scarlet. 'You have this… presence… and a grace I've seen in only the best and fastest of Chasers… and it doesn't hurt that you are definitely attractive.'
Hermione laughs nervously. 'Attractive? Chaser? Me? Never.'
'You are,' he reaches and tugs on her hand and she cannot breathe or speak or laugh or react anymore as he lowers his voice. 'And I find that endearing… and therefore intimidating.'
Oliver walks forwards, his gaze intent as she squirms and turns and walks backwards, only to hit the traitorous sidewall of the covered entrance at the front of the house. 'I'm only just eighteen,' she tries, looking up at him, 'I'm too young.'
He smiles. 'And I'm only twenty, so it makes little difference.'
'I'm not perfect.'
Oliver stops. 'I'm not going to hurt you,' he tells her.
'I'm not threatened,' Hermione assures him, because she is not threatened by her back pressed against the wall her vision blocked out by his body. She is afraid of her own inexperience, of the consequences of accepting this, giving in. 'I'm just… I don't want you to make a mistake.'
'Alright,' he leans forward, whispers in her ear, 'I wouldn't like you if you were perfect.'
How had Oliver Wood, determined, staid Quidditch captain, grown up to be so teasing? She shivers and he pulls back smirking. 'I'm not very strong,' she squeaks.
'Neither am I.'
Hermione seriously doubts that. 'I don't play Quidditch.' Oliver pulls away, a musing expression on his face. Chilling air swoops in and chills her bones. Too, too far away. Desperately, Hermione bargains, taking a risk. 'I sometimes watch Quidditch.'
Oliver smirks again. 'That'll do,' he says. 'Afraid of flying?'
'Falling.' He leans over her, boxes her in with his arms at either side of her head. She smells his cologne and she swear that he too is taking her shampoo in. A nervous knot tightens in her stomach.
'Not as such.'
Their voices have become lower and quieter. His is deep and hers is breathless because her head is spinning and she is overwhelmed by the possibilities and the fact that she has no idea what to do apart from answer his questions and hope like hell he does not pull away.
'I'll teach you,' promises Oliver.
A thought strikes Hermione, apart from the suffocating situation she has found herself in. She tilts her head to the side. 'Why didn't you fight?' she asks.
He leans his forehead against hers for a moment, stopping her breath in her lungs then pulls back enough that she almost regrets asking. 'I know everything about Quidditch. Dad made sure of that… but nothing about survival.'
'You couldn't defend yourself?' breathes Hermione.
'Not enough to live. Not enough spells.'
She smiles, breaking the sombre mood, and he smiles too. Their breathing becomes more and more laboured by the second. 'I'll teach you.'
A pause almost causes her to faint from the tension and intensity crackling in the small amount of air between them. His nose brushes hers when he sways very close and his breath is falling on her lips so much she shudders and almost falls down.
'That'd be good.' He smirks and Oliver wraps his arms around her back. It is too much. She has to lick her lips and only then does she see his brown eyes dart down and suddenly realise what that undefinable expression has always been.
She bites her lip, unable to stop herself from becoming flustered and nervous as he draws out the banter and stretches it until she thinks she might snap.
'I have one last confession,' he whispers, his breath falling on her parted lips.
'I want to help you regain your lost sides.'
Hermione bites her lip again, flexes her hands that are trapped against his chest. 'I don't mind being partial.'
Oliver shakes his head and his hair brushes her forehead where it could have been his lips. 'It's not healthy when it's this extreme.'
'They're lost in a war of the past,' she protests, watching the fire of determination and cloud of lust battling in his eyes. 'We'll never get them back.'
'Won't you let me try?'
Fighting him, this, whatever it is, is fruitless when he moves his now cold hand under her jumper to feel the fabric of her thin, skimpy singlet top and the other to rest on the back of her neck. It is a dirty trick that clouds her own eyes and mind and voice so that she sounds husky, even to her own ears. 'Okay.'
'Good.' Oliver's voice is too. His eyes roam slowly up and down and he pulls away slightly, his hands moving out to her shoulder blades. It is close. It is not close enough. She can hardly care less if she is inexperienced now, only with Ron's wet fumbling kisses in the dark for comparison, only that this is not enough and Ron never made her feel quite so needy or warm when it was the dead of winter with the danger of her parents seeing at any moment.
He grins, brushes her lips with his. 'Okay.'
And he takes the plunge for her, neither a coward nor Quidditch obsessed, where her Gryffindor bravery failed her because of her own broken insecurities that will take a little longer to heal. Their lips crash together and Hermione instantly moves her hands up from his chest to his neck with an instinct that might not have saved her in a war but saves her now. Oliver pulls her head closer, one hand knotted in her hair. She stands on the very tips of her toes, hoping desperately this feeling will never end. And they only see and feel and hear and smell each other on Christmas Morning, standing on the Granger's porch and locked in each other's embraces in a near-completeness that everyone strives for, partially undivided and whole like the world wishes to be.
Because it is never just one, but two.