Story: The Height of the Social Season
Summary: -AU, Regency Era- Lady Finnegan's Goblin Balls are the place to see and be seen for the London wizarding ton. This year, the atrociously decorated ballroom walls have seen quite a few unseemly events, including, but not limited to, mistaken identities, marriage proposals, and one very dangerous potted petunia . . .
Notes: Er, yeah. So, this is the direct result of (yet another reading spree) – this time, Rurouni Star's Twisted timeline, including both of the lovely novels, Out of Time and Shattered Moments. They're actually Sirius/Hermione, but George/Hermione is one of the red herrings that are thrown in your path. I recommend you read them if you like dark, angsty epics with enough stifled romance to fulfill even my reading desires.
Oh, and unconscious!Harry is inspired by the appearance of a ravingdrunk!Harry in Sandra E's magnificent smut-fest Lupin's Symposium. Ah, the joys of delegating the main character to minor cameos.
Disclaimer: My kingdom for a George, my kingdom for a George . . .
"That is bloody bollocks and you know it," hissed Ronald Weasley, youngest son of Lord Arthur Weasley, Marquis of St. Ottery. His ears were red.
"Oh, grow up, Ronald," hissed back his brother, Frederick. Or it might have been George.
"You know it's true," added George (Fred).
"It's a lie."
"Ron?" The three redheads turned, all of them with varying degrees of guilt scrawled across their faces, to see Harry Potter, the long-lost Duke of Godric, stumble into a marble pillar. "Lost my spectacles," mumbled Lord Potter, heir to a fortune that even Lavender Brown, '13's debutante of year, could not have run through in a lifetime. "Bloody hell," he continued, and promptly tripped over a potted ceramic vase of petunias.
Fred (George) blinked at him twice, and then turned in unison with George (Fred) to look at his younger brother. "Well?" the later demanded. "Is it true? Have you yet talked to the illustrious Miss—"
Exasperated, they turned again at the interruption. This time, the interloper was Hermione Granger, who sighed as she almost tripped over the half-prone body of the Duke of Godric. "Really," she said, looking at the Weasleys accusingly, "would it have been terribly difficult for one of you to help him?" Without waiting for a reply, she wrapped her arms around Harry's waist and began to tug. Her dress, which had certainly not been made to assist in such endeavors, was suffering the consequences.
Horrible, horrible consequences. Consequences which the two Weasley twins felt perfectly free to take advantage of; as she leaned over, the dark triangle in the middle of her décolletage darkened (scandalously, to be sure, but they'd known Hermione for ages).
"Aren't you going to help me?" she demanded, declaring defeat and letting Harry slump to the floor again. "For goodness's sake, George, get over here and help."
She directed her gaze at Fred (George), who was finally unmasked as the true George Weasley. It was a distinction that even their own mother couldn't make, and five years after she'd first unveiled the parlor trick, it still managed to surprise him.
"Of course, Hermione," said George (Fred), or really just Fred.
"I said George," she replied, and put her hands on her hips. "That hasn't been funny since I was twelve, boys."
"Sorry," apologized George, not really meaning it. "We always have to test, you know." He took off his gloves, handed them to his twin, and walked across the hall to help Hermione. He shifted Harry's long-limbed frame over his left shoulder quite easily. "Where to, Miss Granger?"
She sighed, and brushed the hair off of the large lump in the front of Harry's head. "I suppose we should put him on the settle in Lady Finnegan's parlor and hope he wakes up soon," she said after a moment. Squashing her sentimental notions, she withdrew her hand, picked up Harry's bifocals from where they had been almost crushed beneath the potted petunias, and gestured for George to lead the way.
Once the odd party had disappeared around the corner, Fred gleefully redirected his attention to his youngest brother. Ron, however, had disappeared in the commotion. Pouting slightly, Fred stuffed George's gloves in his jacket pocket and returned to the ballroom.
"Miss Weasley," said her admirer, smirking underneath his mask. "What a pleasure. May I ask you most impertinently for the next dance?"
"A pity," she replied, withdrawing her hand from his grasp, "that I do not know your name, sir. I fear that I have declared I will not dance with strange gentlemen, and you are most definitely a stranger."
It was circumlocution, to be sure, but Hermione had directed that Ginny memorize the statement when they were in the carriage on the long drive from the Weasley's residence to Lady Finnegan's ballroom. Being unmarried, the youngest of seven children, poor as a church mouse, and a female, Ginny's circumstances were such that her reputation was all that kept her afloat. And, frankly, had it not been for Hermione's magnificent interventions, Ginny probably wouldn't have retained even that fragile assistance.
"But I'm not a stranger," replied the man. "I went to school with your brothers." His thin lips twisted into something that could've been a smirk, but was probably a sneer.
Ginny's brain was awash with indecision. On the one hand, he was a stranger wearing a mask that quite concealed his identity, and for all she knew, he could be a rake that would tarnish Ginny's virginal reputation with a single set.
On the other hand, his pocket watch had that gleam that screamed I HAVE BEEN IDLY PURCHASED WITH A LARGE SUM OF MONEY, and he certainly wouldn't lie about going to school with her brothers – not at Lady Finnegan's, where even bringing one's wand was considered a breach of propriety.
"Oh," she said, and smiled. "Well, I suppose we must be good friends, then. Lead the way, sir."
Every April, Lady Finnegan's Goblin Balls descended upon London wizarding society like a plague. Similar to those of the biblical persuasion, there were ten of them, one a night, each with a theme. The themes were supposedly meant to be inspired by ten goblin wars, each of which had a very pretty name euphemizing some very nasty guerrilla warfare.
Historically speaking, night ten was the War of Eternal Solitude, where thousands of goblins had been rendered unidentifiable by the battle; in Lady Finnegan's mind, this was an invitation for a masquerade. No one dressed up in costumes anymore; instead, they wore masks that vaguely matched their clothing and flirted outrageously while pretending to be strangers.
Looking at Hermione Granger over the bobbing head of the unconscious Duke of Godric, George Weasley found himself wondering why she even bothered to come to Lady Finnegan's Goblin Balls. On the most spectacular evening of the ten, when every other woman outside of said lady's parlor was drowning in gold and jewels and satin, Hermione Granger was wearing grey silk and pearls.
Grey, unfortunately, was not the best color for brunettes with pale skin and pink cheeks. She would have looked better in blood red. Blood red, however, was not a Hermione Granger type of color. Nor was it a particularly virginal color – she would probably have to get married before she could wear something of that shade of crimson.
George scowled at the cowlick on the back of Harry's head.
Were such an event to pass – and he prayed every day after that Krum fiasco that it wouldn't – Hermione would probably chose someone who wouldn't expect her to make an appearance at all ten of Lady Finnegan's balls. She preferred staying home and reading, he knew, because he had spent almost every night of the past year sitting after dinner with her and his brothers and Harry. While they played chess or plotted practical jokes, she was always the slight figure curled up on the worn green chair, reading some large, intimidating tome.
Sometimes George, with much persistence on his part, could convince her to put it down and join him and Fred in a round of cards. She was surprisingly good at most of the games they played, and had a sense of humor that Ron or Harry probably wouldn't expect. The sort of humor he and Fred shared.
"Mr. Weasley," she said, interrupting his train of thought. "Are you all right?"
"Oh yes, Miss Granger," he replied promptly. "I was just considering whether to ravage you here, or drag you upstairs to Seamus's billiards room. Do you have a personal preference?"
"Oh yes," he actually said. "Perfectly fine. I enjoy dragging unconscious peers about mammoth townhouses every once and a while. Does wonders for the constitution that Quidditch can never quite match."
"I am pleased to hear it," she said, and the corner of her mouth twitched. Unlike most of her contemporaries, Hermione's mask was plain grey silk, a shade darker than her gown, and it had been pushed to the top of her head, where it parted slightly frizzy brown curls into front and back.
George gave Harry's limp body a final push, and with a slight grunt, Lord Potter nestled into the brocade depths of Lady Finnegan's settle.
"Shall we?" he asked, putting on his mask and offering her his left arm with an elaborate bow. She rolled her eyes before lowering the mask back over her face. Her lips were twitching again, and she gave into a small smile that revealed her slightly prominent two front teeth. As if remembering their existence, she closed her lips.
"I'd be delighted," she replied, and settled her fingertips into the corner of his elbow.
"Have you heard?"
"You're going to have to enlighten me, darling."
"The Marquis of St. Ottery – he's declared a new heir."
"Ooh, a guessing game? You're a perfectly horrid man."
"Guess away, my dear. I'll give you a reward, if you do it properly."
"All right, then. The eldest – married, I believe, and gone quite savage in the wilds of Romania for half the season. Most definitely not."
"The next . . . Merlin, the absolutely ravishing one, with the French wife? Lady Brown told me that he is the adventurous type, so he won't suit."
"And then there's than Ministry chit. Oh Merlin, please no. He's an absolute bore."
"And who does that leave?"
"The youngest three – those horrid twins, and the one with the funny ears."
"Oh, you're going to have to do better than that."
"Well, if you're going to be so strict about it . . . I suppose the youngest. Those twins hardly strike me as the sort the Marquis would want taking over. Besides, getting one of the Weasley twins to take a title would be like teaching Lord Longbottom how to waltz."
"Time-consuming, painful, and useless?"
"Do tell me that I've done it all properly. Arthur Weasley is so responsible at times it's terribly difficult to guess his motives."
"You've done marvelously, darling. Ronald Weasley is the next Marquis of St. Ottery."
"Ron's going to ask you to marry him," said George, and promptly bit his own tongue.
"He's what?" asked Hermione, almost missing the next turn and barreling into Parvati Patil. The two girls separated themselves as gracefully as possible and two quick steps to the right found Hermione's hand once again within George's.
"He asked our mother for her ring," continued George, wishing that he could shoot himself right now, in the middle of Lady Finnegan's atrociously decorated ballroom. "She promised it to him . . ."
". . . when he found someone to marry, yes, yes, I've heard the story enough sickening times to tell it by heart," finished Hermione irritably. "But why on Earth do you think Ron is asking me? He and Lavender Brown have been dancing around each other for the past three months. It would seem quite odd for him to turn around and ask for my hand."
Considering how most of the wizarding society thought that Ron and Hermione had been dancing around each other for the past seven years, George thought the misconception understandable. But still . . . 'misconception.' It sounded quite lovely in his brain.
"I wouldn't be too sure," he warned.
Hermione laughed and their conversation halted as she twirled quickly around on the hand of Draco Malfoy, who was hiding his blonde visage under a black mask. "In any case," she continued once she and George could be assured of some privacy, "Ron has never once indicated partiality towards me beyond the bounds of friendship. And having known him for seven long years, I can assure you that I know Ronald Weasley and his motivations quite well."
"Better than me, I suppose," pointed out George, wishing he had never said anything in the first place. "After all, I'm just his brother."
"Oh, don't be ridiculous," said Hermione. "Now you're being melodramatic. You know Ron and I know Ron and both of us are aware that he has never harbored any romantic feelings towards me whatsoever."
This was untrue. Ron had almost swallowed his tongue at the beginning of the season when Hermione had come out, but she wasn't to know that (a mutually beneficial bargain had been struck on that count). Or so Fred had told him, gleefully recounting why they had a new test subject for their experimental potions. George had been too busy watching Hermione himself to really notice.
"I wouldn't be too sure," said George in her ear at the final turn, close enough that his chin brushed her shoulder and for a moment he imagined something that would've made Fred cluck, the image he'd been having in his brain since the moment he saw her sitting with Charlie's baby girl in her lap and had thought that Hermione Granger, for all her idiosyncrasies and tendencies to overanalyze situations and be bossy, would make a very good mother.
Then the violins finished their long, drawn-out note, and they drew apart and clapped politely.
Off went Hermione, and Fred materialized at his side, holding out his gloves. "You're like a love-sick puppy," he said disapprovingly, and although both noticed, neither commented to their sister about her dancing an entire set with a badly disguised Draco Malfoy.
The redhead in question swore violently under his breath and then turned. Hermione was standing the doorway to the balcony, her gloved hand pressed against the wooden doorframe. He needed more time. He wasn't ready, dammit.
"Erm, Hermione," he said.
"Ginny waltzed by and told me that you wanted me to meet you?" she said, adding almost as an afterthought, "and I think she was dancing with Draco Malfoy, although who knows with all these stupid masks . . ."
"Right," said Ron nervously, digging into his trouser pocket and curling his fingers around the small circle in the very bottom. "Hermione, I . . ."
"Yes?" she asked, her skirts rustling as she came out onto the balcony. "Ron, are you all right? You seem a little pale." She pressed her hand to his forehead. "You know, Rose's nurse told me that the children are all getting dreadfully sick. I hope you haven't caught anything."
Bloody typical. Here was a bloke trying to have an important conversation with her, and she thought he was ill.
"Hermione, I've got something I have to ask you," he said quickly, and dug the ring out of his trouser pocket. He brushed the lint off and held it under her nose. "Hermione, I want to—"
"Stop!" she squawked, stumbling against the balcony railing. "Ronald Weasley, stop it this instant!"
"Stop what?" he demanded. "Hermione, I need you —"
"That!" she said shrilly. "That! Whatever you're about to do, I need you to stop and reconsider!"
"Reconsider?" parroted Ron, going from baffled to outright confused. "I already have bloody reconsidered at least a dozen times, and I'm certain that marriage is the right thing to do, especially when someone is as bloody much in love as I am."
"Are you sure?" said Hermione, ripping off her mask and looking at him intently. "Because I most certainly am not."
"Are not what?" said Ron. "In love with Lavender Brown? Thank Merlin, because otherwise this would be an ugly situation."
". . . Lavender Brown?" said Hermione. Then, in a deceptively softer voice, "Lavender Brown?"
"Er," said Ron. "Yes, Lavender Brown. I'm going to ask for her hand tonight and I want you to help me with what I'm going to say."
Hermione, however, appeared not to have heard him. "All this, over Lavender Brown? George told me you were going to ask for my hand in marriage."
"What?" laughed Ron. "Why the bloody hell would I do that?" Seven years experience dealing with Hermione Granger came a few seconds later. "You didn't, er, want – that is, you weren't expecting—"
"Of course I wasn't," snapped Hermione. "That was why I was attempting to preemptively halt your romantic advances! George Weasley completely ruined my evening . . . I spent most of the past hour avoiding you, you know, all because of what he said when we were dancing."
"George is an idiot," said Ron, and that was all he meant to say, except men – Weasley men in particular – are forever cursed in saying something that they shouldn't, which was why he continued by declaring, "Why would George think I would ask for your hand in marriage when he's been in love with you for years?"
By the end of their second set, Ginny Weasley was certain that she had met the blonde gentleman before – his voice was becoming more familiar with every snide comment he made about someone's dress, and his mask had shifted a bit, giving her a clearer view of his slate-coloured eyes.
When he disappeared to get her some punch, Ginny heard the gossipy voice of the Duchess of Inbred Superiority (or so Hermione called her), declaring to Lady Parkinson, "Yes, yes, Draco is here tonight, although I am never sure where he's gone off to at these events. Lady Finnegan is a fine hostess, you know, always keeps the place so dreadfully full that one can barely keep track of one's own children."
Lady Parkinson tittered. "Pansy is easy to find," she replied. "Always with Daphne and Millicent, who are both lovely girls but hardly lovely girls."
Ginny half-turned, pretending to listen to the music (something horrendously boring and not at all dance-worthy), and caught a glimpse of Lady Parkinson out of the corner of her eye. The back of the Duchess, however, was much more visible. Her blonde hair, piled with sapphire pins on the top of her head, was all of her face that Ginny could see.
"Oh, Daphne's a darling," agreed the Duchess. "Her sister is still in school, isn't she? Top of her class, I heard. Then again, McGonagall would rather be smothered by a Lethifold than admit a Slytherin girl could be intelligent."
The two laughed, and the Duchess's head turned. As Ginny's mysterious dancing partner returned, handing her a crystal glass of punch, Ginny saw the Duchess's beautiful blue mask shift to reveal a pair of grey eyes.
"You," said Ginny, her punch glass trembling.
"Yes?"asked her partner, unaware of the present danger. "I, what?"
"You are an unmitigated ass," hissed Ginny, and upended her punch over his head.
Hermione Granger stumbled into Lady Finnegan's parlor and collapsed onto a fainting couch. Harry appeared to have awakened from his tumble, because both he and his spectacles were gone from the room entirely. Her body shaking, Hermione curled up on the piece of furniture.
In a fit of pique, she'd stripped off her mask and gloves and shoes, so when George Weasley finally ventured into the room twelve minutes later, it was to find that most of her accessories were strewn about the room, most noticeably her mask hanging askew from the candelabra on the piano. It was a terribly dramatic picture, and one completely wasted on the parlor's two occupants.
Curled up on the fainting couch, Hermione Granger miserably considered her options. She didn't want to leave, because she loved the Weasley family, and George was fast becoming a friend just as close as Harry and Ron. If she left, who would keep George and Fred from utterly destroying the dowager Countess Longbottom's drawing room? Having luncheon in a garden with a hedge of flowers that weren't enchanted to turn into various poultry would seem positively boring now that she'd become used to the practice. If it was a different Weasley brother, if she thought she could tamper down her emotions and make sure Ron kept his mouth shut, she would have stayed.
But knowing what she did, about George, of all people,it would only be proper for her to remove herself immediately from the Weasley family residence. Her parents lived in the country, and while not poorly situated, certainly did not have an income to support a daughter and chaperone alone in London. Her only option would be to retire back into the country or write to Headmistress McGonagall at the finishing college at Hogwarts.
Hermione loved her parents, but the idea of spending an eternity in a country cottage made her blanch. No intellectual stimulation, no libraries, no sneaking off for sweetmeats in the middle of the night.
No, writing to McGonagall was her best option.
It was as she began to mentally compose a letter to her former professor that someone spoke.
"Hermione?" said the room's fellow occupant. "What in the name of Merlin are you doing?"
Avoiding you, she thought, and groaned into the cushion of the fainting couch. "Resting," she said, her voice muffled by green brocade. "Please go away, George."
"Why are you resting when you can be out terrorizing the rest of the guests?" he asked, sliding onto the couch next to her. "We never got to finish our set." He was startled by her quick movement as she sat up, but he wasn't suspicious. Yet, anyway.
"I'd rather not be dancing," she said in a clipped voice.
"Hermione," said George, leaning over to push some of her hair back into its pearl clips, and whatever he was going to say next was swallowed by the awkward silence that blossomed when Hermione jerked away from his hand.
George's stomach twisted unpleasantly.
"I talked to Ron," she said a moment later, standing and walking towards the fireplace. "He wanted my help with what to say when he asked Lavender Brown for her hand in marriage." George couldn't see her face as she wrung her hands. "He also mentioned something to me which I fear means that I must soon remove myself from your household."
George's stomach disappeared entirely.
"He what?" he croaked.
"It would be entirely improper for me to remain with your family when such . . . circumstances arise, and therefore it would be best for me to leave. Permanently."
Permanently, mouthed George, sicklier now than all of the children in the Weasley family nursery combined. She wanted to leave.
"That's ridiculous," he finally managed, echoing her favorite phrase. "There's no reason for you to go away—"
"George," she interrupted, turning around to look at him. "Please don't try to deny it. I'm ashamed to admit that the idea never occurred to me before Ron brought it up himself, but it makes an absolutely hideous amount of sense, and it would be best for all parties involved if I simply removed myself, especially before you made a mistake – one, I fear, bred by the familiarity of my presence more than actual affection on your part. Such a mistake I could never forgive myself."
Permanently, said a little voice in his brain that sounded like Fred.
"Hideous?" he found himself saying. "You're being harsh, Hermione."
"Mr. Weasley," she said formally, giving him a quick curtsey whose propriety was utterly ruined by her hair falling out of its pins. "I hope we will meet again in better circumstances."
Then she turned and left.
"Bloody hell," said Hermione as she collected her wrap. "My shoes."
Or, more precisely, Ginevra Weasley's Favourite Pair of Dancing Slippers, loaned on the assumption that they would be returned in impeccable condition.
George was very still when she let herself back into the parlor.
She, coincidentally enough, tripped over her left shoe in the doorway. Desperately hoping that he hadn't noticed her, she gave the room three long, frantic looks, before she realized that George, hunched over, elbows on his knees, had a small white object in his hands.
Her right shoe.
The floorboard creaked underneath her as she slipped on her left slipper. George didn't look up, still locked in that odd fugue. When Hermione reached him, she hesitated for a moment and then grasped her slipped and gave a gentle tug.
His fingers tightened.
A second tug, harder, and then a third that was forceful enough to send her sprawling when he suddenly released her footwear. She didn't have time to fall before his arms locked around her waist and his forehead pressed against her stomach.
"Please," he said hoarsely, "don't leave."
Hermione, shoe in hand, paused for a few seconds. All she could see of him was the top of his head, his hair – on the longish side, surely Lady Weasley had been after him to get it cut – spreading out in a whorl from some point in the center of the back of his head. When she didn't move away, his hands shifted until they were pressed at her sides, large palms and thin fingers tangled in her dress.
She gently rested her hand on his head and traced the spiral of red hair.
She had wondered why Fred had been shooting her inscrutable glances recently. Why she was the only one in the Weasley household other than the matriarch who hadn't been the subject of a practical joke in the past three years. Why, when she had gently turned down Viktor Krum's offer of marriage two months ago, he had been the first one she found eavesdropping outside the door. Why he demanded that they go out that night.
"George," she said finally. "I – that is, you must realize that I can't give you an answer, at least not now—"
Her skirts rustled as he lifted his head, chin settled near her belly button, blue eyes peering at her through his fringe. Absently she brushed through the hair, combing it away from his forehead, and when he stood quite suddenly, her hand was caught in the motion. When he was finally standing, scandalously close to her, her hand untangled from his hair and drifted to his shoulder.
"I can be patient," he lied.
All right, so it's fairly obvious that I've been nipping at the side flask of bodice rippers . . . but yeah. No excuse. Thoughts on the George/Hermione? It's one of the (very, very few) ships that I haven't personally experimented with writing before.