A/N: Written for SomethingWithMittens' ''Sell me a Story'' Challenge on the HPFC forum. My task: to write a Hermione/George piece that could change her opinion of the pairing. Hopefully, it does so.
I'd love to get some feedback on this, my first completed H/G piece, so please review (if you reach the end of the story, that is!). Beware that it is AU (Deathly Hallows Epilogue discarded) and slightly bizarre...
Anywho, hope you like it!
Hermione Granger woke slowly, her eyelids fluttering open and her muscles stretching out languidly. She released a lethargic yawn and rolled onto her side with a grin. However, her smile froze as she found the opposite side of the bed empty. She reached out and felt cold cotton beneath her fingers.
Worried, she hauled herself from the bed, adjusting the hem of the oversized Chudley Cannons T-shirt George had given her for Christmas. The first thought which occurred to her was to be on high alert; it was April Fool's Day, and she knew better than to underestimate George Weasley's ability to fool even her. George had been pretty shaken up by the loss of his twin brother, but over the last few months they had spent together in the tiny flat above 93 Diagon Alley, Hermione thought he had turned a corner. He was brighter, a more tangible version of the boy Hermione had fallen for at Hogwarts than the post-war shadow she had grown to accept. Hermione liked seeing him smile again, but she didn't know whether she should be excited or wary that he seemed close to recovering some of his old prank-pulling spark.
That was her first thought. The second was that today could set George's emotional recovery back several months. It was April Fool's Day. His birthday. His and Fred's.
The flat was empty; a quick mutter of 'homenum revelio' confirmed that. A ripple of anxiety travelled through Hermione beneath the calm, composed exterior she had grown accustomed to presenting for the sake of those around her. For George's sake. George, who had once told her in the Gryffindor common room after the Yule Ball, when she was a haphazard mess after that blazing row with Ron and he was slightly tipsy from drinking one too many cups of the punch he and Fred had laced with Firewhiskey, that hers were eyes that could chain even a whirlwind of a soul such as his to the earth. It was the first time George had given any sort of a hint of reciprocating the feelings which had been brewing in Hermione since her first visit to the Burrow, when George had taken her out into the paddock hours after she had been humiliated by the other boys for her complete lack of Quidditch skills and taught her to fly a broom without crashing into a tree or hitting another person. He had told her that her unswerving logic, the thing which most other people teased her about, was the thing that intrigued him about her, the thing that made him want to sit down and talk to her, just her, even if it was about Arithmancy or 'something else as boring as a night of home movies with McGonagall and Binns'. Perhaps it was schoolgirl naivety, but Hermione had taken his words to heart. After George had finally kissed her, a brief, tender encounter in the kitchen of the Burrow gifted to them by Fred, who had purposely let off a stink bomb to distract Mrs Weasley, Hermione had sworn that she would always be that person for him, that level-headed, logical being with hidden depths behind the intelligence of her brown eyes. She had never wavered, not even when they had to tell Ron why she couldn't possibly be with him. Not even when they had buried Fred, their confidante, the single soul who knew how strong their love for each other was.
Today would be no different.
On autopilot, she returned to their bedroom and swapped her bright orange t-shirt for a pair of jeans and a blouse of palest pink chiffon. She slipped her feet into a pair of simple ballet pumps and ran a comb through the brown briar patch which constituted her hair first thing in the morning. Placing the comb back onto the scrubbed wooden dresser, she spotted a photograph, pushed to the back behind snapshots of Ginny on her first day with the Holyhead Harpies reserve team and a clipping from the Prophet containing an interview with Mrs Weasley in which she called Ron 'a good boy, if a bit dim', a quote which George had treasured and used every time his younger brother came to the door shouting the odds. Hermione pushed these two mementos out of the way and could not suppress a shaky gasp. The photo showed Fred and George outside the joke shop at the grand opening. They were behaving with typical Fred-and-George impishness; Fred kept poking George with his wand, while George had charmed a Fanged Frisbee to keep flying at his twin's head. Both of them were roaring with silent laughter and occasionally they turned to wave at someone just outside of the shot. Hermione felt tears well up in her eyes.
She knew where George was.
Hurriedly, she made her way downstairs. Without pausing to collect herself, she brushed through the magenta curtain separating the shop from the storeroom and the stairs leading to their private quarters. Sure enough, standing in the middle of the large store, surrounded by bright, garish products and wearing a vaguely lost expression, was George.
Hermione coughed softly to announce her presence and he started before smiling sheepishly at her. Hermione returned it sadly; the old George would never have been startled by anything. George held his arms out to her in a sort of hopeless gesture and she rushed to him, pressing her face to the taught muscles of his chest.
"Happy birthday," she whispered into the thin fabric of his plain black t-shirt.
"Thanks 'Mione," George replied, his voice hoarse and trembling. He pressed his lips to the top of her head and closed his eyes. Hermione could tell that he was breathing in the vanilla-and-camomile scent of her shampoo, the smell he often said made him think of still, clear pools of water or perfectly flat fields of wildflowers. Eventually, he broke the contact and gently took her chin in his large, calloused hand, forcing it upwards so that her gaze met his clouded blue one. "I know we're going to the Burrow later for that party Mum told everyone not to tell me about, but do you mind if we go somewhere first, just for a little while?"
Hermione knew exactly where he wanted to go; she nodded silently and wrapped her fingers around his wrist, before performing a graceful pirouette and turning into nothingness.
Moments later, they found themselves standing by a set of rusting, wrought iron gates. The lock was firmly shut, but the slightest wave of Hermione's wand saw it fall to the ground. Nestling herself into the warmth of George's side, she walked in tandem with him along the narrow rows of headstones. The graveyard was completely devoid of human life; the only sign of movement was a stray tabby cat prowling by the ivy-coated wall, and even she slinked away out of sight when she heard their footsteps.
"It's too quiet here," George muttered, almost to himself. Hermione shot him a questioning glance. "Fred hated the quiet, said it gave his conscience room to start planting the seeds of doubt. It's why he liked explosions so much."
Hermione chuckled softly and nestled closer to George. They made the rest of the trek in silence. It lasted only a couple of minutes; Ottery St Catchpole Cemetery was not large by any means. Fred's grave was positioned right at the back, disguised to Muggle eyes as a normal grey granite gravestone bearing a suitably sombre epitaph. However, as George and Hermione moved closer the veil lifted and the grave's true nature was revealed.
Mrs Weasley had insisted on a traditional headstone, but Bill and Ginny had commandeered control of the epitaph, which read:
Fred Weasley (1 April 1978-2 May 1998)
Beloved son, brother, friend and joker 'til the end.
We'll miss you Forge.
More poignant than the epitaph, though, were the messages and items which had been left by friends and supporters wishing to acknowledge Fred's contribution to the defeat of Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Lee Jordan had tied a Gryffindor scarf loosely around the headstone itself, and Oliver, Katie, Angelina and Alicia had left his old Beater's bat. There were hundreds of scrawled messages ('A true hero', 'A fantastic friend', 'An exceptional Quidditch player. Love always, Cho.', 'I still haven't recovered from that Bulbadox powder- K. Towler') across every available surface. Hermione grinned as she bent down and swept a layer of dust from Dean Thomas' collage, which featured images ranging from Fred and George with beards down to their toes to the twins laughing hysterically as a toad resembling Umbridge exploded in an all-too-realistic manner.
"He always was good with a quill," Hermione smiled, gesturing to the artwork. George smiled tiredly in response.
"Absolutely, just look at those warts on old Umbridge's back. So realistic."
The pair of them shared a moment of blissful, uncontrolled laughter at this before George's expression sobered. He crouched down in front of the gravestone and tugged Hermione down beside him.
"Happy birthday Forge," he said quietly. He opened his mouth to say something else and then paused, unable to continue. Hermione took his hand in hers and squeezed it tightly. She turned her attention to the gravestone and brushed a stray strand of hair out of her face.
"Happy birthday Fred," she said in as level a voice as she could manage. "Looks like you lost our bet. Remember, you swore you'd get me back for finally managing to pull a prank on you two years ago, with that fake owl from the Ministry?" She paused, remembering fondly Fred's apoplectic face spluttering at her in the Gryffindor fire right next to George's, who had laughed so hard tears streamed down his cheeks. She leaned her head affectionately on George's shoulder before continuing. "We miss you, all of us. Even me, after all the times I yelled at you two over those ridiculous Skiving Snackboxes. Because, well, you were there for us. You were the only one who knew how we felt, and though you teased us mercilessly about it, you did a splendid job of helping us hide it until we were ready. The others know now, about us. They were a bit uncomfortable about it at first, especially Ron, but I think they've come around."
She paused again, this time to take a swipe at the tears which had begun to trickle down her cheeks unbeknownst to her. George heard the tell-tale snuffle which indicated that she had been crying and gently brushed the offending tears aside. It didn't do much good though; new ones quickly sprung up to replace them. Instead, he contented himself with pulling Hermione close to him and pressing a gentle kiss to the corner of first her left and then her right eye. She smiled, steeled by his embrace, and glanced back at the headstone with a hint of her usual, reasonable air about her.
"We're doing well," she whispered thickly, glancing at George for confirmation. Her boyfriend responded with a half-smile and a shrug of his shoulders, followed by a more determined nod. "Business is good, but George says I turn customers off by talking about Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration."
"Too right," George muttered mischievously. "She might as well be speaking Gobbledegook, next thing you know I'll have to hire Perce as a bloody translator."
Hermione, affronted, opened her mouth to argue but George, perhaps buoyed, continued to speak.
"Seriously though, Fred, all joking aside. You should see this girl. She's amazing, putting up with a pillock like me all this time. I was a right bloody mess for a while, but she's managed to sort my head out, I reckon. She keeps me sane, even stopped me from trying to strangle Charlie when he started prattling on about some new breeding program he's starting in Romania at Christmas. She's been holding me together for so long, but I think I'm starting to get better. The other day I even sent dragon manure to Percy's desk at the Ministry, just like the old times. And I swear it's all because of this girl right here. I bet you're laughing your head off, aren't you, wondering how a tosser like me managed to land her?"
"Oh George," Hermione whispered, burying her head in his shoulder to try to hide her tears, but he was having none of it.
"Hey, hey, hey," he said gently. "What are you doing, crying? Today's not about being sad, you know Fred wouldn't have wanted that as well as I do. Here."
He fished in the pocket of his jeans and withdrew a clean, cream-coloured tissue which he passed to her with a soft smile. Hermione took it gratefully and buried her face in its folds, mopping up the evidence of her emotions to leave her calm mask in place once more.
"Thanks," she said, beaming at George. "I'm sorry, you're right, of course you are. Fred would ha-ch! Fred would have- ch! I'm sorry, I- ch! Ch! What on earth is-ch! GEORGE!"
George grinned roguishly at her and held up a tiny packet of good, old-fashioned Muggle sneezing powder. He dropped her a wink and shook the packet mischievously. "Sorry 'Mione, couldn't resist. Fred made me promise to help him get revenge on you for that Ministry stunt you pulled two years ago."
"Oh, you two are just the limit, you- ch!" Hermione sneezed violently. Automatically, she raised the tissue before tossing it away from her again with a shriek. "You- ch! You- ch! Ch! Oh, stop it already!"
George debated for a moment before withdrawing his wand and muttering something under his breath which Hermione didn't quite catch. The result was an instant clearing of her airways. George winked at her again, but she just scowled.
"I don't believe you," she hissed, clambering to her feet. "In the graveyard? Isn't that a little insensitive, even for you George?"
The red-haired man put a hand to the neat hole in the side of his head, a habit he had developed since the battle over Little Whingeing which cropped up when he got defensive. He gave Hermione his best puppy-dog eyes, their blue light twinkling in the early afternoon sun.
"Fred made me do it?" he said hopefully. Hermione rolled her eyes and reached out to help him to his feet.
"I should curse you into oblivion right now," she threatened. "You know Ginny taught me that Bat-Bogey Hex of hers."
"But you won't because..."
"Because it's good to see you laugh and smile again," Hermione admitted grudgingly. "Even if it is at my expense."
"What can I say, I figured I ought to try my hand at living the life I've got now, with the woman I love, instead of pining for the life that's in the past."
"Very poetic," she smirked. "Who'd have thought it, eh? George Weasley, sanity saved by some sneezing powder."
George nodded seriously and laced his fingers into hers with another roguish grin that somewhat resembled the one Hermione had fallen for. Defeated, she strained up to kiss him on the cheek.
"Happy birthday Gred."