A/N: Hooray! What you've all been waiting over a year for: a little romance! I hope you enjoy this chapter as much as I liked writing it. It's kind of a new thing for me, so I hope you like it. Know that your feedback is a huge motivator in update speed, so let me know what you think!


"Bloody, fucking Merlin."

George looked up questioningly from the box he was packing full of Puking Pastilles.

"What's the matter, Freddie?"

"I can't get this bleeding '17' to look right on this lantern. It keeps melting off. Get over here and do it."

"Fine, fine, but you've got to finish this box." George said, stepping around the open crates strewn on the floor of the back office to where his twin was working. "Are these your decorations for Harry's party tonight?"

"Yeah, why? Think they're kitschy?" Fred asked uncertainly, rubbing the back of his neck.

"Kitschy?"

"It means, like, cheesy."

"I know what it means. Just didn't seem like a word you'd use." George said, peering at the purple lanterns his brother had been working on.

His brother waved a dismissive hand and ambled over to finish filling the box with Pastilles. The twins were currently packing up Owl Orders. They had been running very far behind after the accident, since Fred had been the only one working; which was always a recipe for disorganization and chaos. Even though they had decided to close the shop from the street for now, business was still incredibly good, and neither of them had any intention of shutting down completely.

"They look fine. When I think of Harry, I think of purple." George stated somewhat sardonically, commenting on the lanterns.

"Me too!" His brother exclaimed, not catching it. "I knew it was the right choice."

George picked one up and aimed his wand at it, repairing the melting 17 with ease. As he traced out the numbers on the rest of the lanterns, he couldn't help but glance in the direction of Ayla's kitchen. The young woman had the sleeves of her white linen dress pushed up to her elbows, as she stood waiting on the oven. Her lower arms were, as usual, entirely covered with flour, and there were traces of it in her pulled-back hair and on her face. She looked a bit worn out still, the two of them having stayed up talking until dawn the night before. He wondered how much of her expression was the result of stress as well.

He felt the corner of his mouth tugging upwards into a slight smile despite the nagging twinge of worry. It was the first time in a very long time that he had spent the night with a girl just talking. And for some reason it was more meaningful to him than any other experience he'd had. They had even held hands. Almost. In a hands-pressed-together kind of way. Still, it had felt a bit less platonic than holding hands for Apparating, or than it did when he was pulling her along to somewhere.

He couldn't believe how good it felt to have Ayla on his side again, and to know that she wasn't going to leave. The relief was now even beginning to overshadow the guilt he also felt. It wouldn't be safe for her out there, and he couldn't ignore that he felt protective. She was far too innocent and trusting. Not to mention that her ability to protect herself in the face of a witch or wizard was obviously very lacking. His family, or at the very least he and Fred, would be able to watch out for her as long as needed.

Some things had taken a turn for the worse, however. The investigation into Mr. Sower's attack, for one thing. Mad-Eye's death had put the efforts on halt for what would be an indeterminable amount of time. The loss had been a tough one for the Order, and the other members were being stretched so thin there was simply no one to work the case. They trusted no one beyond their own circle nowadays. Ayla wasn't happy about it, but she appeared to be handling it well. These times just weren't normal. George and Fred had at least been able to ferry her back and forth to St. Mungo's a few times. It was a sad thing to watch, her talking to her father's unresponsive frame as though he could hear her. George had a feeling that she believed he could.

And Harry, Ron, and Hermione were driving his parents, his Mum at least, insane with worry. They were dropping out of school their final year and preparing to head out on some obscure business for Dumbledore. George didn't dare to question it, particularly the bit about dropping out of school, but he had to admit he was concerned. He trusted Harry, but it did seem a bit odd to place a matter of what he assumed was great importance in the hands of a group of seventeen year olds. The fact that it was a secret was probably what bugged him most, but he resolved to keep his mouth shut. He knew neither the facts nor the reasoning. He only wished there was something he and Fred could do to help. It was doubtful that they would ever stop feeling indebted to Harry.

Finishing the last lantern, George raised a hand to rake through his hair, which he could do now that he didn't have to wear that stupid bandage. His mum had reluctantly given him the okay to remove it that morning. He still hadn't gotten used to the feeling of not having an ear. He felt asymmetrical and off-balance, like one side of his head was heavier than the other.

"Fred?" He asked, suddenly curious. "Do you think I hold my head differently now?"

"What?"

"Without the ear."

"Hmm," His brother tilted his head and squinted at him, fingering his chin, "Impossible to say."

"Why?"

"Because you're aware of the fact that I'm looking at you. There's no way you could possibly be holding your head normally right now. I'll have to watch you when you aren't thinking about it."

"Eerie…" George said.

"Dare I say it, it's wholly disconcerting."

"Tell me about it. I'm worried my head is lopsided now." He added more seriously.

"Eh, at least you've got the pity card. The one tool I don't have with the birds."

"Ah, damn." he replied with a sigh. "I never wanted to resort to the pity card. Surely I've got some other redeeming qualities."

"Well, you look just like me from the right side. That's certainly got to help you out."

"Looks like I'm going to have to grow my hair out long again. Think Mum'll let it slide? For me, you know?"

Fred considered it. "Probably. You've gone back to being 'Baby Georgie,' haven't you?"

"Wonder how long it'll last."

"I'd say you've got at least three more months of it. Maybe four if you stretch it."

As George contemplated whether or not that would give his hair enough time to grow out, Ayla moseyed over from the kitchen, balancing a massive tray of miniature cakes on one hand.

"Did I hear another ear pun?" She asked with an arched eyebrow.

"Indeed you did hear one. Two, in fact. I don't know if you noticed my novel use of the word wholly." Fred said, throwing an arm around her shoulders.

"Ahh, I missed that one. Shame. These are ready for the enchantments." She said. Fred snatched one from the tray and shoved the whole thing into his mouth. "Hey! There's a limited amount of those." She admonished, as he let go of her shoulders and darted around the boxes littering the floor, sniggering.

"You're always doing that, Fred. I'm going to have to start making an extra." She complained half-seriously after him.

"Owner's privilege!" Came the muffled reply.

"It's alright, set them here." George said to her, pointing to a messy desk.

"I'm so happy you two're talking again!" Fred sang through his mouthful of cake, tripping and hopping before disappearing through the door to the front of the shop. George shoved some parchments to the side to make room on the desk, sending them fluttering to the floor.

"You two have got to come up with a better system of organization for this office." Ayla said, shaking her head solemnly.

"Working on it." He replied.

"That's what you said last month."

George just grinned.

"Are you about ready to go back to the Burrow?" he asked. "Big party tonight."

"Urgh, yeah. Just got to fill a couple more orders, and clean the kitchen. Shouldn't take long."

"Careful not to let the excitement overwhelm you."

"Well, there's the Apparating, but also, to tell the truth, I rather hate parties." She groaned, grimacing.

"Ha, why?"

"They just exhaust me. So many… people."

George laughed. "You're so strange, Ayla."

"Oh, thanks."

"You do realize there is a wedding tomorrow, right? One that includes a reception? One with many, many droves of other people..."

"I imagine there will be a bit more booze there, however."

"I imagine you would be correct," he acceded, thinking she looked like the last person to be interested in copious amounts of alcohol.

"Perfect. I rather love champagne." She said through a burgeoning yawn.

Ayla turned and began to walk away, but George had other ideas. She needed to lighten up. On a whim, he reached for her and grabbed the corner of her arm, pulling her to him. She squeaked, and suddenly she was flush against him with her hands on his chest. So close he couldn't see her face. Her halting breath was hot against his neck, and he could tell he had suddenly made her extremely nervous. It was almost cruel. He smirked as he gripped her shoulders. With a quick glance to make sure his brother was nowhere in sight, he moved his mouth to her ear.

"It's alright. There won't be too many more people there tonight than usual." He murmured in his deepest, most seductive voice. "But… if you should find yourself suffering, just give me a signal and I'll get you out of there. Same goes for the wedding."

Ayla seemed too shocked to speak. He abruptly released her and stepped back, snatching up a new Owl Order and quill, perusing it as though nothing had happened.

"Well, go on." He ordered in a professional tone, waving her off, trying desperately to keep from laughing at her expression."You said you had orders to fill."

Her mouth gaped adorably for a few seconds before she turned shakily on her heel and went back towards the kitchen, her Muggle dress swishing around her knees. George allowed himself a stifled laugh as soon as she was out of direct earshot. As he marked on the parchment, he couldn't help but wonder if she would take him up on his offer. Or what exactly his offer entailed. Perhaps it was high time to utilize some of his Weasley charm.

Damn, he wanted to kiss her.


Up until that evening, Ayla had been unable to quell the butterflies in her belly after what George had done in the shop that afternoon. Give me a signal and I'll get you out of there? What the hell did that mean? Just twenty-four hours ago they hadn't even been on speaking terms with the other, and now there he was, shamelessly flirting with her. She couldn't ignore the sexual undertone of it either. Where would he take her? And to do what? Suddenly, a vision of George with his arms around her and snogging her senseless in a darkened room exploded into her mind. What would those lips feel like?

Feeling her face warming, she turned back to the Wizard's Chess game she and Harry were lazily watching Ron and Hermione play from the couch. It was nearly time for Harry's birthday party, and they were all whiling away the hour. She wasn't sure where the twins had gotten off to. Possibly off showing the Delacours around the village. So many guests were already arriving for the wedding the next day, Ayla had no idea how everyone was going to fit into the house. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had already given up their bed for Fleur's parents, and Ginny's room was full of camp-beds for the bridesmaids in addition to Hermione and Ayla. It was packed, to say the least.

As she observed Ron explaining some particular strategy to Hermione, Ayla wondered if she wanted George to kiss her the way she was currently envisioning in her head. Yes. The answer was most certainly yes, though she wouldn't dream of admitting it aloud. It seemed too soon to even be thinking about that. Apparently it had been too much to hope for that the effect of hormones would recede with her teenage years. They had only gotten worse into her twenties. She scowled.

But was George being serious or was he playing with her? Neither seemed beyond him. Maybe he would simply take her for a walk, or take her inside to have a chat or play bloody Wizard's Chess. There was also a chance he was only teasing her, because he knew what her reaction would be. He and Fred veritably fed off of reactions. There was no guarantee that if she gave him a signal, he wouldn't laugh in her face and share it with the whole group. And what would a signal even be? A tug on her ear seemed a tad cruel at this point.

"Do you play chess?" Harry's voice asked, interrupting her reverie.

"A bit." she replied, thankful he was giving her a distraction. "I used to play with my father when I was little. He had a wicked old set of Gobstones too."

Harry made a face. "Urgh. Never liked that game."

Ayla smiled. "It's definitely got its niche. Isn't there a club at Hogwarts? Dad was in it years ago, but he quit because apparently the captain was just the most dreadful witch. Took it way too seriously, and expected them to practice strategies for hours."

A shadow of something like recognition flashed across the boy's tired face.

"I can't imagine playing Gobstones for five minutes, let alone over an hour. The club's still around, I think." He said. "A lot of the younger students play it. After second year it seems to lose its appeal, and everyone just switches to Exploding Snap. It's a bit more challenging and fast-paced."

It was Ayla's turn to grimace. "I've got scars from that game."

"No you haven't." Harry said in disbelief, sitting up a bit. He pushed his round glasses up with his finger.

"See for yourself." Ayla held out her hands. He leaned forward interestedly, and she pointed out the tiny white marks on her fingers.

"Unbelievable." He said, smiling. "They're definitely there."

"You are looking at what might possibly be the worst Exploding Snap player in the world. No hand-eye-coordination whatsoever."

"It's an honor." He replied. Ayla chuckled, and decided definitively that there was no way this kid was capable of mass murder. Or whatever it was he was wanted for.

"No, Hermione." Ron's voice cut in. It sounded like he was struggling to maintain an understanding tone. "The Bishop is always going to be in that position when you're using this strategy."

"Well, perhaps I'm not going for that strategy, Ronald." Came the quiet but curt reply.

"But that's the one I was showing you, Hermione."

All of a sudden, a banging sound and loud voices from the kitchen signaled the return of the twins. The raucous commotion suggested there were many people crammed into the small space now. A grinning Fred rounded the corner and bounded over to the couch, his twin close behind.

"Oi!" He said, "Get off your lazy bum and help us decorate for this party. No- not you, Potter. You're the birthday boy! Sit down! Aye, come on."

"Alright, alright." She ceded, allowing him to pull her up, and out the back door into the garden.

"You too, Ron and Granger!" George shouted as he followed with the box of purple lanterns.

"Piss off, George."

"Ron! Yes, George, we'll be out in a moment."

"Why do we have such a ponce of a brother?" George posed to his twin with an arched brow as the door slammed shut behind him.

"Which one are you talking about?" Fred said. "I can think of a couple that fit that description."

'Urgh, he's just angry his girlfriend's beating him at chess." George replied, making a face.

The twins paced around the yard, Fred kicking at gnomes and George tossing the lanterns into the air, where they settled and floated by magic.

"Want to try?" George asked Ayla, grinning at her and holding out the box. The way his eye glinted, she imagined he was still teasing her about earlier. She smiled shyly in return.

"Dying to."

Ron and Charlie eventually joined, and together the brothers set up four long tables end-to-end. George conjured a long purple table-cloth with ease, and Fred the chairs. When Hermione adeptly transformed the leaves of the apple tree to gold, Ayla felt the faintest echo of sadness for not having the ability to perform magic herself. Once the lanterns were illuminated and the food had been brought out, the end product was magical in the darkening light.

Before dinner started, by no design of her own, Ayla was seated next to George and Mr. Lupin. The butterflies had returned full force now, and she wondered what she would end up doing. Every time he so much as glanced at her, her belly would erupt in tingles. It was like she was some silly school girl. She wished she had taken the seat by Ginny on the other side of the table. She needed a distraction.

"That is a wonderful cake, Mrs. Weasley!" She commended honestly, leaning in to get a better look at the giant Snitch, which consequently offered little reprieve given how it pressed her thigh up against George's. It was like that first dinner with the Weasley's all over again, except this time she was even more aware of his every move.

"Oh, thank you, dear." Molly gushed. "It means a lot coming from you. You're too kind."

"Is Harry a… what is it they call the ones that catch the snitches?" she asked George.

"Seeker. And the best in decades." He replied, taking a sip of his mulled wine. "Plays for the Gryffindor team. Same one Fred and I used to be Beaters for. Mm, those were good times."

"Ah. And to think I was telling Harry about my poor hand-eye coordination..." At his questioning look, she rolled her eyes and showed him her Exploding Snap scars, explaining to his great amusement.

"Bloody hell, Sower," he said, holding her hand up closer to his squinting eyes. "You've really got a talent there. When are we going to play?"

"Oh, laugh it up, Weasley." She yanked her hand from him. "You athlete types never do understand."

"Hm, athlete type, you say?" George straightened, looking very pleased with himself.

"I completely empathize, Ayla." Hermione assured from across the table. "You should have seen me on a broom in first year. That's one episode that will never be repeated."

Ron snorted into his sleeve, apparently remembering the incident. Hermione elbowed him rather roughly, and glared at him.

"It's not funny, Ron."

"S-sorry, Mione. You…ha, you were fine." He and Harry were both sniggering now. Hermione and Ayla exchanged understanding glances.

"Exploding Snap's hardly athletic. I'm not sure it counts." George said. "We ought to get you on a broom, Aye."

"I'll pass on that one for now, thanks. Would a broom even work for me?"

"We're going to find out."

Ayla laughed humorlessly, "Ha, no we're not. Unless you have some other Squib friend I don't know about that's willing to help."

"One of those old Cleansweeps is bound to…" Fred mused pensively, ignoring her.

"Those are ridiculously unsafe, but, you know it, I bet they'd work. They already fly on their own without a rider if you let them." George said.

"I like how you both are so convinced this is going to happen. You're just going to have to learn how to cope with disappointment, I'm afraid." she said, sipping her drink.

"Bah, that's enough talk about wonky brooms. We'll get around to it next week, Aye." Fred exclaimed waving his hand, "Right now we need to focus on why we're all here, gathered around this lovely table. How about the Wizard of the Hour, sitting right before us? Mr. Harry Potter! The best flyer the Gryffindor Quidditch team has seen in over 100 years!"

George and Fred soon launched into a story about how Harry had caught his first Snitch, dramatic reenacting gestures and all, but all Ayla could focus on was the pleasant way George's mouth and eyes looked when he spoke, and the way his body bumped into hers in his animation. There was something seriously the matter with her. Fred was just as attractive, damn it, so why was she so fixated?

She reached for her drink again.

"I think we'd better start without Arthur," Mrs. Weasley called out after the twins had finished their regaling account. "He must have been held up at –oh!"

Ayla gasped and pulled her arms back from the table at the sudden appearance of a strange silvery mist. It bounded swiftly from the gate to the middle of the table, and it took Ayla a split second to comprehend that she was seeing magic. Everyone around her became deathly quiet. Even Fred's face became impassive. The mist materialized into some sort of weasel, and stood on its hind legs.

"Minister of Magic coming with me." it said in a slightly rushed version of what sounded like Mr. Weasley's voice.

The creature vanished, and Mr. Lupin quickly stood, knocking over his glass of wine. There was a hurried commotion. Hermione quickly aimed her wand, and stopped the spill from going over the edge of the table and into Ayla's lap.

"We shouldn't be here." Lupin said, then quickly offering a hurried apology to Harry. He grabbed Tonks' hand, and the two leapt over the fence and disappeared.

"What on Earth…" Ayla murmured as everyone fidgeted around her, her eyes still wide.

"I'll explain later." George whispered to her quickly. His face looked somewhat nervous, and, glancing down, she could see that his hand hovered over his wand.

She suddenly felt a bit too exposed on her right side. Before she could think to do anything more than scoot imperceptibly closer to George, Mr. Weasley appeared at the gate, marching across the yard with whom Ayla recognized from the papers as the Minister of Magic. He looked very old and ragged, and walked with a limp.

"Sorry to intrude," the pale man said in a raspy voice. "Especially as I can see that I am gate-crashing a party." He glanced from the Snitch cake to Harry. "Many happy returns."

"Thanks." Harry replied, barely masking worried confusion.

"I require a private word with you," the Minister said, "Also, with Mr. Ronald Weasley, and Miss Hermione Granger."

"Us?" Ron asked from the other end of the table. "Why us?"

"I shall tell you when we are somewhere more private," he answered. "Is there such a place?"

The man looked impatiently at Mr. Weasley, who seemed to be bouncing nervously on the balls of his feet.

"Yes, of course, the, er, sitting room. Why don't you use that?"

With that, Ron unsurely led the way inside the house, followed by the Minister, Harry, and then Hermione, leaving everyone else sitting in a stunned quiet at the table.

"What d'you think that's about?" Molly demanded in a slicing whisper. "Arthur, what did he want?"

Mr. Weasley just gaped and shook his head. "I don't know, dear. He caught up with me just as I was about to leave. Didn't have much time to speak. We'll just have to wait and see."

Fred and George were exchanging glances. They ducked their heads together and started talking in hurried whispers. They kept looking over their shoulders at the house.

"I'm sure it's fine, right?" Ayla heard George ask quietly. "Mum and dad wouldn't have let them be alone with him if it wasn't."

"Old Scrim doesn't seem to be Imperiused. He's still on the good side, for however long that's going to last." Fred responded bleakly. "Wonder if word's gotten out the golden trio isn't going back to Hogwarts."

"It can't've. What are they going to do about it, anyway? Once they're of age, you can't force it."

"Maybe it's something that's got to do with Dumbledore's thing."

"How would the Minister know about that?"

Fred shrugged.

George raised his glass to his mouth again, finally moving his hand away from his wand. He and his brother seemed to relax a little bit. There were no loud voices coming from the house or signs of spells being cast.

The awkward tension of the rest of the table was so palpable, that Ayla decided if ever there was a time for her to escape, now would be it. She wanted to ask George about the silvery creature anyway. Maybe they could go for a short walk. Would there be any harm in that? No, she decided. It was all innocent, right? Innocent.

Before she had time to think of the proper signal to give, her mind registering only the fact that nobody else should see, she naively placed a hand on George's leg underneath the table, where she realized too late was a little bit too close to… well. He started, and made a strange, shrill hiccoughing sound. Oh, damn. Ayla wanted to crawl into a hole, taking George with her, and never emerge again. Her hand seemed fused to his upper thigh, as she was too terrified to move it. Now half of the Weasleys were looking at them. Ginny raised an eyebrow.

Fred turned to his twin with an oddly concerned expression. "Alright there, George? Too much wine?"

George coughed, and his brother gave him a few slaps on the back.

"Yeah, fine," he assured. "Just… went down the wrong way."

Underneath the table, she felt his fingers touch hers, almost uncertainly, before wrapping around them and gently pushing them a few inches farther down his leg. She blushed, embarrassed at herself. After everyone had looked away and resumed their hushed conversation about what could possibly be going on in the sitting room, he squeezed her hand, not looking at her or giving any visible sign above the table that he was doing so.

She could feel her heart beating in her throat, and tried to control the redness of her face.

"Come on," he said a bit loudly. "I'll show you the orchard, Ayla. This looks like it might take a while, and I'm not keen on waiting for cake with it hovering right in front of me."

"S-sure." Ayla said nonchalantly. "I would like to see the orchard."

The two stood, after he had released her hand beneath the table.

"We'll be back. Shoot some sparks if something happens?" George whispered to Fred, who gave a nod along with a quizzical, almost knowing look.

Everyone else seemed so preoccupied that they scarcely paid them any heed as the two started down the familiar path into the woods. Ayla wrung her hands in front of her, noticing that the area that George had touched seemed somehow enflamed.

"What was that thing?" she whispered once they were concealed by the trees, deciding not to comment on the awkwardness of their departure. "That… slivery ferret? "

"Well, firstly, that was a weasel, not a ferret. The Malfoy's are the only ferrets I know of in the magical world. Slimy gits." George shook his head. "That was my father's Patronus. It's a spell that's primary use is to ward off Dementors, which are horrible creatures that suck the happiness out of their victims, but it can also be used to send communication ahead. Patronuses can travel a lot faster than owls or even Apparition."

"I see. Why did your dad send one? What was the point of the warning?"

George's brows furrowed.

"Eh, you saw how Lupin and a few others hurried out of there. For some members of the Order, it would be pretty bad to be spotted by the Minister."

"Why was it a weasel?" She asked as her feet treaded the spongy ground, before adding softly, "Sorry for all of the questions, I'm just new to this, as you know well."

"It's no problem at all. This way…"

George turned down a smaller path that they had never taken together before. She followed behind him as there wasn't room for them to walk side-by-side. It was quite dark, and she couldn't help but wish that he would hold her hand.

"A Patronus takes the form of an animal that holds some relevance or similarity to the conjurer." he continued.

"Hm. That's quite interesting. I guess it makes sense that your dad is a weasel."

"Fred and I always thought it was a bit predictable."

"Do you have one? A Patronus?"

He glanced back at her and smirked.

"Yes."

"What is it?"

"Hmm… You're right. Too many questions. I don't think I'll tell you," he teased, turning around and walking backwards. He grinned mischievously at her, the delicate skin around his eyes wrinkling up ever-so-slightly.

She pouted.

"You don't seem too worried about the Minister being here anymore."

"My family has it under control. I don't sense much of a threat."

"Well, why won't you tell me about your Patronus then? I want to know. I'm curious now."

"I rather like that about you."

"What?"

He laughed before turning back around and jogging down the path.

"Urgh!" Ayla, hurrying to catch up with him, leaves and branches hitting her in the face. "You're infuriating sometimes!"

"But, you know, I think you rather like that about me."

"Stop going so fast! I can't see you, it's getting really dark. You know, I'm going to fall, and then it's going to be all your fault. You are going to feel so horrible."

A testament to either poor lighting or her bad eyesight, Ayla didn't notice when he finally stopped in front of her. "Oof!" Air escaped from her lungs as she ran clear into his back.

"Are we here?" She asked, breathing heavily and looking up over his shoulder. She could vaguely make out a small shed to their left, and they seemed to be at the edge of some kind of clearing. Beneath her feet, she felt a few small, round lumps, which may have been rotten apples. George didn't respond, and she saw his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed. His expression had lost its playful air.

"George…? R'you alright?" She felt the tiniest twinge of fear.

After a long pause, he turned his head and glanced down at her. Then, he abruptly turned. Before she knew it, his large hands were gripping her shoulders tightly, and he had spun her so that her back was pressed up firmly against the splintery wood of the shed. Oxygen left her lungs for the second time in a day, and she could barely comprehend what was happening. He placed his hands on either side of her body, trapping her. For the second time, his mouth hovered over her ear.

"What do you want, Ayla?" he whispered, his warm breath making her shudder from spine to toes.

She opened her mouth to speak, but could find no words.

"We haven't got all night."

"G-George…" she choked, wanting to know what the hell he was doing.

"Seriously, I told Fred we'd be right back." He said, a bit of his normal, joking voice leaking through. It was sufficient to calm her enough to respond. He was playing with her. And she could play right back.

"I-I…" she murmured to the side of his face, stuttering. "I want to know what your Patronus is."

He pulled his head back to look at her quizzically. With ginger eyebrow raised, he considered it.

"Alright. I'll tell you. But I think you should have to earn the information."

"Earn it?"

"Yes."

"How?"

"Tell me why you took me up on my offer, Miss Sower."

"You know, I almost thought you were just toying with me. You're not, are you?" She peered at him questioningly, knowing it was a loaded question.

"Ah-ah. You're not allowed to answer my question with another question. That's not how this works." His mouth had returned to her ear, closer this time. She was overwhelmed by the scent of musk and gunpowder. His chest was practically flush with hers now, and her fists were firmly at her sides.

"You're being ridiculous, George. You didn't even phrase it like a question the second time."

"Insults and grammatical technicalities aren't going to cut it either, I'm afraid. Now… what did you intend? Clearly you thought I was being serious enough. So, what shall I do with you, hm?"

Ayla looked up and saw the stars glinting behind him, trying not to meet his piercing gaze.

"I…" she started, feeling her legs trembling beneath her. She didn't want to playfully berate him anymore, or stall with banter what seemed inevitable. Her eyes fell to the skin on his neck, covered in freckles. She eventually added, almost inaudibly, with a small thrill coursing through her, "I want you to kiss me."

He didn't say anything for several agonizing seconds. Only stared at her. One of his hands eventually left the wall behind her, and settled slowly in her hair and on her neck. The warmth from his skin was overwhelming, and her heart thudded in her chest so hard she was certain he could feel it. His roughened thumb rested at her throat like some fiery piece of metal.

"If that's what you want," he said throatily, eyes half-closed, "then I'll have to oblige."

With that, George's mouth was on hers. Her eyes closed as her body swelled with paralyzing shock. Being so close to his handsome face, having the lips she had admired for months kissing her own so soundly, it was enough to send her nerves over the edge. It was unlike any first kiss she had ever experienced. If she went by her previous standards, in fact, they had skipped quite a few steps. The other lads had been shy and hesitating. These two things George Weasley was not. There was no hesitation. No inexperience. No need for dating first. From the start, he seemed almost to kiss her with his entire body, holding her head and neck in his large hands, and leaning into her.

Despite his ardor, he was not overly forceful. His surprisingly smooth lips meshed perfectly with her own, and moved with them. It was a good strategy, she thought, as her lower lip slid between his: making the girl feel like she was in capable hands, and just pushing the boundary of appropriateness ever so slightly. It made it quite exciting. This wizard had obviously done quite a bit of kissing in his day. Probably had whiled away many hours in the broom cupboards of Hogwarts. He sucked on her lip gently, before pulling away and returning immediately, opening her mouth with his own.

A small, contented, "Mm," escaped her when his warm tongue touched hers, and she raised her arms up to wrap around his neck and pull him closer. She allowed his tongue into her mouth, where it seemed content to explore. The sweetness of the mulled wine heated the back of her throat perceptibly. Oh yes, they had certainly skipped a few steps. And she was quite pleased with that.

His hands and arms descended from her face, fumbling past her chest and to her waist, where they wrapped around her firmly. She squeaked again, eyes fluttering open before closing again. She felt him start to smile against her mouth, and got the impression from his shortened breathing that he was trying not to laugh. They had come away from the wall, and George stepped her backwards as he kissed her, nearly lifting her off of her feet. She was trapped again between his body and the shed. It was thrilling. She felt so… dominated. The word sounded naughty in her mind, and maybe it wasn't the right one, but she also felt so abjectly safe in his arms that she couldn't bring herself to care.

After a length of time, the kiss slowed, and eventually George retracted his tongue and began to pull away. Ayla whimpered quietly, pulling him back for a slow, chaste kiss, making him smile again. She was breathing heavily when she finally opened her eyes. George was looking very content, albeit still impish, grinning crookedly at her with reddened lips. Her hands were still entwined in the silky hair at the nape of his neck. She twirled it around her fingers, enjoying the feel of it. Smiling up at him bashfully, her gaze fell to his chest as he watched her. It was one thing to be brave with eyes closed, another to be so when being stared at.

"Coyote," he said quietly, running a hand up her back beneath her cardigan.

"W-what?" She breathed in response, shifting her weight to the front of her feet at the pleasant sensation.

"My Patronus," he clarified, "is a coyote."

Ayla cocked her head, considering it through the cloudy haze that had become her mind in the past five minutes.

"Hm. Very interesting."

"If you can figure out the underlying significance, let me know."

She gave a breathless chuckle, moving her forehead to his cheek and hugging him close. He tightened his grip around her, stroking her back with his hands. The warmth was incredibly satisfying in the rapidly cooling air of the night.

"You… you wanted to know why I took you up on your offer." She reminded him.

"Ha, don't worry about it. I think I figured out the answer."

"So, we don't… have to talk about it?"

"Not unless you want to. I realize the effect I have on females, I can't imagine you'd be immune. It was only a matter of time."

Ayla fingered the soft fabric on the back of his shirt, snuggling her face into his shoulder.

"So modest." She teased, knowing he was half-joking.

"It's the modest man that sits in the corner and consequently never gets ahead."

"I think you're mistaking humility for shyness."

"Nah, I'm talking about confidence."

"It is possible to be both confident and modest, you know."

"Perhaps so." He conceded. She felt him smile and turn his face into her neck, which he kissed lightly.

"Ai!" She exclaimed, jerking and pulling back a bit. "Ticklish there."

"Oh, that's fantastic!" He exclaimed. He kissed her neck again and again, making her shriek. "Best discovery all day!"

"Okay, okay, that's enough!" She said, trying to pull away from him to no avail, regretting saying anything.

"Alright." He laughed, stopping.

"Well, this was lovely, Ayla. I hope we can do it again soon. The kissing- not necessarily the tickling. Although I did enjoy it." He said in his professional tone again, after a moment, as though arranging a business meeting.

"I'll check my calendar." She replied, unable to keep the giddy grin from spreading across her face.

He pulled away from her slowly, and she immediately felt the heat begin to dissipate, but was pleased to see him looking so cheerful.

"Remember, the offer still stands for the wedding as well if you start feeling besieged by the drunken revelry. Although, we don't have to snog in the woods."

She looked at him skeptically as he put his hands in his pockets and rocked back and forth on his feet. She hugged her arms around herself.

"Are we going to play Wizard's Chess then?"

"Well, I mean," he started, pulling out a hand and counting on his fingers, "there's my room we could snog in, the attic, the broom cupboard, Dad's workshop, behind the hedge, all sorts of places besides the woods."

Ayla shook her head at his joke, though she secretly would be happy with any of those options. Even the Wizard's Chess.

"You're silly."

He smiled dashingly at her.

"One of my better qualities. Right behind being devilishly good-looking."

"Of course."

He cleared his throat and started straightening his slightly rumpled shirt, "Better fix this. Might want to run a hand through your hair, there, love. Sorry 'bout that."

"Yours too."

Ayla quickly brushed her fingers through her hair, doing her best to arrange it as it had been before. She tugged at her sweater and dress as well, hoping she didn't appear too out of place.

"How do I look?" She asked.

"Bloody gorgeous."

"Close enough."

He beamed again, before adding sincerely, "No one will suspect. It's dark."

Ayla smiled, and raised a hand to smooth his hair out some more, taking care to avoid the dark hole on the left side.

"Well," George gestured into the dark clearing behind them, "this is the orchard. Hope you enjoyed it. I'll bring you back in the daytime some other day. It's time to be getting back, though. We've pushed our luck a bit, I'm afraid."

With that, he took her hand, and they headed silently back down the path back towards the party. There was something undeniably pleasant about walking quietly with George in the dark, with the sound of frogs and crickets all around. Just before they passed beneath the canopy of the treeline at the edge of the yard, he stopped her. He raised their entwined hands and brought her fingers up to his lips.

"Remember, offer still stands for tomorrow," he whispered. He squeezed her hand and let go, leading her back to the crowded table.

Once Harry, Ron, and Hermione had returned to dinner, and the Minister had left, everything seemed back to normal, with the added entertainment of passing around the trio's inheritance from Dumbledore. Apparently the Minister had been there to deliver some items from the late Headmaster's collection. Ayla had particular fun with the Golden Snitch, which was the one Harry had caught by accidentally swallowing. There was something delightful about the little fluttering wings and how they ticked at her fingers. She giggled, liking how the Snitch almost seemed to be excited itself as it whirred. Though, there was a pretty good chance that the elation she felt was more a result of the handsome red-headed wizard beside her, and the feeling that they now shared an exciting secret. Even with the absence of a body on the other side of her, she still sat so that they were touching from shoulder to knee.

He was smiling knowingly as he drank from his glass, watching her play with the tiny golden ball.

"I want one of these." She said, holding it up so the wings could tickle her cheek. "Are they terribly expensive?"

"Unfortunately," Fred said as he shoveled cake into his mouth.

Ayla sighed sadly.

"I've got a couple of old Bludgers you could have…" he continued, chuckling.

"Somehow I just don't think it would be the same, but thanks." She reached across the table to hand Harry the Snitch. He muttered a quick thanks. The bespectacled young man stared at it pensively, chewing on his lower lip and looking mildly distressed, before pocketing it.


That night, Ayla had a hard time sleeping again. But this time it was the smile she was hiding in her pillow that kept her awake. She eventually fell into a doze, dreams of George and the promise of the following evening filling her head.