Well, like always I own nothing of this except the plot, and I'm not even sure exactly where that's going. As for everything else, I hope you're enjoying the store as it slowly begins, and I hope you will continue to enjoy it as it begins to come together. Also, I enjoy reviews just like every other author, and I would love to hear what you all have to think! With that in mind, Read and Review!
I stayed curled up and withdrawn in my sanctuary well past the evening meal down in the Great Hall. Besides not feeling the usual twinges of hunger that normally would have roused me from my solitary confinement, I couldn't bring myself to leave the comforting caress of the fire. Its curling tendrils of heat enveloped me, holding me in the safety of its touch, and the babble of voices that had thundered down the multiple staircases in the Gryffindor common room hadn't seemed, in that moment, the least bit enticing. I was, for once, completely on my own, and I reveled in the knowledge, glad that not even Harry and Ron had given my absence a second thought. Having experienced the beginning of the school year feasts before, I knew that no one would intrude upon my moment of quiet for at least a few hours, busy as they would be partaking of the multiple coursed meals. I smiled and let my legs unfurl from beneath me, closed my book with a muted sigh, and stretched my arms above my head, feeling the stretch and pull of cramped muscles releasing. I rose and took a turn about the room, admiring the portraits of ancient witches and wizards that adorned the circular walls.
"Cozy little scene you've got set up here, isn't it?" The light baritone, seeming to have floated out from the wall behind me, startled me into turning around. I could feel the surprise flit across my features as I took in the man standing in front of me, but I quickly schooled them back into fixed casualness. He shifted slightly, uncomfortable in the face of my quietness, and moved to sit on the plush red couch that was the centerpiece of the immense room, trailing behind him a brown leather knapsack, filled to bulging with God knew what. I watched in silence as he settled himself, affecting indifference to my lack of conversation, before I finally let myself speak.
"I wasn't expecting anyone to be back so soon." My voice was pitched low, it sounded muted in the coziness of the room that surrounded it, enveloped by the mass of fluffed pillows, giant throws, and clawed wingback chairs. I especially hadn't expected George Weasley, of all people, to have been the first back. Then again, he wasn't the most social person lately; convinced as I'm sure he was that his happiness was a betrayal to Fred's memory. He smiled sardonically back at me, the left side of his mouth quirking up slightly at the corner, giving him a rakish look in the basking half-lit glow from the fire, still partially shaded by the chair I had previously occupied.
"I never went down to dinner with the rest. Just got back from Hogsmeade actually." He motioned with the fingers of his right hand to the bag lying on the floor by his booted feet, explaining without words the reason for both his absence for the majority of the afternoon, and his early retirement to the padded confines of the common room. I was curious to know what he'd bought, but respected his silence regarding his new inventions, and the ingredients that went into his existing products. The silence between us, left behind after his last response, started to press down on me and I shifted my weight from one foot to the other, debating whether to grab a late dinner from the house elves below the kitchen, or make a run directly to my room. My stomach chose that moment to make its presence known, emitting a loud gurgle that increased the color in my cheeks from fireside glow, to creeping pink flush. I hoped George wouldn't notice, but thought it rather unlikely, considering the amused glint that had entered his cerulean eyes.
"I guess it's a good thing I thought to bring back dinner, seeing as I knew I'd be out late. Sit down Granger, we can share." He bent to the irregular proportions of his bag, opened the flap, and began digging around for the food he'd supposedly brought. As unappetizing as crushed mincemeat sandwiches from Sir Pelican's Bistro and Deli sounded, I wasn't in a position to complain. Nervously, aware that though I'd known George for as long as I had Ron and Harry I'd never really gotten to know him, I made my way over to the unoccupied cushion on the couch and sat down, tucking my skirts in around me.
"Can I help at all?" I asked. I was unused to letting people do anything that required serving me on their own, and felt useless with my hands folded demurely in my lap. He noticed my hesitation to stay still, and glanced up from pulling a seemingly endless array of packages from the still engorged pack. I felt a brief moment of admiration for the quality of his Expanding Charm.
"Relax Granger. I've got two hands left, even if I've only got the one ear. Besides, wouldn't want you hitting your pretty little hands against anything harmful I've got in my bag. It'll just take a moment more." His crooked smile twisted a little on the mention of his missing ear, no doubt bringing to mind his other loss, greater than anything I could imagine. He had been an entire person once, happy and care free, living out life with his double by his side. Now, with Fred gone, so too was half of George's own personality. So integrated into one another's thoughts the twins had been, that separation had erased many of the positive thoughts that had used to fill George's mind. He finished unpacking the necessary provisions quickly, his hands moving surely back and forth from bag to table, table to bag. As food piled up in front of us, I began to realize that my initial assumptions of a foray into Hogsmeade's deli couldn't have been more off.
Lying before me on glittering plates were all the delicacies that Hogwarts could muster. For our dinner George had secured roasted mutton, an entire turkey shrunken to a more portable size, shepherd's pie, roast and creamed potatoes, and some asparagus and spinach salad with a light honey mustard glaze to drizzle over the top. Mouth watering slightly, I leaned forward and sniffed delicately at the many dishes before me, and continued to wait, albeit impatiently, for George to finish, though I couldn't imagine him needing anything else. Finally pulling out a shimmering silver flask and using a copycat charm to create a double of the matching silver goblet, George turned to me, auburn bangs gleaming in the light of the fire.
"To finding a rare moment of peace and quiet," he murmured, pouring a healthy dose of iced pumpkin juice into each of the goblets. I picked mine up and stared contemplatively at the man across from me, lightly clinking my cup to his before raising it to my lips and sipping, the sweet fluid sliding in a curiously unfamiliar burn down the back of my throat. Whisky, I thought dimly, remembering an encounter with the unpleasant effects of that liquid when taken undiluted after a rather frightening encounter with a group of death eaters while on the run with Harry. While not unpleasant when mixed with the pumpkin juice, its presence there in the first place had me wondering just how well George was really coming along in the healing department, if he'd resorted to the use of alcohol in a personal flask that could be sipped at will throughout the day. He was still watching me, eyes guarded as I continued to partake of my drink, and when I didn't say anything about the unnatural taste, he smiled slightly, shrugged, and turned instead to the food, no doubt hungry after being out all day.
"Well Miss Granger, I suggest we get started. This might take awhile, and I'm sure you'll have to get back to your studies sooner, rather than later." He reached forward and grabbed one of the plates, passed it to me, and began to fill his own with an incredible array of food. Deciding that I really was quite hungry as well, I picked up a fork and began dishing up what would make my own dinner, realizing that by the time I'd loaded the plate with my chosen dishes, I had amount that almost equaled that of the infamous Weasley twin's. Self-conscious at the completely unflattering glance he ran down the length of my figure upon seeing the portion sizes divided neatly on my plate, I wasted no time in confiding in him that since my rather early luncheon that afternoon I had had nothing to eat, and had not had the time for breakfast that morning. He just smiled at me through a mouthful of roast and potatoes, and continued eating, not pausing to offer even the smallest of apologies.
After finishing what we could of the miniature feast spread before us, George and I reclined in our respective seats. He sat sprawled quite languidly over the plush red sofa that occupied one side of the room, while I returned to curl back into my chair in front of the fireplace with a muted "Thank you for the food George."A muffled, "Humph," was heard from that general direction as I picked up the book I had previously lain down, and I assumed it was in acknowledgment of my statement. Returning to the page I had left off on, I quickly became re-immersed in the tale of judgmental love depicted by the unwilling Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett. Neither had ever expected to fall for one like the other, and yet, in the end, theirs was a love worth fighting for, worth waiting for. Someday I hoped to find something like that. Maybe not quite so full of drama and family strife, but certainly the type of feelings that would leave me weak in the knees and enamored for life. Then again, the chances of that were limited for a now famous bookworm like me, and I sighed, imagining a lonely life filled with grumpy companions like Crookshanks, who had escaped the war with a missing left ear, but no severe damage.
"I lo-I lo- I love you."
"What kind of rubbish are you reading, Granger?" George's voice sounded just over my shoulder, and I jumped slightly, blushing and closing my book with a definitive snap. I hadn't even realized he'd made his way over to my side of the room, much less to my immediate vicinity, and I chided myself on not paying close enough attention to my surroundings. You'd think a war would've trained your senses a little better Hermione, I thought sarcastically, intensely angry that I had let myself slip up.
"It's not rubbish George Weasley!" I used my most commanding prefect voice, scolding and incriminatory. "It's beautiful. Not that you would understand, being the obnoxious person you are." I immediately felt terrible, and I turned in my seat to apologize, whipping around in time to see him cover up the shock of being verbally attacked by a quiet bookworm, and the hurt at being assumed incapable of higher emotions.
"You're right Granger," he stated quietly, "love isn't something I'd understand. At least not the romantic kind. I did love though, once. A different kind of love that endured the obstacles of life, and is currently transcending the boundaries of death. My brother, my twin was the closest person to me in the world. He knew all my secrets, my thoughts on important matters and on insignificant ones. If that isn't love Granger, then you're right, and I don't know what is." I watched him with liquid eyes while he stared down at me, the depths of his blue eyes striking guilt into my heart like a lightning bolt, clattering across my mind like the roll of thunder, heavy in the calmness that precedes a storm.
"George," I whispered, wanting to take back the selfish words I had spoken in haste, to defend a book and characters that were not even real, would not acknowledge my fight on their behalf, and instead sought to provide some sort of comfort to the heart I had inadvertently wounded.
"Goodnight, Miss Granger." His words were spoken with such forceful finality that I stopped; lips parted in comical readiness to rush into my apology, and watched him walk away instead. His footsteps fell heavily on the carpeted floor, and dragged up the staircase to the room at the top that he occupied alone, a testament that he was one of few that had returned from a class ravaged by the war. I heard the empty click of the clock as he shut the door to that dorm, and imagined the pain seeping from those broad shoulders, carrying a burden too heavy for one man to bear alone. Realizing in a moment of utter clarity that I had not helped ease that burden in the slightest with my unguarded words, I stood up and made my way to the bottom of the staircase, placing one foot shakily on the bottom step as I contemplated ascending the oak boards after him.
"'Mione? What're you doing?" I turned quickly, shifting my feet guiltily as Ron and Harry stared back at me, looking for the entire world like I might be losing my mind. "That's the boy's dormitory," Harry stated slowly, enunciating clearly despite the fact that I knew what I was doing and was equipped with every faculty I possessed.
"You alright 'Mione?" It was Ron's turn to question my sanity, and I nodded mutely, backing away as I did so, until my back bumped into the couch and memories of George reclining peacefully there just minutes before forced me into an embarrassed half run, half walk up my own set of stairs to my room. Shutting the door behind me, I couldn't help but wonder what Ron and Harry would think, if they would think anything at all of my odd behavior. Sending up a quick prayer that they would leave it alone and not think to question me about it the next morning, I slipped out of my school robes and into my old flannel pajamas, and crawled into the cavernous expanse of my empty bed. The silky sheets were delightfully cool against my flushed skin, and I burrowed deeper, trying to quell the guilt rising within me once more as I remembered George's words, and the broken look etched into the back of his eyes.
"If that isn't love, then you're right Granger," his voice taunted my conscious, refusing to let me slide into a dreamless sleep, "and I don't know what is." As the last echoes of his hurting ebbed from my waking mind, I thought back to the idea of love I'd been wishing for before he'd interrupted me, and I felt a few lone tears leak out of my eyes, gathering in wetness before I could think to wipe them away. I lay there, in the darkness of my dorm, aching and alone, crying for all those who had been hurt, ravaged, and left behind to deal with it all by war they had not had a choice in, except to fight, and hope that there was the chance they'd make it out alive.
I don't know either George, I thought tiredly, letting the inky blackness of sleep infringe upon my dark ruminations, I don't know either. I'm sorry.
Well, that concluded Chapter Three! Tell me what you think, and perhaps anything you'd like to see! I'm open to suggestions! Though I do have some definite things in mind! Reviews also make me very happy! And a happy author makes for an author that likes to update! With THAT in mind, there's this little button right below this, you should think about taking an extra second to click on it. There you go. That wasn't so hard, was it?