Category: Harry Potter
Warning(s): Language, Substance Abuse, Scenes of a Mild Sexual Nature, Contains Spoilers
Summary: Walking into the Leaky Cauldron that night had changed her life. It hadn't all been good; there'd been the accidental marriage, the case of the stolen sweaters, and that time she'd walked in on the guys in that compromising position... Yet, for all the ups and downs and tears and embarrassment, she wouldn't trade a chance to go through life with five soul mates for anything.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter does not belong to me and I am making no profit in the creation of this story.
AN: Thank you to my beta wolfgirl for the feedback with this chapter!
Chapter Two: April Fools
"You're an evil genius," Lee muttered in awe as he looked over the object Hermione currently held out for his approval. "He's going to love you even more than he already does."
Hermione flushed, giving in to the wide smile that was begging to burst forth. She was quite proud of her creation. It wasn't often that she allowed herself to surrender to Lee's desperate desire for her help with pranks. She'd only relented this time for George's sake and she was excited to show the ultimate prank critic what she'd come up with.
"I know," she said with a flippant shrug before placing the charmed hat down on a workbench in the back of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. "I'm already his best friend though. How much more can he possibly love me?"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Lee sputtered. "I'm George's best friend."
"Sure you are, sweetie," she dismissed, patting his cheek. "I'll put that on a tee-shirt for you, just to be clear."
"I don't think I appreciate your tone," Lee admonished, kissing her forehead before strolling back towards the shop to man the floor.
"Wait! I want him to see it. Where is he?" Hermione called after him.
"Where do you think he is?" Lee raised his eyebrows at her over his shoulder before disappearing around a corner.
She reckoned it was a silly question.
Today was George's twenty-fourth birthday. Hermione and Lee had been trying to come up with a prank that he'd appreciate for almost a month now; something to lessen his sadness. Every year they watched helplessly as his grief over Fred's death overshadowed a day that his friends wanted him to enjoy. They wanted him to clear his mind of his loss and focus on what he'd gained. He'd never forget Fred, but that didn't mean he couldn't celebrate the time they'd had together with those that loved him instead of wallowing on his own.
Hermione knew exactly where he was.
When she apparated over to the cemetery, she took a moment to look over the vast rolling hills lined with tombstones. The hurt at seeing the immensity of the field always took Hermione's breath away. The pain of the war was still raw and she reckoned it would be for many years.
Tugging her jacket closer to ward off the spring breeze, she quickly made the trek to the familiar patch of grass dedicated to Fred Weasley. She hesitated for a moment when her eyes fell on the large, starburst-shaped headstone. She had to take a deep, shaky breath before she approached it. Her eyes scanned over the inscription that George had picked out himself:
1978 – 1998
Beloved Son and Brother
Always the Better Half / / Mischief Managed
"Hey handsome," she whispered, kissing the tips of her fingers before gently pressing them against the headstone. "Happy birthday."
After a moment of silence for her friend, she leaned around to look behind the large feature. She glanced down to see George in the grass sitting against the back of the slab. His knees were drawn up to his chest and his head was tilted to rest against the stone. His eyes remained shut despite her presence, leading her to wonder if she'd snuck up on him.
"Were you worried about me?" he asked quietly, answering her silent question. He opened his eyes, looking up at her with an expression that clearly showed his suffering. Her heart shattered for him and she dropped down to kneel at his side, reaching out a hand to cup his cheek.
"Always," she assured gently. "I love you, Georgie."
He exhaled forcefully before lifting his palm up to rest against the back of hers so that the contact was strengthened. "You know I hate it when anyone calls me that."
"You hate when anyone else calls you that," Hermione corrected. It'd been a nickname that Fred used. She'd accidentally called him it for the first time not too long ago, and he'd shocked her by admitting that he liked when she said it. He found it therapeutic.
George gave a tired grin. "I let you get away with too much. It's making your ego insatiable."
"I guess you'll have to put me in my place then," she said impishly before freezing when George did. Gods that had sounded so flirty, dirty even. She felt heat rise to her cheeks in horror. "I – I didn't mean it like that."
George surprised her by emitting a loud bark of laughter. He tugged her off her knees and closer to him. She fell forward, cradled against his body as he stretched his legs out so that she could lay down in the grass at his side. He drew an arm up to rest behind his head as a cushion and wrapped the other around her. "I didn't know you were into that sort of thing, Granger. How the hell are you still single if you're going around begging to be punished?"
Hermione buried her face against his chest. "I meant that you'd have to tell me to stop or tease me until I got over it. You know, like you usually do."
"Likely excuse," he murmured, resting his chin atop her head. "Thank you for coming to look for me, by the way."
"Yeah?" she replied with her lips against the sliver of jumper peeking out at his neck. "I'm not intruding?"
"You could never," George confessed, running a hand through her curls. "Besides, that's the first time I've laughed all day."
"It doesn't have to be that way," Hermione urged after a moment of hesitation. "Come back to the shop with me. Come out to dinner with the others. It would mean a lot to us, especially Ron and Ginny."
George didn't say anything in response for a very long while. He dropped a hand to her lower back and pulled her closer, his face falling to rest against her shoulder. Hermione shut her eyes at his embrace, finding comfort in her best friend as she'd done so often over the years.
After the war when their little group was formed, she'd begun to seek George out for support quite frequently. Of course Lee, Ron, Harry, and Ginny meant everything to her; however, it was George who she felt the deepest connection to. The others had their distractions, their lives both within their group and outside it. Hermione, on the other hand, was lost without them. They were what held her together when her life felt out of control. George seemed to be the only one who truly understood that. Maybe because he was the only one she allowed to.
"I wasn't with him when it happened," George announced softly, his face still hidden against her neck. "I should have been, but I wasn't."
Hermione's eyebrows furrowed. She ran a hand through the hair at the back of his head. "What do you mean?"
"Fred. I wasn't with him when it happened. You were," he said, lifting his gaze to hers. The usually vivid green specks in his brown eyes were now dull. "I wish we could go back in time and trade places. I wish I could have stopped you from seeing it. I know it haunts you. And I wish I could have been there for him. Maybe if we'd been together, he'd still be here."
"Don't do that. You can't –"
George stopped her with desperate tears welling in his eyes as he raised his hands to run his thumbs over her cheekbones. He was begging her to understand. "Listen to me, baby. He broke his nose when we were nine after he'd gone out to play quidditch in the yard with Charlie and Bill without me. I cracked my head open on a rock when we were six and I went into the orchard alone to climb trees but fell out. I was away from him when I got my ear sliced off by Snape. And when he died, he was away from me. We were always invincible together. How could I have gone off without him in the middle of a bloody war?"
Hermione pushed away from his chest, guiltily raising her hand to brush away stray tears at his words. She hated herself for crying in front of him. "I'm sorry," she said with a broken gasp, covering her eyes with her palm. "I'm so sorry."
Startling her, George sat up so his back was resting against his twin's headstone again. He reached out to pull Hermione's hand from her face and then tugged her into his lap. His hand slid to her thighs to draw her sideways against his chest. She let herself give in to his embrace as she threw her arms around his neck, her cheek pressed to his as he rocked her soothingly and they lost themselves in the comfort of each other's arms. The sound of their shuddering breaths as tears overcame them became the only noise throughout the field.
It must have been a full hour later when Hermione finally forced herself to slide away from him. He blinked blearily as the movement disturbed him, both having dozed off in exhaustion at the emotional turmoil. He smiled at her warmly when his eyes found hers. "We fell asleep."
Hermione nodded, picking a leaf from her hair. "Not the most comfortable of places for a nap."
"That's just because my muscles are so hard. They're too firm and strong to be comfortable," George teased in a hoarse, sleep-worn grumble.
"Yes, you're such a stud," Hermione breathed, fanning her face theatrically. "It took all my willpower not to shag you right here."
George smirked at her. "That's one birthday present Fred would have loved."
"That's something you will not be getting from me today," Hermione laughed, reaching out to take the hand he'd offered to help her stand. "I do have a present for you, though."
"Is it shiny?" he asked, brushing blades of grass of her and then himself.
She gave a helpless giggle as his fingers tickled her sides. She pushed him away. "You'll just have to come see. If you're ready to go, that is."
George rubbed his bad ear absently, a nervous tick of his. Hermione watched as he roamed around to the front of Fred's headstone, staring intently before breaking into a relaxed grin. "I've got to go, Freddie. Granger's got a birthday present for me. You understand, don't you? You love Hermione. She's got the sexiest –"
"George!" Hermione gasped disbelievingly. "You can't talk to him like that! You're disturbing his peace."
"She doesn't know you at all, does she?" he said in a fake whisper that Hermione could hear completely. "She doesn't know that sexy birds are your catnip. Anyway, happy birthday Freddie. Give 'em hell up there for me. I'll be back to visit soon."
After placing his hand to the headstone for a heavy moment, he turned to face her. She sent a parting smile towards Fred before reaching out for his hand and apparating them both to the backroom of the joke shop. The moment that his feet hit the floor, George was bustling about the room grabbing items from all over for a purpose only he knew. Hermione watched him, happy that the sadness of their time together could be persevered through. George would always be haunted by his grief, but it was nice seeing him move on as best he could.
"Whatever you're doing, stop," Hermione said, reaching out to halt his busy movements as her eyes fell to the nearest clock. "We've only got fifteen minutes before we're supposed to meet everyone for dinner."
"I need to close down," George replied, dropping everything that was in his hands and then crossing his arms. "I love you baby, but I've got work to do."
"Well baby," she teased, her voice deepening in a poor imitation of his, "I actually took care of that. Lee closed down, Ron did inventory, and I completed the potions that were ready to be taken off the fire and vialed."
George chuckled. "I appreciate the order of those assignments."
"You didn't expect me to let Ron or Lee handle explosive potions, did you?"
"No, I suppose not," he admitted. "So, about that present…"
Hermione clapped her hands in excitement before making her way over to where she'd left the hat earlier. "You're going to love this!"
She held out the hat to him with an expectant smile that she'd practiced in the mirror earlier. She knew George had a soft spot for her, so she intended to play on that as much as possible to get the blasted thing on his head. She forced a hopefully bright expression onto her features as she beckoned him to take it.
George's hand hovered just short of the hat's brim for a moment, a look of dread blooming across his face before he could hide it. Hermione had to covertly pinch her arm to keep from laughing at him. Finally he picked it up. "Mischief Managed," he read aloud, looking at the horrid, sparkly green script that spelt out the words he'd always lived by. The saying shined out from material that flashed the various colors of the rainbow. Even for someone who was used to wearing loud clothing like George was, the hat was horrible.
Hermione bit her lip as if anticipating his disappointment, internally patting herself on the back when George's attention was drawn to the motion. "Do you like it? I know it's not much but…"
"It's perfect," he insisted immediately, cutting her off with a kiss to her cheek. "Thank you."
"You'll wear it to dinner?" she asked eagerly, picking up the hat and placing it on his head for him. She made sure to tuck it down as much as possible over his skull, tilting the brim so that the top of his eyebrows were covered too.
He seemed to resign himself to his future embarrassment before he shrugged and nodded. The affectionate stare that he always got when he was amused by something she did overtook his face. She suspected he thought she was absolutely mad for thinking the gift was nice. She couldn't help but chuckle behind her hand as she looked at him. She reckoned he must really love her to hold back comments about the monstrosity.
Her insides warmed a little. "Are you ready to go?"
Minutes later, they were strolling into the Leaky Cauldron together. The others spotted them as they walked through the door and immediately burst into a round of "Happy Birthday." George took it graciously. It was the first time he'd allowed anyone to sing for him since his last birthday with Fred.
As the pair walked to their table, Hermione caught Lee's eye. He was sporting an absurdly smug grin as he ogled George. He gave a proud wink which she returned, happy she'd managed to pull it off. Her ideas were usually flawless, but she frequently botched the execution. Not that she could really take credit for getting him into the hat. She figured her piss poor pranking ability in the past was what had his guard down enough to think nothing of it.
"Nice hat, brother," Ron laughed, standing to hug George.
Ginny was next, wrapping her arms around him. "Where'd you get that –?"
"Wonderful thing?" George interrupted, trying to spare Hermione's feelings.
"I gave it to George for his birthday," she announced innocently.
Harry gave her a bizarre look. "Really?"
"Well, let me try it on!" Ginny begged playfully. "I want to wear the walking sign for abstinence."
George opened his mouth to defend the gift again, but was stopped by both Hermione and Lee's shouts of protest. He watched as Hermione's hand reached out to swat Ginny's when she went to remove the hat from her brother's head. George pointed a finger back and forth between Hermione and Lee thoughtfully before his eyes widened and he ripped the offending material off.
"Bloody hell," Ron gaped at George.
"What did you do?" George demanded, taking a step towards Lee.
The man jumped away to cower behind Hermione. "I'm sorry mate, I can't understand what you're saying. I'm too distracted by the delightful way the light is hitting your head."
Everyone burst into laughter, unable to hold it in any longer.
George ran a hand over his scalp and turned to look into the mirror above the bar. His face froze in shock. He was bald. Better yet, he was bald with the top halves of his eyebrows missing. He looked like a character out of a fairy tale, and not the good kind.
"It's not fair having Granger do your dirty work for you," he groaned, pointing the hat at Lee. "You knew I'd never expect it from her."
"Actually," Hermione began sheepishly, torn between feeling cocky and feeling guilty, "It was my idea and my dirty work."
"This was you?" George's gaze flew to hers in surprise. She nodded and bit her lip worriedly; maybe she'd been wrong to think a prank would help him get through the day. Fortunately, she was spared her panic a moment later when he softened, finally giving in to a chuckle. "You minx, I didn't know you had it in you."
"Serves you right for underestimating me," she bragged in relief, leaning over to kiss his shiny head. "By the way, the hat has a minor jinx on it. You can't grow your hair back by any magical means."
George sighed. "Of course not."
"Happy birthday baby," she taunted as they all slid into their booths to celebrate the day together for the first time. "Oh, and April Fools."
AN: We already know the friends can have fun together, but this was my way of seeing the many layers of their friendship. It's not always about going out and having a fun time. I focused on George and Hermione, because the bond they share is so sweet. I'm going to delve some more into Hermione's quest for a soul mate in the next update :) Let me know what you thought! Please review! Lastly, remember to vote in my profile poll for your favorite pairings.