"When are you going to get tired of asking me that question?"
George shrugs. "Whenever you tell me the truth."
"I'm here because I want to be," she says in that tone he's heard her use around Teddy. He's not a child, though, so it doesn't calm him or make him listen. If anything, it makes him angry that she feels a need to treat him that way.
"See? Lies." He shifts slightly and keeps his attention on the box he's unloading. The daily routine for the last two years has been for him to ask, her to mutter at him and answer, and then for him to quietly accept it before asking again the next day. It's one of the only routines he actually sort of likes, mostly because he likes hearing that someone actually wants to be there with him.
Hermione doesn't answer, which makes him finally look up from his inventory. If he's wrong, she'd be denying it, so saying nothing might mean he's right. Is their friendship really nothing more than a pity case? She's at the counter reviewing his books, making sure all the columns add up and that income is higher than outgoing or whatever categories she's called them. Only, she's not really doing anything except staring at a display of Slimy Snakes, watching their tails twitch.
Everything suddenly feels awkward, and he knows it's his fault. Most things are, but it never fails to remind him that he doesn't have Fred around to blame anymore. After nearly three years, he thinks it shouldn't hurt so much still and that he shouldn't think about Fred every day. Shows what he knows, though. Fred was always more clever, more outgoing, friendlier, and George was more focused, serious, and moody. Not that anyone ever really noticed cause it was always FredandGeorge with few ever seeing them as anything but each other. More obvious after Fred left him here, even with him trying to be Fred and be what they all missed. Still tries, 'specially around Mum and Dad, but some people have realized a lot of it's just an act.
"Why do you always ask me?" Her voice is soft and thoughtful, which scares him. He's heard it before, whenever she's musing about some archaic charm she wants to figure out or some puzzle she's trying to solve.
"Dunno." Good answer there, George. He can hear Fred laughing at him and rubs his hand over his good ear even as he glances around, just in case. There's no one there. Never is, but the hope doesn't die.
He's so caught up in his thoughts that he didn't even hear her move or else she was really quiet because suddenly she's beside him and he's looking at her hand as it rests on top of his. "Stop counting and look at me."
"Wonder if you'll ever grow out of that bossiness," he mutters, shifting again as he stares at her hand. It's small compared to his own, and it's soft and warm and makes him think about things he shouldn't.
"I doubt it." She sounds so serious, no trace of amusement at all, and he moves back suddenly, reaching up to run his hand nervously through his hair. If his hands are busy, she can't touch them. "George, why do you think I'm lying?"
Bloody hell, all the questions. She doesn't usually ask all these, never has before. Course, he's the one who changed the routine. Shouldn't have done. Routine is good, in moderation, and the one they've developed calms him whenever his mind starts to wander or things get overwhelming. Doesn't matter that he fires her every day, at first because she was bloody infuriating and now because it's a way to make her laugh without having to try to be someone he no longer really is anymore.
He finally looks at her and wishes he hadn't. She's leaning her hip against his worktable, looking at him with big brown eyes that he can't believe his stupid baby brother could ever resist, and her hair surrounds her face in a wild tangle of curls that escaped from the pins she had in this morning. She's not gorgeous, not flashy and sexy like some women, but he still thinks she's one of the prettiest things he's ever seen. Fred's fault, that. Silly crush in fifth year, when she was being chatted up by Krum, and George had to listen to Fred talk about her like she was some prized treasure only he'd been lucky enough to find.
Fred's gone now, though, and George is here realizing just how clever his brother was all those years ago. Too clever. And she's Fred's, even if she never knew it, and he can't want what Fred wanted because they never liked the same birds, never competed like that, and why would she ever want him when he's not even whole? Half of him died years ago, a part of him that'll never be replaced, and he's far from perfect, which she deserves. Deserves everything she ever wants, he knows, what with her stubborn refusal to let him just exist here in the shop and forcing him to start living again when everyone else just bought the act and thought he was fine for months after. Not her, never her. Always has seen him, hasn't she? Is why Fred noticed her in the first place.
The feel of her hand on his cheek makes him realize he's closed his eyes. He opens them and steps back from her, running into the wall. She looks hurt, dropping her hand as her cheeks turn red, and he wonders if she, too, can't breathe. He's having trouble, and his face is now tingling where she touched. He looks down, grateful for the longer hair that hides the space where his ear should be and also hides his face when he doesn't want to be seen. He's buggered everything up, ruined their balance, and now she'll leave and maybe not come back because he's changed everything.
"I'm not Fred," he whispers, feeling guilty even as he says the words, hoping that Fred can forgive him wherever he is now because he didn't mean to say that but he's scared and all of this is so confusing in that way that never can really make sense.
There's a moment when all he can hear is his heart beating so fast and the sound of them breathing. "You're George." Her voice is soft, confused and breathless, and he doesn't have to look up to know she's biting her lip because she always does that when she's thinking seriously.
"That's why I ask," he admits quietly. Why would she choose to work for him, to work here in a bloody joke shop doing accounts and creating clever things, when she could be working for the Ministry? He knows Shacklebolt practically begged her, heard from Harry and Ron both that she turned out several amazing opportunities after she got her NEWTs, listens to everyone, including his own parents, wonder why she works here instead of doing great wonderful things like they all expect. If it was for Fred, he'd understand because Fred was the greatest person in the world, but it's not. It's just for him, and he can't make sense of why she'd want to be here.
She sighs, and there's another shift in the air around them, all weird and heavy and he can't breathe or maybe he's just holding his breath. When she brushes his hair back, she touches his scarred skin and he shivers. No one has ever---it tingles, makes him feel warm and tense all at the same time. He looks up, hair falling across his eyes, and meets her gaze. She leans up slowly, looking scared and uncertain but determined, and then her lips brush against his. Just one little brush, shy and hesitant, before she whispers, "You’re why I'm here."
He lets out the breath he's been holding and can hear Fred laughing at him, calling him stupid names and questioning whether he lost his bollocks in the war instead of his ear. She's right there, looking up at him as if she's not sure she's made a mistake and should run or stay, and he keeps hearing Fred teasing him, and it's like everything's as it should be, in some fucked up way that starts to make sense. He laughs, really laughs, for the first time in nearly three years, and he kisses her, not shy and hesitant at all. This is what he wants and he can't believe it's real but he knows it is because she's there for him, for George.