Home isn’t much better this week. Hugo has been driving her batty with a regression into not letting her do much of anything without him right there. It’s behavior he has only displayed occasionally since he was a toddler, though she can think of two times in the last year, so she’s a little concerned. But the parenting books she’s read seem to think it’s normal considering his upcoming time away from her and home. Whatever the reason, she has her hands full from the moment she picks him up from Molly’s until he goes to bed. Then she’s left with hours to think and try to get some sleep.
The time at night has at least allowed her to do a lot of soul-searching, something she’s avoided since life became complicated that night several weeks ago, and she’s begun to seriously evaluate her relationship with Teddy from a point-of-view of giving it a try. She’s made more lists, but they’re pros and cons, analysis and dissection, and she’s studying them more intently than ever before. When she actually sat and wrote every single concern down, the size of the list was overwhelming yet repetitive, with a majority of concerns following into a few categories. Still, she needed to see it in writing so she could try to make sense of her emotions.
Teddy has been avoiding her, though he’s friendly when their paths do cross. She regrets being somewhat patronizing on Monday, falling back on one of many defense mechanisms, yet she really couldn’t have been too warm and welcoming or he’d have got the wrong idea. Despite managing to avoid Ron, because she’s still angry at his accusations, she hasn’t been able to evade Harry, who has developed a habit of appearing in her office around lunch time to invite her out to Finnigan’s or possibly just to confirm that she’s not flirting with poor defenseless Teddy.
Today, she’s relieved that she has plans. George has become a close friend over the years, and he always makes her laugh, which she needs right now. Especially after Ginny’s chilly reception this morning when they passed each other in the hallway. She still doesn’t know exactly what that was about, but it’s not like she can demand answers from Harry about his wife’s oddities. Half the time, he doesn’t seem to understand them, either. In any case, she leaves for lunch with George, happy that she’ll have a nice distraction from work and life.
Instead of Apparating to Diagon Alley, she takes the public Floo to the Leaky Cauldron then steps out into the warm afternoon sunshine. Despite the fact that she first saw this place twenty-seven years ago, she still feels that rush of excitement whenever she enters Diagon Alley. She hopes there never comes a day when she isn’t impressed by magic and aware of how privileged they are to possess such an amazing gift. Her optimistic nature might have suffered over the years but this is something she never wants to lose.
Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes is in the same spot it’s been since she was a teenager, and it has several patrons buying things on their lunch breaks when she enters. She spots George at the counter and glances around until she sees Alicia’s daughter, Ellen. The girl has been working for George since her schooling ended, and, from what he says, she’s doing well enough that he’s considering training her for permanent employment. Ellen notices her and waves before going back to stocking the shelves.
“Do my eyes deceive me or is that Hermione Granger Formerly Weasley standing in my shop?” George’s tone is awe-stricken as he gasps and most likely flutters his eyelashes behind her.
“It could possibly be your eyesight,” she says thoughtfully, turning to study him intently. “After all, you’re getting so very old, and vision is one of the first things to go.”
“Yep, it’s definitely Hermione.” He grins and gives her a hug before he swats her shoulder. “And bite your tongue. I’m not old.”
“Of course you’re not. If you were, that would mean I was, considering I’m barely a year and a half younger.”
“Logic as always, I see.“ He looks over and calls out in a loud voice across the aisles, “Ellen, I’m having lunch. Don’t burn the shop down, don’t let people sweet talk you into making any deals, and stop ogling that cute bloke looking at the sweets.”
“She’s going to kill you,” Hermione mutters as Ellen turns bright red and looks at the bloke in question, who is fighting a smile.
“Nah, she’ll just try to prank me later. It’s a routine,” he says. “Come on. Let’s go upstairs to eat. You’re lucky enough to be getting a meal cooked by yours truly.”
“Hmmm. Where did you get take-away?” she asks pointedly as she follows him to the back staircase.
“That hoity toity place that Angie loves. I refuse to say the name because it sounds ridiculous. It’s the principle of the matter.”
“You bought hoity toity food for me?” She grins. “I feel so special. Do you mean Z?”
“Hmph. Ridiculous bloody name. No surprise considering who owns it, but they make great lunches. Besides, their chef is a customer in the, uh, back room, so I get a discount.”
“Just hope Zabini doesn‘t find out his chef is being so common. I‘ve heard he‘s a terror on the staff at his places when it comes to reputation,” she warns. “However, exchanging adult products for food discounts is very creative. I’m impressed.”
“That’s just cause it involves food. Otherwise, you’d be all blushy and hissing at me not to discuss that room with you, innocent little creature that you aren’t.”
They reach the upstairs flat that is now an office and dining area. It took George a little over a year after Fred’s death before he’d do anything to the flat, and she knows that Fred’s room is still like it was when he died. Angelina used to worry about George spending time in there, but the grieving process is different for everyone, so she accepts it. Hermione’s just glad that George was able to heal and mostly move on after losing his twin.
“I’m neither innocent nor particularly little,” she tells him matter-of-factly. The food smells delicious, so she goes straight to the table and sits down. “I see how this is, Weasley. Buy me amazing food in an attempt to get me over for lunch more often.”
“You always figure out my schemes, Granger. You’re such a pain in the arse.” He hands her a bottle of water and sits down. “It still has the sealed cap on, so you don’t have to worry about my lacing it with anything interesting.”
“As if I’d trust a sealed cap around a talented wizard.” She snorts and proceeds to perform a few simple charms to determine that the water is, indeed, safe to drink.
“I know not to prank you, love. You’d hand me my bollocks in a jar if I ever tried," he says matter-of-factly, quoting her favorite threat for the men in her life. After he sorts their food, which is some kind of chicken with rice creation that looks really quite good, he looks at her. “So, busy week?”
“Very.” She smiles wryly. “That obvious?”
“To those who know you well.” He starts to eat but keeps sneaking looks at her. “You going to tell me what’s wrong or do I have to be sneaky?”
“You can try for sneaky, and I’ll go for distant and uncommunicative.”
“Try? I’ll succeed but I’ve already blown my chance, so you’re just going to have to take pity on an old man and tell me what’s got you so stressed.”
“I don’t know this word pity of which you speak.”
He laughs. “I highly doubt there are many words you don’t know. Also, I’m more obstinate than you are, so just give up and tell me.”
“I’ve actually been reading that ‘word a day’ calendar that you gave me for Christmas. Proud?”
“I would be except I gave you that ten years ago.”
“Eh, words don’t change over years. I’m impressing Angie a lot. Seems she likes hearing me sound clever. Who’d have thunk it?”
“Not me, considering she married you.”
“Now, now. Play nice. I’d hate to send you back to that stuffy office with your nose grown out or your ears flopping on your shoulders.”
“Honestly, it’s just been a busy time right now, so I’m a little tense. Work has been a nightmare, with my boss taking a brief sabbatical, of sorts, and a new case that’s requiring a lot of attention. My personal life has been full, too, and I can’t really understand Hugo the last few days. He’s become a leech with red hair.”
George listens and frowns. “The boys behaved that way with me and Angie when we had that rough patch a few years ago. Anything happen that would make him think you were upset?”
“No, not that I can think of.” While she’s upset over the situation with Teddy, that’s not anything Hugo would know about. “He acted similarly when Ron first started dating Mel and when Rose went off to school, so maybe he’s noticed that I’m stressed and is being very close so I’m not alone. He worries about that, you know? Him going to school with Rose in September, and me being on my own.” She smiles. “When do our children start to behave like they’re the parents?”
“As soon as they become aware of how much we need them,” George says. “Mary doesn’t play favorites, so she just splits her clingy time between both of us. Fred is always underfoot around my birthday because he’s realized it’s difficult for me, and Gideon is clingy with Angie around the anniversary of, well, you know. Rough time in our house.”
“That’s the truth. Rose did that after Ron left, stepping up and making sure I didn’t fall apart,” she admits. “I wasn’t going to, of course, but I guess she instinctively knew that I needed more hugs than usual.”
“So why do you need more hugs right now than usual?” He takes a bite of his food and waits expectantly.
“I don’t.” She shrugs and takes another bite. It’s really good, though she wouldn’t expect less from anything bearing Zabini’s name. The man has the golden touch when it comes to investments, and the restaurants he opens are among the best in Wizarding Britain.
“Well, since you don’t want to talk, I guess I will.“ George puts down his fork and shakes his head. “I want to tell you a story. You want to hear it?”
“Sure.” She listens as she keeps eating.
“See, there’s this bloke. Nice and responsible man, pretty clever in most matters except those pertaining to women. Handsome fellow but just lacking experience when it comes to the troublesome creatures we call women,” George tells her. “This bloke has a dashing, intelligent friend, though, who is an expert in, well, all matters, nearly. So, he goes to him for advice. Says there’s this bird, gorgeous and smart with great legs and even greater ti---other bits, but he feels like an idiot every time he’s around her.”
As George talks, she frowns, not really sure why he’s telling her such a story. “All right?”
“Seems he used to have a crush on his bird, and she doesn’t know he’s alive, in the man-woman way. He tells his amazing friend about her, mentions she’s just a little older so he thinks maybe that’s an issue, and that they work together now, so this crush of his youth is back and even worse than before. You still with me?”
“Yes,” she murmurs, setting down her fork as she stares at him and shifts slightly.
“Well, his friend does something that isn’t that clever. He assumes this bird is from the year ahead of the bloke, maybe two if he had the crush when he was fifteen,” George continues. “So, he gives advice without really thinking too much about it. Says the bloke needs to make her see him as a man, needs to stop whining and wanking and not going for it, and suggests that he just say ‘fuck it’ and snog her senseless one night.”
“That was very bad advice.” She sighs, not even bothering to scold him for his language because it's useless, and leans back in her chair. She's keeping her comments vague because she doesn’t want to assume again, like she did with Harry, and end up wrong.
“Yeah, well, the friend can’t be amazingly brilliant all the time or people might get an inferiority complex when they’re around him. Anyway, so, the bloke thanks the friend for his advice and goes along his way. The friend doesn’t think much else about it until he sees the bloke grinning like the hippogriff who caught the fish a couple of weeks later, and is very smug at his advice obviously working. Then, the friend sees one of his good friends at a party. Clever woman, pretty and sweet, and he notices she’s acting weird. He also sees the bloke looking at her in a way that can only be described as besotted and enamored. Now, the friend has his stupid moments, but he starts to put the pieces together and realizes how bloody wrong he’d been all those weeks ago.”
“Is that the end of the story?”
“No. See, the friend notices the bloke leaving the party awhile later, looking for all the world like he’s trying not to cry, which isn’t like him at all. Then he sees his friend, and she’s smiling this fake ‘the world is wonderful’ smile that he can recognize instantly, and he knows something’s happened. Basically, the friend has managed to fuck up two lives by giving bad advice without considering all the circumstances, and now he isn’t sure what he can do, if anything, to make things better.”
“Maybe the friend needs to just stay out of things, since his interference was obviously a mistake.”
“Yeah, that’d be the smart thing, but, like I said, the friend isn’t always smart,” George says with a wry smile. He sighs and looks at her steadily. “If I’d had any idea that Teddy was talking about you, I wouldn’t have been so careless with my advice.”
“So you’re the reason he asked me out?” she asks.
“No. You’re the reason he asked. I just merely lit the fire under him to get him to stop wanting without taking a chance.” He pauses. “I knew about him breaking things off with Victoire before he even told her. They never really fit, you know? I love my niece, but she’s got different goals in life than Ted does, and, well, she definitely takes after Bill and Fleur in being vain and occasionally vapid along with that cleverness. So when Ted mentioned this woman, an ideal woman according to him, I was glad to hear that he‘d found someone who made him sound like a pathetic tosser, cause we blokes in relationships require that others join us in sounding that way.”
“It’s such a mess, George,” she whispers. “We ended things on Friday, and Ron and Harry know, and neither of them is exceptionally happy about it.”
“I’ll listen, if you want to talk,” he offers sincerely. “I won’t even make fun of you for finding yourself an attractive younger man to satisfy your naughty cravings. Darn, I guess I just did. But, seriously, I owe you for listening years ago.”
“Don’t make fun. I’m really not in the mood for ridicule over my relationship.” She hesitates a moment before she speaks. “Tell me that it’s wrong and I should just let him go.”
“I can tell you that, but it doesn’t necessarily make it true. Do you want me to lie to you?”
“Sorry, I can’t. You value honesty too much. Why did things end?”
“God, choose a reason. There are enough of them.” She laughs dryly. “I needed time, and he was tired of keeping secrets.”
“And a month, to him, was an eternity, yeah?” George shakes his head. “I remember those days. God, feels like a lifetime ago. You tried talking to him? Working out a compromise? I mean, going from sneaking around to completely over isn’t leaving much room.”
“We never really talked about it,” she admits. “I kept putting it off because I told myself it was temporary, and he just doesn’t see any problem with us being together if we like each other.”
“Mistake number one, then.”
“I told him some of my concerns, about the age difference and our close relationship since he was a baby, and I told him I was worried what people might say and how it would affect the children,” she explains. “We just never sat down and seriously weighed our choices. It just kept being ignored, mostly due to me, and then erupted into a fight that ended it all.”
“Do you want to be with him?” George asks. “I mean, in a talk about it seriously and deal with the consequences sort of way? Does he even have any idea what will face you both if you do try? Beyond what you mentioned.”
“I don’t think he does. He’s so idealistic, you know? The world is rather black and white at that age, I suppose, even if he is mature.” She bites her lip before she slowly nods. “I do want to be with him, but I’m not sure I can deal with everything if we try.”
“Fuck. Okay then. So, if you do this, you know people are going to talk, obviously.” George summons a self-writing quill and piece of parchment and activates it. “You love lists, so let’s make one, shall we? I’m sure you’ve already made a dozen, so you’ll feel right at home. Reasons why this isn’t a good idea and you should just enjoy what you had but let him go.”
“I’m tired of lists,” she mutters. “All I’ve done for days is write and think and try to figure out how I feel. It took me years to get the courage to even kiss Ron, yet it’s only been a few weeks since I started dating Teddy, so it’s probably useless to expect that I’d be ready to make such a huge decision yet.”
“You haven’t made a list with me yet. I’ll start, and you can add things as we go along,” George tells her. “The gossip will be impossible. Even those who don’t care a whit will whisper and murmur because that’s how people are. To strangers and enemies, you’ll fall into one of three categories: the seductive older woman, the conniving slag out to ruin a poor boy’s life, and the lonely desperate divorcee. To your friends, it’ll be broken into groups who support you so long as you’re happy and not breaking the law and those who don’t understand or can’t understand.”
“This isn’t helping.”
“Hush. I’m enjoying this.” George considers it a moment before he says seriously, “Mum will use it as an excuse. You know she’s been looking for one since the dreaded D word was introduced into the Weasley family tree, and I fear this will be enough. She’ll have some moral reason, no doubt, but we know that it’ll basically come down to the fact that you divorced Ron, and she’s still uncomfortable about all that.”
She nods once. “I’m sure this will provide her with a certain amount of glee, most likely causing her to feel justified all those years ago in believing that I was a scarlet woman.” She pauses. "However, I hope I'm wrong because she did eventually accept the divorce, even if it was an 'awful Muggle idea'."
“Maybe so, but that took time. As for the rest of the family, I don’t know.” George shrugs. “If we’re being absolutely blunt, I doubt most of us care as long as you're happy, but, if Mum turns, that means you’d be out of any family functions or parties. The fact that it's Teddy and not some random younger man will be an issue, you know? He's family and you're family, so it's a little weird.”
“Right,” she murmurs. “Depending on how others feel, it spreads amongst my friends, too.”
“Yeah, which isn’t fair but it is realistic. Also, Harry mentioned that there’s a rumor going around up there about your boss retiring. If he does, you’re positioned to get a promotion that would make your career. Teddy works in your office, which makes it very awkward and anyone vying for the position against you could use it to slander you or any other of those political games people like that play,” he continues. “Not only at work, but in the public eye, too. You do a lot of charity work and are a known personality, even if you hate the attention.”
“That’s on my list of cons. We’ve not broken any rules, but people might see it differently.”
“The age difference isn’t really a huge thing for most people because he’s past the age of consent and we live for centuries, but the fact that he’s so close makes it more depraved to some. Hugo and Rose will have to endure taunts about their mum stealing from the pram and who knows what other cruel things children can come up with.”
“That’s the main reason I couldn’t just give in and go for it,” she tells him. “I don’t want them hurt. Ron threatened to become involved if they were affected, too, and I can’t lose them.”
George shakes his head. “Ron wouldn’t do that. He might threaten it in the heat of the moment, but he’d hex anyone who said anything bad about you. He loves you, regardless of who you’re shagging. And the children are tough, just like their parents, but it might be tough on them.”
“Logically, I know that, but it’s still a fear. I also know they're strong, but I want to protect them as much as I can because that's what parents do.”
“And fears rarely are rational, so I understand that.” He reaches over to look at the parchment and grins suddenly. “Oh, when Lee finds out, he’ll host a ‘sexy older women and their hot young men’ dedication hour. Then I’ll have to visit him at St. Mungos as they attempt to reattach his bollocks once you’re done with him.”
“I’d think he learned his lesson after the ‘break-up’ hour when he heard about me and Ron divorcing,” she mutters crossly.
“That was years ago, and the impotency hex didn’t last nearly long enough. He’ll do a dedication and then hide,” he says confidently. "Now, where were we?"
"Listing all the many reasons why Teddy and I having a relationship shouldn't make any sense." She sighs. “When you put everything this way, it sounds like there isn’t even really a choice. I’ve seen it on paper, but having it put into someone else’s words, knowing you see the same problems, it’s just irrefutable.”
“We haven’t even touched upon your emotional issues,” George points out. “Your sense of failure after the divorce, your fear of going through that again and taking a chance on something that isn’t guaranteed, your habit of hiding behind logic when you’re scared, your inability to be brave emotionally until you’re backed into a corner, your practice of putting almost everyone else’s needs ahead of your own, and your ineffectiveness when it comes to dealing with feelings over thought.”
“I don’t---” she starts to deny it but sees the stubborn expression on George’s face and knows he’ll be rude enough to give bloody examples to support his claims if pushed. “Fine. You can add those to the list of cons, though I don't think they're necessarily negative traits."
"Already done." He nods at the fast moving quill. "Shall we start the list of pros or continue the cons? We haven't really delved into the issues facing you both if you get together and have to consider the future as more than just a year or two."
"Actually, I don't think I need a list for that. I've got enough immediate concerns without thinking about things that might never become a worry. As for pros, he makes me happy," she says simply. She thinks about their conversation and runs her hand through her hair as she finally acknowledges a few personal truths. "After all this, I think it's apparent what I have to do.”
George studies her and slowly smiles. “Yeah, I think it is.”
When she sees his smile, she realizes just what he's done. The bloody prat knows her too well, obviously, because he's just manipulated her perfectly. By forcing her to acknowledge some of her primary concerns and confirming that someone else agrees about them being valid worries, he's managed to get her to accept what she's been feeling but refusing to acknowledge for days.
There are a lot of negatives to consider in regards to having a relationship with Teddy, serious concerns and fears, but there are also a lot of positives, reasons why it's worth the risk, regardless of how terrifying it is to make such a bold decision. Based on his smile, George is focused on those positives and most likely thinks she should, too. She scowls at him because he has the annoying ability to make sense out of chaos. “There are times that I really hate you, you know?”
“Yeah, I know. Fortunately, those times are rare and never last that long.” His smile fades as he stares at her. “Life’s too short for regret, Hermione. Fred and I had plans and dreams that were lost in a moment of falling debris. If we hadn‘t waited, hadn‘t expected the future to always be before us, maybe things would have been different. But you can‘t let the past and loss make you live in fear because that‘s not really living. You told me that a long time ago, and you were right.”
“I’ve been scared,” she confesses. “So very scared, from the moment I realized that what I felt for Teddy could develop into something else, and I was so selfish that I don’t even know if he’d want to take a chance now, but I can’t not try or I’ll always wonder what if.”
“You really like him that much?” George asks. “I mean, it’s not something that I ever would have predicted, but I can actually sort of see it now.”
“Funny, isn’t it?” She shakes her head. “He’s young and actually believes that this will be easy, so I actually worry about reality being too much for him. I mean, I’ve been thinking about the consequences so much that I’m at least prepared, but he’s caught up in this ideal world where people are understanding and accepting. It’s going to be a harsh lesson, I’m afraid, and that’s actually one of my issues as to why I should be strong enough to just let him go and enjoy what we had while we had it.”
“He’s a big boy, Hermione. It might hurt, but that’s life. He has to grow up sometime.” He reaches across the table and squeezes her hand. “Even if it turns out to be a mistake or doesn’t go well, you know I’m here, right? I mean, I’ll still make fun of you for having a boy toy and being such a wicked woman, but it’ll be done with love.”
She laughs. “I know, George. And that really means a lot.” She squeezes his hand because she really needed this, even if she didn‘t know it. For days, she's been so consumed with thoughts and feelings until she's finally reached a point where she has to accept that she wants to try, even if she‘s scared and worried. “Thank you for just being you. Ron wasn’t ready for me to move on, and Harry worries about Teddy, so I appreciate an unbiased view. I’ve been thinking all this for days, but I couldn’t bring myself to actually make a choice until you told me how wrong it was to feel like I do.”
“Like I said, push you into a corner, and you finally remember that you’re a Gryffindor,” George tells her with a slightly smug smile. “I’m not unbiased, love. I ache at the thought of everything you’re risking, of what Teddy’s risking, and of what you two will have to endure just because you’ve found happiness with someone the world at large won’t deem appropriate. I fell in love with my brother’s girlfriend, so I know what that’s like, and it‘s not easy at all. If you can persevere, though, it’s so fucking amazing. Don’t lose sight of each other amidst all the concerns.”
“I just don’t want the children hurt.” She’s still concerned about their reaction and how this could affect them from outside sources. It’s not like Mel, whom they don’t know and aren’t close to like they are with Teddy. She shakes her head. “If not for them, I’d have possibly made a choice sooner.”
“No, you wouldn’t have. I’m rather surprised that it hasn’t taken you longer, actually. Teddy would have gray hair and walk with a cane by the time I figured you’d be ready to make such a drastic decision,” George confides.
“If I had waited until I was completely sure, I’d have probably been too old to enjoy a relationship.” She smiles slightly. “I know I hide behind logic and protect myself emotionally by thinking too much, but I’m trying.”
“Trying is half the battle,” he tells her. “Now, you asked earlier about an end to my story. I can’t say it’s an end, as I hope it’s simply a beginning, but the friend spoke to his friend and hopefully didn’t make things worse by helping her realize she had feelings for the bloke and was ready to talk to him about a possible future. The friend told her that the best advice he could give was to communicate and get all these worries out in the open instead of ignoring them or hiding behind them to protect herself from the risks that come with a romantic relationship.”
“The friend gives pretty good advice, but his friend is reaching a point when there’s been enough talking. Even if she’s very appreciative of the discussion and support.”
“The friend realizes that he’s becoming too smug about helping and figures it might be a good idea to bring out the chocolate cake he bought for pudding.”
“His friend reminds him that chocolate cake doesn’t make up for being smug. However, she certainly won’t refuse a large slice before she has to go back to work and try to figure out when and how to discuss things with the bloke.”
As George smiles and goes to get the cake, she sips her water and thinks about her schedule. She’s tempted to talk to Teddy today, but she knows better than to rush into something when they wouldn’t have time to really discuss it all. So, she decides that she’ll go see him tomorrow after work. Hugo will be with Ron, and they’ll have time to talk, really talk, and figure out where they go from here.