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In Front of Me

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Author's Note

I got the idea for this story from JK Rowling. She said "the uptight Hermione had a real weakness for a funny man." I've never found Ron to be all that funny, while the Weasley twins are hilarious. I don't think circumstances were ever right in the books for Hermione to seriously consider either of them as a potential love interest, especially considering how immature she often found them, but that's what this story is hopefully about - setting the stage and all that.

This will start as a Hermione/Ron fiction then gradually become a Hermione/George romance. I won't deliberately bash Ron either.

Chapter one contains the events that take place immediately following chapter 6. A couple people have messaged me to ask why I chose to start with this chapter. The reason is that while you can pretty much guarantee that none of the events in this story actually take place in the book, it wasn't until the moment Hermione took Harry to George's flat that anything actually deviates from canon for certainty. So I decided to start this story with the first true change, then work through why it changed and go from there. I'm sorry if this is a rough transition for anyone. If it's easier, wait and read this after I post chapter 6 and start with chapter 2 instead. I hope you will still consider reading this anyways.

Please forgive any spelling or grammar errors. Thanks for giving this story a shot. I hope you enjoy, let me know what you think!

PS I don't own anything... unfortunately!

Chapter 1

December 1997


The stale, warm air and suffocating blackness were the only indicators that I had Apparated us inside and not back outside in the woods somewhere on this cold snowy night. I immediately froze, listening for evidence that we weren't alone.

I had no idea where we were. When Voldemort appeared—flying in, I panicked, thinking only of safety as I Disapparated from Godric's Hollow with Harry. I was shocked I'd managed to get us away without Splinching myself; I had no idea if Harry fared as well.

The small room was completely dark. Harry had already fallen unconscious before we left, but now I struggled to keep an arm around his dead weight as I fumbled with the door in the dark. My wand nearly slipped from my sweat-slicked grasp. I feared the potential dangers should I lose it; the horrors of the previous moments still too fresh in my mind.

There were two wands clutched in my hand. I couldn't quite piece together how I'd managed to get a hold of Harry's, but from the feel of it, it was undeniably broken - possibly beyond repair. I pocketed it, knowing it wouldn't be much help right now. I'd worry about it later. Besides, I was too busy trying to physically support Harry at the moment. I really couldn't keep hold of a broken wand and do that at the same time, particularly while also trying to locate a door to the room that was becoming increasingly more coffin-like every minute I spent trapped within it.

I finally managed to locate the elusive door handle.

It was locked, and the faint sparks that shocked my hand also meant that it was warded against the Alohomora charm.

That revelation was enough to clue me in to where we were.

"I solemnly swear I am up to no good," I panted, staggering against the door in an effort not to crumple under Harry. He was much heavier than he looked, even half starved as he currently was.

I heard the lock release and I turned the handle just enough to free the door. Trying to take a step forward, I stumbled and fell through to the hallway floor, landing half buried beneath Harry's leaden form.

"George! Fred! Help - someone HELP!" I screamed, hoping they were in their flat as I shifted Harry off of me. Being cut off from the wizarding world for so long meant I had no idea if Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes was still open and operating. And given the date, there was every possibility that the twins were at the Burrow with their family right now, what with it being Christmas Eve and all. But George had said to come here if I ever needed help, and right now, I was desperately in need.

At least when Ron was hurt, I knew Harry was there to help and watch our backs while I looked after him. If I'd gone back to a forest, we've have been helpless while I was forced to choose between looking after Harry or setting up protective wards.

When George first showed me the secret room the twins had set up for the family, I never thought I'd actually use it. Yet here I was. Hopefully, he could help me now since Ron wasn't available.

I stifled a cry, desperate to maintain what was left of my composure as I began checking Harry over. It didn't look like he'd been Splinched, but he'd obviously been bitten by Nagini if the hole in his arm was any indication. I hadn't realized it before we left. Though it was hard to judge how bad the damage was beneath the blood seeping from the wound, surging forth in great bursts every time his heart beat.

He was drenched in sweat and his face was contorted in pain. I pressed against his wound with my free hand, attempting to stanch the flow of blood, but his back bowed, contorting painfully as he screamed.

"Please, help!" I called again when I heard what sounded like a Bludger being set loose in Snape's Potions class, crashes and yelps filtering up from downstairs.

Harry began shaking, mumbling nonsense. He jerked free from my hold and his hands clawed uselessly against his chest, alerting me to the presence of the locket.

The concealing door at the end of the hallway swung open with no warning to reveal nearly identical panicked faces. Instinctively, I raised my wand, ready to fend off an attack, before it registered through the haze of terror that the twins were finally here.

"Quickly - help me with him," I demanded, lowering my wand.

"Hermione? What are you doing here?"

"Where's Ron?"

"What's happened?"

"Is Ron -"

I heard the questions as the two men approached, but I was too busy trying to get at the locket to pay them any heed.

"Where's Ron?" George asked again as he knelt beside me, grabbing my shoulders to force me to face him.

"Never mind that now. Help me!" I ordered, jerking free and reaching for Harry again. He was still mumbling fretfully, but the words were still gibberish. Blood loss was turning him dangerously pale.

George reached to help tear open Harry's shirt while Fred moved to press the torn and jagged side to Harry's bleeding arm opposite us.

The locket wouldn't budge. It was scalding, and I felt my fingers and palm blister where I touched it. I yanked and tugged, but nothing happened. It looked as though it had fused with his skin, the tissue surrounding it an angry red and sickeningly puckered, obviously burned.

"Here, let me - " George started to say, but I ignored him, raising my wand.

"Diffindo," I said, casting the severing charm to cut the tainted metal from his abused flesh.

"Hermione!" Fred yelled as fresh blood gushed forth from the wound when I finally succeeded in prying the locket off Harry.

There was so much blood, and he'd already lost too much from the snake bite. For a moment, I was frozen, uncertain how to help as I looked into Fred's astonished face. Harry's pained whimpers weren't helping me focus. Then the moment passed, and I was frantically searching for something to stanch the flow of blood.

But George was already there, covering the wound with what looked like a conjured blanket as he pressed it firmly against Harry's scarlet, blood-soaked chest.

"Fred -" George said.

"On it," Fred muttered, already standing and striding quickly out of the secret hallway.

I took over applying pressure to Harry's injured arm. Glancing up at George, I caught sight of his missing ear. The hole formed by the cursed wound actually closely resembled the puncture wound I was currently treating. Luckily, Harry's shouldn't scar quite so badly.

Fred was back almost at once carrying a tube and a stoppered potion vial. George removed the blanket for Fred to spread some of the ointment on the locket-shaped hole on Harry's chest. New skin visibly formed beneath the brownish gel-like substance, while greenish smoke rose lazily from the site.

It looked like the twins had taken Dittany and made it into some sort of paste. I was momentarily intrigued by the idea, and the ease of application the alteration allowed. The distraction only lasted the briefest minute before I refocused on Harry. Regardless, the wound was now closed, leaving behind smooth pink skin. He did the same to Harry's arm, then together, Fred and George worked to force Harry to swallow the contents of the vial.

At my curious look, Fred explained, "Blood-Replenishing Potion."

It wasn't until Harry's pitiful moans quieted and his pained expression eased the slightest bit that I relaxed, hunching back against the wall utterly exhausted.

"What's happened to -" Fred began.

"Where's our brother? Why isn't Ron here too?" George interrupted to ask, worry creasing lines into his face. I didn't have the energy to get into it right now, but I knew I at least owed them some sort of explanation - something in response to their concerns.

"He left us. Weeks ago. It was all too much for him… and he left us," I said wearily, closing my eyes and letting my head fall back against the wall. I was too tired to even cry at the memory of the fight we'd had when he abandoned us.

No one said anything for several minutes. I assumed Fred and George were engaged in some of their silent communication, but I was content to sit and listen to the sound of Harry's deep breathing, grateful he was still alive and healing after everything that had gone wrong this evening.

"Too much for Ickle Ronniekins, you say? Well, so sorry we couldn't provide something better in the midst of a bloody war! When I -" Fred said nastily, surprising me into sitting up to look at him.

"Fred!" George reprimanded, cutting in before his twin could say anything more, but honestly, he looked just as angry. "You haven't heard anything from him since he left?" George asked, aiming the question at me.

"I don't know where he is... or if he's even alive," I admitted, knowing and regretting how hard that would be for them to hear. They might give Ron a hard time, but at the end of the day, he was their brother and they loved him. They'd willingly die for him without a moment's hesitation.

"What happened tonight?" George finally asked, gesturing at Harry and my own bloodied form with a nod of the head as he and Fred worked in tandem to move Harry further into their flat and onto the sofa. George covered him with a freshly conjured blanket.

I followed dutifully behind, feeling more like a mindless zombie than a living, breathing, thinking person.

"We went to Godric's Hollow. He found us. I'm not really sure… Harry's wand broke… "

"You're lucky to be alive. That's all that matters right now," George said, studying me carefully. It made me feel unaccountably self-conscious, knowing just how awful I must look if his expression was anything to go by.

"Does he know where you went?" Fred asked in concern, looking towards the door as though expecting it to be blown open at any moment.

"No. I don't think so… I'm so sorry. You're in danger n-" I said, realizing just what I'd done by bringing Harry here.

"We've been in danger for months - years really. Perks of supporting Harry, you know. Don't worry about it. Fred -" George said, waving a hand dismissively.

"On it," Fred announced, echoing his earlier words then heading out the door that led down to the shop below.

Glancing out the window, I found I barely recognized the sight before me. I thought at first something was wrong and I was seeing a view into the poorest section of Muggle London, not the once most thriving shopping district in wizarding Britain. It was definitely not the Diagon Alley I had grown up visiting. Half the shops were either boarded up or showed signs of obvious vandalism. This might have been the middle of the night, but everything still seemed more washed-out and devoid of color than it strictly should be or normally was. What was even more alarming was that there were what appeared to be homeless people and beggars making their homes in the gaps between buildings across the street. That had never been the norm in the wizarding world before Voldemort's supposed efforts to make a superior society.

George coaxed me into the kitchen after that, sitting me at the table while he fixed a quick sandwich for me. I stared at it incomprehensibly for several seconds, before the gnawing hunger of the last several months descended with a vengeance and I fell upon the food with ravenous enthusiasm. I barely even gave myself time to taste or appreciate the deliciousness of what I ate. George watched me with an unreadable look the entire time, not prying, but silently concerned regardless.

Every few seconds I looked at Harry. I could see him from my seat at the table, but I had to force myself to remain where I was and not go to check on him again. He was going to be alright. Everything indicated that he would be, but the previous terror and stress was insidious, plaguing me with continued doubts. I wasn't certain I would have been able to handle everything that had just happened if Fred and George hadn't been there to help.

It should have been Ron.

This wasn't the first time he'd let me down either. There were too many times to count over the years that I'd needed him and he wasn't there. Towards the end of the summer it had seemed like things were finally changing; that he was growing up. Then this happened, and now it was just one more time he'd let me down. Except this was a million times worse. We were literally fighting for our lives, and he abandoned us - me - the moment it got too hard. I feared that this might just be one time too many. My trust in him was broken - possibly beyond repair. What's more, with the way things were going, we might not ever get the opportunity to set things right.

"When was the last time you or Harry ate anything?" George asked abruptly when I'd nearly finished.

"Earlier," I said vaguely in between bites.

"I meant," George clarified, pausing before emphasizing with unusual seriousness, "a decent meal."

"We look that bad?" I asked, slightly amused that he wasn't coming right out and saying it. Tact wasn't typically something any of the Weasley men excelled at.

"My mother raised me to never insult a lady, but yeah, you really do," he said shifting from overly dramatic and innocent to candidly blunt so quickly I couldn't help but burst into amused laughter.

"I think that's the first time I've laughed in months," I said once I'd gotten control of myself again. It was such a relief after the stress and strain of the recent grueling hours.

"That bad?" he asked, rubbing his face tiredly before leaning back in his chair with his arms crossed over his chest.

"I can't -" I broke off, unable to articulate the range of pain, fear, heartbreak, monotony, and frustration that I'd experienced since seeing him last. I'd been so on edge for so long, that I knew letting my guard down now would equal a complete breakdown, and that just wasn't something I could afford to do right now. I settled for shaking my head helplessly.

George reached across the table to squeeze my hand reassuringly, letting me know he understood. Judging from the state of Diagon Alley, at least what I'd managed to glimpse from the flat's window, he really did have a pretty good idea. Knowing how involved he and Fred were with the war, he'd likely felt much the same as I did.

"You can sleep in my room. I'll bunk with Fred while you guys are here," George offered suddenly.

"Harry -"

"He can stay on the couch," he suggested, then sensing my hesitation, added, "or I can set up a cot in my room for him." I sighed in relief at the second option.

Perhaps it was ridiculous, but I wanted Harry close in case anything happened. I didn't think it would, but it had become habit to look after him - especially during these last few months.

Once Harry was settled, I looked at the man hovering uncertainly in the doorway. His concern was so easy to decipher.

"George… " I began, trailing off when I realized I didn't know where to start in order to thank him.

"What made you come here?" he asked into the silence.

"I didn't… Or I didn't consciously choose to. I just needed to get Harry out of there. I needed somewhere safe, and I just Disapparated. I didn't really have somewhere specific in mind, but we somehow ended up here," I admitted.

"You are - safe here. Well, as safe as anywhere I guess. Fred and I will look after you two while you rest, and for as long as you want to stay here," he promised.