I'm going through quickly with amended versions of each chapter. It's 99% the same as it was, but I've actually bothered to read through it and correct the mistakes here and there. I apologise for the huge wait you've had between chapters 9 and 10, but I think I'm almost there with it now. The on-the-run chapters are the hardest to get perfect. Thank you for reading and reviewing, though.
* * * Innocent Magic * * *
Chapter 1: Teenagers
They were teenagers when they first met...
The first time Fred and Hermione spoke was at the Quidditch World Cup. Okay, so they had spoken briefly before then; it wasn't as though the very first words exchanged between them were that gruff, rushed, "Into the forest, quick!" Yet, to the two of them, it was as though they'd never even seen each other before that night.
Tensions were high and Hermione could barely breathe for the terror that gripped her, standing there in the forest's near pitch-black clearing. She hugged her thin faded hoodie closer in an attempt to feel safer, less like a hunted deer. Nibbling her bottom lip agitatedly, she started to wonder if the others could see the huge target sign she felt she wore in that moment.
"Hermione?" came the voice of one of the twins. She couldn't tell which it was; she was sure there was likely some kind of difference, but since they were never without one another, she didn't see the need to know it. It was just as easy to reprimand without distinction.
"Oi, Granger," said the voice again, and this time a long, freckled nose and a pair of far too blue eyes swam into her vision too. "We need to get further into the woods. C'mon."
He extended a hand, whichever twin he was, and she took it, following him at speed into the mass of trees ahead. It was too dark to spot Harry, Ron, Ginny or anybody, really. She trusted the twin she was attached to, though – her rule in life had lately twisted around to always having faith in a Weasley – and so she clutched at his hand (a little calloused, she noticed, but warm) and scurried alongside him.
When a sound like an explosion sounded behind them (was that the campsite?), she appreciated more than he could know the gentle squeeze he gave her much smaller, daintier fingers.
It felt an age before they were able to slow down, finally stopping beside a flowering hedge. The noises of the battle with the Death Eaters were softened now, for which she was grateful. Her happiness grew even more when Ginny and the other twin hobbled into view.
"Alright, Gred?" her twin asked, sounding more sombre and sincere than she'd ever heard before.
"Yeah, we're alright, Forge." the other nodded. There was a glint in their eyes, that same glint they held before they pulled one of their ridiculous jokes at school, before they'd stepped into the fireplace with Harry, before they'd made that audacious bid with Mr Bagman. They looked bloody determined, and it had her shivering.
"Hey, Ginny?" she whispered tentatively. "Are you okay?" She felt protective of the girl, her not-quite-really little sister.
There was a small cough, which could have been a hiccup – or a sob? Soon, though, she heard the girl reply, "I think so. You?"
That was a lie. She was glad the moon was hidden behind thick clouds else she was sure the others would see the small tear tracks on her cheeks. Where in Merlin's name were Harry and Ron? If they'd gotten themselves hurt...
Hermione shut her eyes tight, screwed them closed as hard as possible in hopes the effort would distract her.
No, she could still hear the unmistakeable sound of people running, still just about make out the maniacal laughs of evil wizards torturing those poor, poor Muggles.
For once, she wished she wasn't such an avid reader, that she didn't have that damned eidetic memory. That way, she wouldn't know of Death Eaters and the things they'd done. She wouldn't know who they most loved to hunt and hurt. If she hadn't had read those stupid, awful, horridly factual books, Hermione could pretend she wasn't in immense danger just for the mishap of being born.
She began rocking back and forth, just slightly, just to stop the shivering. Her breath was coming in inaudible little pants now, chest constricting.
Almost pleasant, the painful tingling shooting up and down her rib cage. Almost pleasant, but also almost too much. Definitely too much -
A weight settled around her shoulder: a strong, heavy arm. It rubbed calming circles into the sleeve of her hoodie, drew her closer to the taller, stockier, warmer form of someone beside her.
Really, she should have been alert – there were people around her, maybe within just a few measly metres, who wanted to kill her. Instead, her eyelids relaxed. She inhaled slowly, and then exhaled.
It was peaceful, she thought, to bury her head in the shoulder of the person beside her and focus on nothing more than the most basic act of staying alive. Her resting post didn't move.
"Please don't call me that."
"Er, okay." Her post sounded confused. She couldn't blame him, but only Ron called her 'Mione' and that was only because, as the lone manner of affection for her he ever showed, she was reluctant to ask him to stop.
"Fred?" she murmured. There was a fifty-fifty chance she'd be correct –
"Yeah?" Inwardly, she cheered; Hermione really did enjoy being right.
"Do you know where Harry and Ron have gone?"
"Not a clue, love," he sighed. "Wonder Boy will be fine though. Try not to worry."
The large hand moved from her shoulder, then, to the small of her back, still rubbing soothing circles.
It wasn't okay, not really, but he was distraction enough to keep her going, keep her together until they might eventually come across his brother and the Boy-Who-Lived.
When they did discover them, entangled in an argument between Ministry personal, she was too exhausted to be livid. Despite everyone's assurances that the two would be alright, they'd managed to attract bother like two bloody moths – a dark mark, a house-elf and a rustling bush? It was as agonising as it was predictable.
Worse than that, it was fraying on Hermione's last nerve. Still, she plastered on a smile – big enough to convey relief, small enough to show respect for the severity of the situation – and followed the Weasleys back to their tents.
She didn't dare look up at the destruction of the campsite, though. She was sure she'd break if she did.
The night passed, but she didn't get any sleep. Flashes of green and red and that silly, stupid skull in the sky, and the frightened eyes of the poor house-elf – it all played across her mind as though she were front-row at the cinema. Her life would make a good horror film sometimes, she thought.
When morning came, they left early and in silence. Hermione's mind was elsewhere as they descended the hill, feet dragging along dew-soaked grass. She didn't hear the screech of Mrs Weasley as they trailed through the gates, didn't join in with the others (only the Hogwarts lot; the adults had disappeared at some point) as they talked about the night.
So out of it was she, she was the only one to remain at the kitchen table after the breakfast plates had been cleared.
And that was where Fred found her an hour later, still staring down at the table top, brows furrowed and face deathly pale. He'd popped into the room with full intention to grab a biscuit and run (afraid what his mother might say if she caught him snacking). The sight of the girl, though, looking so fragile: he couldn't leave that.
The scraping of his chair as he made to sit opposite did nothing to raise her gaze from the old pine table. Neither did his coughing, nor his hand waving under her expressionless face.
She was in shock.
As the realisation hit, he was up and around the table, one hand lifting her chin to face him and the other resting on her jean-clad thigh, before he had time to think the move through.
"Talk to me," he implored, staring into her innocent doe-brown eyes. "What's wrong?"
There was no reply, just blinking. Her stare stayed empty and her mouth didn't move from its slight frown.
He was beginning to think he'd prefer to be dealing with the previous night's panic attack than this. He'd seen the girl around; she'd seemed strong when he'd spotted her with his dunderheaded brother. It wasn't right that evil gits in dodgy masks could take the bravery away from a girl like that.
"You're a muggleborn, right?" he ventured. "So you're... scared?"
Still nothing. Silence unnerved Fred on the best of days; this was something horrid.
Then her leg twitched.
"Right, you're afraid. That's natural; they're all bloody mental, those Death Eaters." That probably wasn't helping, he chastised himself. New tactic: "But you've an army of Weasleys who'll protect you. You know that, yeah?"
"Merlin, we've all got things we're afraid of – there's nothing wrong with not wanting to get too close to a bunch of pureblood supremacists." He paused. "Quite rational really."
Twitch the third.
"Better than dear Ronald and his spiders."
Finally, finally,she smiled. A tiny smile, the faintest glimmer of one if he was honest, but it was something. He breathed a sigh of relief inwardly. It was his and George's biggest failing, their reliance on other people's smiles.
"What about Harry?" she asked, eyes wide and trusting.
"What would he say if he knew I can't let myself fall asleep in case I dream of them? He's faced You-Know-Who three times; he's faced a man he thought wanted him dead, a werewolf, and... and... he plays Quidditch!"
"People die, Fred!" she hissed.
They didn't speak for a while, both concentrating on the grain of the table and the contrast in their hands. While his skin was rough and pale, hers looked like pure-spun honey.
Eventually, she murmured, "I'd disappoint Harry."
"You're too bloody noble for your own good, you know that?"
"Why's that?" she asked, crossing her arms defensively.
"Harry can stuff himself if he doesn't think his best friend's allowed to lose her knickers when Death Eaters turn up. We'd be more worried if you weren't afraid, Mina."
"Mina?" If there was anything Hermione Granger was good at, it was changing the subject.
"Better than 'Mione," Fred shrugged. If there was one thing Fred was good at, he learnt that day, it was making his Mina smile.