Rebooted and reposted as one long-ass one-shot because let's be real, homies—splitting this up into the originally-intended three-part-er would've just given me way too much excuse to put this on the backburner. And I need to get rid of this plot bunny immediately. I have other things to do.
…like make potions and duel people on Pottermore. Not important things like my thesis.
Also, I really kind of liked the way Krum, the beloved Bulgarian bon-bon, was portrayed in the movies rather than the hairy, surly, borderline-misshapen character illustrated in the books. While there was a certain poetry to that disjointed image, I prefer the movie version if only because I've got a thing for guys who snap to attention and bow to a lady.
A Charming Fairy Godprince
She wasn't going to look up, as it meant acknowledging defeat. It meant she'd be giving up, because the moment she paid him any sort of attention, he would seize the opening and monopolize her time completely. Steadfast and stalwart, she continued to read.
—until the dawn of the 8th century—
"How are you?"
—in which the allies of Grendomiere were subsequently—
"I'm quite all right, thank you."
Merlin forbid she even make it through one sentence, let alone glean any sort of important information from her book. She'd made a serious strategic mistake in thinking she could study in peace in the bloody Gryffindor common room. The fire had been crackling, lighting up the area with its golden glow; the low murmur of the other students laid out a comforting ambiance. It was an honest mistake.
"And, yes, as a matter of fact, I have been having a splendid hair day! Thanks for noticing!"
Looking for all the world like she was still thoroughly engrossed in the text, Hermione took a deep breath, which actually felt more like a growl, and plodded on.
—annihilated through a series of—
"Of course I haven't lost weight! I'm happy you've taken an interest in my trim figure, though—cheers, Herms."
And there it was—the deal breaker. Her eyes slowly dragged away from the words on the page as she looked up at the intruder. "Do not call me that."
Fred perched his chin on his first, elbow on the small table as he smiled at her sweetly. He'd taken off his outer robes, loosened his tie, and rolled up his sleeves—ready and settled for a long bout of annoying-Hermione-time. "What shall I call you then? Hermy? 'Mione? Nee-Nee?"
She stared at him, willing her glare to roast him alive. "How about Hermione, which is, as you well know, my name?"
Fred only scowled briefly, shifting his chin to his other hand. He stretched his legs under the table and kicked his feet up onto her chair so he was trapping her knees between his heels. "Well, how unimaginative of you, love. If you don't appreciate the varying permutations of your name, shall I resort to terms of endearments, darling? Sweetie-pie? Sweetums? Light of my life? Fire of my soul? Peace of my mind—"
"What do you want, bane of my existence?" huffed Hermione, wearily leaning back in her gold-embroidered, scarlet armchair and smacking his feet away.
Fred pouted, pushing out his bottom lip as far as it could go. "Really? Honeybuns, I would have thought that title would be reserved for some…foul, loathsome, evil little cockroach."
"That cretin is unworthy of any official title," she replied, scoffing.
Fred grinned and nudged the side of her knee with his heel. "Unless the title is 'Cockroach.'"
"That would put him as the cockroach of all cockroaches, and that's an insult to the species," grumbled Hermione.
Fred's grin widened, and he chuckled, tapping her knee with his foot again. "Oh, hearth of my home, whatever will I do with you?"
Hermione tipped her head back, sighing up at the ceiling and closing her eyes briefly. It'd been a long day: academically, socially, and emotionally. Studying—focusing on one thing at a time—was supposed to help clear her mind and steady herself. This was how she relaxed. Why everyone thought to "un-burden her" by distracting her, she'd never understand.
"What do you want, Fred?"
When she looked back down, it was to see his face less than four inches away from her. He'd gotten up and flung himself across the table, his head pillowed on the thick tome recounting various warlock rivalries. Fred smiled up at her sweetly. "I want you to pay attention to me, mango of my eye."
For the love of—"Mango?!"
He winked, ignoring the smattering of chuckles from the audience they'd attracted. "Apples aren't sweet enough to do you justice."
Hermione bit the insides of her cheek and shook her head to keep from cracking a smile.
"Also, apples are overrated," continued Fred, reaching up to pinch her cheek. She smacked his hand away with a scowl. "No one ever seems to appreciate the glory of mangoes."
"The glory of mangoes?" she echoed incredulously. Honestly.
"See?" he said, tapping her nose with the tip of his finger. "Even the mango doesn't appreciate its own worth."
For all his buffoonery, Fred Weasley certainly knew how to compliment a girl in very creative ways. However, she wasn't about to give him the satisfaction of a job well done.
Hermione cocked an eyebrow. "You think I'm glorious then?"
His answering grin had her blushing and her smile bubbling over. "Glorious in all your bushy-haired brilliance."
Her smile faltered, but Fred caught it before it could fade any further.
"Glorious in all your wondrously witty humor," he continued, tugging various locks of loose hair and occasionally poking her cheek and nose to emphasize his points. "Glorious in all your unflinching and unfailing loyalty." His poking turned into a gentle caress down her cheek, and Hermione felt her cheeks burn and her heart speed up. "Glorious in all your bone-deep, brown-eyed, brown-curled, beguiling, bilingual—"
A laugh bubbled out. "Bilingual?"
"You speak French, don't you?" He waved off her interruption. "Now, where was I? Ah, yes—bilingual, bold, and bookish beauty."
Hermione could only shake her head, breaking the eye contact that had her fingers going clammy. Trust her suppressed femininity to have her going all tremble-ridden with a few sweet words. She really needed to stop spending so much time with the emotionally-stunted Harry and Ron. She patted Fred's hand and pushed it back to his chest. "Yes, yes, thank you."
Fred grinned triumphantly at the reappearance of her smile-that-runneth-over, and did away with all propriety—not that he had much to begin with. He sprawled out on the table, lying on his stomach and kicking his feet in the air as he propped his chin on his fists.
"But really, Fred," she said, tugging her book out from under his elbows. "What do you want?"
"I," declared Fred, "want to apologize on behalf of Ronald Bilius Weasley, the nincompoop."
Hermione's smile faded almost completely as she set her book on her lap. Circe knew she wouldn't be getting any more work done.
"Is 'nincompoop' too mild? Would 'outrageously idiotic imbecile' suffice?" Fred tapped his chin and gazed up at the ceiling with a dramatically longsuffering sigh. "Or should we skip straight to the 'arse—'"
"No! No, don't." Hermione rubbed her left temple with her index and middle fingers, staring at a point on the table. "For all his ignorance and uncouth tendencies, he's still one of my best friends. He's…a teenage boy. You're all a bit thick at that age."
Fred tsk-ed and sat up, crossing his legs in the middle of the table and folding his arms across his chest. "That's no excuse. Being a male doesn't excuse you from being a piece of sh—"
"—piece of shoe-dirt," he amended with a roll of his eyes. "What's worse is that he's a bloody chess genius. You'd think a strategist like him would realize that one of his best mates is a hell of a catch." He missed Hermione's blush, too busy scowling at Ron's idiocy. "Saying he's thick implies that the message will get through at some point. Saying he's thick implies hope. Ronnie's just a halfwit—plain and simple."
Hermione cleared her throat and fiddled with her book, running her fingertips along the spine and doing her best to forget the "hell of a catch" comment. "Where's your better half anyway? You two have been utterly devoted to the downfall of Ludo Bagman since the World Cup. I'm surprised you haven't commandeered that left corner to plot your nefarious schemes."
Fred's hand shot to his heart as he swooned, nearly toppling off the table before righting himself and snatching Hermione's hands in his. "Be still my heart, Hermione Granger—nefarious schemes?"
She tried tugging her hands out of his with a small smirk. "Offended?"
"Complimented beyond comprehension, love!" He reached over, tugged the book out of her hands, and plopped it on the table as he slid off and into her lap. "That's the sweetest thing I've ever heard you say about me and George!"
"Fred!" she cried, groaning as he wrapped his arms around her neck and hunching himself to rest his head on her shoulders.
"Hush, woman. Compliments deserve cuddles. Ergo—cuddles."
Hermione sighed and shook her head, but she had no choice but to wrap an arm around Fred's shoulders and pat his knee with the other. "You do need to get off me soon. You're heavy."
"Are you calling me fat, fluff of my pillow?"
"If it means you'll get off me, then yes."
"Oh, moon of my night, you can call me a decomposing troll, and I shall still never leave your side!" he declared for all the common room to hear, garnering more snickers and chuckles.
"So, pain of my neck, what would I have to say to get you off me?" asked Hermione, ignoring their audience.
"Nothing, really, as I now know you'd only be saying it as a ruse," answered Fred.
"And if I set your bum on fire?"
"I don't know why you'd do that as my bum is in close range to your own important bits," he countered smoothly, nuzzling his forehead against her neck. "You and I both know you're not violent enough to do that. Besides, I know a better way to raise our temperatures, though it's certainly a more figurative type of fire."
"Fred!" she screeched, flushing a bright red.
"Hermione!" he mocked with a huge grin.
The portrait swung open and closed with a thud, marking the entrance of the other half of her current tormentor. "Oi!" barked George. "Keep it in the bedroom, you two! There are innocents about!"
"For Merlin's sake, George!" Hermione nearly shrieked. She should've known he'd be no help at all.
"Gred! You know Hermione and I need to expand our horizons," stage-whispered Fred, causing the girl in question to blush a furious red and renew her efforts to shove him off her lap. "I've finally got her doing public displays of affection! Don't ruin—oh, now look. She's gone all bashful."
"I think that's a lovely shade of red," said George.
"Any shade of red is lovely with her complexion, honestly," said Fred, completely ignoring Hermione's efforts to push him away. Then he smirked and kissed her cheek. "My favorite hue, of course, is the one she gets when she does a different kind of strenuous activ—"
In what could only be a spurt of adrenaline, Hermione dumped Fred onto the floor. "If you don't want me stomping on anything vital, Fred Weasley, I suggest you never follow that line of thought again!"
"Good heavens, Fred," agreed George. "Mind the little ears. Save it for the more appropriately-inappropriate moments, mate."
A crumpled piece of parchment hurtled through the air and knocked George right on the nose.
"Don't start with me, George Weasley!" barked Hermione.
Instead of looking even slightly chastised, George crowed, "Great aim, Granger!"
"Now if only we can get you on a broom," said Fred, picking himself up off the floor and patting her knee. "We can make a decent Chaser out of you."
Hermione scoffed and shook her head. "Only when you two become the Astronomy and Divination professors will I ever mount a broom with a Quaffle in hand."
Fred froze, hand over his heart. "Oh, my."
George mirrored his twin's stricken expression. "You've caught us."
"However did you manage to find our applications?"
"So much for ours and Dumbly's secrets."
"Trelawney's decided to run off with a goblin, you see."
"Don't tell, but she's only using him for her predicted rise in goblin economic power next year."
"Sinistra's decided to become a Muggle nun. I think we can all safely blame Snape."
"So I'll be predicting all of Harry's creatively morbid deaths and leading Brown and Patil on a shining, shimmering, splendid sham of a future before their ultimately disappointing end," announced George, addressing the common room.
"And now I shall be able to illustrate how the light of my life has set fire to my night sky, how the flame of my soul shimmers across space in the aurora borealis, how—"
Hermione stood up and smacked Fred upside the head with a rolled-up sheaf of parchments.
"Bloody hell, Hermione. You'd make a decent Beater too," muttered Fred, rubbing the back of his head—still smiling at her. "Think about it. I'd be able to give you private lessons."
She hit him again.
"You're only reinforcing my observations, love," laughed Fred, deflecting her blows with his forearm.
"You are ridiculous!" cried Hermione, chasing him around the common room.
Fred, not one to give up during a proper chase, suddenly spun around to catch Hermione's arm. He twirled her around, her back to his chest, with his arms around her.
"You know what's truly ridiculous though?" asked Fred, propping his chin on the top of her head.
"Ron's utter inability to keep his feet out of his gob," said George, expression apologetic as he bent down and lifted Hermione's feet so she hung between the two boys. "Sorry about all that, Hermione."
Resigned to being manhandled, Hermione could only sigh and blow her hair out of her face. The twins carried her to one of the vacant sofas closer to the fireplace and set her down between them, her head pillowed on Fred's lap and her legs on George's.
"Just leave it, George," she said. "One of these days, someone will smack him so hard all the nuts and bolts that have been out of alignment will be knocked back into place. Until then, I'll just call it a…factory defect." She wasn't sure if factory defects were part of the Wizarding vernacular, but the twins seemed to understand well enough, judging by their unimpressed scowls.
"Well, at least you agree," sighed George.
"Ron's defective," finished Fred.
"Is it safe to assume you'll do the honors of smacking his bolts back into place?" asked George, patting her calf.
"Come now, Georgie, you know Hermione better than that," said Fred, smirking as he twirled a lock of Hermione's hair around his finger. "She'll have him hitting himself. Our pretty bird won't need to lift a single finger."
"But if you are so inclined, love, we can teach you how to raise the perfect digit to send the right message," added George, grinning.
She only chuckled and shook her head. "Honestly, you two don't need to try and make up for your brother's failures—"
"At being a right-minded human being?" interrupted George, one eyebrow cocked.
"We've got to prove that not all Weasleys can be as much of a flailing dunderhead as Ron," said Fred, using his fingertips to massage her furrowed brow away. "So, now that you've dodged the youngest Weasley male making your Yule Ball experience as painfully awkward and downright miserable as you could get it—"
George, seemingly catching onto his twin's plan, squeezed Hermione's ankles encouragingly and clapped, "—we are going to do the opposite and make it as magically perfect as possible."
Hermione frowned up at the both of them, Fred's work undone, not liking the turn of events at all. "Wait. What?"
"You can call us your fairy godfathers!" exclaimed Fred, grinning widely.
There it was, blooming across his face like a flame—shenanigans. It'd sparked and caught fire, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. Hermione could only watch in abject horror as the inferno lit up his entire expression.
"Fairy godfathers?!" she echoed, trying to sit up but failing when both Fred and George held her down. "Are you joking?!"
"Like Cindy-rella!" agreed George, looking just as thrilled. "Only you'd be Cindy-mione, and we're obviously two dashing young men, not an old lady in a baby-blue cloak."
"It's Cinderella." Hermione corrected him weakly. She'd made a grievous mistake in showing them her Disney storybooks.
"And we're not aiding you on your quest for Prince Charming, since neither of us are your date, so the point is moot," continued Fred, making Hermione blush furiously. "It's more like we're spoiling our friend and ensuring she has a wondrous Yule Ball experience, regardless of whatever tosser she so happened to grace with her lovely and well-coveted hand as date."
"W-Wha—?" spluttered Hermione, eyes darting back and forth between the twins. The gleam in their eyes put the fear of God, Zeus, Horus, and Krishna in her. "Boys, I appreciate it, b-but you don't need to—"
It was too late.
George clapped his hands together, anticipation rolling off his shoulders and making Hermione shiver in fear. "All right, first things first—the dress."
Fred nodded. "Then the hair and makeup—"
"—and the jewelry. Thank goodness we don't need worry about her dancing—"
"—or her etiquette."
They both looked down at her horrified expression, grinning identically.
"I already have perfectly suitable dress robes!" cried Hermione.
"And we have no doubt that they're, indeed, suitable," said Fred.
"But we're not looking for suitable," said George.
"We want fireworks, Hermione." Fred mimicked firework explosions with his hands. For all his majestic and dramatic gesticulations, Hermione was certainly less than enthused.
"We want perfection," enunciated George sharply.
"I don't know what kind of ridiculous aspirations you two have, but there's no way. I'm just a—"
"You're about to say something self-deprecating, and we're going to ignore you," interrupted Fred.
"I'm just warning you that you should aim lower than fireworks because if you insist on doing this, you're going to have your work cut out for you," said Hermione.
"I beg to differ," said George.
"You'll be the easiest girl we could ever be fairy godfathers for," said Fred with a genuine grin.
Then he and George hauled her up, gingerly setting her back on the floor before George suddenly conjured swatches of colors, holding them up against her face, and Fred had a measuring tape floating around her, conducted by his wand. And then came the rapid-fire questions that came left and right, front and back, and from every other which way.
"Now, Hermione, have you ever straightened your hair?"
"How opposed are you to a bit of a trim?"
"Would you rather your hair be up and out of the way?"
"Or down your back?"
"Or perhaps half up and half down?"
"How do you feel about the color blue and its varying hues?"
"Are you more of a silver or gold girl?"
"Would prefer sleeves or sleeveless?"
"Take it one step further—straps or strapless?"
"Would you like flat shoes or heels?"
"How opposed are you to glass slippers—since we're following a theme and all?"
"Excuse me!" she nearly screeched, waving off the color swatches and the measuring tape. Her panic made her more shrill than usual, earning her the undivided attention of the rest of the Gryffindors who weren't already raptly watching the show.
The twins paused and smiled at her expectantly. "Yes, princess?" they chorused sweetly.
"Last time I checked, Cinderella had the choice to refuse her fairy godmother's help," she pointed out, fixing both boys with stares that did nothing to dissipate their enthusiastic smiles. "And for one thing, Cinderella actually needed and wanted the help."
Their grins turned devilish, the flickering flames illuminating their expressions in a way that could be construed as evil if one wasn't aware of the twins' ultimately-good allegiances. Hermione groaned at the thought.
"What was that Muggle saying again?" asked Fred, wrapping an arm around Hermione's shoulders and tugging her right up to his side. "Some are born great—"
George came up to her other side, sliding his arm around her waist and waving his swatch-holding hand in the air, staring off into the distance, "—some achieve greatness—"
"—and some have greatness—"
"—thrust upon them," they finished, complete with theatrical arm waving.
"In your case, greatness is us," said George. "Just for clarification's sake—if you didn't understand our metaphor."
"But you already knew that, didn't you, Granger?" added Fred.
"How could I have possibly forgotten?" she deadpanned, closing her eyes and shaking her head.
"An honest mistake," said George, patting her back. "Don't beat yourself up too much."
Fred gave her shoulders a squeeze. "Our gorgeous features tend to make all coherent thought fly out the window."
"Now, princess, are you going to show us these 'suitable dress robes' that we inevitably are going to decide to change?"
"Yeah, we've not much time left 'til the ball."
"What'd you think we are, anyway?"
They laughed, but Hermione could only keep her eyes closed. If a dream is a wish your heart makes, what were nightmares?
The pure white snowdrifts around the castle grounds looked more like desert sands as the sunset dusted the snow with gold. The surface of the Great Lake turned a deep bronze as pink and blue streaked across the soft gray clouds, signaling the oncoming nightfall. Rivulets in the face of the pristine winter wonderland were the only signs of students who'd braved the chill to enjoy the snow after a long day of classes. It was beautiful, cheerful, and most of all, peaceful.
Unless you were in the sixth year boys' dormitory.
Then again, that was a matter of perspective. Lee Jordan was enjoying himself, watching Fred and George's genius in an entirely new context. They fluttered around Hermione, who was decidedly less enthused.
It was the day after they forced their services upon her, and she was seriously regretting it. She'd thought the modest, pink, A-line dress robes she and her mother picked out had been quite nice, though it certainly wouldn't have been her favorite. However, according to Fred and George, she and her mother had no taste. They picked apart every aspect of the dress as she modeled it; their insults were only for the dress and not the girl in it. They agreed that, yes, it was suitable, but it wasn't right.
Hermione wouldn't say it out loud just yet, but she was actually quite impressed with their attention to detail and their eye for style.
As they flitted around her, chattering and occasionally asking for Lee's input, she reveled in the fact that they really weren't playing a prank on her. Bad clothing puns aside, the twins seemed to be very serious about the entire endeavor—which was the only reason why she wasn't huffing and being a generally bad-tempered victim of their fairy-godfathering.
"I feel like a doll," she mumbled as George flicked his wand left and right, changing the color of her dress with each swish.
George winked. "Prettier than one, though."
"Don't deny it, Herms dear," said Fred, gently combing her hair back from her shoulders.
"Fred," she growled.
He tsk-ed as he separated the bundle into three sections and began to braid her hair. "Nee-Nee, my sunshine."
"I will curse you and your descendants."
"Now, darling, how could you be so cruel to our future offspring?"
She couldn't even be mad, not with the way George was attempting to hide his smile behind his fist or the way Lee had completely dissolved into giggles behind his textbook. Definitely not with the way Fred's fingers combed away the stress that had kept her back ramrod straight. She could practically feel the tension dissipating from her shoulders.
"Look, I know I seem like a hopeless case, but—"
"If you're trying to talk us out of doing this again, Granger," said Fred, "you're wasting your breath."
George nodded, still flicking his wand. "See, for one thing, we've already started."
"Two, we really do want to make it up to you. Our brother's gone and given you ideas that you weren't even girl enough to be counted as a girl, so we've got to teach him a lesson," said Fred.
"And if you think we're only doing this to spite Ronniekins," said George, cutting her off before she could dispute. "Let's move on to point three: we genuinely want to do something nice for you."
"You've had to help Harry and deal with that blasted Skeeter woman, and we've had to deal with Bagman," said Fred. "You're stressed out; we're stressed out. Let's help each other, eh?"
"Yeah, consider it a more useful and civilized channel for our various tricks, as Mum would think of it," added George. "This way we're not sending Bagman combustible trousers—"
"—an exploding smoking pipe—"
"—a flaming toothbrush—"
"—really, anything that explodes or catches fire in any way—"
"—or even underpants that'll turn into a full ensemble of women's undergarments."
"Though that's probably going to happen regardless," amended Fred with a happy grin that had Hermione shaking her head. "He's being a right little bitch about things, so we may as well finish the job—"
"We're also doing this because we overheard some crazy bints yesterday, talking behind your back. We didn't approve of their remarks," said George, pausing his colorful stream to glower darkly.
"And we're not about to let that shit go un-flushed," said Fred, tying off the end of her braid with a blue ribbon he'd tugged off a candy container and coming to stand next to her. "I know what you're thinking, but we're not doing this out of pity, Granger."
"We will do this for you and make sure we leave no doubt in anyone's minds that you are the princess among peasants you truly are," said George, planting his hands on Hermione's shoulders and dropping a kiss on her forehead. "Now I know your mother chose conservatively with this dress, but you've got to tell her that you're better off with blues than pinks."
Hermione blinked and swallowed away the tears and the blockage in her throat as Fred and George both stepped back and looked at her appraisingly.
"Definitely silver jewelry," muttered Fred.
George nodded. "Hair up."
"Loose, light skirt for movement. Ruffles for volume."
George grinned. "Gossamer and moonbeams?"
Fred smiled warmly. "With starlight in her hair."
Hermione blushed furiously, pulling her braid over her shoulder and fiddling with the tip.
"All right!" barked a twin.
She jumped in shock. "What—"
"Move!" barked the other.
Lee laughed at her stricken expression as the twins unceremoniously herded her into the bathroom. Hermione slammed the door shut, grumbling all the while.
"Get changed, get out, and leave the dress on the sink!" barked George.
"And good heavens, girl, don't dawdle! We've got a lot of work to do on that thing and no time to waste!" added Fred.
"Don't you keep grouching at the door, young lady!"
"The door never did anything to you! If you're going to be rude, be rude to our faces!"
"Oi! Don't you even think about opening that door to be rude to our faces!"
"Chop-chop, Granger! I know from experience that it doesn't take that long to get out of a dress!"
"Fred!" Hermione shrieked. "Don't be inappropriate!"
"Woman, get your head out of the gutter! I actually have been in a dress, thank you!"
"The dress was so insulted it caught fire!"
"I was too hot for it to handle!"
The door nearly exploded open. Hermione stomped out, scowling at the twins. She threw the dress at Fred's face and stormed out of the boys' room as the twins and Lee laughed. Fred, still grinning, turned from the door to face the knowing smirks of his twin and their friend.
George shifted his weight onto one foot, crossing his arms over his chest. "Starlight," he enunciated slowly as Lee chortled uncontrollably on his bed, "in her hair."
"Didn't even try to be subtle about it, mate," laughed Lee, giving up on the pretense of reading and setting his book aside.
Fred scoffed and straightened out Hermione's dress. "Subtlety is for those who can't face the truth head-on."
"Spoken like a true Gryffindor," said George proudly, transfiguring a nearby chair into a model's dress form. "Also spoken like a shiny, brown broomstick to an equally shiny, brown wand. Tell me more about this truth that you so happily infer you can face, Freddie."
Fred draped Hermione's dress over the form, adjusting it so it sat properly. "The truth is that we need to keep the dress modest and classic to fit with Granger's sensibilities. The flashiest thing we can do is her…hairclips."
George's eyes rose to the ceiling, heaving a longsuffering sigh. "Starlight in her hair…"
"Hairclips!" wheezed Lee, who subsequently tipped too far over the edge of his bed and toppled off, still cackling and gasping for air.
"Merlin's saggy balls, Fred!" crowed George, covering his face with his hands as Fred's lips disappeared into a straight line and the tips of his ears darkened to crimson. "You need to re-evaluate your life decisions."
Lee was practically shrieking with laughter, and Fred finally pelted a Silencio right at the boy's mouth with barely a glance in his direction. "Well, you agree, don't you?" asked Fred carelessly. "The dress will be understated, so the statement pieces will have to be the jewelry and what little obvious magic we'll incorporate into the dress."
George scrubbed his face with his hands, shaking his head ruefully at his clearly-in-denial, idiotic other half. "Yes, yes, you love-struck, bumbling fool, she will have your bloody starlight in her hair."
"Honestly, you two are blowing this way out of proportion," said Fred, circling the dress slowly and making minute changes that gradually began to help the dress evolve into a different style entirely.
"I think we have every right to blow this little thing up because Morgana knows it's flown under the radar for too long," said Lee, cocking an eyebrow. "You've got a thing for Granger."
Fred scoffed, shaking his head. "She's fourteen."
"With the brains and maturity of a thirty-year-old. Maybe even older," countered George. "And what the hell are you talking about? You're only sixteen."
"Well, that's all good and well, but I honestly do not have a thing for Granger," said Fred, looking both his twin and his friend in the eye.
Lee continued to stare at him skeptically, but George looked a bit surprised.
"He's telling the truth," said George. "Granted, it could be the truth because he believes it to be, not that he's outright lying."
Lee nodded. "Believable. So shall we continue letting him live on in ignorance?"
George smirked and flourished his wand, changing the color of the dress and eradicating all traces of pink. "It'll hit him one day soon."
Fred rolled his eyes. "You both are buffoons. Granger and I aren't even playing the same game to be considered out of each others' leagues."
George snorted. "Keep telling yourself that, brother of mine, and you'll manage to delude yourself into stupidity so much that you'll be right on Ronnie's level."
"I don't know what kind of hoodoo you two have been smoking, but I can tell you with a great amount of certainty that as pretty and smart as Hermione Granger might be, I do not fancy her like that," said Fred firmly. "Should we charm the bottom or just—"
"Probably should. We don't know what other magic she might be exposed to—"
"Not to mention the potential pranks by less-than-savory characters not of our loyalties, if you know what I mean."
Fred scowled, transfiguring another ribbon from a candy box into a long, silvery thread that he magically began to weave along the various edges of Hermione's half-finished dress. "Yeah. We've no room for any risk of wardrobe malfunction."
"See?" Lee jumped up from the bed, pointing at Fred's face. "That! That kind of shite right there! That's more than brotherly concern, Fred!"
Fred briefly paused his work and looked away from the dress to cast his eyes to the heavens—or rather the stained ceiling, advertising various potion mishaps he and George had endured. "You know, with the way you go on, I could swear the both of you are projecting. Ever heard of that? Merlin forbid I worry about the safety of a girl as we engage in a night of frivolity and fraternization among foreign students whose agendas we may find ourselves opposing in the future."
George eyed him patronizingly. "That sentence make you feel good about yourself?"
Fred finished threading the silvery line through and smirked at his twin. He charmed the thread and stepped back to admire his work. "Yes, actually."
George scowled. "Good."
George waved his wand once more with a grand flourish that finished off the magical detailing of Hermione's dress. "So, you fancy Granger, eh?"
Fred promptly transfigured George's attire into a frilly green princess ball gown, complete with glittery organza and a satin corset that had George gasping for air and leaning against Lee's bedpost before he collapsed.
"I suggest we recruit Ginny to deal with her hair," continued Fred, as George frantically waved his wand to loosen his corset. "As much as I'd rather not outsource, I think we're going to need to hand over the reins to an expert."
George, having finally wrangled his corset into an acceptable tightness, hiked up his bustle and stood next to his twin, surveying their handiwork, sighing happily and folding his hands on his voluminous skirts. "She's gonna be beautiful, brother. Gossamer, moonbeams, and starlight in her hair."
"Shut up. You don't look hot enough in that dress to make it catch fire like I did."
"That's because you tripped over your own hem and nearly sat in the fireplace."
"Are you really not going to tell us who Hermione's going with?" asked Angelina, who was perched on the arm of the sofa in the Gryffindor common room. She shifted her pale green dress and crossed her arms over her chest. "For Merlin's sake, you two designed her dress and harangued Ginny to do up her hair. You've got all the insider's information, and you can't possibly drop a hint about her mysterious date?"
"Well, it's not too difficult a task considering we simply don't know," answered George, throwing an arm around Angelina's shoulders.
The twins, Angelina, Neville (who was Ginny's date), and Katie Bell (who was George's date) were waiting for Ginny and Hermione to appear. Katie and Angelina had taken it as an opportunity to interrogate Fred and George about whom Hermione's illustrious partner was.
"Well, obviously, he's not in Gryffindor," said Katie, "else he'd be down here waiting with us. And it probably isn't going to be someone from Hogwarts—"
"Why do you think that?" asked Fred.
"Because it would've gone around the school by now," answered Angelina. "Hermione's popular in these halls, boys. If any bloke that lived here had asked Granger to the ball, it would've been all over the school."
"So that leaves boys from Beauxbatons or Durmstrang," said Katie, "which makes sense because in spite of the rapport that the three schools have built up, boys from the other schools probably don't know Hermione's reputation well enough to advertise that sort of gossip."
"Well, it looks like you two have already come closer to an answer than we have," said Fred.
"What's taking them so long?" asked Neville—though it was less out of impatience and more out of worry. He pulled at his collar. "Do you think they're all right?"
George tapped his lip contemplatively. "Well, there's always a chance that Ginny may have gotten desperate and resorted to some sort of hazardous charm that Hermione's seemingly-sentient curls might have reacted badly to. So now Hermione's bald."
Neville looked horrified.
"Or it's that Hermione's finally snapped and has now put Ginny in a Full Body-Bind and stashed her in a closet before escaping out the window," added Fred.
Longbottom paled and leaned a hip on the back of sofa, teetering dangerously.
Fred and George immediately flanked him, throwing their arms over the younger boy's shoulders and patting his back reassuringly.
"Don't fret, mate," said Fred.
"We're only joking," said George.
"Honestly, if either scenario happened, you can be damn sure we'd have heard the commotion."
"I mean, I doubt anyone would miss half of Gryffindor tower blowing up."
"Or fire engulfing the school with sheer force of Hermione's rage and fury."
"Oh, for Merlin's sake, stop it," commanded Katie, stomping over and smacking the twins upside the head. "Neville, don't worry. I'm sure they're almost ready. From what we heard about Ginny's plans, Hermione's hairdo is a bit intricate, so it would've taken much longer than it took us."
Fred rolled his eyes, anticipating the words that George would most likely have commissioned to be carved on his bloody tombstone.
Three. Two. One—
"Starlight in her—"
"What're you two muttering about starlight for?" asked Katie, eyeing them suspiciously, smoothing out the front of her maroon dress.
"Don't worry about him," said Fred coolly and smiling shrewdly at his twin. "He's just mooning over Granger. He loved my idea of putting in a couple transfigured jewel hairclips."
"Hermione?" echoed Neville incredulously. He stared at George like he'd lost his mind. "She's out of your league."
Fred laughed, thumping Neville's back proudly. "I told him the same thing, mate, but he wouldn't be deterred."
George spluttered indignantly, but he knew better. Now that Fred had put it out there first, there was no way he could refute it without sounding like he was in denial. He really should have seen that coming.
Honestly. George and Lee had not stopped riding Fred's arse about that. At every chance they could get, they were muttering "starlight in her hair" like some sort of prayer before dissolving into giggles. Fred was on the last leg of his patience—the only thing holding him back had been the prank he'd planned for them later. He'd just been saving that comeback as a pre-emptive strike, an appetizer for what was to come.
Little did Lee and George know, but Fred let slip to the girls that George was especially interested in seeing the illustrious Miss Granger all cleaned up and ready for the ball.
"Wow, George, I suppose opposites do attract," mused Angelina. "Or rather, you're attracted to your opposite. I would hope Granger's got more sense than to reciprocate."
Fred's pleased smile only widened as George's lips thinned into a straight line.
"I will instigate Weasel's War with no remorse whatsoever," said George.
Fred matched his steely glare with one of his own. "Shall I take that as the spell heard 'round the world, mate? Shall we war?"
Katie and Angelina's eyes widened in fear, and Neville looked between the four older students, thoroughly anxious at this point. "W-What's Weasel's War?"
"The most legendary prank war between Bill and Charlie Weasley, the two eldest brothers," answered Angelina, almost reverently, as if not wanting to disturb the tension built between the twins. "It lasted for over three years, each prank spaced out at alarming intervals—quick-fire, siege, and all others in between. The family was practically on high alert for the entire duration. It took Arthur, Molly, Muriel, and five other members of the Weasley family to stage an intervention to finally end the war. Bill and Charlie signed their own Treaty of Pasties, in which they rescinded three months' worth of desserts as reparations for emotional and physical trauma to the family."
Neville was cowering in fear at this point, staring back and forth between Fred and George, who were locked in a silent battle of the wills.
"Merlin, Morgana, and Mordred himself forbid a Weasel War between the two pranksters of the family," muttered Katie, biting her thumbnail nervously. "It would escalate far beyond the squabbles between two brothers. Families, counties, countries, continents."
"You wouldn't dare," said George, narrowing his eyes. "Not over something like this."
"You know exactly what I'd dare, Georgie," said Fred, smirking evilly. "It's our penultimate year, brother. It'd certainly be the bang we wanted to go out with."
Before the idea could blossom on either of their faces, a voice broke through, its firmness and finality brooking no argument under pain of death. "If you want to go out with a bang, I'd be happy to blow up the both of you. I don't want to hear a whisper's word about another Weasel's War, you hear me?"
Fred, George, Katie, Angelina, and Neville turned to look up at the stairs to the girls' dormitories, where Ginny was currently standing, a stern hand on her hip and her brown eyes shooting Fiendfyre itself at her brothers. It was as if Molly Weasley had temporarily possessed her own daughter. Fred and George nearly shivered in fear. Neville got lightheaded.
"Well, our little sister certainly strikes fear into the hearts of men," said George as he and Fred stood at the bottom of the stairs, waiting for their sister's descent.
"Also strikes a hell of a pose," said Fred. They dropped kisses on either side of Ginny's cheeks as she got down to their level, and they offered her each an arm. "You look beautiful, Gin."
Rolling her eyes, she slipped her arms into the crooks of the twins' as they led her right up to Neville, who looked nervous as hell. Despite his anxiety, an admiring smile shined through his expression as he offered his arm to Ginny.
"If you were anyone else, Neville," began Fred.
"We'd threaten you with cushions," finished George.
The twins released Ginny to Neville's proffered arm.
"Cushions?" echoed Neville, looking back and forth between the two taller, stockier sixth years that stared back down at him.
"I'm certain your muscles won't function the same way when your tendons are transfigured into sofa stuffing, would it?"
"Prime position to be taken up as a Muggle punching bag, eh?"
"I daresay you'd be an invaluable addition to the Quidditch locker rooms."
"And in a fit of inter-house unity, we could lend you out to the other house teams."
Neville was petrified. Even if he was on good enough terms with the twins to have a good sense to know when they were joking or not, this was an instance when their jokes could very well be serious.
Neville gulped audibly. "I-I-I-I'll have h-her b-b-back here b-by ten."
Ginny glared at him and then her brothers and then back to Neville. "Twelve. These two won't even be back by then, so don't even bother with a curfew." She didn't spare her brothers a glance before huffing and rolling her eyes. "We have gotten way off track. Hermione! Don't you dare think I've forgotten about you!"
A series of frustrated garbles was heard somewhere near the top of the stairs and then finally a heavy sigh. Fred and George turned just as Hermione peered around the corner and stepped out, reluctantly descending the stairs in a grand (albeit shy) entrance.
Angelina nodded in understanding, her lips curling into a smile. "Oh."
Katie elbowed George pointedly, but the redhead ignored her in favor of memorizing his brother's expression.
He grinned. "Starlight in her ha—"
Fred shoved his hand in his brother's face without taking his eyes off the vision coming down toward him. He'd obviously seen the dress, and they'd discussed her hairdo with Ginny, so he knew what it was supposed to look like. Seeing it all on Hermione herself, though, was another thing entirely.
The twins had indeed charmed her dress to be like gossamer and moonbeams. The Suitable Dress had been thoroughly transformed into a floaty, chiffon masterpiece with a satin bodice and filmy capped sleeves. The pink had given way to George's constantly shifting combination of periwinkle blue and shimmery silver hues. Each tier of fabric was edged with the silvery thread that Fred had charmed to emit a minimal amount of mist so that every movement Hermione made trailed wisps of cloud and made her seem all the more graceful. Tendrils of chestnut curls hung loose, framing her face, while the rest of her hair was swept back and pinned with the very thing that George and Lee would not stop saying. Transfigured out of bobby pins Hermione had handed over and crinkly, metallic candy wrappers, the starburst hairclips twinkled in the cradle of Hermione's curls, winking as she shot the others a tentative smile.
"Wow, Hermione, you look magnificent!" said Katie, grinning widely.
Hermione blushed and shrugged. "I… It was all Fred, George, and Ginny. Praises should go to them."
"Oh, but I highly doubt that outfit would work on any of those three the way it does on you," said Angelina wryly.
"Hush, you fool," hissed George, sneering down at Angelina from the end of his nose. "You know nothing about how that dress would flatter my svelte figure."
"I frankly prefer the other one," said Fred to his twin though he didn't take his eyes off the descending Hermione. "You need a more voluminous skirt to hide those atrocious hips of yours."
"You're just jealous I have hips at all."
"Perfect for childbearing."
Fred held out his hand to help Hermione down the last few steps, and she took it and squeezed it gratefully, smiling up at him. In that moment, maybe he'd allow George and Lee a bit of victory. If he entertained the thought long enough, he would definitely fancy Granger.
"Come on, Cinder-mione," he teased, holding her aloft. "Give us a twirl then. Show off our hard work."
Hermione rolled her eyes but acquiesced, unable to fight the giddiness that bubbled in her chest. She spun slowly, the mist ghosting around her and her hairclips sparkling.
"You're going to shock the entire student population," said Katie. "I can't wait to see everyone's faces. I doubt half will recognize you."
"Thank you," said Hermione earnestly, biting her lip. A bit uncomfortable with the attention, she cleared her throat and ducked her head, pretending to adjust her dress. "We should, erm, get going though. Bad form to be late and all."
"You're just saying that to keep us from asking about your date," said George, coming up to her other side and tucking her arm into his.
Hermione's blush darkened even further. "George—"
"But it's all right," continued George, sniffing. "That means we're more susceptible to overreactions when the surprise finally hits, and we can't be blamed if Fred, Neville, and I all gang up on your unworthy suitor and beat the stuffing out of him."
"George!" cried Hermione indignantly, pinching his arm and glaring.
"No, no, no, don't bother telling us anymore," said George, leading her out of the portrait hole after Neville and Ginny and Fred, Angelina, and Katie. "Now we're looking forward to the surprise all the more, don't you say, Neville?"
"Hush, Neville. Silence is always acquiescence."
"For Merlin's sake, man!"
The others laughed, and Hermione even joined, though her chuckles were more nervous than anything. They made their way down the hallways, toward the Great Hall, her anxiety level rising exponentially.
She was going to trip. She was going to spill something. They were going to laugh at her and call her a fake and say she succumbed to the girly habits every female harbored and tried to hide from. They were going to make a mockery of her.
She hadn't even noticed her own nervous trembling until George nudged her with a worried and questioning expression.
"Oi," he said softly, frowning and slowing her down so they fell back from the group. "Chin up, princess." He raised her chin with his finger. "Do you need to roar to summon up some of that Gryffindor courage?" he asked.
Hermione chuckled in spite of herself, though it came out a bit thick. "Just…typical nerves," she said. "To be expected, all things considered."
"'To be expected,' my arse. Bloody hell, woman, you've faced down a troll, a basilisk, a werewolf, and a serial killer. If you're nervous because of what everyone else thinks of you, you've only got to remember that you've handled much worse." He brushed imaginary lint off her shoulders and adjusted her floaty sleeves before gripping her arms gently and shaking her a bit. "Now, roar for me, Granger, like the lioness you are."
"That was pitiful. You should be ashamed of yourself," he said flatly, taking her hand and curling it around his arm again. "A housecat could do better. Do you want us to head back and get Crookshanks to teach you a lesson?"
Hermione laughed, genuine and warm, which banished the cold clamminess in her hands.
"There's my girl. Now, come on, love. Spine straight, chin level to the ground—there you go."
Hermione grinned up at him and squeezed his arm. "Thank you—to you and Fred. I…adore this dress."
"I think the dress adores you too, sweetness," said George, winking. "You're welcome. Now…"
"Who's the prick I'm gonna need to threaten?"
The others laughed, having noticed that the last two hung back and decided to wait for them.
"You will do no such thing, George Weasley," said Hermione firmly, though her smile said something different.
"Considering your father isn't here to do it, I think Fred, Neville, and I are happy to fill his shoes."
"W-Why do you keep volunteering me?" demanded Neville—confused, worried, and mildly horrified.
"You mean to tell me you won't defend Hermione's honor should it be compromised?!" cried George.
"If her honor's been compromised, I-I-I reckon we best stay out of her way," answered Neville, giving Hermione a firm nod.
Hermione grinned, and Ginny beamed at her date. Angelina and Katie both cocked eyebrows at their own dates, and Fred and George scowled.
"Come on, you twits," said Ginny, steering the group back on track. "Can we please stop dilly-dallying? I can't wait to see Ron wearing his dress robes."
"You should probably avoid that sight at all costs, Gin," said Fred.
"You'll get nightmares," added George.
"It can't be that bad," said Ginny.
"Oh, it's bad," laughed Angelina, having already turned the corner and spotted the boy in question.
The others turned the corner and joined the rest of the students milling around the entrance to the Great Hall, but Hermione froze. George stopped with her, looking down worriedly again.
"You go ahead," said Hermione, swallowing and taking a deep breath. "Give me a few seconds."
George glanced around. "You sure?"
Hermione nodded. "Erm, you all have to go ahead inside anyway."
Hermione could almost see the cogs turning in his head as her words began to sink in. "Go!" She shoved George forward. "You're Katie's date, for goodness sake. Go attend to your duties. I'll be fine."
Understanding had dawned on George's face as he spluttered in shock, which quickly shifted into consternation. "Hermione Granger, you had better be Diggory's date and not—"
George and Hermione turned to see Viktor Krum, handsome and resplendent in his red coat and fur cloak. His eyes were only for Hermione as he smiled at her, an endearing nervous twitch at the corner of his mouth. Stepping up to her, he snapped his feet together, back straight, and bowed low to Hermione before taking her hand and kissing her knuckles.
Blushing madly and looking like she wanted nothing but to lock herself in a closet and squeal excitedly, Hermione never took her eyes off Krum as he began to lead her away. "George Weasley, you will not say a word."
George, in turn, had no words to say.
Instead, he watched the pair join the rest of the champions before striding into the Great Hall and immediately finding the nearest student with a camera. Snatching it out of the girl's hand, he found Fred, Angelina, Katie, Neville, and Ginny standing near Ron and Padma Patil. Positioning himself at the perfect vantage point, George raised the camera as soon as the doors opened, and the champions paraded in.
He snapped the picture as soon as the group recognized Hermione and then her date.
Fred strolled into the common room, tie askew, his outer robes thrown over his shoulder, and the sleeves of his white shirt rolled up to his elbows. George and Lee, their hair charmed silver and glittery for the foreseeable future, were off snogging their dates somewhere, and Angelina had found herself a nice Beauxbatons boy with whom she was exercising her magnificent ballroom dancing skills in the Great Hall. Even Neville was still throwing Ginny around the dance floor, having the twinkle-toed time of his life. Fred, on the other hand, had danced his fill with any willing victim and was now thoroughly exhausted. McGonagall's tango had really put him through the ringer, but it was Dumbledore's "easy" foxtrot that put him out of commission. The old man was infinitely spryer than anyone thought.
Not really paying attention to where he threw his weary bag of bones, Fred settled down on one of the sofas in the common room and yelped in surprise when he saw Hermione huddled in the opposite corner, her knees to her chest, her arms wrapped around her legs, staring at the waning flames of the fireplace. Her shoes were discarded on the floor, her toes peeking out from the still-misting edge of her dress. Her hair—and all the starlight still twinkling in it—was intact.
"Hi, Fred," she said bleakly.
Wisely keeping his mouth shut, Fred scooted himself across the sofa so he sat right next to her. Then he picked her hand up off her knee and intertwined his fingers with hers.
"Ron," she said, by way of explanation.
"I know," he answered simply, squeezing her hand gently.
"He really knows how to knock a girl off of cloud nine, eh?"
Fred frowned. "Cloud nine? That's a random number and a random place for a girl to be."
Hermione chuckled. "It's…a Muggle saying meaning a very happy place."
"Merlin, Hermione, you know we love you and all, but Muggles and their sayings are incomprehensible."
Hermione laughed louder this time, shaking her head and leaning it on Fred's shoulder. "Muggles could say the exact same about magical folk."
Fred sighed. "People are weird."
"Other people are stupid."
"And there are those people who are just plain masochistic."
"I mean, why in the world would you choose to work at a bloody school when you hate children?" he rambled. "Flouncing around the place like a bat literally out of hell must be his only favorite pastime because it's the only time he doesn't have that dour look on his mug."
Hermione stifled her smile. "Fred, he's our professor. Don't—"
"There are thousands of other jobs that involve potions but don't have the unpleasant side-effect of children—I hope he knows that. It's like he's torturing himself, stuck in a loop of child-hatred and self-hatred. Imagine if he found out he was gay and in love with Lockhart. Only then would any spawn of Severus Snape or Gilderoy Lockhart be mentally balanced."
Hermione laughed, tucking her face into Fred's shoulder to smother her giggles. Fred smiled along with her and released her hand to wrap his arm around her shoulders, tucking her closer to his side.
"Don't worry, princess," he muttered against her hair. "Ron'll grow out of being a numpty in a few years. Promise. Even if Bill, Charlie, Percy, George, Ginny, and I have to make him. Don't let him dictate the end of your night."
Hermione pulled out of his embrace. "Oh, give it up, Fred. Don't you remember what happened to Cinderella at the end of the night? She turned back into a ragged little servant girl, sitting in a rotten vegetable with a bunch of vermin."
"Those vermin didn't happen to be weasels, did they?"
Hermione looked up to see Fred's soft, joking smile. Sighing, she slumped lower on the sofa. Before she could fully settle in again, a hand was waiting in front of her. She looked up to see Fred standing and smirking down at her. She hadn't even noticed he'd sprung to his feet.
"What are you doing?" she asked wearily.
"Brightest witch of her age and she can't even figure out the obvious," he sighed with a longsuffering eye-roll. "Honestly."
Hermione chuckled softly and took his hand, letting him pull her up. She was about to slide her tired feet into her heels again when he stopped her. He toed off his own dress shoes and pulled her into the middle of the rug.
"Now, don't you remember how Cinderella's story ended? Her shoe problem was resolved, and she lived happily ever after with a handsome prince. However, since there is no way I'm bringing Krum up here, I'm going to have to fill in for him as Prince Charming, that all right?"
"I thought you were my fairy godfather," she said, raising an eyebrow at him shrewdly.
He sniffed and held her in Proper Dance Form, Position #1. "Who says I can't be both? I'll be your bloody Charming Fairy Godprince, and you'll hush and appreciate it."
Hermione laughed again, shaking her head and letting Fred lead her in a slow waltz. "No music?" she asked.
Fred scoffed. "Aren't you supposed to say something about the melody of the crackle of the fire and soft quiet of the night?"
Hermione snorted in such an unladylike manner that she nearly tripped over her feet. "Merlin's balls, Fred, that was romantic."
He grimaced in pain, and Hermione only laughed more. And because she simply looked so beautiful laughing—cheeks flushed, eyes bright, and grin wide—Fred leaned down and kissed her.
No preamble, really. No warning, no thought, no hesitation.
After a moment's pause, her shocked lips began to move, gently pressing back against his. They kissed softly, chastely, for only a few more seconds before Fred pulled away.
"What was that for?" asked Hermione quietly, her voice barely louder than the snap of the fire.
Fred twirled her out and pulled her back in before reassuring her. "Now, don't worry, Granger. I know you're not harboring any sort of unrequited love for me, and you can rest easy at night knowing that you didn't break my pining heart or some such drivel."
"Well, there had to be a True Love's Kiss to end the story, right?" Fred smiled at her warmly. "And since Krum's not here to have the honor, who am I to pass up the opportunity to kiss the prettiest girl at the ball?"
They fell silent, simply moving back and forth to the imaginary rhythm. They were two friends dancing barefoot in front of a fireplace at an unholy hour of the night. It didn't have to be a grand love story or the bright sparks of a new love. It didn't have to be a fairy-tale. It didn't have to be anything.
And so it wasn't anything.
"Starlight in my hair?"
"Shut it, Hermy."