Hermione stares forlornly at the destruction that surrounds her. This had been her home. This had been her favorite place in the world, a place where she truly felt safe, and he had ruined it. He had destroyed it and defiled it; all in the name of power.
She had escaped from the crowd to the remains of the Grand Staircase, sitting on a bottom step that hadn't been completely blown to bits. Harry and Ron still remain in the Great Hall where everyone had congregated after Voldemort's defeat. With the relief of his death, also came the exhaustion and the grief.
A sob escapes from her tightly pursed lips. So many lives lost. Too many lives taken. After embracing Harry and each member of the Weasley clan, she'd found that it was all too much. Surrounded by the dead and those who remained, she slipped away after promising Harry and Ron that she just needed a moment alone.
She grips her wand tighter and stares blankly ahead. With so many emotions roiling inside of her – joy at their win, despair at their losses – she can't discern whether she wants to cry from relief or from misery.
Hermione rolls hers shoulders back in an attempt to shake off some of the soreness that covers her entire body. She feels so incredibly exhausted and spent, and desires nothing more than to take a hot bath and sleep for days.
She hadn't even realized he had walked out of the Great Hall and towards her perch until he is right in front of her. Fred looks the worse for wear with dust covering him, his clothes torn in some areas, and several cuts cover his face. Hermione meets his gaze and nods in greeting.
He lowers himself next to her and both stare ahead at nothing, sitting in a comfortable silence. She silently notes his twin's absence and wonders at Fred's company. Hermione has never considered herself a close friend of the twins. They were really only Ron's older brothers who seemed to think it was their rightful duty to get under her skin as frequently and deeply as possible. She has spent plenty of time with them in the past, but this is the first time she can think of that she's spent time with one of them alone.
Fred finally breaks the silence. "How are you feeling?"
Sore. And oh so tired. She can't decide what she wants more, a shower or bed. She lets out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. "Shouldn't I be the one asking you that? You nearly died under that wall."
She turns to face him and sees the corner of his mouth flit upwards. "But I didn't thanks to you."
Hermione had been close enough to see the wall fall, but not close enough to prevent it. What happened afterwards was nothing short of a miracle, as Hermione sprinted to the rubble and freed Fred from underneath. She was finally able to revise him after using countless spells on him, some of which she wasn't entirely sure were legal or spells found in a non-restricted section of the library.
She'd then been tackled by George and Percy in thanks, and Fred had only been able to give her a grateful smile over George's shoulder as she was ushered away by Harry and Ron to continue fighting. Other than some minor cuts and bruises, he appeared to have escaped pretty much unscathed.
"I never got the chance to say thank you. I know that I shouldn't be here right now. I owe you my life."
Hermione feels a prick of pain deep within her somewhere at the thought of how much darker the world would be without the full set of Weasley twins. She also notes that the serious expression on Fred's does not suit him in the least.
"Fred, you don't owe me anything. We're practically family."
He grimaces and looks down at his feet. "Right...family..."
Hermione smiles at him uncertainly. Maybe it had been a little presumptuous of her to assume that he'd feel the same way, but she truly found all of the Weasley members to be like family to her.
Fred abruptly stands up and she jumps back from his sudden movement. He leaves his back to her, one hand scratching his head. His ears gradually grow pinker, and Hermione's interest - and confusion - peak.
His voice is tight when he speaks. "I followed you over here for a reason. I know my timing is shit, what with everything that just happened, but I need to talk to you about something."
Still feeling kind of confused – what could Fred Weasley need to talk to her about? – she pats the spot next to her. "Okay. Come sit and talk to me."
He sighs. "It's not that easy, Granger."
"I don't see why not."
He lets out a chuckle, the pink now lightly tinging his cheeks. "Hermione, you absolutely terrify me."
Hermione scoffs at him and crosses her arms over her chest. "Well that's rather rude of you. Just because I don't approve of your and George's antics doesn't mean-"
"No, that's not what I mean. What I meant to say is..." He lets out a huff of frustration and plops back onto the step next to her. "You terrify me because you make me feels things that are only reserved for those silly Muggle romance novels you love to read."
She opens her mouth to retort - she seems to remember him actually taking a liking to a few of her silly romance novels - when the implication of his words hits her.
"No no no - let me finish," Fred takes a deep breath and stares deep into her eyes before powering on. "I fancy you. This is not some joke or prank, so please don't take any of this lightly. And I'm not telling you this with the expectation that you have some deep, hidden love for me. I know how you and Ron feel about one another, even if you're both too daft to admit it to each other yet, and I know where I stand. I'm his annoying, rule-breaking - albeit handsomer - brother and nothing I say is going to change that. But I promised myself that if we both got through this war alive I'd finally tell you that I've been mad for you for years." He lets out a sigh. "So there it is. Hermione Jean Granger I have been in love with you for Merlin knows how long and I'd rather be rejected with no regrets than to continue on without you knowing."
Hermione stares at him, much like a fish, with wide eyes and a gaping mouth. She tries to process his words but finds every thought to be incoherent, save for the continuous line of 'inloveinloveinlove.' Fred snickers at her expression.
"Which reminds me, George is awfully angry with you for turning his twin into a 'bumbling, obsessive twit,' I believe his words were."
"Fred...I..." Hermione wrings her hands and tries to clear her throat, but dear Merlin what does he expect her to say? For someone who's just professed his love for a girl, he seems relatively relaxed now. He leans against the step behind them, looking completely at ease. Now that it's finally off of his tongue, the tenseness in his posture is completely gone. The pink on his face still remains, but even that is fading. "I think you are incredible-"
Fred holds up his hand to stop her, and she immediately snaps her mouth shut.
"I'm going to stop you right there before you get to the inevitable 'but'. I told you; I know how you feel about me and that's fine. Yes, it sucks that I can't come out of this a winner, but at least I got to get it off my chest." He grins at her in ernest, and it's clear to see that he doesn't feel the awkwardness that she feels. In typical Weasley twin fashion, he looks entirely at ease.
Hermione wants to follow his lead and let the conversation lie at rest, but she finds her curiosity getting the better of her.
"How long have you...?"
His self assured expression breaks at the edges a bit and he clenches his fists in his lap. He turns away from her.
"That's not important."
Hermione wants to argue and say that of course its important, that all of this is important, and how dare he act as if he hasn't just completely shaken her world. Her emotions are all over the place and all she can 100% feel is pure confusion. Over the years, Fred has never even hinted at his feelings. They had barely had a conversation that didn't start with her threatening 'wait till your mother hears about this!' There were no longing looks or second glances. He was just Fred.
"Rest assured though, Granger. I told you I had no expectations, so I'm not heartbroken or anything. This was all in the name of my promise to myself." Pushing himself to his feet, he turns to face her once more. He cocks his head to the side and studies her face. She doesn't know what he sees there. What she does feel is her skin tightening from her tears from earlier. A few new tears prick in the corners of her eyes and her eyebrows furrow. Her eyes are wide in panic over the situation and they flit back and forth across his face. How can he be so impossibly calm?
He leans down so that his face is level with hers. "It's okay, Hermione," Fred whispers. He places a lingering kiss to her forehead before slipping back into the Great Hall.
Hermione sits there, still as a stone, her forehead tingling. It had been chaste and far from her lips; a passerby might've even called it brotherly. She might have said the same if it weren't for his confession. But with the new knowledge of his feelings, her face feels hot and she feels as if the kiss has traveled all throughout her body down to her toes.
Hermione might have been able to brush the whole ordeal off if it had been some mere crush. But he loves her. More than that, he's IN love with her.
And oh Merlin does she wish he hadn't told her.
Because if he hadn't told her, nothing would change. He would still just be one-half of the Weasley twins, who were forever a thorn in her side. She wouldn't be second guessing her original analysis of him. She wouldn't be thinking about his good traits - his intelligence, his loyalty, his bravery - traits that she had never given a second thought on because what did it matter? It was only Fred. She wouldn't be thinking about how damn handsome he is and how a kiss as innocent as the one he had given her could affect her so much. Things had been just fine between them until he had decided to muck things up and change everything for her.
Hermione shakes the thoughts of Fred out of her mind and begins towards the Great Hall - towards the Weasleys, towards Harry, towards Ron.
Pushing thoughts of her conversation with Fred to the far reaches of her mind, she tries to focus on Ron. She thinks of the kiss she and Ron had shared hours earlier, ignores the small twinge of guilt, and smiles at the thought of their new relationship. Because that is what's important. Fred had said he has no expectations of her, so she is going to go on as she would have had he not told her.
She doesn't think of Fred and his confession. Because she just knows that if she were to think about it long enough, she could love him too.
And that terrifies her more than anything.
AN: It has been oh so long since I've written anything so please be kind. I haven't decided yet if I'm going to add more to this or leave it as a one shot, so I'll just choose based on the kind of feedback I receive.