"Fancy meeting you here, Granger!"
She continues to stare a hole into the step below her with her wand emitting sparks in her clenched fist. When it comes to him, ignoring his presence is really the best course of action.
"Lovely little nest you've made yourself."
Oh Merlin, now he's sitting.
"Why yes, Hermione. I HAVE been having a nice night! Thanks for asking!"
What kind of person sees a girl moping on some steps outside of a party and thinks it's a good idea to strike up a conversation? She drops her head in her lap with a groan.
"Although my night would be going much better if my sister weren't currently snogging Mr. Chosen One in the living room, and-"
With a shriek, she whips her head towards the grinning twin next to her. "FRED! What the bloody hell do you want?" Her voice cracks towards the end of her sentence, and she mentally curses the damned twin for finding her in such a dreadful state.
All traces of humor falls away from his face, and his suddenly intense eyes lock onto her.
"I'm sorry about him." Hermione blushes and hangs her her head low.
"You didn't deserve that," Fred continues in an uncharacteristically quiet voice. He hesitates for just a second before wrapping an arm around her shoulders.
While the move is unexpected, it isn't entirely unwelcome. The heavy weight of his arm is oddly comforting, and she unconsciously shifts closer to him.
Hermione sniffs and wipes at her damp cheeks. "Fred, Ron and I are no longer together. He is allowed to date whomever he wants." Even though that "whomever" happens to be the same girl she found him in bed with three months prior. Of course there had been signs of his infidelity, but Hermione had chosen to put trust in her boyfriend of almost a year. She had broken up with him immediately after finding them together, and that should've been that.
"He brought her knowing you'd be here," Fred hisses. "He brought her here knowing full well that no one from the family would approve of it. What a daft idiot."
The venom in his tone startles Hermione, but she reminds herself that the same hatred was in each and every one of the party guests' eyes when Ron showed up to the Burrow with Lavender. The night was initially for Harry's birthday party. It isn't the first time Hermione has been to the Burrow since her breakup with Ron. The Weasleys were unfailingly supportive of her after the ordeal. But Ron is family, so she had to continue to deal with his constant presence. Things had been uncomfortable between them, to say the least, but they had adopted an unspoken agreement to keep things civil for the sake of the rest of the Weasleys and their mutual friends.
And Hermione stuck to that agreement. She grieved, and she got over it. Their breakup really hurt her, but she had known all along that her relationship with Ron was not the end-all of relationships. Things had been rocky between them long before his transgression.
"I'll kill him. Just say the word, and I'll kill him." She chuckles at Fred's words, and leans her head on his shoulder. Fred pulls her closer to him and rests his head on top of hers.
"I was planning on breaking up with him."
"Yes," she sighs. "Before he so thoughtfully cheated on me with that bimbo, I was planning on breaking up with him."
"But...you were just crying over him bringing her."
"I'm upset over Ron the best friend, not Ron the boyfriend. He's been my best friend since I was eleven. I would've thought he would have had enough respect for me to not bring her around here." Then again, he didn't have enough respect for her to not cheat on her.
She can almost hear the gears in Fred's head turning before she continues. "We just were not meant to be together. It wasn't working, and it was never truly going to work. We're too different."
"Granger, I could've told you that years ago."
"But it's more than just different interests...he wanted to date your mother."
"I beg your pardon?"
"He wanted someone who was going to have dinner ready for him the second he got home from work. Someone who would stay home with his half a dozen children. I'm not that person, and I'm never going to be that person. Neither of us were making the other happy, and a breakup seemed inevitable. I had planned on doing it. I was just trying to work up the courage."
"Well...good. You were always way too good for him anyway." Fred presses a kiss to the top of her head, and she feels her cheeks grow warm. The memory of a similar kiss while in a similar location is suddenly in the forefront of her mind, and he's all too close.
"You deserve nothing but the best." He whispers this into her hair, and Hermione forces out a low chuckle.
"I don't think I've ever seen you so serious before."
They both know she's lying. There had been one instance.
"What can I say, Granger? I'm a man full of surprises."
He turns to face her, and she recognizes the glimmer of something in his eyes that she had been avoiding for far too long. His confession after the battle at Hogwarts had been pushed to the far recesses of her mind. Because Ron had come first. He had to come first. But there had been hidden moments here and there where she had noticed. Not just the stolen glances, not just the lingering touches, but him. She had noticed him.
"So...you're not pining after my brother?"
Hermione hesitates for half a second before making a decision.
"I can safely assure you that I have no residual feelings for him, save for general annoyance and disappointment. But what else is new?"
Fred grins at her, and she grins back and finds herself mirroring him when he slowly leans in towards her, and they -
"What the bloody hell is going on here?"
Hermione jumps back from Fred in surprise. Ron stands in the doorway to the kitchen with Lavender wrapped around him like a second skin. His face is already turning a molten red, and Hermione can almost imagine steam coming out of his ears. The mental image strangely makes her almost laugh out loud in the tense moment. Lavender, on the other hand, smirks at Hermione in victory.
"I don't think anything Hermione does is any of your business," Fred responds to Ron, almost casually. His smile is stony and forced, and he wraps his hand tight around Hermione's as a way to comfort her in the face of her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend. However, Hermione finds herself not sad, but annoyed with Ron. Not because of Lavender, not because he cheated, but because he had interrupted...well, something. The beginnings of something that she's finally allowed herself to feel and want and need.
"I'm okay, Fred. I can handle this." Hermione nudges at him and gives him an assuring look. He looks uncertain, but he stands up from their spot on the stairs after giving her hand one last squeeze.
Ron glares at him while Fred passes by him on the way to the living room. Fred cocks his eyebrow back at him, the threat evident there - 'try something and you'll find yourself with itching powder in your sheets.' Soon, it's just Hermione, Ron, and Lavender in the hall.
The silence is awkward - Ron glaring at Hermione, Lavender smirking at her, and Hermione looking in the direction of the living room - until Ron breaks it.
"You really couldn't find yourself someone else, huh. How long did it take you to move onto him after we broke up? A week? A day?"
Hermione opens her mouth to deny his accusations - even though she's just now starting to realize her own feelings she had locked away for so long, even though she's just now realizing the enormous potential that Fred had known all along - because Ron had been the one to cheat, for Merlin's sake. But Lavender speaks up before she can say a word
"What a cow. You just had to help yourself to another Weasley, didnt you? Won-Won wasn't enough, so you had to go and try to nab a Weasley twin?"
Hermione's mouth snaps shut. All thoughts of defending herself disappear, and dealing with the two of them is suddenly too exhausting, too much of a waste of time, for her. Particularly when she could be devoting her time to more deserving people. Ron and Lavender are both standing there looking entirely too pleased with themselves, waiting for her to do something, say anything. In their eyes, she is the one who had lost. She gives them a smirk similar to that of the mischievous twin. How wrong they are.
"Maybe." Her response floors them, but she doesn't stick around. She swiftly moves passed them towards the living room, and immediately seeks him out.
He's laughing with George and Ginny, but his attention goes right to her when she enters the room. His smile turns softer and the glimmer is there again. Hermione smiles back.
AN: WOW I am so sorry I'm just now returning to this after over a year! I'm the worst, I know. (Should I end this here, or have one more chapter? Suggestions, please.)