Chapter Eight: A girl like that?

Hermione Jean Granger's sorting had been one of the hardest decisions that the Sorting Hat had had to make in a very long time. For although Hermione had been sorted into Gryffindor nearly the second the hat touched her head, the wizened creature had to contemplate three options. Hermione would have thrived in the environment of Ravenclaw, where her intellect would be far more prized than it seemed to be in the Gryffindor common room, and she'd have had no problem taking on ten more classes than the other students were meant to. Yet Hermione was tired of being labelled as the "smart kid" and wanted to prove that she was different. Then there was the little part of her that would have suited Slytherin; for with a great intellect comes a sense of cunning and being able to manipulate people. This was not a trait Hermione habitually took advantage of, but she was willing to make use of this particularly Slytherin trait if it meant that Fred Weasley would actually sit up and notice her.

Hermione knew that Ginny's schemes usually were successful – there was the time that she'd rallied a protest because the Quidditch pitch had been double booked between Slytherin and Gryffindor, which had resulted in the reds getting to practice (if only, Hermione suspected, to shut Ginny up). There was the time when the redhead took an intense disliking to Fleur Delacour, Bill's wife, and had consequently got the majority of the Weasley family to call her "phlegm" at some point during the wedding. The outraged look on the blonde newly-weds face had truly been hilarious; Hermione had to hand it to Ginny. So it was with this belief that Ginny Weasley's schemes very rarely fell flat on their face that she set out, confident in her venture.

If you were to see Hermione Granger in the street you wouldn't have an instantaneous reaction where your jaw fell open involuntarily, astounded by her beauty, nor would you dream about her for weeks, dying to know the mysterious maiden's name… this was because of the plain and simple truth that Hermione Granger was nothing but ordinary. Sure, she had slightly less frizzy hair, thanks to a few de-frizzing potions that the Gryffindor golden girl had discovered since Hogwarts. Her buck teeth may have been slightly reduced, thanks to the cunning witch letting Madame Pomfrey shrink them a little too much when Malfoy hexed them, and her figure was certainly nice. But she wasn't a page three model, and she didn't have lustrous brown hair that fell down to her knees in Rapunzel curls. She didn't have the world's biggest boobs or massive blue eyes – instead, her orbs were brown, ordinary and plain. Just like Hermione herself.

This wasn't to say she wasn't pretty of course, because she was. She wasn't hideously disfigured, in actual fact, Hermione Granger was actually quite nice to look at, her features were proportionate, her hair offset her face and her sun tinted skin accentuated the healthy glow she emanated. But Hermione Granger was a very firm believer that if a guy is to like you, he has to fall in love with the real you, and not some tanned bimbo that you've turned yourself into. However, she did believe you were allowed to make slight alterations to your appearance, temporary ones, but nonetheless "improvements" as such.

This was why, early one morning before she was scheduled to be at the shop for nine, Hermione was surveying herself critically in the mirror. Under much duress from Ginny, Hermione had been subjected to a compulsory shopping trip to Diagon Alley: phase one in wooing Fred Weasley. As much as it pained the Gryffindor to admit, Ginny really did know what she was doing, and it was with a sigh that Hermione admitted she looked acceptable. Scratch that, actually, for she looked rather good. She'd had her annual hair cut – nothing out of the ordinary, just a few layers and some feathering done to make her locks a little easier to maintain. Her skin was already spattered with freckles and had a faint trace of a tan – something which rather than being coated head to toe in smelling orange gunk, Hermione had obtained from reading outside during the summer months. But it was the outfit that really did it. Given that she was going to be performing stage one of the plan at work, Hermione could hardly waltz in in a ball gown.

Instead, Hermione had opted for a simple pinafore which had been specially fitted so that it clung to the figure that the witch was secretly quite proud of. Her bust had particular emphasis – not something which Hermione usually made a show about displaying – but it definitely made a change. She had on a three quartered length blouse under the pinafore, which was accentuated with a simple pair of black and white flats; very elegant, very no-nonsense, and actually quite sexy, Hermione admitted with a small smile as she applied a modest coat of lip-gloss, and with a "pop", apparated to work.

The shop wasn't especially busy, which Hermione noted with glee, perhaps that would mean she'd have a chance to talk to Ali, and get the ball rolling. She was stacking a shelf with some more Peruvian Darkness powder when a voice behind her made her jump.

"Whatcha, 'Mione," Fred grinned, as he nipped her waist affectionately. She flinched at his touch, and she nudged one of the boxes so that it toppled off the shelf. She scrunched her eyes shut as it made impact with the floor, and the whole back section of the shop was coated in a blanket of darkness. Hermione sighed inwardly. Why did she have to be so jumpy around Fred?

When the dust settled, and Fred had made it disappear with a simple wave of his wand, she braved opening her eyes. Fred was regarding her with a bemused expression, and he leant over to wipe some of the soot off her nose. She felt her cheeks warming under such a simple gesture, and she blushed profusely. "Sorry?" She tried, her voice coming out somewhat squeakier than she'd intended.

"No problem," Grinned Fred, "Anyone would think I was the big bad wolf the way you react to me though, 'Mione." He chuckled. "Must be the Weasley charm, you're helpless to it," he teased, no idea just how close to the truth he was.

"Haha," Hermione managed nervously, before she hurriedly made excuses, mumbling something about Pimple Banisher, and rushing to the back of the storeroom to replenish the stock. Fred stood there looking confused, before he decided he must have caught Hermione at the wrong time of the month, shook his head, and went to go serve someone at the till. He caught sight of Ali, at one of the window displays looking remotely like he wasn't doing anything.

"Oi, Ali," Fred laughed, "Get your ass into the store cupboard and help Hermione restock."

Ali nodded, chuckling to himself as he did, as Fred was really quite bossy at times.

"Here, let me take that," Ali smiled helpfully as he took the precariously balanced box of potions out of the brunette's arms. Hermione had a habit of trying to take on more work than she was physically able to do – something she'd shown at Hogwarts with her erratic coming and going to classes where she'd used the time-turner.

"Thanks," Hermione chuckled, biting her tongue to prevent her from saying something about feminism and how she was perfectly capable of carrying a somewhat heavy box. After all, she was meant to be wooing the wizard, not scaring him senseless. She flashed him what she hoped was her most charming smile, and smoothed down her pinafore. She noted with glee as the older wizard gave her a onceover, then lifted his eyes to her face, smiling broadly. He ran a hand through his hair, the box balanced under one arm and resting on his hip. Hermione bit her lip – she knew that usually got a guy's attention, and sure enough Ali's eyes widened just enough for her to notice. She chuckled inwardly to herself – perhaps this was going to be easier than she'd initially imagined.

They didn't say anything to one another, instead they worked in silence, Hermione careful to shoot "sneaky" looks in the wizard's direction when she knew he was looking at her out of the corner of her eyes. Their eyes would meet, and then they'd both turn away, embarrassed, and blush. This happened several times over, before all the work in the storeroom was done, and they both made their way to the door, desperate to escape the tension surmounting in the room. But so eager to escape the awkwardness of the situation, they both made for a very narrow doorway at the same time, and for want of a better expression, ended up completely trapped. Ali towered over Hermione, his arm propped on the door frame above her head, whilst she herself was practically pressed up against him, looking up into his face which hosted an inquisitive expression. It would have been the moment in a film that two characters are overcome with sexual tension and they leap into one another's arms and wild passionate sex ensues. But seeing as this wasn't a film, and Hermione thought it was hardly appropriate to be having such wicked thoughts given that she barely knew the guy, she did the next best thing.

She asked him out for coffee.

He stared at her in shock for a few moments, a variety of emotions flitting across his face. First there was confusion, as he thought he'd probably misheard her. Then, as he saw her earnest and slightly embarrassed expression, he changed to shock – the fact that he'd been asked out by such a beautiful and confident witch wasn't something that regularly happened to Ali. Then his face filled with warmth, and he grinned.

"Sure, I'd absolutely love to. How about lunch?"

Hermione nodded enthusiastically, "Sounds like a date," she smiled, before hastily adding, "That is if you want it to be."

Ali chuckled deeply. "That's fine, a date it is."

A cough broke them out of their conversation and they both broke apart from their close proximity in the doorframe. Fred shoved through the gap, looking rather perturbed as he made his way into the storeroom without saying a word. Ali and Hermione both shot each other looks, raising eyebrows as they watched the redhead fumble with some boxes. Ali shrugged, and walked off to serve a customer, and Hermione remained by the door, watching as Fred clumsily rooted for a box.

A few moments later he came out of the store room not holding anything.

"Couldn't find what you were looking for?" Hermione asked conversationally, an innocent expression on her face. She suspected Fred had probably witnessed the exchange in the door way between her and his other employee, and was feeling suitably awkward.

"I ah," Fred cleared his throat, "Forgot what I went in there for. Would you watch the shop for me a minute, um, Hermione?" He asked, and Hermione raised an eyebrow.

"Sure?"

"I need to owl Angelina," Fred explained, and Hermione's stomach fell right through the floor to China. Oh.

Trade was unusually slow that day, and Hermione found herself watching the clock, counting down the minutes until the "open" sign would automatically switch for "closed", and she'd have an hour or so of freedom before it opened again. Ali had been sending furtive glances her way every now and then, and she found herself smiling at the wizard. He really was quite handsome, and it was nice to have somebody interested in her at the very least.

Fred had come back rubbing his hands together – something he usually did when he was nervous or pleased about something – and got on with business as usual. He didn't comment when it finally came to lunch time and Ali helped Hermione into her jacket, as they made their way out into the sun warmed streets of Diagon Alley. Instead he rushed upstairs to the flat where most of his belongings had now been shifted, one step at a time to prevent alerting his mother – he still hadn't informed her about his plans to move – and found a shirt that Angelina was least likely to moan about. He settled on a burgundy polo shirt, jeans and his Vans. These were muggle shoes which Hermione had introduced him and his brothers to, and he'd fallen in love with them instantaneously. They were so comfy.

As they walked down the streets searching for a place to have coffee, Hermione found that to her delight she didn't have to pretend to fancy Ali; she honestly laughed at his jokes because he was funny, nodded sincerely as they discussed the state of the Ministry and smiled back at him as he flashed her a toothy grin. They settled on Madame Puddifoots – something Hermione would never normally do, except it was the only café with outdoor seats vacant.

"Is this alright?" Ali asked, nervous, eager, it seemed, to make a good impression.

"Just fine," Hermione had smiled, refusing to comment on the frivolous pink furniture, lace table cloths, and how it reminded her of Professor Umbridge's office. She had hated that woman.

"So how come you're working with us now?" He'd asked conversationally, wondering why a bright witch like Hermione had jeopardised a successful and high-earning career at the ministry for a seemingly silly career in comparison.

Hermione faltered. She was hardly going to tell him that she'd given up her entire future just to help out a guy that she was completely and utterly in love with, yet who it seemed wasn't even aware that she existed. Especially not when she was currently drinking coffee in a romantic setting with a guy who clearly liked her, or else why would he have agreed to get a drink together? So instead she spewed a long and intricate tale about her disapproval at how the ministry was run, and that she was friends with the Weasleys so they'd kindly employed her at the shop after she'd quit her job. Alistair seemed disappointed by this.

"So you're only at the shop temporarily, then?" He asked, confused.

"No, no, no," Hermione rushed, "I'm staying for as long as Fred will have me. It's such a wonderful place to work," she blushed, having not so innocent thoughts about Fred. This of course, was misconstrued by Ali, who chuckled and blushed thinking that the Gryffindor golden girl was referring to the fact that he worked here.

"So what brings you to working in a joke shop, then?" Hermione asked, conversationally. Ali shrugged.

"I've never really known what to do with my life – and then I saw the ad in the paper, Fred hired me right away given that we used to be quite good mates at school. Then I winded up working with this really beautiful girl, and now I'm thinking it's the best career choice I've made in my life," he finished cheesily, smiling at Hermione.

She fingered her tea cup handle awkwardly. As nice as Alistair was, she wasn't that enamoured with him, and she had a feeling that things were progressing a little faster than either she or Ginny could have anticipated. She managed a weak smile, before taking a sip of her cappuccino, and very nearly choking on it, as she spluttered into a napkin.

Alistair looked at her worriedly. Then he followed her line of sight.

Fred Weasley, clad in a maroon shirt, and wearing a tight fitting pair of jeans, had his hand on the back of his long-term girlfriend, and was nonchalantly ushering her into Madame Puddifoots, nodding and listening to whatever the Quidditch star was babbling on about, now. Alistair raised an eyebrow. "I wonder what he's doing here?" He asked out loud.

Hermione opted for nonchalance. "No idea," she admitted. "I don't think he's seen us, though."

"No I don't think he has - shall I call him over?"

Hermione hurriedly shook her head. "No it's fine, I much rather spend time with you," she rushed, and Ali smiled.

"So whereabouts d'you live?"

"With Fred." It slipped out before Hermione realised how bad it sounded. Ali's eyebrows shot up further than they had before, and Hermione struggled to amend her previous statement, "I mean I live with the whole Weasley family, at the burrow. My parents are in Australia with no recollection that they have a daughter, so Molly – that's Fred's mum – took me in. Fred's moving out in a few weeks, though, to the flat above the shop" Hermione added, and then Ali nodded understandingly.

"I'm sorry to hear about your parents," he added, his voice filled with genuine emotion and sincerity. "My parents died when I was little," he explained, "So I know how hard it is not having them in your life. You can talk to me about it anytime, OK?"

Hermione smiled. "Thanks, Ali that means a lot. But I'm OK for now."

Suddenly there was an excited exclamation as Angelina Johnson recognised Hermione, from where they were sat a few feet away. Fred looked embarrassed, as his girlfriend called over the waitress, and within two minutes – for nobody denied the request of an International Quidditch player – their two tables had been pushed together.

"So Hermione, are you on a date then?" Angelina asked, rather obtusely.

Ali but in, "It's early days but I think me and Hermione click," he smiled at the witch and she smiled weakly back, not trusting herself to say anything.

"Is that right?" Fred asked, looking at Hermione pointedly. "It's just Hermione hasn't mentioned anything to me before about liking you, that's all."

Ali chuckled nervously, and Angelina butted in. "I suppose it's a while since you've had any action, isn't it, Hermione?" She asked, "A girl is bound to get lonely after, what, like a seventeen years of being single?"

Everyone around the joined tables breathed inwardly, sharply. "Actually," Hermione corrected the witch, "I broke up with Ron a few weeks after the battle. And before that there was Cormac McLaggen, and Viktor Krum."

Angelina nodded, looking somewhat unimpressed at Hermione's distinct lack of relationships, "Oh," she'd muttered, and Fred, Hermione noted, was staring at his girlfriend in something akin to disbelief.

"You went out with Viktor Krum, the Quidditch star?" Ali asked nervously, in seeming disbelief.

Hermione nodded, "I was fifteen OK, it was hardly the most serious relationship I've ever had. But yeah, we ended it on mutual terms – he still writes to me every now and then," she added, thanks to Ginny, who had told her that the Krum card was a good hand, and was bound to make any guy jealous. Fred and Ali had both cocked their heads and were now listening intently, whilst Angelina picked at her nails.

"My coffee is cold," the witch announced. "I want another one." She demanded, and moments later, she had a steaming hot cup in front of her, and surprise, surprise, this one was too hot. Hermione sighed and tapped the side of the cup with her wand, lowering the temperature of it slightly. Angelina huffed, and Fred mumbled,

"You could say thanks, Angie," Fred pointed out, and his girlfriend shrugged. An apologetic look from Fred made Hermione's heart thump nervously in her chest.

"How come you're not at the shop, working?" asked Angelina somewhat pointedly.

"It's our lunch hour," Hermione responded coolly. "In which Ali and I decided to grab a coffee."

"Hmm yes, I'd lay off the cake if I were you. Wouldn't want to put on any more weight or you might not fit back into the shop." The witch cackled, thinking she was hilarious, not yet noting the looks of disbelief and outright disgust she was being met with from everyone around the table.

"Angie!" Exclaimed Fred, outraged. "That's no way to talk to Hermione! She's not fat, she's perfect, and she also happens to be my friend. I don't know what you have against her but could you please apologise to her?"

Ali and Hermione merely sat there with their mouths slightly agape. If Hermione wasn't in a state of shock she'd have blushed at Fred's admission that she was "perfect", instead she merely stared at the rowing couple.

"Why on earth are you defending that buck-toothed bitch for?" Angelina exclaimed hysterically, "I was only kidding!"

"Well that's not my idea of a joke," Fred spat, "And given that I work in my own joke shop, I reckon I've got more of a clue than you do!"

"Well if that's the case why don't you apologise on behalf of your immature girlfriend's behaviour then, because I'm sure as hell not doing it. In fact, I'm leaving, this is the worst lunch date ever." The spoilt witch spat, as she pushed her chair out and stood up to apparate.

"Wait, Angie," Fred groaned, getting up to stop her, before turning to Hermione and saying, "Look I'm really sorry Angie but you're out of order here. Hermione's done nothing wrong. I'm sorry Hermione."

Angelina sniffed, and with a "poof", apparated no doubt to work off her anger by flying a few laps around the pitch she no doubted had in her luxurious back garden that her "Daddy" had bought her.

Fred sighed, resting his head in his hands on the table "I'm not going to go after her," he announced to nobody in particular. "I'm always the one doing the chasing, and nothing ever comes of it. She was in the wrong here, I'll let her sweat it a bit," he decided. Hermione watched with wide eyes the events that had just unfurled.

Ali was uncomfortably fiddling with a napkin, astutely aware of the third wheel that had just crashed his and Hermione's date. Poor Ali had no inclination that he was the real third wheel.

"I really am sorry about that, Hermione," Fred admitted, entirely ignoring his friend Ali, sat across the table from Hermione.

"It's fine, honestly Fred," she sighed, "Angelina and I have never really clicked for reasons unbeknown to me," she lied through her teeth – fully aware that the reason she despised Angelina so much was because she was dating Fred, a fact so obvious that she was beginning to suspect that Angelina was fully aware of her feelings.

"But I wanted you to get along!" Fred sighed exasperatedly. "You're my two number one girls and well it just kind of sucks that you hate each other!"

"I'd say hate is a pretty strong word," Hermione argued diplomatically, blushing at the thought of being Fred's number one anything. "But I'll try and get along better with her for your sake." She smiled. Fred beamed, and they both entirely forgot about Ali who was currently sat there feeling extremely put out.

He cleared his throat, and Fred turned to him with a look of surprise, as if only just realising his presence.

"So," Fred began, "Sorry to interrupt your date but we really should be getting back to the shop." He wrung his hands again, shooting his trademark apologetic look to Ali this time. He didn't really look remotely sorry to be spoiling their date.

"Fine," remarked Ali, somewhat bitterly, "Let's go. Rain check on the date, Hermione?"

Hermione paused. She really needed to up her game if Fred was going to pay even the slightest bit of attention to her. "Sure. I was wondering if you wanted to come to Harry and Ginny's wedding with me, actually, you know, considering we're both invited and yeah well I just supposed –"

Ali cut her off with a chaste kiss to the cheek. "It would be my pleasure, Hermione," he smiled somewhat triumphantly, before shooting a look at Fred who was opting for a care-free expression, except it was coming across as more constipated than anything else. "You alright mate?" He added.

"Just dandy," smiled Fred fakely as he set off walking several feet in front of Hermione and her newfound beau. Just dandy.