Notes: This story is four chapters and complete. It was written for the 'What To Do On A Snowy Day Fest' over at Weasleys, Witches, and Writers on Facebook.
Thank you to Roo OJoy for using your fantastic alpha/beta skills to polish this story and catch all of my errors! Thanks to Moonfairy13 for Brit picking and taking the time to educate me on the differences between British and American English! Both of you are amazing and I appreciate all the time you spent helping me improve this fic!
Any mistakes are my own.
As always, I own nothing!
Fred made his way down the stairs from the flat above Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes. George, in an out of character move, had called an after-hours meeting of their management team which was made up of himself, George, and surprisingly, Hermione Granger. Fred still laughed when he remembered the shocked looks on everyone's faces when she'd joined their team. It was just after the war. Awaking from a coma, he was surprised to learn that Hermione had been helping George get the shop back up and running. Once Fred was able to come back to work, she'd taken her N.E.W.T.s and returned to work at WWW.
Hermione didn't do much in the way of making products for the joke shop side of production. What she did do was research and create products that helped others. She'd recently landed them a huge contract with St. Mungos and was working hard to produce new healing potions and ointments.
Walking into their office, Fred saw that he was the last to arrive. "George, what's this about?"
Hermione looked on expectantly, apparently waiting for his answer as well. His brother had been so bloody secretive about this whole thing. As Fred observed him, he could see the subtle signs that George was nervous. They wouldn't be noticeable to anyone who didn't know what to look for, but the two of them had pulled off innumerable pranks together. As he watched, his twin pulled lightly on the lobe of his remaining ear, then shifted his weight from one foot to the other. It would be interesting to see how the next few minutes would go.
"You know that potion that we have been attempting; the one that we think will reverse the effects of the Cruciatus Curse?" He paused, looking at Fred, then Hermione in turn. When they both nodded, he continued, "I think I've found the last ingredient we need. It's called the Stella Gelida, commonly known as the frozen star. It's a solid white flower, shaped like a star that appears to be made from ice crystals. I've been reading accounts of its legendary healing powers."
Hermione's eyes widened in delight. She jumped up, grabbing the notes off the desk next to George, exclaiming, "That's wonderful!"
Just as Fred asked, "What's the catch?" Knowing his twin as he did, he was certain that George called them together for more than just good news.
George grimaced slightly. "Well… there's a minor issue with procuring it. It only blooms in a few places in the world and only during the seven days surrounding the winter solstice. To be precise, this year, it begins blooming at midnight on December the eighteenth and dies at precisely one minute past midnight on December twenty-fifth.
"Spit it out, brother of mine. What's the problem?"
Glowering at him, George answered, "The thing is… it only blooms in dense forests in parts of the world where you can see the Northern Lights. It's something to do with the magic of the Aurora Borealis and the winter solstice combined." Sighing, George continued, "I found a forest in Norway where it's rumored to grow."
"What do you need us for?" asked Fred, suspecting the answer.
"Well… if you remember correctly, Angie and I have reservations for a lovely holiday in Paris that week. You know that we've been looking forward to this for months. Please say that you'll go." Turning to Hermione, he implored, "I know how important this is to you. If we don't get this flower now, we can't help all of those people for another year at least. Will you go?"
Hermione rolled her eyes at George. "You knew I wouldn't say no. It wouldn't have mattered if I had plans. I have to do this."
Smirking at her, George chuckled a bit before turning to Fred. "You won't let her go alone, will you?"
Silently cursing his brother, he'd known it was going to be something like this. As George was perfectly aware, he would never say no to Hermione. His ever-observant twin had figured out that he had feelings for the curly-haired witch and had been trying to get him to confess ever since. Sending them to Norway for a week was certainly his way of trying, yet again, to accomplish this.
George's matchmaking attempts had grown increasingly desperate lately. Just last week, he'd attempted to slip Blurting Bubbly into his glass when Hermione had come up for a drink after work. Thankfully, Fred had spotted him and poured out the contaminated beverage before he could make a fool of himself. He knew that his twin wanted him to be happy, and since he planned to propose to Angelina soon, he didn't want Fred to be lonely.
Shooting a glare at George and missing the way that Hermione visibly deflated when she noticed the exchange, he replied, "Of course I'll accompany her, she can't go alone, can she?"
Hermione spoke up, "I… I'm sure that someone else would go with me. Besides, if the three of us are all gone, who's going to run the shop for a week? That's the week before Christmas, our busiest time!"
"Nonsense!" declared George. "Freddie here is happy to go with you, aren't you?"
Grinning at Hermione and thinking that wild hippogriffs couldn't keep him away, Fred assured her, "Of course I want to go with you. I'm sure George here has made plans for the shop. If I'm guessing correctly, he's had some time to think about this before springing it on us." Turning to his brother, he said, "The plan, Georgie, care to share it with us?"
"Yes, alright. Lee, Verity, and… Ron are going to handle the shop for us. Before you ask, Ron came by just a few hours ago. He's not happy being an Auror anymore; asked if I knew of any openings anywhere that he might enjoy. I told him that I would think on it and get back to him. I didn't say anything to him yet, but if the two of you agree, it may be a good time to bring in someone else that we can trust." He paused as both Fred and Hermione started to speak; George held up a finger, then continued, "Hear me out for a moment. As you both know, I'm asking Angie to marry me when we are in Paris. We're going to want to start a family pretty soon. The two of you need to be able to take time off when you would like. We're also expanding the business constantly. I think that having another person that we can trust with the day-to-day operation would be in our best interest."
After some discussion of the merits of bringing in another person, they wrapped up their meeting with everyone agreeing to give Ron a shot.
That had been nearly a month ago. Now, it was the evening of December the seventeenth. Fred was meeting Hermione at her flat in a few minutes. From there, they would take a Portkey to Oslo, Norway where they had a suite booked for the week. Then, they had a second Portkey that would transport them to the remote forest where the Stella Gelida were rumored to bloom. Once there, hopefully, they would gather the flowers and apparate back to their hotel where they could relax and enjoy the forced holiday before returning by Portkey on Christmas morning. They'd discussed the possibility of trying for an earlier Portkey if they found the blooms quickly, but with the approaching holiday, it wasn't possible to get something at the last minute.
Fred knew that it wouldn't be that simple. His gut told him that George was up to something. He wasn't sure what it was, but he was almost certain that his twin was at the very least attempting to play matchmaker.
Arriving at Hermione's flat, he called out, "Mi, I'm here. Are you ready?"
He saw her then, coming out of her bedroom carrying a small suitcase and the beaded bag that she was rarely without. As she approached, his heart rate increased and his stomach flipped as it often did in her presence. Stepping forward, he enveloped her in a hug and kissed her cheek before reaching to take the case. "Ready to go? Our Portkey leaves in three minutes."
Nodding, she smiled at him but seemed nervous, chewing on her bottom lip and fidgeting with her curls.
Concerned, Fred asked, "Are you okay? You seem uneasy about something."
Hermione was silent for a moment, seemingly hesitant to answer, before saying quietly, "I know that you didn't really want to come with me. There's still time to back out. Really, I'm fine to go alone. I'm sure you have better things to do for Yule than being stuck with me."
Dumbfounded, Fred could only stare. Finally, finding his voice, he reached out and gently touched her arm. "What did I do to give you that impression? I promise you that there's no one else I would rather be with this week."
Hermione regarded him, gazing into his eyes, appearing to search for something. Apparently finding what she was looking for, her face relaxed into what looked like a relieved or possibly a hopeful expression.
Looking at Hermione expectantly he asked again, "What did I do to make you think that? Please tell me."
Closing her eyes briefly, Hermione took a deep breath and admitted, "I saw you give George a dirty look when he asked if you would accompany me on this trip. I just thought that you either didn't want to come with me or perhaps you had other plans in mind."
Finally understanding, Fred shook his head. "I'm so sorry that you've thought that all this time. That look was for George alone. I think he's up to something. I'm not sure what, but I have a feeling that we're going to find out very soon."
Just then, their Portkey, a bent coat hanger, lit up; grabbing on, they were whisked away to Norway.
After checking in, they made their way through the beautiful hotel to their rooms. George had taken care of the booking and reserved them a suite. They each had a private bedroom and bathroom but shared a sitting room and small kitchen. It was quite nice.
After putting their things in their respective rooms, they had just enough time for a quick room service dinner before the next Portkey would take them into the forest. With Oslo being an hour ahead of London, it was already quite late.
At five minutes to midnight, Hermione and Fred stood holding onto an old tin can waiting for it to transport them into the forest. The plan was for them to take the Portkey there the first time then they could apparate back and forth as needed. Soon, it lit up and they spun away.
Landing in a dense forest, surrounded by tall trees, Hermione stumbled and nearly fell into the deep snow. Fred instinctively reached out to steady her, grabbing her around the waist. Reluctantly releasing her, he asked, "Okay now?" and was rewarded with a gorgeous smile.
The forest was dark, and it was impossible to see much around them. It was snowing, but thankfully only a light flurry. Hermione had, as usual, come prepared. Reaching into her coat pocket, she withdrew two muggle torches. Passing one to Fred, she demonstrated how to turn it on and explained that they were much better than a lit wand for illuminating a large area. He couldn't help but agree; the muggles did amazing things without magic.
Checking her watch, Hermione announced, "We still have nearly a minute before midnight. George said that he would make sure the Portkey dropped us close to where we can find the Stella Gelida so we should probably stay here until midnight and then start looking immediately after. Hopefully, we can find them quickly," she finished, pointedly looking up as the flurries became larger snowflakes that were coming down at a much faster rate.
Soon, it was midnight. They located the field of Stella Gelida almost immediately. It was breathtakingly beautiful. When the beams from their torches fell upon the pure white petals of the icy flowers, sparkling prisms of light filled the entire clearing. After taking a moment to enjoy the beauty of the magical garden, Hermione took a specially prepared container from her beaded bag and when it was filled she remarked, "That was much easier than I expected."
Fred scowled. "Too easy, don't get comfortable yet. I'm telling you, George is up to something."
"Well, let's get out of here before this snow buries us. It's really coming down now!"
Realising that she was right, Fred pulled out his wand and offered her his arm for side-along back to the hotel. When she grabbed on, he turned but nothing happened. "Wha?" he muttered dumbly, exchanging a confused look with Hermione before trying again with no result.
Hermione looked stricken. "Let me try." Pulling out her wand, keeping her arm on Fred, she made her attempt with the same outcome.
Starting to panic now, Fred attempted a simple summoning charm to no avail. Turning to Hermione, he said tersely, "You try something. Keep it simple, a first-year spell."
She nodded, pointing her wand at a fallen branch near her foot and with a swish and flick confidently said, "Wingardium Leviosa." When nothing happened, she turned to Fred, fear clouding her lovely features. "Surely George wouldn't…"
"George wouldn't do anything that he thought would put us in actual danger, no… but, well, he may not have thought about a snowstorm." Looking at Hermione hopefully, he continued, "You don't happen to have a tent in that beaded bag of yours, do you?"
Hermione shook her head sadly. "No, even if I did, I couldn't summon it since our magic seems to be completely useless right now, and I'm sure that it would have needed magic to stay up anyway."
"Well, we can't say here. We'll freeze. What do you think? Should we just pick a direction and start walking?" Fred shrugged, he knew that wasn't the optimal answer, but they didn't have much choice. "Bloody George, thanks to him, we don't even know where we are and which direction we may find shelter."
"Ugh!" groaned an obviously frustrated Hermione. "I never go anywhere without researching it thoroughly. George promised that this would be easy. He dangled the possibility of finally helping all of those people in front of me, and I threw all of my rules out of the window. I'm sorry, Fred. I should have..."
"Stop right there. This isn't your fault any more than it's mine. If it's anyone's fault, it's George's. He should have given us more information. Yes, we probably should have asked more questions than we did, but there's nothing to be done now." Pausing, he put an arm around Hermione, drawing her into his side, wanting to offer her some comfort. He knew she was afraid. He was too, but they had both been in worse circumstances than this before and made it out even when things had felt hopeless. " Want to walk? Which direction do you think?"
"Yes, I suppose walking is the best idea. I guess that maybe we can just go that way," she agreed, pointing her torch in the direction where the trees seemed to be thinner.
They set off, trudging through the snow. It was difficult to make much progress as the white powder was already quite deep and now it was coming down hard, pelting their faces with a sharp sting and swirling around them constantly, obscuring their vision. Miserable without the ability to cast warming charms, he wanted to crack a joke for comic relief but with the sound of the wind; he wasn't sure if Hermione would even be able to hear him. Deciding that it was pointless, he continued on. It seemed like they had been walking for hours but checking his watch; he saw that it had actually only been about twenty minutes.
"Bloody George, I should have never listened to him… When we get out of this… I'll show him a missing ear… He's going to regret sending me here…" Fred stifled a laugh as he moved close enough to hear Hermione's angry muttering. While he typically sided with his twin, even when he wasn't a co-conspirator, he thoroughly agreed with her right now.