Hermione stared in shock at the man sitting across from her. The entire romance of the evening was gone instantly when he insulted her. Raising her chin and refusing to cry or scream, she asked tightly, "What did you just say?"
Fred looked at her for a moment, a flash of confusion in his pale eyes before he shrugged. "I said that it doesn't surprise me this is the first time you've been here because you're one of those nerdy bookworm types and you'd rather read than date, usually. Why? Is something wrong, Hermione?"
"Is something wrong?" she repeated quietly, her hands clenching around her napkin beneath the table. "The only thing wrong, Fred Weasley, is that I was stupid enough to think you'd grown up just because you were twenty-five and a rather successful businessman. God, I can't believe how foolish I was to think…why did you ask me out? Did you lose a bet or was it merely an entertaining game?"
"What the bloody hell are you talking about, Hermione?" he demanded, keeping his voice low so they didn't draw attention, but his frustration was evident in his tone. "A bet? You think the only reason I finally gathered up the courage to ask you to dinner was because I lost a bet? And I must say that I don't really appreciate the indication that you think I'm some silly immature prat."
"Oh, yes. Courage. Because it takes a lot of bravery to ask me to dinner," she said snidely, rolling her eyes, refusing to be swayed from her convictions. He must have lost a bet. She'd been surprised when he'd originally asked her to dinner, after all, so now she knew she should have trusted her first instinct and declined.
Well, okay, her i first /i instinct had been to perform a rather immature dance of happiness because she'd been rather infatuated with the youngest Weasley twin for several years now. She'd known it was ridiculous to entertain such fantasies about someone so ill-suited for her, especially someone rather handsome and charming and funny who could choose from many witches who found his money attractive enough to put up with silly pranks and a boyishness that she found rather appealing when it wasn't directed at flustering her, which was fairly often over the past few years.
Fred took great pleasure in trying to prank her, always trying to give her some product to try out and being a bit petulant whenever she refused, which was often. George had given up on her years ago, dismissing her as a bossy, boring swot who wasn't worth the effort. Fred, though, had never given up trying to get her to have fun, to loosen up and enjoy silly things that were rather ridiculous, and was always around at Weasley functions to entertain her with silly stories of experiment mishaps and odd clients.
It really wasn't her fault she'd started to develop feelings for him. All of the Weasley boys were handsome in their own ways. She'd had a crush on Charlie when she was a teen, still tended to get a bit warm whenever he was around, and she'd dated Ron for nine months before they'd parted as friends after realizing it wasn't going to work out for them in that way. So she obviously had a fondness for red hair and freckles. Add to that weakness Fred's sense of humor and keen intelligence that she had only realized he possessed when she was old enough to look past the annoying pranks and see the brilliance both the twins possessed, and it was only a matter of time before she'd been half in love and fully in lust.
It was only logical that she had accepted his invitation for dinner when they'd run into each other the other day. He'd seemed so sincere, stammering a bit and she even thought he might have been blushing, when he'd asked her to dinner, making sure to clarify that he meant a real date and not just friends enjoying a meal together. Now, well, she felt so gullible and stupid. It was obvious he must have noticed her growing feelings and desire for him and decided to use that to prank her.
Smoothing her hand down the pretty red dress she'd worn tonight, she took a few breaths, calming herself before she did or said anything that would make her look even more foolish. Catching his eyes, she was startled that she was unable to read them.
"It did take courage, damn it," he muttered softly. "You're brilliant and gorgeous and far too good for the likes of me, but, damn it, I've wanted you for a while so I had to try. 'sides, George was threatening to hex me or go after you himself if I didn't make a move."
"You can stop acting, Fred," she said sharply, ignoring the way his words caused her stomach to flutter and her skin to warm. "I've figured out that this is just some elaborate prank. Ask the nerdy bookworm to dinner, make it all romantic and be so charming she starts to believe that maybe she can have what she's wanted for longer than she cares to admit, and then remind her that she's an unsocial, boring, geeky swot."
Tossing her napkin on the table, she stood up, rather proud of herself for being cool and collected despite her raging emotions at the moment.
"What are you talking about? Bloody hell, Ron warned me that you were a handful and quite nutters but I thought he was exaggerating," Fred said, frowning as she got up to leave. "Where are you going? We're not done here."
"On the contrary, Fred Weasley, I think we're completely finished," Hermione declared before turning and walking away from him, keeping her shoulders straight and refusing to give him the satisfaction of knowing his prank had worked all too well. She'd begun to believe that he no longer saw her as the prissy little swot who had constantly tried to make him and George follow the rules when they were younger. With a few words, he'd proven that she was lying to herself.
Stepping out of the café, she saw that it was raining, deciding that was a perfect way to end a horrible evening. Her flat was close to the café so she'd planned to walk home, give herself time to clear her head and turn the romantic feelings she had had for Fred into annoyance and dislike so she might not feel so dreadful and wretched about having her fantasies ruined all during the course of a lovely meal that had been rather perfect with good food and conversation and a bit of flirting before he'd, well, forgotten the part he was playing, she guessed.
"Hermione Jane Granger," Fred's voice was low and rather sharp behind her. "I never pegged you as the ridiculously dramatic type. Thought you were above such theatrics but I guess that's proof enough that you have your moments, too. God, woman, you're a complex and frustrating creature that has me so bloody confused that I don't know what to do!"
"I'm not dramatic!" she denied as she turned to glare at him. "I don't have to listen to you, Fred Weasley."
With a sneer worthy of Professor Snape, she walked away, stepping into the rain and not even caring that she was getting soaked with raindrops. She had to get away from him, refusing to become emotional and irrational.
The plan would have worked wonderfully, really, save for the fact that the stubborn prat had the gall to follow her.
"What do I have to do, Hermione?" he demanded, his voice no longer low and quiet. "I've tried every bloody thing I can think of to show you how I feel. I've volunteered with you at the Muggle homeless shelter just to spend time with you. I've taken to doing all of my shopping on Thursday evenings because I know that's when you go to market and I can run into you and shop with you and, when I'm really lucky, have coffee after."
"Fred, what are you talking about?" she asked with a hint of confusion as she finally turned to face him, blinking through the rain as she noticed how his white shirt was getting wet and clinging to his broad shoulders.
"Just shut up and stop asking questions for five minutes so I can finish saying what I should have said ages ago," he said, a slight smile taking the sting from his words. "I've curbed my stupid behavior, though I'm not some smart man who does everything right, and I like to have fun and enjoy life so I can't change that about me but, fuck, I thought you found that sort of appealing about me even as you protest wanting to do something stupid once in a while. Every bloody member of my family knows I'm in love with you, every one we know finds it so amusing and laughs at me constantly, but I've not cared because you're worth it. Hermione, what else can I do? I thought tonight was perfect. I've tried so hard, giving you the romance and candles and trying to forget how bloody scared I am that you'll reject me because I'm not a good match for someone like you, and I'm so fucking tired of not knowing what to say or do where you're concerned."
"In love with me?" The rest of the world faded around her as she focused on those four words. i He's just playing a part. This is all an act, just a way to make you believe he's sincere so he and George can laugh later. But…Fred isn't like that anymore, not really. /i
Moving closer to her, his large hands moved around her waist hesitantly, his lips slowly curving into a relieved smile. He stared at her a moment before declaring rather smugly. "You love me, too, don't you."
"Smug git," she muttered crossly, still a bit confused about what had happened between them.
"Yeah, I am," he agreed with a rather proud smirk. Vulnerability, something she'd never expected to see in relation to confident and brash Fred Weasley, flashed in his eyes. "But I'm i your /i smug git, if you'll have me?"
"I don't know," she said after a moment of thought, a smile crossing her lips as his arms moved behind her back, pulling her closer. Her hand moved up to caress his cheek, her eyes catching his as she remembered what had started their argument in the first place. Her other hand moved to grip his red hair, her pinky moving over the nape of his neck. "What you said, in the café, is that what you think of me?"
"Sure," he smiled. "But, Hermione, love, you shouldn't get so defensive about such things. I happen to i like /i that you're a nerdy bookworm and never meant it as an insult. Now, when I was younger, I was too immature to admire your brilliance and did think you were a bossy swot. You still are, of course, but now I find it incredibly sexy."
"You know, Fred, we really need to work on your ability to sweet talk," she said dryly. "Telling a girl she's a bossy, nerdy, bookworm is i not /i the proper way to seduce her."
"Oh really?" he drawled with a lazy smile, the rain making his hair an even deeper red. "And what, pray tell my beautiful brilliant bookworm, is the proper way to seduce you?"
"You're a resourceful man. I suppose you'll just have to figure it out," she declared loftily, her fingers tracing the curve of his cheek.
"Hmm…I have always enjoyed research, you know?" he told her casually, his palm moving higher on her back as he pulled her even closer. "Have quite an appreciation for experiments, too. Think I'd better start right now, though. First experiment in Seducing the Woman I Love, initial effort commencing now."
Before she could reply, he was lowering his head, their lips meeting softly. It was a gentle kiss, sweet, and a promise of more. Then he was pressing more firmly, his hand drifting down to rest on her lower back, his body warm despite the wet clothes, his tongue licking her lips before sweeping inside when she opened her mouth to him.
Her fingers tightened their grip of his hair, pulling him closer, tracing his strong jaw and neck as the kiss deepened, passion and affection silently communicated between them with each touch of their tongues. When he pulled back, she smiled. "Well, Mister Weasley, I do believe that was a successful experiment," she said breathlessly, her hair dripping with rain and her dress clinging enough to her chest to show him her body's reaction to his kiss.
"Yes, it was very favorable," he said huskily, his hand moving along her ribs. "But I'm afraid we're going to have to spend more time with this experiment. What do you say to that, Hermione? Help me research this topic then maybe, in a year or so, we can begin researching something else. I'm thinking How to be a Perfect Husband and Father might be somewhere in my future eventually."
"Well, what sort of researcher would I be if I forced you to conduct such experiments alone?" she asked with a gentle smile, deciding to ignore the way her heart skipped a beat when he mentioned the future. "Besides, it's not every day that I meet a handsome redhead with freckles and a zest for life that finds bossy bookworms sexy." Leaning up, she kissed him slowly before whispering against his lips, "You're my smug git, after all."