Not Where Expected
With the damp and foggy weather of the previous summer, Hermione hadn't thought it could get any colder in the middle of July. So far, this summer had shown her to be wrong. Voldemort's magic and the increase in breeding amongst Dementors and other foul creatures, proved detrimental to the sun's attempts to brake through the thick blanket of dark, rainy clouds that constantly covered the sky. With icy rain fit for November and winds powerful enough to knock a grown man to the ground, people, wizards or muggles, stayed indoors wrapping warm quilts around them to get some release from the cold.
For Hermione, huddling together in front of fires, drinking tea just to stay warm and wrapping yourself in Mrs Weasley's thickly, knitted jumpers was not her idea of a nice summer. Neither was hovering over books that were highly questionable in nature and just about anything but enjoyable to read, in what seemed to be desperate attempts to identify and locate, what might or might not turn out to be horcruxes. It did not make matters better that all their attempts so far had been fruitless.
With fatigue, constantly, gripping her already cold body like an icy hand, and what she had thought to be the beginning of a relationship, turning out to be nothing more than a huge 'what if' and a catastrophe at Bill and Fleur's wedding, this summer was, by far, winning the title of the worst one she could ever remember.
Still, in spite of everything, even this summer had its golden moments. Most of them, somehow, happening in the presence of a certain golden-eyed Weasley. Not that that was something Hermione wanted to admit to herself. She had had enough of Weasley men, and if it hadn't been for Harry she would have stayed away from the Burrow altogether this summer. Yet, she couldn't deny that the cold of summer seemed to lift slightly when Fred Weasley was around.
It had started when Fred and George decided to help Harry's quest by supplying the three of them various new inventions from their store. Every now and then Fred or George would drop in with a bag for each of them, telling them how this or that would help to keep them safe. At first Hermione thought it was guilt for selling the Instant Darkness Powder to Draco, or because it was their prank that led Draco to figure out how to use the Vanishing Cabinet. But she soon realised that it was something else that made the twins shower them with their new inventions.
Still, it wasn't until Fred started to show up alone with the gifts, that she started to wonder what was going on. He claimed that George 'got his hands full' with Verity, the blond girl that worked in their store, but there was something in the way that he said it that made Hermione doubt that to be the truth.
There were other signs. Like the way his eyes swept across her body every time she walked into the room, although, surely, that was something that Fred would do to any girl, right? Or the way he always chose to sit next to her in front of the fire. Then again, that might be because he felt sorry for the way things ended between her and Ron. It probably was.
But then there were the gifts. The small wrapped presents she found in her bags, given only to her, and always followed by small notes, signed with both George and Fred's names, but always in Fred's handwriting. 'When your books get too much for you' accompanying a pair of Look-Like-You're-Reading-When-You're-Not glasses, or 'For when Ron is being a prat', to go with a box of U-No-Poo. 'Because you thought it was extraordinary magic' was written on the note that accompanied one of their Patented Daydream Charms, giving her two since she hadn't used the first one yet, and 'If Ron doesn't realise what he's missing' on the note that came with the bottle of love potion.
She had yelled at him for that one. Angrily, she had wondered if he really thought getting Ron interested in her in such a dishonest manner, would be something he'd wish for his brother. He hadn't apologised. He hadn't even said it was just a joke. With his eyes fixed to hers, he had said, straight out, that "if Ron was too stupid to realise that he would never do better than her, then yes, he did think it best for him to be under the influence of a love potion".
If he had thought that would calm her down, he had been wrong. She had told him frankly that she did not like him selling his brother short, and that surely Ron would have no problem getting another girlfriend. He had dated Lavender after all, and while shallow and superstitious, she was still one of the prettiest girls in their house. Fred, however, had not seemed impressed at all. Sounding more frustrated than Hermione thought he wanted to show, he had told her that "for a smart girl she was really stupid sometimes, and that the reason Ron would never get anyone better than her, wasn't because he couldn't get a girl, but because there were no better girls to find".
He had left her then, stunned and quiet, not knowing what to think. She had wondered about what he said for days, but he hadn't come back for almost a week, and when he finally did, she realised she didn't want him to go again. She hadn't brought it up, scared of waking what might rest under the surface. What she was scared of, she didn't know, but even that was more than she was willing to find out. She buried herself in her books, trying not to think about Fred and about the warmth that came with his presence. Because, surely that was nonsense anyway.
Still she craved the relief from the cold he provided. She couldn't help it, but every time Fred came to the house she ended up in his company. Whether it was him finding her, or she going out of her way to be with him, she wasn't sure, but the summer always got warmer, the cold never seemed as deep, and her frozen body needed the heat as badly as a fish needed water. She tried to tell herself it was nothing. Over and over again, she pretended it didn't exist. But her body knew it did. It would heat up every time she saw him, and there was nothing she could do about it but try to savour the unusual feeling of warmth, while telling herself that it was all in her head, that he didn't feel anything for her. That it was all pity as far as he was concerned. Either that or a joke. Yes, it was probably a joke. He was a prankster after all.
Then Ginny destroyed everything. With one joking sentence she wrecked Hermione's entire defence, her conviction that it was all a joke. One sentence. One joke. In less than one minute had she laughingly told Fred about her highly embarrassing, juvenile and petty attempt of getting Ron jealous last year. And as if she wasn't embarrassed enough about taking McLaggen to the party, Fred had simply turned to her and told her that she should have asked him.
"That would have gotten under my brother's skin, and I can guarantee you that I would have shown you a great time," he said grinning widely, making Ginny laugh so hard she doubled over and Hermione so hot she wondered why she was sitting in a thickly knitted jumper in the middle of the summer.
It was only a joke of course, and Hermione kept repeating that to herself through the rest of dinner, trying not to think about that gleam in Fred's eyes that had hinted it was more than a joke, or about why she was the only one in the room sweating. She hardly ate at all. She couldn't. Her stomach churned and twisted, and her skin felt too hot and sticky for comfort and finally she couldn't take it any longer so she took off her jumper and sat in her t-shirt instead. That proved to be a mistake.
The moment Mrs Weasley saw what she did, which was of course the very same moment she did it, she started to worry about her, demanding that she put the jumper back on.
"You'll catch a cold, dear. Or even worse, pneumonia," she said sounding very concerned. Hermione tried to calm her by telling her that, really, she was quite warm, but this proved to be another mistake. Getting up, Mrs Weasley placed a hand on Hermione's forehead, exclaimed in horror at her temperature, and sent her straight to bed while yelling at Harry and Ron for working her too hard. For Hermione however, bed wasn't the ideal place to be when trying not to think about Fred, and thoughts of him only became more insistent when he wasn't close. Moreover, the heat that so taken her over vanished in his absence and no amount of blankets or clothes seemed to replace it.
Tossing and turning didn't help either, and when half an hour had passed, Hermione was growing desperate. That's when she remembered her gifts. Thinking that anything was better than this, and that she probably would feel better if she used one, she opened one of the Daydream Charms, her hand shaking slightly when she held the paper to the light to see the incantation. She hardly had said the words before the heat in her body seemed to return, spreading through her veins like fire as the Fred in her imagination claimed her mouth with his, doing things with his hands and tongue and body that she only imagined and never experienced. By the time the daydream was over, Hermione tore open the other one, hopelessly needing the heat that now vanished from her body as surely that it would rain tomorrow again. Yet after another half-hour in Fred's strong arms, there were no more Daydream Charm's to open, and no possibility to hide from herself what her subconscious had known the entire summer. Wanting release, but not knowing where to find it, Hermione let her fingers travel down beneath the covers, seeking warmth in her own daydreams when she didn't have his to help her along.
The following week was torture. Mrs Weasley barely let her leave the room, and hence the cold seemed worst than ever before. Lying covered in blankets, the only comfort she got was another small package from Fred.
'To help you feel better' the note said, and this time he hadn't bothered putting his brother's name on the note. With a slight smile, Hermione opened the package, pretending she didn't hope to find another Daydream Charm. She didn't. Instead there was a small box of chocolates, apparently each with its own task. There were put-a-smile-on-your-face toffees, giggling cherries, laughing coconut, all to do with fun and laughter, and the sight of it alone brought a smile to her face. They really did have wonderful ideas, and when it came down to it, they were very thoughtful. She would never have expected them to try to develop something like this when she was younger. But during school all she ever saw was the pranks and the disrupting of lessons. She had thought that was all they were. She had been so wrong about them then.
It was on the sixth day of her confinement that she finally had enough. Mrs Weasley could say what she wanted, but if she had to stay in that room for another minute she would go insane. Getting dressed, she felt relieved when she stepped outside the door, walking around freely again. The feeling only lasted for a moment, however. Coming down the landing, Hermione suddenly found herself face to face with Fred.
He was coming out of the bathroom, and to her surprised he looked almost as perturbed to see her as she felt to see him.
"I didn't know you were up and about again," he said, his usual grin spreading across his face as he spoke.
"Can't stay in bed forever, and I never felt ill in the first place," she answered, shifting slightly on her feet as he came closer. "Thank you for the gift, by the way," she added, her breath hitching up in her throat as the comfortable yet unsettling heat she now associated with his presence spread through her body.
"My pleasure," he answered smiling. "I hope it made your confinement a bit easier." Hermione nodded.
"It did," she said, forcing a nervous smile. They stood quiet for a while, for once not knowing what to say to each other. Hermione found that this too was unsettling. Fred always had something to say, a joke up his sleeve if nothing else worked. Now he was just standing there, a bit too close for comfort, as silent as she was. "I'd better get downstairs, back to the books," she finally said, not being able to stand the situation any longer. She hesitated only a moment before she started to walk, but as she did, she felt his hand on her arm, making the heat she already felt almost unbearable.
"Hermione, I meant what I said at dinner," he said in a much more serious tone of voice than was usual. "I would have gone with you if you asked," he said smiling.
"I wish I'd thought about that then," Hermione said quietly, trying to keep her head clear when his hand was still on her arm and her mind was filled with images from the Daydream Charms she'd used a week earlier.
"It would have annoyed Ron more than McLaggen," Fred said, but somehow it sounded more like a question than the statement it was.
"No, because I would have had a better time," she answered, looking down on the floor, wishing her heart would stop beating so bloody fast.
She yelped when she felt his lips on hers. Taken completely by surprise, she didn't even have time to think before her lips responded, moving beneath his, opening up letting him into her mouth.
She had kissed before. She'd kissed Victor the night of the Yule Ball. Yet this was something entirely different. When Victor was grace and sweetness, this was heat and fervour. Fred wasn't gentle or hesitant; he was eager and passionate, wrapping his arms around her body, pushing her up against the wall, pressing himself against her body.
Hermione whimpered as the relentless heat took her over, as images of dreams, both magical and muggle, filled her mind, comparing with reality. Edges became blurred, reality and dream merged into one, and soon there was nothing but hands and mouths and tongues and the never ending consuming heat, eating through her body, demanding to be fed, demanding her co-operation.
She was hardly aware of moving and she would never know how she ended up in their room, her back pressed against a pile of boxes before they moved again and she was on his bed, doing what her dreams had hinted at, whimpering as Fred made her feel things that she never known to let into those dreams. Soon aware of nothing more than the feeling of Fred being closer than anyone had been before, of feeling warm, safe, loved and happy, she let herself go, giving into the heat and the sensations, letting it consume her completely.
When her mind returned, she was resting her head on his chest, limbs tangled together, the comfortable warmth of being close burning like ember in her stomach. She smiled, knowing she wouldn't have to worry about the cold of the summer any more, knowing that sometimes the best kind of heat didn't come from the sun.
Thanks to Cantabile for betaing. You're a doll.