Fred Weasley couldn't remember being so nervous. Ever. In his life. Which, really, said quite a bit, because he didn't tend to have nerves unless he had them badly. That last Quidditch match in fifth year had tied his stomach in tight knots. And the opening day of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes had been difficult, too. But he would have relived those days a hundred times over if it would have taken away his present anxiety.
Pity George wasn't there. George helped. But he really couldn't be around for what Fred had to do in -- he checked his watch -- fifteen minutes. Oh god, fifteen minutes? He felt faint. How had the time passed so quickly? Hadn't he had a good half an hour?
Fred leaned against the wall of Florean Fortescue's and jammed his hands into his pockets. Realizing how sweaty they were, he pulled them out again and wiped them on his jeans. Then he stuck his hand into his right pocket and fingered the small box he was keeping there. As he did so, he couldn't help but feel that this might be the biggest impending mistake of his entire life. And he knew plenty about mistakes. After all, he'd had plenty of detentions to prove that his and George's getaway plans were not always totally sound. Of course, if tonight went wrong, it would be a far larger catastrophe than scrubbing cauldrons with Snape for a week.
Angelina Johnson, his on-again, off-again, sometimes serious, sometimes not girlfriend of nine years -- was it really that long? Fred counted again just to make sure -- was meeting him outside Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour in Diagon Alley in fifteen minutes. He hadn't seen her in three weeks because she'd been on holiday in America, and before that she'd hinted that maybe she was getting tired of having an on-again, off-again relationship. When she'd left, he promptly realized how much the thought of her never coming back terrified him. He didn't know exactly how to express that in letters, so he'd simply asked her to meet him here.
Only one person knew what he was planning -- George, of course. Not that he could have kept if from George even if he'd wanted to. They didn't need Legilimancy to read each other's minds. He was glad that his twin didn't try to convince him that he stood a good chance. Because really, he didn't. About the only thing going for him was the fact that Weasley's Wizard Wheezes was doing well. But owning a shop wasn't very exciting or romantic. He knew that Angelina had been approached on more than one occasion by a member of Puddlemere United for dates. And he had seen Puddlemere United play. He knew the blighter was taller, thinner, and more handsome. It seemed that it could only be a matter of time before Angelina ditched the shopkeeper for the Quidditch player. Not much of a choice, really.
Five minutes. His stomach gave a lurch and he grasped the little box in his pocket tightly. Hopefully it would be enough. It wasn't very much, because he just couldn't afford anything big (Weasley's Wizard Wheezes wasn't doing that well), but he didn't think she'd mind that as much...at least he hadn't when he'd bought it. Now he wasn't so sure.
With a violent start, he realized that the slim form making its way through the crowd was her. She caught sight of him and quickened her ace. His pulse quickened right along with it.
"Hi," Angelina said when she reached him.
"Hi, Angie," he said, amazed that his voice came out fairly strong. He was relieved when she kissed him -- at least that meant she hadn't met a dashing American.
"So what's up?" she asked him. "I was a little surprised you wanted to see me that minute I got back."
"Not flattered at all?" Fred asked.
"Oh, I'm always flattered by attention from you, Fred." She flashed him a grin and he returned it, torn between feeling much better or worse. Worse, because if this woman turned him down, he didn't know what he'd do.
"Should we take a stroll?" he asked, offering Angelina his arm debonairly.
She hooked her arm in his and replied, "Certainly."
The two of them walked slowly through Diagon Alley that way, talking about Angelina's holiday. After awhile, they came to a cafe with a small planted area. Fred stopped under a maple and leaning against a wrought iron railing around it. "Are you okay, Fred?" she asked him, giving him a wondering look. "You don't really seem yourself. You're very...quiet."
"I'm perfectly capable of being subdued," Fred told her airily, which, he was satisfied to see, drew a laugh from her. "Anyway, how d'you know I haven't had a life changing experience while you've been gone? Made me contemplate my life and whatnot?"
"Have you?" she asked, raising her eyebrows.
His eyes slid away from hers. "Not really." He hesitated. "Sort of."
"Sort of," Angelina repeated. "Fred, you're being very mysterious. When you said you wanted me to meet you I thought you wanted to test some new product on me. But it doesn't look like that's it."
"No, that's definitely not it," he agreed. Well, now was as good a time as any, he supposed. He took a huge gulp of air, almost choked (eliciting a concerned look from Angelina), and began, "There's something I wanted to talk to you about."
"Sure. Of course."
Fred took a moment to gather himself. He should have planned this better, but every time he'd tried he'd gotten too flustered. "I did do a lot of thinking while you were gone -- which may surprise you -- and I know I haven't always been the greatest boyfriend." Angelina raised her eyebrows but didn't say anything. "But you deserve better than that."
At this, she interrupted, "Fred, you're not breaking up with me, are you?" There was a bruised look in her eyes.
"What?" Fred gaped at her for a second and then burst into laughter. "No! No, no. Why would...no." He took her hand. "I'd have to be out of my mind." She looked relieved, and Fred fumbled in his pocket for the little velvet box. "Angelina, you know I love you. I probably don't say it enough, but you know, right?"
"I know," she replied, with a crooked smile.
Drawing in a deep breath, he went on, "I was wondering...I wondered if you'd marry me?" He opened the box to reveal a diamond ring. "I got you this. Just in case you said yes."
Angelina looked at him for a second, her expression unreadable, and Fred felt something cold and heavy beginning to settle in his stomach. Then, with a huge grin, she asked, "In case? What did you think I'd say?" and threw her arms around him.
Fred held her tightly, hardly daring to believe his ears, before pulling back and asking with a smile, "So that's a yes?"
"That's a yes," she confirmed.
"Oh, good." He kissed her fiercely, his mind happily blank except for the knowledge that she'd said yes. She'd said yes! Unbelievable.
When they broke apart (though not by all that much), he carefully slipped the ring on her finger and wrapped his hands around hers. "So you did contemplate your life," Angelina said to him.
It was hard for him to see past the blinding smile on her face. "In a manner of speaking," he replied.
Giving him an amused look, Angelina said, "You're not going to tell me, I suppose."
Kissing her forehead, Fred asked, "Surely you want to leave some mystery for the years ahead?"
The question drew a laugh from her. "Oh, trust me, Fred, every day with you holds a little mystery." She kissed him and some time later said, "I love you."
With a mischievous grin, he replied, "I know."
She ruffled his hair affectionately and the two of them walked down the street, hand in hand.