Persistence Pays Off
: atruwriter

Fred Weasley figured it was the challenge that really caught him at first. It probably lasted longer than it should have; the chase. For years he looked at her and only saw his youngest brother's bossy best friend, but circumstances opened his eyes a little wider. Without the pressure of school and grades, Hermione had loosened up some. Not so much so that she was a different person entirely, but without war and her future hanging perilously in front of her, she'd learned to relax some. Those close to them both, the Weasleys, Remus, Tonks, Moody, and especially Harry, had all made it through. There had been casualties of course, friends and mentors had died a hero's death over the year long battle that raged during what was supposed to be Hermione's final year at Hogwarts. In the end, they came out the victors and finally, everybody was able to find peace.

With the end of such an epic part of their young lives, Fred hadn't been sure what the aftermath would bring. He and George had their joke shop, running quite smoothly, as people were looking for humor to battle back the harsh memories. Harry and Ron had gone off to become Aurors. After finishin school, Ginny joined a Quidditch team as a top notch Chaser. Bill returned to curse breaking and Charlie to his dragons. His father went back to working in the Ministry, quickly getting a better position for his sacrifice and hard work in the war. He'd proven himself an asset and without the corruption the Ministry once had, he was able to find a better place for himself, a position he deserved. Percy, ever the prat, had tried to reconcile with the family and though their mum welcomed him with open arms, his brothers and sister weren't entirely accepting; there were still awkward moments and unforgiving frowns directed his way. But for the most part, life had reached a nice, smooth, even ground, which is why he needed someone to challenge him.

Hermione could never be classified as the "average girl". She had an appeal that was carefully shrouded behind bookish intelligence and skilled power. Too many had seen nothing but a girl with a large book and an overworked brain, but there were a few who'd looked past the mask to see the pretty, witty girl she was. Fred had figured that particular fact out about her some time during the war. She became a bit of a fascination to him. How skilled she was while fighting, how level headed she could be in the worst of situations, how despite the death around them, she never lost the compassion she was made of. When his humor seemed to pale in comparison to the darkness that surrounded them, he need only look to her, to see her strength and understanding, and some part of him knew that he'd make it, that they all would. Because she was too intelligent to hold on to hope for something impossible.

It took him a few years to do anything about his interest in her. There was rebuilding to be done, so many other people to focus on. Friends and family were injured, both physically and mentally, and he had no time to think about romanticism and pretty girls with soft smiles and caring brown eyes. He was just one of many who went out daily to help build homes and businesses, to clean up after the blood and bodies that layered streets and fields, homes and schools. It was a nightmarish site to behold, one he still shuddered at when he thought back.

Three years passed and the war became that defining moment for so many, but a memory nonetheless. They didn't fear waking up to people shaking them, screaming that Death Eaters were coming. They no longer waited with bated breath to hear the name of the most recent casualty. Instead, they woke up to the beginning of a new day, with fresh robes and a leisurely morning of breakfast and chit chat before making their ways to work. They had what normal people had, without grueling hours of practicing defense charms and saying their last goodbyes just in case. His friends and family moved on, got on with their lives, and learned to cope with the memories as they survived.

Relationships seemed to be popping up all over; love and forever becoming a more stable reality now. George married Alicia Spinnet were as strong as ever, later marrying on the five year mark of both the beginning of their relationship and the end of the war. Ron was dating the rather odd but always entertaining Luna Lovegood; a match made in heaven seemed to be the overall opinion. She accepted his rather obtuse self and he grew to love her odd behavior. Bill and Fleur were still happily married and after seven years of pressure from Molly, had a baby son named Jean-Paul to show for it. He was blessed with the customary Weasley red hair and his mother's fair looks. He quickly became the most adored Weasley grandchild, likely due to the fact that he was the only one, but that was besides the fact. Honorary Weasley Harry was happily dating a very pretty former Hufflepuff who he'd grown close to while fighting in the war. Susan Bones, a confident and relaxed young woman, took Harry's heroism in stride, recognizing him for being a savior to all while loving him more as regular ol' Harry. Ginny was going strong with Neville Longbottom, much to the surprise of many. And Fred... well, he'd passed on the chance to date many a nice bird, too hung up on the escape he'd found during the war.

He didn't exactly hide his affection for her. If anything, he went out of his way to show her. He distinctly remembered Bill's amused expression as he shook his head, watching Fred's newest attempt to get Hermione to take him seriously. In all honesty, he had been goofing off in hopes of making her laugh. He couldn't help but let his inner child shine through, it wasn't in him to be serious for too long. With all the dark seriousness of the war, he was more interested in finding the happy guy he'd been beforehand. He'd tried the serious route, however, just to see if perhaps he'd catch her eye then. He'd worn his best robes, brushed his hair back, held back any jokes, and refrained from smiling too much. He'd spent an entire evening trying to be a stuffy, serious businessman, and she hadn't even spared him an extra glance. At one point, she did touch him, but it was only to check and see if perhaps he had a fever to explain his odd behavior. He ended up going home early, frustrated and scratching at his neck, the collar of his best robe had been chafing his neck for hours. So he'd given up on the serious façade and became flirty, always having something to say to her about how she looked, what she was doing, how much he liked her, and she took it all in stride. Too easily, actually. She simply smiled amusedly at his antics, patting his arm, and shaking her head, a soft sigh on her lips. He couldn't figure her out, but he wasn't about to give up.

There were moments where he thought he got through. Was sure that she'd finally see him standing there, hopeful and very, very interested. Like a year into his obvious attention to her, at one of his mum's garden parties. The seven Weasley children and dates or significant others had returned to see their mum and visit with friends and family. George was off somewhere with Alicia, probably snogging. Bill and Fleur were enduring Molly's rant about how they should be thinking of having children. Harry was chatting with Ron about whatever, and Charlie was whispering something in his girlfriend's ear; something naughty by the flush on the girl's cheeks. Fred had been trailing around behind Hermione, helping her set up the platters of food and bringing them out to the picnic table. He'd gotten there earlier just so he could monopolize her time and hope that she'd see how devoted he was to her.

"I think I saw Charlie out there, you know, Fred," she told him as she cut more cheddar to bring out, seeing as Ron had been scarfing it down like his life depended on it.

"Yeah, saw him. What d'you suppose he's whisperin' in that girl's ear?" he asked her, his voice low and suggestive. He leaned closer, smirking at her devilishly.

Her eyes looked over at him for a moment, her cheeks reddening slightly and he wondered if maybe... maybe she wasn't so indifferent to him. But just as quickly as he'd had the chance to hope, it had been dashed. She snorted, rolling her eyes. "If he's anything like you, he's probably telling her of his latest prank and how he's the king of all things funny." She turned her attention back to slicing the cheese and he deflated some.

"King of funny, eh," he bounced back quickly, smiling at her warmly.

Hermione sighed, shaking her head at his antics, but he saw the smile there all the same. "Do something useful, Fred. The swiss won't cut itself," she told him, passing him the block of pale yellow cheese.

"Hermione, you know there are charms to do this for us," he reminded, pulling a long knife out and unwrapping the saran wrap from the cheese.

She looked over at him, lifting a brow. "Fred Weasley trying to spend less alone time with me? I'm shocked," she said, her tone holding a distinct humorous edge.

Grinning slowly, he felt a note of triumph. So she had noticed his advances. "It'll be a cold day in--" He stopped, noting the purse of her lips. She hated cursing. "... a very hot place," he put in instead, rolling his eyes, "when that happens, 'Mione. No, I was looking to cut the time spent doing this so we could do something much more fun."

"Oh?" she asked, the sides of her mouth curving. "And what would that be?"

"I know this very cozy place, right here in the Burrow," he told her, his voice low and conspiratorial. "It's perfect for what you've been planning to do to me for some time."

Hermione looked over at him, her brow lifting. "And what is it I've been planning to do to you?" she asked, her mouth curled as if she already knew the answer.

He wondered why she even asked. "To snog me senseless, of course. Don't deny it, 'Mione dear, I can see it written clearly in your face."

She chuckled, shaking her head. She continued on in her meticulous task, her mouth still smiling. "It's time we brought you into the optometrist, Fred, darling. Your eyesight is waning." She turned to him, her expression free of teasing, though he saw the sparkle in her eyes. "Don't worry though, I'm sure you will look perfectly handsome in glasses." She paused for effect. "Just like Percy."

Fred huffed, thwarted again. He rolled his eyes at her burst of laughter, unable to help the twitch of his mouth. Despite the fact that she'd turned him down again, he couldn't help but admit that she had a bit of a gift for humor herself. Just another facet of her he couldn't help but enjoy. "Remember, love, you'll regret turning me down one day."

Her laughter subsided and she looked up at him as he returned to cutting the swiss. He glanced at her from the corner of his eyes, noting the serious look in her eyes. He wanted to say something, to tell her that he really hadn't been teasing all these years, but nothing came out. She stared at him for what felt like an eternity and he fought back the urge to crack a joke to ease the tension. She was searching for something, he could tell by the way her eyes so keenly stayed on him. The door opened abruptly and Bill strolled in, winking at them before he grabbed a butterbeer from the icebox and walked back out. Hermione's stare was broken and her gaze moved back to the neglected dairy product. "Probably," she said, her voice faint and soft; so quiet he wondered if perhaps he'd dreamt it.

The day wore on, the moment was never spoken of and she took the rest of his flirting like always. But a spark of hope had been lit inside of Fred and he wasn't about to deny himself the smallest chance of having her. His brothers found it amusing. He knew because they never failed to smirk or laugh or cajole him as he was shot down again. They shoved him around playfully or clapped his back as another of his attempts failed, but he knew that they were all silently cheering him on. They'd all found their significant others. Even Charlie was seeing a nice Romanian girl steadily and talk of a possible engagement was on the horizon. In the Weasley boy's cases, they were at least dating the girl they were enamored with, but Fred still hadn't even managed to get a kiss. He'd come close; closer than he thought he would, he had to admit. There were four almost kisses to account for and he cherished each as if he'd actually found her mouth and passionately snogged her until she admitted she cared for him too.

The first occurred a year and a half into his courting of her. It was her birthday, the big 2-4, and he'd given her a custom made writer's kit. He knew that she was writing a book, so he got her the best ink and quill he could find, a 100 ft roll of parchment that was charmed to dry immediately and never smudge, and a small hat that stated on top, with a charmed-to-blink light bulb shape stitched into it, "Hermione's Thinking Cap." He'd spent a good portion of time trying to figure out the best gift he could possibly give her. She'd told him about her aspirations to write a novel about the harsh realities of war and the difficulty in starting anew in a world where her main goal wasn't taking down the darkest wizard of their time but being a normal witch. He'd spent a great deal of time sitting with her and enjoying how enthusiastic she could be talking about how she wanted the next chapter to go or relating to what she told him of a particularly hard part to get down.

She was one of the few people he could talk to about the war freely, without feeling like he was just bringing up bad memories for them. It was one of those moments where they were able to be serious friends and he hadn't been overwhelmed with feeling as if he'd been stuck in somebody else's life. He found when he wasn't forcing himself to be serious, it sometimes came naturally. He could be that way when she needed him to and he relied on that instinct some days. They'd become close over the year and a half of him paying more attention to her, even if she did shrug off his romantic affections.

"Oh Fred," she exclaimed. She'd loved it so much, she turned to give him a grateful kiss on the cheek.

Of course, he'd been excited to see that she'd loved it and hadn't expected such an enthusiastic embrace so he turned to her. They were sitting on the couch in the living room of the Burrow and there was barely any room between them, so their turns caused more than expected. Her mouth pressed against the very corner of his, lips so close he could just barely feel the heat and softness caress his own. Realizing how close she'd come, she broke away quickly, her eyes wide. It was only a second or so, but time seemed to slow, and he swore it was the best second in his entire life.

Hermione moved back in, kissing his cheek and murmuring her thanks, but he was still stunned by the first kiss that he just stared out dazedly, a monstrous grin on his face. Of course, it was marred some by the hooting of his brothers and the shushing of his smiling mother, but it was a moment he hadn't forgotten. It took a couple pillows being thrown at him before he was shook out of it and found she was moving on to another gift, her cheeks very lightly rosied. He floated on cloud nine the rest of the day, so happy he couldn't even roll his eyes at the amused expressions of his brothers and the shaking head of his dad as he chuckled to himself. He even let his mum titter on about how cute it was that he had a crush on Hermione, all the while smiling like an idiot.

It was after that first almost-kiss that they became just a little bit more comfortable with each other. They'd already been able to talk about most anything and he didn't hesitate to ask her what was on her mind. He wasn't sure how physical he was allowed to be around her though, so he began with small touches, just testers to see what she'd allow. She never moved away or removed his arm when he put it around her shoulders or her waist. She never flinched or frowned when he kissed her forehead or her cheek. And he'd grown a habit of playing with her hair, tugging on curls or simply running the soft strands between the pads of his fingers. She just looked up at him when he did that, a soft expression on her face. He tried holding her hand a few times, but he found he always pulled away when others were around, worried that she might reject him, so he ended it before she could. His heart was on his sleeve and he wasn't shielding it well, but some instinctive defenses still arose. He got used to hugging her frequently, tugging on her hair when the urge nagged him, and wrapping an arm around her out of his own need to be near her. As long as she wasn't pushing him away, he'd continue to do it. He knew some of it could be construed as friendly, but he thought he was being obvious enough.

Hermione accepted it all as it came, even finding her own habit of running her fingers through his hair in greeting if she was passing by and he was talking with his brothers or busy without her. Every once in awhile she'd tug on his ear, something nobody really understood, but always made him smile like a little boy on Christmas. It was automatic response, he didn't even think of it. When Hermione noticed, it became another of her habits, especially if she noticed he was unhappy with something. It was those little moments that he wondered if maybe she felt something too. But she never said anything, never really let it pass small physical touches.

The second near-kiss was after Crookshanks had passed away. A little over two years into his show of affection and her half-kneazle had fallen asleep and never woken up. He found her in the back of the Burrow, digging a hole near the flower beds. She looked up to see him, her eyes red rimmed and her cheeks littered with tears. He'd dropped in to pick up the lunch his mum had ordered him to come by and get for him and George when he heard her sniffling. She was kneeling in the grass, her hands covered in dirt and the very still, very furry orange ball that was Crookshanks lay beside her. He knelt beside her, brushing the thick dark curls of her hair off her face and behind her shoulder. "I'm sorry, love, I know how much he meant to you," he said quietly, his thumb brushing against the apple of her damp cheek.

Letting out a strangled noise, she threw herself into his arms, her own wrapping around his shoulders tightly. Her face pressed into his neck, tears quickly dampening his skin. He felt her shake and held onto her tighter, his hands rubbing her back soothingly as he waited out her sobbing. She was mumbling against him, nothing he could really make out except the furball's name every few hiccups. He felt her hands holding tightly to his shirt and knew that later, when she was done, she'd apologize profusely for getting dirt all over him. It was one of those Hermione-things that he continued to find adorable.

When she finally pulled away, she wiped at her face quickly, leaving dirty streaks over her face. He refrained from laughing and instead untucked his shirt and used the end to wipe at her face. She smiled wanly up at him and he dropped a kiss against her forehead. Sniffling, she looked down at her pet and bit her lip. Fred leaned back, found a gardening tool and dug the hole a little deeper and wider. He picked up Crookshanks carefully and placed him deep in the hole. Taking her hand in his, he turned to the hole and cleared his throat. "I remember him fondly. He enjoyed chasing gnomes, torturing traitorous rats, and driving Ron nuts. Life will never be the same without the little furball," he said, his voice oddly reminiscent.

Hermione stared at him a moment, her eyes wide with an awe he'd never seen before. She nodded slowly, a few stray tears slipping down her cheeks. "H-He was the best companion I could have ever asked for," she said, her voice hoarse and choked. "He knew how to make me feel better on the worst of days. He was always there when I needed him and... and I couldn't ever replace him." Sniffling, she rubbed at her nose with the back of her arm, leaving a tiny smudge of dirt. "I only hope that the half-kneazle paradise you're in has your favorite chew toys. Perhaps I should have brought those. I don't suppose that means they'll go with you, but.. I think one is under the couch and the other, I believe, you left in my bed. Yes, I rolled over on to it this morning. Unless you'd rather I found your kneazlenip mouse? I don't know where you--"

"Hermione," Fred interrupted, only slightly amused.

"Right," she said, nodding. Clearing her throat, she looked back at the hole, reaching out and taking the garden shovel to push a small pile into it. "You'll always be my beloved Crookshanks," she said softly, her mouth quivering. Her hands shook as she filled in the rest of the hole, patting it once in the end and dropping the shovel. "I... I'm really going to m-miss him," she whispered shakily.

Fred turned to her, rubbing the tear tracks away from her pale cheeks. "I'm sure he misses you, too. After all, you were the only one he really liked" he told her, half-smiling.

She snorted, rolling her eyes. "That's not true. He took a great liking to Harry," she told him, nodding. "And he often allowed you to pet him. He only ate your chess pieces once and he coughed them up when you asked him to."

"More like begged him to," he muttered, his thumb stretching out to rub away the dark spot marring her pretty pert nose.

"Now who am I going to come home to?" she asked him, her eyes pitifully large and shimmering. "He always greeted me on my arrival home from work. And he ate dinner with me. 'Course he had a dish on the floor, but he always paid me great interest when I told him my day. And- And- He always laid right there beside me, curled up on the bed. I don't know if I can sleep without him there," she told him, shaking her head, her hair twisting around wildly.

"You're right. It's obvious that you badly need somebody to fill in," he told her, nodding seriously. "I'll do it. You've convinced me. I'll be there to greet you when you get home, eat dinner with you, and I'll even sleep next to you." He held up a hand quickly as her mouth dropped open. "No! Don't try and talk me out of it. I'm doing it for your own good. I'll get a distinct sense of pleasure from doing such an unselfish deed."

She stared at him a moment before a soft chuckle escaped her throat. Shaking her head, she blinked away the tears that had previously stained her beautiful brown eyes. Reaching up, she wrapped her arms around him tightly and leaned in. his breath caught in his throat and his hands shook as they landed on her hips. She pressed a warm kiss to his chin and then nuzzled her face up against his neck. "Sometimes, Fred Weasley, you leave me so stunned I could fall in love with you without a moments thought."

"I wish," he breathed against the curls of her soft hair, hugging her comfortably. He really thought that maybe that would be the moment.

She broke away from the hug a moment later, standing up and holding her hand out to him as if to help him from the ground. "I don't suppose George would mind if I joined you and him for lunch, would he?" she asked, lifting a brow hopefully.

Standing up, Fred brushed off his jeans. "Of course not, 'Mione. You're welcome to spend all of your lunches with us from now on, if you'd like."

Smiling briefly, she hooked her arm with his. "Come along then."

Unfortunately, he never got to take over Crookshanks coveted position as companion to Hermione, but he did buy her a tiny half-kneazle on the one year anniversary of Crookshanks death. It was furry, flat-faced, and very much the runt of the litter. He explained to her that nobody had wanted the half-kneazle baby and that she'd have to feed it by bottle for the next few weeks because it's mother had abandoned him. She'd immediately taken it from his hands and got to work making him healthy and loving him. She'd hugged Fred tightly before he left, telling him he always knew just how to make her feel better. He could tell by the red rim of her eyes when he'd shown up that she'd been mourning her lost pet. He was happy to know he could give her a new start with a pet that would forever link her to him. She had something that would always remind her of him, especially since he later found she'd named him Freddy and absolutely refused to change his name. Stating that, "he's already grown fond of it. It's his name now. Deal with it!" And he had, because secretly he was quite flattered.

The third almost-kiss occurred just two months after the second. She apparated to the Burrow, unusually a few minutes late for the Weasley family dinner, and promptly ran across the grass to jump into his arms. He wasn't exactly ready for that kind of response. In fact he'd been turning to greet her when suddenly her arms and legs had wrapped around him. Surprised, he'd fallen over backwards and landed with a heavy thud. The pain was short lived as within seconds her mouth was kissing all over his face; sweet, warm lips touching every inch from his hair to his chin, exempting his actual mouth. So incredibly shocked, he simply lay there with his eyes wide, his mouth hanging open and his arms splayed out to the side. "I'm dreaming, aren't I?" he finally asked, her hair covering the outside surroundings. Everybody else was inside while he had been waiting for her arrival, so there was nobody to answer his stunned question.

Hermione finally pulled back, still straddling his waist with her hands cupping his face. "My book is being published!" she exclaimed, grinning so largely he thought her face might split.

Laughing in excitement for her, he somehow managed to flip them over. "That's wonderful," he told her, his chest swelling with pride and adoration. "I say we celebrate. An expensive dinner. With tons of champagne! Name the place, I'll pick up a diamond ring on my way."

She simply chuckled, reaching up to pat his cheek and smiling at him with her glittering eyes. "You're the limit, Fred Weasley."

"I try," he replied, smiling cheekily. "If I roll us back over, will you continue what you started?" he asked, lifting a brow.

Snorting, she shoved his shoulder until he was on his back once more. "Sorry, darling, I have others to tell my grand news to."

"Not so enthusiastically, I hope," he muttered, a frown marring his mouth. The mere thought of him greeting his brothers like she did him sent a dark clench through his entire body.

"Of course not, you were the first, I had to get all of that pent up excitement out," she told him, lifting up from the ground and brushing off her knees.

"Feel free to find me whenever that pent up excitement gets to be too much," he told her, smirking happily.

He heard her snort amusedly as she walked away. Crossing his arms behind his head, he closed his eyes and replayed the moment over and over again in his mind; a silly smile sitting serenely on his face.

When her book came out a year later, the dedication included all of the Weasleys, but she'd added his name, separate from "the Weasley family." Alongside his name was Crookshanks', Harry's, and "all the lost souls of the war". He ended up buying two copies, so that he could have one that would never be creased or ruined and another to read at his leisure. He never told anyone, but he had his suspicions that Hermione had found them both. He kept one on his nightstand and the other on his bookshelf. He'd read it front to back seven different times, feeling as if he'd never read something that captured his own feelings of post-war so perfectly.

His name was mentioned more than once and he was beyond satisfied at her description of him being both "charming and handsome," and "having a creative brilliance she could only dream of," despite the fact that he found her brilliance far deeper than his own. She'd signed his book, he found. One day he'd opened it up and there in the front it read: "To Fred, my number one fan and biggest supporter. Thank you for your help in creating this and all the time we spent discussing it. If it weren't for you, I'm not sure this book would have ever been finished. Love always, Hermione." Fred had no idea when she'd ventured into his room and signed it, but he couldn't help but smile fondly whenever he saw the dark ink words written in the pages of his favorite book.

The fourth and most recent had been at a Halloween party and it occurred to him that every kiss before it just so happened to be at the Burrow. This one, however, blessed him at Harry's large house as he was playing host for that years big Halloween bash; costumes necessary. He'd found Hermione almost immediately, not exactly comfortable in the coupled essence of the party to begin with. She too wasn't entirely at ease and had found a taste for the spiked punch. They ended up sitting on the couch in the den, discussing past Halloweens, people's outrageous outfits, whether or not the tipsy Gypsy was going to fall out of her top, and how giddy Hermione got when she drank. They gorged on sweets, drank far too much punch, and spent four hours cuddled, giggling, and loudly making jokes about the people around them in their silly outfits. It was after midnight when she turned to him, her eyes half lidded and her mouth curved in a lazy smirk. "You're quite handsome, Fred," she told him, her words slurred and low. She tugged on his ear, half-smiling at him.

A grin lifted his mouth immediately. "Why thank you, love, you're quite beautiful yourself," he replied, his voice just as deep and lazy. She was laying half on top of him, her chin on his chest and her body arched as her legs lay back over the couch while his were crossed in front of him on the floor.

Reaching up, she brushed his hair off his forehead. He hadn't dressed silly for the occasion, since it was the first year George had gone in a couple's costume with Alicia. He wore his best robes though and since Hermione had dressed up as a very delectable French maid, everybody had assumed he was the "rich man" she worked for. He wasn't complaining or denying, simply smirking. Her outfit wasn't nearly as suggestive as many French maid outfits he'd seen in the past, but he was more than aware of how curvy and attractive she was in it. With her inhibitions low because of the alcohol consumed, she wasn't shy about wrapping herself around him and he wasn't about to object. He enjoyed it for what it was, even with his mind a haze of firewhiskey and his eyes drooping.

"You can be quite the charmer," she told him, her eyes thinning. She poked his chest as if to emphasize the point and then sighed, looking morose. She mumbled something under her breath that he couldn't quite make out. He asked her to repeat it, but she only slid up his chest, looking him dead in the eye, her brown gaze glazed. Instead of answering, she sighed softly and he couldn't help but think he'd give anything to know what she was thinking. Her hands were threaded in his hair, fingers slipping through the red strands with ease. "You're one of my best friends, did you know that?" she wondered, lifting a brow.

Before he could reply, she leaned closer, kissing one corner of his mouth slowly. Her moist lips felt incredibly warm against his skin and left behind a tingling sensation. His eyes fall closed in bliss and he nearly frowned when she pulled away, until he felt her kiss the other corner just as gently. She lingered there a few seconds before pulling back just slightly and her mouth hovered over the center of his, so close he could feel a faint brush of her lips as she whispered, "I won't remember this at all in the morning." She sounded almost sad and his eyes opened to see her brows lift high as her eyes fluttered. With a small frown, she let her chin fall to his chest again and within moments she was sleeping peacefully. Just once he wished he could really kiss her. Full on the mouth, no hesitation, tongues melding together, teeth grazing over lips, heated and passionate.

The thing that bothered him most was that she took all of their almost kisses in stride, just like his incessant flirting. Right after they happened, or in the last kisses case the next day, she'd simply moved on and forgotten all about them. She still treated him the same, rolling her eyes or smiling amusedly at his amorous affection. He simply couldn't get her to take him seriously when it came to his feelings for her. He'd asked her out countless times; suggested dinner, lunch, a vacation in the Bahamas, but still she just chuckled and patted his arm. They'd gone out to eat, sure, but she always paid her half and she never treated it as if it were a date. He didn't know what he could do. He'd tried everything to get her attention. He was always there when she needed him, he went out of his way to make sure she knew that he was always willing to be that guy she came home to, and he never even so much as expressed attraction to another witch in her vicinity. In his opinion, she was the last woman on earth.

Fred Weasley had always thought himself confidently charming, devilishly handsome and damn brilliant, but he was certain that such attributes never affected her, despite his best attempts. He'd pulled out every stop and it was no secret that he'd do just about anything for her. He was pretty sure that Ginny was trying to convince her that he was being genuine, but to no avail apparently. Three and a half years he'd spent wooing and adoring and she still hadn't reacted. They'd grown a great friendship, but there was no promise on the horizon that it would ever become more for her. There were moments where he was sure his brothers wanted to tell him to just give it up and move on, but they never once said it. They recognized the familiar look in his eyes that meant he wasn't about to back down for anything.

Hermione hadn't gone on any dates during the time he was trying to get her to see him as someone more than Fred the friend, or Fred the older brother of Ron. She'd been completely single and for the taking, though she wouldn't let him have her. Others had expressed interest, he knew. He'd heard from Ron and Harry that a few blokes she worked with at the Ministry had asked her out. It came as no surprise, as he had noticed for some time her brilliance and subtle beauty. He'd been sitting front row as she let out her more humorous side and became an easy going friend and fancy for him. That anybody could overlook her, baffled him. He was decidedly pleased to find that she had turned them down, though she wasn't giving him the green light either. As long as he had no competition and she wasn't telling him to stop, he was fine. Even if she wasn't giving in to him, she seemed to be enjoying his attention. She may chuckle or roll her eyes, but she never told him to stop. He wasn't sure if he would had she asked, it was just a natural action for him now. When he saw her, he was drawn to her. A smile seemed to find his face naturally and he instantly had something to say. He'd never really been at a loss for words in the past, and it was something that he was desperately grateful for. There were never those uncomfortable pauses or stuttering sentences where he tried to make her notice him. He was confident and charming, as much as he could be for a bloke who'd been shot down every day for three and a half years, anyway.

He was running out of ideas to catch her attention. He'd already sent her a new batch of different flowers every single week, shown up at her apartment with her favorite movie, meal, and a bottle of wine, sent her cheesy valentines (whether it was Valentines day or not), sung her a love ballad from outside of her flat window (not at night, but the early morning, only to find out she'd slept through the whole thing... The blonde next door was interested though. She was only a decade or three older.), and, at one very desperate moment, recited passages of Hogwarts: A History to her. Despite the laughter, smiles, kisses on the cheek, and amused shaking of her head, she still did not accept his affections as anything more than a "Fred thing". He wasn't sure if she just wasn't interested or simply not taking him seriously.

He'd asked George, but his twin laughed at him and said nothing more. He asked Bill, but like George he'd chuckled, shook his head, and admitted he probably would have given up by now. That didn't answer Fred's question at all and so he went to Charlie, who had been very busy with a Hungarian Horntail and told him not to worry, she'd come around eventually. He then promptly let out a string of curse words as he lost control of the giant lizard and told Fred to stop distracting him. Since none of his older brothers were helping, Fred sucked up his pride and asked Harry and Ron.

"What? Don't think I heard you right," Ron said, lifting a brow and turning his head, cupping his hand around his ear.

Sighing, Fred rolled his eyes. "I need your honest opinion on something."

"Just making sure I got that right. Honest opinion. Mine. You need it. All right. Go ahead," Ron said, gesturing for him to continue.

"I was just... wondering... if... er..." For the first time Fred found himself incredibly nervous and unsure of himself. If anyone knew for certain what Hermione thought of him it'd be Ron and Harry. They'd been her best friends since they were just eleven years old. He wasn't entirely sure if he wanted to know. Some desperate part needed them to say, 'Of course, Fred. Hermione is just as interested, but unsure if you're being sincere. We're tried to tell her, but you know how stubborn she can be.'

But he was almost certain they would say, 'Wait? So you really do like her like that? We thought this was just one of your... joke things. We're not sure you're really... right for Hermione, Fred. You understand, right? You're just on different... levels.'

Or the even worse, 'Oh... er... Fred... You know, you're a nice bloke and all, but Hermione... she's... she's not really interested in your... type, you know? We mean, you're a great friend, but... not anything more. Hermione, she doesn't want to hurt your feelings, but... well, maybe it's time to move on. Yeah?'' He struggled for a moment, unsure if he should voice his question or just make something up.

"This is about Hermione, right?" Harry finally asked, lifting his butterbeer up to his mouth and leaning back in the booth.

Fred swallowed tightly, nodding jerkily. Might as well get the torture over with.

"Sorry mate," Harry said and Fred felt his entire being deflate, "She hasn't told us her feelings. Won't say a thing about it. Keeps her lips tightly shut when it comes to you. Changes the subject, distracts Ron with food, you know? Tried to get her to tell us why she's been putting off your affections, but she never answers us."

He felt himself perk just slightly. So all hope wasn't lost.

"Yeah, been drivin' me mental, actually. I tried asking her last week and she stuffed a biscuit into my mouth," Ron told them, his brow furrowed and a frown appearing. "Normally I wouldn't complain but it was fresh outta the oven, burned like a sonuva-- Luna! What are you doing here?" His girlfriend had sidled up to the table, seemingly out of nowhere.

The dreamy blonde smiled at him lightly, her eyes slightly glazed as she gazed around the room. "I'm waiting for Hermione and Ginny, we're suppose to be going shopping. I told you this morning, Ronald, remember?"

Ron's eye turned up to the side in thought. "No... actually."

She nodded easily, her expression soft. "Well, you were a bit distracted. We were in the middle of--"

"Yes, dear, I remember now," he interrupted, his face turning bright red. Clearing his throat, he tugged at his collar. "Eh, Luna, darling, why don't you see if you can answer Fred's question for him."

Luna's eyes fell from wherever she was staring and settled on Fred's. He found himself squirming under her intense grey eyes and felt as if he should admit every secret he'd ever had. Clenching his jaw, he looked away for a moment. "It's not really... I mean, I don't think--"

"He wants to know if Hermione really likes him or if she's turning him down because she doesn't fancy him at all," Ron interrupted, shrugging a shoulder as he knocked back a guzzle of his butterbeer.

Fred glared at his youngest brother before turning to Luna, ready to tell her to forget the question entirely, even if he was wondering what her answer would be.

"By fancy he means you want to know whether she's as in love with you as you are with her, right? Fancy is such a frivolous word, doesn't even come close to explaining it, does it Fred?" she said, her voice soft, melodic, really. "Pretty hard to miss the signs. You practically fall over yourself when she enters the room." She stared at him a moment. "She knows, you know. She's not blind. There are some defense mechanisms that simply kick in at the worst moments." She smiled suddenly, looking around at them all. "Well, I should be going. I just realized they meant to meet me at the other café. The one next to the robe shops." She lifted a hand to wave at them and then left the restaurant, leaving three stunned men behind.

"So..." Harry said, before clearing his throat. Within moments, they'd changed the subject to Quidditch and Ginny's upcoming game, leaving the more heavy subject in the dust.

It was at the Weasley family dinner that week that everything came to a head. He was standing outside with Bill, Charlie, and George, a cold butterbeer in hand, listening to a story Charlie was telling involving a game of Quidditch interrupted by an escaped Swedish Short-Snout when she arrived. And she wasn't alone. He was a handsome bloke, Fred supposed. Tall, broad shouldered, dark hair, friendly smile. Fred felt a twist in his gut and wondered if he was grimacing as much as he thought he was. The pain was intense and he suddenly felt like he had to run away, as far away as he could possibly get. She was laughing at something he said, as was his father, who kept glancing at him, a worried expression on his face.

She looked beautiful, her hair falling in waves and her sundress bright and friendly. He wished he was the one who'd made her laugh, the one who could make her smile the way she was. He usually was the one there, making her cover her mouth against the laughter and watching her roll her eyes as if trying to prove she didn't find his brand of humor amusing. The pain in his stomach got worse and now he knew he was grimacing because his jaw was bugging him too from how hard he was clenching it.

Talk had stopped around him, apparently seeing what he was seeing. He felt a hand on his shoulder, probably trying to be supportive but really only reminding him that he'd failed at the only thing that he looked forward to every day since the middle of the war.

"Fred, he might not be--"

He cleared his throat, effectively cutting off his brother. "I think I'm gonna go get another butterbeer. Anybody else want one?" he asked, his voice tight. His three brothers mumbled 'no' and he managed to walk away with his head still high, despite the fact that he was beyond hurt. There was always the chance that she'd assumed he was just bugging her with all of his flirting, but he thought she'd at least do him the courtesy of telling him she was seeing someone. He'd seen her just three days before and not once did she mention that she'd be bringing some chap to the family dinner. That was big, wasn't it? Bringing him along to meet her surrogate family. Really big. His stomach clenched so much he almost doubled over but reached the door to The Burrow in time to get inside and hide.

Fred leaned back against the wall, his eyes shut tight and his arms tight around his abdomen. He wondered why a broken heart affected his stomach and decided it was some weird scientific thing that Hermione could probably explain away. Some part of him wanted to chuckle at the sadness of it all, to let out his grief in a humorless laugh and just cry. It was unlike him, too emotional for his taste, but damn if he hadn't put every bit of himself into the hope that she might just turn around one day and realize that he'd always been there, happy and willing to love her for as long as she'd let him. He felt his eyes burn and squeezed them tighter. He heard footsteps approaching and moved away from the wall, hurrying toward the icebox and burying his face inside of it so whoever it was wouldn't see how distraught he was. His brothers had probably gone and told his mum, or she'd seen him and she was coming to comfort him. He tried ignoring them, acting as if he didn't know somebody was there. A hand landed on his back, moving from his lower spine up and he tensed, knowing that touch.

"Hey," she said, her voice soft, sweet.

Fred clenched his eyes tighter, his shoulders falling slightly. Part of him desperately wished she'd just leave and another part wanted to yell at her. To ask her what he did wrong, why he wasn't enough, why she couldn't pick him. He'd tried! Damn, if he didn't do everything in his power to get her to see him. Just once, just one moment where she'd turn and look and see that he was sincere and he loved her. He loved her. It wasn't a passing fancy or a joke between them. Hell, he'd marry her tomorrow if she'd let him.

There were women that a man could enjoy teasing with flirty banter, women who were only made to be friends and lifelong chums; Hermione wasn't one of those. He wasn't sure he could pretend he didn't care about her. He'd been acting on his feelings for so long, he couldn't remember what it was like not to flirt and ask her out on a date every day he spent with her. He wasn't sure how not to wrap his arm around her or play with her hair because it was there and it was crazy and it was begging him to curl it around his fingers. He wasn't sure if he could talk to her without wanting to kiss her or hold her or want her in a way no friend should want another.

Taking a deep breath, he pulled out of the fridge and turned around. "Hey," he managed, his voice low, slightly choked. His arms crossed over his chest defensively, as if to steel himself against the words she was bound to say.

She reached out as if to touch his arm, but he flinched unconsciously and she pulled her hand back roughly, looking hurt. Silence hung between them, her hands falling to hang uselessly by her sides, curling into fists and then relaxing. Her eyes fell to the floor and then rose to his face, her mouth parted but no words coming out. She took a few breaths, as if about to start a sentence, but still she said nothing.

"I was coming to get a butterbeer. You want one?" he asked her, motioning back to the icebox. He still had one, half full, but she didn't need to know that.

"No. Thanks," she said, shaking her head, her teeth chewing at her bottom lip. "Fred... I..."

"It's okay," he interrupted, his voice emotionless, his eyes turned away. "I can't make you love me, Hermione. I probably overdid it anyway, right?" He chuckled humorlessly. "Tried everything I could think of and nothing ever..." Sighing, he shook his head. His hands were curled so tightly it was painful. "He looks nice. Probably smart, too, right? Works with you at the Ministry. Doesn't make jokes out of everything." He knew he sounded bitter and for once in his life he hated that he couldn't be some stiff, serious guy who worked like Percy or whatever-his-name-is, probably something prim. Nothing like Fred, a good old fashioned, friendly name. Something sophisticated or had a meaning that has to do with work and intelligence. Nope, nothing like Fred. He was just an every day bloke, overly humorous, loved her to death, old buddy Fred. He scowled.

"You... You never overdid it," she finally said, her voice quiet. "You were... You were perfect, Fred." His eyes lifted, meeting hers in confusion. "You were funny and cheered me up even when I was in the worst of moods. Some days I'll come home after a hard day of work and wish that I could just apparate over to talk to you, just so I can relax. And you were serious when I really needed to be, you were there for me during the worst moment I've had since the war. You gave me Freddy and you were just there for me. I couldn't appreciate that more than I do." She shook her head, her eyes shimmering. "Then there's the beautiful flowers, which always brighten my day. And the movies and the take-out food and the wine," she chuckled, but it was tearful, "I looked so forward to those nights, Fred. When you'd just show up and you'd have your arms full and this huge grin on your face." She shook her head, tears slipping out. "You were perfect," she reiterated.

"Then... Why? I don't... I don't get it." His brow furrowed, his arms slowly falling. "Three and a half years I thought you just didn't..." He frowned, his eyes falling slightly. Despite how hard he'd kept trying, he couldn't deny that it hurt each time she turned him down.

"I did. I loved all of it, I really did. I appreciated having you in my life all the time," she told him, nodding. Her mouth was quivering as she tried to smile. "You made me feel normal again. Like I could really make it after the war; find a place for myself and just continue on in life as I was supposed to." She sniffled, rubbing at her face quickly. "You made me feel so special. I never wanted that to end. I loved being that person that had somebody as wonderful as you working so hard to get my attention, but..."

Fred's eyes lifted, meeting hers, and he felt his chest clench tightly. "But what?" he asked, his voice a quiet whisper.

"I was scared," she admitted quietly, her eyelashes damp as she blinked away tears. "I'm so used to losing everything that I was worried I'd lose you too. And I didn't want to get close to you, I didn't want to love you, because I was sure one day you'd leave me or you'd die or something would happen. I just... I just wanted to keep you as that boy who fancied me and I hoped that I could just label you as that and never feel anything more. That you'd just be Fred, my friend, my muse, and I'd never have to worry about losing you. But then... then I was already close and I didn't know what to do anymore." She shook her head, wiping at her face and pushing her hair back in frustration.

"I can't guarantee I won't die," he replied, frowning. "I can't guarantee the world won't implode or that you won't die and leave me behind. Life is unpredictable. We can't decide it for ourselves, otherwise a lot of the horrible things that already happened never would have. You wouldn't have to worry about losing me because you'd never know what losing somebody felt like." He reached out, his hand wrapping around her arm and sliding down to her wrist, taking her hand in his. "The only thing I know for certain is that I loved you a minute ago and I'll love you a minute from now. I'll feel the same in an hour, a month, a year. Nothing's going to change that. Not death or misery or anything the world has planned."

He smiled faintly, his mouth turning up one side, still sad. "I want you to be happy, Hermione. If that's with some safe guy who knows how to be serious and can keep you from fearing one day he'll just up and hurt you, then be with that guy. I'm not going to lie and say it doesn't hurt, but I love you enough to let you go. I've been trying to get a good grip on you for seven years and it seems like you never really grabbed hold back." He clenched his jaw, hating that loving and letting go felt much like what he thought death would be like.

Fred rubbed the pads of his thumbs against the inside of her wrists, feeling the strong, quick pulse radiate through. Taking a step forward, he bent forward, his mouth a hair's-breadth away from hers. His eyes met hers, blue and brown connecting and he found that heat and emotion he always wanted to see there in her gaze. He closed the distance and met her mouth, lips cradling hers. She tasted like a cherry lifesaver and his tongue laved at the sweet and mildly sour flavor. He meant for it to be short, sweet, and a farewell of sorts, but the minute his mouth met hers, it found a soulmate it wasn't willing to let go of. He nibbled at her bottom lip, tongue following behind to soothe and taste. Her tongue twisted with his, exploring his mouth with an intensity he couldn't help but respond to. One of his hands rose to slip into her hair, pulling her closer and tightening around the soft curls possessively. His lungs screamed for air but he was unwilling to break away just yet, savoring the heat and sweetness of her mouth. She sucked at his top lip, her tongue teasing the underside, before they finally broke away, gasping. It was the heaven he'd always dreamed of, perhaps more than dreams could create. A moment he'd waited out for so many years, finally consuming him and leaving him dazed with exhilerating passion. His eyes were closed and his forehead leaned against hers. He stayed there for a minute or two, letting his heartbeat return to normal, his body still pressed up close to hers. He felt her hands digging into his sides and back, his shirt fisted into her palms.

He unfurled her fingers from him, rubbing at the soft skin before he let her hands drop down to her sides. Stepping back he found she too had her eyes closed, her bottom lip trapped by her teeth. Placing a kiss on her forehead, lingering longer than needed, he turned to leave. He had no idea what he was going to do without her playing the main part in his life, but he'd have to find something. Nobody would capture him like she did and he'd never again find that comfort he did with her, but he couldn't force her into something that would always leave her scared. He wasn't the type of guy who made false promises. There was a chance that he'd die tomorrow or that the world would end. As long as she was scared about the 'what if's' she could never enjoy their time together for what it was. She'd always be worried that one day she'd wake up and he'd be gone. He'd never willingly leave her, not if he actually had her. But she didn't want to know that, she wanted a guarantee that he'd be there always, barring nothing.

His feet directed him toward the living room, the doorway just a few short steps. He figured going out to enjoy the rest of dinner wasn't an option. Seeing her with some other bloke wasn't something he could handle, not now. He'd finally received that first kiss and it had been better than he could have expected. The backlash was that he wanted more, wanted them never to end. But she'd made a choice and he'd accepted it for what it was. He was two steps away when he felt her hand on his wrist. He turned back slightly, his brow furrowed.

"I'm holding on now. I wasn't before. I let you pass. I ignored the way you tried to hold on. But... But I'm holding on to you now." She shook her head. "You're right. Life is made up of twists and turns that I can't figure out ahead of time. And I guess if I'm suppose to love you then I should. Whether it lasts a day or a year or a lifetime. I just... I don't want to lose you now. I..." She tugged on his wrist until he was facing her. Swallowing tightly, she reached up with her free hand, cupping his cheek. "I love you, Fred Weasley. You and your humor and your really bad taste in movies and the way you make me laugh and how safe I feel in your arms." She licked her lips and his eyes fell to watch the movement, wanting to kiss her again. His chest was tight, but not painfully like it was before. "I'm sorry I left you waiting for so long. I should have--"

He cut her off with the pressure of his mouth, his arm wrapping around her waist and hand wrapping around the back of her neck, trying to pull her closer. He kissed her breathless, his tongue twisting with hers and his lips bruising hers intensely. When he finally broke away, he whispered the words that sat in waiting for far too long. "I love you, 'Mione."

She smiled, her eyes half lidded as she looked up at him, her expression one of deep content. "I really should have kissed you earlier," she murmured, licking her lips dazedly.

Smirking, Fred lifted a brow. "Satisfied, Ms. Granger?"

Sobering, she instantly feigned impassive. "I've had better."

Fred frowned. "Better, my arse," he muttered, his mouth descending on hers with possessive passion. He felt her fall, her knees going out beneath her and lifted her up with one arm so he didn't have to stop. He grinned into the kiss, his mouth slowing to kiss her more leisurely. Her arms were wrapped tight around his shoulder, fingers delved into his hair, tugging whenever he nibbled at her lips. When he pulled back slightly, her eyes were closed and she looked thoroughly snogged. "Verdict?"

Her eyes fluttered. "More research," she announced, licking her lips. "Have to be thorough."

He laughed, his arm tightening around her waist before his mind wandered to the situation. "What about whats-his-name?" he asked, stiffening.

"Who?" she asked, her brow crinkled in confusion.

"The bloke you showed up with," he explained, his voice rough with thinly veiled jealousy. Though he was somewhat smug that he'd managed to leave her mind completely blank.

"Oh. Him. He's just a fellow from work. He wanted to meet Mr. Weasley, has a fascination with Muggle things. He's not staying for dinner, I just brought him by out of convenience." She shrugged, her mouth curling in a smile. "Normally green looks good on you, but this shade isn't flattering," she informed him cheekily.

"Shut it," he replied, though his voice was fond.

She looked up at him through lowered lashes. "Make me," she said, grinning.

Laughing, Fred gladly swooped down to kiss her again. Awhile later, after he'd manage to disentangle them long enough to remember that his family was outside, probably waiting for them to join them for dinner, he promised they'd finish later and took her hand. Her fingers threaded with his comfortably and she leaned to the side, fitting perfectly against him. His smile widened as they walked outside to find his family sitting anxiously at the elongated picnic table, looking a mite worried. Upon seeing him and Hermione in an obvious embrace, a collective sigh went out.

They sat down to eat, her hand still tightly in his, and upon glancing at his mother, he could already see her mind working. Hermione would be a Weasley, just like she was destined to be. It was a dream come true for Molly. More so for Fred, he had to assume. Turning to the side, he watched her as she laughed at something George was saying on her other side. She seemed to feel his gaze on her because she turned, catching his eye. For once in his life, Fred finally felt content. All those years before the war were filled with anxiousness and the years following left him feeling incomplete. Now that his one and only real goal had been attained, he found life was better than it had ever been.

"What took so long?" Ron asked, lifting a brow and smirking.

Fred wasn't sure if he meant in the long run or just why they were in the Burrow for so long. "Hermione couldn't keep her hands off me. It took a lot of convincing to get her to come eat with you. You should all thank me."

"Fred!" both Hermione and his mother exclaimed.

Grinning, he looked at Hermione who was flushed and frowning.

"I can't believe you--"

He cut her off with his mouth, forgetting completely about everybody around them. Her hair felt silken against his hands and he had to force himself to pull back after a few strokes of his lips against hers, before he lost control and snogged her breath away on the grass behind them. She was panting slightly as he pulled back a couple inches, her eyes glossy. "Okay, I admit it," she said, her voice strained and low.

"It was mutual," he breathed back, his mouth pulling into a smirk.

Her hand took his and he couldn't help but be glad that she'd finally grabbed hold of him after all of his struggling to finally have her. He didn't know if they'd last forever, though some part of him was certain they would. He had Hermione for that moment and after years of wishing and wanting but never having, he would take what he could get. She got him through a war on her compassion alone, he was pretty sure she could get him through a lifetime on just a kiss. In any case, she was finally his, and he wasn't letting go. Turns out, persistence pays off and the reward was completely worth the wait.


A/N Hello readers! Another of my quick write-ups to get myself out of writers block. I hope to have a few chapters out to stories that are long overdue for an update. For now, please understand that I'm undergoing a bit of a block. I'll do my best to update ASAP. In the meantime, I hope you've enjoyed this one-shot. It was my first Fred/Hermione, much to my best friends insistence. I'm a strong supporter of the two, but it took a bit to get myself psyched to write it. I was worried I'd ruin Fred:( I hope this turned out well though!

Thank you for reading! Please leave a review, it's greatly appreciated!
Much Love,