Disclaimer: A grand thank you to Ms. J. K. Rowling for allowing us to play in her universe. Nice.
A/N: Hi folks. I've been away for a while. I hope you like this new one-shot. I hope to have a couple of new chapters up soon for each of my longer stories. Please read and review... I really hope you like this, because I think we've all felt this way at some point in time.
There was a quiet knock at the bedroom door.
"Hermione?" Ginny spoke softly through the door. "Can I come in? We can talk about it, if you want."
She received a rather muffled, hiccoughed response of "No thank you, Ginny… I just want to be alone for a little while if that's okay."
"Sure, Hermione, just… Call me if you need anything," the red-haired witch called back to her friend, as gently as possible, before leaving her to sob her eyes out on her own.
Hermione pressed her face even deeper into her pillow, even though it was now completely soaked with her tears. She knew it was quite rude of her not to allow Ginny in, as the Burrow really was her home and not Hermione's. But she was treated as a member of the family, and was invited to move into Percy's old room after her parents were killed. But really, Hermione didn't care too much at the moment about whether or not her behaviour was inappropriate, because her heart was breaking.
She knew Ron and Luna Lovegood had been dating for the past six months, and had managed to cope with the fact. She was positive that the relationship would eventually peter out, that Ron would find his way back to her, realizing after all these years that they were supposed to end up together.
She certainly had not expected Ron to stop one of the traditional Sunday night Weasley family dinners to announce to his family that he was the happiest he'd been in a long time, and hoped that they would all offer him their full support. Hermione was in denial of what she deep down knew what would happen next, until he destroyed her feigned ignorance by getting down on one knee, and holding out a small diamond ring to Luna.
The words were still ringing in her ears… "Luna, you have been the best thing that has happened to me since You-Know-Who's downfall. These last six months have been perfect, and I already know that I'll want to be with you for the rest of my life. Luna Lovegood, will you marry me?"
Re-living Ron's proposal in her mind continued to cause her to feel as though ice was running through her veins, just as she had felt earlier that evening when she saw Luna's dazed smile. Her head was throbbing suddenly, and she couldn't hear, but still saw Luna's mouth form the word "yes".
If Ron could stop eating in the middle of dinner for her, it must be love.
Of course, she managed to keep a happy face on for the rest of the evening, though it was quite a strain. Fortunately, Ron never was very good at reading emotions, so the forced grin she wore while congratulating the joyful couple over and over again seemed to have him fooled. She was sure that she caught Luna giving her a bit of a strange, sidelong glance once or twice throughout the commotion and excitement of the Weasley family's ensuing celebration, but no words were exchanged indicating that she could tell anything was amiss.
Hermione managed to keep up the charade until Ron and Luna left the Burrow to go tell her father the wonderful news. As soon as the front door closed, her façade cracked. Her smile hadn't even disappeared yet when she felt her eyes well up with tears, and, embarrassed that the Weasleys would see her this way, immediately ran up to her room.
Ginny meant well in trying to comfort her, but right now Hermione knew it wouldn't work. After all, Ginny had Harry, and Ron had Luna, and she, the perpetual bookworm, had no one. It shouldn't be surprising, really.
As she continued to bawl in the pitch dark room, she could hear some more shuffling outside the door. This time, rather than a knock, she heard the door open with its loud telltale creak.
Hermione didn't have to look up to see who it was. She knew Harry would have felt awkward coming up to her when she was in this state, and Ginny was the type to politely knock, but respect her wishes to be alone. She knew it could only be one half of the pair she had grown to be close friends with over the past several months since her two best friends found steady girlfriends.
"Fred," she said, still muffled by the pillow, "if you're going to come in anyway, could you at least keep the lights off and shut the door behind you?"
"Of course, love, I wouldn't dream of ruining your dark mood," Fred said, but softly and less sarcastic than usual. He crossed the room and lay down on the bed next to her.
There was a long pause. The only sounds in the room were of Hermione sniffling loudly, trying to regain control over her emotions now that company was present.
The silence was broken when Fred finally spoke again. "You were very brave out there."
His words caused her restraint to break completely.
"Oh, FRED!" she wailed, burying her face in his t-shirt and throwing her arms around him as a fresh wave of tears broke through her.
Fred was stunned and nearly fell off the bed as Hermione threw herself against his chest, but he quickly regained his balance, and put his arms around her. He held the portion of her body that was lying on him in a brief, tight hug, then moved one of his hands to stroke her hair.
He could feel his shirt already soaked with her tears, and he kissed the top of her head and cooed comforting words to her. "It's okay," he told her. "We all understand… Just let it all out… You were so brave back there, he didn't suspect a thing, I swear it…"
The sobs he could feel wracking her body against his eventually shrank to mere whimpers, followed by several deep breaths. Finally he heard her speak.
"It's not as though I don't like Luna," she said wetly into his t-shirt. "I do. And I want him to be happy. It's just that… I don't understand. I just always thought he and I were supposed to… and now we… we…" She couldn't finish that last sentence.
"I know, love, we all know," he said in a low voice. "You were amazing that you could hold it in as long as you did, really. We all understand, and no one's going to say anything to either of them, I promise."
"Luna already knows," she muttered. "She's smart, and she knows people. She was looking at me for the rest of the evening. She could tell."
Fred was surprised at this. "Was she… mad? As far as you could tell?"
Hermione sniffled. "No. That's probably the worst part. She kept looking at me like she pitied me. Imagine! Loony Lovegood pities me!" she said, feeling awfully mean even as she said it. "I didn't mean that," she added guiltily.
Fred didn't comment on her nasty turn of phrase, as he already knew she hadn't meant it. "Frustration and disappointment can make even the best of us say very uncharacteristic things sometimes," he said. "And you, Hermione Granger, are without question, the best of us."
"Oh, I am not, Fred Weasley," she grumbled into his chest. "I wouldn't be in this state if I was. Let's face it, it's been historically proven that no boy I fancy will ever fancy me back, and we all know why."
He felt like scratching his head at this comment. He honestly didn't know why, and said just as much. "I don't know what you could possibly be talking about, Hermione. You're a great girl."
"Ha!" She let out a single, mirthless chuckle. "You've got that right, but with the wrong meaning of 'great' in mind," she said.
Something about these words bothered Fred, but as of yet, he wasn't positive of what she meant. He had a feeling, but… 'No, that couldn't be it, there's no way she could mean that,' he thought to himself, and shook his head. "Just what are you talking about, Hermione?"
"Oh, come one, Fred! You're a smart guy, think about it! Look at all of the paired-off women we know! Ginny, Luna, Fleur, Penelope… What do they all have in common?" she asked, sounding a bit exasperated.
Fred shrugged. "You're going to have to answer this one for me."
She sighed against him. "They're all tall, slender, willowy, statuesque… Not one among them is a boring little know-it-all, not a one of them a short, dumpy, frumpy, fat girl."
Fred gasped at her statement. "Hermione, you are not fat!" he exclaimed.
"I am fat."
"Oh yeah?" she asked defiantly. Hermione allowed one of her arms to leave Fred's neck as she took one of his hands from her back, and guided it down to her waistline. His hand stiffened slightly as she led it just under the edge of her shirt, and forced him to squeeze a handful of her waist. This was the best demonstration she felt she could give him in the completely dark room. "If I'm not fat, then what's that, Fred? I am fat, and I have been for the last few years. I shouldn't be surprised in the slightest that Ron never noticed me… well, maybe he noticed how much of the sofa I can take up on my own," she finished sardonically.
Fred was completely struck by her statement. He knew that Hermione didn't realize how pretty she was, but he never knew she thought this about herself.
"Hermione," he said eventually, "you may not look like my sister and sisters-in-law, but that doesn't make you fat."
"Nice way of tiptoeing around it," she snorted. "Fine, what does it make me?"
He paused. "This could potentially be a very awkward conversation."
"How can it be more awkward than it already is? Currently, you're trying to get around admitting that I'm fat," she answered, putting a great deal of emphasis on the last word.
Fred thought for a moment. "Will you allow me to be frank with you? As your friend? And not take anything I say the wrong way?" he asked.
Hermione chuckled humourlessly again. "That should be fine. You're not the Weasley who always puts his foot in his mouth around me."
"Hermione, you may not be thin and tall, but first, let's get the easy one out of the way. Who says height matters one bit?" he started.
"Your sister and sisters-in-law are all much taller than I am, and they've all got someone. So clearly it counts for something. It makes them look like models."
"Well, sure, they're all pretty tall girls, but look at who they're partnered up with. Harry's a tall guy. And Bill, Percy and Ron all got my dad's height. So those couples sort of balance each other out, don't they? Besides, look at me. I've got the Prewett genes in the family. I'm not that tall, George and Charlie aren't, either, and it hasn't affected us any."
"It's different. You're different."
"How?" he challenged. "Don't you think that a lot of women often prefer taller men over shorter ones?"
"But you're not short," Hermione insisted. "Just not that tall. I'm short. No one wants that when they can get one of the girls who look like Playwizard bunnies."
"Some men like short women," Fred replied. "Short women can be awfully cute, and they can make a man feel taller, and like he can protect her… especially if he's 'not that tall' himself." He said the last part of the sentence just slightly quieter.
"Maybe that's true of short, petite girls," she gave in, "but not of short, fat ones like me."
"Hermione," he said, the rising annoyance clear in his voice, "you can't keep saying this over and over. It's a really bad adjective to describe you."
"Then what adjectives should I be using?" she said, on a clear offensive.
"Well, if I'm being frank, then how about voluptuous?" he suggested, causing her to snort with laughter, accidentally getting a gob of spit onto his shirt.
"Oops, sorry," she apologized quickly, trying to brush it off his chest with her hand. "But it's your own fault. That was quite the joke, even for you, Fred."
"It's not a joke, Hermione. You're…" he paused. "You won't get mad?"
"You're something that, for some guys, is a lot nicer than 'slender'. Okay, sure, as you demonstrated, you do have a bit of a tummy. But that often comes with the territory of a girl like you. You're all soft curves, which I assure you, some men find exceptionally attractive."
Hermione was quiet for a moment. "I am not. They don't," she protested weakly.
"You are and they do. Your slight tummy goes very well with the rest of you, which is, pardon my coarseness, all tits and hips and arse," he stated plainly as possible. He was, however, glad the room was so dark, because in spite of his calm and cool tone, the conversation was causing him to blush to some extent.
"That can't be what people see," she shook her head, unbelieving. "Nobody would look at me and see curves, they'd see fat."
"You can't tell me you haven't noticed all the men that ogle you, not to mention glare at me and George, when we take you out to the pub every week?" he asked.
Hermione shook her head again.
"I assure you, there are plenty of healthy, young, warm-blooded wizards who regularly undress Hermione Granger with their eyes. You are not fat, and despite not being, as you put it, 'tall and willowy', there are many who still see you as just plain hot," Fred finished.
Hermione was still lying face down on Fred's chest, his shirt now entirely soaked through. She had yet to look up once since the tears had begun to flow. By now, though, the tears had at least stopped, due to the confusion she was now experiencing from their conversation.
'I'm not attractive, he's got to be lying just to try and make me feel better,' she thought to herself, pursing her lips. 'I mean, where's his proof? Some supposed people who may or may not have looked at me in the pub – please! If that's not the weakest story I've ever heard, I don't know what is.'
She didn't know why it had suddenly become so important for her to prove Fred wrong, perhaps it was simply her argumentative nature, but she felt a strong desire to bring the subject to a head, and then a close, so she could get back to her moping in peace.
Hermione started again. "Well, I do appreciate the effort, Fred, but I'm afraid you just don't have me convinced."
"Oh, I don't, do I?" he asked.
"No, you don't, and I'm also afraid I've just got you beat in this argument," she answered smugly, looking up at where she knew his face was in the dark. She felt the desire to face her challenger even though they couldn't actually see each other.
Fred could feel her move from being face-down to resting her chin upon his chest. 'Well, she must be feeling a bit better, or at the very least distracted. That's a start,' he thought. "Pray tell, Miss Granger, how do you have me beat?" he questioned her, smiling at the change in her demeanour.
"Lack of evidence."
"I'm sorry, what?"
"You heard me," she commented dryly. "With no proof to back up your statements, they remain meaningless. As there are no 'healthy, young, warm-blooded wizards who regularly undress Hermione Granger with their eyes' around, which I do not believe exist anyway, then your story remains nothing more than mere hearsay. Thusly, I may safely continue to disagree."
She now rested her face back against Fred's now sopping wet shirt after finishing this declaration; she was quite satisfied that her words won her the argument.
She was surprised, of course, when Fred cleared his throat to begin speaking again. She could feel it reverberate through his chest. 'Doesn't he know when he's beat?' she thought to herself.
"Well, as you offer me this new rebuttal, I'm afraid I can refute your statement," Fred said. "But I will need your permission to be perfectly frank with you."
Hermione furrowed her brow. "I thought you already were being frank with me."
"Yes, I have been," he answered. "But up 'til now, I have been being frank with you as a friend. I'm now going to need your okay to be frank with you as a healthy, young, warm-blooded wizard."
Hermione sucked in a breath of air and held it. 'No, that couldn't be it, there's no way he could mean that,' she thought to herself. "Um… yes. Sure. Permission granted," she said hesitantly.
"Thank you. Now, perhaps though you are the brightest witch of your age, you may not know of a couple latent abilities that all blokes have. First, there is the ability to check out a bird almost, if not completely, undetected by the bird in question. Second, there is also the ability to know what birds are being checked out by which blokes. So, due to these two abilities – which, really, go hand-in-hand – I am of reasonably good authority to tell you that you are often ogled at the pub. But what you should also know is the second ability gets stronger when it pertains to a bird that the bloke in question is interested in or attracted to. And so," he paused, sounding reluctant to continue, "I therefore become an excellent authority to tell you that you are ogled at the pub."
Hermione carefully took a minute to think through Fred's speech. She suddenly became very aware of their close proximity to each other. She tried hard to clear her head, to come up with something intelligent or concise to say, but all she ended up with was, "Oh."
"Now, based on the things you've told me this evening, I understand that you probably need a little more convincing. So I'll tell you exactly what I think, and hopefully you won't judge me too harshly. Is that possible?" he asked her, patiently.
She nodded against his chest.
"Good," he answered, trying his best to sound confident and nonchalant, but feeling rather the opposite. 'Fred, old boy, I hope you know what you're doing,' he thought to himself. He forced himself to start talking again, hoping she wouldn't have noticed the slightly awkward pause as he gathered his nerve.
"Well, then, to be perfectly honest with you, Hermione, you should first know that I think of you as a wonderful friend, and I would never risk that for anything." His bravery was beginning to waver, when he felt her hold him just a tiny bit tighter, giving him the courage to continue. "But sometimes…" his voice gave out for a moment, so he cleared his throat and spoke somewhat faster than was usual for him. "Sometimes when you come to visit us in the shop… When you and I are chatting, I have to work a bit to remind myself to keep looking into your eyes. Not that you don't have beautiful eyes!" he added quickly, thinking to himself, 'Fred, you absolute poof, what on earth are you babbling about? Stop it now!' But he rambled on, "but that it takes work for me to not drop my eyes, well, let's just say, a bit below your neckline. Just as, if we weren't such good friends, in our current position, it would also be a lot of work right now to keep my hands on your back and not allowing them to… uh… drop any further… as well."
After that statement, he wanted to smack himself on the head. 'You complete arsehole!' he reproached himself, 'you're supposed to be here to comfort Hermione, not to confess your insane lust for her! And you most certainly shouldn't be getting turned on by this…'
He blushed deeply as he realized that admitting to Hermione just how much he wanted her while she was draped all over him was having something of an effect on him. He was suddenly extremely grateful for the dark, and for the fact that it was only his upper body she was resting against.
Unfortunately, this thought brought about the strong realization that he could feel her face on his chest, her hands around his sides, and her breasts resting against the flat of his stomach. He gulped hard as he reddened further, trying his best to control the bloodflow which was at this time rushing furiously away from his face.
'This is so wrong, you perv,' he thought, inching his body away from hers on the bed. 'This is one of your best female friends, and she needs consoling, not to think that her unrequited love's brother is obsessed with her. You must have convinced her she's appealing by now, so just stop talking, fix the damage you've done, and get out before she hexes your bollocks off!'
Fred sat up suddenly, causing Hermione's body to gently slide off his and onto the mattress. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed, sitting away from her. "As I said before, you are a really great friend. I don't want to mess that up for anything, and I hope I haven't done so now," he said, pausing to see if she had anything to say. She remained quiet, so he decided the best thing for the situation would be some damage control. "I'm not asking you out or anything. I just needed you to know that you are a very attractive girl, even though you just see flaws in yourself. I didn't come in here to try anything, and I need you to know I never would. I completely respect the fact that it's always been Ron for you, and –"
"It's hasn't always been Ron for me," Hermione finally spoke up. Her voice was finally no longer muffled, and he realized she was now sitting up on the bed, right behind him.
Fred kneaded his hands nervously. "Well, of course there was Krum, but I was more talking about –" he was cut off again by Hermione, this time, with a giggle.
"Oh no, not Viktor," she said, still laughing a little. "He was a very nice boy, but he and I were just good friends, really. But… there was someone else that I liked for a really long time at Hogwarts. I liked him for years, actually. I just sort of tried to force myself to put him out of my mind eventually. He never took any real notice of me, not in the way I wanted him to, and he was going out with another girl anyway during my fourth year, so…" she trailed off.
"So you just forgot about him?" Fred finished for her.
"That's right. And Ron was starting to give me attention. I thought he liked me. Maybe he used to like me, or maybe he didn't know what he wanted at the time, or maybe he was just over-protective of his best friend. Either way, as I said before, no boy that I had wanted to like me ever liked me back, I decided to try and like a boy who seemed to like me."
"So you decided to like Ron?" he asked. "Isn't that a little… too practical? Even for you? Not to be rude, but it's a rather unromantic way to fall for someone, isn't it?"
"It was, wasn't it?" she sighed, leaning against his back. "Rather foolish, in retrospect. I put a lot of time and energy into liking him. He was smart to go off with Luna, I guess. It probably would never have been right between us. But… just tonight, when he proposed… I really believed he was my last hope. I figured that a fat, bossy girl doesn't have a lot of options. And that being with my best friend forever would be a good thing, you know? It would certainly be better than being alone forever."
Fred paused, unsure of what to say. It turned out he didn't have to come up with anything just yet, because Hermione continued. "You're right that I've been terribly unromantic, and overly logical to a fault. I tried so hard to be ready to end up with Ron, and that led nowhere. Meanwhile, I have to force myself to forget a really nice guy, which even if it wasn't going to happen between us, I should have just let the feelings go away naturally. Feelings may fade eventually on their own. But when you just suppress them, they don't seem to go anywhere, do they?"
"They don't?" he asked. He could feel her shake her head against him.
"No," she answered. "They don't."
'Well, she's being open and honest with you. I guess I didn't make things too weird for her. She's giving you the chance to still be her friend,' Fred thought to himself. 'Act casual, and just be cool.'
He turned so she was now leaning against his shoulder rather than his back. He gingerly put an arm around her shoulders, figuring that friends can do that to each other. "So tell me about this bloke, then!" he said, a little too cheerily perhaps, trying to mask his disappointment that there suddenly seemed to be so many other men who had a hold on her heart.
Hermione cleared her throat. "Well," she started, "when I first got a crush on him, when we were kids, I thought he was really cute, but as we've gotten older, he has grown up very attractive indeed. 'Cute' isn't the proper adjective any more," she paused for a moment. "I think 'Phwoar!' is more appropriate now."
Fred forced a laugh, though for once he felt no humour in an amusing situation. "You little minx!" he scolded her, acting as typically Fred-like as possible.
She chuckled back. "He's really smart, too. Smart and funny and absolutely amazing with magic. And very personable. Everybody seems to like him. Yet another reason I never had a shot."
Fred found her intonation to be somewhat strange all of a sudden – he could hear a smile in her tone, but her voice was shaking a little.
"Did you ever try?" he asked.
"No," she answered, sighing. "I didn't. But I figured it would have been pointless, anyway. He never acted in any way as though he liked me. He wasn't even always nice to me. Once in a while, but not always."
Fred growled quietly. He did not like the idea of Hermione being mistreated by anyone. "Did he insult your appearance? Is that why you think you're fat?"
"Oh, no! He was never cruel with me, not like Ron has been from time to time," she replied. "No, he has never been nasty with me – more like antagonistic. The really peculiar thing, though, is that…" she trailed off.
"Is that…?" he prompted her, gently nudging her ribs with his elbow.
She giggled. "I always kind of liked fighting with him. I still do. He keeps me on my toes, and just when I think I've got him beat, he'll throw me for a loop I never expected."
Fred raised an eyebrow. "I can't believe that. Do you concede easily to him, or something?"
Hermione nudged Fred in the ribs this time. "Would you know me to give up a good argument?"
"No, of course I try to win. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. Despite what's been said about my brains, he can successfully refute every statement of mine, and lobs back every rebuttal. And what's more, I love that he can best me, or will at least try to. No one else really does."
'I shouldn't even hope to compete with this guy,' Fred thought to himself. 'As her friend, I've just got to hope she can end up with someone she likes so much.'
He sighed. "So you still know this guy then? Is he still with his girlfriend? Maybe… you could try this time. Let him know how you feel, or something."
"Oh, I do still know him. He's single now." He could still hear her smiling, but her voice shook even more. "I didn't want to try. I thought I was too fat and dumpy for anyone to have an interest in me that way. But… well, you say I'm wrong about that…"
"Absolutely wrong about that, Hermione," he interrupted quickly. "You're a gorgeous, intelligent, fun, sweet, sexy lady, and this guy would have to be completely mental not to want you."
There was a pause. "I'm glad you think so."
"I know so." Fred paused now, wanting and yet not wanting to ask the question that had been on his mind for the past several minutes. "So who is the lucky fellow anyway?"
She mumbled her response so quietly he couldn't actually make it out.
"Sorry, I couldn't quite catch that. Usually you're so articulate, too, for shame on you for mumbling! I'm just kidding. But you know that. Anyway, I'm sorry for prying. Didn't mean to, believe me. If you don't want to tell me, you certainly don't have to. You have a total right to your privacy. If you ever want to talk about it, you know you can. But you don't have to."
Fred was aware of the fact that he was rambling like an idiot, but he realized as soon as he asked who it was that she cared for, he decided he didn't want to know after all. It would hurt too much putting an identity to it, and he'd rather just keep his head in the sand on the whole matter. His sudden, gut reaction was to simply keep talking until he felt it to be a suitable time to leave the room.
"I guess just do whatever you think is right. You know I think you deserve someone great, so just don't waste any more of your time if he's not worthy of you, okay? You should have high standards, because, well, of all those adjectives I used to describe you a minute ago. And –"
"Yes, how can I help you?" he asked, brought out of his reverie by the voice of the girl by his side. 'That was pretty lame. Get a grip, Weasley!' he ordered himself.
"I'm sorry?" Hermione questioned.
"Weren't you asking me something just now?" Fred said, a bit confused.
"No… I was answering your question," she stated simply.
"Which question?" he asked uneasily.
"I believe it was 'so who is the lucky fellow anyway?' And the answer… is 'Fred Weasley'," she finished.
He was silent, allowing time for her words to sink in. 'This can't be real, it's too good to be true,' he thought to himself. But there it was, out loud, Hermione had said she fancied Fred, and had for years, that all this time she had been spending time on Ron, she had merely been trying to forget him. There had to be a catch to this, or some sort of a mistake.
He finally spoke. "And you're sure it was me, and not George, that's been occupying your thoughts all this time?"
"Oh please, Fred," she answered, sounding a touch exasperated. "George and I have only really gotten close this year, and we really barely spoke before. He always stood on the sidelines while you and I would have at it. As for physically differentiating between you two, it's really easy if you know what to look for. You may be identical, but there are several, subtle differences. Your hair is just barely a shade lighter than his. Your eyes are a slightly deeper shade of blue. And you have more freckles on your arms and your back –" she stopped suddenly, embarrassed.
"My back? Why, Miss Granger, have you been peeping on me in the shower?" he asked teasingly.
"Noooooo…" she insisted. "But, well, on hot summer days… you tend to sweat a lot while de-gnoming the garden… then there are all the shirt versus skins Quidditch games… mm, you always play skins," Hermione finished with a sigh.
Fred was taken completely aback. He had not expected Hermione to have any feelings for him whatsoever, let alone to reciprocate the lustful thoughts he had for her.
"I thought you couldn't stand Quidditch," he volleyed back at her, taking pleasure in this teasing banter.
"There are… some things I like about it," she returned.
Fred quickly evaluated the situation at hand. "Have you really had feelings for me all these years?"
"Do you really not think I'm fat?" Hermione countered.
"I asked you first."
"And I don't care," was her smug response.
'She was right; our little scraps are great fun! This round is yours, Hermione,' he thought, grinning.
"No, I don't think you're fat," he answered, taking her hands in his. "I think you are hands-down the most beautiful, most sexy woman I have ever been lucky enough to lay eyes on. Your turn."
She squeezed his hands. "Yes, Fred, I have had feelings for you for a ridiculously long time now. What started as a small crush during my first year has long since grown into a full-fledged attraction that I have spent years fighting."
He moved to face her, and started to lean toward her. "You shouldn't have fought it."
"No," she agreed, moving toward him, "I shouldn't have."
Fred stopped very suddenly, and turned away, getting off the bed.
"What's wrong?" Hermione asked nervously.
He pulled his wand out of his pocket. "Lumos," he said, and put the lit wand on the bedside table.
Hermione flinched at the light, having been in the pitch dark for so long, and she held her arm out to shade her eyes.
"Nothing is wrong," he answered, adjusting the position of the wand so it wouldn't be shining directly in her eyes. "I just wanted to be able to see you when I kiss you for the first time – whoa." He had turned back to Hermione and saw for the first time since he came in what she was wearing. She had obviously not intended on there being any visitors to her room for the rest of the night, and had changed into her pyjamas. Despite it being wintertime, Percy's old room was right over the Burrow's kitchen, and was therefore the warmest room in the house. Hermione was dressed accordingly, in a thin white cotton tank top and short white terrycloth boxers.
'Merlin's beard, is she ever enticing. How on earth did she ever doubt herself?' he thought, completely struck dumb by the sight of the stunning – and barely clothed – witch seated in front of him.
Seeing his eyes widen, she moved her arms so they were wrapped around her body, hiding it as best she could, no longer protecting her eyes from the light.
"It's bad, isn't it? I am fat, I told you," she whispered, her lower lip trembling.
"No, love, not at all," Fred answered quickly, having regained his senses. He took her hands in his once more. "I mean it. I was just… awestruck. I'm sorry." He kneeled back on the bed to face her. "You don't ever have to hide or cover yourself up around me, okay?"
She nodded. "Okay."
He slid one hand up her bare arm, leaving gooseflesh in its wake, to eventually cup her cheek. "Now where were we?" he asked, moving in close to her.
Their lips met slowly, unsurely, hers quavering from nerves and his in an unmistakable grin. He kissed her very softly, very gently, not wanting to impose on her when she has been so shaken up by the grand total of the evening's events.
But as her lips parted, he instinctively knew she was inviting more from him, and his tongue caressed hers. Hermione's hands finally decided to quit sitting lamely by her sides, and held his shoulders tightly. She pulled toward him, and deepened their kiss.
Encouraged by her actions, Fred pressed his body flush against hers, and slid his hands along her sides, teasingly skimming the outside of her breasts. She sighed against his mouth and held him tighter, digging her nails into his shoulder blades.
He groaned at this slight rough contact and pressed his mouth still more firmly against hers. It seemed such a long time ago already that he was trying to shift away from her while they lay on the bed, but his mind wasn't there now, anyway. He gradually started to slide a hand away from her side, to slowly massage her breast…
In one deft movement, Hermione grabbed him hard by the shoulders and pulled him down on the bed on top of her, wrapping her legs around his waist. At this, he broke their kiss and pushed his upper body away from her, using the bed for leverage.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on a minute now!" Fred insisted, trying to catch his breath.
For the second time in a fairly short period of time, Hermione looked very unsure of herself. "I'm sorry… Haven't you thought about… I thought you wanted…"
"Shh, love, let me explain," he cooed, leaning close to her again, a finger pressed to her lips. She blinked slowly, nervously; he could see her dark coffee-coloured eyes scanning his face for some indication as to why he pulled away from her. "I assure you, I have undoubtedly thought about this more times than I care to admit at the moment. And as for whether I want this," he leaned closer to her ear, "I am certain that we are at close enough proximity to each other for you to be able to tell that I do." He stole a glance at her, and in the low light of the room he could see her cheeks colour a deep crimson.
He pushed back again, so he could be looking directly into her eyes when he voiced his next thought. He took a deep breath, and steeled himself. "But, as much as I want this, as many times as I've pictured this…" he paused. "I don't want to offend you."
She tilted her head to one side. "We're being frank, remember?" she said candidly.
"That's right, thank you for reminding me," he said, placing a quick kiss on her cheek, right over a dimple. "As I was saying, as many times as I've pictured this, I'd never imagined it happening after you spent the evening crying your eyes out over my brother."
Hermione inhaled sharply. "Ah."
"Yes. And believe it or not, the Weasley twins are actually great planners. We may seem blithe and carefree," which he illustrated with a toss of his hair, eliciting a giggle from the girl under him, "but we plan out everything. It's why we are such brilliant, talented, extraordinary inventors."
"Modest, too," she added, poking Fred's chest with a pointed finger for emphasis.
"And that, yes," he agreed. "And, well, what I really mean to say is that… this is something I've wanted for a long time now, Hermione. And as much as it would be to continue what we're doing right now, I want to do this right. I want to court you properly."
Hermione laughed loudly. "You want to court me?" she questioned between giggles.
Fred posed a hurt look on his face. "Well, after the damage done to my pride, perhaps I don't want to court you," he said, pretending to choke down tears.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she chortled, "it was such an adorable choice of words! You always manage to catch me off guard one way or another. I hope you do still wish to 'court' me."
He wiped the insulted look off his face. "In that case, how would you feel about dinner tomorrow night? A proper date, in which you leave your wallet at home and allow me to pick up the whole cheque for once. I'll pick you up from here at seven. And neither of us will cry over anyone. What do you say?" he asked, still nervous and hopeful despite the evening's confessions.
She smiled widely. "I say yes, Fred Weasley."
He beamed back at her. "Glad to hear it! Now, are you okay? It's getting late, did you want some sleep, or do you need me to stay with you a little longer?"
Hermione cocked an eyebrow upward. "I thought we had established that wasn't happening tonight," she replied with a mischievous grin.
Fred chuckled. "That being the case, I'll leave you to your beauty sleep. Not that you need it, just so you know. One for the road?" He bent down to give her a quick peck on the lips, pulling back quickly before they got carried away again. He didn't miss the disappointed whimpering noise from the back of her throat as he stood up.
Taking his wand from the table, he stepped toward the door. He was really using all his willpower to force himself leave, but he knew that if he didn't, he'd always regret not starting things 'properly'. Besides, after years of neglect, Hermione deserved to feel chased after.
Fred has just put his hand on the doorknob when he heard the small voice of the girl on the bed.
"Fred?" Hermione asked.
He stopped and turned. "Yes?" he answered.
Fred was nervous about the pause that followed his response; in the dark, he couldn't see Hermione smiling widely and hugging her knees to her chest. She ended his apprehension as she spoke the words: "Thank you."
He grinned, as he personally felt that an expression of gratitude would be more appropriate coming from him. "I'll see you tomorrow night."
As he closed the door behind him, Hermione flopped back onto the mattress, the pillow still soggy with tears. She sat up a bit again, and flipped the pillow over. She didn't feel like crying any more, and wasn't even thinking about what had caused her to in the first place.
On the other side of the door, Fred had barely made it to the stairs when an angry Ginny rounded on him, her ears as red as her hair.
"I don't know what you were thinking going in there when she was so upset, but if I find out you did anything to trouble Hermione right now, I swear, Fred, we'll be able to donate your ear to George," she threatened him, pointing a finger in his face.
"Hey, whoa, just hold on a minute, let me explain!" Fred exclaimed.
"Explain? What could you possibly explain? Hermione's had her heart broken tonight! She's obviously been in love with Ron for years, and she just needs some time to herself, like any girl would! The sheer nerve that you think that you could somehow comfort her, that you would know how she feels better than her best friend –"
Ginny's oncoming tirade was cut short as the door to Percy's old room swung open. Hermione's head of fluffy brown hair peeked through. "Oops, sorry to interrupt, Ginny! I just had a quick question for Fred."
Fred swaggered back over to her, leaning casually against the doorframe. "Yes?"
Hermione lowered her voice just a little. "I was just... oh, this is going to sound so silly… um, how should I dress for tomorrow night?"
He smiled. "That's not silly at all," he said, not lowering his voice, as he wanted Ginny to know she had to eat her words. "You can dress up a bit. I'm going to spoil you rotten, just like you deserve."
Hermione rolled her eyes, but giggled anyway. "Okay. See you tomorrow night." She started to lean in for a kiss, but realized Ginny was still watching them, slack-jawed. She pulled back quickly, and repeated, "tomorrow night."
"Tomorrow night," he answered, grinning while she shut the door.
Fred turned away from the room and strolled past his little sister. He made it to the stairs this time past the completely dumbstruck girl, turning back only to say, "And that's why in the future, dear sister, you'll always give people the chance to explain."
Back in Percy's old room, Hermione slipped under the covers, which were now slightly more strewn about the bed than they had been before, and instantly fell asleep with a smile on her face, anxious for the next day to arrive.
She would wake up the next morning and, for the first time in a long time, smile at her reflection in the mirror.