"Oliver! Get over here, Alicia's about to throw the bouquet! And I swear to Merlin, if Katie catches it because you aren't running interference for me, it'll be your gorgeous arse!" Angelina Johnson shouted, looking back over her shoulder while simultaneously charging into the crowd of women.
Oliver Wood rolled his eyes in Fred and George Weasley's direction, but chuckled. "Coming, darling," he answered merrily.
"Now!" she demanded, her tone turning harsh, and Oliver hurried to his girlfriend's side.
Fred and George shared a laugh at the expense of their former Quidditch captain for just a moment, before Fred cleared his throat.
"Well, it's about time, brother. You and Alicia, at long last. Is the house all ready?" he asked his twin, slapping him on the back in a friendly gesture.
George grinned. "Completely. Painting's done, all the furniture's moved in, we've got the kitchen set up, my laboratory, Alicia's office, the nursery…"
Fred raised an eyebrow. "Nursery?" he exclaimed.
George winked and held a finger to his lips. "We haven't told anyone yet. The wedding turned out to be excellent timing. Alicia would have had a fit if she was showing in our photos. Just… keep it to yourself, all right, Gred?"
Fred waggled his eyebrows mischievously. "You know I will, Forge. But I may have to have a word in Mum's ear… regarding Alicia's choice of a white wedding dress…?"
George grabbed his twin's lapel. "You'd better be kidding! If you do, I swear, you're the guinea pig for our inventions for the next year, mate."
Fred held up his hands. "Just taking the piss, you know I wouldn't do that! Now lay off, you're bending the suit," he joked.
George let go of his brother, but suddenly adopted a more serious tone. "You know," he started, then paused to clear his throat. "I don't know if I've told you just… how glad I am that you're here today."
Fred straightened his jacket. "I had assumed as much," he answered with the traditional Weasley twin smirk. "I mean, if I had died, who would you have to mind the shop while you and Alicia run off to Tenerife for the next two weeks?"
"I mean it," George replied. "We really thought you were gone. I didn't see the wall fall on you. I thought it was a curse that hit you. When I saw you just… lying there, I thought there was no chance…" he had to stop himself for a moment as his voice broke. Collecting himself, George continued. "And even when you were in St. Mungo's… Well, you know it was touch-and-go for a while there now, and no one could tell us when or even if you were going to come out of your coma… I kept trying to put off the wedding, and kept putting it further and further off… Alicia was really great about it, you know. She understood. But then when we found out she was up the duff, we just couldn't wait any longer…"
"I understand, mate. I never would have wanted you not to go on with your life, anyway. And besides, I made it here, didn't I? Got through the rehabilitation in record time and everything," Fred said. "And a good thing, too. Can you imagine a better best man?"
George suddenly grabbed his twin in a tight hug. "No, I can't," he answered.
Fred patted his brother on the back for a moment, before shaking him off. "Get off me, you tosser!" he said, with a laugh in his voice.
The throng of women that had gathered in front of Alicia began to disperse. Angelina emerged, smiling victoriously and clutching a small bouquet of white calla lilies and pink roses. Following closely behind her was a slightly rumpled Oliver assisting a very dizzy-looking Katie Bell, who was holding her head.
Once they broke from the crowd, Angelina let herself fall a few steps back with the other two.
"Katie, I'm so sorry, I honestly don't know how I elbowed you in the face like that. I really didn't mean to do that. Let's get a seat before the dancing starts, okay? Oliver will get us our drinks." She turned to her boyfriend. "Won't you, Oliver? I mean, it's the least you could do after not warning me that Katie was right beside me. She could have been far more badly hurt!"
Fred and George chuckled, having heard Angelina's instructions only minutes before. Angelina sat Katie down at the nearest table, and gave Oliver a shove in the twins' direction.
"Two glasses of champagne, okay?" she ordered.
He grinned. "Anything you want, dear."
Fred stopped him. "I'll go with you." He turned to George. "And you'd better find your wife. The dancing's probably going to start any minute. If you aren't by her side when the band starts, and her temper is anything like that one's –" he gestured at Angelina, in a way so she wouldn't notice, "you'll end up buried right after being married."
"Merlin, how right you are. I'll catch up with you both later," and George left them hurriedly, with a wave.
Fred and Oliver joined the predictably lengthy queue to the bar, mostly made up of former classmates. They stood quietly, shuffling forward as each person ahead of them was served, until Fred eventually broke the silence.
"You know, I really wouldn't have expected it of you, mate."
Oliver looked at Fred quizzically. "Expected what?" he asked.
Fred involuntarily snorted with laughter. "For you to end up so whipped!"
"I am not whipped!" Oliver exclaimed in response, looking rather affronted.
"You very much are," Fred insisted. "All night so far, I've been listening to 'Oliver, hold my purse while Katie and I go to the loo', and 'Oliver, get us champagne', and of course who can forget 'Oliver, I need you to put my eyeliner on for me, you know I'm bollocks at it'. Face it, bloke, you are doing everything that girl is telling you to do. Don't get me wrong, you know that I like Angelina and all, but it's just sad!"
Oliver's expression darkened. "You're saying some pretty bold things for something you know nothing about, mate," he replied, trying to mask the bubbling anger that Fred immediately recognized as familiar from their days on the Gryffindor Quidditch team.
Fred instinctively took a small step back, narrowly missing a wedding guest also in line for drinks. "It was just an observation, that's all," he said defensively. "I didn't mean for you to take it personally."
Oliver automatically stepped forward, closing the slight gap that Fred had created between them. "Tell me, how on earth could that comment not be taken personally? You managed to insult me and my girlfriend in the same breath!" he said, a little louder than Fred would have preferred, as a few partygoers were now glancing in their direction. Fortunately for him, the music had begun, so only the nearest people overheard.
Oliver continued, "I'll have you know that if I didn't want to do any of those things for Angelina, I wouldn't. I do them because I want to do anything she asks of me. It makes me happy to see her happy. So if that makes me whipped, I don't care." His infamous flash-in-the-pan anger disappeared as quickly as it arrived, and Oliver now was grinning a bit goofily with all his thoughts back on his girlfriend.
"So she asks me to do these simple, silly things for her. So what?" he went on to Fred, in a far more conversational tone than before. "I love her, so I love doing things for her." Oliver's smile suddenly turned smug. "There's no way I can expect you to understand, anyway. I may be love's bitch, but at least I'm man enough to admit it."
Fred's surprise at this statement was apparent. "What do you mean?" he asked accusingly, but as he automatically glanced to a table across the room, his eyes gave him away before he could check himself.
Oliver's victorious smile got broader. "You know what I mean," he said. "You've kept looking at her all evening."
Fred scowled. "I have not… not all evening," he insisted weakly.
"Yes, you have," Oliver replied. "I must have caught you at least a dozen times now. And I'm pretty sure that there have been even more times than that. You know I'm right."
They reached the front of the line for the bar. "Two glasses of champagne, and a pint of bitter," Oliver requested of the barman.
"Make that two pints," Fred added. He turned back to Oliver while their drinks were being poured, but didn't say anything, finding himself lost for any possible defence of his actions.
Oliver broke the silence. "It's okay, you know," he spoke up.
"Being in love with her-"
"I'm not in love with her!" Fred hissed, gesturing for Oliver to keep the volume of the conversation down. "I just… I have some unresolved issues with her, that's all."
Their drinks set on the bar, Oliver loaded up his arms with his pint glass and Angelina and Katie's champagne flutes. "Well, then I suggest that you and your pint go over to her table and resolve them," he said. "Because soon one of the girls are going to notice where you've been looking all night, and you know I can't promise that they'll be as quiet or discreet as I will be."
Fred groaned. "Fine, fine," he said, picking up his drink. "I'll catch up with you later, yeah?"
"Good luck, mate!" Oliver called over his shoulder, on his way back to the girls' table.
Fred sighed. He chanced another glance back across the room, for what was probably actually the fiftieth time that night. She was now sitting alone at her table, the rest of her friends having joined the teeming dance floor since his last peek in her direction. Working his way through the busy hall, he managed to finally get to her table without spilling a drop of his drink.
Suddenly she was right in front of him. Her seat faced the dance floor, so she hadn't seen him arrive. He was standing right behind her. Her normally wild curls were piled high atop her head in an intricate updo, and she was wearing a pale blue dress made from a floaty-looking fabric that bared her lightly-tanned shoulders.
Fred sat down in the seat beside her. Whether she had noticed or not, he couldn't tell - she didn't move a muscle; she just kept watching the dance floor.
Fred was suddenly at a loss for what to say. He was fairly certain that by now she would have seen that he had sat down. But he had expected a "hello" or something to get the conversation going. Things were not proceeding in a natural direction. So perhaps the peculiarity of the next words out of his mouth weren't entirely his fault.
"Once upon a time, there was a brilliant, lovely princess," he spoke in a slightly sardonic narrating tone. "With more books than subjects in her kingdom, and chestnut tresses as wild as a Death Eater-induced riot."
Hermione sighed, but still didn't turn her head. "Piss off, Fred," she said, almost pleadingly.
"One day, there was a wedding party held in the kingdom, and of course the princess attended. But when the dancing began, she was all alone." Fred was wondering where he was coming up with this drivel, and why his voice sounded halfway between mocking and fanciful. He hadn't gone over with the intent to make fun of her. He had gone over to – why had he gone over?
"Perhaps the princess was lonely. Perhaps she was pining for one of the many revellers who danced before her. Was it the young, tragically scarred, black-haired hero, known throughout the land for his great deeds?"
He leaned forward to try and catch a glimpse of her expression. She rolled her dark brown eyes, but didn't look angry.
"Or perhaps it is the hero's cohort, the lanky, freckly, and occasionally feckless, ginger-haired gentleman, known for his impressive consumption of foodstuffs."
Hermione involuntarily snorted with laughter, which only encouraged Fred to press onward with his narrative.
"Conceivably, she could have been waiting and hoping for an older man to come to her table and request her hand in a dance… a more distinguished type… such as… the charming Charms professor?" waving his hand in the direction of their diminutive former teacher as he passed by.
Hermione spun in her chair at this, torn between anger and laughter. "I am not pining for Professor Flitwick!" she exclaimed, crossing her arms.
Fred smiled mischievously at her. "I'm sure you're not," he said.
Their eyes locked in a stare-down, until Hermione couldn't hold it in any more, and broke out giggling. "Fine, Fred, you win." She affected on a fanciful tone of voice. "I have been enraptured with the professor for years, ever since I first laid eyes on him! But however on earth did you guess my secret?"
Shocked at Hermione having turned the tables on him, Fred joined in her laughter. He stopped himself long enough to take a pull of his pint, then spoke up again. "You know we need to talk, right?"
She stopped giggling abruptly and turned back to the dance floor, feigning interest at watching the waltzing couples pass them by. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
Fred very gingerly placed his hand on hers, which was resting on the table. Hermione pulled her hand away quickly and turned to him, frowning and folding her arms.
"I think you know exactly what I'm talking about," he answered.
Hermione sighed deeply. "Can we… go outside, at least? I just don't want to talk in here," she said, slowly and unsurely.
He got out of his seat, and gestured. "Lead the way," he said agreeably, pulling her chair out for her as she stood up.
Fred followed closely behind her through the crowded reception hall, abandoning his drink at the now-empty table in favour of the opportunity to clear the air between them.
Hermione pushed open the door leading outside, and leaned against the brick wall, arms folded and a somewhat cross expression on her face.
She looked expectantly at Fred. "Well?" she asked. "You're the one who thinks we 'need to talk', so you go first. Get whatever you have on your mind off your chest so we can just go back inside and start forgetting that we ever had the conversation we are about to have. Okay?"
Fred furrowed his brow. "Why would I want to forget this?" he inquired.
"Maybe it'll just be me then," Hermione muttered under her breath. "Just ask me whatever it is you've been wanting to," she instructed. "Please, let's get this over with."
He raised his eyebrows. She never seized to surprise him. "If you know what I'm going to ask you, why make me say it?" he pushed.
"Well, because if I'm wrong, and you want to ask me something else, then I end up looking the fool, don't I?" she rebutted.
"And since when has Hermione Granger ever been wrong about anything?" he retorted, smugly.
"I'm still not going first," she finished. "You can ask, or I can go back inside now."
Fred sighed. "Fine," he conceded. "Why were you… why were you there when I woke up from my coma? Why did you leave when you saw I was awake? And why haven't I seen you since then?" he finished, feeling thoroughly exhausted by this conversation already.
"That's a few more questions than I expected," Hermione answered, with no emotion in her voice whatsoever.
"Are you going to answer any of them?" he said gently. More than anything right now, he just wanted her to come out with all the answers, but he was worried that if he pressed too hard, she would just leave, so he decided to try to tread lightly.
"Maybe," she answered. "I'm really not sure where to start." She wouldn't keep eye contact with him, suddenly appearing to find the street lights very interesting.
"Wherever you want," he told her, as patiently as he could muster. He leaned back against the brick wall beside her, hoping it would be easier for her to start if she wasn't directly facing him.
Hermione sighed. "It's got to come out sooner or later, I suppose," she started. "It had a lot to do with your condition, I suppose. I was terrified for you, and for your family, at first. Then when you were stable but comatose, I wanted to know what the Healers were doing for you."
Fred was a bit surprised so far, but realized he probably should have expected a wordy, specific answer from Hermione. "Why were you wondering that?" he interjected.
"Oh, it wasn't as though I didn't trust their expertise," she explained. "I must confess, though, it was heavily influenced by an interest in comparatively studying magical versus Muggle treatments."
He almost laughed sardonically, almost shook his head at how far she would go for the purposes of research, when the weight of what she had said settled on him.
"Have you known someone who was in a coma before, Hermione?" Fred asked carefully.
She nodded. "My father," she said, speaking somewhat more quietly. "When I was younger, before I knew about Hogwarts, or anything in this world… I'd have been about eight, I suppose. He… he had an accident. He was driving, and it was winter, and this other car slid out of control, and hit right into his. At least, that's what we were told; we weren't there. The whole front of the car was just crumpled up, and I remember the doctors telling my mother that it could go either way, that they didn't know if he would wake up again. They didn't… They didn't know I was listening. But then they told my mother that whenever she visited, that she should keep talking to him, keep interacting, like he was awake. They said that familiar voices can be comforting to the patient, even if they can't respond to or remember what is said."
She paused, and then continued, still sounding much like a textbook. "He was only in the coma for a week. But it seemed like the longest, worst week of my life. Even going through the war, nothing I ever experienced was as bad as that time."
As she stopped for a minute, Fred spoke up. "I'm sorry. I never knew. About your dad, and everything."
Hermione smiled at him. "No one knows, and it was a long time ago, anyway. Mother and I were there for him every day. We both talked to him, told him everything that was happening. When she went to get dinner, I'd stay back and read him the newspaper, sometimes front to back, so he knew what was going on in the world. I didn't want him to miss anything."
"Wait, you read him the whole bloody newspaper? At age eight?" Fred blurted out.
She cocked an eyebrow skyward. "Does that really surprise you?" she asked with a grin.
He let out an unexpected laugh. "Not a bit, actually."
She continued, "I've heard what recovered coma patients remember can vary quite a bit. When he came out of it, he didn't remember anything specific. But he said that he knew we were there, and he felt constantly reassured because of it."
Fred smiled broadly. "So I suppose the Healers at St. Mungo's told my folks and George to do the same thing?"
Hermione's face grew serious. She sighed deeply. "No," she answered.
Fred's jaw went slack. "No?" he asked.
She shook her head. "They were great at casting the life-supporting spells, those were beyond impressive. And you were well-looked after. But it was like they didn't think of you as… well, as Fred. You were just a coma patient, and nobody seemed to understand that there was still somebody… you… in there! I couldn't stand it. Everyone visited, all the time, but there was more sitting quietly by your side done than anything else. I think… they were so afraid of losing you, and they didn't want to put their hopes too high, perhaps. I tried talking about it to Molly once, but she said that the Healers knew what they were doing, and they'd have said something about talking if it was true."
Fred's expression grew very dark. "So they just ignored me, because they thought I was as good as dead?" he asked, his voice trembling. "Let me lie in that hospital bed, like an inanimate object? Like a… I don't know, a carpet or a bicycle or something equally inert? Even George?" His whole body was shuddering now.
Hermione reached toward him, gently placed her hand on his arm, as though she wanted to steady him. "Don't be upset with them, Fred. They didn't know, they couldn't understand! It wasn't as though they didn't care; they were just… too scared. Sometime people just don't know how to cope. It hurt all of us to see you like that. And it wasn't as though… as though no one talked to you," she finished, much quieter than she began. At this, she withdrew her hand from his arm and unconsciously took a step back.
It was as though a light switch suddenly turned on it Fred's head – some vague, distant senses and memories from the past two years flooded his mind.
"That's why you were there when I woke up," he confirmed aloud, though she was no longer looking him in the eye. "You weren't just there then, were you, you were… were you always there?"
"'Always' is a pretty big word to apply to the situation," she mumbled, suddenly examining her shoes.
"But a lot, yeah?" he asked.
There was no reply to this question.
"Please tell me," he urged, as gently as possible. "Please tell me why."
Hermione cleared her throat and looked up, a defiant expression in her eyes.
"Yes. I was there often. I knew nobody understood, and I couldn't just stand by while people pretended it wasn't you lying in that hospital bed. I knew what it meant to my dad, and someone had to be there for you, to let you know things were going to be okay and that we were all waiting for you. Once I realized that nobody got it, I showed up to visit for a bit on the weekends. I'd do the same things as I did for my dad – I told you what was going on with your family, I read you the Daily Prophet."
Hermione paused, but Fred could tell she had more to say, so he remained silent.
"I suppose it shouldn't be told, but Molly got angry with me at one point. She came in and caught me talking to you, and took me out of the room to tear a strip off me for it. She said it was disrespectful and insensitive, that everyone else was trying to cope with your condition, and here I was acting like you were just fine, like nothing was wrong."
Fred's brow furrowed. "Mum said that?" he asked.
"I don't want you to be upset with her," Hermione emphasized. "I just want you to understand the dynamics of what was going on at the time."
He frowned. "I really don't know that I do understand," he confessed.
She smiled sympathetically, not condescendingly. "People have different ways of dealing with grief," she answered. "Your family tried to cope as best they could. Maybe it was being sombre and respectful, maybe it was… trying to prepare for the worst, but no matter what it was, we all react differently at a time like that. What I did… well, I felt it was to help you, but it eventually started helping me deal with the situation, too. So maybe Molly was right, maybe I was being a bit selfish."
As her glance dropped at little, Fred stepped in front of her and bent at the knees slightly, so he was forcing her to look into his eyes.
"Hermione Granger, you most certainly were not being selfish," he said firmly. "You started talking to me because you thought it would help me. If that comforted you in the process, then that's great. You just said it yourself, everyone deals with grief differently. You dealt with it in your own way, and there is nothing wrong with that."
"But it upset your family!" she insisted, her eyes bright and rimmed with tears. "Molly was so angry with me, and I kept on talking to you anyway! I did it more, as a matter of fact! And it wasn't even my way of dealing with things, it was –" Her gaze dropped further down, and she muttered something in a tone lower than Fred could hear.
"It was…?" he prodded.
Hermione sighed loudly, for what already seemed like the hundredth time in such a short period.
"It was my mother's way. I tried my best to take care of you the way she took care of my father. Visiting you started as a once a week thing, but the frequency just kept increasing to the point where most of my free time was spent by your bedside. That's how Molly found out, and why I couldn't hide it anymore. I was always there. At first, it just seemed important that you'd know someone was there for you."
She stopped for a moment to gather herself. For the last several minutes, it seemed as though there was something hanging over her head, like she was dreading getting to some part of the conversation. Fred instinctively realized that whatever it was, it was now certainly approaching.
A couple of revellers from the party inside stepped through the door they were standing near. They each lit up a cigarette, and leaned back against the wall, continuing whatever conversation they had just been having.
Hermione cleared her throat. "We should go back inside," she said quietly but clearly. "Our presences have surely been missed by now."
Fred shook his head. "We're not going back to the party until we've resolved this," he said. "As of yet, you've only answered one of my questions."
He paused, as he took a sidelong glance at the smokers, who were still chatting away to each other, and not taking any notice of his and Hermione's conversation.
"Do you want a little more privacy?" he asked.
Hermione nodded, and Fred gingerly took her hand and led her around the corner of the building. It did not escape his notice that when he touched her hand this time, she didn't recoil.
"There," he stated. "Complete privacy. So you were saying, at first it seemed important that I'd know someone was there…?"
She took a deep breath in, and kneaded her hands against each other. "At first, it seemed important that you knew someone was there," she repeated. "But eventually… eventually, well, it didn't feel like it was just for you. And it started feeling natural to do the things for you that my mother did for my father. She loves him so much, and she took such good care of him through that time. And I did the same, I would sit with you and tell you all about my day, talk about what your family was doing, I would bring in music to play for you…"
"Ah ha!" Fred interrupted.
Hermione's eyes got very wide with surprise, and the tips of Fred's ears went pink.
"Sorry about that," he apologized. "I just now suppose I finally have an explanation the same song keeps running through my head. About some rocket bloke talking about how it's going to be a long, long time…"
Hermione laughed. "That's Elton John," she said. "It was the song my mother always played for my father. It's their song. Playing music is also supposed to be good for a coma patient."
Fred joined in her laughter. "Well, that alone has answered a big question I didn't think to ask you. Thank you." As their giggles subsided, he turned serious again. "There's more, isn't there?" he asked her.
She nodded nervously. "I'd… I'd…" she stammered, but nothing more seemed to be able to come out.
Fred picked up her hand for the third time that evening. "You'd hold my hand, wouldn't you?" he asked as delicately as possible.
Her eyes seemed even wider than they had only a moment before as she looked up at him, more in shock this time than mere surprise.
"How did you know?" she asked.
"There are a couple of lingering memories from over two nearly blank years," he confessed. "Most of it is blackness or blankness, what little there is can be sketchy at best. The Muggle song you played for me was clear as day… so I assume you played it often."
Hermione nodded her confirmation.
"But I have a few… vague feelings," Fred continued. "I wasn't sure for a while. But when I touched your hand at the table tonight, I just knew. Your hand felt too familiar. It couldn't be imagined, and it couldn't be anyone else. I just knew."
He held on a little tighter, in apprehension of his next question, afraid she might run off.
"You were holding my hand when I woke up, weren't you?" he asked. He could feel her hand stiffen and try to pull away. As she started to turn away from him, he just held her tighter. "It's not a big deal. Why did you run? Why couldn't you tell me?"
"Not a big deal?" Hermione repeated quietly.
Fred didn't know what it was about her tone of voice, but it was already worrying him.
"Not a big deal?" she said again, a little louder. She turned back toward Fred, her face red and eyes suddenly rimmed with tears. "Of course it's a big deal!" she nearly yelled, ripping her hand away from his. "I didn't want to talk about this for a reason! I left you alone so we wouldn't have to! But, no! You had to corner me at your brother's wedding, of all places, and force me to get into a discussion you could obviously tell I didn't want to get into! Is this all another prank to you?"
"What?" Fred was genuinely confused at her outburst. "Of course not! Why would it be?"
"Because why else would you make me pour my heart out to you, tell you how your coma affected me, how I fought your mother to look after you, how I was the only one who talked to you, how I eventually started to fall in love with you, only for you to tell me it's not a big deal?" she raged at him, tears now starting to stream down her face.
"You fell…?" he started, but was cut off quickly.
"I didn't want this; I didn't want any of this! I didn't want you to be hurt, and I didn't want to hurt your family, and I didn't want to fall in love with you, but it all happened anyway!" Hermione was close to raving now. "So what's the joke, Fred Weasley, or is this it? Moved on from pranks to complete humiliation? Get the sad, lonely, little bookish girl to admit her feelings only to tell her that it's not a big –"
Her angry tirade was halted as Fred's mouth came crashing down on hers, the motion and her astonishment almost knocking her backwards into the brick wall of the reception hall. Her confusion and her naturally analytical mind initially started trying to rationally process what caused this action, until she realized that Fred's tongue was now gently caressing her own, and decided to abandon rational thought for the time being.
His arms wrapped around her waist, holding her tightly, as though he feared her escaping him, despite the fact that she was responding in kind to him. Fred softly bit at her lower lip before attacking her mouth again with a nearly violent intensity. He was almost worried for a moment that he had come on too strong. He was so enthralled to have this chance to be alone with her, to hear her unexpected confession that he found himself getting carried away and was concerned he was going to scare her off by being too forceful. His fears were quashed, however, when he heard her sigh happily and fist her hands into his shirt. This was all the encouragement he needed to carry on, and he held her even tighter.
They didn't break apart for what felt to both of them like several minutes, until both their lungs could know longer take the burning need for air any longer, and they reluctantly, tenderly broke apart.
Her mind now regaining some focus, Hermione managed a one-word question as she caught her breath. "Why?"
"I saw you leave, and you didn't come back," Fred started, looking her directly in the eye. "Not while I was recovering, and not after that. I don't think I knew everything from when I was in the coma, but somehow I knew something was missing. I didn't know why, but I suddenly needed you by my side. I wanted to see you there every time I woke up, but for you to never run off again. I didn't understand it. We weren't so close before, you know? Then suddenly, I wake up after having lost what I'm told was two long years of my life, and all I know is that it feels like a part of me is missing, like there's an emptiness inside of me that won't go away, and I just keep hoping to hear your voice, to feel your hand in mine."
He stopped talking for a moment to take both her hands in his, and press them to his lips.
"I can't explain everything, Hermione," he continued. "I can't tell you how my feelings for you grew like you tell me yours did. I just know that after I woke up, I wanted you by my side, and to never leave it. I don't know, maybe it's not horribly romantic, but it's all I can tell –"
This time he was cut off by Hermione standing on her tiptoes and pressing her lips against his. His arms began to wrap around her back again, but she broke the kiss.
"I won't," she stated simply.
"You won't what?" Fred asked, heart plummeting with the sound of a negative statement approaching.
"Won't leave your side," she answered bravely, licking her lips quickly. "As long as you want me, I'll stay."
"How can you be sure you'll want to?" he asked, cursing himself inwardly for doing so. He wanted to whoop with joy over his newfound good fortune, but knew he wouldn't want to be hurt in the end.
She smiled warmly at him, something he felt he could very easily get used to. "I can't explain everything either," she answered. "But I know. I just do. I've watched over you for two years when some would argue you weren't keeping any company at all. I look forward to keeping your company while you're awake."
He grinned. "And maybe, eventually, also while I'm asleep?" he asked, waggling his eyebrows.
"Cheeky!" she said, playfully swatting at his shoulder. "But yes," she mumbled, cheeks turning a bright pink.
Fred laughed, and leaned in to kiss her again, just on the cheek this time, in order keep himself in check. "We'd best be going back inside," he said to her. "Our presence may have been missed by now."
Hermione nodded. "You're probably right," she agreed. She grinned at him shyly. "Would you maybe like to dance when we get back inside?"
"Love to," he answered, and he took her hand again.
As they walked hand-in-hand around the corner of the building and through the doors of the reception hall, Fred made a mental note to apologize to Oliver. While he was fairly sure Hermione was far lower-maintenance than Angelina, he knew that he would gladly comply with any request she had just to see her smile at him. He was looking forward to being love's bitch.
A/N: I don't usually put my author's note at the end, but this was my very first ever challenge fic, and I didn't want to spoil what the challenge was! It was sent to me by the fabulously talented worldsapart. You should check out Words, the challenge fic she wrote. It's so wonderful. Hope you like this story! And if anyone can tell me how to source links in these documents, I'd be super grateful! (I'm a bit of a layman.)
Here were the terms of the challenge:
Story length: one-shot, minimum 2500 words
Ship: Hermione/Fred (I'll be nice)
Details: post DH except epilogue (haha, okay, not so nice!), must feature Oliver Wood as a secondary character, be centered around a big event (wedding, funeral, birth, or at the very least a party), and have a credible reason for why Fred's alive without explicitly stating it ("Fred was alive because of blah blah...")
Extra Credit: incorporate the following quote, "I may be love's bitch, but at least I'm man enough to admit it." (And double extra credit if you can place the quote!)