AN: Yes, indeed, it is an update! I know it's been over a year since the last chapter, and for that I apologize. I truly do intend to finish this fic even if it takes a lifetime : p I thank all of you who have stuck with me this far and hope the payoff is worth it in the end : )
Chapter 13: Please Come
Fred had never been one to worry much before a date. His first had been a ridiculous attempt at moving towards adulthood; the day spent holding the sweaty palm of a Ravenclaw girl until she'd run off to meet her friends at the Three Broomsticks and he'd gone to find George at Zonko's, wiping his hand on his robes. Even his more serious romantic endeavors had all come naturally to him. But this was different. This date with Hermione was a do or die situation, and he didn't fancy dying just yet.
"Do you think Madam Puddifoot's will be any less nauseating, now that we're older?" he asked George.
"I seriously doubt it. Hand me that case?"
Fred levitated the box of Trick Wands in his direction, waiting until his brother had it in hand before continuing.
"Maybe I should go more personal? Like a picnic at that park she likes."
George shrugged, obviously bored by the conversation that had been going on for nearly an hour without any kind of resolution. "I don't know mate. What'd you two do on your first first date?"
Fred sighed. "Nothing all that romantic, really. She picked up some take-out and brought it over here while you were out with Donna."
"Yes, Donna. If you ever meet a pushy redhead at a pub, just walk the other way for all our sakes."
"Duly noted... Was she hot?"
"Hermione? Of course she is. But don't go getting any ideas."
"No you nitwit. I mean Donna."
"Oh. You certainly thought so… will think so. According to you she was a 'real wildcat' if you know what I mean."
George got a lascivious grin on his face.
"Don't even think about it," Fred warned. "It's not worth it, trust me."
"Fine, fine. So anyway, I don't suppose Hermione is up for just dropping by the flat for some one-on-one time, this time around?"
George stepped down from the ladder he'd been balancing on, dusting off his robes. "Okay. Well what other memorable dates did you two have? Maybe somewhere you went for an anniversary?"
"We used to go to casual restaurants, the park, a few Muggle places. Oh! Zoological Garden! It's perfect. George, you're a genius!"
"Obviously." He rolled his eyes as Fred clutched him in a brief hug before running off to plan everything out.
Fred decided to take a chance and not tell Hermione where they were going, which she of course huffed and fussed about when he spoke to her by Floo, but she still agreed to meet him at the Burrow anyway.
Fred arrived right on time the next morning and he immediately regretted agreeing to meet her there. Ron was sitting on the porch and there was no way to avoid him without being obvious about it. Instead Fred decided to keep things positive and just move on from things. Now that Hermione was willing – if not perhaps eager – to see him, Ron seemed far more tolerable.
"Hey there Ronnikins." He moved to ruffle his brother's hair, but Ron quickly dodged away.
"Knock it off. I really don't feel like dealing with you."
"Oh, come on." Fred stopped, leaning against one of the worn, wooden support posts. "I don't want to fight with you. I know you're angry, but can't we move on?"
"She's my girlfriend!" Ron spat, glaring at him icily.
"She was, for a few weeks, and now she's not. Deal with it."
"Like you dealt with her suddenly not being your wife?" His sarcastic tone made it perfectly clear that he still didn't believe Fred.
"That's completely different and you know it. You had a misguided crush on her that you never got over. I love her with all of my soul. Don't compare it."
"Whatever. She's inside with Mum. Don't think she's been running around getting pretty for you or anything."
Fred chuckled, his joy over going out with Hermione acting as a buffer to Ron's attacks. "Of course not. I don't need a high maintenance girl like that."
Before Ron could retort, he made his way inside. As Ron said, Hermione was with his mother, the two of them standing by the fireplace in the sitting room.
"And you're sure you're alright dear?" his mother was saying as she fussed with Hermione's robes.
"Yes, I promise. It was my decision, after all."
Fred had to smile at his mother's behavior. She loved all of her children mightily, but she was capable of caring for her semi-adopted children just as vehemently, even if it meant siding against her own biological child.
"Don't worry," Fred interrupted. "I promise to take good care of her."
Seeing he had arrived, his mother quickly made an excuse about having dishes to do and disappeared into the kitchen.
He was relieved to see that Hermione greeted him with a smile, but after looking at him for a moment, she frowned. He felt his heart rate quicken, wondering what could have changed her mood. Was Ron back? He chanced a glance behind him but saw nothing. Turning back around, frustration was evident on Hermione's face.
Fred swallowed hard. "What is it?"
"I knew this was a bad idea," she muttered, shaking her head.
"What?" He jumped forward, gripping her shoulders as gently as he could manage. "No, no, no, no, no. Definitely not a bad idea. I mean, at least give me a chance to muck it all up before you back out, please."
Hermione blinked rapidly, shaking her head. "Huh? Oh, I'm so sorry." She gave his arm a squeeze. "No, I didn't mean that at all. I mean this." She gave her robes a tug, then gestured to his muggle jeans and t-shirt. "I knew I should have made you tell me where we were going."
Fred breathed a sigh of relief. "Oh, that." He hadn't thought to tell her they'd be going to a muggle attraction. He smacked himself mentally for his lack of foresight. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm so used to us wearing muggle clothes when we go out… back, y'know, in the future…" He trailed off awkwardly.
"Yes… right." She glanced back down at her clothes. "I guess I should change then. Could you at least give me a suggestion on how I should dress? I don't know if I should be wearing overalls or a ball gown."
He chuckled. "Definitely no ball gowns required. I wouldn't take you to some stuffy place. Don't worry, this is gonna be fun. Just dress casual."
"If you say so." She rolled her eyes, obviously still not happy about being kept in the dark.
Minutes later Hermione was back, this time wearing jeans and a pink t-shirt with the text "I Believe in Magic" silk screened in glittery red.
"Are you trying to give us magic folk away?" he asked.
"Oh shut up."
"Shall we go?" He extended his arm, reaching with his other to draw his wand.
Hermione groaned. "Oh, can't you just tell me where we're going? I really dislike Side-Along Apparition."
"Don't be a spoil sport. I promise I'll be gentle."
She looked at him apprehensively. "I don't know. You're not exactly known for smooth Apparitions. People can usually hear you from a mile away."
Fred smirked. "And you really think that's from a lack of skill? Au contraire; it takes a lot of talent to make a crack that loud." To demonstrate, he Apparated to his old bedroom, the crack echoing through the house. He popped back to Hermione in an equally loud fashion, grinning smugly.
"Mmm, yes, impressive," Hermione intoned as if it was anything but.
Fred sighed dramatically. "She still doesn't believe me."
Not waiting for a response, he Apparated again, this time appearing right behind her soundlessly. He held back a snicker as she stood, waiting for him to come back. He was about to explain to her that he'd perfected gentler Apparition for her sake back when they were dating – surprise locations being a running theme in his courting of her – but held his tongue. Instead, he merely tapped her on the shoulder.
She spun around, eyes narrowed. "Did you Apparate into the kitchen? If so, I'm impressed. I actually didn't hear you."
"Nope." Fred grinned and pointed to the floor beneath his feet. "I landed right here."
"You did not!" she gaped. "Even I couldn't pull that off."
"So little faith." He Apparated again, reappearing soundless on her other side.
Hermione stared, open mouthed.
"You shouldn't stand like that. It's unbecoming."
Hermione blinked, her mouth still open in an o.
"Nothing to be done for it," Fred sighed, his heart pounding as he leant down to kiss the corner of her mouth. Her lips immediately closed and he shifted to kiss her fully this time. Her hands came to rest on his chest, which he thought was a good thing until he felt her pushing him away.
"I'm sorry!" he yelped, hands in the air as he backed away. "Too fast, too much. I shouldn't have."
She eyed him warily, bringing her fingers up to touch her lips for a moment. "I'm sorry," she murmured. "I- I just wasn't ready for that."
They stood in awkward silence. In the kitchen pots and pans clanged around noisily. Fred was willing to bet his mother was just around the door frame.
"Uh, should we go?" Fred asked.
"Yes. Let's." Her tone was cordial and distance.
"Okay." He began to extend his arm, then paused and retracted it. "Dudley Zoological Garden."
"That's where we're going. So you can Apparate on your own."
"I'll see you there?"
Seeing that she was still shaken, Fred Disapparated as quickly as possible. Reappearing just outside the Zoo, he prayed Hermione would actually follow.
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