A/N: My entry for the Twin Exchange September Challenge. Enjoy!
Thanks: Go to WeasleyForMe for beta reading the first part of this in what very little spare time she has these days. Also special thanks to I'm Just Drawn That Way and Mistymist for helping me gather my thoughts enough to end this almost on time.
Prompts: A Windy Day and an Unpainted Room.
Quote: 'It's so … big'.
It was an unusually windy day, the kind of day where mothers piled layers on their children until they looked like cloth wrapped balls, and the high profile business elite pulled the collars of their trench coats around their ears in an attempt to ward out the cold.
She loved days like this, when Mother Nature breathed so heavily the trees had no choice but to bend to her will. Hermione had the ability to see the beauty in what everyone else found so uncivil and intimidating. Days like these brewed a restless kind of energy in her soul; days like these made her happy to be alive.
It was this restless energy that saw her walking down Diagon Alley. Hermione drew a very lone figure in a bleak and grey backdrop. Her curls bounced around her head like a medusas wig, but she had long given up trying to stuff it down the back of her jacket and was happy to let it roam free.
Hermione was in no hurry as she wandered aimlessly down the cobble stone street, shop owners and customers alike clicking their tongues in disapproval as she passed by. It wasn't long until she felt not one but two presences by her sides.
"Nice day for a walk Fred," George commented as if she weren't there.
"Indeed my dear brother, perfect weather …" Fred replied, tucking his naked hands in his pockets as a particularly violent gust of wind rushed passed them, causing all three to pause in their movements.
" … If you want to be blown away to another country that is," George laughed when he was able to stand upright and move forward again.
"Ha ha, very funny guys," Hermione droned, hooking her arm through George's and letting him tug her under the shelter of the apothecary shop eaves just as huge spots of rain began to decorate the path she had been on.
"Why thank you," Fred commented, oblivious to her sarcasm and obvious desire to be alone. He hooked her other arm with his and the trio continued down the street, heading nowhere in particular.
"So tell us, why are you out on your own in weather like this? You look like a mad woman," George asked, nudging her with his hip playfully.
"Didn't you know George? She is a mad woman!" Fred exclaimed over the wind causing Hermione to jab him hard in the ribs with a huff.
"I like the wind and I felt like a stroll. Do I need any other reason?" she replied, aiming her elbow at his brother, who began laughing as well, but missed him.
"So you mean to tell us this is just a mere stroll and not a secret plan to be shipped off to St Mungo's loony bin just so you can escape from our mother's lovable yet meddling ways?"
"I don't know what you mean; your mother has been nothing but kind and helpful since I moved in to the Burrow." She huffed in the older woman's defence while inwardly cringing at the truth of the matter.
"Our mother has done nothing but play matchmaker with you since you stepped back through her door. George and I have offered our spare room loads of times. I don't know why you don't just leave and live with us," Fred implored.
"Because, at least at your mothers' house I can get a full nights sleep. With you two it would be nothing but experiments and practical jokes, and I would never get any study done. It's just one more year until I will be a fully qualified healer and then I will be able to afford a place of my own." She finished with a deep fortifying breath and pushed them a little faster down the street.
The twins groaned in unison at the argument she had been having with everyone who wanted her out of Molly Weasley's clutches, Hermione would not be swayed. She tried to reason that the older woman was not only lonely, but also had trouble accepting that not everyone was made for happily ever after – she didn't mean to be so zealous in her efforts, and she would be mortified if she knew a lot of people believed her to be overbearing. Everything Molly did was based upon what she believed to be good for others; it was in her nature.
It just so happened that Hermione caught the brunt of the Weasley matriarch's enthusiasm; just this month alone she had been paired with not one but three distant red-head cousins that only served as a reminder of what a fiasco her relationship with Ron had turned out to be. But as irritating and exasperating the older woman could be at times, she couldn't help but feel a little guilty when she seriously considered betraying her hospitality and moving out with her sons.
"We should have guessed when you went out with little Ronnie," George groaned, dropping his head to her shoulder in defeat.
"Guessed what?" she asked, craning her neck to look down at his red mop but it was Fred who answered her.
"That you were such a masochist …" but the rest of his sentence (and Hermione's imminent outrage) was cut off by the screech of a large nondescript barn owl.
"Are either of you expecting mail?" Hermione asked as it became apparent that the owl was heading for them; the only occupants in the street.
"Nope," they answered, stepping back from her. Experience had taught them to not trust the mail, especially when angry parents were involved; in this case it wasn't an irate customer but a letter for Hermione.
The owl gave yet another loud screech as it dropped the heavy envelope in her outstretched palms before swooping back into the strong winds, struggling for a moment before forging on, back to wherever it had come from.
"Isn't that …" Fred began, taking a tentative step back toward her. George followed, never taking his eyes from the distinctive stationary.
"Mum's handwriting?" he finished for his brother.
Hermione had already realised this and was staring at the envelope as if it was about to grow wings and fly off on her. Whatever Molly Weasley wanted it couldn't be good or easy; if it were something as simple as picking up some sugar she wouldn't have been owling Hermione about it. Taking a deep fortifying breath she slipped her finger beneath the lip of the yellowed paper and opened it as far from her body as her arms would allow. Nothing exploded or jumped out at her so she felt it was safe to remove the letter.
"Come on Granger, what's it say?" Fred prompted, getting impatient when all she did was continue to stare at the short letter. George made to grab it from her but Hermione crumpled it into a ball and used her wand to vanish it before he had a chance to read it contents.
"She just wanted me to pick up a jar of stinging nettles for the batch of burn cream she has been brewing is all," she lied smoothly, spinning on the spot and heading back in the direction she had just come from, no longer content with her stroll in the wind.
Molly had asked her to get the stinging nettles while she was out, but that certainly wasn't what the letter was asking. She was hoping to pretend she never got any letter at all, and maybe the matriarch would believe it had just been a case of miscommunication. Hermione wasn't ready to return to the burrow just yet.
"Oh good, the apothecary is just across the street from our shop, you can come and give us a hand," George said brightly, not arguing with her obvious lie.
"A hand with what?" she asked, avoiding looking them in the eye as she let the wind at her back push her quickly down the empty street.
"Decorating," Fred smiled, taking charge and leading the small party toward the bright purple and yellow joke shop. Verity smiled and waved from the front counter as the three entered the much warmer venue, not stopping to chat as they mounted the steps on the far right of the store that would take them to the residence above.
Hermione had only ever been in the twins flat a handful of times and she was always surprised that they kept their personal space rather neat, not the shambles she knew Harry and Ron's home was on a good day. She would never have believed that all the years of Molly Weasley harping on about cleaning up their rooms would actually sink in.
Fred continued to lead the way across the wide living room with its cosy kitchenette to the side and second hand orange couches as the main feature of the room; to a tall door she had always thought lead to a second bathroom or something.
Hermione stepped into the open doorway after the two tall twins and gasped in surprise. "It's so … big," she admonished, looking up at the high arched ceiling with its exposed oak beams all the way to the south facing bay window that became the focal point of the room. Her eyes didn't know which beautiful detail to take in first.
"We used to use it when we were inventing new products, but one too many noise complaints from the neighbours and we were forced to move everything to a secluded house in Dorset," Fred explained, pulling a dust covered sheet from a massive desk that matched the room's warm wooden panelling.
"Now we just weren't sure what to do with it, and we thought you might like to help us decide since girls seem to be better at this sort of thing, and Ginny is currently too busy sucking the Boy Wonder's face off to help us." Hermione inwardly cringed as George's words bought the mental image of two of her best friends in an intimate embrace – she wasn't the only one waiting for their post war honeymoon period to wear off.
Throwing off the image, she surveyed the room again, this time seeing what wasn't there at all, "If it were me I would make it into a library," she smiled, imaging the towering shelves packed to the rafters with literature of every kind. Fred and George made identical faces of displeasure.
"We were thinking more guest room," George said slowly, as if he were afraid of incurring her wrath for disagreeing.
"But there would be plenty of room for bookshelves I suppose," Fred was quick to add when Hermione's smile began to slide from her face.
"Maybe a study, slash, spare bedroom, slash, storage room?" she suggested, thankful for all the hours she had spent watching home renovation shows with her mother over the holidays she had spent at the family home.
"There is enough space for it," George shrugged, pulling another dusty sheet off a long side board that matched the desk, it turned out there was also a matching desk chair fitted in a forest green leather and a love seat set off on the far wall. Hermione was visualising an antique style library with a loft for the boys when a loud tapping sounded on the window. It was the same owl as before.
All three sets of eyes turned to the massive bay window, but nobody moved to let the poor windswept owl inside.
"What does mum want now?" George asked, finally approaching the glass.
Hermione sighed deeply, "Probably the same thing she wanted of me."
"What stinging nettles? What could one woman do with so many bloody stinging nettles?" Fred complained as he went to help his brother pry open the stuck latch.
"No, not stinging nettles you idiots. Your Aunt Menolly is in London and is coming over for dinner with your cousin Kenny, I suppose everyone in the family was invited," she told them as they finally managed to get the window open and the owl fluttered its way inside with a disgruntled look.
"You don't think mum wants to …" George started, turning to look at her with horror.
"No, she wouldn't be so cruel," Fred said, much more slowly but his look matched Georges.
"What?" asked Hermione, her gaze switching between the two who were staring at her as if she had just been issued a death sentence.
"Mum must be off her rocker if she thinks you would be interested in Kissing Cousin Kenny," George said in disgust, practically ripping the note from the now irate bird's leg and tearing it open.
"Kissing Cousin Kenny?" Hermione repeated faintly.
Hermione entered through the back door of the burrow somewhat reluctantly, Fred and George at either side were about the only thing that kept her moving forward and not back out into the now frigid wind. She clutched her jar of stinging nettles tightly to her chest as her gaze swept the warm familiar kitchen for what she now believed to be a raging sexual predator.
Ginny and Harry sat to one side of the table, predictably attached by the mouth; Charlie, Ron and Bill sat opposite them playing some sort of card game and Luna, who had tagged along with Ron, was staring up at the high beamed ceiling almost expectantly. Fluer was notably absent, but Hermione knew from experience that the Veela suffered from migraines quite often which could attribute to her less than charitable mood at times.
Hermione practically forced herself to keep looking along the table until her terrified eyes met Arthur's sympathetic ones. There was only so much he could do about his wife's meddling while still keeping as many people as he could happy; Hermione was grateful for any interference he played when it came to Molly's attempts at pairing Hermione with a Weasley … any Weasley.
Beside the older Weasley sat the man she had been dreading meeting all afternoon. His back was to her and from what she could tell he was loosing his hair at a rapid rate and in a rather patchy manner. His hands gestured almost as rapidly as Luna's when she was excited and it was obvious to anyone else in the room that Arthur wasn't paying attention. From what Fred and George had told her about Cousin Kenny he wasn't the most interesting of conversationalists.
It took Kenny several moments to realise that his Uncles attention was not on him; he spun on his seat to see what could be so interesting behind him and his pale, almost white eyes fell upon Hermione in a less than brotherly gaze. She visibly shrank back, right into Fred's chest; a quick glance showed that neither twin had left her side the whole time.
"You must be Hermione," as the stranger spoke her eyes were immediately drawn to his mouth which was, as the twins had claimed, littered with the stale crumbs of meals gone by.
He stood, his chair scraping the stone floor loudly, and the conversations around them seemed to stop. Hermione gave Fred a pleading look but all he did was squeeze her forearm before letting go. Kenny approached her with a lecherous grin and she was forced to suppress the whimper that threatened to escape. She was a bloody war hero after all, and war heroes did not whimper when facing dirty kisses from even dirtier cousins. She may have been able to keep silent, but her body gave a deep shudder as he continued to approach her in what he must have thought was a friendly manner.
"Ye-yes, Kenny I presume?" she managed to reply with only a slight stutter to her voice. She swallowed hard and hugged her jar of nettles closer to her; it took all of her will power not to draw her wand on him. George had promised that after the initial cheek kiss she would be able to get the thought of those wet crumb littered lips out of her mind, she was beginning to think he had lied.
"Aunt Molly failed to mention how pretty you were in her letters," he complimented thickly, taking the last few steps toward her. Another deep shudder rolled through her body and she wished the floor would swallow her up; Kenny was by far the most undesirable cousin she had been set up with so far.
As he descended down upon her she was helpless to turn away, it was as if his crumbly lips had a hypnotic power all their own and she was helpless under their scrutiny. She took a deep breath as he closed the gap and squeezed her eyes shut in anticipation. Miraculously she was saved by the sound of smashing glass; it was another long heart beat before she realised she was the one responsible.
She had been so focussed on kissing cousin Kenny that she had accidently dropped her precious jar of stinging nettles. The rest of the kitchen seemed spurred into action as Fred and George swept her away from the mess, Molly and Aunt Menolly rushed from the stove to clean the mess and the rest of the table sat back in what Hermione would later swear was disappointed silence. Cousin Kenny returned to 'entertaining' Arthur, but his eyes never really left her again.
Dinner turned out to be a rather interesting affair with so many gathered. Mrs Weasley was in her element, sweeping several courses across her table ending with a spectacular dessert of chocolate dipped wild strawberries and a giant bowl of whipped cream. As Harry and Ginny hand fed each other Hermione was unfortunate enough to notice Kenny watching her intently whilst rubbing the tip of the strawberry around his lips and tongue. She shuddered again and forced herself to look away.
"Are you okay?' Fred whispered at her side, leaning over and stealing her un-eaten strawberry which was almost the size of a golf ball.
"Fine, but I don't know what your mother was thinking," she muttered, filching back her treat before he had a chance to bring it to his mouth.
"I do. You're a woman and he is a man … and a Weasley to boot. She is desperate to have you in the family, especially after you and Ron spent so long spelling out to her that you would never be together," George piped in just as quietly. The three turned their attention to the older woman as she and Aunt Menolly swapped a recipe over a glass of sherry.
"I always thought your mother was above torture when it came to getting what she wanted, but now I am not so sure," Hermione whispered, as Kenny waved by his mothers' side, giving her an exaggerated wink. His face was smeared with chocolate that she knew would not be leaving his mouth any time soon. She finished her strawberries and cream and took a deep bracing breath. Hopefully the evening would be over soon and Aunt Menolly and Cousin Kenny would be on their merry way, she began to entertain herself with thoughts of the nice long soak in the tub she would be taking later when everyone was gone.
"Hermione would be happy to do it!" a voice said from across the table, bringing her out of her happy place. She looked up to find three expectant faces looking at her.
"Do what?" she asked somewhat reluctantly. Mrs Weasleys face broke in a wide and scarily familiar grin.
"Why, escort Kenny around London tomorrow dear," Aunt Menolly hiccupped, "Molly was just telling us that you have the day off from classes on Saturdays and we thought that there would be no better way to see London than with someone who goes there as frequently as you do!"
Hermione opened her mouth to protest but she could barely make a noise when the two older women launched into a whole separate diatribe about where they could go and what they would do together as a couple about on the town. She could only watch on in horrified silence as the worst day of her life was being chatted about with much giggling and speculation; it was like watching people laughing about the fact you were being sentenced to death at nine o'clock the next morning.
Ginny caught her eye and gave a sympathetic smile before her attention was re-captured by Harry who had scooped a dollop of whipped cream onto his finger and was offering it to her temptingly. The youngest Weasley grinned, gripped his hand with both of hers and swiped her tongue across the digit in a gesture that turned out to be far too intimate for the family dinner table.
Ginny's wanton actions were good for one thing though; Mrs Weasley was now far too busy scolding her only daughter about being a proper lady to worry about setting Hermione up with Kenny anymore.
She never did get that bubble bath she had been dreaming of, infact she barely had the opportunity to shower in the morning and it was all thanks to her least favourite person in the Wizarding world, Kenny. When it had been time to go to bed he had hogged the bathroom until she had fallen asleep waiting and when she woke slumped on the edge of her bed in Ginny's old room she had found that once again it was occupied; Kenny's grating singing voice filling the Burrow in an ear splitting symphony.
It had taken the mention of breakfast to pry him out of there but this only left Hermione with a few moments to jump under the water. She was anything but refreshed when she emerged a few minutes later, rushing down the stairs and trying to tie her hair up at the same time. She was almost to the bottom when she realised she was not the only one on the staircase.
"What are you two doing here?" she hissed as Fred and George made themselves visible.
"Helping you of course," Fred grinned, tugging her pony tail.
"I am not quite sure I want your brand of helping thank you very much. I may as well just get this over with, tell Kenny that although I have agreed to take him out for the day that I am in no way romantically inclined and hope that your mother will have the good sense to give up on finding me my perfect match,"
"We have a better plan Granger," George informed her, his voice now barely a whisper as they entered the warm and crowded room. It seems they weren't the only family members that had shown up for breakfast. A quick glance out the kitchen window showed that the wind had blown its course overnight and everything was now eerily calm outside.
She returned her attention back to the table where Ron and Luna sat sharing a plate of bacon, eggs and tomatoes. Ginny stood by the stove, helping her mother cook sausages by the smell of things, while Harry looked as if he had gotten absolutely no sleep the night before. Bill and Fluer, and Charlie since he was staying with them, had yet to arrive but it was clear there were places set for them. Finally Kenny, Menolly and Arthur sat huddled to one side discussing something that had been posted in the daily prophet. It was just another cosy family scene; it was a shame Hermione didn't see it that way.
How could they all sit there, happy and content, when Cousin Kenny kept looking at her like that. It was beyond creepy, the come hither looks he managed this early in the morning, but nobody seemed to notice, or rather care because they were all directed at her.
She chose a chair at the opposite end of the table and Fred and George once again joined her on either side, like a pair of identical body guards, "So what was this brilliant plan of yours?" she breathed, as Kenny licked his (somehow already crumby) lips in what he must have felt was a provocative manner.
"Simple. We need you," Fred answered, glaring his cousin's way as he caught a wink.
"What?" she hissed, tearing her eyes away from the part man, part yet to be identified species at the other end of the table.
"What Fred said, we need you to help us-"
"With the room. You know, paint samples, furniture and all that junk. We borrowed you first-"
"Mum can have you when we are done with you."
Hermione thought about it and as long as she wasn't the one informing Mrs Weasley that she was ditching Kissing Cousin Kenny to look at paint swatches, then she was happy with that plan. She also didn't think it would work, so not much of her hope was invested in the idea. Fred and George however seemed highly confident that their plan would work, so much so that they felt safe enough to send some clever slow release pranks underneath the table that nobody would know about until they were well and truly gone.
The smell of sausages became almost overwhelming and Hermione's stomach gave a great rumble, reminding her that she had barely eaten the night before. As if sensing this, Mrs Weasley served her a double helping of bacon and gave her a blissful smile. The woman was in her element.
Bill and Charlie, as if sensing that the food was ready, chose this moment to tumble out of the floo network, covered in soot and looking as if they had ended up in an argument over who would get to go through first, only to end up falling through together. The eldest Weasley son shoved his younger brother before turning back to the fireplace, moments later his wife, looking as if she had spent the last several hours in the bathroom and with not a spot of soot on her ice blue robe stepped out. Hermione suppressed her triumphant grin as Kenny's attention predictably turned to the Veela.
The meal drew on, ending with a large platter of sliced fruit. Hermione chewed on the end of her paw paw, getting more and more anxious when Fred and George failed to make their move. Unfortunately, Kenny's attention had returned to her as soon as he realised that Bill and Fluer were somewhat inseparable and even that tiny sliver of hope she had allowed herself was beginning to fade.
"Well, we must be off then," Fred said, pushing himself from the table as the last of the dishes cleared themselves.
"Already dears?" Mrs Weasley asked, having no doubt that George was the 'we' he referred to.
"Yup, things to do, paint samples to look at. You ready Granger?" Fred continued smoothly, holding out his hand to her.
"Wait, I need Hermione to …" but Mrs Weasley began, realising what her trouble making sons' intent was, but before she could finish they have apparated away. The whole table matched Hermione's stunned expression. Nobody had been expecting that.
Somewhere in Dorchester
"Where are we?"
"Dorchester of course!" Fred cried happily, stepping away from the shadows in the building they had just apparated beside.
"What for?' she asked, stepping out into the light to survey the quaint village buildings and uneven streets. People packed the footpaths on either side as cars zoomed passed. It looked like a busy Saturday morning.
"Paint," George answered simply, stepping away from the building and merging into the crowd, Fred followed close behind. The Weasley twins didn't merge very well on any day, but with their added height, bright red hair and infectious personalities Hermione was sure she wouldn't lose them in the unfamiliar town.
"But why Dorchester?" she huffed when she finally fought her way up to them. Without even thinking, Fred grabbed her hand to keep her close. Hermione blinked down at the simple contact, confused for a moment at the unfamiliar gesture; a glance up at Fred's face showed him looking forward into the crowd as if holding her hand was just something to do – a mere practicality, which in essence it was. With a deep breath to dispel the odd feeling that had overcome her she forged on with her unanswered question.
"Why here of all places? You can get paint in London! For Godrics sake you can just …" she looked around and found nobody within hearing distance before hissing, "magic the colour on the wall,"
"Not this time, you see we have our favourite Muggle with us-" George explained in a whisper.
"So we will be doing this the Muggle way," Fred finished, giving her hand a squeeze before tugging her closer to the windows of the store fronts. They walked a bit further until all of a sudden she was tugged though an open doorway, barely managing to catch the sign that advertised paint on the front. Once inside Fred let go of her hand, she immediately felt the loss.
"I still don't understand why we had to come all the way to Dorchester," she grumbled, following them to a wall of brightly coloured pieces of cardboard.
"We needed to stop off to check on an experiment, our Dorset lab isn't far from here. If I had known you complained so much I would have left you with Cousin Kenny," George teased as he picked up a card in orange section which matched his hair to perfection.
"Your conscience wouldn't have allowed it," she huffed airily as she plucked the card from his hand and replaced it with yellow one instead. The colour was so pale it could be mistaken as white.
"No probably not. But what a show it would have been, us riding into Diagon Alley on our white Stallions to save the young damsel in distress from the dreaded kissing fiend," George laughed as he brandished his imaginary sword. Hermione grinned and so did Fred, although she did note his cheeks turn a little bit pink. She scanned the wall and found the colour that matched his cheeks exactly, slipping it in her pocket when neither twin was looking.
They ended up picking beige; it had taken nearly four hours and a lot of convincing on her part that Orange was not conducive to a good nights sleep to get the Twins to agree. The beige was one of twelve other similar shades that the boys claimed all looked identical; she had taken the time to pick the one that was just right.
She left George to haggle with the man at the desk about the ridiculous price of paint (not that George really understood the value of Muggle money in the first place) and wandered over the wall of brochures. She heard Fred's footfalls behind her and turned to smile at him.
"Thanks for saving me today, I can't begin to tell you how grateful I am," she knew she was gushing, but it was only just dawning on her now just how bad things could have been if she had been left to Kenny's devises for the entire day alone.
"George and I wouldn't wish Cousin Kenny on anyone, not even Filch, and that's saying something," Fred replied, turning that endearing shade of pink again and rubbing the back of his neck as if embarrassed.
"No, I don't suppose you would. I just don't understand what your mother could have been thinking," she sighed. She had thought her and Molly Weasley to be friends, now she was wondering if she had done something to offend her, asked to much of her in her stay at the Burrow, maybe left one too many socks out of the wash or something equally offensive to the older woman.
"I don't think she is really thinking about you," Fred said slowly, as if gathering his thoughts, "I mean she is thinking about you in the sense that she wants to keep you around but that's as far as it goes. She isn't considering your feelings about the whole matter," he concluded.
Hermione frowned, feeling like she had missed a step in the middle somewhere, "What matter? I still don't quite understand what she is getting out of setting me up with every Tom, Dick and Kenny,"
"It's obvious isn't it? Ever since you and Ron broke up she has been desperate to keep you in the family. First it was inviting you to stay for the duration of your studies and now that that is coming to an end she is becoming desperate to find some way to keep you around. You know she sees you as another daughter, so in a way I can understand where she is coming from,"
"I want her to stop, but at the same time I don't want to upset her," Hermione said quietly, looking up into the face of one of her closest friends.
"I know, none of us want to see Mum's heart broken that way. But Hermione, you can't keep putting up with this. For every cousin you reject she is just going to keep finding new ones and there comes a point where you shouldn't have to be miserable to make another happy,"
Hermione stared up at him with shimmering eyes. He had a point, but even her logical brain couldn't foresee an outcome where somebody didn't get hurt.
"Hey guys, sorry to run on you like this, but Verity just buzzed me," George called, breaking the tense bubble that had enveloped them. His wand was out and flashing in his hand, the attendant behind the desk seemed to have gone into the back room and they were left alone in the front display room.
"That's okay, go and see what's wrong at the shop and I will take Hermione with me to check on the lab," Fred said, pulling out his own wand but finding it to be its normal self. Only George had been contacted on their specialised paging system.
"Wicked, I'll take the paint and you guys meet me back at the shop in a couple of hours," George grinned and walked back to where he had left several large tins of paint, looked around to see if anyone was watching before apparating with them.
"He really needs to learn to be more cautious," Hermione muttered when he was gone, letting Fred drag her by the hand out of the shop and back onto the busy street.
"Life's short Hermione and nobody was looking," Fred dismissed and side apparated them away once again.
Fred and George had purchased a rather small cottage on the top a grassy hill in the middle of nowhere to conduct their experiments. Upon first glance it appeared to be a dilapidated pile of rubble, like it had once been a farmers' shack. It sat high up on the hill so that you could see all around for miles but nobody could really see you and was surrounded by nothing but grass. But once she really looked – passed the spells and wards that had been cast – she found it to be a very quaint residency, blooming with all manner of herbs and flowers that the Twins must have used often for their potions.
Fred led the way through the white picket fence, down what must have been the original stepping stone path and through the short wooden door. She smiled as she watched him stoop his head to get in and passed through easily herself, her height working to her advantage for once in her life.
Inside was just as picturesque as the outside. The worktops of the two room cottage were a gleaming oak; the first room which acted as a kitchen and dining area held only its original work surfaces and a massive square table that the Twins must have purchased to go with the house. Twelve cauldrons sat bubbling on the table and surrounding benches, each the appropriate safe distance apart, each with their own clipboard resting beside them. The second room she discovered was used for storing all the extra stock they needed for the store; it was a very neat arrangement indeed.
"You look surprised," Fred commented, moving away from the door where he had been watching her and toward the first bubbling cauldron on the table.
"This is … what I mean to say is," she swallowed, trying to think how to word what she was thinking without offending him, "A far cry from what I remember you two doing back in Gryffindor Tower,"
He didn't get offended, instead he laughed, his voice rich with fondness. He remembered those times too, but instead of the headache she saw it all as, he saw it as one of the best times of his life.
"Well brewing in a seldom used toilet block is now considered against Wizarding Occupational Health and Safety standards, or so we are told," he said in a teasing tone but Hermione knew just how serious he was underneath it all, one lazy slip up could cost them their business, they had all seen it happen before. Kingsley's reign as Minister of Magic had seen a great many changes, especially to the laws that focussed on small business owners, infact with all the laws and changes he had made St Mungo's was reporting a thirty percent decrease in patient admissions, a four hundred year low for them. It was progress in a world that had been stagnant for so long and something Hermione supported whole heartedly.
She walked over to his side and looked over his shoulder where he stood examining the clipboard. She recognised his neat small script and began eagerly reading what he was concocting.
"Tangle My Frizz?" she asked, reading the list of ingredients carefully again and finding that it was a slight variation on what she used to brew her own shampoos.
"Yes, it's our new line of joke shampoos. You just replace the shampoo in your victim's bottle with some of this and poof, they will have a months worth of bad hair days," he explained, giving the white concoction three counter clockwise stirs before letting it settle on the low heat again.
"Does it work?" she asked, leaning in to smell its light lavender fragrance.
"On paper yes, in practice we are still not sure. George thought we should test it out in Ginny but after the whole confetti wand incident she has been on high alert," he explained, moving onto the next cauldron.
"Did you ever think of maybe testing your products on willing volunteers?" Hermione asked, also recalling Ginny's reaction to that certain prank.
"We thought about it for a while but then realised that it would jeopardise our research,"
"Well, the idea of our jokes is that they are meant to be perfect for pranking people. It would be false advertising if we claimed a certain reaction from the victim if we weren't one hundred percent positive that we would be getting the reaction we are after. That's why Ginny is our victim so often," he went on to explain, "She always gives us the reaction we are looking for, even if that means we have to suffer the consequences. Having willing volunteer's means they know what to expect, their reactions will be useless to us because our products aren't intended for voluntary use,"
Hermione thought about this more as they methodically checked each bubbling cauldron. The little room had poor ventilation and with a dozen tiny flames keeping the experiments bubbling it wasn't long before they had to hang their coats by the front door. She didn't need a mirror to know that her hair had frizzed up as if she had been the one to test the shampoo, but at least she had had the good sense to tie it up, now only the loose wispy bits that framed her face were becoming damp and curlier than usual.
A quick glance at Fred to her right showed that he was starting to sweat as well. His light blue t-shirt now clung to his chest as he checked and re-checked the latest edition to the Skiving Snackbox range. The previous popularity of the products meant that the new one had to be better than ever, and with the release date for the new range looming Fred had explained that both he and George were feeling the pressure to get things perfect.
He caught her looking at him and smiled before turning back to the potion in progress, making notes on its colour changes since his last visit. She made her own mental notes on how his hair turned from a brilliant orange to a deep red when damp and his eyes seemed to take on a shining glint when he concentrated.
"Can you run and pick me three sprigs of rosemary from the bush just under the window?" he asked, shocking her out of her small trance, she had been counting the freckles across the bridge of his nose.
Looking down at the clipboard and not seeing it in the ingredients list she frowned but ran to get some anyway. The air was much cooler outside in and she felt instantly refreshed. Taking a moment for a few deep breaths she didn't stay out for long to dwell on the new feelings she felt surfacing for Fred – it was best not to over think these things, in case she was imagining mutual feelings that just weren't there at all.
Jogging back inside she found that Fred hadn't moved from his position over the steaming cauldron, glaring at is as if by sheer thought power alone he could make whatever the problem was work.
"Here you are," she said brightly as she placed the sprigs on the bench beside him.
"Thanks," he said, smiling back down at her. He carefully examined what she had bought him and nodded thoughtfully.
"What are you going to use them for? I didn't see rosemary on the ingredients list," she commented, realising that this particular experiment had yet to be labelled as well.
"This is something a little different we are trying out. We got the idea from a Muggle film – Charlie and the Chocolate People or something," at this Hermione had to grin, "Anyway, in it they had these treats that were like Berty Botts Every Flavour Beans but they tasted like an entire meal. George and I got to thinking that if we could re-create the idea of taste but also the entire nutritional benefits and the feeling of fullness that came with eating say an entire roast meal, that we would have found a niche market that could potentially rake in the galleons,"
"You mean you and George are using your minds to create something that's not a joke?" Hermione asked, thinking their idea was brilliant. If they were muggles they could solve world hunger with their magical beans.
"Well sort of, we intend to market them to kids who hate their parents cooking. I know every time we were sent to Aunt Muriel's for the weekend we would come home starving because all she would serve was things that no person in their right mind would consume. If we had had a hold of these beans we would have been enjoying roast lamb dinners or lasagne right under her nose,"
"So the rosemary is for?" she asked, smiling now at how clever she thought the whole idea was.
"Flavour, we have been having trouble getting things to taste just right, but the Roast Lamb dish just seems to be missing that certain something," he ran his thumb and forefinger up the stem, removing the tiny fragrant leaves as he went. He dropped a dozen of them carefully into the boiling brew and stirred it carefully again before stopping to make notes.
"May I taste?" Hermione asked as he stood back to watch it bubble.
"Sure, a third set of tastebuds may be the key to figuring this out," he said, gesturing to the wooden spoon that sat to one side.
Approaching the mix she carefully dipped the spoon in and blew on it before bringing it to her mouth. She closed her eyes and was instantly assaulted with a dozen flavours at once, all of them mixing and melding, pleasing to the tongue and filling her up as if she had jut sat down to a full meal, but he was right, something was missing. It didn't take long for her to figure it out.
"Garlic," she announced, opening her eyes and staring into his wide expectant ones. His face turned instantly from furrowed tension to utter joy, a beautiful transition if she ever saw one. A brilliant smile spread over his lips as he stepped forward and swept her into his arms with a great whoop. Hermione gripped his biceps as he spun her in wild circles around the kitchen.
"You are a bloody genius!" he cried, lowering her to her feet breathless with excitement. What happened next was neither planned, nor completely unwanted.
Fred's arms suddenly tightened around her waist, bringing her flush against him and before she knew just what was happening he had lowered his mouth to hers in a kiss so passionate it made her toes curl. He moved his lips hungrily against hers, shaping and moulding them as if he had been wanting to trace their shape with his tongue all day and already had the lines memorised. She was helpless under his relentless assault.
When Fred finally pulled back it was really only to take a breath, but he soon became lost looking into her wide brown eyes, discovering something there he had never noticed before. She watched as he licked his lips, her eyes following the path her tongue had moments earlier and she was suddenly very grateful for the set of strong arms around her waist because they were about the only thing keeping her knees from buckling.
"That's it!" he suddenly breathed, acting for all the world as if he had just solved an impossible puzzle and the answer had been recorded on her face.
"What's it?" she asked as Fred's eyes roamed all over her face and neck, drinking as much of her in as he could, it was disconcerting to say the least.
"I have to tell George," he replied cryptically, but before she could once again demand an explanation he had apparated them away.
Weasley's Wizard Wheezes
They arrived with a deafening crack, a habit Fred had developed in the beginning just to be obnoxious but now couldn't (or just plain wouldn't) break. Hermione's legs finally gave way under the added strain of being dragged through space and time by the almost incoherent with excitement red head. Fred's grip didn't slack around her waist and once again she found that she was completely reliant on him to keep her standing upright.
A quick glance around revealed they had apparated directly into the back room of the shop, something she didn't know was possible, or maybe it was only impossible when you weren't one of the twins. Boxes were stacked high against the wall, much like they had been in the second room at the Dorset Cottage and I wide desk dominated the centre of the room littered with stacks of parchment and unidentifiable objects.
Fred didn't give her any more time to get her bearings before dragging her out of the dark room and into the bright, loud and very busy store front. She had forgotten that Hogwarts were now allowing sixth and seventh years the chance to floo home for the weekend, an opportunity she probably wouldn't have utilised while she was studying due to the fact that her parents study was no Hogwarts library. But it appeared many of the students did use it and were currently spending the day out in Diagon Alley, enjoying the improved weather and the lack of wind which had blown through the day before.
"Business has certainly picked up during the off season," Hermione commented as they navigated the crowds. Fred and George's off season referred to the time when their younger demographic was holed up in a castle in Scotland. Having looked over their books for them several times she knew that they relied heavily on the summer period to gain most of their profits and spent the rest of the year developing, improving and creating new stock in preparation for the peak season. It was a system that amazingly seemed to work out for them.
"Yeah, we have trouble keeping up with the demand some weeks," he commented distractedly, standing on the balls of his feet to look over the shelves, searching for his brother. Hermione had decided not to badger him on what had him so worked up, knowing that it would most likely be revealed when he found his other half.
They saw Verity first, near the front of the store where cages upon haphazardly stacked cages of the new Rainbow Pygmy Puff's had attracted the small crowed. The clever thing about the tiny fluff balls was that when they found a mate they let out the most amazing scents, so people were now buying them in pairs meaning that they had doubled in sales since the original pink and purple release. Fred gave the stores only assistant a pointed look and she tilted her head toward the stairs that led up to the flat.
George was just bounding down the stairs as they headed toward him, his eyes went wide when he saw they were still attached by the hand, Hermione's hair even more dishevelled than usual and their clothes rumpled from the heavy snogging session of a few minutes earlier. He quirked an eyebrow at them and grinned, Fred matched the gesture and Hermione felt his hand tighten around hers.
"White Stallions George," Fred said, breaking out into a full toothy smile.
George looked like Fred had earlier, as if he had just discovered an impossible puzzle before repeating "White Stallions." He wandered off then which effectively ended the silent exchange. Hermione wanted to scream in frustration, how was it that with two little words his brother knew exactly what was going on?
"Come on Hermione, we have a room to paint," Fred announced happily, dragging her up the stairs.
"But what about the shop?" she asked, "And what do you mean white stallions? What in Merlins name is going on?"
"The shops fine, George and Verity have a handle on it, now come on or we will never get this room finished," he said, evading her other two questions and literally pulling her up step by step.
They found that George had deposited the paint tins in the centre of the room, a pile of drop sheets and several paint rollers and brushes lay beside them. Fred clapped his hands together easily and magicked the lids off.
"I knew I shouldn't have trusted him!" Hermione growled when she saw the colour. What should have been a pale beige was now a brilliant shade of burnt orange, the exact colour she had first rejected.
"We can always just change it ourselves," Fred said, trying to suppress the grin that threatened to split his face. He pulled out his wand and flicked it toward the paint. The colour remained the same. He flicked again and the results didn't change.
"Give me a go," Hermione huffed, drawing her own wand and trying a variety of spells to no avail.
"Orange it is then!" Fred announced happily a few minutes later. Hermione looked more than a little annoyed.
"I feel sorry for your guests," she muttered as she flicked her wand in the direction of the drop sheets and spread them evenly about the room, protecting the polished floorboards.
Fred picked up a paintbrush and twirled the handle on the end of his finger, showing off. Hermione wasn't focussing on his hands though, instead she was once again stuck by how appealing he was, even in just a plain t-shirt and jeans, she wondered how he would look covered in paint splatters, his biceps bulging as he tried to reach a high corner …
"Right, lets get this show on the road so that George can see for himself what a horrid choice he has made so we can change it to what it should be," she said, covering her blush as she set to work.
It was hours later and the big bay windows showed that it was now full dark. Hermione's arms, back, even her legs were aching from all they had done but even she was loath to admit that in its own bizarre way, the colour worked.
Between them they had managed to paint all four walls in several hours and they now sat side by side in the centre of the room looking at what they had achieved.
"You know, there is something oddly satisfying about having put in the physical effort rather than just using magic like I normally would have. I mean, every time I look at this room I am going to remember how hard we worked to make it like this," Fred mused, looking very pleased with himself indeed.
"It is a good feeling isn't it? Even if it is a horrid colour," she added, grinning.
"Oh come on! Even you have to admit that it sort of works – I mean, change the furniture from green to black and the whole place will look great!" he argued, flinging his arms into the air dramatically.
Hermione pretended to ponder this latest design scheme, "I suppose," she said slowly, the lazy grin forming into a full fledged smile as Fred continued to survey his handy work with pride.
"You just can't admit you love it," he said, turning to look at her, a little surprised to see that she was amused.
"I would admit it if it were true, but its growing on me I suppose," she replied, trying for a flippant tone this time.
"Hmm growing on you huh? And what would it take to get you to love it?" He asked, and she was suddenly aware that it may not just be the paint they were talking about.
"I don't know," she replied carefully, "Maybe if I spent more time in the room, got used to seeing the colour everyday and as long as it stayed the same I guess I could learn to love it,"
"I knew I could win you over," he smiled, obviously happy with her answer. He started to lean into her again and this time even though she was expecting the kiss she was still surprised when the overwhelming feeling of before returned. Earlier she had put it down to the passion of the moment, the joy of a joint discovery and the feeling of almost relief that after months of secret want things were finally progressing. She wondered if she would see fireworks every time Fred kissed her.
Neither one seemed to be in any hurry to get up off the floor, infact Hermione would have happily spent the night snogging on the paint covered drop sheets. Right now she couldn't think of a more romantic location but eventually they both had to come up for air.
"I think George needs to see how it turned out," Fred finally said, pulling back from kissing his way toward her collar bone.
"What?" she murmured, too lost in the sensations of him kissing her to realise he was talking about the room and not putting on a show for his twin brother.
"The colour, it was his choice after all," he explained, chuckling.
"Oh, yes George. Why don't you go and find him and I will try and get some of this paint you smeared in my hair out," she ordered, reluctantly pulling out of his arms to stand on wobbly legs.
Fred wrapped his arm around her waist to steady her and she welcomed his warmth again, touching him seemed to be so easy now they had gotten over the first awkward hurdle. "It's not my fault you stepped right into my paint brush," he teased.
"You could have warned me; instead you just stood there while I did it!"
"I thought the colour suited you," he grinned, kissing her nose before letting go of her again. She laughed as he swatted her behind and headed for the bathroom.
Once alone she began to ponder just what it was that was going on between them. Although neither of them had outwardly spoken of their long held romantic feelings for each other she knew that he hadn't been completely oblivious to her infatuation over the last few months, the same as she hadn't been unaware of his. It had just taken a few unwanted cousins, his meddling mother and a bizarre home make over scheme to get them to do something about it.
She took one look in the mirror and shook her paint splattered head in disgust, it was amazing he had wanted to kiss her at all looking like she did. She dug into her pocket for her wand and that was when her fingers brushed against the piece of cardboard in there. Pulling it out she found it to be the shade of pink she had discovered matched Fred's blushes, it was in that moment she also remembered what had prompted the blush in the first place.
" … But what a show it would have been, us riding into Diagon Alley on our white Stallions to save the young damsel in distress from the dreaded kissing fiend," George had said, laughing as he had brandished his imaginary sword.
"White Stallions," she muttered to herself, sitting down on the closed toilet seat. Did that mean that Fred wasn't serious? That this attention was just so his mother would leave her alone? Did Fred want her to believe that he wanted to be with her just so it was more believable? After all he had said it himself that a prank was better judged when a victim was unaware. Did that make her the victim?
She raced from the room, pink card in hand ready to confront him, if he was only doing this as a pity thing, or a prank against his own mother then she wasn't going to sit back and let him get away with it. She didn't need his help if this is how he wanted to give it.
It wasn't hard to find him, since she nearly barrelled headlong into his back where he had stopped a few stairs up from the shop, frozen. She slowed to a walk and approached his side to see what had stopped him in his tracks.
The shop was lit from the streetlights outside, casting most of the shelves in shadow. The counter at the very end of it all was exposed like a giant spotlight had been set on it and there, standing between Verity's legs was George, completely unaware that he had an audience as he made slow sweet love to the shop assistants mouth.
Hermione felt her face grow hot at the intimate scene and turned to go back upstairs, fully intending to floo right back to the Burrow to spend the rest of eternity imagining Fred Weasley never existed.
Her movement caught Verity's eye and the couple pulled away from each other, "Are you two finished up there already?" George asked smiling, as if he hadn't just been caught in the act.
"Yeah," Fred replied, clearing his throat, "We thought you would want see it considering you chose the colour,"
"Sure, come on Verity, you're gonna love my choice in colour schemes," he said, pulling the silent woman from her perch and dragging her behind him. She giggled as he threw her over his shoulder and bounded up the stairs, slapping her arse as he went.
"Shall we?" Fred asked, holding out his elbow and puffing his chest out comically. Hermione thought about snubbing him off but decided against it, if she were wrong then she didn't want to cause a rift between them on the first day. She hooked her hand around his elbow and let him lead her back upstairs.
George and Verity stood in the open doorway, staring in awe at the orange, almost copper walls. Even Hermione had to admit that it was an impressive sight at first glance; you could look past the corner that still had some white exposed and forget that Fred painted his name into one wall, which was visible at the right angle. Fred was also right, with black furniture and maybe a loft to put a bed in the room would look great.
"I told you you would love it," George whispered loudly in Verity's ear.
"Oh I do," she sighed, looking around again.
"And I told you that it wasn't even close to a decent colour for a bedroom," Hermione said, capturing his attention before he started whispering more suggestive things in Verity's ear like it looked like he was about to do. Fred snickered by her side and she shot him a glare too.
"Aww, don't be like that Mione," George moaned, dropping his head onto his partners shoulder.
"It's lucky for you it just happens to look amazing," she added, smiling when his head slipped from Verity's shoulder and he shot her and incredulous look.
"I knew there was a reason Fred has been in love with you for months," he said happily before adding, "Come on Verity, its time for bed," he scooped her up into his arms again and ran laughing toward his room leaving an awkward silence in his wake.
"So, you like it huh?" Fred said, shuffling his feet and moving closer toward her.
"Yes I like it, but I don't want to talk about that right now," she said, putting a hand up to his chest to stop him before he got any closer.
"What do you want to talk about then?" he asked.
"Us," it was his turn to groan and drop his head to her shoulder.
"No Fred, this is important to me. Is it true like George said, have you really liked me for months or is this some elaborate plan to convince your mother to leave me alone because I am happy with a Weasley now, only I wont be happy because it will have all been pretend?" she asked.
"How could you think that?" Fred asked, looking hurt.
"How could I not, I mean you and George joked about being the ones to save me earlier. And you said it yourself that a prank is its most effective when the victim is unaware, tell me I am wrong Fred, tell me this isn't a farce to pull one over your mothers eyes," she asked desperately.
"George was right Hermione, I have liked … no loved, I have loved you for months, years even I suppose. I guess that's why I didn't jump into things with you, I didn't want you to think things like this, that I was with you as a prank or that it was a just a casual fling, because its not. I truly, honestly want to be with you because I love you,"
She stared into his earnest eyes and believed him, because she wanted to and because she selfishly needed to. She slipped her hand up to circle around his neck and pulled his lips down to meet hers. She was able to show him without words what he had just told her with his, that she loved him.
Hermione and Fred moved into the orange room and were completely settled before the paint could dry.
Mrs Weasley was of course ecstatic that another of her sons had finally found love. She was also more than happy to fork over the galleons to her cousin Menolly; after all she had been the one to come up with the brilliant plan of thrusting every undesirable Weasley on the poor girl. Honestly, she knew her children could be stubborn but she was becoming desperate.
As for George and Verity, well that is a whole other story in itself.