Summary: "Look at me," he gently commanded. "I Will Not Let You Fall…Do you believe me?" "I believe you." She was afraid of falling out of the sky and falling for him. Full story posted within 2 weeks.
Author's Note: This begins the summer before their 6th year. Fred and George have started the joke shop but haven't moved out of the Burrow yet.
I also have to thank my beta again. Especially for catching my metric errors. And thanks to all of my friends for their support.
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter.
Chapter 1: A New Escape
Hermione settled into her favorite reading spot on the entire Weasley property: against the old oak tree whose trunk was wide enough to hide her completely from the house. It was early yet, not quite 9:00, so she and Mrs. Weasley were the only ones up and about. Mr. Weasley had left for work directly after breakfast, Ginny usually slept until at least 9:30, and her two best friends wouldn't be showing their faces until Mrs. Weasley dragged them out of bed sometime after that. The twins were less predictable. Although George usually slept as late as Harry and Ron, Fred could be up at anytime doing anything.
For now, though, all was quite on the Weasley front. Hermione sighed peacefully again as she wrapped a light blanket around herself for protection from the cool summer morning.
She leaned back against the tree and opened one of her favorite books: Hogwarts: A History. Hermione laughed to herself, thinking what Ron and Harry would say if they saw her reading this yet again.
Hermione stopped to think about her mother's favorite book: a cheesy romance novel with a weak plot and absolutely no character development. She asked her mother about this once. "I don't read it for the literary value, dear. I read it for the pure escape into another world. Besides, you can't help your favorite book; the one that always puts you in a good mood and relaxes you."
Despite her mother's best efforts, Hermione had never enjoyed fiction. She just couldn't stand wasting time on pages that did not teach anything. But she could understand her mother's point. After all, she read Hogwarts: A History for the same reason.
"It should make sense to Ron and Harry why this is my favorite book," she thought. "It reminds me of the day I found out I was a witch, my first day at Hogwarts, and when we became friends."
Hermione finished the first page before she heard the crunching of grass behind her. Her sigh was frustrated now, combined with the thought, "Nice while it lasted."
The crunching came to a sudden stop. Soon enough Fred came tearing around the side of the tree on his broomstick. After spending several mornings this week next to the tree, Hermione realized this was a ritual of Fred's. If he awoke before any of his siblings, Fred would sneak out for a long broom-ride around the countryside.
When he took off, he never looked back and so had never seen Hermione sitting by the tree. But today, he must have known that something was different. Once airborne, he looped back, gliding low to the ground, and stopped in front of Hermione.
"You know, I'm disappointed. I thought you must be out here this early to admire my stunning physique, but here you are with a book in your lap," he smirked.
"I see your mother told you I was out here," Hermione quickly reasoned.
"She may have mentioned it," he admitted. "Do you always start your day with a book?"
"Only when I'm lucky enough to have the time," Hermione said. "But you prefer a broomstick?"
"Always. What better way to start a day then flying through a clear blue sky with the wind whipping around you?"
"Oh, I could name more than a few; all of them on the ground."
"What could you possibly have against flying, one of the most amazing, exhilarating experiences you can have?" Fred asked. The smile on his face and the glint in his eyes told it all. The air was truly a place of happiness for him.
"Gravity. My problem with flying is gravity. You know, that whole rule about what goes up must come down."
"The great Hermione Granger is afraid of heights?"
"Yes, well we all have to fear something, don't we? Mine happens to be the impending splat after falling from a very high place." She was shifting her eyes, looking for a way to evade where this conversation was inevitably heading.
"And you're not the least bit interested in conquering your fear?" Fred challenged, eyebrows raised. Hermione could feel a shift in the air as Fred's mischievousness filled the space.
Hermione stood, clutching the book to her chest, and tried to sound braver than she felt. "I've been in the air several times now on broomsticks, a hippogriff, and a thestral. Never once has it felt amazing or exhilarating."
"Have you ever tried riding with someone?"
Years later, Hermione would look back and realize that standing up was her mistake; or perhaps her good fortune.
"I rode on the hippogriff with Harry," she said nearly in a whisper.
"Well then, that's the problem." Fred stretched his arms out in front of her. "What you need is a nice, smooth broomstick ride with an experienced driver."
Before Hermione could say, "No Fred, I really don't think that's the problem," her book hit the ground and she was airborne.
"Fred Weasley you put me down this instant!" she screamed. She would have beaten him if she hadn't been gripping him so tightly. Fred had scooped her up side-saddle and she was now balancing, in her mind precariously, on the broomstick.
"You never seem this anxious while you watch us play Quidditch," he commented, clearly relishing his plan put into motion.
"Yes, well, I believe that the definition of altophobia is a fear for your own falling, not the falling of others," her voice straining more by the second. They were already five meters or so off the ground, over three times Hermione's height.
"Just relax, Hermione. Stop quoting facts and thinking rationally. Just have fun."
"That's exactly the problem, isn't it? I cannot think rationally while up this high. All I can think about is how my body will break when it hits the very hard ground."
Fred lowered the broom a few meters and slowed to a stop. For the first time, Hermione could feel that Fred's right arm was wrapped around her, holding her in place, while the left steered the broom.
"Look at me," he gently commanded. Hermione carefully turned her head. "I Will Not Let You Fall…Do you believe me?"
Fred was her best friend's older brother, a guy she'd known for years, a clever and talented wizard with ambitious plans for a joke shop, a skilled Quidditch player, and a prankster. But all Hermione knew at that moment was the broom beneath her, Fred's arm around her, and Fred's cerulean eyes staring back at her. "I believe you."
He smiled a small grin. "Now slowly move your leg so that you've got one leg on each side of the broom. That's it." Hermione focused only on his voice now. His arm was still around her waist. "Now lean back against me. Don't worry, I can take it."
"Why can't I sit behind you, instead of on this front edge?"
"Because the best part about flying for me is probably the worst part for you."
Hermione remained surprisingly calm. "Explain."
"When you fly there is nothing connected to you. Nothing is pulling you down. The sky is a place to escape from the worries that surround us constantly now."
Hermione turned her head very slightly to see him. Fred was looking at something in the distance, something beyond them. When he sensed her eyes on him, Fred stared back, his smile reaching his eyes again. His arm tightened around her, giving her a squeeze. "Freedom," she said.
"Yes, pure freedom."
They flew around the area for close to an hour. He never took her too fast or too high, or turned too quickly. Hermione found herself relaxing back into him, actually enjoying the feel of the breeze streaming past her and the smooth lines they traveled in. She closed her eyes, not in fear but in ease.
"Hmmm?" She opened her eyes and turned to find Fred trying not to laugh.
"Not so scared now, huh?"
She paused to asses her fear levels. "No, not at all, really. But then, I haven't been looking down either. I couldn't even tell you how high we are. I've just looking at the sky and the clouds."
"When your eyes have been open, you mean." A smirk accompanied the words.
She sighed. "I admit it. I felt so comfortable that I closed my eyes."
"And," Fred prodded.
She sighed again, and couldn't prevent a smile. "And I had fun."
"Exactly what I was going for. But now I'm afraid our time has come to an end. I saw Ginny come outside a bit ago looking for us."
Hermione found herself doing something she had never expected doing at the thought of getting off a broom: she pouted.
Fred couldn't hold back a laugh now. "Don't worry. We can go again soon. And next time you can try driving."
"Excellent. And Fred, if you tell anyone I enjoyed flying I'll hex you."
"Don't worry 'Mione, it'll be our little secret."
Fred gently dropped her off on solid ground and then flew the broom to the storage shed. Hermione found herself missing the feel of Fred's arm around her waist. Even more surprising, she missed his smell. At the time, she hadn't consciously noticed his masculine scent. But now that it was gone, its absence was blaringly obvious to her. And the thought of "next time" thrilled her; she could hardly wait.
Hermione began walking to the house, stopping suddenly half way and running back to the tree. She had forgotten all about the book.
Author's Note: All of the chapters are written (5 total) and I am planning to post one chapter every 2-3 days. The story is saved on several computers, so no worries. And I hope all of my fellow altophobics enjoyed this. :)