Summary: When the relationship you thought would last forever comes to an end, do you avoid a new chance or do you take the risk and move forward? Hermione/Fred Submitted for the Twin Exchange October Challenge.
Author's note: Thank you to my betas Johnathan, Shelley, and Kristen who helped make this story better. Thank you Johnathan for always answering my random Harry Potter trivia questions.
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or s'mores.
Twin Exchange October Challenge:
Pairing: Hermione/Any Weasley = Hermione/Fred
Quote: "Is that the best you can do?"
Are You Ready?
Hermione paced in circles a mere 100 feet from the Burrow. The cape of her muggle witch costume swished around her legs with each turn. The matching pointy hat was nearly wrinkled beyond recognition from her fidgeting.
From the lights and noise in the distance, she knew that the Halloween party was in full swing. Soon everyone would start to wonder where she was, and she felt certain that one Weasley in particular would be able to spot her by the light of the full moon.
And so she took a deep breath and willed herself to move forward.
Inside the Burrow, Hermione waded through the throng of people to find her friends. The house was full of the usual excitement and laughter magnified ten times by the party.
"What are you wearing?" teased Ginny from the chair she was sharing with Harry.
Hermione finally reached the pair. "Mum insisted that my appearance at her party include a 'normal' costume and suggested a witch." She ripped off the cape, quickly stuffed the material into her hat and hid everything behind the chair.
Harry chuckled, "You could have borrowed my broom."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "I think the foot brace would have given me away."
"Too bad," a voice came from behind her, "You would have won the costume contest if you had flown around the room a few times."
Hermione's breath caught in her throat for a moment, as now happened nearly every time Fred looked at her, stood near her, spoke to her, placed his arm around her shoulder, or did anything in her general vicinity.
The question that had been plaguing her for weeks once again entered her mind: "Can I take this risk?"
Breathing deeply, and hoping that Ginny hadn't noticed anything, she smiled off the thought. "You assume that I would have been able to fly around the room without falling."
"A fair point," Fred conceded. He moved to stand in front of Hermione now and stared intently at her face.
"Can I help you with something?" asked Hermione while trying very hard to ignore how close Fred was.
"I can't find them," he stated simply.
"Can't find what?" Hermione swallowed hard.
"The warts that muggles always include in the witch costume."
Hermione grinned and sighed. "Lucky for me, my mum's idea of a witch costume was open to some interpretation. Lucky for you," she took the opportunity to point her finger into Fred's chest, "I remembered to bring the ingredients for s'mores."
Hermione pulled the graham crackers, chocolate bars, and marshmallows out of her bag.
"Some more of what?" asked Ginny, immediately making Hermione feel like she was trapped in a bad children's joke.
Harry answered for her, "It's a delicious muggle treat involving lots of chocolate and gooeyness. You'll love it."
"'Mione mentioned them to me once and said they were necessary at any camp fire event," Fred added while inspecting the sweet treats. "George is starting the bonfire as we speak. I'll go run these out to him."
As Hermione became aware that she had been tilting toward Fred's now vacant position, she caught Ginny's eye. The girl was obviously analyzing the scene that had just occurred.
Thinking only of escape, Hermione said, "I'll go see if Mrs. Weasley needs any help in the kitchen."
Hermione spun so quickly in the opposite direction that she missed Harry's nod to his fiancé as his whispered, "Go."
Ginny caught up with Hermione in the hallway. "So you've finally realized it," Ginny stated simply.
Hermione feigned confusion. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Ginny pulled Hermione into a quiet corner. "You two have been building up to this for over a year."
Hermione tried to move past her, but years of Quidditch had given the petite girl surprising upper body strength. Hermione was trapped in a conversation that she desperately wanted to avoid.
Ginny continued mercilessly. "One year of lunches in Diagon Alley leading to dinners after work and eventually meeting over the weekend. One year of smiles and laughter, lingering looks and touches that straddle the line between friendly and flirtatious. One year to realize why he is here with you."
Hermione's shoulders slumped and she found it difficult to meet Ginny's relentless stare.
"And now I see the changes in you, too. I see how you react to his presence, and how you subconsciously lean into his touch. Admit it."
Hermione's eyes grew glassy with tears. "Fine," she replied with a harshness that widened her friend's eyes. "A few weeks ago I realized why Fred was spending so much time with me and how very patient he's been since Ron and I ended. And not long afterward I…I realized that I have the same feelings for him."
"Then why aren't you with him right now?"
A painful tear slipped through. "I'm just not sure…"
"Hermione, in the age-old game of 'he loves me, he loves me not' you have picked the 'he loves me' flower petal and you care for him too. What is holding you back?"
She spoke through her teeth. "I'm scared."
Ginny glanced around to make sure no one was listening. "I don't understand."
Hermione scoffed, "Of course you don't," then sighed. "You got the perfect relationship on the first try."
Understanding dawned on Ginny's face. "Is that all? You can't compare —"
"'Is that all?"" Hermione quoted back, begging her friend to relate. "I've picked the 'he loves you' petal before. Ron and I were supposed to be perfect for each other. Our relationship had been building for nearly seven years, longer than yours and Harry's. Everything felt natural and right and as we expected. Then it all fell apart and we did nothing but frustrate each other. If we had waited any longer to end it I'm not sure we would have kept a friendship."
She leaned back against the wall and caught a glance of Ron talking with Neville and Luna in the kitchen. From there he couldn't see the tracks running down her cheeks; he waved hello to her, which she returned with a nod.
She turned back to Ginny. "How can I take the chance when I know that a nice start does nothing to guarantee a great finish?"
While Hermione dried her tears, Ginny hugged her. "I can't promise you anything, no one can. But when you worry about the future all the time you aren't really living. If you really care about the person then I think it's worth the risk of pain and disappointment later."
Ginny squeezed her friend's shoulder. "I'm going to grab Harry and find a good spot near the bonfire, but not too close to the twin pyromaniacs."
Hermione took a few minutes to compose herself before joining the crowd migrating to the backyard. There she found Fred and George exactly where she expected them to be, at the front of the throng with a roaring bonfire behind them.
She worked her way to the front in time to catch the end of her friends' conversation.
Fred winked at Hermione but spoke to the engaged couple, "We thought about moving the part to a graveyard —"
George finished, "— but didn't want Harry to have flashbacks all night."
"Very funny guys," was the reply from the boy who lived.
Ginny answered in her own way by punching both of her brothers in the arm.
"Too soon?" asked George as the twins backed away.
"Weren't you going to show us some of the fire tricks you learned while nearly burning down your flat?" Harry deftly changed the subject and Hermione's focus at the same time.
"We did not come close to burning down our flat," Fred defended.
Hermione laughed, "No, you only created a fireball so large that you were completely disconnected from the floo network, and by then no one else would let you practice with their fireplace."
"Yes," George added, "somehow every women connected to the Weasley family knew about our fireplace in less than an hour and banned us from their house until after Halloween."
"The Weasley women are not fools," agreed Ginny.
"You mean every women except 'Mione banned us," corrected Fred with a grin.
"You still allowed them in your flat?" Harry's surprise was ebbed by Ginny and Hermione's continuous laughter.
"Of course. I only had to keep some guards around my fireplace whenever Fred dropped by. The one time he tried a trick when I wasn't looking, the flame spell bounced right back at him."
Fred gingerly touched his forehead. "I didn't have eyebrows for over a week."
"And we're supposed to trust you with a bonfire? I would very much like to have all my hair by the end of this evening," said Harry while looking more dubiously at the twins.
"Fear not, we are now accomplished fire masters," declared George with his chest puffed up and chin held high.
"Well, let's see your show then," said Ginny.
"Our pleasure," the twins said together, taking a deep bow.
Fred grabbed Hermione's hand as he and George moved toward the bonfire. "'Mione, wish me—are you all right?"
Hermione grinned, thinking that of course Fred would be the only one to notice the red tint in her eyes left from the tears.
His thumb began stroking her hand and her heart beat reacted in kind. She squeezed his hand in return. "I'm fine. You go on. You don't need my good luck wish."
"Stand with Harry and Ginny. George made sure to put them in the safest possible position in the front." With one last glance, the mischievous twinkle grew in Fred's eyes and he ran to meet his brother.
The group of friends and family watched as Fred and George formed shapes and animals with the flames. But Hermione only watched Fred.
Hermione saw dinners with Fred, where he eagerly listened to her day and proudly described the newest products he and George had developed.
Hermione saw the long walks and talks that had become their weekly Saturday tradition. She saw how he could always tell when she was upset and knew how to make her smile.
Hermione saw how she had slowly become very close to this man who had somehow passed through all of her defenses, inched into her comfort zone, and connected to her.
Hermione saw how she had not only allowed this to happen, but welcomed it. She looked forward to every time they met. She melted into him every time he touched her. Her heartbeat quickened each time she felt his eyes on her, as they were now.
"Is that the best you can do?" Ginny teased her brothers.
Hermione heard George announce their grand finale.
"Are you ready for this?" Fred seemed to ask the crowd, but his eyes never wavered from hers.
And she suddenly knew the answer.
She slowly nodded her head up and down. Fred's re-grown eyebrows rose so high they nearly reached his hairline and a smile filled his face.
George nudged Fred and they set off a fiery dragon that blazed a path along and through the group. The trail created several pockets, including a little niche for Hermione and Fred.
He ran up to her, wasting no time wrapping his arms around her waist. "Does that nod mean what I think it means?"
Her hands gripped his arms and traced the lines up to his neck. "It means that I have fallen in love with you."
The instant after the words left her mouth a searing kiss took their place.
And as the fire died down, no one noticed Ginny whispering into Harry's ear, "I always knew that she'd be my sister-in-law."