Disclaimer: I don't own any of it :( Also, a milion thanks to 93 Diagon Alley for beta reading this for me ;)
Chapter One: In which Hermione learns not to wander alone
"What are we doing here? Has something gone wrong?"
"Oh no, Ron," came Fred's voice, very sarcastically. "No, this is exactly where we wanted to end up."
"Yeah, we're having the time of our lives here," said George, whose voice sounded muffled, as though he was squashed against the wall. – Goblet of Fire
It was dull gray outside, and everything seemed faded to Hermione Granger. She really shouldn't be outside, but the trees, dancing in the cool fall breeze and the promise of rain that hung in the air just seemed to beckon her into the vast woods at the back of her house.
Now though, she was beginning to worry. She had been traveling for the last half hour, and she was now further from her home than she'd ever dared to venture before. Her mother would be quite cross with her when she returned home.
She really should be doing that, returning home. It was already past tea time, and she had never missed it before.
Where was home, for that matter?
She spun around in the woods, feeling a slight panic fill her as she realized she really had no idea where her home was. She couldn't remember if she had come straight, or if she had turned on her way up. She took a timid step forward and stopped, realizing that when she had spun around, she'd lost track of just which direction she had come from to begin with. Her mouth dropped open in a surprised exclamation of 'oh dear' and she took a tiny step back, fear beginning to fill her for the first time.
She tripped on a hidden stump and fell down onto her bum with a faint thump. She sat still for a moment, looking around the darkening woods fearfully as tears began to build in her eyes.
What if she never got out? What if she was stuck here?
A rustle behind her drew her attention away from her slightly desperate thoughts. She craned her neck sharply, frowning at whatever it was that was coming. She thought back to all the textbooks she had read over the summer. There weren't any dangerous animals in these woods that she could recall…
The rustling grew louder, and a large shrub directly behind her began to twitch slightly. With a growing sense of alarm Hermione watched the shrub quake, and then it began to shake, quite forcibly. She bit her lip nervously as the bush gave one last great shake, and then a blur of red, black, and white fell out of the bush. Hermione let out a gasp of surprise as a boy, a little older than herself, sat up, clutching what looked to be a rusty owl to his chest. He had shocking red hair, and a huge, mischievous smile. He was wearing something that looked like a dress robe, over a faded gray t shirt and black slacks. He was covered in dirt and little bits of leaf and twig, as though he had spent most of the afternoon rolling around in the forest.
He let out a loud, happy laugh and held the owl -for that was indeed what it was- out to examine his catch.
"Errol!" He exclaimed, taking no notice of Hermione yet. "You're not a Snipe! What are you doing out here? Have you seen George around?" The boy kept on chatting to the owl like it was the most natural thing in the world. As if the bird could actually understand what he was saying to him.
The boy was clearly quite unaware that she was sitting there, so Hermione remained quiet, studying him. He was extremely happy, laughing after almost every word. His smile was bright and warming, making Hermione's lips twitch in a desire to grin with him. Looking at him Hermione decided that, while he was certainly a little odd, he wasn't actually all that scary. She bit her lip nervously for a moment, and then decided to act.
"Did you say Snipe?" she asked, her voice coming out loud and ringing in the quiet forest. The boy froze at the sound of it before sitting up straighter and turning in his seat. He pulled the aged owl to his chest and studied her with wide eyes.
"Yes," he finally said, after a long moment. He had bright blue eyes that almost seemed to glow. She had never seen such beautiful eyes. Both of her parents had brown eyes like her own.
"You do know that there are no Snipes in this area," she said, recalling the fact from one of the text books she had read over her summer break.
"Really?" The boy asked, relaxing his hold on the owl who gave a grateful hoot. "My brother, Charlie, told me and George that they hid in the woods. You have to whack two sticks together and make a 'caw' sound to attract them." He explained. Hermione's lips raised up in a grin and she let out a soft giggle.
"It's a joke," she explained, when she saw his confused expression. "My uncle tried to pull it over on me. That won't attract any animals. It's a prank that adults pull on children to get them out of their hair. They find it ever so funny."
The boy's eyes widened in surprise and his mouth dropped open. "What!" he exclaimed in shock. "George and I have been had!" He hopped up, still holding the bird, and narrowed his eyes in concentration. "Just you wait, Charlie…." He muttered, sounding mischievous and excited. "George and I'll have to come up with something good for this one…" He began to wander off, back in the direction he had come from. Hermione realized he was leaving her and a sense of panic rose up within her as she realized she would once again be alone.
"Wait!" She called out, unable to hide the desperation in her voice. The boy stopped in his tracks and turned back to her, his eyebrows raised in surprise. She bit her lip nervously and stood up from the stump she had been sitting on. She once again had the urge to cry, and her eyes were starting to burn from the force of the desire. "Please, could you help me? You see, I've no idea where I am," she explained, still biting her lip as she looked at the boy. He blinked at her in surprise and studied her for a moment before a huge grin broke out across his lips.
"Of course," he declared, stepping towards her. He set the bird in his pocket and reached a hand out to her. "I'm Fred Weasley by the way."
"I'm Hermione, Hermione Granger." She said, blushing slightly. Why had her parents insisted on giving her such a strange name? Fred was such a nice, simple, ordinary name.
"Hermione?" He asked, getting the pronunciation right the first time, much to Hermione's surprise. "I like it," he declared in a decided tone. "Where do you live, exactly?"
"In Ottery St. Catchpole," she explained, fidgeting slightly.
"Oh yeah, that's the mugg-that's the village down the way," Fred said. He blushed slightly and went back into his pocket, pulling a now rumpled and agitated Errol back out.
"Do you know how to get there?" Hermione asked curiously. She couldn't help but find him fascinating. He was so extremely different from anything she had ever seen.
"Yeah, me and George have been down there with Bill once."
"Who are Bill and George?" Hermione questioned. He didn't seem to mind her questions, unlike most of her other classmates. They found her fact spewing and insistent questions rather annoying.
"Bill's my older brother and George is my best friend and twin." He said with a simple shrug of his shoulders. Hermione's eyes widened in surprise as a small smile lifted her lips.
"You have a twin?"
"Yeah, we're identical. Makes for some great mischief," he said, his eyes sparkling with mirth. He gave his head a little shake and seemed to come back to himself. "I'm sorry, follow me. I'll lead you right home." He stepped forward with a wink and headed into the trees. Hermione watched him for a moment and then walked after him.
"How many siblings do you have?" She asked after a moment. He grinned and glanced at her before looking back at where he was going.
"Six. Bill's the oldest, Charlie's next, then Percy - he's a pain, George and me are the middle, we have a younger brother, Ron, and a baby sister, Ginny. She's the youngest. "
"You have six siblings?" Hermione exclaimed, more than a little surprised. She was an only child, but she always dreamed about having siblings. It seemed like it would be so much fun to always have someone to play with, someone to stand up for you no matter what. She was often quite lonely.
"Yeah, what about you?" He asked curiously.
"Oh, I'm an only child. I do have a cousin, but he lives over in Liverpool and he's already 16…" She trailed off. Her life didn't sound as exciting as his.
"Wow!" Fred exclaimed with wide eyes. "He's ancient. You couldn't play with him anyway."
"No," Hermione said, grinning despite herself, "he isn't terribly fun to play with."
"What do you do then?"
"I read, mostly," she said after a moment.
"Read? But doesn't that get boring?" He asked, sounding as though he thought it would be torture.
"Well, I do go to school as well," she said slightly defensively.
Fred's eyes widened in surprise and he almost dropped Errol. "You go to school? I didn't think you were old enough to yet!" Hermione stopped at that and turned towards him with a small frown
"I'm nine," she said indignantly. "And I'll be ten in a month's time. I've been going to school for several years now."
"You mean you don't start school at eleven?" He asked, his eyes disbelieving.
"What - no, I started at five," she said, raising an eyebrow at him.
"Wow, no wonderyou know so much," he replied, shaking his head.
"Do you not go to school?"
"No, but I'm going to start in a few weeks."
"What do you do then? How do you learn?" Hermione had never met someone who didn't go to school.
"My mum teaches me stuff," he said simply.
"So you're homeschooled," Hermione declared, feeling better. She was quite sure it would have been illegal for him not to be in school.
"I guess," Fred said, not sounding like he particularly cared one way or another.
"How old are you?" She asked, after a moment's silence.
"I'm eleven. I'll turn twelve in April." His eyes lit up in excitement and Hermione couldn't help but smile.
"Is that owl a pet?" She asked, unable to keep silent for very long.
"Yeah. Bill reckons he was mum's in school. That makes him ancient," Fred said, holding the 'ancient' bird up with an air of pride. Hermione looked at him appreciatively. He would be old indeed.
"How ever did she manage to tame him?"
"He came like that. He'll deliver letters for us, but he's bloody slow at it."
"How does he know where to take them?"
"I'm not sure, he just does it," Fred said with a shrug of his shoulders.
The woods were starting to thin out, and Hermione realized they were nearing her house with a sense of excitement and sorrow. She was no longer lost, but she didn't relish the idea of leaving Fred. No one had talked to her for so long before. Most people found her odd, what with her bucked teeth and bushy hair. When they found out how smart and curious she was as well, they usually just gave her up for a lost cause.
Her house came into view and she found herself slowing down.
"Is this where you live?" Fred asked, looking at the brick building with a smile. She nodded her head. "Brilliant!" He smiled at her and stuffed Errol back into his pocket, ignoring the protesting hoots. "Well, I have to head back. George and I need to get Charlie back for tricking us." He offered her his hand, which she took with a smile.
"Don't get lost in the woods!" he warned, smiling cheekily at her. She blushed but gripped his hand tighter, smiling.
"I shan't, but hopefully you'll be able to find me if I do."
"Yeah." He said, and with one last wink he disappeared back into the woods.
A/N: I'm so excited to start this one :) I've been working on it for well over a month, and I'm already in love with it. It's the story I've always wanted to write, but I've not been skilled enough. I'm going to try it now, so wish me luck, and leave a review. I'm dying to know what you all think.
So, until the next chapter, enjoy this chapter and don't forget to leave a review!