*I do not own any of the characters or settings of Harry Potter, that would all belong to the wondrous J.K. Rowling. However, I do own the original content of this story.*

In My Veins

One: Firelight

In which our story begins on a frosty night.

His words echoed, bouncing around the walls of her mind and they were creating quite a ruckus. Every enunciation and dip of his voice sounded loudly in her ears and torched her thoughts like wildfire. She could relive seeing the way his lips formed each and every locution, the sight all too fresh in her mind's eye. His angry and hurt eyes haunted her as she fluttered her eyelids closed. A lone, stray tear slid free of her thick lashes and caught at her chin.

"He's a Durmstrang!" he had bellowed, his face burning red with fury. "You're fraternising with the enemy!" The tears, however, hadn't started to sting at her eyes until he had said those last, fateful, awful words. "He's using you! He's just trying to get close to Harry!"

His nerve astounded her. How dare he suggest Viktor had been using her. That he did not harbour any real feelings for her. He had also really miffed her by insinuating that she was actually naïve enough to fall for it. Surely Ronald knew her better than that. She's Hermione Granger, the so-called smartest witch of her time and she's just going to twiddle her thumbs as some . . . boy uses her? Those two ideas were far from being synonymous. In fact, she'd be much more likely to play in the next Quidditch World Cup and win than she would ever let herself be manipulated. Especially if she was being used against her own best friend.

Still though, Hermione could feel the deep and lingering pain of hurt dwelling just beneath the surface of her annoyance and indignation. She hadn't expected anything like this to amount from the night. She had hoped the night would move along swimmingly and that she would have a smashing time. Which she had, for a while at least. Everything had honestly been rather perfect – Viktor was charming and sweet and it tickled her that he had a knack for mucking up her name – until Ron had decided to act like a child.

Hermione had felt so beautiful and so like a girl for the first time in such a long time and it had been wonderful. She had finally let her hair down and had fun. She had even danced wildly with the twins to one pulsing, loud song and had somehow convinced Harry to save her one dreadfully awkward slow dance, but she had smiled. Smiled so much that she would not have been at all surprised to feel her face crack.

She should have known, however, that good things really do rarely last.

Ron had single-handedly unravelled all the good feelings the night had aroused within her in less than ten minutes. He'd screamed at her and made her feel as ugly as a hippogriff's arse and he had absolutely humiliated her. There had been times, loads of times really, that Ron had embarrassed her beyond belief and made her blush and wish she had Harry's invisibility cloak on hand but never in their nearly four years of friendship had she ever felt so mortified. And she hated him for it. Hated that she had been reduced to a puddle of tears and silk. Hated that she had let his seething words affect her so badly. She really hated how degraded and dirty she felt for shouting back just as loudly and uncouthly because Ron had deserved every jab for ruining her night and so she had no reason to feel guilty.

But Hermione was also just sad. The sadness had set in well after the argument, even after her tears had dried. They fought all the time, her and Ron. It was so out of hand that the good weeks and the bad were beginning to level off, to catch up to one another.

A long and drawn out sigh fell from Hermione's lips as she slumped forward and buried her face in her hands. She was a right mess now. Her delicate updo was looking more along the lines of something a bird would nest in, her make-up was smeared around her eyes from crying, and her dress robes were unbelievably crumpled. It was strange to think that she was being jealously and lustfully stared at just hours earlier when she now looked so bloody frightful. If not for the lack of logical founding, she would have been almost certain that she could scare one of the House ghosts to death with just one look.

She was alone, everyone else was either in the dorms sleeping or taking full advantage of the extended curfew and still out dancing their youth away. Hermione didn't mind though, in fact, she was quite glad no one was there to witness her messy breakdown – she had enough being said about her without adding fuel to the flames. In the solitude she could let loose and give herself over to the torrent of emotions riding her; she could let herself be a girl crying over a stupid, stupid boy; she could be a best friend raging because of another's cruel words; she could simply be Hermione Granger hopelessly devastated by Ronald I'm-a-lousy-sod Weasley.

Hermione sniffled as another stray tear broke free and she quickly reached up to swipe under her eye. When she looked down at her thumb she saw the tinge of black from either the eye-liner or mascara and let out a huff of air. It only further reiterated the idea that she looked awful, which didn't exactly make her feel all too better. She felt foolish for not seeing this coming, for not seeing Ron's reaction and anger coming when she knew – or maybe she only hoped – that he felt more-than-friendly feelings for her. Still, she could not quite make herself regret accepting Viktor's offer. Not when she had such fun and laughed so often.

Again Ron's crushed expression cropped up in Hermione's mind, the look of pure and undiluted misery gleaming in his oceanic eyes. It was the worst look imaginable like heartache and frenzy brought into harsh light. Smashing her face in her hands again, a choked noise that sounded too much like a sob caught in her throat. The heels of her palms dug into her eyes as she let the makings of guilt crash over and claim her, adding to the mass tangle of chaos already vibrating throughout her body.

A shiver rolled down her spine despite the roaring fire just feet from her and Hermione again wiped at her tears and hastily grabbed the quilt from off the back of the couch, wrapping it tightly around herself. Absently she thought that she needed to go to bed, needed to sleep off the bitterness of the night, but she couldn't move. Her watery brown eyes trailed up to stare at the flames of the magical fire. Hermione watched the blaze leap and fall and lick at the ashes laying just beneath the belly of the wood. She lost herself in the light.

Time ceased to exist as Hermione's eyes lingered on the fireplace and she had no idea how long had passed until her trance was broken, but she was suddenly aware that someone was coming. She could hear their footsteps in the hall just outside the portrait hole and then she could hear their voice arguing with the Fat Lady about the hour – trying to get inside. Finally Hermione saw the portrait swing open just from the corner of her eye and saw a flash of red hair and for a moment her heart jolted painfully before she reminded herself that this intruder was not Ron, that Ron was sleeping upstairs. This was a different Weasley.

It was too much to hope that whatever red haired menace this was wouldn't see her, she was in perfect view of the portrait hole and she was the only Gryffindor awake that was not out roaming the corridors. It was inevitable and she abruptly hated forgoing sleep.

"Granger?"

Hermione shifted back into the plush softness of the couch and pulled her legs up under the blanket, dropping her head to her knees to keep her spoiled face out of sight. She peered again out of the corner of her eyes and watched as he neared and ultimately sat next to her. It was one half of the twins, she could see, but without a better look Hermione couldn't exactly tell which but she definitely knew that of all the students in her House, she did not want to deal with Fred or George and risk being mocked for weeping over their little brother.

"G'way."

"Pardon?" he said, angling his body towards her, "I didn't quite catch that. You see, you have a little blanket and knees on your face." His voice irritated her. It was so unaffected and she swore she could hear a small smile in his words.

Hermione lifted her head up just a touch but still refused to look at him. Quietly, though discernible, she repeated, "Go away." She took the slight incline of the angle she held her head and scanned over the twin sitting next to her. He had discarded his outer robe which left him in his white oxford – of which he had the sleeves pushed up around his elbows – and black waistcoat. For a moment Hermione was struck by how attractive and handsome he looked, the firelight illuminating the angles of his face and dancing across his lips which were indeed somewhat crooked, but she quickly shook off such a thought. Slowly, her eyes trailed down the length of his frame again, the faint scar along the bridge of his nose giving her an answer as to who he was: Fred.

"Well now," he started to say and Hermione watched dubiously as he stretched out his lanky frame and made himself more comfortable. He folded his arms behind his head and rested his left leg atop his right, staring at her with the usual wicked gleam in his eyes. "Why would I want to leave such pleasant company?"

A strangled noise that sounded something like a snort of contempt crossed with another sob came from Hermione as she once more buried her face in her knees. A snappy retort hung in her mouth, catching at the tip of her tongue, but she held it back. She couldn't very well stop him from sitting there no more than she could stop him from being a wizard. And if she were being honest with herself, she didn't quite know why she didn't want him there. Moments ago she had wanted nothing more than to be alone to wallow in the pity that had arisen from the ashes of the night's events, but now she was wondering what the point of being alone was. It did not help matters that she was also far too exhausted to put up much of a fight.

So she let Fred stay.

She didn't look up or say anything for a while though and neither did he. She could feel his curious gaze on her, feel it making the hairs on the back of her neck stand at attention, but Hermione refused to acknowledge him fully. Oddly, the silence that had blanketed itself around them was not tense or awkward or even uncomfortable. The crackling of the fire before them and the soft, faint echoes of other students laughing in the halls of the castle added to the weird and easy atmosphere and Hermione felt herself relax just a bit more. She even dropped her arms to hide back under the quilt and stared in the blaze like she had been doing mere minutes ago.

Hermione had expected Fred to say something as soon as he saw the black tear stains marring her features, waited for him to crack a joke or make some offhand comment about how uncomely she looked, but it never came. Instead she heard him ask in a quiet, very un-Weasley kind of voice, "Is this Ron's doing?"

Her back stiffened. Craning her neck to look at him, she found herself staring in bewilderment at the concerned and sorry expression he wore. It made him look older and careworn and not at all like the youthful prankster she knew him to be. He had also changed his position reiteratively and had his hands clasped together laying across his legs, leaned forward in a way that she had seen Harry take up whenever something serious or dangerous was afoot. After a few minutes Hermione's eyes again found the fire and she nodded slowly, not trusting her voice while another tear rolled. A knot developed in her chest and tied itself tightly around her ribs, heart, and lungs making it almost impossible to breathe or feel anything but its pressure. She hated that his words, knowing as they were, made Ron's heated shouting ring loudly in her ears again. She hated that Fred cemented the fact that his little brother had turned her to a whimpering disarray of the person she really was.

"H – how did you you know?" she finally voiced after another allotment of time passed.

Fred sighed and she saw him run a hand through his shaggy red hair. A grim look had chased away his expression of worry. "I heard him screaming at you at the Ball," he answered in a way that suggested he was afraid of how she would react.

Hermione simply sniffed and nodded. "I suppose the entire school did."

"Dunno 'bout the whole school, but the people in the Great Hall certainly did."

"Ron always did have a knack for drawing attention."

Hermione's body sagged forward tiredly and she attempted to run her hands through her hair like Fred had done but gave an exasperated cry when her hand got stuck. Carelessly, she tugged at the shimmering clips in her hair and winced as she felt a couple strands of her hair pull away as well. The strange silence veiled the pair of them yet again. Hermione both felt and heard as Crookshanks jumped onto the arm of the maroon couch with a purring mewl of affection, his squashy face nuzzling her chin before he plopped onto her lap. At once she freed a hand and began to pat him.

"So, what happened?" Fred questioned.

Hermione gave a non-committal shrug of her shoulders, the blanket slipping down to reveal her capped sleeves and bare arms, before answering. "He's angry with me for going with Viktor."

"Is that all?" She could the frown in his voice.

"I suppose so. He said Viktor was using me to get close to Harry, y'know to find out what he knows about the egg, and accused me of being a horrible friend for fraternising with the enemy. There also might have been a few choice slurs about my 'lack of clothing' as well but I stopped listening to him after a bit."

Fred gave a low whistle. "He said all that?" he asked and at her nod of assent he tacked on a disgruntled 'git'. "Don't pay him any mind, Granger, he probably was just jealous he didn't get to be Krum's date – you've heard the way he talks about him."

Despite herself, Hermione snorted in amusement. "I wouldn't doubt if we never hear Ron talk about Viktor with awe again. He's made it quite clear tonight that he loathes that, as he eloquently put it, 'ruddy pumpkin head.'" She hiccuped with a short laugh and found herself accidentally digging her nails into Crookshank's pelt, earning a hiss of discontent, as her body began to tremble with what was either rage or woe – she could not quite tell.

Fred, feeling her begin to shake and perhaps fearfully sensing new tears on the horizon, reached out and lightly grabbed her hand. He didn't even blink when Hermione's cat batted at his arm once before jumping to the floor and trotting away. "Look at me, Hermione," he demanded in a whisper that she easily complied with, "don't hold yourself responsible for Ron's behaviour. A prat's gonna be a prat no matter what, especially when he's jealous. Now, I don't know if you know but he fancies you, my brother does, and he screamed at you because he didn't like seeing you with Krum – because he wanted to be Krum. I can't blame him, not when I would likely do the same, but I can't quite pardon it either." He fixedly looked at her as though he were trying to force her to believe him. It was not needed though, Hermione had heard the ring of truth in his declaration clear as a bell.

Hermione felt her heart rate pick up as she processed what Fred had said and noted, with some confusion, that she did not get as fluttery as she thought she would at hearing Ron's feelings. She had once thought that if she could ever hear the confirmation of his affections – even if not from his own mouth – that she would be so filled with happiness she could soar. Yet, all she felt was that same unsettling roil of disappointment that had been churning in her stomach ever since he had stormed up the stairs and locked himself in the boys' dorm.

"That doesn't really make me feel better," she grumbled when she realised Fred had been waiting for a response. "I mean, I thought that his liking me might be the reason behind his madness but when I had told him that if he was so worried about my affairs then he should find the courage and ask me for himself the next time anything like this happens he just told me it wasn't the point and left." Hermione sighed and pulled her hand free of his to cross her arms in frustration. "It was obviously the point though – why else would he act so foul? - but that doesn't make it my fault. If he had just asked me I would have gone with him, I'd ha –"

"Would you though?" Fred asked, interrupting the beginning of her rant.

"Would I what?"

"Would you have gone with Ron to the Ball? Is that really what the problem is, that he didn't ask?"

"Of course I would have, he's one of my best friends, but as it is he did not and I gave my word to Viktor and –"

"Granger, I know you aren't that thick. You don't go to the Yule Ball or any other ball for that matter with someone and expect them to still just be your friend. I'm guessing Krum made a move at some point tonight because he doesn't want to just be a good mate – he wants to date you."

Hermione fixed him with a distrustful look. "Don't be silly, Fred, no one wants to date me. I'm a frizzy haired know-it-all and that's how everyone sees me," she said coolly.

The red haired man beside her gave a rueful shake of his head and laughed humourlessly, making Hermione's brow stitch together in a frown. "There are very few people who see you like that, Granger. I know some blokes who would line up and count all the stars in the sky or some other such impossible task if it meant that they could have a go at you. No, I'm serious," he said at her pointed glare, "you're a right fair bird. But the question remains; would you really have gone to the dance with my git of a baby brother if it meant crossing that oh so tantalising line that divides friend from lover?"

Hermione's frown deepened and she idly nibbled at her thumbnail, chipping the lilac nail varnish she'd applied only hours before. Did she want Ron to have asked her? Did she want to blur that universal line Fred just spoke of and date her best friend? If he had asked her just two months ago she was absolutely sure she'd have screamed yes at the top of her lungs. Right then, however, she was unsure. Ronald's temper drove her mad most days and the fact that he seemed to not care about his academic record at all upset her, but she had always been able to see past that and see his potential. But was potential enough?

"No," she announced slowly, quietly. Hermione was not too sure if she was answering herself or talking to Fred, but the answer was clear and definite in her mind. "No, I don't think I would have said yes to him. Not if that's what it meant."

"Then there you go," Fred said plainly and leaned back into the cushions. "And honestly, I don't blame you. I wouldn't have wanted to go with him either, he's dead ugly."

Hermione smiled broadly and giggled. It was so like Fred to say something halfway serious and follow it up with some kind of joke. It was nice though and she had a sense that Fred was exactly what she had needed to offset the horrible night she had. It also gave her a somewhat twisted satisfaction that the joke had been at Ron's expense. A yawn rippled through Hermione and she stretched out a bit, popping her aching and stiff back. With her new found realisation, a flood of relief had swept through her which was then quickly followed by pure exhaustion. She just wanted to sleep for days and wake up and be done with this mess.

Upon seeing her tiredness set in, Fred stood and grabbed his discarded robe. "We both need to sleep. See you in the morning." He grabbed his robe and slung it over his shoulder as he leisurely strolled to the stairs. When he stepped onto the first two, he swivelled around and with a charming smile and shining eyes said, "By the way, you looked beautiful tonight, Hermione. I reckon you've heard it a lot at this point but mum drilled it into me that girls should hear it when a bloke thinks she's pretty." He threw a wink at her and turned around again. "Sleep tight, Granger," he called.

Hermione watched him ascend the stairs, didn't look away until some time after he had disappeared from sight, before she dared to move up her own flight of stairs. Sluggishly his words filtered through her mind as she readied herself for bed and she carefully turned each one over and over and over again until she was sure there were no hidden meanings or cryptic jokes that she had missed. Once satisfied that the compliment Fred bade her was true and heartfelt, Hermione let herself sink into the comfort of the four-poster and drifted off to sleep with a smile curving her lips.

Okey dokey! This is my first ever Fremione fic and well, I just have to say that I am really very excited for where I plan on taking it! It's going to be a long one, so I do hope you are all well prepared to read. I'm starting here because I think that for a Fred and Hermione relationship to develop there needs to be something major happen that brings them closer; Fred giving her his version of advice happens to be quite a feat because it's such a rare occurrence for him. Also, being that Hermione was quite devastated after the Ball, she's really quite vulnerable and impressions can be left on the weary so here we are!

Anyway, I hope none of you are disappointed! I'd be very excited if you felt the kindness to drop me a review and tell me what you think – I do so highly value my reader's opinions. (:

Thanks, C.