Author's Note: Here it is- the end. I combined this chapter with the epilogue. I hope you guys enjoyed this story as much as I did. I appreciate all the feedback you've left for me, and I want to especially thank those of you who've been with me through Overclocking and Timelines and this. I almost feel as if I've had a mini fan-fiction revival with these stories, and I've been blessed to have some of you say such kind and encouraging words to me. So without further adieu, here's the final installment.
Chapter 14: Weasley's Witch Wooing
"Bloody hell, Hermione," Ron exclaimed, throwing down a large postal bag that was slung around his shoulder. The loosened drawstring made way for a large number of bundles to come spilling out, all decorated with cards. "Who the hell are all these from? It took three owls to carry this."
Hermione, who had arrived at the Burrow just ten minutes ago, after having spent her break until now with her parents in France, took one of the packages and saw the note attached. Parkinson. She took another. Reynolds. Another. Levy.
"It's from students," Hermione said, her face lighting up as she looked at the two dozen boxes and many more cards that were in the bag. "I can't believe it."
"I told you you'd be popular," said a familiar voice from the doorway.
Hermione looked up immediately and had to do a double-take to make sure it was really him. He'd grown out his hair. It was nearly shoulder length now and shaggy. His hazel eyes sparkled in amusement, and she had to admit that he looked fantastic in his periwinkle jumper and his distressed jeans. His hands were in his pockets, and he smiled at her charmingly.
"Popular is one thing, but this is mad," Ron said, snapping her out of her admiration. "What'd they get you, anyhow?"
"I'm not opening them until tomorrow," Hermione replied, gathering the presents in the bag again and pushing it off beside the tree in the living room of the Burrow.
"Why not?" Ron asked incredulously. "Normally when admirers send you gifts, you open them up right away and donate them."
"It's different, because it's the students who sent these," Hermione said, rolling her eyes at Ron. "There weren't parcels delivered to the balcony of my flat. This is Hogwarts post, from my students."
"Someone's protective," George said, appearing in the doorway next to Fred, a baby boy sleeping soundly in his arms, his wife appearing next to him, too.
"I'm not protective," Hermione huffed.
"Just a bit sentimental," Fred teased.
"Lay off of her, you two," Angelina said, coming over to greet Hermione by wrapping her up in a warm hug.
George came over next, and Hermione took the time to inspect their infant child, who had beautiful caramel skin and sparkling brown eyes, just like his parents. It was the first time she'd seen George or Angelina in over eight months.
"Harry and Gin coming?" George asked quietly, settling into one of the sofas with his wife.
"Not until tomorrow, I think," Hermione said thoughtfully. "They're keeping Andromeda company tonight."
"Teddy's excited about that, I bet," Ron said with a grin, settling down next to Hermione on the floor. "He's been a bit down since Albus was born. He thinks Harry won't have time for him anymore."
"That's rubbish, isn't it?" Hermione asked. "Not that you can explain that to a child."
As their Christmas Eve morning went by in quiet conversation, Hermione found herself unable to stop looking at Fred. She hadn't seen him in so long, and he didn't seem to be uncomfortable at all. There wasn't a trace of awkwardness from him, nor any sort of hint that he was aware of the fact that they hadn't seen each other in so long.
She was so put off by this that during the course of the morning, people had to repeat themselves when speaking with her, because she'd become lost in her own thoughts. She sort of knew what he was up to through Ginny and Ron, but she still craved something more. It didn't help that the second she'd seen him, her heart started beating wildly. She wanted to touch his hair. It was so different, so luscious, so healthy and wild. He looked fantastic, and she wanted to tell him that.
She also wanted to thank him in person for the birthday gift he'd sent her - a Weasleys' Wizard Wardrobe, which she'd used almost daily to change out of her teaching robes. More than that, she wanted to be alone with him. She wanted to ask him if he regretted telling her he didn't want to see her, but she knew she didn't have the galls to ask it even if given the opportunity. She also wanted to apologize again for everything she'd done. She wouldn't have minded getting an update on his life from him either. She knew they were together now because it was Christmas at the Burrow, but would he be up for restarting their friendship?
Had enough time passed that they could now resume speaking? Or was she such a horrible person that he no longer wanted anything to do with her permanently? Was he being friendly now out of necessity or because he'd forgiven her?
If she had to be honest, she realized about a week into her hiatus from him that what she felt wasn't out of loneliness. She'd been in love with him. As much as she tried to forget that love and move on, she couldn't. After she and Oliver had split up, it wasn't him she missed. It was Fred. She'd thought about him every day of the past eight months. She missed his laugh, his wit, his voice, his touch.
"How's Oliver?" Angelina asked, after she'd finished interrogating Ron about his new girlfriend, a new Auror who'd gone to Durmstrang.
"He's good," Hermione replied absently. "He's been seeing this witch from Bulgaria - Viktor's manager. Viktor tried to teach him how to wish her a Happy Christmas in Bulgarian, and it was the funniest thing I've ever heard. Viktor even laughed, and he's usually so patient."
Hermione laughed when she remembered Oliver's mangled attempts at speaking Bulgarian. She reckoned his Scottish accent made it impossible for him to speak anything properly, as she'd had no problems telling him. He looked so offended, and that made it even funnier.
Hermione, however, was the only one laughing.
"Oliver's been seeing someone else?" Angelina asked curiously.
"Yes, since November sometime," Hermione replied. "Really nice woman. They seem happy together."
"Hermione and Wood split ages ago," Ron said helpfully, and Angelina finally nodded in understanding.
Hermione looked at them curiously. She thought that Oliver, Fred, and George were close. She found it odd that the Weasley twins didn't seem to be aware of his relationship status.
"You didn't know that?" Hermione blurted out. "Ollie didn't tell you?"
"We haven't spoken to Wood in a long time," George supplied evenly, staring at Hermione meaningfully.
Her eyes widened in understanding, and she felt her stomach drop. Oh Gods. It was her fault. She'd torn apart a friendship, and because Fred and George were brothers, she'd torn apart another as well.
"Who wants to run out for some milk and eggs?" Mrs. Weasley called, poking her head into the living room.
"I will," Hermione volunteered, jumping up so quickly and rushing out the door that she only heard half of Ron's smart-arse comment about her eagerness.
Unlike last year, this year there was no snow on the ground, and the sun was shining brightly, although it was still rather cold. She knew the path to the Muggle village and hoped that the woman who ran the shop there would be willing to open up for her again this year. Hermione willed herself not to focus on the revelation that Fred, George, and Oliver were no longer close, and instead focused on pulling her Weasleys' Wizard Wardrobe out of her pocket and requesting something that wouldn't look out of place among Muggles. She wasn't surprised when her blue coat appeared. She didn't get to wear it a lot, so she took advantage of the times when she was able to.
"Hermione," she heard behind her.
She automatically slowed her pace and allowed the person who'd yelled out her name to catch up. It was George Weasley, wearing a long, black peacoat. He was smiling when he reached her, and he combed his hand through his short red hair.
"Did you need me to get you something as well?" Hermione asked awkwardly.
"No, I wanted to come with you," he said with a small laugh, urging her onward.
"Why?" she asked bluntly.
It seemed that the closer her relationship with Fred had become, the more her relationship with George deteriorated. This had gone on until the point when she and Fred decided to longer speak, and then George and Fred were on the same page, both of them hating her. She had some insight into why that was, but it didn't explain why he was here now.
"Here I thought we were friends," George said with a laugh.
"We were, yes," she agreed, continuing to walk through the forest.
"Yeah, alright," he said, keeping up with her stride. "I deserved that."
"It's not as if I set out to hurt anyone," she said quietly. "And I think I've gotten all that I've deserved. The only happiness I get out of life these days is teaching, and unless you can find someone better to replace me, I'll not sacrifice that."
"Whoa, Hermione," George said, as if trying to calm a bucking horse. "I dunno where that came from, but no one's suggesting anything of the sort."
She calmed down a bit from her sudden anger and nodded, walking forward stiffly.
"I don't really have a legitimate reason to be shouting at you either," she admitted. "I just didn't want to be attacked on Christmas Eve after things have finally started to settle down, and I've spent a few days in a row not crying myself to sleep every night."
"You've been..." he trailed off. "I didn't think you were the sort."
"I haven't done that regularly since Ron left while Harry and I were tracking Horcruxes," she said, "but I was overwhelmed, and crying is a manifestation of that."
She felt him stop in his tracks, and she mimicked the motion. She turned around and locked eyes with him. He looked uncomfortable, which worked fine for her, because she felt uncomfortable. It was odd, because she felt as though he was struggling to say something, and in an instant, she realized what it was. It was the same thing she was struggling with as well. She wanted to apologize to him for ruining his friendship with Wood, for causing strain between the bond she thought was impenetrable (the one between Fred and George), for hurting his best friend, and for anything else she might have done that impacted him. She could see in his eyes that he hadn't been intending to attack her. He wanted to apologize for treating her so coldly over the past several months. He'd never been outright hostile, but he'd been cold, for sure, and she had no doubt that his opinion was the only one that Fred really took to heart (aside from Molly's, which wasn't provided as the woman thankfully knew naught of the situation), and he was most likely a driving force in Fred no longer speaking with her.
Maybe it was the Christmas spirit, or maybe he missed her as a sister the way she missed him as a brother, but it seemed that George and Hermione were on the same page about reconciling, at least.
"I really hadn't meant to hurt anyone," Hermione repeated weakly. "And if I can do anything to fix things between you and Oliver, I'll talk to him. I'll do anything necessary."
George nodded, then looked at her strangely. "I'm surprised you're still on good terms with Wood."
She couldn't help the laugh that escaped her lips. It was odd, she had to admit. To an outsider, anyway. "Oliver and I both made mistakes, and we've gotten past them."
"But you're no longer together," George stated.
"No," she said, laughing again. "I can't say whether it was the mistakes we made that caused us to fall out of love with one another or if we weren't meant to maintain the great love we once had. There's no use in dwelling at this point. The fact is that neither of us feels the way about the other that we once did. Since we admitted it, it's taken much of the strain out of our relationship, and we've become great friends again."
"Tell me one thing, then," George requested, still looking at her in disbelief. "If you're truly finished with Wood, then why haven't you spoken with Fred?"
She swallowed a lump in her throat and shrugged, finally breaking eye contact. "He told me he didn't want to speak to me, and I respected that. It was the least I could do."
"But you haven't moved on, have you?" he asked bluntly.
Hermione bit her lip and continued looking at the ground. After all of these months, his mere presence in the same room had caused her heart rate to increase, her breathing to become shallow, and her throat to become dry. Nor could she stop herself from looking at him at every opportunity. Of course it was obvious to George, who always had been the most perceptive Weasley brother after Bill.
"You should tell him," George urged, catching her by surprise.
She furrowed her brow and blinked up at him in confusion. "Why would I do that? Me not moving on doesn't mean I'm going to keep him from doing so."
"He hasn't moved on either," George said with a frown. "Fred has a hard time moving on. He's stubborn."
"I know he's stubborn," she said sadly. "That's how I know he was serious when he told me he wanted nothing to do with me."
The words still echoed in her head. It was hard for her to stay away from him, and she knew if she showed up at his doorstep, he wouldn't turn her away. She was too close to their family, and he was too kind-hearted. But it wasn't what he wanted, and she wanted him to heal. He deserved better than her, and she was going to do everything she could to ensure that he was able to move on from her.
"I know what happened the night he said that," George said darkly. "It took months of prodding, but he told me."
"Oh?" Hermione asked, blushing at the thought of Fred repeating what she'd drunkenly said. She didn't remember much of what she'd said before the potion to sober her, but if what she'd said after was the sober bit, then she didn't even want to know.
"He only said what he did, because he thought you and Wood would patch things up, get engaged, and live happily ever after," George said. "I thought that much was obvious."
"I told him that Oliver and I were falling apart regardless of what happened between us," Hermione said, shaking her head. "There was no way that he could think breaking off all contact with me was going to change how I felt."
"Way," George said, crossing his arms. "And he's been pining ever since. You can ask poor Ginny how much he harasses her about you, and she refuses to tell him anything. Says to talk to you himself."
"But he didn't," she pointed out, following his example and crossing her arms. "So he must be serious."
"I don't know which of you is more stubborn," George groaned in exasperation, shaking his head and looking up at the sky. "Look, Hermione, how is it you feel now?"
"The same as then," she said, equally frustrated with the situation. "I love him. I'm in love with him. I've been in love with him since... February, probably. And if anything's changed, it's that I love him more now, because I miss him so much."
"Why don't you tell him that?" George asked. "Put both of you out of your misery."
"No," she said, shaking her head. "He's better off without me. And I'm going to listen to him, not you. And he said that he wanted nothing more to do with me."
George ogled her in disbelief for a minute straight, opening and closing his mouth like a fish as he searched for something adequate to say. He eventually gave up and stormed off back toward the Burrow.
Hermione, meanwhile, was aware that she'd still volunteered herself to go to the shops, so she marched forward, into the little town. She tried to put the conversation with George out of her head. He was wrong. He'd been wrong then, and he was wrong now.
Sure, Fred had smiled at her this morning, but he hadn't so much as looked at her since. And she knew because she'd been watching him the entire time. The best she could expect from him was his friendship, and she wasn't even sure about that at the moment.
Once she'd arrived in town, she saw the same two boys she'd seen the year before, their heads put together and looking at an auto magazine. She couldn't help but smile. To her surprise, they looked up and recognized her as well, waving in a friendly way.
"Good morning, boys," she said with a smile, walking over to them. "Do you know if the shop's open?"
"I think so," Collin said, looking over to his friend for confirmation. The other lad nodded. "Fred and George not with you this time?"
She looked at them incredulously and snorted in laughter. "You mean you aren't terrified of them anymore?"
"No, miss," Collin said with a grin. "We used to think they practiced black magic, and our mums told us to stay away from them, but then one day Fred came by and explained everything to me."
"Did he, now?" she asked, plastering a smile on her lips as if she knew what he was talking about.
"Sure," Michael said. "They're great scientists, and they thought we'd appreciate preview of the newest technology."
"Yes, that would explain everything, wouldn't it?" she asked, her grin spreading across her face.
"Fred even came by and gave us new computers in apology for scaring us," Collin said excitedly, opening up his bag and revealing a sleek, black laptop. "Said you'd told him off for trying to scare us and that he'd better explain himself properly."
"Did he?" she asked, unable to stop herself from becoming misty-eyed.
Fred had taken her words about messing with Muggles to heart and had made things right with the poor lads. And he'd done it out of good will, not to impress her. He'd never even told her about it. The thought made her smile uncontrollably.
"You'd better run along, miss. She might be closing for lunch soon."
"Thank you, boys," she said, bowing her head to them and heading to the shop.
Once Hermione returned from her shopping adventures and deposited Molly's goods safely in her hands, Hermione returned back to the living room, where Ron was cradling his new nephew, who'd woken up but was still in a somewhat sleepy state. Angelina, it seemed, hadn't been sleeping well lately, as she had fallen asleep with her head in George's lap. He was stroking her hair when Hermione walked in.
"You're back!" Ron exclaimed, in his finest baby voice, before he coughed awkwardly and repeated, "I mean... you're back" in a much more masculine voice.
"I am," she confirmed with a small giggle. She looked around. "Where's Fred?"
"He's at the Diagon Alley shop," George supplied helpfully. "According to Ronnie-kins, anyway. He was already gone when I got back."
"D'you have a lot of unfinished work?" she asked, chewing on the inside of her cheek.
"There's always work to be done, but there's nothing pressing, no." George said, looking straight into her eyes, staring as if he could see through her.
"I never got to tell you, but with the new quills - they're fantastic. And Verity did a great job presenting them to the professors as well," she said, because she didn't know what else to say.
The quills she was referring to were the ones they'd been working on for almost the past year, the ones that were her Christmas present. They'd been available to students in the September term, and while it didn't make everyone magically pass, it was good for struggling students who worked hard and overachievers who wanted to excel even further. And it cut down her grading by half. Through a partnership with Hogwarts in which Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes volunteered a fifth of their profits, the quills were distributed and sold directly inside of Hogwarts, and all students had them as a standard part of their needed supplies now.
"Thank Fred. He tackled that project on his own," George said simply.
She continued to chew on the inside of her lip, before she huffed out a breath of air loudly. "Maybe I will."
"Good," George said, a mischievous grin on his face. "And take Angelina's watch. It'll get you past the apparition wards."
Her eyes widened as George carefully unclasped his wife's watch and handed it to Hermione.
"But if anything happens to it, it's both our heads," George said seriously. "She loves that watch."
Hermione nodded solemnly, bade goodbye to Ron who was oblivious to everything but his baby nephew, and walked outside the Weasleys' home and past the fence. Hermione stood thinking about the interior of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. It'd be odd apparating directly into it, as that task was usually impossible, but with the help of Angelina's watch, which was charmed to work as a sort of key, she opened her eyes and found herself exactly where she'd imagined herself to be.
Hermione pocketed the watch carefully and listened for any sounds of life. From up the stairs, she could hear loud squealing. Furrowing her brows, Hermione jogged up the stairs and arrived on the first level of the labs. She saw that the wall was opened to reveal the inner workspace, although there was a gate placed on it which reminded her of the gates she remembered keeping her downstairs as a child when her mother didn't want her wandering off. Hermione walked over to it carefully, aware that the playful squealing was coming from beyond it. Once the arch was in view, she realized what was making that noise. In the center of the room, Fred was lying on the floor, a baby Pygmy Puff in his hand and five more around him, playing with various toys and waddling around.
The purple Pygmy Puff squealed in delight as Fred hugged it and gave it a kiss on the nose before releasing it. The others battled for Fred's attention, and he promised them they'd all get turns, as he took another and raised it above him, making noises like an airplane.
Hermione stood there for a while, until she could no longer contain the giggles at Fred treating the Pygmies as if they were toddlers.
"Are you going to try to sell them or keep them all for yourself?" she asked finally, stepping over the barrier.
He quickly sat up and spun around on his arse to face her.
"George won't let me keep them all," Fred said, pouting. "He says we have to put them out for our Boxing Day sale."
"Why don't you get one yourself?" she asked, sitting down on the floor and taking a pink Pigmy Puff into her hands. Its scrunched nose sniffed at her.
"It'd be cruel, I reckon, to have the little thing sit home all alone whilst I'm here," he said, as one purred in his lap. "I may consider taking a pet that could hang around the shop during the day."
"That'd be good," she said, nodding. "Minnie used to sit in my old office at the Ministry, and now she's really enjoying herself at Hogwarts. She's taken a particular liking to the Hufflepuff common room."
"I wouldn't mind a dog," Fred said thoughtfully. "They have some at the Emporium that can fly."
"Oh, I've seen those," she exclaimed. "They don't even have wings. And they've got them in all the standard breeds."
"Should get a big, black shaggy one and name him Padfoot, I should," Fred mused, tickling the little Pygmy Puff in his lap, who was unaware of its impending sale.
"After Sirius?" Hermione asked, laughing.
"Why would I name him after Sirius?" Fred asked, regarding her with a confused expression.
"Oh my God, no one's ever told you, have they?" Hermione asked, as realization dawned on her. "The Marauders from the Marauders' Map - Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs - they're Remus, Pettigrew, Sirius, and James Potter."
Fred's eyes widened, and she could see the wheels turning in his head as he registered what she'd just said. After a moment, his eyes lit up with newfound respect. "Really? Sirius, the old dog - no pun intended - all the time he spent helping us with our products, and he never said a word. And Lupin, too? Should have given him more credit."
Hermione smiled, enjoying the giddy expression on Fred's face. Although it was sad that he'd never get to see his mischief-making heroes again, they were remembered in fondness, and that made her glad.
"I've got it, you know?" she asked, snapping him out of his slack-jawed awe.
"Got what?" he asked.
"The map," she said, her eyes twinkly mischievously. "Harry told me to hang onto it. He was afraid James would eventually find it in his desk and knick it from him, so he told me to keep it."
Fred gasped, as if it was blasphemous to keep the map from a mischief-maker-in-training, despite the fact that said mischief-maker was barely walking and talking. "How very..."
"Parental?" Hermione asked, laughing.
"Yes, that's the word!" Fred said, tutting and shaking his head. "You aren't using it to help your patrol, are you?"
"No," she answered, a small smile on her face. "I think it'd be wrong to use the map for authoritative purposes."
"Good," Fred said in grim approval. "The map is only meant to be used for trouble."
Hermione couldn't help but laugh at how serious Fred sounded when speaking of the map.
"Are you laughing at me?" he asked, in outrage.
"I cannot help it," she said, trying to contain her giggles.
Fred glared at her, throwing a Pigmy Puff her way. She easily caught the little critter, who was squealing in joy. Hermione sat him on her knees, watching as he climbed up her hands and arms until he got to her shoulder. He perched there, nibbling her ear.
"How'd you apparate in, by the way?" he asked, looking at her curiously.
"Ahh, that," she said, her face flushing a bit. She put her hand in her pocket and withdrew Angelina's watch. "George gave me Angelina's watch."
"George did," Fred repeated, as if the idea was something incredible. "Why would George give you his wife's five-year anniversary gift?"
"He didn't give it to me," Hermione said, pursing her lips, but cradling the watch more gently now that she realized George wasn't kidding when he said it was important. "He let me borrow it, so I could come see you."
"Despite the fact that I told you I didn't want anything more to do with you?" he asked her incredulously.
Her blood ran cold, goosebumps covering her entire body despite the fact that she felt as if all the wind had been knocked out of her. How they'd gone from joking around about the Marauders' Map and Pygmy Puffs to him reminding her of the words that had left a stabbing feeling in her heart for months now was unknown to her. But she knew he was right.
She'd been encouraged by George's words, and for a moment, the thought flittered through her head that he'd sent her here as revenge, to get her just desserts, but remembering George's eyes, and just knowing the man and how kind he was, she knew he'd never do such a thing on purpose. Not to Hermione. Or to anyone. Fred might, she mused, but not to anyone he cared about or ever had cared about. George had honestly thought they would reconcile if he sent her there. He was wrong.
She felt stupid for standing there, for forcing herself into his workspace when he'd come here to avoid her. He'd been cordial to her at the Burrow, and that was more than she expected already. She should have taken it at face value and been grateful for it instead of letting herself get her hopes up and thinking he had missed her even a fraction of how much she'd missed him. She felt so, so stupid.
"You're right," she said, standing up and putting the protesting Pygmy Puff on the ground. "I don't know what I was thinking." She turned toward the door and stepped over the threshold. "I'm sorry. It won't happen again."
"Wait a second, Hermione," Fred growled, standing up and following her out of the room. "You're not getting away that easy."
"I already apologized," she said, turning toward him but not meeting his eyes. "I can't do much more. I can't go home. I promised Molly I'd stay for Christmas."
"I want to know why you came," he said, ignoring her previous statement. "Aside from George giving you the ability to."
"I don't know," she said feebly, not sure if she knew the answer to that herself.
"You do," he said, catching her off-guard with a small chuckle.
"I do?" she asked, swallowing hard.
"You do," he repeated.
Fred stepped closer to her, so close that she could smell the scent of pine; he'd been leaning against the tree, and it must have rubbed off. He raised one muscular arm and took one slender finger and brought it to her chin, forcing her head up to look at him. He was wearing a smile across his full lips, his eyes dancing with mirth in the dim light coming from the other room.
"I know how stubborn you are," he said, holding her jaw in place to keep her from opening her mouth in protest, "so you must have really wanted to see me if you came despite me having told you not to."
She tried to look away, but he lifted her jaw even higher, forcing her to continue gazing into his eyes. She felt electricity shoot through her entire body, her face flushing. The smile on his lips disappeared, as his eyes shot to her mouth, becoming dark and stormy.
"Tell me why you're here," he urged.
She stayed silent. He'd just said it, hadn't he? She wanted to see him.
"Tell me," he growled. "Tell me honestly."
"I love you," she mumbled.
"What?" he asked, staring into her eyes intently. "I didn't catch that."
"I love you," she said angrily. "I've missed you every day. I think about you every day. I saw you at a Hogsmeade weekend through the window and nearly burst into tears. A student snapped me out of my trance. I would have stayed standing there, in the snow, the entire day, just because I wanted to watch you. Seeing you today took my breath away. I wanted to touch your hair. I wanted to kiss your lips. I wanted to breathe in your scent. I love you so much that it hurts, and I buggered it up once. And I've thought about it non-stop since then. I have to try one last time. I know it's selfish of me, but I have to. I only have myself in this world, and I have to try to do what makes me happy, and nothing's made me as happy as you can make me. I love you, Fred Weasley. I love you. That's why I'm here. Because I love you, and I want you, and I know you don't want to see me, but if you would just give me another - "
He cut her off with his lips crashing into hers. It seemed that he'd had enough of her ranting or was moved to action by it (she didn't know which, but she didn't care). His lips burned against hers with such a familiarity that it was hard to believe she'd only had them against her lips once before. His hand clutched her jaw roughly, and she wouldn't have doubted it if a bruise was developing. His other hand moved behind her back and pulled her toward him so that her abdomen was flat against him. She could feel his hardness already fighting against the fabric of his jeans. Her neck began to feel sore from the way it was craned upward, but she didn't care.
Her hands ran over his body hungrily, one immediately moving to his shaggy hair, the feeling of his long locks foreign to her fingers but very welcome. The other hand moved across his chest, until she secured it to his jumper, tugging possessively. His body felt so hot. Or was that her body? She couldn't tell the difference anymore.
Their clothes were discarded, the precious watch that was in Hermione's coat pocket momentarily forgotten as it landed on the floor, the base of their growing heap of clothes. The outer lab area was dark, the only light coming from the inner area, sounds of Pygmy Puffs snorting, purring, and squealing unheard over the sounds of their heartbeats and shallow breathing.
The last act of thought happened when Fred summoned a blanket from upstairs onto the floor. When he laid her down, all else was forgotten, except for the primal instincts that quickly united them, both emotionally and physically. Fred thrust inside of her, causing her to moan in bittersweet agony. He took his time, letting her adjust, and moving slowly, teasing her in a way which was much more desperate than the last time they were together. He was pouring himself into this simple act, each movement doubling as a communication, a plea for her to understand what he'd been going through all along.
No words were necessary. She understood, and she clutched onto him for dear life, opening her eyes only to look into his. He leaned down to kiss her, as his movements increased pace. Everything she'd felt for him built up with her, and she felt her core begin to tighten. She could feel every movement he was making, every finger on his hands trailing along her body, clutching her in desperation.
His hair swung with him, covering up his eyes as his mouth remained parted, his breathing quiet and shallow. Hermione reached up to move strands of ginger hair out of his eyes, before she pulled down his neck to kiss him again. He acquiesced, sloppily kissing her, leaving her mouth wet. His concentration was elsewhere, and so was hers, as she came undone.
She thrust her hips upward, calling out his name, and he followed her almost immediately, spilling his seed inside of her. Spent, he sat up just long enough to catch his breath, before he rolled over next to her. Hermione, still seeing stars in her eyes, put one hand under his head and pulled him close to her in a hug. He let her, until his forehead rested against hers.
She bent her chin upward and pecked his lips.
"That was perfect," she said breathily.
"Yeah," he agreed seriously. "It really was. 10/10. No. 11/10. My first time on a broomstick, turning Percy's hair green, the portable swamps in Hogwarts, opening up Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, and the first time we shagged - all the best moments of my life. Until now. This takes the top. A+ effort."
"I'm sorry about everything," she said, laughing at his last statement.
"I know," he said, licking his lips. "I'm sorry for coming between you and Wood. I still think if it hadn't been for me, you and he would still be together and happier than ever."
"If it wasn't for you," she said, frowning, "he and I would never have gotten back together in the first place."
"That's true," he said awkwardly, as if he'd just remembered that he was the one who'd told her why Oliver had broken up with her in the first place.
"And if it wasn't for you, I wouldn't have you," she said, a cheeky grin fighting its way onto her lips.
"That's true, too," he said, chuckling as he kissed her lips sweetly.
"Fred, I know that up until now, you didn't even want to see me, but please give me a chance," she said honestly, raw emotion spilling into every word.
He sat up and pulled her up so she was sitting as well. "Hermione," he said, looking into her eyes and continuing, "I never wanted to not see you. I only said I didn't because I thought you'd be happier with Wood - with Oliver. After the first night we... did this, and you ran out on me, I went to Oliver's. After talking about things man-to-man, he told me he wanted you back. We concocted a gentleman's agreement. We'd both fight for you, but if anything we did distressed you, we would back off and wave the white flag. The night when you came to my flat, you were a mess, Hermione. And I said to myself, 'look what you've done, Freddy. Look at her,' and after the realization hit me that it was my fault, I waved the white flag."
Hermione's eyes widened, and her face flushed. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. Because of the way she came on, because of her own brashness and stupidity, he'd felt he needed to protect her, and that's why he'd done what he'd done - for her happiness.
"But you and Oliver aren't on speaking terms anymore," she sputtered before she could stop herself.
He regarded her with a sad smile. "It's hard to be friends with someone who's dating the girl you love."
"I want to fix it, please," she pleaded. "I don't want to be the type of girl who splits up friendships."
"I'll owl him," Fred agreed, opening his arms.
Hermione threw herself into them, not caring about her state of undress. Fred's skin felt warm and soft. "I don't deserve you."
"The feeling's mutual," he said, petting her hair. "I love you."
Her heart swelled at his words, and she pressed herself tightly into him. "I love you, too."
"But you know, I think I told you once that I don't make promises lightly, and I promised you that you were the only one for me, and that still rings true."
"Oh Fred," she said, snuggling into him. "There's no place I'd rather be, and if I have to be dehumanized into a material possession, I suppose it wouldn't be so bad to be yours."
He chuckled lightly at her. "I can be yours, too, if that evens things out."
"Yes, that sounds good," she said in a childish voice, her face still pressed to his bare chest.
"And we can take things slow this time," he said, pulling himself away from her.
She covered up her breasts with the second blanket and blinked up at him.
"We've just had sex," she pointed out, unable to stop the laughter that was bubbling in her throat from spilling out between her lips. "And we've committed ourselves to the other."
"I suppose you have a point," he said, laughing. "I guess there's nothing left to take slow. Except marriage and kids. But that's up to you, too. Whenever you're ready. You've been the girl I've wanted to marry for years now."
She blinked up at him again, feeling warm from his words, elated at the thought, and waited for him to stop laughing, a small smile on her face. "I don't want to waste any more time. I've already decided that you're the one for me."
His laughter stopped immediately, and he examined her face to see if she was serious. She was.
"Will you marry me, Fred Weasley?"
"Hermione Granger, are you proposing marriage to me in the buff?" he asked, bursting out laughing again.
She giggled, throwing her head back. "I am."
"Well alright then," he said, shaking his head in disbelief.
"Alright what?" she asked, laughing nervously. "Alright that I'm proposing marriage to you in the buff, or alright, you'll marry me?"
"Alright, let's get married," he said, a broad grin spreading across his lips. "Yeah, let's get married. Definitely. Marriage - if George can do it, then so can I!"
Hermione laughed as he stuttered through his acceptance, still shocked. Hermione brought her hand up to his cheek and bent forward, placing a gentle kiss on his laughing lips.
"But no kids for a while," she said, giggling. "Although you can get a dog and name it Padfoot after Sirius. We'll have to take Minnie with us to pick him out. She'll never approve of a dog unless she helps pick him out."
He nodded, still in disbelief, as they hugged again, preparing to spend the rest of their lives together.
Epilogue: Weasley's Wonderful Wedding to the Witch He Wooed
When Fred took her away to his flat, she insisted that they owl an apology to Molly. She wasn't going to disappear on her again. The next day, they returned to the Burrow hand-in-hand for Christmas morning. The place was already packed full of the entire family, and Hermione once again had the feeling of being late at seven-in-the-morning, because children were already tearing into presents while adults sipped coffee to try to wake up. Bill was the first to notice their joined hands, and he congratulated them quietly. This was enough to cause a mini-uproar at the Weasley house, in which Mrs. Weasley started crying furiously and wouldn't let go of Hermione and Fred for what felt like an hour, squeezing them so tightly that Hermione wondered if she was going to lose consciousness. Ginny and Harry only had room to congratulate them half-heartedly, as they had to run after James, who was managing to use a bit of impressive wandless magic to levitate his baby brother around the room. George patted his brother on the back and smiled warmly at Hermione.
Percy was the only one left out of the loop (besides Charlie, who was in Australia swimming with sharks and sting rays with his mates for Christmas), and he surprised everyone by bursting into tears along with Mrs. Weasley and congratulating them. Little Teddy, who was far too smart for his age, asked if he could be ring-bearer at their wedding, because his gran's friend's grandson, Aaron, got to be ring-bearer at his cousin's wedding, and he got a gift basket full of chocolate for being a good boy.
Mr. Weasley picked up Teddy and promised him a gift basket full of chocolate for being a good boy anyway, and then told him that Fred and Hermione weren't even engaged.
That was an awkward moment.
Especially when Hermione opened up her Christmas present from Fred and found a ring inside. How he'd managed the feat, she didn't know, but something about the way Fred and George looked at each other told her that Fred must have gone out after she'd fallen asleep last night.
Molly once again burst into tears and hugged them both for nearly another hour, ranting about the joy of more grandchildren and how happy she was to be getting Hermione into the family finally. That sentiment was quickly reduced into nagging Ron about his single status and how he even Percy was married now, to which Percy took no offense as he was too busy trying to disguise his tears.
Hermione and Fred's wedding took place the following July on Hogwarts grounds. There was a large crowd at the wedding, from Ministry officials to old Hogwarts students, to the extended family and friends of both Fred and Hermione. It'd seemed that every Gryffindor she'd ever shared the common room with had come, and to make things easier for them, they flipped coins to see who would sit on whose side. Hermione had even invited the four meddlesome Gryffindors she'd taught, who were freshly graduated, Pipers and Reynolds being the first new people to be accepted into Auror training in three years, and Gomez and Richards managing to get high enough marks to get entry-level jobs at the Ministry.
As a wedding gift to the couple, Neville had agreed to officiate the ceremony, with many Order members speaking at the reception as well. George had been Fred's best man, and Ginny was Hermione's maid of honor. Teddy was ring-bearer. Oliver had been a groomsman, and at the ceremony, he and Hermione shared a dance, where he genuinely wished her the best. He was so enamored with his girlfriend that he nearly cut the dance short so he could run off back to her, and that made Hermione incredibly happy as well. It also helped that he and Fred, though still a bit awkward, owled occasionally and went to Quidditch matches together. And she appreciated that, because she still saw Oliver from time-to-time, maintaining a close friendship.
At the reception, Ron and Malfoy had once again commandeered the spotlight by singing classic love songs together drunkenly, ignoring their dates, until the clock rang midnight, and they sought them out to kiss them, mistaking Fred and Hermione's wedding for New Year's. Much to the horror of everyone, they managed to find each other's dates instead of their own. But it all worked out in the end, as it turns out that they'd both asked co-workers as friends, and they hit it off with each other's dates more than with their own, eventually marrying them.
Hermione moved into Fred's flat for a while, until Padfoot, his flying Newfoundlander pup, became stir crazy. They bought a house just outside of Hogsmeade, which was convenient for Hermione because she taught at Hogwarts, and convenient for Fred because he worked there, and when he was working in one of the other locations, he could just apparate. Plus, if Hermione was being honest, she had to admit that she felt it safer to keep Fred away from Muggles, despite his display of good will toward the boys near the Burrow. For Christmas of Hermione's twenty-eighth year, she announced to the family that she was expecting. And in July, she was surprised when she gave birth to not one, but two healthy boys - both with flaming red hair and hazel eyes like their dad.
Hermione and Fred were much more pleased than Minnie and Padfoot were.
Author's Note: The end! I've always thought stories ending with proposals or weddings were cheesy, but I had to say 'screw it' and go for it. This is too fluffy to not have ended with a wedding and a pair of twins. Heh. Thanks for sticking this out with me, guys. If you have requests for other pairings, let me know. I want to write something else, but nothing's struck my fancy yet.