Disclaimer: Oh, the usual drivel. I'm certain by this point, no one suspects I am JK Rowling, but for form's sake, these are not my characters, no profit is made from this endeavor, and I claim nothing but the plot.
"Hermione? What are you doing down here at this conveniently late hour?" came a quiet voice that still somehow managed to convey a smirk in it's tone, as Fred Weasley snuck quietly into the kitchen of the Burrow.
"Knitting booties for Bellatrix and Voldemort's first baby, naturally," she said snidely, cradling the cup of tea as if it could ward off the chill that pervaded the room. "And you?"
Fred shrugged easily. "I took the later production shift, locked up and realized George forgot to go to the grocer's and we have no food. Too late for me to go to Gringott's and get some gold exchanged, and Mum's leftovers beat the Leaky's fare any day. Here I am."
"There's more tea," Hermione said, somewhat grudgingly. "If you want some."
Fred beamed at her. "Thanks, love, much appreciated."
"Don't call me that," Hermione said sharply; more sharply than quite intended.
Fred paused, frowning a bit, then muttered a quiet, "Sorry, didn't mean to offend." He turned his back to her while he poured the tea, and then rummaged through the charmed ice box to pull out the remains of the pot roast the rest of them had eaten for dinner and some bread.
Hermione, internally chastising herself, pinched the bridge of her nose. "No, it's fine. I'm testy tonight. I'm sorry I snapped at you."
"What's eating at you then?" Fred asked, sliding into the seat across from her, a sandwich on the plate before him, his tea steaming slightly next to it.
"Why do you care, Fred?" The words were harsh, but her tone was mild, merely inquisitive.
Fred cocked his head, chewed a bite of his sandwich thoughtfully and swallowed before answering. "We're friends, aren't we? I always thought so anyway. Be a bit hurt to find out you thought differently, to tell the truth, Hermione."
Her expression softened some. "Oh, Fred, I'm sorry. Yes, we are friends. Sometimes I think you just think of me as Ron's annoying friend."
"It's been some time since I only thought of you as Ron's friend," he said in a husky voice before taking another bite of his sandwich. "So what is bothering you enough to be out of bed at this hour, alone in the kitchen?"
"Nothing. Everything. Sometimes I feel so worried I can't think straight. I don't understand why we've been thrust into the middle of all of this. I mean, of course I do; the prophecy, being Harry's friends, being a muggleborn, all of that. But it is so nonsensical, and absurd. I'm worried about whether I've gathered enough provisions in case we need to run quickly, and I don't think I have but it's difficult with your mum watching us all the time. I'm worried about what is going to happen next, about how we can possibly defeat Vol- You Know Who. And at the same time, I'm realizing that for all the years I've mooned over Ron, I don't think he and I would really make a good couple at all, and it makes me sad. Then I feel foolish, because there are so many more important things happening, and then I feel resentful because I wish I could only worry about NEWTs and the boy I like and not whether or not I'll be killed trying to defeat a self-proclaimed Dark Lord." The words seemed to tumble out of her, as if the dam she'd carefully locked her fears behind had suddenly burst. She blushed enough even for Fred to tell in the semi-darkness of the room.
"That's a lot to be circling that massive brain of yours with no release, y'know," he said amiably. "Feel any better to say it aloud?"
Hermione chuckled slightly, then sighed. "Yes, a bit."
"It's not stupid to worry about the future, er, a hopeful future. If you don't have those other aspects to your life, Hermione, then you aren't living. And the thing about the dangerous times we live in is that your life could end. Be a shame if you never lived any of it." Fred's voice was surprisingly gentle, and Hermione inexplicably felt tears prick her eyes.
"I wish that I could, Fred, but I can't. I've never really been very good at balancing things like that. You know that we, Harry and Ron and I, we have a, a mission, I guess you could say. Something that we, or Harry really but we won't let him go alone, have to do. I need to stay focused, for them, and for me."
"I'm not suggesting you skive off on a beachside holiday, Granger. I'm suggesting you ease up on yourself a bit. It's perfectly all right to try and salvage the moments you can. Like little patches of sunlight in the midst of all the uncertainty and darkness."
Her lips curved, almost despite herself. "That's poetic, Fred. Wouldn't have thought that of you."
"Oh, Hermione, sweets, there is a lot you don't know about me," his voice both tantalizingly seductive and amused.
"I expect that is probably true," Hermione said thoughtfully. "I was terribly unfair to you when we were all in school. It used to infuriate me that you skived off all the time and didn't take things seriously when you were such talented wizards. But you've done really well for yourselves, haven't you?"
"It's been a lot of work," he replied seriously. "But yeah, we've done all right, Georgie and I. I understand what you mean though, Hermione. We've had the same conversation, y'know. Why are we running a bloody joke shop when we could be spending all our time on defensive products and making things safer for our lot? But we've got to do what we dreamed of, for one, and it gives us good cover and an ear to the ground we wouldn't have otherwise. A number of our products can be used in ways that people wouldn't imagine. In fact, I'll do up a package for you lot, just in case. Can't hurt to have a few decoy detonators or some darkness powder on hand, anyway, right?"
"Oh, yes, I suppose so," Hermione stumbled over the words in surprise.
"And maybe throw in a few daydream charms, just for you?" Fred said, teasingly. "You seemed to appreciate them, at any rate. Maybe a break from reality is what you need."
"They are pretty remarkable magic, it's true," she said softly. "I'm very sorry I underestimated you, Fred."
"Yes, well, you aren't the only one, and thank Merlin. It's better for us in business deals, when people think they're taking advantage," Fred said, suddenly more cheerful, and Hermione felt as if he had pulled back from her, retreating into a persona, rather than the man who had just been before her. She watched in some confusion as he hopped up and began rummaging through the icebox again.
"What're you looking for?" she asked tentatively.
"Something sweet. Still hungry. I was hoping Mum might have some leftover cake or something," came the muffled response.
"There's pie. Cherry pie, on the stove," Hermione volunteered.
"Ah, excellent. You want some, Granger?" he asked. Granger, then, he'd definitely and deliberately moved away from her and any further personal talk. She felt vaguely disappointed, and decided to seize her chance.
"Yes, that sounds good," she said, and he brought over the entire tin, and two forks.
"Dig in, then," he said, handing her one. For a moment, they ate together in gathering quiet. "It's good."
"Yes, your mum is a good cook," she said, inanely.
Quiet descended again, and Hermione noticed Fred was merely picking at the pie. He looked a bit sheepish when he caught her eye.
"Do you really think you and Ron won't work out?" Fred asked, looking at her from beneath hooded eyes.
Hermione shrugged. "Seems sort of silly just to decide it without giving it a go, doesn't it? But I've been thinking ever since he took up with Lavender. I think I may have made him over to be my ideal, which isn't really fair to him. I don't know. He's a good friend, but I don't know that we would work well. We fight all the time, and I don't want a contentious relationship. I used to think it was passion, but I think it's really that we aren't as compatible as I might like."
"What are you looking for, then?"
Hermione let out a quiet laugh. "I don't know that I'm looking for anything right now. It's not exactly the ideal time to start a relationship, is it?"
"Well, it depends on the sort of relationship you're looking for, doesn't it? Ideal time for a quick shag, probably not the ideal for a slow-developing sort of thing, really, when you don't know what will happen next."
Hermione looked a bit wistful. "Well there you are then."
"Too bad. I was feeling rather randy, myself. There are benefits to a quick shag, y'know, 'specially for taking your mind off things," Fred said, trying to keep a straight face. The quirk of his lips gave him away though, and Hermione laughed, rather than taking offense.
"You'll simply have to settle for finishing off the cherry pie, I'm afraid," Hermione said lightly. There was a pause as she looked at Fred, her head tilted slightly to one side. In a more serious voice, she said softly, "Thank you, Fred. For listening. Even if it is a bit ridiculous of me, it helped to get it out."
Fred reached across the space between them, his fingers lightly brushing her cheek, and pushing a curl out of the way, causing her to shiver involuntarily. "Anytime, Hermione. I'm happy to listen to you rant whenever you like." Though his voice was teasing, his eyes were serious, and they held hers for a long, still moment.
Hermione's breath hitched for a moment, and Fred's hand withdrew and a jumble of confusing thoughts raced through her mind, as she swallowed the cool remains of her tea. Needing to feel active, to distract herself from too closely examining such thoughts, she jumped up and carried the used dishes to the sink, washing them quietly and efficiently.
"Well, having raided the kitchen effectively, I suppose I should get going back to the flat," Fred said, stretching.
"Right, it is quite late," Hermione agreed, smiling a bit thinly. "I should head back upstairs."
"I'm glad you were awake. Thanks for the company," Fred said, shoving his hands in his pockets, giving her a practiced sly smile.
"Likewise. Er, good night then?" Hermione said, the lilt at the end turning it into a question.
"Yes, right. Good night, then."
Hermione made to move by him, stopping near him and the doorway. They stood a bit awkwardly, and Hermione leaned into Fred, and tentatively put her hands on his shoulders in a loose sort of hug, and then she stood on tiptoe to leave a light touch of her lips on his cheek, but it was near enough to the corner of his mouth to prompt Fred into action. His hands flew from his pockets, his arms firmly encircling Hermione, and his lips touched the corner of her mouth in a less hesitant gesture. The next brush of lips were deliberate and slow, eyes locked together as they explored the idea of kissing each other warily. When neither of them pulled away or showed signs of shock or horror, they brushed lips together more firmly, their breaths mingling, their lips joining and the kiss deepening.
The moment seemed to hover without regard to time, the kiss seemed to last forever, mouths opening slightly, heads tilting obligingly, tongues meeting and retreating and exploring, bodies pressing closer together as if they couldn't get close enough. A sound of creaking floorboards broke through their quiet intimacy, startling them and they broke apart in surprise and fear. They listened as someone above them made their stumbling, tired way to the loo and did not speak until whoever it was had returned to bed, though they remained in a loose embrace.
Fred's face was curiously blank as he looked down at Hermione. She blushed a faint color in the poor light, but was the first to speak, however ineloquently. "Um. Wow."
The corners of Fred's eyes crinkled with amusement. "Indeed."
"I'm, er, not sure -" she said, abruptly stopping.
"Me either, but I don't bloody well care," he said firmly, and then his mouth on hers and this time, there was no hesitation or timidity about them. They kissed hungrily, greedily, as if this were a stolen moment they needed to make the best of while they could. Fred's hands wandered from Hermione's waist, up her side, over her arse, pulling her closer and Hermione pushed her body into Fred's until he was against a wall. One hand brushed over Hermione's breast and she stiffened slightly, and Fred immediately broke off the kiss.
"Too far?" Fred asked in a whisper.
"No," she said. Then a pause, where she rested her forehead against his chest, "Yes. I don't know. What are we doing?"
"I can't say for certain," Fred said slowly. "But I won't go any further than you are comfortable with."
"I don't want to do this here," Hermione said, biting her lip. "Whatever we are doing, it doesn't feel right to be sneaking about the kitchen, and anyone could come down anytime."
"Right. You want to go to my flat?" Fred asked, praying she would say yes. Wordlessly, Hermione nodded. "If you want it to be quiet, I'd better take you via side-along apparition. Floo will probably wake up Mum."
"Maybe I should leave a note. If Ginny wakes up . . ." Hermione's voice trailed off, and a small line appeared between her eyebrows as she worried over the problems this half-arsed plan raised.
Fred shrugged. "Sure, it's a good idea. Say you couldn't sleep and came over for company. No one but George can get in without one of us allowing it and he's not coming back tonight, not with Angelina free for a night." Before she could over-think it or pay attention to her wavering objections, she summoned a piece of parchment and Fred handed her a self-inking quill from the inner pocket of his robes and she wrote a hasty note and left it anchored in the middle of the table where Mrs. Weasley couldn't fail to see it should an alarm be raised. Quietly, they crept out of the kitchen and down the walk until they were far enough from the house that the inhabitants wouldn't be woken by apparition, and Fred grasped Hermione's hand reassuringly in his and they were gone with a muted crack.
They appeared almost instantly in a well-lit, cheerful lounge. Hermione stumbled a bit, shaking her head to clear it of the constricted feeling of pressure, as Fred gently caught her shoulder to keep her from falling. She blinked and looked around at the lounge in bewilderment. It was neater than she'd expected of the two brothers, though not overly tidy. The furniture was worn, clearly second-hand, but Mrs. Weasley had been busy with her knitting, as bright afghans and throws were layered in clashing colors and patterns about the sofa and mismatched armchairs. The small kitchen with dinette was behind her, and it was clean and clearly used for more than just takeaway and sandwiches, which came as another shock and she wondered which of them cooked. A short corridor presumably led to the remainder of the flat. Fred merely watched as she took it all in assessingly, his hand still warm and firm around hers.
"Pass inspection then, Granger?" he asked, but the mocking words were absent any tension. He seemed amused that she was confused by their housekeeping.
"I'm sorry, it's a bit rude, isn't it? It's just not quite what I expected of two bachelors living above a shop filled with explosive materials and volatile potions ingredients. Your old room at the Burrow was a lot more, erm, damaged."
Fred shrugged. "We used it for a workroom and testing room and weren't allowed to spell proof it. The workroom downstairs is pristine and we generally keep the products down there."
"Yes, it doesn't smell of gunpowder up here," she said absently. Her glance moved involuntarily to the corridor, and she bit her lip, wondering quite what she was doing there.
Fred seemed to sense her hesitation, because he released her hand to cradle her cheek instead, and leaned down to kiss her softly on the lips, as if in reminder. "Would you like to sit down?"
The relief of not having to make any sort of decision was obvious. "Yes, thanks." She sat gingerly on the sofa, but Fred didn't follow immediately. Instead he strode into the kitchen and retrieved two glasses and an unlabeled bottle of clear liquid before joining her. He poured about two inches into each glass, taking one for himself and handing her the other.
She eyed it a bit warily, before sniffing it somewhat suspiciously; it smelled faintly of flowers and vaguely of citrus, puzzling her. "What is it?"
"Dandelion wine. First alcoholic thing George and I learned to make. Pretty easy to do, really, and a pleasant, light drink on a night of this sort," he said matter of factly.
"Are you serious?" she asked, disbelief evident in her voice.
"Yes," he said patiently, sipping his drink patiently. "I told you already that there was a great deal you didn't know about me. Mum learned all sorts of homemade wines and brandies from her Grandmum Prewett and would put me and George to work helping her when we were kids in the summers. Made us think it was rather illicit, which was pretty clever when you think about it. We were too apt to sneak off and if she left out the ingredient list as if she didn't want us getting them, we'd spend the afternoons picking dandelions and elderberries and things instead of causing trouble, so she was better able to keep an eye on Ron and Ginny when they were little. We still make the ones we liked best."
Hermione pursed her lips, but took a tentative sip, surprised to find it sweet and cold and refreshing. "It's good," she said, unable to keep the surprise out of her tone.
"We don't bother with making shite, Hermione. Time is galleons," he teased.
"Of course, I'm just -"
"Underestimating me again?" he asked, a smile on his face softening his words. She looked away, but he continued. "Don't feel badly, it's mutual. I didn't think you'd come. Why did you?"
"I'm not sure," she said honestly. "Why did you ask?"
"Because I don't like to see a good opportunity wasted. And that kiss was the best bloody opportunity to cross my path in a long time." He poured more of the dandelion wine into his glass and tipped the bottle towards Hermione, who nodded and allowed him to refill hers as well.
"Opportunity for what, exactly? A quick shag isn't really my style. I've never done anything like that, or even like this before," Hermione said without embarrassment.
"It's not the sort of thing I do much of either, for the record. Not really looking for that now, but I won't lie and say I wouldn't be interested in a long, thorough, satisfying night with you in my bed," he said, his hand settling lightly on her thigh, sending a wave of heat through her. "But the opportunity is to see what might exist between us."
"What can? We have a short time before Harry comes and then we'll be off after Bill and Fleur's wedding. And then, who knows what will happen?" Her voice had an edge of fear, of despair. Their mission, even if the details were unknown to Fred, was bleak at best which they both knew.
"All the more reason not to let this slip by. Better to know than to wonder. Live a bit of life, Hermione, for tonight anyway," Fred had set down his glass, and he leaned forward, his lips grazing her neck. "And then tomorrow, we'll see."
"Not just a quick shag?" she whispered, her hand involuntarily sliding up his arm.
"No," he promised.
"I'm not sure," she said as he continued to send shocks of pleasure through her with his attention to her neck and throat.
"It's more than physical. I've been interested in you for ages, but you were wrapped up in Ron," Fred said, pulling back to look into her eyes. "Once or twice, I thought you might consider me, but something interfered."
"I assumed you were trying to prank me. I thought you only saw me as an irritating know-it-all who was friends with your little brother," Hermione admitted ruefully.
"Much more than that, Hermione," he murmured before his lips met hers again.
Questions, objections, decisions faded to the back of her mind in the heat of that kiss. It was very unlike her, but maybe that was the effect Fred had on her. Maybe it was just the intimacy of admitting her fears to him, of admitting her desires. Maybe it was simply physical, and she was craving a release from the pressures that hounded her. Or maybe not. There was a compulsion, a sense of rightness that encouraged her to pull Fred closer to her, that allowed him to further the contact between them.
They snogged intensely for some time, seemingly acquainting themselves with this newly discovered aspect to each other, hands wandering lightly, tentatively between them. There was no speaking for some time; words were unnecessary. Fred's outer robes had been shed, revealing an old t-shirt and faded denims. Hermione's jumper was gone, leaving her clad in thin pajama pants and camisole. Fred's hand had snaked beneath her camisole to tease her breast as Hermione left a lovebite on his collarbone, her hands tangled in his hair. Hermione broke away and moaned as Fred pinched her nipple, then palmed her breast gently.
He took advantage of this to draw a deep breath. "Have you ever, uhm . . .?"
"Had sex? Yes," she breathed.
Fred looked surprised. "With whom? Krum?"
Hermione chuckled. "No, though we got off in a couple of broom closets. I wasn't ready yet. No, with Terry Boot last year. I don't think anyone realized that we dated for awhile when Ron was sticking his tongue down Lavender's throat. I think I wanted to get back at Ron more than I wanted to be with Terry though, so it didn't last long."
"Are you on a potion or anything?" She shook her head this time. "Right, then. Let me find my wand, and I'll do a charm. If, that is, you want to continue."
"Yes, I do," she said. Fred nodded and pulled further away to try and fumble through his discarded robes for a wand. "Er, Fred, I could do it, if you'd like." He settled back down, and shrugged and Hermione performed the spell, assured of its success when an orange light passed over her abdomen.
Fred and Hermione were quiet for a moment. Aprubtly, Fred stood up, and held out a hand to her. "C'mon. I want this to be right, not out here on the couch. Not to say the lounge hasn't got its place, you know, but come with me."
Hermione allowed herself to be helped up and hand in hand they walked down the narrow corridor and turned into a small room that contained a double bed and a wardrobe. It was relatively plain, candlelight revealing medium gray walls and the bed sporting a cheerful yellow duvet over white sheets, with no other decoration. This time she merely raised an eyebrow, seeing Fred's smirk.
Shrugging, he said, "Even I can get tired of the constant colorful persona. It's nice to have a calm place to myself to rest."
"I like the color," was her only comment.
Fred squeezed her hand and turned so that they were facing each other. Sliding his free hand just under her camisole at her hip so that his fingers were just touching bare skin, he asked, "What is your favorite color?"
"Red," she answered quickly, smiling when his lips kissed her collarbone, then her throat. "You?"
"Yellow. What's your favorite sweet?" he asked between feathering kisses on her neck and shoulders, both hands now on her hips.
Hermione's hand were busy sliding under his t-shirt, pulling at the fabric to get it off of him. "Don't like sweets much, never had them growing up. I like dark chocolate now and then. What about you then?"
Fred stopped his attentions to her to assist in getting the shirt over his head. "Terrible sweet-tooth, really. Don't like sour candies much, though. George loves them." Fred's hands were sneaking downwards, clearly trying to slide her pyjamas off. "Favorite's probably chocoballs. What the hell do you indulge in?"
"Honestly? Cheese. I have a real weakness for quality cheese." Hermione stepped out of the pyjama bottoms, and her hands busied themselves unbuttoning his denims. Fred paused in the midst of stepping out of them.
"Cheese? That's hardly romantic. You want me to woo you with a block of cheddar?" the grin on his face made her heart skip a beat, even as she tried not to stare at his lean body.
"Cheddar is good, but I prefer a lovely aged Stilton. You might be surprised at just how sensual," she said, her hands running lightly over his chest, "and arousing," she added, placing a light kiss on his chest, "good cheese can be." She flicked her tongue over his nipples in turn, before adding, "So rich, so much flavor, letting it melt on your tongue, feeding it to each other." Hermione grazed his nipple with her teeth, pressed herself into his body, as Fred groped and kneaded her arse, groaning at her words.
"Cheese has never sounded so sexy before, I admit it. I'll get my hands on the best cheese I can find. I'll take you down to the pond with a picnic basket filled with cheese and elderberry wine and dark chocolate and grapes and figs and strawberries, and when we have fed every bit of it to each other, I am going to make love to you right there by the pond." As he spoke, Fred was walking Hermione back to the bed. He pushed her lightly so that she fell gently. She immediately sat up and removed her camisole and knickers, tossing them near the rest of her clothes.
Fred clambered onto the bed beside her, and claimed her mouth and they kissed deeply for some time, bodies pressed together, hands working to arouse each other. When they broke from that kiss, in a breathless voice, Hermione said, "It sounds lovely. But I care much less about what you are going to do to me in the future and much more about what you are going to do to me now."
That was the last that either of them spoke for some time, as Fred began kissing his way down her chest and took her nipple into his mouth. Hermione arched back, her only thought in the world about what Fred was doing to her. She barely noticed what he touching, where he was moving his clever tongue, she was one quivering body of tension and pleasure, and Fred was masterful at manipulating her body until she cried out with pleasure. Fred initially moved as if he were preparing to enter her, but Hermione pushed him away, and before he could protest, her mouth closed on him and he could only moan incoherently. As amazing as it was, Fred still wanted to enjoy her completely, and valiantly pulled himself together enough to choke out, "Stop, Hermione, gods."
She ceased, but her efforts had left Fred breathing hard. Hermione moved to lay beside him, and they kissed again. However, Fred was impatient, and finally whispered, "How do you want to do this?"
"Let's just start at the beginning with the basics, shall we?" Fred kissed her forehead and Hermione rolled to her back, past worry, past caring about what someone else might think of this, past anything other than longing to feel Fred moving within her. And then her wish was fulfilled, and she exhaled sharply, feeling a bit of stretching at the intrusion. It had been some time, after all, and Fred was a bit wider than Terry had been, but as he slowly began to withdraw, the friction overcame any lingering soreness, and she couldn't help the sound of satisfaction at the back of her throat as he set a long, slow rhythm. He leaned forward to kiss her, and she closed her eyes, soaking in every moment of this experience, so far from anything she'd thought or considered a couple of hours before when she'd been unable to sleep. Despite her best efforts, despite being engaged in the best sex of her life, a flash of fear flitted through her mind, and the knowledge reasserted itself that this was fleeting and transient at best.
Without being able to say why, she suddenly understood Fred's questions from earlier and before she could stop herself, asked him, "What are you afraid of?"
He paused in his motions and looked at her. With a slow, deep thrust, he said, "I'm afraid of not living. Not dying so much, really, but just not living what life I've got. I don't want to die. There is so much I want to do. I'm afraid of something happening to George. I'm not sure I'd know how to live without him, or him without me. It scares me to think about." Fred held himself buried in her depths, and wrapped an arm around her to hold her tightly.
"I'm afraid of failing. Of what will happen if we lose. Of never seeing my parents again," she whispered. A tear formed and slid down her cheek, and the feeling of being so close to Fred, of surrounding him was becoming too great to bear; she began moving her hips slowly, rebuilding the rhythm that had been lost temporarily.
"What makes you happy?" Fred asked abruptly.
Hermione smiled, and blinked her tears away. "Books. Friends. Feeling that I have accomplished something at the end of the day. Feeling loved. You?"
"This is pretty spectacular," he replied, and Hermione laughed. "Making people laugh. Inventing something that hasn't existed before." He began to speed up, his thrusts becoming more shallow. He shifted a bit, so that the angle changed. "Bend your knees, yeah, like that." Fred was plunging into her with rapid strokes, one hand bracing himself against the wall, the other teasing her clitoris so that she was coming near a second shattering orgasm. Fred's was flushed and sweating with the exertion of holding back his climax when Hermione finally reached hers, and finally gave into the exquisite release with a hoarse cry.
His entire body felt limp and sated, but he withdrew carefully from her before collapsing beside her. She immediately curled up into him, nuzzling his chest as they both tried to regain their breath. A shyness began to descend on them, an uncertainty coming to the fore now that the haze of lust had passed. Fred brushed her hair back, and kissed Hermione's forehead, and cradled her carefully.
"What do you want to do when this is over?" he asked.
"Go on holiday, somewhere warm. Lay out in the sun and feel that darkness can't touch me, and not be worried that we will be attacked any second. Greek island, maybe, or the Caribbean." Hermione traced a pattern on Fred's shoulder with her fingertips.
"I want to open a second store, and dance at George's wedding after I give the best man's toast." Fred wound a lock of Hermione's curly hair around his fingers.
"I want to go on that picnic," Hermione said firmly, placing her hand on Fred's chest. "Cheese and bread and fruit and wine and dark chocolate, right?"
"Just the beginning, love," Fred said, cupping her cheek, and kissing her nose. "Will you tell anyone about this?"
Hermione knew what he meant. Would she keep this a secret between the two of them, to be pulled out and examined and wondered over, pending the war's end? Would she proclaim them a couple, and let it be clear the direction her heart was moving, and had been for some time were she to be honest? Was there more than this moment, this night?
"Dunno yet. You?" she finally answered truthfully.
"Georgie, yeah. He's the only one I'll tell."
Hermione was quiet for a moment. "We'll see. I can't say right now. It's too close."
Fred nodded, because to speak would be to force the issue in a direction, and he wanted to be sure of which direction before he gave a push or put a name to it. Instead, he waited until the moment had waned and asked, "Favorite animal?"
"Probably kneazles," she said with a smile. "I'm going to guess yours is a fox or a leopard or something sleek and fast."
"Good guess, but no. My absolute favorite is an elephant. They're fascinating," Fred said.
"Where did you learn about elephants?" she asked with a laugh.
"One day when Bill and Charlie and Percy were all at school, Ron and Ginny were sick at home with dragon pox. We were driving Mum absolutely spare because we were so bored, and she wouldn't let us out of the house since she had to stay with Ron and Gin. Finally, she promised that if we behaved ourselves for an entire afternoon, our dad would take us for a special treat. We couldn't be around wizards, see, because of the risk of contagion, but muggles are immune from dragon pox, so it would have to be a muggle treat. As you can imagine, we didn't get too many of those. Hard for a family of our size as it is, but worse when you have the threat of accidental magic with so many kids. So it was all very exotic, right?"
"You managed to behave for an entire afternoon?" Hermione asked, her face soft with affection.
"Hardest bloody afternoon of my life! Worse even than when we had to wait for Dad to calm down enough to punish us for trying to get Ron to make an Unbreakable Vow. We were always going to get a whipping for that, it was just a matter of dreading when. But this! This was a great mystery and adventure and just for us. It was really rare for us to get time alone with Dad, since he worked all day, right? We sat at the kitchen table for the entire afternoon. Mum even said we could play exploding snap if we wanted, which wasn't usually allowed at the table, but we were afraid we'd accidentally set the table on fire and lose out. Probably frightened Dad to death by yelling and jumping when he got home."
"What did you do, then?" Hermione propped herself up on an elbow to look down at him.
"Took us for the whole day. We went to a park first, played there. Then he took us for fish and chips and let us have butterbeer he'd brought. Then in the afternoon, we went to the London Zoo. It was incredible. Probably a bit of a risk for him, but we were so awed that I think we mostly behaved. I wanted to watch them for a long time. They were so different and funny. George really liked the giraffes best, I think. But I thought the elephants were just sort of majestic, I suppose."
"I understand," Hermione said softly. After a moment, she added, "I might tell Harry. Probably not Ginny, not yet." Fred nodded. It was enough for now.
"Will we do this again, before you go, do you think?" Fred asked gently, sliding an arm around Hermione.
"Yes, if we can manage it quietly. I can't make any promises once Harry's been retrieved. If we plan, maybe once or twice before then?"
"Good," he said simply.
Hermione lowered herself back down, laying her head on her outstretched arm. Reluctantly, she said, "I should go. I mean, I know I left a note, but I'd hate for someone to be worried or even to come by here."
"No, not yet," Fred said, pulling him to her. "Stay the night, please? We might not get another night. Let me have this one."
"I shouldn't," she said, biting her lip. Fred pulled her closer to him, and her will weakened. "Right, all right. But I'd rather that my clothes weren't out in lounge advertising what we've just done. And when are you expecting George back?"
"George won't be home until just before we open. He'll stumble through the floo with about fifteen minutes to spare, hop in the shower and then rush downstairs to open up. He doesn't get enough time with Angelina now that the summer leagues are in full play, so he takes as much time as he can. I will happily go get your jumper and my robes, but only on the condition you don't get dressed again just yet." Fred let go of Hermione and swung around and up from the bed in a smooth single motion. "Something to drink, love? More dandelion wine? Butterbeer? Water? Tea? Firewhiskey?"
"No, thank you, I'm fine. Where is the loo?" She scrambled off the bed, trying not to feel self-conscious at her nude state, since Fred clearly didn't.
"Door across the corridor. Georgie's room is the door to the left. Right, back in a mo, then." Fred strode into the lounge, and Hermione used the facilities and returned to Fred's bed. She was mid-yawn when he stepped back in.
"Feeling tired then?" Fred asked, stretching out beside Hermione.
"Yes, some," she admitted. "I just don't really want to go to sleep."
"Me either," Fred agreed in a soft voice. After a pause, he continued, "Whatever happens, Hermione, this is definitely one of the best nights I've ever had. I think you are incredible."
Hermione's cheeks grew warm. "Whatever else happens, I'm glad you came over and I'm glad I was up, and I'm glad for this night."
Fred cupped her cheek in his hand, then kissed her forehead. "Same. Now sleep. I'll wake you up in time for a nice pleasant shag in the shower before Mum wakes up and worries."
Hermione laughed, and then yawned. "Hold me?"
"As long as I can," he said quietly, pulling her close. Hermione fell asleep to the sound of his beating heart.
Author's Note: Well, hello there! It's been quite some time since I've been able to post, or write, or read, or think. My baby will be 14 months old shortly, and it's been a wild year adjusting to parenthood, balancing work and just trying to fit everything into the day. V is a darling girl, but I never realized that I might be blessed with such an . . . active . . . child. Nevertheless, I'd not trade her in! Just not much time to write. I am however, making time, because I've found I'm much happier when I am writing at least a bit everyday. This piece was primarily a random thought turned brief story to help get back into the swing of things. I make no claim as to it being my best work, but I am pleased nonetheless. For any reader of my works-in-progress, I have resumed work on those as well, and hope to have posts again shortly. I believe the remaining storylines have been outlined, but writing them out in full in a coherent way that meets my standards takes awhile! Alas. I'd love to be able to quit my Azkaban of a job, but I'm told credit card companies do not accept fan fiction in lieu of cash. . . Hope you enjoyed, and are well. Cheers!