The Gryffindor common room was packed with people when Hermione came in, and each and every one of them was congratulating Fred and George on their success. People from every year were wringing their hands and patting their backs, and there were intermittent flashes of light as Colin Creevey frantically took photographs. A tiny first year boy squeaked that he wanted to be just like the twins someday, and George winked at him. Hermione stood in the doorway and watched as they were hoisted onto the crowd's shoulders, paraded around the room, and set back down again. The Gryffindor Quidditch team looked delighted for them — even Oliver Wood, who praised the flying they had displayed that night and asked them to use the same techniques in the next match; he was even saying something about trying them out himself in a training session with his new teammates. Harry and Ron were sampling some of the sweets from the twins' Skiving Snackboxes as a free demonstration, and onlookers observed them raptly, watching in fascination. They clapped loudly when Harry nibbled one end of a Fainting Fancy, dropped to the carpet, unconscious, had Ron force the other end of the sweet into his mouth, and stood up again, looking dazed but good as new. All around them people ate and drank; as George had promised, the party food had come from Hogsmeade (with the exception of several rhubarb pies), and when he saw her, he dashed over to her at once and pushed several bottles of butterbeer and pumpkin fizz into her arms.
"You are beyond brilliant, Hermione!" he said, looking windswept and absolutely elated, grinning from ear to ear. He picked her up and squeezed her tightly, laughing in her ear and spinning her around in circles until she was quite dizzy.
"O-oh, thank you," Hermione said breathlessly when he set her down again.
"It's been completely mad in here! Did you see any of the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs outside? Blimey, they came all the way here to see us in person and tell us what a brilliant show that was! They're going to be talking about this for years! Even McGonagall came by! Said it was magnificent, and that Flitwick asked her to compliment us for him!"
"I'm so happy for you," said Hermione, and she truly meant it. Her heart was swelling with joy. They'd finally done it. After months of planning and hard work, it was finally over. But her eyes were drawn to Fred, who was standing on a pouf, waving and blowing kisses at the crowd. He was still wearing her scarf.
George looked over his shoulder to see what she was looking at, and he turned back to her, smiling knowingly. He jerked his head towards his brother and took the bottles from Hermione's arms — all but two.
"Go on," he said.
Hermione waded through the swarm of admirers surrounding Fred and stopped by his pouf. He saw her and hopped down. Neither of them spoke — it seemed that they couldn't quite find the right words. His brown eyes searched her face, and she gazed back at him. She had never seen him wear such a tender expression. Fred Weasley loved her, she thought.
After what felt like several years, Fred nodded at the bottles.
"You saving those for anyone?"
Hermione smiled and said, "Maybe."
He offered her his arm.
"Then let's take a walk."
They strolled through the deserted castle, talking and laughing and congratulating each other for a job well done. Fred was holding her hand. They weren't worried about getting caught; after seeing Dumbledore's reaction to their show, they didn't think that leaving the common room and breaking curfew would be any more dangerous for them than throwing fireworks over the school without permission. The Fat Lady and her friend Violet were dozing off against the frame as they tiptoed past her painting, trying not to wake them up. There was a half-empty glass of red wine clutched in her limp hand, threatening to stain her pink silk dress, and the pair of them were giggling in their sleep. Fred and Hermione stopped at an open window somewhere far away and watched the snow swirl through the crisp night air, which felt sharp as glass as they breathed it in. They each took a butterbeer and had a private toast.
"To us," said Fred as he raised his bottle, "and the many wizard wheezes to come."
The butterbeer warmed them up instantly; the heat spread all the way down to the tips of Fred's fingers and toes, replacing the adrenaline that had been coursing through his veins. He now felt quite peaceful.
"But that's supposed to be for you and George," said Hermione.
"Actually, he was the one who told me to say it to you. Er — he says it was to make up for not giving me tips. He also said it had something to do with you giving me a lesson on sophistication. I don't suppose you know what that means?"
Hermione choked on her butterbeer and giggled.
"I'm starting to think that my present wasn't enough; I'm going to give him another one," she said with a wide smile. "Overall, this has been a pretty eventful Christmas, wouldn't you agree? I don't think I'll ever recover."
"I'll give you better ones."
"Any Christmas with you is bound to be an eventful one, either way," Hermione said, laughing.
"I didn't actually get an answer from you, though," Fred said casually.
"Well, I didn't think you needed one," said Hermione, and she knew that Fred understood. It didn't need saying anymore.
"I'll miss you, though," she said quietly after a few minutes.
"Oh, don't think about it just yet," said Fred breezily. "We've still got until the end of the year. You've got the O.W.L.s to study for, so don't let me distract you too much."
"I'm not worried about that. You've got a couple of matches left before you win the Cup. Oliver hasn't wasted two months of his life for nothing, so you'd better put all these extra training sessions to good use."
"No guarantees there. But don't you feel like giving me a royal tongue-lashing about my N.E.W.T.s? Not even a teensy bit? I'll let you have a go, come on."
"You've got Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes now. I know what's more important to you."
Fred had the sudden overwhelming urge to embrace her.
"God, do I love you," he sighed.
"Enough of that," said Hermione sternly, but she blushed nonetheless. "And I seem to remember you and George promising me to get yourselves less than five detentions between you for the rest of the year. I'll be watching."
"Damn," said Fred. "You know, if I were talking to someone else right now, they'd have forgotten about that."
"You weren't so lucky when you picked me." Hermione smiled sadly. "The fact is, neither of us will have much spare time."
"It's not like I'll be saying goodbye forever. I'll write you every day. And let me know when you've got Hogsmeade weekends so I can come visit you."
"Oh, but you really don't have to. I mean, leaving George to run the shop just so you can —"
"I'm doing it because I want to be with you," he chuckled. "I'm not forcing myself to do anything. Anyway, you won't even have time to miss me — I'll be haunting your dreams night after night, making sure you don't suck all the fun out of this place once I'm gone."
"I'll certainly try."
Fred didn't know how, but he found that they were standing very close to each other now. The bushy brown hair that he loved so much was gilded with silver from the moonlight. She looked up at him, and he had the strangest, most powerful impulse to…
Slowly, and very, very gently, he tilted her chin up and braced himself, waiting for her to slap him and tell him off for trying to take advantage of her. But the sting of her hand never came. She only stood still, her face angled towards his, her eyelids flickering… He could have counted her eyelashes...
After a moment's hesitation — an inch from her mouth, her hot breath against his skin and his heart pumping violently inside him — he pressed his lips softly against hers. It felt warmer than all the butterbeers in the world; the feeling flooded through him like a shot of firewhisky, and suddenly he felt like he could do anything. It felt as though all the summers he had ever had — gorgeous mornings with George and Ron and Ginny as they threw apples at one another for Quidditch practice all the way back at their orchard by the Burrow; or lazy afternoons sitting in the sweltering heat of the garden while their mother made them mash parsnips in a bowl, sticking out their tongues at the gnomes that peered out from the peony bushes; or sitting with George in their bedroom at dusk, waiting for night to fall, both holding mugs of iced pumpkin juice and planning their next big adventure — had been encompassed in that one kiss: Hermione tasted like the sun, warm and bright and familiar, and almost seemed to promise him the days ahead. He never wanted it to end. She wrapped her arms around his neck, and they felt so right there that it was hard to believe that until two months ago, they hardly knew each other. It was funny, Fred thought, how love could change you.
He reluctantly pulled away and looked at her, realizing that he now had the license to do that whenever he wanted. He grinned, unable to contain his happiness.
"How did I do? As well as Viktor Krum?"
Hermione burst into laughter.
"Even better," she said. She raised her hand to his face, and he sighed, leaning into her touch. "Thank you, Fred."
"You're welcome," he breathed, closing his eyes. "But can I ask what for?"
"I'm not really sure. I just wanted to say it."
"If it's for that hell of a kiss, you're invited to as many of them as you like."
Hermione laughed again. They both gazed out of the window again; they had a perfect view of the moon from there. In only a few months, Fred wouldn't get to see her whenever he wanted anymore… But at least now he had given her a reason to write him and visit as often as she could.
Hermione seemed to be on the same wavelength as him, because she said softly, "Ninety-three Diagon Alley, was it?"
"Yep. For you, the shop'll be open all day, every day."
"I'd like that," said Hermione, smiling.
"Just make sure to come by every week, or else I'll be forced to take away your privileges. You're going to have to work extra-hard to get them back."
"Yes, all right." Hermione stroked his face, and Fred felt a swooping sensation inside him — this girl was his. Then she smiled feebly and said, "I wonder what Ron will say when he finds out about this. Have I told you that he didn't seem too keen on the idea of us going out?"
"George and I can handle him — we don't want him turning into an old maid, either."
"I hope he doesn't take it too badly…," she said, rearranging Fred's scarf. "It looks good on you."
"You made it," said Fred, chuckling.
"By the way," Hermione said suddenly, "you said something about a present…? I'm not forcing you to give me anything, though. I'm just curious."
"Oh, that," he said. "Well, I've already given it to you, haven't I?"
"You have?" she asked, puzzled.
"Does that mean you've been planning to kiss me for Christmas for a while now?"
"Since I realized that I fancied you," corrected Fred. "I'm not entirely dumb, but I'm afraid I'm not really good with gift ideas. I thought about giving you a book. But I figured you really need to get out more."
"Oh, thanks a lot."
"Of course, this plan did have its drawbacks — I guess I'm lucky that you felt the same for me, after all; I don't even want to think about what you would've done to me if you didn't."
"I didn't realize you could be so… well, sentimental."
"If you didn't like it, then would you like me to buy you your own library next year?"
"Now you're just making fun of me."
"Yes, I am," said Fred smugly. "Because I can, and because I know that from now on there's a smaller chance that you're going to hit me if I do."
"That's where you're wrong," Hermione said, playfully punching him in the shoulder. "You're not safe just because we're seeing each other now. Anyway, I… I never said I didn't like it." She went pink again. "I-it was very nice."
Then the tender look came back into Fred's eyes, and he put his arms around her waist, drawing her closer to him. Their foreheads touched.
"I should really thank Harry again for giving us his Triwizard winnings," he murmured. "If we hadn't started Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes properly, we wouldn't be here and I'd still think you were a Percy-in-training."
"So that's where you got your funds," said Hermione with some satisfaction. "I've always wondered how you and George were able to afford making things, much less your own premises."
"Whoops," said Fred. "Not sure if I should have told you that. Keep quiet about it, all right? Harry might've wanted to keep it secret — and for good reason. Mum will go for his throat too if she finds out he's our financial backer."
"Since Harry's managed to avoid imminent death this year, I'd like it to stay that way for as long as possible. I promise I won't tell anyone," said Hermione with a wry smile. "But I'll need to have a talk with him about this."
"Do you know, though," Fred said thoughtfully, "there's one last person we've forgotten."
"Really? Who — another supplier of yours?" guessed Hermione.
"Well… I've half a mind to thank Hagrid for getting a crup," Fred whispered, before leaning down to kiss her again.
First of all, writing this fic's been a blast. I've never had more fun writing a story, and if you've been here since the beginning, I'd like to thank you for sticking with me until the very end. Your reviews were fantastic and hilarious, and I love them so much. I'm actually toying with the idea of maybe making an epilogue for this, but we'll see.
At any rate, that's a wrap for To Us, and I hope you enjoyed it. ;)