Red Herring
by Laura Smith

"Where're we going?" Ron struggled in the deceptively loose grip Fred and George had on him. "Where're you two lunatics taking me?"

"Lunatics?"

"I think I'm offended," George sniffed indignantly. "Maybe we should forget it, Fred. Leave the ungrateful git here and Apparate back to the shop?"

"It would teach him a lesson," Fred nodded. "You're right, George. Give him a pinch of Floo powder to cover us with Mum and leave him to his own devices here in Diagon Alley."

"Good point about the powder. Although it might be more fun just to strand him."

"Mum'd kill us."

"True." George nodded. "So, is the risk worth the reward?" He watched Ron intently. "What d'you think, Ickle Ronniekins?"

"I think you're both poncey gits." He shook off Fred's grip. "Just because you're making some money..."

"Some? Oh, dear little brother, how little you know. How small you dream."

"We, Ronniekins, are making money hand over fist." Fred tapped him on the head. "The Weasley business is booming. Which is why we're here."

"Where's here?" Ron looked up at the dark stone building then at the other buildings surrounding it, none of them familiar. "Where are were?"

"Here, little brother," George put his arm around Ron's shoulder and gestured to the building before them, " is where you become a man."

"A what?"

"A man."

"A what?"

Fred sighed and shook his head. "Told you he wasn't ready."

"Ready for what?"

The twins ignored him. "He's sixteen, almost seventeen."

"Maybe he's more like Percy than we thought."

"What are you two talking about?" Ron grabbed Fred's arm, cursing as his brother moved out of reach.

"Maybe he doesn't fancy..." George stopped and eyed Ron seriously. "You don't think we should take him next door, do you?"

Fred circled Ron, appraisingly. "Dunno, George. I've never seen him get all stupid around anyone but girls."

"He does hang around with Harry quite a bit."

"He's my best bloody friend," Ron snapped. "What is going on here? What are you two talking about? What's going on?"

George sighed. "He's not ready."

"I can help beat Vol...Voldemort's Death Eaters. I can put up with you lot. Just tell me what the hell's going on."

"Pub?" George asked.

Fred nodded. "Pub."

 

Diagon Alley seemed to materialize around them as they walked away from the imposing edifice. George and Fred were both silent, both ignoring Ron. Fred opened the door to a small pub, heading for a table at the back. Ron hesitated then followed as George jabbed him in the back.

George stopped at the bar, gathering the three frothy mugs of butterbeer and bringing them to the table. He sat opposite Fred, identical eyes watching Ron. "First off, and don't lie just because you're embarrassed, do you fancy girls? Or boys?"

"What?"

"Jeez, Ron," Fred shook his head. "Keep your voice down. Besides, it's a simple question. Girls or boys?"

"What kind of...? Why do you...? Do I go around asking you...?"

"We're both straight," Fred shrugged. "Though George has been known to experiment."

Ron stuck his fingers in his ears. "I'm not hearing this."

"What?" George asked innocently. "You've both seen Oliver, haven't you?"

"Can't hear you," Ron reminded him.

George's eyebrow shot up. "You've got a problem with it, Ronnie, my boy?"

"Have sex with whomever you like, " Ron assured him. "Just don't ever, ever tell me about it."

"There is," Fred cut off George's response, "a tradition in the Weasley family. We've put it off in your case, due to the situation..."

"Which you've buggered up, by the way," George added.

"What are you two babbling about?"

"Ever time a Weasley boy turns sixteen, if he's not got himself a girlfriend..."

"Or boyfriend."

"Shut up, George." Fred rolled his eyes then looked back at Ron, his seriousness ingrained in his furrowed brow. "The next oldest member of the family is elected to guide him to a certain house that's been servicing virgin Weasleys for years."

"A whorehouse?"

George hissed at him to lower his voice. "Sort of."

"A whorehouse?"

"Look, it's not our fault you cocked it up."

"Or didn't, as the case may be."

"With Hermione," George responded to Ron's confused look. "We figured you'd have taken care of everything and we'd be off the hook. But instead, you're being a total git about it."

"What d'you mean?"

"Nice try at being offended, Ron." Fred assured him mockingly. "You and Hermione have been interested in each other since day one and five years later you've done sod-all about it."

"Which is where Fred and I come in." George finished off his butterbeer and looked long and hard at Ron. "Now, I suppose there could be an off chance that you two have actually shagged, but I'd bet good money that's not the case."

"What Hermione and I have done..."

"Or haven't."

"You know, I don't need to listen to this." Ron shoved his glass away from him. "You're both daft and I'd bet good money that this is some sort of joke or trick you've rigged up."

"Fine. Don't believe us." Fred shrugged. "Percy didn't believe Charlie. And look what a git he's become."

"Percy's not a git because he didn't get laid," Ron smirked.

"Oh no. He's always been a git." George nodded. "He just gets worse with every passing moment."

Ron shook his head. "You're bloody liars. Jokers. And you can't, even for a moment, think I'd trust anything you say," he dropped his voice, "especially about sex."

"Your choice, Ron." Fred held up his hands in surrender. "Your life." He paused for a long moment, watching Ron discreetly. "I mean, if you want to go into your first time with Hermione..."

"I am not," Ron dropped his voice. "I'm not dating Hermione."

"Oh, we know." George nodded. "Trust us, we know. If you were, we'd actually be enjoying our day today instead of doing this."

"I'm not even interested in her." Color suffused Ron's face and he crossed his arms defiantly over his chest. "She's just a friend."

"Yeah. Right." George suddenly stopped and looked at Fred as if by some unspoken signal. "She's just a friend?"

His raised eyebrow failed to incite panic in Ron. "Yeah."

"So you weren't jealous when she was dating Viktor?"

"They weren't dating," Ron snapped then blushed. "No. I wasn't jealous."

"So you'd have no problem if someone else asked her out?" Fred's grin was sharp and dangerous. "Say...Dean or Seamus?"

"Neville?" Ron shook his head at George. "Draco?"

"Hermione wouldn't so much as look at that ponce."

"He does have a point." Fred agreed. "Harry?"

"Harry's not interested in Hermione either. Besides, he's reserved for Ginny."

"Reserved?" George chortled. "He's reserved for Ginny?"

"Sod off." Ron blushed. "It's just..."

"Family." Fred nodded, still smiling. "He's your best friend. Like a brother. Being with Ginny makes it official."

Ron nodded, relieved. "Yes. Exactly."

"And that's how you feel about Hermione then? Like she's a sister?

Ron's eyes narrowed suspiciously, suddenly wary of a trap. "She's my friend."

"As good a friend to you as Harry?" Fred asked lightly.

"Well, yeah. But different. Because she's a girl."

"Like a sister."

"Why d'you keep saying that?"

"Just clarifying." Fred leaned back in his chair. "I just figured that if Harry was like a brother to you, then Hermione would be like a sister. That's all."

"Oh. Well." Ron's brow furrowed and he gazed into his empty glass. "I...I guess."

"Excellent." Fred grinned widely and slapped the table with his hand. 'So you won't mind if I ask her out."

"What?" Ron and George both looked at Fred in shock. "But..." Ron spluttered. "You can't."

"Why not?" Fred leaned forward and nailed Ron with his sharp gaze. "She's not like a sister to me." Ron bit his lower lip, his eyes narrowed angrily. Fred shrugged. "Unless there's something you want to tell me?"

"No." Ron continued glaring at his older brother. "Ask away. It's not like she'll say yes."

"Sure of that, are you?" Fred got to his feet. "Well, if you're not going to go to the establishment we offered to take you to, George and I should get back to the shop."

"There's no bloody way in hell I'm going there."

"All right. Come hang out for a while then we'll take you home."

"I'm not a child."

"True, but Mum invited us 'round for dinner." Fred looped his arm around Ron's shoulders. "So you're stuck with us, little brother."

Ron sighed. "Great."

 

"You boys have a good time?"

"Great, Mum. Showed Ron around the inner workings of the shop." George looked at their father and shrugged. "He wasn't all that excited about it."

"Good," Mrs. Weasley set the last dish on the table with a defiant slam. "Maybe he'll be smart enough to stay in school then."

"Hey, Mum," Fred spooned some potatoes on to his plate, very carefully not looking at Ron. "When are Harry and Hermione due here at the Burrow?"

"Next week, I believe. Harry's coming a few days before Hermione." She raised a suspicious eyebrow. "Why?"

"Just curious. I thought they'd like a tour of the shop."

"Not the same one you gave me!"

"Of course not, Ron," Fred arched an eyebrow suggestively. "I was thinking of something much more personal. More hands on."

Ron shoved his plate away. "I'm not hungry, Mum. May I be excused?"

"Of course, Ron." She reached over and felt his flushed face. "You all right?"

"Fine. Just..." he shook his head and glared at Fred. "Just tired."

Mrs. Weasley waited until Ron left the room to turn on Fred. "What's going on, Fred Weasley?"

"Nothing, Mum."

"What did you do to your brother?"

"Nothing," Fred held up both hands. "Honest."

"Why do you care when Harry and Hermione come?" Ginny asked.

"Much the same reason you do, little sister." He looked straight at his mother. "I'm going to ask Hermione out on a date."

"What?" Mrs. Weasley nearly dropped a plate on the floor. "But, Hermione's...She's Ron's..."

"Ron says she's just a friend. That he thinks of her as a sister."

"And you believed him?"

Fred shook his head and smiled. "No. But Ron doesn't know that. And maybe, with a little bit of competition, the stupid git'll stop beating around the bush."

"Maybe he doesn't want a serious girlfriend yet, Fred."

"Right, Ginny. Just like you don't want Harry to start looking at you like he looked at Cho."

"We're not talking about Harry."

"No, Gin. I wasn't talking about Harry." He shoved his plate away. "Excuse me, Mum."

Everyone watched him leave the room then turned their eyes to George. "Don't look at me," he warned them. "I've got nothing to do with this one."

 

Harry sank down onto Ron's bed and lay across it, staring up at the ceiling. "So, what have I missed?"

"Nothing much," Ron flushed as he leaned back against the headboard. "It's been a pretty boring summer with just me and Ginny around."

"I figured the twins would be home all the time."

"They pop in for meals about three times a week, but I guess they're working at being completely independent."

"Have you been to the shop?"

"Yeah." He shifted, avoiding Harry's gaze as he turned to look at him. "Once or twice. We're sort of not on the best of terms right now."

"You and the twins?"

"Me and Fred."

Harry turned on his side, propping his head up on his hand. "Why's that?"

"He's going to ask Hermione out on a date."

"Why would he do that?"

Ron shrugged, his expression dark. "Fancies her, I guess."

"Hermione?" Harry continued to look confused. "But she's..."

"What?"

He shrugged, not reacting to Ron's defensive tone. "She's just Hermione, you know?"

"Yeah," Ron nodded, the phrase obviously meaning something different to him. "I know."

"When's he supposed to ask her?"

"Dunno. Sometimes next week, I'd guess. She's due in on Friday."

"I guess it won't be so bad with them living above their shop," Harry reminded him. "If she says no or it goes badly, it's not like they'll be around each other much."

Ron brightened considerably. "True. True."

"And if it does, she can hang out there with the twins, instead of mooning around like she did with Lockhart and with Krum."

Worry clouded Ron's eyes. "You don't really think she could fancy him, do you?"

"I don't know," Harry shrugged "I guess she could."

"Yeah." Ron's misery was palpable. "I guess she could."

"She'll still be our friend, Ron."

"I know." He sighed. " You want to play some Quidditch?"

Harry grinned. "Oh yeah. I've been dying to fly for the entire summer."

"Good." Ron leapt off the bed and followed Harry out of the room. "I need to get a little aggression out of my system."

"You're not going to have a chance, Weasley," Harry promised him. "I'm going to have that Quaffle through the posts before you can even get off the ground."

"You're dreaming, Potter." He grabbed the railing and swung over it, landing on the floor in front of Harry who was just coming off the last step. He turned the corner and stopped dead. "Oh."

"Hello, Ron." Hermione looked around him and waved. "Hi, Harry."

"'Lo, Hermione." Harry waved back before casting an expectant look at Ron. "How's your trip?"

"Good." Her brow furrowed as Ron continued to stare at her, not speaking. "Dad got called back for an emergency though, so they dropped me early. That's okay, isn't it?" She looked at Harry for help then back at Ron. "Your mum said it was all right, but I don't want to intrude on you and Harry's time." She took a step back. "If it's not all right, I can go."

"It's fine," Harry assured her, giving Ron an odd look of his own. "We were just on our way to play Quidditch. Right, Ron?"

"Right," he nodded. "We're going to play Quidditch, which you don't like. We'll be playing a lot of it, so maybe you should go. Don't want you to be bored."

"I..." She took another step back and nodded, swallowing hard, her eyes bright with tears. "All right, Ron."

"No, Hermione." Harry glared at Ron, shoving past him to catch her arm. "Ignore him. He's just upset because he knows he's going to lose. We don't want you to go."

"I have lots of studying to do, Harry. It'd probably be best if I just went."

"No it wouldn't. Mrs. Weasley would be offended if you left. Besides, you can study while we play and when we're done, we'll do other stuff."

Her eyes were wounded as she looked over his shoulder. Her voice dropped and she looked at the floor. "He doesn't want me here, Harry."

"Well, I do." He smiled at her. "And that counts for something, doesn't I?"

She nodded, turning her back to Ron as she brushed away the tears that streaked her cheeks. "Yes."

 

"Look out, Ginny!"

Ginny tilted to the right, the Bludger whistling past her by mere centimeters. She headed toward the rings, the Quaffle held tightly in her grasp.

"Oh, no, you don't!"

Ginny's gaze stole toward the ground, a mass of red and blue barreling toward her as George lifted off the ground.

"Don't break your sister!" Mrs. Weasley called out as Fred ran toward the playing field, jumping on his broom in mid-stride.

"Can we dent her?"

"You can try!" Ginny whizzed past him, George in hot pursuit. She angled toward the rings again, hurling the Quaffle.

Ron soared in front of it, grabbing it before it made it through. "Nice try, Gin."

"Now that the twins are here, why don't we make teams?" She headed down to land. "If Harry's managed to catch the Snitch yet."

He landed a few feet away, the golden ball clenched in his fist. "Sorry. Didn't mean to let it out of my sight. We teaming up?"

"Yeah," Ginny nodded. "The three of us against the twins?"

"What about you, Hermione? You could be on our team, since they're determined to cheat."

"No. No thanks."

Fred tilted his head, the question on his lips cut off by Ron's snappish tone. "She doesn't understand Quidditch. So can we get back to the game?"

"I understand it just fine, Ron Weasley."

"Fine," he sneered. "She understands it, she just doesn't fly well at all and if she can't do it well, Hermione doesn't do it."

"You're really making this far too easy, Ron," Fred muttered then raised his voice so they could all hear him. "In that case, I'll sit out to make the teams even."

"No you won't!" Ron snarled. "You want to play teams, we'll play. We'll take turns sitting out, if you need it even to win."

Fred grinned at Ron. "Right. I'll sit out first then."

"I will." Ron started to slam his broom down then caught himself, flopping down quite a ways from Hermione. "Two goals then we switch."

"Don't sit out on my account."

"Why not?" Ron glared at her. "Would you rather have Fred?"

"To be honest, Ron, right now Voldemort would be better company than you." She got to her feet and started for the house. "Go play your stupid game."

"Bloody hell." Ron stood and took a step toward her before stopping. "Better go stick your head in a book, Hermione. That's about the only place you fit in."

Her furious walk stopped, her shoulders lifting as she sucked in air. She didn't turn, simply continued walking, her entire body stiff.

"Ow!" Ron whirled around, ducking out of the way of the broom bristles as they swung at him a second time. "Quit it, Ginny!"

"You're horrible, Ron! How could you say that?"

"What'd I say?"

"That you don't get it makes it that much worse. I need to go find her."

"Don't bother, Gin." George caught her arm. "Fred already did."

 

Fred sank down onto the low stone wall next to Hermione, his hands on the back of it, supporting him as he lifted his face up toward the sun. "My little brother is an idiot."

She sniffled, turning her face away from him. "I'd like to be alone, please, Fred."

"How d'you do that? You can always tell us apart."

She shrugged. "Just because you look the same doesn't mean you are the same. You have different mannerisms, different actions, reactions." She shrugged again. "You're different."

"Will you go out with me tonight, Hermione?" He kicked himself mentally, giving her a small grimace. "I did that wrong."

"Did...did you mean to ask me out?" Her voice was soft, quiet, unsure.

He gave her a goofy grin. "Yeah."

"Then you actually did it right."

Fred laughed and shook his head. "I mean that I meant to work up to it. Spend time with you. I mean, I know you fancy Ron."

"Ron is a prat."

"Well, yeah." Fred leaned back again, soaking up the sun, watching her out of the corner of his eye. "But you still fancy him."

"I...did." Hermione admitted. "I guess a little piece of me keeps holding out hope that he'll figure it out. But, well, you were there after the Yule ball. And he still doesn't get it."

"I don't want you to go out with me because of Ron."

"Why do you want me to go out with you?" She turned and faced him, straddling the wall.

"Because of Ron," he laughed. "Because he's got no clue about anything."

"That part's sort of charming."

Fred's fingers rested lightly under her chin. "And no clue what he's missing."

"Oh." She swallowed, her eyes widening. Fred's thumb brushed her lower lip, parting it from the top one ever so slightly.

"Let's start over. Tomorrow, why don't you come to the shop? Do the tour, see the behind the scenes magic."

"I'm not gullible enough to taste anything."

"We'll invite Harry along for that," he assured her with a grin. "Afterwards, after I bring you home, after you've spent the whole day with me, I'll ask you again."

"Ask me...oh." She blinked, her long lashes brushing her cheeks. Fred's thumb still stroked her lip, as light as her lashes on her skin.

He tilted his head, moving closer so she could taste his warm breath. "Okay?"

She nodded and closed her eyes, leaning into him. Fred's lips grazed her forehead before he pulled away.

"Tomorrow."

 

"Hermione, could you pass the peas, please?" Ginny sighed as Hermione didn't react. "Hermione!"

"Oh. Sorry." She blushed and handed the dish to Ginny.

Ginny glared at Fred who was sitting opposite them, her eyes blazing. He smiled at her, chuckling to himself when she stuck out her tongue.

"I hope you enjoyed your Quidditch game today" Mrs. Weasley asked as she folded mashed potatoes onto her plate then set the dish down, disapproval clear in her eyes as she glanced around the table. "I didn't think it was supposed to be a full contact sport."

"Ron and Harry aren't used to life as beaters," George said around a mouthful of bread. "The Bludger got them more than they got it."

"You were no better, George," Ginny pointed her fork at her older brother. "I've seen Slytherins that cheated less."

"You're just upset because you fell off your broom."

"You what?"

"I didn't fall off my broom," Ginny bit out, waving reassurances to her mother. "I kept you from scoring."

"Yeah. By falling off your broom onto the Quaffle," Fred reminded her. "Good thing Harry was there to catch you."

"Just bad form that you toppled him off balance and you both fell into the blackberry bushes."

"You flew into a tree, George."

"Only because Ron thought I was Fred," George gave Ron a dirty look. "Besides, he hit the tree too."

"What about Fred's injuries?" Mrs. Weasley's tone was sharp, her disapproval obviously increasing. "I swear I should keep you from playing that game."

"I was sitting on my broom talking to Hermione and Ickle Ronniekins took exception."

"You were in the game." Ron's voice was like ice. "Should have been paying attention."

"It's all right, little brother." Fred's eyes moved slowly over Hermione. "I had a very pleasant landing."

She blushed crimson and looked down at her plate, missing Ron's furious glare. His cold voice filled the silent room. "Isn't Viktor going to be a little put out by you making time with my brother, Hermione?"

"I'm not dating Viktor." She met Ron's hard eyes. "I'm not dating anyone, Ron."

"Not even Fred?"

"No, not even Fred." Hermione held his angry gaze. "Not yet."

"Excuse me." Ron pushed his plate away and started to stand.

"Sit down, Ronald Weasley." Mrs. Weasley snapped. "I don't know what has gotten into you, but Hermione is our guest and you will act accordingly."

"Fine." He slammed back into his chair and folded his arms angrily across his chest.

"You guys want to come to the store tomorrow?" Fred asked in the heavy silence. "We've got some new stuff for Ron and Harry to test for us."

Harry looked at his best friend. "Ron?"

"Depends, Fred," Ron sneered. "You plan on the same side trip we took last time?"

"That depends as well, Ron. You up for it this time?"

"Sod off."

"Ronald Weasley!"

"Unlike you, Fred, I don't need a place like that."

"Got prospects, do you?" Fred smiled, basking in the eyes trained on them.

"Yes, I do."

"Who?"

"I'm not talking about this with you."

"You brought it up, not me. So, who, Ron? We know it's not Hermione by her own admission. I've run out of guesses, unless you really do fancy Harry."

"George is the bloody poof in the family, not me."

"That's enough!" Mr. Weasley roared from the door. "What is going on in this house?"

"Nothing, Dad." Ron's face was crimson, his hands shaking beside his plate. George's face was purple with rage as he glared at Ron, shoving away from the table.

Ron watched him go with sad, helpless eyes until he glanced at Fred. "Nicely done, Ron."

"Stick it up your arse, Fred."

"So you are a poof."

"Fredrick! Ronald! Enough!" Mrs. Weasley stood up. "I will not stand for another word of this, do you hear me?"

"Yes, Mum," they agreed in unison.

"Are we finished?" Mr. Weasley asked sharply. "Because, as loathe as I am to invite anyone into this madhouse, one of your school friends is waiting outside."

Ron, Hermione, Harry and Ginny all exchanged questioning looks. Ron was the first to react when the small, somewhat elfin blonde walked in. "My father and I were in the neighborhood searching for Vanquil eggs." She watched Ron as he approached her, her innocent yet knowing eyes wide. "Hello, Ron."

He nodded once, whispered hello and kissed her.

 

"I don't mind being kissed," Luna admitted quietly as Ron released her. "Should I tell my father to go on home? We've rented a cottage in town. This is quite a haven for the Vanquil."

"What's a Vanquil?" Ginny asked.

"I'm not quite sure. We've yet to find one."

"Can Luna stay with us, Mum?"

"If it's all right with her father." Mrs. Weasley looked nervously around the room. "And so long as everyone here can manage to behave somewhat human."

"We'll go ask him," Ginny took Luna's hand and tugged her outside.

"So that's your prospect, Ron? Is she your girlfriend?"

"We've not got that far." He blushed, refusing to look at Hermione. "We're taking our time. It's new to both of us."

Harry shook his head in confusion and disbelief. "New to everyone."

"Did she ask you out, Ron? Or did you ask her?"

Ron's eyes lifted at Hermione's quiet question. He flinched at her wounded gaze, looking away and seeing Fred, all of his own hurt coming back in a rush. His voice, when he spoke, was flat. "I asked her. Why?"

"Just curious." She looked at Mrs. Weasley, giving her a weak smile. "May I please be excused?"

"Of course, dear."

"Thank you." She moved away from the table, avoiding everyone as she ran up the stairs.

 

"So, I'm dating Ron?" Luna asked as she and Ginny headed for the road. "Have I known this long?"

"I don't know. It's all sort of a mess. Fred wants Ron to realize he likes Hermione, so he's pretending to like her so Ron'll get jealous."

"And Ron's pretending to like me to make Hermione jealous?"

"No." Ginny sighed sadly. "To hurt her, I think."

"I don't like that."

"Me either."

"And you and Harry are dating?"

"No. I'm dating Dean Thomas."

"But you like Harry," Luna nodded as if everything made sense. "It's easier when they're not around. Harry doesn't get jealous because he's not faced with it."

"Harry and I are just friends."

"Ron and I are too." Luna smiled, somewhat dreamily. "Things can change in an instant."

Ginny sighed as Luna moved ahead of her toward her father's car. "That's what I'm afraid of."

 

Hermione sank down just inside the attic doors. She drew her knees up, resting her head on them, her arms looped around her legs at the ankles.

"Nobody comes up here."

She let out a quiet shriek and started to stand, relaxing when she realized it was George. "Sorry." She apologized quickly and looked toward the door. "Do you want me to leave?"

"No. It's okay."

"Thanks." She settled back, leaning against the wall this time. After a few moments of silence, she sighed. "I think Ron felt really bad about what he said."

"It doesn't bother me that he said it," George shrugged. "It's not like it's a big deal or a big secret. Mum and Dad both know. Fred, of course. Ginny even. Ron and Percy were just either too dense or too blind."

"Or both?"

"Or both." He sighed. "On the whole, I fancy girls. But on occasion, there's been someone." He shrugged again. "Why d'you like Ron if he's so dense?"

It was her turn to shrug. "Because he's Ron. Because he'd risk his life for me. Because he has. Because he's brave even when he's scared. Because sometimes he looks at me and I can feel it all the way through me."

"So why Fred?"

"Because he's nice. He's funny. He's cute." She smiled. "Because he asked."

George laughed and leaned against the opposite wall, closing his eyes. "He's got that over Ron."

"Not exactly." Hermione's smile faded. "Ron'll ask. He just won't ask me." She shrugged at his questioning look. "Apparently he's dating Luna."

"Loony Luna?"

"Yeah."

"That's got to be a lie. We haven't heard anything about it. Ron was just lying to save face."

"He kissed her."

"Who?"

"Luna."

"When?"

"Just now. Downstairs."

"Wait. Start over. Luna's here?"

"Yes."

"And Ron kissed her?"

"Yes."

"On the lips?"

"Yes."

"In front of people?"

"Harry, Ginny, Fred, your mum and dad." Hermione refused to meet George's eyes. "And me."

"What a bloody cock-up that boy is." George sighed. "I'm sorry, Hermione."

"It's okay. Really." She laughed, the sound milky with sudden tears. "Dammit," she wiped her cheeks. "I'm not going to cry. I like Luna."

"Just not with Ron?"

"Not with my Ron," she smiled ruefully. "But he's not that anymore, is he? Truthfully?" She got to her feet. "He never was."

George nodded and looked toward the door then at her, his cheekbones suddenly painted with red. "Can I ask you a question?"

"I only ever kissed Viktor," Hermione's smile was genuine. "And, all in all? It was sort of a disappointment."

George nodded. "Damn."

 

"Okay," Harry sat Ron down on the couch and stared at him. "Start at the beginning. And let me assure you that, if this is some sort of plot you've concocted to get my mind off Sirius or something, I'm going to hex you all into next year."

"I told you about going to Fred and George's shop the other day." Ron shook his head, threading his fingers through his thick hair. "Well, I didn't exactly tell you everything."

"What do you mean?"

"They took me to this place, somewhere sort of beyond Diagon Alley."

"London?"

"What?" Ron shook his head. "No. No Muggle place. It was a...sort of a...Apparently, it's sort of a Weasley custom to well...to...uh...sort of make sure we lose our virginity at the age of 16."

Harry's eyes cut to the door that Ginny had left through. "Oh?"

"Just males," Ron assured him. "It's a family tradition. And Fred and George, as the next oldest, took me. I refused to go in."

"Why would anyone trust them to take you? Or trust you to believe them?"

"An excellent question."

"And for that matter..." Harry shook his head. "What if you're not a virgin?"

"Then you're exempt." Ron blew out his breath. "I was horrified. And petrified. And Fred kept giving me a hard time about Hermione, trying to get me to admit I like her."

"Which you do, right?" Harry asked curiously.

"Yeah. But there's...stuff. Extenuating circumstances."

"Me."

"Not just you, Harry," Ron assured him, bowing his head at his best friend's gaze. "But yeah." He looked as miserable as he had earlier. "Fred kept pressuring me, so I said no. I said she's like a sister to me. And that's when he said he was going to ask her out."

"And Luna?"

"She was there?" Ron groaned. "I need to be hexed. Put you all out of my misery."

"I'd hex you, but I don't think it would do much good." Harry sat next to Ron. "You need to tell Luna the truth."

"Yeah."

"Hermione too." Harry gave him a half-hearted shrug. "The extenuating circumstance can cope."

"How are you?" Ron asked lightly, glad of a diversion, of a reason to ask the question that had been on his mind for months. "Coping?"

Harry walked to the window and stared out. "Sometimes I'm so angry, I can feel curses on my tongue like Voldemort's inside my head. I can hear him taunting me. Sometimes I'm furious with Dumbledore. Sometimes there's so much hate and anger inside, I think it's going to consume me."

"I won't let it."

Harry smiled but didn't turn around. "Remus took me to where my parents were killed. There's nothing there now. Nothing grows. Except..." He choked back tears, biting his lower lip until he tasted blood, until he felt Ron's warm hand on his shoulder. "He described the house layout to me. Where...where my mother died. There's a small green patch of grass. And a lily."

Ron blinked back tears. "Harry."

"We cut the flower, he and I together. Took it to the Department of Mysteries. Laid it there. For...for Sirius."

"Did it help?"

"No." He smirked sadly. "And yes." Sighing, he rested his forehead on the glass. "I'm afraid that everyone I love is going to die and I'm not going to be able to save them."

"We are all going to die, Harry. And you won't be able to save us. No matter if it's fighting Voldemort or not." Ron shrugged. "That's life."

"It's my job. My destiny."

"Your destiny chose you, Harry." Ron nodded. "But you chose it too. You fight because you have to. We fight because we have to. We just don't have a prophecy to make it all legitimate."

"I get scared, Ron."

"Get scared, huh?" He grinned. "That implies that there are times when you're not mind-numbingly petrified. I'm impressed, mate."

Harry chuckled and shook his head, watching Ginny and Luna as they walked away from a rusted out, old jalopy. "Speaking of mind-numbingly petrified, what are you going to do about Hermione and Luna?"

Ron scratched his head and shrugged, a small worried smile on his lips. "Nothing."

 

Fred knocked on the attic door then let himself in. "You all right?"

"Yeah. Which isn't to say I'm not going to kick Ron's ass."

"You should come down. Mum, Ginny and Luna Luna's here, did you know? have convinced Hermione to make some Muggle dessert."

"Is it still a war zone?"

"Mum's decreed a truce."

"What on earth possessed you to start this, Fred?"

"I thought it'd be a lark to mess with Ron's head." Fred shrugged and held his hand out to his brother. "And don't act like it didn't occur to you, too. I know how you think."

George took Fred's hand and let him pull him to his feet. "Pity she can tell us apart, hmmm? Otherwise we could both have some fun with her."

Fred laughed. "I'd like to survive this, you know."

George waited until Fred was out of earshot to follow. "What makes you think you will?"

 

"All right," Mrs. Weasley looked at all of them with a critical eye. "I know full well that telling any of you anything is a complete waste of time, but I'm counting on the fact that a few of you have brains in your heads to actually keep you all out of Azkaban."

"We'll make sure the boys behave, Mum," Ginny assured her.

"As if I'm not just as worried about you, Virginia." She shook her head. "Hermione? Make sure that everyone ends the day with all their limbs attached where they started, won't you?"

"Yes, Mrs. Weasley."

"That's just stunning," Ron muttered. "Teacher's pet not enough for you, Hermione?"

"You've got room to talk, Ron," she snapped. "I understand Professor Trelawney is bragging all about your prophecies of doom. You must be quite proud."

"Oh yes, and you can see all the sucking up I've done to her, right? Not like you with your arm so high in the air you've practically dislodged your shoulder." He smirked at her narrowed eyes, raising his voice in a mockery of hers. "Ooh! Ooh! Professor Lockhart! Professor Flitwick! Ooh! Ooh! Professor McGonagall! I know! I know!"

"Well, we all know you have to be imitating someone, Ron," Fred drawled, "as you never know anything."

He glared at his brother, snapping his mouth closed on his retort as his mother gave him the evil eye. "Are we going or not?"

"Yup," George handed around the floo powder. "Get in line." He looked at Harry with an impish grin. "And enunciate this time, would you?"

"That was three years ago!"

"So you want another spin 'round Knockturn Alley, do you?"

"Stuff it, George." Harry threw his powder in the fire and stuck out his tongue. "Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes."

George shook his head. "Bet he ends up at Flourish and Blotts or something."

Fred nudged him; whispering in his twin's ear, "Quit flirting."

"Fuck off."

"George Weasley! Did I just hear the words..."

Mrs. Weasley's voice faded as George followed Harry through the fireplace, stepping into the welcoming cool of the main room of their store. Ron was sulking by the wall, his arms crossed over his chest, and Harry was looking around. "It's great, George."

"This is nothing. Just the sales and show room. Wait'll you see the real inner workings." George ignored the hard nudge Fred gave him as he walked out of the fireplace. "Once everyone else gets here, we'll give you guys the grand tour."

"Aren't you open today?" Hermione asked as she entered the room.

"Yeah, we'll open a bit later. You guys are welcome to hang around and work for no pay if you'd like."

Luna lifted a glass dome off the counter and sniffed curiously at the yellow clumps beneath it. "Banana?"

"TriWizard Toffees," Fred informed her. "Bananas were Cedric's favorite. All the proceeds to go his family. And, before any of you ask, they don't do anything at all to you, except turn something you're wearing Hufflepuff colors for a half-hour."

"That's nice," Hermione joined Luna and started looking in the huge case. "What's this?"

Fred moved behind her, his hand resting lightly on her shoulder. "That, my dear Miss Granger, is the ever so famous Ton-Tongue Toffee, now in new assorted flavors." He grinned, his reflection in the glass mischievous. "We're thinking of sending a package to Harry's cousin, just for a treat."

"You're both horrible." She turned her head and smiled at him, blushing slightly.

He smiled impishly, his eyebrows waggling. "It's part of our charm." He leaned in and brushed his nose against hers. "Come on. There's lots more to see.

 

"The lab's through there," Fred pointed at a red door just down the hall from where they were standing. "There's an attached sitting room with a fireplace, which is nice because we can escape the stench if something goes horribly wrong."

"That would explain you smelling up the Burrow on occasion then, wouldn't it?" Ginny grinned. "Or is that just your natural manly aroma?"

He ignored her and pointed at a door closer to them. "That's the brainstorming room. We've got all sorts of things in there. Books, chairs, balls, Quidditch Bats..."

"Dirty magazines," George added.

Fred flushed and shook his head, his eyes never leaving Hermione. "Not to my knowledge."

"Riiiiight," George drawled. "Fred's as innocent as the driven snow. About a week after it's fallen."

"Go in there and play with Harry and Ron, would you?" Fred grinned maliciously as George blushed. "Make sure you give 'em some of the placebos as well."

"I'm not an amateur, Fred Weasley."

"No, you're a git."

"He's going to test stuff?" Ginny grinned. "On Harry and Ron?"

"Run along, little sister."

Her lips curled into a smile. "Thanks." She went about three steps then stopped. "Luna? Hermione?"

"I'll go."

Hermione glanced at the door the boys had gone through then back at Fred. "I think I'd like to see the brain storming room." Her eyes darkened slightly. "As long as there are no real brains in it."

"Well, you're safe from that, if you're going with Fred."

"Ha. Ha." Fred smirked back at Ginny. "Tell George I said to give you the green boiled sweet, won't you?"

"Not on your life."

He laughed as Ginny and Luna went through the door. "Shall we?" He led Hermione to the room he'd pointed out and stood back as she entered. She looked around. "What do you think?"

She looked bereft in the sea of mess, everything scattered very precisely around the room. "It's...lovely?"

"Finite Incantatum." The mess disappeared and Fred gestured to a loveseat in front of a large mirror. "Don't want anyone who might break in to be able to steal our secrets."

"Very clever."

"There's more."

"I'm not surprised." She sat down and looked up at him in anticipation.

"We're not sure what this lower room used to be used for, though we've got some ideas." Fred sat on the opposite end of the small sofa and waved his wand at the mirror. "Aspectus."

"What are you..." She stopped as their reflection disappeared and they could see and hear into the testing room. "Oh! I thought this was a Muggle thing."

"Muggles have this?"

"For security. So you can watch to see if people are stealing."

"We thought that might be what it was used for, but we're not too keen to ask. We're a little afraid we might get an answer we weren't prepared to hear." Fred chuckled. "Oh. Ron's about to try the green boiled sweet. I sense Ginny's hand at work there."

"What does it do?"

"Watch."

Ron popped the candy into his mouth and sucked on it. George stared down at the parchment in front of him, struggling not to laugh. "And how does it taste, Ron?"

Ron sucked a little harder then thought, finally opening his mouth to answer. Instead, a rich, honeyed baritone sang out his answer, followed by a few questions and, ultimately a string of epithets. Fred laughed out loud and George buried his head on the table, his whole body shaking. Ron clamped his mouth shut, his face burning.

"Oh, Ron's not pleased."

"He's here," Fred reminded her. "If he thinks he's going to just get a piece of candy with no side-effects, he's gone daft."

"Maybe he was hoping for something that might be a little more," she shrugged, "impressive."

"What do you mean?"

"Not that it wasn't a nice voice or anything, but maybe, since he's here with his new girlfriend," Fred was impressed at the lack of bitterness in her voice, concerned with the lack of any emotion, "he'd want something that would make her view him as more attractive."

"Like what?"

"What would make Ron more attractive?"

"Ron in particular." Fred shrugged. "Men in general."

"I don't know that I'm the best person to ask," she blushed. "I've not had the best luck when it comes to boys. Men."

"You dated an international Quidditch star," he reminded her. "What'd Viktor have that you liked?"

"I don't like the normal things, Fred." Her embarrassment and frustration sounded in her voice. "I don't like muscles or bragging or all those other things that other girls like. You should ask Lavender or Parvati or Angelina..."

He looked at her quizzically, confused about her sudden quiet until it dawned on him. He grinned wildly, struggling to control the impulse before he spoke. "We were just friends."

"But she's a girl."

"And you're not?"

She shook her head. "I don't want to talk about this."

"I'm not trying to put you on the spot, Hermione. I think you've got a brilliant idea, and I just wanted to pick your brain to see if it's a viable one. So, please, just pretend you're a silly, giggling, insipid little girl that most boys seem to think are the best thing on the planet and tell me, if you were looking for your dream date, what would you want?"

Hermione thought for a moment then turned a dazzling smile on him, batting her eyes until she looked dizzy. She scooted toward him and arched her back slightly, thrusting her chest out at him. He glanced down quickly then back up, reminding himself very sternly that he needed very much not to be looking at Hermione's breasts, even if they were scant inches from his chest. "How's this?"

"Depends on what you're trying to do exactly." Kill me? He thought. Give me a raging hard-on that I'll have to explain away before my little brother beheads me with a piece of my own licorice?

"Did I not giggle enough?"

"Oh. Right." He laughed weakly and shifted, dropping his hand casually into his lap. "No. Very nice. Nicely giggled."

"Well, I'd obviously want him to be smarter than me. And stronger. I guess most girls like it when boys can protect them."

"You don't?"

"I can take care of myself." She looked at the ground. "Though it's not been bad when R...someone has had to save me."

He nodded, his erection suddenly less pressing. "Okay, brawn and brains. What else?"

"He needs to be funny."

"I can do funny."

"But not," she scowled. "Don't take this the wrong way, okay, Fred?"

"That's not ominous."

"Girls...for the most part, we don't like humor like you boys like humor. We do, I mean, it's funny to us when you pull a gag on someone, don't get me wrong. But on a date, well, I don't think I'd like it if I kissed yo..." she swallowed and blushed, quickly looking back at the mirror. "Someone and when I pulled away my tongue was lolling on the floor like a dead snake."

"Right." He nodded, his erection back in full force. "Good call."

"But we want funny. Charming. Handsome. Maybe something for acne? I mean, I know they have all those things, but maybe a sweet that freshens your breath and clears up any acne that you could suck on right before you showed up at her doorstep?"

He nodded. "Right." He got off the sofa, glad she was still focused on the five in the other room and not on his slightly off-center walking. He grabbed a parchment and a quill, jotted down notes and then came back to her, charming the quill to keep writing. "Anything else you can think of?"

"Well, speaking of girls, why not aim some of your business at them?" She looked back at him, half-smiling as she realized he was a little bit closer, his arm along the back of the seat, fingers hanging down so that they almost touched her shoulder. "The same sort of thing. Breath sweets, perfume sweets but make sure those aren't too overpowering. Beauty sweets."

"Beauty sweets?"

"Just like for the guys. Make us prettier, sexier, bigger," she gestured at her chest and his eyes dropped. Her robe was open and the shirt she was wearing seemed suddenly too small. He missed her smirk. "Dumber."

"Dumber?" He looked up, his face hot, his body hot. "What d'you mean?"

"Just that. Dumber." She got off the sofa and walked over to the mirror, her eyes on Ron and Harry as they poked a pile of what looked like cotton candy. "Boys don't want girls that are smarter. They don't want to be intimidated or shown up. They don't want to take her to a French restaurant and have her order in French when he can't even say escargot."

"You don't say the T on the end?" He looked scandalized. "No!"

Hermione laughed sadly. "Boys don't want to be told they're wrong. They don't want to be anything less than perfect."

"And girls do?"

"Doesn't matter what we want. Unless the boy gets what he wants. Take..." She shook her head. "Boys don't like smart girls. Make us something that makes us dumber."

"Boys who don't like smart girls aren't smart enough to deserve them." He moved up behind her and touched her shoulder lightly before stepping beside her. "Personally, I find smart women to amazingly sexy. They know things."

Hermione blushed. "Know things?"

"You've been hanging out with George too much. You're mind's somewhere down the red light district of Knockturn Alley."

She opened her mouth in protest. "Is not!"

"Well then, what kind of things did you think I meant?"

Hermione blushed and turned away from him. "Maybe you need a sweet that keeps boys from saying suggestive things."

"And a binding spell to keep them from doing suggestive things?" He turned sideways so he could watch her, uninterested in George's research in the next room, completely enthralled with the sight now in front of him. "I like smart girls."

Her quick glance at him was grateful, turned away in the heat of his own gaze. "That's because you're smart, Fred. And you know it. It's when boys doubt their own brains that they get all defensive."

"Is Ron your sole basis of research?"

"Ron's not intimidated by smart girls." Hermione pointed into the next room where Luna was making a face, her cheeks covered in pale purple dots. "He's dating a Ravenclaw."

"Oh, that's not right." Fred jotted something down, knowing without looking that George was doing the same.

"So it can't be intelligence that puts him off." She forced herself to watch as Ron touched Luna's cheeks, rubbing lightly at the spots. "It must just be me. So that must be your answer, right?"

Fred tucked the parchment away and looked at her, his expression making it clear that, whatever her argument, he knew she was wrong. "What's that?"

"Whatever you make, just make sure the end result is anything that's not me."

"You remember what I said about guys who don't appreciate smart women?" As she nodded, he reached over and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, barely touching her. "The same goes for stupid prats who don't appreciate everything else you have to offer."

"Like Ron?"

He nodded and stepped closer to her, his eyes searching her face, his desire and intent to kiss her clear in his eyes. Instead he bypassed her lips, brushing his against her forehead. "Very much like Ron."

 

Fred leaned against the counter and smiled, watching Hermione as she surveyed their laboratory. "What do you think? Would Snape be proud?"

"Of a Gryffindor?" She grinned at him, her hair falling down around her face. "Somehow I doubt it."

"A Gryffindor, a Weasley and a joke shop. What's not to be proud of, right?" He grinned though it was more of a smirk. "Although it's got me out of his hair, so he's got to be marginally more pleased than Mum."

"Is she giving you a hard time about school still?"

He shrugged one shoulder. "No more so than usual. No more so than she did when we were in school. Only then it was about grades and playing less Quidditch and paying more attention and stop tormenting all the other students with our constant gags."

"And now it's about real life?"

"Yeah." He glanced around the shop, obviously proud. "But our orders are outstanding and we've barely even opened. Not just from Hogwarts students, either. People off the street. Of course, it doesn't hurt that being a Weasley means there's ever so slim of a chance that Harry might be here."

"You're not using him, are you? In your advertising?"

"What? You don't think we should make a little money off the Boy Who Lived?" He laughed as her disapproving glare. "No. We're not using Harry. Or Ron. Or you."

"Me and Ron?"

"You're just as famous. You're the girl who broke Harry Potter's heart, don't you know. Falling for his competition in the TriWizard Tournament and then, once he'd won the Goblet of Fire and you back from Krum, leaving him for his best friend."

"And now his best friend's brother?" She asked shyly.

Fred chuckled softly. "I want it noted for the record that you said that, not me."

Hermione smiled at him, running her fingers along the edge of the counter. Fred shifted his stance, putting his hand on the smooth surface, watching as her fingers moved closer. "The shop's really nice, Fred."

"I'm glad you're awed and impressed by it."

She lifted a finger to brush the sleeve of his robe. "You've got some really great ideas."

"You do too. I'd like to steal a few of them."

"They're all yours."

"I'd like to pick your brain a little more as well, if I could. Get a little feminine perspective."

"I'd be happy to help." She touched his wrist and he turned his hand over, exposing his palm. Her fingers feathered tentatively over the pale skin, her own fair cheeks flushed. "Anything to assure the continued affluence of the Weasley brood."

"Oh yes, we're dripping in riches thanks to our Ton-Tongue Toffees." His fingers clenched slightly, curling just enough to cause her to pull away. His smile was somewhat resigned and he glanced at the clock on the wall. "It's almost time for you guys to go home."

"You're not going home for dinner?"

"Not tonight."

"Oh." She nodded and glanced over toward the fireplace. Harry was sitting beside it, still looking slightly queasy after tasting a few too many of Fred and George's newest concoctions. Ginny was standing, leaning against the wall, struggling to control her smile as Harry hiccupped and a miniature monkey appeared in the air in front of him, hovering there before giving off a small "eeep!" and disappearing.

Hermione laughed, her breath catching as she felt Fred move behind her, his hand light as his fingers ran down his arm. "Will you go out with me on Friday, Hermione?"

She nodded, unable to turn around and look at him, uncertain of the churning anticipation in her stomach, the sickly sweet feeling that curled beneath it, making her whole body feel hot. "Yes."

"You're sure?"

She nodded again and managed to face him, her eyes wide. "Yes."

He nodded in return and rubbed her bottom lip with his thumb, separating it from the top one, leaving her looking breathless and imminently kissable. "I'll pick you up."

"Okay." She licked her lips unconsciously, her eyes hooked on Fred's. "That'd be nice." She turned back around to watch Harry who was still hiccupping, the small smoke animals parading around the room before fading, dissolving in the air slowly.

Fred closed his eyes, struggling to think of something off-putting. Like Dumbledore in a wet t-shirt contest, or Dolores Umbridge and Hagrid kissing. "Nice," he croaked, the images unable to block out the thought of a quick, pink tongue darting out over lips he suddenly had a strong desire to taste. "Yes."

"I think that one's a Vanquil," Luna's quiet voice carried over Harry's sudden barrage of hiccups, animals spilling out of his mouth at a somewhat alarming rate. She stepped forward, observing the smoky blob then nodding. "Yes. Father'd be quite pleased."

"I don't think smoke ones count though, do they?" Ron asked her, his voice pitched just loud enough for Hermione to hear, his eyes watching her surreptitiously as she simply stood in front of Fred. "Although it would give the picture some atmosphere."

"Oh, no. He'd want something more substantial. But I'm sure this is a good start." She dug into the small bag in her hand, the Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes logo moving over the slick surface like a pent-up snitch. "Maybe if I snuck up on one."

"How'd you do that?" Ron darted a quick glance at her then back at Hermione who seemed to have moved closer to his older brother. "Sneak up, I mean?"

She looked up at him as he turned to look at her again, his motion stopped as she nibbled on the end of a Transfiguration Tasty. Sharp, dark brown ears appeared from her blonde hair, her eyes turning almond shaped and glowing slightly. Downy fur dotted her skin and long, firm whiskers stretched out from her face. "You have to gain their trust, seem innocuous." She scratched her chin, the motion becoming a quick swipe, like a paw across fur. "Then when they least expect it, you pounce."

Ron stroked her cheek, his fingertips finding flesh beneath the sudden sprout of fur. "That's how you capture a Vanquil is it?"

"Among other things."

"Like what?" He could feel Hermione's gaze as it shifted toward them, hear her soft gasp as she realized Luna's head was very slowly transforming into a reasonable facsimile of a cat. "Besides a Vanquil?"

"A Mosslebeck Toad."

"Yeah?" Ron traced her eyebrow as the fur began to fade, the slight taste of the candy wearing off quickly. "What else?"

"I think a Snarfblat."

"What about," Ron kissed her softly, closing his eyes as Hermione's gaze followed him, clung to him like Luna's warm fingers, "a Ravenclaw?"

Luna gave a soft whimper that sounded much like the silky purr of a cat, her body curling sinuously against Ron's. Her hands seem to shake as she lifted them, pale skin threading through the brilliant shock of ginger hair. She seemed just about to relax completely into the kiss when Ron jerked away, succumbing to a wave of belches, short bursts of flames pulsing from his lips.

Luna tilted her head curiously, holding her hand into the flame when the first uncontrollable burst didn't burn her. "Oh, very nice."

"Nice?" Ron squeaked between burps. "I'm gonna kill you, Fred."

"On that note," George walked into the lab and grinned happily, "I think it's time for our visitors to head on home. Mum'll be worried that we've done something horrible to you if you're not back soon."

"I'm belching," Ron paused to emit another stream of fire, "flames and Harry's spitting out a menagerie of smoke and you've not done," another burp, "something horrible?"

George shrugged. "Nobody's got hurt." He glanced at Hermione then at Ron, raising an eyebrow. Ron followed his gaze to her soft eyes, a thin layer of hurt blurring the color as she deliberately refused to look at either Ron or Luna, then shot his eyes back to his brother. "Thanks for visiting. Come back soon."

"I hope you wake up hungry in the middle of the night and eat one of your own concoctions." Ron belched three times in rapid succession, the flames longer each time.

"It's terrible, isn't it, Ron? You can't even call the twins names," Ginny fought her giggle, "without insulting yourself." She gestured toward the fireplace. "Come on. Let's get home. Mum's making my favorite for dinner. Besides, I can't wait to hear what she says about the new entertainment act you and Harry have going on. Maybe we can convince her you're thinking about leaving school and taking it on the road."

"You're about as funny as them," Ron sneered.

"Thanks for the compliment, big brother." She threw her powder into the fire and flooed home, her laughter lingering behind her.

"Harry? You wanna trade? You have the family and I'll be the orphan for a while?"

"Ron?" Harry chuckled, somewhat surprised that the question didn't hurt then realizing, perhaps, why it didn't. "You've noticed that they pick on me too, right?"

"Damn."

"Language, Ronald!" Fred teased, ignoring Ron's rude gesture. Hermione started toward the fireplace as Ron and Luna went through, her progress halted as Fred caught her arm. Harry glanced back at her and she nodded, waving him on ahead. He disappeared and Hermione turned around. "I'll see you Friday? Around seven?"

She nodded. "Yeah."

"Okay." He let her go. She was almost at the fireplace when he spoke again. "Hermione?" She turned, her head tilted questioningly. "Goodnight."

She blushed and threw her powder, her voice slightly unsteady. He watched her go, very aware of his twin's gaze. "The new licorice is a hit. Though I think Hermione's right. We should market the smoke animals more toward the girls, change it to a different color, maybe pink, and put the fire in the red ones. Black...black should be something terribly nasty."

"I did see Ron kissing Luna again, didn't I? That makes it, what? Four times in two days?"

"Four?"

"He stole a few whenever he though Hermione was watching him."

"Ah."

"So our Ronniekins has either grown some balls or lost his head," George sighed as he leaned against the counter behind Fred.

"It's not balls," Fred assured him. "Four kisses, sure. But it's still the wrong girl, isn't it?"

"Is she the wrong girl?" George smiled as Fred whipped his head around to look at him. "As far as you're concerned, that is."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"You do, Fred. And you know you do." He let the statement linger in the air for a moment before speaking again. "You had fun today."

"Of course I did."

"Let me rephrase. You had fun with Hermione today."

"So?"

George's nonchalant tone did little to hide his amusement. "Just a comment, brother dear. Just a comment." He turned and headed out of the lab, grinning like a maniac. He pitched his voice slightly, giving it a husky purr. "See you Friday," then breathless, "Hermione."

Fred repeated the gesture Ron had used earlier. "Sod off, George."

 

"Ron?" Luna stuck her head in the door and waved to Harry, her eyes focused on Ron. "My dad's here. We're off to do some photography. Would you want to come?"

"Uh..." He glanced desperately at Harry. "Er, no thanks. We're about to play some wizard chess. Maybe, uh, later?"

"Okay. I'm going to take Ginny. She wants to see the Vanquil nest Dad's found."

"Right. You have fun. You coming back tonight?"

She nodded. "If that's all right?"

"Of course. Sure. We'll, uh, hang out tonight. After dinner. Maybe, uh, do something?"

"That'd be nice." She waved again and disappeared.

Harry smirked at Ron. "You're Mr. Eloquent, aren't you?"

"Sod off." Ron moved his rook. "Your move."

"Why don't you just tell her the truth? Or better yet, break up with her and tell Hermione the truth?"

"Luna's nice." Ron shrugged. "I'm having a fine time."

"And you're not just kissing her because it upsets Hermione?"

"It upsets her, does it?" Ron met Harry's gaze. "She didn't look too upset when she was practically kissing Fred before we left."

"You two are hopeless, you know that?" Harry sighed and moved. "Go."

"Checkmate." Ron captured Harry's king, the rough slicing sound of stone on stone filling the small attic room. "Another game?"

"Let me recover from my debilitating defeat first, huh?" Harry lay back on the floor and stared at the slanted ceiling. "So, what's it like?"

"What?"

"Kissing Luna."

"It's all right." Ron shrugged. "Never kissed anyone before her."

"I guess there's got to be a first, huh?" Harry turned over on his stomach and rested his chin on the back of his hands. "Was it wet?"

"Nah," Ron shook his head, leaning back against his bed. "Sort of dry and cool. Aloof almost. Like she didn't mind that I was doing it, but she wasn't particularly pleased either. Although today's was nicer. The last one."

"You do sort of like her, right?"

"Yeah. I mean, she's nice. And pretty in an odd sort of way. Not classic like Fleur was or anything. 'Course, she's not part veela either, so that's a bonus. Leastwise I know I'll keep my wits about me."

"Assuming you have wits?" Hermione smiled from the doorway, her gaze somewhat defensive. She held up a bowl of fluffy white. "I brought popcorn."

"What're you doing up here?" Ron moved his feet grudgingly as she made to step over them, scooting away from her as she sat on the edge of his bed, setting the bowl on the floor at her feet. "Figured you'd be studying or something."

"I was." She shrugged. "I just thought that the three of us haven't been able to hang out together at all."

"And you thought maybe Harry and I were bored and wanted to be harangued about studying or something while it's still summer?"

"Actually," her voice was cool, "I thought you might like some popcorn, Ron. Or maybe I was just hoping your legendary appetite would take over and you'd shove your mouth so full you couldn't talk so I could have a conversation with Harry without your nasty tongue entering into it." She stood up and stepped over his legs again. "Obviously I was wrong."

"Hermione." Harry rolled his eyes at Ron and got to his feet. "Don't go."

"You know, Ron, I thought maybe I could talk to you, both of you, about something and I thought maybe, since you're supposed to be my best friends in the entire world, you'd listen and offer me some advice, give me your thoughts and help me make an informed decision. Apparently I was wrong."

"About us helping you?"

She shook her head, sniffing back the tears that sparkled in the corners of her eyes. "About you being my best friends."

Harry groaned as she turned and ran down the stairs. "Ron, you stupid git."

"She just sets me off, Harry," he thumped his head back against the mattress.

"Maybe, just maybe because you fancy her?" Harry took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "You're a world class prat lately around her, Ron. Why can't you just admit that you like her and get on with it? It's what this whole thing is about, right? What Fred's doing, what you're doing? You don't want him to be right so you're mucking around with Luna? Do you want Hermione to like Fred? Because you snogging Luna in front of her isn't going to make her like you much."

"I suppose I should go talk to her, huh?" Ron sighed and put his hands on the mattress, shoving himself up off the floor.

"If by talk you mean apologize, yeah."

Ron waved in comment as he headed out the door and down the stairs, stopping on the next landing and turning toward Ginny's bedroom. The door was shut and he lifted his hand to knock, stopping at the sound of his mother's voice. "Did Ron say something to you, Hermione?"

"No, Mrs. Weasley, it's got nothing to do with Ron."

"Fred and George today? At the shop? Did they try something on you, dear?"

"Honestly, Mrs. Weasley, it's got nothing to do with anyone in your family. I just think that I should spend some time with my parents, is all. I promise."

"But dear, we told them we wanted you here. Not that they wouldn't want you back, of course, but didn't you say they'd made plans? Something about visiting friends in America?"

"Oh, no." He could hear the slight pause in her voice, the hesitancy in her tone. "That's during Christmas. They're home now."

"Maybe I should just call them up. Have Arthur do it on the fellytone at work."

"You can if you'd like, Mrs. Weasley, but really it's not necessary to bother them. I can owl them tonight and then they'll be expecting me tomorrow."

"I don't...and you'd go there for the rest of the summer?"

"It's only a few weeks."

"Hermione?" Ron tapped on the door with the back of his knuckles. "You in there?" She opened the door slowly and Ron was careful to force his eyes to his mother, widening them in surprise. "Oh, hello, Mum." He looked back at Hermione, smiling slightly. "Harry and I are about to...study. Thought you'd like to come up and help us."

"You're about to what?"

"Study. Upstairs. In my room. Come on." He took her hand, trying not to notice the tingling sensation. "We can't study without you."

"You've gone mental, Ron."

He stopped out of the sight of his mother and faced her. "You're not leaving on my account. You're not leaving period. I'm a git. You've known that since you met me. Don't expect it to change now."

"I don't want to stay here if you're going to attack me in every conversation we have, Ron."

"Every other one?"

She smiled slightly. "I suppose it's a start."

 

 

"What'dyoumean," Ron swallowed the cookie in his mouth, grimacing a bit in the face of his mother's glare, "you're going out?"

"Your father and I have things to do."

"Things? What things?" He crossed his arms over his chest defiantly. "And why've you got to do them tonight?"

"We have things to do for the Order, Ronald, and while I realize you're still a child, I would appreciate if you could remember there are things going on in this world that have little to nothing to do with your existence or your plans for a Friday night."

"Not my plans I'm worried about," he groused and kicked the edge of the cabinet. "You know he's taking her out tonight."

"I can only assume you mean Fred," Molly sighed and rested her hands on her plump hips, giving Ron an exasperated look, "and Hermione."

"She's two years younger than him."

"And yet she's an adult, Ron. Now, I realize that you've had a crush on Hermione for a while now, but you've got a girlfriend of your own who does happen to be staying here and I haven't yet set any restrictions on you, have I? You don't think I should give the same courtesy to your brother? Besides," she turned back to the over, opening the door to allow another tray of cookies to float out, "Hermione's got a good head on her shoulders and I don't worry about her."

"But it's Fred, Mum. You know how he is. He lets people do things that he knows'll get 'em in trouble. He lets people try his candies when he's only ever tested them on himself and George if we're lucky. You saw the spots Luna got the other day. Her dad was furious, she told me." He stubbed his toe on the floor, carefully not meeting his mother's gaze. "It's not that I don't trust Hermione, Mum, because I do. She's not that kind of girl or anything."

"And what," Mrs. Weasley asked dangerously, searching out her son's eyes, "exactly do you know about 'that kind of girl', Ron Weasley?"

"Nothing!" He held up his hands and backed away; shoving them behind his back to hide the three cookies he was holding. "I don't know anything about any kind of girl, except that Hermione's not like any kind of girl, honest."

"Hmph." She turned back to her baking, her hair falling in sweaty tendrils as she placed another pan in the oven, closing the heated chamber with a bang. "Regardless, you needn't worry about Fred's date. It's already been taken care of."

"You mean you won't let them go?"

"I mean," she gave Ron a hard look, her expression stern, "that there is nothing for you to worry about."

 

Ginny opened the door, wincing at the loud bang that resounded through the house behind her. "Ron, if you've so much as ruined a single thing in that kitchen, I'm going to skewer you and feed you to one of Hagrid's pets!"

"Mum and Dad go out?"

Ginny's gaze whipped around to her brother's and her eyes widened. Fred was leaning against the jamb, a small bouquet of flowers held loosely in his hand. "What're you doing here?"

"Not babysitting, so free yourself from the delusion that I'm taking care of the mess Ron's making for you." He patted her on the head as he walked past her, grinning at her low, annoyed growl. "Where's Mum and Dad?"

"Out."

"Really?" He smiled at his good fortune. "Excellent."

"But she left you this." Ginny smirked as she handed him a brilliant red envelope. He glared at Ginny, debating on whether or not to open the Howler. "Might as well. Otherwise it'll just be worse."

He closed his eyes and sighed, ripping the envelope open. His mother's voice shrilled through the living room, recriminations falling around Fred's head almost faster than he could hear them. "Fred Weasley! How dare you let our guest eat some of that...that...candy you sell at your store! Luna could have been killed eating one of those things and all I can say is that I've no intention of bailing you out of any kind of trouble when someone arrests you and your miscreant of a twin for killing some unsuspecting child. As it is it's a good thing Luna looks lovely in violet, since her father came by that night and nearly had an apoplectic fit."

Ginny laughed. "Her dad was impressed. He's talking about getting together with you and George about advertising in the Quibbler. Along with a full page article, of course."

"Excellent."

"And as for this date of yours, Fred Weasley, if you do not have Hermione home and completely unharmed by eleven tonight, I will personally lock you up in Azkaban. If you so much as touch one hair on her head, Fredrick, I will...OH!" The letter exploded on Molly's huff, paper confetti covering the floor. Fred looked up, blushing slightly as he saw Ron, Harry and Luna standing in the doorway of the kitchen, both boys trying not to smirk. His gaze was caught by a movement on the stairway and he turned, everyone else in the room forgotten.

"Hello, Hermione."

She smiled and waved sheepishly, her hand automatically going to her hair to smooth out the sleek strands. "Hi, Fred."

"You look," he shook his head, "stunning."

She blushed and darted a glance at the others. Fred followed her gaze and grinned at Ginny's obvious grinning approval, Luna's slight nod, Harry's wide eyes and Ron's gaping mouth. "Thank you."

"You look like a tart." Ron turned on his heel and stormed back into the kitchen. Harry closed his eyes and turned, following his best friend from the room. Luna trailed after them, leaving Ginny standing awkwardly alone by the door.

"I can only assume he'd say that because you look so tasty." Fred bowed slightly and handed Hermione the bouquet from his hand. She blushed even more, her cheeks furiously red. "Are you ready?"

She nodded though her smile trembled. "Yes."

"Good. I've got a surprise outside."

"Nothing you made yourself though, right? I really was hoping this date wouldn't include anything concocted by a Weasley."

"Nothing you put in your mouth tonight will have been made by a Weasley." Fred smiled and winked lavisciously at her. "That should put my mother's mind at rest, though she's liable to have fits at the double entendre."

"She's liable to have fits no matter what you say, Fred." She grinned at him, forcing herself not to look through the door into the kitchen as they walked past. "Especially since you prefaced this conversation with the mention of a surprise."

"Well," he opened the front door and guided her out onto the small porch, "I remember that you said that when they're sixteen, Muggles get their driver's licenses."

"Oh, no, Fred."

"And I thought about the fact that you're fifteen and you live in the Muggle world."

"No, Fred." She shook her head as he grabbed her hand and started leading her down the steps to a hulking mass on the other side of the low stone fence. "No."

"And I'm a stunning driver."

"In cars that fly!"

"So I thought I could teach you."

"No," she giggled helplessly. "I'm not driving a car, Fred."

"It's not really for driving," he admitted with a wink, tugging her along after him. He twirled her around, ending with her back against the car and him in front of her, plenty of distance between them. "I've been reading up on the Muggle world, you see."

"Oh?"

"And, according to what I was reading, cars are excellent for snogging in. Much more comfortable than say, a broom."

"Where'd you get a car, Fred?"

"Dunno. It was sitting on the side of the road with the tomor running."

"Motor," she corrected automatically before realizing what he'd said. "You stole a car?"

"Borrowed."

"Stole! Fred!" She moved away from the car. "We're going to get in so much trouble."

"Hermione." He leaned close and whispered her name, his breath stirring her hair. "I'm teasing."

"I can't believe you stole a car."

"It was just sitting here. I don't know who's it is." He caught her hand and pulled her closer, looping his arm around her shoulders, the gesture completely friendly and innocent. "I didn't steal it."

She elbowed him in the ribs, squirming out of his grasp. "You're horrible."

"I'm charming."

"If you do say so yourself."

"Exactly." He reached out and caught her hand. They walked side by side for a while in companionable silence.

"Where are we going?"

"Well, I thought about it for a long time. I mean, your first date with Viktor was the Yule Ball, which is tough to beat."

"Especially since the night ended with Ron and I having a blazing row."

"Right. So you can see that I had to carefully consider the competition."

"Right."

"And I realized there was no way I could compete, so I've just come to tell you I'm not coming."

"You came on the date to cancel it." She nodded as if he made perfect sense. "Very considerate of you."

"I thought so." He stepped off the road onto a path heading into the woods.

Hermione hung back slightly. "Have you heard of horror movies, Fred?"

"Seamus told us about pornography. Are they the same?"

"Well, they're both pretty scary," she laughed. "Please tell me where we're going?"

"We're here." He led her into a clearing, guiding her to a blanket spread out on the grass.

"A picnic?"

"You'd rather have whatever it was Ron and Harry were blowing up in the kitchen?"

She sat down. "I wasn't complaining."

"And everything's from Fortescue's in Diagon Alley, so you know I've not got any funny stuff planned."

"At least not with the food?"

Fred chuckled. "Exactly."

 

Hermione finished off her butterbeer and tucked the bottle back in the basket. Fred was lying on his side, head supported on one hand, his eyes unreadable in the rapidly fading sunlight. She turned and lay on her stomach, chin propped up on her fists, her head close enough to his that he could smell the crisp scent of her shampoo. "What?"

"What?"

She touched the tip of his nose then drew her hand back. "You're thinking something."

"I'm not."

"You are." Her finger moved out again and traced the curve of his lips. "Something mischievous."

"You wound me, Miss Granger." He closed his eyes for a brief second as she continued touching him, two fingers now feathering over his bottom lip. "To insinuate that I, of all people, might be up to something." He let out a long-suffering sigh. "It cuts me to the quick."

"You're not even close to convincing, you know." She tapped him on the nose again and pulled her hand away, as if suddenly realizing she'd been touching him. "So just confess."

"I'm not up to anything." He sat up so that he'd quit staring at her hand; quit the sudden wondering of whether or not she was going to touch him again. "However, our date is not yet done."

"This is the part where I get worried again, right?"

Fred got to his feet and leaned down, offering her his hand. Hermione took it and stood, blushing slightly at the lack of distance between them, somewhat relieved as Fred stepped back. "You were worried at some point this evening?" His eyes danced. "No."

"I can't imagine why I might be somewhat trepidatious whilst on a date with a Weasley twin." Hermione laughed softly, the sound magical in the dusk. "Surely, I must be mad."

"While I am more than happy to nurture the reputation my dear brother and I have on many and most occasions, you're more than welcome to research my history of dating and find that, never once, have I done anything to make said date uncomfortable or unhappy. Except, perhaps, for the leaving her wanting more bit."

"And how many dates have you been on?" The question was light hearted, but both of them heard the soft underbelly of it. For all her abilities, Hermione was a sixteen-year-old girl shy, unsure, confused, delicately balanced.

"A couple. The Yule Ball, of course. One or two after that. George informed me after one particularly brutal Quidditch practice that dating someone on the team was going to get me killed if I couldn't keep my mind on the ball and not on my balls." He cleared his throat. "Er..."

She smiled and ducked her head. "Did you like her? Angelina?"

"She was nice enough."

"Pretty too."

"Didn't ask her out because she was pretty." He laughed at Hermione's look and grabbed her hand, walking away from the blanket. "Well, not just because she was pretty."

"Anyone else?"

"I've gone out with a few girls. Nothing serious. Just a chocolate frog or a butterbeer. Nothing really date-like." He cast a sidelong glance at her, watching as she sorted the information, filing it away. "What about you? Anyone besides Viktor?"

"Oh, no. Neville asked me out once but I had to turn him down because I was already going to the ball with Viktor. After that, everyone's either assumed I'm still with Viktor or they think I'm just waiting for Ron."

"What happened with you and Viktor?"

She shrugged. "We still write and we're still friends, but there was never really anything there, you know? It was flattering though. That someone like him could like someone like me."

"What do you mean, like you?"

"Well, let's face it," she shrugged, no self-pity in her voice, everything matter of fact. "I'm not exactly beautiful or sexy. I have hair that would give anyone fits. I'm too smart for my own good. I'm bossy. I'm a know-it-all. I'm horrible on a broom, which is a bane to anyone who fancies Quidditch as a downtime activity, which appears to be 99% of the wizarding world. I don't care about Quidditch except as something to cheer my friends in, which is a negative when it comes to dating a world famous Quidditch star."

"Well," he cut her off before she could list any more. "You are beautiful. Maybe not conventionally so. I suppose a lot of people would consider you ordinary, since you've got brown hair and brown eyes, but you've got this life in you that glows, this determination and it animates you. And that is what makes you beautiful. As for sexy," he squeezed her hand and stopped walking, tugging her a little to turn her blushing face to his. "Please trust me when I say that you are."

"I'm not."

"I could convince you, but I'm afraid I'd break the promise I made back at the Burrow and then I'd have to face my mother's wrath." He lowered his voice and took a step toward her, closing the distance between them, his body barely a breath away from hers. "But you are," he dropped his eyes to her mouth, her lips parting under the weight of his stare, "so sexy."

Hermione swallowed as Fred stepped back, her whole body on fire. She blushed and turned away from him as she realized her nipples had hardened, suddenly wishing she'd worn her robes, a coat and a scarf to hide the telltale evidence of what Fred's voice had done to her.

"Your hair, I'll admit, does have its wild moments. But you know how to tame it when you want to. But it's perpetually mussed state does give a man, with an active imagination of course, a lovely idea of what it would look like sprawled out over a pillowcase after a particularly romantic evening."

"Fred!"

"I'm just explaining, love. Not suggesting." He bit back his smile, fighting to keep the image he'd just mentioned out of his head. "You don't know-it-all, because if you did, you wouldn't blush so sweetly."

"You're incorrigible."

"We've already discussed the intelligence issue. Some men like bossy women," he waggled his eyebrows and Hermione blushed again, not quite sure of what he meant, but absolutely positive it was supposed to be suggestive. "As for the Quidditch issues, not everyone you'll date will be an international Quidditch star unless you plan on becoming a groupie and hanging out at all the matches."

"No. Unless they're Gryffindor."

"So, you see? All your arguments are completely useless, and you're going to have to suck it up that you're stunning and imminently dateable. Even for an internationally known Quidditch star."

"You're very sweet, Fred. Daft, but sweet."

"I'm not sure if you're aware of this, Hermione, since, you know, you don't actually know everything, but you're treading dangerously close to insulting my own taste in women, given that I'm actually out on a date with you."

"You're out on a date with me to irritate Ron."

Fred's eyes narrowed and he shook his head. When he spoke, his voice was serious. "No, I'm not. I went after you the other day because it twisted him up, I'll admit, and it's fun to do that. But I asked you out because I wanted to. Because of all the reasons I just said."

"Even the one about the pillow?"

He touched her cheek, the warm desire to kiss her churning in his stomach. "Especially the one about the pillow." Her skin was a brilliant shade of red, highlighted by the last tendrils of setting sun. "So can we quit with the self-pity for a bit and let me enjoy my evening with the very lovely, very sexy, very smart, very non-Quidditch Miss Granger?"

"I suppose."

"Good."

"So," she looked away from him, a smile that she couldn't quite explain on her lips. "What is planned next for the rest of our evening?"

"I thought we'd play Quidditch, talk about Quidditch and how very homely my date is."

She turned and punched him lightly, her movement coupled with his so that they ended up against one another, face to face. Hermione's mouth opened to say something, the words dying as Fred glanced down at her mouth, his tongue darting out to lick his lips. "You're," her voice was soft and teasing, a whisper she wasn't quite sure of, "horrible, Fred."

He swallowed, licking his lips again, wetting them, his whole mouth dry. "Quidditch is out then?"

They were too close but strangely to Hermione's mind, not close enough. Her body reacted, instinctively closing the gap between them. Fred shook his head, suddenly several feet away, sucking in the early night air. Hermione smiled to hide the sharp pang of disappointment in the center of her chest, ducking her head so that her hair fell over her face to hide her equally unruly emotions. "Quidditch is right out."

"Damn." He started walking again, not taking her hand. Hermione followed him, jogging just enough to fall in pace with his longer stride. He slowed down automatically, matching his pace to hers, shoving his traitorous hands in his pockets. "I do have something planned that, given our recent conversation, you might take the wrong way. But will you promise me to let me explain before you bash me over the head with a rock?"

"I wouldn't do that. Hex you maybe. Petrify you and let all your practical joke victims have their revenge on you."

"That's a brilliant idea." He chuckled gleefully. "You're going to have to head up our new product development line. Raspberry Revenges. A toffee, you think? Hard candy?"

"Vengeance should be hard. Something you suck on determinedly." He gave her a somewhat wary glance out of the corner of his eye and she laughed. "You forget, I go to school with Draco Malfoy."

"Good point." He acquiesced. "But given your statement, you'll hopefully understand why I want a disclaimer before our date."

"Oh, absolutely. I'm terrifyingly scary, I do know."

"Let's just say I have a healthy respect for your talents." He took his hands from his pockets and reached out to catch hers again. "So promise you'll give me a chance and not do anything too irreversible."

"I've yet to turn Draco into a gnat or anything permanently, so I think you're safe." She gave him a smile though her eyes were suspicious. "Although I'm getting more and more nervous the longer you continue not telling me what it is we're going to do."

"I just thought," he gestured to the shed alongside the house. There were two brooms propped up against it and he shrugged. "We could go for a ride."

"You want me, the world's worst flyer, and I'm including Neville Longbottom in that list, to fly around with you, a Gryffindor beater, well known for his skill on a broom?"

"You make that sound awfully sexy."

"Which part? The Neville bit?"

"And the sarcasm." He growled low, sexy. "You'd better stop before I lose my grip on my iron restraint."

"I'm not going for a broom ride, Fred." She pulled her hand from his and crossed her arms over her chest. "I've no desire to wobble along behind you while you dash off, making me look all kinds the fool."

"You know, you're brilliant at everything else, Hermione, why's flying give you fits?" He walked over to the shed and grabbed his broom, leveling it and sitting sideways on it, balancing as he bobbed gently in front of her.

"I don't know."

"Flying doesn't have to be any different, you know. You just need practice."

"There's no one to practice with. Everyone else has it down." She shrugged and edged away from him.

"Why don't you ask Harry for lessons?"

"Harry's got enough on his mind without that. And Ron..."

"Ron what?" Fred asked. When she didn't answer, he pressed her again. "Ron what, Hermione?"

"He doesn't want to bother with it. He doesn't have the patience to put up with me. Especially now that he's playing Quidditch."

"Ron's got five older brothers, all of whom are better than him at tons of things, except Percy, who's just a git. Plus his best friend's Harry Potter, you know?" Fred shrugged. "He's got a bit of a complex, my little brother. Probably can't stand the thought of the girl he fancies showing him up in yet another arena." He smiled at her. "Not that that gives him a license to be a prat to you, mind you."

"He's not always a prat."

"Name one nice thing he's said to you so far this summer." Fred shrugged again. "And then I'll revise my opinion."

She shook her head and looked away from him. "I don't want to talk about Ron anymore."

"Fine with me." He hopped off the broom and caught her hand, pulling her to him. "Get on."

"I told you..."

"You told me you wouldn't wobble along behind me. And you won't." He lowered the broom so she could step over it then straddled it himself. "Wrap your arms around me."

"This is some cheap ploy to cop a feel, isn't it, Fred?"

"If that were the case, you'd be in front of me." He wrapped his hand around the broomstick and rested the other one over her hands clasped around his waist. He lifted higher off the ground. "Hang on tight."

 

Hermione's hands tightened as Fred dipped the broom down slightly, laughing back over his shoulder. "I'm nowhere near the trees, you know."

"I don't. I've got my eyes closed."

"That might be part of your flying problem."

"Well, when I fly, I don't swoop around like I'm some sort of superhero."

"What?"

"Nothing. Just...just stop swooping."

"The swooping's the best part." He squeezed her hands. "The whole point of flying is to give yourself over to it. Pretend you're a bird or something, just relax and let go."

"I can't." She buried her head against his shoulder blade. "I get too nervous."

"You're not nervous now, are you? I mean, being up here?"

"Not of the flying. Of the steering, maybe." She chuckled and tightened her hold once more. Fred closed his eyes for a second, snapping them open as she yawned.

"Tired?"

"A little. I guess I'm not used to all the fresh air."

"It's probably getting late anyway. I should get you home before Papa Ron sends out a search party."

"Harry'd be most likely to do that."

"Yeah," Fred agreed, obviously humoring her. "Harry's be the most concerned."

She squeezed him hard. "Hush, Fred."

"Yes, ma'am." He released her hands and grabbed the broom with both of his. "Hang on tight."

"Why should I do...FRED!" She screamed his name as he dove for the trees, squeezing her eyes closed as branches whipped past them, stirring in the wind, but none touching them. He laughed out loud and she managed to release her death grip with one hand long enough to smack him hard on the shoulder as soon as the broom slowed, drifting into a calm, steady flight. "I'm going to kill you."

He laughed softly and shook his head. "Tell me it wasn't a thrill, Hermione. Your blood pounding in your veins."

"Yes. Fear does that to me."

"It's not fear." He looked at her over his shoulder as he lifted up again, climbing higher in the air. "Adrenaline. Excitement."

"Fear," she insisted, jabbing him in the ribs.

"Okay, okay. I'm sorry." He turned his attention back to their flight, heading toward the unmistakable roof of the Burrow. "I'll behave."

"You'd better."

He nodded and dipped down, slowly dropping toward the ground in a nice casual manner. He skimmed the top of the trees and circled around, sinking down until the soles of his feet buzzed the grass in front of the house. Hermione shifted, anticipating the stop, and Fred gasped, the broom spinning and dumping them both on the grass before falling to the ground, the handle smacking Fred solidly on the forehead. "Ow."

"Oh, Fred." She crawled up his body, her hands gentle as she touched his face. "Are you okay? I'm so sorry. I didn't mean-" She broke off as he started laughing, rearing back and smacking him on the shoulder again. "Stop laughing."

"You're a menace, woman."

"I'm not!"

"You've got to wait for the broom to stop before you go clamoring to the ground. You threw off my balance. Had anyone been watching us, I'd be mortified."

"You're horrible." She jabbed him hard in the stomach. "Horrible." She settled back on her heels, her hands gliding over Fred's chest and hips as she pulled away. Realizing what she'd done, she blushed hotly, ducking her eyes so he couldn't look at her. "Sorry."

Fred deliberately misunderstood her. "The fall didn't kill me. I'll chalk it up to a learning experience."

"That's not what I..." she stopped as Fred caught her eye. "Oh. Right. Flying."

"Come on." He sat up, putting distance between them as he got to his feet. He held out a hand to her and she stood up, brushing the tangle of freshly mown grass and fallen leaves from her jeans. Fred brushed himself off as well. "Let's get you home."

They started walking together, his hand curling naturally into hers. They climbed up the steps to the door and Hermione glanced at the rough-hewn oak then at him, her eyes finally settling on the wooden planks of the deck. "I had a really nice time, Fred."

"So did I." He reached up and plucked a stray leaf from her hair, about to say more when the front door swung open. Ron stood there, glaring at the both of them.

"You know what time it is?"

"I'm pleased that you've graduated to telling the time, Ron, but you needn't bother. I know that she's home long before Mum's curfew."

"What have you two been up to?" His eyes scanned Hermione, high color staining his cheeks as he took in her bright eyes, tangled hair, and mussed clothes. He glared at his brother. "Or am I not of age to know?"

"Actual age? Or the age you're acting?" Fred crossed his arms over his chest, very deliberately letting Hermione's hand go before he did so. Ron's gaze locked on her hand and Fred smirked. "You plan on letting us in the house, Ronniekins?"

"Sod off."

"With snappy comebacks like that, it's no wonder you're the apple of Snape's eye, Ron." Fred muscled passed his brother, guiding Hermione into the living room. Harry was sitting on one side of the chessboard, most of his figures in pieces around the board. Ginny and Luna were both reading issues of the Quibbler, the upside down papers blocking their faces. He guided Hermione over toward the staircase, standing in front of her to block her from everyone else. "I want to see you again. If you'll let me."

"No more flying?"

"Not for a while." He tapped her on the nose. "Is that fair?"

"Fair enough."

He let his finger drop down to her lips, tugging the bottom one lightly. "Can I see you again, Hermione?" She sucked the lip back, sinking her teeth into it as she nodded shyly. Fred grinned and wrinkled his nose. "I'll owl you."

"Okay."

Ron cleared his throat. Fred turned his head to see his younger brother standing there, Luna's hand gripped tightly in his. "Yes, Ronald?"

"I'd like to go to bed."

"With Luna? You do move fast, Ronniekins."

"I'm walking Luna to her room." He sneered. "If you'll get your fat arse out of the way."

"Absolutely, your highness." Fred edged closer to Hermione before moving, standing beside her as Ron marched up the stairs. Luna followed, looking somewhat dazed and floaty, as usual. He turned back to Hermione. "I should go."

She nodded. "Night, Fred."

Her lips were soft and parted, painted with a tinge of moisture that ached to be tasted. He shook his head and swallowed, pressing a kiss to her cheek. "Night, Hermione." And with a sharp crack, he was gone.

 

Hermione walked up the stairs to Ginny's room, humming softly under her breath. Her skin tingled from Fred's soft kiss as well as the night air, her whole body still slightly cool but alive. Maybe flying wasn't so bad after all.

She turned at the top of the steps to head toward Ginny's room, stopping at the sound of whispering. Her eyes lifted and she glanced at the door to Percy's old bedroom where they'd deposited Luna, the quiet tune in her head going silent at the sight of Ron. He was leaning forward, one arm over his head, resting against the doorjamb, the other curved under Luna's chin. One side of his shirt was untucked, hanging haphazardly over the waistband of his jeans, the top button open and exposing the faintest glimmer of reddish-golden hair.

He ducked his head, brushing his lips lightly across Luna's, kissing her like a quick sip of wine, then pursing his lips, savoring the taste. "Goodnight, Luna." He kissed her again, in earnest this time, his grip sliding from beneath her chin to the nape of her neck, his large hand disappearing in a cascade of blonde.

"Excuse me." Hermione's breath caught in her chest as she edged behind Ron on her way to Ginny's room.

"Sorry, 'Mione." He gave her a casual grin, his eyes not reflecting the light-hearted tone of his words. "We in your way?"

"Not at all, Ron. Just going to bed."

"Fred gone?"

"Yes."

He moved closer to Luna, mimicking the move Fred had made downstairs. "We won't stop you then."

"Goodnight, Hermione. Sweet dreams."

"Goodnight, Luna." Her eyes swept over Ron once more, her gaze making his skin burn. "Same to you." She moved into the bedroom she was sharing with Ginny, shutting the door behind her with a quiet click.

"Ron?"

He forced his gaze back to Luna and she stared at him, her fingers feathering over his long, ginger eyelashes. He blinked and looked away, nervous in the face of her determined gaze. "I should let you get to bed. To sleep."

"Ron?" Luna grabbed his hand and tugged him toward the door. "Come to bed with me."

 

Ron stared at the picture of Percy wearing his prefect's badge, not meeting his brother's disapproving glare. Percy huffed and walked out of the picture, no doubt mumbling something about younger brothers with no sense of decency.

Luna turned and sat on the edge of the bed. Ron glanced around the room, at anything but her then lifted his hands to his shirt, slowly beginning to undo the buttons. Luna watched him with a curious expression for a long moment before speaking. "You can stop that."

"I can? Er." Ron dropped his hands. "Okay."

"Because I'm not going to have sex with you. At least not yet."

"Er. Right. Later then?"

"Maybe. But first we need to figure out why you want to have sex with me when you're in love with her."

"I'm not."

"You are." Luna shrugged. "And you do, which is really okay with me, as I mentioned before about the kissing." She watched Ron try to puzzle out her words. "Although, if you want to fool around a bit to get it out of your system, I wouldn't be opposed."

Ron looked lost. "I really don't know what you're talking about, Luna."

"Have you thought about telling Hermione that you fancy her? Without insulting her, preferably, but I understand that you're a teenage boy and that might be beyond the realm of your abilities."

"She's dating my brother."

"Yes. That's understandable. Fred's enough to make even a Squinthog rather enamored. But I think that it's been clear for quite some time that she likes you."

"She's dating him."

"Ah." Luna nodded. "I always forget that there's that logic block. My father warned me about it. That boys can't see beyond the obvious."

"Hey now, there's no need for insulting me." He shoved his shirt back in his waistband, tugging it so hard that it hung lopsided on his shoulders. "You've got no clue what's going on with Hermione and me and what we've been through and, if she wants to go around dating and kissing and...and whatever with my brother, well then, they're welcome to each other."

Luna sighed. "All right then." She stood up and walked over to Ron, tugging his shirt free where he'd just tucked it in and straightening the fabric. Hooking her finger in the vee exposing his bare skin, she stood on her tiptoes and pressed a quick kiss to his lips.

Ron was caught somewhere between a gasp and a sigh as her lips found his and he reached out to steady himself, finding handfuls of very warm, very girl flesh. He made a quick, frightened sound and backed away, his eyes wide and wary. "Er. I'd better go. Out. To bed." A quick glance downward and then up, blushing furiously as Luna's gaze dropped to his crotch. "Alone. Goodnight."

She caught his hand before he could leave, nodding toward the door. He stopped, managing to hear voices over his own frantic breathing and pounding heart. Harry, Hermione and Ginny were all obviously in the hallway and, no matter what he did, they were going to turn around and look at him the minute he walked out the door.

"You don't have an invisibility cloak, do you?"

Luna shook her head with a slight smile. "Sorry, no."

"Thought not." He nodded once and opened the door, looking back at Luna as he felt three sets of eyes lock onto him. Leaning forward, he kissed the blonde once more, swallowing his surprise as her hand brushed lightly over his burgeoning erection. His voice was strangled. "Night, Luna."

She smiled and waved as he backed away, nearly running into Harry. "Goodnight, Ron."

 

"You know what I like best about summer?" Ron asked as he sucked the end of his ice-pop.

"The fact that there's no classes to get in the way of your eating?" Harry suggested as he took another chocolate frog from the pile on the grass between them. "There's no classes, period? There's no Snape? No Filch?"

"There is absolutely no reason that I have to get up from this lovely patch of grass for three more weeks." Ron sucked the last bit of ice off the stick and tossed it into the pile of their wrappers. "And that, to me, is bliss."

"It's supposed to rain tomorrow."

"Pardon?" Ron raised his head just enough to see Luna's pale eyes.

"It's supposed to rain tomorrow. So you may not want to continue to lie there." She glanced over at the book Hermione had held out to her. "Oh, that's lovely. Is that a Hoopbloom?"

"Er, no." Hermione tugged the book back into her lap. "I don't think so."

"You might want to check it out. I think you'll find it may be." Luna turned her attention back to Ron. "Although they say rain is quite good for your skin."

Ginny prodded Harry with her finger. "Let's go flying."

"I'm stuffed, Gin." He rolled onto his back and smiled up at her eager face as she leaned over him. "'Sides, Hermione and Luna aren't big on flying."

"I'll fly."

Ron glanced at Hermione who was still looking down at her book, her face set. "I'm too full to fly. Maybe I'll just hang here with Hermione."

"I can fly, Ron." She snapped.

"I didn't say you couldn't."

"Good, because I can."

"Yeah, just not well."

"Here we go again," Ginny sighed.

"Well, if you'd ever bother to take the time to teach me, rather than just snapping at me when I do things wrong or berating me for not being up to your standards..."

"My standards? Suddenly it's outlandish for me to expect you to be able to stay on a broom for more then ten seconds?"

"Maybe if you'd bother to find out why I had such trouble instead of just assuming that I'm an idiot."

"And I'm just supposed to ask you? Is that it? I'm just supposed to ask you why you have such a hard time on a broom, why you can't fly to save your life and why you..."

"I'm scared!" She clamped her mouth closed, her lips a white line in the red flush that covered her face. "I get scared, Ron. And if you'd ever bothered to ask me, you'd know that and you wouldn't give me such a stupid, hard time and we wouldn't even be having this conversation."

"I didn't know."

"That much is obvious." She sighed and raked a hand through her hair. "You guys go flying. I have some reading to do anyway." She headed off to the house, leaving the four of them standing around staring after her, looking at anything but each other.

"Maybe we should..."

"We should fly," Ron decided. "We should fly and leave her alone and let her calm down." He watched her disappear into the house and sighed. "And I'll apologize to her later."

 

"Hermione?" Ron tapped on the door of the twins's room and opened the door. Hermione was sitting at George's desk, writing something that she rolled up and set aside as he walked in. "Why're you in here?"

"Ginny's working on something on her desk. I didn't want to move it all. Besides, with the twins hardly ever here, I figured this was the best place to try for some peace and quiet."

He nodded and ran his hand over his head, pushing his hair down then standing it up. "Look, about earlier..."

"It's okay, Ron."

"Nah. It's not really. I was, believe it or not, actually trying to be nice when I started out."

"I know you were. I just get defensive when it comes to that." She shrugged and folded her hands in her lap. "I don't like things I can't do well. They make me angry with myself because I know that it's stupid, of all the things to be afraid of that are real, to be afraid of something that's in my head."

"The things in your head are scarier," he acknowledged, sitting on the edge of George's bed. "Because you don't know how real they are."

"You're talking about Harry."

"Yeah, a bit. There's other stuff too. I get scared of things that I think about and I go a little off my nut." He grinned. "Not that you'll find that hard to believe, huh?"

"How is Harry?"

"He's...okay. I mean, he's not talking about things, but that's pretty typical of him, isn't it? Not wanting to burden all of us with his problems because he thinks he's supposed to handle 'em all on his own. You'd think he'd learn by now."

"Harry wants to make sure his parents didn't die in vain. And now, with Sirius, it's going to be worse."

"He told me that he and Remus laid flowers for him."

"Did they?"

"Yeah." Ron rubbed the worn spot of his jeans just above his knee. "Listen, why don't we do something tonight? Just the three of us, just like old times? We could sneak out of the house and go out into the woods and just hang out. No siblings, no significant others or anything. Just us."

"I'd like that."

"It'll be like old times. Like at school only without the constant danger of one of Hagrid's Forbidden Forest buddies."

"Or Snape and Filch threatening detention."

"Just us." Ron smiled.

Hermione smiled in return. "I can't wait."

 

"What d'you want?" Ron glared at Fred, holding the door handle tightly. "Don't you have a store to run?"

"We're closed for the evening, little brother." Fred leaned against the jamb and crossed his arms, smiling indulgently at Ron. "Do I need to know the password or something? Was I not made aware of a change in the Weasley door policy?"

"You live at the shop, why're you always hanging around here?" He lowered his voice and quickly glanced over his shoulder. "Things are going well today and I don't need you here mucking them up."

"So you've told Hermione you fancy her then?"

"Why do you keep going on about that?"

"If you don't know, Ron, I'm certainly not going to tell you." Fred put his finger against Ron's nose and pushed, guiding his brother backwards. "I'm here, if you must know, because I have a date with Hermione."

"She's got other plans for tonight."

"Really? Doing what? Sitting around and watching you and Harry play chess?" He moved around Ron and sank down on the couch next to Ginny. "Hullo, sis."

"Fred!" She batted his hand away as he mussed her hair. "You're worse than George, I swear."

"Not possible. We're bad in equal degrees, just in different ways." He got up and grabbed Luna's hand, kissing it softly. "Miss Lovegood, you're looking as smashingly scatterbrained as usual."

"Thank you."

"And Mr. Potter." He looked down his nose at Harry. "You're going to lose the game if you move your knight there." He pointed to a different square. "Trust me."

"Why would I do that?"

"Because someone had to teach Ickle Ronniekins to play chess, didn't he?" Fred grinned. "Mum?"

"In here, Fred."

"I'm George, Mum."

"Oh. George. Where's Fred?" She bustled out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a towel. "I thought he was supposed to be here to pick up Hermione."

"Kidding, Mum." He kissed the top of her head. "I'm Fred. It's really quite sad that my girlfriend can tell us apart..."

"I'm your girlfriend now, am I?" Hermione asked from the bottom of the staircase.

"You assume so much, Miss Granger. I could be talking about any one of the scads of women that follow me around like the God among men that I am."

"Why don't you go and bother one of them then," Ron suggested, glaring at Fred.

Hermione stepped off the bottom stair. "I'm not your girlfriend, you know."

"I do know, and I do so regret that I've maligned your name at the expense of a cheap joke."

"A fair enough apology, I suppose." Hermione linked her hand around his arm. "Do I dare ask what you have planned for tonight?"

"Well, doing so would spoil the surprise and most likely cause Ron to go into convulsions, so I think it best that my designs remain a mystery for a while longer."

"Mum? You're hearing this, right?"

Molly smiled at Hermione, her face only slightly worried. "Have a nice time, dear." She reached out and grabbed Fred's ear and twisted it, pulling him down to her level. "Have her home by eleven or you'll answer to me, Fred Weasley."

Fred's face burned as he rubbed his ear. "Yes, Mum."

"Now then. Enjoy yourselves."

Hermione glanced at Ron and smiled. "I'll see you later."

He grinned in return, content suddenly that she'd remembered, hadn't forgotten their plan, their promise. "Right."

 

"Where are we going?"

"Nowhere fancy." They walked down the street away from the Burrow and toward the small town just to the north. "I thought dinner."

"Yes, it's good that we didn't let anyone else in on that plan."

"Then I thought we'd get a room at the inn and I'd ravage you senseless." He winked. "Or, barring that, I thought maybe we'd go for another ride."

"Oh, no. I'm never getting on another broom with you, Fred Weasley."

"I'm not asking you to." He stopped and turned, looking down at her. "I'm going to give you lessons."

"I don't..."

"And I know that you don't want to and I know that you're worried that you're not good enough and you're probably scared because when you're worried, you can't help but be scared, but with everything that's going on, Hermione, you need to be prepared."

"Is this the part of the date where you frighten me?"

"You're not frightened. You're determined. And I know that, if you think of it that way, if you think that this is a skill you might need to help you when it comes down to the fight against You-Know...fuck, Voldemort, then you'll be able to do it. You may not ever do it for fun, and you may never enjoy it, but you'll do it and do it well when you have to."

"This sounds more like one of Snape's classes than a date."

"Thank you for comparing me to Snape. I can safely say that, not only is my life over, but you've completely squashed any sexual drive I had as far as you and I are concerned."

She started walking again. "Your mother, I'm sure, will be relieved to hear that."

"Are you?"

Hermione stopped and looked back at him. "Am I what?"

"Relieved?"

She started to shake her head then stopped. "What are you asking me, Fred?"

"What I said in there? Would you be all that opposed to it?"

"Worshiping you like a god among men?"

He sighed, suddenly nervous in the face of her teasing. "Being my girlfriend."

"Would you like me to be?"

He didn't think, didn't consider. Simply nodded. "Very much."

"I'll let you know at the end of the night."

"After the flying lesson?"

She nodded. "It'll give you some incentive to be nice to me, won't it?"

 

Fred fell back on the grass, laughing, rolling to avoid Hermione's half-hearted kicks. "I'm sorry," he gasped. "But you have to admit it was funny."

"I was upside down!"

"And adorable."

"In a skirt, Fred Weasley!"

"I know," he tried to stop laughing but failed. "I didn't look, I swear."

"Oh?" She asked archly. "What color are my knickers?"

He grabbed her hand and pulled her down on top of him, rolling back over so that she was pinned to the grass. "Hermione? I can assure you that if I were thinking about your knickers? I wouldn't be laughing." He got off her quickly and stood up, helping her to her feet. "Now, come on. Admit it was funny."

"It wasn't funny. I could have been killed"

"You were three feet off the ground."

She fought her smile. "Still."

He caught a lock of her hair and curled it around his finger. "C'mon. Admit it."

"All right," she acquiesced. "It wasn't horrible."

"Be still my heart." He tugged gently at the lock of hair. "You are lovely."

"Hush."

"Eyes bright. Cheeks flushed." He brushed the ends of her hair over her cheek. "Lips all swollen from all that nervous biting." The hair caused her lips to tingle. "Awfully kissable."

"Flying makes me kissable?"

"Flying makes you look kissable." He continued teasing her lip with the curl of hair. "You're always kissable."

She shook her head, giving him a look. "You'll say anything to make me not hate flying."

"This is true." He released her hair, his finger brushing her lip. She shivered slightly and he pretended not to notice, catching her hand in his. "It's late though. I should get you home before Mum decides that a howler is not nearly enough punishment."

"I'll vouch for your character, if you'd like."

"Yeah?" He watched her with smoky eyes, unreadable in the dimness. "And what would you say?"

"I'd say you were a perfect gentleman."

"Which she'd never believe." He rubbed her fingers with his thumb as they walked. "Have things gotten better? At the Burrow?"

"What do you mean, better?"

"With Ron?"

"Oh." Hermione shrugged. "I think so. He and I seem to set each other off with the slightest provocation. In fact, I'd say the three of us are a veritable powder keg, given that there are very certain subjects that you don't discuss with Harry. But today he apologized for something he said and we're all going to try to get our friendship back on track."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." She bit the inside of her lip and looked at him. "Does that bother you?"

"What?"

"Me being friends with Ron?"

"You know, I'm not sure that I shouldn't be offended that you both think I'm that shallow and unfeeling about your friendship with my brother and that you think my own charm and sex appeal is so lacking that I couldn't sweep you off your feet even if Ron wasn't being his normal gitty self."

Hermione laughed. "Don't be offended."

"I think I might."

"And end our date on a sour note?" She gestured toward the Burrow. "It's almost over, you know. The date. The night."

"The night," he argued, "is still young. The problem is so are you." He stopped outside the gate and pulled her closer, his eyes dark as they met hers. "Tell me you had fun."

"I did."

"Even upside down on the broom, showing off your purple knickers?"

Her mouth opened and she slapped his arm. "You did look!"

"I did no such...ow!" She shoved him away from her, laughing, then took off at a run. He grinned and shook his head, loping after her, his longer legs making catching up to her easy. He grabbed her robe as she reached the porch, slightly out of breath. "I guessed."

"You guessed purple?" She jabbed him in the chest. "You looked, you rat."

"I thought perhaps you were showing them off on purpose."

"Is that the kind of girl you think I am?"

"Mmm. That's the kind of girl you are when I dream about you." He kissed her on the forehead as he reached out and opened the door. "Night, Hermione."

She fought the rising disappointment as he pulled away and jogged down the steps. "Night, Fred." She watched him until he suddenly wasn't there anymore, the sharp crack indicating he'd Disapparated. Sighing, she slipped inside the house, surprised to see Ron, Harry, Ginny and Luna all sitting in the living room. "Er, hello."

"Hey," Ginny waved. "How's your date?"

"It was nice. What are you four up to?"

"Harry's teaching us how to play, what's it called, Harry?"

"Life."

"Yes. We're playing life." She nodded. "I think Luna's winning."

"Luna's car keeps veering off the beaten path," Harry grinned up at Hermione, noting her flushed face and slightly erratic breathing. He shot a look at Ron and noticed he'd seen it too. "What'd you and Fred do?"

"Flew." She grinned. "He gave me lessons. Well, he tried. And then we ran."

"Ran?" Ginny's brow furrowed.

"Well, we were talking, teasing. And he said something and I just," she blushed. "Er, ran. To the house." She sat down next to Harry and Luna, across from Ron. "You been playing long?"

"Just a bit. You want to join us?"

"Sure. I..." They all looked over as the door opened and Fred grinned at them, his hair wind-blown and his face red. "Fred?"

"I forgot something."

"Oh?" He nodded and walked over to her, grabbing her hand. She stood and followed him to the doorway, extremely conscious of everyone's eyes on them as they slipped out onto the porch. "What'd you forget?"

"This." His hands framed her face and his thumb teased her lower lip away from the upper one, parting them so he could taste her shuddering breath. "I'm going to kiss you, you know."

She nodded and closed her eyes, rising on tiptoe as he lowered his head, their lips meeting somewhere in the middle. Fred uttered a soft noise that thrummed through Hermione as it curled off his tongue into her mouth, sliding along her nerve endings as his fingers curved slightly, putting the lightest pressure on her head, guiding her in the kiss.

Her hands grasped at him, fisting in his robes as he pulled away then immediately kissed her again, sucking her tongue into his mouth, reveling in the quiet noises of pleasure she was making. She released his robes and slid her hands beneath them, smoothing them over his shirt, her palms splayed over his nipples. He grabbed her hands and pulled them away, moved her away from him, distancing her from the suddenly very apparent reaction of his body.

He smiled down at her as she licked her lips, looking up at him dazedly. "See? Extremely kissable." She nodded and he kissed her again, quickly this time. "Can I see you next Friday?"

She bit her lip and nodded again. "Yes."

He grinned and stroked her cheek. His voice was husky and warm. "Are you my girlfriend?"

She blushed and nodded, turning away from him and disappearing inside the house, closing the door behind her.

 

Hermione glanced around the living room, surprised to see Harry packing up the game. "What's going on? Where'd everyone go?"

"Upstairs."

"Oh." She shook her head. "Why?"

Harry sighed. "Ron wasn't pleased that Fred showed back up. Probably even less pleased that you went out on the porch with him."

"We were just talking," Hermione insisted, her telltale blush giving her away. She sank down opposite Harry. "What should I do, Harry?"

"You're asking me for relationship advice?" Harry laughed. "Don't get the boyfriend of the girl you like killed. That's about the only life lesson I can give you."

"You didn't get Cedric killed, Harry. It happened. It wasn't your fault."

"I don't want to talk about it."

"You never do." She shook her head. "I'm sorry." He turned his head and she shook hers again. "No, you know, I'm not. You've got to talk to people, Harry. People you trust. You trust us, don't you? We're your friends, your best friends. You know that Ron and I would do anything for you, don't you?"

"Yeah."

"Or do you think we just say that to placate you and don't really mean it?" When he didn't answer, she sighed. "We followed you into battle, Harry. Maybe we didn't make it out unscathed, but we followed knowing that. We followed you knowing we could die. If we can trust you with our lives, can't you trust us with your feelings?" She got to her feet, still staring at him, willing him to meet her eyes. When he didn't look up, she sighed. "I'm going to change."

"Are we still on for tonight?"

"Do you want to be?"

He finally looked up, his green eyes sparkling with unshed tears. "Yeah."

"Then I'll meet you on the landing at one?"

"Yeah." He folded the game board and closed the lid. "Just the three of us."

 

Ron hung in Luna's doorway, swinging one foot along the wood floor. "Er," he rubbed the back of his neck. "Was a fun game, huh?"

"Oh yes. I especially loved the pink pegs." She smiled and sat on the edge of the bed. "And driving."

"You weren't really driving though, were you?"

"Well, it's sort of about pretending, isn't it? And imagining." She noted Ron scowl. "Are you thinking about her again?"

"What?"

"I'm just wondering if you're thinking about Hermione. Because if you are, you should probably go to your room. If you're not, I suppose it would be all right for you to come in and sit for a while. We could talk."

"Talk?" He looked seriously puzzled. "About what?"

"I'm sure there's something." She smiled, assured. "But not if you're thinking about her."

"I'm not. I don't think about her. I mean, I'm concerned for her, because my brother's a git, but it's not like..." He bit off his words at her grin. "Right. You want me to," he gestured toward the hallway with his thumb.

"No."

"No?"

"I'd like you to come in, Ron."

"Er, you would?"

"Yes."

"Hmm." He nodded and walked in, closing the door until it was almost shut, a small beam of light coming in from the hallway. He walked over to the window and glanced outside, his face growing hot, then turned back to Luna. "You ever had a boyfriend?"

"Not really. I kissed a boy when I was younger, but it wasn't serious."

"Anyone I know?"

"Maybe." She watched him prowl the room. "Ron?"

"Yeah?" He looked sharply at her, about to head for the door. She shook her head and he stopped, waiting. "Yeah?"

"Would you like to kiss me again?"

He looked trapped for a second then he smiled, his face relaxing. "Yeah."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. You're easy to kiss." He sat down on the opposite edge of the bed, keeping some distance between them. "I don't feel that pressure, you know? Like everyone's watching me or about to criticize me."

"You kiss very nicely. I can't imagine what there'd be to criticize."

"I'm sure people could find something."

His face looked stormy and she sighed. "Ron?"

He faced her, shaking himself out of his reverie. "Hmmm?"

Luna reached out and touched his cheek, her lips parting as she stroked his skin lightly. "Kiss me."

"Right." He nodded as he leaned in, his eyes closed, his mouth open as it moved over hers, his tongue sliding easily between her parted lips. Luna made a soft sound that sent a shocky thrill through Ron's body, her hands moving up over his shoulders, supporting herself as she moved closer, sliding across the bedspread to press her leg against his.

Ron groaned and threaded his hand through her hair, his palm hot against the nape of her neck. She dropped one hand, letting it stroke lightly over the tense muscle of Ron's thigh. His whole body stiffened and he groaned again, his fingers tightening on the base of her skull, sucking her tongue into his mouth.

She whimpered, moving forward, her chest brushing against his. Ron gasped and pulled back, sucking in huge gulps of air as he stared at her with wide eyes. Luna looked at him dreamily, her tongue darting out to lick at her swollen lips. Ron watched the pink flash, unable to look away, slightly awed by her rough breathing.

"Luna?"

Her smile deepened and she closed her eyes, leaning into him again. Ron reached out and touched her shoulders, squeezing them gently. She shook her head, her hands capturing his wrists and dragging her hands down to her breasts, resting them over the firm, supple mounds.

"Oh..." Ron searched for a word, his brain swimming with heady sensations as he rubbed his palms over the hard tips of her nipples, his fingers constricting slightly in an attempted caress.

He watched his hands move, open-mouthed, breathing erratically. He let them slide up slightly, his thumbs focusing on the nipples, closing his eyes briefly as they tightened beneath his touch. He licked his lips and slid them to the side, applying and easing pressure on the supple skin.

"You know, Ron, they won't vanish if you take your eyes off them." Luna said the words softly, almost whispering. "And I do still have other points of interest."

His eyes snapped up to her face and he flushed hotly, jerking his hands away from her. "Sorry. Sorry."

She reached for his hands and guided them back to her chest. "Maybe you could just try to do two things at once?"

"Two?"

Luna kissed him softly, sliding her tongue over his lips then inside his mouth as she tightened her hands around his, causing him to stroke the swell of her breasts. She pulled back so she could speak, too close to even see into his eyes. "Two."

"Oh." He nodded and found her mouth again, raining gentle kisses over her lips as he teased her nipples. His kisses stopped occasionally as his hands moved down her ribcage then back to her breasts, resuming as soon as he realized he'd stopped. "I like kissing you," he murmured against her lips.

"It's mutual," she assured him, her hands tracing his jawline. Her voice was breathier than normal, hitching as he caught her nipples between his thumbs and forefingers, plying them to tighter peaks with soft, gentle tugs. "Oh."

"Oh?" He purred against her ear, his teeth grazing her lobe before his tongue darted to the hollow beneath it.

She pulled back from him and swallowed, struggling to catch her breath. Without looking away from his dark eyes, she reached down and unfastened the top button of her shirt. Ron's eyes darted down then back up, wild and shocked, to hers. She gave him a smile that he couldn't quite read and let another of the pearly discs slip free of the fabric.

"What...what're you doing?"

She reached for his hands again and placed them against the vee of fabric, guiding one finger to brush along her sternum. "What are you doing, Ron?"

His fingers seemed too large and clumsy as he tried to manipulate the rest of the buttons, his hands shaking as he worked her shirt free of her waistband, undoing them all. Her shirt suddenly seemed too big on her as it fell away from her small form and he gulped audibly, his whole body throbbing with hunger.

Luna tilted her head and watched him. Ron stared at her creamy flesh, his eyes occasionally darting away from the nearly see-through lacy wisp of her bra. Her nipples were pressed tight and hard against the thin fabric, the darker flesh like a beacon. He swallowed several times, his Adam's apple bobbing frantically as he lifted a hand, reaching out tentatively to touch the skin he was admiring.

Luna closed her eyes and shuddered, causing Ron to freeze. She shook her head, arching her back slightly in encouragement. Ron bit his lower lip and forced his hand to keep moving, groaning out loud as lace met skin and he was feeling her. His other hand curled around her waist and she was against him and her hands were on his chest and he was touching her. He buried his head against her neck, licking and sucking the smooth column with more enthusiasm than style or grace.

Luna's nails scraped the back of Ron's scalp and he muttered something against her skin, his body jerking. With just a slight amount of pressure, she pulled him toward her, the sheets cool against her body, Ron beside her and on top of her, lost in the feel of her skin as he slipped his hand under the restrictive cup of her bra.

"Luna," he breathed hotly again and again, his hips rolling toward her, his body carefully not touching hers. She turned slightly, finding his lips with her own and kissing him, insinuating herself against him. Ron tried to stifle a groan and failed, the sound sending shivers of desire along her exposed skin.

She reached out and brushed his hip, curving her hand over the sharp lines of him, sliding it down to the warm curve of his cock as it strained against his jeans. Ron's body thrust forward and he gasped and scrambled away, jerking her with him as his hand got caught in her bra, palm still pressed hotly to her breast. He finally freed himself and pulled back, falling off the bed and backing up on his hands and feet until he felt the solid wall behind him.

Luna ducked her head and started buttoning her shirt, not looking at Ron as he blushed ferociously. "I won't apologize."

"You?" His eyes snapped up and he blushed redder, averting his eyes from the little flesh that was still exposed. "I was the one..."

"Who did exactly what I wanted him to do." Luna focused her wide eyes on him. "I liked what we did, Ron." He bit his lip hard enough to feel the blood pulsing through his flesh, the majority of it still pounding through his cock. "Didn't you?"

"We went too far."

"We stopped."

"Too late."

"Too late for what?" Luna gathered her nightgown and robe and tilted her head, observing him as he looked away. "I'm going to go change. Will you be going back to your room?"

The thought of facing Harry horrified him. He thought quickly of where else he could go. He didn't even consider Ginny's room. And the twins's room would mean being surrounded by Fred's things, which would only serve to remind him of Hermione. "Er...would it be all right if I stayed here for a bit? Just until..." He blushed and darted a glance down at his erection before crossing his legs to hide the bulge from her knowing eyes. "For a bit."

"Sure." She walked over to him and straddled his legs, squatting down and leaning in to give him a quick kiss. "Stay as long as you like."

 

Ron sat on the floor beside Luna's door, staring down the hallway through the portion he'd left ajar. Luna snuffled in her sleep behind him on the bed as the clock downstairs chimed low.

"Harry?" Hermione's soft whisper seemed to come from right beside him and he shivered, closing his eyes.

"Right here." He slipped down the last few steps from the attic and glanced around, spying Hermione and moving over toward her. "Where's Ron?"

"I was about to ask you the same question."

"He, er...he came down earlier."

Hermione turned her sharp gaze onto Harry. "He came down earlier? Or he didn't come up at all?"

"Hermione..."

"So you think he's in there?" She nodded toward Luna's room, the shadows of the hallway making the door seem closed. "With her?"

"Maybe I was already asleep and he didn't want to wake me, so he's in Fred and George's room?"

"Have you been asleep, Harry?"

"Well, no." He glanced down at the doorway her gaze was fixed on and sighed. "Hermione."

"It's okay. She's his girlfriend. I'm sure they just wanted a little privacy and he lost track of time." She shrugged and gave Harry a trembling smile. "You still want to go?"

"We can."

"But it won't be the same." Her chin trembled slightly. "I understand."

"It's not that I don't want to spend time with just you, Hermione."

"I understand, Harry." She nodded and pressed her lips together. "Please don't try to explain. Knowing your knack for saying things and mine for misunderstanding them, it's only going to make things worse."

"Hermione." He grabbed her arm and held it for a second before pulling her into a quick hug. She hugged him back then pushed him away, wiping her eyes as she slipped through the door into Ginny's room.

Harry glanced at Luna's door and sighed before turning and heading up the steps into the darkness.

 

Hermione glanced up from her book as a shadow fell over the words. She shielded her eyes to block the sun, somewhat surprised to see Ron towering over her. A odd sort of peace had settled over them in the past week, both of them careful to stay mostly out of the others way; her leaving him to Harry and Luna, spending most of her time either alone or with Ginny. "'Lo, Ron."

"Hey." He kicked a tuft of grass by her knee then squatted down in front of her. He lifted the edge of her book to see the title. "What'cha reading?"

"Just a book I found in the bookcase. Your mum said it was fine."

"Oh, I remember this one." He turned and sank down beside her, pulling the book from her hands. "Dad made us read it when we were kids so we could see how the Muggle world dealt with us."

"I was looking at the annotations in the other version you have. It's kind of funny."

"What's that?" Ron was scanning pages to find his favorite part, barely paying attention. "What's funny?"

"Well, what she goes through...that's sort of how I felt when I first found out about being a witch. Things that weren't supposed to talk did. Things that weren't supposed to move on their own did. There's this whole other world just alongside mine and I didn't even know it existed."

"S'not like we play croquet with hedgehogs and flamingos, Hermione."

"No." She laughed. "But we fly around on brooms and one of our teachers can turn into a cat. In the Muggle world, that's very, very odd, Ron."

"Yeah, well, in your world, you talk into little handles and people can hear you miles away and your pictures don't move. That's odd."

"I suppose it is. Must be, to you." She reached for the book and he pulled it away from her. "Ron, come on. I was reading that."

"No, no. There's this smashing part at the end."

"I'll get there."

"No, it's really brilliant. She's getting too big and they don't know what to do with her and so they all sort of blow up in her face and kick her back into her wor..." He stopped and cleared his throat, shutting the book and handing it back to her. "Here."

"Do you want me to go home, Ron?"

"No! No! It's just a book; I didn't mean anything by it. You know I don't think of you that way, Hermione!" He turned and looked at her, blue eyes serious. "I don't. You know that. You know that."

"I do." She offered him a weak smile. "I do. Honest."

"I was just talking about her, because she doesn't get it and keeps trying to make it be like her world, but it's not and you get that, Hermione. And the two existed side by side, or, well, underneath and above for a long time just fine. And if you'd fallen in the hole, you'd have gotten it, Hermione, not like her." He reached out and grabbed her hand, holding it tightly as if afraid she'd get up and storm away. "I don't think like that, Hermione. You must know that."

"I really do." She nodded with a bit more conviction, relief flooding through her as he squeezed her hand, glad that maybe things were going to be okay between them again. "I guess I sometimes just feel out of place."

"You'd never know it. You always act like you know exactly what you're doing."

"And you haven't figured out yet that I haven't a clue?" She laughed. "I thought you knew me better than that, Ron."

He looked down at his hands, surprised to see that he'd pulled hers into his lap and was rubbing the back of her knuckles with his thumb. "There's lots of things I don't know about you, Hermione."

"Like what?" Her voice was slightly breathy, the constant motion of his thumb sending odd sensations through her.

The sound of her voice sent chills down his spine, and Ron stared down at her hand, still in his grip, trembling ever so slightly. He cut his gaze over to her, watching her out of the corner of his eyes. She was looking at their hands as well, then looked away, looked up. "Lots of things."

She turned her head. "Like what, Ron?"

He met her eyes and held them, curious and intent. "Why're you dating Fred?"

"You're dating Luna," she reminded him.

"That's not any kind of answer."

"You really want to know why I'm dating Fred?" She continued looking at him, waiting for his nod. "Because he's nice to me, because he likes me, because he's not afraid to talk to me or ask me things or listen to me. Because whenever I'm with him, he doesn't make me feel out of place or stupid or untalented. Because he's never hurt me."

Ron jerked his hand away from hers at the implied dig. "That's what you want?"

"He likes me, Ron. He likes spending time with me."

"That's an awful lot of what Fred likes. What about you, Hermione?" He got to his feet, his lips curved in a smug smile. "What do you like?"

She stood up, facing him, her hands on her hips. "I like when he talks to me, when he listens to me. I like the way he takes the time to teach me things instead of getting angry with me. I like the way he holds my hand, Ron." Her heart was beating wildly and tears threatened to flood her eyes. "I like the way he kisses me. I like him, Ron."

"I thought you liked me."

"Yeah, well, so did I." She shook her head sending tears flying. "I thought the way you made me feel was the best thing in the world, until I realized that most of the time, you make me feel horrible."

"You guys seen my broom?" Harry crawled out from under the bramble bush that surrounded a stance of trees off to their left. He looked from one to the other and swallowed. "You guys okay?"

"We're fine," Ron snapped. "Just fine."

"You're my friend, Ron."

"Why? Since I make you feel so horrible? Why be my friend, Hermione?"

"Its when I think I want to be more...Nevermind." She shook her head and bent down, gathering up the fallen book. "I need to go."

"Another date with Fred?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact."

"Well, don't do anything I wouldn't do," Ron sneered. "Though at the rate Luna and I have been getting closer, I guess that leaves you a lot of room to work with." Hermione turned without another word and hurried back toward the house. Ron collapsed back against a tree, smacking his head hard against the rough bark. "Fuck."

"Wow." Harry adopted Ron's posture, watching him from across the small clearing. "And I thought my date with Cho had top marks for being the way not to do things with a girl."

"Yeah, well, Harry Potter can't be the best at everything, can he?"

Harry nodded, taking the snarled comment in stride. "To be honest, Ron, that's one area I'm not too keen to be better than anyone at. I don't think you are, either."

"Why the hell's she dating him! He's Fred, for Merlin's sake."

"Dunno." Harry sat down at the base of his tree, rolling his eyes at his best friend. "He's smart, funny, successful, handsome..."

"Oh great, are you bloody in love with him too?" Ron kicked backwards, jarring his whole body as his foot hit the tree. "You might want to fancy George if that's the case, since you're more likely to score."

"As tempting as the offer is," Harry drawled sarcastically, "I think one of your friends dating a twin is enough."

"One of my friends dating a sibling is enough, and I've already chosen you for that purpose." Ron turned around and kicked the tree again, harder. "She's not supposed to be dating him!"

"Who should she be dating, Ron?"

"I don't care! But not him!" He kicked the tree again, sailing across the clearing as the tree finally hit back, a long branch knocking Ron into Harry. "Ouch."

"Oof." Harry shoved Ron off of him. "No kidding."

"Stupid trees. Stupid brothers." He fell back on the grass and stared up at the clear, blue sky.

"Have you ever thought about, I dunno, telling her how you feel about her?"

"Hermione?"

"Yeah."

"I was trying." Ron pulled out blades of grass in fistfuls. "I was bloody trying and then I had to bring up my sodding brother and it all went to hell." He dropped the grass and yanked up fresh. "She was sitting there looking at me and I wanted to kiss her, but all I could think about was the fact that she'd been kissing him and it made me angry."

"Not to mention defensive." Luna walked into the clearing and sat next to Harry. "I understand that we're to be shagging tonight?"

"What?" Ron choked.

"Hermione said that you and I were obviously going to be shagging tonight, since she couldn't do anything you and I weren't." Luna's eyes bored into Ron's. "She's lying, of course."

"Since we're not going to be shagging?"

"Oh, no. We can. She's just not going to be shagging Fred. She's not ready for it yet." She nodded. "Besides, Fred and George were just here looking for supplies and your Mum kicked them out and told them to spend their own money for their silly venture and leave her cupboards out of it."

"We're not shagging tonight, Luna."

"Good. I'm quite unprepared." She picked up a piece of grass and held it to her mouth, whistling with it. "Besides, I think until you've actually narrowed down the right parts of the anatomy when it comes to pleasure, we should hold off on anything life-changing." She got to her feet and started walking back toward the house, humming quietly to herself.

"I don't know what she's talking about."

"Might be part of the problem."

Ron glared at Harry. "Stop laughing."

"I'm not laughing."

"I hope you burst something." Ron got to his feet and followed Luna, leaving Harry on the ground of the clearing, gasping for air as he laughed.

 

Fred caught Hermione's hand as she stormed past, pulling her back against him. " What's the hurry, tiger?"

She struggled out of his grip and turned to glare at him. "Let's do something."

He quirked an eyebrow. "Something?"

"Something dangerous." She moved back into his arms, one hand on his chest. "Something," she blushed and dropped her eyes, "naughty."

"If you can't look at me when you say it," he tilted her chin up and brushed his lips over hers, "we're definitely not going to be doing it." He touched the tip of her nose with a finger. "What's the matter?"

"Nothing."

"Ah yes. Of course. Nothing."

"It's nothing."

"Which means it's Ron and you don't want to tell me." He raised his eyebrow as she flushed guiltily. "We're not going to get anywhere pretending he doesn't exist."

"He makes me furious."

"Is that all he does?" Fred asked lightly, his body warm near hers as he leaned over her, his arm on the tree behind her. "Or is this sudden burst of sexual energy fueled by my little brother putting the moves on you?"

"He wasn't doing anything of the sort."

"No?" He reached for Hermione's hand and held it loosely in his, his thumb grazing her knuckles. "Because from where I was standing, it looked an awful lot like putting the moves on you."

"You were watching?"

"No. I was looking for you, my girlfriend, if you recall, and I happened to stumble across your little tÍte-ŗ-tÍte."

"Why didn't you interrupt?"

"Harry did it for me. Not that Harry was doing anything for me, he just happened along at the same time." Fred released her hand and moved away from her, sitting at the base of the tree. "You like him, Hermione?"

"Harry?"

Fred chuckled. "Ron."

"He's my friend."

"Okay, I'll rephrase. I've known for some time that you've had a thing for my little brother and I'm curious if you still have that thing and if it's something that I need to be concerned about."

"Ron's dating Luna. They're seriously involved."

"I'll rephrase again. If I weren't here and Ron walked up to you and kissed you, what would you do?"

"That's not likely to happen." She crossed her arms over her chest and rested her chin on the book.

"Do you want it to?"

She squatted down in front of him then sat beside him, relaxing half against the tree and half against him. "I'd like you to kiss me."

"For revenge against him?"

"No." She shook her head and reached up, turning him to face her. "Because I like it when you kiss me. I like it when you taste me. I like that you make my stomach feel swim and my body feel all hot and tingling." She licked her lips and smiled up at him shyly. "You haven't been home for dinner this whole week."

"Busy at the store."

"Which means the last time you kissed me was six days ago, which is an awfully long time."

"So it's my absence that's made you susceptible to Ron's advances?"

"Are you ever going to kiss me, Fred?"

He shook his head and found her lips with his own. "No." He pulled her onto his lap as he kissed her, bringing her body closer as his tongue invaded her mouth, sliding over her tongue into the warm cavern.

Hermione sighed against his lips, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. He grinned and broke the kiss, stealing several others before speaking. "You're a wanton woman, Miss Granger."

"Don't call me that," she poked him in the chest. "It's too much like school."

"I thought you liked school."

"I do." She brushed his hair away from his forehead. "But school generally doesn't put me in the mood for an evening's adventure with my boyfriend."

"Is that so?" He surveyed her critically. "Didn't seem to stop you and Viktor from hiding out all huddled together in the library."

"He wasn't my boyfriend."

"If that's what you do with blokes who aren't your boyfriends, what do you do with the ones who are?"

"I promise you'll be the first to know." She bit his lower lip and wriggled slightly on his lap, slipping away from him and standing up. She held out a hand to him to help him to his feet, grinning as he stumbled too close to her, his body near and hot and tempting. "I have a surprise for you."

"I do like surprises."

"Come on." She grabbed his hand and nodded toward the house.

"What is it?"

"All will be revealed soon enough."

"Tell meeeee."

"I thought you liked surprises."

He stopped and tugged on her hand, bringing her crashing into him. "Certain ones."

"Trust me," she promised him with a quick kiss. "You'll like this one."

 

"I can't believe you've done this," George cooed happily. "This is the most smashing thing ever."

"It's just a voomie." Ron rolled his eyes, attempting nonchalance. He leaned over as Harry tapped him on the shoulder and blushed. "Er, movie."

"And how many movies have you seen, Ron?" Ginny asked archly.

"Hush." He glanced over at Hermione and smiled. "What are we going to see?"

"It's called Fargo." She shrugged. "It was the only thing that sounded sort of interesting."

"What's it about?" Harry asked.

"Dunno." Hermione shrugged again. "Besides, we're not going to have much time to watch, given that we've got to keep our eyes on these troublemakers." She sighed. "George, come back here. You're going to get run over."

Ron gazed around the city as they walked, watching Hermione's parents as they kept several feet in front of them, their uncertainty obvious in the way they moved. "You're sure your parents don't mind this, Hermione?"

"Sure. They offered. Said it would be nice to meet my friends for more than ten minutes in Diagon Alley." She grinned. "We're going for ice cream after, so don't stock up on too many sweets and popcorn."

"I think the movies is going to be my favorite place ever."

"And George?" Hermione released Fred to grab his brother by the arm. "I'm supposed to inform you that, should you slip any of your concoctions into the concession stand, your mother is going to tie you to a tree and set the pixies on you."

"Oy." He nodded and shoved his hands deep into his jacket pockets. "It's weird, not wearing a robe when we're out and about."

"You'll get used to it." She squeezed his arm and looked back at Ginny who was walking with Harry and Luna. Her heart beat faster as she took in the sight of her friends, walking down a Muggle street, looking for all the world like they belonged there.

"What are you smiling about?" Fred whispered in her ear.

She shivered and slapped him lightly on the arm. "Stop it. If my parents so much as suspect that we're dating, you'll be sitting on the opposite side of the theater from me." He started to open his mouth to say something, mischief in his eyes. "And then you really won't be dating me."

"What if I tell them?" Ron asked. "Would you still dump him?"

She permitted herself a small smile at Ron's teasing tone. "Actually, they'd probably think we were dating and you were trying to convince them it was Fred and they'd stick the two of you between them."

"Okay," Ron nodded. "Not saying a word."

"So, what do you do in the movies?" George asked, keeping pace with Hermione even as he gawked at London, his head swiveling back and forth at neon signs and every other thing that caught his eye.

"You watch them."

"And what else?"

"You just sit there and watch them."

"That's it?"

"Yes, George." She shook her head. "And you be quiet. You don't talk during movies."

"You don't?"

"No."

"Hmmm. Maybe I don't like this." He grinned and stopped walking, falling back to where Harry was, no doubt to get a second opinion.

"He's going to be devastated if he really has to be quiet for a long time."

"We'll give him a giant bucket of popcorn and he'll be all right." She looked up at him, surprised by the heat in his gaze. "You...you don't mind that I brought everyone along on our date, do you?"

"Well, it does change my big plan of sitting around the flat doing nothing except kissing and staring hungrily at each other, wanting to do more, but, you know, I'm willing to make sacrifices for you."

"I do feel special." She reached down and caught his hand, squeezing it quickly before releasing it as her parents stopped, waiting for all of them to catch up.

 

Fred's eyes were glued to the screen, wide and awed by the rapidly moving images. Hermione glanced past him, grinning at the rapt attention everyone was devoting to the movie, even George and Ron, whose nearly full buckets of popcorn sat forgotten in their laps.

She settled back and turned her attention to the movie, biting her lip when she felt the soft brush of Fred's fingers across the back of hers. She turned her hand over, her eyes still on the screen, threading her fingers through his. Another quick glance to her left nearly made her laugh as Ron scrubbed butter off his fingers before capturing Luna's hand. She watched, less fascinated with the snowy tundra on the screen than with the shy look of hopefulness on Ginny's face that, had she known she was being observed would not be grace her features.

After a few seconds, Ginny sighed softly and turned her attention back to the movie, unaware of Harry's fingers edging toward hers. Hermione sighed as well, far more contentedly, and shifted in her seat, leaning against Fred's shoulder. He responded automatically, releasing her hand and wrapping his arm around her, tugging her closer. "What if your parents turn around?" He whispered.

She looked up at him. "They'll probably figure out that you're my boyfriend."

"And you're okay with that?"

She reached up with her right hand and caught Fred's fingers in her own. "Yeah."

 

Fred's lips moved against Hermione's neck, his left hand smoothing lightly over her thigh. Her fingers still held his right hand, squeezing it hard as his tongue darted out, tasting the hint of perspiration his hot breath fueled. "Fred," she whispered, crossing her legs at the ankles, her thighs pressed tightly together. She swallowed against her dry throat. "Watch the movie."

His tongue found the hollow beneath her ear then her earlobe. His teeth caught it and he held her, warm cascades of breath sending shivers through her like shock waves. "It's my understanding," he whispered the words, the sounds diverting to the ache inside her before making their way up to her brain, "that movies outrank cars on the list of Muggle places to snog."

It took her a few minutes to respond, during which he captured her earlobe again, nibbling it. "Not when my parents are two rows in front of us."

"Fine." He removed his arm from her shoulder and settled back in his chair, folding his hands in his lap. Hermione stared unseeing at the screen, struggling to get her breathing, heart rate and hormones back under control. She glanced quickly at Fred who was watching the screen intently, laughing easily as everyone else did. Without thinking, Hermione leaned back as well, dropping her arm over the divider that separated their chairs and raked her nails along the length of Fred's thigh.

Fred grunted, his entire body going stiff, his eyes primal as they met hers. Without a spare glance at him, she leaned across him, her hand resting dangerously close to the top of his thigh for support. "George?"

"Hmm?" He didn't glance at her, his eyes glued to the movie, one hand shoveling kernel after kernel of popcorn in his mouth.

"I'm going to show Fred where the loos are. We'll be back in a few."

"It's just getting to the good part," he warned her.

"I know." She got up and grabbed Fred's hand, guiding him out of the aisle they were sitting in. He followed behind her, one hand in hers and the other on her hip, keeping her close to him. As soon as they escaped the theater, he guided her against the wall and pressed his body to hers, capturing her lips with his, his tongue plundering its way into her mouth.

Hermione moaned and wrapped one of her legs around his, pulling him closer. Fred shifted, his body reacting and they both stilled, panting heavily, both of them focused on the hard press of flesh against her stomach. He looked down at her, staring into her melted chocolate eyes and sighed, closing his eyes and pushing on the wall behind her, forcing distance between them.

He pressed the back of his hand to his mouth then dropped it, his chest rising and falling rapidly. "Where's the loo?"

"Right..." she pointed and he grabbed her hand.

"Show me." She nodded and led him down the darkened hallway. Halfway down, he tugged on her hand, pulling her toward him and up against the wall. "You're a dangerous woman, Miss Granger."

"I thought I told you not to call me that."

"It's my last defense," he assured her as he moved in closer, his hands skimming up her sides to curve just under her breasts, not quite touching her. "Calling you Miss Granger reminds me that I need to keep my hands to myself."

"And if you called me Hermione?" She asked softly, arching her back slightly, instinctively until she could feel the slight brush of his hands. "What would happen then?"

Her name fell from his lips in a heated kiss as his tongue found its way into her mouth, his hand moving over her breasts. He slid his thumbs over her hard nipples, his knee parting her legs and allowing him closer.

She broke the kiss, panting and shivering as he touched her, his hands supporting the weight of her breasts, his thumbs wreaking havoc with her senses as they moved over the tips, teasing them until they ached. "Fred..."

"When this date is over, Hermione," he bit her lower lip and tugged it into his mouth, sucking on it, "when your parents are gone and we've dumped the rest of our friends and relatives off at the Burrow's front door, I want to be alone with you."

"We...I..." She nodded, her breath caught somewhere in her chest, buffeting her pounding heart. Her fingers scrabbled at the material of his shirt, tugging it free from his waistband, her hands hot on his skin. Fred groaned and his hands tightened on her breasts, caressing them through her shirt. "Yes."

He pulled away and glanced back the way they'd come then down the hallway in the opposite direction. He nodded toward the bright lights that signified the bathrooms. "I'm gonna..."

"I'll wait for you here."

"Alone?"

"I need a little time alone." She blushed in the darkness and her hands smoothed down her shirt, the action pulling the fabric tight across her breasts, bringing her nipples into high relief.

Fred groaned. "Me too." He smiled and shook his head. "Better still, alone with you."

"Later," she promised him in a whisper. She watched him walk away then shook her head, following him. She hurried, catching up with him just before he opened the door. "Fred?"

He turned and looked down at her, the tight rein he had on his emotions and everything else visible in the strain on his face. He stroked her cheek, her wild hair. "Yes?"

She pressed a hot kiss to his lips. "I can't wait."

 

Ron sank down into the booth next to Hermione; ignoring the look Fred gave him from the counter. He stared down at the pink swirls on the table, feeling her questioning gaze on him. "Look," he started, his hand beginning to trace the swirls, his concentration on keeping his finger on the line giving him an excuse not to look up at her, "I think we should talk."

"About what, Ron?"

"I saw you and Fred leave the theater."

"I was showing him where the bathroom was, Ron."

"That all you were doing?" He let the silence hang in the air between them, feeling his what seemed to be ever-present anger welling up in him. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to...I'm not trying to be a git here, honest."

She laughed and he smiled, knowing his ears were burning, his heart lightening at the sound. "I don't want you to get hurt, Hermione."

"Fred won't hurt me, Ron."

"No. I mean, I know. It's just...he might. Not on purpose, but because he's Fred, you know? He doesn't feel things like others do, because he's always laughing and joking and he might do it inadvertently, you know?"

"I'll keep myself well guarded from any inadvertent hurting Fred might do."

"It's just..." he blew out a breath; finally looking up when a dish of ice cream broke his line of sight. George settled in the seat across from them and Ron looked over at the counter. Fred, Ginny, Luna and Harry were all deeply engrossed in the discussion of flavors. "George'll tell you."

"Tell her what?"

"About Fred."

"Ron?" Hermione spoke so softly he barely heard her, but something in her voice made him turn his head. "Does it bother you that much? Me dating him?"

"Yes. Er, well, I mean..."

"Do you want me to break up with him?" George watched her with wary eyes, occasionally glancing at Fred as she continued to stare at Ron. She gave him a quick glance then looked back at his younger brother. "If it bothers you that much, if my being Fred's girlfriend is going to be a problem with our friendship, I'll break up with him."

Ron's eyes were wide and hopefully for a moment before they darkened and he glanced at Fred. He was taller than everyone, including the clerk, a blonde girl who was flirting shamelessly with him. A blonde girl that he didn't even notice because he'd turned to smile at Hermione. "'Zat what you think of our friendship, Hermione?" He asked lightly, forcing the soft laugh. "That I'm a fair-weather friend, ready to dump you by the wayside just because you've got the bad taste to date my brother?"

"Speaking as an identical of the brother in question, I think I resent that bad taste remark, Ronniekins."

Ron smirked at George. "Ask me if I care, Georgie-poo."

"You know, it's really a pity that Wizards don't use wood-chippers." George warned his little brother with a grin. "Although we are still in London, aren't we? Wonder if I could get my hands on one before it's time to go home?"

"What're we talking about?" Fred sank into the chair next to his twin, raising a questioning eyebrow at Ron who ignored him. "Are both of you putting the moves of my girlfriend?"

"Yeah. We're trying to convince her that there are much more deserving Weasleys than the sorry likes of you," George told him.

"Yes," Hermione sighed, "but sadly, Ginny appears to be solely devoted to Harry." Ron choked on his ice cream, his face turning redder and redder as he fought to breathe. Hermione offered him some water and he waved it away, coughing and sputtering all the while. He took a deep, shaky breath then took the water from where she'd set it on the table; drinking the entire contents in one long, gulp. As he set the glass down, Hermione leaned over. "I was just joking, Ron."

His voice was hoarse, "Please don't."

She settled back in her seat, smiling across the table at Fred. His mouth quirked in response and he leaned forward, crooking his finger at her. She leaned in as well, very little room between them. "Yes?"

"Are you flirting with my brother?"

Her foot brushed his inner thigh as she settled it on his chair between his legs. He smiled and dropped one hand down to curve around her ankle, her skin bare above her sandal. Hermione shook her head. "No."

"Good."

"Hermione, dear?" Her mother's voice interrupted them and she dropped her foot to the floor, straightening in her seat.

"Yes, Mum?"

"It's getting late. We should be getting you back to, er, home." She smiled meekly. "It was very nice to meet all your friends tonight."

"It was lovely of you to take us out with you, Mrs. Granger." George got to his feet and pressed ice cream cold lips to the back of Hermione's mother's hand. "It's always a joy to be shown about town."

"Er, yes. Well, you're welcome...Fr...," he frowned and she changed her mind. "George."

"Perhaps this year, if you come with Hermione to shop for her school supplies you can stop into our shop. Fred and I would be delighted at your patronage."

"They're dentists, George," Harry reminded him. "They're not keen on sweets."

"Right. Hmm. Well, perhaps not then."

They all started out the door, down the streets headed for The Leaky Cauldron. Hermione licked her ice cream methodically, watching her friends, smiling to herself as they all, even Harry, appeared to be relaxed. "You know something?"

"What?" Ron asked, spooning ice cream into his mouth.

"Tonight was really, really nice."

"Yeah." He nodded. "It was."

She stopped walking and he did the same, his expression puzzled as he looked back at her. She shook her head and leaned in, pressing a cool kiss to his cheek. "Thank you."

He rubbed the spot, warming it, burning it into his skin. "What? Why?"

"Because when it all comes down to it, Ron Weasley, you're a pretty excellent friend." She grinned and started walking again, looking back when she realized he wasn't following. "Aren't you coming?"

"Yeah," he nodded then rushed to catch up. "Yeah."

 

Hermione got up from the couch and walked over to where Harry and Ron were sitting by the window. She perched on the arm of Harry's chair and ruffled his mussed black hair. "You're quiet tonight."

"Do you know what I did today?"

"Mostly," she nodded. "Why?"

"I relaxed today. I was out there and I didn't worry about anything." He grinned impishly. "It was strange."

"Someday you'll be able to do that every day." She dropped a kiss on the top of his head. "I promise."

His grin turned goofy. "You taking Divination this year, Hermione? Going around predicting the future?"

"Yeah," she nodded. "I'm getting a crystal ball for my birthday this year. And some sparkly robes and a turban." She flushed as the thought of Quirrell ran through her head. "Sorry."

He shook his head. "Don't be." He glanced at Ron who was watching Hermione and yawned deliberately. "I'm tired. I think I'm going to head up to bed."

"Going to walk Ginny up?" Hermione teased.

"Nah. George told me you're making a play for her." He grinned and ducked out of range as she attempted to slap him playfully. "Careful Hermione, at this rate, you're going to run out of Weasleys."

"Go to bed, Harry."

He got out of the chair and tugged one of her curls. "Night, Ron."

"Hmmm?" He looked up and waved lazily. "Night, Harry. I'll be up in a few." He turned his eyes to Hermione. "You going to bed too?"

"No. I wanted to talk to you for a second."

"Oh?"

"Yeah." He shifted nervously and she sighed. "About what we talked about earlier."

"Fred?"

"Yeah." She reached out and caught his hand where it was picking at a loose strand of the upholstery and held it. "You're really all right with it, Ron?"

He watched her eyes, so open and honest, emotions darting through them like bees flitting from flower to flower. "Yeah," he lied. "I am."

"Thank you, Ron."

He nodded. "You going to bed now?"

"In a few." She gestured to the center of the room where her parents were getting to their feet. "I'm going to see my Mum and Dad off and then say goodnight to Fred."

"Oh."

"Tell Ginny not to wait up, okay?"

He nodded as she hurried off to the fireplace where her parents were standing nervously; ready to assure them as they scooped out handfuls of floo powder. She threw some in and called out her house then disappeared in the flames, her parents following her less eagerly.

Ron got to his feet and moved over to the couch where Luna was leafing through a photo album. "Come on."

"What?"

"I'll walk you up to your room."

She looked at him for a long time, her eyes clearly letting him know that she knew exactly what he was asking. Finally she nodded and stood. "All right."

"Good." Ron took her hand and led the way to the stairs, wanting to be gone before Hermione returned, needing to be out of sight the next time she looked at his brother the way she had the instant before she'd stepped into the flames.

 

Ron's body was on fire as he toed his sneakers off and crawled up the bed to where Luna was spread out on the duvet, her legs parted just enough to allow him to lie between them, her skirt rumpled but still pulled low enough to be decent.

Not that it mattered, given the fact that her shirt and bra were somewhere on the floor where he'd tossed them after stripping them slowly off her body, taking his time after she'd reminded him that they weren't in a race.

His own shirt was somewhere on the floor or the bed as well, discarded by her nimble fingers long before he'd worked up the courage to strip her clothes off of her. His heart was beating like a drum in his chest, pounding harder and faster than he was sure was safe, growing louder each time he touched her skin.

He kissed his way up her stomach, starting at the waistband of her skirt and licking and sucking a line up her pale skin until he reached the slopes of her breasts. He could feel the heat of her surrounding his groin and his cock strained at his jeans, aching to be touched or put to use or just given something to do besides slide against the very wet spot on his boxers. Between her legs though, it was safe from her touch, which he was pretty sure would be his undoing.

He preferred to go slowly, he reminded himself, working his kisses up over the swell of one breast, his lips curving around the nipple, sucking at the hard nub until Luna's back arched off the bed and she moaned quietly, the fingers of one hand threading through his hair. He echoed her moan and kissed his way across to the other breast, his hands holding her hips as his bare chest slid against her body, skin against skin.

Forcing another low moan from her lips, Ron moved away from her breasts, sinking down once again, his fingers no longer feeling too large as he unhooked the button of her skirt and slid the too-small zipper down, fabric separating along her side. His breath was slow in coming, oxygen diverted from the room, unable to make its way through the thick haze of lust that seemed to emanate from every pore of Ron's body.

Luna's hips stayed still and he slid his hand between her skirt and her knickers, his fingers plying the firm flesh, urging her upwards.

"I've decided that we're not going to have sex."

Ron stopped kissing her flat stomach and raised his head to look at her. "We're not?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"Because you don't really want to have sex with me."

He slipped his hand out from under her skirt and caught her wrist, guiding her hand down to his cock, rubbing her palm against him. "I really, really do."

"No. You want to have sex because you think Hermione's having sex with Fred."

Ron froze. "This has nothing to do with Hermione."

"It does." She pulled away from him and gathered her clothes, putting them on somewhat haphazardly. "So until you've decided that you want to have sex with me because you want to have sex with me, we're not going to have sex."

Ron rolled over onto his back, propping himself up against Luna's pillows. "Let me get this straight, I can't have sex with you unless I want to have sex with you."

"Right."

"Which I do."

"But you don't. You're not here with me because you want to be with me, Ron. You're here with me because she's somewhere with him. And, as flattering as that's not, I'm going to have to put a stop to the whole thing."

"You're breaking up with me?" His mouth dropped open. "You're kidding, right?"

"I like you, Ron." Luna shrugged and started for the bedroom door, uncaring that she was leaving him in her room. "But not enough."

 

"We should go to Flourish and Blotts last," Ginny suggested, consulting the list of everything she needed for school. "Books are heaviest."

"What else we need?" Ron asked as he finished the last bite of his sundae.

"I need some new robes," Hermione finished off her pumpkin juice and set the glass back on the table. "And I need to get a few other things. Maybe we could split up and meet up in an hour or so? That way you and Harry could go to Quality Quidditch Supplies and I don't have to."

"Oh."

Hermione smiled at Ginny's disappointed sigh. "Go ahead, Ginny. Maybe Luna will come with me?"

"That'd be nice." Luna blinked. "I don't need any Quidditch supplies. I made my lion head all by myself."

"Er." Ron nodded. "Right." He stood up, waiting for Harry and Ginny to do the same. "We'll meet you guys in an hour."

"Aren't you going to kiss her goodbye?" Ginny elbowed Ron in the ribs.

"Who?"

"Luna." Ginny rolled her eyes. "She's your girlfriend, isn't she?"

"Oh. Er." Ron looked at Luna and she got to her feet, moving over to press a light kiss to Ron's lips. "Er."

Luna smiled enigmatically and turned to follow Hermione as she headed off down the street.

 

"What's going on between you and Ron?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, he looked a little perplexed about whether or not you two were dating." Hermione moved the robes around on the rack as she looked for one in her size. "Have you two broken up?"

"He's not in love with me."

"Oh."

"He likes you, you know."

"Ron and I are just friends."

"I know. I'm not trying to make you feel bad. You can't help how you feel. I understand that. Ron doesn't. Not yet. He might eventually though."

"Hmm." Hermione pulled a robe free of the hanger and looked at it, trying it on over her clothes. "So if you've broken up, why did you kiss him?"

"He's quite a good kisser."

"Oh."

"And there were people watching. Kids from school. I thought it best not to embarrass him. He certainly doesn't need to go back to school with everyone thinking that Loony Luna broke up with him."

Hermione laughed. "We don't think of you like that."

"Anymore." Luna returned her smile, her eyes suddenly sharp. "It's really okay, you know. When people think you're lost in your own world, they say things around you. They admit things." She tilted her head. "It makes your hair look bigger."

"The robe?"

"Yeah."

"Right. Not this one then. My hair doesn't need any encouragement."

 

Ron wrapped his hand around the bag he was holding, making sure he didn't lose it in the bustling crowd. Even with news that Lord Voldemort had returned, the lack of activity during the summer had given everyone renewed confidence and they showed it off by shopping, shoving and calling out to each other around the streets.

"It's weird." He stuffed a chocolate frog in his mouth. "You'd think they'd be scared or something."

"There's Aurors everywhere, "Ginny pointed several stationery clumps of wizards, all of them observing the crowd with hard eyes. "Probably afraid something's going to happen with all of us gathered around here."

Ron jabbed Ginny and nodded toward Harry who was a few steps ahead of them. "Hush. He doesn't need to hear that."

"He'd know it before any of us, Ron," she reminded him. "And he seems okay."

"Right, so let's not get any ideas in his head and ruin today, okay?" He tightened his grip once more and Ginny laughed. "What?"

"No one's going to steal your broom servicing kit, Ron."

"Our kit," he reminded her. He was about to say something else when Harry suddenly broke into a jog. "Hey! Harry!" He cast a quick, worried glance at Ginny and took off after his friend, coming to a gasping stop as Harry did, his best friend engulfed in the lanky arms of Remus Lupin. "Oh."

Ginny skidded to a stop beside him and grinned at the gathering. Remus, both her parents, Tonks, Neville and his Gran, and... "Bill! What're you doing here?"

"Just in town for the day, Sis." He hugged her and kissed the top of her head. "Dumbledore gave me a day off, so I'm here to hang out with the family."

"Dumbledore assigned all of you to Diagon Alley just in case Voldemort decided to pay a visit." She told him. "Right?"

"You're too smart for your own good." He kissed the top of her head again, laughing as she batted him away. "What's left for you guys?"

"We're supposed to meet Hermione and Luna and get our books. Then I guess we're just going home."

"Well, I can't be sure, but I think Mum's invited everyone back to our house for dinner." He grimaced slightly. "Which means it'll be more of a madhouse than usual."

"You act like you don't love it. Where's Fleur?"

His ears turned pink. "Work. She should be done in a few. What about the twins? You seen 'em?"

"Their store was flooded with students when we went by. We decided we didn't want to get roped into working for them, so we avoided it like the plague."

"Like I said, smart." He ruffled her hair and moved away from her as she swung at him. He dodged her blow, nearly stumbling over Luna and Hermione as they joined the fray. "Hello, girls."

"Hi, Bill." Hermione waved at him and then at Neville. "Hi, Neville."

"Oh, Hermione!" He moved over to her and gave her an awkward hug then looked at Luna, blushing as he stood there, unsure of what to do. She smiled at him and hugged him, not giving him the choice. He patted her on the back and pulled away, his face crimson. "How's your summer?"

"Good. Good. Yours?"

"All right," he nodded. "Gran and I are going to the Weasleys for dinner. Mrs. Weasley says you've been spending the summer there?"

"Most of it." She nodded. "Have you got your books yet?"

"We were just about to go in."

"Us too." She spied Ron and Harry hanging by Remus. "Let me get the boys and we'll all go in together."

They converged on Flourish and Blotts, all of them grabbing at the stacks of books and carrying them up to pay, Hermione's stack the largest of all. "Really, Hermione," Ron shook his head, "it's getting to the point where it's almost disgusting how much you study."

"You think any amount of studying is disgusting, Ron."

He nodded. "True enough."

They left the store, joining the throng of friends and relatives and heading toward Fred and George's store. Molly's disapproval was still evident as she muttered under her breath about where the twins would be if they'd taken their N.E.W.T.s but even she was impressed at the huge line that spiraled from the counter and out the door.

"Hey!" George waved from the ladder he was on, losing his balance for a second before grabbing the rung again. "Wow. The gang's all here. Fred. Everyone's here."

"Great. Get your arse down here and help."

Hermione glanced at the mass of people around her then down at her books. She pulled out her wand and shrunk them, tucking them in the pocket of her robe along with her wand. "Mrs. Weasley?"

"Yes, Hermione, dear?"

"Would it be all right if I stayed? And...and helped out the twins?"

"But everyone's coming to the house, dear."

"Which means you'll have more than enough people to look after. And Fred and George really look like they could use the help." Molly considered her for a moment. Hermione swallowed hard and met her eyes. "It's my last chance to see him until October, Mrs. Weasley."

She pursed her lips and grabbed Hermione's arm, dragging her in through the store. George jumped off the ladder, a box in his hands, nearly tumbling into them both as Mrs. Weasley swung open the divider and stepped behind the counter.

"Er, hi, Mum."

"George, what are you doing tonight?"

"Working?"

"After?"

"Uh..." he glanced out the storefront window, his eyes locked on something. "Nothing, Mum."

"All right." She turned and looked at Hermione. "You can stay. Until eleven." She looked at Fred and he pressed his lips together to hide his smile. "Eleven, Fredrick. And not a second later."

"Yes, ma'am."

 

"Where's George?"

"He went out." Fred was stretched out on the couch, the leg against the back of it bent at the knee, his foot buried between the two cushions. His other foot was resting on the floor, one arm on each leg, his eyes smiling up at Hermione. "Come sit down."

"Maybe I should go."

"You wanted to study, right?" He reached up and caught her hand, tugging her toward him. "And we all know that there's no way you're going to do that at the Burrow with Ron and Harry and Ginny and Luna and Neville and Bill and Remus and..."

"Okay, okay." She laughed and let him pull her closer. "Point taken." She sat on the edge of the couch and stared at their hands for a few moments, watching his thumb rub gently over her knuckles.

"Come here," he suggested softly, patting the space between his legs with his free hand.

Her voice was soft and unsure when she finally spoke. "I really do mean to study, Fred."

He sat up, leaning forward and brushing a kiss across her cheek. "I know. But you can study over here, can't you?"

"You promise not to be a distraction?"

"Well, I promise not to distract you on purpose," he shrugged. "I can't help my natural charm and good looks."

Hermione laughed and let him coerce her closer, settling between his legs, his chest warm against her back. He tilted his head slightly to the side as she leaned against him, planting a soft kiss on her temple.

"There now. Not so bad, is it?"

"Well, you're certainly more comfortable than George's sorry excuse for a chair."

"He's had it since we were five. It's a bit beat up. But, you know, settled in."

"That's because it's conformed to the shape of his body." She turned her head. "Now, stop being distracting."

"One last kiss?" She gave him a knowing look and he raised his hand. "I swear I'm not trying to seduce you, Miss Granger. I just want a little taste to get me through the next couple of hours of you preparing for another year of Transfiguration."

"And here I thought the only thing Fred Weasley swore to was that he was up to no good."

"You've changed me."

"Oh," she shook her head and leaned in to kiss him, her breath warm on her lips, "don't say that. George would never forgive me."

His hand threaded through her hair and he painted her lips with the tip of his tongue. "George who?"

 

"Explain television again?"

"Freeeeeeeeed." She shook her head, her hair like soft whips against his neck. "I'm trying to study."

"Please?"

"It's like the movie we saw the other night, only in your house."

"It's that big?"

"No. It's smaller. Like...like the size of," she mimed the shape and size with her hands. "And you watch things on it ."

"Movies?"

"And other stuff. TV shows."

"Which are?"

"Stories."

"Like books?"

"Yes, only with actors and actresses playing the roles. And sometimes there are real things. Like the news. Or documentaries, which are sort of news about specific things."

"Muggles are an odd sort."

She chuckled. "I suppose that's better than Draco Malfoy's usual rhetoric, though not very nice."

"I didn't say odd was bad." He shrugged. "Go back to your book."

"And you promise not to distract me? Again?"

He smiled and kissed her hair, inhaling the delicate scent of apples that clung to her. "Exactly."

"Mm-hmm." She picked up her book again, shifting slightly, settling more comfortably in his loose embrace. Her breath caught as she felt him adjust to her, felt the delicate movement that he couldn't quite hide as her bottom pressed more snugly against him. She swallowed hard as she felt the harsh puff of air he expelled stir her hair, felt his body tighten almost imperceptibly.

Neither of them spoke. Hermione struggled to focus on her book, her eyes going over the same sentence time and time again, conscious only of Fred's hands as he slowly began stroking her upper arms, fingers feathering delicately over her skin. She closed her eyes for a second, leaning into him and he sighed, his thumb beginning to swirl circles amidst the invisible lines left by his fingers.

"You all ready for school?" His voice was strangled.

"Mostly," she breathed, her lashes fluttering and her hands tightening on the edges of her book as his fingers continued stroking her, an errant one occasionally finding the curve of her breast. "Har...Harry's nervous about it, knows that everything's going to start up again."

"Bound to." His eyes threatened to close as she wriggled slightly, but he forced them to stay open, to watch her body react to his small, light touches. Her chest hitched as he moved his hand, letting three fingers curve over the peak of her nipple where it strained against her shirt, barely stirring the air above it.

"R...Ron," she swallowed hard as his fingers moved back to her arms, taking a deep breath as they curved around her bicep and seemed to fall away. "Ron doesn't want to go back. Worried about Harry, I think."

"I figured he'd want to go. Get you away from me."

She started to respond, stopping, her mouth open as the hand he'd kept resting on his upraised knee moved to her arm, the other down to her thigh where it pressed against his.

"And you?"

"All set."

He nuzzled her neck, his breath hot like a furnace, heating her all over. "And no one's surprised by that one, are they?"

"I am, a little." Her voice shook as Fred's fingers ran along the hem of her skirt, fingering the fabric lightly, never touching her. His other hand traced the sleeve of her shirt, occasionally curling under the material to brush her arm. "Not about going back. But by how much I don't want to." She bent her head as his breath feathered over her neck. "Besides, I'm still terrible at flying."

"You're not terrible at anything."

"You never saw me in Divination."

"You just need a little confidence in your flying." He nibbled her earlobe, inhaling as she gasped, extending the shocked and hungry sound by slipping his fingers onto her thigh, under the edge of her skirt. "Confidence and practice. And a really good coach."

She grasped Fred's knee with her right hand then pressed her palm hard to the softer skin above the bone, breathing quickly as his hand stilled, warm weight pressing on her flesh. "Are you saying Madame Hooch isn't a good coach?"

"I would never suggest any such thing. In fact," his tongue flickered in the hollow behind her ear. "I'm appalled that you would suggest that I'd suggest such a thing."

"Then what are you saying?" Her book fell away from her, forgotten as the fingers of Fred's left hand moved up to the collar of her shirt, tugging it to the side so he could kiss the curve of her neck where it met her shoulder. The thumbnail of his right hand curled patterns onto her thigh beneath her skirt, the fabric tented over his hand. Licking her lips, she arched her back, the change in posture pressing her ass hard against Fred's body.

"Oh," he groaned against her neck, sucking on air and skin as he tensed his muscles in an effort to keep from thrusting against her. "Just that you need a little more," he paused, realizing he was panting, unsure how things had gotten quite this far, "one on one instruction."

"One on one?" Her voice caressed the words and he groaned again, the hand on her thigh slipping higher. Tiny tremors were running through Hermione's body, each one shaking him as well everywhere she touched him, which he realized as she relaxed slightly, was awfully close to everywhere.

"Not to brag," his voice held none of its usual boasting or mischief, instead it purred, surrounding her, stroking her as delicately as his hands, "but it's been said I'm quite masterful on a broom."

"Who..." his hand slid higher, above her thigh, his palm hot on her stomach, his fingers dipping beneath the waistband of her panties, her skirt in complete disarray, "who says that?"

He nipped at her neck, his tongue and lips leaving hot pink marks on her pale skin. He closed his eyes then swallowed, forcing himself to watch her as he let his fingers slide beneath her knickers, his palm brushing over the downy tangle of hair beneath the silky material. Hermione stilled and shuddered all at once, her eyes closing as every muscle in her body seemed to coil in on itself. "Everyone."

She swallowed several times, her chest barely moving as she struggled for air. Fred didn't move, his breath on her neck feathering down over her chest, her nipples tightening further. Her tongue darted out, wetting her lips before she sank her teeth into the lower one. Fred shuddered beneath her, his breath stuttering into rough gasps. The silent stillness stretched out for infinite seconds. "Everyone, huh?"

He nearly groaned, biting the sound back as he let his hand slip lower, tangling through the silky strands until he felt the warm dip of flesh, his middle finger sliding down the delicate slope, his other fingers parting the skin in its wake. His left hand released her shirt and moved down her back, sliding beneath her arm so that it could curve around her breast, cupping the heavy mound through her clothes. "I was quite the Quidditch star in my day."

She shifted beneath him and his hands stilled. Fear swam through him as she seemed to pull away, drowning in the tidal wave of emotion that flooded him as she seemed to sprawl against him, allowing him easier access to her body, parting her legs slightly to accommodate his touch.

"Hermione," he breathed her name like a prayer as his finger found her clit, barely touching it.

"Oh, so you're that Fred Weasley, are you?" Her joking tone was destroyed by the tremor in her voice, the suspense and anticipation that underscored every word.

"Follow Quidditch, do you?" Neither of them were paying attention to what was said, both too consumed with the movement of his hands on her body, but the pretense seemed just as important, just as necessary as him rubbing his palm over her nipple, as him circling her clit with a touch so light it was almost imaginary.

"Not really, no." She swallowed between every word. Her left hand curled around his calf, fingers kneading the taut muscle, nails occasionally digging into his flesh, scraping against his jeans. Her right hand was still pressed to his thigh, sliding along it with long strokes that were almost as distracting there as they would have been higher, sliding over his cock.

"But you've heard of me?"

She breathed heavily for a few moments as he finally applied pressure, still circling the hard nub without touching it. "Rumors, mostly."

He released her breast and snuck his hand down between them, adjusting his cock. It ached, throbbing against his too-tight jeans. "Ru...rumors?" His own breath was just as strained as Hermione's, and he rubbed himself for a few moments, closing his eyes and finally finally! touching her clit.

"Oh!" She bit out the sound, her hips curling off the couch. Fred groaned and bit at her neck, his fingers sliding down, inside her, thrusting into the wash of wet heat. He whispered her name over and over, matching the sound with the rhythm of his thrusts, his other hand sliding along the cushion between them, under her ass, squeezing it lightly. "Oh, Fr...Fred." She panted harshly, swallowing to ease her dry throat, gulping air as her body writhed at the end of his fingers. His thumb flicked across her clit, two fingers buried inside her, his mouth moving over her neck with wet, hot kisses that burned her skin, branded her like a dragon's breath. Her nails dug into his jeans and she shook violently, helplessly, caught and controlled as if under the Imperio curse.

She collapsed, spent and exhausted, flushed and pale all at once. Fred stared down at her with shocked eyes, the blue sparkling with power and pride and awe. Hermione's eyes were closed, her chest heaving, her body spasming as he carefully removed his fingers from inside her. He looked around, suddenly unsure, wiping them on his jeans before touching her cheek. "You..." Hardly any sound came out past his dry lips so he swallowed and tried again. "Are you okay?"

She nodded, her head bobbing out of her control. She forced herself to still and looked up at him, her eyes wide and scared and dangerously beautiful. She licked her lips and his hips jerked involuntarily. She was sprawled messily against him and even fully clothed she looked very much like she'd been doing exactly what they'd been doing. "I feel heavy."

"Languid."

"Oh," she sighed happily, wincing slightly as she tried to sit up. "That's a good word."

"Easy now." He stroked her hair, petting her.

She turned her head and smiled at him, her hand lifting to brush the light stubble that decorated his cheeks. "Thank you."

"For the stubble burn you're going to have to hide from Harry, Ginny and Ron? Not to mention my mother?"

She sat up then turned around, kneeling between his legs. Fred gaze hooked on the gradually slowing rise and fall of her breasts before lifting to her face and her knowing smile. Her grin widened then she glanced down at his waist before shyly meeting his gaze. "Do you want..."

"Ha!" He barked out the sound then breathed a host of sputtered sounds. "More than you can possibly imagine," he assured her. "But no. Not now. Not tonight. Not yet." He shook his head, shook away the feeling of betrayal that seemed to stem from the thought of her touching him, but had been absent as he'd touched her. "But thank you. For the offer."

Hermione licked her lips and grinned, impish and sweet and innocent all at once. "I didn't get any of my Transfiguration reading done."

"You sorry?"

She shook her head. "No."

Fred nodded and reached up, cupping her cheek and guiding her down to kiss him. "Good." His tongue teased hers, licking at her lips before sliding inside her mouth, tasting heat and promise and simply Hermione. When they pulled apart, she settled back into his lap, curled against him, satiation making her eyelids droop. "Can I ask you a question?"

"Sure," she yawned, her nails scratching his chest through his thin shirt.

"What rumors did you hear?" He closed his eyes as she laughed, strangely and dangerously content.

 

"Let go of me!" Ron's raged cry jerked Fred awake and he blinked open his eyes, disoriented. The room swam into focus and he wondered what the hell he was doing in the living room and why he couldn't feel his legs and what was on him and breathing and...oh. "I'm going to kill the sodding bastard. Let go of me!"

"Ron!" Mr. Weasley's voice boomed around the room and Fred felt Hermione stir against him. She stretched, her body smoothing against his and he barely held in his groan as the morning erection that had begun to fade in the wake of the presence of his father and brother surged back to life.

"Look at him! He's got his hands all over her and I'm going to kill him!" He wrenched out of his father's grasp and lunged for Fred, only stopping when Mrs. Weasley stepped in front of him.

"That's enough, Ronald." Molly turned around and faced Fred and he was no longer worried about his erection, though a certain fear for his life did begin to come into play. "Fredrick."

"Er." He glanced at Hermione who was sliding off of his lap as cautiously as possible, her head down. "Hello, Mum. What, er, what time is it?"

"It's two in the sodding morning, that's what time it is, you great prick and if you've so much as laid a hand on her, I'm going to..."

"Ronald!"

"We fell asleep." Fred resisted the urge to glare at Ron, instead turning his blue eyes to his mother. "We were talking and we fell asleep."

Molly glanced quickly at Hermione who was straightening her skirt, her face bright red. "We told you to have her home by eleven, Fred."

"We fell asleep, Mum. It wasn't on purpose. It was just..."

"I'll tell you what it was!" Ron moved around his mother and glared down at Fred. "She wouldn't give you what you wanted the other night at the house, so you took advantage of her here, when there was no one else around to stop you."

"What the fuck are you on about, Ronald?" Fred snapped.

"Fred!"

"I saw the two of you the other night at the house after the voomie. You were all over her, pawing her outside the front door, touching her," he didn't look at Hermione, but he could feel the heat of embarrassment and anger radiating off of her. "And she told you to stop and you just bided your time, didn't you?"

"You're delusional, Ronald." Fred shoved Ron back and got to his feet, his legs tingling as blood circulated through them again. "After the movie the other night, I very chastely kissed Hermione good night since she'd taken so long at her parents house and was tired. Maybe your little scenario is a little more likely to be what happened in Luna's room, eh?"

"You shut up," Ron snarled.

"Ron." Hermione snapped his name, forcing his attention to turn to her. "Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. We fell asleep. That's all. And I'm sorry that we worried you, but please, nothing happened." She gave Fred a regretful smile. "Nothing happened."

"Very well." Molly took a deep breath and stepped back, a tight grip on Ron's arm. "Let's get everyone home. You've got a train to catch in a few hours."

"That's it?" Ron gasped. "That's all? We just walk away? He's been...been doing Merlin knows what with her and we're just going home?"

"Ron, Hermione said nothing happened," Mr. Weasley told him gently, guiding him toward the fireplace. "Let's go home."

"He's lying!" He glared at Hermione. "She's lying. She's not going to tell you that he's shagged her. She'd be too embarrassed. And no reason not to be, given that she's been shagging him."

"Ronald!" Arthur snapped. "That's enough." He tossed a handful of floo powder in the fireplace, called out "The Burrow" and shoved Ron into the flames, his recriminations against Fred lingering in the air.

Arthur followed Ron through the flames without looking back at Fred. Molly guided Hermione toward the fireplace. "I need to get my books, Mrs. Weasley."

"Hurry up then."

Hermione gathered the stack up, blushing as Fred tugged her Transfiguration text from between the seat cushions of the couch. His voice was tender. "Here you go."

"I'll owl you."

"You'd better."

"Got them all, Hermione?" Molly was obviously having trouble keeping her temper in check. "Good. Move along then." She shooed her to the fireplace, waiting until she was gone to turn to Fred. "You and your brother will be home for dinner tonight."

"But..."

"Tonight, Fredrick."

"Yes, Mum."

 

George waited until everyone had left before shuffling into the living room, wiping his sleepy eyes with one hand, scratching his bare stomach with the other. Fred glanced and him and shrugged, smirking slightly. "Hey."

"What'd I miss?"

"Apparently everything, but I'll leave it to Mum's diatribe during dinner tonight to let you experience all the details. Because, trust me, you'll no doubt get your share of the blame."

"And you won't tell me what I did?"

"You weren't sitting like an angel on my shoulder telling me not to defile Hermione."

George nodded until he processed what his brother said. "You defiled Hermione?"

"Not as I recall." He sat there silently, cursing the rising tide that flooded his skin. "Er, not exactly."

George leaned back against the arm of the couch and crossed his arms over his chest, staring at his twin. "What exactly do you mean by not exactly?"

"I mean nothing happened."

"Fredrick?"

"I'm not going to tell you anything, brother mine. So don't even ask. What happened is very strictly just between Hermione and myself."

George's voice was soft, slightly sad. "I'm your twin. Your best friend."

"Yeah, and you're a rotten git for trying to get the details, aren't you? Hermione doesn't need everyone in the Weasley family knowing what exactly she's done or not done." He crossed his arms as well and refused to look at George. "And you're not exactly discreet, are you?"

"I'm incredibly discreet." George tried to look hurt. "You've no idea what I'm up to, do you?"

Fred looked at him, his gaze penetrating. "I know exactly what you're up to, George. And you're going to get yourself smeared over the pavement emotionally if you're not careful. Maybe even if you are."

"How's it you know what I'm up to all the time?"

"How do you think the Extendable Ears got so much better so fast?" Fred grinned. "And trust me that I am kidding, because the last thing I want to listen to is you making all sorts of embarrassing noises in the middle of the night."

"You're a prick."

"Yeah. Your point?" Fred got to his feet and headed into the kitchen to start the kettle. "You want tea?"

"You told her you're in love with her yet?"

"What are you on about?" Fred stopped walking but didn't turn around, knowing that his expression would give everything away to George's searching eye. "I'm not in love with Hermione."

"Right. You're still doing it to piss off Ron and get him to ask her out." George knelt on the couch and looked at Fred over the back of it. "That's why when I came home last night, she looked like she wasn't going to wake up for anything less than an earthquake and you looked about as happy as I've ever seen you."

"Nothing happened."

"Fred, I appreciate that you think I'm an idiot, I really do, but I know what a girl looks like when she's been..."

"Nothing. Happened."

"It's all right, mate. I'm not going to tell anyone. Maybe I'm a shit about teasing and talking the mickey but you're my twin, Fred. Nothing between us goes beyond us. Remember?"

Fred bowed his head and nodded. "What am I gonna do, George?"

"You love her..."

"What?" Fred's head jerked up and he shook it violently. "No. I don't. I'm just...this is about Ron, remember?"

"That's straight up bullshit, Fred."

"This is about Ron," he insisted.

"What you did to Hermione, whatever it was? That was about Ron?" George's mouth pressed into a thin line. "The only thing saving you from me cursing you into next week is the fact that you're bald-face lying." He got off the couch and walked up to his twin, his face hard and angry.

"I'm not lying."

"Then stop it right now. Because you did something, you touched her. And if that was about Ron and not about you and how you feel about her? I'll hand you over to Voldemort myself, you stupid shit."

"Look," Fred held up both hands, "she's on her way back to school, so it's not like I'll see her for a while. Things just got..."

"Out of hand?" George sneered. "You laying a finger on her is out of hand if you don't have feelings for her." He cuffed Fred up the side of the head. "Leave her alone, Fred."

"Fuck off, George." He headed for the kitchen, his ears ringing from George's words and the stinging slap. "You don't know what it's all about."

"I think it's more than clear what it's about, Fred." George shook his head in disgust. "I also think the only person you're fooling is yourself."

 

"Where's Mr. Weasley taking Ron?"

"Outside, dear." Her voice was worried and clipped. "It's one of the side effects of being forced through the floo network. Makes the person who's been forced horribly sick." She guided Hermione to the stairs and followed her up, the ragged sound of Ron's retching echoing after them. She sighed, somewhat tearfully.

"I'm really, really sorry, Mrs. Weasley," Hermione stopped outside Ginny's door and turned around to face her. "I didn't mean to worry anyone and I really didn't mean to stay all night." She grimaced as Ron retched again. "I'm really, really sorry."

"It's all right, dear," Molly nodded absently and moved her aside, opening Ginny's door. Ginny sat up, blinking blearily as her mother snapped on the light.

"Mum?"

"Go take your shower, Ginny."

"'S three in the morning."

"And there is a lot to do and a lot of showers that need to be taken and I need you to do as I say." Her voice caught and she swallowed. "Please, Ginny."

"Yes, Mum." Ginny got out of bed and grabbed her robe, pulling it around her. She gave Hermione a questioning glance as she walked past; waking up enough to widen her eyes as she realized that her friend was wearing the same clothes she'd been in the day before. "Oh."

"Ginny!" Molly snapped. "Go."

"Yes, Mum." She disappeared through the door, closing it behind her.

Molly moved over to the vacated bed and lowered herself onto it, poised nervously on the edge of the mattress. "Hermione, dear, have a seat, won't you?"

"Yes, Mrs. Weasley."

"Hmm. Maybe...maybe you should call me Molly."

"Molly, Mrs. Weasley?"

"Perhaps not." She folded her hands on her lap then unfolded them, rubbing her palms on her apron. "Hermione," she paused. "Dear."

"I'm really sorry, Mrs. Weasley. I am. I didn't mean to take advantage of your generosity at letting me stay here. I meant to come home, I did."

"Hermione." She bit out her name then blushed at the force of it. "Please. Stop."

Tears stung her eyes as she nodded, sucking her lower lip into her mouth. "Yes, ma'am."

"Now, I know that...before we talk about what happened last night," she swallowed hard, unable to meet Hermione's eyes, "I think we should have another talk."

"Another talk, Mrs. Weasley?"

"About...about...boys. And girls."

"I'm afraid I don't understand."

"I know, dear. You're awfully young and I've been remiss in not talking to you before this. I guess I was just hoping that I wouldn't have to."

"I didn't mean to do anything wrong, Mrs. Weasley."

"We need to talk about sex, Hermione."

"Sex?"

Molly nodded. "I don't know what your parents have told you," she glanced up at Hermione's crimson face and sighed, "but I imagine that being told your daughter is a witch may have pushed the more rudimentary life lessons out of their minds. And, as the parent figure, I think I should say some things. Let you know some things."

"Mrs. Weasley, I know about sex." She stopped at Molly's horrified look. "No! Not from experience! No! I mean, books! I've read books!" Molly's expression didn't change and Hermione stumbled over more words. "In school, not...not Hogwarts! Muggle school. Biology."

"Biology?"

"It's, um, where they teach you about being human. It's science."

"Science." Molly nodded. "And they teach you that?"

"Well, normally when you're older, but I was, um, I studied ahead in school. Muggle school."

"There are a lot of things I don't understand about the Muggle world, I guess." Molly swallowed. "Regardless of that, without knowing really what they...and I don't want to know, necessarily. I just think that maybe we should talk about it."

"About sex?"

"Yes."

"No offense, Mrs. Weasley, but you're my boyfriend's mother."

"All the more reason," Molly smiled widely, tightly. "It's obvious from what happened last night that you and Fred are...getting closer. And before anything...irrevocable-"

"Irrevocable?"

"Happens," Molly continued, "I think it would be prudent that we discuss the...actions and emotions that might be...involved."

"I..."

"Sex is a major undertaking, Hermione. It's not something to be entered into lightly."

"I'm aware..."

"And if you do see your way to having...s...se...sex with Fred, I need you to make sure that you don't..." She pursed her lips and swallowed, staring at the laces of Hermione's shoes. "You know what a penis is, dear?"

Hermione choked. "Yes," she squeaked. "Mrs. Weasley," she pleaded. "Please don't do this."

"I think, if you can spend the night with my son unsupervised, you're adult enough to face the consequences of it. And that includes," Molly's voice rose steadily, "answering any questions I might have about your knowledge."

"Yes, Mrs. Weasley, I understand." Hermione bit her lip hard enough to make it hurt. "I promise I know all the parts and where they go and what they do, but even though I know that, I haven't done any of that. With Fred or anyone. And I don't...we're not...I really like him."

"I should hope so!" Molly managed a smile. "Fred's a good boy."

"He is, Mrs. Weasley," Hermione nodded. "And you trust him. And you used to trust me."

"I did. I do."

"Then can we please stop having this conversation?" She grinned weakly. "Please?"

"You will...come to me if you have questions or concerns, dear?" Molly looked Hermione in the eye. "Please?"

She nodded. "I will."

"And, er, as far as Ginny's concerned, well, she's young." Molly's eyes darted around the room, looking for proof of her daughter's age. "I know you're friends..."

"As far as Ginny's concerned, Fred and I fell asleep in separate rooms because we were too tired to floo home."

"Thank you, dear." Molly got up and patted Hermione on the head. "Thank you."

"I'm going to get ready for school."

"That'd be best. And Hermione?" Molly looked back at her from the door, her eyes raking over Hermione's disheveled clothes. "I've been around a long time and I have seven children." Hermione blushed and Molly nodded. "Get ready for the train, dear."

 

Hermione very carefully didn't look at Ron as he walked past the car she was sitting in, the triumvirate of Weasley, Granger and Potter broken completely as Harry shrugged his apologies and followed in Ron's wake, settling in the next care with Seamus, Dean and Neville.

"Boys," Ginny sniffed.

"Right," Hermione agreed non-committally.

"Of course, that'd include Fred, wouldn't it?" She lowered her voice. "You didn't come home last night."

Hermione blushed and turned away from Ginny's searching gaze, only to find herself face to face with Lavender, Parvati and Padma. "Er, hello."

"We thought we'd join you," Parvati informed them, her eyes flashing with curiosity. "Did you spend your summer at the Weasleys, Hermione?

"The last part of it."

"And how did that go? I would imagine you must be getting to the point of strangling Ron, hmm?"

"I really don't know what you mean, Parvati."

"Well, you like him, don't you? And he's dense."

"Ron's got a girlfriend," Hermione stated. "So I really don't know what you're on about."

"You're just letting him date someone else? You don't care?"

"Why should she? She's dating Fred." Ginny made a face and clapped her hand over her mouth. "Sorry," she muttered from behind her palm.

"Nothing to be sorry about," Hermione shrugged. "It's not like we're keeping it a secret."

"You're dating Fred? Fred Weasley?" Padma asked archly.

"Instead of Ron?" Parvati finished her twin's though.

"Ron's dating me." Luna lowered her ever-present copy of the Quibbler.

"Ron's dating you?" Lavender's eyes danced. "And Hermione's dating Fred? Oh, how I wish I'd spent the summer with you guys."

"And how grateful are we that you didn't," Ginny muttered under her breath as Lavender stepped past her to sit next to Luna.

"Tell us about Ron."

"You know Ron," Luna reminded her from behind her paper.

"Not about dating Ron." She looked quickly at Hermione as the Patil twins settled on the seat to the left of her. "Has he kissed you?"

"He wouldn't even dance with me on our one date," Padma groused.

"Well, he was distracted, wasn't he?" Parvati stated as she glanced in Hermione's direction. "He and Harry were both terrible dates."

Lavender ignored them, her attention solely on Luna. "Is he a good kisser?"

"He's not done anything wrong."

"That's a ringing endorsement."

Padma laughed. "For Ron it is!"

"He's really quite romantic, actually." Luna blinked slowly at Lavender. "He's been most solicitous this summer."

Padma glanced at Hermione, whose eyes were closed, again then back at Luna, lowering her voice. "Doesn't it bother you? That he likes Hermione?"

"Hermione is right here," Hermione said softly without opening her eyes. "And has not gone deaf."

"Fine then," Parvati turned to face her. "Tell us the truth. You're not really dating Fred, are you? You're just doing it to make Ron jealous? Or to show him you're not jealous, even though you are, because he asked someone else out. You're just trying not to be heartbroken, aren't you?"

"My relationship with Fred is, thankfully, none of your business, though I'm more than happy to assure you that it has nothing in the world to do with Ron."

"Oh," Parvati rolled her eyes. "Of course."

"As for Ron and Luna, I think they make quite a lovely couple and I know that she's treating Ron exactly as I would hope for any friend of mine. And, as far as that goes, I'd appreciate it greatly if you'd stop continuing to insult Luna by implying that Ron's relationship with her has anything to do with me."

"Well then," Lavender smirked at Hermione, her eyes narrowed, "if everything's fine and dandy with you dating Fred," her mocking tone remained unconvinced, "and Ron's dating Luna, then why aren't Ron and Harry in here?"

"Maybe they wanted to see the friends they haven't spent the last month with?"

"Maybe they're talking about Luna and Ron?" Lavender got on her knees and pressed her ear to the wall, digging for her wand when she couldn't hear anything.

"And maybe they're talking about Quidditch," Hermione suggested tiredly. "I really don't..." her voice cut off as Seamus's voice filled the car.

"...but Ron! She's got massive breasts!"

"Silencio!" Hermione lifted her wand and killed the sound, cringing a bit as Seamus's voice echoed. When she lowered it, she noticed that Lavender, Padma and Parvati were all looking at her chest. She opened her hands in question and they quickly averted their gaze to Luna. She was staring back at all of them, most notably Ginny who had her arms crossed over her chest.

Parvati sniffed. "Well, that doesn't prove anything. You can't prove that you're dating Fred..."

"Why would she lie?" Ginny asked. "And to you?"

"She's not lying," Padma allowed. "She's just not telling the whole truth. She's obviously just trying to make Ron jealous and now that he's got a girlfriend of his own and doesn't care, but she and Fred are still pretending because otherwise it'd be obvious, wouldn't it?" She leaned forward and patted Luna's knee. "But don't worry. We're sure that Ron likes you." Satisfied, she stood up. "Come on, let's go visiting."

The three of them trooped out and Hermione sighed in relief, scooting to the corner of the long bench and bringing her knees to her chest. "Oh, thank goodness."

"Of course, by the time we reach school, everyone will know everything they think they know," Ginny blushed. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be. They're going to think what they want to think regardless." She glanced at Luna. "I'm sorry you got caught up in all of this. You're going to have a million questions back at Ravenclaw tonight, I'd imagine."

"Oh, no. They won't talk to me. Or they'll try but then they'll get tired." She smiled widely. "Whose breasts do you think they were talking about?"

"I...don't know," Hermione admitted.

"Perhaps I'll go see." She tucked her paper beneath her arm and stood up. "Ron's probably neglected to tell his friends about me, don't you think?" She grinned and headed for the door. "I'll see you later."

Ginny waved to Luna then scooted down opposite Hermione who had dropped her head to her knees. "You okay?"

"I'm fine." She lifted her hand to assure the younger girl. "The three of them give me a headache on the best of days and after just a couple..." She broke off and wrapped her arms over the top of her head.

"Did you," Ginny blushed and dropped her voice. "Did you sleep with Fred?"

"We slept," she admitted.

"Did you...?"

"No." She turned her head to meet Ginny's eyes. "We didn't."

"Did you want to?"

"Are you asking me if I wanted to sleep with Fred or are you asking me if I'm still interested in Ron?" Hermione smiled sadly. "Because, and I'm not trying to be mean, but every time someone asks me about Fred, I get the feeling they're really just interested in what it means to Ron."

"I know you like Fred." Ginny's voice was adamant and slightly hurt. "I've been there all summer, remember? I've seen the way Fred treats you. I've seen the way Ron treats you."

"The two really have nothing to do with each other." Hermione lifted her head and stared at the doorway to the compartment. "Maybe at first? Ron always says the first thing that pops into his head and it's almost always exactly what he shouldn't say. And that hurts after a while. And maybe I did go out with Fred to see how Ron would react. But after the day at the shop and our first date? I really did like Fred. And when I was with him, I didn't think much about Ron at all."

"But you still like Ron, right?"

Hermione bit her lip, surprised by the sudden tears that stung her eyes. "I'll always like Ron, Ginny. He was my first..." she blushed hotly. "But he's with Luna now."

"He's just with her to hurt you."

"It doesn't matter why he's with her. It matters that he is. And I'm with Fred."

"If he wasn't? With Luna?"

Hermione turned and faced Ginny, taking the younger girl's hands in hers. "It doesn't matter. I'm with Fred. And I really, really want to be with Fred." She blushed. "Being with Fred is nice."

"I'm glad." Ginny smiled. "You think you'll...sleep with him?"

"Fred?" Hermione blushed hotly. "I don't know."

"When are you going to see him again?"

"Well, your parents weren't too thrilled with walking in on us, and with school starting, we're probably going to take a bit of time to let things cool down and let me get back into my routine."

"That's right," Ginny laughed. "You've not studied the summer away, you're almost behind in your classes, based on your schedule."

Hermione blushed at the thought of the studying she'd done the night before and shifted on the seat, curling one leg under her. "Yeah. I've got a lot of studying to do."

 

"I heard that he doesn't even know he's supposed to be dating her," someone whispered just loud enough for her to hear as Hermione walked past. "She's making it up to make Ron jealous."

"Backfired though, didn't it? He's been with Loony Luna all around campus. I even saw him with his hand up her shirt."

"You did not!"

"Did so. He said he was just adjusting her tie, but I know what it looks like when a guy's touching a girl under her shirt."

"And how do you know? Hmmm?"

Hermione kept walking, her head down. She'd had a constant headache since school started, everyone including the first years were speculating on the state of her relationships, every instant she was near or around Ron calling her relationship with Fred into question.

Even worse, the Slytherins had jumped on the bandwagon, getting in constant digs about how she might as well have picked an even less likely person to choose as her boyfriend.

"You holding up okay?"

"Careful. Talking to me is most likely going to start a whole new wave of rumors." She gave Ron a weak smile. "By this time tomorrow, I'll have begged you to dump Luna, take me back and forgive me for ever even thinking of another man."

"That one's not so bad." Ron laughed at her annoyed glare. "Better than the one I heard. Apparently, you're really dating Harry, but you're using Fred as a decoy because if I were to find out about you and Harry, I'd kill myself."

"Oh, I hadn't heard that one yet."

"It's my favorite so far."

"Are there any that actual believe I'm dating Fred?"

"So far? Not that I've heard. Although I did hear that you had a threesome with the twins."

"Right. Well, you know, that one's true." She laughed at his face. "Kidding, Ron."

"I knew that."

"Sure you did." She raked her hands through her hair, mussing the spell that was keeping it tamed down.

"It'll die down, Hermione."

"When? It's already been two weeks. I'm about to strangle the next person I see whispering in my vicinity. I don't even care what they're talking about."

They passed a group of third year girls who all stared at them then fell together, whispering and giggling, one of them running off in the direction of another group.

"Great. By dinner tonight I figure you and I will have had an illicit shag against a bookcase in the library."

"That one's good too."

"Ron!"

"I'm sorry." He held up his hands. "I'm sorry. I am taking this seriously, Hermione, I promise. But I don't know what else to do. We're friends and classmates and housemates and we're going to be seen together. Unless you plan on avoiding me entirely?"

"And start a wave of theories about how we broke each other's hearts? No thank you."

"You did."

"What?"

"Nothing." He shook his head. "Luna and I broke up."

"Oh?" She asked lightly. "When?"

"Back at the Burrow. She's just been playing along, fueling the rumors, I guess. But I think we're going to stop. Not that it'll make a difference in how they...what?" He turned to look at her, realizing she'd stopped. "What?"

She stood still for a moment then took off at a run, transforming into a swirl of hair and robes and red as Fred scooped her up in his arms, caught somewhere between twirling, hugging and kissing her.

"Oh."

Fred set her down and smoothed her hair with his hands, framing her face as he looked down at her. "Hello, love."

"Hello."

He bent his head and kissed her properly, one hand sliding down her back to pull her closer as both of hers clung to his jacket. He released her slowly, relishing the sweet taste of her. Looking up, he noticed Ron and released her carefully, slightly uncomfortable. "Hey, Ron."

"Fred."

"You two are all right then?" He looked at Hermione and she nodded, then at Ron. "And you and I, little brother? Can we have a truce?"

Ron was about to answer, his glare prefacing the very vitriolic no he had planned, but he stopped at the look of hope on Hermione's face. Her large eyes pleaded with him and he forced himself to swallow the anger that had begun boiling the second he'd realized it was Fred. "Yeah. Not that you deserve it."

"Trust me, Ron, there's absolutely nothing you could say that could top what Mum and Dad said." He flushed and turned back to Hermione, tucking his arm around her shoulders. "Where were you two headed?"

"Back to Gryffindor." Hermione picked up her book bag from where she'd dropped it, her cheeks tinged with pink as Fred took it from her, slinging it over his shoulder as he started walking with her. Ron tagged along behind, silently seething, hating that he now not only had to be nice to his brother, but that, until he'd shown up unannounced, he and Hermione had been joking. They'd been friends.

"You don't mind that I came?" Fred asked quietly.

"Mum and Dad know you're here?"

Fred glanced back at Ron. "I'm a big boy, Ron. Don't have to tell them where I am or where I'm going."

"Even when it comes to Hermione?"

"Remember that truce, Ron?" Fred asked softly, his joking tone doing little to disguise the dangerous undertone. They reached the portrait hole and the Fat Lady blinked at Fred.

"What's the password?"

"Higgledy piggledy." Hermione stated, her eyebrow arched as the portrait debated whether or not to let Fred in.

The painting swung open. Ron slipped past them both into the common room, followed first by Hermione then by Fred. As he straightened, there seemed to be a collective gasp followed quickly by shouts and calls and a mass of Gryffindors pressing in around them.

"You'd think they hadn't just seen me two weeks ago," Fred chuckled to Hermione who still clung to his hand.

"Hail the conquering hero," she assured him.

"I even look the part, don't I?" He glanced down at his lizard skin jacket and the dark leather of his boots.

"Shall I start fighting off the adoring masses for you now, Mr. Weasley?" She asked disdainfully. "Or would you like a few of them to touch you?"

"Touching could be nice."

Hermione's eyebrow was crooked almost to her hairline. "I'm sorry?"

"I mean..." He broke off as he realized Parvati and Lavender were standing in front of him, arms crossed over their chests, toes tapping on the floor. "Er, hello."

"So you really are dating Hermione?" Parvati asked incredulously. "She wasn't just making it up because Ron's dating Luna?"

"Well, if she is," he glanced down at her and grinned, stealing another quick kiss, "she's yet to let me know about it." He looked back at the two girls, one eyebrow cocked quizzically. "Was there anything else?"

"You're dating Hermione?"

He nodded slowly, enunciating each syllable precisely. "Yes. I. Am."

"But what about Ron?"

"Well, I thought about dating Ron," he admitted. "But there's that whole taboo thing, coupled with the fact that both of us seem to be screamingly heterosexual, not to mention that George gets awfully jealous."

"Not you." Parvati pointed to Hermione. "You."

"What about me?"

"And what about me?" Ron asked loudly from the corner where he'd flopped down into a chair by Harry. "Aren't you going to ask me if I even want to date Hermione? Did you think that maybe I've got no interest in her at all and want her to be dating Fred?"

"Well, that's just ridiculous, Ron. We've all seen you look at her." Lavender turned her attention back to Hermione. "And you're no better, so we want to know what's going on."

"Is this because I turned you down the other day at the store, Lavender?" Fred shook his head. "You're not going to hold that against Hermione, are you?"

"Turned me...what?"

"I do appreciate that you wanted to do something together, but I really am a one woman sort of guy."

Hermione looked affronted. "You asked out my boyfriend?"

"He didn't say he was going out with...no!" Lavender blushed and glanced over at Seamus. "I didn't ask you out."

"Really?" Fred grinned, winking at her. "That's not what I heard."

"What is going on here?" Professor McGonagall swept into the room, her stern voice sending first and second years scattering, leaving only the older students gathered around Fred. "Well, well. Mr. Weasley."

"Professor." He took her hand and kissed the back of it. "You're looking lovely as usual."

"Your flattery is liable to land you in almost as much trouble as your pranks, Mr. Weasley. You may want to refrain from overusing it."

"Yes, ma'am."

"And do I want to know what it is you're doing back here at Hogwarts? Come to finish your final term?"

"No, ma'am. Just visiting family and friends."

"Hermione's his girlfriend," Lavender snapped, obviously angry. "He's probably come to snog her on school grounds."

McGonagall's eyebrow lifted lazily and Fred fought his grin. "Is that so, Miss Granger?"

"That he's my boyfriend, Professor?"

"Or if he came to snog you. I'll accept an answer to either question." She held Hermione's gaze, her mouth quirking as the younger girl blushed. "Fell free to surprise me with which one it is."

"Er," Hermione swallowed. "Yes?"

"In that case, I'll remind you that you have much to study for this weekend so you might wish to take that into account when you plan your evening activities. I'll remind Mr. Weasley that he's spent more than a few instances sprawled at the base of the steps up to the girls' dormitory and he'd do well not to be found there tonight because, as he is not a student, there is absolutely no reason for me to show him any mercy." She tilted her head. "Am I understood?"

"Yes, Professor," they answered in unison.

"Excellent. That said," she turned and walked to the portrait hole. "As he is no longer a student, it is imprudent for Mr. Weasley to be in the common room, which means I'm afraid I'm going to have to leave any nocturnal activities you wish to partake in to the mercies of the castle itself."

"I'll just be," Fred gave Hermione a sad look, "going then, eh?"

McGonagall answered before Hermione had a chance to, not quite disguising the laughter in her voice. "Yes, Mr. Weasley. I believe you will."

"I'll," Hermione glanced at McGonagall with wary eyes, "Just walk him out?"

"That, Miss Granger, will be fine."

 

"Whooo. Dealing with Umbridge for a year made her even sharper, didn't it?"

"Dealing with Umbridge for a year made us all sharper." Hermione laced her fingers through his and sighed. "I don't want you to go."

"I don't want to go." He tugged her into a darkened corner, holding her against his body. "I've missed you."

"I've missed you too."

"And, since you were hanging out with Ron, I haven't been able to even give you a proper hello."

"No?"

He shook his head as he lowered it, his breath warm on her lips. His hands stayed on her shoulders, his thumbs rubbing small circles on her robe. "No."

"And you're going to rectify that?"

"Mmm," he purred, his tongue sliding over her lips, parting them, before diving inside the molten heat of her mouth. Hermione gasped, her lips parting to accommodate his searching tongue, her hands sliding beneath his jacket, feeling the heat of him through his shirt.

"Fred," she murmured, breaking the kiss, pressing her lips to his neck, licking the throbbing pulse that pounded just beneath his skin.

"George is about to kick my ass," he groaned, his hands sliding beneath her robes, stroking her waist through her shirt. "I can't get any damn work done because I just stand around thinking about you and he's about to get me a shirt with an arrow pointing down to my crotch that says 'Yes, I'm thinking of Hermione, why do you ask?'."

She laughed against his skin and he groaned. "What?" She nibbled and licked her way down to his collar.

"Nothing is ever going to be sexier than you doing that."

She giggled again and tugged his shirt free from his jeans, sliding her hands under his shirt. "Not even this?"

"Okay, you could do it naked and that'd be sexier." He pushed up her sweater, his fingers scrabbling in her shirt and tugging it free from her skirt. "Or maybe lying on top of me. Or both." He groaned. "I don't supposed you've got the Marauder's Map on you?"

"I'm not going to have sex with you in some damp, abandoned hallway of Hogwarts, Fred." She slid her hands up his back, her nails raking as she trailed them back down. He shuddered and thrust forward, his body urging closer to hers.

"Don't want to have sex with you," he assured her, his hands sliding up to cup the warm curve of her breasts. "I want to lay you down on one of those damn big fluffy beds you girls get and make slow, sweet love to you until neither of us can breathe."

"Oh." She swallowed hard, her hands moving down to slide over his ass, pulling him closer. "Fred..."

"Shit." He pulled away from her and leaned against the wall opposite, panting harshly. "Professor McGonagall is a very, very, smart woman."

"Oh?" Hermione's brain spun. "Why's that?"

"Because if she'd let me stay in the common room, I'd have learned to walk on the walls to get to your room." He stepped forward and grabbed her robes, pulling her hard against him. "I want you so badly."

"It's mutual," she nodded. "It is."

"That's not helping, love." He kissed her fiercely and put her away from him, slumping against the wall and sliding down to the floor. "I should go."

"You should?"

His eyes were wild and desperate. "Oh, yes." He nodded shakily. "I really, really should."

"I could walk you..."

"No." He stood up and held his hands palm down against the stone wall. "I think the smartest thing in the world for you to do right now is go back to your room, study like a good little Gryffindor and promise me you'll see me before I go mad."

"You're going to go mad?"

"If I don't see you again soon."

She moved toward him, her hips swaying slightly, her clothes mussed and rumpled, her eyes hazy with desire. "You'll see me soon."

 

"You know, if you're not careful, people are going to mistake you for an owl and strap a letter to your leg before throwing you out the window."

Hermione glanced over at Ron and grinned, her eyes dancing. "Don't say that too loud, Draco's liable to overhear and pay someone to do it."

"Erasing the paper trail so that no one can trace it back to him?"

"No, not exactly. He'd probably find a way to pin it on Harry, so he'd spend another year in some sort of cloud of suspicion until all was revealed and Draco was punished for, not only my death, but the fact that the letter never got delivered, thus giving the Owls a bad name."

"Nice touch, that."

"Thank you."

Ron walked over to Hedwig and scratched her neck, ruffling the feathers as she hooted happily. "So, is today sending or receiving?"

"Pardon?"

"Some days you send. Some days you receive. So far, I can't tell if they ever overlap." He glanced around. "Pig's not here though, so I'd guess sending."

"I'd never use Pig, Ron." Her voice was soft enough to be a whisper. "Not for this."

"You can," he acted like the thought didn't bother him, acted like he wasn't relieved to know that she wasn't using his owl to send love notes to his brother. "I mean, I wouldn't mind."

"I'd mind." She assured him. "I imagine Fred would too. Might take it wrong."

"What'd you mean?"

"I think he's a little jealous of you." Hermione grinned. "He keeps going on about how if he were in school he could see me every day. And how it's not fair that you get to."

"He does not."

She shrugged. "Sometimes he does."

"He's jealous of me? Fred's jealous of me?" Ron laughed, the sound almost shrill. "Do you remind him that he's the one that has a free license to snog you all the time? That I can't even tap you on the arm to ask you a question without half the school firing daggers at me with their eyes? Do you remind him of the large 'Property of Fred Weasley' sign you apparently wear around all the time?"

"I do not!"

He sighed and turned his attention back to Hedwig. "Sometimes I think I can't even be your friend, Hermione. At least not without defending myself to the mass of Fred and Hermione supporters that throng around you."

"You've gone daft, Ron."

"Have I?" He snapped, losing his grip on his control. "So I just imagined it when Lavender told me this morning that I needed to stop following you around?"

"When do you follow me around?"

"I dunno. Maybe when you walk to class? When you go to lunch? You see, I'm not actually doing any of those things myself, I'm just dogging your heels, trying to put you off Fred."

"They're being ridiculous, Ron. Just ignore them."

"Right. And how do I do that when I live with most of them? I mean, they've even got the guys doing it. Seamus cornered me the other day and told me that I needed to stop touching you."

"When were you touching me?"

"In potions, apparently."

"We needed both of us to handle the cerridian."

"Yeah, well, apparently I was a little too friendly with you while I was trying not to get bitten by the stupid thing." He raked his hand through his hair. "I am daft, Hermione, because it's all making me daft."

"I never asked..."

"Why do you think I've waited this long to tell you?"

They sat silently, the soft hooting of the sleeping owls the only sound in the aerie. She started to say something, stopping when an owl swooped in toward her, turning at the last second and veering out another open window.

"I didn't know, Ron."

"I'm trying, Hermione. I'm really trying to be okay with this whole thing. Not you and Fred, although, yeah, that too, but with the whole school suddenly thinking that I'm some sort of interloper, like I'm trying to snatch you out of his arms while he's not around."

"I don't think that of you, Ron. The people that matter don't think that of you."

"I want us to be friends again, Hermione. Like we talked about."

"We are, Ron," she promised him. "But I can't help the way they act. I can't change it. They won't believe me if I say anything, they didn't before when I told them I was dating Fred, they won't now if I say you're not trying to take me away from him." She got to her feet and walked over to him, resting her hand on his shoulder. He looked down at her, his eyes hot as they moved over her lips, the weight of his gaze parting them. "You are my friend."

"Hermione..." She gasped as Pig flew between them, twittering crazily. "You stupid, daft creature!" Ron grabbed the manic owl out of the air and stilled it, his short red hair moving in the rapid beat of Pig's wings. "Stop it."

"Who's it from?"

Ron unfolded the letter. "Just Mum." He shoved it in his pocket and released Pig who flew off to chatter at Hedwig. "Anyway, I should probably head back before someone assumes I've cornered you up here in some nefarious attempt to steal you away from my brother."

"You know I don't think that though, right, Ron? You do know that?"

He sighed and nodded. "Yeah." She reached out and grabbed his hand and held it, refusing to let him go. He turned and looked at her, his heart somewhere in his throat. "I know, Hermione."

"Your friendship is one of the most important things in my life, Ron. If I lost it..."

He shook his head at the tears that glistened suddenly in her eyes. "Don't cry." He reached out and lifted her chin, forcing her eyes to his. He smiled sadly. "Don't cry, Hermione."

"I'm not going to cry," she assured him, swiping away at a tear that leaked out. He shook his head, his thumb catching the one that trickled down her other cheek. "Damn it."

"You won't lose my friendship. Not ever." He tilted his head, smiling softly. "Understand?"

She nodded, her eyes never leaving his. "Understood."

"Good." He leaned in, his body swaying forward, caught in a strange tidal pool of longing. Hermione gasped quietly, not enough to break the hold that brought him inextricably closer. "Hermione?"

"Get out of the way, you git!" Draco's voice echoed through the aerie, sending half the owls swooping out the windows and serving as a dash of ice water through Ron's veins. He pulled away from Hermione, hating the stupid poncey git more than he'd ever hated him before. "Well, well," he drawled from the doorway, his silvery eyes taking in the scene with undisguised glee. "What have we here?"

"It's an aerie, Draco. I'd think even you would be smart enough to know that." She smirked. "Apparently I was wrong."

"Apparently you thought you'd be alone up here as well. Wrong about that too, weren't you?" He watched Ron's stance shift. "Whatever will your boyfriend say, Granger?"

"If you were to tell him anything? He'd probably tell you to sod off, Malfoy. But that's only a guess. Fred's far more eloquent with his insults than I am." An owl flew in, straight for Hermione, hovering patiently as she took her letter from its grip. "I'll be sure to write and ask him, if you'd like."

 

"Well, I, for one, don't know how you do it, Hermione." Lavender sat down at the library table where Hermione was sitting, her books spread out all around her. "I mean, really, you're quite brave."

"Er...what?" Hermione glanced around as Padma, Parvati and a few other girls from both Gryffindor and Ravenclaw joined them. "I'm sort of studying."

"You're always studying," she was informed. "Which means you'll be fine for the few minutes it's going to take for you to tell us how you do it."

"Do what?"

"Not go crazy," Padma answered, her tone indicating that the answer was obvious. "I mean, with wanting."

"The...wanting?"

Parvati sighed and leaned across the table, looking Hermione squarely in the eye. "For Fred."

"Wanting Fred."

"Yes. You do want him, right?" Lavender looked somewhat shocked. "I mean, you saw him when he was here, didn't you? The jacket and the boots?"

"I usually don't notice Fred's clothes."

"Well, that's the point then, isn't it? If you don't notice his clothes, then how can you have any desire to see him out of them?"

"Er." Hermione blushed crimson, her eyes searching desperately for a familiar face or a saving grace. "Well, um."

"You do like Fred that way, don't you?"

"Because if you don't, it's really unfair of you to date him when someone else could have the chance."

Hermione looked at the speaker and decided outright that she wouldn't have a chance in hell. She blushed at the thought and forced her gaze back to Parvati's. "I don't need to know what Fred's wearing to want him out of whatever it is."

"So you do fancy him!" she crowed. "We were beginning to wonder, what with the way you and Ron have been acting."

"Me and Ron?"

"We see you two, well, three if you count Harry, all over the place together."

"We're best friends."

"And we were just wondering if maybe you weren't maybe getting too close to Ron because you missed Fred. Because that wouldn't be fair."

"To Ron or Fred."

"But mostly Fred," Lavender sighed. "So, have you guys...you know?"

Hermione's head was spinning. "Have we what? Wait, which we? Me and Harry and Ron?"

"No. You and Fred."

"Have we what?"

"Well," one of the Gryffindor girls whose name she didn't know rolled her eyes as if Hermione had gone suddenly stupid, "we know you've kissed him. And, if what ZoŽ saw in the corridor was any indication, we know that you've gone beyond that."

"Someone saw something in the corridor?" Hermione squeaked.

"Not everything," the girl who was apparently ZoŽ assured her. "Just enough to know that Fred is very, very good with his hands off the Quidditch field as well."

Hermione's face turned a shade of scarlet that was dangerously close to purple. "I really, really, really need to go back to my room."

"And write Fred?" Padma suggested.

"Or just think about him," Parvati laughed, winking suggestively. "And his hands."

"I...uh." Hermione gathered her books and scrambled out of her chair, leaving their laughter and the annoyed threats of Madame Pince as far behind as fast as she could.

 

Fred looked up from the ledger as his fireplace crackled to life, green flame dancing brilliantly, spilling out over his floor. One eyebrow lifted and he sat up, pulling his knees up to his chest and wrapping his arms around his legs. He rested his chin on one as Hermione stepped out of the flame. "Tsk, tsk. Someone being naughty."

She grinned recklessly, tossing her hair slightly. "Professor Vector's out on a mission for Dumbledore." She was breathless. "I used his fireplace."

"Very naughty."

She shrugged off her robe and draped it over the chair beside the fireplace. "You want me to go?"

"I haven't seen you in two weeks." He turned, dropping his legs over the side of the bed and reached for her, pulling her between his thighs until his chin rested on her stomach. "You really think I want you to go?"

"I'm not interrupting anything?"

"Quarterly profit and loss statements." He shoved the ledger aside without a glance. "Nothing that can't wait until much, much later." His hands skimmed over her ass and down to her thighs. They were warm against her bare skin as he skimmed them under the hem of her skirt, his breath hot against the thin white of her uniform shirt. "Come down here and give me a proper hello."

She knelt down between his legs, her eyes locked on his. They closed slowly as he leaned in, the tips of her lashes fluttering against his cheeks. "Hello," she breathed.

"Mmm," he agreed, his hands tangling in her hair as he fitting his mouth over hers, his tongue sliding between her parted lips.

Hermione's hands settled on his thighs and she pulled back sharply, breaking the kiss with a shocked "oh!"

He tugged her closer again, wanting another kiss. "What'sthematter?"

"You're...you're..." She pulled away, her face redder than the stripes of her Gryffindor tie. "You're naked."

"Am not." He reached for her, sighing when she scrambled away. "I'm not."

She got to her feet and stood up, wrapping her arms around her suddenly achy body. "What're you wearing then?"

"They're something Oliver bought the team our second year at Hogwarts. Boxer-briefs, he called them."

"He bought them for you?"

"Well, he said they were better for playing Quidditch in, but I think he just wanted to see George in them and wasn't quite bold enough to ask."

"What ever happened with the two of them?"

He stood up, his bare chest and legs pale with just the faintest tinge of tan. Her eyes dropped automatically to the dark blue material that hugged his hips, jerking up before she noticed anything else they might be hugging. "You didn't come all this way to talk about my brother's sex life, did you?"

"Er, no." She blushed again and ran a nervous hand through her hair. "May...maybe I should go."

"I can put something on, Hermione, if I'm making you uncomfortable."

"No. I mean...no. It's your house. And I just sort of barged in and I..." Her face looked about to explode and her breath was coming too quickly. "I'm afraid to kiss you."

He took a step toward her, crowding the too-small room. "Why?"

"I'm afraid I won't be able to stop."

"I'd never make you do anything you didn't want to do."

"I'd want to do it." Her gaze dropped deliberately this time and she nearly combusted as she saw his body react. Dragging her eyes back up to his, she took several steps back until her body was against the wall. "Maybe you should put something on."

Fred nodded, amused but serious as he grabbed a pair of sweats off the end of his bed, tugging them on. Hermione swallowed as he bent over to grab them, watching the play of muscles beneath his skin. He snapped the elastic against his waist and grinned as she jumped. His voice was husky and teasing, an invitation in the quiet. "Better?"

She shook her head. "No. But safer."

Fred nodded and sat back down on the bed, leaning against the wall, his knees drawn up toward his chest. His wrists rested on his knees, framing the rest of his body as he shifted his legs, leaving them slightly spread. "So." He watched her through his lashes, a smile laced with promise playing across his face. "We need a safe topic."

"That'd be best."

"You came all the way from Hogwarts, risking at the very least detention if you get caught and you want to talk about something safe?"

"What else could we talk about?"

"We could talk about how much I want you to come over here and kiss me again. How much I want to untie your tie so that it hangs loosely over your breasts as they rise and fall with every breath you take."

"We," she licked her lips, her hands fisting in her skirt as she pressed her shoulders against the wall as if she could will herself not to move, "we could?"

"How much I want to unbutton your shirt and taste the soft skin beneath your collar. How much I want to feel your breasts in my hands. How much I want-" He stopped as she crossed the room in two steps, moving between his legs on the mattress.

"Want what?" She asked hotly.

His hand curled in her hair and he found her lips with his own. "You," he whispered against them, burying his tongue in the silky warmth of her mouth. He let his legs drop, sliding along the sheets as she clamored onto his lap, straddling him as his hands tugged her shirt free of her skirt, sliding beneath the thin fabric to feel her burning skin.

She broke the kiss, panting as her nails dug into his shoulders, arching her back slightly. Fred groaned and rested his head between her breasts, inhaling her heady scent. Her hands moved up his neck to tangle in his hair and she pulled his head back, staring down into his blue eyes. "I'm right here."

Fred reached up and grabbed her hands, using the muscles he'd developed during long hours on the Quidditch field to flip her onto her back, her hands pinned above her head, her body spread out before him. "And now you're right here."

She caught her breath, managing a smile that was more like an invitation made of her swollen lips. Fred shook his head slightly as he closed his eyes, lowering her mouth to hers. He supported himself on one elbow, sliding his other hand between the two of them, gently tugging on Hermione's tie until it fell apart, sprawling, as promised, over her breasts, rising and falling with each ragged breath.

She struggled slightly, trying to free her hands from his strong grip, her eyes wide as he met her gaze. His blue eyes were scorching, reflecting her own desire back at her. He didn't say anything for a long time, just watching her, feeling her breathe as he let his fingers continue to travel down her chest, unfastening the clear buttons that held her shirt closed slowly, one at a time, parting fabric to expose more of her creamy skin.

"Fr...Fred?"

"It's all right," he assured her with a gentle kiss, releasing her hands as he pulled back, glancing down at her then closing his eyes, the image of her burning into his brain. "I won't hurt you."

"I know." She tried to swallow, struggling as she fought against her dry throat, all the moisture in her body sinking to the hot pit in the base of her stomach, dampening the thin cotton of her knickers. "I trust you."

He nearly groaned as he lowered himself closer to her, one hand easing her shirt off her shoulder while the other curved over her breast, the wispy lace of her bra scratching against his palm. "Merlin, you're beautiful."

"I'm..."

"I want to taste you, Hermione." He didn't look at her, dropping his gaze to her chest, his fingers unhooking the front clasp of her bra. The material fell away and her breasts, small and pert and perfect spilled from it. "Will you let me?"

She nodded feverishly, unable to form words as his hand cupped the underside of her breast, shaping it as he glanced at her for an instant before lowering his mouth and taking her hard nipple inside it.

His tongue flickered over the nub as he sucked gently, her shocked gasp like a pure bolt of desire shooting down his spine. He pulled back, his tongue playing over her naked skin. "You taste like pumpkin juice."

"I was a little nervous," she admitted in a whispery voice that shook. "I spilled."

"Mmm. Makes you spicy." He licked the underside of her breast, his nose nudging her skin, his tongue smoothing over it. Cool air pooled around the nipple he'd tasted, puckering it until it ached. He watched her skin as he moved over it, the play of light on the pale flesh, the caress of shadows. Moving over to the other breast, he breathed on it hotly before bending his head, her quiet answering cry provoking his own heated moan.

Hermione's fingers threaded through Fred's ginger hair, shaking as they raked through the strands. Her back arched, offering her breasts up to him, his hands and mouth caressing the willing flesh.

Fred finally pulled himself away, gasping for breath. Hermione's nipples were teased to hard, tight peaks and he flicked each with his tongue, panting heavily. She quivered beneath him, gone beyond speech, her body reacting purely on instinct.

"Did you spill anywhere else?" He asked as he kissed his way down her stomach, the faintest hints of pumpkin juice on her skin. His heart was pounding, his cock was pounding and he reached down, shedding his sweats in the overwhelming heat of the room. Perspiration beaded on Hermione's skin and her hair clung to her, tamed with sweaty desperation as she pressed her head deeper into the pillow, her hips arching off the bed in invitation.

Fred groaned and wrenched his mouth away from her, his tongue sliding over the waistband of her skirt. His hands were shaking; his body was shaking as he sat up, kneeling between her spread legs. He shivered despite the heat and stared down at her, mussed and open and inviting as her hips rolled again, arching up toward him in complete abandon.

He shuddered and closed his eyes, resting his hands on her knees for a moment before ignoring the faint voice in his head and letting them slide up her thighs, her skirt lifting, pooling on her pale flesh before tumbling up her stomach, the familiar glimpse of purple wrenching a sharp laugh from his lips.

She smiled at him and he was lost, and he let his fingers slide higher, curling under the waistband of the knickers and easing them down her legs. He moved to the side, ignoring the ache in his cock as it shifted with his body, intent only on stripping the damp material off of her and tossing it aside before lying down beside her.

Hermione turned her head and watched him with wide, curious, slightly apprehensive eyes. Fred smiled at her; unsure if the gesture was reassuring given that he felt as if he were on fire and about as coordinated as the lovely girl in front of him on a broom. "I want to touch you."

She nodded and he shook his head, pressing a quick kiss to her lips. Pulling back, he let himself touch the tangle of dark hair just above the liquid heat that called out to him, closing his eyes as she jerked and moaned.

"I want to touch you there."

She nodded and he shook his head again, his control slipping as his fingers edged closer to the pool of heat, unable to take his hand away from her.

"I need you to say it, Hermione." His voice cracked as she touched his chest, her finger brushing over his nipple. He leaned into her and bit her lip, sucking it into his mouth, his fingers parting the warm flesh, wetness tickling his fingertips, his iron control melting in the pure, seductive heat of her. "Please?"

"Yes," she breathed, gasping as his hand slid down and he was touching her, his fingers on her clit, teasing the hard nub as his mouth closed over hers. His tongue invaded her as he slipped one finger down, then two, pushing them inside her with slow, shallow strokes.

Hermione broke the kiss, gasping for breath as his thumb moved over her clit and his fingers pushed deeper, his body shifting over hers, his cock pressed hard against her leg as he looked down at her. She blinked rapidly, trying to breath, her whole body straining toward him. "So beautiful," he assured her, bending his head to capture a nipple again, the simple touch of his mouth forcing a cry of pure pleasure from deep inside her.

He slid another finger inside her, bathing it in wetness as she thrust against him, her hands raking down his back, over his arms. He reached up wildly with his hand, grabbing at her wrists and guiding her hands back above her head, pinning them here.

Hermione moaned again, arching off the bed, her body offered up to him like a sacrifice. He got to his knees, releasing her hands, shifting his position to drive his fingers deeper, planting burning kisses down her stomach. His tongue traced the waistband of her skirt, the need to feel her skin against his mouth. Hermione's whole body trembled beneath him as a quick pulse shattered her, her orgasm spilling over his fingers.

He pulled back and stared down at her as his fingers continued moving inside her. He reveled in each gasp, each breathing prayer of his name. He kissed it from her lips, sliding down to thrust against her leg as his fingers continued feeling her, needing another orgasm to buffet him, needing her to come so hard, so often she couldn't remember how to even spell his brother's name.

Hermione stilled, her mouth frozen open in a silent cry until a hard shudder wracked her body and she came again, her muscles closing around his fingers, trapping them deep inside her.

Fred brushed his thumb over her clit, provoking another prolonged tremble. He waited until she'd almost relaxed, the shaking nearly subsided, before doing it again and again until she begged him to stop, too weak and too spent to afford another orgasm.

He closed his eyes, his forehead resting on Hermione's chest; her ragged, rapid breathing shaking them both.

Forcing himself to move, he rolled onto the bed, carefully easing his fingers from inside her. He turned his head and watched her breathe through parted lips, her lashes fluttering on her flushed cheeks. Without thinking he closed his eyes and pressed his fingers to his lips, fighting his groan as the hot scent of her pervaded his senses, the liquid proof of her arousal sliding over his tongue.

His whole body stiffened, his cock hardening impossibly more as he fought the urge to roll over, to bury his tongue inside her, to lick away all evidence of his touch so that he could start over again.

He lay there panting, his hands fisted in the covers in an effort to keep himself still. He felt Hermione move beside him, the areas of his body where she'd been pressed to hotly to him suddenly cold. He was about to open his eyes and watch her, make sure she was okay when he felt the first brush of her fingers, tentative flutters barely touching the raised fabric of the boxer-briefs that covered his cock.

His eyes snapped open and he watched her, her eyes still closed, her hand hovering hesitantly over his body. He swallowed hard as she lowered it, her palm resting on him for a moment before slowly sliding along the hard length. His hips arched off the bed and he groaned, holding her eyes as they snapped open. "Do you...should I stop? Do you want me to stop?"

He shook his head, his clear blue eyes muddled with desire as they begged her to touch him again. Her hand shook as she curved it over him again, fingertips dragging across the head before sliding down to the base. He closed his eyes and sucked in a deep breath, swallowing air, his hands clutching frantically at the duvet beneath him.

"You'll tell me if I do it wrong?" She asked quietly as she leaned down to kiss him, her eyes remaining open, her gaze intent on his face, her expression a heady mixture of curiosity and excitement.

He nodded again, sure that such a thing wasn't possible when she began running her hand over him in earnest, palm asserting just enough pressure as she slid it down his cock, fingers curved and brushing the hard flesh through the thin layer of cotton. His breathing changed, hitched and grew shallow as she reached out and touched the dark red stain of his nipple, tracing the freckles that surrounded it before scraping her nail lightly over the hard tip.

"Oh...fuck." He groaned and turned his head to the side, his hips thrusting up against her hand. "Her...Hermione."

"Stop?"

"Oh, no. Nonono. Don't stop." He reached down and grasped her wrist, guiding it over his cock, smoothing her strokes, urging her to touch him. "Don't stop."

"Like this?" She mimicked his strokes as he released her and he mewled thickly with pleasure. Her voice was breathy, weighed down with desire as she watched him with fascinated eyes. He was writhing on the bed, his hips rocking in time to her touch. "Do you like that, Fred?"

"Yes. Yes." He nodded wildly, the swirl of desire at the base of his groin pulsing hotly, painfully. He licked his dry lips and tilted his head back, his Adam's apple bobbing with every gasping swallow. "Don't stop. Please?"

She didn't respond for a long moment and he forced his eyes back to hers. She held his gaze, a small hungry smile on her lips as he felt her fingers brush his stomach, nails scratching through the spattering of ginger hair on his skin. She let them curl under the waistband of his shorts and his hips lifted of their own accord. She eased them over his cock, both of them breathless in her wide-eyed gaze.

Fred's chest ached from the lack of oxygen as Hermione's hot eyes burned the air from the room, the focused intensity of her stare causing his cock to jerk in response. Her lips parted and her tongue darted out and Fred groaned, closing his eyes as his hips rolled upward once more.

Hermione watched him as he settled back on the mattress, neither of them able to breathe normally, the air in the room too thick, too hot to suck into their lungs. She reached up with one hand and brushed his feathered lashes where they rested on his cheeks then let her hand slide down his chest, over his nipples, over his stomach and the silky hair that surrounded his navel, darkening lower until it was a ragged crimson around his cock. She lifted her shaking hand to settle it on the rigid flesh, crying out in surprise as Fred's hand closed around her wrist.

"Don't," he croaked.

"What?" She swallowed and repeated herself, not trusting her voice.

"Please don't." He shook his head, unable to open his eyes and look at her. "If you do, if you touch me, I won't be able to stop, Hermione." He finally met her gaze, his heart aching at the desire and concern warring in their brown depths. "If you touch me, I'll either lose control immediately or I'll bury myself inside you and, as tempting as that is, as necessary as it sounds to me right now, I can't. We can't. Not yet." He swallowed and moved her hand to her own thigh; the skirt still pushed up to the top of it where he'd forced it earlier. "I think you should go."

"You want me to go?"

"No," he laughed desperately. "I want you to stay here all night beneath me, on top of me, around me. But I think it's wisest that you get off the bed so I can get dressed and then I'll very chastely kiss you goodnight and then you'll Floo back to school."

"And then what?"

"You don't want to know what I'm going to do the second you leave, love." He closed his eyes with a laugh. "Please?"

She got off the bed as he requested, watching, still fascinated as he arched his hips off the bed and tugged his briefs back up over his cock. He searched blindly for his sweats, trying not to feel her eyes on him as the moisture that coated the head of his cock seeped through the material. He finally found them and tugged them on, not caring that they were backwards as he got to his feet.

"Now then." He rested his hands on her shoulders and smiled down at her. "Back to school for you before you get in trouble."

"What about my kiss?" Her voice was still husky, still hungry.

"Right." He leaned down and pressed his lips to hers gently, barely brushing them. She shook her head, her mouth not leaving his as her hand curved back around his cock and she opened her mouth, sliding her tongue past his lips.

Fred moaned hotly and wrapped his arms around her, trapping her hand between them as he fought for control. He finally forced her away from him, panting harshly and shaking his head. She smiled and licked her lips. "Night, Fred."

He nodded and ushered her to the fireplace, holding the floo powder jar with shaking hands. She grabbed a fistful and tossed it in the flames, looking at him for a long moment. "Night, Hermione."

"Professor Vector's office." She stepped into the flames and looked back at him just as she disappeared. "I love you."

Fred collapsed back on the bed, raking his clothes off his body and closing his hand around his cock, stroking it feverishly, her sweet, scared, honeyed voice ringing in his ears as he came.

 

"Harry and I've been looking for you forever. You busy?" Ron rested his head on the back of the low sofa Hermione was sitting on.

"Well," she glanced at the books all around her; forgotten for the sake of the parchment she was reading. "Er, not really. At the moment."

"Another Fred letter, hmm? What's that? Four this week?"

"Only three."

"Mmm-hmm." Ron shook his head. "Didn't you see him less than a week ago?"

"Yeah." She laughed. "But between all the questions from the mass of Gryffindors that surrounded him, it wasn't like there was much time for us, you know?"

"You miss him?"

"Yeah." She flushed and looked away, folding the letter and tucking it into her robe. "But you didn't come over here to talk to me about Fred, did you?"

"Not especially, no."

"Need help with something?" She looked at his empty hands. "No books?"

"Homework's done."

"Is it?" She cocked an eyebrow. "You and Harry are up to something, aren't you?"

"We're thinking," he glanced around to make sure no one was watching then leaned in, "we should go see Hagrid tonight. We've hardly seen him since school's started. And we thought we'd find out how Grawrp's doing."

"I'd like that."

"Yeah?"

He seemed surprised and Hermione tilted her head. "What?"

"Well, you've just not done much with us this year. I mean, I know I was a git at the beginning and then there were all the rumors..."

"I thought you hated me at the beginning. You wouldn't even look at me after you showed up..."

"I don't want to talk about that night, okay? I mean, you're my friend and I was concerned about you and maybe we should leave it at that, okay?"

She nodded. "In a way, I was almost happy about all the rumors."

"You were?"

"It meant you started talking to me again." She turned so that she could look up into his eyes. "I miss it when you don't talk to me, Ron. I miss you."

"I figured with you and Fred..."

"Fred's my boyfriend, Ron. That doesn't mean that I don't need my friends as well. Maybe even more than before." She tugged at the edge of her robe distractedly, not noticing as his eyes followed her hand, watching the simple motion with rapt attention. "I know that for...whatever reasons, you've had a hard time accepting my relationship with..."

"You know," Ron leapt over the back of the couch and settled on the end opposite her. He folded his legs, Indian style, and rested his wrists on his ankles, smiling at her. "I've got no great desire to talk about Fred. Let's talk about something else."

"Okay." She turned, adopting an identical posture to his. "What would you like to talk about?"

"Well, you don't like Quidditch."

"And you don't like reading."

"You could care less about Wizard Chess."

"And you don't want to hear about S.P.E.W."

"We're back to Fred, aren't we?"

"Pretty much." She giggled. "I suppose we could talk about Harry. Is he dating Ginny?"

"I don't think so. They're just sort of...friendly." He shrugged. "She's your best friend. Isn't that more of a girly thing to talk about?"

"I suppose. But then, I've never really been a girly sort of girl." Hermione looked down at her hands.

"Some guys like that," Ron reminded her. "I mean, we don't all like giggly, silly girls like Lavender and Parvati. Some guys like girls who think. Look at Luna. Since she's announced that she's broken up with me, she's got half the school clamoring to ask her out."

"I heard she's seeing Neville."

"I've heard rumors." He shrugged.

"Did you really like her, Ron?"

"Well, yeah." He looked around the room, desperate for an interruption. "I mean, she's nice. And she's honest. She's not interested in things that other girls are interested in either, but she's fun to be around. She'll try anything."

"And not debate about it?"

He shook his head, his eyes serious. "I wasn't comparing you, Hermione."

"I know." She blushed. "I do."

"You're different girls."

"Can I ask you a question, Ron?"

He picked at his right thumb with his left hand, not looking at her. "Uh-huh."

"When you kissed her? At dinner that night? Were you really going out already? Or did you just do that because of Fred?"

"Does it matter? The end result would be the same no matter what. I dated her. We did things." He blushed furiously. "Whether it had anything to do with you and Fred or not, it happened. And it can't be changed."

"Would you change it?"

"Did you go out with Fred because I hurt your feelings?" His voice wasn't accusatory, wasn't demanding, just a simple question that seemed urgent in spite of the soft way he asked it.

"Maybe a little."

"Would you change the end result?"

She met his eyes and blushed, her skin flushed and hot in the cracking firelight. "When are we supposed to meet Harry?" She answered, not answering his question at the same time answering it loud and clear.

"In an hour or so. He's talking to Dumbledore, I think."

"Everything okay?"

"As okay as it can be. As okay as he'll tell me." He smiled ruefully. "You know Harry."

"Tonight at Hagrid's should help."

"Tonight with his friends should help." Ron shifted his stance, moving closer. Hermione did the same, almost unconsciously, her knee brushing against Ron's thigh. "He's missed you."

"I've missed him too."

Ron looked up at her, his blue eyes bright. "I've missed you."

Hermione stared into his eyes, unwilling to blink as he seemed to be closer without moving, his breath hot and heavy. "I...I've got to put my books away." She turned away and gathered her things, holding her books in front of her like a shield, practically running up the stairs to her room.

 

Fred stood in the doorway of the library, ignoring the titters and giggles of the girls that passed through under his arm. He could feel their glances as they passed; feel them even sharper as they looked back. He patted his head to make sure his hair wasn't still smoking, wondering vaguely if he'd accidentally left the house still suffering from George's new Catastrophic Cordial.

Or perhaps he'd simply walked in on a scene that he wasn't supposed to see. Hermione was at the library table, kneeling on the edge of the chair, leaning over to point to something on Ron's parchment. Her hair was falling in her eyes and she pushed it back in annoyance then leaned forward again, resting her hand on the table to support herself.

Only it wasn't on the table so much as it was on Ron's hand. And not moving except to squeeze a little as Ron looked up at her and said something that made her eyes light up as she nodded.

Fred felt a sharp pain in his stomach as though a stray bludger had swung through the library targeted right at him. He stepped back, intent on leaving when Harry stumbled in the library door. "Hey! Fred! What brings you here?" He chuckled and followed Fred's gaze. "Oh. Right."

"Yeah. Er, hi, Harry." He gave him a quick smile then looked back at Hermione. She'd turned at Harry's voice and her eyes widened. Fred waved and managed a smile, his eyes dropping down to where her hand was now no longer on Ron's. "Hello, love."

"Fred!" She got off her chair and sent an apologetic look to Madame Pince who was glaring at them all disapprovingly. "Sorry, Madame Pince. We'll leave."

"We're studying," Ron reminded her.

"I know. I'll..." She glanced at Fred then back at Ron. "I'll be back. You and Harry keep at it."

"No," Fred held up his hands. "I didn't mean to butt in on anything. You go back to studying. I'll just owl you and we'll meet up another time. I don't want to be in the way."

"You're not, Fred." She blushed and shook her head, moving over to him. She stood on tiptoe and pressed a soft kiss to his lips. "You're not."

He nodded, letting her take his hand and lead him from the library. He followed her without comment, noting the passing stares and whispers as they moved further from the library and closer to Gryffindor. "McGonagall will not be pleased if we go to Gryffindor."

"We're not." She turned a corner he was pretty sure didn't exist and stopped in front of a wooden door. Leaning in closer to the wood, she whispered "Ocean breeze" and stood back as the door swung open. Fred whistled and looked around in awe, letting her rush him into the bathroom.

"Wow. This is one swanky set up you've got here, Miss Granger."

"Well, it's not exactly mine." She locked the door then unlocked it, finally settling on locking it again. "I mean, except when I'm in here."

"Do you share?"

"Pardon?"

"The prefects. Boys and girls? Girls and girls?" He walked over to the sinks and made a show of checking out his reflection, watching her reactions.

"Oh. The girls share one and the boys share one." She blushed. "I guess it's conceivable that they could share them for...well, mixed, um, activities." She ducked her head and sighed. "I'm not very good at this, am I?"

"Depends. Are you trying to ask me if I want to share this for mixed activities?" He turned and leaned against the sink, not making a move toward her. "Because, if you are, I'd have to agree that you're not very good at it, which in many ways, is more than a little reassuring, given that you are my girlfriend and you've yet to ask me said question, and I'd be a little put out if you'd been practicing on anyone else."

"I haven't," she assured him. "Practiced, that is."

"Or asked?"

"Oh." She blushed again. "Or asked."

"And my fragile ego thanks you." He bowed and she laughed and he thought that it might be okay if he could make her laugh.

"So you've come to visit?" She sat tentatively on the edge of the tub, fidgeting with her robe.

The brief flicker of hope seemed to sputter and he shrugged. "I thought maybe it'd be safe to pop by on a weekend. I knew that there was a Quidditch game later. Thought maybe I could escort you."

"It's Hufflepuff and Slytherin."

"I know. I mean, I didn't know until I got here, but I guessed from the snakes and badgers on all the banners." He looked at the tub, counted the faucets that gleamed in the bright light. "You're not wanting to go then?"

"It's just that there's a huge test on Monday. We've been studying for it like mad over the past few days and Harry, Ron and I swore we'd devote the whole day to it."

"Oh."

"I thought I might have mentioned it in a letter."

"You might have," he admitted. "Sometimes I skim the school stuff so I can skip down to the bits where you tell me you love me."

"I do, Fred." She got off the tub and walked over to him, her heart in her eyes. "I do."

"But."

"But this test is important. Plus, it's Snape's class so there's already about a million strikes against us and we need to do well at this, if for no other reason than to show up Malfoy. He's gotten worse with his father in prison, like he thinks he's supposed to take up the family mantle of evil or something."

"Probably does." He smiled at her and caressed her cheek. "It's all right, love. I understand."

"I want to be with you." She leaned into his touch, her fingers grazing his chest. "I've missed you."

"It's all right, Hermione. I don't need a testimonial, I promise. I know how much school means to you." He tapped her nose. "I was being selfish. Hoping my roguish charm would be enough to distract you from all those books calling your name."

"You sound like Ron."

He nearly choked. "Ron talks about my roguish charm?"

"No," she laughed. "Ron says I spend too much time with my head buried in books."

"Well, as loath as I am to agree with Ron on any subject, I would have to do so in this instance, especially since it's keeping me from spending time with you." His fingers moved over her cheek, back into her tangled hair. "Can I kiss you?"

"That's a silly question, Fred Weasley."

He leaned in until his lips brushed hers. "Doesn't feel silly."

"It doesn't?"

"No," he kissed her gently, softly. "It feels very," another kiss, just as light, "very," and another, the pressure faltering fading with his breath, "very important."

She closed her eyes curled her hands into fists in his robes, the familiar heat flooding through her. "It's not fair, you know."

"What's not?"

"That you do this to me. That you make me feel this way."

"You don't like the way I make you feel?" He moved his lips to her neck, burning kisses branding her skin.

"I don't like that I don't make you feel the same way."

"What way?" He asked against her ragged pulse.

"Weak. And trembly. Like I have no control anymore."

"What makes you think I don't feel that way?" He brushed his thumbs over her nipples, moaning into her skin as her body responded, tightening, hardening under his touch. "What makes you think you don't make me feel that way?"

"You always stop." Her voice was matter-of-fact and he couldn't help but pull back, catching her chin as he did so and forcing her to hold his gaze. "You can always stop."

"I die," he told her earnestly, his words weaving their way between them like a spell neither of them was sure of the words to, "every time I leave you." He framed her face and kissed her, her lush mouth opening under his, her tongue darting between his parted lips and taking control of the kiss, pushing him, teasing him. Taunting him.

"You always stop," she panted. "And I can't stop. I don't ever want to stop."

"If I didn't stop, love, I'd never stop." He bent his forehead to hers and listened to her breath, watched the rise and fall of her chest as it sped up then slowed, evening out as they stood there, not looking at each other. "I know it's hard."

She giggled a bit and he shook his head, laughing as well.

"I know it's difficult because it's new. It's your first time with all of this and it's scary and exciting and painful and glorious all at once. And I want it all to be that way for you, Hermione. Every step. So I make us stop because if I don't, you won't have that."

"I don't believe that."

"But I have to." He watched her as she drew into herself without drawing away from him. "Besides, we spent a lot of time together over the summer. We hung out at the Burrow and the store and with my family and it was all pretty isolated and not much like the real world at all."

"What do you mean?"

"I want to make sure it's not different for you, being back here." He quirked one side of his mouth up in a smile, wondering if it was shaking as much as it felt like it was.

"Absence makes the heart grow fonder," she spoke the words softly, shakily, her voice trembling as if it might break.

"For someone else."

She shook her head, horror in her eyes. "No, Fred. No."

"It's a song." He smiled ruefully. "It used to play all the time on the car radio until Dad figured out it was a...thingie."

"Tape?"

"Sure." He nodded and shrugged all at once.

"You don't think that I..." Her eyes hurt him, wide and wounded and so warm he wanted to lose himself in them. Eyes that spent their days now looking at Ron and seeing Ron and not seeing anything of him except words he wrote on parchment, his heart made manifest, reading and rereading and copying them until they were perfect and nonchalant and meaningful and in the end they were words and not here, with her.

Couldn't hold her when she was scared, couldn't touch her when she was sad, couldn't comfort her when she was lonely. Couldn't touch her when he loved her, couldn't put thought to action when he wrote the words as if they were easy, scrawling them just above his name like he wrote them all the time.

"No," he assured her with a small kiss, a dam to hold back the flood of emotions pounding inside him. "I don't."

"Ron and I are just friends."

"I know."

"Nothing more."

"I know."

Tears clouded the milky brown and he kissed them away, tasting salty promises on his tongue. "I wouldn't ever do that to you, Fred. I love you." She looked up at him. "You believe that, don't you? You have to believe it."

"I do, Hermione. I do believe you love me."

She wrapped her arms around him, hugging him so tightly he could barely breathe, but it didn't matter because he couldn't breathe anyway through the pain in his chest, the pieces of his heart stabbing at his lungs.

"You should go back to your study group."

"But you've barely been here."

"Ron and Harry are counting on you to pull them out of the fire, love." He rubbed his thumb over her bottom lip, not teasing it from the other, afraid of falling into her kiss. "Mum would kill me if she knew that I'd contributed in any way to Ron not passing Potions. In fact, at the rate I'm going in her estimation, I'd likely end up blamed for his whole career of poor performance in Snape's class."

Hermione giggled and took a deep breath, the sound thick with unshed tears. "If you go now, when will I see you again?"

"Halloween?" He suggested. "Hogsmeade weekend? We can meet up just on the road into town?"

"That'd be nice." She smoothed her hand along his thigh, moving it up to cup his cock. "A whole day alone with you." His mind swirled with thoughts, most centered on the warm feel of her hand and the cost of a hotel room in Hogsmeade. She chuckled as his body reacted. "Maybe you should go, Fred. Before I end up shirking my Prefect responsibilities and shag you right here in the bathroom."

"You'd be shirking more than your responsibilities," he reminded her, his fingers trailing between her breasts. He pulled his hand away. "C'mon. Back to the library for you."

"But..."

"Come on. If I keep you away much longer, Ron's likely to tell Mum that I'm distracting you from your studies again." He couldn't help but smile as she moaned quietly, both of them thinking of the last time he'd done so. "Which would get me hexed up to my ears, extendable or otherwise, and I'd probably get banned from seeing you at all."

"Which would stop you for how long?"

He stopped walking, stopped thinking and grabbed her into his arms, lifting her as he kissed her, her whole body against his, friction heating the world around them as he slowly slid her down the length of him to rest back on her toes. "Never."

 

Hermione disappeared into the library, sinking into her chair between Harry and Ron and falling into the conversation as if she'd never left. Fred smiled to himself, hating the sense of melancholy that washed over him as the door closed silently behind her.

He let out a deep breath and started walking, heading for the entrance to the castle. He was just about to leave when he felt a hand land on his shoulder. He turned his head and grinned. "Professor Dumbledore."

"Mr. Weasley." Dumbledore smiled at him in return. "It's good to see you again. I regret that I wasn't around to see your last hurrah, though I've heard much about it. And, of course, visited the memorial site."

"I assure you that George and I definitely had you in mind when we planned it, Sir."

"Excellent." Dumbledore fell in step with him as they walked out of the castle, moving down the stairs onto the lawn. "And what brings you here today? Marketing?"

"No. Though if you'd let us, George and I would be interested in opening a branch office here at Hogwarts someday."

"I'm afraid Mr. Filch would not be pleased," Dumbledore chuckled. "So for now I will have to decline. Although a few bags of some of your newest wares might have some persuasive influence."

"Headmaster!" Fred feigned shock. "You're not a practical joker."

"If you cannot laugh at yourself, Fred, it is vital that you can laugh at others." He raised an eyebrow. "Is that not so?"

"Humor will save us all."

Dumbledore nodded sagely. "You're quite the philosopher."

"Think you could say that to Mum next time you see her? I could use a few notches where she's concerned."

"Trouble at home?"

"She's not...fond of my new girlfriend."

"Oh?" Dumbledore stopped and watched as the Hufflepuff Quidditch team walked from the large locker room. "I thought you were dating our Miss Granger."

"I am."

"And your mother doesn't approve?"

Fred laughed. "Mum approves of Hermione just fine. What she doesn't approve of is the fact that I'm dating her."

"Hmm." Dumbledore nodded, opening his mouth to speak then stopping. He shook his head. "Matters of the heart have very little to do with what people approve of." He nodded toward the stands. "You should stay and watch the match. You and your brother were quite the pair in the air. You must miss it."

"We play at home a bit, but yeah." Fred looked wistfully at the stands. "You wouldn't mind if I stayed?"

"Not at all." Dumbledore patted him on the shoulder. "Enjoy the game."

 

Fred groaned as Slytherin scored another goal, the Hufflepuff keeper flying in front of the hoop seconds too late. The crowd around him stayed cheerful though, rooting for each player in turn. He turned his gaze higher, ignoring the game for a moment, focusing on Draco Malfoy and the Hufflepuff seeker, both of whom were desperately turning their heads, hoping to catch a glimpse of gold.

"What are they doing?"

"Hmm?" he looked down, turning his head and finding himself staring into a pair of violet eyes. "What?"

"Them. Up there." She pointed to Draco. "What are they doing?"

"Looking for the Snitch."

"And that's...?"

"The Snitch?" He looked at her in shocked awe. "You don't know what the Snitch is?"

"I don't know much about Quidditch."

"You're here at Hogwarts and you don't know much about Quidditch?" It was half sentence, half disbelief. "You've got to be joking."

"I don't come to the games normally. I usually study."

"Oh. Right." He looked her over then looked back to the game. "Well, there are six players. You really don't know anything about Quidditch?"

"Really."

"That's insane." He shook his head, attempting to wrap his mind around the thought, unable to do so.

"Will you teach me?"

"Sure." He started talking about the game, pointing out certain elements to her as he discussed them, the general discussion dovetailing into a drawn-out explanation on obsession as he told her about Oliver Wood, about Harry. "Gryffindor's the best team," he noted her house colors and shrugged, "no offense."

"None taken." She hid a yawn behind her hand as both seekers suddenly swept into motion. Draco dove, heading quickly toward the ground, swerving at the last minute as the bludger came barreling toward him.

"See, there's the Snitch." He pointed and turned back to her, blinking as she smiled, her eyes wide, her gaze fixed on him. "Er. The gold ball. Flying. Flying gold ball." He laughed briefly, shocked. "You're flirting, aren't you?"

"What?"

"You probably know all about Quidditch. You've probably got Quidditch Through the Ages memorized, don't you?" He laughed again. "I've gone dense. You've been flirting with me."

"I thought you knew that." She tilted her head, obviously confused. "I thought you liked it."

"I didn't even notice." He stopped and cringed. "Not that you're not stunning or anything," he looked her over again, violet eyes, black hair, parted lips. "You are. Just...well, you're not really...I must have been boring you senseless."

"No. You're really passionate about it."

"I can't believe that I..." He glanced out at the game, staring unseeing as Draco slammed into the Hufflepuff seeker, knocking her out of his way. She spun a few turns then took off, shooting up into the sky before turning and sailing back down, her fist clenched around the Golden Snitch. "I apologize."

"What for?"

"For being an insensitive git?" He offered. "Why didn't you just slap me and tell me that I was missing it?"

"I thought it was part of your charm. That whole absentminded thing."

"No. I mean, I'm charming, but that's not part of it."

"Generally when someone doesn't get it, they don't want to. Or they have a girlfriend?" She blushed. "I guess I just never thought to consider that you might be slow."

"Normally I'm not." He raked his hand through his hair. "My mind's elsewhere today."

"Do you?"

"Pardon?" He closed his eyes and smiled ruefully. "I'm sorry. Maybe I am normally slow and they've just not informed me."

"It's all right." She blushed and looked down at his hands, taking one in her own and holding them together, as if judging the difference in size. "Do you want to?"

"To...Oh. Get it. Right. Got it." He carefully eased his hand away from hers. "I do. Have a girlfriend."

"Oh." She watched him again, finding his hand again, this time threading her fingers through his. "Does she go to school here?"

Fred stared at his hand in hers, perplexed. "Yes. School. Here. She does." He reached over and grasped her wrist lightly and disengaged his fingers, setting her hand very gently back in her lap. "She goes to school here."

"So why," she smiled and pressed her hand to his thigh, sliding it down to his kneecap. Fred's eyes widened and he sucked in air. "Isn't your girlfriend here?"

He lifted her hand again and dropped it back onto her lap. "She's studying."

She shrugged and turned back to watch the emptying stands. Fred stood and she got to her feet as well, the crowd around them keeping them together. She turned and faced him, the person behind him shoving slightly so that he ended up holding her arms, her face just inches away, her body brushing against his. "You know, you don't have to be left to your own devices." He started as her fingers grazed over his jeans. "I could keep you company while she's studying."

"No. I really don't think that'll be necessary." He stepped back, not caring as he trod on someone's foot. "Thank you."

"Because I'm assuming she's not studying alone or you'd be with her. So she must be studying with someone. Ron maybe? Or Harry? Both."

"You know who..."

"You've red hair." She touched the strands that hung on his forehead. "You have to be a Weasley." She leaned in despite the now nearly empty stand. "She's with them all the time, you know. Ron especially. It must be hard," again her hand moved to his crotch, stroking him through his jeans, "being so far away."

"You know," Fred shoved her hand away once more, "I'm as appreciative of a good effort as the next guy, but no, even for a Slytherin, means no."

"Your loss, Weasley." She smirked at him. "Or hers, considering you can't even manage to get it up."

"That's because my cock has taste." Fred smirked in return, moving around her and down the stairs. "Something you'll just have to take my word for." He disappeared down into the stands, hurrying away from them as he touched the ground. "She's a Slytherin," he reminded himself as he headed toward the gates, his mind stuck back on the image of Hermione and Ron in the library.

She was a Slytherin. But that didn't mean that she was wrong.

 

Ginny looked around the Shrieking Shack. Some of the floor was covered in dust and dusty tracks while the rest of it seemed swept clean. Few boxes lined the walls, a few others spilled out as if they'd been knocked over. She started to walk up the stairs when a voice stopped her.

"Thanks for coming."

She started and turned around, catching sight of Fred standing in the doorway to the next room. He lifted his hand in a lazy wave and shifted uncomfortably. Ginny walked back toward him, testing the strength of the nearest box and sitting down. Fred followed her lead, sinking onto another box, resting his elbows on his knees and staring at the floor.

After a few minutes Ginny looked over at him expectantly, waving her hand in front of his face and bringing his attention back to her. "You're the one who asked to see me, Fred. And as much as I love you, I don't fancy spending my entire day in Hogsmeade with you."

"Right." He nodded. "Right. I have a problem."

"You've got several, most of them mental."

"With the whole Hermione thing."

"What problem?" She asked. "You wanted Ron to get jealous. Ron's jealous. You wanted him to realize he's in love with Hermione. He realized it. You wanted him to ask her out. If you ever broke up with her, he probably would."

"Yeah."

She widened her eyes innocently, her smirk telling him otherwise. "So what's the problem?"

"I like her."

"Yeah? One would figure as much when you keep her out all night." Ginny's smirk hardened. "Did you have sex with her?"

"Who are you? Mum?"

"No. But I'm your sister and the person you called here for this stupid meeting. You obviously want something from me, Fred. What is it?"

"I like her, Ginny."

"You're not allowed." Her voice was matter-of-fact.

"I can't help it." He ignored the look she gave him. "She's amazingly bossy, but she's almost always right. And when she is, she doesn't gloat about it. She doesn't harp on me about always going back to school and she's been stunning with ideas for the shop. She's bright and she's pretty and she's actually funny, Ginny!"

"Yes. She's everything you could ask for," his sister agreed icily. "But Ron's in love with her."

"All he does is complain about her."

"Because she's dating his stupid git of an older brother. Ron's fancied her since they met, Fred, which you know because that was the basis of this whole stupid idea."

He raked his hand through his short hair, groaning in despair. "I know. I know." His blue eyes sought out her sympathy. "But I really like her, Gin."

"How does she feel about you?" She asked then cursed softly, rolling her eyes. "That's why I'm here, isn't it? You want me to find out if she fancies you!"

"I need to know if she does like me, Gin. Or if...if I'm just a substitute for Ron." He looked away, unwilling to meet her eyes. "I need to know if she loves him, Ginny."

"What if she does?"

He looked as if she'd kicked him in the stomach. "If she does, I'll call it off, I swear." He raked his hands through his hair. "I'll come up with some excuse and dump her, send her running straight into Ron's arms."

Ginny watched his face as he turned away; he was pale, his eyes sad, hurt.

"What if she doesn't?" He looked back at her and she closed her eyes against the look of hope in his. "What if she fancies you?"

His blue eyes looked haunted. "I've got no idea."

 

"You okay?" Ron asked quietly, his hand gentle on Hermione's back.

"Fine." She gave him a reassuring smile that failed to reassure him. "Just go on, Ron. He's only a few minutes late. Besides, you're meeting up with some of the gang, aren't you?"

His hand slipped down, feathering along her spine, coming to a rest just above the smooth curve of her ass. "Luna and Neville. Which I normally wouldn't intrude on, but," he shrugged, "since Harry's hanging out with Ginny and you're with Fred, if the wanker ever shows up, she asked me to hang out with them."

"Fred and I could..."

"No." He shook his head quickly. "No. Really."

"Right." She smiled weakly and stepped away from his warm touch. He nodded and shoved his hands in his pockets, looking down at the lane into town.

"I can stay."

"It's all right, Ron."

"What'll you do if he doesn't show?"

"I'll come find you. I promise."

He didn't look convinced. His blue eyes moved over her, taking her in, as if he could see whether or not she was telling the truth.

Fred Apparated a few feet from them. "Sorry I'm late." He gave Ron a look then turned back to Hermione. "I had to convince George that he could survive without me for a few hours. He's not pleased."

"You don't have to spend the day with me, Fred. I know you have a business to run."

"I know that I don't have to. But I haven't seen you in weeks. I want to." He touched her cheek, his thumb moving to stroke her lips, parting them as he did every time. "I missed you. Almost enough to want to go back to school."

"That's quite a lot of missing."

He tasted her breathless words, kissing her softly, gently before sliding his tongue between her lips. Her honeyed groan of pleasure melted him and she wound her arms around his neck.

"I'll just be going then."

They broke apart at Ron's strangled voice and Hermione flushed. "I'll see you tonight, Ron."

"Bye, little brother." Fred continued watching Hermione closely, not even glancing in Ron's direction. He brushed her lips again with his own, tasting her, breathing her in. His fingers wove through her hair, capturing the wavy strands. "I've missed you."

"So you said."

His hands framed her face and he stared into her eyes, watching the kaleidoscope of emotions in them. He kissed her again, still holding her eyes. "How hard would it be for you to get the Marauder's Map from Harry?"

"He and Ron wouldn't let me use it alone."

Another kiss, conversation paused as he tasted her hot mouth, as she sucked hard on his tongue. He groaned, his hands at her waist, pulling her closer. "Invisibility cloak?"

"The same."

"The key to Professor Vector's office again?" He laughed softly as he closed his eyes, his voice soft, silky, desperate. "I want to be alone with you, Hermione."

"We're alone now."

He slid his hand behind her neck and pulled her closer, his body flush against hers. "Alone," he practically moaned the word, her heat sending his blood racing.

"Oh." She flushed scarlet but didn't pull away. Despite the fact that they were alone, away from the town, she lowered her voice. She glanced down where his body was pressed against hers. "Would...would you touch me?" Fred groaned against her neck. "If we were alone?"

He nibbled her earlobe sending hot shivers down her spine. "I want to do more than touch you, Hermione."

"Oh," she gasped breathlessly.

Fred kissed her, harder this time, one of his legs slipping between hers. "I want to kiss you, and touch you, and taste you." He groaned hotly as she whimpered, her body grinding against his thigh. "I want to make love to you." He thrust forward once, his cock hard against her leg. "So much."

"Oh." She trailed her hand down his back, over his ass, squeezing lightly. Fred groaned and thrust against her, then stilled, his body rigid, his muscles corded like steel. "Fred," she whispered.

"Don't move," He begged her, forcing the words out in rushed gasps. "Please don't move."

"Fred," she pleaded.

"It's okay," he promised her. "It's okay. Just take a deep breath." Her chest brushed his and his hips pistoned forward. "No. On second thought, no deep breaths."

"Fred," she tightened her hold on his ass, her teeth nipping his earlobe as she breathed hotly against his neck. "It aches. I want you so much that it aches."

Fred buried his head against her shoulder, his body jerking helplessly in response to her words. He hid his cry in her hair, his arms holding her hard against him. Hermione shuddered, trembling wildly, tears spilling down her cheeks. "It hurts, Fred," she sobbed. "Aches."

"I know," he whispered, kissing her tears away, forgetting his own discomfort and embarrassment to tend to her. "I know. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Hermione."

"Make it stop, please?"

"Just breathe," he assured her. "Deep breaths. It'll ease. I promise." His face was bright red with a heady mixture of desire, embarrassment and guilt. "I'm sorry."

"Fred..."

"Fuck!" He pulled away from her, leaving her bereft as he fumbled with his wand and waved it at the front of his robe, spelling away any sign of what had happened. "Fuck!"

"What?" New tears fell from her eyes. "What did I do? Did I do it wrong?"

"No." He shook his head and moved back to her, cradling her face as he kissed her. "No. You were...are wonderful." He kissed her again, tongue sliding silkily, saltily over hers. "More than." He pulled away and started pacing again. "I'm the one," his voice dropped to a whisper, "who's fucked it all up."

"I don't understand, Fred."

He looked at her helplessly, then dropped his eyes, unsure that he could face her. "It was just supposed to be something to piss Ron off. To make him realize he needed to grow a pair of balls and ask you out." He raked his nails through his hair and down the back of his scalp. "And I've fucked it all up."

"This was all for Ron's benefit?" Her throat clogged with more tears, choking on the unspent desire. "All of this? You and me?" She gestured to the ground where she stood then at herself, rumpled, body still shaking with need. "This?"

"No. No." Fred closed his eyes. "I fucked it up, you see?" He pleaded with her.

"I asked you, Fred." Her voice broke and her tears began falling, betrayal sharp in her eyes. "I asked you if this was about Ron and you denied it. You promised me that it..."

"In the beginning. It was like that in the beginning, the very beginning, but then I got to know you and I started to like you. To more than like you. To lo...I lo...I was going to wait but I couldn't and now I don't know what to do." He opened his eyes then closed them on his own frustrated tears, unable to watch her run away from him. "Fuck."

 

"How many butterbeers d'you think I've drunk, Neville?" Ron leaned forward, pointing at the empty seat across from him. "That's right. You don't know because you're off with my ex-girlfriend and I'm not drinking butterbeer. I'm drinking something called Elephant Tongue Ale. And it does indeed taste like one. Or what I imagine one would taste like."

"Ron?"

He looked up at Hermione's tear-stained face. "I," he pointed to her, "am pissed." He blinked rapidly as he struggled to focus. "You're crying."

"I want to go back to school, Ron. Please come with me?"

"Why'dn't you go with Fred?"

"Please Ron?"

"I'm completely gutted, Hermione." He laughed loudly. "That's funny since it's you who's done the gutting. Not even a sharp knife or anything, 'Mione. Just this dull ache that's hollowed me out, reminding me day after day that you're dating him."

"Please?" Her voice broke on a sob, the sound penetrating the alcoholic haze. "I just want to go home, Ron."

He got to his feet and lurched toward the bar. He ordered something, draining the liquid from the small brown glass that was set in front of him. He shook his head and groaned, stumbling back toward her.

"What was that?"

"Antidote. I should be sober in about an hour." He grinned at her goofily. "But I'm semi-conscious now. Shall we go?"

Hermione fell in step beside him, wiping away her tears with one hand, the other wrapped around her waist like protection.

"Did he hurt you?"

She started then shook her head. "No. Maybe."

"Mum and George are going to be upset if I have to kill him." His voice was cool, the slight menace broken by an unexpected alcoholic giggle.

"He just went out with me to bother you." Fresh tears fell down her cheeks. "He thought that, if he acted interested, then you'd be interested."

"He told you that?"

"It was all a game to him." She sobbed once, almost a laugh, then got her control back. "A joke."

"He told you all that?" Ron fought the fog in his brain. "Why?"

"He wants to have sex with me."

"What?" Ron stopped walking, grabbing her arm and jerking her around to face him. Everything was suddenly in sharp focus, brilliantly lit, absolutely clear. "What?"

"He didn't want to do it under false pretenses. Even though everything else was." She laughed, almost sobbing. "What's so stupid, what hurts," she freed her arm from Ron's grasp, "is that it was pointless. You aren't any more interested in me now than you were then."

Ron growled, mumbling under his breath as he grabbed her again, pulling her body hard against his. "How's this for bloody interested?"

His lips burned hers, the residual taste of alcohol thick on his tongue. They stumbled together, colliding against the wall of a nearby building, Ron's body hot and heavy against hers. Hermione moaned as her head hit the wall, the sound melting in the heat of Ron's kisses. His tongue moved over hers and he tasted her, leaving behind the bitter sting of the ale as he pulled back.

His blue eyes were smoky with emotion, desire flaring in the depths. Her breath shivered out of her, fanning over him and he shook his head, his large hand curving behind her head, pulling her to him again. "Is this what you want, Hermione? You want to know that I want this? Want you?"

"Ron..." she groaned hotly, lifting on her toes to press her lips against his. He buried a laugh in her mouth, biting at her lower lip before sucking it into his mouth, his body pressed hard against hers.

Hermione shook, unable to control the harsh trembling of her body as Ron's hands began roaming over her, pulling her robes open, closing the distance between them, his body fitting easily between her spread legs, his chest brushing against her erect nipples with every breath.

Ron broke away from her mouth, his lips and tongue trailing down her neck then back up to her ear. His breath tangled in her hair as he nuzzled the pale expanse of flesh, teeth nipping at the pulsing vein. His hands reached her waist, tugging her closer, fingers fisting in the cloth as he pulled her skirt up, the hard brush of his jeans rubbing against her inner thighs as he bared them.

"Ron," she whimpered the word, barely able to afford the breath speaking his name cost her.

His only response was to kiss her, hard and long. Hermione captured his tongue as he let one hand slide along her thigh, moving over the creamy skin to find the edge of her panties, ignoring her hungry gasp as his thick fingers slipped under the elastic to find the warm, wet flesh.

"Oh...Ron." Her head fell back, hair rasping against the rough brick building as he parted the skin, his fingertips stroking lightly until he found the hard nub of her clit.

"He do this to you?" His voice was gruff, unrecognizable to his own ears.

"No," she shook her head, hair falling all around them. "No."

"Good." He slid his fingers back, pushing inside her. Tears fell from Hermione's eyes, her lips parted as she exhaled, sharp pants of air carrying his name to his ears. His other hand grabbed the top lace of her panties and tugged at it, easing it over her hip. Hermione grabbed at his arms, steadying herself, crying out softly as he removed his fingers. "What?" He whispered, tugging the panties down her thighs. "You want them back?"

She nodded fiercely, her nails digging into his arms as he thrust his fingers back inside her without restriction, burying them deeper, his thumb moving in circles over her clit. Her voice shook as she whispered his name, her fingers raking down his arms, leaving deep furrows in the material of his robes.

He shifted slightly, his thrusts changing, moving faster inside her. He curved his fingers, letting the short nails graze against the slick flesh, his thumbnail scraping lightly over her sensitive clit. Hermione gasped and stilled, her body suddenly arching toward his. Ron groaned and unfastened his jeans with his free hand, his other fingers bathing in the heady rush of Hermione's orgasm. She was panting hard, swallowing air, her fists beating against his arms as her head pressed against the wall behind her.

Ron freed his hand and her body jerked wildly, rising toward him. He grasped his cock, groaning at the wet heat of her on his own fingers, and guided it to her opening, pressing the tip against her flesh. Hermione mewled quietly and her hands slipped up his neck, grabbing his head and pulling it toward her. She kissed him, sucking his tongue back into her mouth as he thrust his cock inside her.

She released him as sharp, hot pain seared through her, her hips jerking instinctively. Ron didn't move for a long moment, reveling in the sensations, the tightness, the heat. Finally, unable to help himself, he began thrusting, whispering her name reverently, his hands finding the warm swell of her breasts, closing around them, kneading them as his cock filled her again and again.

His mouth opened, no sound escaping as Hermione's body clutched at his, muscles clenching around his cock. He closed his eyes and moved his hands to the wall, bracing himself, his nails digging into the rosy brick as his hips propelled forward, caught in their own rhythm until he lost control and stilled, spilling himself in Hermione's liquid heat.

Ron groaned, pressing Hermione against the building as he collapsed, heat pooled between them. Hermione was shaking, silent tears snaking down her cheeks. When she spoke, her voice was thick, the words choked out. "What was that, Ron?"

He didn't recognize his own voice. "What Fred wanted, right?"

"Oh." She shook her head, her expression hardening as she shoved him away from her. Angry heat drained the aroused flush from her face and she glared at him through silvery tears. "I hate you, Ron Weasley." She jerked her panties up her legs, putting distance between them as she fumbled with her skirt and robes. "I thought that..." She shook her head again, fury radiating off her in waves. "Never mind what I thought."

"What do you expect?" He asked tiredly. "You've been dating Fred for three months and then you run to me? What did you want, Hermione?"

"Compassion?" Her voice was like a razor slicing his skin. "My best friend?" She sneered. "Human decency? But then, I guess all of those things are beyond you, aren't they, Ron? If you don't get your way, you act exactly like a child. Throw tantrums, use people..."

"Fred was the one using you, Hermione."

"And when you were just fucking me, Ron? You weren't using me? Using me to get revenge? Hurt Fred?" Her lower lip trembled uncontrollably and she wrapped her arms around her chest as if to ward off the cold. "Hurt me."

"I'll walk you back to school."

"No." She started walking, striding past him, the rough sway of her hips the only hint that anything had happened. "You won't do anything with me ever again."

 

George sat on the edge of Fred's bed and looked down at his twin. "You want to talk about it?"

Fred didn't look up from his careful inspection of his pillowcase. "No."

"You know you need to talk about it, right?"

"Remember when you realized you wanted to fuck Oliver and didn't talk to me for two weeks because you were sure I'd figure it out?"

"That was different. I didn't realize you already knew I wanted to fuck him. I've known you wanted her for a long time."

Fred turned over and sat up. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I have told you, Fred. You just didn't want to believe it. Just like I didn't want to believe you when you told me to just run off and fuck Oliver." He grinned. "But, if it helps at all, I did eventually shag him."

"I told her the truth."

"Oh, well then. My gloating probably isn't helping." George sighed and elbowed Fred over, leaning against the headboard as well. "What happened?"

"Before or after I rutted my way to an orgasm while she stood there stunned?" He laughed humorlessly and sank back down onto the bed, turning his back on his twin. "Go 'way, George."

George lay down next to him and rubbed small circles on Fred's back. "I'm not going to go away, so you might as well just give up the ghost and talk to me."

"I told her the truth." Fred shrugged off George's hand, sighing when his twin moved it back immediately. "I told her I started dating her just to wizen Ron up. I said a lot more, but something tells me she stopped listening."

"Something?"

"The fact that she ran off." Tears stung Fred's eyes and he rubbed at them with his fist, not caring that it made him feel like a child. "Didn't listen. Didn't want to listen. Not that I can blame her. I mean, why would you stick around with the creep that just molested you in on the outskirts of town and then told you he only did it because of his little brother?"

"I'm sure you didn't molest her, Fred. You forget, I live here too. You've both been getting...more involved."

"I didn't give her much choice today."

"Did she enjoy it?"

"She told me it hurt."

"I thought you didn't..." George sat up and looked down at Fred who turned over reluctantly. "Did you have sex with her, Fred?"

"If I say yes, are you going to remind me that Ron's in love with her like Ginny did? Are you going to impress upon me how incredibly stupid I am for being involved with my little brother's first and, so far only, love? Because I could really, really, really do without you saying any of those things, George."

"Actually, I was just thinking of giving you a hug."

"I didn't sleep with her."

George nodded and pulled his brother into his arms. "I'd hug you either way."

 

Ginny and Harry walked into the Gryffindor common room, stopping at the sudden silence. "What's going on?" Harry whispered.

"Ron and Hermione," Lavender replied with a shrug.

"What do you mean, Ron and Hermione?" Ginny asked sharply.

Parvati leaned over Lavender's lap. "Well, we don't know details, but Hermione stormed in about an hour ago. A little bit later, Ron came in. Drunk."

"Almost sober," Lavender corrected.

"Dean asked him if he knew what was up with Hermione and Ron flipped."

"Flipped?" Ginny's teeth were clenched, as were her fists. "Will you just tell the story?"

"Jeez, Ginny," Parvati huffed. "I am telling it."

"Parvati," Harry suggested, his hand on Ginny's arm, restraining her.

"He told Dean to," she dropped her voice, "fuck off. Then he stormed up the stairs to his room."

"How long ago?"

"Half hour?" She shrugged. "Neville went up about fifteen minutes ago and Ron threw something at him."

"Is Neville okay?"

"He stopped it with a spell. Of course, then he got so impressed with himself that he released it and it barreled into him and knocked him down the stairs."

Harry sighed, his patience almost as frayed as Ginny's. "Is Neville okay?"

"He's fine." Lavender admitted, obviously annoyed at their lack of appreciation for her dramatic retelling.

"What about Hermione?"

"Well, she won't talk to anyone. Lavender and I went upstairs, but she wouldn't talk to us. Then she stormed out a bit later. We think she's locked herself in the bathroom. She looked really bad when she came in." She whispered again, "Mussed. If you know what I mean."

"Dean and Seamus think Fred took advantage of Hermione and Ron found out."

"I'm going to go talk to Hermione."

Harry nodded. "I'll try Ron."

"Um." She glanced around then followed Harry to the staircase to the boy's dorms. "Look, Harry, about Ron."

"What?"

"What they said, well it could be true. About Fred and Hermione."

"I didn't think they were that serious."

"Well," Ginny blew out a breath, "they're not. But things...Fred's really serious about her. And, well, just be careful with him, okay?"

"I will." He touched the silky strands of her hair. "You too."

 

"Hermione?"

"Go away."

"It's Ginny."

"Fine. Go away, Ginny."

"Please?"

She heard Hermione's sigh and then the click of the lock. She opened the door and walked in. Hermione had moved back to the toilet and was sitting on the lid, her robes pulled tightly around her.

"Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. Smashing. Peachy fucking keen." Her sharp eyes locked on Ginny. "No offense, but I'm not really enamored with Weasleys right now."

"What happened?" Ginny sat on the edge of the huge tub and took a deep breath. "Did you and Fred..."

"What?" Hermione snarled. "Did we what?"

"Fight?"

"Oh, no." Her chuckle was malicious. "We didn't fight. I mean, what would we fight about, really? It's not like he was late, or like he made me..." She shook her head dismissively. "Did you know it was all a game? It was all some sort of lark? Another trademark Weasley gag. Let's see if we can make Hermione like a different Weasley just for fun."

"It wasn't like that."

"Oh really?" Hermione's eyes flashed, icy hot. "And how would you know what it was like, Ginny?"

"Fred wasn't trying to hurt anyone," Ginny started talking, needing to fill the heavy, oppressive silence. "And he does fancy you, Hermione."

"I figured that out when he came all over me on the road to Hogsmeade."

"You...?"

"Fucked him? Oh, no. It was all fully clothed rutting and grunting. Very romantic."

"I'm sure Fred..."

"The fucking came later when Ron found out what happened."

"Ron..."

"Right up against the wall of St. Andrews Apothecary. I hope your first time with Harry is nearly as perfect." She got off the toilet and moved over to the small window, her arms around her waist.

"Did he...did he...?"

"No." Her shoulders shook slightly with emotion she couldn't quite suppress. "That's the worst part. I wanted him to do it. And then, when it was all over, he made it clear he'd only done it to get back at Fred."

"I'm sure that's not the case."

"Whose side are you on, Ginny?"

The sudden question caught her off guard. "I'm sorry?"

"Who are you rooting for in the Hermione Granger tug of war? Which brother gets your stamp of approval? Or are you playing both sides of the fence? You and Harry maybe taking bets from the rest of the school on the side? Have we been worth money as well as entertainment?"

"How can you say that, Hermione? You're my best friend!"

Hermione stared into Ginny's brown eyes. "Blood is thicker than water." She continued staring until Ginny looked away. "Now, if you wouldn't mind leaving, I'd like to take a bath."

 

Harry didn't knock. He opened the door and let the light filter in behind him. Ron's bed curtains were drawn, as were the heavy drapes that covered the windows, shrouding the room in darkness. He spelled the sconces, dousing them immediately when Ron groaned.

"I'd ask if you were okay, but I think you've already answered that question."

"Go 'way, Harry."

"No." He opened Ron's curtains, his eyebrows lifting over his glasses at the sight. "You look like you just went a round or two with Lupin during a full moon."

Ron groaned again and pulled his pillow over his head. "Please go 'way?"

"Sorry. No." Harry sat silently for a few minutes. "You want to talk about it?"

"No."

"Okay." Harry grabbed the pillow and jerked it out of Ron's grasp. "Let's start again. You're going to talk about it and, if you start now, I won't ask you about the hard bits first."

"Got drunk."

"Yeah? That wasn't readily apparent or anything."

"I think they cocked-up the sober-up potion."

"Or maybe they were having a bit of fun at your expense?"

"Yeah," Ron reached for the pillow, sighing in defeat as Harry pulled it farther out of his reach. "Maybe." He was quiet again and Harry sighed.

"Should I ask about Hermione?"

"I was waiting with her. Fred was supposed to be there, but he was late and we were talking and it was almost like before she started dating him, when we could talk and joke and tease." He sighed sadly. "I was touching her. It was completely innocent, but then it wasn't." He made a face, suddenly angry again. "And then my stupid git of a brother showed up and then he was touching her and there was nothing innocent about it. And she was just letting him."

"They are dating, Ron," Harry reminded him gently.

"I was supposed to meet up with Luna and Neville but they weren't there. Somebody said I looked like I needed a drink."

"And you trusted them?"

Ron looked defiantly at Harry. "They were right."

"What then?"

"I drank it. And a few others."

"How many?"

"Four...plus."

"There were more than four?"

"I think so." Ron shrugged. "After the first sip of the fourth, I forgot what number came next."

Harry blew out a breath. "What happened?"

"Did you know that Fred asked her out just to get to me? Thought I was an idiot so he decided to prove it?"

"You knew that, Ron," Harry reminded him. "You just never did anything to try and change it. Sulked about Hermione and Fred going out and perpetuated that stupid ruse with Luna."

"Yeah. I know." He rubbed at his face, his skin a mottled mixture of red and white. "I just kept thinking that it was going to end. I thought maybe they were in on it together. That they weren't really..." He lay back on the bed and stared unseeing at the ceiling. "You ever had someone tell you something that everyone just knew was true? But you just couldn't believe it?"

Harry laughed bitterly for a moment then forced himself to stop before he lost control. "Uh. Once or twice."

"Right. Sorry." He sighed. "She showed up at the bar and she'd been crying. Her face was a mess, her hair looked like it'd been styled by a pixie, her robes were all mussed." He sneered at the memory. "She asked me to walk her back to school."

Harry waited for a few minutes before sighing himself. "And?"

"She told me Fred wanted to have sex with her. And then suddenly it clicked, you know? Not that he wanted to, but that they had been. She didn't look like all those things that I'd thought; she looked like someone had fucked her. Like my brother had fucked her."

"Oh."

"She was crying about how it was all my fault because I couldn't just tell her the truth, that I couldn't admit that I liked her. So I did."

"Admitted it?"

Ron shrugged, not looking in Harry's direction. "I just wanted to show her that I did fancy her, you know? I wanted to show her that Fred's not the only Weasley out there, that maybe someone else might have just as much to offer."

"Ron?"

He blinked back tears, his face drawn tightly, painfully as he turned his head away from Harry's penetrating gaze. "I didn't know, Harry. Or maybe I did."

"Ron?"

"It was her first time. Mine too, but I wasn't being forced against a brick wall and manhandled by some drunken lout. I thought that Fred had...I thought they'd..." Sobs shook his body and he curled into a ball, jerking away from the tentative hand Harry laid on his shoulder. "I had to think it, you know?" His voice was broken, the deep rasp puberty had given him gone, the sound childlike and lost. "Because I wanted her and I wanted to hurt her and I knew I couldn't do it, couldn't have done it, if she hadn't already with..."

Harry closed his eyes and laid a light hand on Ron's hair, stroking the short, tear- and sweat-damp strands. "It's gonna be all right, Ron."

"How?" He muttered through his tears. "How's it ever gonna be all right again?"

 

The common room was almost empty when Harry came down the stairs to join Ginny. She was sitting in front of the fireplace, staring at the flames, not moving at all. Her face was streaked, the only hint that she'd been crying. Harry sat next to her and glanced at the large chair to the right. "Hey, Neville."

"Is Ron okay, Harry?"

Harry shrugged. "I don't know, to be honest."

"Ginny said that Hermione's really upset." He sighed. "Maybe I could..."

"I don't think there's anything any of us can do," Ginny admitted with a sigh. She lifted her head and smiled at Neville. "But thank you."

He nodded. "I should just go to the feast then?"

"Aren't you supposed to be there already?" Harry asked. "With Luna?"

"I went down and told her I'd be a little late." He flushed and ducked his head. "You guys are my friends, you know?"

"We do know, Neville." Harry gave him a reassuring smile. "And I'm sure Ron'll apologize for the whole knocking you down the stairs thing."

"Just a few bumps and bruises. It's not like he tossed me out the window or something." Neville smiled and stood up. "You will let me know if there's anything, won't you?"

"We will." Ginny nodded, not saying anything until the portrait had closed behind him. As soon as it shut, she leaned back and let out a restrained scream. Harry slumped against the arm and closed his eyes. "My brothers need to be hung by their testicles from Mum's tallest tree."

"Um." Harry swallowed. "Remind me not to make you mad."

"Did he tell you he had sex with her?"

"Yeah." Harry picked at his robe where covered his knee, unwilling to look at her. "He seems to think he...well, forced it."

"Hermione says she wanted it." Ginny didn't look at him, staring down at her hands. "She hates me now. Just as much as she seems to hate them."

"Fred and her?"

"He told her he was only with her to get Ron to admit that he liked her. I don't know if she actually stuck around to hear the part where Fred actually fancies her now."

"Ron said that Fred told her he wanted to have sex with her."

"Well, she's probably figured it out then."

"What are they going to do?"

"I don't know." Ginny sighed miserably.

"What are we going to do?"

"I'm not going to the feast and sit through all the looks and questions and everything, that's all I know for sure."

"No," Harry agreed. "No desire to do that."

"Do you think..." She blushed furiously and looked at him through her lashes. "Do you think you could hold me, Harry? Give me a..."

Her request was cut off as he pulled her to him, burying her in his arms, against his chest, his own burning face lost in her swirl of hair.

 

George opened the door to the shop and inhaled the morning air. First thing in the morning, before the customers, he liked to stand in the open door, smell the slightly sour air of Diagon Alley, sip his tea and feel the cold tile of the shop under his bare feet.

He lifted his cup and was about to take a sip when a small barrel of feathers collided with him, spilling the hot liquid all over his naked chest.

"FUCK." He caught Pig with one hand, holding the hyperactive bird still. "You're going to look awfully attractive stuffed and mounted over my headboard, you little..."

"You okay?" Fred rubbed his eyes sleepily, the deep blue widening as he realized what George was holding. "That Pig?"

"Yeah. Stupid little..."

"Is there a letter?" Fred asked quietly, freeing the squawking bird from George's grasp. He unhooked the small parchment from his leg and unraveled it. Pig twittered and flew around the room, staying well out of George's reach.

He looked at his twin, his tea forgotten as he watched Fred's face. "Fred?"

Fred folded the letter neatly, smooth sharp corners, all the edges aligned. "I'm going to go have a shower."

"Who's it from, Fred?"

"Ginny."

"Is everything okay?" He followed Fred up the stairs, concern in his voice. "Fred? What's going on?"

Fred turned, his face blank, shocked and numb. "My plan worked."

"What'd you mean?"

"Ron and Hermione are together."

"Fred..."

The curl of his lips was nothing like a smile. "At least they'd better be, or I'm going to kill the little bastard for fucking my girlfriend."

"Let me see it." George grabbed the letter from Fred's hand, the fingers of his free hand closing around his twin's wrist. "Don't."

"Let me go, George."

"No. I've got no desire to bury a little brother today, okay?" He unfolded the letter and skimmed the contents, scowling slightly. "You're off your nut, Fred. Ginny's just said that Ron and Hermione both know."

"I'm going to Hogwarts."

"You're not." George's grip tightened as Fred tried to pull away. "You're upset, you're hurting and you're not stunningly rational right now. We've got a store to run."

"You do it."

George met matching eyes defiantly. "No." Anger flashed hotly in Fred's blue gaze. "We have an agreement, Fred."

They faced off silently for a long moment, Fred finally nodding. "You're right."

"You can go tonight," George reminded him, releasing his hand. "Or you can owl Ginny back and find out what exactly is going on and deal with it all next weekend." He sighed at Fred's look. "Maybe owl Hermione?"

"You think I should?"

"Depends," George said as they walked up the stairs to the flat above the shop. "You ready to admit that you like her?"

Fred tried to smile and failed miserably. "I'm in love with her."

George closed his eyes and shook his head. "Did I ever tell you this was probably the stupidest idea you've ever had?"

"No."

"Consider yourself told."

"Too late."

"Like you'd have listened." George stopped at the door to his room. "Send her a letter, Fred. Just, whatever you do, don't use Pig to do it."

 

Something changed in the air around her and Ginny looked up in time to hear the first whisper. Ron was standing beside one of the stone pillars, his eyes skimming the green expanse of lawn, looking for all the world like he wanted to be anywhere else. "Harry?"

He looked up from his book, following her eyes. He hung his head for a moment, shaking it slowly then got to his feet. "I'll go get him."

"What's he doing out of his room? I thought he told you he didn't want to face anyone?"

"He said he didn't. We'll be right back." He jogged across the lawn, his robes flapping behind him. He slowed down as he neared Ron, leaning against the same post his best friend was. "Hey, Ron."

"Hey."

"I thought you were staying in today?"

"Dean and Seamus are in the room very deliberately not talking about what happened. Neville keeps creeping up to my bed curtains and touching them like he's going to pull them back to talk to me and I figured if I didn't get out I was going to kill them all, so I thought I'd get some fresh air."

"Oh. Well, why don't you come over with me and Ginny? We're studying, which isn't the most exciting thing, but..." He shrugged.

"I went up to the owlery, but Pig was gone. Must have been off flying around or something. You want to play a game of Quidditch?"

Harry shook his head, grabbing Ron's arm and guiding him toward where Ginny was waiting. "Slytherin's practicing today."

"Oh. Hmmm. Maybe later?"

"Sure."

Ron sat down next to Ginny, barely settling before he moved over to the oak tree they were sitting beneath. "Hey, Ron."

"Hey." He waved to her, not meeting her eyes, then got to his feet, walking around the trunk. "It's nice out, huh?"

"Very. Do you have your Charms book? Harry says you have a test tomorrow."

"We do. I don't though. It's up in the room. I'm not keen on going back to the room. Maybe I can just bum off of Harry's." Ron sat again then lay on his stomach, copying Harry's posture. He skimmed the book for a second then sat up, his hands tapping his knees as he half leaned over Harry's shoulder. "What's the test on again?"

"Ron?"

"I'll study later. I think I need a walk. Just around the lake or something." He got to his feet and was about to walk off when Ginny grabbed his arm. "What are you doing, Ginny?"

"Sit."

"But."

"Sit." She tugged him down and he sprawled on the ground beside her. "I understand that you've been in some sort of self-imposed exile for the last fifteen hours or so, but you're going to have to calm down. You're bouncing around like a Snitch trying to evade Harry, and it's distracting."

"I said I was going to go."

"You're not going to find her."

"Find her? Find who?"

"You're also not going to win any kind of awards for your acting skills." She gave him a stern look. "Hermione's still in her room and so you're not going to find her even if you search every nook and cranny on campus."

"I'm not looking for Hermione."

"What would you say to her if you found her, Ron?"

His jaw tightened and he looked from his sister to Harry. "Did you tell her what happened?"

"He didn't have to, Ron." Ginny closed her book. "Hermione did."

Ron looked stricken and he swallowed hard, his voice barely recognizable as he choked on his words. "What did she tell you?" He closed his eyes on Ginny's sharp look and shook his head, the words tumbling out in a hoarse whisper. "Ginny, I swear, I didn't mean to-"

"You didn't, Ron."

"I need you not to hate me, Ginny. If you and Harry hate me too, I don't know what I'm going to-"

"You didn't do anything, Ron. I mean, you did." She glared at him. "But not what you think."

"I did. I ra-"

"Stop it." Ginny moved before either Harry or Ron noticed, shoving her older brother hard. He fell back on the grass and looked up at her flaming face. "Stop being so self-involved, you stupid prat."

"I was there, Ginny."

"Yeah, well, so was Hermione." She sank back down and kicked him twice. "And she said she...she said you didn't force her."

"But, but," Ron spluttered.

"She didn't say she liked it, Ron." He shut up. "She just said you didn't force her."

"I said..."

"Yeah, well, you're an idiot and she's well aware of that, so I think if she's not going to blame you for what happened, she might eventually forget about what you said." Ginny looked somewhat doubtful. "But she's still reeling, Ron. So leave her alone, okay?"

"Did she tell Fred anything?"

Ginny's mouth tightened to a thin line. "As far as I know she hasn't."

"So they're still going out?"

"Leave it alone, Ron." Ginny grabbed at his arm as he stood up. "Leave her alone!"

"I'm not going to bother her, Ginny. Not yet." He grinned slightly. "But if she's not told Fred, then that means there's something she doesn't want him to know."

"Like the fact that his younger brother shagged her?" Ginny's voice dripped sarcasm. "Oh yes, I can't imagine why she wouldn't want to share that information in a letter or something."

"You said she wanted it."

"I said you didn't force her."

"I was there," he squatted down to meet his sister's eyes, Harry forgotten behind him. His voice was rough with emotions, scared and hopeful all at once. "She did want it, didn't she, Ginny?"

"Leave her alone, Ron!" He walked away and she pounded the ground in anger. "Shit."

 

"And then, when we came back in last night, Harry and Ginny were asleep on the couch! Together!" Parvati nodded knowingly as Lavender turned slightly, making sure no one was eavesdropping on their conversation with Padma. "I wouldn't be at all surprised if they were down there because Ron and Hermione were going at it again in Ron's bed. Dean said that Ron had his curtains closed all night. And there were noises."

Lavender shook her head. "I can't believe that Hermione would do that to Fred."

"You're assuming she is," Parvati reminded her. "I think Fred broke up with her."

"Did you not see him in the common room, Parvati? He was in no mood to break up with her. He could barely keep his hands off of her."

"That was over a month ago. He's living on Diagon Alley now. He's probably got women dripping off of him all the time. And, let's face it; it's not like Hermione's any sort of beauty queen or anything. I mean, she's pretty, sure, but she's nothing stunning."

"So you think he dumped her because he found someone else?"

Parvati nodded. "I think he told her yesterday and when she found out, she ran to Ron. And then things got out of hand. Knowing Ron," she giggled, "he said something stupid and that's what got her so upset. But I'll bet you they've done it."

"Hermione looked like it, that's for sure." Lavender giggled. "Her skirt was tucked into her knickers on one side. I could see it when she headed for the stairs. You'd think she would have taken the time to make sure she looked presentable. She has to know people will talk."

"You missed the best part though, Lavender!" Parvati practically seethed with excitement. "I went back to the room for my notebook when you went to lunch, remember?" Lavender nodded, biting her lower lip in anticipation. "I walked in the room and a huge owl swooped through the door behind me. He was huge and almost black. One of the Post owls. It flew to Hermione's bed and just hovered there, its wings moving all the papers and curtains except hers."

"She spelled her bed!"

"It just stayed there, that's why I took so long, and it just kept beating its wings and waiting. Finally, I went up to it and looked at the envelope and told Hermione who it was from."

"Who?" Padma asked, speaking for the first time, her eyes glittering.

"Fred, of course. I'm sure it was his apology for hurting her and breaking it off with her, telling her it was for the best because he doesn't love her and since he's found someone new. But she wouldn't even take it. Told me to send the owl back to him, that she didn't want it." She looked victorious. "But it totally shows that she's in love with Ron. I mean, if she wasn't, wouldn't she have taken Fred's letter? If someone I loved broke up with me, I'd want everything of theirs I could get my hands on. I'd pour over the letter, sobbing my heart out."

"Oh, me too." Lavender hooked her arms through both of the twins's. "Let's go outside and see if anyone else knows anything. I bet someone had to have seen Hermione coming back from Hogsmeade."

"Oooh." Padma giggled. "I can't wait to tell Luna."

Ron watched them hurry out, stepping out of the shadowed nook in the corridor. A small smile played at the corner of his lips and he hurried up the steps toward Gryffindor tower, warmly content with the knowledge that, not only did Hermione want him; she most definitely wanted nothing to do with his brother.

 

Ron hurried down the stairs to the common room, his charm book tucked under his chin as he pulled on his robe. He leapt over the last few steps, jerking to a hard stop as he nearly collided with Hermione. He swallowed, looking over her shoulder, at anything that wasn't her. "Sorry."

"It's fine." She moved past him, headed for the portrait hole.

"Hermione." He reached out to grab her arm, stopping just before he touched her.

She turned around and looked at him. "Yes?"

"I, uh."

"I'm late for class, Ron."

"Me too. We could walk together?"

"Do you really think that, Ron?" Her voice was flat and emotionless. "You really think that we can just walk to class together and pretend that nothing happened?"

"I just thought..."

"What? What did you think, Ron? I'm keen to hear."

"Well," he blushed hotly. "I just thought that since we," the flush spread up to the tips of his ears, "you know."

"I know, do I?" She asked archly. "What do I know?"

His voice dropped. "Since we did what we did."

"What we did?" Her tone changed, the sound mockingly innocent. "What did we do exactly, Ron?"

"I thought, with everything, that we'd just sort of be..."

"Be?"

"Well, dating." He shrugged nervously, wishing that he'd neglected to open his mouth. Wishing he'd neglected to get out of bed at all.

"You thought," Hermione's face flushed as well, her eyes glittering sharply, "that since you fucked me on the way home from Hogsmeade that I'd be your girlfriend? Is that what you're suggesting, Ron?"

"You won't take Fred's letters."

"No," she agreed. "I won't. I'm not sure that I can read a confession or apology from someone I thought cared about me and not feel the slightest bit guilty that just a short time later, I had his brother's cock inside me." She bit her lip and looked away, tears clouding her eyes. "Leave me alone, Ron."

"I love you."

"Yeah? It appears everyone does these days." She climbed out the portrait hole, not looking back at him. He followed her quickly, walking behind her. She looked pristine, her hair slicked down somewhat, her robes clean and creased. He was pretty sure that, as long as no one looked in her eyes, no one would know anything had happened.

The whispers started at the base of the stairs as they came into sight of other students. Everyone apparently knew everything that had happened. Or at least their version of it. He adjusted his stride, keeping a bit further behind her.

"I'm sure they'll play it cool for a bit," he caught as he walked past a group of Hufflepuffs. "After all, he broke up with her right after they had sex, didn't he? She's not going to want to be called a slut, is she?"

Ron felt heat singe his face and he clenched his fists, willing himself to keep from beating the smug grin into the ground. Hermione kept walking and he forced himself to follow, proud of the straight line of her back.

"I never thought I'd actually be impressed with a Weasley," Malfoy drawled as he fell into step with Ron. "But I have to say, passing a Mudblood around like the family toy is a feat even a Malfoy can appreciate."

"What did you say?" Ron slowed his walk, his eyes hard on Draco as the blond stopped.

"I'm just impressed, Weasel, not flirting." Draco sneered, his eyes darting to Ron's crotch. "Keep your hard-ons for the Mudblood."

"That," he nodded calmly, as if Draco were making perfect sense, "is what I thought you said."

Draco shouted, landing hard on his knees as Ron's punch caught him in the solar plexus, lifting him off the ground before dumping back unceremoniously on the stone. "Figures a Weasley wouldn't know how to take a compliment."

"That was a compliment, Malfoy?" Ron kicked him hard in the stomach, sending Draco sprawling on his back. He pulled out his wand and aimed it at the blond. "Seems to me that anything that compares a Weasley to a Malfoy is the highest form of insult."

Draco got to his feet, glaring at Ron. "You're an idiot, Weasley."

"For kicking your ass?"

"No, Mr. Weasley," Snape's cool voice drawled lazily. "For standing around to appreciate your handiwork. And, while I'm sure your girlfriends are all very impressed," he sneered at the gathered crowd who were watching raptly, "I am not."

"Malfoy started it."

Snape glanced up again at the gathered crowd. "Is that so, Miss Fairstow? Did he do that by accidentally running into Mr. Weasley's fist?"

"He insulted Ron's girlfriend."

"She's not my..." Ron sighed and glanced down the hall where Hermione had disappeared out of sight. "Can we just give me detention or something? I'm almost late for class as it is."

Snape's eyebrows rose and he smiled ferally. "Oh yes, Mr. Weasley, I'm sure we can manage to give you detention. Or something." He leaned closer, his black eyes burning. "Twenty points from Gryffindor for fighting."

"Fine."

"Fifty for insolence." His eyebrow lifted even further, his smug grin never wavering as Ron fought the overwhelming desire to say something, keeping his lips clamped tightly closed. After a moment, Snape nodded. "Very well, Mr. Weasley. You may run along to your other class. And I'll see you tonight in my classroom immediately after dinner."

 

Ron buried his head beneath his hands as he sat down next to Harry, ignoring the fiery glares of his classmates. "What happened to you?"

"You mean besides me losing the House seventy points?" Ron asked quietly. He moaned softly at Harry's surprised gaze. "You mean you hadn't heard already? I figured the Hogwarts Express," he nodded toward Lavender and Parvati who were leaning to talk to the people on the opposite sides of them, "would have delivered the news to every nook and cranny of the school by now."

"What happened, Ron?"

"I had a blazing row with Hermione. Then I ran into Malfoy. And now I have detention with Snape."

"And we lost seventy points?" Harry shook his head. "What did you do?"

"Does anyone know where Miss Granger is?" Professor Flitwick asked, focusing everyone's attention on him. "Is she ill?"

"Maybe she's pregnant!" Lavender gasped.

"At least the kid'll look like his father, even if he's actually his uncle," someone sniggered from the back of the room. Ron's hands clenched into fists and he started to stand, shaking off the hand that Harry laid on his arm.

"Sit down, Ron," Harry hissed. "You're just going to make it worse."

"It can't get worse, Harry." He snapped, sinking back down into his seat.

Harry looked dubiously around the room, wondering how it had taken everyone so long to notice Hermione wasn't there. "Dunno." He shrugged and gave Ron a weak smile. "Maybe she's talking to Fred."

 

Ron looked up from his Charms book as the door to the bedroom slammed. He swallowed hard at the sight of Hermione standing there, her eyes hard. "Who the hell do you think you are, Ron Weasley?"

"Er..."

"What? Is it just not enough that you have to ruin my life, but you have to make yourself a hero in the process?" She grabbed a book off his trunk and threw it at the wall behind him, the sound of it whistling past his ear. "Girls are out there, practically swooning, wondering what the hell is wrong with me that I'm not orgasming myself because you defended my honor to Malfoy."

"I didn't..."

"Of course, that's just a lark, isn't it? Because if anyone's got no call to even mention my honor, it's you."

"I wasn't." He swallowed hard. "I was actually sort of defending the Weasley name. You were mentioned, though, so I...I'm not helping, am I?"

"Leave me alone, Ron. Everything. Me, my honor."

He got off the bed and moved in front of her. She looked tired and sad, hurt and lonely. "D'you love Fred, Hermione?"

"Oh, fuck you, Ron if you even think you have the right to ask me that." She shoved him hard.

"I'm just thinking you must not, if you're not even taking his letters."

She drew herself up to her full height, her eyes flashing hot enough to burn. "Go to hell."

He grabbed her arm and pulled her against him, holding her there for a long moment, holding her eyes, holding his breath. Finally, he bent his head and brushed her lips with his. "No."

Her lips trembled beneath his and she shook her head, her hands on his arms to push him away. Instead, they curled into the rumpled cloth of his robe and he kissed her, his lips warm and hungry as they devoured hers.

Ron growled somewhere low in his chest as his hands threaded through her hair, holding her in the kiss. Hermione's mouth moved under his, with his, her tongue fencing his until he captured it, sucking hungrily.

She rose on tiptoe; her hands sliding up his arms and winding around his neck as he raked his fingers through her hair, letting it fall away between them. One hand held the base of her skull, both of them clinging to the kiss, refusing to let it end, and the other swept down around her waist, lifting her up, against him as he stumbled toward the edge of the bed.

Hermione shoved him away, panting heavily as he blinked, trying to clear his dazed eyes. He opened his mouth to speak, snapping it shut as she shoved at his robes, pushing them over his shoulders before unbuttoning his shirt, pressing hot, greedy kisses to his chest as she bared it.

Ron shuddered, stripping his robe and shirt off as she finished unfastening it, letting all of it fall to the ground. His hands fumbled as he unhooked her robe and then reached for the bottom of her sweater, pulling both over her head. He kissed her as he loosened her tie, one hand undoing the knot, the other caressing her throat, feeling every anxious swallow beneath his fingers.

As the silk fell, Ron felt his hands being batted away and he stepped back, watching in a mixture of awe and wonder as Hermione unbuttoned her shirt then looked up at him, her brown eyes unreadable. Ron held her gaze for as long as he could before he got lost in her kiss, needing the slight darkness of his own head to memorize the feel of her as he guided the shirt over her shoulders, letting it puddle at her feet.

The rise and fall of her chest was more pronounced in bare skin, the straps of her bra standing out starkly against her pale flesh. Ron stepped back, his retreat halted by her hands tugging at his belt, working it free from the buckle. He nearly groaned at the tremors that shook her, brushing against him, his body aching with need and hunger and fire.

She buried her head against his chest, her breath pooling on his sternum as she slid his zipper down, hesitating only for a moment before sliding her hand inside his pants and pressing against him. He shuddered, gasping for breath, his hands moving over her back, fingers catching in the clasp of her bra and freeing it.

Her first tears fell as her hand slipped beneath his boxers, wrapping around his cock. They burned his skin, leaving salty trails down his chest and stomach as he stroked her back with soft fingers, whispering her name against her hair.

She turned her eyes up to him, unseeing as he bent down to steal a kiss, steal her breath away. He let his hands move down, unfastening her skirt and pushing it and her panties to the floor. He shook, matching her tremble for tremble, as she freed him from her light grasp, her fingers hooking under his waistband, guiding his slacks and boxers down as well.

Pulling away from his embrace, Hermione sat on the edge of the bed, pulling off her shoes as Ron stepped on the toes of his socks to remove them, waiting as long as he could before kneeling in front of her and catching her eyes, holding them as he half stood, moving into her, stretching her back out on the bed.

She stared up at him with liquid eyes and he smiled at her, shaky and unsure as he lowered himself down to kiss her. She clung to the kiss, her hands wrapped around his upper arms, her body arching off the bed to follow him as he pulled away. He shook his head, lowering it to press a soft kiss between her breasts, following it with another and another as he worked his way slowly down her body, sliding off the bed to kneel between her parted legs.

She brought her knees in and he caught them, murmuring a soft no before spreading them apart again, leaning in to press a breathless kiss against her inner thigh. Hermione squirmed, her body writhing in anticipation as Ron's hot breath snaked up her leg, pooling at the apex of her thighs. He kissed her again, higher, his tongue never leaving her skin as it slid up to part the rosy flesh.

Shuddering, Hermione grabbed at the bedspread, clutching the thick quilt as she gasped for breath. Ron ran the tip of his tongue over her clit then circled it, repeating the hypnotic motions over and over until her body seemed to tighten around him, her muscles clenching.

Ron groaned and slid two fingers inside her, bathing them in the thick heat of her orgasm. She mewled in pleasure, her hips rolling toward him as he began thrusting them inside her.

"Ron," she gasped, her voice tinged with desperation as her fingers grabbed for him, sliding over his slick, bare skin.

His tongue flickered in a last lazy lick over her clit and he stood, staring down at her flushed nakedness. Her breasts were rising and falling rapidly, her nipples were dark and taut, growing tighter under his hungry gaze.

He slid over her, her skin damp with perspiration. He kissed it from the flat of her stomach, the curve of her breast before pausing, braced above her, his parted lips hovering over her nipple. Goosebumps broke out over her skin as he waited, his eyes darkening to black with desire.

Her fingers were his undoing, her hand wrapping easily around his cock. Ron groaned, burying the sound with her breast, sucking gently on the distended tip of her nipple.

They moved together, thrusting desperately. Ron finally released her, panting harshly, finding her lips with his as he stilled her hand. She released him, letting her hands explore the broad expanse of his back, raking at the skin with her short nails as he positioned himself, the tip of his cock barely inside her.

Hermione shivered and thrust upward, her hips meeting his as he pushed inside her, time stopping as he stilled, closing his eyes against the sensation, letting it buffet him.

As if by subconscious agreement, they began moving again, Hermione's leg wrapping over both of Ron's, the rapid pace of his thrusts matching the frenzied upward strokes of her hips.

He caught her in a kiss, licking her swollen lips before parting them. Her arms twined behind his neck and she drew him closer, her leg tightening, urging him deeper.

When he pulled back, the slide of tongue against tongue superceded by the ache in his chest, he gasped for breath, looking down into her eyes.

Tears fell down her cheeks again and he tried to kiss them away, whispering her name against the salty taste of her skin as he came.

 

They lay there, neither speaking. Ron brushed a damp strand of hair from her face, his hips moving again. Hermione made a quiet sound and he slid one hand between their bodies, his fingers finding the slick nub of her clit.

"R...Ron," she gasped, her hand curving along his neck and pulling him down to her. He bit her lip and she gasped again, muscles tightening, coming around him. He groaned and held her tightly as her body shook, whispering her name and stroking her hair gently. When she stopped trembling, he pulled back and smiled down at her, his face lit with pleasure.

"This is where I say the wrong thing, right?"

She laughed once softly. "Not so far."

He rolled off of her, pulling her against him as soon as he was settled on the mattress. Her head fit in the hollow of his shoulder and he wrapped his arm around her, staring up at the ceiling. "So...what happens now?"

"You mean if you don't insult me and we don't start fighting?"

"Yeah."

She shook her head. "I don't know."

"Are you still mad at me?"

"Yes. A little." She didn't say anything for a long time. "If you felt that way about me, Ron, why did you wait so long?"

"I was afraid of ruining our friendship. Afraid of ruining things with Harry. Afraid of how much I liked you."

"And when F...he asked me out?"

"I thought you'd tell him no. I thought you'd think he was too shallow for you or something. Always playing jokes." He kept his eyes on the ceiling. "You really liked him? Like him?"

"I don't...I can't talk about him right now." She sat up, the sudden absence of her body leaving him cold. She wrapped her arms around her legs and rested her forehead against her knees. "Please don't ask me about him?"

"I'd be happy to leave him out of every conversation we ever have, Hermione, but I can't. As far as I know, you're still officially dating him. Does he know about us...what happened?" He could tell by the jerk of her shoulders that she was crying and he wanted to touch her, comfort her but couldn't. "Will you tell him about this?"

She sat there without answering, unable to stop shaking. Ron cursed softly under his breath and sat up, tugging her against him, pulling her into his lap. The motion wrung a heavy sob from her and she shook her head, struggling to pull away from him. He held her tight, refusing to release her, stroking her hair until she relented, sobbing softly against his shoulder.

"'Sokay. Shh, Hermione. It's okay. I can ask something else." His eyes searched the room desperately for another topic of conversation. "Remember Neville's boggart?"

"I love him."

"Neville?" His voice rose in horror. "Snape?"

"Fred."

"Oh." He nodded and swallowed. "Well, on the whole, I prefer the crying."

She laughed sadly. "And he doesn't know. And I don't know if we're still dating. And I'll have to tell him, won't I?" She stopped crying and looked up at him, her heart in her eyes. "He's going to hate me, Ron."

"He won't. He can't." Ron kissed her forehead then her closed eyes. "He's in love with you."

"That doesn't help."

"Well, I wouldn't be me if I didn't say something completely unhelpful, would I?" He cradled her face between his hand and his cheek. "Does it help at all if I mention that I'm in love with you?"

She laughed and sobbed at the same time. "No."

"Damn." He turned his head and kissed her cheek. "What happens next?"

"We get dressed. And go to dinner? You go to detention." She sighed and managed a shy smile. "For defending your girlfriend's honor?"

"I didn't think I had a girlfriend."

"Oh, that's right." She slid off his lap and started gathering her clothes. "You and Luna broke up, didn't you?"

"We did."

"Hmmm." She watched him appreciatively as he got off the bed and grabbed his boxers, his own gaze busy moving over her curves as he pulled them on. "So who exactly was it you were defending to Malfoy then?"

"Just this girl I know."

"Ah. Ron Weasley. Defender of the weaker sex?"

"Anyway I answer that is liable to get me hexed, isn't it?" He tugged on his pants and smiled as she shimmied her skirt up her hips.

"Mmm." She grabbed a shirt off the floor and pulled it on, laughing as Ron did the same.

He looked down then at her. "Okay. Obviously you can get away with wearing my shirt."

"But the reverse is very much not true." She started to take the shirt off as the door to the room swung open. She clutched the edges together, hiding behind Ron as he whirled around. Harry stood in the doorway, stunned, his wide green eyes darting from one to the other. "Hullo, Harry."

"Ron. Er. Hermione." He lifted his hand nervously and waved, dropping it quickly. "I was...er, um, looking for you. Both of you."

"Oh?" Ron dropped Hermione's shirt onto his bed and opened his trunk, digging for another one. "Why's that?"

"Fred's outside."

"Oh." He heard Hermione's soft gasp, saw her dart past him out the door, slipping by Harry on her way to the stairs. "Shit."

 

Fred looked up as Hermione walked out of the castle, his heart catching in his chest. He started toward her, stopping after just a few steps. Taking a deep breath, he let his eyes move over her as she stopped. Her hair was in complete disarray, her skirt wrinkled, Ron's too big shirt hanging off of her.

He felt the rush of wind as Draco Malfoy's broom settled just behind him, his voice drawling, dripping with delight. "What'd Weasley do, Mudblood? Ride you hard and put you away wet?" He laughed as Ron and Harry hurried out of the castle and stopped behind Hermione. "Oh, excuse me, Ron Weasley."

Without a word, Fred started walking, continuing past her. As he moved beyond Ron, his younger brother grabbed his arm. "Fred, I can..."

Fred swung around, hitting Ron squarely in the jaw. Ron reeled back, his hand automatically moving to his face. "All right," Ron nodded once. "I deserved that one." He launched a quick left, jabbing Fred in the nose. "You deserved that."

"Did I?" Fred pressed his hand to his nose to staunch the flow of blood. "How's that, Ron? Did I fuck your girlfriend?"

"You knew how I felt about her."

"Did I?" They began moving slowly, circling each other. "You didn't even know, little brother. You were so determined not to feel anything where she was concerned; you would have latched on to anything I said. But you were more than happy to spend the nights I was with Hermione learning all the tricks of the trade with Luna, weren't you? She wasn't hard to kiss or feel or finger or fuck, was she?"

Ron feinted left then swung right, missing Fred but winning a hard blow to his stomach as Fred connected. "Leave Luna out of this."

"Right. This is about Hermione, isn't it? Let me guess, Ron, you made your move on Halloween, right? Took your shot as soon as she was vulnerable?"

"Because you lied to her." Ron swung again, hitting this time, the fleshy sound ringing out over the grounds. "Because you lied about everything, you stupid..."

Fred hit him hard, sending Ron stumbling back toward Harry. "I told her the truth because I love her."

"Yeah?" Ron sneered, shoving Harry off of him. "Well she loves me. So fuck off."

"What's not to love, Ron?" Fred smirked. "You're self-involved, stubborn, you always say the wrong thing, you're blind where she's concerned."

"And you're so much better, Fred?" He swung at his brother, his first shot grazing him, the second landing solidly. Fred shook his head to clear the ringing from his ears. "You used her. You asked her out when you didn't even like her and you used her to try and hurt me."

"And I'm sure your motives were pure as the driven snow when you fucked her, eh, Ron?" Fred landing two punches, sending Ron sprawling on the ground. "Was it romantic, Ron? Did you make her first time special?" He grinned bloodily at the look of guilt that flashed across Ron's face. "Must have been a treat for her, huh? You rutting away like some sort of animal, too busy getting off to give a shit that you'd just taken her virginity."

"Shut up." Hermione said softly.

"And you'd have done it better, huh, Fred? You'd dated her for three months and you couldn't manage to get into her pants."

"Shut up."

"What she and I did is none of your fucking business, little brother."

Ron roared and launched himself at Fred, hitting him hard and sending them both to the ground. Hermione wrapped her arms around her body, watching them as they rolled, fighting for dominance. They stopped arguing, conserving their breath as every punch seemed to land, to connect with solid flesh and muscle.

Harry glanced around at the gathering crowd and moved toward them, trying to grab Ron's arm. He swung back, shaking him off, knocking Harry's glasses to the ground. He stopped and started to apologize, the moment lost as Fred flipped him onto his back and hit him hard, blood trickling from the corner of Ron's mouth.

Ron grabbed Fred's leg and shoved him off him, pinning him to the ground, his knees resting against the inside of Fred's elbows. He licked the corner of his mouth, tasting blood. "Enough."

"Fuck off."

"I love her, Fred." Ron closed his eyes for a moment, hiding from the anger and hurt and pain and hatred in his brother's eyes. "That's what you wanted me to say that day, wasn't it? That I love her?"

"Get off me."

"I love her, Fred." Ron glanced at Hermione who was standing to the side, tears glistening in her eyes, refusing to look at them both. "And she loves me."

"Get off me, Ron."

"You can't even argue it, because you know it. She was biding time with you..."

"Fuck off." Fred heaved Ron off of him, kicking him in the stomach as he twisted off, the move well honed from hours of Quidditch practice with Oliver. "You don't know the first thing about what she did with me. What she was with me."

"I know it's over." Ron managed to sit up, holding his stomach. He looked at his brother, noting the deep gash over Fred's eye, the swollen knot on his forehead. "I do know that."

Fred got to his feet and glanced at Hermione. He met her eyes and held them, despite the rapid swelling that threatened to close one of his. "Is he breaking up with me?"

Her tears spilled down her cheeks and she didn't say anything, her lips pressed together to keep any sound from escaping as Fred nodded once and moved past her, walking calmly until he was out of sight.

 

"You okay?" Harry asked, squatting down next to Ron.

"Dunno. How do I look?"

"Worse than he did." Harry stood and reached down for Ron's hand. "Physically at least."

Ron bowed his head as the crowd dispersed, everyone talking, casting curious glances back in their direction. Looking over to where Hermione was standing, Ron sighed. "Shit."

"I don't think that was exactly how she planned on telling him, huh?"

Ron hissed as Harry touched his shoulder. He glanced down and noticed blood staining his white shirt. "Shit."

"So...are you guys...?"

"Well, until my brother showed up, yeah. I think so." He glanced at Hermione again. She was frozen, staring in the direction Fred had gone, tears still tracking silently down her cheeks. "Now I'm not so sure."

"Maybe you should talk to her?" Harry suggested. The moment the words left his lips, Hermione shook off her reverie and started running in the direction Fred had disappeared in. "Or maybe not."

 

Fred chuckled bitterly as Hermione walked into the small clearing. Darkness settled around them, the sounds of the Forbidden Forest full of shadows. "Guess I know now why you wouldn't take my letters."

"It wasn't what you're thinking."

"Oh? It's not that you got upset with me, ran to Ron and had sex with him? It's not that you were guilty so you just cut off all contact with me and made me wonder if what I'd done was so bad you were going to hate me forever?"

"It wasn't quite that."

"Oh? Were you not guilty then?"

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, sitting tentatively beside him. "I'm not sure what I was. Guilty. Scared. Sad. Hurt. You hurt me, Fred."

"You left me long before I hurt you."

She looked at him, her eyes shocked. "What?"

"Maybe you don't see it. Maybe it's just so much second nature that you don't even notice. You don't notice him touch you. Don't notice when you brush his hand with yours and neither of you move." He didn't look at her, didn't need to to sense her processing his words, seeing the truth in them. "You know what the worst part is though?"

"No." She bit her lower lip and closed her eyes. Her voice was soft. "What?"

"It wasn't bad enough that I had to see you like that. Like that with him. That I had to know that you'd just come from..." he got up and walked a few feet away, needing to put distance between them. "It's that I had to hear that poncey git Malfoy get off on it. I had to listen to his smug, sarcastic voice tell me that my girlfriend was had just finished shagging my brother."

"I'm sorry, Fred."

"Did you ever..." He stopped and brushed at his face, wiping away blood, smearing it with an escaping tear. "No. You know, I don't want to know.'

"You seem inordinately calm."

"Considering I just beat the shit out of my brother?"

"Considering everything."

"Would it do any good for me to rage and scream, Hermione? I saw you two together. You didn't deny what he said. You've obviously made your choice."

"That's not..."

"And it's fine. It's fine. It's what I wanted, right? What I was trying for?" He laughed, hysteria haunting the sound. "My goal was to make Ron notice you. And he did. And I knew the minute I told you the truth that it was over."

"That's not true."

"Isn't it?" He snarled. He closed his eyes and shook his head. "The second you started running, we were over."

"I was hurt. Confused."

"I just made it easy. I gave you the reason you needed." He shrugged. "Maybe I knew it too. Maybe that's why I couldn't let myself, let us, go beyond what we did. Maybe I was saving you for Ron."

"I didn't leave you because of Ron."

"You did though. You could have run to anyone, Hermione. Harry or Ginny or a dozen other people. But you ran to him." Fred shrugged. "It's as simple as that."

"It's not." She got up and walked to him, facing him, shocked at the pain on his face, in his eyes. "Fred."

He jerked away before she could touch him. "I would really rather you didn't."

"Ron and I..."

"Do you love him, Hermione?"

"Pardon?"

"Do you love him? Do you love Ron?"

"I don't..."

"Just say it. You know that you do. I know that you do. The whole of Hogwarts knows that you do." He moved away again, trying to avoid her. "How can they not?" He touched her hair then the tie that hung loosely around her neck. "Look at you."

"We..."

"You had sex with him, Hermione. Made love to him, right? Didn't fuck him. You wouldn't fuck him. You wouldn't fuck anyone." He laughed again, tears stinging his eyes, washing his face pink. "You wouldn't fuck me."

Hermione moved over to him, her voice soft. "What did or didn't happen between us has nothing to do with Ron." She put her hand on his arm and he jerked away again, almost violently.

"Don't touch me!" He looked away from her, lowering his head, his eyes closed in pain as he stumbled over to a fallen tree and sank down onto it. "Please. Don't touch me."

"I'm sorry." She knelt on the ground in front of him, her hands hovering over his knees, wanting and needing to touch him, afraid to do so. "I'm so sorry, Fred."

"I don't want you to apologize, Hermione."

"What do you want?" She pleaded with him. 'I can't stand..." She reached up, her fingers near his cheek. "I'm sorry."

"Tell me the truth."

"What truth?"

"Why'd you have sex with him? Why, when you knew he was the one person that would hurt me the most? When you knew that he'd love the chance to get back at me for stealing you away from him? When you knew, knew, he was the one person I couldn't fight for you?" His eyes implored her. "Why?"

"I just...I was hurting. I was upset and scared and I kept thinking that I thought I knew what was going on and then suddenly it wasn't the same anymore. And..."

"And you ran to Ron."

"I ran to my friend."

"No. You. Ran. To. Ron."

Hermione sank onto her heels and dropped her hands to her knees. "I was going to sleep with you that night. On Halloween."

He turned his head, his teeth clenched as his chest swelled. Pain fractured him and he squeezed his eyes closed. "Because you loved me?"

"Yes."

"But not enough to stay and listen? Not enough to give me a chance to explain?" He shook his head, still blinded, refusing to look at her. "You ran because I gave you the escape you'd been waiting for. You ran because you didn't want to be with me."

"That's not true."

"It is true." His jaw tightened. "Otherwise we'd have talked and worked things out. You wouldn't have run off and then," he shook his head and stood up, very carefully avoiding her. "I have to go."

"Why did you tell me?" Hermione asked him softly, her eyes following him as he started to walk away. He stopped but didn't turn around so she asked him again, just as quietly. "Why did you tell me the truth, Fred?" When he remained silent, she got to her feet and moved behind him.

He bent his head and closed his eyes, breathing deeply. "Because I loved you. And I didn't want to lie to you anymore. About anything."

"If you hadn't told me, we'd have..."

"And I'd be the happiest man alive." His shoulders shook with a quick laugh. "Until I looked at Ron." He glanced back at her and his eyes hurt her, the wounded blue lancing her heart. "Or until I looked at you, looking at him." She started to speak and he shook his head. "You're in love with my little brother. Always have been, probably always will be. And you knew that, because you're smart. Maybe you didn't want to admit it, because it hurts to love someone who just doesn't get it, who keeps hurting you, not knowing how deep even the slightest remark can cut." He breathed deeply. "Ron didn't get it and, to be honest, that pissed me off, because even before I fell in love with you, I knew that you were smart and beautiful and nice and sweet and had the fullest, supplest," he reached out and stroked her bottom lip with his thumb, parting it from the top one, closing his eyes at the too familiar, too painful gesture, "tastiest lips in all of Hogwarts. But now he gets it, in every sense of the word, and it worked. My plan worked."

She fought the urge to kiss him, unable to keep her hands from clutching at his robes. "It was a stupid plan."

He nodded. "So I've been told numerous times by almost everyone I've ever met. But actually, it was a brilliant plan. It was the bits I didn't plan on that cocked it all up." He stroked her lip, staring at her mouth. "The falling in love with you bit. The wanting you bit. The needing you so much it hurts bit."

"Fred..."

He shook his head and stepped away from her, out of her reach, her out of his. "Ron's probably paced a hole in the common room rug, Hermione. You should go back."

"We're not finished."

"I think we are."

"I love you," she shook her head, pleading with him, reaching out to touch him.

Fred turned to look at her, the light that normally lit his eyes extinguished, his gaze cold and lifeless. "More than Ron?"

 

HOPEFUL ROMANTIC EPILOGUE

George sank down onto the edge of the mattress, resting his leg on it, his knee digging into Fred's side.

"Sod off, George," Fred mumbled into his pillow.

"It is, in case you were unaware, Christmas."

"I know what sodding day it is." He turned his head and glared. "Now fuck off."

"Mum's expecting us for breakfast."

"If Mum's read the letters I've sent, she's expecting precisely what she'll get, which is you, by yourself." Fred turned away from his brother. "So go away."

"You've got some presents."

Fred whirled around and shoved George off the bed. "Leave me the fuck alone, George."

He got off the floor slowly, his eyes never leaving Fred's. "It's been two months."

"I know exactly how long it's been."

"Then you should know exactly how long I'm going to keep putting up with your shit. So get up, get dressed. We're going home."

"No. I'm..."

"Fine. I'll tell Ron that you're sulking at home, so not only will he have the girl, he'll know that your own damn plot backfired on you and he'll have the last laugh."

"I'm in love with her, George."

"Yeah? Well, so's Ron." George shrugged. "The only difference is that she's in love with him too."

 

Fred stood outside the Burrow, listening to the raucous din coming from inside. George was levitating Crookshanks and, if he listened closely, he could hear Hermione's soft protests. He turned to leave, stopping at the sight of his younger brother. His jaw tightened, the pulse jumping. "Ron."

"'Lo, Fred." Ron cleared his throat. "Happy Christmas."

"You too."

"Going inside?"

"No. I think I left the teakettle on. George'd kill me if I burned the shop down."

"Mum...Mum misses you. I overheard her talking to Dad last night. She said you never come 'round."

"Shop's busy. Business is booming."

"That's great."

"Isn't it." He cleared his throat. "Look, I better get back."

"Ron?"

Fred closed his eyes, his body practically jerking with reaction to her voice.

"Oh. Hello, Fred."

He managed a strangled whisper. "Hermione."

"Happy Christmas."

"You too." He laughed somewhat hysterically. "You'll both excuse me, won't you? I'm sure I've left the kettle on." He didn't turn around, didn't look at her. There was a loud crack and a sharp crackle in the air and he was gone.

"That went well." Ron sighed. "Damn."

Hermione looked over her shoulder where George was waiting in the doorway. "George?"

"I don't know. He came." His worry showed in his eyes. "That's a start."

 

Fred looked up as the fire sparked to life. He closed his book and folded his hands on top of it, biting the inside of his cheek to keep his emotions in check. "Hello, Hermione." He schooled his voice, prepared for her now. "Ron let you come, did he? I guess now that you're actually dating he can afford to be magnanimous."

"I didn't ask Ron for permission to come, Fred."

"And my little brother's fine with you being here alone with me?"

"Did you plan on doing something he'd need to be worried about?"

"Of course not. That's the kicker isn't it?" He leaned back, forcing himself to act relaxed. "It doesn't matter what I want to do. You're in love with him."

"It doesn't mean that I didn't love you, Fred. That I don't love you."

"All my mother talks about is how you and Ron are so perfect together, how you're each other's destiny. At least until I'm within earshot and then suddenly she'd rather talk about Voldemort or the end of the world."

"I never meant to hurt you."

"Well, I never meant to fall for you." He shrugged and looked away. "Guess we both got a raw deal."

"Do you want me to leave the Burrow, Fred?"

"So I can be blamed for you leaving? For Ron following you? No." He met her eyes for the first time. "Stay. Be happy. I'll come around eventually. Ask anyone. Can't keep a good Weasley down."

"George says the shop's doing well."

"Yeah. Your ideas are a hit. Our female clientele is almost as large as the male. George wants us to start marketing more adult themed products, but I'm a little leery of carrying anything I don't want Mum to see. Not that she's set foot in here so far."

"She's been here before..." Her face flushed and her eyes darted to the couch. "But not...not in the shop, right?"

"You should go home, Hermione. Really. I'm fine. Or I will be. I just need to find something or someone..." He chuckled bitterly. "Maybe I should see what Luna's up to, huh?"

Her voice was sharp. "She's dating Neville."

"Of course she is." He sighed and gave her a half-hearted smile. "You don't get to do that, you know?"

"Do what?"

"Be jealous."

"I was your girlfriend for three months, Fredrick. I think I have every right in the world to be jealous if I so wish."

"That'd be a valid argument if you weren't shagging my little brother."

"We're not." She blushed crimson. "I mean..."

"I don't want details." He held up his hand to stop her threatened babbling. "Please."

She bowed her head and nodded then dug something from the pocket of her coat. "I brought you a present."

"I don't want it."

"Please?" She held out the small package. He refused to take it and she sighed. "Please, Fred?"

He grasped it with trembling fingers and unhooked the string, pulling the paper away. Inside was a small, framed picture, Hermione waving from her broom. "You're flying? And smiling?"

"I had an exceptional teacher."

"Thank you. For the picture." He looked around at everything but her. "I had a gift for you, but it's vastly inappropriate. So I'm more than happy to stock you up with whatever sweets your heart desires to turn Hogwarts into the school of practical jokes it was back in my day."

"All of a year ago."

He shrugged. "Legends fade so quickly these days."

"Says someone who's friends with a living legend?"

"There is that, isn't there?"

"I want it."

"What?"

"The present. The inappropriate one."

"You don't."

"Is it sexy?"

"Hermione..."

"Accio my present!"

"Hermione." He grabbed the box out of the air as it flew toward her, lifting it out of her reach. She stood on tiptoe, stretching to catch it from him, one hand on his chest as she leaned into him. Fred dropped his gaze, staring directly into her melting brown eyes. His voice changed, dropped huskily. "Hermione."

"I want my present, Fred."

He lowered it, reveling in the feel of her body against his, the soft brush of breasts and breath as she settled back on her feet, opening the box. Inside was a thin gold chain, two small charms dangling from it. She pulled it free and held it up to the light, smiling as she recognized a witch's hat and a broomstick. "It's lovely."

"It's sappy. And completely inappropriate for the girl who's dating my brother." He curled his fingers around it between her two hands. "Let it go, Hermione."

"I want it."

"You can't..."

She rose on tiptoe again and pressed her mouth to his. Fred groaned and released the chain, his hands moving to her waist, holding her away from him despite the overwhelming urge to pull her close. It was wild and hot, her tongue darting through his mouth, exploring, remembering as her hands moved up to frame his face, holding him still as she nipped at his lips, licking and sucking and tasting him.

Fred jerked away, panting hard and stumbling free of her. "Don't do that. Don't...don't kiss me if you can't love me." He clutched at the counter for support, sitting hard on one of the stools. "Please?"

"I do love you, Fred."

He pulled her to him and kissed her again, his heart breaking in his chest as her tongue slid inside him once more, capturing his, sucking it gently into her mouth. He tasted her tears, his tears, and pulled away, the sharp salty tang like fire.

He stroked her cheek with his thumb, dropping it down to her lower lip, parting it from the top one in a movement as soft and seductive as a kiss. He shook his head sadly and released her for the last time.

"Not enough."

 

HOPELESS ROMANTIC EPILOGUE

Down the street at the Three Broomsticks, there was a wake for the war dead. Everyone was there.

Almost everyone.

One lone figure stood outside the darkened windows of Zonko's Joke Shop, his sad blue eyes seeing nothing. He ignored the sobbing for as long as he could; finally turning his gaze to the figure huddled in the doorway, her hair covering her face, her body curled in on itself.

"It's my fault."

"Yes," he agreed, his normally laughing voice flat. "It is."

"I'm sorry."

"I know." He sighed, turning his attention back to the windows. Weasley products were prominently featured. The war had brought with it a need for humor, for relief, and it had come in the form of Canary Creams and Ton-Tongue Toffees. Major victories had been bought through Transfiguration Treats. Humor had saved them all, Dumbledore had said one night.

"Not quite all."

She wasn't sobbing anymore and she seemed to know or at least understand what he meant.

"I did love him."

"Not enough."

"I love them both."

"No. Now you just love Ron." He moved closer to the window, to the Weasley display, to the picture of the two of them from back when they were at Hogwarts, Fred leaning on George. He traced the lines of an identical face. Identical except Fred was laughing.

"It was his own fault really. His own master plan. And he hated to admit he was wrong, that he'd made a mistake, that the joke had been on him, so he just kept going on."

She didn't say anything, which was almost a relief, because there wasn't anything she could say.

"He fell for you that first day at the shop. Bloody, stupid git."

"I never meant to hurt him."

"No." George sighed and turned away, suddenly swinging around and plowing his bare fist through the glass. Hermione shrieked, her hands hiding her face from the spray of glass. He looked at her calmly, too calmly. "I don't suppose you did."

She started crying anew, stumbling to her feet, toward him. She reached out for him and he started laughing, manically, tearfully, mercilessly. He shook off her touch as if it burned him, still laughing into the dark night.

A mass of light and people spilled from the doors down the street, a quiet rush carried by their own grief. Lupin was the first to reach him, his touch both concerned and knowing, comforting. George shook it off, continuing to laugh despite the tears spilling endlessly from his eyes.

His hand was bloody, clutching the picture of Fred, looking down at it, at the identical face. Both of them the same, both of them laughing.

Only Fred would never laugh again.

 

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