Actions

Work Header

Can't Believe My Luck

Work Text:

Hermione Granger woke abruptly to a stinging heat against her cheek and a weight on her chest. Tilting her chin, eyes nearly crossing, she fuzzily recognized the small Antipodean Opaleye - a gift graciously given by one Charlie Weasley for her birthday just a few weeks before - perched idly directly atop her solar plexus. Earhart’s nostrils were steaming slightly as Hermione huffed quietly. Her new charge seemed to always wake her just after six in the morning, a trait she’d developed after watching Hermione get up each morning. The dragon, it turned out, wasn’t fond of the shrill alarm clock her human had been using previously.

With a yawn that cracked her jaw, Hermione waved a hand tiredly to dislodge the dragon before settling into a seated position, letting her eyes adjust to the darkness that still permeated her bedroom on the early October morning. She ran the back of a slender knuckle down the sleek, pearly scales along the side of the dragon’s neck.

“Morning, Earhart,” she murmured sleepily.

The small creature - a baby, about the size of the average adult cat - chirped with a shake of its glossy wings, stepping lightly into Hermione’s lap. Her beady eyes landed on Crookshanks at the foot of the bed, hissing ineffectually as the creature remained unbothered.

She took the dragon into her hands, still struck by the novelty of Earhart’s pearlescent scales next to her dark skin and slipped from under her covers, shivering at the chill as her toes hit the hardwood of her small flat. Stuffing her feet into a pair of tartan slippers, Hermione hugged Earhart to her chest as she ventured into the rest of her home, lighting the fireplace once she reached the lounge. Slowly her flat came to life as she removed the scarf from her head and worked her fingers to separate the coils in her hair from the previous night. Putting the kettle on and drawing the curtains back, she overlooked the still sleepy streets of Diagon Alley. Soon, witches and wizards would be bustling to get to their jobs and her nerves would settle.

In the years since second wizarding war and the fall of Voldemort, Hermione and her friends were still rebuilding their lives, finding where their families had fled to and struggling to move on. Though Harry and Ron had gone through with joining the Aurors, Harry couldn’t escape the feeling of trauma from chasing after the remaining followers of the Dark Lord and had quietly bowed out, going onto accepting the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts professor at Hogwarts. He joined Neville, who had taken up the mantle of Herbology professor once Professor Sprout decided to retire. Hermione often went back to aid in the physical rebuilding of the castle.

She sighed heavily as she stirred sugar into her tea, humming thoughtfully as Earhart nipped at her jaw before tucking herself under her human’s wild curls. Her tiny claws tickled the skin of Hermione’s neck. Molly expected everyone at dinner that evening and it was to be a celebration. Ginny had Floo’d to her flat only days before to announce her pregnancy. Hermione was genuinely ecstatic for her friends to begin this new journey, but she couldn’t help feeling slightly bereft.

Hermione had thought about her breakup with Ron more than she’d been comfortable to admit and though it’d been ages ago, being around him still felt a bit awkward. He had moved on rather quickly and even brought the new woman - Sofi Plotts, whom he’d met at a Weird Sisters concert of all places - to her birthday just last month. Hermione wanted to be angry, wanted to hate the young witch, but she was an absolute dear and she found it difficult to dislike her. When she caught herself feeling jealous, Hermione quickly and firmly reminded herself that she and Ron were still close and to be happy that their friendship had remained intact.

The sun was peeking above the tops the buildings not far from Hermione’s flat by the time she broke herself out of her reverie and she inhaled her tea, scalding as it was. She shook herself as she made her way back into her room, shedding her pajamas and changing into her dress robes for work. Dull as it might’ve seemed, she didn’t mind working at the Ministry. Although she was buried under paperwork on a daily basis, the two witches with whom she shared an office were a delight and made her days seem much shorter.

Quickly running a hair pick through her roots before tossing it into her purse, Hermione sat Earhart on the windowsill and ran her fingers through the thick orange fur on Crookshanks’ back. Hurrying back to her fireplace she Floo’d directly to the Ministry of Magic and joined the deluge of witches and wizards, many she’d come to recognize if not by name than at least by face, who were hurrying to their respective offices.

Heels clicking against the tile as she stepped into her shared office, Hermione spotted Andrea Benton laying with her head in her arms, groaning quietly.

“Another late night?” She asked lightly.

“Piss off, Granger.” Her words lacked any heat. “Had no Pepperup Potion in the bathroom cabinet when I got home. I feel like a bog troll.”

Hermione felt for her friend, wincing in sympathy. “Dottie will be in soon; you know she always has some in her purse for you just in case.” It was true; Dottie Marchbanks was their unofficial mother hen and took great pride in the fact. She was never one to judge Andi’s antics on her nights off and would smile warmly at Hermione anytime she went on a running diatribe of the treatment of the magical creatures she was trying to protect.

“That woman is an absolute blessing, she is.”

As if summoned, a woman early into her fifth decade walked into the room behind Hermione before making a sound of pity in the other young woman’s direction.

“In need of a little hair of the dog, eh?” Dottie’s voice was high pitched and kind as she rustled through her bag with no prompting before producing a small vial and setting it on the desk in front of Andi’s hands.

The young woman uncorked it with vigor and tossed it back, grimacing as steam poured out her ears. “You beauty,” she sighed. “Hermione, why don’t you come to a club with me? You never come out. I bet Dottie has even had her moment in a club with some lucky lad.”

Hermione shuffled through several papers at her desk, smirking in Andrea’s direction from Dottie’ bright chuckle. “Discos and pubs have never been favorites of mine, sorry.”

“Girl, you need to let loose from time to time,” Andi said, shimmying her chest a bit with a giggle. “When was the last time you’ve gotten laid?” She burst into full bellied laughter at Hermione’s deep flush.

“None of your business.”

“Some time, then?”

Quite.

“Dottie sees more action than you lately.”

Dottie ,” Hermione replied snidely, “Has been a happily married woman for nearly twenty-seven years.”

“My point exactly.”

Dottie took pity on her. "What I'm sure Andi means, sweetheart, is that you haven't spoken of anyone special in your personal life in quite some time. You've been down lately; we’ve both noticed."

"Is this about your ex bringing Sandy ‘round to your birthday a few weeks ago?" Andi made a face as she said the name.

“Sofi,” Hermione corrected automatically. “No. Not directly, anyway. I suppose I’ve just been in a mood.”

“All the more reason to come out for a drink!” Andi urged. “Meet a bloke, have a good shag. You’re a bloody war hero, men will be tripping over themselves to buy you a drink.”

“Andrea!” Hermione was shocked at just how pushy her friend was being on the subject. Usually if she begged off once, Andi would shrug and move on until the next day when the process repeated itself. She set her quill down next to the forms she was looking over. “What’s gotten into you?”

Andi scoffed, leaning back in her chair with a look of distaste. “Haven’t you heard the rumors? Whispers out of the Census Department. The rate of magical childbirth has been in decline ever since the fall of You Know Who. No one can tell why. They say the Minister is close to pulling out one of them archaic Marriage Laws.”

She gasped. Kingsley would never do such a thing. Hermione voiced her concerns.

“I don’t believe he would have much of a choice,” Dottie added sadly. “If the entirety of the Wizengamot agrees to it, they can overrule him.”

Andi nodded, looking increasingly frustrated. “I’m trying to get myself under as many willing wizards as I can manage before I’m unwillingly bogged down with some rando and become a mandated baby maker.”

That explained Andi’s near frantic obsession with going out as often as she had been lately. Hermione felt her stomach twist at the very idea. Sure, she’d considered the idea of marriage the longer she and Ron had stayed together, but that ultimately didn’t matter now. Rubbing her fingertips against her temples, she inhaled deeply before laying her hands flat on her desk. She wouldn't let a rumor of potential What Ifs ruin the quality of her work.

“Let’s not waste an entire day wallowing in what might be, shall we? There’s a man out in Brighton requesting help in relocating a small family of Moke who seem to have turned the shrubs bordering his property in their new home. Dottie, do you have the proper forms?”

~

Dinners at the Burrow never ceased to be an entire event, Hermione thought good humoredly. Molly shuffled her children around so that the toddlers weren’t underfoot. As it was, Harry and Fleur were out in the garden corralling Teddy, on loan from his grandmother for the evening, and Victoire away from the garden gnomes who were incensed at being roughly handled by two very small children. Ginny and Bill stood by the back entrance having a good laugh at the expense of their significant others. Inside, Percy sat on the stairs, serious expression and all, while the twins showed Charlie prototypes of their newest product at the shop, bubblegum that when blown could lift the chewer off the ground.

Sofi stood in the kitchen, Ron’s arm slung casually about her waist as Arthur chatted with her about some of the newest creatures she’d gotten in at the muggle pet shop she worked for. Not for the first time, Hermione wondered why she couldn’t remember the young witch from her time at Hogwarts, even if she’d been a Hufflepuff a few years her junior. She smiled widely, offering Hermione a drink when she caught sight of her. She disengaged from Ron’s hold, stepping forward to embrace the other witch.

Damn her and her pleasant demeanor. Hermione wished she could find something to dislike about the young witch, but could find nothing.

“How was work today, Hermione? Ron’s been telling me you help relocate magical creatures.”

Hermione nodded, hoping her cheeks weren’t too flushed. “The department I work for deals with magical creatures who get caught up in highly populated areas, so we work to place them somewhere that won’t harm anyone.”

“Oh, brill, that must be a great feeling knowing you’re helping so many of them.”

She shrugged, feeling oddly embarrassed at the other woman’s praise. “It’s a lot of bureaucratic nonsense on my end. I don’t often get to see if the creatures are relocated safely and must go on faith.” Hermione felt herself ease as she always did when discussing her work. “A couple reported finding a boggart this afternoon when their cleaning lady was sent to their aging mother’s home.”

For the first time, Ron looked interested. “I heard about that from one of the other Aurors. They had to obliviate the woman, a muggle scared half to death.”

Hermione nodded, keeping silent.

“Alright, everyone to the table!”

She felt herself tense hearing Molly’s booming voice over the racket of the family. Hermione smiled tightly at Ron and Sofi before turning and shuffling into the dining room with the rest of the Weasleys. Taking her seat beside Ginny, Hermione took her time passing dishes around, slowly filling her plate with food Molly had more than likely spent much of the day preparing.

“Evening, Hermione.”

She caught Fred smiling from across the table at her and Hermione realized she hadn’t spoken to him since her arrival beyond a cursory greeting. Nodding in acknowledgement, she returned his smile.

“How have you been, Fred? The shop is doing well, I take it?”

“Oh, yeah!” His twin jumped in. “We’re talking with a few people about bringing on an apprentice.”

Hermione’s brows rose. “That’s wonderful.”

Fred shoved his brother back with a laugh. “With this one having a bundle on the way I’ll need the help while he’s playing the doting daddy.” He snorted at the look on George’s face at the mention of Angelina’s pregnancy.

“She sends her regards, but her mother insisted they go look for bassinets for their home tonight. And I’m not the only one getting ready for the doting daddy role, am I?” He lifted his glass and nodded to Harry, who sat on Ginny’s other side. “Cheers, mate. Glad we’re in the same boat.”

The rest of the table lifted their glasses, toasting the couple.

Hermione couldn’t help thinking of her conversation with Andi that morning. Several of the Weasley children were already in committed relationships; George had just recently gotten engaged and with Ginny newly pregnant, a proposal from Harry would probably come sooner or later. She hoped she could pull Arthur aside after they finished their meal to ask him about the rumors.

Once everyone was filled to the gills, George suggested a pickup game for Quidditch until the sun set entirely and the garden was lit with twinkling string lights. Hermione took the opportunity to draw the Weasley patriarch into the kitchen.

“Is something the matter, Hermione?” His tone was warm, but tinged with fatherly concern.

It made her ache. “Is it true?”

Arthur’s brows furrowed slightly. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean.”

She inhaled, trying to quell the tightness in her chest. “The Marriage Act; is it true that the Ministry is planning on reinstating it because magical births have been declining?”

The man’s face turned grim as he sat himself down at the small kitchen table. Lines etched themselves into his forehead while he ran his fingers through his thinning red hair. “How did you hear?”

Hermione felt her knees give out, but she hit the chair instead of slithering to the ground. “So it’s true.” She could barely recognize her voice from how small it was.

“Shacklebolt is wholeheartedly against it, you should know that before anything happens, but...”

Hermione nodded, clenching her hands together to stow their shaking. “The Wizengamot have their minds made up. What will this mean?”

Arthur shrugged as if his shoulders were weighed down. “Too many children have been born squibs since the fall of the Dark Lord. The witches and wizards of the Wizengamot plan to pair up purebloods with muggle-borns and half bloods in order to prevent further inbreeding. Our numbers haven’t been growing fast enough.”

“Arranged marriages are completely archaic! And all for the sake of procreation?” Hermione felt her breath catch. “Why must marriage be involved? Clearly men and women don’t need to be married to produce an heir. What about those who are already in relationships? Two of your children are unwed and are having children of their own!”

“Hermione, please, keep your voice down,” Arthur pleaded. “Many members of the Wizengamot are traditionalists and don’t exactly approve of children born out of wedlock. According to what Kingsley’s told me, witches and wizards who are in established relationships, in cases such as engagement or parenting children, may approach the Ministry to fill out the proper paperwork to remain together even if they don’t fit the parameters of the Law. Those who petition the Ministry with a match of their own may also be considered.”

“But everyone else?” Hermione couldn’t help the moisture pricking at her eyes.

“Everyone else, you and my other children included, must be matched and married by the date given by the Ministry or risk losing your wands and your ability to use magic entirely.”

The indignation she felt toward the whole situation was nothing compared to the feelings of fear the very mention of losing her magic. “But...that’s such a harsh punishment! They’ve not considered any alternatives?”

“Of course they have,” Arthur sighed, looking tired. “Kingsley even advocated terms in Azkaban over it, but the Wizengamot was firm. The finality of their decision is meant to dissuade any who might attempt to break the law.”

“Oh, of course that’s their reason. Not the cost of building extra room in that hell hole for anyone who doesn’t wish to be a bloody mandated baby making machine.” Hermione knew that her tone was waspish and upon seeing Arthur’s face sink even further she at least had the grace to look contrite. “I’m sorry, Arthur, I’m not angry with you. I just can't wrap my head around this.”

The man’s shoulders were heavy with the weight of defeat. “Sorry, love. Best not let this ruin your night. Let’s have some tea.”

+

Fred stepped away from the entryway to the kitchen. He’d come in looking for Hermione and his father, who’d been missing from the festivities outside. Hearing their hushed tones, he approached carefully in case something serious had happened. Fred hadn’t entirely meant to eavesdrop, but news of the Marriage Act had kept his attention. When Hermione began emitting small whimpers and sniffles, he knew she’d started crying and retreated once more to the backyard.

George stood with Charlie, chatting animatedly as the others seemed to have been grounded once darkness had entirely set. Catching the eye of his twin, he beckoned Fred to his side.

“Why the long face, Gred? Don’t tell me I look like that when I’m down.” He chuckled and bussed his arm with a light-hearted punch.

Fred straightened his shoulders, schooling his features back to a carefree expression. “No long faces here, Forge. Just thinking that maybe I ate too much at dinner.”

“Eating too much, you?” George pulled his twin in by the shoulder, squeezing tightly. “Now that’s something I never thought I’d hear you say.”

“You sure you’re alright, Fred?” Charlie asked, taking in his overall appearance. He’d always been just as good as George at detecting when Fred was feeling off. “I’m just about to head out, you two. Did you see Dad when you went inside?”

He couldn’t hide his wince and thanked his lucky stars that George had been looking off at Harry and Ginny, Hermione joining them quietly. He hadn’t seen Fred’s face. But Charlie had. “I’m not sure where he is,” he lied. His older brother said nothing, though his lips thinned into a tight line. “Probably in the lounge tinkering around by now. You know how he is.”

“You’re probably right,” Charlie answered slowly. “I’ll let you two alone while I say my goodbyes. Cheers.” The man waved with a smile before heading back into the house.

George turned to him with a wide smile. “D’you fancy a drink, brother? What say we head over to the Leaky before I attend to the mother of my child?”

Fred, whose eyes found Hermione from across the lawn, shook his head absently. “Nah, think I might turn in early tonight. Stomach’s feeling a bit iffy right now.” Placing his open palms against his flat stomach for emphasis, the corner of his mouth kicked up. Ruffling his brother’s hair, he pushed George away with a chuckle. “Go be a good fiancé and agree to whatever Angelina tells you.”

He walked around to each of his remaining brothers and embraced them, save for Percy, who’d never been overly fond of physical affection just as much as Fred wasn’t overly fond of giving him any. Mum smiled warmly when he hugged her tightly and promised to pop in again in the next few days. Dad was indeed in the den by the time he walked on through.

“You off, son?” He asked. His aging face held a bright smile as he embraced him. There were no signs of the turmoil Fred had heard in his voice earlier that night.

“Yeah, I’ve got some stuff to work out for the near future. I’m, uh, meeting with another contender for shop apprentice.” Not entirely true, but Dad didn’t need to know that.

Flooing back to the flat he and George had shared for the last several years, Fred released a weary sigh that he felt deep in his bones. Since overhearing his father and Hermione, he’d been working out plans in his mind of how to meet the coming challenges. He, Charlie and Percy were the only ones not in relationships and even Ron’s, great as it was, may not pass by Ministry standards. Fred thought about Hermione and the sadness her quiet voice held in the Weasley’s kitchen.

She was just as vulnerable to the Act as he was. Hermione was the smart one, the rational one, always managing to keep Harry and Ron from practically dying on a regular basis. Fred even recalled how often her sharp wit and know-it-all attitude had him and George in the crosshairs. Hermione could work her way around whatever challenge she faced.

There was no way around this.

Shucking his clothing before settling under his sheets in nothing but his underpants, Fred rested his arms behind his head, already feeling the gears turning in his brain.

+

Hermione sat at her desk three days later poring over documents detailing the illegal transport of a bandicoot between Australia and northern England. The door burst open when Andi swept in, followed by a rather ruffled looking Fred Weasley.

“Oh, Hermione,” the young witch singsonged, swanning over to Hermione’s desk before bending over and giving her a mischievous smile. “I was just coming back from the loo when I came across this dishy little specimen who was looking completely lost. He said he was trying to find the office of one Hermione Granger; says he’s a friend of yours.” Her eyebrows rose suggestively.

Hermione blushed, shooting a quelling look at Dottie when the woman let out a chuckle. She turned in her chair toward Fred, who’s coat hung open, scarf cockeyed about his neck. “I’m sorry, Fred, how are you? I wasn’t expecting you here.”

“Uh, yeah.” His adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed thickly. “I decided to pop over and see if you’d like to join me for lunch. For ol’ time’s sake and all that. By the time I got here I’d realized that I didn’t know where to go.”

She could relate; the Ministry was a ragtag bit of mazes to anyone who didn’t work there. Fred had his knit cap clasped between his fingers, glancing at Andi with a wary expression. Hermione rolled her eyes fondly. Instead of pointing out having been to dinner with the Weasley family just a few days ago, Hermione stood to collect her things.

“Andi’s harmless, really.”

Andi, who’d gone to her own desk, batted her eyes innocently.

Fred introduced himself to Dottie, who lowered her glasses to glance at him over their rims. “I hope you girls don’t mind if I stole Hermione away for a short time?”

“Of course not,” Andi drawled, sharing a look with the older woman. “Do we, Dottie? I think we can handle ourselves for a while.”

“But-”

Dottie cleared her throat, effectively cutting off Hermione’s protest. “Go ahead, dear. I’ll make sure Andi doesn’t set anything on fire again.” She waved off any other signs of protests.

The young witch squawked indignantly at the insinuation that she’d do something so dangerous, even though Hermione had been there. To be fair, it was only a small fire and it was contained to the bin. No harm, no fowl.

“So,” Fred began, his tone deceptively innocent, “your friend thinks I’m dishy, yeah?”

She chuckled, hip checking him lightly. “She says that about any young wizard with a pulse. Don’t let it get to your head; it’s not like your ego needs any more fluffing. I’m sure Andi would’ve said the same thing about George.”

He stretched his long arms above his head before bringing his fists down into his coat pockets. “Can’t blame her, though; I’ve always known I was the more handsome one. Beat ‘em by a hair.”

Hermione didn’t bother to hide a snort. “More like an ear, I’d say.”

Fred let out a bark of laughter, the sound echoing off the walls as they entered the into the main lobby of the Ministry. “That was a good one, Granger, aces.”

She allowed herself a small smile. There was a certain level of pride one allowed oneself in succeeding to make a man who owns a prank shop laugh. “Might I know where we’re going, since you decided to surprise me at work for ol’ time’s sake ?” Hermione made sure she emphasized properly when she parroted his words back. She felt the man tense beside her.

“I figured you’d catch that.”

“You were correct, not that I mind the distraction from work.”

He cleared his throat, glancing around at the people passing them by. “I thought we could go somewhere to grab a bite before heading to the shop if you’ve got the time. A chippy just opened not far from the shop that’s supposedly very good; Georgie’s gone recently since Angelina’s had craving for all things fried and I would never despair the opinion of a pregnant woman.”

“As well you shouldn’t,” Hermione said, sniffing archly, her response lacking any real heat. “Lead on, then.”

They chatted amiably while they ambled through Diagon Alley, passing witches and wizards out in search of their own meals. Cochran’s Chippery was a bustling brick and mortar where many of the small tables were already filled with happy patrons. Fred made his way to the counter to pick up their orders before meeting Hermione back out on the cobblestones.

He was slightly breathless once he pushed through the crowd, handing Hermione her order. “What’d I tell you?” He tossed his thumb back over his shoulder at the throng of witches and wizards still waiting. “Absolutely mental for this food, they are.” Fred straightened his coat before leading the way back to Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, where an absurd number of smaller children were running amok.

By the time they reached the back offices, Hermione was finding it difficult not to laugh at how bizarre her lunch hour was turning out to be. She took the stool he offered to her before crossing to the opposite side of a work table covered in scraps of paper and taking his own seat. “Fred, I really appreciate you taking me out to lunch, but what’s going on? Is something the matter?”

Fred’s brown eyes caught hers with a gravity Hermione hadn’t seen in years. “The other night, I overheard you and Dad talking in the kitchen.”

She felt the bottom of her stomach drop and suddenly she wasn’t very hungry. There was no use denying it. “Do the others know?”

He shook his head, sighing loudly. “Dad and I talked it over yesterday. Seems the Ministry is going full speed ahead with the Marriage Act as soon as they can manage.”

Frowning down at the table, Hermione worried her bottom lip between her teeth. “I don’t know if there is anything to be done. When I requested to speak with the Minister, Kingsley couldn’t do more than send a short note to my office; there was no speaking in person. No one will know who they’ve been paired with for several weeks. I wish I had more information for you, but I don’t.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” Fred’s shoulders relaxed and he popped a chip into his mouth in her silence.

“Excuse me?” Hermione shut her mouth quickly. Being told she was wrong about anything still brought out an affronted knee-jerk reaction.

He held up his palms in a placating gesture. “Hear me out. Dad said that if you have a match in mind, you can petition to be married, fill out the proper forms. You do paperwork all day so you understand the bureaucracy of it all.”

“Fred, what-”

“You could marry me.”

+

There, he said it. If the stunned expression was anything to go by, Hermione hadn’t expected their conversation to go in this direction. He couldn’t read much beyond her shock. She’d never really been one to wear her emotions on her sleeve. Honestly, Fred might’ve believed he’d broken her if he didn’t know her any better.

“You’re serious?” Hermione asked, bewildered.

“As the Plague,” he responded, though he couldn’t help but feel a corner of his mouth kick up. “I realize now, considering you still have half a day’s work left, that this may have not been the best time to have sprung this on you, but I didn’t feel it could have waited.”

Nodding distractedly, she took a sip of water from one of the glasses Fred had conjured up when they walked in. “This is, well, very unexpected coming from you. Why me, though? Certainly there are other women you know who will be just as affected by the Act.”

“What, and leave you to someone you’ve never met? Or worse yet, Percy ?”

That startled a laugh out of her and he smiled. He’d always enjoyed her laugh. “Look,” he started, “You and I meet the guidelines of the Act, a muggleborn and a pureblood; we’ve known each other for years and I would be kicking myself if I didn’t do anything to keep you close to the family; if nothing else, we’ll have a very companionable marriage.”

Fred could see the cogs of her mind working, if the line settling itself between her eyebrows was any indication. He was just happy to see her finally ripping chunks of fish and batter before eating them. No diminutive nibbles for her, it seemed.

“But the Act will require...”

“Yes?”

“Well, it would require us to have children ,” Hermione said, whispering the final word like a dirty little secret.

He couldn’t help the full blown grin that spread across his face. He sent an exaggerated look down the top half of her form that wasn’t covered by his work table. “I don’t think that would be much of a problem, do you?”

Hermione flushed a deeply and threw a balled up napkin at his face, but Fred still caught the small grin gracing her lips.

“At least think about it, yeah? The Marriage Act won’t be announced for a while yet, so we wouldn’t even need to look into the proper paperwork until we’re contacted by some Ministry goon. Now get back to work; I’ll not have my future wife slacking just because I earn better wages than she does. We need to start saving up for the little ones.”

Her mouth fell open in mock outrage, scoffing. “My wages are just fine, thank you very much.” She stood and dusted off the back of her skirt. “Thank you for lunch. I’ll send word ‘round once I’ve decided.”

Fred grinned again until his cheeks hurt as he watched Hermione leave, leaning forward onto the tabletop on crossed arms. She hadn’t given an outright no , which meant she’d give his proposal actual consideration. Gathering up some of the papers in front of him, he took a quill and took to working on the plans for a few new products. A witch who applied for the apprenticeship had left some of her work with him so he could look it over. She was rather talented.

His mind had wandered back to the night of Bill and Fleur’s wedding, when he saw Hermione dancing and laughing carelessly before everything had gone to hell. Fred couldn’t remember being happier than when he saw her with his family. He swore his parents preferred her over some of their own children.

“Oi, careful there Freddie or you’ll burn a hole in that parchment, staring like you are.” George came into their work room with his coat slung over one arm.

Fred dropped his quill, not realizing his grip had gone tight. “Nothing’s going to spontaneously combust without my permission, brother.” He stood, embracing his twin when he strolled further into the room. “How’s the missus?”

The ever present grin George sported when it came to Angelina came out in full force. Clapping Fred on the shoulder, he sighed happily. “An absolute dream, mate. Four months into pregnancy and we’ve never had a better sexlife. I only hope you’ll be so lucky.”

They’d discussed what he’d overheard the other night, but George had no reason to worry; he was already engaged with a baby on the way. The Ministry couldn’t mess with that.

“About that,” Fred said. “I think I might already have a handle on it.”

“Yeah?” George chuckled. “Who’s the lucky lady, anyone I know?”

He rubbed at the short red hair at the nape of his neck, suddenly bashful. Fred had kept his feelings for the young witch a secret from his family, knowing how they felt about her while she and Ron were together. They’d all assumed they’d be married and were collectively blindsided when their relationship ended several months ago.

“I might have struck up a deal with Hermione.”

Granger?

“Know any other?”

George sputtered, though not looking as shocked as Fred would’ve expected. “So you finally went for it, eh? Congrats, mate, that’s wonderful.”

He paused for a moment before responding. “What d’you mean I ‘finally’ went for it?”

“Oh come off it, you think I never noticed? You’ve been gone for her years.”

Fred’s cheeks flushed red with embarrassment. “You knew? Blimey, was I that obvious?”

George cleared away some of the papers on an adjacent work table and hopped up to sit. “Nah, I wouldn’t be too worried,” he assured. “Can’t be someone’s identical twin for as long as we have and not pick up on something like that.”

“I would’ve told you eventually,” Fred grumbled lamely. “How do you think the family’ll take it?”

His brother waved off his concern, scoffing. “After everything you lot have been through? Mum’ll probably be over the bloody moon.” George shrugged lightly, a look of consideration coming over him. “Ronald might take it as a personal affront to his pride and try to hex off your bollocks.”

“Oh, sod off.” Fred shoved at his brother’s chest, sobering quickly. “Really though, I’d rather like to my bollocks where they are. Would Ron be that angry?”

“Worry about that once she’s accepted. Now come on, we’ve got a store to run. Verity’s been complaining about the mums and dads who’re rude to her and I’ve given her permission to slip complimentary Puking Pastilles to their children.”

+

That evening, Hermione sat on her couch with Earhart on her one of her thighs with Andi beside her and Dottie in a nearby armchair, Crookshanks stretched lazily across her lap. She decided, upon leaving Fred at his shop, that she needed a girls’ night. Andi understood why she turned down her invitation for drinks once she discussed her lunch with Fred.

“You have to admit, it’s kind of brilliant,” Andi sighed, swishing red wine around in her glass. “Obviously you’re a woman who doesn’t need saving, but he wants to be sure you aren’t matched with someone you absolutely cannot stand. I would’ve thought you’d appreciate the gesture.”

“Oh, I do.” Hermione was horrified to find her throat tight and quickly took a sip from her own glass before placing it back in the space created by her crossed legs. “Fred has always been such a kind and thoughtful young man. Quick to get into mischief, mind you, he and his twin brother, George. But very thoughtful.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“Maybe that I dated his younger brother for over two years? Isn’t it a bit strange?”

Andi, whom Hermione knew to have slept with at least one set of brothers, didn’t see the dilemma. “Dottie, what do you think?”

The woman sipped her own drink, carding her fingers through thick orange fur. After her own admission of being a bit of a lush when it came to wine, Hermione offered her something else, but the older witch resolutely would not hear of it. As it was, the bottle of wine sat open beside her on a small table for when she needed to top off her drink. “I don’t know, Andi. If she’s uncomfortable with the idea then why pursue it?” She looked Hermione straight on. “ Are you uncomfortable with the idea of marrying this man, or are you worried over what his brother may think?” She raised a single brow.

Was she? Hermione thought back to how she felt when Fred had offered her the proposal. It was a perfectly respectable plan, she realized, and she wasn’t at all averse to spending the rest of her days as an official member of the Weasley family in name as well as feeling. Ron’s opinion did still matter to her, however he was probably going to work something out with Sofi once the Marriage Act was put into effect. He would want her to be happy, right?

“It’s just...I can’t seem to let go of what I’d imagined for myself, you know? I thought Ron and I would marry.”

“But you didn’t, and you won’t,” Andi stated plainly, curling her legs beneath herself. “You’re allowed to move on, you know? With whom isn’t the issue. You are over Ron, yeah?”

Hermione let out a small sound of distress, picking up Earhart who in turn snuggled into her human’s chest with a pleasant growl before scuttling up the fabric of her blouse to her shoulder. “Of course! One hundred percent, I am over Ronald Weasley. But can’t you see that it would be even more awkward around him when he sees Fred and I together?”

Dottie snorted, her cheeks rosy. “Well he’ll just have to just sack up then, won’t he?”

“Dottie!” The other two exclaimed together. Andi was dutifully impressed while Hermione was concerned for the amount her friend had had to drink.

Dottie lurched forward in the chair, displacing a startled Crookshanks before resting her arms against her knees. “Look here, Hermione. This lad with the plan to marry you, you know him to be a good man?”

“Yes, entirely.”

“Do you have feelings for him?”

“I’ve never considered him, honestly.”

“Feelings  can develop, but he must feel something for you. I saw him this morning when he looked at you.”

Andi nodded in agreement. “He was very excited to see you. He kept fixing his hair the whole time we were in the hall.”

“He’s also quite fit if you ask me.”

Hermione blushed. “No more wine for you.”

“There will always be a bottle of wine at my flat for you, Dottie.” Andi rocked back against the back cushion, snorting into her glass.

Hermione lifted her wine to toast them both with a laugh. “You two are absolutely impossible.”

The women chatted well into the evening until Hermione begged off, expressing a wish to sleep and not come into work the next morning with a headache. Before her guests Floo’d off to their respective homes, Andi hugged her tightly.

“You’ll make the right choice for yourself, babes. Trust you gut.”

Hermione waited for the flames to settle before brushing some errant waves away from her forehead. Trust her gut, should be easy enough, right? With a sound of frustration, she turned on her heels and walked into her room to change for bed. Her mind kept replaying her meeting with Fred and she couldn’t help but focus on how nicely he smiled. Turning over, she pressed her face flush into her pillow and screamed.

~

A few days later brought in a slew of notices from around England, some as far out as King’s Lynn, where a Ministry informant discovered an apothecary selling unregulated Lobalug venom. Hermione wasn’t looking forward to filling out that report; whenever Lobalugs were found on land with no notice to the Ministry, it meant that there were merpeople doing dirty dealings. That was an entirely different dilemma.

Hermione’s back ached from sitting in one position for too long and her fingertips were tinged dark with ink. There came a noise at the window where a large barn owl was tapping its beak for permission to enter. Dottie slid the window open and the owl glided soundlessly over to where Hermione sat and dropped an envelope in front of her. It waited patiently at the edge of her desk for her reply.

“Who’s it from, then?” Andi asked, nosy as ever.

She flipped the envelope over and found only her name scrawled quickly with a familiar hand. Prying open the seal, Hermione pulled out the folded scrap of parchment.

Hermione,

Fancy dining with me tonight? Nothing posh, just us at a pub somewhere relaxed. I’ll meet you at yours around half six. I’d wondered if you’ve made any headway on your decision and thought we’d have a proper talk.

Yours,

Fred

Hermione allowed herself a small grin, quickly composing her acceptance on the other side of the note before handing it back off to the owl, along with a knut for its troubles, and watched it flap back out the way it came.

“I know that look,” Dottie said conspiratorially. “Come on then, what did your suitor want?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” She straightened up, tilting her chin up loftily, but she couldn’t keep a straight face for long. “I’m having dinner with Fred tonight.”

Andi squealed happily, already setting aside her own paperwork to discuss more important things. Honestly, Hermione would have urged her to get back to work, but she couldn’t ignore the sudden butterflies in her stomach.

She’d been thinking quite a lot about the man’s offer, playing back some of their previous interactions over the years in her mind. Hermione couldn’t help but remember the carnage of Hogwarts after the final battle and how Fred almost didn’t make it. While George lost an ear for his efforts, his twin hadn’t woken for several days after he’d been admitted into St Mungo’s. Percy claimed he’d been affected by an explosion outside of the Room of Requirement. Hermione had been there after, an ever present fixture at Ron’s side every day for hours in hopes to see Fred open his eyes.

Hermione had been the only one in the room when it’d happened, while Ron took his mother to find something to eat. She’d seen his fingers twitch slightly, ever so slightly, and she caught her breath. When Fred let out a pained groan, she stood and rushed into the hall, calling for healers and someone to contact Molly before hurrying back inside.

“Did we win?” He croaked, voice hoarse from misuse.

Hermione choked on a sob and nodded, not bothering to hide her tears. “You’ve been unconscious nearly a week.”

One corner of his mouth kicked up as he took in a deep breath. “That’s the best sleep I’ve had in ages. Maybe I should try being comatose more often.”

She had let out a wet laugh, shoving his arm gently as his brother and mother rushed into the room. “Now’s not the time to joke like that.”

“Take it easy, I’m fragile.”

As Molly bent over her son peppering kisses all across his freckled cheeks, Ron had come over to Hermione to wrap an arm around her shoulder.

“Alright then, Fred? Gave all of us a bit of a fright with your little nap.” He leaned over and kissed the top of Hermione’s head, smoothing down the bushiness of her dark hair.

She saw Fred’s grin freeze for just a moment, short enough that she nearly missed the almost imperceptible tightening at the corners of his mouth, before his frame grew lax and he turned his focus to his mother. The moment passed and Hermione didn’t comment on it.

It had taken several more months for Fred to go about without a limp and even longer for him to regain full use of his right hand. Hermione was there then, too, working to calm him when he grew frustrated about his inability to handle a broom properly or when his leg bothered him in the cold. The entire Weasley clan had been there as well, of course, but Fred was quicker to snap at his brothers and Ginny than he was with her. Though his wounds had healed, she didn’t think he’d spoken much of his time in what was essentially a coma to anyone, even her. And even then -.

“Oi, Hermione! Earth to Hermione!” Andi tossed a small bauble from across the room, hitting Hermione’s desktop with a sharp SMACK .

She reared back in her seat, the shock of it sending little bits of lightnight tingling across her nerves. “What?”

“You went full on trance for a second,” Andi said.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to, I just -”

“Had a quick and dirty daydream, yeah?” The young witch wriggled her eyebrows suggestively.

Dottie balled up a scrap of parchment and tossed it at her, hitting Andi on the cheek. “Oh hush, Andi. Let the girl take a breath before you project your own depraved thoughts onto her.”

“If erotic thoughts are what you were hoping for, you’d be disappointed,” she said before explaining what had been going through her head.

Hermione had discussed the war with her coworkers on days she’d been having a rough go of it, but she had always focused on her own experiences.

Those seemingly endless weeks on the run from Snatchers.

Those days she’d spent praying and hoping that there would be good news.

The terror she’d experienced at Malfoy Manor.

Those experiences of her friends and of the people she’d met weren’t her stories to tell. She’d given very basic detailing of her time with Ron during those months following the battle and touched very shortly on working with Fred on his recovery.

“Well,” Dottie sighed once Hermione had finished. “Now I understand a little more about why he offered this proposition to you rather than anyone else. It isn’t at all surprising.”

“No,” Hermione replied, “I suppose it isn’t.”

“Darling, I’ve been with my Roger for longer than you’ve been alive, and trust me when I say that a lasting foundation is founded on trust and friendship. You may not understand what you feel for this lad right now, but you’ve got proper ground to begin something great.”

She hoped Dottie was right.

+

Fred felt a grin take control of his face when Hermione opened the door to her flat that evening, seeing her in an oversized jumper and a pair of jeans. She was in the process of tying a silk head scarf at her hairline, her dark curls spilling out behind her like a lion’s mane.

“You look...”

Hermione waved him inside and he felt her eyes on him, knowing how he looked in his own dark green jumper with his long legs wrapped in worn denim. He’d checked with Angie before leaving, when she’d told him.

“Stop fussing, you look good!”

He’d had his doubts.

Trust me ,” she’d said emphatically. “Hermione has a thing for leggy redheads.”

“Not helping.” He’d Disapparated with the sound of Angelina’s laughter ringing in his ears.

Fred smiled, suddenly feeling shy. “You too.”

Crookshanks trotted over, winding himself about Hermione’s ankles and nearly knocking her over. She looked uncharacteristically unsure of herself.

“I thought maybe we could have a bit of a chat before dinner?” Fred asked, taking a seat in the armchair by the couch, unconcerned with Crookshanks following him to take possession of his lap. “I’ve been very careful not to think about it too much, but I’d just like to be certain that -”

“Yes,” Hermione blurted quickly, blushing up to her ears. She’d taken up a spot on the couch, nearest him but still not within touching distance. “I mean, yes, we should talk.”

“Ah, yes. My offer, that you and I marry, still remains the same.” He leaned back, making an aborted attempt to cross an ankle over his knee when the half-kneazle on his lap decidedly did not move. “I just need you to know, Hermione, that I’m not doing this out of pity or the idea that you wouldn’t be well taken care of by whomever you might have been paired up with. I genuinely think that you and I together could work.”

“And what about your family, what they may think? Of how Ron may react?”

“I’m not concerned with how Ron will feel, not really,” he admitted. “I understand your relationship with him and though things are strange between you two since you’ve separated, he doesn’t get to claim you for his own.” Hermione gave a tiny smile and he took that as encouragement. “Dad sat the rest of the guys down to tell them about the Act. They know what’s at stake and do you honestly believe Mum would react any less than throwing a bloody parade knowing that you’d finally be a Weasley?”

Hermione laughed at that, the sound warming something in Fred’s chest. “That does settle my nerves a bit,” she said.

“So what d’you say, Hermione? Make an honest woman out of me?”

She sat in silence for a moment, breathing deeply and closing her eyes. When her eyes met his, they held a mischievous glint. “Well, when you put it like that how could I refuse?”

“Very easily.”

“Then you’re lucky I’m accepting.”

Relief flooded through him so quickly that if Fred hadn’t already been sitting, his knees would have buckled. His heart was beating in his chest harder than any time he could remember and he placed a palm over it, feeling the steady pounding against his ribs. “Bloody hell, you sure know how to keep a man in suspense.”

She answered his grin with one of her own, a pretty flush painting her cheeks.

“I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly worked up an appetite. I’ve been on the edge of my seat since I got your response earlier today.”

“Oh, Merlin, yes,” Hermione agreed breathlessly, sounding just as relieved as Fred felt. “I could barely think of eating today, what with the butterflies fluttering about in there.” She stood from her place on the couch and bent to take her pet into her arms to let him stand.

Fred didn’t know who moved first, but the next thing he knew he was pressed against her, Crookshanks murmuring in displeasure between them while his arms were tucked around her waist. He felt more than heard Hermione chuckle into his shoulder, skin vibrating underneath his jumper. Fred’s chin was just short of resting comfortably atop her head, but he didn’t mind the slight tilt.

“If we’re hoping to get a table, we’ll have to leave soon,” he murmured. He let his arms fall to his side, allowing her to step away.

Hermione’s smile was dazzling and was in no way less appealing with Crookshanks’ loose fur sticking to her cheeks. “I don’t know, grabbing a pint sounds less appealing than another order of those incredible fish and chips.”

Fred felt one of his brows raise. “What’d I say? People go absolutely bonkers for their food.”

She let Crookshanks drop to the floor and wiped ineffectually at the front of her jumper. Giving up after a moment, Hermione tucked her wand into her mess of curls and secured it under the scarf before grabbing Fred’s hand in hers.

“Shall we?”

~

He couldn’t remember the last time he’d laughed that hard. They’d been able to snag a booth near the back of the chippy, which was surprising in and of itself considering how busy the place was. The dinner crowd had yet to thin out, but Hermione had done some quick thinking and cast a quietening charm so that they might actually be able to speak without shouting.

“At one point my mum was so excited about the plane tickets, I thought she’d keel over,” Hermione said, cheeks sore from laughter. “She thought Dad had actually forgotten their anniversary because he’d been so dodgy whenever she would ‘subtly’ hint that it was coming up. An absolute cock up from start to finish.”

It was the air quotes that’d set Fred off. “Mum told us that Dad forgot her birthday once in the early years of their marriage and she’d nearly hexed him to kingdom come. Never forgot again. Always a ballbuster, that one.”

“Molly Weasley is a wonderful woman, but sometimes she terrifies me.”

“Yeah! Did you get to see her during the final battle, with that Bellatrix cow?” Fred shuddered. “Nutter never stood a chance, wish I could’ve seen it.”

Hermione’s smile dimmed for just a moment as she looked away, picking at her chips restlessly. “It was all quite an adventure, wasn’t it? Hogwarts was always where I’d felt safest and then it just...wasn’t. It was terribly depressing, While we hunted horcruxes we tried as best we could to tune into Potterwatch when we were able. It helped keep us sane and we were always glad to learn when our friends had survived.” She slowly extended her hand across the table, palm up, to which Fred gladly took hold of her hand. “I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t.”

Fred rubbed small circles into her wrist just above her pulse point. His freckled skin was rough and pale next to the soft and supple umber skin of her hand. “I’m glad you were the first thing I saw when I woke up in that hospital bed.” He hoped that she could hear the sincerity in his voice. “Even if I had to find out about you and Ron just moments after.”

Hermione canted her head, the light of their table candle casting a golden glow across her cheek. “You really do have feelings for me, don’t you?” She sounded as if it had just dawned on her.

There was magic of its own in that look.

Swallowing past the lump in his throat, Fred nodded, unable to trust his voice just yet. “At Bill and Fleur’s wedding, after you’d been at the Burrow for so long, I couldn’t stop looking at you. I’d wanted to ask you to join me for a drink after, but...you remember.”

Her eyes narrowed, a sympathetic look on her face. “And you never said anything.”

Fred sighed heavily, now running his fingertips lightly over the lines of her palm. “How could I? If I’d known where you were, finding you could’ve meant danger for all of us. You were dating Ronald by the time I’d had any real time to get you alone. Fancied you even then.” He knew he was laying himself bare for her, but it didn’t hurt as much as he’d expected it to. She let him speak and for that, he was grateful.

“I couldn’t have healed as well as I did without your help. I don’t think I’ve ever really said thank you.”

“You don’t have to; I would’ve done it a hundred more times if it meant you got better.”

“When I see that,” Fred said softly, motioning to his own neck, referring to the scar Hermione had received during Bellatrix’s torture, “I wish I could bring that bitch back just to murder her again for what she did to you.” He meant it. He felt her pull her hand away from his and to his horror, she was wiping tears from her eyes. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“It’s alright,” Hermione whispered. “I knew we’d be hashing out old memories; I just didn’t expect to still be so...affected, I suppose. My mum and dad told me that I should see a doctor, someone who I can talk to about what I went through.”

He nodded solemnly, already missing the heat of her hand. “They’re still abroad, innit?”

She nodded, sniffling softly. “After I was able to restore their memories, they still preferred to stay away. It seemed too much, you see, for them to return to a place where they knew so much bad had happened. They’re quite happy in Australia. I take a portkey to see them a few times a year when I can afford it.”

Fred sat back, his chip basket long finished. “What would they think of me?”

Hermione perked up a bit. “Oh, Mum’s excited to meet you eventually.”

“You told her?” He felt a queer sense of panic rise in his chest. Of course he’d meet Hermione’s parents one day; he was intending on marrying their daughter for Merlin’s sake.

She was quick to defuse his worry. “Only that I started seeing someone recently. I told her I’d known you for ages and that we went to school together at Hogwarts.”

“Oh, nice one, then. I thought for a second I might have to prepare for your dad giving me ‘The Talk’ about being with his daughter.”

“You may still have to do that,” she said with a chuckle.

Fred rolled his eyes. “I’ll get to work on my presentation then; I’ll title it ‘I Don’t Deserve Your Daughter but She Likes Me Anyway’.”

Hermione smiled shyly, her lashes casting shadows beneath her eyes. “I do.”

He flushed a deep red, unaccountably pleased. “Good, that’s...good.”

+

Fred arrived at her flat two nights after their dinner at the chippy. They’d agreed upon going on dates, as Fred seemed to be very intent on treating her properly. He had been firm on keeping the activities of the night secret, however, simultaneously exciting and frustrating her. She wasn’t the biggest fan of surprises. All he told her was to wear clothing that could be easily transfigured. When Hermione opened her door, he had a broom in each hand.

She gave the two brooms a skeptical glance, folding her arms in front of her. “I hope you aren’t intending on teaching me Quidditch. Harry and Ron have tried in vain for years and I just haven’t got the interest.”

“Nah, ‘course not.” He leaned the brooms against the wall so he could wrap her in his embrace. “But you do know how to stay upright on a broom, innit?”

Hermione swatted his arm lightly. “Of course, but you have to know that flying isn’t my favorite activity.” Thank goodness she’d set her hair into thick box braids - showing up wherever they went with her hair in tangles absolutely would not do.

“We’ll take it slow, promise. I thought we’d take a little ride, y’know? Fly over London and take in the views before heading over near Camden. Do you still have that handbag, the one with the extendable charm?”

“Oh,” Hermione stuttered. “Yes, just a moment.” She hurried back to her room, ducking into her wardrobe - an undetectable extension charm was rather useful when space was limited - before grabbing the handbag off its hook. “What’s in Camden?” She asked breathlessly on her way back.

Fred waggled his finger at her, tsk ing. “Now that part is a surprise. You’ll love it, I promise.”

“You’re promising an awful lot.” She eyed him dubiously, before taking one of the brooms in hand and leading him to the roof. Casting a quick concealment charm - they were not running the risk of being seen by muggles - the two kicked off, the air bitingly chilled. Hermione pulled the bonnet of her coat up about her ears and followed Fred closely until they were high in the air.

“I hope you’re wearing a warm coat,” Fred said, pulling back to idle alongside her. It was rhetorical, she could tell. His cheeks were red from the cold, but his eyes were shining. He always looked this way when he was in the air.

Hermione wondered if he knew that.

“Alright, then?” The lights of the city sparkled far below them like Christmas lights twinkling in the distance. Fred kept his speed slow, allowing Hermione to just take in the view as they flew toward their destination.

They took a turn toward Regent’s Park and she frowned. “You didn’t tell me we’d be going to the park.” They began descending, careful to land amongst a copse by the Inner Circle.

“Technically, I didn’t really tell you anything,” he replied, handing her his broom to slip into her bag while he took a moment to transfigure what he was wearing into something more presentable.

The deep blue color of the cable knit pullover worked well for his skin tone and Hermione noticed the collar of a red patterned shirt peeking out around his neck. He’d even pressed his khakis.

“You look quite handsome,” she murmured, setting to work on her own outfit until she had a skirt and blouse underneath her coat.

Fred ducked his head looking bashful, the lights filtering through the trees giving him a pleasant glow. “Thanks. And you.” He swept out an arm, expelling an impressed breath. “You look amazing.”

She had hoped so - Andi had come by and they searched through her entire wardrobe in hopes of finding a suitable outfit for her night with Fred. Hermione hadn’t a clue as to what to wear and they eventually settled on a deep marigold skirt that fell to her ankles and a simple black blouse. Running her fingers over the thick braided ropes of her hair, she hoped it would be presentable for whatever they were doing. Hermione crossed her ankles and dipped slightly in a playful curtsy, taking the arm Fred had offered.

“Will you tell me what we’re doing now?” She asked.

Fred pulled two thin slips from his back pocket and handed them to her.

Hermione gasped loudly, her mouth hanging open. “Fred Weasley!”

He nodded his head to the other side of the trees. “Come on, then.” Strolling out from behind the trees, Fred led Hermione across the path into the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, handing their tickets off to an usher before descending to find seats.

Hermione had never been to the theatre in Regent’s Park. Though admittedly not a very expensive endeavor, her parents never had the time to bring her and during her time away at school she’d simply forgotten about it. Now, she saw a large number of people filing in, looking to find prime seating before the play started. Pride & Prejudice had been - and still was - one of her favorite books and she was near breathless with excitement at the notion of seeing it performed live.

“Fred, how in the world did you think to bring me here?” She asked, ducking in close to whisper as more and more people filled the stands.

“I might have owled Sofi the morning after our date the other night. I asked her if she knew of anywhere to go in Muggle London if I wanted to impress a pretty muggle-born girl.” He kept his eyes trained on the stage as the lights dimmed. “Now hush, it’s starting.”

Hermione couldn’t believe her luck.

~

“Will you come ‘round to mine tomorrow?” Fred asked as Hermione led him down from the roof to the door of her flat. “George and Angelina should be there. I reckon a rousing game of Exploding Snap is in order.”

Hermione felt herself hesitate. “Do you think it’s wise to have me over when none of the others are there?”

His brown eyes crinkled at the corners as he smiled. “Don’t worry, George already knows.”

She couldn’t hide her surprise if she tried. “What?”

Fred ushered her into her flat and bent to pick up Crookshanks before he had a chance to rub himself against his human’s ankles. “That day in the shop when I first brought up the proposition, he came in spouting sonnets of his and Angelina’s sexlife.”

She made a disgusted face, making her way to the couch. “Why on earth would he do that?”

“Are you really that surprised? Don’t answer that. I let him know that I’d spoken to you and do you know what he said to me?”

Hermione waited until Fred was comfortable next to her, Crookshanks purring loudly between them as they faced each other.

“About bloody time.” He let out a laugh that sounded like it came from his belly.

Her brows rose. “Really?”

“It’s like I told you the other night; I’d fancied you for years. George was just happy to hear that I’d gotten off my arse to do something about it.”

Hermione sighed, tilting her head back against the cushions. “I suppose that means that Angelina knows as well, then?”

“Yeah.” At least Fred had the decency to look contrite. “Though Georgie and I made her swear not to breathe a word of it to anyone. I knew you’d be hesitant to just come out and announce we were together before it had the chance to sink in. She had to swear or face the consequences.”

“And what would those be?”

“If she let out about you and me, George would get complete control over the naming of all current and future babies.”

“No!” She choked on a laugh so hard she snorted, a hand flying to cover her lips. “Oh my god, you didn’t hear that.”

But it was in vain, as Fred had nearly doubled over into his lap with laughter.

“Oh, Merlin, this is so embarrassing.”

“I’d never take you to be a snorter!”

“That’s because I avoid it whenever I can!” Hermione’s voice was muffled behind both hands as she covered her face, her cheeks hot to the touch.

“Hey now, none of that.” Fred gently pried her hands from her face and held her fingers within his. “I, for one, find it absolutely wicked that I managed to get you to laugh like that. Y’know, you’re kind of intimidating with how put together you always are.”

She felt herself relax after another few moments of keeping her lips compressed into a tight line. Hermione knew that it was silly to be embarrassed in front of him. Sighing, she splayed one of her hands across Fred’s cheek and pushed him away lightly. “I am not.”

“Intimidating?”

“Put together.”

“Bollocks.” His tone was fond. “You know as well as I do that being put together is your permanent state of being.”

Hermione gave a small smile and didn’t dispute him, despite those days where she could barely leave her flat for fear that she’d panic in public. Despite those nights she cried when seeing her reflection after a shower, when all of her scars were on blatant display. Despite those moments when she was laid across Harry’s lap, shaking as he rocked her while he murmured that they were safe.

“I suppose you’re right.”

+

The days approaching Halloween were intense for Fred and George in the shop. As the primary prank shop for witches and wizards in Diagon Alley, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes had never been busier than during those days around the holiday. Most of their revenue came from those planning parties for their peers, and while children pranking each other was always something they’d hoped for, adults using their products to prank their equally adult friends was where the twins drew the most of their entertainment.

The Weasley clan was celebrating the holiday with nothing less than a party, inviting several of their friends for games and a large meal. Fred arrived further into the evening than the others, happily bone tired and exhausted after closing up the shop by himself, having let Verity leave early. He spotted her on the back lawn chatting with Lee Jordan.

A small flash of green hurried by him - he suspected Victoire being dressed as a swamp creature was more Teddy’s idea than either of the girl's parents’. The boy in question zipped off after her, covered in painted stitches and bruises. He noted that several past members of the Gryffindor quidditch team were in attendance, as well as members of the Holyhead Harpies, there at Ginny’s invitation. For once, Teddy and Victoire had more children to play with than just each other.

Bill clapped him on the shoulder as he neared, the scars on his cheek painted to resemble fresh wounds. He lurched forward into him, giving Fred a full bodied hug. “Hiya Freddie!” His grin was bright, cheeks pinkening. He could tell Bill had had a few drinks before he’d arrived from how his brother swayed when pulling away.

Fleur steadied him easily, keeping a sharp eye out for their daughter. “You decided against a costume for tonight?” Her accent was heavy though her English was light and pleasant.

He’d learned over the years not to look directly at her for very long or risk falling dumb to her beauty. “Can’t pass up a chance to dress up.” Fred grinned, producing a fluffy set of orange cat ears from the inner pocket of his coat. Twisting, he wiggled his bum where a matching tail twitched independently of his movement. It took him a moment to charm the ears to blend seamlessly with his hair and for his own ears to disappear.

“A cat, how adorable!”

“Not just any cat,” Fred chuckled, “I decided on being everyone’s favorite pet, Crookshanks!”

Fleur and her husband laughed heartily while he conjured himself some whiskers. “Has Hermione seen you yet tonight?”

“I just arrived; haven’t seen her yet.”

“Did you two speak before coming? You match!” Bill gestured further down the lawn where Hermione stood with her back to them.

She too had a tail and a set of ears, each moving independently from her body as well. Fred felt an unusual rush of pride - it’d been her idea to do matching costumes and to show up separately so it would look accidental. There were metal tubs where she stood, set up for apple bobbing, where it looked like Sofi and Ron were deep in a competition and she was cheering for the other witch.

Before heading to see her, he went over to the table of refreshments where Mum and George were speaking. George caught sight of him and gave him a knowing look.

“Oh,” Mum piped happily, “don’t you look rather darling? Hermione came as a cat as well, though I have to say, she put a little more effort into her costume. Did you plan this?”

He chuckled awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck. “Can’t say that we did, Mum, sorry.”

Mum blinked, but didn’t question him. “All the more reason why your father is going around photographing everyone.” Flapping a hand, she waved Dad over. “Arthur, look, the twins didn’t come matching for once.”

George rolled his eyes fondly. “That’s because I matched with Angie, Mum.” His outfit, from the hat on his head to the shoes on his feet, were a dark green color. Because Angelina had had a difficult time figuring out a proper costume to work around her belly (“I don’t want to be a ‘pregnant anything’, George. You get me knocked up and suddenly everything I am becomes Pregnant Something .”), he’d suggested she dress in her mum’s dowdiest robe and slippers, while George dressed himself as a gherkin.

Now, when someone asked her what she was, she replied, “Exhausted,” with a smile.

Fred thought it was quite clever. Grabbing himself a drink, he excused himself and began wandering over to where Hermione stood. He felt his twin grasp his arm as he caught up with him.

“Subtle.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Fred said with a grin.

“Come off it, anyone with eyes can tell that you and Hermione are matching. I just happen to know you did it on purpose. Though, Mum was right - Hermione did go the extra mile.”

He raised a questioning brow. “How do y’mean?”

“See for yourself. Hey, Hermione, looks like someone didn’t get the memo that there was already a cat in attendance,” George called as they approached. He made a beeline for Angelina, who was seated with Ginny painting the faces of some of the children.

Fred stopped in his tracks as she turned. “Wicked.” Where he hadn’t gone beyond the basic ears, tail and whiskers; Hermione had altered her eyes, nose and lips as well.

The witch blinked at him, fanning her eyelids over large, almond shaped eyes, now golden where brown once was. Her nose had narrowed to somewhat of a point and the philtrum between her lips and nose was much more pronounced and actually catlike.

“I wish I’d known how to do this years ago,” she responded, nose twitching softly. “At least now I know how to change my face. I much prefer this look over becoming Millicent Bulstrode’s cat during second year.”

Ron was toweling off hair - dressed in sequins and feathers as a muggle performer Fred had never heard of - and grinned lopsidedly. “You must’ve cried for a month after that cock up,” he said, laughing until Hermione shot him an icy glance.

“Thank you for the reminder, Ronald.”

“I actually cannot believe that you can transfigure just parts of your face,” Sofi complimented breathlessly. “I was never very good at Transfiguration - don’t think McGonagall was very pleased with me, I’m afraid.” She was dressed as an American popstar, George had informed him. The entire red ensemble looked good on her, with her blonde hair straight against her back. Yet another muggle artist he’d never heard of.

“Didn’t you hear?” Fred asked. “Hermione’s brilliant, brightest witch of her age.” He noticed that she stood up straighter and smiled at him. “Absolutely brilliant.”

“And you,” Ron said, gesturing to Fred’s costume. “You remind me of her monster of a cat.”

“Excuse you; that’s because I am Crookshanks,” he answered haughtily, ears flicking as he stuck his nose in the air with as much pomp as he could.

“I think he looks wonderful,” Hermione defended, nose twitching. “Crookshanks would be flattered.”

Tossing back the rest of his drink, Fred patted his belly. “Who d’you all think would win in an apple bobbing contest, me or Hermione?” He got his answers in quick succession.

“Hermione.”

“Hermione.”

“Me.”

He gasped in mock affront. “I resent that!”

“Oh, put a sock in it, Fred,” Hermione laughed, knocking her hip into his side playfully, her dark tail tapping against him. “If you’re so confident then let’s see what you can do.”

“You’re on.”

They positioned themselves on their knees in front of the tubs, arms behind their backs. The grounds were whomever was first to fish five apples from the water using only their mouths, no magic allowed, was the winner. Their little competition had drawn a crowd, eager to find out which of their friends would come out victorious.

Fred had never regretted anything more. The water was frigid and he’d gone for showy and over-dramatic, submerging himself to his shoulders. Hermione, however, took her usual precise and focused approach and quickly out paced him. He reared back onto his arse once he realized that the crowd was cheering for and congratulating Hermione. Fred’s carefree grin froze when he got a glimpse of her before a towel was tossed in his face.

Hermione’s curls hung in dripping tendrils slicked back from her face, water droplets collecting at the edges of her ears and whiskers. The material of her jumper clung to her chest and shoulders as her hair continued to soak into it, giving the curves of her breasts attention that Fred hadn’t thought about when he’d goaded her into their game. Ginny had wrapped a blanket about her, covering her form from view as Hermione shivered.

“Don’t you know to never challenge Hermione to anything?” Harry asked, shaking his head as Fred bent over to towel off his hair.

Slinging the towel over his shoulders, Fred had a wide grin across his face. “‘Course I do, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to show off.” He watched Hermione spell herself dry before she grinned at him. “Not my fault that she’s so bloody competitive, is it?”

“At least you gave it a proper go.” Harry extended his palm, giving Fred’s hand a companionable squeeze.

Fred wandered lazily to her side, patting Hermione on the back. “You did good,” he chuckled. “Beat me fair and square.” He was tossing one of the apples from hand to hand before taking a large bite from it.

She gave him a cheeky grin, her large eyes shining with merriment. Hermione lifted the glass Ginny had handed her to her lips, lifting a single imposing brow. “As if there were really any doubt.”

+

She knew it was coming, but even as three weeks had gone by, Hermione was still filled with foreboding as the Marriage Law was set in affect. Rumors had swirled faster than she could keep up with, but after quietly seeing Fred for over three weeks, the Daily Prophet had announced the Ministry’s intentions. Fred had come by her flat a few days before with a copy of the proper forms so they could get them done ahead of time.

Andi, as expected, was beside herself when the day came. By noon time, she’d already produced a bottle of fire whiskey that she kept in her desk in case of an emergency. Now seemed to be the proper time. “To you, darling,” she said, tipping her glass in the direction of her coworker. “At least you found your way ‘round this bloody circus. I never wanted to have kids, innit? No, I was well and truly prepared to be the globe trotting auntie who only ever showed up at family gatherings if I got to bring some booze.” She knocked back another gulp of fire whiskey, barely even flinching as it went down.

Hermione’s heart went out to the poor woman. The alcoholic bluster was a cracking facade, she knew, because three days earlier Andi had shown up on her doorstep well and truly pissed and in tears over the whole situation. She feared she’d lose all of her independence and was, quite frankly, terrified of what pregnancy might do to her body. She’d set Andi up in her bed for the night as Hermione took the couch. If Andi had attempted to Apparate and ended up splinched, she’d never forgive herself. As it was, she didn’t think anything she could say would cheer her up.

“At least Fred’s charming and fit,” Andi continued, “And clearly worships the ground you walk on.”

“You’re giving him far too much credit,” Hermione sighed, even considering having a drink herself. The announcement of the Marriage Law had thrown nearly all young witches and wizards at the Ministry into an unhappy frenzy, and no one was going to be getting much work done that day.

She wondered how her other friends were handling it. Hermione hoped that they would end up decently matched, rather than stuck in miserable relationships until a magical child was conceived. Hermione had already received a rather frantic sounding note from Ginny that morning telling her what she already knew. They’d spoken shortly about the Law over the last week and what it could mean for Hermione, as she and Fred hadn’t let anyone else know that they were together. She wasn’t entirely pleased that George and Angelina knew, but Fred had worked to assuage her worries.

Whenever Hermione thought about the fact that she’d been lying - by omission, but that was neither here nor there - to her best friends, she’d felt flashes of guilt. She desperately wished that she could speak to Harry about the situation, tell him how happy she’d become in the recent weeks because of Fred. They were still new, but he seemed determined to woo her as much and as often as he could whether it was Fred making her dinner at his flat or dropping by hers with a book he thought she’d find interesting. Merely laying on her couch with him with music in the background and Earhart on her lap was enough for her.

Hermione sighed, watching the clock on the wall. She was to meet Fred in front of the Ministry Clerk’s office in half an hour and her stomach was twisting in on itself. The paperwork hadn’t been a problem, but it was the act itself that made her anxious. She and Fred were going to be married once the forms were approved. It required no pomp and circumstance and yet she couldn’t shake the idea of wishing it were more...romantic. Although, given how Fred was acting over the last few weeks, he might still want those things for them - a real engagement, a wedding - but Hermione didn’t know if she was brave enough to ask. Facing off against Bellatrix Lestrange seemed easy in comparison.

“Hermione, why don’t you duck out early? I know you have somewhere to be,” Dottie said. “I can handle our girl here - I’ll make sure she’s sat for the remainder of the day so she doesn’t go stumbling off and get herself locked in a broom cupboard somewhere.”

She looked worriedly at Andi, who’d continued to knock back shots of fire whiskey without notice of the others talking about her. “At the rate she’s going, she’ll be sloshed before half two. Keep her with water, will you?”

Dottie nodded. “I’ve already owled Roger, just after the announcement - Andi will be staying at mine tonight.”

Hermione shot the older witch a grateful smile before gathering her coat and bag, stuffing case files into the leather briefcase and heading out of the office. The halls were eerily quiet, considering, but she knew a silencing charm when she saw one and several office doors shone lightly with them.

The main lobby area in front of the Ministry Clerk’s office was a different story. Witches and wizards were huddled together in groups, all undoubtedly speaking about the new legislation. It seemed that Fred and Hermione weren’t the only ones trying to get their forms for marriage filed as quickly as possible. There must have been at least thirty couples milling about.

She sighed in relief once she spotted a familiar mop of red hair and called out to him. Hermione strode toward him with determination, uncaring about those around her giving her interested looks and murmurs. Let them talk about her; it was bound to happen sooner or later. The war heroine of the Golden Trio moving on from one Weasley to another was bound to be noticed by the chattiest gossips.

Fred wrapped his arms around her the moment Hermione was close enough to embrace him. His arms were warm even when his nose and cheeks were bitten from the chill outside.

“Alright, then? How was your morning?” He asked.

Hermione felt something loosen within her chest as Fred whispered the words into her hair. She hadn’t seen him in a few days and was surprised at just how much she missed him while he wasn’t with her.

“Aside from this bloody law, I’m fine. Andi’s getting pissed as we speak.” She rubbed her forehead against the barely there scruff growing along Fred’s jaw.

“Now, now. This bloody law is a big reason I’d gotten up the courage to approach you.”

Hermione stepped back just enough to look him in the eye, entwining her fingers with his. “Would...would you have still done it even if the Act didn’t exist?” She hated how unsure she felt and kept her voice low, aware that some were still intently focused on them.

“Definitely.” Fred’s answer was immediate and adamant. “Georgie Boy might have needed to kick my arse into doing it so I’d stop mooning over you at the shop, but I would one hundred percent still want you to be with me, Law or no.”

She sighed and hid her smile against the material of his coat. “Good.”

The idle chatter in the room hushed when the office door beyond the large mahogany desk opened to reveal Calder Knotley, the head of the Ministry Clerk’s office. He was a younger man than Hermione expected, maybe in his late thirties, with a dour expression in charcoal grey dress robes.

“As you know,” he began, his voice deep and smooth, “You are here to submit your formal requests for matrimony under this newest delegated legislation. Those of you looking for the proper paperwork may take a copy and fill it out now or take it home with you, I honestly do not care which.” He placed a stack of parchment on the desk in front of him before twisting to retreat into his office.

“Wait!” Hermione called, pushing through the throng of couples toward the front, Fred trailing behind her. “We’ve already filled out the forms - we’ve an appointment.”

Knotley turned and eyed the two of them with an air of boredom. “Ah, yes, Ms. Granger, you and your partner may follow me.” With a flick of his fingertips, the wooden panelling of the desk split just wide enough for Hermione and Fred to step through before it closed behind them. His office was well lit, strangely at odds the solemn expression that had yet to leave his slim face and the color of his complexion, rather like clouds in mid-January just after a snowstorm. Horn-rimmed glasses sat perched at the end of his long nose.

Motioning for them to take their seats, Knotley stepped behind his desk and sat himself. He took the sheaf of papers that Hermione presented him. “I must wonder, then, that since you knew to fill out the paperwork beforehand that you have been in contact with the Minister of Magic himself? They have been very tight-lipped otherwise.”

Not entirely, Hermione thought, considering how quickly Andi had learned about it.

Fred cleared his throat. “Yes, sir. My father, Arthur Weasley, has regular contact with Minister Shacklebolt. They were allies before the fall of the Dark Lord, you see.”

The man’s expression flickered for a mere moment before returning to an unreadable blank slate. “I should have known that you were one of Arthur’s boys just by the look of you. The two of you are aware of the stipulations behind the Marriage Act, I take it? The consequences of straying from your marital bonds?”

Hermione nodded, worrying her bottom lip slightly.  “We do, sir. Fred and I understand that we will be legally - and magically - bound to one another until at least one child of magical ability is born. Failure to uphold the Law and all it entails will result in the removal of our wands and...” She swallowed heavily. “And the binding our our magical abilities.” Hermione heard the slight hitch in Fred’s breathing beside her.

“That is correct, Ms. Granger. How long have Mr. Weasley and yourself been in this relationship?”

She felt herself blushing, but she refused to break eye contact with him. “Not long, romantically. However, we’ve known each other since our formative years at Hogwarts.”

“I see,” Knotley continued boredly and begun thumbing through the pages in front of him. “Most witches and wizards affected by the Marriage Act will not learn of their matches for at least another fortnight, but seeing as you both have come prepared, you should receive notice of the decision sooner. No more than a few days, since you are the first to come forward.”

Hermione felt some of the tension leave her shoulders, but she kept herself in good posture in front of the Ministry official. She noticed that Fred, however, looked about to fall from his seat in relief.

“Do either of you have any questions?” He straightened the parchment as they shook their heads. “Then that will be all, I suppose. Expect an owl by the end of the week.” Knotley looked away from them, eyes focused on their paperwork.

It was as clear cut of a dismissal as Hermione had ever experienced. She stood, taking hold of Fred’s fingers as they left the man’s office. The lobby was still filled with people, the line for paperwork having grown longer. Her head was spinning and all Hermione had wanted at that point in time was a nap.

They’d actually done it.

+

Fred tried to spend every free moment he had over the following days with Hermione. They made Coq au vin one night after Hermione had expressed fond memories of the dish when she and her parents would visit family in France that morning. He’d shown up at hers with arms laden with shopping bags filled with vegetables, wine and poultry.

“It still surprises me just how well you cook,” she said, sipping from her glass of wine as she sliced into the mushrooms.

He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, never facing away from the cooker. Fred wanted to make sure he didn’t burn the bacon. “Mum tried to make certain that we weren’t all failures in the kitchen.”

“Consider me duly impressed.” Hermione moved on to chopping the onions while Fred went to cook the chicken thighs.

“I like doing things with my hands, you know? Wait,” Fred stuttered quickly, cheeks growing ruddy. “I mean, yeah, I like doing things with my hands but did not mean what that implies.”

She laughed at him, taking a moment to feed a bit of mushroom to Earhart. “I think I understand your meaning.”

“What I mean is that, for as much as I love magic, I love building things, making things. Creating. Cooking like a muggle instead of casting spells to do the work feels more organic to me.” He always had. While he was never known for his overall intellect, Fred treasured his ability to create, whether it was a new product to sell in Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes or coming up with a recipe from scratch.

“I can relate,” she responded quietly. “Mum kept a garden and would have me help her keep the plants healthy. Something about using my hands, getting them dirty with soil, gave me pride knowing that I’d helped something survive.” Hermione passed the vegetables to him once he removed the chicken.

Fred smiled softly at her. “That sounds nice.” He wasn’t the biggest fan of red wine, but that didn’t stop him from swiping her glass and taking a sip. Because he could. Sifting the flour turned into an event, sending particles off the side of the pan and on to his jumper. At least he never claimed to keep a clean station.

Hermione didn’t seem to mind the mess Fred was making of her kitchen though. Instead, she bumped her hip into his side to get him to move in order to pour wine into the pan, sighing happily along with the sizzle of the pan. “The little bits on the bottom of the pan are always my favorite.”

He stepped back, allowing her to have some time at the hob. Her hair was once wrapped with a scarf, her curls sitting in a plume-like crown. She seemed to disregard any errant pieces frizzing over her forehead. The heat gave her cheeks a glow, rosy and alive.

Fred couldn’t believe his luck. He took to clearing away the mess of preparation, dropping onion skins into the bin and rinsing the chopping board. Earhart murmured happily when he passed by her on the counter, patting her head lightly with his fingers. She’d taken a liking to him rather quickly and Fred realized that that had only endeared him all that much more to Hermione. He knew, intrinsically, that she was a fierce witch, protective of all those around her, a tried and true Gryffindor; obviously that would extend to her pets. She’d said once that if they were fans of his, it must have meant he had a gentle soul.

Hermione had finished putting the pan in the oven and twisted, catching Fred looking at her. “What’s that look for?”

No longer having to hide that he was staring, he grinned. “What look? There’s no look. I think maybe that wine is going to your head.”

Swatting him with a tea towel, Hermione waltzed by him to pick her dragon off the counter. “Prat.” But there was that private smile that she reserved for him.

Dinner would soon be ready. Until then, he would do whatever he could to see that smile as much as humanly possible.

~

He arrived at the Burrow that Sunday, already mentally fortifying himself for the evening to come. He and Hermione had gotten their notices earlier that day announcing the approval of their marriage and though he had assumed - had hoped - that they wouldn’t have a problem, the knowledge still alleviated a pressure in his chest he’d not realized was there. Fred had spent the morning with her lounging about his flat with George and Angelina, the two couples discussing baby names now that the expectant mother was sure she would be having a boy.

“A woman just knows these things,” Angelina had said, patting the large bump underneath her jumper. “I’ve been carrying low and everyone knows that means a boy.”

“What does ‘carry low’ even mean?” Fred asked, sending a bewildered look at his twin.

She gave him a very unimpressed look. “Means if my tits were sitting directly on top of my belly, that’s carrying high. The fact that I waddle like a damn penguin and I’m only six months in means I’m carrying low. Ergo, boy.”

Hermione had laughed outright and the other witch gave her a knowing glance.

“You laugh now, but just you wait. You’ll be in my shoes sooner or later.”

She’d made a strange, squeak-like noise before blushing to the tips of her ears. They hadn’t discussed sex; frankly neither of them were in much of a hurry.

The four of them strayed onto safer topics until Angelina yawned heavily, shoving herself out of the stuffed armchair and moved to George’s bedroom for a nap. Hermione said her goodbyes as well, promising to see them that night for dinner.

The Burrow was strangely quiet when Fred Floo’d in, with no one around to greet him. He called out loudly, cupping his palms around his mouth for more volume. Wandering through the house, he found Ginny and Dad outback with Harry. With her small frame, Ginny had just begun to show a prominent bump underneath her robes. Two of his favorite women were pregnant and eventually Hermione would be as well. The thought was slightly overwhelming.

Ginny caught sight of him first, a wide smile spreading across her face. “Wotcher, Freddie,” she called out.

“Oh, you know, the world hasn’t ended so I count today as a winner.” Fred clapped Harry on the shoulder before embracing his father. “Anything new from the Ministry on the Marriage Law?”

Dad sighed, shrugging slightly. “Nothing groundbreaking, I’m afraid. The Wizengamot was able to work through several of the loopholes found in the original law, making it almost entirely ironclad. I’m sorry, my boy, but by the looks of it you’ll be married before the year is out.”

Counting on it . “I wouldn’t worry too much, Dad. I’ve got a pretty bright outlook on the whole thing.” His optimism on the subject drew questioning glances.

“You’ve never been excited about it before.”

“Maybe not openly,” Fred replied, “but I have a feeling the woman I marry will make me the happiest man alive. She’ll be smart, she’ll be beautiful, she’ll -”

“You’re taking the piss, innit?” Harry accused, his brows furrow.

“I think he’s been drinking,” Ginny stage whispered to him, entirely aware of the look Fred was giving her. “Maybe he got pissed before coming over.”

“Am I not allowed to be happy about this?”

“You’re never this happy,” she countered. “Who’ve you been shagging?”

“I believe that’s my cue to leave,” Dad muttered awkwardly, backing away from the three of them and strolling into the house.

“I’m not shagging anyone.” Technically true. “I’m just not looking at this piss poor excuse of a law as the end of the world.”

“I’m happy for you, mate,” Harry said genuinely. “A lot more of us could use your enthusiasm. Poor Neville, when he heard the news I thought he was going to faint.”

“Charlie isn’t happy about it either,” Ginny added. “Says he’s not the marrying type, which, with that job of his there’s no real security in whether he’d come home at night.”

Fred chuckled at that. “Yeah, because he’d rather sleep in a pit with the dragons than come home to a wife he’s never going to shag. Will he be here tonight?”

She nodded, leading them back into the house. “His owl came about an hour ago. He might not make it, said not to wait up.”

He’d hear the news sooner rather than later, but Fred was a little put out that Charlie may not be there for him to tell the family about Hermione and their arrangement. But he was also aware of just what Charlie had to go through in order to make family dinners even once a month.

Mum was in the kitchen when they came into the house, pulling dishes from their cupboards while pots on the hob simmered away. Dirty dishes were washing themselves in a sink of bubbles and moving themselves to a tea towel to dry. Nearly the entire family would be there for the meal; only Bill and Fleur would be absent with Victoire in bed with a fever.

“Oh, I hadn’t realized you’d come already,” she said, turning to him. His dad was off somewhere, presumably in the shed messing about with muggle tools and toys. Mum pulled his face down forcefully so she could kiss his cheek. “Any word on when the others will arrive?”

“Angelina and George should be here any minute. She was in the loo before I left - her stomach isn’t agreeing with her.”

She scoffed lightly, waving off the comment. “Morning sickness is a fickle beast. First timers have it through their whole pregnancy, most of the time.”

Ginny groaned. “Mum, that isn’t encouraging.” Her hand was laid over her lower belly, already puffed out with the start of a bump, rubbing to reassure herself.

“Just you wait, Ginevra Weasley. Soon your nausea will be the least of your worries. Does anyone know when Hermione will get here? I assume she knows to come.”

“Mum, family dinners have been nearly every Sunday since Bill and Charlie moved out. Of course she knows,” Fred responded in fond exasperation. He’d reminded her before she left his flat earlier that day, anyhow.

The fireplace in the other room roared to life momentarily before George stepped out, followed closely by Angelina, brushing soot from their clothing.

“Hiya, Ange!” Ginny scurried over to embrace the witch, letting her hand rest on her sizable belly. “How’s the little one?”

“He’s doing just fine,” she said, grinning.

“Been giving her a real workout though, innit?” George laughed, wrapping an arm tightly about his fiancée’s shoulders. “Poor girl’s been in and out of the loo every twenty minutes, it seems like.”

“Not a minute of peace,” Angelina agreed. “Little bugger’s been practicing self defense against my bladder, not to mention how easily I get sick.”

Ginny’s eyes narrowed in commiseration. “It’s the worst. Have you been dealing with heartburn? Because that’s becoming a pain in my arse.”

She smiled warmly at the younger witch, leading the group into the sitting room to the couch. “Avoid too many fried things and put ginger in absolutely everything.”

“All you eat is chips,” George chuckled.

She shot him a peevish glance. “I can’t help it if that’s what the baby wants. Won’t let me keep anything else down, otherwise.” Angelina wiggled a bit as George, ever the dutiful father to be, helped her sit comfortably. “I moan and groan about it, but it’s great, really.”

They heard the Floo open again, followed by Hermione’s voice calling out a greeting. She walked into the sitting room with everyone gathered around Angelina and grinned.

“I see that nap you took this morning did you some good,” she said, hanging her coat and scarf.

“Oh, did you spend time at the flat today?” Harry wondered.

“Oh yes, Angelina owled me at work yesterday and invited me to come ‘round.”

Fred caught her gaze and gave a small half smile. Standing along with Harry and Ginny, he approached Hermione and embraced her. He caught the scent of roses in her hair; her favorite hair wash. He wanted to stand there and inhale, instead he stepped away from her after a moment and ushered her over to the spot he’d vacated on the couch.

Sofi and Ron stepped from the fireplace not long after, joining the others as they chatted. Finally, Percy joined them, still in his work robes. Fred was glad to see him; after rejoining the Ministry under Kingsley Shacklebolt he’d become much easier to be around.

“The Minister sends his regards to everyone,” Percy announced, in lieu of greetings. “He expresses his hopes of coming to one of the family dinners soon; it would seem that he misses Mum’s cooking.”

“Well if that isn’t the least surprising thing I’ve heard all week,” Mum said as she bustled into the sitting room. “That man could eat an entire roast on his own and still ask for more. Merlin only knows where he puts it all.”

They made their way to the table. Fred managed to sit himself across from his twin with Hermione on his left and Sofi to his right. Unable to stop himself, he knocked his foot lightly against hers until Hermione sent him a sidelong glance, but otherwise she didn’t respond. The discussions centered around how Angelina was holding up and the items that her mother had already purchased for them.

“Now, George, I expect you to be on your best behavior at the Johnsons’.” Mum gave him a stern look. “Just because you’re the man who got their daughter pregnant does not mean you should slack off while living with them.”

“What are you on about, Mum?” George asked. “We’ve a new flat in the works, that way Hermione can move in with Fred - FUCK , what was that for?”

Fred stared wide eyed at his twin, face tight and angry as he delivered him a swift kick from underneath the table.

“George, language!” Mum hissed.

Angelina swatted him sharply upside his head before burying her face in her palms.

“You’re a right dickhead, you know that?” Fred exclaimed.

Hermione, poor girl, looked mortified.

“Why would Hermione move into your flat, Fred?” Dad wondered aloud.

“I wasn’t thinking!” George defended, rubbing the spot where his fiancée’s hand had landed.

“Bloody right, you weren’t you giant prat!”

Ron leaned around both Sofi and Fred, eyes worried. “What does he mean, Hermione? Why are you going to live with Fred?”

Ginny had extended her hand to rest between Hermione’s shoulders, rubbing as the young witch kept her eyes locked on the table in front of her.

“Well someone had better explain what in Merlin’s name is going on!” Mum’s voice was shrill and booming and the table went silent. “Hermione? Care to clear this whole mess up?”

Fred tried to keep his frustration in check when he spoke with his mother. “Mum, it’s not her fault, she didn’t do anything. Let me explain!”

“It’s my fault we didn’t tell any of you,” Hermione whispered and his stomach clenched angrily at the sight of her tears. “Fred wanted to let everyone know.”

He grasped her hand firmly and tangled her fingers with his before standing, encouraging her up with him as Fred turned her face into his shoulder. “Nearly a month ago now, I overheard Hermione and Dad having a discussion about the Marriage Law. I made an offer to her a few days later that she and I marry -”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Let me finish, Mum, please. Hermione accepted my offer. We meet the grounds of the law as a pureblood and a muggleborn; I wanted her close to us, to be sure that she was safe and didn’t end up with some rando she didn’t know.”

“You’ve were shagging behind my back.”

“Ronald Weasley!” Mum was appalled.

“They were!”

Fred felt Hermione tense beside him at Ron’s accusation. “Stuff it, Ron, this isn’t about you. No, Hermione and I haven’t been shagging, you gormless twit! Even if we had been, you haven’t been together for months and it isn’t your business!”

“You didn’t have to move in on her just because we broke up!”

“Ron!” The outburst had come from Sofi, who was glaring quietly at him. “You do not get to lay claim to Hermione just because you were together before . She is not your property. Now, if you have any hope of keeping this relationship, I suggest you shut your trap before I hex you hairless, do you hear me?” He snapped his jaw shut and stared moodily at the table before Sofi nodded for Fred to continue.

He let out a slow breath, feeling his anger simmering beneath his skin. Hermione’s hand in his grounded him. “We’ve been seeing each other since then. We filed paperwork with the Ministry the morning the Marriage Act was announced; we’d received our approval just this morning. This is happening. We’ll be married within half a year.” Fred ran his other hand comfortingly over her hair until she lifted her face to look him in the eye. “Alright, then?”

She nodded jerkily, remaining silent. She sank back into her seat, rubbing at her eyes with her sleeve.

“What the hell are you on about?”

+

Hermione felt herself stiffen for the second time at the table as all heads swiveled to face Molly Weasley, whose face was mottled and red.

“Mum?” Fred asked hesitantly.

But Molly ignored him, her words aimed at Hermione. “You come into my home; I took you in when you left your own parents -” There was a collective gasp from all those witness to Molly’s tirade. “And you take advantage like this? You had Ronald and we all believed you were happy together; it was expected that you would marry! When Fred was recovering, you were always there. Where you just waiting, then? To plant your seed in his mind and then break poor Ron’s heart? You selfish girl, how can you sit here and act as if you’ve done nothing? Forcing Fred to keep your relationship a secret from his own family. What kind of girl has such little decency to move on from one brother to another?”

“Mum!” Fred jumped from his seat, knocking it backwards to clatter against the floor. “What is wrong with you? This is Hermione you’re talking about.”

“Yeah, that was harsh, even for you,” Ginny agreed, jumping to her defense.

Hermione couldn’t help the choked sob that escaped her throat, burning her chest. Fred had said that his mum would be happy that she would become part of the family officially. Molly’s words were like a physical brand of shame against her skin.

“Sweetheart,” Arthur attempted to soothe, “Darling, what’s gotten into you? Fred is simply looking out for Hermione’s best interests. This is a good thing. Might we try and have a civilized conversation about this?”

Molly, chest still heavily with the force of her breath, pointed sharply to the stairs. “Fred, Hermione, you are to remain. The rest of you upstairs, now !”

While the others stood and quietly milled from the room, Hermione caught Ron looking contrite before Sofi took a strong grasp of his arm and dragged him from the room.

She couldn’t look Molly in the eye, this woman that had been like a second mother to her for so many years. “I’m sorry,” Hermione said weakly. “I didn’t mean to deceive anyone.”

“No,” Fred replied hotly, “don’t apologize. Mum should be the one apologizing to you.” He looked at his mother with a look of disgust and Hermione couldn’t stand it.

In no way did she think that the announcement of their relationship could cause a rift between mother and son.

“Why should I apologize?” Molly asked, sounding appalled at the very notion. “Why didn’t you come to us first, Fred?”

“Because I’m a grown man!” He yelled, the volume startling everyone in the room. “I love you, Mum, really I do, but you are entirely out of line.”

Hermione looked at him, his expression dark and tone vehement. She slowly took hold of his wrist, right above his clenched fit. “Fred, look at me, please.” His eyes softened as he looked at her. “You have to calm down.”

“I’ll not have her speak to you like this.”

Hesitantly, she stood, wrapping her fingers in his. She kept her eyes locked with his with no thought to how her face might look, tear stained and heated as it might be. “Thank you, but we’ll not get anywhere with you carrying on like this. Take a deep breath and focus on my voice.” Hermione inhaled with him, focusing entirely on trying to calm him as she did when he was recovering after the War.

Once the wizard’s grip slackened in her fingers, he took a shuddering breath, burying his face within her mass of hair. Fred had tremors running through his body after several moments of standing with her.

“Hermione,” Molly called softly, almost as if she were afraid to interrupt the moment. “Hermione, please look at me.”

She tried to untangle herself from Fred’s embrace, but he wouldn’t let her out of his reach. “Molly?”

The older witch looked so uncharacteristically unsure of herself, wringing her fingers fretfully. Her bright brown eyes held a sheen of moisture. “I’m so...so terribly sorry.” Molly’s voice was soft and broken as she leaned into Arthur’s arms as he comforted her. She, in turn, was hardly able to meet Hermione’s gaze. The woman looked as if the gravity of the situation had just caught up to her.

Ron barged into the room suddenly, breathing heavily and shaking his arms out at his sides. Sofi had stopped behind him, uncertain as to if she would be welcome, at the entrance to the room. “This isn’t necessary, Mum, really it isn’t.”

“Ronald -”

“No,” he cut his mother off. “Fred was right; their relationship is none of my business. You’ve jumped in at my defense, and I love you for it, but you really needn’t worry.”

Molly stayed silent for a moment before snuffling loudly, her voice wobbling. “Oh, but you were so gutted when she left you.”

“Yeah,” he replied, his voice softening at the sight of his distraught mother. “For about a week, and then I threw myself back into work and my interests and I found Sofi .” Ron swept his hand toward the other young witch. “Hermione and I, we’ve moved on, don’t you see? I know they would appreciate it, but I would as well, if you’d let this go. Besides, Sofi and I’ve been discussing this stupid law as well.”

“What?” Molly’s jaw slackened, blinking as she looked between her two sons.

“We were going to pick up the paperwork this week,” Sofi offered quietly, shuffling slowly until she grasped Ron’s hand. “We were going to say something at the next family dinner.”

“See? There was no reason to fly off the handle just now.” Ron ran his hand over his hair, looking to Fred whose face was impassive. “Sorry, mate, won’t happen again. I just wasn’t expecting it - I was a right git about it.”

“You were,” he agreed. “But I was expecting it.” Fred looked at Molly once more, shoulders sagging. When he spoke again his voice was weary and tired. “I expected you, of all people, to welcome Hermione with open arms, instead you behave like she’s a bloody Death Eater. You already treat her as you treat Ginny; she’s literally going to become your daughter-in-law, so I don’t understand the problem. She didn’t force me not to tell anyone, Mum. I made the decision myself because I knew how nervous Hermione was about coming out about this to the family.”

Molly grasped her palms more tightly together, expression one of shame. She sniffled heavily, pulling a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbing at her face with it. “I don’t know what’s come over me,” Molly said. She began to sob quietly into the handkerchief. “Goodness, I’m so sorry.”

“Of course we’re happy that you’re to marry Fred, Hermione,” Arthur offered softly, all fatherly concern once more.

She felt like her head was spinning. Molly had never spoken to her in such a way and though the woman might eventually be forgiven, the sting of her words would be left behind. Hermione didn’t know how to respond to the situation at hand.

“I’ve made an absolute fool of myself tonight,” Molly said once she’d collected herself. “I’m terribly, terribly sorry.” She turned, allowing Arthur to lead her into the kitchen. Her movements were slow and Hermione was stricken by just how old Molly looked.

Hermione sagged into Fred’s side, her energy all but leaving her entirely. He was rubbing her upper arms soothingly.

“I’m so sorry, Hermione, about everything,” Ron offered, taking one of her hands in his. “I really am happy for you and Fred. This’ll feel a bit strange for now, but everything will calm down sooner or later.”

“I suppose a congratulations in in order for you and Sofi,” she responded tiredly. “We all figured that you’d work something out.”

“I’m not one to scare off quite that easily,” Sofi stated easily. “Now, might we venture upstairs and deliver the news to our family?”

Our family .

~

By the end of the night, Hermione was ready to drop. After such an emotional dinner - come to think of it, she hadn’t even eaten - no one was eager to jump into the details of their relationship, though she knew that Ginny had questions. They had each embraced her in turn, even Percy. Harry held her tightly as Hermione let out a shuddering breath, squeezing her eyes tightly to stave off a fresh wave of tears. Fred offered to Floo home with her and waved off her refusal, weak as it was. Truth be told, Hermione didn’t want to be alone.

As if sensing her distress, both Earhart and Crookshanks sought her out immediately when they both arrived at the flat and she carried them both to the couch as Fred put a kettle on.

Joining Hermione on the couch, Fred stretched himself along the cushions, his socked feet hanging off the other end. He positioned her body between his and the cushions, Crookshanks taking residence on the cushioned arm above their heads while the dragon sat snugly between their chests.

Breath caught in her throat as she began to weep into Fred’s shirt, letting her tears soak the material while her fingers clutched desperately at him. Hermione shed every tear that hadn’t come in the presence of Molly Weasley. She cried until her head pounded and her throat was rough as sandpaper, until all that was left within her were hiccups and pitiful whimpers.

Fred ran his fingers through her hair reassuringly, allowing her to let out everything that had been pent up from the last few hours. He’d made soothing sounds, never leaving her, continuing to touch her even when he sat them up for the mugs of tea he’d conjured to the low table in front off the settee. As they settled once again with Hermione holding a steaming cup between her hands, Fred took the blanket draped along the back cushions and used it to wrap themselves up.

“Alright, then?” He asked softly as he leaned against the arm Crookshanks had settled on, pulling Hermione’s back flush to his chest.

“Completely obliterated,” she replied, bringing the cup to her lips.

“Once you’re settled in bed, I’ll head back to mine.”

Hermione found that she didn’t want him to leave. She felt safe in his arms. Shaking her head, she twisted her upper body so she could see him. “Stay?”

Fred watched her quietly and for a moment she was worried he’d refuse. But he nodded slowly. “Of course.”

Hermione’s mattress wasn’t very large, but it was wide enough to fit them both even if she had to extend it to accommodate Fred’s height. She changed in the bathroom while he stripped down to his pants and vest before they both slid under the blankets. Hermione quickly twisted several of her curls and slipped on the head scarf she slept in, turning off the light.

It didn’t take long for their bodies to relax into each other, Fred’s arm slung over her waist, pulling her against him. “Things will be alright, Hermione,” he whispered against the skin at the base of her neck. “I promise.”

Hermione shivered as she felt his lips move against her and hoped the tremor wasn’t too noticeable. Waiting until his breathing deepened, she matched its evenness until she too felt herself drift.

+

He couldn’t look away as she writhed beneath him, this beautiful, celestial creature. There was color high in her cheeks, dark rosy lips falling open in a deep moan. He felt himself harden against the skin, soft of a peach, of her lower belly, just adding to the anticipation of what lay at the juncture of her thighs.

“Hermione,” he heard himself groan before he attached his lips to the pulse point of her neck. Fred worried the skin there, lapping and suckling, pulling away to admire the reddish mark and the beginnings of deeply colored pin pricks his mouth had left behind. He could feel her damp curls against his thigh.

Her fingers ran over the skin of his chest lightly, nails grazing his nipples ever so slightly making him hiss. Covering Hermione’s mouth with his, Fred felt the tip of her tongue run silkily along his, lazily building the heat and urgency between them.

Hermione wrapped her dark thighs high around his waist, hitching up just enough that her wetness rubbed tantalizingly against his cock. “Please, Fred.” Her head dropped back at the feeling, fingers clutching his shoulders.

He’d wanted this for so long, practically begged for it in the dark hours of the night. Fred steadied Hermione’s movements against the mattress so he could position the head of his cock at her entrance, groaning at the moist heat he was met with. The head slipped up through the slick once, twice, before he finally entered her. The noises falling from her lips alone were enough that he had to focus or else end things far too soon. He could do nothing but feel the heat of her, the rocking motions of her, the sharp biting -

Fred sat up quickly, breath coming in short pants. Earhart perched atop the duvet, iridescent eyes blinking at him. He looked down at his hands in his lap, a finger bleeding slightly and, well, at least she’d bitten his finger. It seemed that the creature had bypassed a much easier and more noticeable target.

Merlin’s balls.

Hermione lay beside him on her stomach, left knee hitched up. The hem of her shirt had ridden up in her sleep, a sliver of skin at her lower back peeking at him from where the blanket was draped across her backside. Her arms were tucked beneath her pillow, her small face looking so young in sleep.

She’d be the death of him and couldn’t find it in him to care. Fred moved himself to lean against the wall, keeping his legs folded as he attempted to will away his morning erection before Hermione woke up.

“Bang up job, you absolute pervert,” he chastised himself quietly. Fred looked down and waited for Earhart to settle with a contented chirp in front of him. “You won’t tell her, will you?”

Earhart’s jaw lolled open in a wide yawn.

“At least you have my back.” Ever so slowly, he extended his legs toward the foot of the mattress, hoping to maneuver himself off the bed without jostling Hermione. Flexing his toes as he came into contact with the cold floor, Fred padded his way to the toilet. After he'd washed up he made his way into the kitchen, putting the kettle on and laying food out for Crookshanks. As he lit the cold logs in the hearth, Fred was brought back to the dream with a sigh.

It was one he'd had before - more frequently than he'd been comfortable to admit. He didn't want Hermione to look at him like he was some kind of cad, only after her for a chance between the sheets. Fred wanted to make sure she never thought of herself as anything less than the best thing to ever happen to him, truly. He'd loved her in one form or another since she'd trounced into his life, part of the Golden Trio as everyone called them, along with his brother and the legendary Harry Potter.

The morning was still entirely dark, no hint of sunrise to come for at least another hour or so. He wandered back to the countertop where he'd prepared mugs for when the kettle heated. Carrying the earthenware back into the bedroom, Fred nearly spilled everything across the bedside table when he noticed Hermione's sleepily puzzled eyes on him.

“I, uh...I was going to leave this for you so you could have it when you woke.” He felt a blush creep along his cheeks.  Though it was still dark, there was the barest hint of orange tinged light filtering up from the streetlamps below.

“What time is it?” She murmured, twisting her body in a languid stretch. With a yawn, Hermione sat up and silently lit a lamp across from them, flooding the room with a warm glow.

“Too early, barely twenty past five.” He pulled himself onto the mattress, moving to rest against the wall, mug cradled carefully between his hands.

Hermione's nose wrinkled adorably, rolling her shoulders. “You're awake rather early.”

Fred shrugged a single shoulder. “Spent a penny and couldn't get back to sleep.” He hoped that she wouldn't push for more.

Hermione spent the next few moments quietly sipping her tea, a relaxed smile on her face. “Thank you,” she said quietly, “for staying.”

“Wouldn't want to be anywhere else,” Fred responded genuinely. He really wouldn't. Seeing Hermione in a shirt she practically swam in a simple pair of sleeping shorts - this is the kind of image that he was excited to see every morning for the rest of his life.

“I haven't slept so well in ages,” she sighed. “Must've cried myself to exhaustion.”

He winced in sympathy - dinner with the family the night before had not gone as any of them had expected. “I apologize again for Mum.”

Hermione shook her head quickly. “Don't, it's alright. Molly and I...we'll sort ourselves out. Will you need to return to your flat before you open the shop?”

Fred knew a change of subject when he saw one and nodded. “Trying to rid yourself of me already?”

“No!” Her tone was vehement. Hermione let her voice soften, seeming surprised at the force behind her words. “No, not at all. You don’t have any clothing here, so you’d have to leave to clean up anyway.”

He nodded. “But that’s not for several hours yet.” Fred smiled when she tried to force her jaw shut during a yawn. “Would you like to get more sleep? I’ll still be here when you wake again.”

“Will you try and sleep?”

Fred took a moment, weighing his chances of having another dream like the one he’d woken from. Drowsiness was creeping up on him once more and he sighed, accepting his fate. Nodding, he handed his empty mug to Hermione to set on the side table before settling beneath her duvet. Once she extinguished the lights, Fred wrapped her in his arms and waited until her breathing deepened and evened out. He fell asleep wondering if he was worrying too much.

~

“You look like shite, mate.”

Fred ran a palm over his face, trying to dispel any leftover drowsiness. “Thanks, Verity, hadn’t noticed.” He gave her a sidelong look as he leaned against the shelves behind the register at the shop.

“What’s got you in a strop?”

He let his shoulders sag with a sigh. “Sorry, it’s nothing, I’m fine. Sleep was...illusive, I guess.”

“Nightmares again?” She asked, concern threading through her tone. Verity was one of many who were constantly checking on him, even years after his trauma.

Her worry warmed his chest and he smiled, clapping a hand on her shoulder. “Nah, but thanks. I do have a question, a mite personal I’m afraid.”

Verity shot a cursory glance around the immediate area of the cash register for anyone who might hear. Seeing none, she nodded.

“You’ve been with your wife for a good handful of years now, yeah?” That wasn’t the personal part - Fred had known of Verity’s partner Sandy since she began working for Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, even meeting her a number of times.

Verity developed a dopy smile. “Yeah, why d’you ask?”

Fred inhaled, preparing himself for what might come from the witch’s mouth at his admission. “I spent the night at Hermione’s last night.”

“Ohhh, the first time, eh? Didn’t finish too soon I hope. A girl deserves at least three orgasms the first time out.”

He felt himself blush through his hair follicles. “You’ve got it wrong, I spent the night with her. We didn’t shag. We haven’t, not yet.”

Verity ran her fingers through her blonde hair - longer than she used to keep it, Fred realized belatedly. “You haven’t yet? Why not?”

“That’s not the point I’m trying to make here.”

“Then what -”

“I had a dream,” Fred spluttered, lowering his voice quickly as he realized he’d shouted. “I had a dream of us shagging and -”

“You had a bloody wet dream? What are you, twelve?”

“Will you keep your voice down?” Fred hissed, glancing over her shoulder in case anyone was listening in. He really should have brought her into the workroom for this. “I didn’t have a wet dream, but it was a bit touch and go. I just woke up with one hell of a stiffy while Hermione was still asleep!”

She gave him an unimpressed look. “What’s the problem, then?”

He wanted to rip his hair out at the root in frustration. “Let me finish, damn you. My intent was to ask if you still had sex dreams about Sandy after being in love with her for so long.”

Verity’s blue eyes widened considerably. “Love -”

“Merlin’s beard, will you just answer the question?”

“Well, I suppose?” She answered, uncertain if that had been the answer Fred was looking for. “We’ve been together so long that I haven’t really thought about it. When we were first going together, I had them all the time because I couldn’t wait to shag her.”

Fred sighed in relief. “So it’s normal, then?”

“‘Course it is. Haven’t you dated before Hermione?”

“Not seriously,” he answered honestly. “A few good snogs here and there, but never anything like I have with her. I’ve only dreamt about her.”

She let out a low whistle. “You have it bad , mate.”

Fred sighed. He was so, so aware of it.

The blonde shrugged. “You’ll be married within six months; how is this a problem?”

“Do you think that, I don’t know, it makes me a bit of a pervert?”

She shook her head. “Not really. You’ve been with her for, what, a month now?” Verity waited until he nodded to continue. “I think maybe your mind is telling you that your needs are shifting.”

Fred was about to ask what she meant when a customer approached them.

“You would like to shag her, obviously, your brain is telling you as much,” she murmured once they were alone. Her tone was frank. “Talk to Hermione. She might be open to more.”

“You think?” He wasn’t used to feeling so uncertain, but he’d never been completely confident when it came to Hermione.

“Won’t know unless you ask, will you?”

+

Hermione decided to invite her coworkers to her flat for another girl’s night, this time with Angelina and Ginny in attendance. The four women got on rather well, Andi and Ginny almost too well, and Hermione found herself regretting the gathering almost immediately. Angelina and Dottie commandeered the settee, leaving Ginny the overstuffed armchair with a bag of crisps to nibble on while she transfigured her table chairs into something more comfortable for herself and Andi. Hermione and Ginny went back and forth explaining how Molly had reacted, the things she said, that night.

“I was ready to beat George with his beater’s bat,” Angelina said angrily. “I can’t believe he outed you by accident .”

“But it was an accident,” Ginny pressed. “My brother’s an idiot, but George would never do that to Fred on purpose. Mum was blindsided. We all were.” She looked at Hermione, expression not without kindness. There was sorrow in that look.

“Have you and Molly spoken since then?” The witch asked, sipping her pumpkin juice.

Hermione shook her head, folding her legs beneath herself with a sigh. “I’ve wanted to, but I wouldn’t know where to start with a conversation”

“Mum’s really embarrassed,” Ginny sighed, laying her palms against her belly. “Dad owled me asking if I could pop in - hasn’t left her room in days.”

“She should be embarrassed,” Dottie remarked sternly. “Hermione didn’t deserve to be chewed out like that, in front of the entire family no less.”

“Dottie, please.” Hermione winced at the witch’s frankness. “She’s apologized.”

“No offense to you, Ginny, but Dottie is right,” Andi said, narrowing her eyes in sympathy. “Your mum knew what she was saying, had to know how it hurt Hermione.”

Ginny shrugged sadly. “I’m not making excuses for her. She regrets the things she said, especially after Ron stepped in.”

“Molly’s a strong bird,” Angelina said, her voice sure. “Once you decide how to move forward with her, she’ll be right as rain in no time.”

“If anything can be said about Mum, it’s that she bounces back rather quickly from most things.” Ginny sent Hermione a calming smile. “I’m glad that Fred has stuck by your side through all this. You’ve done wonders for him, darling, you really have.”

“He stayed with me that night,” she murmured, a blush coloring her cheeks.

“Oh?” Andi perked up. “You saucy minx, you’ve been holding out on us. Is he as fit out of his clothes as he looks in them?”

“Oi! That’s my brother you’re wetting your knickers over.”

Andi raised a single brow, giving Ginny a wink. “Yes, quite, maybe you should lock yourself in the toilet until the adults are finished talking.”

The redhead tossed a handful of crisps at the witch. “Twat.”

“Please don’t make a mess of my lounge,” Hermione sighed, rubbing her temples yet making no move to stop the two women from bickering. “Fred and I haven’t shagged yet, Andi. We haven’t even had a proper snog.”

Ginny stopped abruptly, crisps clenched in a fist prepared to be tossed at Andi. “ What?

The other witches watched Hermione closely enough that she had to physically stop herself from squirming.

“We haven’t gotten around to it,” she defended. “It hasn’t come up.”

“How have you not burst into flames?” Dottie blurted, causing the others to howl with laughter. “Honestly, snogging is one of my favorite activities.”

Hermione definitely regretted getting them all together. “It’s not like I haven’t wanted to -”

“Does Fred know that?” Angelina wondered aloud. “From how George goes on about him, he very well might not.”

“What has he said?” Hermione asked despite herself. She shouldn’t want to dig for information about Fred from Angelina or his brother, but she’d be lying if she said she weren’t interested.

“Oh, he caught up with him after a conversation he’d had with Verity at the shop. Fred’s as nervous to speed things along as you are, it seems.”

“Really?” She groaned, taking a gulp of her wine and tipping her head back against the chair’s cushion. “I don’t really know how to bring it up.”

“Oh, I’m sure you can bring it up just fine,” Andi said lewdly before Ginny smacked her with another crisp. The room at large let out a groan.

“When do you see him next?” Angelia asked.

“Tomorrow, more than likely. Why?”

“When he comes round, don’t even say anything. Just lay one on him, quick and dirty. Only come up for air when you feel lightheaded.”

Hermione felt her cheeks burn.

Andi cheered loudly, nearly drowned out by laughter from Ginny and Dottie.

“Really, Hermione,” Ginny started once her laughter died down, “It’s understandable if you’re nervous to sleep with him, but you’ll be married within the next six months. Snogging should be at the top of your list of things to be doing with Fred in your spare time.”

Hermione chuckled. “You’re encouraging this?”

“Of course I am! You deserve as much physical affection as possible and so does Fred. I wholeheartedly support you snogging my brother, as long as you avoid giving me any details.” Ginny looked a little green at the very concept. “This little bugger I’m growing has made a mockery of my gag reflex lately and I’ve no need for new reasons to live in the loo.”

“Don’t worry,” Andi piped, nodding with Dottie. “All of those details she’ll be saving for us.”

Hermione couldn’t remember the last time she’d blushed so continuously. Surely she wouldn’t give them all the details? She valued her privacy, yes, but she had a feeling she’d be telling them at least some things. Hermione wanted to keep certain things to herself. Ginny and Andi had gone back to bickering while Angelina and Dottie were discussing babies and pregnancy. She sat back, offering comments here and there when it seemed required of her, but watching her friends and soon-to-be family getting on so well gave her an incredible sense of calm.

~

Hearing knocking at her door, Hermione stood in the bathroom attempting to tame her wild locks. “Coming!” Giving up in a huff after another few moments, she hurried back out into the flat, nearly sliding into the door in her stockinged feet. Pulling it open, she felt a wide grin stretch across her face upon seeing Fred.

“Evening, ‘Mi-” The man barely managed his greeting before catching Hermione as she jumped into his arms, almost knocking them both back into the hall entirely. There was a dull thud against the floorboards where Fred seemed to have dropped the bag of takeaway containers he’d picked up before arriving. It hadn’t sounded like something had spilled, for which Hermione was glad.

Her lips were on his before she gave herself another moment to overthink. When Fred didn’t immediately respond, Hermione eased up, ready to pull away when he adjusted the angle of her chin to kiss her properly. There was an immediate thrill singing through her veins as she let her eyelids drift closed. The way his lips opened against hers, his tongue eagerly meeting her own in a dance of silk, gave Hermione a feeling of power she’d not felt in quite some time.

Fred ended the kiss, not stepping away, but allowing them to breath. “That was...”

“You too.” Hermione pulled him into her flat, where he stumbled in after her in a daze. Before shutting her door, she made sure to grab the discarded bag on the floor

That’s what I’d been missing out on?” He asked, wonder and amusement clear in his voice. “Blimey, if that’s our new greeting, we will saying hello a lot more often if I have anything to say about it.”

Her cheeks began to ache with the force of her smile. Hermione thought she’d have to send gift baskets to Angelina and the others for encouraging her. She took Fred into her arms once more, just content in embracing him for a minute. Afterward, she took his bag from him and laid it by the table in the sitting room. Thinking ahead of when he arrived, Hermione had charmed the low table taller so it would be more comfortable to work from.

Fred had owled her earlier saying that he’d been hard at work altering the schematics of a new product for his and George’s shop and that he might be able to make it. Hermione quickly replied, encouraging him to come ‘round to hers so that they could work alongside one another on their respective projects. She’d been curious as to what he’d been working on anyhow.

“Could you fix some tea, darling? And bring some plates, will you?” She asked, pulling files from her own bag to spread along her side of the table.

“Darling?” Fred’s voice carried along from the kitchen, curious.

Hermione straightened quickly, a frisson of alarm quickly buzzing along her skin having realizing belatedly what she’d said. No sense in taking it back now. “You don’t mind, do you?” She asked, turning from her work.

He stood there, all khaki trousers and flannel button down, just watching her as he held plates and cutlery in his hands. There was a small grin on his face, one that Hermione noticed that Fred only ever used when he was truly pleased with something. Padding across her floor, he set everything on the table at her side before taking her cheeks between his warm hands and guiding her lips back to his.

This kiss was unhurried and petal soft, but gave Hermione much the same feeling as their first. Her breath came easily, as if Fred was coaxing it from her lungs. He leaned his forehead against hers, almost close enough that she could’ve sworn she’d felt his eyelashes bat against her skin.

“I couldn’t mind less if I tried.”

“Oh, well. Good.” Hermione bit her lip when he stepped back, retreating into the kitchen for their tea.

She set to pulling out their meal - chicken katsu curry to share with two different sushi rolls - opening the containers and settling them in the center of the table. She’d been pleased to discover Fred’s love of foods found in muggle London during one of their previous trips and almost couldn’t believe how easily he’d dropped into a routine of Apparating to and from there when they’d had nights in. Once he understood muggle money, Fred was very much like his father - excited at any given opportunity to see what he could get. He’d even gone to a few toy shops around the city for inspiration for Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.

“What have you to work on?” Fred asked once they were settled, their work neatly out of the way to avoid damage.

Hermione held fingers in front of her mouth as she chewed delicately, only speaking once her mouth wasn’t so full. “It seems a number of muggle pet shops have been popping up around the UK selling cats with Kneazle heritage, the owners supposedly unaware of their magical background before selling them. We’re trying to figure out where the Kneazles are coming from, since it’s illegal for breeders to sell to muggles. The head of department our has suggested that I take the lead on the investigation.”

“That’s brilliant!”

Hermione beamed proudly. “Yes, I’ll be headed out soon with Aurors Paxby and Virtanen; next monday at the latest Dottie and Andi will be looking further into the problem, working to discover where the Kneazles were obtained from.”

Fred nodded, taking a gulp of his water. He was watching her like there was nothing else he’d rather be doing.

“What new products are you working on?”

“Oh!” Fred’s eyes grew wide and excited before he launched into an explanation of his latest endeavor. “Muggle children have these dolls - Barbies, I think they’re called? There are several versions of them, but I was most intrigued that there were some made to look like “mermaids.” Though, all the dolls looked the same, which seemed rather odd to me.”

Hermione made a noise of agreements as she dipped a piece of her sushi roll into soy sauce and popping it into her mouth. She remembered having a Barbie doll when she was little.

He continued excitedly. “Their hair or tails would change color depending on the temperature of the water, yeah? I was thinking that with a few minor changes and a charm or two, our dolls would move independently, naturally, and most importantly, look like a merperson. Those ones I saw had faces that never changed; where’s the fun in that? Could you imagine? A child buys at least two of them, because one who get quite lonely, you see. Of course, we’re not selling real merpeople, that’d be cruel.”

She thought about the idea. It would be wonderful if Fred was able to pull off the design and the charms involved. “It’s a brilliant idea, Fred, really. I can’t wait to see where it leads.”

Once their meal was cleaned up, the two returned to the sitting room and settled themselves into their work, neither one speaking. The silence was comfortable and pleasant. Hermione remembered back when she attended Hogwarts that she rarely got to study in peace, what with Ron and Harry doing something or another, anything to put off their work until they’d inevitably ask to look over her work so they could do their own. She’d never taken Fred for the studious type and maybe he wasn’t, not in the way she was. But when he focused on what was in front of him, when it came to creating something from nothing, Hermione could tell that nothing could have distracted him from his end goal.

It was quite a pleasant thing for her to realize. While part of her still worried about making her relationship with Fred work, she’d be able to look back on moments of contented silence like this one and think that maybe she worried for nothing.

+

“He’s got that look again,” George sighed, waving a hand in front of Fred’s eyes. “Verity wasn’t joking, he really does have it bad.”

They were in George and Angelina’s new flat, perched around the sitting room and unpacking boxes.

“Leave him be,” Fred faintly heard Angelina say. “He deserves a bit of daydreaming innit. Hermione sent thank you baskets round to all the girls who came to her flat last week, so clearly she and Fred are having a good time.”

Fred sighed dreamily, replaying the scene of his and Hermione’s morning. He wasn’t paying attention as his brother and future sister-in-law went on talking about him like he wasn’t there - he might as well not have been.

Memories of soft skin underneath a threadbare shirt, sleep warm and pliant, drifted through his head. The low light of the single lamp in the room casting a warm glow around them, Hermione’s hair peeking out from beneath her silk cap. It was embarrassing, she’d said, for Fred to see her hair in such a state.

He hadn’t minded. His own hair was stuck up in several directions at once, similar to baby hippogriff fluff and he’d said so. The quiet grin that answered him had made Fred’s chest light, a feeling that he was easily slipping into on a regular basis. It’s just what Hermione did to him.

Fred sat up suddenly, hit by a balled up set of pages from an old print of the Prophet. George stood a few feet from him, an amused gleam in his eyes.

“Oi, useless! If you weren’t planning on helping unpack, get your arse back to your girlfriend. That face you keep sportin’ is making Angie ready to spew.”

Angelina gasped in mock outrage. “Don’t drag me into this! Really Fred, I think it’s wonderful that you and Hermione are getting on so well. George is just jealous.”

The man scoffed, pulling baubles from the box in front of him. “Jealous of what, woman? Our honeymoon phase hasn’t yet ended and you’re close to popping!”

The witch stuck her tongue out in response. “Prat.”

“Sorry, mate,” Fred said sheepishly. Maybe he was spending too much time thinking his relationship than he should be. “I just didn’t think it’d be this great. We get on better than I thought we would.”

“Don’t worry, that’ll change.”

Fred fought down the sense of insult. “What makes you say that?”

“George, stop antagonizing your brother and go fetch that pillow I like, will you?”

George, to his credit, wandered away with a fond shake of his head. Angelina shifted in her seat - the pillow was out of necessity now rather than just a way to distract her fiancé. She watched Fred with a pair of keen brown eyes. They showed an understanding that he didn’t want to examine too heavily.

“He’s right, you know, kind of. You all are happy and that’s wonderful, but when you come to an argument - and you will , trust me - just keep in mind that when couples argue, it’s normal. Even if the beginning stages when you think they’ve hung the moon.”

Fred exhaled, thinking on that a moment. “We haven’t argued about anything yet, thank Merlin.”

“And I’m glad for that,” she said simply. “I think what George meant by it changing is that you and Hermione don’t, and will never, have absolutely everything in common, and it’s important you both understand and accept that. You might not have the worst fights, ones that could ruin your relationship, but your habits might grate on her, and hers on you.”

He grunted in acknowledgement. Fred knew that leaving his socks on the floor instead of the hamper irked her and Crookshanks’ hair covering his jumpers frustrated him to no end, but Hermione barely acknowledged it. He didn’t think they had very many fundamental differences anymore. He remembered back at Hogwarts, she was a know-it-all, a stickler for rules, whereas Fred felt himself much more laid back about breaking a rule or two who spoke mostly in sarcasm. But the War had changed everyone, including the two of them.

Fred understood that since his recovery, he’d been quicker to anger and more apt to vivid, traumatic dreams. Sooner or later, Hermione would experience one of his night episodes - it was only a matter of time. Remembering what Ron had said during his time with her, she too had episodes where she’d wake screaming at night and there had been days at a time where Hermione refused to move from bed.

The look on Angelina’s face said that she knew where his mind had gone. She was always incredibly clever. “Don’t let one shut the other out,” she murmured, allowing George to fluff the pillow behind her as he came back into the room. “You’ll never stop learning about each other. How you approach problems together, those are the moments that can define a relationship.”

~

Fred hadn’t stopped thinking of Angelina’s words for more of the next couple of days. He hadn’t seen Hermione, hadn’t received responses to his owls, since he’d seen her the night of his conversation with his brother and his fiancée. It had to be a coincidence, surely? She felt distant when Fred made them dinner at his flat. Hermione had swirled the dark wine in her glass absently while she watched the fire crackle.

“You alright?” He’d asked.

Her nod was almost wooden, more of a jerk than a proper motion. “A lot on my mind. Work, you know.” And that was what she’d left it at. Fred hadn’t wanted to pry.

Could he pry? Was he allowed to? Or would Hermione find it overbearing and pushy? Hermione had left that night with a kiss on his lips, lips chaste and dry. He felt the cool absence of them as soon as she’d stepped away.

There was a knock at the workroom door that brought him from his thoughts.

“Door’s open!” A thin, willowy young witch poked her head in, brown hair plaited over one shoulder. He recognized her from Hermione’s office. “Ah, Andi, yeah?”

She slipped through the opening of the door, barely wide enough for her to press herself through. Closing the door Andi turned to him, her cheeks bitten pink from the chill outside, but her large green eyes were light with a sheen of unshed moisture.

Fred straightened on his stool, unsure of whether or not he should go to her. “What’s the matter?”

“Um, it’s just, I didn’t know who else to go to,” she stammered. “Dottie has already sent owls out to Angie and Gin, but I came here straight away.”

Alarm tripped up his spine and he stood, knocking his seat to the ground. “What’s happened?”

“It’s Hermione,” Andi whispered, sniffling. “She’s been acting strange since a day or so ago and several hours ago she claimed to need to speak with Minister Shacklebolt. She never came back, so I’d called round to his office and his assistant said she’d never even come through.”

“No one’s seen her?” Fred asked quickly.

The witch shook her head, her shoulders shaking. “She’s never just gone off like this before. Ron’s out on assignment, so no one’s been able to contact him either. Where would she go, otherwise? Do you know?”

Shaking his head, he felt a chilling sense of dread. Calling the till for Verity, he instructed her to send notice to his brother that he’d had to leave suddenly. Wracking his brain for any clues as to where she might be. Had she ever claimed to go somewhere when she was upset?

Oh .

“I think I might know where she is,” Fred told the distraught witch. “Head back to the office. I’ll send word once I’m with her. I believe she’s safe, alright, just...trust me on this.” With a crack he Disapparated, dropping to the snow covered grounds outside of the gates of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Merlin help him if she wasn’t there.

Snow drifted listlessly from the grey sky as he was making his way up the path toward the castle. It had been almost entirely rebuilt in the years since the Final Battle. Fred worked to keep his breath even. He couldn’t blame Hermione for not coming to him with whatever troubled her. Old habits die hard, he supposed. Upon entering the main doors to the castle, Fred was struck with a keen sense of familiarity.

He’d tried to avoid coming back here too often. Fred felt as if his lungs were alight and he realized belatedly that he’d been holding his breath since walking inside.

“Well, ain’t you a sight for sore eyes.”

“Peeves!”

The poltergeist hung in the air barely above Fred’s head, his legs crossed at the knees. “Which one are you, then? Hmm, you’ve got both ears, innit. Ickle Freddie Weasley then.”

Fred relaxed. “Wonderful to see you, Peeves, but is the Defense against the Dark Arts classroom where it was before?”

“Oh, ‘ere to see Professor Potty, I see. Seems a popular to-do today. That bushy ‘eaded ninny came here this mornin’ for ‘im.”

“Hermione’s here?”

“Just said that, innit.”

“Peeves!” A stern voice came from the stairs.

“Wot!” He flipped himself backwards and Fred focused his eyes toward the voice.

“I believe you haven’t bothered Argus in the last fifteen minutes,” Headmistress McGonagall said, her strides sure and firm toward them. “Must be a new record. Hello Mr. Weasley, you look well.”

“Professor, hello - uh, Headmistress,” he corrected himself quickly at the arched look she gave him over her spectacles.

“I believe I know why you’re here,” the elder witch supplied, pursing her lips together. “Follow me to my office, Mr. Weasley. You’ll find what you’re searching for there.”

Ducking around Peeves, Fred followed McGonagall as quickly as he could - for a woman nearing her seventh decade she was quite fast. The twisting halls of the castle  looked the same to him as they did back then, though he could feel new magic thrumming through the stone. They came upon a statue, not unlike the one used to gain entrance into Dumbledore’s office when he was alive. Muttering a charm, Mcgonagall stepped away until the stone walls pulled in on themselves to allow the two of them entrance into the witch’s office.

Harry sat in a chair by the fire, his teaching robes slightly askew and hair looking as if he’d spent the last several hours rubbing his fingers through it. He held a teacup and saucer in his lap as he looked over at the settee opposite him.

Hermione was curled in on herself, hair set up in two pineapples, what looked like a blanket thrown over her prone form.

Fred nearly tripped over himself in his haste to reach her side. He kneeled beside her, trying to calm his heart from slamming into his ribs. Brushing hair from her sleeping face, he took in just how puffy and tear stained she was. He twisted to look over his shoulder at Harry.

“What’s happened?”

The other wizard looked at him sadly. “I would’ve sent an owl, but Hermione was adamant that no one know. How did you -”

“Give me a little credit, mate. Next time she decides to go underground, remind her not to bring Kingsley into it, yeah?”

Harry sighed, watching his best friend again. “She’d said something about going to see him when she arrived. Didn’t press after that. Hermione, she...she’s plagued every so often with terrible nightmares. Results of the War, you understand.”

Fred nodded, resting his elbows against his knees as he adjusted his position.

“I went to Neville for a sleeping draught once she arrived; I don’t think she’s slept in days,” Harry continued. “In the beginning, Hermione wouldn’t speak to anyone about it, but then she’d started turning to me. Even over Ron. She’s developed a terrible paranoia and would come to me near mad, yelling about seeing Bellatrix at the foot of her bed. Sometimes it would be as simple as catching a whiff of a certain scent, bringing her back to when that bitch tortured her.” His voice was harsh, suddenly, with an anger that had never gone away. Anger on behalf of the sleeping witch they both cared so deeply about.

Fred shrunk back, entirely understanding. Loud noises had often tossed him into an episode, remnants of the explosion that’d nearly killed him. Poor Hermione. He wished she would come to him during times like this, but he was glad that she’d at least gone to Harry.

“Her friends are all in a tizzy about her,” he sighed, rubbing a palm over his face. “Sending out owls to everyone she knows. Andi said they’d sent an owl out to Ginny - kind of surprised you hadn’t gotten anything immediately from her.”

Harry winced, expression guilty. “About that,” he said softly, “she did owl me about it, but Hermione had been with me for nearly an hour by that point. I couldn’t tell her, remember?”

“Ginny’ll have your head for lying, y’know that?”

He groaned, setting his tea off to the side. “Oh, I’m terribly aware. Her wrath will be tenfold with her pregnancy.”

Fred didn’t envy him; he knew his sister’s temper almost better than anyone. Standing, he wiped his palms against his trousers. “I’ll take her home, then. Go ahead and let the others know that Hermione is alright. She might be upset when she wakes up, but I’ll weather that storm when it hits.”

“She needs you , mate,” Harry said, standing as Fred hoisted Hermione’s sleeping form into his arms, sheet and all. “Hermione wanted to go to you - cried her eyes out about it.”

“I don’t take it personally,” Fred answered softly, keeping her head against his chest. “I know what she’s going through; a little bit, anyway. I’ll do what I can to help her, if she’ll let me.”

+

She hated it, always waking up to the scene at the Malfoy Manor. But sometimes it’d been different. There were times when it was an out of body experience and Hermione would watch, as if on the telly, the Snatchers and Bellatrix as they laughed at her sprawled on the floor. Other times, like this one, she experienced everything over and over again. The Cruciatus Curse was a pain entirely unimaginable, entirely incomparable.

She felt as if she were burning up from the inside out, as if her bones were cracking and splitting under the immense pressure trying to separate skin from muscle, muscle from bone. Bellatrix Lestrange’s cackle of deranged pleasure rang out against the high ceilings of the Manor.

“I know you stole it!” She roared. “You know where the sword is!”

“I don’t! I don’t know where it is! None of us do!” Hermione’s throat was raw and painful from screaming. The curse hit her again, sending her body writhing across the wood floor, a vain attempt to escape the devastating, mind scrambling pain. She wished that her body would shut down, at least let her go numb to the pain.

One of the Snatchers hauled her up, his grip unforgiving. Hermione could barely keep her head up. The man yanked her hair back so that she kept her eyes on what Bellatrix had been doing, ripping another scream from her throat. Two bodies had been suspended in midair in the center of the room, wrapped in chains, rotating listlessly as Bellatrix circled around them. She kept her wand trained on them.

“Your memory seems to need a bit of help,” the witch purred, pouting her lips. “Perhaps mummy and daddy know where you’re hiding it, hmm?” Her tone was sickeningly childish.

Hermione felt a thrill of fear spread through her already frazzled nerves. They weren’t here; this hadn’t happened; this wasn’t real; she was dreaming. She was -

The screams of her mother and father echoed through the hall and she hadn’t realized she’d been screaming along with them until she’d fallen into a rough fit of coughs.

“Where is it?” Bellatrix roared once more. “I know you stole what’s mine!” In a fit of rage and bright flashes of green, Bellatrix released the bodies of her parents suddenly and they hit the floor with a loud thud.

They lay inert and unmoving on the floor and the scenery around them blurred. The laughter of Bellatrix and the Snatchers faded until they were distant echoes. Hermione couldn’t help her body as it heaved, nothing but a terrible burning spreading to her limbs. It was only then that she forgot what it felt like when she wasn’t screaming.

 

Whatever she was laying on was soft - Harry’s couch had never felt so comfortable. She felt fingertips lightly massaging her scalp in leisurely circles. Hermione’s body was bone tired and heavy, but she was glad to be away from yet another nightmare featuring the Death Eater who’d tried her damndest to ruin her life. With a groan, she attempted to turn herself over toward a wonderfully pleasant source of warmth.

“Alright then?” It was barely a rumble, low and lovely. All hot cocoa and cinnamon, comforting and pleasant.

The comforting circles changed into light sweeps of a palm brushing over hair. “Harry?”

“Not quite, darling.”

Though still in a haze of post nightmare fog, Hermione’s eyes snapped open. Her head and shoulders rested in Fred’s lap, the rest of her body curled feline-like around his hip. One of his arms had wrapped itself around her while his other hand was still in her hair. In her efforts to sit up, he began murmuring comforting noises.

“Now, now, none of that.”

“Where -”

“In your bedroom, Hermione. You’re safe, you’re alright.” Fred moved his arms - she caught herself mourning the loss of his warmth - and helped her sit up properly.

Hermione felt the salty sting of tears along the rims of her lower lids. Of course Harry  had told him that she’d come to see him. Her cheeks burned with embarrassment and shame. Fred must’ve been so disappointed in her, finding out that she’d gone to Harry rather than him for her problems. Tears leaked down her cheeks.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered.

Fred responded by giving her one of those smiles, a smile that had come to mean so much. “You should be,” he said softly, “Andi’s likely to hex you into the new year for giving her such a fright.” His arms hadn’t left her, only rearranging around her as she moved.

She tucked herself against his chest, keeping her face pressed into the side of his neck. The smell of him - cedar and broom varnish, sugar just on the verge of burning - calmed Hermione considerably. It helped wipe away the smell of her own fear suspended in her nostrils.

“I’ll have to hex Harry first,” she mumbled.

“Not to worry, love. He didn’t tell me where to find you.”

That startled her a bit. “He didn’t?”

Fred shook his head, the edge of his jaw brushing against the crown of her head. “You did.” His hands resumed their soothing motions, over her hair, her arms, her back. Slow, trying to heal, to expel whatever thoughts had plagued her.

“I don’t understand.”

He tsk ed, maneuvering her so he could press his lips to her forehead chastely. “You and your lot never give me enough credit. You told me once that Hogwarts was your safe place, until it wasn’t. Andi came to me absolutely mad with worry - you owe Andi and Dottie for quite a bit, turns out - and I figured it out. You went to Hogwarts because Harry is there.”

Hermione braced herself for whatever reply she’d get from her next words. “You must be terribly disappointed in me.” She held her breath, hoping to stave off a wave of sobs.

Fred angled her so that she was looking straight into his eyes. His expression was grave and Hermione was shocked to see a light sheen of moisture in his dark brown eyes. “Listen to me, Hermione,” he began, his face as serious as she’d never seen it. “Never worry about disappointing me, not about this. I could never hold against you something you can’t help.”

She let out a small noise, somewhere between a hiccup and a sob, unable to turn away as Fred still held her face in his palms. His gaze was so open; Hermione felt herself laid bare and nearly couldn’t stand it.

“We both have our scars from the War and I could never expect to understand yours entirely, just like you may never understand mine.”

Hermione felt stunned into silence, something that she’d rarely experienced. He wasn’t angry with her nor was he disappointed in her. Fred understood, on some level. Of course he did.

“I have dreams of the Final Battle,” he said softly. “Nightmares where I’ve died and I’m forced to watch my family mourn over my body - watch you mourn for me. Sometimes I return to St. Mungos to that bed and I never woke up. All I hear is Mum crying, my brothers and Ginny begging me to open my eyes and I never do.”

“What do you do when you wake up?” Hermione whispered. “How do you handle the emptiness?”

“Sometimes I don’t realize that I’ve woken up. There have been times where I thought I’d woken up, but my body refuses to move and I’m drawn back into my nightmares. Those are my worst days.”

She shifted, wrapping her arms about his shoulders tightly. Hermione had only experienced those kinds of dreams on rare occasion, but she could recall the feeling of helplessness being a physical cage around her.

“I’ve only just recently begun to combat the emptiness left behind after my night terrors,” Fred said, breathing slowly into the juncture of where her neck met her shoulder. “Work has helped tremendously as a distraction, as have you. I enjoy cooking and taking a broom ride when things get stressful; I try distracting myself the best I can.” He began grazing his fingertips down the sensitive skin of Hermione’s arm, moving them both so that they were laying side by side.

Looking at him this way was easier than before. They lay in a comfortable silence, his fingers toying with the skin of her palm, intermittently tangling with her own. Just as she felt herself drift again, Fred extinguished the light in the room. Hermione listened to him murmuring nonsense to her until his words began to slur in drowsiness.

“Find distractions, Hermione. Your happiness will hinge upon their use.”

~

Hermione strolled into her office the next morning feeling lighter than she had in days. Her conversation with Fred about their experiences during the War and the subsequent nightmares had made her feel an incredible sense of calm. When she awoke that morning, tangled in his limbs like Devil’s Snare, Hermione couldn’t have felt less trapped.

She had worked herself out of the wizard’s hold, watching him reach out blindly in sleep for her before settling once again. Padding into the bathroom, Hermione glanced at herself in the mirror. The sallow look of her cheeks had faded somewhat along with the deep shadows that had taken up residents below her eyes. It was as if she hadn’t really seen herself in days. Maybe it was time to follow her parents’ advice for her - find a doctor who could help her.

After her bath, Hermione had come back to the scene of Crookshanks taking up residence on her pillow, his long orange tail curled delicately around him. Earhart had worked herself between Fred’s arms, perfectly content to be snug up against the man’s chest. The sight had caused her heart to swell and she realized just how quickly she’d been falling for him. There was a sense of peace where Hermione had once felt doubt, a calming warmth replacing an odd feeling of anxiety at the thought of never being enough for Fred Weasley.

Hermione took her time dressing, pressing a light kiss to the side of his face once finished. Fred blinked blearily at her, but she held a finger to her lips.

“You can go back to sleep,” she whispered, running her fingers through his hair slowly. “I’m popping into work early - thank you for last night. I’ll see you soon.”

Fred had begun snoring lightly before she’d left the room.

Speaking to her department head was easier than Hermione had expected it to be. After a light reprimand for worrying everyone, the elder witch hugged her tightly, instructing her to inform them the next time she felt herself falling into that dark place. That was fair, considering she’d Disapparated without warning so suddenly the day before.

The room was entirely too quiet when Hermione had settled herself at her desk. The time had meant that neither Andi nor Dottie would arrive for another thirty minutes yet, so she set to work conjuring up bouquets of flowers for the witches. She’d made a point to include several of significant meaning - Aster, for patience; Freesia, for thoughtfulness; Hydrangea, in gratitude for their understanding. Hermione had conjured up the favored flowers of each woman, hoping that they enjoyed them and would understand just how much she had appreciated their concern.

The room was pleasantly fragrant by the time the two other witches walked in. Dottie promptly burst into tears of relief as she rushed forward to embrace Hermione, whereas Andi waited placidly until their Mother Hen had finished before stepping forward and delivering a sharp pinch to Hermione’s side.

“Ouch!”

“You had us scared to death, you bloody cow!”

Hermione sighed, grimacing. “I suppose I deserve that.” She was horrified to notice the tears leaking from Andi’s eyes.

“You do! I’ll not accept this happening again, do you hear me?” She lurched forward, hugging the other witch fiercely. “Lord love a duck.”

She laughed wetly, returning the embrace. “I’m so sorry, can you both ever forgive me?”

“Of course, love,” Dottie said, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief.

“On one condition.” Andi pulled away, a determined gleam in her eye. “You are to come ‘round mine this Saturday and join me in getting completely off our tits. No excuses. It’ll just be you n’ me, since Dottie is having dinner with the kiddos.”

Dottie gave a long suffering sigh. “I would be there - you know how I love any reason to get sloshed - but my son’s wife is an absolute battleax and is insisting Roger and I come try a new tofu curry recipe she’s found. Merlin only knows why she’s trying to raise my grandchild as a vegan of all things, but Michael refuses to talk her out of it. Roger told me that I wasn’t allowed to say that her cooking is shite - not to her face, anyway.” The elder witch shrugged her delicate shoulders.

“So it’s decided, yeah? This weekend is ours, and we’ll be drinking in memory of Dottie’s poor digestive system, which will more likely meet a terrible end. She’ll probably die on the toilet.”

The witch nodded. “Ta, love, a more noble way to go I’ve never found.”

Hermione was proud to call these women her friends.

+

Fred spent that Saturday night at the pub with Lee Jordan and George, all exhausted from their busy work week. Hermione had explained her plans with Andi and he’d sent her off with an encouraging smile and a promise of stocking up her medicine cupboard with Pepper Up Potions. She seemed a bit twitchy as she got ready to Floo over to her coworker’s flat, distracted, but excited.

When Fred joined his brother and their employee - it was still strange, some days, to realize that Lee worked for them - for a pint and a shared basket of chips between them, he was relaxed and happy.

“Oi, did you hear?” George asked, tipping his pint slightly in Lee’s direction, whose hair was still tied back from a day of work. “Jordan’s recently received his matches.”

“Matches?” Fred wondered, “Plural?”

The man nodded, taking a hearty gulp from his mug. “There were three different witches listed for me. From what I’ve been told, most are given choices of whom they can choose to marry.”

His forehead wrinkled as his brows rose. He’d not thought it could be possible. He hadn’t had to worry, considering his situation. His brothers hadn’t mentioned having choices, as far as Fred knew. Kingsley was possibly behind it, having at least some say in how the Marriage Act had been written.

“Who’ve you got?” George asked.

Lee shrugged, shifting to pull a folded set of parchment sheets from the back pocket of his trousers. “I don’t recognize any of the names, unfortunately. Rowan Widdershin, age twenty-one, a Hufflepuff. Andrea Benton, age twenty-five, Ravenclaw -”

George chuckled, popping a chip into his mouth. “Older woman, nice one.”

“And Clarity Ashbrow, age twenty, another Ravenclaw.”

Fred played the names over in his head, trying to figure if he could put names to faces. None of them rang any bells. “What’s next, then? Show up at her flat introducing yourself as the man she’s to marry? Because I can’t see that going over well.”

“Dunno,” the man replied. “I assume that they’ve each received their own notices with my name. I’ve owled them each just this morning.”

“Already?”

Lee nodded. “Might as well get the introductions out of the way. We’ve been given a date by which our paperwork must be filed, so I thought it’d be at least a little easier if we met. See if we got on and all that.”

George’s eyebrows wiggled suggestively. “I’m sure you’ll get on just fine with at least one of them.”

He sniffed archly, giving George a playful shove. “A bloke doesn’t kiss and tell; you know that.”

Lee wasn’t one to sleep around, Fred knew. It was all in a sense of fun, George poking at him. After the two were done ribbing one another, they settled into easy conversation. Lee asked George if he’d prepped enough for the baby; Fred wondered why Lee hadn’t asked about the apprenticeship; Lee and George both questioned why Fred hadn’t bedded Hermione yet.

“That’s nothing to concern yourselves with,” he replied, hoping to hide his blush behind another large gulp of his pint. Before another question was asked, Fred stood and swept the three glasses into his hands, heading to the bar to order another round. With the promise of more alcohol, he turned back toward the table the three shared. Lee and George had their heads leaned into each other, chatting lowly.

“Hey now, there’ll be no secrets tonight.”

George straightened himself, loosening the tie around his neck. “Nah, no secrets Freddie; just a friendly discussion.”

“Do I want to know?”

The three of them were thick as thieves since Hogwarts, but George and Lee were known to get up to their own antics regardless of whether Fred was involved.

“We know you and Hermione are doing great, which is all we could ask for,” Lee said, folding his arms to lean on the tabletop. “You deserve all the happiness, but...”

“We’re not trying to wash your dirty linens in public, y’know, but you want to make sure that you are the only Weasley that she thinks about when you finally get down to it.”

Fred felt a lead weight drop in his stomach. Of course Ron would come up. Ron, who was with Hermione for over two years. Ron, who was one third of the bloody Golden Trio and a war hero to boot. He dropped his forehead down onto his folded arms, groaning.

Stools scraped against the floor and two sets of hands clapped Fred on the shoulders.

“You’d have to face that ghost sooner or later,” George sighed.

Fred brought his head up, resting his chin against his forearms. “How do I follow up a war hero who took her virginity?” The pub was loud with laughter and conversation, but he didn’t even care if they were overheard - it wasn’t like his relationship with Hermione was a secret. Older witches and wizards were a chatty bunch and Fred had caught his name being murmured in Diagon Alley more than a time or two. It seemed that the general public had a deep interest in his private life.

Lee winced in sympathy. “Maybe don’t phrase it like that when you speak to her?”

“You’re as much of a hero as he is,” his brother defended. “You kept your family and friends alive as part of the Order, fought in the Final Battle alongside the rest of us. Can’t forget that.”

“I think I need some air.”

Fred stood from the table, moving through the throng of witches and wizards toward the entrance of the pub. The air outside held a bitter chill, typical of the deep autumn England had found itself in. With a breeze and a cloud filled sky, he felt the cold seep into his skin even from under the heavy pullover he wore. That type of thinking he’d experienced, that he was somehow lesser than Ron, was common for him, even when he knew that those thoughts made little sense. He had been and still was incredibly proud of his brother for the things he’d done and what he’d accomplished.

“Alright?”

He turned his head as Lee came through the door, the two moving away from the doorstep to under the awning.

“Yeah, I suppose.”

The man pulled a metal case from the back pocket of his trousers and pulled a fag from it along with a book of matches. Pausing momentarily, he offered the case to Fred.

“A nasty habit,” he said, still pulling the thin metal from between his friend’s fingers.

He shrugged. “Won’t tell if you won’t.”

They stood side by side in silence for a few minutes, the light sound of the sizzling paper shared between them.

“It’s a bit much, innit. We know it has to be hard for you.”

Fred exhaled through his nose, smoke and the scent of menthol mixing with the steam of his breath. He never liked to admit that he’d been jealous of his youngest brother. “Ron was a perfectly fine bloke for her, you know? He and Hermione went well together.”

“They did,” Lee acknowledged. “But she left him, in the end.”

He kept his gaze straight ahead, sucking slowly from the fag between his fingers. “She’s brilliant; driven; exciting; focused. Her smile makes me feel legless. But I can’t live up to what she deserves.”

“Now if that isn’t the biggest load of shite you’ve ever said.” Lee turned to him, dropping the butt to the cobblestones and grounding it out with the heel of his boot. “You’ve got to have more faith in yourself, mate. I can guarantee you that that woman doesn’t give a flying fart in space about any of that.”

Fred felt the corners of his lips kick up. “Eloquent as always, I see.”

“Listen, what you need is someone to come home to, who will bitch about your socks on the floor and your workspace spilling over onto the kitchen table. You need someone who will sit through your hairbrained attempts at a new recipe you thought up that morning and then have the balls to order takeaway when it becomes one massive cockup.”

“Are you saying you don’t like my cooking?”

Lee ignored him and kept on. “Hermione is that person for you, Fred. And she doesn’t need a dragon slayer to protect her when she’s trembling in her knickers.”

“She’d probably chew me out for harming the dragon,” he said absently.

Lee’s voice softened. “Hermione doesn’t need a war hero, mate. When she comes home near mad with frustration over whatever is happening at the Ministry, a war hero can’t do fuck all for her. She needs to laugh; to relax; to know that even though she doesn’t need to be taken care of, you’ll be there to do it anyway.”

Fred had discarded the butt of his fag while Lee was in the middle of his gallant speech. If he were a rational man, he would understand intrinsically that Lee was entirely right on every front and was simply trying to help Fred keep his spirits up; unfortunately, his head rarely worked completely within the scope of rationality anymore. Call him a glass half empty kind of bloke, but Fred hadn’t liked to be overly optimistic about very many things. They tended to go pear shaped whether he wanted it or not.

“But what -”

“Blimey, what are you so worried about?” He shouted, pulling his voice in when others had given them odd looks. “I’ve never known you to be so unsure of yourself. What’s gotten into you?”

Something cracked within his chest and Fred’s words rushed from his lips. “What if none of this is real? What if I’m still in that bed in St Mungos and finally having Hermione is my head’s version of a cruel joke?”

“Fred...”

“Can’t you see? I’m constantly pinching myself, hoping that every morning I wake up next to her that I’m really there. The explosion that nearly turned me into a vegetable must’ve scrambled my brain because in what world does Hermione Granger even give me the time of day over Ron?”

Fred’s breath was coming raggedly and he had to lean against the stonewall of the pub to keep from collapsing entirely. His throat was clenching painfully. He’d never gone into his fears so deeply with anyone, not even George, and he’d just unloaded everything onto Lee Jordan’s shoulders.

“Hey.” Lee’s voice was soft, barely audible. He’d stepped closer to Fred as if afraid he’d bolt. “Mate, I...I’m so sorry, I never knew.” Pulling him forward, Lee wrapped his arms around his chest, resting his chin over Fred’s shoulder. “I never understood. But I’m here, y’know? George’s here. You don’t have to weather those thoughts alone, yeah?”

“Oi, how long are you lot going to be standing out here? Our drinks are getting warm.” George rubbed his palms together vigorously, stopping as he saw Lee embracing his brother. If he found it strange, he chose to keep quiet, instead waving Fred and their friend back into the pub, back into warmth and noise.

“Think about what I’ve said, yeah?”

Fred nodded, taking his pint in hand. It wasn’t likely that he’d forget Lee’s words any time soon. Straightening, he tossed his head back, downing a large portion of his drink in one go.

“To Fred and Hermione,” Lee called heartily, laughing at the answering cheers from those nearby.

“You’re right. I’m the one Hermione is with now. She’ll be coming home to me and no one else.”

Lee cheered, taking gulp of his own drink. “Here, here!”

“Atta boy, Freddie.” George held his drink up, toasting his brother.

Fred grinned, feeling their enthusiasm. For the first time in a long while, the ghosts of Hermione’s previous relationship and the ones in his head weren’t weighing on him quite so heavily.

+

Hermione knew that she was a lightweight when it came to spirits. Dottie and Andi easily outdrank her. She'd be worried about functional alcoholism if it weren't for the mind boggling amount of Pepper Up Potions the two consumed. Their livers were probably fine.

Probably.

As it was, Andi hadn't even begun to slur her words, and Hermione had watched her take down half a bottle of scotch.

“Did I tell you?” She asked, loose limbed and draped sideways in a stuffed chair. “Dottie knows, but I don't think you do, not yet.” Although slurring words wasn't an issue, the witch did begin speaking in circles - a good indication that she was about three sheets to the wind.

“What are you on about?” Hermione groused, nursing her own tumbler. She'd been distracted all evening, wondering how to breach the subject on her mind with Andi.

“I'm getting married, babes, keep up.”

“Pardon?” Not what she expected to hear.

She twisted her body, nearly falling out of the chair. “I received my notice just the other day. They've allowed us choices, did you know? Quite nice, actually.”

“Really?”

“Quite. The first of mine is Bartholomew Windsley, a wizard in his thirties who, judging by information from a trusted source, has an odd fascination with a sort of Japanese muggle pornography. Cartoons or some sort - there’s a special word for it.”

Hermione scrunched her nose, taking a delicate sip from her glass. “I don’t know about any of that, but pornography in general isn't inherently terrible, though, is it?”

“It is when a man fantasizes about being buggered by tentacles.”

She'd never felt a burning like that of inhaling imported Irish Scotch into the back of her mouth as it shot both up into her nose and down into her throat. Hermione coughed and sputtered, inhaling raggedy. “WHAT?” Surely Andi was joking. She had to be.

“It's true!” The witch crowed from her seat. “Lettie Pursings from over at the Department of Transportation dated the plonker last spring and she told me when we'd gone to disco one night. He's got pictures and films hidden away in his flat.”

“No!” Hermione couldn't stop the whooping cackle that burst from her mouth. She'd never heard of such a thing. With her sides straining and tears pricking at her eyes, she motioned for Andi to continue. “Who's next?”

“Lionel Musgraves, late twenties, a Slytherin who was a few years above me at Hogwarts. There were rumors of him being a poof, but he aggressively denied them, near violently sometimes. If he were, it'd be a non-issue, but he was a right prat to everyone and I would rather snog an acromantula.”

Hermione made a sound of disgust. “Pass.”

“My thoughts exactly. Now, this last one is a tad younger, but only by a year or two.” She sat up properly, digging through the parchment on the low table between them.

“Hopefully he's better than his predecessors.”

“I think he might be. He owled me just this morning having found out we were matched with a little about himself and a picture. Ah, here we are.” She extended a folded slip of parchment for Hermione to take and it was all she could do not to jump up suddenly.

Lee Jordan's face grinned back at her; by the outfit he sported, Hermione knew that the picture had been taken at the Weasley Halloween party. Reading through the letter - his age, House, and job were all listed - she let herself smile.

“Adorable, innit,” Andi sighed - rather dreamily, if anyone were to ask Hermione.

“He's wonderful, truly.”

“You know 'im?”

She nodded quickly, regretting it immediately. “We've been mates since our years at Hogwarts. He works with Fred at the shop; they've been close since their first year.”

“You can't just say something like that and not provide me with details,” Andi said thoughtfully. She scrambled from her seat next over to where Hermione sat.

“Something like what?”

“That your boyfriend and the future Mr. Benton are best mates, you twit! He only mentioned working at a shop with his mates.” She was cackling.

Hermione was blearily aware of Andi’s drunken laugh. While sober, her laugh could easily be compared to bells or wind chimes; when sloshed it was rather like a strangled honk, leaning more toward an agitated goose or aggressive orchestral brass section.

“‘Future Mr. Benton’?”

“Quite progressive of me, no?”

“That was quick of you,” Hermione sighed, fuzzily happy for the other witch. “But shouldn’t the future Mr. Benton know he’s to become the future Mr. Benton?”

Andi waved a dismissive hand. “Of course, of course. I was waiting to tell you before I made any hasty decisions. I’ll owl him a response tomorrow. Perhaps we’ll go to that chip shop Fred brought you to.”

“Oh, do! Fred and I always have a great time.”

Andi hummed her acknowledgement, pouring herself more to drink. “What’s he up to tonight?”

She shrugged. “Probably out to the pub with George, I suppose. Speaking of Fred, I...I’d actually hoped that you could help me with something.” Cheeks burning, Hermione finished off her glass, coughing at the deep heat she felt moving down her throat.

“Oh?” Andi fluttered her lashes prettily. “And what would the brightest witch of her age need help from little ol’ me for?”

“Sex.” Hermione blurted, hiccupping suddenly. She prided herself on the level of tact she usually employed, but when spirits were involved all bets were off, it seemed. “With Fred, I mean. I want to sleep with Fred.”

“Darling, if you need to ask about the logististics of that, I’m afraid your last partner didn’t know what they were doing.” The fact that she barely stumbled on the word logistics was a testament to Andi’s ability to handle her drink.

“Wh-no! That’s not the case at all.” She was not about to discuss sex with Ron while trying to work up the courage to have sex with Fred. “But you have more experience than I do, so...”

“You callin’ me a slag?” She asked, amusement clear in her tone.

Her mouth popped open ready to defend herself, but her mouth shut with a click of her teeth as Andi dissolved into full-blown belly laughter.

“Your face!”

Hermione groaned, her lips kicking up at the corners. She swatted at her friend before tucking her legs beneath herself. “You’re the worst!”

“No, no, no, I’m fine, really.” She was gasping, tears slowly leaking from the corners of her green eyes. “So you want to sleep with your man, yeah?”

“Yes! Though I’m starting to regret coming to you with this.”

“Oi, Dottie would’ve wanted to be here for this! The only others you could, would , go to are Ginny and Angelina! Asking Fred’s sister and future sister-in-law for advice about bedding him? Talk about awkward.”

“The act itself isn’t the issue.” Damn, perhaps getting pissed for this conversation wasn’t the best idea after all. “I want to make it nice, seduce ‘im. Candles, saucy nighties, mood music - the whole nine.”

“Oh, now that I can help with. Seducing willing victims into bed is my specialty.”

“Well, when you say it like that…”

“Nope, no take-backs! You asked, I agreed, no reneging.” Standing up, Andi wobbled slightly on stockinged feet before yanking Hermione unceremoniously from her spot on the settee. “Come with me!” Clumsily, she herded the younger witch into her bedroom toward her wardrobe.

The room was quite cluttered, though it looked as if Andi’d created somewhat of a path by kicking debris aside with her feet. She left Hermione standing in the middle of the room before diving headfirst into her wardrobe, voice muffled.

“I think I have just the ticket.” Popping out from behind her blouses, Andi thrust a scrap of fabric into the other woman’s hands.

“D-don’t you have something with a bit more...I dunno, coverage?” She asked, eyes owlish.

“What’s wrong with it?” Andi wondered. “It’s a bodystocking.”

“It’s a pile of fishnet.”

“Fine, gimme a sec.” The woman disappeared before tossing Hermione a pair of black knickers and a matching bra, but -.

“This might be a bit too, um, advanced for me? How would I even put it on?”

“This should not be so difficult, hon. See these strappy bits here? They cover your tummy and up around your neck.”

Hermione held the thing at arm’s length, holding the straps - convoluted as they were - between her fingertips. “Pass.”

“I can feel you judging my knickers, Granger. You asked for this.” Andi snatched it from her grip with an affectionate roll of her eyes and disappeared back into her wardrobe. “What about this?” She called, voice once again muffled.

Hermione wandered closer with barely enough coordination not to startle when another heap of fabric was tossed at her from within. Automatically recognizing that it was made up of more than the previous piece, the teddy in her hands was a becoming jewel tone, trimmed with lace and would easily cover her bum, though the rest of it was entirely backless.

With a grunt, Andi nearly fell out from behind the ornate doors of her wardrobe, a small pile of material within her arms. Tossing the various pieces of lingerie across her duvet, she threw out an arm in presentation.

“These are the few pieces I have that won’t offend you.”

“I’m not that bad!” Hermione snapped. She folded her arms, still holding the teddy.

Andi gave her a bland look. “Sweetheart, I received an Exceeding Expectations in the Art of Seduction, whereas you would’ve barely passed. You’re gorgeous and charming, but you know fuck all about using your sensuality to your advantage.”

She didn’t bother pointing out how that was most definitely not a class to have been taken. Instead, Hermione eyed the pile of clothing warily and looked at the piece between her fingers.

“I like this one.”

“Oh? You can have that; I haven’t worn it in forever. Try it on.” She shooed her to the bathroom with instructions of only returning once Hermione was properly dressed.

Draping the teddy along the side of the tub, Hermione quickly disrobed. Was she to wear knickers with it? As she stepped into it she pointed her wand at her midsection to mutter a charm, quickly altering the fit due to the height difference between them. The teddy was cut high enough that the very edges of the knickers she wore were visible. Right; none for the act itself, she mused. With a small frown, she twisted this way and that, trying not to fidget with the hem, the long expanse of her legs being so bare. Hermione shivered, her skin breaking into gooseflesh with her back exposed as it was. The small mirror hanging on the back of the door revealed alcohol darkened cheeks and slightly bloodshot eyes.

“Oh, bugger - Andi!” A muffled crash came from somewhere on the other side of the bathroom door. Hermione swung it open, the older witch laying in a tangled heap on the hallway floor.

She sat up, rubbing her left elbow. “Wot? Did not anticipate the floor attacking me.”

“Where’s the Pepper Up?”

Andi looked up at Hermione, grimacing, and pointed beyond her. “Bathroom cupboard; grab me some, will you?” She pushed herself up, dusting off her trackie bottoms. “Very nice , Granger. Who would’a thought you’d be hiding such a trim little body under those frumpy jumpers you love so much?

Hermione tensed, blushing furiously. She twisted, tossing one of the vials at her, who caught it easily. “You really are the worst.”

Andi knocked the potion back in one quick swig. “You look amazing, babes, as per usual.”

Waiting for her ears and nose to stop steaming, she groaned. “I know you’re complimenting me and it should be flattering, but what woman doesn’t have hang-ups about her body? I don’t even know why I’m so worried. Fred has already proved to me that he finds me attractive enough to sleep with.” Hermione slipped her own trackies over the teddy, not bothering to change entirely.

“Have you...”

“We haven’t done more than snog - heavily - but he’s definitely interested if that stonker he sports by the time we finish is anything to go by.”

Andi howled, head rearing back as she stumbled into the wall opposite of the bathroom doorway.

+

The first snow of December had also happened to fall on the first evening that Hermione had agreed to join him at the Burrow for family dinner since the fallout with Mum. Fred’s siblings knew that she’d be coming and were each in staunch support of her. They’d gotten ready at Hermione’s flat, preparing to Floo in from her sitting room.

Hermione was having a near feast of her lower lip, twisting her fingers in front of her as she paced before the fireplace.

“Darling, everything’ll be fine.” Fred shrugged into his coat, stuffing his scarf into one pocket.

“I know, I know.” She halted her pacing for a moment, watching him.

Rubbing his palms over her shoulders and upper arms soothingly, he looked at her straight on. “She’s so excited to see you. Been asking after you several times in the last week; you know that.”

Sighing, Hermione tipped her head back closing her eyes. Poor girl had been trying to compose herself for the last hour.

“Come on, then. Ginny and Harry are already there - I’ll be right behind you.” Fred brought her forehead to meet his lips before handing her the jar of Floo powder. He watched her disappear in a cloud of soot with a sigh of his own.

Those last few weeks had been some of the busiest, but happiest, times of his life. The shop was doing very good business for the upcoming holiday and he often came straight to Hermione’s once finished. Fred knew that Hermione missed Mum terribly, had had a multitude of conversations with her about it.

Fred stepped into the fireplace and called out for the Burrow before dropping a handful of green powder and feeling that familiar breathless tug. As he stepped over the hearth once he reached his parents’ home he was met with the sound of weeping and wet laughter. Mum and Hermione were in a tight embrace, rocking from side to side. Mum’s wrinkled fingers were petting down the younger witch’s hair, her eyes shut tightly.

“Blimey, Mum, she’s been here less than five minutes. Give the girl some space to breathe.”

“Let me have this moment, Fred Weasley!” Mum snapped, voice waterlogged and stare deadly, before immediately returning to whispering quietly into Hermione’s ear.

Not willing to be subject to either woman’s sharp tongue, he stepped into the lounge where Ginny and Harry were sitting with Dad. They all looked immensely relieved, obviously having witnessed Hermione’s arrival.

“I seem to have missed something,” he remarked lightly, glancing back over his shoulder.

“It’s about bloody time,” his sister groused, arms folded sullenly over her now very round belly. Pregnancy worked fast, it seemed. “Mum’s had me stressed out for weeks.”

“It’s barely been a month, Gin,” Harry soothed.

Fred perched himself on the arm of the couch, slotting his toes into the space at the edge of the cushion. He’d be lying if he said he didn’t share Ginny’s point of view, but Harry’s words made him soften. You were allowed to be upset with your family, growing up in such a large brood had taught him that. Hermione, on the other hand, had never let on to whether she’d ever been truly angry with her mum and dad.

The sound of the Floo opening was followed by muffled words and soft clapping and Mum scolding whomever it was.

“For Merlin’s sake, Mum! If you’re going to continue hugging my wife, at least take her to the kitchen so you don’t bite someone’s head off.”

He didn’t catch Mum’s words beyond an indignant squawk before Ron strolled in, rubbing the back of his head with a grimace, fingers linked with Sofi’s. Both were sporting massive grins with Sofi’s eyes glistening.

Sofi held up their hands, which sported simple matching bands.

“You didn’t!” Ginny, to her credit, sounded elated as she breathlessly struggled from her position on the cushions. She took Sofi’s fingers into her hands to inspect the ring before swatting at Ron. “You dolt! You could’ve given us warning.”

Ron blushed heavily, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’d wanted to keep it a secret, a surprise, you know? We just went and did it to avoid all the fuss.”

Though looking as if she would hit him again, Ginny simply leaned over and hugged him while the the rest of the men came over to offer hugs and handshakes.

Fred felt a strange surge of jealousy for his little brother. Of course he’d thought about Hermione, about the ring he’d picked out just the other day, but hadn’t considered just how he’d present it to her.

Over the next hour most of the Weasley clan filtered into the Burrow by way of the Floo and Mum had finally relinquished her hold over a very tear stained, but smiling, Hermione. They all gladly brought Sofi into the fold, including Fleur - simply happy to have another woman to speak with in her native tongue. Victoire had been taken with Sofi the moment they met and screeched happily at the knowledge of gaining yet another aunt to spoil her.

Dinner was an amiable affair, the tension between Mum and Hermione finally dissipating. Fred kept his fingers tangled with hers between their plates for most of the meal while she recounted her time with Andi to Ginny and Angelina.

“Oh, I can't believe this nearly slipped my mind. Andi received her matches and guess who she’s ended up with?”

Angelina groaned. “Please tell me she chose a bloke better than that one who has a thing for tentacles.”

The overwhelming noise of shocked coughing - himself included - rebounded off the ceiling. Hermione, barely reacting, slapped him squarely between the shoulderblades.

“Come again?”

“Oh, Merlin.”

“There's a story behind that, right?”

Angelina threw her hands up and waved them about. “Shhhhhhh!”

Hermione paused as the others settled. “Andi was matched with Lee Jordan, of all people! Can you believe it?”

“Bollocks! Lee told me and George the names of his matches,” Fred said, “Andi wasn't mentioned at all.”

Giving him a peculiar look, she sat back. “What are you talking about? I saw her match assignment myself and the letter Lee sent her directly.”

“Andi is Andrea Benton?

Hermione frowned. “Yes?” Her tone suggested he might be a little slow on the uptake.

Fred felt his jaw go slack and he wondered why he hadn't been able to connect the dots. “Huh.”

George leaned forward to tuck into his food once more. “That bird who's been coming round the shop?”

He rolled his eyes. “The one who he drops everything for whenever she's in? Makes sense. I watched him drop one of the Mercreatures out of a display tank in his rush to meet her.”

“Already like a lovesick pup.”

“Is it becoming a problem?” Hermione asked.

Fred waved a hand. “Not at all, but it's been a riot watching him flounder for excuses once she's off.”

“Doesn't seem to want to talk about her much,” George agreed. “Keeps it pretty close to the vest.”

“New romances tend to be secretive,” Mum offered softly, but Fred didn’t miss the significant look she shot him. Her expression wasn’t unkind.

“Yes,” Hermione agreed, sharing her look.

Whatever had transpired between his mother and girlfriend, Fred was certain that they’d once again be thick as thieves.

~

“What would you say about moving the rest of your things here?” He asked later that night as they prepared for bed. Fred had already planned on extending the bedroom, shrinking George’s old room, in order to accommodate for when Hermione decided to move in with him entirely.

She sat with her back to him, slim frame absolutely swimming in one of his t-shirts. Charming her headscarf into place quickly, Hermione hummed. “You’re sure it isn’t too soon?” Twisting, her eyes caught his and there was something akin to hesitation there.

“Everything about us is ‘too soon’,” Fred reasoned softly. Pulling back the covers, he slipped into bed and waited patiently for her to join him. After she switched off the lamp near her side of the bed he pulled her snugly against him.

The muscles in Hermione’s back lost their tension and she rearranged herself so her back was flush against the mattress. She was nibbling her lower lip - a sign that Fred had come to learn meant she wanted to say something but didn’t know how to phrase it.

“What is it, Hermione? You can tell me.”

“When...when we’re married...”

Fred nodded for her to continue. “Yes?”

“We’ll still continue to do things, right? What about - about children?”

“What’s brought this on?” He asked.

“It’s been on my mind for a few days now,” she answered, tone tinged with guilt. “I know marriage will come soon enough - and children sometime after that - but I like us like this. I don’t want this to stop.”

He felt himself smiling softly. Nuzzling into the side of her neck, he inhaled deeply. “I don’t think I’ll ever stop enjoying this, enjoying you.” Fred chose his next words carefully. “I wouldn’t mind children soon, but I’m also in no rush.”

“Really?”

“It’s your body, love. We’ll start trying for a little one when you give the go-ahead.”

That seemed to placate her enough to end the conversation. Hermione rolled herself into Fred’s chest and mumbled sleepily before settling quietly.

The warmth spreading through his chest had nothing to do with her body heat.

+

Hermione was exhausted. She’d gone with a set of aurors to over five locations just that day, following up on the leads sent to her office about the Kneazles. Her feet ached and she felt the beginning of a migraine brewing above her left eye. All she wanted to do was lay on Fred’s couch and have him give her a massage. His fingers were quite clever.

Walking into the flat, she was met with a scent that made her mouth water. Fred stood in front of the open oven, bent at the waist to take out what looked to be a baking dish covered in cheese. With herbs and passata drifting over all of her senses, Hermione removed her coat and hung it on a rung.

“Whatever you’re making smells divine, Fred.” She wandered into the kitchen, laying her briefcase on the table.

“I made your favorite,” he said over his shoulder in a singsong tone.

Sagging into one of the chairs with a groan, Hermione ran her finger tips over her scalp, dislodging the elastic. “You’re honestly the best boyfriend I could ask for.” She hated how fatigue had brought her words out with a whinge. Folding over the tabletop, her forehead dropped with a muted thud against her arms.

“Hermione sweetheart, wakey wakey.”

Hermione jerked sharply at the feeling of Fred’s palm softly jostling her shoulder. She rubbed at her forehead, feeling the heat of where her forehead had met her arm and taken on the texture of her jumper.

“Wha-”

“You nodded off for a moment there.”

Even as a jaw cracking yawn left her mouth, she couldn’t find it in herself to feel embarrassed. “Sorry, Fred - busy day.” Hermione’s eyes dropped closed when Fred laid a kiss on the spot she’d been rubbing, a pleased hum escaping her.

He retreated to the counter to retrieve two plates of aubergine parmesan, freshly sprinkled with extra cheese and paired with liberally spiced garlic bread. Fred had already set a wine glass in front of Hermione while her head was down and a bottled lager for himself.

The groan she let go at first bite was positively sinful to her own ears and Fred coughed roughly, clearly noticing. “This is delicious.”

They ate in companionable silence, for which Hermione was glad. Her head felt light - not unpleasantly - but she wasn’t about to concentrate hard enough to keep a conversation going. She’d had a long day and felt able to relax for the first time since that morning. The lights around the flat were dim, casting the lounge and dining area into warm shadows. By the time they’d had their fill, Hermione was ready to lay with Fred and sleep for days.

He stood and cleared his throat, catching her attention. Taking her hand, he led her into the lounge and sat her down in the overstuffed armchair she loved so much.

Stifling a yawn - wine never succeeded in anything but making her drowsier when she was tired - she hummed in response.

Fred’s expression was a determined one, though he kept his eyes soft. “I love you, you know that?”

She did; they didn’t often say it because they never felt like they needed to. Hermione felt it whenever he’d packed her off to work with a container of leftovers, or when he smiled whenever she’d stop by the shop unannounced.

“I love you, too.”

“So, ah...well.” His tongue sounded like it was tripping over itself and he fussed with his jeans, even as he crouched in front of her. “We’ll be married in a few months time, and I’ve been over the moon about it since you accepted my proposition. I just...”

Hermione sat up straighter, wondering fuzzily if what was happening was what she thought it was. “Fred -”

“Let me get this out, please? Otherwise I don’t ever think I’ll get this right. This has been a long time coming, you see. I never would have made it this far if it weren’t for you. I might’ve died without knowing what this felt like.” Fred took her fingers in his and kept earnest eye contact with her.

“This has been something I dreamt of having, but for a time I didn’t think I could have. I’m no longer worried about waking up in the middle of the night, cold and alone and waiting until I can breathe again properly because you’re laying next to me. I can’t tell you how good that makes me feel. I want you all the time, Hermione, want to be wherever you are. I want you living here with me one hundred percent of the time. I want Crookshanks’ hair covering my jackets and the socks you knit for me when Earhart chews through mine. I want to make you your favorite food and have your parents over for the holidays. I want...”

She couldn’t have been bothered with the state of her face, with tears dripping from her chin and cheeks probably splotchy and reddened. Hermione only took a hand from his grip to wipe her nose and eyes with the sleeve of her jumper.

This wasn’t at all what she’d always thought she’d hoped for, the marriage proposal of her childhood dreams. This was no grand romantic gesture, no scattering of rose petals or starlit nights in the park. No fireworks or family around to witness the moment. No, in this moment it was the two of them, she slightly wine drunk and he with a smattering of tomato sauce on the front of his shirt from missing his mouth at dinner. She was exhausted and happy and he was still working his mouth soundlessly, trying to figure out what to say next.

“I want...us, Hermione Jean Granger. You and me and however many future children we decide to have. You’ve been an honorary part of the Weasley family for so long now that it’s impossible to think of you as anything else. You’ve been the love of my life since before I even knew what this life meant to me. I’d marry you even if it weren’t for that stupid law.”

Laughing wetly Hermione surged forward, knocking both of them to the rug.

Fred caught her with a grunt, landing on his back with a thud. “Oi, I haven’t actually asked yet.”

Using the front of his shirt to wipe her eyes, she gave him an affectionate look. “I don’t care! We both know where this is going.”

The corners of his mouth kicked up. “You’ll marry me, then?”

“Of course, you idiot!”

“Hey now, is that any way to speak to your fiancé?” He laughed as she swatted at his chest. Fred still struggled with his jeans, eventually moving Hermione from laying atop him.

Fishing a ring from his back pocket, Fred presented it between his index finger and thumb. “I searched for the right one. I would’ve gone to the bottom of the ocean if it meant finding a ring more perfect for you. Luckily, I know a few people.”

The band was a delicate rose gold, small diamonds forming a skirt around a larger one. Her fingers shook as she took it from him to inspect it more closely.

“Fred Weasley, this must have cost you a small fortune!”

Leaning on his side now, propped on an arm, he shrugged. “It might have, it might’ve not. That’s not for you to worry yourself about, darling.”

Hermione watched him quietly, momentarily overtaken by how much she found she cared about this man. As she sat there, throat clogged with emotion, Fred took the ring and carefully slipped it onto her left ring finger.

“There - we’re well and truly engaged.”

An alarming thought lanced through her mind and she scrambled to stand. “I-I need to get something from my flat. I won’t be but a moment.” She Disapparated with a crack before Fred could say anything about it. Landing in the entryway to her flat, Hermione let out a shrill yell, causing enough of a racket that both her pets came rushing over to her. Picking up Crookshanks, she twirled around, an exuberant hop to her step while Earhart hovered above her, chirping loudly.

Right, she came here for a reason. Hermione set Crookshanks to the floor and rushed to her bedroom and hastily threw on the teddy Andi had given her. In her haste, both feet went into a single leg hole. Huffing a lock of hair out of her from her face, she slowed her movements - the last thing she wanted was to rip the lingerie before getting a chance to show it off. Should she return wearing only this; would it be appealing? In the end she lost a bit of her nerve, throwing on one of the flannels Fred had left at her flat nearly a month ago. The hem of the lingerie was barely visible underneath the shirt and her legs were exposed entirely, but Hermione supposed that would be the point.

Taking a deep breath to steady her jangled nerves, she Apparrated back to Fred’s - soon to be their - flat. This was happening. The lounge was relatively dark when Hermione returned, though there were a few candles flickering lowly. Tiptoeing down the carpeted hall, she followed the sound of quiet music until she reached Fred’s room at the end.

The man stood with his back toward her as he lit a few other candles. Hermione leaned against the door jamb and kept silent, watching the play of his shoulder muscles underneath the threadbare shirt he wore.

“Hey you.”

Fred turned at the sound of her voice as it carried across the room. Catching sight of her legs extending from beneath his button-down he smiled. “I seem to be overdressed for the occasion.” He placed his hands into the pockets of his jeans, watching Hermione as she slowly crossed to his side.

“We’ll fix that,” she answered softly.

Stretching onto her toes, Hermione brought his lips down to meet hers. They were soft and dry as they opened against hers, only separating a hair’s breadth to slide his t-shirt over his head before he resumed kissing her slowly. His palms came up, framing her jaw and Hermione felt Fred maneuvering them until the backs of her knees hit the duvet.

Hermione laid back, working to slide herself back as he climbed atop her, his lanky body blanketing hers and caging her thighs between his. The denim of his jeans brushed against her, leaving her skin sensitive and the shirt she wore bunched at her waist revealing the laced hems of the teddy. She could feel the beginnings of heat pooling in her belly.

Fred toyed with the lace and hummed inquisitively. “What do we have here?” Still straddling her hips, he straightened. Unbuttoning the shirt covering her body with nimble fingers, he let out a guttural noise, nearly a growl.

She'd never heard such a sound and in that moment Hermione vowed that she'd cause it again before the night was through. Apparently the sight of her in lingerie was unexpected and Fred was struck dumb, but the look of hunger in his eyes made Hermione squirm. He was just touching her! With a breathless huff, she pushed herself into seated position and shoved unceremoniously at Fred's shoulders until he was prone and their positions were reversed.

The feeling of sitting astride Fred Weasley was a heady experience. He'd bucked his hips as soon as Hermione had settled and immediately began rubbing his palms up and down her thighs in apology. The front of his jeans were tented significantly - she could feel the roughness of his zipper pressing against her backside.

“Can I…? Here, just let me -” Fred struggled to pull them off with one hand while wrapping his other arm about her waist to keep her pressed against him. He switched hands after a minute with a grunt of aggravation before he pressed a close-lipped kiss to Hermione's mouth and bucking her completely off him.

“These...bloody...Merlin's balls . The zipper's jammed!” Fred twisted himself from the mattress and jumped in place breathlessly, glaring at his unflagging erection as if it'd betrayed him. His hands were on his hips, fingers twitching over belt loops irritably. His fingers went for his wand, ready to shred his pants entirely before Hermione stopped him.

“Woah, hey. Are you trying to become a eunuch? Stop - Stop fussing, you overgrown scarecrow.” Hermione rolled herself onto her knees, an amused smirk on her lips. This wasn't going at all how she'd imagined, but then again, few things with Fred were rarely as she'd imagined. After a few moments of easing the teeth of the zipper apart Hermione was finally able to help him shuck the denim from his legs.

Standing before her in nothing but a pair of black striped pants, she tilted her head back to look at him. Hermione's eyes followed the journey of red from his chest, with its sparse patch of reddish golden curls, up the sides of his long throat. His adam's apple bobbed as his gaze met hers.

Fists clenched and loosened in short intervals as Fred gave a sharp inhale. Hermione looked up through her lashes and caught him staring, a look of concentration on his face. He nodded once quickly to a question she hadn't asked. Before Hermione had a chance to move, Fred pulled at her arms, unable to handle the feeling of her. Bringing her out of her crouched position he brought his lips to hers.

These weren’t the slow, almost lazy kisses they’d shared earlier. Though no less passionate, the hunger Hermione had seen in his eyes translated itself into the near overwhelming plunder Fred took of her mouth. He moved them both further up the mattress, his fingers finding the straps of her teddy and slipping them off her shoulders before sliding the fabric entirely off her body. She thought she’d seen want and hunger in Fred’s expression before, but this?

This was the look of a man starved.

A moan rent itself unbidden from her throat as her head fell to one side.

“Now, now, none of that, you’ll not rush me,” Fred crooned. He continued to tease her, never going where she’d wanted him to, regardless of her pleas.

As it was, she barely recognized the sounds falling from between her lips.

“I want...”

His fingers stilled and Hermione practically bucked him away in frustration. “Yes?” Fred’s voice was barely above a whisper, his answer nearly slurring. His hands hadn’t moved.

“Stop teasing me!” She cried. Barely having enough time to sob in relief, Fred flipped them and rearranged her so that she straddled his hips once more.

Nodding hazily at her, Fred urged her on. “I’m all yours.”

Her body welcomed him easily, the stretch of acceptance a pleasant burn. She felt her jaw drop as her head hung back, leaning to meet his thighs as Fred brought them up to support her. Once her pelvis met his Hermione paused, just bearing witness to what she was experiencing. Tipping herself forward she moaned at the change in angle and Fred surged up to meet her. While their mouths tangled for dominance, she experimented with undulating her hips.

Fred’s fingers found purchase at her hips, helping Hermione lift herself as he met her with his own movement. Try as she might, she couldn’t keep focus on any one thing. Hermione cried out at a particularly sharp snap of Fred’s hips. She kept herself upright by keeping her palms on his chest, thumbs brushing his nipples every once in a while. When he’d gasped that first time she hoarded the reaction away in her mind for later use. Her nerves were alight all at once and she knew by the tightening at where they were joined that she was close. So close.

“Fr-Fred, I need...”

She needn’t have said anything; it was as if he was properly in tune with her.  Hermione sobbed out once, her arms giving out. She laid on his chest, breath heavy, sated and wonderfully achy as he took in gulps of air as he finished. Moving stiffly from her position blanketing her fiancé, she landed on her side in a breathless heap. Her skin immediately began to chill from the absence of Fred’s body heat and she quickly moved herself to his side.

He wrapped a long arm around her shoulders, pulling her body flush against his. “That was absolutely brilliant .” He sounded winded and awestruck. “One hundred percent worth the wait.”

Even as tired as she was, Hermione preened under the compliments. Her entire body was more relaxed than she could ever remember being in recent memory. Placing a kiss at the side of his ribcage, her fingers toyed with the hair on his chest.

“I agree completely,” she sighed, stretching her legs before tangling them with his. “I can’t believe I put that lingerie on only for it to be taken off less than ten minutes later. Seems like a bit of a waste.”

“Oh no ,” Fred denied hotly. “Wherever did you get that? Merlin’s beard , Hermione, I about died.”

“You’re going to think it’s strange.”

“Hermione, darling, I promise I will not judge you for wherever you bought that because I will be sending them a thank you note.”

She laughed brightly. “Well...I asked Andi for some help in seduction techniques -” Fred snorted loudly, about to argue again when Hermione reached up and kissed him into silence. “She gifted it to me when she showed me the rest of her, ah, collection.”

“Hermione?” Fred was looking very seriously all of a sudden.

A slight frison of alarm zipped through her. “Yes?”

“If it means getting to see you in more naughty bits like that, I’ll owl her right now to go shopping with you.” His laughter rang out loudly even as Hermione let out a shriek of mock offense.

“You are the absolute worst , Fred Weasley!”

+

Fred couldn’t remember the last time he felt so weightless, so content. Both he and Hermione had taken time away from work to move her belongings into his - their - flat and to put up mild extension charms. He loved rearranging the lounge and bedrooms with the barest use of magic, so by the time they’d stopped for a break, all the windows had been thrown open to let in the frigid December air. They’d taken time to put up holiday decor while rearranging and as the day descended quickly into darkness in the middle of the afternoon, there was a fire cracking in the grate and garland hanging from the crown moulding.

Hermione padded into the lounge from the hall, her mobile held between her shoulder and chin as her arms were full. “...Dad got bitten again? But wasn’t it a routine cleaning? This is the third time in less than six months! What are people feeding their children there? What does that matter? Mum, he’s been bitten nearly ten times now!”

He smiled at her, watching her silently as she went about speaking to her Mum. She’d been chatting with her more often in the last week, preparing for their visit  just before Christmas.

“Yes, Mum, at least he didn’t require stitches again.” She set the box down on the couch and switched the mobile to her other ear, walking up to him and landing a peck on his jaw. “...We’ve nearly finished unpacking. Fred and I are just taking a bit of a break for dinner - we ordered takeaway.” Taking the phone from her ear, Hermione tapped a button and Mrs. Granger’s voice - slightly tinny as it was - promptly filled the air.

“Say hello, Mum.”

“Oh, are you with him now, dear? Hello, Fred!”

“Mrs. Granger, nice to speak to you again,” he said loudly, too loudly if Hermione’s startled expression was anything to go by. He shrugged; muggle technology was still quite the mystery to him. “Are you excited for the holiday?”

“More so now that I’ve gotten to plan a wedding for my daughter.” Fred thought that the woman’s laugh was very similar to her daughter’s.

Hermione grimaced a bit, holding the phone a couple inches from her face. “Mum, it’s like I’ve told you; we’re not having anything big. Molly’s already providing the venue, food and whatever else we’ll need. Don’t forget, nearly all of her children are to be married after Fred and I have.”

“I must be able to help with something .”

“You can,” he blurted, ignoring the curious look she gave him. “She’ll be needing a dress, yeah? You all can search for one while you’re here.”

“Oh, no, Mum that’s really -”

“Hermione Jean Granger, you are my only child and I’ll be damned if I don’t have a single thing to do for your wedding day beyond showing up. Let me have this.” While her mother’s tone had a sense of finality to it, Fred noticed that Hermione’s smile was pleased.

“Yes, mum.”

“Your dad and I will see you in a few days time,” the woman concluded. “You remember -”

“Flight QF009, expected just after five in the morning at terminal three,” she recited easily. “ Yes, Mum, I know. Fred and I will be there when you arrive I promise.”

“See you then!” He crowed, alerted by a knock at the door. Trading a few galleons for the takeaway, Fred closed the door quietly and waited while Hermione finished up on the phone. “Alright, then?”

Hermione trudged toward him, stretching herself from side to side. “Don’t get me wrong, I cannot wait to see my parents, but isn’t it a bit...I don’t know, awkward, to have them stay here?”

Munching on a slice of pizza Fred popped a hip against the tabletop. “Don’t see why.”

“The guest room is directly next to ours.”

He knew what she was getting at, but he took too much amusement in getting her worked up. “Yeeees?” Continuing to play dumb, he offered her a slice.

“I mean, what if we...”

“You must learn to use your words, darling.”

She caught onto his game quickly, her eyes narrowing. “You’ve already charmed the room.”

Fred had, so he didn’t deny it, only grinning at her. “Gimme some credit, babes.”

Hermione surprised him by stuffing half a slice of pizza into her mouth and chewing pointedly, cheeks puffed out.

“Why couldn’t we have had Percy get us a portkey for your parents?”

Swallowing, she wrinkled her nose a bit. “They’ve never done it before, but Mum’s done reading on them and isn't to keen on the side effects one can cause. They've both tried to avoid most things magical since...well. That's why I've had to get myself a mobile - owls showing up time and again brought a lot of strange looks from their neighbors.” Hermione looked uncomfortable and he felt for her.

Though her parents weren’t denying Hermione’s magical life entirely, Fred couldn’t fathom how much it weighed on her. He’d never know what it would be like to have family so resistant to such a large part of his life. Bringing her into his arms, he rested his chin against her scalp and smiled as she hugged him tightly in return.

Hermione gave a shuddering sigh. “It’ll be alright. They’ll arrive and everything will be normal Everything will be fine.”

~

Fred hadn’t known what to expect when heading into Heathrow Airport. The bustling crowds were worse than King’s Cross, and that had to be saying something.

“Is it always like this?” Fred asked while Hermione had his fingers tangled with hers. “How do they manage?”

She, meanwhile, was an arm’s length ahead of him, practically dragging him through the crowd. It was barely five o’clock and Hermione was strolling with purpose. “Will you come on? I want to be at the gate when they arrive.” She kept pulling at his arm and Fred realized belatedly that he was gawking at the muggles they passed and must have slowed them down considerably.

He rubbed the hair at the nape of his neck with his free hand. “Sorry, sweetheart,” he offered sheepishly. Fred picked up his feet and quickly matched pace with her even while surreptitiously glancing about.

A number of men and women lounged in trackies, in uncomfortable looking chairs, strange looking cushions about their necks as they slept. He saw a man wearing what looked to be a dressing gown and house slippers sitting on the floor propped against a pillar. Others were hunched over their baggage, cheeks lain on folded arms. How could muggles sleep in a place like this? He saw some, usually haggard looking men with briefcases at their feet, sitting with black boxes in their laps as they sipped from cardboard takeaway cups.

Fred grunted, walking into Hermione’s outstretched arm to stop him.

“We’re here,” she said, giving him an amused look while he rubbed his midsection. “Their plane should land soon.”

“Oh, brill.”

“You know, you’re looking quite like a tourist. It’s almost as if you’ve never seen muggles, gawping around with your mouth open like that,” Hermione murmured as she wrapped her arms around his middle. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised though - you are your father’s son.”

Fred hid a wide yawn behind his palm. “Well yeah,” he remarked easily. “Don’t you remember the first time you went somewhere entirely magical? This is genuinely otherworldly to me.”

“I know,” she chuckled, “I’m just teasing.” Her face angled up towards his and gave him a leisurely kiss.

He was entirely too happy to return it in the middle of that sleepy terminal. Here, in common muggle clothing, they were away from the prying eyes of witches and wizards looking for excuses to gossip about Fred’s relationship with his fiancée. There was a strange sense of calm that came with that knowledge.

“Flight QF009, Melbourne to Heathrow, now arriving.”

“Oh!” Hermione spun in Fred’s arms to face the entryway where passengers would disembark. She bounced on her toes slightly, jiggling his arms in the process.

“When was the last time you’ve seen your parents?” He asked.

“Nearly a year, now. Traveling overseas, whether by portkey or plane, is rather expensive. I can’t afford it more often, though I wish I could.”

That gave Fred ideas, but they were to be figured out in the future. He placed his hands on her shoulders, doing nothing to stay her excited fidgeting and kept his eyes trained on the doorway.

Hermione barely contained a squeal as a specific man and woman came strolling through the entryway from the plane, their eyes bloodshot and clothing mussed.

“Mum, Dad; over here!”

Despite the early hour, Fred had a proper mind to keep from hushing her - he valued the muscles in his midsection enough to save them from a jab from one of Hermione’s sharp elbows. He released her the moment he felt her pull and watched her rush up to her parents.

Her mum held her tightly, petting down the hair at the back of Hermione’s head. Her father smiled amiably before heading over to where Fred stood a few feet away.

“I take it you’re the man my daughter’s gone dopey over, eh?”

The description seemed so strange when attached to the young woman he’d come to love. “‘Dopey’, sir?” Fred took the hand extended to him and gave it a firm shake.

“Call me Edward, son.” The man leaned in almost conspiratorially. “I haven’t known my daughter to gush over a boy in quite some time, y’know? It’s nice to see her happy again. Back to her old self.”

He didn’t know how to respond. Hermione was...of course Hermione was different now. Did he notice that she smiled all the time now? Of course, but then he’d always noticed when she’d smiled. Fred had practically gone dimwitted each time. For Edward to acknowledge that she was acting as he remembered her - from before - gave him a sense of pride he’d not expected.

“I do what I can.”

The man clasped him by the shoulder, much like his own father did, and pulled him over to Hermione and her mum where the older woman was cooing over the ring on her daughter’s finger. He took his daughters into an embrace, simply trading spaces with his wife.

“Mrs. Granger, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you. You’re as lovely as you sound on the phone.”

The woman laughed lightly. “I would certainly hope not - I sound like a frog over that thing. But, flattery will get you everywhere, darling. And call me Martha, will you?” She pulled Fred in for a hug - the woman was slightly shorter than her daughter - and held him.

Fred immediately got a sense of closeness from Hermione’s parents; they were welcoming and kind, reminding him so easily of his own. He glanced at her as he pulled away from Martha; Hermione’s eyes were wet and rimmed red. Clearing his throat, he suddenly felt off-kilter - surely they wouldn’t mind him comforting their daughter? Instead of enveloping her in one of his long limbed hugs, Fred took her hand in his and gave it a comforting squeeze. He looked around, finding that most of the muggles from the flight had left.

“You - ah - you have baggage, I assume?” Fred asked, clearing his throat once more.

Martha flapped her hands willy nilly. “Yes, yes, sorry for getting so caught up. Shall we head to the carousel?”

“Lead on, then.” He fell into step with Hermione as her parents walked ahead. Her hand in his was a welcome weight in his, the ring on her finger a comforting presence against Fred’s fingers.

“Thank you,” she murmured.

He ducked his head toward hers. “For what?”

“For coming with me.”

“You kidding? You think I’d miss this ?” Fred swept his arm out as if to encompass the airport as a whole. “There’s a conveyor belt over there that I saw the muggles riding on - it’s a bloody amusement park!”

Hermione’s laugh rang out, bright and cheerful despite the early hour. She squeezed his hand in response and they walked the rest of the way in companionable silence.

With bags in hand, Hermione led them out into the frigid carpark. She’d steered her parents into a corner where they’d be least likely to be disturbed and Disapparated. Fred steadied Edward over to the couch when they arrived in the lounge of his and Hermione’s flat.

The man was looking a bit green around the gills. Martha simply stood in place, a look of shock plastered on her face.

“I’ll put a kettle on, shall I?” Fred asked quickly. With a short nod from Hermione, he’d hurried over to the kitchen. Crookshanks was perched on the on the sill of the window above the sink, his tail waving listlessly below him. He made a sound somewhere between a meow and a gargle in acknowledgment of Fred’s appearance, receiving a quick, absentminded scratch under his chin for his efforts. It was easy having Hermione’s mum and dad in their space. They seemed to appreciate that she and Fred ran their household without the overuse of magic. He just hoped they’d be prepared the circus that was bound to be The Burrow come Christmas morning.

+

The moment they’d arrived early on Christmas morning Molly and Arthur took Mum and Dad in with warmth and kindness and Hermione felt nearly faint with relief. She’d prepared herself for the potential of her Mum to be a bit standoffish with Molly, but luckily that wasn’t the case. After a quiet dinner at their flat the night before, she and Fred had explained to them what a family gathering at the Burrow would look like - loud and generally crowded - but Mum had waved them off.

Now, walking into the lounge and seeing it crammed full of decorations, small children and the rest of the Weasley brood with their significant others, she saw her parents’ eyes go saucer-like.

“I see you both weren’t exaggerating,” Mum mumbled a little dazedly, accepting a cup of tea from Molly.

“I’m afraid not,” Hermione agreed, sighing happily.

Ginny and Angelina stood across the room, huddled closely with their heads bent together. The redhead caught sight of her and beckoned her over excitedly. Their extended bellies made standing in a close circle a bit difficult.

“Happy Christmas, love.”

Hermione grinned at them, hugging them each tightly about their shoulders. “Happy Christmas, ladies. What are we conspiring over this time?”

Angelina’s mouth kicked up at the corners. “Nothing devious.”

Ginny chuckled and leaned in. “I told Harry that we’ll be having a boy last night. Poor lad didn’t speak for an hour; just laid on the floor by the tree with a silly grin on his face.”

Having known the gender of the baby for some time now, Hermione wasn’t remotely surprised by that. Ginny had kept it a secret from him as a planned holiday gift. “How are the nurseries coming along?”

The two witches groaned in unison.

“My mum insists on having the entire room decked out in the poshest styles,” Angelina sighed. “Can’t really complain though, can I? George and I haven’t needed to pay for anything. I will say though...” She leaned in and lowered her voice, “Molly was in a bit of a strop over that. She thinks they’re too involved.”

“She’s got a bit of a point,” Ginny offered. “At least Mum’s calmed down since they let her cover the wedding.”

Hermione nodded. “I think it’s a fine trade off.”

“Just as long as there’s no more bickering! Mum’s driving dad mental with it.”

Harry sidled up behind Ginny, giving her a peck on the cheek, the start of his beard tickling her into a giggle. “Who’s going mental?”

“Everyone,” Angelina deadpanned.

“Oh, brilliant.”

“Family, we’re here!” Charlie’s booming voice called out.

Hermione hadn’t seen him in ages and went to him happily as he and three others followed in short order from the Floo. Two women and a man laughed jovially, wiping soot from each other’s clothing.

“Oh, well hello,” Molly greeted the newcomers. “Happy Christmas, Charlie, dear. Who’ve we here?”

“I’d like you all to meet my wife, Silviana.” He presented the young smiling woman at his side, all rosy cheeks and olive toned skin and thick, dark hair braided into a crown around her head.

“Nice to meet you,” the witch said brightly, accent not as thick as Hermione expected.

“What a pleasure,” Molly gushed. “And your other guests, who might they be?”

Charlie brought the man forward, taking his hand. “This is Raz, my boyfriend, and that,” he nodded to the last woman, a pale waif of a girl with reddish brown hair, “is Anca. She’s dating Silvi.”

A broad silence filled the room while the Weasleys all looked on in confusion.

Arthur recovered first. “Right, but, ah...you were married without letting us know?”

That’s what you question first?” Ron asked loudly. “Not how they all seem to be with each other ?”

As far as reactions went, Charlie and his guests didn’t seem bothered.

“Ronald, honestly,” he chided his youngest brother. “We’re not all together , Merlin’s beard. Could you imagine?” His companions all chuckled at the very notion. “Not at all. Because this bollocks law, I was paired with Silvi and Raz with Anca. Anca and I work together and we both have, uh, similar afflictions, if you catch my meaning. The laws didn’t seem to take orientation into account, you see.”

Hermione caught on immediately, as did the twins, for they both collapsed against each other, wrapping their arms about each other to keep upright while laughing so hard their eyes began to leak tears.

“Oh this is classic!” George crowed. “They paired up a bunch of poofs with each other.”

“Oi!” Angelina swatted him, giving him a hard look.

Raz stepped forward, bristling. “Excuse you?”

Charlie placed a calming hand on the man’s shoulder. “It’s alright, he doesn’t mean it as an insult.” He eyed George critically. “Do you, George?”

The twins sobered quickly and George shook his head vehemently. “Of course not, but Charlie, come on . Tell me you didn’t find it a little ironic.”

“We all did,” Anca replied. “It was more...a strange twist of fate that it turned out in such a way.”

“It’s lovely to have you all joining us for Christmas,” Molly offered, though she gave Charlie an assessing look. “I’ll ignore the slight by my own child of not having been invited, let alone told , of his marriage. But, the more the merrier I always say. I’ll just set a few more placements, shall I?” Clapping sharply, Molly shooed the massive group out of the dining area so she could make alterations now that there were more new family members joining them.

“My, my,” Mum murmured to Dad as everyone filed back into the lounge. “Fred and Hermione did say that the hols here were an event.”

Hermione waited for the rest of the crowd to disperse before hugging them each in turn, taking a seat in the lounge next to Charlie and his boyfriend. “I’m happy that the law worked out for you, even if it was to unintended effect.”

“Thanks, Hermione. Hey, how’s Earhart doing?” Charlie wondered.

She smiled brightly, always eager to gush about her pet dragon. “Oh, she’s wonderful, bigger than Crookshanks now.”

Looking thoughtful, he nodded in Anca’s direction. “Took us a while to get the breeding down for that, yeah?”

The witch grinned enthusiastically, the freckles beside her eyes seemingly  standing out more as laugh lines appeared. “We lucked out with those hatchlings.” Anca laid a hand upon Silvi’s thigh. “We’ve all been working behind the scenes with the dragons on the breeding project for nearly eighteen months now. The Antipodean Opaleye hatchlings were already smaller than the previous clutch, so we knew they’d be a good size to train as pets.”

“Where are you keeping them all?” Hermione asked, intrigued.

Charlie leaned forward, as if knowing where her mind was headed. “We’ve an agreement with a few farmers, all registered breeders, who are allowing us to use their land for our work. All perfectly legal.”

She blushed. “I hadn’t meant to seem accusatory, I apologize.”

“Hermione here works for the Ministry, making sure that magical creatures are safe and cared for properly, especially in the wild. She’s just making sure she doesn’t need to file an injunction or something, right?”

“It’s not like our Ministry has any say over what you do in Romania,” she offered. “But it does make me feel better knowing you aren’t doing all this under the radar. The sale of dragons as pets hasn’t been legalized yet, but the breeding of them clearly is.”

Silvi smiled serenely. “We’re hoping to approach the heads of the magical creature department at our own Ministry in the coming months and show them our work with the hatchlings.”

“At least we know that your brother made a good choice with Earhart, yeah?” Raz grinned, patting Charlie on the back with pride.

Hermione canted her head to one side. “What do you mean?”

“Fred came to me before your birthday,” Charlie answered. “It was his idea to give you Earhart. He picked her out, didn’t he tell you?”

“He never said...”

“Ah, well.” Charlie grimaced a moment before shooting a look over his shoulder at where his brother was conversing with her Mum and Dad. “It was before you two got together. Maybe he didn’t want to make a big deal out of it? You would know better than anyone that he isn’t one for grand romantic gestures.”

Hermione sighed. “I suppose.” But that wasn’t true, was it? Maybe not on a grand scale, but she’d come to learn just how romantic Fred Weasley could be, especially behind closed doors. She’d never considered that he’d been the one to choose Earhart for her. The realization created a sudden lump in her throat and a keen ache in her chest. She excused herself quickly, glad that Charlie gave her a knowing look before turning back to his group.

She strode across the room over to her fiancé’s side, settling herself beneath his arm against his side with a contented sigh. He barely reacted beyond tightening his hold on her and continued to chat with Dad about the modern marvel that was dental headgear.  

~

Hermione could hear her mother milling around just on the other side of the curtain separating her and the multitude of dresses hanging on racks in the bridal shop. She was muttering under her breath, something about tacky and overpriced .

“Mum,” she sighed, peeking around the curtain. Quickly struggling back into her jeans, she hopped in place to pull them up. “This is the third dress shop we’ve been into just this morning.”

Mum wrinkled her nose, dropping the lace cap sleeve of the nearest dress. “Well, what do you expect? Finding a wedding dress during the holiday season - on a walk-in, no less - is near impossible.”

“But Mum ,” she hissed, beckoning her closer. “We’ve been to muggle shops all morning. Sofi gave me the name of a seamstress working in muggle London who does good work for witches and wizards.”

She placed her hands at her waist and Hermione could’ve sworn she was a moment away from stomping her foot. “Don’t you think you buried the lead here a little bit, dear? What are we waiting for?” Mum herded her further back into the fitting room with fluttering hands.

She stepped back hastily, bumping against the mirror. Hermione had gone with Sofi the day before to the boutique so she could Apparate when she needed to. The inside was kitschy, lined with wallpaper covered in pink flamingos; plush, angular furniture sat scattered about; racks filled with dresses hung interspersed between open wardrobes where pieces of jewelry and knicknacks sat.

The moment she pressed her mother through the front door they were greeted by a youthful looking witch in a wildly short floral dress with a peter pan collar, eyes heavily lined. Considering the bitter chill outside, Hermione would have been concerned if it weren’t so pleasantly cozy inside. The witch rocked back and forth from heel to toe as Mum wandered further in, mouth wide open.

“As I live and breathe, Miss Granger! It’s an honor, really.” The young woman grasped Hermione’s fingers and rocked up on her toes, excitement radiating from her. “Sofi owled me just this morning saying to expect you sometime soon.”

“Are you the seamstress my daughter was told about?” Mum asked.

She twirled to face her, holding out a welcoming hand. “That I am! My name is Natalie; welcome to The Lion Witch’s Wardrobe, started by my auntie and passed down to me. Quite the clever name. She was an incredibly single-minded Gryffindor obsessed with fashion, especially when it came to putting people in dresses.”

She hoped that Mum held her tongue on the fashion of the shop. Hermione didn’t want to insult one of Sofi’s friends.

Instead of skittering away from the loud colors and excitable energy that Natalie was giving off, Mum’s shoulders seemed to relax and a bright smile split her face. “I think it’s absolutely darling, don’t you, sweetheart?” She was looking hopefully at Hermione.

“Oh, yes!”

“Feel free to search for a style of dress to your liking. I can alter anything you have questions about to fit your personal aesthetic. We also carry styles for the mother of the bride,” Natalie added suggestively to Mum’s delight.

Hermione wandered over the several racks of dresses, brushing her fingertips lightly across the various fabric and intricate beading patterns. “Mum?”

She turned toward her, eyes glittering. Her tone was nothing less than wistful. “Your grandmother had wallpaper like this all around the house. Drove my father absolutely mental. The 50’s and 60’s were an incredible time for fashion and interior design. In fact, I believe I had something similar to Natalie’s outfit when I was younger.”

“You did? I never knew that.” Hermione blinked in surprise, gaze moving between her mum and the young woman - no older than she was, surely. She’d seen pictures of Mum when she was younger, but she had always been in school uniforms and certainly more sedate muggle clothing.

Examining a broach absentmindedly, Mum gave an acknowledging hum. “Oh, your granddad was not a fan, I have to say. There were no pictures of me in such wild clothing in the house, but there are polaroids floating about somewhere, in some musty old box in the basement back home.”

She pulled a dress from one of the racks, sleeves made of delicate silk with an airy skirt of tulles. Hermione held it to her front, twisting this way and that, a tiny smile on her lips.

“Mum, what do you think of this one?”

The woman turned, eyeing the dress critically. “I don’t know…It looks a bit dated. Don't you think it’s a bit old fashioned?”

“Not at all; I think it looks lovely.”

“It isn’t at all like the ones you’ve already tried on.”

“Exactly. I didn’t like those ones. I like this one.” Heading to the back of the store, Hermione hid herself in one of the changing rooms and disrobed quickly. Using her wand, she quickly buttoned the back. The skirt fell to her ankles and the sleeves to her elbows, but they were incredibly loose around her arms and the bateau neckline sagged severely in the front. She knew her frame was on the slighter side, but Hermione hadn’t expected such a difference. But, that was what Natalie was for, she supposed. Calling out for the young witch, she waited patiently for her to appear.

“Oh, how wonderful!” Natalie took her by the hands and pulled her from the changing area to stand up on the pedestal nearby. Leaving her wand tucked into the loose belt now slung about her waist, she began pulling pins and clips from a bag and quickly pulled the material of the dress to lay as it was meant to.

“You have a wonderful figure,” she gushed, clapping her hands together happily. “Once I get this altered, it’ll be as if this dress was meant to be yours.”

Mum stood off to the side of the mirrors, their coats tucked around her arms. “You look beautiful, Hermione. Fred will never be able to take his eyes off you.”

Hermione smiled to herself in the mirror, pulling her hair up to bare her neck. “That’s the plan, Mum.”

+

Fred let his body drop bonelessly onto the couch cushions, Crookshanks letting out a low noise of displeasure from nearly being sat on. He flicked his tail languidly before resettling at his hip.

“Your mum and dad are an absolute riot. Too bad they couldn’t stay longer.” Fred sighed and ran a tired palm over his face. He and Hermione has just returned from Heathrow, she with bloodshot eyes and he with sleep as his only goal. Their coats and wellies sat in a sodden heap in front of the fireplace.

“I wish they would,” she agreed, “I miss them already.” Hermione rubbed her arms through her sleeves, teeth chattering.

“Ah, come here, love.” He beckoned her with outstretched arms and grunted when Hermione dropped heavily into his lap. “You’ll see them again soon - you and I’ll be married within the month, remember.”

Hermione rolled her eyes at him with a fondness that made his chest warm, curling further into Fred’s chest. “How could I forget?” Her jaw cracked with a tight yawn. “I’m reminded every time I look at you.”

Crookshanks yowled at Earhart when she settled next to her humans, though the dragon barely gave any mind. Fred reached over and rubbed his nails alongside the creature’s pearlescent neck and she chirped back happily.

“I don’t think that’s such a bad thing,” he murmured. “I quite like our little family already.” Summoning a blanket, Fred wrapped it about the two of them, rearranging slightly so that Earhart wasn’t smothered.

“You know I’m glad to marry you,” she sighed, her eyes closed. “And I love our little family. We should enjoy it before we add a baby into the mix.”

“I’ll just enjoy it more when that happens.”

“But it’s so quiet now. Don’t you enjoy when it’s quiet ?” Her voice kept dipping to a whisper and he chuckled.

“You forget, I spent my life at The Burrow; quiet was never in my vocabulary. Noise and chaos is my natural state of being.”

Hermione groaned, but he knew that she had been starting to look forward to the idea of a child of their own. “Could you imagine?”

“Red hair; curls; freckles; delightfully dark skin and the scariest intellect ever seen since their mother was a child? Nope, haven’t thought a bit about it.” Fred felt her smile into his neck.

“You think you’re so funny.”

“So do you - s’why you’re marrying me innit. My caustic wit and charm.”

Hermione lifted her face to his, her nose wrinkled adorably. “Can’t say I’ll ever be bored.”

“I’m sure I’ll find enough ways to keep you busy,” Fred said, leering at her until she swatted at his chest.

“You are absolutely incorrigible, you know that?”

He nuzzled against her cheek. “If you keep telling me why you want to marry me, I’ll have to take this to the bedroom.”

“Could we move to the bedroom? As comfortable of a pillow as you are, I’m exhausted.” Her head fell back against his shoulder once more.

Chuckling softly, he sighed. “As my lady wishes.” Adjusting his hold on her, Fred hoisted her up with little effort as he stood. Traipsing into their bedroom, he kicked the door shut behind them and proceeded to drop Hermione onto the duvet in an unceremonious heap.

She pressed herself up onto her elbows. “One of these days you’re going to regret treating me like a sack of potatoes.”

“But then where would be the fun in that?”

Fred joined Hermione as she crawled beneath the pile of sheets and blankets that had accumulated on their bed and extinguished the lights. Cleaning the guest room would have to wait until their exhaustion petered out.

 

Waking to the sound of George’s voice calling so suddenly from the other room, Fred sat up abruptly, dislodging Hermione’s body from his side. The bedside clock indicated that they’d been asleep a mere three hours before George burst into the room, disheveled and breathing harshly.

Unfairly astute for having just been jostled awake, Hermione watched the man with concern. “What is it, George? What’s happened?”

He was up and out of bed tossing on a wayward shirt before grasping his twin by the shoulders. “Mate, take a breath for me. You’ll pass out at the rate you’re going.”

“It-it’s Angelina,” he blurted, still working to slow his breathing. “She’s at St Mungo’s, said she didn’t feel right this morning. Sh-she...there was blood, we had to go immediately.”

Hermione had already thrown on the pair of jeans she’d worn to Heathrow and was in the process of tossing up her hair. “Who’s with her now, George?”

Fred eyed her intently, taking in the serious set of her jawline and the look in her eyes, as if already working out how she could take care of everything.

“Mum’s there, so’s Ginny and Harry. Dad’s gone to fetch the others.”

“Get back there,” Hermione instructed. “We’ll be right behind you.”

He nodded before locking eyes once again with his twin. George’s face was ashen. “I’m scared, Fred. What...what if -”

“There’s no time for that right now,” Fred urged. “Do as Hermione says and go . And be careful, nobody needs you splinching yourself before you get there.”

With a resolute nod, George straightened his shoulders and took a fortifying breath before disapparating with a loud crack .

Wasting no time, Fred tossed on the nearest pieces of clothing and took Hermione’s hand before following his brother.

The halls of St Mungo’s smelled just as he’d remembered them after he woke from his coma - the stinging scent of cleanliness. Healers bustled from room to room, overlooking parchments and talking quietly with one another. A couple of younger witches sat behind a desk in the waiting area speaking with a weathered looking wizard.

“Pardon me,” Hermione stated as she came up beside the man, her voice calm and level. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but we’re here to see Angelina Johnson. She’s our sister-in-law, could you tell us where to find her?”

After a moment they were directed toward Maternity where she’d just been admitted. Mumbling his thanks, Fred grabbed her hand and pulled her toward a set of lifts while they waited to take one up.

“How are you so calm right now?” He asked. His fingers twitched as he ran them over his scalp. There was a tightness in his chest that wouldn’t dissipate from the look he’d seen on George’s face. Fred couldn’t remember when he’d last seen him in such a state, if ever.

“I’m quite terrified, actually.” She turned to face him, her eyes glassy with unshed tears. “What’s going to happen...the baby?”

“Hey, hey now, we can’t think like that,” he soothed. “We’ll have to trust in what the healers have to say and just hope it’s good news, yeah? We have to be strong for Ange.”

Hermione nodded, wiping her cheeks as they walked onto the lift as its doors slid open.

They stood in tense silence until they came to the proper floor. Ginny was standing outside the room speaking quietly to Harry as they arrived.

“How is she?” He asked.

Ginny leaned into Hermione as she embraced her, sniffling loudly. “She’s asleep. They managed to stop the bleeding, but she might not be out of the woods just yet. George is absolutely beside himself. He’s in there with Mum and Angie’s parent’s now.”

“And no one else has shown up yet?”

She shook her head. “Dad’s working on it.”

Harry clapped a hand on his shoulder, a sad expression marring his features. The man had already lost so much family, Fred thought. He was taking it just as hard as the rest of them.

Leaving Hermione outside with them, he stepped into the room and closed the door as quietly as he could. It was dim, George sitting as close to Angelina’s bed as his chair allowed him. Mum and Angelina’s parents were huddled on the couch in the corner by the windows. A self-scribing quill and parchment hung behind the bed as a spell constantly ran itself across the witch’s sleeping form and her information was entered onto the parchment.

“Hey, Forge,” he said quietly, his smile sad. He walked over and pulled a chair over to keep vigil beside his brother.

“Gred,” the man answered, his expression remaining impassive. “They gave her something to let her sleep; said they didn’t want her body putting any more stress on the baby.” His fingers tightened around hers.

“Is there anything I can do?”

He shook his head. “It’s out of our hands, mate. They took her for some tests after we arrived but we haven’t heard anything from the healers yet.”

Fred hated hearing the quiet defeat in George’s voice. He placed a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “She’s a strong bird,” he said. “If she’s put up with you for this long, this’s nothing.”

George looked at him with a weak smile. “Thanks.”

There came a loud hubbub from outside the room before several people spilled through the doorway.

Ron and Percy were bickering about something, followed by Dad, a healer, and Sofi. Hermione, Ginny and Harry followed in with a more sedate manner.

“Please, everyone,” the healer called over the ruckus, “family only for the time being!”

That was the wrong thing to say, it seemed.

The room grew cacophonous with derision of the healer’s intelligence. The mediwitch took a step back, eyes wide and bug like.

All of you?”

“Were you dropped on your head?” George cried. “Notice any similarities?”

“Red hair, maybe?” Percy offered.

“More freckles than humanly possible?” Snarked Ginny.

Waving between himself and George, Fred scoffed. “We have the same bloody face!”

Sofi, Harry and Hermione stood huddled together before Hermione spoke primly, her tone sharp. “We’re Weasleys by proxy.” To those who never spent time around her, she sounded even and succinct - to Fred and the others though, there was an acidic undertone to her words.

He watched the healer balk and stare at the parchment in her hands in deference to the tension in the room. “Right then. I, ah, I take it that you all will be involved in the care of Miss Johnson?”

“You’re damn right we will be,” Mum scoffed. “What’s happened to her?”

The woman squared her shoulders and inhaled deeply. “Miss Johnson has experienced what is called a placental abruption - the placenta began detaching from the uterine wall. You said that she’d been experiencing back pain this morning?” She addressed George.

He nodded. “She nearly fainted it was so bad, and I’ve seen her take a tumble from her broom during a Quidditch game and get right back in; I know she can handle pain.”

“You were lucky to have gotten her here. Has she had any kind of trauma recently?”

George looked at a loss for words before his expression crumbled. “Sh-she said she’d nearly fallen in the shower a few days ago. There’s a bruise on her hip from where she caught the wall.”

Fred could hardly handle the devastated look on his brother’s face.

“She’d told me not to worry myself over it. Do...do you think she may have actually taken a complete fall?”

The healer nodded, looking sad. “It would seem so. The damage wasn’t as bad as we’d worried about. The volume of blood loss could also be attributed to her anemia.”

“So she’ll be okay, then?” Fred asked, voice cracking.

The healer nodded, once again serious. “We’ll keep her for a day or two for observation, but she’ll be under strict orders for bed rest when she returns home. This will be for the remainder of her pregnancy.” The witch glanced at the room at large with a stern expression. “She’s not to get out of bed or off the couch except for the loo and to bathe, is that clear?” As they all nodded, the mediwitch excused herself and left the room.

George groaned. “She’s gonna hate this.”

Fred felt for him. Angelina was stubborn and independent to a fault; losing her ability to do anything for herself was going to drive her absolutely mental. “Don’t worry about the shop, Georgie, I’ll have everything held down if you want to stay at home with Ange.”

His eyes widened. “No! If I stay home with Angelina any longer than she wants me there I’m likely to to get my bollocks hexed off. I am not abandoning the shop, you can’t make me!”

+

The subsequent weeks passed in such a blur that Hermione could scarcely remember spending any time with Fred before they fell into bed at night. Even then, they’d fallen asleep too quickly to take advantage of those moments. When she wasn’t working, she’d been corresponding with Molly over every single nitpicked wedding detail. Even though the woman was handling everything, she’d still wanted Hermione’s input on food, color schemes and decoration. Most days, Hermione had been on assignment with her team of Aurors and for the day or two Hermione had spent in the office, she and her coworkers were buried under mountains of paperwork. Andi had barely gotten a chance to gush about the latest date she and Lee had been on. Once or twice, Roger had come in to deliver Dottie’s lunch to her and had brought along some of the strongest brewed tea he could manage.

Hermione had noticed that Fred hadn’t been faring much better at time management than she was. With George spending much of his time at home with Angelina and the wedding just a short ways away, he’d had to bring on an apprentice from limited choices.

“I still don’t know why you don’t just bring Lee on as your apprentice,” she said one night, five days after Fred brought on Jason Sandburg.

Who, apparently, couldn’t be trusted to be left alone with Verity.

“Lee hasn’t showed any interest in the position,” he sighed, his voice muffled by the pillow he had apparently tried to smother himself with. “Trust me, I would love to have him apprentice with us, he’s never said anything.”

“Have you actually talked to him about it?”

“Yeah!” Fred cried, tossing the pillow aside. A moment later his expression grew contemplative. “I’m sure we’ve talked about it.”

Hermione finished drawing her hair into a loose plait before getting into bed, wiggling her toes under Earhart at the foot of the bed as she settled. “Or did you and George only ever talk about it around Lee and never directly speak to him about it?”

He grumbled as he sunk further beneath the duvet, extinguishing the lights. “I see your point. Too bad about Sandburg, though; aside from being an absolute rubbish human being, his product ideas were brill.”

She found herself snorting before twisting to face him. “As if that makes up for him accosting Verity in the store room.” Fred’s features were hardly visible with just the moonlight, but Hermione could tell he was grimacing.

“Good thing she knows how to defend herself - lecherous prat never stood a chance.”

Hermione recalled - with no shortage of amusement - the scene as Fred had described it to her when he’d owled her. He’d been replying to an investor when the room shook suddenly. Fred had run into the shop to find the door to the store room open, billowing smoke, only to find Sandburg buried under a pile of boxes after he’d been blown clear across the room. Verity had been fuming and the only reason she’d not snapped the man’s wand right then was because she’d had plans for it before Fred had shown up.

She sighed, scooching in more closely to Fred’s side of the bed. The crown of her head settled below his chin and one of his arms draped over her waist as the other pressed underneath her pillow. Drowsy as she was, Hermione wanted to savor this physical contact.

“I’ve missed this,” she sighed into the well worn material of his shirt. Her body felt weighed down by sandbags, her limbs heavy and cumbersome. “I thought by letting your mum handle the wedding I’d only be stressed about work.”

Fred rubbed small, continuous circles into Hermione’s back, humming tiredly. “Mum’s trying to overcompensate. She doesn’t want you to be disappointed.”

“I was at Bill and Fleur’s wedding, remember? I could never be disappointed in an event thrown by your mother.”

He chuckled, Hermione feeling the rumble against her chest. “You could tell her that it was your dream wedding and nothing could ever come close to the happiness she’s given you and she’d still think that she could have done something else to top herself. Mum’s peculiar that way.”

She felt the corners of her lips tilt upwards before she twisted herself to settle with her back against Fred’s chest, keeping his arm snugly wrapped around her. Yawning deeply, Hermione hummed in agreement before realizing that he’d begun to snore quietly behind her.

~

Sitting at a table of a tea shop, she found herself sighing. Hermione had just left yet another muggle menagerie, a litter of Kneazles in hand and she could feel the beginnings of a particularly strong migraine brewing behind her eyes. While most of the shops she’d gone to had been selling the creatures under false breeds, this one had a branch of bowtruckles being advertised as exotic insects. Walkingstick bugs or some such crock. She was also sad to have to report that their condition was bleak, as the muggle owner obviously wasn’t aware of a bowtruckle’s staunch protection of its home tree and the chunk of wood in the tank was probably from the one outside the shop. It was incredibly frustrating realizing that magical creatures of all kinds could be floating around in the muggle world. Several of the owners she’d spoken with had provided the names of the people they’d spoken with through letters and e-mail.

Pandore Reast.

Santero Drape.

Unfortunately, there weren’t anyone by those names in the Breeder’s Registry, leading Hermione to believe that the names were either fake or they were all middle men. Breeders were legally mandated to place their names in the registry once they received their license, but it seemed to be an increasing possibility that a number of individuals were likely operating under the radar.

“...Hermione?”

She felt a frisson of shock run over her skin as Auror Paxby waved a hand slowly in front of her eyes. The man had apparently been attempting to draw her into his conversation with his partner for the last few minutes.

“Sorry, what were you saying?”

“I was wondering how you were feeling with your wedding so close at hand.”

“Where’d you go just now?” Auror Virtanen asked, her voice quiet.

Hermione sighed again. “I thought we’d finally gotten somewhere with the investigation.”

Auror Paxby sat back in his wrought iron chair, ruffling his fingers through the short strands of hair sticking out in every direction from his scalp. “Would’ve been nice, right? Finally getting a lead and wrapping everything up with a neat little bow. But now we have to be on the lookout for all kinds of creatures.”

Auror Virtanen shuddered, a faraway look in her eyes. “At least we found those Acromantulas before anyone purchased them.” They’d been found at one of the previous sites and had had rather advanced shrinking charms on them. They were being passed off as a large species of tarantula and the witch had nearly gone green at the sight of them.

Hermione rubbed at her eyes, letting out a small groan. She didn’t need this. At least the wedding would allow her to put this stress at the back of her mind. Tomorrow would be the start of her vacation, a perk the Ministry had given to its employees as part of the Marriage Law. She and Fred were to pick up Mum and Dad from the airport once more before Apparating directly to the Burrow. The wedding would take place in three days time.

The wedding.

Where she’d be married to Fred Weasley.

Til death do us part. Oh, Merlin’s balls .

The thought gave her a sudden stomach lurch. It wasn’t like she was unsure of her relationship, not at all. She’d just been hit with the sudden notion that she’d be someone’s wife .

“Bugger, I’m getting married .” Hermione hissed, fingers tightening at the roots of her hair, tugging ineffectually.

“Yeeeees?” Virtanen’s tone gave away her thoughts on her friend’s mental capacity. “We know. In three days.”

A corner of Paxby’s mouth kicked up in amusement. “Is it just hitting you now, Granger?”

“I’ll be someone’s wife the next time you see me,” she muttered somewhat hysterically.

“One would think that would be a very important someone.”

“Oh, shut it, Paxby,” Auror Virtanen snapped. “No one needs your smarmy attitude right now. Go fetch us something from the sweets counter, will you; I’m thinking something heavily involving chocolate.”

The man made a face before dutifully standing and walking off.

Virtanen scooched her chair closer to Hermione’s side. “Are you alright?”

She could feel herself hyperventilating and immediately worked to quell it. Hermione swallowed heavily around the lump in her throat and took a small sip from her lukewarm tea. “I’m fine, I just...okay, tell me if this makes any sense?” The other witch nodded before she continued. “I love Fred, I’m really happy to marry him, but the overall sensation of it, actually being able to use the terms - married; wife; husband - it just kind of hit me.”

“Are you nervous?”

Hermione thought about it for a moment. “Not in a way that frightens me. I’m excited . When I was a little girl and thought about my wedding I’d always thought about the dress, the venue, the flowers; but I don’t think I’d ever really considered how I’d feel toward the person at the end of the aisle. I’d love them, obviously, but with Fred it’s...”

“More than that.”

“So much more,” she whispered dreamily and was suddenly aware that she had begun to tear up.

Auror Virtanen smiled serenely and placed a palm over the top of Hermione’s hand. “You got lucky, babes. I only hope that I learn to love my match as much as you love yours.”

The moment was broken with Auror Paxby plunking down a veritable vase of what seemed to be a chocolate trifle. “D’you think they plan for people to be in crisis while they’re here? Seems like the owner had this thing ready to go as soon as I walked up.”

Virtanen looked at her partner flatly. “I’m sure they took one look at you and thought that someone was going to end up crying just by your very presence so they get points for punctuality.”

“Can we please focus on this case instead of my meltdown? Pandore Reast; Santero Drape? Who are these people?”

Paxby spoke around a large chunk of trifle in his mouth, given a look of disgust from Virtanen. “They’ve got to be fake.”

“Thank you for that shining addition,” the witch deadpanned.

He shook his head as he gulped heavily. “What...what if they’re fake because they are real? The names are fake but the letters are the right ones?”

“You’ve lost me.”

Hermione nearly shot out of her chair. “Anagrams! Paxby, you’re a genius!”

~

Hermione couldn’t breathe. The Burrow was too loud; too small; too small; too crowded . She stood in the den, her back pressed firmly against the wall, watching the chaos of it all unfolding before her. Molly and George were taking turns fussing over Angelina. Sofi laughed loudly at something Mum was saying. Charlie sat with his wife and boyfriend and his wife - she still stumbled over who was who in that relationship - playing a game of Exploding Snap! With Harry and Ginny and it was all so much. So much. Though her chest felt threateningly close to caving in on itself, Hermione moved as sedately as she could manage before reaching the backdoor and bolting into the field.

She didn’t know why the sudden physical proximity was a problem. It was the Weasleys; they were her family. They were loud and raucous and that was how it’d always been. Hermione tipped her head back, a shiver wracking her frame as she inhaled the frigid night air.

“I think the last time I saw you run that fast was when you tried to save a pair of my socks from Earhart.”

She smiled to herself, turning to see Fred strolling leisurely toward her with his hands shoved in his pockets looking as if he hadn’t a care in the world. “That was only because Mum knitted you those; I didn’t want her hard work go to waste.”

Fred reached her quickly and didn’t comment further on her quick exit. Moonlight struck his cheekbones and his breath steamed from his nose. “Alright, then?”

“I just needed some air.”

“I don’t blame you. Can’t even hear myself think in there. Have I told you how proud I am of you? Even with all this happening you managed to crack that case of yours. Too bad for Ron though; he’ll have to find a new partner”

Hermione couldn’t keep herself from grinning into his chest. “I shouldn’t be surprised. Earnest Prado kept his long list of indiscretions quiet for as long as he could, but he got greedy when he started working more and more with backdoor breeders.” Auror Prado put up quite the fight when they came to arrest him, but once Virtanen disarmed him and Ron tackled the man to the floor the rest of the fight went quickly.

She sighed heavily into Fred’s chest, content just to be there. “This is the first time we’ve gotten time to ourselves since we arrived.”

He pulled back slightly, the smile he gave her lewd. “If you wanted time to ourselves you could’ve just asked.”

“Oh?” Swatting at him playfully, she brushed past him with a devious glint in her eye. This she could do. “I’ll race you to the shed.”

+

Fred woke, not for the first time regretting letting Mum talk him into staying in separate rooms from Hermione. One night, fine, but three? What possessed him to agree to that? He lay on his mattress, listening to the others in his room - Harry, Ron, Charlie and George - snoring in the predawn hours. A floor above him Hermione might still lay asleep, sharing her space with Sofi, Ginny and the two women from Charlie’s circle; he still couldn’t remember which was Silvi and which was Anca.

The old bones of the house groaned around him. Lazily, he sat up while rubbing small circles into his chest. Today, regardless of what came before, would be a day that Fred would never want to forget. He’d been able to sneak away for a few stolen moments with Hermione over the last two days, but overall they’d been pulled in opposite directions for last minute arrangements and rarely breathed the same air. Stretching, Fred stood and grabbed a t-shirt from the end post of his bed before slipping quietly from the room.

Angelina slept soundly where they’d left her the last few nights - the settee-cum-bed they’d transfigured for her comfort. Fred smiled softly at her as he passed, watching the slow rise and fall of her extended belly beneath the duvet.

“She’s in the kitchen, you know - Hermione.”

Fred tensed momentarily upon hearing Angelina’s whisper. He turned to look at her, a brow raised. “Should’ve known, yeah? She’s never been one to sleep very well the night before something important.”

The witch hoisted herself into somewhat of a sitting position, her movements jerky. “Been awake for an hour or so by now. She’s been sitting with me.”

Nodding silently before he made his way into the kitchen, he stood at the entranceway to lean against the door jamb. Hermione was at the small table, a steaming cup of tea resting beside her elbow with a copy of The Quibbler held in front of her.

“Couldn’t sleep, I take it?”

She closed the paper and folded it, the pages ruffling. Hermione’s hair was plaited along one side of her neck, wild strands having pulled themselves out of place. Her dressing gown was open, revealing one of his printed shirts that she preferred to sleep in. Even in the dim light of the table lamp, Fred caught his breath at the wholy serene expression on his soon-to-be wife’s face.

“I might’ve slept longer if it weren’t for Ginny. Since hitting her third trimester she snores like Hagrid with a sinus infection.”

He winced, heart going out to both Hermione and his sister. Fred came closer, holding his arms open for her to slide into his embrace. Her body was warm and soft, a comforting pressure against him.

“If it makes you feel any better, Harry told us that he’ll sometimes charm her after she’s asleep. Not to silence her completely, mind you, but to...manage it a bit better.”

She gasped and began snickering into his chest, her shoulders shaking with effort to keep quiet. A gurgled snort only made her shoulders shake harder.

Fred smiled warmly, closing his eyes. “There’s my girl.”

Hermione wiped tears from the corners of her eyes, but those cheeks were flushed and that smile was all the sunrise he’d ever need. “I can’t believe Molly isn’t awake yet. I’d thought she’d be down here with Mum making up enough breakfast to feed an army of trolls.”

“Have you seen our family in the morning before they’ve woken properly? They are an army of trolls.” Suddenly there were more tears in his fiancée’s eyes. “What’s the matter?”

Only she was smiling so widely it was as if she could do nothing else. “ Our family, Fred! We’ll finally be family.” A hiccupped sob wrenched itself from Hermione’s throat and he embraced her once more.

“Never thought you’d be the emotional one today, love.”

“And why’s that?” She murmured, chuckling softly into Fred’s chest as she wiped her face with his t-shirt. Her expression was soft and open. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this calm.”

If he spent the rest of his days wiping runny noses with his shirts, he’d consider himself a lucky man. “Oh, don’t worry. I won’t be able to contain myself later; you’ll be walking toward a puffy eyed, snot nosed mess of a man. I’ll have to keep touching up my makeup even as Kingsley announces us married.”

Someone cleared their throat loudly behind them. “You two are absolutely sickening, really.”

“Ah, pipe down there, Angie. We all know the moment you have that baby you and Georgie Boy are going to be ten times worse.”

Angelina grunted and waved off Fred’s comment before waddling further into the kitchen, her hands pressing against her lower back.

“I could’ve gotten you something,” Hermione offered.

She rolled her eyes, fishing some biscuits from a jar on the counter. “Seeing as you were a little busy, I didn’t think I’d be heard. But now that you mention it, a cuppa would be nice.” Angelina gave Fred a significant look before she leaned herself into one of the chairs, the biscuit jar held firmly at her side. “Come on, snot boy, best not keep a pregnant woman waiting. Someone’s got to get your trained.”

~

Lee stood beside him as they stared at their reflections in the mirror, his hands smoothing out absent wrinkles in his button-down.

“Don’t even need to ask if you’re ready, do I?”

Fred finished rolling up his sleeves to settle around his elbows and caught his friend’s eye. Fred’s been asked that question more times than he could count. He felt as if he’s been sure about marrying Hermione since he’d woken up in that bed at St Mungo’s. She was it for him.

“Let’s go then.”

His grin was wide, near painful as he followed Lee and the others from the room. The air held a sharp chill as they walked across the lawn to the tent his family had erected earlier that morning. To stand with him were his brothers, Lee and Harry.

Under the tent, charmed warm for their comfort, witches and wizards sat while chatting amiably. The room quieted as he and his groomsmen took their places by the front of the tent. Kingsley stood next to him, ready to officiate.

The small crowd hummed softly as the bridesmaids made their way up the aisle before being overtaken by a collective gasp.

“You are a lucky man,” Kingsley murmured in appreciation.

Fred didn’t bother acknowledging him. By God, if he dropped dead within the next ten seconds he’d have died with the image of Hermione looking the most beautiful he’d ever seen a woman look. He’d heard Dad talk about seeing Mum like this on their wedding day, how the rest of the world fell away, and he finally understood.

On the arm of her father, Hermione drifted up to him, the smile on her face so wide that he was sure it had to hurt. Her hair wafted about her head like an ethereal halo, laced with small golden pins. Light seemed to emanate from her as she reached him and once again Fred could barely believe his luck. Once she handed off her bouquet, she turned back to him and took his hands in hers.

He closed his eyes and took a breath, just letting everything wash over him. He saw Hermione with a book in one hand and supporting a nursing baby in the other. Hermione with flour on her cheeks from baking bread in their kitchen. His arms wrapped around her in the dead of night when nothing beyond the scope of their bedroom mattered. He opened his eyes and exhaled, letting the ceremony seep into him. After, when Fred and his wife were watching from their table as their family and friends danced and chattered excitedly, Hermione gave him a sidelong glance.

“Worth the wait?” She murmured.

“I couldn’t ask for more.”

“Think they’d notice if we, ah, disappeared for a bit?”

Fred smiled at her. “My, my, darling whatever did you have in mind?”

Casually, Hermione rose from her seat and passed behind him, running a hand over his shoulders before bending so only he would hear her.

“I’ll race you to the shed.”

Fred would never believe his luck.