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The evenings were Hermione’s favorite hours to spend studying. It was another wonderfully quiet night in the library. Students filed in and out with tired posture and weighty books. The soft glow of oil lamps comforted her as her fingers traced parchment. There was quiet shuffling around her from a few others enjoying the peaceful study time. Things were calm, for once.

Pfft!

Hermione blinked away from her book as something flew past her head. It was a folded piece of soft-pink paper in the shape of a cherry blossom. Its petals fluttered as it landed gracefully next to her on the table.

With a confused glance over her shoulder, Hermione sought out its sender. A wave of dread sunk into her as her eyes caught the grin of a solitary redhead waving to her casually across the room.

Not tonight. She thought to herself. She turned back around, exhaling and hoping Fred would leave her out of whatever antics he had planned.

She would not be so lucky.

Pfft, pfft!

More cherry blossoms shot over her head. One landed in her hair and the other on her textbooks. She kept her head down, refusing to move.
The pffts of paper continued their journey to her table. Their numbers increasing, a pile began cluttering up her workspace. The papers were coming in faster now, but Hermione held her ground. It wasn’t until the flowers were now exclusively shooting in her mass of hair that she granted the assailant a response.

She whipped her head around, cascading curls and pink petals flipping behind her. “Fred Weasley!” Her voice spiked as loud as she dared in a library. “Absolutely not!”

The lanky redhead laughed from his table, pocketing his wand in surrender. Fred collected his things and moved to sit in the empty seat beside her.

“Oh, Granger, I didn’t see you there, hello,” Fred smirked as she shook her head. “Have you done something different with your hair?

She shot a hand up to ruffle out the bits of paper. “Someone has, yes.”

He laughed and plucked a stray petal. “Looks lovely. Like a fairy princess.”

“You are as subtle as ever, Fred.” Hermione grumbled to herself, giving her hair another toss to be rid of the flowers.

“How’d you know I’m not George?”

“George doesn’t make me nauseous.” She thumbed her quill. Fred was more reckless, more annoying, more in-your-face-charming than his brother. Hermione could always tell which one was Fred.

“Aw,” Fred chuckled, tugging at one of her curls. “A little lovesick, maybe?”

“You really wish.” Hermione clicked her tongue and pretended to return her attention to the page. “Very hard to like someone who’s been pelting paper at me all night.”

“Would you prefer I send roses?”

“I’d prefer you not bother me at all, actually.” She tried to sound stern, but her heart wasn’t in it. Fred could be a tad much, sometimes, but that didn’t mean Hermione didn’t enjoy his company. At least when he bothered her, he was being nice. Excessively nice, really. And always just a tad too close to her.

“You looked like you could use a break.” His tone came with surprising empathy. For some reason, Fred acted like he genuinely cared about her rest. This nearly caught her.

“What are you doing in the library at this hour?” Hermione questioned, not ready to let her guard down so quickly.

“Here for a book,”

“You are not.”

“No, honestly I am,” He pulled back, laughing. “And as soon as I remember the title or the subject or anything about it at all, I’ll prove it to you.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Her words had no bite to them.

“And you’re fun,” Fred gave her a smile that sent an unexpected wave of heat rushing to her face. “Why don’t we ever talk, Granger?”

“Because you seem hell-bent on making a mockery of my education.”

“Not yours, personally, love.” Fred leaned in again, resting his chin on his knuckles. “You’re not on my mind that often.”

Hermione knew she shouldn’t grace that comment with a response, but it slipped out anyway. “But I am sometimes?”

She surprised herself with that. It was uncharacteristically coy. Almost like she was enjoying his attention.

Judging by the look on Fred’s face, it surprised him too.

“Sometimes,” His voice was broken by his laugh. “Yeah.”

“Oh really?” Hermione closed her book smoothly. “Like when?”

Why was she encouraging him?

Fred took a moment to study her face. She couldn’t read his expression. It almost felt like he was debating whether or not to tell her the truth.

His smirk returned a moment later, however, and Hermione didn’t know what to trust.

“When I’m missing your brilliant words of wisdom.” He tilted his head.

“Really? I thought you were deaf to wisdom.” She responded.

“Not when it’s coming from your mouth,” He mused.

“Historically, almost always when it’s coming from my mouth.”

“Well maybe it was never quite what you said, but how you said it.”

“Berating and shrill?”

“Powerful and in control.” Fred corrected, “It’s quite the turn on.”

He was teasing, of course. With that glint in his eye there was no mistaking his mischief. But Hermione wanted to call his bluff.

“Keep talking like that, Fred Weasley, and I’d start to think you fancied me.”

“Keep playing along like this, and I might think you do too.”

He didn’t even miss a beat.

Hermione had to break their eye contact and take a second to recover.

Fred kicked back in his chair, basking in his victory. He smirked at her as Hermione tried to hide her red cheeks. A moment to shake the lump from her throat, and she was back with a response.

“So, when you think of me, so very often,” She looped back with a tone dripping in sarcasm. “What do I fill your head with? Sweet nothings? Love songs? Poems and prose?” She dragged out her enunciations, crossing her arms against the table. She had dared lean closer to him, savoring his turn to blush.

He pushed through the reddening on his face, grinning into their atmosphere.

“Honestly, love, you don’t do a lot of talking in my head.” He stated.

Hermione felt flush at his implication, but she continued on.

“Oh? What do I do, then?” She was getting dangerously close and she knew it. “Do you dream of me playing with your hair or touching your cheek?” She dared to move her hand at the suggestion. She didn’t touch him, letting the space between her fingertips and his chin uphold their barrier of jest.

Fred tilted his head, appreciating the reciprocation in this game he was leading.

“My cheek, my hair, my neck.” He listed casually. “The Granger in my head just can’t keep her hands off me.”

“She sounds needy.” Hermione let her hand fall. “I wouldn’t be so tactless.” She found herself glancing down at his lips. They were softer up close.

“So, what would be your strategy, then?” Fred shifted his weight as he leaned to rest his chin in his palm. “How would you recommend I get the most accurate daydream of you?”

“Why should I reveal my methods of seduction?”

“So I know what to expect.”

“Optimistic that I might actually seduce you?”

“Maybe I just want you to.”

Hermione met his gaze again. There was a look in Fred’s eyes that cast a shadow on the legitimacy of their game. There was something about the way his expression quirked and smoothed. It was a mixture of emotions that certainly didn’t belong in a joke between friends. Something behind that veneer of mischief was really picturing all the ways in which Hermione Granger would want to touch him. And she’d be lying if she said she wasn’t curious about the details.

She held his gaze for a moment longer, enough time for that unspoken sincerity to linger in the tension between them.

“Dream on, Fred Weasley.”

Hermione lifted her bag from the floor, pulling her book into her arms. As she rose from the table and turned her back on him, she added an extra sway to her hips that earned his stare all the way out the door.

◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊

“So, I’ve been thinking,”

“You? Think?”

“Very original,”

Fred had slid up beside her, matching her stride as she countered down the hall. “I’ve been thinking of ways you might seduce me.” He continued.

“A little louder, Fred, I don’t think the giant squid at the bottom of the lake heard you clearly.” Hermione walked briskly and didn’t bother looking at him as their shoulders pressed together. She nodded politely at a first year who had glanced at the two of them for that comment.

“You’d be very obvious about it.” Fred continued on as she rounded a corner, pleased to see that she looked more amused than irritated. “Batting eyelashes and playing with your hair. All giggly and blushing like mad.”

“Would I, now?” She still hadn’t turned to look at him.

“And very, very bad at innuendos,” Fred stopped, giving a quick “Oh—careful, love,” as the staircase lost a step under her feet and he grasped her hand without hesitation. Like moving steps in choreography, she delicately jumped, with him in stride right behind her. The bounce was gracefully natural, and they continued on their journey as if nothing had happened.

Fred elaborated on his previous hypothesis. “You’d make some disastrous allusion to the shape of wands. It would be downright appalling.”

“Something about how they’re not the only thing I can swish-and-flick?” She quirked her eyebrow, staring straight ahead.

Fred winced and raised his voice. “Exactly that bad, yes! Dear god, Granger, you shouldn’t be flicking anything in that context.”

“How should I know?” Hermione smirked as they took the final flights of stairs. “I’m all giggly and blushing like mad.” She finally caught his gaze as she gave her dead-pan delivery. Fred’s eyes lit up at the sarcastic quip.

Hermione had finally slowed to a stop in front of the classroom door. “You know you’re not even close, right?”

“I think you just proved that I absolutely am.”

“I can confirm that that was definitely not seduction.”

“Then I’ll keep hypothesizing,” Fred put his hands in his pockets. “Process of elimination until I’ve got you right where I want you.”

“And where do you want me?”

“The bedroom, preferably.”

Hermione laughed genuinely. She waved her hand, pushing into the classroom. Fred waved back, looking pleased with himself. She closed the door on him and felt an exhale rush through her whole body. If he was bringing lines like that into play, she was going to have to start getting serious.

◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊

“So, if you were to get me to bed,”

Fred nearly choked on his morning omelet.

Hermione sat down across from him and George, next to Ron and Harry who looked more than startled with an entrance like that.

“Would you be crying before, after, or during the ordeal?” Hermione picked up a butter knife and began tending to her toast. Her gaze fixed on Fred, challenging his reddening complexion.

“Hermione, love, please, not in front of the family.” Fred took a moment to cough back his composure.

“What’s all this?” George had his brows twisted to an expression of both repulsion and giddy intrigue.

“What are you talking about?” Ron’s expression was closer to repulsion.

“Are you two—"

“Don’t be silly, Harry. I very clearly said if he were to.” Hermione took a bite of her rye. “So? Fred? Tears before, after, or during?”

Fred took a moment to stare at her with squinted eyes. “That’s a mean one.” He couldn’t hold back a chuckle. “That one’s just mean.”

“How do you know being mean isn’t a part of my methods of seduction?”

“Your what, now?” Ron shouted.

“Then I’d be in a lot of trouble if it was, yeah?”

“I am absolutely disgusted by this breakfast-time conversation.” George spoke up.

“What is happening right now?” Harry pleaded, trying to glean any information from the two staring each other down.

“Fred thinks I’m seducing him.” Hermione stated, not looking away from Fred’s grin.

“Right.” George noted. “And all casual, non-seduction-based conversation starts with talk of the bedroom.”

“And she thinks she’s not.” Fred quipped back at Hermione. “It’s all a very private discussion and if you don’t mind, darling, I’d love to save it for when there aren’t children around enjoying a pleasant breakfast.”

“Private like the middle of the halls, dashing by first years?” Hermione shot back.

“They’ve heard worse from Peeves.”

“And is that your end goal? To surpass that perverted poltergeist?”

“Oh, that far, Granger?” Fred raised his eyebrows. “Will my correct guess at how you get men into bed really be that dirty?”

“This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.” Ron had taken to cradling his head in his hands.

“Okay, look” George interrupted the banter. “As captivatingly disgusting as this is, I have to lay down some ground rules: none of this in the public dining area. you can keep your weird flirting to yourselves.”

“Not flirting.” Hermione responded to George while still maintaining steady eye contact with Fred.

Fred smirked. “No, if she were flirting with me, she’d be seducing me, which we have already established— “

“I am not.” Hermione finished for him.

“I’m just hypothesizing.” Fred explained plainly. “I’m a scientist investigating the complicated inner-workings of the brilliant mind of Hermione Granger. With enough evidence, I can prove my theory and win her heart. For science.”

Hermione rolled her eyes and everyone at the table groaned.

“This is— you are the worst. You two are just the worst.” Ron mumbled into his palms.

“Okay, whatever you’re calling it,” Harry spoke up, “Its killing Ron, so just. Dial it down a little.”

“Fine.” Hermione finally looked away from Fred and took a sip of her tea.

“Fine,” Fred said with a slight lilt. The five of them sat in silence for a moment while they returned to their meal. Fred cleared his throat a moment later.

“And the answer is ‘after’, by the w—”

Ron hurled a scone at his brother.

◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊

“For the sake of keeping things private,” Fred gestured to the empty common room. “I’d like to pose another theory.”

“Yes, by all means,” Hermione nodded professionally.

“You’d prefer to tease.”

Hermione openly snorted.

“You would get me right up to the edge then back away before I could do anything about it.”

“That seems cruel.”

“Tell me about it.”

◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊

“What are you reading?”

Hermione looked up from the ink on page. She had made the decision that morning to head to the courtyard for some light reading. She balanced her textbook on her knees, the warm spring air brushing against her bare legs. She was settled in and comfortable, resting on a patch of fresh grass. She had been completely engrossed in her reading when a tall figure cast shadow on her ray of sunshine.

Hermione lowered her book and crossed her legs, suddenly aware of her skirt. “Ancient Civilizations and Their Magical Downfalls.”

“Chipper.” Fred took it upon himself to sit down next to her, leaning over her shoulder to examine the weighty text. “Is it good?”

“It is.” She nodded. “I’ve just gotten to a chapter about Herculaneum.”

“Really?” He asked, leading her to continue. “Sounds interesting.”

Hermione took pause, suspicious of Fred’s sudden interest in her reading. When he waited for her to continue and his expression appeared genuinely curious, she decided to trust him, just this one time.

Hermione tentatively began explaining the details of the chapter. Her enthusiasm caught up with her as Fred’s interest held the longer she talked. He looked at her directly, nodding along and reacting appropriately to the more exciting parts she went into. By the end of it, he was grinning along with her, and she felt relieved to finally have a captive audience. She finished with a slight nod of her head, and Fred chuckled.

“You are just... absolutely beautiful, you know that?”

Hermione frowned. She let out a huff and smacked him with her book. “Were you listening to a word I said?”

“I was, I was, I promise!” Fred laughed, holding up his hands defensively. “I’m sorry, I really was listening. ‘The handsomer twin of Pompeii’; I heard every word.”

She was amused by his rephrasing, but huffed again, still wounded.

“I’m sorry,” He repeated “I was just... overwhelmed with affection… listening to you. Your eyes light up and I can’t help but admire it.”

She glared at him, wary of his sincerity.

“You’re full of it.” She shook her head, hoping to shake away her blush.

“No, honestly, Hermione,” He touched her arm and her heart thudded. He didn’t often call her by her first name. And never like that. “You are captivating.”

A part of her couldn’t trust a word from him. Why should Fred Weasley, co-king of pranking and practical jokes, be trusted to say anything genuinely? But another part of her relented. She liked being complimented by him.

“Why are you being so nice to me?” Hermione asked, relaxing her suspicion.

“I’m always nice to you.”

“Not in this way.”

“Oh?” He looked at her innocently. “And what way is that?”

“Brown-nosing.”

Fred let out a laugh. He leaned back onto the grass and rested his hands behind his head. He didn’t answer her question, so Hermione exhaled and decided to change the subject.

“So, what are you doing out here, anyway?” She looked off at a gathering of birds bathing in the fountain.

“I was passing by, and I saw you.” Fred said casually, gazing up at the clouds.

“Is that all?”

“Do I need another reason?”

Hermione looked down at him. He wasn’t smirking or sneering like he did when he was being exaggeratedly flirtatious. His smile was genuine, and Hermione felt defenseless against it.

“You know I can’t trust a word out of your mouth, Fred Weasley.”

He sighed. “Yeah, I guess I have dug myself into quite a hole with that one.” He sat up, brushing grass from his vest. “I suppose I’ll just keep it up until you do.”

“What? You’ll keep relentlessly complimenting me?” She joked.

“Unless you’d rather I didn’t.” He said.

“No,” Hermione caught herself. “No, I…I don’t mind it.”

He smiled. Genuine. Contented. “Great.”

Fred leaned close, tapping her nose. “Because you are very, very cute when you blush.”

She whapped him with the book again, and he laughed even louder.

◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊

Hermione was a brave person. She was a Gryffindor, for Merlin’s sake. She’d been fighting off the dark arts since she was eleven, facing every challenge with a calm head and quick thinking. She felt like she could take on anything. But this particular decision she made one morning took nerves of steel.

She sat next to Fred at breakfast.

Chatter she had walked into died immediately. Harry and Ron, sitting without her on their side of the table, blinked at their bushy-haired friend as she set her things down. George, on the other side of his twin, cracked a grin, looking proud. Fred was the only one at the table acting as if nothing were out of the ordinary. He simply glanced at her as she settled in and turned back to his oatmeal with the slightest smirk on his face.

“Good morning boys,” Hermione greeted, not acknowledging their shock.

“Good morning,” Harry responded, albeit tentatively.

“Hiya.” George sipped at his tea.

“Everyone sleep well?” Hermione looked to Ron, who had twisted his face like he’d taken a sour bite of eggs.

“Dreamily,” Fred was the only one to respond, still enjoying his breakfast.

“That’s good.” Hermione nodded. She reached to set up her plate, ignoring the eyes on her. Harry took another bite of toast, chewing slowly and looking between Fred and his new tablemate. Ron had turned the slightest shade of maroon. Hermione and Fred simply went about their breakfast routines as normal.

Fred tilted his head towards the centerpiece. “Granger, would you pass me the salt?”

“Sure,” Hermione reached and handed it to him casually.

“Thank you,” He accepted it with a slight flourish.

Slowly, the others at the table returned to their previous activities. George had grabbed another piece of fruit while Harry drank from his goblet of pumpkin juice. Only one head at the table remained stuck in its interrupted state. Ron glared at his friend and brother as if deciding which one to be more upset with.

“So, is this the way it’s gonna be now?” Ron spoke up, affronted.

“The way what’s going to be?” Hermione blinked at him, patience already thin.

“This,” He gestured with his fork to their near-touching shoulders. “You and him.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

“Sitting with him!” Ron shouted. “And being so weird. You’re not… You two aren’t even…” He didn’t have the confidence to finish that thought when Hermione fixed him with a look.

“I can sit next to whomever I want to, Ronald.”

“Not him!” Regret set in the second it was out of his mouth.

Hermione clanked her silverware against her plate. All other movement at the table ceased as Fred, George, and Harry looked between the two like they were a car crash.

“Who are you to make that decision for me?”

Ron faltered with her menacing look, nearly backing down. However, in true Ron Weasley fashion, he dug himself a deeper hole.

“I’m his brother!” Ron’s red face flushed in indignation.

“And you’re my friend.” She shot back. “And as my friend, you should respect me enough to make my own decisions, even if they are as trivial as who I decide to sit next to at breakfast on a bloody whim.”

Ron had shrunken back into his seat. He fumed silently, knowing any other word from him would be met with more rage. He glared her a moment longer before shoving back and standing. He turned in a huff and left them.

The group that remained at the table sat in the silencing aftermath. There was a beat when Hermione simply glared into her coffee, completely beside herself.

Harry cleared his throat to break the tension. “I should probably… go scold him.” He shook his head apologetically, rising to follow Ron out of the Great Hall.

“And I am also going to find an excuse to leave.” George stood. He slung his bag over his shoulder and bowed to Hermione and Fred. “I’ll see you two later,” He spoke, unaffected by the awkwardness he was leaving behind.

Hermione exhaled, shoulders falling in defeat.

“I’m sorry,” She spoke to Fred, embarrassed to meet his eyes.

“It’s alright.” Fred comforted. “He had it coming.”

“I’m sorry I spoke to him like that.” She insisted. “He is your brother.”

“He’s a git.” Fred shrugged. “And it’s not like you haven’t yelled at him before. He deserves it, anyway.”

“He’s just jealous.”

“Oh, I understand,” Fred said, “If a pretty girl decided to sit next to my brother instead of me, I’d be pretty miffed about it every day for ten years, too.”

Hermione blushed, holding back her smile. “At least you never threw a fit about it.”

“No, because I’m a gentleman. I know better than to question Hermione Granger’s taste in men.” He took a drink of pumpkin juice. “Especially when they’re tall and handsome redheaded pranksters.”

“I know, you were blocking the seat next to George.”

They laughed together. Fred looked at her with a sympathetic smile and patted her shoulder.

“Chin up, Granger,” He said, handing her a plate of eggs. “I’m glad to have another breakfast companion.”

“Then I’m glad I can keep you company.” She accepted the plate, grateful to be over the awkwardness.

“What are you doing for lunch?” He asked, knocking his shoulder with hers.

“Nothing in particular, why?”

“Let’s meet in the courtyard.” Fred grinned. “The weather’s too nice to spend our free time indoors.”

“Alright,” She smiled, her face warming with a soft shade of pink.

“Plus, I’d rather not deal with Round 2 from Ronniekins.”

“That makes both of us.” Hermione agreed.

They sat and continued their meal together. Fred’s hand would brush against hers as they talked. Hermione would play with her hair more than usual. Their conversations were easy, beat following beat of witty comment and interesting tidbit. Hermione spent his turns to talk counting the freckles on his face. Fred took to staring at her dimples. They kept up this flow of laughter and banter until they were one of the only ones left in the Great Hall, having lost track of time entirely.

◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊

The usual suspects were sat in the Hall for lunch. As Fred made a bee-line for his empty spot, he grabbed a handful of dishes off their magical buffet of endless food.

“Where are you going with all that?” Ron stared at the piles of lunches Fred was balancing in his arms.

“Wouldn’t you like to know.” Fred added a stack of sandwiches to his collection.

“Where’s Hermione?” It dawned on Ron. George snickered as his twin continued to load up.

“Haven’t the foggiest.” Fred lied.

“Fred! What are you doing with Hermione?” His younger brother fumed.

“I’ll see you later, brother dear, I mustn’t keep the lady waiting.” Fred turned quickly and ran for the door, extra cutlery clattering behind him.

“Fred!” Ron yelled. George yanked him back down when he tried to jump up from his seat. Ron’s face glowed red in anger as he shouted after him. “FRED!”

◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊

Hermione laughed as Fred approached their spot under the tree with a tower of food obstructing his view.

“What’s all this?” She stood, holding out her hands in case he lost his balance.

“Really, Granger, you would think a girl would know a picnic when she saw one.”

“This is hardly the conventional version I’m familiar with.” She took out her wand, waving a checkered blanket out of the air and positioning it with a basket and plates. “Here, Fred, let me,” Hermione gave her wand another flick, and the mass of food in Fred’s arms floated delicately in order onto their place setting.

“Cheers, love,” Fred brushed crumbs off his hands. “Shall we?”

She sat down beside him, giggling despite herself. “You are the most unnecessarily extravagant man I have ever met.”

“Well I couldn’t let you starve on our first date.”

“Oh, is that what you decided this was?” Hermione teased, scrunching her face at him.

“Pretty sure you decided that too, when you agreed to it.” Fred put it plainly.

“I’m still on the fence.” Hermione shrugged. “Wouldn’t want you to think I’m seducing you.”

“Excellent segue, Granger.” Fred complimented, handing her a sandwich. “I’ve actually been mulling over some more theories.”

“Oh good,” Hermione passed him some chips. “I’ve missed being your test subject.”

“Clearly, your preferred method of seduction is subconscious.” Fred went on, air of false professionalism. “You plant seeds of desire in the hearts of men you seek out. Without their detection, they are suddenly overcome with feelings they never knew they held for you before.”

The spring air brushed a curl out of place, and she tucked it behind her ear. She watched Fred attentively.

“This method is so subtle, you yourself are not even aware of it.” He took a bite, nodding to her.

“Well then how could I possibly prove that theory if I don’t even know I’m doing it?” She liked the way his hair looked in the sun.

“We’ll just have to investigate the poor target of your method. He’d be the only one with the answer.” He watched her quirk her eyebrow.

“Sounds reasonable. Any ideas on who that might be?”

“None whatsoever.” Fred lied, smirking.

“Well then, I guess your point is moot.” She pointed a chip at him. “So far, not a great scientist, Fred Weasley.”

“Hey now,” He leaned to her. “I think I’m doing an excellent job considering you have given me absolutely nothing to work with.”

“Pity.” She turned her attention back to her lunch. “If you’re so desperate, you could just say so and give up already.”

“I would never.” Fred chuckled. “Not with you.”

Hermione liked the warmth rushing to her face.

She was giving him nothing to work with, huh?

◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊

“So, how are things going with Granger?” George inquired one night as the two of them dressed for bed.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Fred pulled on a shirt. “Have you seen my toothbrush?”

“Don’t change the subject,” His brother pressed, tossing it to him. “You’re not exactly being subtle about it.”

“Dental hygiene is nothing I take lightly, George.”

“Hermione,” George insisted. “What are the two of you playing at?”

“We’re just messing around.” Fred shrugged.

“Bullocks.” He crossed his arms, leaning on the bedframe. “You stole half the kitchen to stock a bloody picnic for the girl. Even you don’t take a joke that far.”

“And what if I do?”

“Then you better know who you’re joking with.” George warned. “Granger will hex your arse into oblivion if she ends up being the punchline.”

“I’m aware.”

“Then be careful.”

“I am, George,” Fred finally looked him in the eyes. “I know what I’m doing. Don’t worry about it.”

He looked serious, expression tired. George could tell his exasperation was hiding nervousness. He didn’t press further. If his twin was set on pursuing things like this, he knew better than to get in his way. George exhaled, and turned to his bed. As he flicked off the lights, he offered a sole line of advice.

“Don’t fuck it up, mate.”

◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊

“Darling, would you hand me my ink, please?” Hermione mused, holding out her hand.

Fred stared at her across the table, looking completely and utterly disarmed.

She looked up at him and smirked at his shock. “Sweetheart? The ink?”

The glow of the fireplace illuminated the empty common room where she sat with Fred at the table. They had been staying up together, reading. Her, a thick tome of a history book; and him, a serialized muggle adventure book. He had dropped his attention from it the moment the name of affection fell from her lips so casually.

“Dearest?” She curled her smile, enjoying his blush. This was the deepest shade of red she had ever seen him wear. “Everything alright?”

His voice came out of his throat with some difficulty. “Just peachy,” He reached for the bottle of ink and slid it over to her.

She accepted it, placing her hand atop his for a lingering moment. “Thank you, honey.”

She felt his shiver and relished the feeling. Hermione returned her attention to her book, but not before extending her legs beneath the table. With her feet, she curled slowly around his legs. Fred bit back a very manly yelp, covering his mouth in an attempt to save face. She grinned, not looking up as her toes circled under his pant leg. Fred cleared his throat, pretending to be very interested in a tapestry hanging on the nearby wall. His face was another impossible shade of red.

“Oh, baby,” Hermione spoke up. “Your collar is crooked.” Fred stiffened as she reached over and touched his neck. She traced the skin along the fabric of his shirt. She took her time, straightening the folds with both hands. Her fingers felt the hot of his blush as Fred sat there, immobilized.

“There we go.” She purred. “All better.” She glanced up at him through her eyelashes.

Her teasing came to a halt when she saw how Fred was looking at her now. His eyes were staring at her with an emotion she couldn’t read. His face was close, and he shared her moment of pause.

Hermione saw his eyes flicker down to her lips, those which found themselves parting slightly at the attention. There was heat in her chest and a lump in her stomach as he tilted his head.

She almost let him. She felt that need for final satisfaction. An end to the weeks they spent edging the other to say something or do something increasingly daring. Her heart thudded at the thought of finally calling their bluff on what they were really doing. Turning those jokes and half-truths into the promises they really were. The teasing, and playing, and touching, and flirting... it would all finish when Fred moved a millimeter further.

But not a millimeter further did he move. He froze, choking on the confidence that usually came so easily to him. He bit his lip, eyes pressing shut and pulling away.
Hermione knit her eyebrows, confused and concerned.

“I…” Fred stammered. “I’ve gotta…” He didn’t finish the thought. He stood, taking steps away from her.

“Goodnight, Hermione.” He turned.

Hermione was left sitting alone, staring after him and wondering what she could have done to make him stay.

◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊

Fred had been avoiding her all week. No more walking her to class, or sharing the courtyard, or late-night reading. He wasn’t at breakfast or pestering her in the library. Hermione was worried she’d ruined it all.

She stayed up in the common room, long after everyone had gone to bed. Waiting. She needed to see him and fix whatever she’d done to scare him away. To apologize and call everything off. She couldn’t lose their friendship like this.

It was nearly two in the morning when the portrait hole opened to reveal a very tall, very tired redhead returning to the common room.

He stopped when he saw her waiting for him in the chair, book in her lap and hair frizzing out of its bun.

“Evening, Granger,” His casual tone broke her heart. “You’re up late.”

She stood and strode right up to him. “I was up waiting for you, Fred Weasley.” She poked him angrily in the chest. “Why are you avoiding me?” She got straight to the point, voice riding a harsh tone.

Fred sighed, looking away from her, ashamed. “I’m sorry, I just… I’ve been busy.”

“Don’t lie to me.” She tried to hold back her fury. “I’ve been worried.”

“I’m sorry,” He apologized again. “Really, Hermione, I’m sorry.”

“That’s just how it is, then?” She questioned. “You mess with me for weeks and suddenly run off when I get the best of you?”

“What can I say? I’m fickle as a cat.” He tried to move past her.

“Don’t give me that,” She stepped in front of him. “Are you upset because I’m much better at your stupid game than you are?”

“Very. Now, if you don’t mind—”

She slammed her hand on the wall in front of him, stopping him. “You’re not running from me again, Fred Weasley.” She was shorter than him, making her barricade slightly ineffective.

“Believe me, love, I really don’t want to.” He ducked under her arm, but she grabbed his hand, pulling him back.

“Then don’t.” She pleaded. “Did I do something?”

“No, you’ve been wonderful.” He backed away.

“Then did I say something wrong?” She felt the nervous beginnings of tears prick her eyes. Why was he running?

“No, no, quite the opposite,” Fred’s voice wavered. “You said things that were very, very nice.”

“What? Then why?” She stepped forward, he stepped back.

“They were too nice,” Fred tried. “Any more and I would have…”

“You would have what?”

He swallowed.

“Sweetheart,” Hermione dared.

He stared down at her.

“Honey,” She continued.

The back of his legs knocked against the sofa and he lost his balance. He fell back with a soft thud, Hermione towering over him.

“Sugar,”

She climbed onto the couch.

“Dearest,”

She was on top of him now, swinging one leg over his torso. Fred flushed beet red under her, eyes wide as she continued her string of nicknames.

“Angel,”

She leaned close to his face, planting her hands to trap his head between her arms.

She whispered in dripping tones, relishing his blush as she purred out the nickname.

“Baby—”

“Hermione.” Fred grabbed both her wrists and froze her voice in her throat. “Stop.”

His eyes bore into hers. They were close. Too close, she suddenly realized. Heat rushed between their faces.

“I can’t take it anymore.” Fred looked up at her, pleading. “Just... You win this one.”

Hermione shivered, very aware of her legs straddling him.

She swallowed. Her pulse pounded as Fred continued his hold on her wrists. His breathing was heavy, and she felt the warmth of it hit her face. She dared look at his lips and nearly melted when they parted, anticipating something that neither of them had the confidence to do.

He wasn’t wearing his ever-present smirk. Fred stared at her, raw and open. Begging silently that Hermione do nothing more, but everything else all the same.

“I…” She found her voice with difficulty. “I haven’t won anything. This isn’t.... It’s not like…” Hermione, witty and clever, brightest witch of her age, could not come up with the right thing to say. “We’re not…” Her sentences died on her tongue.

She shook her head. “Is this all just a game to you, Fred Weasley?” Her voice was shaking and quiet. “How am I supposed to trust you when you can’t take anything seriously?”

“You look at me right now and tell me this isn’t the most serious I’ve ever been in my entire life.”

She felt her voice catch in her throat. “You give up too easy.”

“No,” He shook his head. “I would never. Not with you.”

“Then prove it to me.” Her voice was barely above a whisper. His eyes glanced down at her lips. She felt her whole body ache.

“Prove it to me, Fred.”

She stared at him, trying to read the emotion in his eyes. They had softened, but sparked with something more exciting. Something Hermione wanted to test and explore. She wanted to see how far he would let her go.

How far she would let herself go.

Her mind raced as the seconds between them ticked away. She felt regret drag through her body. She needed to get off of him. She needed to leave. Because things were too real, now. She was feeling too hot, and he was too close, and she was too flustered. And she needed to stop right now because in this moment, in this mess of jokes taken too far and genuine feelings hidden behind sarcasm, all she could think about was kissing Fred Weasley.

And he seemed to read her mind.

Fred moved his hand to her hair and pulled her down to him. His lips met hers with soft intentions as his hands thread into her curls. He kissed her delicately, genuine and warm. He wrapped his arms around her waist to hold her there, tightly keeping her in place. As if scared she might want to get away.

But she very much didn’t. Hermione softened into his touch as their chests pressed together. She ran her fingers through his hair, enjoying its length. Her heartbeat beat in time with his, flowing with their movements. She traced his lips with her tongue, and they continued on. He held her, and she stayed. Their irony having melted away long ago, they enjoyed the feeling of trusting one another. She trusted him to bite her lip, and he trusted her to let out the softest of moans.

No experiments or theories, just the feelings they had for each other. Their rhythm held for much longer than they should have, late hours of the night ticking away as they kissed.

When they finally broke for air, Hermione nuzzled into his neck. The clock struck out the early hour of three, and the two of them knew it was getting too late to stay up, but neither one of them wanted to leave.

“I can’t believe I fell right into it.” Fred sighed, circling his thumb on her arm. “You seduced me… I should have seen it coming.”

“You’ve done so much research,” She chuckled lightly.

“Amateur mistake.” He kissed the top of her head. “I think I’ll need more evidence before I reach a conclusion, though.”

“Do you need me to snog you again to prove it?” She kissed his cheek.

“Yes, absolutely.”