Simple things. His fingers over hers when they reach for the salt at the same time at dinner. His surprised expression when he bumps into her on her way from the shower. Their accidental meeting by the hall closet, when she goes looking for an extra blanket for her bed.
Grimmauld Place is large, cavernous, echoing. Yet at certain times it seems to shrink around her. When Harry starts to yell. When Ron says something stupid and she fights with him. When Ginny tells her, first real girl friend secret in their room at night, that Michael Corner kissed her on the last day of school and she intends to let him kiss her again.
Never does the house feel smaller than when Fred fixes his gaze on her.
Fred Weasley has the sort of smirk she cannot stand: arrogant and almost cruel, depending on the circumstance. He is not charming. He is baiting, laughing, grinning at the wrong moments.
He steals her books from where she sits, alone in the common room for an evening, and holds them up above his head until she promises to put them away. But when he gives them back all she does is take them with her to her room, and if on the stairs she hears him yell after her, “Hey, that’s not fair! You’re breaking the rules of our agreement!” she can at least be proud that she did not turn around to tell him just how ridiculous any words about fairness were coming from him.
She sleeps uneasily, the night before Halloween. In her dreams are dark, abandoned rooms; curtains flowing white and eerie; organ music. She wakes up with the impression that she has just watched a bad silent movie.
In the dreams also were red hair and fair, freckled skin—but these straining, aching, sweating limbs were not the familiar ones of old visions.
She sits in the library staring at so many lines of unreadable words, the lights around her almost unbearably dim, and outside a raging late October storm. She thinks she is alone, is all too startled when he appears, shaking with the laughter of some secret joke, from around a towering bookshelf. He laughs all the harder to see her jump.
“That’s what you get for studying all alone on Halloween, Miss Granger,” he says, mocking sweet, leaning over the table with his hands covering her books and his face too close to hers. “I can’t believe you would waste this perfect storm hiding out in a library.”
“And what are you doing here?” she asks, but what was biting and sarcastic in her head is chocked and confused when she says it out loud.
He grins at her, flashes all of his teeth. Leans in closer. “It’s a secret,” he whispers.
By ‘secret,’ he meant that he was spying on her. But this she will learn only later.
There is a cold gray sky above her and the rough bark of a tree against her back.
Fred Weasley is kissing her. He is licking down her jaw and biting at her neck. His hands fumble at her robes.
This is a dream. This is a dream. This is a dream, a dream, a dream.
She tells herself lies to make living reality possible.
She pulls at him, pulls him closer.
And when they stop, when they pull away, she searches his face for some feeling, some clue, and, finding none, whispers careful soft, “Fred—please—don’t tell Ron.”
He blinks. His lips are a dark red and his skin is pale, with spots of color from the biting wind. His freckles stand out on his cheeks and across the expanse of his forehead.
It takes a minute for the cruelty to return to his face.
“Heavens no, Hermione,” he says. “Could never do a thing like that.”
He goes back to the castle alone, leaves her leaning heavily against the tree, wishing she had asked him one more time for his secrecy, trying not to cry.
“Open this when you’re alone,” he whispers, and presses the box stealthy quick into her hand.
She is surprised. It’s still weeks yet until Christmas. Everywhere there is the impatience of the last few days of term, worse this year because of the threatening collapse, the streaks of terror, the secrets kept.
She hadn’t been expecting a gift at all.
Three hours later she sits, cross legged, on her bed. She has taken a shower, has changed into the old flannel pants and t-shirt that she wears to bed—has put off this moment as long as it is possible to delay. Now she sits staring at the small, thin, rectangular box. It is covered in black velvet. She runs her fingers across the top carefully.
Inside, nestled in more careful black softness, is a necklace: a thin silver chain and, at the end, a small, discreet, silver star.
It is quite possibly the most expensive gift she has ever been given.
She tells him as much, behind the locked door of a disused classroom, with the third snow of the winter falling, soft and white, beyond the window. He has set her down on top of one of the desks, leaned in as close as he can, his hands on her knees and her own hands clutching at his shoulders. “Did you like what I got you?” he asks, voice rough and close where he is kissing at her neck.
“It’s too much,” she says. “You can’t spend that kind of money on me. You can’t.”
He pulls back, catches her eye. That old glint of mischief shines in his own. “But I can,” he says. “I can and I did and you can’t stop me, Hermione Granger. You just can’t stand that the joke shop’s doing so well. But you’d better get used to it. The way things are going now, George and I could rule the whole world.”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” she warns him. But it’s too late. He already has.
In the gloomy, badly lit corridors of Grimmauld Place, they meet. New Year’s has come and gone, but time feels suspended here, wrapped up and entangled with the magic that drips from the faucets and collects, like dust, on the bookshelves and portrait frames. She did not think she would return here quite so soon.
Hermione’s back is pressed against the wallpaper, which is old and stained with something she does not want to name. Fred is leaning over her, his fingers splayed against the wall, one hand to either side of her.
“Dad’s getting better every day,” he tells her.
She answers, “I’m glad.”
Then, once more, they are surrounded by a heavy, pervasive silence. Breaking it requires a force neither wants to put to the effort of forming words. Fred runs one finger, gently, along the thin chain that is barely visible against the pale skin of her neck. She keeps the star hidden inside her collar, to be safe.
He bites his lip. She catches his eye.
“I was scared,” he admits. Then forces a bit of a laugh, light and short lived. She doesn’t know what to say. The false note of every possible sentiment strikes her.
So she stretches out one hand to touch, gently, his face, and another smile, sadder but more genuine, curls up his lips.
Chill winter and the classrooms are oppressive, the corridors dangerous. She meets him in the Room of Requirement, the prefects’ bathroom, the seventh year boys’ dorms. She casts privacy spells, and he bewitches all the windows—a different city every day they meet, the illusion of travel, of freedom and escape. They practice defense spells. They lie on their backs with her head on his chest and one of his arms around her shoulders and imagine all the ways they could drive Umbridge to insanity.
“Use her as a dummy at DA meetings.”
“Set her up on a date with You-Know-Who. They’d be great together.”
“Send her to live with the Dursleys so she knows what Harry’s been through.”
“Have sex on her desk!”
It is this last suggestion, shouted up to the high vaulted ceilings as if he didn’t care who might hear them, that breaks Hermione’s calm.
“While she watches? That’s awful!”
But she is laughing even as she answers, her eyes closed against horrible, hilarious images—and when her laughter ebbs away, and his with it, she finds they have moved closer together and he is watching her with steady, serious eyes.
She remembers, rather suddenly, rather oddly, that it is Valentine’s Day.
She wants to tell him that she loves him, but she isn’t sure if it’s true.
Ron is falling asleep over his Potions essay and Harry is staring out the window. Only the reflection of his face is visible to her: a pale face colored in by the blackness of the night outside, shining glasses hiding shining eyes, features set perfectly in that old-new expression she cannot read.
Across the room, Fred and George are using some unsuspecting first year as a human experiment. “Step right up,” Fred is shouting, “step right up! See this brave young man here” (and the boy grins, because a seventh year—a cool and important and newly rich seventh year—is calling him brave, and this is all he knows how to do) “becomes invisible before your very eyes!”
A crowd of people have gathered around them.
Hermione watches, unimpressed, as the boy’s pale skin shifts a few shades paler, his fingers and ears and the end of his nose turning just short of transparent.
“It’s still in the experimental stages,” George is saying.
Fred catches her staring from across the room and tries to send her one of his perfect smiles. But she turns away.
In his sleep, Ron shifts and twists, mutters something about “spiders” and “bear” and “gerroff!” and something else that sounds like “Fred, I hate you.”
In his letter he tells her that they’d been planning the whole thing for a while. He doesn’t say how long.
“Didn’t mean for it to be quite such a show, of course,” he writes, “(that was just a perk).”
She wants to write back, “You think you were the only two who hated her? You think you were the only two who wanted to run away?”
But she doesn’t.
She doesn’t ask why he didn’t take her with him. He knew she wouldn’t have agreed. She doesn’t ask when she’ll see him again. It won’t be that long. He’s not as far away as he seems.
But when she eliminates all of these things that she wants to say, but can’t, she finds there isn’t much left to write back to him.
She tries “I miss you,” but crosses it out quickly. It’s true, but if he doesn’t know it without her having to say, she doesn’t want to have to spell it out for him.
Ron is in the hospital wing, burning with thoughts that aren’t his own, with memories of events that never happened to him. He rubs the scars on his arm absently. He doesn’t quite look at her as he speaks.
Hermione sits on a chair by his bed, her hands folded carefully on her lap. Her whole body still aches, but she has become used to pretending, even to herself, that it does not. She is a master at pretending. Even Madam Pomfrey has allowed her out of bed.
Outside, the weather is teasing them with summer, when all she wants is the new promise and budding life of spring. Bright morning sunlight shifts in rays through the window, coloring vivid red patches of Ron’s hair until it shines almost gold.
She mentions Harry.
“He’ll be fine,” Ron answers. He does not sound sure, but like he is trying to sound sure.
Hermione wonders if he is thinking, as she is, of that expression that slips over Harry’s face when he thinks no one is looking at him.
The scars on Ron’s arms are ugly and raw, distorted red welts that have only slightly begun to fade. Her eyes stray to them accidentally, and when she looks up he is watching her.
“About Fred,” he says.
She doesn’t answer, but her eyes grow wide and she has to rearrange her features into a more neutral face.
“George wrote to me,” Ron says. “He—I mean—Fred—told him.” He is rubbing the scars so harshly that the skin around them is turning red to match. “He thought I knew.”
“Oh,” she says, but it’s not an apology, because she does not know if she is sorry, or even if it is worth pretending to be.
“Yeah,” Ron says. “That’s what I thought too.”
Hot summer sweeps over them in the last week of June. She wears shorts and a t-shirt and her hair pulled back from her face in a messy bun. She has folded the train schedule into a fan and is busy wafting air into her face when he shows up, his steps slow, his hands in his pockets and his eyes scanning across faces, looking for hers. When he spots her, he breaks into a run. Everybody at the platform stares.
He sweeps her up and twirls her around. He is laughing the whole time, his face split open in this wide, foolish grin.
They haven’t seen each other in two months.
“Let me show you the shop,” he says.
She can’t quite get over the feeling that this is all a dream, or some movie she woke up into accidentally, so close to reality that she did not notice right away, yet too different, when she starts to examine it, to hold up to belief.
She doesn’t approve of half of their products, but keeps her silence in an effort to keep the peace. George leads her through the shelves, explaining this thing and that thing (the quill that explodes when the writer sets it to parchment; the charm kit that guarantees to turn any household pet rainbow colors; the telescope that can turn corners and fit through the cracks of doors), while Fred greets customers behind the counter.
Later, when they are finally alone, she looks carefully ahead at the sunset bleeding in through the shop window and asks, “Did you want Ron to find out? Is that why you told George about us?”
He tells her that he was hoping she wouldn’t bring it up, but is not surprised she did. “And no,” he adds. “I told George because he’s my twin. I was getting kind of tired of keeping such a big secret from him, if you must know.”
She is leaning against the side of the counter, her arms crossed, now, defensively against her chest. Fred stands next to her, just behind her, his hands in his pockets. She can feel his stare.
“You could have warned me first. And—and letting him think that Ron already knew! What was that?”
“I didn’t even mention Ron to him. No other names came up—just mine and yours. Why are you blaming me—?”
He takes his hands from his pockets as he speaks, makes a few sweeping gestures that push all of her wrong buttons.
And she interrupts him—“Because he got it in his head that Ron already knew! That had to come from somewhere!”
“I can’t be responsible for what my brother assumes!” he yells, his voice serrated with that harsh edge that she hates, and for a second she wonders if he is going to hit her. But instead he sighs, makes a gesture as if to rip out his hair, though all he does is pull his fingers through the long strands, and steps up closer to her. Puts his hands on her shoulders. Leans in until their noses almost touch.
“I kept my promise to you,” he whispers. “Just believe me. Trust me.”
He is looking at her carefully, trying desperately to read her face, biting his lip, waiting.
But all she says is “Trust Fred Weasley? What a laugh.”
When he leaves, he slams the door behind him, and the glass jars lined up on the shelf behind her rattle faintly. She brings her hand up to shield her eyes and breathes a few deep breaths, but even as she calms, she does not feel any better.
Four letters of hers, and one of his, later, they are speaking again.
They struggle to find things to say.
She tells him that she is coming to stay at the Burrow, asks if she will see him there.
He is sorry to disappoint her, but business is going too well, and he cannot leave the store.
She gets her O.W.L.S, sends the news along but in an only half-hearted way, wondering if he will care. He does his best to feign interest.
Only occasionally do they mention the war. Sometimes, she is the one with the information; sometimes, he is.
One day, Ron tells her casually that he has kept her secret, and also that he has stopped caring. She thanks him, but does not share her new secret: that there is a letter stuck in the back of one of her old textbooks that starts with I don’t think I can do this anymore and ends with I’m sorry. For everything.
Small things. The look in his eyes when she walks through the door. The feel of his hand on her back as he ushers her down one of the aisles. The false note of her apology when she bumps into him, later, an accident each had wished to avoid.
Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes is crowded in the last days of August, young witches and wizards on school shopping trips bumping into friends and showing off new purchases, asking their parents for this thing or that. Ron is piling boxes in his arms. Ginny is staring at the puffskeins adoringly. In certain places, near the most popular products, it becomes difficult to breathe.
Hermione stops in front of a display of “Patented Daydream Charms.” She looks at them without looking at them, and that is where he finds her.
“You surprised me,” she tells him, one hand to her heart, looking up at him.
He is still resting his hand on her shoulder.
She steps back just slightly, out of his reach.
His eyes flicker away from her face and land on the daydream display. “It’s impressive magic,” she says—though mostly to break the silence that has fallen over them, despite the chatter of the room.
“Yeah,” he answers absently. Then, “George and I were the first to test them.” He lets a small smile turn the corners of his lips. “All of my daydreams were about you.”
She hesitates. Doesn’t look at him. Asks, “What do you want me to say to that?”
“Nothing,” he answers, just before he walks away. “I just thought you should know.”