Five years. It had been five years since the end of the war. Even after all of that, Hermione had found herself in one dead end job after another, never holding one position for longer than six months. This long after Voldemort's demise, blood status still mattered far too much in the wizarding world. Minister Shacklebolt had done his best to implement improvements, but the prejudices against Muggleborns were too deep seeded to disappear quickly. While the laws had changed, it would take time for both minds and hearts to follow.
If someone had asked her while she'd still been a student at Hogwarts what her chance of working in a joke shop after leaving school were… the odds of slim to none would have been an overestimation. Never in her wildest dreams would she have imagined that this was where she would find her niche. And yet, here she was, and had been now for over a year. It was here that she spent her days ordering supplies, balancing ledgers and seeing to the day-to-day running of the ever-thriving enterprise known as Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. In no small part due to her excellent managerial skills, the twins' business now consisted of a branch in Diagon Alley and another in Hogsmeade. Fred and George had given her office space by clearing out a supply room off their flat above the Diagon Alley shop. It wasn't much, but it afforded her privacy, and she was happy there.
"Bloody hell!" Hermione heard Fred's muttered curses as she came downstairs. Verity was working the register and neither twin was immediately visible when her eyes scanned the aisles of the shop. Rounding the corner to one of the back rooms, Hermione found Fred standing over a simmering cauldron, a book in one hand and a spoon grasped between his teeth as he first mixed in one thing, then another.
"Having problems?" she asked from the doorway.
Fred jumped at the sound of her voice, very nearly upsetting the cauldron and sending the book clattering to the floor.
"Do NOT do that! Jesus, Hermione. Are you trying to give me a bleedin' heart attack?"
About that time, Verity stepped to the doorway. "If you don't need anything else from me, Mr. Weasley, I'll be going."
"Thanks, Verity," Fred answered, seemingly distracted in finding the right page of his book once more. "If you don't mind, lock up on your way out." He gave her a dismissive wave of the hand and turned back to Hermione. "Would you mind sticking around and giving me a hand with this potion?"
"Not at all. What are you working on?" she answered, sincerely intrigued. While Fred may well have been oblivious to it, Hermione did not miss the look of contempt that Verity sent in her direction, though she did her best to ignore it. She had long since abandoned the idea of befriending the girl, as it was clear that Verity had no desire to return that friendship.
"It's part of our love potion line. It seems that some of our other products have become so well known that men have learned to avoid them." Fred dropped in a bit of boomslang skin to punctuate his statement.
Fred ignored the sarcasm in his eagerness to explain the brilliant new product he'd been working on. "We want this to be virtually undetectable; something that the average witch can bake into any dish with the same effect. Therein lies the problem," he said. "It seems to react poorly with some of the different types of food we've tested it on."
Despite Hermione's distaste for the product in general, his excitement was rubbing off on her. "What happened during your last test?" Though the lighting in the room was poor, she would have sworn he was blushing at her last comment.
"Well," he said, drawing out the word. "I'm not so sure George and Lee would appreciate my telling you that little tale."
"Which, of course, means you'll tell me the story drawing out every lewd aspect with explicit detail."
"Naturally," he said giving the cauldron a stir and passing her the book. He tapped a line on the page closest to him with his finger. "Here's where I left off. If you'll take over, I'll grab us some take away from The Leaky Cauldron. Be careful not to touch it though. Undiluted, it's extremely powerful. Touching it has the same effect as ingesting it when it's this pure."
Hermione nodded her understanding and took up the spoon, dropping some Plangentine into the cauldron. "I'll have fish and chips." Hermione grinned at the expression on his face.
"Of course you will. Perfectly predictable Hermione. You've wanted fish and chips the last three times we worked late."
Her grin quickly turned to a frown at his calling her predictable, though a lot of good it did her. His back was already retreating as he wrapped his scarf around his neck, pulled on his gloves and exited the shop. Would he ever see her differently? Something other than that stiff little girl who'd grown up before his eyes? She gave the contents of the cauldron a violent stirring and read the instructions further. She added a bit of gurdy root and stirred seven times anti-clockwise.
A short time later, the sound of the bell on the shop door signalled Fred's return. "How goes it with the potion?" he asked, balancing take away boxes as he attempted to remove one glove.
"It goes. It needs to simmer for forty-five minutes." Fred passed her a carton containing the fish and chips she had requested, and she smiled to see that he had purchased the same for himself.
"Come on then. If we've got forty-five minutes, we might as well get comfortable, and this room is sweltering." He indicated the staircase with a jut of his chin.
She had to agree. The heat from the cauldron was overwhelming in the small confines of the room. She followed him upstairs to the flat he shared with George and made herself comfortable on the sofa with the carton of food resting on her lap.
"Pumpkin juice or Firewhisky?" Fred asked from the kitchen. He reached for the pumpkin juice and said under his breath, "As though I needed to ask."
"Firewhisky." She'd be damned if she would be Miss Predictable this evening. Fred Weasley only thought he knew her.
"Well, well, well. Someone's full of surprises tonight. Who are you and what have you done with Hermione Granger?" He raised his eyebrow in question and she felt herself blush.
She popped a chip into her mouth and took the glass from him when he joined her on the sofa.
"Good?" he inquired.
"Mmm." She responded by raising a chip. She let out a little squeal of surprise when he leaned in and wrapped his fingers around her wrist. Bringing her hand to his lips, he plucked the chip from it.
She took a large gulp of the Firewhisky which, in retrospect, was not the smartest of moves. It seared a trail of fire down her throat and left her coughing and spluttering in its wake. With a hearty slap on the back from Fred, she gasped her recovery.
She nodded, hand over her chest and breathing deeply to draw into her lungs much needed air. "That's really strong. Perhaps I should have asked for the pumpkin juice."
Fred grinned and, quick as a flash, his hand dipped into her carton and nicked a piece of her fish. Hermione struck quickly with a sharp slap that made him drop the fish back into her carton.
"Ow, you wicked little witch."
"I, Sir Fish-Nicker, am not the wicked one. Now, you mentioned a story that you were going to tell me, eh?" Hermione licked the salt from her fingertips and sipped her drink more carefully this time, sighing in relief when the amber liquid slid more easily down her throat and settled warm in her belly.
"Indeed, I did. Well, the last time we tested the product—or rather George tested the product, it was a bit involuntarily." Fred sipped his drink, and she rather thought his pause was for dramatic effect.
"Stop stalling and get on with the telling," she said, lobbing a chip at his head as the Firewhisky relaxed her. "Besides how could he not know that he was testing a love potion—oh Merlin, tell me you did not put it in his food."
"Actually, I can say in all truth that I did not."
Hermione's brow furrowed with this new bit of information. "Well, if you didn't then who—?" Her mouth fell open as realisation dawned clear. "That bitch!"
Fred put his hand over his heart in feigned shock at her use of foul language then laughed it off. "I'm going to assume you're referring to Verity."
Nodding, Fred lifted a large chip dripping with curry to his lips. Dribbling it down his chin, he looked around in vain for a napkin.
Hermione handed one over and nudged him in the arm. "The suspense is killing me, Fred. What happened?"
He took a good deal longer than she thought was absolutely necessary to wipe his mouth and chin. She moved as if to jab him in the kidneys and he relented. "Okay, okay. Business was slow in the shop that day so George sent Verity home before lunch."
"Oh," she said, understanding becoming evident in her voice, "and the potion was in his lunch?"
Fred raised an eyebrow at her in mock annoyance. "Are you telling this story now? I mean, I can stop if you already know how it goes."
She picked up her glass and drank in an attempt to refrain from interrupting again.
"So George sat down to eat his lunch and—now see, this is much less fun to tell when you already know how it goes." Fred gave a disgusted sigh, but continued the story. "And, apparently, when mixed into stew the potion becomes a bit more potent and it's impossible to know how much he actually consumed, since it was mixed into a pot that was simmering on the range in the flat."
Hermione growled feeling a twinge of rage. She did not like Verity, and this incident, even without concrete proof, only added to her ill feelings for the girl. However, in spite of her anger at Verity for abusing George's trust, curiosity was quickly winning out. "Did it make him feel any different? Did he know that something was amiss right away?"
Fred grinned at her questions. "Always the consummate researcher, aren't you?"
She blushed at his observation and looked down into her glass to avoid looking at him.
"No, no. That was a compliment. It's one of the reasons we wanted you working here, you know?"
Her cheeks warmed more at the compliment and she risked a glance at up at him. Fred's eyes met hers and he answered her questions. "No, he didn't feel any differently until he encountered Lee on the stairs as he headed back down to the shop."
"And?" It was, she knew, improper to ask, but she felt a jolt of excitement at the images her mind was conjuring up.
"Well, I think it's safe to say that Lee's virtue was thoroughly compromised." Fred's grin was lecherous and he tossed the remainder of his drink back and swallowed. Her eyes moved down the column of his neck to the open collar of his shirt.
There was a pop and a sizzling noise from the shop below. Fred looked at his watch, swore loudly and bolted for the stairs. Hermione followed close on his heels as the noises coming from the area of the once attended cauldron grew louder. Fred threw open the door and the heat and fumes that greeted them were overwhelming.
He removed the cauldron from the heat of the flame, and Hermione rushed forward to open a window, slipping in a large puddle of potion that had boiled over. She let out a squeal as she fell in a most ungraceful tangle of legs, potion covering her skirt and shirt.
"Are you okay?"
She reached for his proffered hand. "I'm—I don't know." Rather than allowing him to pull her up, she tugged throwing him off balance and causing him to fall on her.
"Hermione," Fred said in an attempt to climb off her. "It's the potion. We shouldn't."
"You're right. We shouldn't," she said, feeling his hand tangle in her hair, his mouth inches from her own. Her tongue darted forward to lick across his lower lip. He tasted of salt and vinegar with just a hint of the curry sauce from their recent meal. His hardness pressed against her thigh and she kissed him hard, biting at his lip and then nipping his chin. "I can feel how much you think we shouldn't."
"I said we shouldn't," he gasped, "not that I didn't want to."
Her potion-covered fingers grasped his face and he shook them off. Grabbing the bottom of his shirt he pulled it over his head in a single fluid movement of grace that she envied. She ran her fingertips over the pale, freckled expanse of his stomach and grabbed at his belt with hands trembling. Closing his hand overtop of hers briefly he pushed it aside and made short work of his belt and the remainder of his clothes.
She wanted to look at him; wanted to devour every single inch of him and commit it to memory. Fred gave her little opportunity. He leaned forward crushing his lips to hers and swallowing down her moans of appreciation.
"You're wearing far too many clothes," he whispered, his breath hot and demanding in her ear. "We should do something about that."
She would most certainly have agreed with him, but he gave her no time, pulling her shirt from the waistband of her skirt, fisting the material in his hands and pulling… hard. Buttons scattered, the pings echoing off the walls as they skittered across the floor to their final places of rest. He fingered the lace of her bra, tracing its edge over first one breast, then another. "Funny, you never struck me as a black lace kind of girl."
Hermione arched her back pressing her breast firmly into his palm. "Funnier still, you never struck me as a bloke who'd waste his time admiring my lingerie, when he could be sucking on my nipples while he shagged me."
"You have a point." He unfastened the hooks, with a good deal of difficulty and a few choice words that would typically have drawn that look from her, but under the circumstances she was inclined to agree with him.
Her tits finally freed from their confines, Fred flicked his thumb over her nipple bringing it to a taut peak and ripping a lustful growl from deep within her throat. Wrapping her fingers around his neck, she pulled him to her, begging without words for his lips to claim her. They did, and the heat of his mouth was echoed in the heat pulsing at the apex of her thighs. His fingers moved down her stomach, kneading and stroking their way to her centre as his lips wreaked havoc on her senses, laving first one, then the other nipple with expert skill.
With a soft pop, Fred released her and shifted to his knees, crawling in predatory fashion down her body with a twinkle in his eye that was anything but menacing. She reached for her skirt, bunching it around her waist and hearing him groan in response to her action. The potion removed any trace of her inhibitions and she splayed her thighs in invitation.
"Gods," he growled, rather than said the word, running his fingertip down the thin strip of black lace that separated him from his goal. "Drenched," he whispered, hitching his thumbs into the elastic band and tugging downward.
Then, he did something she had not expected. He reared back on his knees and looked down at her, his eyes moving over her body, slowly and deliberately drinking her in. "Just want to look at you for a moment; so pretty."
Her self-consciousness won out and she whimpered beneath the weight of his stare. His fingers parted the outer folds of her entrance and he slid them back and forth, slickening them with her wetness. He slid two fingers into her slightly and she gasped out a lusty "more" as his thumb found her clit sending waves of desire coursing through her. Her body craved his touch, begged for his kiss and desired, more than anything, to be devoured by him.
He did not bid her wait.
Fred's tongue entered her mouth as he entered her body. She parried every thrust, arching her back and raking her nails across the taut muscles of his shoulders, digging in and loving the responsive hiss that escaped his lips as his teeth nipped her neck.
He pushed into her, increasing his pace and losing control of the rhythm that he set as his muscles tightened and his body quivered. "Not gonna last much longer, love."
His thumb pushed hard against her clit and she, too, found her control slipping to be replaced by explosions of various colours behind her eyes that would put the fireworks in the next room to shame. Her body convulsed around him and that control he'd tried so desperately to reign in slipped away.
"Hermione." He said her name. Nothing more, nothing less as he trembled above her, thrusting hard and fast in the final throes of passion's hold.
She awoke the next morning to the feel of foreign sheets against her skin and a warmth too solid to be anything but human against her back. She might have had the consolation that it was a dream, but her body ached far too greatly for that to be the case.
And it came back to her in a flash…
A flash of memory too vivid to be imagined; a memory of ripping clothes, scattering buttons and smooth, freckled skin against hers. A night of passion that went on for hours… and she wished had continued for days.
"Oh Merlin, tell me I didn't," she whispered, reaching out a timid hand in hopes that all she would touch was the coolness of linens in a familiar empty spot in her own bed, and knowing all too well she would not. What she touched was warm, hard and undeniably male… undeniably Fred.
She looked around in a frantic search for her clothing only to remember that they had been discarded downstairs; her wand was there too. She rolled from the bed and began rummaging through the drawers for one of Fred's robes to don in a mad dash downstairs, but she kept coming up empty.
"I never fancied you a thief, you know," Fred said, mid-yawn.
She startled at his comment and whirled around, for the moment oblivious to her naked state… until he whistled. She grabbed the duvet and pulled it from the bed to cover herself… or attempted to, but he pulled back, throwing her off balance to land in a heap on the bed. She righted herself quickly and pulled the covers up to her chin in a somewhat tardy attempt at modesty.
Fred yawned and stretched, flexing his limbs in a way that turned her insides to jelly. A large purple mark on his bicep drew his attention. "Damn, Hermione. Did you bite me?"
"I did not."
"You did. You bit me. A bit sorry I don't remember that. You're a bit of a sadist in bed, you know that?"
He was enjoying this; relishing rubbing in what a slag she'd been under the influence of the potion. There was nothing left to do but bring the covers over her head and pray it would be over soon.
He took some pity on her and pried the covers from her stiff fingers and pulled them down to her neck. "Sorry about that. I couldn't resist having you on like that, you know?"
"If you'll just get me my clothes and wand, I'll get out of here and you won't have to see me again."
"No? NO? Did you say no?"
"Did the potion clog your ears then? Yes, I said no." Fred rolled to his back and tugged the covers up to his waist, hands behind his head and as he stared at the ceiling.
Hermione sat up, yanking the duvet tightly around her. "Why not?" She opened her mouth to say more, but found herself at an unsettling loss for words.
"Because after last night, I don't exactly fancy the notion of never seeing you again." Fred's words were direct, and no matter how deeply she looked for it, no note of humour was detected.
She opened her mouth to say something intelligent, and found herself once more at a loss. Instead, she simply eased herself back down on her back beside him and joined him in staring at the ceiling.
"You're rather cute when you're speechless." There was a hint of a smile that twitched at the corner of his mouth.
"Well, enjoy it. It doesn't happen often."
"Don't I know that," he whispered beneath his breath.
"Shutting it." Fred grew silent, but for the occasional sigh as he looked at the ceiling. A few moments later, he seemed unable to remain silent any longer. "Hermione?"
"I know this might be a bit backwards to the way things typically work, but would you fancy going out to breakfast with me?"
"You're asking me out?"
"I am. I mean, you don't have to—well what I mean is—bloody fucking hell, I'm pants at this. I just—"
"Yes I'm pants at this or yes you will?" Fred rolled to his side and propped himself up on an elbow.
"Yes, I will."
"Okay, well, I hadn't really thought any further ahead than that, seeing as how I expected you to say no."
"What do you say we take it a step at a time?"
Fred leaned down and kissed the tip of her nose. "I think I like that idea. Now, the first step will be to get you out of here without George seeing you."
Hermione groaned and pulled the covers back up over her head.
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