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Meet Cute Madness: the wedding bribe

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“Would you like to dance?”

Hermione turned to look at Fred and smiled. “I’d love to,” she replied, and he offered her his hand and walked with her to the dance floor as the bride and groom made way for their family and friends to join them in their first dance.

Fred Weasley was, Hermione thought, the most attentive, caring date she could have hoped for. Which had surprised her a bit. Doubts had crossed her mind when she saw the exuberant redhead approaching her while she was reading in a quiet corner of his parents’ garden after Sunday dinner a few weeks ago, but Hermione was now delighted with her decision. Fred had been thoughtful enough to pick her up from home, even though he had spent the morning getting ready with the groom and his other brothers, so she wouldn’t have to arrive alone. He had openly admired her outfit, handed her a small bunch of flowers, which he swore weren’t enchanted with any of his pranks and, most importantly for Hermione, stayed close to her side for the duration of the ceremony and reception.

Hermione had been dreading Ron’s wedding for weeks before Fred had asked her to be his date. She was worried that people might think that she was still pining for her ex. Or, perhaps, assume she felt bitter that he had found happiness again so soon after he and Hermione had realised they were better as friends. In reality, she was fine and enjoying her new role at the Ministry. But others could be harsh to judge, as she often lamented to Ginny.

“You look very thoughtful, love.” Fred leaned down a bit to speak softly into her ear as he cradled her in the slow dance that the happy couple had chosen as their first. “Are you OK?”

Hermione’s tummy fluttered, and she wondered how she could possibly be hungry again after the enormous wedding breakfast that she had eaten not two hours ago.

“I’m alright, thank you, Fred,” she replied, tilting her head back slightly so she could meet his gaze. “I’m better than alright. I’m actually enjoying myself.”

“That’s good then.” Fred tightened his hold on her a little and pulled her close again. “Because I can see Lee gearing up for some faster music; are you ready for this?”

She smiled. “I think I am.”

From across the room, Molly Weasley smiled, and pointed the two of them out to her husband Arthur. She loved Hermione like a daughter, and would love nothing more than to see her married to one of her sons, thus bringing her into the family officially.

“I don’t know whether he was serious when he asked her to be his date, but I do hope so. Look at their body language, Arthur!”

Arthur looked, and mumbled something that he hoped would strike the right tone before hiding his mouth from his wife by taking a big gulp of wine. She could read him so well, and the last thing he wanted her to pick up on was that he had just overheard some rather unsettling gossip at the bar. His eldest son, Bill, had been berating his sister, Ginny. As far as Arthur could tell without getting involved in the conversation – an art that he had developed over nearly three decades of marriage and fatherhood – Ginny had bribed Fred to ask Hermione to be his date, and Bill was very concerned about what might happen if Hermione found out. Arthur had left the area while Ginny was passionately trying to defend and explain her actions in a loud whisper, having realised that there was very little that he could do. Additional interference was likely to make things worse, not better.

The elder Weasley turned his gaze back to the pair on the dance floor. It was a shame, he thought, because they made a gorgeous couple. Fred seemed to bring out Hermione’s lighter side, while she grounded him a bit. The only time Arthur saw Fred stay put for any length of time the previous weekend was when he sat next to Hermione as she was reading before Sunday lunch, pulling her feet into his lap and rubbing them for her. And, last Christmas, it was Fred who’d managed to persuade Hermione to stay over, insisting that she take his and George’s bedroom now that Harry slept with Ginny. Fred and George had enlarged and slept on the sofa, loudly proclaiming their joint delight that this would ensure they didn’t miss a nanosecond of present opening on Christmas morning.

Fred saw his father watching them, and grinned, giving him a small wave and startling Arthur out of his reverie. He raised his hand half-heartedly at his son, hoping that Fred wasn’t going to hurt the little witch who they all loved so much. When he saw the look on Fred’s face as Fred turned back to Hermione, Arthur’s heart swelled. Whatever had prompted this arrangement, it was clear that his son was loving being with Hermione in this way, and Arthur relaxed more as he watched Fred lead Hermione in a series of spinning, happy moves through several songs until they were both exhausted from dancing and laughing together.

“Thank you,” Hermione whispered into Fred’s ear as, by mutual agreement, they took a break and headed to the bar for a drink. “I’m having such a good time,” she told him.

Fred paused for just a moment before he replied, leaning in closer and cupping her cheek in one of his hands. “You’re so lovely,” he said, catching her unawares as his thumb gently stroked her face. “I know this is all going on for a few more hours, but the evening doesn’t have to end, you know.” He glanced around the tent to make his meaning clear. “Not if you don’t want it to. Why don’t you wait here and catch your breath, love, and I’ll get us some drinks…”

Leaving her with that interesting thought and a teasing wink, he headed into the throng of people at the bar. Hermione leaned against one of the poles that was holding the marquee up. Fred’s words had sent a thrill through her body, and she realised that, actually, she would rather like it if the night didn’t end. At least not until she and Fred were somewhere alone. She hadn’t felt this way about him since fourth year, when the sight of him in his quidditch robes had coincided with her own pubescent awakening. But then Cedric had been killed, and the world had become darker, and thoughts of romance had been pushed aside until she and Ron had kissed on that fateful day that turned out to be the last day of the war.

“You look serious; you’re clearly not pissed enough,” Harry announced, coming up to her with a beer in his hand and a lopsided grin which suggested that the extra firewhiskies he had downed for Dutch courage before his best man’s speech had had the desired effect – and more. “Is Fred behaving?”

Hermione looked a bit confused. “Yes?”

“That’s good,” Harry slurred. “Was worried he wouldn’t. Told Ginny not to do it; said you’d find your own date and she didn’t need to bribe one of her brothers to take you.” The last sentence was punctuated by a series of hiccups, and Hermione was so focused on carefully pulling her wand from her dress and casting a charm to alleviate them that it took a few moments for Harry’s words to sink in. When they did, she turned to her old friend with a look of horror on her face.

“Ginny bribed Fred to ask me to be his date?”

“I said don’t do it,” Harry said, completely uninhibited. “I said, Hermione’s a strong woman, she’ll be fine.” He punched the air to illustrate his sentiment. “But Ginny loves you,” he said. “And she didn’t want you to be sad. And I love you. I really, really love you, my … my … Miney, you know that?” He leaned forward, putting his forehead on her shoulder.

Hermione was so distressed that she nearly didn’t tell Harry that she loved him back. But even in her own confusion, she could never forget how many people her best friend had lost. So she leaned in and hugged the beer-scented wizard as her tears began to flow. “I love you too Harry. But I have to go. Sorry.” She needed to get her head clear before she faced Fred again. Gods, she had nearly reached the point of going home with him, and the last thing she needed right now was to become a notch on Fred Weasley’s probably already rather well-marked bedpost. Raising her wand again, she apparated away just as Fred emerged from the crowd with a bottle of champagne in one hand and a couple of glasses in the other.

“Where’s Hermione gone?” he asked, as soon as he reached Harry.

“Dunno,” Harry said, pointing to the glasses. “Can I have one?”

“No,” said Fred. “Well didn’t she give you some clue where she was going? Has she gone to the house to the loo or something?”

“I don’t know,” said Harry, raising his voice a bit. “We were just talking about your deal with Ginny and then she disap … disappr … disarap … then she went. Gone, puff,” he began to laugh, and Fred gave up on the drunken wizard and instead strode back towards the bar, calling his sister.

“Just what did you tell Harry about me asking Hermione to be my date today?” he demanded.

Ginny looked a bit defensive at that. “Well, I told him the morning I came over that I was off to try to bribe you to ask her so she wouldn’t be alone and feel sad,” she said. “But nothing else. He was working all weekend anyway, so I didn’t see him when I got back from seeing you.”

“So you didn’t tell him about our actual conversation?”

Ginny shook her head, a look of horror growing on her own face as she realised what might have just happened, and her elder brother put his hands on her shoulders.

“Where will she have gone?” he asked, all seriousness now, and Ginny thought for a few seconds before answering.

“Probably not home; she would consider it rude to go without saying goodbye to Ron and Lav and Mum and Dad. Besides, she was going to stay over tonight; she agreed to share with me and Harry as it was a special occasion. So maybe my room, or somewhere else in the garden.” She shrugged, not able to think of any other possibilities on the spot. “Do you want me to help you look?”

“I do not,” said Fred, a bit grimly. He wasn’t best pleased with Ginny’s interference at that moment. Carefully taking the bottle and glasses between the fingers of one of his large hands, he pulled his wand from his robes and disapparated to look for Hermione. First stop, Ginny’s bedroom.

On the other side of The Burrow’s large garden, Hermione Granger was curled up in one corner of a sofa which she had conjured from a swimming toy that she spotted floating in the pond. Having left her bag on the table where she and Fred were sitting with George, Angelina, Lee, Alicia, Neville and Hannah, she didn’t even have any tissues. So she was mopping her tears with a transfigured leaf, under a couple of her beloved blue lights which she had conjured for comfort, and wondering at how she had ended up in this position.

Yes, she had been feeling worried about the wedding. For several weeks before Fred had asked her to be his date. And yes, she had moaned to Ginny on a number of occasions so, although Ginny’s actions were awful, they were also wonderfully awful in that she had clearly been trying to help her friend. But, Hermione groaned out loud as she pondered the situation, her head dropping into her hands, now things would be much worse. Everyone would know how she felt, which would make it even more humiliating.

And then there was Fred. Fresh tears filled Hermione’s eyes as she realised that, over the course of the lovely day spent together, her teenage crush on Fred Weasley had returned. Fully, and in adult form. She remembered his big eyes looking nervous and hopeful when she answered the door, and then the huge smile that crossed his face when she welcomed him into her house and exclaimed in happiness at the flowers. Probably, Hermione thought, feeling her stomach drop at the idea, Ginny had bought those too.

Fred was a good actor; she would give him that. His fingers interlacing with hers and then gently squeezing her hand in support when Ron and Lavender spoke their vows. The protective arm that he would wrap around her every time Lavender looked in their direction, and the inappropriate jokes that he would whisper into her ear to ensure that Hermione was smiling throughout.

But no, Hermione realised; it was unfair to assume that all of those gestures were faked. Fred had always been lovely to her. He was a kind, older brother sort of figure in her life. It was just that she had let her feelings get away with her. She had read too much into the soft looks he gave her. Her head had been turned by the way he danced with her and touched her waist and hands and face. And maybe, if she could get her head around things now and sort them out in her mind, she could close off the bit of her heart that held his name and go back to the wedding with her head held high.

And then she remembered his words about the night not needing to end, and felt sick. What had he meant by that? Had Ginny suggested to him that Hermione needed more than a date? Hermione wished she had brought a drink over to the pond with her, to help her deliberations, and then, as if Merlin himself had heard and decided to magically respond to her desire, a bottle of champagne appeared in front of the sofa.

Unfortunately, it was attached to Fred Weasley. Who was possibly the last person she wanted to see at that moment. Quickly, she wiped her face and blew her nose.

“Oh Gods, Hermione,” he said, striding towards her. “I saw the sofa and the lights from the house, and I thought it must be you from the colour.” When he reached the sofa, he looked uncomfortable, as if he didn’t know whether she would welcome him or not. “I think there’s been a misunderstanding.”

“Yes, I realise that from what Harry said,” Hermione said, trying to keep her face neutral. “It’s OK, Fred. I don’t need a date anymore, thank you. You can go back to the wedding and dance with whomever you like. I’ll be back in a few minutes,” she said, inclining her head towards the tent. When I have composed myself, she thought. And I’ll just say my goodbyes and then go to my own bed and cry you out of my system.

He started to hold the bottle up to offer her a glass of champagne and then thought better of it, simply pouring one and putting it into her hand. “Here. I suspect you need this.”

Hermione raised her eyebrows and tilted the glass towards him in a parody of a toast. “Yeah, I do,” she said. “Thanks,” she added, unable not to be polite, even though she felt – well, she realised, she didn’t exactly know how she felt. She had still been trying to work that out when he arrived. Fred poured himself a glass of champagne as well, charmed it to hang in the air beside him and then put the bottle on a tree stump under a cooling charm before kicking off his shoes. He then settled himself cross legged on the other end of Hermione’s sofa, facing her, and reached for her feet. She wanted to pull them away, but her resolve went as soon as he took her shoes off and began to massage the soles of her feet with his thumbs.

“Harry only knows half the story,” he said, deciding that it was best to dive straight in.

“Oh Gods,” said Hermione. “What else is there to know? Is George in on it too? Will you be propositioning me for a threesome next, to take my mind off things? Does Angelina know?”

A smile slowly crossed Fred’s face even as he shook his head.

“I don’t think it’s that funny,” said Hermione. Her sentence had begun crossly, but by the time it ended, she just sounded sad. Possibly the effect of the foot massage that Fred was still giving her.

“It’s true that Ginny came over to the shop a few weeks ago offering me a bribe to take you to Ron’s wedding. The bit that Harry may not have mentioned is that I told her she was out of her mind.”

“Too bloody right,” said Hermione. “I can’t think why she didn’t realise I would be upset about it!”

“Well not just that,” said Fred. “Also out of her mind to think that I would need to be bribed to date you.”

Hermione frowned. “What does that even mean?” she asked, and Fred smiled.

“It means I told her no. And I asked you to come to the wedding with me not out of pity or to help or anything nice and altruistic like that. I asked you to be my date because I fancy you something rotten, Hermione.” He gently squeezed her feet to emphasise his words. “And I wanted the chance to spend the day with you, and dance with you, and I hoped I’d get to show you that we could be good together and … and maybe I could get you to agree to be my girlfriend and turn the wedding into a weekend and then more…” He trailed off, uncharacteristically lost for words.

It took Hermione a few moments to process what he had said. And then her eyes narrowed.

“Are you being bribed to say this?”

Fred would have laughed if the look on her face hadn’t been so serious. Instead, he shook his head and swallowed. “Ask Georgie if you like. He’ll tell you I’ve liked you for a while now. Just didn’t want to upset the apple cart; I know we’re your family now.” That made sense, Hermione thought, as he squeezed her feet again tenderly. With her own parents still oblivious to her existence, the Weasleys were the only real family she had now, and they would go crazy with Fred if he hurt her in any way. “Want me to send a patronus and get him over here?”

She could see the sincerity in his eyes. Unknown to Fred, she had made a study of the twins when she became a prefect. Hermione had always been able to easily tell them apart, but she also studied their faces and expressions so that she could determine whether they were telling the truth or stretching it. Fred’s eyes stayed fixed on her and both that and the tilt of his head told her what she needed to know.

“No,” she shook her head. “I believe you.” She shook out her leaf-tissue, decided it was too wet and dropped it on the ground, where it returned to its previous state, albeit soggier than before. Fred reached into the top pocket of his robes and pulled out the purple handkerchief that had been part of his wedding outfit.

“Here, love,” he said simply, and Hermione took and unfolded it with a whispered thank you, using it to wipe her eyes and gently blow her nose one more time.

“Very romantic,” she said, mocking her own actions.

“You’re beautiful,” Fred said. And then, seeing her looking uncertain, added, “and, more importantly, clever and creative and funny and kind, and everything I want in a witch. Would you like to dance again?” he took his hands from her feet and stood, offering her his hand.

Hermione allowed him to pull her up from the corner of the sofa, and into his arms. He held her close to his chest and began to move slowly over the wooden planks on the jetty. “I really am crazy about you, Hermione Granger,” he said, “and I’m hereby asking you to be my girlfriend. Is that something you might consider?”

“I think it might be,” she replied, looking up into his eyes and seeing the truth in them. Her feet stopped moving as the fingers of the hand that was on his waist moved – almost of their own volition – across his back, pulling him closer. Hermione used her other hand to pull his neck towards her as she murmured, “kiss me.”

Fred obeyed, leaning down and giving her a couple of gentle pecks on the lips and then kissing her softly for a few moments before he intensified their kiss. Hermione giggled into his mouth as he lifted her and carried her back to the sofa, pulling her down with him and rolling them both so that they lay side by side.

Things escalated rather more quickly than either of them could have imagined. Within a few minutes of impassioned kissing the two were moaning their lust for each other and, a quick and somewhat breathless conversation later, they decided that they couldn’t stay away from the wedding reception for much longer before someone else came to look for them, but they couldn’t wait to be together either.

“I want our first time to be good … and memorable,” Fred managed to get out between kisses. His hand was up Hermione’s dress at the time, knuckles gently stroking her through her knickers, so his words were rather belied by his actions.

“I promise this will be highly memorable,” Hermione whispered; her own hand curving over his bottom and pressing him to her. “Look, we’ve got moonlight, and stars, and water. Besides, I want to walk back in there looking satisfied. Can you do that for me? I’ll reward you all night if you do…”

So Fred eased Hermione out of her knickers and Hermione made Fred laugh by banishing his trousers and pants to join his shoes on the wooden planks of the jetty rather than undoing them the muggle way. She teased him about his snitch-covered socks and then he turned her laughter into gentle whimpers when he lifted her back onto the sofa, spread her legs apart and put his mouth on her. And Hermione laughed again with joy when Fred made her come and then finally slid inside her and showed her by the look on his face and the actions of his body just how much he had been wanting to be with her.

They cradled each other in the afterglow for just a few minutes, knowing that they had the rest of the weekend to be together, and then forever after that. They would, months later, confess that they had both known from their first kiss that this was it for them. But for now, their family awaited. Molly had insisted that they all stay at The Burrow overnight, once they had waved Ron and Lavender off on their honeymoon, and then have a family brunch and clear-up on the Sunday. The new couple knew they wouldn’t be alone, but that wasn’t a bad thing. It would give them a chance to make things straight with Ginny – ideally, Hermione had informed Fred, with a suitably awful prank that she wouldn’t see coming – and to witness Harry’s well-deserved hangover. Fred had already decided that his first action upon returning to The Burrow would be to hide all the hangover potions as punishment.

“Shall we go back?” Fred whispered into Hermione’s ear after a few minutes of cuddling. “Just tell me how you want to play this?”

Hermione smiled. “I want us to walk back together. I don’t mind if we look a bit dishevelled, although you should probably put your trousers back on,” she smiled and stroked his bare legs, “and I want us back on the dance floor letting everyone see how happy and delighted we both are. Are you okay with that?”

“I’m more than okay with that, love,” Fred confirmed, as he reached for his clothes.

“Good,” replied Hermione, pushing herself up and draining her champagne before raising her wand. “The rest we can figure out later.”

Later that night, another bribe was transacted; this time a real one. Fred Weasley bribed George to distract their parents for fifteen minutes while he sneaked Hermione up to their old bedroom and added layers of wards and enchantments so that they would be guaranteed to be left alone until the morning. It cost him a week of extra potion shifts to have the freedom to make love with Hermione in his childhood bed all night, and earned him a half hour lecture from his mother the next morning. Fred would tell everyone for the rest of the long life which he spent happily at Hermione's side that it was worth every minute.