“Hmm. Love, have you brushed your teeth?”
“And flossed, Mum. Can I ask you a question?”
“Of course. Here, get under the covers first, and we’ll talk, all right? I’ll get the lights, you get your nightlight. Are you ready? Good. Now what did you want to know, love?”
“Who gave you your necklace? This one that you never take off.”
“Someone—someone who meant a great deal to me.”
“Was he your boyfriend?”
“No. No, darling, he wasn’t.”
“But did he love you?”
“You’re a terrible romantic, aren’t you? I don’t know where you got that from. This was a birthday present from him, actually. He wasn’t known for being too sentimental, but I like to think he broke character in that instance.”
“So he did love you.”
“In a way, just like how I loved him.”
“Why did he feel like being sentimental?”
“Because this necklace has a story. You up to hearing it?”
“Does Daddy like this story?”
“You can ask him that tomorrow. Would you like to hear it?”
“Yes, please, Mum.”
“Well, it all started with this lunatic trying to scare me out of my mind.”
The bellow was loud and prolonged, and it sent Hermione flying from Ginny’s room and down the hallway. She managed to reach the top of the steps before the bed sheets she’d been folding fluttered to the floor.
“Fred!” she cried, wand aloft as she took the stairs three steps at a time—a fairly treacherous feat considering the staircase’s structural inconsistencies. Panic set in deeply and quickly, since the concept itself had an easy time finding its regular foothold in her mind from how often if kept coming.
Hermione landed on the carpet of the ground floor with a muffled thud, coming down to a crouch to be ready for whatever waited. But everything was quiet. Crookshanks sat on the armchair, bottlebrush tail swaying calmly, though his eyes were narrowed and fixed in the direction of the kitchen.
“Fred?” she called again, failing to keep the tremble from her voice as she kept her wand up. Crookshanks’s calm demeanor or not, she wasn’t taking any chances.
“Hermione! In here!” cried Fred, his voice desperate.
She took off again, throwing one more wary glance at her nonchalant half-Kneazle. Pointedly keeping her footsteps light as she jogged across the cozy space of the Burrow, Hermione stopped at the wall, sidling up against it before peering around the entryway to the kitchen. She dropped any attempt at stealth, however, when she saw Fred sitting at the kitchen table, his head on the surface while he twisted the dial of the radio only inches from his face.
There were no Death Eaters, no Voldemort, no bloody Blast-Ended Skrewts. Just an idiot with a radio and a clear desire to be hexed.
“Fred,” said Hermione through her teeth, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. Though she lowered her wand, her grip tightened. “What are you doing?”
“Hermione,” he said, sitting up and shooting her a desperate look. “You’ve got to help me.”
“That radio had better be gnawing on your ear because if you nearly woke the dead to get me down here for no reason, I will—”
“As a matter of fact, it is attacking me.” He whacked the top of the set, looking thoroughly aggrieved and genuinely needing some sort of assistance. “It’s ripping apart my eardrums and tearing my brain asunder, Herms. Please.”
Her mind buzzed with a litany of non-lethal jinxes, curses, and hexes that she could inflict and heal before everyone else returned from their various errands. “What is it? It won’t turn off?”
“No, it’s working fine. I’m just so sick of listening to news reports and Celestina bloody Warbeck. There’s only so much I can take of that woman before I bloody beckon war on her.” He held out the set to her, the aforementioned witch’s warbling playing softly. “Can’t you get me a decent Muggle station?”
Hermione glared at him, her grip on her wand tightening.
He coupled his pout with a pair of sad, despairing eyes in retaliation and jiggled the set.
Hermione took a deep breath and stowed her wand again. She ignored the radio set as she walked around to the other end of the table, where she’d spotted the Daily Prophet. She folded up the edition, walked back to Fred, and smacked him right in the face with it.
“Don’t you scare me like that again, Frederick Gideon Weasley! You know better than to scream like that at a time like this!”
Fred rubbed his nose with his free hand. “Come on, Herms. We’re all losing our bloody minds like this. We’re in the midst of a war and a wedding. Orchestrated by the French. And my mother. I need something more than worry from reports and migraines from high-note warbling.”
Hermione shook her head and sighed, tossing the newspaper back onto the table. “All right. Hand it over.”
Fred grinned, and though it looked as wide as it always did, there was a happier shine to his brown eyes that she realized she hadn’t seen in a while. In spite of the twins’ pervasive sense of humor, the war was taking its toll on them too. She couldn’t fault him for wanting to take his mind off everything for a bit, and if that meant twiddling knobs for a bit, then so be it.
Merlin knew she agreed that Celestina Warbeck needed a bad case of laryngitis or whomever controlled that particular radio station needed to be fired.
Fred forked over the radio station as Hermione sat down at the table and began casting a few spells on it so it could receive Muggle stations. Fred hugged her from behind and dropped a kiss onto the top of her head. “You’re the best, Herms.”
“Call me that one more time, and I’ll be the worst,” she growled, throwing a glare at him over her shoulder.
“But why? Don’t you like my little nicknames for you?”
“It sounds like germs, Fred. That’s not flattering,” she answered.
“Well, you told me germs are highly intelligent creatures, capable of adapting to environments,” he said as matter-of-factly as she had when she’d explained it. “And you can always rely on them to be there. The parallels stand.”
Hermione hit him in the face with the newspaper before he’d even realized she’d picked it up again. “Stop calling me that.”
“Fine! ‘Hermie’ then.”
“Sounds like germy.”
“There’s just no pleasing you, is there, witch?”
“Your silence would please me.”
Fred only laughed and tugged a lock of her hair before walking off to the cupboards. “Care for anything to fuel your endeavors, my little sunbeam?”
“No, thank you.”
“We have water, pumpkin juice, butterbeer, a surprising amount of Ogden’s Finest, but we also have enough fresh fruit that I can squeeze something for you if you like grape juice, apple juice, lemon juice, lime juice—”
“Er, butterbeer is fine.”
“Are you sure? I’m sure I can mix you up a nice fruit juice blend to arouse your taste buds.”
Hermione grimaced. “Absolutely not.”
“What about foodstuffs then, flower petal? What’ve you got a hankering for?”
“Fred, honestly, I’m fine. The butterbeer would be enough,” she said, tapping the set with her wand again.
“We don’t really have a lot anymore since Mum and Ginny are out for groceries, but there’s still enough if you need a little sustenance. We’ve got bread rolls, celery, onions, garlic, salt, pepper—”
“Merlin’s sake, Fred!”
“I want you to be fed and happy, Hermione!,” he cried, spinning around to frown at her. “You can’t fault me for trying to be a good host!”
“What kind of host offers to feed his guests spices?!”
“A thorough one who wants to ensure your stay to be most flavorful!”
Hermione paused her work to sit back in her chair and stare at him incredulously. He stood with his feet apart, a bottle of butterbeer in either hand as his knuckles rested on his hips. For all the fear they expressed of their mother, the Weasley boys were still very much her sons. And Hermione laughed.
Seemingly proud that he finally managed to crack her, Fred ginned and loped back over to drop into the seat beside the curly-haired witch. He handed her a bottle and held up his own.
“To wars and weddings?” she asked wryly.
“To the French and English,” he said loftily.
Hermione laughed, shaking her head. “To salt and pepper.”
The bottles clinked happily as they toasted. As she took her swig of the cold sweetness, Hermione flourished her wand one more time, and then—
“Everything I do is for you, so what is it that you can’t see?” crooned the quintet of voices on the set. “Sometimes I wish I could turn back time. Impossible as it may seem, but I wish I could so bad, baby.”
Fred big brown eyes jumped between the radio and Hermione, the bottle still at his lips. “You did it?”
Eyes wide in innocence and nonchalance, Hermione shrugged and took another sip.
“You did it!” cheered Fred, setting down his butterbeer and hauled Hermione out of her chair to spin her into a dance completely out of rhythm with the song. She nearly lost hold of her bottle as he spun her around the dinner table, whipping his wand around to raise the volume.
“Baby, baby, the love that we had was so strong. Don’t leave me hanging there forever. Oh, baby, baby, this is not right. Let’s stop this tonight.”
“Who the bloody hell are these people?” asked Fred, wincing as he waltzed her around the room, a stream of na-na-na’s following them.
Hermione laughed at his pained expression. “An American boy band called the Backstreet Boys.”
“What’s a boy band?” he asked, spinning her out.
“A group of boys simultaneously singing and dancing in harmony,” answered Hermione. He caught her butterbeer bottle and set it down on the table as his steps grew more complex. “They can be older than boys, though. Most of the ones singing are actually in their twenties.”
He made pulled a face and spun her again. “And that’s popular in the States?”
“All over the world, actually,” she said, frowning in concentration as she worked to keep up with Fred’s sudden dancing abilities. “Especially in Asia. There are also female counterparts like the Spice Girls, who’re based here in Britain.”
“The Spice Girls?” he echoed in disbelief. “What do they sing about? Paprika?”
“Yes, Fred,” she said, grunting a bit as he dipped her low, “because who hasn’t sung about bloody paprika?”
He held her in that position, her hair brushing the floor as the song ended. “No offense, love, but Muggles are quite the interesting set.”
Hermione huffed as he pulled her back upright. “But at least their music is good,” she said, a new song beginning to play. “This one is actually my mum’s favorite.”
“When somebody loves you, it’s no good unless he loves you…all the way…”
“This is Frank Sinatra, one of the most famous American singers,” said Hermione, tugging Fred into a slower rhythm so he was throwing her around the floor. She slid an arm around his shoulders as he put his own around her waist, her right hand he held against his chest. “Did McGonagall give you advanced lessons during rehearsals for the Yule Ball? Where did you learn to dance like this?”
“Happy to be near you, when you need someone to cheer you…all the way…”
“Actually, it was Dumbledore on the evening of,” answered Fred. “He saw us trying to take things a step toward a higher level with our dates and decided to step in and give us a bit of a lesson so we would be properly dapper dancing gentlemen.”
Hermione chuckled as they swayed around the kitchen. “And I’m supposed to believe that after less than a full night of practice, you two managed to become such talented ballroom dancers?”
“Well, of course, Hermione,” he said patronizingly, rolling his eyes and scoffing. “Magic.”
“Deeper than the deep blue sea is, that’s how deep it goes…if it’s real.”
“If this song is trying to teach me how love has got to be, I’m going to need further clarification of what ‘all the way’ entails,” he muttered, scowling a bit. “All the way to where? The altar? To the depths of the sea? Death?”
Hermione chuckled. “I think he means that the love should be complete, not halfway.”
“Halfway to where?!”
Hermione laughed. “I mean, don’t half-arse it, Fred! Listen!”
“Through the good or lean years and for all those in-between years. Come what may.”
Fred clicked his tongue against his teeth. “Then he should be singing about loving unconditionally instead of making it sound like there’s a place I’ve got to go to prove my love.”
“You know songs are just as poetic as the indecipherable, ‘romantic’ garbage some of you boys tried throwing at girls during Valentine’s Day,” said Hermione wryly.
He scoffed. “Oh, please. Don’t tell me you don’t swoon when you hear, ‘Doubt thou the stars are fire, doubt that the sun doth move. Doubt truth to be a liar, but never doubt I love.’”
“Shakespeare, Fred?” Her eyebrows high and eyes wide, Hermione really did her best to keep from laughing at him. “Really?”
He rolled his eyes. “You said it yourself—romantic drivel to be thrown at girls during Valentine’s.”
“You can spew out Shakespeare, but you couldn’t fully interpret these simple lyrics of just loving someone all the way?”
“The man’s American, Hermione, can you blame me?!”
She laughed and he pushed her out into a slow spin before tugging her back into his embrace. He was warm and solid, smelling of grass and soap and minute traces of gunpowder. His jaw rested against her temple; his breath blew against her hair, deep and even.
It felt safe.
Everyone was out, fetching things for the wedding or fortifying and shielding safe houses, but she and Fred had been charged with manning the Burrow. It had been obvious that letting the twins fortify a safe house meant running the risk of a prank around every corner, so they were wisely separated. At first, Hermione had been a bit chagrined to have been left behind with Fred, afraid she was never going to get anything done because he’d incessantly distract her with attempts to blow up rooms or whatnot.
And to an extent, her prediction had been correct. Nothing blew up, but she still didn’t get anything done. She didn’t really mind in the end.
It felt nice, being with him.
The afternoon sun drifted into the kitchen, between the swaying leaves of the tree outside. The music wafted around them like its own type of magic. Something in her stirred softly, quietly—something she’d tried to stamp out for so many different reasons over the years. But for those several minutes, she rested her cheek on his shoulder and hummed with the song.
“Who knows where the road will lead us? Only a fool would say. But if you let me love you, it’s for sure I’m gonna love you…all the way.”
Hermione chalked it up to the unyielding, mischievous cleverness of the twins when she found her birthday presents from them in her little beaded bag. She knew for a fact that they hadn’t been there in the last few months they’d been on the run, but neither did the twins have a way to transport objects to her bag from long distances. They must have been on a timed concealment charm that would be revealed to her on a chosen date.
Slytherin’s locket had begun to take its toll on the three of them, and the cold, dreary morning that greeted her birthday didn’t help the situation. Harry had forcibly taken the locket from Ron when he’d snapped at Hermione for tripping on the leg of his cot and waking him up. Though Ron apologized profusely before sweetly hugging Hermione and greeting her, she still holed herself up in her corner to be alone.
It was as she was compulsively taking inventory of her bag when she found the twins’ presents, simply wrapped with brown paper, tied together with a red and gold ribbon. She opened George’s gift first, clearly labeled, “For Hermie, Love Georgie.” It was a purple, rectangular box of Sugar Quills, shrunken to accommodate an unnecessarily large quantity for her enjoyment. Fred’s present was smaller, a cube just a bit bigger than her fist, labeled similarly with, “For Hermie, Love Freddie.” Under the brown paper was a violet, velvet box, which snapped open to reveal a small, silver locket with a blue teardrop sapphire set amidst a pattern of swirls and leaves.
Stunned, Hermione stared at the delicate, expensive-looking jewelry, wondering what spurred Fred to give such a thing to her. She gingerly pulled the necklace from its nest and set aside the box so she could pry it open. And then her eyes welled with tears.
It was charmed to project a series of moving pictures, like a magical slideshow. The open locket beamed up pictures of her and her friends, every memory showing her grinning and laughing until finally ending on one with her trying not to laugh at Fred until she finally cracked and threw her head back, tears pooling in her eyes. And all throughout, Fred never stopped grinning at her. When she finally managed to pry her eyes away from the replaying set of pictures, she glanced at the box and saw a folded-up piece of paper peeking out from under the necklace’s cushion. The locket still in one hand, Hermione pulled out the paper and unfolded it to see the message, Press the gem.
She shifted her finger until she felt the teardrop sapphire and pressed it. Her tears fell, her smile grew, and a familiar melody played out on soft bells, filling the space with the memories of warmth, sunlight through a window, and the smell of grass, soap, and gunpowder.
For the first time in a very long while, Hermione unclasped the necklace so she could hold the locket out between herself and her daughter. The heart was open, displaying old memories in soft, muted hues, but the joy on their faces was no less vivid. Just as she’d done the first time, her finger found the gem and pressed softly, suffusing the room with the chiming melody.
“He made it for you?” asked seven year old Juliana, her dark brown eyes wide and soft as she watched the pictures in wonder.
“He did—charmed it with the pictures and spelled it with the song,” answered Hermione, smiling softly.
“That’s so sweet,” sighed Jules, leaning her head against her mum’s shoulder and yawning. “I hope to find someone as romantic as Daddy.”
Hermione tried and failed to stifle her smile. “How did you know it was Daddy who gave me the locket, sweetheart?”
“You said the boy who gave it wasn’t your boyfriend, and technically, Daddy wasn’t your boyfriend when he gave it to you—yet. And you two weren’t in love, but you did love each other as friends, though I suppose you liked each other by then,” said the precocious little girl whose cleverness was a clear combination of her mother and father’s. “Besides, only Daddy would do something kind of dumb that should make you irritated but wind up making you laugh instead.”
Hermione chuckled and ran her fingers through her daughter’s auburn waves. The little girl had been on a mystery kick for the last month and a half, and to indulge her sleuthing hobby, Fred and Hermione had taken to giving her small puzzles, mysteries to decipher in their everyday lives, whether it be finding things around the house or deciphering conversations. Hermione had called it good mental exercise. Fred called it prankster training.
“Also, I heard you both hum this song once or twice,” added Jules, yawning again.
“Not one of Mum’s best mysteries then, is it?”
Mother and daughter looked up to find Fred, leaning against the doorjamb, arms crossed as he grinned at his girls.
“It’s late,” said Hermione, rolling her eyes and shifting to find a comfortable position in her six-month-pregnant condition. She shut the locket and slipped it back on. “And your son is making me lose IQ points by the hour. Can you blame me the low quality?”
“Well, he’s got to absorb some smarts to keep up with the rest of the family,” said Fred, crossing the room to sit on Jules’s other side. He stretched out an arm to hug both his wife and daughter. “Even Gemma knows that apart from Jules, the only one with intelligence to spare is Mummy, and Gemma’s only three.”
“Oh, Daddy, you’ve got enough intelligence too,” said Jules, giggling as she snuggled deeper into her pillows between her parents.
“Yes, but I need every bit of it to keep up with you little geniuses,” said Fred. “How about you donate some to your little brother?”
Jules gave a dramatic sigh. “Not even born yet, and already Jasper is being a nuisance to me.”
Fred snorted loudly, and Hermione tugged a lock of Jules’s hair despite her smile.
“Be nice,” she admonished. “The poor thing can’t even blink yet.”
Yawning, Jules sat up and leaned forward to kiss the top of Hermione’s stomach. “Sorry, Jas. Good night. I’ll see you in three months. Stop kicking Mum so hard.”
Fred helped her huddle under the covers again, tucking her stuffed elephant closer to her side before kissing her forehead and then the tip of her nose. “Good night, honeypie.”
“G’night, Daddy. G’night, Mummy. I love you.”
Hermione kissed her soft, pink cheek. “Sweet dreams, darling.”
As Jules began to drift off, Fred rounded the bed to help up his wife, who didn’t really need it, but was too tired to protest. He led her out of their daughter’s dim room, illuminated only by the dancing shapes of dragons and pegasi on her walls, beaming from the little nightlight Fred had made for her before she was born.
They padded down the hall, footsteps muffled by the soft carpet, checking in on their younger daughter on the way. As soon as the door of the master bedroom clicked shut, Hermione was leaned against it, her husband pressing close as he kissed her deeply and sweetly, a long-overdue sign of affection since it’d been entirely too many hours since they’d last seen each other.
“Hello,” he muttered against her lips. “Long time no see.”
Hermione snorted and wrapped her arms around his neck, nuzzling his nose with hers. “I saw you at lunch.”
“And what time is it now?”
“That’s eight hours and fifty-eight minutes too long, Hermie.”
“You’re so dramatic.”
“I prefer romantic, excuse you.”
“I love you.”
“All the way?”
She nodded, kissing the corner of his lips and gently dropping gentle kisses all over his cheek.
“Taller than the tallest tree is?”
Hermione laughed amidst her kisses. “Yes.”
“Deeper than the deep blue sea is?”
Fred grinned and tugged her away from the door to the empty space of their bedroom as he began to lead her in a slow dance, the very same as the one from years ago. With the hand holding hers to his chest, he reached out a finger to the locket and pressed the gem, filling the room with their song.
The soft click was barely audible, but Fred and Hermione had years of sneaking around to hear it clear as day. Giggles barely louder than a breath drifted in.
“Go back to bed, my little delinquents,” commanded Fred, never pulling his forehead from his wife’s.
“Yes, Daddy,” chorused his two little girls, their giggles drifting further away as they scampered back to bed.
Hermione grinned and settled deeper into Fred’s embrace. “So if you let me love you, it’s for sure I’m gonna love you…all the way.”
Fred dropped another kiss on her lips. “All the way.”