Not a Cliché

Chapter One : Does Meeting in a Starbucks Count as a Meet Cute?

It was five years after the war. Like the celebrations in years before, it was muted, quiet. Nobody knowing whether they should be mourning the lives lost or celebrating that it was all over. Five years was a strange amount of time. Short enough that the pain was still fresh, but long enough that he couldn't quite picture those that were lost. It had taken his parents around that long to decide that he and his twin were trouble. It took him and George about that amount of time to figure out that finishing Hogwarts wasn't at the top of their lists of priorities.

Fred shrugged on his overcoat as he stepped out of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes onto Diagon Alley. Leaving the shop on the weekend before Hogwarts started was almost unthinkable in previous years, but the damp, drizzly August morning probably discouraged most shoppers from stepping outside of their homes. And with restlessness once again plaguing him combined with the dismissal from both Verity and George, he decided to go for a walk in Muggle London. Not that he often went to walks in Muggle London, he didn't have the same fascination with Muggle objects and life that his father did. Except for Muggle magic kits. Those were pretty funny as well as being a big hit with the customers. Small children were fascinated by the low quality and simple magic tricks in them, to the point where every household in his family had one in case the kids needed to be distracted and kept occupied for any reason.

He made his way to this one coffee shop that was a few blocks away from the Leaky Cauldron. It wasn't particularly far to go for a cup of tea, and made no sense considering he lived above the shop, but he preferred to have a purpose for his walk rather than just wandering around aimlessly. Also, they made these drinks called a 'Pumpkin Spice Latte' during the winter that were just amazing. The first time he had ordered one, he had subsequently brought a few back to George and Verity and they then spent the next few months trying to figure out the recipe. Not necessarily because it was good, but it had to be the strangest use of a pumpkin that they had encountered. They had eventually roped in his mother, and even she couldn't figure it out.

By the time he made it to the coffee shop, the weather had become less drizzly and something more resembling torrential rain. He was only partially soaked through, but the lack of an umbrella made him hesitant to step outside any time soon. And so, he mechanically walked up to the counter, ordered his tea, paid and waited at the other end of the counter.

'Hermione,' the barista called snapping him out of his reverie. A woman with distinguishable bushy hair that had become much tamer since the last time he'd seen her, two people away from him looked up from her book and smiled in thanks as she took her drink and went to sit down towards the back of the café, probably to resume reading.

Even though he had only gotten a glimpse of her, even though it had been five years since he last saw her, he was 100 percent sure it was her. Well, 75. The past couple of years after the war he had accidentally run after numerous strangers thinking it was her. It never was.

Even though he knew it would probably be hours until she stopped reading and left, he couldn't help but feel impatient, and couldn't stop his foot tapping on the floor in a sense of relative urgency. When his tea was ready, he quickly added milk and sugar, grabbed a wooden stirrer and made a beeline to the back of the café where he had seen the woman resembling Hermione disappear to. Quickly looking around, he spotted her taking a sip of her beverage without removing her eyes from the book in front of her.

And then he hesitated. As happy as Fred was happy to see her, he wasn't sure if she'd be as happy to see him. After all, she had supposedly removed herself from the Wizarding World, and the lack of contact over the past five years suggested that she didn't want to have anything to do with anyone from it. And it wasn't really his business to bring her back or remind her of it. Anyway it's not like they were great friends before the War, so it wasn't really his place to reach out. Or his responsibility for that matter. But on the other hand, he couldn't really see himself keeping this from George, and from George it would undoubtedly spread to the rest of his family who would berate him from letting Hermione disappear again without any explanation.

Whilst he was lost in his thoughts, his grip on reality was not what it was when he was aware of his surroundings. Ok, maybe it was less his grip on reality and more his grip on his cup, which was slowly slipping in his right hand. If considering change in the angle of the cup, the temperature of the contents as well as how full the cup was at this particular moment in time, meant that soon enough, boiling water had made its way from the cup onto said hand, causing him to both hiss and yelp in pain. This involuntary exclamation of pain attracted the notice of just about everyone around him, including the person he was planning on sneaking away from. She looked up slowly, and if she was surprised to see him, she surely didn't give it away. Hermione raised a slender eyebrow as she slipped a woven bookmark where she had been reading and put the book to one side.

"You weren't going to leave without saying 'hello', were you?" Hermione asked, nodding to the seat in front of her as if to indicate that he should sit down.

"I was considering it,' Fred answered sheepishly as he slid into the sit, quickly depositing his mug on the table. He quickly took his wand out of his coat pocket and hid it under the table before whispering a charm which caused the water that he had spilled to disappear. Noticing Hermione's disapproving expression, he whispered, "What? Would you have preferred that I crawled on my hands and knees wiping up the water, wasting the time we had together? Also, my tea would've been cold."

Hermione sniffed, "Yes."

They sat in awkward silence, not quite knowing what to say, after all they hadn't counted on bumping into each other. And what do you say after five years? Small talk doesn't quite cut it.

"How's Ron?" she asked, fighting through the awkwardness.

Fred sighed. It was a complicated answer and he wasn't sure if they were acknowledging her absence or not yet. 'To hell with it,' he thought.

"Pretty bad since you left. Better than he was five years ago though. Back then he locked himself in his room, and only came out for meals,' Hermione chuckled quietly at this, happy to know that her absence hadn't changed Ron's eating habits. Fred grinned at her before continuing, 'Almost became an alcoholic. It took Harry getting a job as an Auror and not being constantly available as a shoulder to cry on that did it. Ron's also an Auror but much junior to Harry and you can sort of tell that it isn't the thing he really wants to be doing,' he said. Noticing Hermione's pained expression, he did wonder if he should have been a little more tactful. But she did ask. They fell silent once more and Fred was nearly finished. He didn't want to get a refill in case she bolted, but also figured that there was little point of him being there otherwise.

"Why did you leave?" he asked suddenly. Hermione looked up at him with wide eyes and he silently cursed himself for his tactlessness. But he kept going, "It's just that I was out for two weeks and when I woke up they said that you had left. The day after the battle. Harry figured you were going to find your parents, but you hadn't said anything to anyone and then weeks passed without any word. Everyone wanted to go looking for you, but Harry figured that if you wanted to be found then you would owl or make your presence known somehow…" he trailed off not wanting to make her guilty how worried everyone was to the point that Mrs Weasley was convinced that she had been killed by some stray Death Eaters.

Hermione, sensing his discomfort, put her hand on his, "I did go to find my parents," she said, "But something went wrong with the spell.. and, well to put it simply, it didn't work," tears started rolling down her cheeks, "they're still in Australia and don't know who I am. But I got so angry, and I know this sounds stupid, but at magic. Since I was 11, it's worked for me, mostly the way I wanted it to, and that was probably the first time that it didn't. And then I started thinking about my school years, and how while I've enjoyed them, how I've always been scared that I or one of my friends might die or just generally was worried for their safety. And then the year previously when I was on the run for my life," she shook her head, "it just didn't seem worth it and I was tired and angry and upset and didn't want anything to do with magic. At least for a while. I know I should've owled, but I know that all of you would've tried to talk me out of my decision. Also," at this point she looked at him directly instead of at her mug, like she was before, "I was scared that you wouldn't wake up. We had already lost Tonks and Remus… and you were so still," she took a deep breath, "I was afraid to hope and didn't want to be around in case you didn't wake up. I didn't want to know if you were dead. I'm not saying right-" she started to get flustered.

Fred gave her a small smile, "I understand what you mean. And you're right, it can't be said that any of us has respect for a person's boundaries. Is there anyone you keep in touch with?"

"Percy and Kingsley Shacklebolt."

Fred nearly choked on the remainder of his tea, "Percy?"

"Yes," she answered before taking a sip of her own, "You see, I knew I would have to find my own way in the Muggle world if I refused to be a part of the wizarding one. So, after I returned to England, I contacted him and told him that I wanted to pursue a Muggle career but didn't know how to do that considering I had been at Hogwarts and missed out on a Muggle education. He then contacted Kingsley who arranged for me to sit my NEWTS. Turns out most Muggle universities convert OWL and NEWT results. It rarely happens but they're able to do it. I ended up studying law at Cambridge for three years."

"Is that what you do now?" Fred asked, feeling annoyed at his older brother for not telling the rest of his family that Hermione was in fact alive and doing well.

"Well, turns out the Ministry keeps a wizard in the Muggle Prime Minister's office. It's mostly for defence but also in cases where the two might need to coordinate. But even after Voldemort's death, Kingsley wanted someone to be there just in case. I am technically a civil servant, but I am mostly there for defence purposes," she noticed the expression on Fred's face, "Don't be mad at Percy. I made him promise not to tell the rest of you."

Fred grunted in assent which Hermione took as to mean that he wouldn't murder his older brother.

"You're not going to ask me not to tell the rest of them? George and I don't keep secrets."

"I know," Hermione sighed, "I'm not going to ask you to keep something from your twin. But please don't tell anyone else."

"Fine."

Hermione then leant across the table and stuck out her pinkie finger, "Pinkie swear."

"What?"

"It's a Muggle thing. You hook your pinkie around my pinkie, and we promise to do or not to do something. But you can't break a pinkie swear. Otherwise, the other person gets to break your pinkie."

"Sort of like an Unbreakable Vow?"

Hermione considered it for a minute, "Sure, but less lethal."

Fred grinned, and hooked his pinkie around hers, "I pinkie promise that I will not tell anyone apart from George that you are alive and well and working as an undercover Ministry agent."

Hermione rolled her eyes, fighting a smile. Trust Fred to make a pinkie promise over-dramatic. "How's Harry?" she asked changing the subject, deciding to find out as much about her friends as she could.

"Doing really well, actually. Was a bit miffed after you left, but you know Harry. Sees the best in everyone and decided that you must have had a reason since you don't tend to disappear without saying anything. He's the Deputy-Head of the Auror department but will probably be the Head in a couple of years," Fred furrowed his eyebrows trying to think of what to say, "He and Ginny got engaged two months ago. Wedding is set for next June."

Hermione offered him a small smile. "It sounds like he's doing really well. Percy mentioned once that Ginny was a Quidditch player?"

"Yeah, chaser for the Holyhead Harpies. Only took her two years to go from a reserve to a starter," Fred shook his head and laughed, "I mean we knew she was good, but it wasn't until her first match two years ago did we fully realise how good."

Hermione smiled back at him, no doubt remembering all of the impromptu Quidditch games she had watched at the Burrow where Ginny had not only matched but surpassed all of her brothers in raw talent and ability. She looked down at her watch and noticing the time, suddenly became incredibly flustered. Luckily Fred had noticed her abrupt change in demeanour.

"I'm sorry to have kept you so long," he said a little sadly, "But it was nice to see you, especially after all of this time."

"It was nice to see you as well," she replied as he held the door of the café open for her. "I can't tell you how much I've missed everyone. I keep thinking about reaching out but-" she trailed off.

"You don't know how'll they react, especially after so long," he finished for her. Hermione nodded. They hugged as they said their goodbyes and as they were about to turn to go in their separate directions, Fred stopped her.

"How about we do this again? Next week? Same time, same day," he turned to point at the building they had just come out of, "Same place."

Hermione hesitated but before she could make excuses she heard herself blurt out, "Yes, that sounds great. To all of your suggestions." She gave him one last smile before she opened up her umbrella and walked purposefully away in the opposite direction. She suddenly stopped and turned around again and shouted, "By the way, it's called Starbucks. They're practically everywhere!" before continuing on her way.

Fred looked after her for a minute and grinned. It was going to be a brilliant week. And with that attitude, he ran a hand through his wet hair and trudged back through the rain to the shop.