Clever Mischief, Chapter 21: A Gentlemen's AgreementDate: Monday, October 3, 2005Location: Double Trouble Joke ShopCharacter: Fred, GeorgeRating: Any AgeThey left Oliver and Rosmerta in the pub and stalked down the street side by side, neither Fred nor George saying a word. Both knew where they were going, though neither had the faintest idea what they were going to say when they got there.Fred reached the back door first, disarming the wards quickly and stepping through, George on his heels. George flicked his wand to illuminate the backroom, and the brothers stopped face-to-face, really looking at each other for the first time in days.For ten seconds, neither spoke."So," Fred finally said.George shuffled his feet. "Yeah.""She's unhappy.""I heard.""Can't be because she's toying with us."George sighed. The alternative was almost as difficult to contemplate. "No. It can't."Fred watched his brother carefully, eyes wide and pained. "George, we've never gone so long without talking.""I know," George said miserably, shutting his eyes for a moment. "I miss you." His voice cracked on the last word."I miss you too," Fred said. "But...""I know. She's between us."Fred studied his hands, mind racing. "I really like her, George. I've never felt like this about a woman before. This isn't... this is more than the crush I had on her when we were kids. This is the most real thing I've ever felt."George said nothing, staring at the floor, cheeks burning. Fred really did fancy her. Fucking fuck. What else was there to do? It was the only way. His heart seemed to shudder to a cold, frozen stop in his chest. He felt like ice was flooding his veins, chilling him from the inside out."What are we-""You fancied her first," George said firmly, his mind made up. God, he just wished it didn't hurt so much.Fred paused, arms wrapped around himself. "So you do fancy her too!""Of course I do!" George exploded. "I didn't fucking mean to! She was just a good friend, right? She was smart and funny, and she was someone who had your back when you needed her to be there, you know? But then there we were with the sunshine and the picnic blanket and the sodding birds singing! I don't know what happened, damn it. I've never felt this way before either!"Trying to control the way he was trembling, he spun away from his twin. "But you wanted her first- how can I get in your way, Fred?""And how can I ask you to walk away?" Fred said softly, laying a hand on George's shoulder.George took a shuddering breath, laying a hand atop Fred's without turning to face him. "We always swore no woman would ever come between us."Fred tightened his grip and steered George around. "Look at me. I might have fancied her first, but she kissed you first.""And then she kissed you-""But now she's locked herself in her library.""And she's not eating." George finally found the courage to follow Fred's earlier order and looked up to meet his twin's gaze. If Fred wouldn't let him walk away, then he knew what had to happen."What are we going to do?" Fred asked."Only one way," George echoed himself, though now he was thinking of an entirely different solution, resolution blooming deep in his gut."What, just stay away from her?" Fred sounded nearly desperate, his eyes wide and searching.George shook his head. "We've been doing that, haven't we? And neither of us is happy. Doesn't sound like she's happy either.""What, then?""She has to choose."Fred blinked. "Excuse me?""She kissed us both," George reasoned. "To me it sounds like she wasn't sure which of us she wanted- think how clever she is. It's not like she managed to mix us up, no matter how mixed up this whole thing is. But she can't have us both, can she, so she has to choose between us.""But," Fred said, as though trying to work through a particularly dense logic problem, "that implies that she knows which of us to choose. If she knew which of us she wanted, wouldn't she have talked to one of us by now? She hasn't tried to contact me.""Nor me," George confirmed, feeling sick again. Fred was right, of course.Fred ran a hand through his long, unbound hair, mussing it further than it already was. "She really must... fancy us both."George nodded, smoothing his own tied-back hair down. Fred's argument made sense- how else to explain the complete lack of Hermione in either of their lives this week? How else to explain her self-enforced captivity in the Hogwarts library? "She must be as confused as we are," he conceded."Or worse. Look, let's grab some tea, all right?" "Talk about this like civilized people would?" George said, teasing ever so lightly. He'd missed Fred so much. The pain of separation from his twin had been just as bad as his heartsick, muddled feelings toward Hermione Granger."Civilized as we get, anyway," Fred said, tone a bit too light to be completely natural. They walked into the shop proper together and Fred Summoned two mugs. George quickly conjured the tea from his wand, peppermint for himself, oolong for George.Neither spoke as the liquid steamed, rising between them to create a translucent, mutable wall.Fred spoke at last. "We had an agreement, you know.""We've had many," George said carefully."The tricks we've been playing on her," Fred said with an air of patience that George thought was probably mostly feigned. "To see which of us can drive her mad the slowest.""I'd not really thought about it all week," George sighed. "I'd been planning something with fish heads, though it didn't seem quite nuanced enough.""I was most impressed with the way your rapid fingernail-growth charm worked. How many times did she have to cut them throughout the day, I wonder," Fred said, lips twitching into the hint of a more genuine grin.George returned the smile gently. "It wasn't as good as your guttering candles.""Doused themselves if she ever looked directly at them- we should see if there's a market for those.""Excellent for ruining romantic dinners," George mused.Fred's face fell. "Romantic. Yeah." George gritted his teeth, his heart tight. He wondered if their ill-fated romantic attachment to Hermione would ruin their own friendship. "At any rate, our little challenge hardly seems appropriate now, even for us. Maybe if we were still fifteen...""I suggest that we alter it a bit."It was George's turn to stare, his mind working through the implications. He wondered if anyone less in tune with Fred would get where he was going with this. "Are you suggesting what I think you're suggesting?"Fred nodded, something suspiciously close to a mad sparkle in his eye. "I say we make our intentions less... mischievous, though no less competitive.""You want us to, what, vie for her hand?" George said, nearly inhaling his tea at the thought of it. "Dress in poncy puffed sleeves and duel for her favour?""Perhaps not quite that insane," Fred laughed. "Just what have you been reading lately, Mum's old romance novels? 'Gwendolyn and the Muggle Merchant'?""The fact that you even know the name of one of those old things-""Regardless," Fred said, face heating a bit. "It's not as ridiculous a proposal as you might think. If she doesn't know which of us she wants, we can just make sure she knows what she'd be getting with each of us.""I suddenly feel like we should just auction ourselves off to the highest bidder. 'Next, ladies and gents, we have the lovely Fred Weasley, whose excellent bone structure makes up for his callused hands and inability to master the simplest cleansing charm," George said, voice deep like an announcer on the wizarding wireless."'Followed by his brother George'," Fred picked up, "'a lazy bugger who sleeps late every morning but can warble a mean Celestina Warbeck number in the shower.'""I do not warble!""You sure don't sing, either. More like yowl.""I don't sing Celestina Warbeck, either.""Maybe you should croon some to Hermione. It'll make her choice so much easier," Fred said innocently.George slapped him lightly on the back of the head. "Does this mean we're going to do this?""What? Vie, as you say, for her hand?""Yeah.""I think we should. Well," he amended, "I think we should run it by her first.""Yeah, this is one challenge she should probably be fully aware of.""Though I don't think we need to fess up to the slowly-driving-her-mad bit.""No. Entirely unnecessary."The twins grinned at each other for a moment, and then Fred wrapped his arms around George in a rib-cracking bear hug. George gasped for breath and managed to wheeze, "Normal people usually shake hands on these things.""Has anyone ever characterized us as normal?" Fred asked, letting go and stepping back."No. Can't say as they have." George drained his teacup and looked Fred right in the eye. "Competition... I don't want it to get in the way of our lives, though, Fred. I say may the best man win and the other one be happy for him.""Absolutely," Fred enthused. "No hard feelings.""None. Well then. Shall we figure out just exactly how to approach Madam Granger?""Sure, and I want you to take a peek at the biting mouse traps- they're not the most creative idea I've ever had."George pondered for a moment. "What if you set them out and they actually manifest mice instead of getting rid of them?"Fred beamed. "Brother, you're a genius. Let's get to work."
AN UPDATE! Yay. Welcome back to the fold, we've missed you, thank you for the new chapter, which rocks cos it has the twins speaking again and making a pact to dress up in poncy sleeves and vie for the fair maiden's hand, which is really rather ridiculous, but completely normal in the world of the twins. *deep breath*You're back! :)