Hi everyone. Thank you so much for sticking with us during our impromptu hiatus. We're sorry it's taken so long to update- due to RL pressures, we've barely been online at the same time to be able to write properly. It looks like this has been solved and we're now right back on track!Inell & RoseTitle: Clever Mischief 22: A ProposalDate: Saturday, October 9, 2005Location: Double TroubleCharacters: Fred, George, HermioneRating: Any AgeThe owl had been unexpected. It had arrived Friday morning before breakfast, and found her in the library. Hermione had finished cleaning the entire library and even reorganized several sections before she finally stopped because she realized she'd been cleaning for nearly two weeks. Besides, it hadn't worked to clear her mind nearly as well as she'd hoped because she still thought about Fred and George and the kisses that complicated everything. Neville and Kingsley were glad that she seemed to be back to normal. She heard rumors that the students had begun to call her the Dragon Lady, which would have amused her if she'd not had more serious things on her mind. She had almost asked Wood if the twins were doing all right, since she knew they were all friends, but she couldn't contribute to any rumors or gossip he might decide to spread if he found her question odd. Then, yesterday, the owl had arrived. It was from the two people she had done her best to push from her mind since her last trip to Hogsmeade. As she'd read the brief note, she'd felt guilty for acting so ridiculously. Sure, she had kissed two men. True, they were brothers and friends of hers, but a kiss wasn't something she should freak out about. The confusion and complicated emotions that followed each kiss were another story, of course. That wasn't Fred or George's fault, however, and her sudden withdrawal from their friendship seemed to have left them puzzled and concerned, which wasn't fair to them. The invitation to attend their Grand Opening was sincere, and each had added a personal note asking her to come by the store in the morning so they could get her opinion on how things looked. Hermione knew that she had to deal with her conflicting emotions eventually because she liked having them in her life, liked being their friend, and a couple of unplanned kisses shouldn't ruin years of friendship. The first step to proving that each kiss had just been a fluke, that they'd been caught up in a moment, was to be around them and act as casually as possible. For all she knew, it had been enough time for the moment to pass and everything would be back to normal without infatuations, conflict, and desire. It was that hope that led to her decision to go into Hogsmeade that Saturday. She missed them and had to take action to move past her lapse of control. Hermione wasn't entirely sure what one was supposed to wear to a Grand Opening. She didn't foresee the twins dressing up or making the event anything more than a festive occasion with pranks, bright colors, and possibly lots of noise. After debating the contents of her wardrobe, something she seemed to be doing far too often lately, she settled on a skirt that fell past her knees and a comfortable long-sleeve shirt in a pretty shade of blue that matched one of the colors in the skirt. It was a little more than her normal weekend uniform of jeans, but nothing that she'd not wear to work for fear of being too formal. The general plan she had in mind was to stop by Double Trouble, which she still found a very appropriate name, and then stop by to see Seamus. He had been sending her owls during the last week mourning the loss of his best friend in a variety of limericks, several of which were rude enough to make her blush and make a mental promise to thwack him on the back of his head. The walk to Hogsmeade was nice, and Hermione could see the signs of autumn in the slight change of color in the leaves and the crisp chill in the early morning air. She smiled as she tucked a loose curl behind her ear, feeling far more relaxed than she'd expected. It was nice to get out of the castle again, and she was looking forward to seeing George and Fred. ~*~Fred and George Weasley would be lying if they said they were surprised by the enthusiasm the Grand Opening was receiving. The shop was positively packed with children and not a few adults. The twins were spending most of their time shouting at various youngsters who were trying to break, pocket, or otherwise damage products, and the rest ringing through monumental sales. They exchanged huge grins every few moments as they glided past each other, helping customers and putting a stop to the general mayhem. "Save it for when you're back at the school, you lot," Fred told one particularly mischievous group who had been trying to release a box of Weasleys' Wild-Fire Whizbangs in one corner of the store. George was in the other corner, separating the Never-Crashing Kites from the Disappearing Parchment. Fred had to snatch a set of Snapping Cufflinks away from one fifth year while George dashed to the Muggle Toys section to rescue an aquarium of sea monkeys from the questing fingers of a four year old.In the general ruckus, neither should have had any time to feel nervous about whether Hermione would really show or not, and if she did, what she would think of their proposition. They had talked about it for a long time, and they were both reasonably comfortable with the prospect. And yet, both twins were nervous. Thankfully, they had more than enough to distract them from it for now. They weren't the only ones with nerves, though. By the time Hermione reached Double Trouble, she felt more anxious. She wasn't entirely sure how to act considering that she'd kissed them both and had hidden away at the castle for the last two weeks. This just wasn't a situation she found herself in - ever - so she was at a loss on the proper behavior to display that wouldn't indicate her confusion. Keep it casual. No looking at their lips or thinking about those kisses that she'd pushed from her mind. Remember that they were friends, just friends, and focus on that. She could do this. She'd mastered her OWLs and NEWTs, even if the latter had been taken late, so she could definitely handle odd emotional confusion. The shop was so crowded that there were people standing outside to peer into the windows. She recognized quite a few students, most of whom looked shocked to see her there. She gave them her best 'that better not appear in my library, ever' look and made her way inside. She scanned the shop and found Fred and George near the front. Hermione took the moment to look at them unobserved. She had missed them more than she had realized, she noticed, and smiled as she watched them work the crowd easily. They were wearing matching purple dragonhide jackets, which reminded her of youth and days long past. It brought about a wave of nostalgia and a gentle smile as she studied them. George was dealing with a couple of fifth years, his hair pulled back into a neat ponytail, and he had the students listening to every word. Fred was at the register, laughing at an older wizard who seemed to be bouncing on the heels of his feet from whatever he'd purchased. Fred's hair was loose, falling around the angles of his face, and he definitely had the 'I'm teasing you' look on his face. They both looked busy, but happy, and she realized she'd been foolish to stay away just because she'd been confused and hadn't had an answer to her problem of possibly, stupidly, being infatuated with two men who were just her friends. This was Fred and George, she reminded herself as she walked through the crowd. She didn't need to hide from them. "Now remember," Fred teased Artie McGee, "if you even think about using an incendio, everything goes kaboom!"The older wizard clutched his bag of purchases to his chest, wiped tears from his eyes as he guffawed. "Such a joker. You two always were."Fred bowed elaborately to him, and Artie wheeled away to wade through the sea of excited students. As he looked up again, his gaze alighted on someone very familiar. His lips quirked up into a huge smile. God, she was beautiful. He had been utterly mad thinking he could try to stay away from her. He'd missed even the sight of her. "Madam Granger!" he called, glancing at George to alert him to her presence, but George, it seemed, had already been watching her. The brothers exchanged an excited, nervous smile, and George and Fred both made their way over to her from opposite directions, halting in front of her. Hermione was relieved that they didn't seem to be any different, which was silly since it had just been a couple of weeks. She didn't look at Fred's lips and remember the kiss they had shared nor did look at George's mouth and think about that day by the lake. Her gaze avoided looking at mouths of any sort as she smiled at them. When they reached her, each took one of her hands and brought it to their lips to kiss her knuckles simultaneously. She wasn't expecting them to kiss her hands. That action flustered her and it took her a moment to recover. She was certain her cheeks were flushed but she sounded normal and casual as she said, "Hello, boys. The opening appears to be going well. Congratulations." They released her hands simultaneously, and Fred said, "It's been fantastic so far!""You'll have to watch out," George agreed, winking at Hermione. "Three quarters of your students have been in here already and we've barely begun.""I'll warn Minerva when I get back this afternoon," she said primly, giving an exaggerated shudder as she looked at the products. There were a few new ones she hadn't seen before that caught her interest. She'd have to investigate them more closely later, she decided. "Aw, come on, love," Fred teased. "No warnings- it's far more interesting when the teachers don't know what's about to hit 'em!""Besides," George said with a grin, "I think McGonagall always approved of us far more than she let on.""Approving of you is entirely different than allowing your products to invade her school," she pointed out. "I'd also suggest being very careful accepting any packages from unknown sources. When Kingsley finds out it was you two responsible for his lovely locks, I'd be anticipating payback if I were you. He used to be an Auror, which means he's possibly as underhanded and sneaky as both of you." "Kingsley?" George asked sweetly."No idea what you're talking about," Fred agreed. "It's not our fault if your school is going to be somewhat overrun by our products.""Somewhat?" Fred snickered. "Flooded, more like.""Completely swamped, yes.""Speaking of, George, we're running low on portable swamps.""Damn. Hang on a titch, Hermione, let me make a note of that." George whipped a long roll of parchment out of his pocket and wrote reminder to himself to have more swamps on hand.She smiled at the twins. "It doesn't surprise me that you're this busy, of course. The town has needed this for awhile," she said softly. "We've even needed it at the school, though I'll never repeat those words and will successfully evade even the strongest veritaserum." "We agree completely," Fred said. "This town without a joke shop is just not right.""And of course we'll keep your secret for you.""For a price."They both waggled their brows at her and grinned.She rolled her eyes at their eyebrow waggle and cheeky grins. She was relieved that they'd slipped so easily into the comfortable camaraderie that had existed before the kisses. Well, considering how she had reacted recently, Before the Kisses might be a more appropriate thought process. Before she got distracted by abbreviations (would it be BK or BtK?), she focused on them. She arched a brow and leered playfully. "A price, huh?" she asked thoughtfully. "What sort of price?" Fred smirked. "We've never been anything but reasonable, you know."Hermione snorted and was about to make a remark as to the inaccuracy of that statement, but George spoke instead."And we have something of a proposition for you. Care to step into our office?" "The thought of a proposition intrigues me," she admitted as she looked from one to the other. "I'd be curious to hear what you have in mind, but don't you need to be out here with your customers? It can wait until later, after the store's closed." "Actually, it can't wait," Fred said."It's waited long enough," George agreed."OI! You lot!" Fred shouted. "Clear out for a few minutes, yeah? We need to restock!"A general rumble of shocked discontent rippled through the crowd, and George said, "Come up to the front with your purchases. You can buy what you have in your hands right now, and come back in fifteen minutes to buy more." The twins' shouts surprised Hermione. She had to admit that she couldn't think what would be more important than sales, but tried not to worry. They didn't seem as if anything was wrong. In fact, they seemed quite happy and content. "I'm just going to wait over there," she said softly before she walked to an empty corner behind the counter area, away from the crowd that was now trying to make their purchases. "You do that," George said as Fred made his way up to the counter. They had everyone processed and out the door within five minutes, Fred ringing customers through and George bagging their products and sending them on their way with promises that they would reopen soon. They returned to Hermione's side, slightly out of breath, and conjured a couple of gawdy folding chairs, one crimson and one gold. They sat down facing her and grinned."That was fast," she said hesitantly, worried and curious as to what they wanted to discuss with her. That was not the best combination, she decided, as she looked from one to the other and waited.The twins exchanged a look, and Fred took a deep breath. "Hermione, I don't know if you know this, but I had quite a little crush on you when we were younger."George grinned. "Went on and on about you, he did."Fred punched him in the shoulder. "Did not." "A crush? On me?" she squeaked before she cleared her throat and tried not to look shocked as she stared at Fred. She blinked and realized she had no idea what to say to that surprising revelation. For a moment, she wondered if he was joking but he looked serious and neither of them was the type to play with emotions. She licked her lips and shook her head. "I had no idea." "I know you didn't," Fred said, quiet and serious for once."And then we went off on our own," George said with a shrug."Lived a little, loved a little. You know how it goes.""Ah. But then we came back." George was watching her closely. "And there you were again, Madam Granger, even more lovely than you'd been then. I was happy to have my friend Hermione back.""And I..." Fred actually blushed a little."He's besotted by you again," George filled in."So's he!" Fred said, pointing at George. Her eyes widened and she looked from one to the other. "I think I need to sit down," she murmured as she slid down the wall that she was leaning against until she was seated on the floor. She ran a hand through her hair as her mind rapidly ran through what they'd just said. "You---" She blinked and nervously tugged on the hem of her sleeve. "What---" She glanced away as she struggled for words, pulling her skirt down past her knees as she bit her bottom lip. She looked back at them. "I don't understand." The twins exchanged another glance. Okay, Fred thought, time to tone it down a bit. He slid off his chair and settled on the floor across from her. "The thing is, my crush came back," he said, feeling a little silly for being as old as he was and talking about having a crush. "And I didn't mean for it to happen, but I developed one of my own," George said, embracing Gryffindor fearlessness and laying it all out for her. He sat on the floor as well and their horrible folding chairs disappeared in twin puffs of smoke. "We both like you." "Like, like you," Fred elucidated helpfully."It took us quite a while to figure out what to do about that," George said. "It did?" she whispered as she looked at Fred, blushing as she saw the look in his eyes. Then George spoke and she was surprised to see a similar expression on his face, though he wasn't as shy as Fred seemed to be. "You do?" Hermione took a few deep breaths and let them out slowly as she tried to make sense of all of this. "You both like me? But---I mean…what did you decide?""How do we put this without sounding like idiots?" Fred asked."Or like we're Victorian.""Or out of some ridiculous romance novel."One more shared glance, and at the same time, they both said, "We want to court you." "You want to court me?" she asked as she tried to focus on logic because, right now, she was reeling from their admission and uncertain what to say or do. While she acknowledged that she had developed feelings for both of them over the last few weeks, her infatuations with them rekindling after spending more time with them, she was stunned to hear them confess to having feelings for her. She wasn't the type to warrant a crush by one person, much less two attractive and intelligent men like Fred and George. She didn't do well with surprises and felt herself flailing as she tried to regain some sort of control on her emotions. "What exactly does that mean?" She wasn't hexing them or throwing things, so that was good, George thought. He cleared his throat. "It means that you seem to like us both, and we both like you." A cloud passed over Fred's face. "You do like us both, don't you? You kissed us both." George shot his brother a look. They had never considered the possibility that she regretted kissing them. "True. If you aren't interested in us both, we should probably shut up right now.""Oh God, you know about that?" Hermione turned bright red and covered her face with her hands. "I didn't mean to kiss you both. It just happened and I wanted to…I'm so sorry." She waited for them to get upset or laugh. When she didn't hear anything, she parted her fingers and peaked at them before she whispered, "I…I do like you both." They were both smiling at her, Fred's lips curled into a puppylike grin, George looking decidedly more enigmatic. "You have nothing to be sorry about," Fred said."We have a plan," George agreed."We figure, we both want you, but only you can tell which of us you'd rather be with.""But the more we talked, the more it occurred to us that you probably don't know, else you'd have told us already.""So we'll just have to court you, both of us, and give you a chance to see which of us you want."George smiled at her, showing his hesitation for the first time that day. "How about it, Hermione? Can we compete for your attentions?" She normally had no trouble following their fast-paced conversations but she was still so surprised that it took her longer to process their words. When they both looked at her with hopeful expressions, she lowered her hands and asked, "You both want to date me so that I can choose between you?" After a moment of thought, she frowned. "I don't want to risk our friendship. That's why I tried to ignore how I felt, because I didn't want to lose either of you as a friend. What if this doesn't end up being so simple? You might realize that I'm just Hermione and that you don't really have a crush after all. If that happens, I want us to be honest because friendship means far more than any infatuation. Are you both sure? I don't want you to compete with each other or for things to be awkward. I'm not good at this sort of thing and it could be a huge mess and what if you end up regretting ever asking? Is it really worth that risk?" Fred took Hermione's left hand and George took her right, each of them placing a kiss against her palm. Fred spoke first. "Don't think we haven't discussed all of that, love.""The problem is, we're both miserable without you.""At least if we had the chance to date you-""-and just spend time with you-""-then we can all have a better idea of what we're getting ourselves into."George brushed his thumb across Hermione's knuckles. "We don't want to lose your friendship.""And we do want you to be comfortable.""You have never been 'just' Hermione," Fred said vehemently.George nodded. "You're more than worth any risk." She looked from one to the other and then glanced at her hands in theirs. "Promise me that we'll still be friends," she said softly as she met their gazes. "Regardless of what happens, we don't stop being friends. If things become awkward or you realize you don't want more than just friendship, you'll tell me. When a choice has to be made, you promise there will be no hard feelings or jealousy? I mean, it might not even come to any of that as we could find out it's nothing more than a crush, but, if it does, I want to know we'll all be okay. "I'm not sure I can do this," she admitted quietly. "I wasn't lying when I said I'm not used to this sort of thing, and especially not dating two men or being courted, which does sound rather Victorian. I've been miserable the last couple of weeks, though, and I can't imagine not taking the risk. So, yes." "We promise," the twins said simultaneously, and then with a joyous whoop, Fred stood up and scooped Hermione into his arms, hugging her fiercely."Fred!" Hermione had to laugh when he pulled her off the ground and hugged her. She hugged him back and felt some of the nervous tension fade as his arms went around her. She noticed George over Fred's shoulder and wondered if this was the right decision when she saw him frown as Fred hugged her.George shunted aside an immediate pang of jealousy at seeing her held by his brother. If this was going to work, he had to learn to accept everything with equanimity. When Fred released her, George hugged her too, and he whispered into her ear, "We'll always be your friends, love." Hermione tried not to worry. George was there with equally strong arms and an uncanny ability to relax her with a hug, just like Fred. His words were reassuring, and she believed his promise. After he let her go, she looked at them both and smiled shyly as she tucked her hair behind her ear where it had escaped from her braid. "So how exactly does this courting thing work?"
We hope to have more time to update now! Glad you enjoyed this part!