When the trio reached the great hall Professor Snape did not acknowledge them or make any indication that anything at all had changed. Fred and George joined Harry, Ron, and Hermione at breakfast. It took a moment, but Harry realized quickly what seemed off about the pair. Before, whenever the twins walked they would be in lock-step. This morning their identical legs ensured they were walking at the same pace, but they weren't walking in perfect time with one another. Fred sat next to Harry, smiling, while George sat opposite him at the table, which was normal enough for them to not cause any notice from the others gathered for breakfast. There was a shimmer of a privacy bubble going up, but it was so well cast that Harry doubted anyone who wasn't looking for it would have noticed. He couldn't see either of the twin's hands, so he couldn't guess who cast it.
"Good Morning," Fred chirped.
"Good morning, Fred, George," Harry greeted.
"Is everything alright?" Hermione asked, looking rapidly between the twins.
"Right as rain!" Fred responded instantly. "I feel quite myself."
"I'm fine," George answered, a bit more subdued.
"I was under a compulsion or three," Fred explained. "George was under a compulsion or two. The fact that we were unequally enchanted has him bothered. Also, the little bit of twisted mind magic that allowed us to share the odd thought is gone."
"Neither of us is strictly happy with that," George elaborated, shrugging off his obvious irritation. "I am, apparently, not as skilled at ignoring all this as Fred."
"We're different people, and I suppose I like that more than you do," Fred said delicately. "It isn't that I'm ignoring it. I'm just more pleased to have the compulsions off than displeased at losing our mental connection. I'm sure that we know each other well enough that it won't matter much in the long term."
"It will slow us down," George argued, "we've always been able to talk in our own way."
"We still can, we proved that well enough last night," Fred sighed. "You understood me perfectly and I understood you, with hardly a completed sentence between the two of us."
"I suppose," George grumbled. Harry had to admit, he'd never seen the twins disagree like this, other than that one terrifying afternoon when they learned about the compulsion magic. From their faces, neither had anyone else.
"We'll adjust, and our romantic lives will be much improved," Fred asserted unabashedly, causing a fierce blush to come over his twin's face.
"Not in front of…"
"We just admitted to having a mental connection that allowed stray thoughts to drift between our minds. I, for one, am quite happy to move forward with my life not having to worry about accidentally daydreaming about the wrong person because of your stray thoughts," Fred declared. George looked down at his still-empty plate, bright red and utterly speechless. Harry made a mental note to see if 'Fred is the shameless one' held up over time and tried to hold to his decision to withhold final judgment. Hermione was giggling quietly, also blushing.
"Um," Ron interrupted, "I agree with George. Too much information, thanks. Really could have done without that image." Fred smiled like he'd just executed the perfect prank, then turned to Harry expectantly.
"I told Ron and Hermione that I'm going to hold off making any final assessments about any changes in anyone's personality for a month," Harry started. "That gives us all enough time to figure out what our new normal is. That said, I don't see any difference between this Fred and the Fred that set off fireworks all over Hogwarts last year. Well, besides pranking George, that's new." George's head snapped up at that, and he narrowed his eyes at his twin. Harry didn't need to be in on their methods of silent communication to know that George was clearly shouting 'you wouldn't dare' and Fred was demurely replying 'who, me?'
They lapsed into silence as they all concentrated on breakfast for a while. Harry had a feeling that even with the forced introspection of the ritual over, they'd be doing a lot of brooding in the near future. When Ginny finally showed up, her appearance was a bit of a shock. Her makeup had been carefully done, Harry suspected she'd slightly shrunken and magically embellished her casual robes, and her hair was done up in elaborate curls.
"Good morning," Ginny purred, looking only at Harry as she forced her way between him and Hermione.
"Excuse me!" Hermione huffed. Harry pulled away to make room out of instinct, practically sitting on Fred's lap in the process.
"Yeah, hi Ginny," Harry stumbled. Fred quickly shifted to make room, but it was George that spoke out.
"What are you doing, Ginny?"
"I'm just sitting with my friends and family for breakfast," Ginny insisted.
"You're being a bit rude about it," Ron pointed out. "I know you had it out with Hermione yesterday, but that's no excuse."
"You don't mind if I sit next to you, do you Harry?" Ginny asked, sweetly. Harry just blinked at her for a moment.
"Ginny, I know you were under some kind of compulsion to like me. If you still like me now that it's off, that's one thing, but you don't have to…"
"See, I knew it wouldn't matter. We're all thinking clearly now, and I'm perfectly capable of doing things properly without any overbearing help." Ginny made this pronouncement while scooting Hermione's plate aside. Harry had that familiar feeling he seemed to always have around witches his own age: he was missing something really big and important, like playing chess with no pawns. The standard answer from the last few weeks, that the person in question had a crush on him, didn't quite seem to cover things with Ginny.
"Take a deep breath, Ginny," Fred soothed. "No one here is threatening you. We're on your side, right Harry?"
"Right. Ginny, I'll say the same thing I told the others earlier: I'm going to wait a while before assessing any changes in anyone."
"What?" Ginny asked, confused.
"We've all had a bad shock," Fred explained from over Harry's shoulder. "Harry here wants to let us all get our bearings before he passes judgment."
"There are bound to be changes in our personalities, given what we've just been through," George added.
"Well, that's good then. Nice to see some people have their heads on straight about this." Ginny tucked into her breakfast, having levitated a set of cutlery and a plate from further down the table. Harry looked at Fred, who mouthed 'later' to him. Clearly, he should have pressed Ron and Hermione about the content of their fight with Ginny. The way the twins were handling her didn't bode well for Harry.
"Right. We have an appointment with Snape after lunch, but I think we should split up before then. It would look a bit odd if we're all suddenly traveling in a group all day," Ron suggested. He looked at Harry. "After the fight yesterday I went to the library and pulled up back issues of the Prophet. I kinda wish I kept a journal, but it works well enough to follow major events in the paper and what I think now about what I did then. That was Hermione's idea, and she did the same thing with her diary. I had conflicting compulsions on me about keeping and losing my temper, but that's not an excuse for how I've popped off in the past. I really do have a problem with my temper, or no one would have thought to put those spells on me in the first place. It's kinda weird, thinking that there are things about me that someone thought were so bad they tried to fix them."
"Let alone multiple someones," Hermione said. She seemed to be ignoring Ginny and continuing to eat as if she'd always been at that spot, but that wasn't reciprocated.
"You don't have the right to judge my brother," Ginny spat.
"It was a joke," Harry interrupted.
"Hermione's always said things like that to me. I got used to it ages ago," Ron agreed.
"She's always been insulting to you, and you are still friends with her?" Ginny asked.
"She doesn't mean it that way," Harry argued. "We've all been under the influence of multiple spells, and it's a bit of a shock."
"That's hardly an excuse. We all need to find our proper place."
"Woah there, Ginny," George said, reaching over to wave in front of her. Fred pulled back, tugging Harry's arm a little in warning to back away. "Yes, we need to figure out what has changed with each other, and we are a family that will stick together to get through this."
"She isn't a part of our family."
"Neither am I," Harry instantly replied. "So maybe Hermione and I will go and let you have a nice family breakfast."
"Oh, Harry, you know you are welcome in our family," Ginny gushed. Harry stood up.
"I don't know what this is about, but I don't think it's anything rational. I'm going to go look up a couple things ahead of our meeting this afternoon. Hermione, could you bring those political pamphlets with you? This all started when I asked Professor Snape for straight answers about the Death Eater's politics, so I think we can get a clear answer about it all today."
"I'm not done my breakfast," Hermione defiantly stated, "but I'll go over the pamphlets when I'm done. Should I meet you in the common room?"
"Yeah, but I'll be a little while. There is something I have to check for myself. See you both soon."
"See you soon, mate," Ron chimed in, and Harry smiled. Things would go back to normal, maybe even better than normal between the three of them.
"I'll be there too," Ginny added, and Harry gave her a quick nod.
A/N: This chapter should have been posted instead of the one that followed it. This I didn't notice the error in two years should tell you how long it has been since I worked on this story.