Part 5

The distance between Ron and Hermione was uncomfortable. By now everyone in the Weasley household was aware of the breach between the two friends even if they weren't aware of the details.

Hermione's way of coping with emotional stress had always been to keep busy, too busy to dwell on how miserable she was. It wasn't always the best way to handle things, but she didn't know what else to do. So, she found ways to occupy her mind and energy in the meantime.

Hermione spent as much time as she could at Hogwarts helping with the restoration efforts, in the infirmary visiting Harry, or at home talking with her parents as there were a lot of blanks she needed to fill in and stories she needed to elaborate on. With the war over, she finally felt comfortable enough to tell her parents the full truth about what she had experienced. Of course, there were always some details she would keep to herself, but she tried to be as honest as she could. It was a relief to finally feel like she wasn't living two lives — the one she had in the Wizarding world and the Muggle life she had at home with her parents. They knew nothing of the reality of her life in the Wizarding world as she hadn't wanted them to worry… or worse, to pull her out of Hogwarts and the Wizarding world. She did all of that while she continued her research for a cure for Harry and herself, to keep her mind off the uncomfortable tension between herself and her red-haired best friend.

Due to both the Burrow's close proximity to water, and Ginny and Molly's encouragement, Hermione was still staying with the Weasleys. She was too exhausted to apparate between her parents' home and Hogwarts when she needed to transform, and it was difficult living in the Muggle world after everything she had been through with Ron and Harry. Given her recent situation with Ron, however, life at the Burrow for her was just as difficult.

Ginny had pointed out that Ron couldn't avoid talking to her forever if she was constantly underfoot in his home. Hopeful for a resolution with him, Hermione had agreed to stay and follow Ginny's advice.

Thus far she hadn't made much progress on fixing any of the problems in her life but the restoration at Hogwarts. But she was confident that she would in the end. She hadn't come up against many problems she couldn't solve yet. Though she might feel despondent at times over the damage the curse had caused, Hermione was far from ready to give up and accept that there was no cure other than for her to marry.

Much to her frustration, every time Ron saw Hermione he ducked out of the room with a flimsy excuse or Disapparated away. After the sixth time in as many days of Ron avoiding her, Hermione stopped approaching him. She decided to figure out another route of attack. He would figure out that he couldn't out-stubborn her eventually.

Hermione didn't want to lose one of her best friends. A life without Ron, and Harry too while he still lingered unconscious at Hogwarts infirmary, felt like no life at all. She felt as if she had lost vital pieces of herself. It was hard going from the life she lived everyday with two people who knew her better than her parents did, to the isolation she faced now. Ginny was a good friend, but their relationship lacked the same bond Hermione shared with Harry and Ron. She and Ginny led mostly different lives. The three of them had gone through so much together, shared experiences that no one could come close to understanding, and she felt like she was a better person with them. She wanted all of that back, but she didn't know how to save their friendship if Ron wouldn't even try.

Truthfully, she was starting to get a bit angry at him. So he didn't want to marry her. That was no excuse for shutting her out completely. It felt like he was rejecting her for something she couldn't even control. She was deeply hurt that he would throw away six years of caring and protecting each other, six years of fighting a war together, six years of companionship and love, all because of a curse she was subjected to by a Death Eater.

Hermione had been in love with her best friend, Ron for a long time. She had been waiting for the day he would realize his feelings and admit he was in love with her, too. Before the war had really started gaining momentum, Hermione had made plans to seduce him if he hadn't admitted his feelings to her by the end of their seventh year. The plans relied heavily on her Gryffindor courage, restraining spells, and Honeyduke's melted chocolate.

Hermione would willingly abandon her dreams of a romantic life with Ron if she could just get their friendship back. She loved him too much not to have him in her life. They had been friends before she fell in love with him, and she would settle for remaining just friends if he would only talk to her. Having his friendship was better than having nothing at all.

She didn't feel comfortable sharing these thoughts with Ginny though the youngest Weasley had offered a sympathetic ear. There was a lot about her relationship with Ron she didn't want to share, and she and Ginny's lives hadn't seemed to coincide much until this summer either. Ginny was a friend, but Hermione's best friends and confidants would always be Ron and Harry.

To her surprise, she found herself confiding unwillingly in Fred and George one afternoon at the Burrow. Hermione had been trying to get through some more research that day despite the noise coming from Fred and George's old room.

Mrs. Weasley had convinced them to move back temporarily while their shop and the living quarters above it were being expanded to include the building next door. It had suffered heavy damage in the attack on Diagon Alley during the war and the owners hadn't wanted to rebuild. So Fred and George had bought the space then set about making repairs to it and knocking down walls.

The Weasley twins had been spending every spare moment holed up in their old room inventing new Wheezes. Much to Hermione's dismay, their room was right above Ginny's where she had retreated for privacy to get her reading done. She could hear every crash, boom and shout of dismay or success.

Hermione usually had an easier time of blocking out noisy distractions and getting the work at hand done. But today her thoughts kept drifting from the books in front of her. Hermione's mind wasn't the type to leave a puzzle unsolved. Instead she would pick at it, examine it from every angle, and break it down to its disparate pieces until she found some hint of how to solve it. Hermione's mind already had a puzzle. But instead of examining an extensive history of mermaids in the Mediterranean, unfortunately written in Greek, her mind kept wandering back to Ron and how to make him talk to her. It didn't help her efforts to focus that the Translation Charm she had found was far from perfect. It seemed as if every other sentence had her reaching for her Greek-to-English dictionary.

It was just Fred, George and Hermione at the Burrow that day and she wished they would be a little quieter. The constant racket going on upstairs was only hindering her efforts to concentrate. As the minutes slowly crept by that day with nothing to show for it, her bad mood had only grown worse with irritation. The sound of raised voices followed by the shattering of glass proved to be the last straw for nerves frayed by the frustration of the last week.

Hermione shot out of her chair, slamming her book shut and throwing her quill onto the desk in disgust. Her eyes narrowed and her hand clutched her wand in a death grip as she swept out of Ginny's room and up the stairs. They were going to be quiet if she had to gag and bind them to accomplish it. Still, hexes and jinxes ran through her mind and were discarded just as quickly. She would try being polite first.

The twins' voices carried easily down the stairs as she made her way up.

"It needs to explode."

"No, it doesn't."

"But, it's more fun this way."

"Stop! You're adding too much!"

As Hermione opened Fred and George's door and marched inside, she noticed too late that their arguing voices had shifted to panicked cries of shield spells and warnings to take cover. Hermione had only a second to utter, "Oh no," and shield her face with her arms before she took the brunt of the potion which erupted from Fred and George's cauldron like a geyser.

Hermione shrieked at the shock of the icy cold liquid. She had expected to be badly burned, not drenched with a freezing potion. As the thick, slimy potion dripped from her hair and oozed beneath her shirt to pool uncomfortably in her bra, she longed for the Time-Turner of her third year. This horrid day was definitely deserving of a do-over. A snort of disgust escaped her. In fact, why limit herself? Her day, her week, the last month entirely were wanting a nice change for the better.

Now that the danger of a potion mishap was over, the Weasley twins broke cover to survey the damage. Two heads with messy red hair popped up over the edge of the far side of one of the beds. Two pairs of eyes landed on Hermione and widened in surprise at seeing her there. As they took in the sight of a drenched Hermione they made their way around the bed to stand in front of her.

A flicker of concern raced across Fred's face until he saw that she was okay, merely sporting the majority of the cauldron's contents. He sighed in relief.

George also appeared slightly worried, but for a different reason once he too realized that she wasn't hurt. Hermione's tight grip on her wand suggested that he and Fred might soon be on the receiving end of a wicked hex.

As the seconds slipped by without any action on Hermione's part (she had decided to bide her time until she found out what exactly was in that potion) the normal curiosity of the twins' inventor's spirit took precedence.

"So…" George cocked his head to the side and gave Hermione an expectant look. The fun was just beginning.

"How are you feeling?" Fred asked, unable to refrain from teasing her. He stared at Hermione's exposed skin where some of the potion was beginning to be absorbed.

Hermione arched a brow as potion dripped down her face, luckily avoiding her eyes. "How do you think I'm feeling?"

"Oh angry —"

"— wet —"

"— vengeful."

"But other than that, are you noticing any possible effects of the potion?" Fred asked with a grin.

Hermione swiped a hand over her face and flicked the gathered potion at Fred. A thick glob spattered on his nose. His eyes crossed to stare at it before looking in disappointment at Hermione. George snickered. Fred sighed and accepted his twin's offered handkerchief to wipe his face.

Hermione glared at George until he sheepishly offered a shirt out of his clean laundry pile that hadn't yet been put away, for lack of something better to use. The shirt had miraculously escaped the explosion unscathed.

She rolled her eyes, but used it anyway to wipe off as much of the potion as possible that was now rapidly absorbing into her skin at an alarming rate. Even her hair was drying itself as the potion was absorbed into it. "And what effects might those be?"

"Well if you don't know I'm not about to tell you," Fred replied, looking pleased to be able to throw this answer back that he'd heard before from other witches." He absentmindedly scratched at a mild itch on his nose.

"Oh, for Pete's sake," Hermione muttered in disgust. She threw the now soiled shirt into their dirty clothes hamper.

George looked rather impressed with Fred's retort and was grinning widely.

"What was the potion?" Hermione demanded of George.

"Just a little something we noticed the Ministry needed. As soon as we've worked the kinks out, we'll make a deal for the recipe and a tidy profit as well," George answered. He took a small amount of glee in knowing his vague answer would only frustrate Hermione. It was just so much fun to wind her up. He could see why Ron argued with her so often. "Remodeling isn't cheap," he informed her.

"Incidentally, George," Fred interrupted. "Maybe you have a point and the potion doesn't need to be explosive."

"Gee, you think?" Hermione glared at Fred.

Fred was unbothered by Hermione's ill mood. "I do," he said, not wanting to make the itching on his nose worse. He knew he couldn't make it go away just yet. The opportunity the grouchy witch offered was too good to pass up. "Be honest, Hermione. You like us, don't you?"

"I do not," Hermione denied vehemently. She scratched absentmindedly at an itchy spot on her right wrist.

Fred and George observed this action with avid eyes.

"Don't be shy, Miss Granger. You think we're brilliant, don't you?" George pressed.

"Don't be ridiculous." The itch intensified and she tried unsuccessfully to scratch it and another itchy spot on her neck at the same time.

At this, Fred and George shared a triumphant grin.

"Why don't you tell us why you and Ron aren't talking?"

"That is none of your business!" Hermione began to scratch frantically at her skin. The itching she felt wasn't stopping. In fact, it was getting worse and spreading. Hermione began to feel itchy all over. "Why am I itching?" She asked suspiciously. "How do I make it stop?"

"I'm surprised, Hermione. I thought a smart witch like you would have figured it out by now." Fred shook his head in mock disappointment then surreptitiously tried to scratch his nose which felt a bit itchier.

"The potion is our alternative to the Veritaserum," George hastily answered Hermione. If looks could kill Fred would already be dead and he would be next. "We know from Kingsley that there are a number of people they're having difficulty questioning at the Ministry. The Veritaserum is ineffective on too many Death Eaters. Without our alternative to prove them guilty, some of them may end up free from Azkaban."

"We've created a potion with an incentive to answer questions honestly and promptly."

"Once it's ingested or absorbed into your skin, the more lies you tell —"

"— and the longer you take doing it —"

"— the more you itch."

"Until you get the antidote anyway."

"Well, give me the antidote!" Hermione couldn't stop scratching. .

"I don't think we should — yet," George said and smirked.

An identical smirk appeared on Fred's face. "Why, this is a golden opportunity."

In unison the Weasley twins said, "We'd be fools not to take advantage of it."

And that was how she ended up confiding in Fred and George.

"So, maybe Ron and I just weren't meant to be," Hermione finished some time later. The itching hadn't got any worse since Hermione accepted that she wouldn't be getting her hands on the antidote without answering their questions. But the itching hadn't stopped either. She was covered head to toe with welts from scratching.

George snorted and Fred declared, "You're being ridiculous."

"You do say some rather stupid things on occasion for all that you're the smartest witch we know," George agreed as he passed over the antidote to Fred and Hermione.

"Hey!" She was momentarily tempted to blast them both where they stood, if only they hadn't taken her wand when she had tried to get the antidote away from them by force. Her temper had made her careless and the two of them had managed to disarm her easily.

"Luckily, you have us," Fred assured her, unworried by the way even Hermione's hair fairly bristled with her irritation.

As the antidote took effect, the itching stopped and the welts faded. Hermione sighed with relief.

George matched his brother's smug grin. "We can get you the chance to talk to Ron, no interruptions —" George promised earnestly.

" — no evasions," Fred picked up. "He'll never know what hit him," he said with a confident smile and a chuckle.

"But the rest —" George warned.

"— is up to you," Fred finished and reluctantly returned Hermione's wand.

"How are you going to manage that?" Hermione asked curiously as she tucked away her wand.

"Hey now," Fred reproved Hermione with a mock look of insulted feelings on his face.

"Do you really doubt our powers?" George asked in disbelief and mirrored his brother's false affronted expression.

Considering some of the things they had pulled off in the past, she was forced to concede this would probably be all too easy a task for the twins.

"I guess not," Hermione answered. "All right. You just let me know when and where."

"Of course," the twins echoed each other. Seeing their faces light up with wicked glee Hermione felt both a little like she had just made a deal with the devil, or two devils actually, and a whole lot sorry for Ron.

Well almost. He had been avoiding her after all.

"Why would you do this for me?"

"Why Hermione you're practically family already, the lack of a wedding ring is only a technicality," Fred replied as he draped an arm over her shoulder. "And families stick together don't they, Forge?"

George rested his arm on Hermione's other shoulder so that she was held in their embrace. It made her a little nostalgic for the times Harry and Ron had done the same thing and she slipped her arms around Fred and George's waists taking comfort from their presence. "They sure do, Gred," George answered his brother before directing his next comment at the petite brunette standing between them. "Besides; we might need your help someday, Hermione. You'll remember our efforts kindly then, won't you?"

Hermione snickered. "I'll probably regret this, but I will. When you need my help, just let me know, and I'll do my best — if I agree with your request. I believe limits exist for a reason," she added in a firm voice.

"That they do," George nodded sagely.

"How else will we know when we exceed them?" Fred asked with a wicked leer on his face as he wiggled his eyebrows.

Hermione's uncompromising expression disappeared as she surrendered to the giggles.

Over her head, the twins shared nods of satisfaction. Ginny would be pleased with their report. Operation: Cheer Hermione was a resounding success.

End Part 5

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