Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling owns the universe.
A/N: Hello! Thank you for your patience for this chapter! Between work, school, and working on some other stories that were occupying my brain in the meantime, I know it was a bit of a wait. Thank you so much for your continued interest! Reviews are much appreciated.
It had been a month since Fred and George had made their grand exit from Hogwarts, and things had been progressing quite well at their new shop. Orders had been flying in from Hogwarts by the dozen, and Fred and George had already started discussing the need to hire additional staff soon to keep up with maintaining the store while still developing new products.
George was very happy with the overall state of things. Business was great, and he and his twin had quite comfortably settled into the flats above the shop. He had been regularly exchanging letters with Alicia, and she was going to visit him as soon as the school year ended, maybe even staying for a week over the summer. Despite this, he was growing increasingly frustrated with his brother's avoidance of the topic of Hermione. He knew that something had transpired between them, but every time he tried to bring her up, Fred would quickly change the subject, immediately suggesting some sort of product development idea. George didn't really want to meddle or pry, but he was beginning to suspect that Fred had started saving these thoughts for discussion only to divert George from his questions. On a few occasions, George had asked about Hermione just to see if Fred had any thoughts on product improvement, and he had.
Finally, George decided he'd had enough. This routine was disruptive to the business, and he was sick of seeing Fred so miserable. After locking up the shop for the night, he turned to Fred, determined not to let him escape the conversation this time.
Fred was examining the shelf of Skiving Snackboxes. "That was a really good day," he said. "I was thinking of changing the way we display these. The Puking Pastilles haven't been moving as well as the Fever Fudge. Do you think we should put them in a more prominent place?"
George joined him by the Snackboxes, looking pensive, and eventually reached up and swept them all of the shelf and onto the floor.
"What the hell was that about?" said Fred. "It's going to take at least an hour for us to get this cleaned up!"
"That's exactly why I did it," George answered. "We are going to restock these shelves, and we'll talk about the subject you've been avoiding for weeks."
Fred started picking up some Fainting Fancies, his mouth forming a thin, hard line before turning away from George. "I haven't been avoiding anything," he said.
"Now there's a real joke if ever there was one," said George. "You know what I'm talking about. Hermione. Everything was going great between you two, then suddenly you tell me you want to leave Hogwarts without so much as a word to her? You haven't received any owl post from her in the past month, and I'm willing to bet you haven't sent any, either. So come on, fess up. Why don't you just get it over with and tell me what happened with her? I thought we told each other everything," he finished, sounding genuinely hurt.
Fred slumped slightly, defeated. "Fine. Just so you know, I didn't want to talk about because I didn't want to think about it, okay?"
"What happened?" George asked.
They continued to stock the Snackboxes as Fred recounted the events of their last night at Hogwarts to his twin, starting from his sneaking to the Room of Requirement, and eventually arriving at the point when he saw Hermione with Ron, and what he heard them say. There was a small catch in his voice toward the end of the story, but George pretended not to notice. Fred finally finished telling his story, and simply stopped, letting it hang in the air, asking for no feedback.
"Wow," George said after a few moments, filling in the silence. "I really don't know what I expected you to tell me, but I can honestly say that it wasn't that. Never in a million years would I have expected that."
Fred remaining silent, his back turned to George.
"I can't believe Ron would betray you like that," added George. "I know he can be a bit of a berk, but…"
"I don't blame him. He didn't know about me and Hermi- about me and her, right?" interrupted Fred. "If anything, I betrayed him, ages ago. I started snogging his dream girl and never even had the decency to tell him. He was obviously just offered up an opportunity he'd been waiting for. Probably more than he ever expected. How could he say no? Why would he have reason to think he'd be hurting me? No, it's not his fault. As much as I'd like it to be, it's not."
George sighed. "Well, I'd never have thought that of Hermione, then," he said. "Who'd have thought that the little bookworm would put sex before a relationship?"
Fred slammed his fist on the shelf, causing George to jump and some of the Snackboxes to tumble back onto the floor again. "Exactly!" he yelled. "Who would have thought it? I sure didn't, and I thought I knew her! I thought I could trust her. I thought I loved her!"
George, unable to think of anything to say, just started picking up the fallen sweets and let Fred continue.
"I thought that I meant something to her! I'd have given her anything she wanted!" he spat out.
"You didn't, though," George said automatically. As Fred whipped around to face him, his face almost burgundy with rage, George immediately wished he hadn't said a thing.
"What do you mean, I didn't?" asked Fred, gritting his teeth.
"I mean that you didn't give her everything she wanted. She practically begged you to shag her, and you left her, with barely an explanation, from what you told me."
"And what, you think I should have?"
"I'm not saying that at all. I mean, you were obviously right not to trust her, there's no question there. I'm just saying that you said you'd give her everything, but when it came to it, you didn't. And you didn't talk about it. So, I don't know, maybe you weren't as far along in your relationship or as serious about her as you thought," explained George. "And yeah, it was the worst thing she could possibly do, but in the long run, maybe it'll be for the best. Save you wasting your time on someone who really wasn't worth it."
"I guess." Fred sighed, and sat down on the counter. "It just… it really hurt. I never thought she'd do anything like that to me. Never suspected it for a second. And… I don't know, just going from thinking you love someone to thinking you hate them so quickly, well… It's painful. And exhausting, somehow. At this point, I just wish we'd never gotten involved in the first place," he said.
George walked over to Fred and put a hand on his shoulder. "Do you want to go out for a couple of pints?"
"Nah, thanks though," said Fred, pushing himself off the counter. "I think I just want to go to bed."
He started up the staircase when his focus was interrupted by a tapping at the window.
George opened the shop window, and a large barn owl flew in with a scroll of parchment addressed to Fred.
"Do you recognize this owl?" asked Fred.
"Nope. Must be from Hogwarts," said George. As the owl continued to flap around the back of the shop, he added, "So are you going to take your letter, or what?"
"Oh, right," said Fred, shaking his head and holding out his hand. The owl dropped it carefully, and headed right back out the open window.
"Looks like Angelina's handwriting," said Fred, opening it. "That's nice, I haven't heard from her since we left."
George watched as Fred read, his face growing stonier as he continued reading.
"Is everything okay? Looks serious," George asked, trying not to pry too much after the night's discussion.
Fred thrust the letter toward George and sat down on the stairs. "Read it."
George looked at the parchment covered with Angelina's large but neat handwriting.
Sorry I haven't been in touch yet. I hope you and George are well. I can't wait for the year to be over, so I can stop by the shop. Based on the number of pranks being pulled here at Hogwarts, I would guess that it's doing good business!
I've been trying to figure out how to write this letter, and if I should write it. I didn't even want to have to write it myself, but I've been nagging Hermione for the last month, and I just don't think she's going to give in no matter what I say, so I've taken it upon myself.
Right after you left Hogwarts, I confronted Hermione. I have to admit that I'm not so proud of the way I handled things with her, but I found out some stuff that I really think you need to know.
That last night, the one when we fell asleep in the common room… Hermione saw us together. I guess she thought we were back together, or that we had been secretly shagging, or had just shagged, or something, but anyway, she was pretty angry at both of us. She thought you had run out on her because you still would rather be with me.
Apparently nothing happened between her and Ron. They just talked, and he comforted her. I didn't know for sure if I could believe her at first, but I cornered Ron, and he said the same thing.
This may be none of my business – Hermione says it isn't – but I really think you two should talk. You both obviously care about each other a lot, and all of this has happened because neither one of you has talked properly to the other.
So, I'm sorry if I'm butting in where I shouldn't be, but I thought you needed to know all this. I hope the two of you can work this out, but you have the information now, so I guess what you do with it is up to you.
George looked up. Fred's expression hadn't changed.
"Well, that's good news, yeah?" said George. "She didn't cheat on you after all. So, what are you going to do about it?"
Fred stood up. "Nothing," he said.
"Nothing? Why nothing? Come on, the problem was that you thought she slept with Ron, and she didn't! Now you know, so talk to her! Do something!"
"Nah. Don't think I will," said Fred.
"But why not?" George asked.
"A few reasons, I guess," said Fred. "First of all, she's known this for a month, and decided that she doesn't want to do anything about it. So she can't really be that interested in getting back together. Otherwise, wouldn't she have been in touch?"
"Maybe she thought you wouldn't want to hear from her?" suggested George. "I mean, would you have even read a letter from her, if she sent one?"
Fred shrugged. "Maybe. Maybe not. I don't know. No way of knowing now, anyway. The fact is, she didn't send a thing." He paused a moment. "And like I said earlier, I've spent the last month feeling like I hated her for what she did. Okay, so she didn't do that. But I still felt that way. I don't know if I can erase the thought of having felt that way about her. How do you make the switch back from hate to love? I don't know if I can."
"But you two were really good together," said George. "You really cared about each other. Don't you want to give it another try?"
Fred shook his head. "Don't think I could. Like you said, 'were,' 'cared.' Past tense. Don't know how we'd move past this, or find the way we used to feel about each other. And with her in school, and me over here? Maybe it's for the best that we both just move on. And as you said, maybe we weren't as far along in our relationship as we though, anyway."
"But –" George started to object.
"Let it go. I have. Now, I'm going to get some sleep. It's Saturday tomorrow, busy day for the shop. You should, too," said Fred, walking up the stairs and leaving his twin with Angelina's letter in his hand.