They weren't the same- never had been.
Telling them apart wasn't about counting the freckles on their noses (that was impossible and, above all, impractical). It wasn't about how this one kept his weight on his right leg while that one stood straight (they'd long ago realized this giveaway and trained themselves to switch off, just to keep everyone guessing), or how George liked his tea with honey while Fred liked his with salt (not the taste, just watching people's faces as he picked up the 'wrong' container and started spooning it into his cup). It wasn't even about pushing the golden-red hair back from their faces, looking for which one was minus an ear, or lifting their shirts over their heads to find out who had the mass-scars from being crushed nearly to death.
Their minds were unique- not just compared to everyone else, but to each other as well. Their lives had followed closely to the same path, but even the slightest shift in the road could alter a person entirely. There had been those necessary moments of separation in their childhood to create distinct differences in their adult minds.
Once, when they were six, Arthur had hugged Fred before he left for his job at the Ministry. George had reached for a hug as well, but before his father could oblige, the clock on the wall had moved Mr. Weasley's hand from "on time" to "late." He had smiled apologetically, but apparated away all the same.
At the time, it had seemed like a small thing. Trivial.
The twins never noticed that even now, sixteen years later, when they entered the Burrow after an extended absence, George would immediately embrace his mother while Fred hugged their father.
On their very first night at Hogwarts during the Sorting, George watched as his brother went first to the stool in the center of the hall. He had sat comfortably in front of the hundreds of watching students, grinning easily at their older brothers at the Gryffindor table, no doubt in his mind that he would soon join them.
The hat had other plans.
Another Weasley. Incredibly bright, aren't you? Ravenclaw would do well for a boy like you.
George had watched, heart hammering, as his brother's face fell for the fraction of a second before he hitched his smile back into place, forced this time.
Gryffindor will turn you into a trouble-maker if I ever saw one, but I can tell you're determined. I suppose it better be-
Fred hopped up off the stool, heading to the Gryffindor table and doing pretty well at hiding his shaking knees. It had been a close call, alright.
George took his twin's vacated spot, unable to shake the image of his brother's anxious face from his mind. If there had been even the slightest doubt about Fred- Fred who was always the first to speak to a new person, Fred who always did the scariest part of their pranks, Fred who could sleep through even the worst thunderstorm- then there was no hope for George.
The hat was placed on his head, and he held his breath, forcing a brave smile onto his face.
Two Weasleys in one year? This hasn't happened in quite some time. Maybe you should be the one to break the Gryffindor streak, hm?
George didn't let hit smile slip for a moment. He'd seen this coming, after all. At the Gryffindor table, Fred watched eagerly as his twin sat still as a stone beneath the Sorting Hat. It would threaten George with Ravenclaw, too, right? They were twins, after all. What happened to one must happen to the other.
Another candidate worthy of Ravenclaw. Just as bright as your twin, I daresay, but a little bit of darkness, too. A paradox.
George didn't much care to figure out what a paradox was. Besides, if it knew he didn't understand big words, there was no way it would put him in Ravenclaw. One house down and one house closer to being a Gryffindor.
You Weasleys are all so determined. If you're sure you don't want to break the mold…
It gave him a moment to reconsider, but he steadfastly resisted, mental walls held in place with insurmountable willpower.
George joined his brothers at the table, sliding onto the bench next to Fred. His twin leaned close and whispered in his ear so that no one at the table would hear him.
"Close call, eh, Georgie? Almost threw us into Ravenclaw, didn't it?"
George will never, ever understand why he gives his answer. "Never said anything about Ravenclaw to me. Straight Gryffindor, I am."
Fred's grin falters, but he screws it back into place and they move on, forgetting the conversation entirely. So what if, every now and then, Fred looked around the common room and thought he wasn't brave enough to belong there? So what if George knew he didn't belong there, not even brave enough to own up to a lie he told when he was eleven years old?
Fred was better at handling the odd looks they received as they walked around Diagon Alley, just the three of them. He was fine with holding her hand in public, kissing her cheek in front of shop windows. George hung back, always half a step behind them. He didn't want everyone to look- he was entirely too aware of the gaping hole in the side of his head, the twisted scars on the side of his face. Even if his hair covered it, he felt like a neon sign hung above him, advertising the imperfection.
George was better at handling Mr. and Mrs. Weasley's reaction when they first found out about the three of them- or, put more accurately, the two of them and the other two of them. Each of them and her. Hermione and Fred. Hermione and George. The twins and Hermione.
"You will never set foot in this house again!" Mrs. Weasley shrieked, face alternating between bone white and blood red, unable to even throw things at them in her utter anger and disgust. George couldn't count the number of times she'd used the words sin or blasphemy, but it was enough that he pretty well understood that she was unhappy with them.
"Mum," he'd said, standing in front of Fred and Hermione who were both wincing and cringing away.
"Don't you dare call me that! As if I raised the two of you to be heathens! As if I let that bloody whore into my home so that this could happen! As if-"
Mrs. Weasley had faltered, eyes widening as George spoke through his teeth, fists clenched.
"Mum, we're telling you this so that you know what's going on- because we don't want to lie to you anymore. We never did." Lie. He hates that word. "We aren't having sex- not together, not separately. She lives in our flat. She likes Fred, he likes her. I like her, she likes me. That's all."
Mrs. Weasley can't find words to respond. None of her children had ever used the word sex in front of her before- even to tell her they weren't having it. Hermione watches as George holds his arms out to his mother, and Mrs. Weasley rushes into them, letting her son crush her in his embrace.
"Mum, we'll get things figured out," he whispered into her hair, chin rested on her graying head.
Mrs. Weasley doesn't really respond, only lets out a muffled sob and tightens her hold on him. Mr. Weasley is uncomfortably shifting from foot to foot, unable to look at Fred or Hermione.
"Well," he says, trying to sound as if things are all normal, "thank you for being honest with us, boys, Hermione." He turns green a bit, as if he might vomit. Hermione can only imagine what he thinks of her, but she takes strength from the way Fred squeezes her hand and the way George is standing tall, unashamed.
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley would never understand, and the three of them had expected and accepted that. After all, one day Hermione would have to choose between Fred and George- end up with one or the other somehow. At least when that happened, the Weasleys would be prepared.
That night in the flat, George went to bed early like he always did before his turn to open the shop. Hermione and Fred sat up in the kitchen, half-looking over invoices and half-talking about the days events.
"Did you see how brave he was?" Fred breathed, quiet so that George wouldn't hear from his room.
Hermione nodded her head, shuffling through the piles of paper in search of October's expenses. "I never thought… I didn't think either of you would be able to stand up to your mother. She's a force of nature."
Fred chuckles, but she can see something in his blue eyes- something sad. "George has always been like that, too, though. He's just like Mum that way. No one can stand up to him when he's determined. I reckon Mum's the only one who'd even have a shot, but… well, you saw for yourself."
"You're brave, too, you know," she says after things have been quiet for a long while. Fred freezes for a fraction of a second, his quill raised halfway to the ink jar. Hermione glances at his face, but it's blank, whatever thoughts raging in his mind locked securely inside.
He dips the quill in the inkwell and shrugs his shoulders. "Not like, George."
Hermione isn't sure what to say, so she reaches over and squeezes his hand in hers. He smiles easily, nudging her shoulder to let her know he was okay. "I'm just glad it's over with," he says lightly, and that's the end of it.
It's four hours later- one in the morning. Hermione wakes suddenly, heart pounding, cold sweat on her forehead. Nightmares again. Outside her window, rain hammers the glass. A flash of lightning illuminates her small room, but she doesn't move. It's a reflex now- hiding. The war had ingrained it into her, all those nights in the forests and marshes, trying to stay alive against all odds. Stay quiet, stay still, stay hidden, stay safe. The mantra had saved her life more than once.
She's almost asleep again when she hears it- two quiet knocks on her bedroom door. They're almost drowned out entirely by a particularly loud boom of thunder, but she had sort of been expecting them, so they stood out.
"Come in," she calls quietly, but the door's opening before she even gets the words out.
George is standing in the doorway, face pale and drawn. In his hands he's holding his pillow and a picture frame, but Hermione doesn't pay attention. She's seen it before.
She slides over in her bed until her back touches the wall, and he crosses the room in two mechanical strides. He's under the comforter within the next second, facing away from her. There's still the layer of sheets between them- he refused to get under both the comforter and the sheets. He said it was because it was too hot, but Hermione was pretty sure it was some sense of propriety that kept him where he was.
"How long have you been up?" she asks, watching his back muscles tense and relax through his thin white t-shirt.
"You mean actually awake or standing outside of your door?" he mumbles, rolling onto his back so that he can look at her if he wants.
He stares at the ceiling, shuddering slightly when the room lights up for a second. "I've been awake since…let's say, eleven. I've been outside your door since the storm started at…let's say eleven fifteen."
"You've been standing out there for two hours?" she asked, incredulous.
"Yes," he says, a bit defensively.
She mentally slaps herself. George never lies. He hates people who lie.
"You don't have to do that, you know. You can come in here whenever you want," she tells him softly.
He nods his head but doesn't answer, eyes closed as he tries for sleep. It's not going to happen- not with the rain pounding on the roof as if it's trying to cave it in. Hermione watches him, sees how tense every muscle in his body stays. He'll never get to sleep that way.
She sits up, leaning against the headboard. "There's no point coming in here if you aren't going to relax," she admonishes, half-joking.
His eyes snap open. "I'll leave then," and he moves to get up. Hermione grabs his arm, pulling him back down.
"Stay," she orders.
The next morning, he's gone. She goes into the kitchen and Fred's there, reading the Daily Prophet and drinking a glass of pumpkin juice. He grins at her when she sits down, and she smiles back.
"Rough night?" he asks, taking in the bags under her eyes and more-than-usually unruly hair.
"George," she says, and his eyes give a flash of understanding.
"Still hates storms," Fred mumbles, as if cataloging his twin's behavior for himself. "Always has."
Hermione takes Fred's glass and drains it, pushing it back to him when it's empty. Downstairs, a bell rings, signaling the first customer of the day. "Shall we?" Fred asks, holding out his arm for Hermione. She takes it and he leads them out of the flat and down into the shop.
Fred and George are at their finest, completely in sync with each other. Their movements are like watching a man standing in a mirror, their dialogue fits together as if they can hear each other's thoughts. Hermione hangs back, roaming up and down the aisles, playing with things, testing things. She watches them from between shelves, trying to be inconspicuous.
Trying to understand.
They were so very easy to clump together- Fred and George, the twins. They refused to wear proper nametags- the little silver badges only said, "Mr. Weasley" which was, for all intensive purposes, unhelpful. They didn't seem to mind when Verity got them confused- which she must at times. Hermione watched with amusement as Verity called one twin Fred, walked away, walked right up to the same twin and called him George.
But they were different. Beneath everything, they were different. Fred was Fred and George was George. Her head ached as she tried to match up traits with each.
Fred was like sunlight- warm and open and exactly- exactly something. He was what he was. He was himself. When people looked at the Weasley twins and saw their showmanship and playfulness, that was Fred. He was more than that, though, because there was so much love in him for everyone.
George was like a mirror- when he was with Fred, he became Fred because that was better. He loved Fred, and other people loved Fred. When he wasn't with Fred, the problems started- or the truth came out. It was a mirror without a subject, with only background. Hard to place. Hard to understand.
Hermione watched them charm a group of teenage girls with their dizzying routine of trading off sentences, and she felt lost.
How could she love them, either of them, when she couldn't even describe them properly?
How could she not love them now that she knew them so well?
Everyone had always loved them for what they were on the surface- comic relief, pranksters, handsome flirts. If that was the only reason you loved them, then yes, they were interchangeable. You could easily take either and be happy. What no one had discovered, and what Hermione found herself faced with, was loving them once she got beneath the surface. They were in no way identical, not the least bit interchangeable. Underneath, they were as different as night and day. Instead of making her choice easier, it only made it harder to decide. If they had been the same through and through, she would lose nothing by choosing one and losing the other.
They were not the same underneath the surface, as mentally altered by life as they had been physically. Hermione's heart ached as she thought of her promise to the twins- George's promise to Mrs. Weasley.
They'd given her one year to decide. Three months in, and she was farther from a choice than ever.
"Hermione, ready for lunch?" Fred called when the clock struck two.
She started, nearly knocking over a display of Invisible Underpants. The twins were standing at the register, watching her with such similar expressions that she nearly laughed. She had spent so long thinking about how different they were, and there they stood, looking as identical as the day they were born. Fred took her hand as they left the shop and headed to the three broomsticks, George following close behind.
"You were really focused on something, Hermione," Fred observed as they made their way up Diagon Alley.
"Just thinking," she said simply, unable to even begin explaining her thoughts.
George stepped on the back of her shoe, and she gritted her teeth. It was a habit of his- whenever he didn't like her answer to a question, he'd step on the back of her shoe, nearly tripping her.
"'Bout what?" Fred asked, stifling a laugh as Hermione righted herself.
"You two gits, of course," she growled, glaring over her shoulder at George. He grinned back at her.
"We're at what… three months now?" Fred asked casually, while George followed just a bit closer than usual.
Hermione nodded, dreading the next question.
"No choice yet, then?"
She shook her head, noticing as both twins seemed to lose some of the tenseness in her shoulders. Internally, Hermione sighed, feeling for what was not the first time that she would never come to a decision. One year or one lifetime- neither were enough.
Fred grinned broadly. "No hurry, love. You could have a baby in the time you've got left to pick."
"I'd rather not," she muttered.
"Yeah, reckon we've put Mum through enough for one year," George chuckled.
Mum and me, Hermione told herself.
A/N: Not sure what this is. It started as a character study of Fred and George, then turned into a really long…something. I think this is a one-shot, but we'll see.