I do not own any of the characters or settings of Harry Potter, that would all belong to the wondrous J.K. Rowling. However, I do own the original content of this story.*

In My Veins

Four: Kitchen Confessions

In which the kitchens are place where secrets and promises are made.

The Kitchens of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry were exactly that, kitchens. They were three large kitchenettes connected to form one extremely giant sized room. Most of the space seemed to be taken by wall-to-wall length counters and floor-to-ceiling pantries and what little space was left was being occupied by dozens of House Elves. There was an incredibly large and rather rusted oven on the far wall and a fireplace along the next that housed a roaring red flamed fire that warmed the room. Dangling from the walls were various cooking utensils as well as pots and pans of all sizes. There was a plethora of food littering the tables along with pitchers among pitchers full of juices, coffee, and milk, kettles of tea whistling in the far corner. All in all, it was exactly what a person would imagine the kitchen of a castle sized institution to look.

Hermione wasn't sure whether she wanted to kill or thank Fred. On one hand, he had taken her away from the possible dangers of the Common Room and to a place that was filled with enough food and drink to fill the stomachs and quell the thirst of a thousand men. On the other hand, though, she was surrounded by the very beings she was trying so desperately to free from slavery. It also made her feel a bit squirmy being in the Kitchens as it was a forbidden place, but mainly she just hated seeing the little greyish-green creatures working themselves to near death to prepare the morning feast.

Pulling a face, Hermione watched the House Elves run around the vast room and dutifully cook bacon and sausages and eggs, siphon juice from oranges and pumpkins, slice tomatoes and chop potatoes, and pile it all onto gold encrusted plates. The more she saw, the more Hermione wanted to yell out and tell them all that they didn't need to do these things, inform them of their rights as magical creatures. Fred, however, seemed to sense what she was thinking because before she could say a word to the little things he was pulling her to the side and whispering lowly in her ear.

"Now don't get all noble and cause-y, Granger, they are happy to be cooking such tasty treats for us all. Also, if you say one word about S.P.E.W. to them, I will not hesitate to take your righteous arse back to the dorms and leave you to fend for yourself against the intrusive harpies of the beloved House of Gryffindor."

Honestly she'd been so shocked that Fred had actually called her campaign by its rightful name and not simply spew that she hadn't really heard much of his playful threat. It was quite amazing knowing that Fred Weasley listened to some of the things she had to say.

Hermione quickly gathered her wits and stiffly nodded her head once at Fred's remark but made sure to fix him a hard stare, fighting the smirk that tried to turn up her lips when he guffawed loudly. Her eyes followed him as he moved into the room, navigating his way straight to where a platter of breakfast items were laying in wait to be eaten. Fred wasted no time in taking up three pieces of bacon and promptly shoving them into his mouth before moving onto two pancakes. Endless appetites, it seemed, were as genetic in the Weasley family as their trademark fiery hair.

After a few minutes of stuffing his face, Fred turned towards her. "I know I'm ruggedly handsome and exceptionally pleasing to stare at, Granger, but are you really just going to stand there all morning and ogle me or are you going to eat some breakfast?" he asked around a mouthful of half-eaten toast and eggs and Hermione had to bite down on her tongue to keep from chastising his distasteful manners. She was at least thankful that he didn't send chunks of his food flying like Ronald sometimes did when he spoke at mealtimes. Hermione'd already spent too many times in front of a mirror fishing the disgusting debris out of her hair and wasn't looking to do it ever again if she could avoid it.

With a dramatic roll of her eyes, Hermione dropped her bag to the floor and stepped in the bustling kitchens and tentatively walked up to the counter he was leaning against. She roved her eyes over the various foods and drinks and inhaled deeply, loving the glorious combination of the salty smell of bangers and eggs mixed with the sweetness of jam and fruit. Hermione's stomach rumbled abruptly and she tried not to blush at the gurgling noise as she helped herself to a kipper and poured some much needed coffee into a cup.

She very nearly moaned when she took the first sip of delicious caffeine.

Minutes of silence ticked by as Fred and Hermione dined and the latter was greatly surprised by how comfortable it once again felt. There was no tension or need to fill the void. No awkwardness. Their silence seemed much less forced than the many she had shared with the younger brother of the man beside her and she was quite enjoying it. There was a bit of oddity to it all though as well – Fred Weasley was almost never silent unless he was planning a prank or was too upset to make jokes. As awful as it was, Hermione hoped it was not the former of the two options. The absolute last thing she needed was to be the victim of one of the infamous pranks the Weasley twins were known for pulling. At the same time, however, she really hated the idea of Fred being upset.

Their companionable silence stretched on and on while the unlikely pair ate their fill. The Elves had been kind enough to conjure up two stools for them to sit on for which Hermione thanked them greatly and revelled in the warm, toothy smiles she received in return. A pleasant warmth was radiating through Hermione's body by the time she had filled a third mug of coffee and with it washed away the last bits of sleepiness that had painstakingly lingered in her veins. This, thankfully, allowed for free-flowing, cognitive thinking to return and she was most pleased.

Her thoughts were not the frenzied, in-need-of-information ones she had become accustomed to since the Goblet of Fire shot Harry's name from its flames nor the red tinged, spiteful thoughts that'd been frequenting her mind since Boxing Day, since she'd first heard the murmuring of her lurid affair with Viktor. No, they were much more dangerous in an unknown way. She was thinking about Frederick Weasley and the strange sense of edginess he instilled inside of her. Hermione couldn't put her finger on what it was exactly that made it happen, but her blood rushed in her ears whenever he got too close. It was a completely foreign feeling and relatively terrifying as well and she didn't yet know what she thought about it.

Finally, the minutes of quiet passed and Fred's low English brogue rang out in her ears like bells. "Can I ask you something, Hermione? Something personal?"

Hermione cocked her head to the side as she regarded the wizard. Her brow furrowed as she tried to decipher what he could possibly want to question her about that would make him ask permission first. Fred and most others of the Weasley clan that she'd had the pleasure of meeting tended to put more stock in asking forgiveness for a rash decision or invasive inquiry than asking permission for anything. She ran her eyes over his weary face, recognising the deep burning need for knowledge in his eyes that she so often saw reflected in her own as well as taking note of the nervous, guarded expression his fair features had shifted into. Seeing Fred this way made her squirm internally, her insides twisting into uncomfortable knots of anxiety, but she consented anyway as her own need to know what was on his mind won out over her apprehension.

"Of course, Fred," she stated and was inwardly amazed at how controlled and unwavering her voice was.

Fred looked to his shoes and fidgeted slightly under her gaze and it was a long moment before he finally peered back into her doe eyes. She once again took quick notice of the uncertainty clouding his eyes that made him look more like the thirteen year old boy she had met during her First Year. "Don't take this the wrong way or anything – I really am just curious – but why did you choose Krum?" The sound of his voice was tense and quiet, making Hermione wonder if he had wanted to ask her this particular question for a while.

Hermione, for her part, was stunned. The query itself was full of all sorts of implications and she didn't know if Fred was asking why she let Viktor Krum escort her to the bloody Yule Ball or why she supposedly had sex with him of all people. The latter was a sentiment she often heard echoed within the gossip that circulated about. Why would Hermione Granger sleep with Viktor Krum, or – and this was the most likely form of questioning – why would Viktor Krum, a man who could quite literally have anyone he wanted, lower his standards and shag someone like Hermione Granger? In her opinion, it would have been her own standards and values that need be lowered for her to ever even consider taking such a brute to bed but that was neither here nor there.

All of this, of course, lead to her own line of forming questions. Why would Fred care to know why she let Viktor take her to the dance? They hardly spoke, she and Fred, though they were somewhat friends. She figured he merely viewed her as the shirty, bookish friend of his little brother or even maybe saw her as another sister. If that were the case she supposed that it was perfectly acceptable for him to want to know something like how Krum had wound up being her date. Brothers, especially older ones, tended to look after their sisters. She had seen that much firsthand when she was thirteen. A girl in the neighbourhood she'd grown up in – Violet, Hermione thought her name was – had been talking to another one of the kids that lived on their block when he suddenly kissed her. He hadn't seen that Violet's brother had witnessed it and had therefore been punched so hard in the nose that it broke. It was the first time Hermione had ever seen someone bleed that much.

Regardless of how Fred viewed her, she decided she'd only answer how she had become Viktor's date. There was no reason to even open the can of worms that was her now infamous sex life and if there was, well, she'd cross that bridge with a torch and burn it to ash without ever even batting an eyelash. "I'm not completely sure why, but Viktor liked to visit the library. My only guess is that since Madam Pince is so strict about the level of noise as well as the amount of people, he was taking refuge and hiding from the flock of girls that follow him everywhere. Regardless of his reasons, he was there quite often as was I, and every now and then he would ask for my help on an assignment or he would simply sit across from me and watch me as I studied. It was strange but he was harmless and unearthly quiet, therefore not a distraction, and I just let him be." Hermione didn't understand why she was giving so much detail and depth, it wasn't as if Fred actually cared that much for the back story so much as the main plot and point, but she couldn't make herself stop. It was like part of her wanted to talk about the odd relationship she had developed with Krum and discuss what had happened. Mere days ago, all she wanted was to forget everything about her life, but sitting in the Kitchens and talking about it with Fred seemed to be exactly what she wanted and needed.

She chose not to dwell on how completely mental it was.

"When the Yule Ball was announced, I noticed his behaviour changed. He was looking at me more and more and whenever I would look up from an essay I was writing or a text I was reading he would blush and look away as quickly as he could. About the fourth day of him acting so strangely, I finally had enough and demanded to know what it was he wanted and that's when he asked me. I didn't immediately answer him – I actually thought he had been paid off by Malfoy and the rest of the Slytherins to toy with me – but he continued to ask me everyday of the following week. When I finally realised he was being sincere I said I'd go with him because it had become painfully obvious no one else was going to ask me." A fresh blush travelled along her cheekbones, blossoming into a bright red stain that marred her face. At all costs she avoided looking at Fred and did her very best to resist the temptation of peering into his beautiful eyes, eyes that made her feel incredibly stripped and laid bare for him to see. If she did she was quite certain that tears would ambush her in a mutinous rebellion against the strong-armed emotions that were holding them captive. So she waited with bated breath and an endless stream of worrisome thoughts.

Beside her, Fred exhaled a low sigh that sounded of relief and she was so thrilled by the sound of it and the idea of him responding and of finally being rid of the attention she was currently receiving. She angled her body on the wobbly stool, facing him as he opened his mouth to speak but before he could utter one lousy syllable another's voice called to her.

"Mistress Granger! How lovely to see you again!"

Hermione whirled around so fast that she very nearly fell from her perch atop the stool and would have if Fred hadn't managed to react with reflexes that only came from years of playing Quidditch and caught her hip, pulling her up and, incidentally, closer to him. She moved quicker than she ever had and disentangled herself from Fred, one again refusing to meet his eyes or look at him as she could feel the most curious of blushes blooming along her chest, neck, and cheeks. It felt like wildfire but it burned with a cool undertone that had her skin rising with goosebumps.

As if suddenly remembering why she had almost toppled over in the first place, Hermione raised her head and beamed brilliantly at the creature standing before her, a mere ten feet away. "Dobby!" she exclaimed and hastily launched towards the friendly Elf. Dropping to her knees, she wrapped her arms around his frail, little shoulders and hugged him tightly. "It's so great to see you! I didn't even know you worked here," she said as she pulled back, her wide smile dropping slightly. "Speaking of which, why are you – I thought Harry had you freed?" Hermione's brow furrowed while a rush of angry confusion washed through her. Harry wouldn't have lied about that, she was positive and she'd seen the Elf on a few occasions outside of Hogwarts. But why in Godric's name was Dobby in the Kitchens, then? It just didn't make a lick of sense.

Dobby stumbled backward, tripping over his vividly red trainers, and wrung his hands nervously. "Dobby is freed, miss, but Dobby was lonely and cold and had nowhere to go so Master Dumbledore asked Dobby to help around Hogwarts School." He looked at her with his wide, green eyes shining and a happy grin on his pointed face. "But Dobby is treated very well at Hogwarts, very well indeed! He is paid a whole Galleon every week and has one day off a month if he wishes!" he announced excitedly and Hermione could not do anything but smile joyfully. If he was being paid and allowed time to rest if needed, she would not berate the poor Elf for getting roped back into working for witches and wizards.

The new found knowledge of Professor Dumbledore's treatment of the House Elf also renewed hope inside Hermione. If someone as powerful and respected as Albus Dumbledore could be nice and genteel with the House Elves, then surely a few others could as well. She idly wondered if she could get him to join the Society for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare; he really would be a valuable asset to her compaign.

"Well," she replied in a softer tone, "as long as you're happy, Dobby, I won't try to hinder your work in the castle."

"Thanking you ever so much, Mistress Granger!"

"Oh, Dobby, please. You can call me Hermione if you'd like."

"Dobby does like Hermione much, much better than Mistress Granger! Much better, yes."

"Thank you, Dobby."

She brought her hands forward, catching Dobby's face between them and leaned down to press a tender, affectionate kiss atop his greyish-green head. Hermione then raised herself from the floor still smiling and beaming at the lovely House Elf and bade him goodbye just seconds before he Disapparated with a loud crack after giving her a wonky and off-balanced bow. In Hermione's opinion there was nothing quite as adorable as Dobby, the House Elf.

She stared at the place the little fellow had been standing with fondness for an immeasurable slot of time, only looking away when Fred's voice beckoned her.

"Mistress Granger, eh? Sounds rather kinky for such an innocent prefect in the making."

Hermione rounded, intentions to glare and say something truly amazing and witty coursing through her, but stopped short when she saw Fred's face. His expression was probably the strangest she'd ever seen; a mix of what looked like admiration, skepticism, and possibly a trace of lust. The last, she was sure, was a mistake but he still looked hilarious and she couldn't resist doubling over in hysterics. Warmth spread through her when she heard his deep, rumbling laugh join rather harmoniously with her own high-pitched giggling.

"Anyway," he continued when they had finally re-emerged from their joint laughter, wiping tears of mirth from their eyes, "as I was saying before we took a swim in the pool of insanity, I know you didn't shag that dunderhead." His voice was low, firm and was dripping with confidence and clarity.

All traces of smiles and humour and incredibly good feelings instantly fell away from Hermione, tension leaking slowly into the atmosphere. For half a mo' she couldn't comprehend the words that had come from his mouth, the letters that formed those words, or the intonation of his voice. Then, with the force of a hundred hippogriffs, realisation smacked into her. "Oh," she said so softly even she could hardly hear it. Clearing her throat in hopes of relocating her voice, she tried again. "Thank you. Not many people seem to be as trusting." Hermione's thoughts immediately circled around Ron as soon as the words left her mouth and she sighed sadly. Not twenty-four hours had passed since she had discovered just how hurtful he could be and she was already missing the warmth of their friendship.

"Yes, well, Ron's a pillock and a blind one at that. Anyone with some semblance of intelligence can obviously see that you're not that type of girl, you don't sleep with a bloke simply because he showed you some interest."

Fred was surprisingly astute and intuitive, Hermione decided.

"You sound pretty resolved."

"Of course I am. After all, I was the lucky gent you spent the night with that evening and judging by the way I found you, all messy over another guy and such, I think it's a safe call to say you definitely were not testing the durability of your bed."

"If that's how you want to describe that night, then I suggest you re-familiarise yourself with the definition of lucky."

Another bemused chortle sounded from Fred's chest, a broad and goofy smile riding his lips. "Granger, you so dearly need to minimise your vocabulary. You sound like a bleedin' textbook. Or worse yet, you sound like McGonagall," he commented between barks of laughter.

With a half-hearted glare, Hermione ignored his jibe and instead said something that she had been wanting to since Christmas. "About that night, by the way, I've been meaning to thank you for not only consoling me but also for your discretion. Both were unexpected but appreciated, so ta." Hermione hated how incredibly timid her voice sounded and how, while she spoke, her body trembled with the effects of her sleep deprivation as well as the sincerity she was desperate to convey. Still, she found that even a wobbly tiding of gratitude was better than none at all.

Fred shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his trousers with a shrug and his grin widened evermore, his brilliantly white teeth flashing at her. "Trust me, Mistress Granger," she groaned at this, the sound filled with annoyance and displeasure, "spending time with you isn't at all as horrible as you think." He then proceeded to wink garishly at her, sending a fresh wave of heat across her cheeks.

"Thank you?" she replied, unsure if there was actually a compliment hidden under the guise of sarcasm but she thought there might have been.

"Any time, Granger. Any time."

The two of them lapsed back into their strange, friendly silence. Hermione walked back over to their table and sat down atop her stool, hand curling around her discarded mug of coffee. She sipped from her cup while he busied himself with a roll, picking it to pieces with his fingers until it was nothing more than a pile of baked grain. Silently she watched him from the corners of her eyes, mind spinning with questions about his odd and seemingly distracted behaviour. This was not the Fred Weasley she had grown up in the presence of and she so badly wanted to know what was plaguing him and his thoughts. She had an idea what it might be, why he was so upset, and probably why he hadn't slept. Thinking of it, Hermione slipped her hand into her robe and stroked the rough parchment inside her pocket. She wanted to ask him about what his and George's dealings with Bagman entailed but she was frankly scared of how he'd react to her knowing about any of it and reading the letter. Weasleys were not known for their infinite patience so much as their temperamental outbursts. Ron had blown up at her for small and ridiculous matters quite a bit in the time they've known each other, who was to say Fred wouldn't lose his marbles when he found out that she was onto him and his twin?

Honestly, she was such a bloody coward sometimes that it truly astounded her that the Sorting Hat put her in Gryffindor.

Slowly, uncertainly, Hermione fished the letter from her pocket and laid it on the tabletop, sliding it across the distance between herself and the ginger boy sitting next to her. Her hand visibly shook when she released the heavy parchment, pulling it safely back to rest in her lap. Hermione's eyes were trained on Fred, waiting in silence to gauge his reaction, and she felt her heart-rate pick up slightly when he finally grabbed the blasted paper.

"What's this?" he asked without unfolding it "A love letter, perhaps? Why, Hermione, I had no idea you had such affections for me! This is all just so sudden, I don't know what to do!" he exclaimed, his voice ridiculously choked with fake joyful tears and feigned shock.

Despite her trepidation, Hermione laughed lightly and rolled her eyes. "If I actually had feelings for you, do you really think that I'd risk writing them in a note that could very easily be stolen from either of us and then read aloud to the entirety of this school? That's utter nonsense." She was thankful that Fred was still joking, still nothing but smiles and wry humour. It made her nerves cease their burning for a couple of seconds, giving her a reprieve.

"Fair enough, but there's no need to hide your feelings for me, Granger. I'm a babe and everyone wants me so it isn't too much of a surprise."

"Fred, just shut up and read the bloody letter. This is rather important."

"Yes, Mistress Granger," he retorted as his long fingers began to unfold and smooth out the letter. "Y'know when you get all bossy like that, I get tingly inside." He shot her a smile that was full of suggestion and waggled his eyebrows, making Hermione roll her eyes again and try to hide her reddened face. She was seriously beginning to hate that she'd braided her hair back as her wild curls would have served as a much better curtain to hide the never-ending blushes that Fred had such a knack for triggering.

Peering at him, she watched as he redirected his attention to the parchment in his hands, his face dropping into a glower as he read over the familiar words. Hermione figured that as worn as the note was when she first picked it up, the boys had most likely read it over and over, again and again. Fred no doubt knew what she had found just by the heading. Taking a long draw from her coffee, she set it down gently and swivelled on the stool, pointing her body at him and exposing herself to the inevitable outcome so as to not make him too incredibly leery of her actions.

Fred's jaw clenched, his throat moved with a forceful swallow, and his bright eyes darkened almost imperceptibly. All of which were indicators of wrath and yet Hermione still felt safe and warm, if just a little nervous. Fred wasn't a person to jump to wild conclusions and give in to whatever current of emotion was riding through him. He wasn't Ron, she trusted him not to act too rashly.

"Where did you – how did you get this, Hermione?" he asked in a strained voice, setting the infernal letter on the table and pushing it as far away from him as he could as though it were a poisonous snake.

Sighing, Hermione looked at him sadly. "I found it this morning. It was an accident, I had tripped and was trying to right myself when I saw it and my curious nature got the best of me. I'm sorry, Fred. I know I wasn't meant to see it."

"It isn't that George and I didn't want anyone to see it, we just don't want the wrong people to find out what we're up to and turn us in to the Ministry or Dumbledore."

"I wouldn't do that. I know that if weighed, Bagman's grievances would be heftier than yours. I also already railed you and George for gambling in the first place and I'm honestly too exhausted to lecture you on responsibility again. Instead, I was thinking I might help you get your money back."

Awe contorted Fred's facial features as he turned to look at her, but he quickly masked it by narrowing his eyes playfully and quirking a single eyebrow. "How extraordinarily devious of you. What'd you have in mind?" he questioned carefully but Hermione could hear his barely concealed intrigue shining through.

She grinned. "Well, lucky for us, Mr. Bagman has been very open about his admiration for one Harry James Potter and I happen to be a master at brewing Polyjuice Potion."

"Ah, do go on."

Hermione did not need any more encouragement than those few words and she immediately launched into a detailed plan of attack. "It's quite simple, really, but it will time consuming. You'll need another month's patience and we'll have to be incredibly discreet." She had honestly been scheming against Ludovic Bagman since she had read that damned letter and as soon as it was perfected in her mind, she had desperately wanted to tell Fred that she was indeed on to him and his brother and also that she wanted to help exact their own personal brand of justice. "We will need a lock of Harry's hair for it to work and then comes the difficult task of deciding which of us will become him. Once that's been decided though, whichever of us has transformed will merely ask Bagman to return yours and George's money. If asking doesn't prove useful then we'll threaten him." Hermione said all of this as though it were the most obvious and casual of things in all the universe and took another drink of her coffee, draining the cup.

Fred looked at her for a long moment, his forget-me-not eyes staring unblinkingly. She could understand his surprise; she was so normally seen as a rule loving freak that any contradictory evidence was often overlooked. However, people were extremely foolish if they truly believed she never broke any of the school rules and Wizarding Laws whenever she was helping Harry overcome whatever slight was after him. In fact the three of them – her, Ron, and Harry – had participated in such illegal activity that it was quite a shock they hadn't yet been thrown into a cell in Azkaban.

Finally after what could have been mere minutes or a couple decades, the Weasley beside her spoke in an uncommonly gentle voice that she was only just realising she was beginning to hear more and more frequently. "Thank you, Hermione. I can't imagine it would be easy for you to use your best mate in such a way and that you are willing to do so just for me and George really says a lot about who you are. Don't let anyone, especially my barmpot of a brother, ever tell you that you're less than a bleeding godsend." Fred then reached over and took her small hands in his big ones, squeezing them in a manner that sent a cacophony of butterflies flying madly about her stomach.

"It's what friends do, Fred," she muttered weakly, oblivious to the sad disappointment that flickered through his eyes at the term.

Clearing his throat a bit too loudly, Fred detached his hands and looked down at the Muggle watch she often saw on his wrist. She wasn't one hundred percent sure, but Hermione thought the trinket had been a gift from Mr. Weasley a few years ago after he had managed to successfully mend the cracked time-teller. Her eyes followed suit and glanced at the watch face, taking note that there was still a good half hour before she needed to be in class – there was no need to go to the Great Hall for the morning feast if she'd already eaten – and she found herself wondering if Fred would be spending the last bit of free time with her or not.

"Are you going to go find your better half, then?" she asked.

Instead of laughing fondly or any such expected reaction, Fred sighed and ran his hand first over his face and then through his mane of ginger locks. Hermione thought he looked rather pained and sad and she found that it hurt her to see him so forlorn, which was most puzzling. "No, I don't suppose I am," he answered darkly.

Hermione's brow stitched itself together with a frown. He didn't want to see his twin? Fred Weasley did not want to go laugh and joke and prank with George Weasley? Had the entire world suddenly gone topsy-turvy, or, perhaps had she taken a turn 'round the twist? None of it made any bloody sense. None, at all. "Did something happen, Fred?" she said cautiously, not wanting to further upset him or seem like she was sticking her nose into business in which it did not belong.

Fred turned to look at her, his eyes dim and sad and a weak smile on his lips. "Yes, Hermione, something did happen. Something that hurt me more than I thought it would and less than it really should."

Spectacular, the boy was speaking in riddles that made even less sense than his avoiding his brother. Hermione's frown instantly deepened. "Well," she started, "whatever it is, I'm sure the two of you will mend eventually. I mean, you can't exactly keep cross and avoid him forever."

"I'm not mad at George. Hell, I don't hold him at all responsible for this mess."

"What mess, exactly, are we talking about?"

Fred looked at her again, this time as if she were blind and four forms of crazy. "I'm talking about Angelina kissing George, of course." He had said the words nonchalantly, giving an air of disinterest and complete lack of caring, but Hermione wasn't fooled for a second. She had caught the torrent of hurt that flashed in his azure orbs.

"She what?" Hermione whispered, tone coloured with disbelief. Angelina Johnson and Fred had been 'dating' since he asked her to the Yule Ball and had been sighted once or twice snogging in the Commons or simply holding hands as they walked the halls, George trailing behind with the twins' good friend Lee Jordan. She felt sick thinking about how badly that kind of betrayal would burn; your partner snogging your own sibling. Suddenly a vicious thought flitted through Hermione's mind, one that made the churning in the pit of her stomach amplify tenfold. "George didn't pursue her, did he? I mean, he wouldn't have kissed her on his own?" Gods be good, she hoped it wasn't true. If it were, she was absolutely positive that Fred nor George would ever properly heal their relationship.

"What? No! I thought you were smart, Granger? Why in the seven hells would you think my brother was capable of doing something so heartless?" Fred exclaimed heatedly, glaring fiercely at Hermione. She'd never seen him quite so riled up and it would have frightened her if she was at all capable of feeling anything other than the flood of relief that came with knowing her suspicions were not true.

Hermione sighed, shaking her head to clear the muddle of thoughts clouding her mind and also trying to rid herself of the nasty feelings her morbid thinking had instilled inside her. "I was only making sure, Frederick, there was no reason to take my head off," she bit back. "Would you tell me what happened so I don't risk my health any further by provoking whatever fiend it is inside you that just surfaced?"

He eyed her warily. "No reason? You only just accused my twin of trying to snatch my girlfriend," he seethed. A few minutes of tense silence followed his angry voice before Hermione slowly saw the hateful flame in his eyes die away to little more than a flicker and he nodded his head. "I'm sorry for snapping at you. I'll tell you what I saw, but only on the condition that you don't breathe a word of it to anyone and you tell me what happened last night that had you and my dear sister all ruffled. Deal?" he spoke and she could still hear a faint trace of not only anger but anguish as well.

Hermione pursed her lips as her thoughts danced back to the memories of the previous night and the horrors it had entailed, her mind's eyes conjuring up Ron's distrusting expression while her ears pulsed with the sounds of Viktor's untruthful words. "Fine," she agreed.

"Fine," Fred echoed. He squared his shoulders and inhaled deeply, his eyes dulling with images, memories she couldn't see. "I had been looking for George – we were supposed to be mulling over new ideas for getting Bagman to give us our Galleons back – but I couldn't find him anywhere. On my way back to the Tower it occurred to me that he might have gone to the library in hopes of finding inspiration there, so naturally I shifted course and made my way to the fifth floor," his tone was soft and pained, his words hurried and pushed together as though Fred was trying to get through his explanation as swift as possible and out of the memories that had taken hold of him. Still, she appreciated that he was even telling her what happened, let alone the premise of the event. "When I got to the library I didn't hesitate in scouring the stuffy room for him and I'd just come to a small nook towards the back when I saw them. Angelina was whispering something in his ear and George looked panicked and sickened by whatever it was she was saying and before I could blink, she was bloody snogging him and he was trying to push her off. I didn't stick around though. I turned tail and left as fast as I could and arrived back in the Common Room just before you and Ginny burst through the door looking like you'd just been outrunning banshees." Within seconds of finishing his speech Fred's eyes once again became seeing, his blue depths regaining focus. He flashed her with quick, half-hearted shadow of a smile that she returned.

She hated Angelina inexplicably and felt more sorrow for Fred and his brother than she ever had in her life. It was sometimes confusing to tell the two men apart from one another but it wasn't impossible and as such Angelina's actions were inexcusable. "I'm so sorry, Fred," she said and reached out to grab one of his hands, giving it a squeeze like he had done with hers. She was rewarded with a slightly less grim smile. "Angelina's more of a fool than Ronald if she couldn't plainly see that she was with the wrong brother."

"That's improbable, Granger. No one is as dim as dear Ronnie," Fred ribbed and Hermione beamed at his resilient sense of humour. No matter the slight, it seemed that Fred Weasley would forever retain the ability to make a joke.

"All the same, she's a tart and you and poor George deserve better," Hermione replied primly. "How a girl can confuse her boyfriend with someone else is beyond me."

"Well, I don't know if you know this, Granger, but George and me share a slight resemblance. Nothing too major, of course, just the same crooked nose and fabulous cheekbones."

Hermione rolled her eyes, but could not keep a smile from lighting up her face. He really was such a silly man sometimes. "I honestly had no idea, Fred. Thank you for informing me. Anyway, the point I was trying to make was, that she still should have been able to tell if you were you and George was George. If not instinctively then physically." At his confused look that consisted of nothing more than two knitted red brows and a wondering bemused half-smirk she continued, "There's not much to defer to physically but there are a few tell-tale signs of who is who. For instance, you have a scar on the bridge of your nose and George has a beauty mark on the left of his throat. More than that though, both of you have a different presence and f-feel different to be a-around." She blushed and stammered through the last bit as Fred regarded her with an expression that was both knowing and cheeky. Knowing of what, she had no clue, but she kind of suspected she didn't need nor want to know what he was thinking.

Fred laughed loudly, throwing his head back and vibrating with the intensity. Hermione quite loved when he laughed like this, loved the way he was so open and willing to share his amusement or excitement with the world around him, loved that his wide smile always inspired others to smile and laugh along with him. He was infectious in the most liberating of ways.

"Leave it to Hermione Granger to make being a twin sound as factual and boring as one of old Binns' lectures on Goblins!" he exclaimed in between bouts of chuckling. "But really," he stated once he had gotten enough control of his uproarious laughter to speak clearly, "it's nice to know that someone in this castle knows the difference. It's exhausting and more than slightly maddening, having to correct everyone all the time. Don't get me wrong, Georgie and I enjoy switching names every now again for a bit of fun, but it gets stale after a while."

"Right, well, happy to be of service."

"It's your go, Granger. What happened last night that had you and Gin looking frightful and pissed?"

With a resigned sigh, Hermione launched into her tale of nightly woes. She told him about what he had already observed in the Great Hall – Neville's belief of her innocence and Ron's betrayal – and then regaled him with crying on Ginny's shoulder and then finally telling him all about overhearing Viktor and the mystery man discussing her bedroom techniques. Fred listened to her intently, never once interrupting, but she had noticed that his face would darken with every detail she divulged until he finally looked ready to seriously injure someone. "When Ginny and I returned to Gryffindor Tower I, as you no doubt saw, stormed up the stairs. Gin tried to get me to talk to Harry about the new rift between Ron and I, but he has enough problems and I don't want to add to the weight he bears," she ended her story with a ragged sigh.

Fred was quiet, his face pensive and lined with shadows. He looked pained and torn between two very difficult options that he seemed to be heavily weighing in his mind. As she watched him, Hermione momentarily wished she could peer into his mind but as far as she knew, Legilimency was not permitted on Hogwarts' grounds and was essentially illegal. Not to mention she had no idea how to perform the necessary charm. Regardless, she was entranced and curious and left waiting, wanting.

Just as Hermione was losing hope that he'd ever respond and was on the verge of grabbing her things and going, Fred sighed and raked his hand through his hair, pulling at the ends. "I don't even know what to say, Hermione. I really don't. I want to apologise to you but I'm not Ron and I haven't caused you any pain that I'm aware of and I'm so angry at Krum and whoever else was in that hall that I could curse them without a single drop of remorse. I knew you were going through some tough shite, but I didn't think it was this awful." Another sigh and another pull of his hair. "I wish I knew something that would make it all better." He sounded like a lost child and she was struck with a thick wave of affection for the boy as it dawned on her that he sounded like that because he wanted to help her, he wanted to make her happy.

"Fred," she said softly and smiled at him, "don't you see that have done something to make it all seem so much better and easier to deal with? You've made me smile more this morning than I have in a week and for that I will always be thankful. You're right to not apologise because you aren't Ronald and even if you were, you still wouldn't tell me you're sorry because that just isn't who Ron Weasley is. Don't try to go after Viktor either, it isn't worth the possible consequences and he'll someday get exactly what he deserves for being such a prat."

She glanced down at his watch and sighed. If they didn't leave they would be late to their first classes and Hermione really didn't need the added stress of knowing she had messed up the second half of her Fourth Year by staying in the Kitchens for too long. "For now," she commented while she stood and offered Fred her hand, pulling him up, "let's just focus on getting through the day."

Before you bombard me with questions, yes. Yes, Fred has some feelings for Hermione already but she doesn't yet realise she might have some for him nor that he has a torch for her. None of that will be revealed this early. Patience my young padowans, I promise it'll be well worth it.

Okay, well, this is later than I initially expected but in my own defence this chapter would not stop being written and spanning across six pages more than the last three. Seriously guys, I love you so much that I have given you an extra six bloody pages! Granted, they're not all that fantastic, but still. It counts.

So, I have to say that I squealed like a fangirl when I got all of your reviews and favourites and follows because it let me know that you're all still alive and with this story even though some of you thought I had abandoned it. You guys just rock!

You all know that I love and crave those sparkling reviews so give them to me and I'll give you a new chapter. Deal?

Loves, C.