A/N: I'm a terrible, awful person. I apologize for the horrendous delay . . . but I thank you very much for continuing to follow this story. I will try my best to not disappoint again . . . but, knowing me, I cannot make any guarantees. You guys are the best, most loyal, awesome fans in the whole wide world! Thanks a million times, in advance ;) As always, I own nothing. Hell, I hardly own my own time to be able to write . . . .
"You did something . . . said something to her, didn't you?"
Ron's voice was low as he stared accusingly at Fred.
When Fred didn't answer, Ron turned his attention to George. "Didn't you?"
Harry stopped picking at his porridge, looked up, and rolled his eyes.
The four of them were sitting, isolated at the end of the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall. They had woken early, before most of their housemates (who were busy sleeping off the festivities of the ball) and were now grabbing a quick breakfast.
Well, some of them were grabbing a quick breakfast.
An uneaten plate sat in front of Ron, completely untouched. He had spent the entire morning arguing with his brothers—quietly reliving the events of last night . . . speaking under his breath in quiet, hushed words.
Fred and George, one sitting on either side of Ron, exchanged a worried look that only lasted a moment.
George's face smoothed instantly as he shrugged nonchalantly. "We didn't say anything to her, mate."
"Then why didn't she come back?" Ron was whining now.
Harry, sitting across the table, understood suddenly and dropped his spoon in exasperation. It clattered noisily into his bowl and the Weasley brothers looked up in surprise.
"Really?" Harry felt an incredulous chuckle leave his lips. "This is what all of this is about?"
Ron's eyes widened slightly. He swallowed thickly. "This is what what is about?"
Harry lifted his shoulders. "Does it really matter why she didn't come back? I mean, she's a big girl . . . and you really didn't do anything to try to keep her there."
Ron gaped at Harry, his mouth slack.
Sighing, Harry ran a hand through his shaggy black hair. "Look, I want you to be happy . . . I really do . . . but don't you think that if something was meant to happen, it would have already?"
Ron's cheeks flushed bright pink, but his face remained calm. "What do you mean?"
Harry waved an absentminded hand. "Oh, come on, Ron. It's Hogwarts worst kept secret! We all know that you want her. Why don't you just tell her how you feel?"
All color now drained from Ron's face.
Trying to shrug it off, he lifted an indifferent shoulder. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Harry lifted his eyebrows. "Sure you don't."
Ron's eyes shifted to the table top.
Harry sighed once more. "Ron, I'm going to say this because I care about you . . . . Just talk to her. Tell her how you feel. What's the worst that could happen?"
Ron picked up his fork and rolled it between his fingers.
"Sometimes you have to work for what you want."
Ron head snapped up.
Looking at his best friend, his eyes narrowed.
Harry lifted his hands in surrender. "And that's all I'm going to say, I swear."
Grabbing his goblet, he lifted it to his lips and quickly swallowed the rest of his pumpkin juice.
Standing, he stepped over the bench and silently left the table, waving over his shoulder as he exited the Great Hall.
Seething, Ron watched him leave, his eyebrows knit tightly over his eyes.
He couldn't believe Harry's nerve . . . couldn't believe how he said those things to him . . . how he had feigned friendship as he spoke the words that he knew would cut straight to Ron's core.
But even after the door had closed behind Harry, Ron knew that he couldn't be angry at his friend.
Harry was right . . . he was always right . . . . But that didn't make the situation any easier.
Shoulders slumping, he turned his attention from the door to the Great Hall to George. "Am I really that obvious?"
George caught Fred's eye momentarily before turning toward his younger brother. "Yeah," he shrugged matter-of-factly.
The word shot through Ron's heart like an arrow.
"Oh, my God . . . ."
Dejected, Ron dropped his head to the table with a loud thunk.
Fred clapped him on the shoulder light heartedly. "Oh, c'mon. It's not that bad, mate."
"I want to die . . . ." Without lifting his head, Ron's voice was muffled as he spoke directly into the table top.
"Maybe you should just talk to her . . . like Harry said."
"Talk to whom? What's wrong with Ron?"
Ron's head snapped up in terror.
Hermione was quietly sliding onto the bench across the table from the Weasley brothers—Ginny quickly following suit.
"Nothing." Ron's voice cracked and he cleared his throat hastily. "Nothing's wrong."
"Ron wants to know where you disappeared to last night." Fred grinned across the table at Hermione.
Ron kicked Fred—hard—under the table and Fred cried out.
Hermione's eyes opened in surprise. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Fred shot Ron a warning glance. Smiling thinly, he cleared his throat. "So, um . . . last night?"
Fred caught George's eye out of his peripherals.
Sitting rigidly, Ron's jaw tightened, but he behaved.
Hermione put down the piece of toast that she was nibbling on. "I . . . um . . . got a sudden headache and decided to lie down for awhile." She shrugged, "I guess I fell asleep."
Relaxing, Fred clapped Ron on the shoulder. "There, you see? There was nothing to worry about."
Hermione turned her attention to Ron, her eyes questioning. "You were worried about me?"
Ron shook his head vigorously. "No."
Hermione frowned at his quick reaction.
"No . . . I mean, I was . . . but I wasn't trying to keep tabs on you . . . I just . . . I mean . . . ." Ron was beginning to flounder, his face turning scarlet.
"He was saving a dance for you, love. And when you didn't come back, he was just worried for your wellbeing." George chimed in as he draped his arm protectively around Ron's shoulders.
Hermione smiled lightly and caught Ron's eye. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize that you were waiting for me. But I do appreciate your concern."
Ron turned his eyes to the table top once more. "No problem."
"Next time, okay?"
Ron nodded. "Yeah. Next time."
Pushing his plate back, Ron suddenly stood up. He cleared his throat. "Well, um . . . if you'll excuse me . . . I have some things to attend to."
Stepping over the bench, Ron didn't wait for an answer before he began his way across the Great Hall toward the door.
Fred and George exchanged a look before standing themselves. Nodding toward Hermione and Ginny, they quickly left the table and hurried after Ron.
They caught him halfway up to the Gryffindor Common Room.
Breathing heavily, George tried to catch his breath as he grabbed Ron's arm and feel into step beside him.
"Well, that was kind of rude."
Ron shrugged away from his grip. "Leave me alone."
Panting, Fred came up on his other side. "Harry's right, you know . . . you're never going to be happy unless you take some initiative."
"I don't need another father, thanks."
Fred shook his head. "We're not trying to be your father, Ron . . . we're just trying to be your brothers."
George nodded in agreement. "Yeah, your brothers who are truly worried about your wellbeing."
"Your brothers who are here to help you."
Ron narrowed his eyes. "I don't need your help."
Fred clicked his tongue. "Oh, now you see . . . there's where you're wrong."
George snapped his fingers, his face suddenly lighting up. "Say, we've still got some of our Amber Aphrodisiac left over . . . we can give it another go."
Ron shook his head violently. "No . . . it's repulsive and it was stupid of me to listen to you in the first place. You caught me in a moment of weakness."
George's eyes tightened in thought. "Isn't every moment in your life a moment of weakness?"
Ron shot him a dirty look.
Exhaling through his nose, he pushed past his brothers, stormed up the remaining steps and spat out the password to get into the Common Room.
Ducking through the portal, Ron crossed the room and sat moodily on the couch.
Fred and George followed closely and settled easily on either side of Ron.
Fred slung an arm around Ron's shoulders. "You must forgive our untactful brother, Ron . . . George can be a little bit vindictive at times. Perhaps it was a bit early for a charm of that caliber . . . but don't worry, we've got plenty of ideas up our sleeves."
"Oh no . . . no more tricks, no more conniving ideas . . . no more hair-brained schemes. I'm done with it all."
"But this could be different, bro . . . we've got something really good . . . and we're not just talking about sex this time . . . we're talking about the real thing—"
"We promise that we can get her to fall in love with you."
Ron's mouth dropped open. "You guys just don't change. You can't possibly expect me to believe that, do you?"
Fred and George nodded simultaneously.
"Look. It's apparent now that you just weren't quite ready for last night. But, we've got something else that may be a little more to your liking."
Ron sighed. "No . . . I don't even want to hear it."
"But this is different . . . It's just so simple, that there's no chance it can't work. You've got to believe us!"
"I'm done believing you . . ."
Ron held up his hand to stop his brother. "No. It's not going to happen."
Staring blankly across the room, Ron shook his head.
Fred exhaled heavily. "Fine . . . have it your way. We were just trying to help . . . because we're your brothers . . . ."
George chimed in. "And we want to see you happy. But, be our guest . . . continue to do what you're doing, because . . ."
"It's obviously working so well for you."
"Oh, and please remember to invite us to the wedding . . . that is, if you ever get the balls enough to talk to her." George stood up haughtily. "Come along, Fred."
Fred stood. "We won't bother you again . . . let us know how everything works out."
Together, they began crossing the Common Room toward the dormitory stairs, their heads bent toward one another as they spoke in whispers.
Ron watched them leave, their words swirling maniacally through his head.
He hated them . . . hated that they had this power over him. Hated how they could manipulate his thoughts with the simplest words. Hated how they knew exactly what to say to get him to second guess everything he stood for. But mostly, he hated how they knew exactly what to say to push all of the right buttons.
Biting his tongue, Ron cursed himself quietly before standing.
Fred and George turned, with matching smug smiles.
Oh, how he wanted to wipe those looks off of their god-damned faces . . . .
Ron cleared his throat. "What did you have in mind?"
Fred clapped his hands together, an excited grin spreading across his face. "Excellent. We knew you would come around."
Crossing the room easily, Fred sat down once more and slapped Ron on the shoulder.
Ron glanced at him out of the corner of his eye, silently hating himself for the words that were about to leave his mouth. "So, what were you thinking?"
"Glad you asked." George crossed and sat down on Ron's other side. "You see, it's quite simple . . . ."
Fred nodded enthusiastically "Super simple. We just need," Fred held his first finger and thumb an inch apart, "a little trust from you."
Ron rolled his eyes.
Ignoring him, George continued. "It's the holidays, right?"
Ron nodded suspiciously.
"And, during the holidays, what symbol traditionally needs no explanation to anyone?"
Ron stared blankly.
Fred snapped his fingers. "C'mon, man . . . stick with us. You know this one."
Ron's forehead scrunched in thought. "Um . . . presents?"
George sighed. "Think about it . . . . Imagine parties and decorations . . . and doorways."
Ron's eyebrows furrowed. He shrugged an irritated shoulder. "Look, I honestly don't kn—" His eyes widened in comprehension. "Wait . . . are you talking about mistletoe?"
George smiled. "Not just any mistletoe . . . ."
Fred waggled his fingers, emphasizing the word, "enchanted mistletoe."
Ron laughed—a cold, hard barking laugh. "Un-fucking-believable . . . ." Shaking his head, he pushed himself to his feet.
Fred's face fell. "What?"
Ron turned toward his brothers. "I can't believe that I've been sitting here, letting you speak and eating up all of your bullshit when all along, your big 'plan' is a fucking plant?"
"Not just any plant, mate."
"Oh, right . . . an enchanted plant." Ron mimicked Fred's hand gesture sarcastically.
"You have no idea."
Ron crossed his arms tightly across his chest. "Then please . . . enlighten me."
Fred and George briefly glanced at each other. "Sorry, can't do that."
"Fine . . . ." Ron's jaw clenched, "then, no."
He turned to leave, but Fred dove from the couch and grabbed his arm. "Oh, come on . . . we can't tell you all of our secrets. This is where the trust comes in."
"I've never trusted you . . . ." Ron looked toward George, "either of you."
"Fine . . . okay. We'll give you that. But, seriously . . . just one more time. We swear that there's no harm and it's completely foolproof."
Ron pursed his lips. "That's what you said last time."
"Yeah, but this time, we mean it."
Ron's eyes widened in horror. "What?"
Leaping from the couch, George cleared his throat hastily and grabbed Ron's other arm. "No! No . . . no . . . ." George pffted loudly. "What Fred meant is that we are so sure that this will guarantee your happiness that, if it doesn't deliver, you can disown us from brotherhood and never speak to us again."
Fred nodded. "Yeah. Satisfaction100% guaranteed. Besides, where's your sense of adventure?"
Ron licked his lips in thought. "100% guaranteed?"
Fred and George nodded.
Ron sighed heavily, his shoulders dropping. "Fine . . . but I swear this is the last time." He emphasized his words with a pointed glare.
George held up his hands as if in surrender. "Last time . . . of course."
"And if it doesn't work, I will never trust you again."
Fred flashed a boy-scout sign with his fingers. "Never trust again . . . right."
"No, I mean it . . . I will never speak to you ever again."
"Sure . . . sure. But you see, there's no worry, because it will work."
Ron rolled his eyes. "Fine. What do I have to do?"
George flashed a dazzling smile. "Just be up in the Western Tower after sunset tonight."
Fred slapped him on the back. "We'll take care of the rest."
Laughing, Fred and George ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time.
Ron watched until they disappeared around the corner. Taking a step backwards, he fell onto the couch with a sigh and dropped his face into his hands.
They had fucking done it again . . . .