And The Truth Shall Set You Free?
"Ron, wait!" George ran, trying to catch up, but Ron refused to turn, his strides long and angry. "C'mon, man. Just slow down . . . let me talk to you!"
Ron had reached the Fat Lady's portrait, but he didn't say the password. Instead, he spun aggressively, his eyes shooting fiery daggers at his brother. "Oh, you want to talk now? Okay, let's talk: What the fuck was that back there?" He accentuated his words by pointing vehemently in the direction of the Western Tower.
George stopped short, panting. Placing his hands on his knees, he bent at the waist and, trying to catch his breath, he shook his head. "I don't know, Ron . . . but I know that it's not what you think."
Ron lifted his hands, his palms turned up toward the ceiling. "Not what I think? I think that Hermione was sucking face with that degenerate Malfoy and all because of your foolproof plan."
George swallowed thickly before straightening. "Ron, really . . . . It is foolproof—but you see that's the problem. Malfoy . . . well, I don't know why, but Malfoy just happened to be there instead of you."
"Just happened to be there? Is that what you're claiming?"
George looked up sharply. "What?"
Ron's voice dropped menacingly. "You heard me."
"You think that we planned this whole thing? You think that Fred and I went to Malfoy and devised this master scheme?"
Ron lifted his eyebrows. "You tell me."
George's eye narrowed and his words held a sense of warning. "Ron . . . ."
But Ron was shaking his head furiously. "No . . . you know what? I think you did do this on purpose. I think you're just trying to fuck me over."
"Why would you say that?"
"Oh c'mon. We all know that you live to prank and I have a recurring role as the butt of your jokes. So, why not take it to the next level and just see how badly you could make it hurt."
"Ron, you don't know what you're talking about."
Ron laughed—a cynical, short laugh. "Oh, that's right. I couldn't possibly know what I'm talking about because I'm too stupid."
George frowned. "I didn't say tha—"
Ron cut him off with a wave of his hand. "You didn't have to. I always knew that you two could be mean . . . but I never thought you could be this cruel. You've completely ruined my life."
"You're being totally irrational."
Ron's voice rose and he was suddenly shouting, embarrassed to feel tears forming in the corners of his eyes. "You knew how much she meant to me . . . knew how much I wanted her . . . and instead, you allowed her to fall into the arms of my greatest enemy!"
"Ron, this is not our fault."
Pacing angrily, Ron ran a hand through his unruly mop of red hair. "I just would have thought that the wellbeing of your own fucking brother would be a little more important than your stupid little schemes."
George's eyebrows knit together angrily. "You chose our help. Remember that."
Taking a large step forward, Ron stood right in front of George, his breathing hard. "Yeah, I chose your help. But last I checked, ripping my heart out and stomping on it was not help."
"Ron, you're overstepping a line here."
Ron snorted. "Oh, you want to see overstepping a line? How about this?" Taking another step forward, he stood toe to toe with George, his eyes narrowed into tiny slits.
George could feel Ron's angry, hot breath on his face, but he held his ground. "You need to back off."
Breathing heavily through his nose, Ron's hands rolled into tight fists by his sides.
George's eyes shifted to Ron's hands and then back to his face. He lifted his eyebrows in question. "What? Are you going to hit me now?"
Ron didn't answer, but his jaw tightened.
George shrugged. "Go ahead. But really, this is nobody's fault but your own." His anger was starting to show through. "Because seriously, if you wouldn't have been such a chicken shit and just asked her out in the first place, none of this would have happe—."
Without warning, Ron attacked. A scream of absolute distain ripped from his throat as his fist connected with George's jaw, cutting his brother off mid-sentence.
George stumbled backwards, far too in shock to even register the pain. He could feel heat building in his chest and, before he could stop himself, he rushed at his younger brother. Locking his arms around Ron's waist, he tackled him and they tumbled to the ground, a tangle of limbs. Rolling ferociously, they took no heed to either's wellbeing as punches started to fly.
Hermione felt like she was floating.
Reentering the castle, she descended the stairs in a daze.
Pausing, she glanced over her shoulder and caught one final glimpse of Draco. With his hands on the half wall, he was leaning casually against the stone, gazing out over the green. Just seeing his strong form—his pristine platinum hair, slicked back against his head, his broad back and shoulders, his slim waist and long legs—brought a smile to Hermione's face, and she touched her lips lightly, still able to feel his mouth against hers.
This didn't feel real. For years, she had done nothing but hate him—loathe the very fiber of his being—and she couldn't really understand what had changed. But, here she was: leaving him after another enchanted encounter.
He was so different than how she had always envisioned. He was gentle, caring, and, above all else, kind. Was it out of his character? She couldn't be sure—she had never taken the time to actually figure out his personality. She had always just assumed that he was vile, mean and, above all else, self-centered. But, regardless of how she viewed him now vs. before, this much she couldn't deny: It was a perfectly magical evening.
She didn't know why she hadn't seen it before—seen him before—but now that her eyes had finally been opened, she couldn't be happier.
She loved the way that he looked at her—how he touched her. . . how, when she was with him, he had a way to make her feel like she was the only woman in the entire world.
As she continued to drink in his silhouette, she had a sudden feeling that she should go back to him—that she had to go back to him. He was pulling at her like a magnet and her mouth went dry at the thought of being back in his arms.
Abruptly, Draco shifted his weight and turned his head, catching Hermione's gaze. Inhaling involuntarily, she felt a blush rise in her cheeks as she found herself sinking into the depths of his charcoal eyes once more.
The corner of Draco's mouth slanted upward as he gave her a very "Draco-esque" smirk.
Smiling, Hermione wiggled her fingers at him in a final goodbye. Then, chewing lightly on her fingernail, she turned and forced herself to leave.
Fred could hear shouting reverberating down the staircase and he swore under his breath. He couldn't see who the culprits were, but he didn't need to—he already knew. He had heard the same voices raised in the burrow for years and, hearing the words that were being said, he could tell that this was not going to end well.
Ignoring the burning in his lungs, he increased his pace, and began to take the stairs three at a time.
Facing the final flight of stairs, he paused momentarily to catch his breath, his hands on his knees. But when he heard the unmistakable sound of fist against flesh, he forgot about his body's need for oxygen and sprinted the remaining way, up to the landing before the Gryffindor Common Room.
George and Ron were wrapped around each other like boa constrictors, grunting and swearing as they rolled madly on the floor, fists flying.
Fred stared, his mouth slack, as George's fist connected with the side of Ron's head. Caught off guard, Ron's neck snapped to the side, but it didn't slow him down. Instead, it only seemed to fuel the fire.
Using all of his body weight, he rolled and, in a single powerful move, was straddling George, his knees pinning George's shoulders tightly to the floor. Then, scowling, he grabbed a handful of George's flaming red hair and launched blitzkrieg on George's face.
George tried to fight him off, his hands scratching at Ron's forearms, but his attempts were futile as strike after strike landed.
In a last ditch effort, George shut his eyes and struck out as hard as he could. A solid blow smashed into Ron's nose and it suddenly erupted. Blood immediately spurted out of each nostril, dripping ghoulishly down the younger brother's face, covering his skin and clothes.
Ron fell backwards off of George. Landing hard on the ground, he lifted his fingers to his nose, stunned. Blood covered his digits, and it took a moment for it to register. But, once it did, Ron narrowed his eyes menacingly. In a stunningly fast move, Ron was on his feet and was hurtling himself toward George again.
"Whoa! Whoa, now!" Rushing forward, Fred grabbed Ron's arms and pinned them behind his back, stopping him mere inches from George.
Ron pulled at his new restraints, his voice coming out in a growl. "Let me go!"
Fred looked at his twin in amazement—he had never see Ron this fired up in a fight before. George was slowly getting to his feet. Breathing heavily, his hair was disheveled, a fat lip prominent on his thin face. Using the back of his hand, he gingerly wiped the blood from his mouth.
Ron was panting angrily, still struggled to get to George, and Fred had to use all of his strength to keep them separated.
"George? What happened?"
George shook his head in disbelief. "He's gone absolutely mad."
Ron roared and Fred had to tighten his grip. "I've gone mad?"
"Okay . . . okay . . . perhaps nobody's gone mad." Fred was trying to diffuse the tension that filled the room like a thick smoke. "But honestly, I can't help you unless someone tells me what the hell is going on!"
Breathing heavily, Ron and George continued to glare at each other, but Fred could feel Ron beginning to relax. Taking a deep breath, Fred released it slowly. "I'm going to let you go, Ron. But you need to promise me that you won't do anything rash."
Ron stiffened. "ME do anything rash? What about him?"
"Either of you do anything rash." Fred stared meaningfully at his twin. "Do we have a deal?"
A tense moment passed. Finally George nodded. Ron, following suit, nodded woodenly himself.
Fred looked from one brother to another until he was satisfied. "Okay." He conceded as he released Ron's biceps.
Rubbing his arms absentmindedly, Ron stood his ground, his eyes never leaving George's.
Fred stepped around Ron and settled himself directly between his brothers. Scrutinizing them, Fred could see that George's lip was beginning to swell and the early sign of a nasty shiner was forming around Ron's left eye.
Lifting his eyebrows, Fred crossed his arms tightly across his chest—striking a pose that resembled Mrs. Weasley to a "T". "Well? Who wants to start?"
George pointed accusatorily. "Ron's gone completely mental."
Ron took a step forward, but Fred held him off with the palm his hand. "Yes, it appears that we've already established that . . . but would you mind telling me why he's gone completely mental?"
"Ron thinks that we put Hermione and Draco together on purpose."
Fred turned toward Ron, a look of shock on his face. "What?"
"You deny it?"
"Of course I deny it . . . we would never—"
"We . . . ." Ron scoffed loudly. "Why doesn't it surprise me that you would side with him?" He lifted his chin angrily in George's direction.
"Side? Ron, there are no sides, here. We didn't do anything to hurt you."
Ron could feel fresh tears welling in his eyes. "Well, there's where you're wrong." He could feel himself deflating, his shoulders drooping. "Because you hurt me more than you know."
"It wasn't on purpose."
Ron pulled away, physically increasing the distance between them.
Fred sighed heavily. "Ron, just talk to me."
Ron shook his head violently. "No—no. You know what? I'm done talking. I'm done with this. I'm done with her. But mostly"—he broke off, his jaw hardening—"I'm just done with both of you."
Turning, Ron started toward the Fat Lady's portrait.
"Ron—" Reaching out, Fred grabbed Ron's arm.
"I said no!" Spinning, Ron threw a haphazard, uncoordinated punch. Against the odds, it landed with a sickening sound against Fred's mouth.
Fred staggered back, stunned.
A look of surprise covered Ron's face. Wordlessly, his mouth moved, opening and closing like a fish out of water as the color drained from his already pale face. "I-I'm sorry. I—I didn't . . . I mean . . . ." He stuttered as his eyes, wide with panic, darted helplessly from one brother to the other.
Slowly, Fred thumbed his lip. Lifting his hand, he inspected the digit. A single spot of bright red blood shone on his fingertip, contrasting violently against his light skin. Turning his attention to his youngest brother, Fred's eyes suddenly flashed in anger. Ron stumbled backwards, trying to distance himself from the angry twin, but he tripped over his own feet and fell heavily to the ground.
Yelling, Fred rushed.
Ron hardly had time to cover his face.
Lost in thought, Hermione drifted dreamily up the stairs toward the Gryffindor Common Room. She was still smiling—she couldn't help it—and felt as if nothing could ever bring her down.
That is, until she heard the telltale sounds of fighting.
Snapping from her daydream, she found herself suddenly rushing up toward the landing. Even though she couldn't see who was fighting, she felt an uncontrollable urge to make sure that it was stopped.
A voice lifted above the scuffle and made its way down the stairs to Hermione's ears: "Fred! Fred, stop!"
Hermione skidded to a halt.
It was Fred who was fighting?
A fist connected with something soft. "He should have thought of that before he punched me."
"You're going to kill him! And I'm not going to explain that one to Mom." Hermione instantly recognized George's voice.
It appeared that George's words seemed to sink in. Slowly, the sounds of the brawl dissipated and Hermione heard Fred get lazily to his feet. "You dead?"
"Yes." A third voice mumbled from the landing—and it sounded to Hermione like perhaps his lip was split open, although she couldn't quite figure out whom the voice belonged to.
Fred sniffed loudly before speaking. "See? He's fine."
"I think you broke my nose."
"Oh, stop being such a baby."
"Seriously. I can't brea—"
There was a sudden crack of bone as the victim's nose reset itself. A scream of pain mixed with anger rose through the air. "Bloody hell, Fred! How about a little warning?"
Hermione froze. Now she recognized the voice.
Fred was fighting Ron? But why?
"That's what you get for punching me in the mouth."
"Well, I wouldn't have punched you in the mouth if you had just let me go!"
"I wasn't just going to 'let you go!' Not after what you said to George and me."
Ron grew silent for a moment. "Everything I said was true."
"You need to stop accusing us of something that we did not do."
"You made the mistletoe! You can't deny that."
"And you let us!" Fred's dropped menacingly. "Perhaps you should have a good look in the mirror, little brother, before you continue down this road."
The brothers continued to argue, but time seemed to stop for Hermione. Slowly the words began to register and she felt her mouth fall open, her mind beginning to reel—mistletoe.
She shook her head—no, no . . . it couldn't be.
Her feet began to move, seemingly all on their own. One step and then another . . . as she slowly started up the stairs once more.
"Look, you knew the consequences, and yet you thought it was a great idea. It never even crossed your mind that anything could go wrong, just as long as Hermione noticed you."
"You told me it was foolproof!"
Fred sighed heavily. "We've already been through this – it is foolproof! And look, I'm sorry that it happened with Draco—I know that you can't stand the bloke, but it did. So, maybe in the long run, this is all just one big messed up way this is all just a big life lesson. And next time, maybe you should just ask the girl to the dance."
Ron opened his mouth to retaliate, but his words died instantly. Staring past Fred, his face went slack, the blood suddenly draining from his face.
Hermione was standing at the landing, a look of confusion covering her face.
Fred's eyebrows furrowed at Ron's reaction. "What?"
When Ron didn't answer, he followed Ron's gaze, turning slowly to look over his shoulder. His eyes widened.
George turned as well and immediately swore quietly under his breath.
"It was you?" Hermione's voice was incredulous and filled with undeniable pain. "You created the mistletoe?"
Ron cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Oh . . . um . . . . Well, no. It-it's not really what you think. I-I mean, well . . . what I meant to say is: it's not like that, per say . . ." he stuttered, his face flushing scarlet.
Hermione's jaw tightened as she crossed her arms tightly over her chest. "Per say? Well, what exactly is it like?"
Ron looked helplessly at his brothers, his eyes begging for help.
George exchanged a quick glance with Fred, who lifted a hand in defeat. "Well, um . . . yes . . . technically, we did make it, but it was meant for Ron, not . . . ." He trailed off, his face paling.
Fred let his hand fall heavily to his side, his jaw simultaneously dropping in dismay at his twin.
George's words echoed in Hermione's mind: it was meant for Ron, not . . . .
She inhaled sharply.
She brought her hand up to her face and touched her lips lightly with her fingertips. She could still feel Draco's mouth against her and it her heart sank heavily.
"You manipulated me?"
"Well, no . . . not exactly." Ron fumbled for words, but Hermione cut him off with a shake of her head.
"No, you did. You manipulated me with magic."
Fred and George exchanged an uncomfortable glance that didn't go unnoticed by Hermione. She took a bold step forward, her chin lifting audaciously. "Why?"
"Well, Ron chickened out of asking you to the ball." George started pathetically and Ron looked aghast.
The night of the ball came back—vivid and bright—the details coming in rapid succession. Dancing, laughing, having a good time. But then . . . fighting with Draco, throwing her drink in his face, the hallway . . . .
She stopped cold, her heart beating in her ears. The drink . . . the hallway.
"What about the ball? What else did you do?" Her voice was barely above a whisper, her eyes wide.
The Weasley brothers looked down at their feet ashamedly and Hermione felt her temper flaring. "What else did you do?"
The silence was deafening.
"Tell me." Hermione's voice had dropped to a menacing timbre.
Ron kept his eyes trained on the floor. "It wasn't meant to go this far . . . ."
But Hermione was shaking her head. "But you're telling me that it was supposed to go somewhere?"
Ron couldn't speak.
Taking a step forward, Hermione stood toe to toe with Ron and looked up into his face. "There was something in that drink . . . at the ball, wasn't there?"
The remaining blood in Ron's face disappeared as his head snapped up to look at his brothers. His mouth dropped open in panic. "You two said that it—"
It sounded like a gunshot as Hermione's open hand suddenly connected with Ron's cheek. The impact cut his words off brutally. Ron's head snapped forcefully to the side and, when he looked at her again, she could see that an angry red welt was already forming where she had slapped him.
"How dare you," she spat. She could feel tears welling in her eyes and she turned her head from the Weasley brothers before they could spill over in front of them.
"Hermione . . . . Ron's voice was soft . . . timid.
Ron flinched slightly as she held the palm of her hand out toward him, silencing him with a violent shake of her head, her lips a tight white line.
"But . . . ."
"Don't, Mate." Fred's voice was equally soft. He laid a hand gently on Ron's shoulder and Ron took a step backwards, his mouth closing.
Sniffing loudly, Hermione wiped furiously at her eyes. Then, squaring her shoulders, she attempted to wipe all emotion from her face before she faced the red-haired trio. "Fuck you." Channeling all of her anger, she blatantly looked each Weasley in the eye, until they were forced to stoop in shame. "Fuck all of you."
Then, spinning on her heel, bushy hair swirling around her face, she stormed down the stairs.