Even though the shop door had been locked, and the sign hanging in the front window had read “Open… Again Tomorrow (Joke’s on You!)” for the better part of the last two hours, George was still seated in the neon purple office. Piles of receipts and purchase records in need of filing, an assortment of gizmos and gadgets in need of sorting, and a drawer of Galleons and Sickles in need of counting filled the tiny desktop. Yawning, he dropped his forehead into his arms. He knew that another hour was all he needed to finish his tasks, but the heaviness of his eyelids made a stronger argument. A five minute nap couldn’t hurt.
It was a slight understatement to say that business had been booming.
Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes had grossed nearly as much in the almost-four months since its grand re-opening as it had in its first entire business year. He, Ron, and Verity had been working long hours to keep up with the demand, but it was proving to be a slippery downhill battle. On multiple occasions, George had considered hiring a fourth team member, but consistently hesitated to put his considerations into action – the idea of changing the dynamic within the shop always left him feeling slightly nauseous.
However, today had affectively outweighed these stomach concerns and put an end to his procrastination. There had been a Hogsmeade trip scheduled for the students of Hogwarts, and trying to be a good brother and boss, George had given Ron the day off to spend with Hermione. As a result, he and Verity had spent the entire day not nearly making up for his absence. Hours after closing, the spirited blonde was finally busy stocking the sorely depleted display cases – the amount of chartreuse visible was more shocking than usual. He had only to take care of the nightmare covering his desk and he would be able to make his way up the stairs to his flat and the comfort of his bed – as soon as he opened his eyes. Sighing, he shifted his weight and buried his head into his arms.
“Oi, Mr Weasley.”
The voice from the doorway cut through the heavy wave of sleepiness that had settled over his body, and he held back the groan that rose up in his chest.
“What, Verity?” he asked without moving.
“It’s late. Do you have any idea what time it is?” Her voice carried a hint of something, possibly concern.
George sat up and slowly blinked his eyes open. Fumbling for his pocket watch, he was stunned to find that the clock face read twenty past twelve – he had laid his head down for a five minute nap nearly a full hour ago. “Merlin, I meant to have finished all of this already.” He gestured at the mountain of tasks sitting on the desk.
“Looks like that didn’t happen.” Verity skipped across the floor and pulled herself up onto the corner of the desk. “Listen, you look exhausted. Why don’t I finish up here, and you can go up to your flat and get some sleep?”
“Ugh, that’s an amazing offer, but I can’t – this desk is a – I mean, you’ve been here since –”
“Yes, there is an obscene amount of loose ends hiding on this desk, and your filing system is a nightmare – I mean, who classifies Patented Day Dream Charms under ‘H’ for History of Magic? And yes, I’ve been here since two o’clock, but I offered, and I can.”
George found himself smirking up at the tenacious assistant.
“Besides, if you consider this as my birthday present to you, I won’t have to buy something on my way home tomorrow.” Her eyebrows high above her fringe line, she grinned back at him.
His birthday present – it was his birthday.
He blinked back the burning sensation that suddenly threatened to spread out from the corner of his eyes and struggled to swallow back an unexpected lump that rose up in his throat.
Of course he knew that tomorrow – now today – was his birthday, as it had been every year for the past twenty-one years. Not to mention he hadn’t been short on reminders. A stack of letters from his mum about his birthday dinner tomorrow – asking him what he wanted to eat, telling him that Charlie was coming in from Romania for the weekend, probing him to see if he would be bringing anybody along – sat on his kitchen table. She had been making such an extraordinary effort in planning the celebration that George suspected she worried about what the day may bring.
It was his first birthday without Fred, after all.
His mum was acutely aware of this fact, and though he had known it too, he hadn’t yet allowed himself to actually think about it. Now, sitting in his office next to Verity’s swinging legs and tired smile, it was the only thought running through his mind.
He had never had a birthday alone.
Verity never called him by his first name, and his head snapped up in response. Forcing a cough and clearing his throat, he stood up from his desk. “Yes, that sounds great, Verity.” He hastily ran his hands over the clutter, feigning an attempt at organization. “I really appreciate this.” Unable to formulate additional words, George ran his hands through his hair, turned away from her, and made his way towards the staircase behind the shop that led to his flat.
Taking the steps two at a time, he was soon standing in the centre of his kitchen.
He had thought that he needed to be alone, but now he wasn’t sure. It had been quite some time since he had last felt this helpless to the raw ache that had wrapped itself around him, and he wondered if he’d ever be totally free from it.
Glancing around the room, he fixated on a bit of tan paint peeling away from the wall beneath the cabinet. The last time Angelina stopped by, she had offered to help him repaint. She had found a bright yellow colour that she thought he’d like. He’d laughed and told her that she was crazy, that he barely spent any time his flat and it didn’t matter what the walls looked like. Now, he found himself wishing that the walls were yellow and, in a small corner of his mind, that Angelina was here in his flat now.
The clock on the wall above the table chimed one o’clock.
“Bloody hell,” he said into the empty flat, “I need to go to bed.”
In his room, beneath the thick quilt adorned with an embroidered ‘G’ that his Grandma Prewett had made for his uncle Gideon long before he was born, George inhaled. Today may be his first birthday without his twin, but it was also Fred’s first birthday without him.
“Happy birthday, Freddie,” he whispered.
As George finally slipped into much-needed sleep, thoughts of his family, the crooked walls of the Burrow, and his mum’s cooking flicked though his mind.
It was a combination of the early spring sunshine, the delayed arrival of both Harry and Percy, and the taunting challenge issued by Charlie that had prompted their trek out to the secluded grove that had served as their childhood Quidditch field. It was their collective inability to accept their own aging bodies that prompted their return. As such, less than an hour after they had taken to the air, four wizards, their broomsticks, and a particularly reluctant Quaffle were slowly making their way back towards the Burrow.
Responsible for their broomsticks and Quaffle, George’s wand was trained on the gear lazily hovering above the grass tips. He shook his head in amusement. His brother would most certainly rather face one of his beloved dragons than their mum if he didn’t start censoring his mouth before they came into her earshot.
“Fuck, can you two walk any faster? It’s not like I have a bad leg or anything.” Charlie’s stout frame was sandwiched between the tall, lanky forms of Ron and Bill. His arms were draped over each of their shoulders, and hopping on only his left foot, the onetime-Seeker was struggling to match their pace. “Oh, sure. By all means, walk faster.”
“If you wouldn’t have dived after that Quaffle like you were Aidan Lynch, you could walk yourself back to the house.”
“Merlin’s crusty left eyeball, Bill, Lynch is a seeker – he doesn’t dive after Quaffles,” the dragon keeper hissed, as the trio sidestepped a particularly large rock sticking up from the middle of the overgrown path and his right foot caught his weight. “And I was bloody fucking close to catching it, I’ll have you know.”
“Ah, well, that settles it, then,” George called up to his siblings, careful to keep the intonation of his voice serious. Effect, after all, was entirely contingent on execution. “You must just be too old for Quidditch.”
“You hear that, Charlie? You’re too old for Quidditch,” Bill said, drawing out the word ‘you’re’ and shooting his limping brother a smug look. “I guess that proves it. Not everyone can have the good fortune of aging as gracefully as I have.” The words were hardly out of his mouth when he stumbled over some unforeseen hazard in the path, sending all three brothers careening into a pile of dusty robes and twisted limbs.
“Argh, Ah knrow oo lwuv be, but gert yer arss oudovmy faisch,” one of them, Ron possibly, cried.
Having brought up the rear of the now-flailing caravan, George didn’t bother to stifle his laugh. The broomsticks floating at the end of his wand tip’s soft blue light shook along with his shoulders, as though the polished handles also found entertainment in the spectacle.
“All right,” Bill finally said, in the seemingly effortless, self-assured voice that Percy had spent the better part of his Hogwarts days failing to emulate, “on the count of three, we all stand up. One, two –”
“– six hundred and forty-seven –”
“You do know you could help us, George.” This time, the oldest brother only sounded irritated.
“What, and miss this show?” He felt the grin that had been plastered on his face widen. “I know it’s my birthday and all, but you lot have really outdone yourselves this year. A pair of socks or an earmuff would have sufficed.” With a quick flick of his wand, four broomsticks dropped to the ground and George leant down to help his brothers to their feet.
Despite the ache that flared up in his shoulder, he couldn’t imagine a better way to have spent the afternoon.
“Oh, in the name of Merlin.”
At the sound of their mum’s exasperated voice, all four Weasley brothers’ heads swivelled in unison.
“I leave the kitchen because nearly everyone has arrived ” – she wiped her hands on her flour-smeared apron and pulled her wand from her pocket – “and I find my adult sons rolling around in the dirt like a band of garden gnomes.” She brandished her wand at Bill, who froze momentarily before untangling himself from the pile. “You should be thankful ” – a puff of lavender-coloured air shot towards him, removing the layer of dust and dirt that covered him – “that I didn’t send your wife out here. I at least know better than to expect you to set a good example.”
George watched in amusement as his mum spun towards Ron, who had gathered his lanky limbs and stood up. Brows furrowed, she poked him in the chest with her wand in time with her words.
“And you, Ronald Weasley,” she said in a scarily level voice, “the Minister of Magic is sitting in our kitchen and you –”
“Mum, you act like Kingsley didn’t spend the last two years eating in our –”
Her glare cut his interruption short, and she inhaled sharply before continuing. “And you are lying in the dirt with a blackened eye and swollen lip.”
“Oh, yeah. Charlie’s broom clipped me when –”
“Speaking of Charlie.”
If she could have breathed fire, George feared that the dragon keeper would have burnt to a crisp.
“I spend countless hours worrying that you’ll be injured playing with those dragons of yours –”
“Mum, I hardly play with dragons –”
“ – and all for naught. I should have known that a pick-up game of Quidditch would prove more dangerous than giant, fire-breathing lizards.” She pursed her lips, studying his swollen ankle. “Well, you’ll just have to hop yourself into the kitchen. It’s been a bit since I’ve mended bones, I’ll have to consult Gawshanks. And George,” she said, turning towards him.
“Ah, Mum, we’re sorry.” Well-versed in the art of subverting his mother’s wrath, George offered her a keen smile. “We haven’t had a chance to play a match with each other in ages.” He felt her eyes soften on him, and a matching smile spread over her face.
“Oh, I’m not cross with you.” She cupped his face in her palms. “It’s your birthday, after all."
George smirked at his brothers over her shoulder as she pulled him into a tight hug. Bill nodded appreciatively, helping Charlie back up onto his good foot. Ron shot him a thumbs-up. Years of growing up at the Burrow had granted them all a deep sense of appreciation for the ability to avoid crises.
“Now,” his mum said as she dropped her arms, “it’s nearly dinner time. Percy will be here any minute.”
By the time they tidied themselves up – their own cleaning charms were much less effective than their mum’s – and stashed their broomsticks in the shed, most of the seats at the long wooden table were occupied.
Pausing, George glanced around the garden and wondered how he’d ever let himself sink to such a low place last night, to believe that he’d be alone for his birthday.
Bits of orange and purple paper streamers hung from the branches of the large oak tree, looped around the wire fencing surrounding the vegetable patch, and dangled from the sides of the house. A hastily painted banner reading, ‘Happy Birthday, George!’ floated above the table. Though somebody had made a good effort with the decorations, the absence of Ginny’s eye and Hermione’s charm-work was obvious.
His mum stood in the back doorway directing an intricate parade of levitating platters onto the table top. At head of the table, his dad sat in an old, rusted folding chair. Next to him at the end of the bench, the shining, bald head of Kingsley Shacklebolt glinted in the sunshine. Both men’s shoulders shook with laughter. Down the bench, Ron had slid next to the rigid silhouette of Andromeda Tonks. Across from them, Harry sat squinting – his smiling, blue-haired godson stood in his arms, gleefully clutching a pair of round glasses. Charlie had dropped into a second folding chair near to where Bill had taken his seat by Fleur. Each man appeared to be regaling the blonde woman with their own version of the afternoon’s activities.
Sliding onto the bench, surrounded by family and friends, George exhaled. Even without Fred’s name next to his on the banner, he was far from alone. Somewhere, his twin was surely laughing at his earlier melancholy dramatics.
“These two seats aren’t taken, are they?”
George looked up as Percy sat down across the table. A rather pretty, round-faced woman who he had never seen before smiled and, following his brother’s lead, slipped onto the bench.
“George, Audrey. Audrey, George,” Percy muttered hastily, looking up and down the table as though trying to gauge the interest his entrance had garnered.
Interest was a gross understatement for the curiosity that had rippled down the table. Twelve heads, in various stages of conversation and laughter, swivelled towards the newcomer. Her cheeks flushed and she glanced up at Percy. He stood up slowly, jaw flapping.
“Holy Hippogriff, Perce,” Bill said slowly, “you actually have been seeing that office assistant. All this time we thought your cologne and nice clothes were to impress the Minister, and that the affair was just a good cover-up.”
Down the table, Kingsley cocked his eyebrow at the oldest Weasley brother.
George nearly choked on his tongue trying not to laugh. Of course they had all been teasing Percy about a scandalous affair with an office clerk since early fall, but none of them actually believed that he and his horn-rimmed glasses had been seducing anyone on Ministry time. Yet here he was.
“The office assistant?” Audrey asked in a confused voice.
Percy smiled weakly and cleared his throat. “So, erm, this is Audrey McNeal, and she’s not the office assistant, who” – he glared at Bill and Ron before continuing – “I certainly do not consort with – Lucile is a terrifying witch. But Audrey and I well, we, er – I thought instead of arriving late and making excuses, and listening to all of your ridiculous theories, I’d just bring her along.” Huffing, he turned towards the woman and linked his arm around her shoulders.
The brunette slipped under his arm and smiled. “What my horribly romantic” – giggling, she rolled her eyes at the now scarlet-faced Percy – “and eloquent boyfriend is trying to say is I’m so glad to finally meet all of you.”
Their mum shot Bill a look of disapproval that mirrored the look already on Fleur’s face before shuffling around the table and wrapping Audrey into a warm hug. “Oh, it’s so lovely to meet you too, dear.” Dropping her arms, she beamed at her middle son.
“Now,” she continued, eyes flicking between George and Charlie, “if only you two would find nice girls to bring to dinner. Maybe if you would let me trim that hair of yours, Charlie?”
“Molly,” Kingsley called, “perhaps if you trimmed my hair, I could find somebody, too.”
The table erupted into a torrent of laughter as the Minister of Magic smirked with mock-innocence up at the Weasley matriarch, running a large hand over his incredibly hairless head. It was a fantastic feeling to be able to sit and joke in the spring air. And as the plates around the table began filling with food, George could only wonder if he should have asked Angelina along to dinner.
As great as his day at the Burrow had been, George was grateful for the sight of his flat’s door. His muscles were sore from his and his brothers’ game of Quidditch, and his face was tight from smiling. The only thing left on his itinerary was a very serious date with his sofa and Bill’s traditional birthday gift – a pint or two of Osiris-Ra Egyptian Lager.
Fumbling in his robe pocket for his wand, he noticed a small sheet of yellow paper Spellotaped to the door frame. It was from Angelina.
Happy Birthday! I bet you’re wondering how an owl taped a letter to your door – talented, eh? I actually stopped by to wish it to you in person, but I’m guessing you are with your family. If you don’t have plans later, you’re welcome to stop by – Alicia’s out of town and I have exciting news that I’m dying to share with somebody. Hope you are having a great day!
She had signed her name in softly sloping letters that tugged at the corners of his mouth. Like wisps of vapour floating off of a simmering cauldron, thoughts of spending his evening in the company of expensive Egyptian beer evaporated into the air. His hand finally closed around his wand, and rather than unlocking his flat door, he turned, Apparating into the night.
A loud crack sounded through the air as George felt his feet hit floor. He winced and glanced over his shoulders. Having grown up in a predominately magical corner of Ottery St. Catchpole, and now living in Diagon Alley, it was a struggle at times to remember that Angelina and Alicia’s flat was largely inhabited by Muggles. He hastily shoved his wand into his robe pocket – at least he was alone in the corridor. Explaining away his odd attire and sudden appearance were nowhere near the top of his to-do list.
He knocked on the door of 27C.
When she didn’t answer, he turned the door handle and let himself inside. Though they had been spending more and more time together over the past three months – casual dinners, sunny afternoon walks, and surprise lunch-hour visits – he hadn’t been in her flat since the New Year, and even then he hadn’t had a chance to look around.
The front room was awash with warm colours, from a rich tan sofa to deep red pillows, to the dark wooden shelves full of spell books and magazines. A low fire crackled in the old stone fireplace, and blackened iron picture frames sat along the mantel. Grossly, if he didn’t know that Angelina lived there, George would never have guessed it – Alicia’s stylish tastes dominated the small space. He reached his hand out and brushed it along the edges of the photographs. A few were obviously of Alicia’s family, but several caught his attention. In one, the Gryffindor Quidditch team stood with their broomsticks over their shoulders waving out at the room; a tiny Snitch occasionally zipped across the scene. In another, three girls dressed in Hogwarts robes sat on the bank of a lake, smiling and laughing at something out of the shot. At the end of the mantel, his hand hovered over the last frame. A young Angelina, maybe seven or eight years old, sat in the centre of posed family photograph. There was a stripe of bright blue in her hair, a temporary souvenir from one of Elise’s potion experiments, he knew. Picking the frame up, he studied the faces of the people he had heard so much about over the years.
Angelina’s voice rang through the room with an elated tone of surprise. Almost as though it tugged at invisible marionette strings, his hand set the frame back onto the mantel and his body spun towards her.
“I didn’t hear you knock.” She took several steps towards him and grinned. Her eyes flicked up and down him, and he suddenly felt very, irrationally exposed. “Happy birthday, old man.”
“Old man?” George asked, quashing the urge to step towards her. “Wait, remind me again who’s been twenty-one since October?” He narrowed his eyes and cocked an eyebrow. “Oh, that’s right – that’d be you, you old lady.”
They hadn’t spoken of the moment they had shared beneath the fireworks, and though their friendship had grown and strengthened tenfold since the New Year, George knew that they stood on a very thin wire. Any sudden movements would certainly send them plummeting off in one direction or the other, for good or for bad. At least balancing in one place ensured that they were still standing.
Her face twisted in a poor attempt to hide her amusement, and he couldn’t stop himself from stepping towards her.
The wire quivered.
“So,” Angelina said, still trying to ignore his comment, “I have some take-away lo mein and a bit of fried rice in the kitchen. We could sit down and eat, maybe watch a film? I have one that I think you may like.” Disappearing through the doorway, her voice carried out from the kitchen. “The Three Stooges, they’re an old American comedy troupe. My dad and I used to watch them all the time when I was younger.”
George found it endearing that she didn’t wait for him to agree to the plan before leaving to divvy up the food. Smiling, he plopped down onto the sofa – it felt even plusher than it looked.
“Pick a plate.” She leaned over its back, a paper plate of noodles and rice in each hand. “And I’ll get the film started.”
He took the plate nearest him, and watched as she knelt down in front of the square Muggle picture-box. “You know, you should really teach my dad how to use those things one day. He’s always tinkering around with them out in his shed. Bloody hell –” He dropped a large forkful of noodles back onto his plate. “I can’t believe I haven’t asked yet. What’s this news you were dying to tell somebody?”
On the screen, three men began trying to lift a large wooden beam in slow, jerky black and white.
“Oh,” she practically squealed, scrambling up next to him on the couch. “Ah. I’m so excited.” Her hands grabbed his arm, and he instinctually set his plate on the side table. “I finally found a job, like a real, honest-to-goodness job – I interviewed today. I start in the Department of Magical Games and Sports on Monday.”
“Angelina, that’s brilliant.”
His pride and exuberance combined with her fidgeting excitement, and without giving it any thought, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into to his chest. She was close enough to him that he felt her heart rate spike. He forced himself to swallow back the nerves and anticipation that had leapt up his throat. The feel of her solid frame against his caused his head to hum, and, in an attempt to regain some semblance of order to his racing thoughts, he squeezed his eyes shut.
And then her lips were on his. Hesitant only for a bare faction of a moment, they quickly took the lead, commanding his own to respond. He obliged with a sore enthusiasm, hands sliding down her back pulling her body even closer to his. Her lips felt softer than he remembered, and without the haze of alcohol, desperation, and fear that hovered over their past, this kiss felt more organic. Where it began, he couldn’t be sure, but a quiet thought sprinted though his mind – this was what it meant to live.
Cursing his body’s need for oxygen, he broke the current running between them. His chest heaved as the warm colours of the sitting room came back into focus.
“Ang, I,” he stammered, “what –”
Her finger pressed against his buzzing lips, and he fell quiet. He could feel her eyes studying his face. Somewhere far above their heads, the wire stretched out – now devoid of precariously balancing people.
“Do we really want to ask what that was?” She turned, sliding his arm up and around her shoulders, and leaned against his shoulder. “This, whatever it is we have now and have had – it’s good, and that’s enough for me.”
A wave of calmness washed over George, and he pressed a kiss onto the top of her head. Noodles and rice long forgotten, he stared ahead at the three black and white men who had moved on from their struggles with the wooden beam to a tussle with a bit of wet cement. Sometime later, long after the film had devolved to a solid blue screen, Angelina’s breathing had slowed to the deep, rhythmic pattern of sleep. With her warm body nestled in his arms, he felt his own heavy eyelids begin to flicker. One last though crossed his mind before it succumbed to sleep.
This, whatever it was, was good.
Author’s Note: So, I there you are! Chapter 11. I had a lot of fun writing this chapter and would love to know what you think of it!! Reviews are always appreciated and helpful. Anything you recognize belongs to JKR. The Three Stooges were an American Vaudeville Act composed of Moe and Curly Howard and Larry Fine in the early twentieth century, the film described here does not reference any specific film. As always, I must thank Rachel for being the world’s most amazing beta and friend, the rogue bolt of lightening that knocked my internet out for four days and motivated me to write this, and you for reading and supporting me thus far.
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