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With All Things by WitnesstoitAll

Format: Novel
Chapters: 17
Word Count: 77,864
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: Drama, Fluff, Romance
Characters: Fred, George, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Other Pairing

First Published: 11/25/2011
Last Chapter: 08/01/2013
Last Updated: 10/23/2016

Summary:
~Gorgeous Banner by Alysse at TDA ~




Girl fancies boy, but cannot find the words to tell him. Man cares for woman, but must reconstruct his world for himself. Time circles by without a care, and somewhere in the midst of it all, lives a love story.

|George/Angelina|

Chapter 2 edited (23/10/2016)


Chapter 1: George, August 1998
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George, August 1998

The distinct popping sound outside his flat signalled to him that it was, in fact, time to give up on the search for his dragon-hide jacket and settle on the robe slung unceremoniously across the dirty-clothes hamper.  After all, wearing a previously worn robe, though not quite as flashy as lime green dragon hide, was infinitely better than going out to a pub in his knickers.  Surveying himself once over in the mirror, he grimaced and ran a tentative hand over the side of his head and tussled his hair a bit to try and downplay the scarred bit of cartilage that was once a right ear.  Somewhat satisfied with the finished product, he quickly quashed the urge to shout back over his shoulder at the now unused bedroom – a habit formed from a lifetime spent as half of a pair.  Fred wasn’t there. George felt an all-too familiar lump rise up into his throat. 

A firm knock at the door pulled him away from the edge of his dangerous thought.  He swallowed roughly and strode out to the kitchen.

"Lee, would you wait a bloody minute.”  George fumbled with the chain lock.  “When you tell me you’ll be here at seven – you’ve got to know I won’t expect you to be here until at least half past. You’ve never been on time in the nine years I’ve known you – Ron?” he exclaimed as the door finally cracked open, not bothering to hide his surprise.

“Hey.”  Ronald stood in the dimly lit corridor.  His hair stood up in untidy tufts and his navy robes were soiled with dust.  “Was at the school all day with the reconstruction.  You know, just erm, figured I’d pop in.”  A speculative concern radiated from his eyes, and his lips pursed tightly shut before he continued.  “Found us some food -- fish and chips?”

“Oh, well.” George fully opened the door.  “I have been cooking you know, at least trying – I’m not going to starve if that’s what Mum’s going on about.”  

Ron’s eyes surveyed him thoroughly before he brushed by his older brother and plopped down into a kitchen chair.  

It had been two weeks since George had seen his younger brother, or any of his family, for that matter.  His decision to move out of the Burrow and back to his Diagon Alley flat had been met with long, worried looks from his siblings, questions about whether or not he’d be able to manage, and tears from his mum. Truthfully, he hadn’t known the answer to their questions – but he couldn’t go on without giving it a try.  Living on his own was a skill he was slowly learning, on a trial-by-error basis.  It was something he had to do, something he could not be doing inside the Burrow.  He had needed to breathe on his own away from their aggrieved, worried eyes if he was going to learn to stand on his own two legs.  As a result, he had been purposefully forcing himself to ignore the bits of parchment Errol had dropped on his window ledge every morning, each covered in his mum’s tidy, care-ridden scrawl. 

Sighing, George closed the door once more and joined his brother at the table.  He should have figured she’d send out reconnaissance sooner or later.  A part of him was surprised she hadn’t made the trip to London herself.  If Ron had noticed his pensiveness, he didn’t let on. In fact, the younger Weasley was busy divvying out two large portions onto plates he had taken from the sink board.  The tantalizing aroma of fry grease tickled George’s nose, and his stomach gave a rather violent rumble.  In truth, it had been exactly two weeks since he had eaten something that hadn’t been delivered or come from a box with the instructions, “Tap twice with wand, wait five seconds, and repeat.”

“Blimey, this smells fabulous.” Ron grinned up from the steaming dishes of food, shoving one – the notably smaller of the two – across the table to George.  “You’ve got any tartar?”

“It really does smell tops, and er, no.” George watched his brother, waiting for him to break and drop some hint of admittance as to why he was here – Diagon Alley wasn’t exactly on the way home from Hogwarts.  “Slight chance there’s some vinegar in the cupboard?”

Instead of rising to rummage through the barely organized shelves, Ron shoved a bit of fish into his mouth, and looked up from his plate to stare at him across the table.  The concern clearly in his eyes felt like a chain tying George to a grief with which he had slowly begun coexisting.

George sighed under his breath, and folding under the scrutiny, dropped his attention to the plate of food in front of him.

“So, er, how are you doing, George?” 

There it was – the seemingly unavoidable question that persistently reminded him that he should not be okay accompanied by the look that said ‘it-really-smarts-to-look-at-you’.  Ron meant well by his question, George knew, but it also reminded him that no matter how hard he tried to forget it, that Fred was not in the next room.  It reminded him that he was a twin, that he had always existed as a part of a whole and that he shouldn’t be able to function as an individual.  That look consistently filled his chest with an irrational feeling of guilt. He had survived.

Without warning he shoved back from the table and turned away from Ron.  There had to be a bloody bottle of vinegar somewhere on his shelves. 

“George?”

“What, Ron?” He turned back to face his brother, his voice harsher than he’d intended it to be.

“You know we’re worried about you. Mum’s worried about you.”  His voice sounded old and tired, as though the past two months had really been a decade.  The long hours spent helping to reconstruct Hogwarts showed in the dark circles beneath his eyes, which were marked now with thin radiating lines at the corners. Shifting back in his seat, Ron took an enormous bite of his fish, watching George thoughtfully as he chewed. 

“I know that, but I –”

“No – you haven’t stopped by or written her back. She’s penned you every day.”  Ron continued talking as he shoved another bite into his mouth.  “You’re in this flat all,” he paused, swallowing roughly, “all by yourself.  We’ve all wondered how you’re getting along, wanted to check and see if you needed anything. You know, we lost him too.”

“I –” at a loss for words, George bit at his bottom lip to keep the blasted thing from trembling. Taking a deep breath, he looked up and met Ron’s worried look. “I know, I know. It’s just that –” He ran his hand through his hair.  Truth be told, George had been asking himself the same questions, but knew better than to wait for the answer.  “I guess I just need to – ”

“You really should eat some of this,” Ron said, indicating George’s own plate of food, as if nothing they’d just said still hung in the air between them.  “It really is tops – got it from this Muggle truck stand.” 

The corner of George’s mouth pulled up into a small grin at the gesture.  “Little Ronnie offering me food?  My situation must really look grim.”  He turned away from the cabinets and took a bite of the fish, mostly to appease his brother, and forced out a low chuckle. “You know,” he said returning his attention to the hunt for vinegar, “I was actually planning on going out tonight.”

Whatever reaction George was expecting – support, approval, even apathy – did not come.  Instead, his brother’s eyebrows shot up under his hairline, and his look of surprised quickly morphed into one of disbelief and concern.   He quickly regretted divulging his plans.  Opening the final kitchen cabinet, his hands closed around a mostly-empty bottle of vinegar.

“Aha!” he said, tossing the bottle across the small room.

Caught off guard – likely still caught up on the notion if George going out -- Ron barely caught the glass bottle before it tumbled over onto the table.  “So, you’re going out, then?” He shook the bottle over his plate, unable to fully mask the surprise in his tone.

“Just something Lee put together – you know, a few of the blokes from school, maybe some of the ladies.”  He picked a chip up from the plate Ron had made for him.  “I’m not entirely sure, honestly.”   

A knock sounded from the door.

“That’d be Lee.” George popped the chip into his mouth and strode over to the door for the second time that evening.  “Seventeen minutes late,” he said, swing the door open and doing his best to put on a good face, “not too shabby, mate.” 

“I probably ought to be going anyways.” Ron stood up, scraping the remnants of the two plates back into the box.  “Strictly speaking, mum didn’t know I was coming over. Suppose I should leave this food here.” Striding over to the door, the younger Weasley nodded to Lee before placing a hand on George’s shoulder. “The world’s not so big, you know? If you, if you need anything – anything at all, you just say the word.” 

George felt Ron’s eyes linger on him for a moment before he brushed past the two friends into the corridor.  Turning back to his newly arrived guest, he bumped fists with Lee, more out of habit than actual salutation.

“So –” Lee’s eyes flicked over George’s briefly. “You do know you look like you slept in that robe, right?”

George shook his head and clapped Lee on the back. “Even so, I’m still a bloody site handsomer than you.” Ron had asked him how he was getting along – if he was doing okay, and he wasn’t entirely sure he could answer either of those questions, but if he was ever going to be able to, he needed to continue living.  “Come on, now. Let’s get out of here.”

~::~

The Fizzing Whizbee was crowded by the time George and Lee arrived.   

Though the makeshift dance floor in the centre of the pub sported only a few middle-aged couples sloppily stepping in arrhythmic circles, the outskirts of the floor were packed with clusters of younger witches and wizards.  The air smelt of liquors and ales, and the peppy refrain of some wiz-pop song poured out through the wireless, drowning out the consistently rising voices of the patrons. 

George glanced around at the crowd.  Most everyone, save for the occasional bleary-eyed girl or two, looked so carefree and happy, and he found himself wishing he could leave behind all his thoughts and worries for the evening and blend into their mould.  He knew that no matter how badly he may want to simply try to take a step forward, the worried, sympathetic eyes of his friends and classmates would reel him back into place.  He had experienced it with his family members, with Ron earlier – looks that asked if him if he was okay and longed to make everything better.  Their eyes served not as a consolation, but as a reminder.  They had been the worst part of the past three months.   Alone without Fred at his side, he felt as ostentatious a canary in a flock of ravens, and eyes seemed to follow him wherever he went.  He ran his hand through the front of his hair.  He had to stop thinking as he was, or else leaving his flat would have been a waste.  Tonight was about trying to step forward, even if it turned out to be a failed attempt. 

His eyes finally found large group of his classmates tucked away in the corner nearest to the bar.  George raised his hand in greeting and, nudging Lee, made his way over to the section of tables. 

A gaggle of Gryffindors had clustered themselves at one of the tables.  The two years that had passed since they had all last been together in their common room had had a varying range of effects on the faces with which he had spent nearly seven years of his life.  Geoffrey and Andrew looked largely the same, save for the thick black beard accenting the chin of the first and a shiny wedding band glinting under the lights on the ring finger of the second.  He hadn’t realized that Andrew had gotten married, and wondered who his bride was.  Across the table from them sat Marjorie and Erin.  The two girls looked as rehearsed as ever, though each girl’s hair was a different colour from what he remembered.  As was the case during their years at school, their mouths moved a mile a minute, though to whom exactly they were speaking to, George was not sure.  Lora Paisley - Carmichael now - sat with a man George knew to be the infamous Michael the Muggle.  A small smile grazed his lips as he remembered how Angelina and Alicia used tease the poor girl about her Muggle beau. 

“Lee.” Lora’s voice was bright, and she got up from her seat to throw her arms around his shoulders.  Dropping her arms, she turned towards George.  “George, I - erm, it’s good to see you.”  Her arms hovered in the air awkwardly before she dropped them to her side.  She studied him, almost cautiously, as though she didn’t want him to break.  “How’ve you been doing?”

And so it had begun.

George forcibly reminded himself that she only asked because she cared – that she didn’t know he couldn’t possibly begin to answer her question.  “Some days are better than others,” he finally said.  The expression in her eyes did not change, and he found himself needing to step away.  He turned the corners of his mouth up into what he hoped was a semi-believable smile to alleviate her worrying. “Well, I think I’m going to go and get a drink now.”  

The line at the bar was long. 

A small pocket of his classmates stood ahead of him in the line.  Libby McNaulty’s voice rose over the sound of the pub as she regaled some tale of the Ministry approaching her to be a Secret-Keeper.  Some things, apparently never changed. George listened more intently as the story became more ridiculous. 

“—and when I refused, the official grabbed my shoulders and looked me square in my eyes.  He cleared his throat - he was probably nervous being so close to me - and told me that the Department of Mysteries had been waiting for somebody with my looks and brain.”  She paused, most likely for dramatic emphasis.  “And I lifted my chin high and walked away.  I’m not about to sell out for so little. I mean, it is only the Department of Mysteries, after all.”

Eddie McDonald, Peregrine Cooke, and a few of the other guys around her seemed to pivot on their axes, trying to find a way to avoid her without losing their spot in line.  George remembered back to his sixth year and let out a small chuckle.  Whatever Lee had seen in her, he’d never be certain.  Just as he was about to turn around to see who had gathered behind him in line, he heard a shift in Libby’s voice and cringed.  

“Oh my Merlin’s dress robes, George Weasley?” Exhaling, he turned to face her.  “I’m surprised to see you here.  It was awful what happened to Fred.” She tipped her head and batted her eyes sympathetically.  “If you ever need somebody to talk to, I’ve been told that I work emotional magic.”

She continued to bat her eyes at him as though she expected him to burst into tears or something.  Suppressing the urge to roll his eyes, she left her spot in line and came back to stand next to him. 

“It is okay to cry.” She placed the palm of his hand over her chest.  “I know that I did.”

“Libby, you’ve got the heart of a cow.” A familiar voice interrupted what was fast becoming a terrifying social exchange.

George turned to see Alicia standing behind him in line.  She smiled at Libby so believably that he wondered if the Ravenclaw realized that she had just been insulted. 

“George,” Alicia reached out and squeezed his arm. 

Her eyes felt like a knife on his.

They held the same worry that everyone else’s had, but they also held pain.  Years of friendship, Quidditch, and laughs likely made it difficult for her to look at him.  He understood this, having to look at himself in the mirror each day, but knowing his face affected Alicia made breathing difficult, as though something had grabbed his lungs and squeezed down on them.

“Thanks,” he finally said.  He purposefully avoided making eye contact with her.

Though she didn’t ask him how he was doing, the strained silence where the question should have been felt just as awkward.  As they stood in line together, he wondered whether or not he should have bothered coming out tonight, and whether he’d ever feel right again. 

When at last they made it to the bar to order their drinks - a double firewhisky and a Fuzzy Cauldron - George had managed to shut off his thoughts.  He downed his drink, and savoured the burning sensation that made its way down his throat and up into his sinuses.  Turning away from the counter, he stopped and ordered a pint of ale for good measure.  Standing through that line again was not something he fancied doing.  Facing the tables once more, he looked around for Lee before following Alicia to a table.  Lee was sitting with next to Indira Shah and seemed to be deep in conversation with her.  George smiled, hoping she was enjoying their conversation as much as Lee appeared to be.

“So, have you seen Angelina yet?” Alicia’s voice sounded casual, but her eyes suggested otherwise. George knew her look was laced with years of history.   

Pausing mid-sip, he set his mug down onto the table.  He had assumed that Angelina was not at the pub since Alicia was alone.  Even after Hogwarts, the two girls were nearly inseparable.  His heartbeat increased slightly.  Of all of his classmates he hadn’t seen in ages, she was one of the few he earnestly wanted to see.  The last time they had met had been so – he felt a heat rise up from his stomach -- atypical, that he longed to, if nothing else, regain the comfortable normalcy they once shared. 

“Er, no,” he sputtered, realizing that Alicia had been waiting for an answer.  “I didn’t realize she was here.”

“Oh, I’m not even sure if she’s here.  Something about having to pop home to see her mum.”  Alicia took a long sip of her drink.  “She’s been anxious to see you, though – after everything.  I know she’s worried about you.”

What that comment was supposed to accomplish, he was not sure. And what had Alicia meant by ‘after everything?’ Would it be so unusual for Angelina’s best friend to know what had happened? But that was ages ago. So much had happened since then – a bloody war had taken place, people had died. Surely Alicia had meant the obvious, and the hopes that had risen in his chest fell.  Of course Angelina was worried about him.  Everyone was worried about him.  He had buried his best friend and twin a little more than two months ago.  It only made sense.  George took a long gulp of his ale.  Whatever semi-normal relationship he once shared with Angelina was likely to be marred with the same doe-eyed sympathy that had tainted his interactions with everyone else. 

They lapsed back into a strained silence that was subsequently filled with several more drinks than he intended. 

A commotion in the corner pulled George from his thoughts.  Applause rose from the centre table which Lee hopped up onto moments later.  A wide grin was plastered on his face and he held out his arms to silence their classmates.  George felt a tinge of tears burn the back of his throat.  Lee was his sole best mate now.  A deep-seated appreciation welled up in his chest.  He coughed and cleared his throat, composing himself for whatever it was Lee was about to say or do. 

“Witches and wizards and everything in between.” He paused as a rumble of laughter passed through the crowd.  “Nine years ago, we were all skinny, naive kids, but somehow we turned out pretty damn well.  After everything that’s happened over the past year, it’s bloody brilliant to know that we are still a family and can come together to celebrate that fact.”  His words, influenced from the alcohol he had consumed, slurred together slightly.  “And we’ve been through a hell of a lot together -- cauldron explosions, Quidditch feuds, crushes and heart breaks and awful dates.  We’ve been through Dementors and formal  balls - both equally frightening, mind you - jokes and pranks, Umbridge, Nifflers, those awful creatures Hagrid made us feed.”  More laughter rippled through the group.  “But we’ve been through much, much more than that.” The tone of his voice changed.  “And not all of us can be here to laugh and get pissed tonight.  We came of age into something bigger than any of us. But we did what we had to do, and here we are.  The best damn class Hogwarts ever had the privilege of educating.”  He lifted up his mug and waited for them to all follow suit.  “To us and everything we’ve done and will do.”

George took a sip of the firewhisky in his hand.

“To the love and friendships in this room.”

He winced as the second sip slid down his throat. 

“And most importantly,” Lee continued, “to the best of us.  To Cedric Diggory – ”

The crowd echoed his words.

“– To Mary Ackerley and Bradley Dunstan –”

A second echo snaked through the class.

“– And to,” Lee’s voice cracked, “one of my very best mates and best men I’ve ever known, Fred Weasley –”  He drained his mug before continuing. 

The echo of Fred’s name did not immediately rush through the party; instead, a slow ripple of heads turned towards George, as if they were waiting for him to add to the toast.  The looks of pity, sympathy, care, concern and curiosity prompted the taste of the alcohol he had just swallowed to rise back up into his throat.  Whatever had prompted him to come out with Lee this evening, he immediately regretted.  A heavy numbness flooded his body.  He rose to his feet and turned towards the door.  He needed to be away from this and fast.

“May they have all the peace and happiness, wherever it is they are,” he heard Lee conclude as he made his way towards the door. 

And echoing of “Here here!” filled the room as he left the pub.

Without warning, he doubled over at the waste and planted his hands onto the rough gravel of the alley way. Heaving into the night, he felt a sob wrack through him. He should never have come here – not with the thought that it’d actually go well.

“Dammit, Fred,” he choked out.

He wasn’t sure how long he stayed like that, prostrate over a pile of vomit, but eventually his sobs subsided and he pulled himself up onto his feet. There was no way he was going to subject himself to the aftermath of his rather dramatic exit, and so he stumbled a ways down the alley way. Not entirely sure that he would actually make it back to his flat if he Apparated at that point in time, George sat down on a bench.  Though the pounding of the music could still be heard in the night from the open doors of the Fizzing Whizbee. In the aftermath of his emotional monsoon, the street felt peaceful.  He shut his eyes and inhaled deeply. 

“George?”

His name was a question on the familiar voice, and he groaned inwardly.  He did not know if he could bear her sympathies on top of everything else, but his keen desire to see her won out.  George turned towards Angelina, preparing himself to stomach another concerned look and to tell her that he no, he didn’t know how he was doing.

“Care to budge over so I can sit down too?”  She squeezed beside him on the bench.  “I’m just glad it’s a nice night out, it’s awfully stuffy inside. Was half afraid it’d still be raining out here.”

Her comment caught him off-guard and he felt the corners of his mouth tug upwards. 

“Has it been raining a lot lately?”  It had been several weeks since he had spent any considerable time outside.

“A bit – actually it’s been pouring most days. I was half afraid it’d literally start raining kneazles.”

She looked much the same as she always had – more sober and relaxed than when he had last saw her. The memory of that night was one he'd not been able to forget. Her thigh barely brushed against his as she shifted into a more comfortable position, and he felt himself return to the present. For the first time all evening, he felt at ease and inhaled deeply. The scent of her perfume filled his nose.  It was different than it used to be, but nice. 

“You, you look good.”  He braved looking up at her face.  “I’m glad you’re here tonight.”

Her dark eyes looked back into his.  They did not look concerned or sympathetic, but rather held the content sort of smile one has when they are reunited with a dear friend or an estranged lover.

“I’ve missed you George.” 

The beat of the music pouring out from the Fizzing Whizbee slowed and changed, and a familiar tune carried out through the night air.

Catching the mutual recognition in Angelina’s eye, George smiled, running a hand through his hair. “Good song, eh?” he asked, forcing his voice to remain casual.

“Very good song,” she returned, a knowing smile hovered on her lips for just a moment before it widened and evolved. “So, since I know how much you love dancing,” she said, not even bothering to hide her sarcasm, “care for a little dance?  A tribute to old times, or some such nonsense?”

Not waiting for his consent, she rose to her feet and reached down for his hand. 

It had been so long since he had last held her, and so much had changed – they both had - that he was unsure of where to place his hands as he too rose to his feet.  Setting them at her sides, he began following her lead in a slow circle to the beat oozing out from the pub.  He considered moving his hands higher up, or further back, or somewhere, when he felt her lay her hands over his. They were warm and sent a trail of heat through his skin.    

“Right here is fine, George.”  She smiled before returning her own hands to his shoulders.  “You know you’re still an awful dancer, don’t you?”

And for the first time that evening, George laughed.

~::~

Author’s Note:  Thank you for choosing to read this story!  This plot line occurred to me when I realized how scant Georgelina stories really are on the archives.  I love it and hope that you do too!  This story has been my first long-work of FF experiment with pre writing, and I’ve stockpiled approximately 15K words.  As such, updates should be fairly regular.  Before I end this ramble-y note, I must take a minute to extend my deepest gratitude to Annie (Elerina) and Sarah (Toujours Padfoot) for supporting this story from day one and putting up with my insecurities, to Jane (TenthWeasley) for being my confidant and the most fabulous beta ever and to my puffins with whom I’d be flailing hopelessly about.  Reviews are always appreciated!

Edited as of 11 September 2016. 


Chapter 2: Angelina, December 1994
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Angelina, December 1994

Thankful to finally stretch her legs, Angelina heaved her books up into the crook of her arm and strode out from the dim lighting of the Charms classroom into the bustle of the third floor corridor. The bright sunlight streaming in from the tall windows was a welcomed change. Judging by the glazed looks on Fred and George’s faces as Professor Flitwick had spent the past hour excitedly chattering on about non-verbal spells, they’d felt similarly. 

A sorely missed ache burned in her thighs as she urged her tired body to move, and she winced. If she was lucky, perhaps Lora would bring a mug of tea instead of a telling, I-can’t-say-you-don’t-deserve-this, look to their revision block next hour.

With Quidditch cancelled in favour of hosting the Triwizard Tournament, she and a small group of sixth years had taken to bending the rules ever so slightly to play casual late night matches in the pitch – the most recent being the night prior.  It’d been a close call though, and they’d all barely snuck back into the castle without being caught. It’d been nearly dawn by the time she’d made her way back to the comfort of her four-poster. They’d have to lay low for a while, give Filch time to focus on some other dubious late night capers.

As a prefect, Lora Paisley – one of Angelina’s closest friends and Gryffindor prefect – was obligated to disapprove.

“Look sharp, Johnson – yawning and limping is no way to secure a date.” Fred’s voice called out through the gathering of their classmates also making their way out from the classroom. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you look like you were up for the better part of the night? What do you think, George?”

Unsurprised and not wholly amused, she shook her head at Fred before catching George’s eyes and returning his smile.

“I think she looks a fair sight better than you, Fred.”

“And yet, rumour has it, is still dateless. Say, George, maybe you ought to –”

Whatever witty suggestion Fred was about to make was cut short as George shot him a look that Angelina could only infer as pleading.  Rolling her eyes at whatever it was they were on about, she stopped in the middle of the corridor.

“First off, if I wanted a date, I’d have had one secured weeks ago. Secondly, I’d look better if somebody –” she pursed her lips at Fred, trying to hide her amusement at their most recent high-flying escapade “– would have actually played their position and blocked that bloody Bludger before it took off out of the pitch. The two of you are lucky we got that one back.”

“Ah, but where’s your sense of adventure, Ang?” George mused, playfully rubbing at his chin. “I was so looking forward to crafting a tale for Hagrid as to why he had a Bludger hole blasted through his roof at three in the morning.”

Unable to keep a straight face, she laughed at the thought of what sort of damage could have ensued had their late night Bludger antics carried on for longer than it had.

“Right then,” she said, composing herself as they reached the third flood landing. “I’ll catch you lot later.” She waved the twins off with a smile as they parted ways. Whatever, they were up to next, she highly doubted it would involve the library.

Pushing her too-long braids back from her face and behind her shoulder as she started up the staircase, Angelina found her thoughts wondering back over Fred’s comment. Making a mental note to con Lora into using a trimming spell on her hair sometime before the ball, she let out an audible huff. Who was he to presume she was desperately looking for a date to the ball? She’d made a pact with Lora and Alicia weeks ago and wasn’t about to back out on her two best friends now just so she could have some bloke on her arm for the night. Besides, last she’d heard neither he nor George had dates yet, so they had no room to talk.

At least she had a plan.    

Lost in her conversation with herself, she nearly collided with a gaggle of shifty-eyed Hufflepuffs who smelled suspiciously of Gobstone goo. The grand staircase was crowded with younger students scrambling between their lessons.  In contrast to their flurry, a handful of  sixth and seventh year students, now into their N.E.W.T. coursework, meandered up and down the stairway in no particular hurry to settle into their revisions.  Squeezing by a large group of Gryffindor fourth years, who were busy debating the intricacies of some potion, Angelina caught sight of a familiar brunette face and waved her down.

“It’s about time you made an appearance today. Did you forget about Charms?” she teased, falling into step with Alicia Spinnet. Having both discontinued the study of Herbology, they both had this hour following Charms free and had begrudgingly pledged to spend it in the library at Lora’s encouragement.  

“Charms?” Alicia quipped, a hint of incredulous panic in her tone. “There are only seventeen days left – seventeen – and you’re worried about Charms? Merlin, what were we thinking? I don’t want to go to the ball alone.” She pulled the strap of her bag back up onto her shoulder before running a self-conscious hand through her fringe.  “Did I mention he looked at me this morning in the Great Hall? Just as he was reaching across the table for a scone.”

“And just, may I ask,” Angelina prodded, feeling more amused than anything else, “what happened to the whole, ‘we’re the Gryffindor chasers, we don’t need bloody dates for the ball, blah blah – independent witch – blah’ routine?”

Angelina smirked knowingly at her best friend. Though amusing, her dormitory mate and best friend’s drastic change of heart regarding dates for the ball was anything but surprising.  Historically, Alicia’s voyages into the realm of witch power and feminism were largely powered by post break-up ire, and were rather short lived in nature. In truth, Angelina should have known better than to think her fickle friend’s most recent convictions would last until after the Yule Ball was over, especially with the increasing frequency a certain Hufflepuff wizard’s name had been coming up in casual conversation.

“Now one scone-reaching look from Mr Eddie McDonald –” she dropped her voice to a whisper as they crossed the library’s threshold, shooting a cautionary glance towards the desk where Madam Pince perched like an overgrown vulture “— and you’re ready to renounce your education and resign to a life of household charms and cookbooks. Not to mention abandon your two best friends.”  

Alicia glared at her.  “Very funny.  I’m not renouncing anything. And he did look at me, even made eye contact.  But there’s no need to worry about our plan. It’ll be a warm day in the dungeon before that tosser gets up the nerve to actually ask me.” She pulled out a chair at an empty study table and plopped unceremoniously into it.  “Hufflepuff.”

“Well, then we stick to our original plan.” Angelina sat down across the table.  “You, Lora and I will look fabulous, go to the ball, dance, laugh at Erin and Marjorie, and have an amazing time.   I’ve already turned down Geoffrey and Peregrine Cooke in favour of what, need I remind you, was your plan.  Besides, the two of you are better looking than any of the sorry blokes in our year.” Her face split into a reassuring smile; Alicia’s face did not, the latter’s mouth opening to protest.  “Except for dear Eddie of course.”

 Angelina laughed at herself.  She loved Alicia, but poking fun at the brunette’s crush on the soft-spoken, wavy-haired Hufflepuff was far too amusing to bypass.  If the two ever actually dated, she knew that her best friend would quickly grow bored of him.  Alicia’s crush, she was fairly sure, was not on the poor boy as much as on his inaccessibility. 

Retrieving a scroll of parchment and a large Transfiguration text from her bag, Angelina glanced around the library. Prior to this year, Angelina had never spent much time in the library during the day.  Thin streams of sunlight crept in through the tall windows, making the rows of ancient books look even older and dustier than they did in the evening.  The table that Alicia had commandeered sat near the middle of the library, tucked between the recent copies of the Daily Prophet and other social media publications. With the holiday and end of term looming, it was rather crowded – small groups of their fellow sixth years occupied most of the group revision tables. 

“So where is Lora?”  Alicia asked after only a few moments, tapping her quill rapidly against the polished oak table top. “Wasn’t she supposed to meet us here?  I’m completely hopeless at this stuff without her.”

 “You and I both. Merlin’s pants,” Angelina swore as the tip of her quill snapped, leaving a puddle of black ink in its wake. Rummaging through her bag, searching for a second quill, she sighed.  “I think she said that she was stopping in the Owlery, sending a letter to Michael no doubt – do you have an extra quill?”

Lora had met Michael the Muggle – as Alicia called him – in primary school, a full six years before the blond Muggle-borne had learned that magic was real and what the word Muggle meant.  It never mattered how often Lora tried to assure the two girls that they were her best friends, Angelina knew that that role had been filled a long time ago over building blocks and wax crayons. ‘And Michael’ followed Lora’s name as naturally as though it were a part of her name, and so when the two had begun dating the previous year, Angelina had only responded with a smile that clearly said “it’s about time.” 

“I only have this old quill.”  Alicia frowned, sliding a stiff blackened quill across the table.  She made an effort of staring down at the pages of A Guide to Advanced Transfiguration, and even turned a page before looking up again.  “Merlin, I hate this stuff. I’d much rather be doing revisions for just about any other course.”

“Potions?”

“Alright any other course besides this or potions.” 

“Potions itself isn’t terrible,” Angelina dipped the old, less-than-fabulous quill, into her ink pot and tested it out on the top corner of her parchment.  “It’s at least logical. I mean, what even is this? ‘And only when the appropriate phase of essence is made visible shall the phase of the essence be bought into matter’ I swear old Switch was touched when he wrote this chapter.”

“Lora is certainly taking her time in the Owlery.”  Alicia glanced towards the door as though their friend was about to walk through the door at any second.  “I wonder,” she continued, twirling a chunk of her long brunette hair on her finger, “if Michael the Muggle’s parents are ever suspicious about the owls that tend to hang out near their son’s window.  I just think that’d be awkward to try and explain.”

“Oh, I’m sure it was and will be.”  The old quill still not writing, she jabbed it at the parchment with vengeance.  “But, I mean, my parents did it somehow, and it seems to have worked out for them.”

“Oh, I’m sure they did it –”

 Angelina dropped her quill and turned to see a smirking Lee Jordan standing over their table. 

“—I’ve seen your mum, Johnson.” He swatted Angelina’s shoulder. A wide grin was plastered across his face and he wagged his eyebrows suggestively.  It was clear that he found himself to be highly amusing.

 “Lee, you amaze me.” 

“Merlin, Angie, don’t flatter me like that.”

“How it is that you can make such good marks, spending so much of your time in the gutter like you do.”  She smiled at him.  Teasing Lee was a staple in her day-to-day activities as teasing her was in his.

A faux expression of pain flashed across his face and he clutched his hands to his chest.  “Your words are so hurtful, Johnson.  I’m such a martyr, putting up with all of your abuse.”  He spun the chair the girls had been saving for Lora around and straddled the back of it. “Paisley ditching out on you two?”

“She’s in the Owlery, sending her post to Michael the Muggle.” Alicia smiled rolling her eyes. “Apparently her beau is more important than either of our Transfiguration marks.”  She looked down at her still-blank parchment and sighed.  “So, Lee, to what do we owe the pleasure of this visit too?”

“Thank you for asking, Alicia.”  He turned towards Angelina, a smirk plastered on his face.  “Poor Angie here seems to have forgotten her manners.”  Angelina felt her eyes roll; she was not going to win their battle of teasing today.  “It’s a shame really.  If I thought she’d appreciate me, I’d ask her to the ball.  We’d easily be the best looking couple on the dance floor.  But, things being the way they are –“ his words hung dramatically in the air “—I’ll just have to ask Libby.” 

 “Libby McNaulty?” Angelina practically sputtered.

“Do you know another Libby that I don’t?” Alicia said, rolling her eyes.

“Why, jealous Johnson?”

“Oh, no. Definitely not jealous. Just – Libby McNaulty? Fascinating.” Angelina suppressed a laugh, fighting to temper her amusement.  “I mean, you better hurry or some other sorry bloke will have snatched her off the market.” 

“I’m working on it.  Have you heard of other blokes wanting to ask her?”

 Despite the clear teasing tone in her voice, Angelina detected an waver of self-doubt in Lee’s normally cool and collected performance.

“Lee, don’t let Angelina worry you. Nobody else has braved imagining asking her to the ball.” Alicia tossed the textbook she had been pretending to look at onto the table.  “She’s terrifying.  I’m sure she’s all yours.”

“Alicia – ” Angelina kicked her friend under the table.  “Libby’s a lovely girl; she’s just an egotistical toad, is all.”  She turned her attention back to Lee, her voice encouraging.  “And no, I haven’t heard of anyone else wanting to ask her, but all the French boys are starting to move in on the Hogwarts girls so you should hurry.”

He sat up straight in his chair and ran his hand across his head.   “You think so?”

“Yes, Lee.”  She turned around and surveyed their classmates sprinkled throughout the library.  “She’s sitting over there with Indira and Shannon and few other Ravenclaws, you should go ask her now.”

“Well, George and Fred are still argu – figuring out what they’re doing for the ball, and erm – ”  His voice trailed off into space, and he was quiet for a moment.  “You’re right, Johnson.  I should ask her, and I will.  If Spinnet here asks that sap McDonald to the ball.  Everyone knows you’ve been drooling over him for weeks, just yesterday Marjorie and Erin were talking about it in the Great Hall.”

Alicia flapped her mouth opened and shut like a great fish.  Whatever words she wanted to spit at Lee seemed to have been trapped. 

“Unless you want me to ask him for you?”  He smirked.

Alicia sprang up out of her chair as though it has shocked her.  Her face was red and her eyebrows had furrowed together.    “Don’t you dare, Lee Jordan.”  She finally managed to regain the power of speech.  “If anyone is going to make an arse of me, it sure as hinkypunks is going to be me.”

 Angelina watched in amusement as she marched across the library to the table where a group of Eddie’s mates were hunched over a table talking in low voices. One pointed around the corner as Alicia approached them before disappearing around the corner.

Shaking her head in amusement, Angelina smirked at Lee. “You know it would have taken me the next seventeen days to convince her to do that.”

“What can I say? It’s a gift.”

“Yeah, yeah.” She rolled her eyes. “Shouldn’t you be using that gift to ask Libby to the ball?” 

“Alright, alright.  I’ll go ask her.  Where’d you say she was sitting?”

“Near the row of shelves with all the charms texts?  She’s sitting next to Indira.” 

As Lee walked away, Alicia re-rounded the corner, just barely making past the group of Eddie’s mates before practically skipping.  A large grin was plastered on her face and her eyes shouted triumph.  Angelina sighed before smiling across the library at her friend. 

At least Lora was still planning on going to the ball stag.

~::~

Having accomplished precisely three lines of her Transfiguration essay in the library, Angelina sat on her own in the steadily emptying common room hunched over the wooden study table.  Though she was now up to twelve lines, she wished she had gotten more accomplished earlier that day.  By the time Lora had joined her and Alicia in the library and had been brought up to date on all the latest Yule Ball news, it’d been time for their next lesson.  At least she could find work as a professional procrastinator if her N.E.W.T.s next year didn’t work out the way she hoped.      

Having finished with the day’s course work and dinner, Alicia was off with a group from Ancient Runes and Lora had disappeared to Professor Burbage’s office – the latter spent a lot of time with the Muggle Studies professor helping her organize all her gizmos and gadgets into logical files. 

Sighing, Angelina looked down at her tidy scrawl on the parchment and dipped her quill tip into the ink well.  A drop of the black ink dripped down onto her parchment, spreading slowly across the freshly penned words. She swore under her breath, siphoning the blotch with the tip of her wand.  She looked up as the portrait door from the stairwell swung open.  Lora walked through the entrance, her bag slung over her shoulder and her blonde hair pulled back from her face.   

“How was filing?” She waved to her friend from the table. 

Lora walked towards the table and slid down into a chair across from Angelina and shrugged her shoulders.  Her eyes were puffy as though she had been crying.

“Are you okay?” Angelina leaned forward across the table, pushing a tin of biscuits she’d nicked from the Great Hall her way.  “What happened?”

The blonde frowned, picking a custard cream from the assortment.  She nibbled at it and chewed for a minute.  “It’s nothing, really, but I didn’t do any filing.  I just wanted to talk to Professor Burbage,” she paused, “about Michael and stuff.  She’s great at listening, it’s just that, I don’t even know.”  She sighed and picked a second custard cream from the tin.  “Just ignore me.  I’m on a whinging binge this evening.”

“As long as you know it,” Angelina smiled at her friend to let her know she was only teasing.  Lora offered up a weak smile in return.  “Are things alright with Michael?”

“Oh, they’re fine I suppose.  We just had a bit of a row in our last few letters.”  She picked up a third biscuit and looked at it before placing it back into the tin.  “Merlin knows I don’t need another.  But he’s a bit bent out of shape that he won’t get to see me until the summer term.  And it’s not even like I’m thrilled about it either.  I miss him loads.  I just want to hear his voice and see his face.   But he’s all upset I’m choosing my friends and a ball over spending the holiday with him and our families.”

Angelina nodded as Lora continued. 

“It was sort of funny, actually.  He got all ridiculous and asked if there was another bloke.” She giggled.  “I could picture him with his scrawny chest all puffed up.  Bloody hell, I miss that boy.”

A smile seeped out onto Angelina’s face despite the fact that she could see her plans for a girls’ night at the Yule Ball swirling down the plumbing.  “You should go home, spend Christmas with him.” 

“I promised you and Alicia that we’d all go to the ball together.  And Alicia has already ditched you for Eddie, I won’t do that to you. I couldn’t.” Despite her words, her face clearly told Angelina that with a bit of encouragement, she’d be on the first train car back to London. 

“Lora,” she plucked one of the remaining biscuits from the tin before Lora had a chance to be cross with herself for eating another, “tell Michael the Muggle Happy Christmas from me, yeah?”

A huge smile broke out across the Blonde’s face and she picked up her stack of books from the table.  “I love you, Angelina.”  She called over her shoulder as she made her way toward the steps to the girl dormitories.  “I’m going to go write Michael again so that he’ll stop sulking.” 

Angelina sighed.  Turning her attention back to her essay, her thoughts wandered to her amethyst and gold dress that was hanging in her wardrobe upstairs.  She was more than happy to go to the ball dateless with her best friends at her side, but going to the ball dateless and alone was another story entirely.  She wished for a moment that her original plans had worked out, but quickly chided herself for the selfish feeling that rose up in her chest.  It was a good thing that Alicia finally got up the nerve to talk to Eddie, and a great thing that Lora would be able to see Michael the Muggle.  Besides, there was still time to make plans for the ball. 

 Seventeen – now almost sixteen – days.

Conceding to the fact that she was not making any progress on her essay, she stood and began rolling up the parchment.  From the corner of her eye she saw the profiles of George and Fred Weasley walk through the portrait hole. 

Angelina, fancy seeing you here in the common room by yourself.”  Fred shouted much too loudly across the common room.  She watched as he gesticulated no- so subtly to his twin, elbowing him in the ribs.  Either not comprehending or not willing to play along, she couldn’t quite tell, George shook his head and made his way up the stairs to the boy dormitories.

She rolled her eyes amiably; there was never any telling what they were up to exactly until they were ready for it to be known.  “Aye, Fred. I’m by my bloody self,” she grumbled to herself. “I’m on my way out, though. Did you need something?”

“It’s rather unfortunate and I’d hoped I wouldn’t,” he mumbled something incoherent and shook his head disappointedly at the boys’ stairway where George had disappeared, “but apparently I do.” 

She waited for him to continue.  When he didn’t, she rounded the arm of the sofa and flopped down onto it.  Propping her feet up onto a stool, she tipped her head and studied the twin in front of her. He was up to something – what, only Merlin knew.

Without invitation, Fred slid onto the sofa next to her and genially tossed his arm around her shoulder. “I have a proposition for you.”

“Okay?”  A proposition.  She fought the urge to roll her eyes in amusement. 

“How would like to accompany me to the ball? I was going to take George, you see, but he’s assured me you’ll look much better in a gown than he will.”

Angelina choked back laughter at the thought of George in a ball gown before fully realizing Fred had just asked her to the ball. How would she like to go to the ball with Fred? Given her current predicament, it would certainly be nice to attend the blasted ball with a friend and not have to worry about the nuances of teenaged drama. Yes, Fred’s proposal sounded like the beginnings of a feasible, makeshift plan.  “Well, seeing as I’ve been ditched by not only one, but two dates today and my plans have completely fallen through, I’d love to go to the ball with you.”

“Aye, I’d heard about Spinnet and McDonald.  Let me ask – can you keep a secret?” he asked slipping his arm back from around her shoulders and rising to his feet. 

Scepticism and curiosity tingled under her skin.  She raised an eyebrow and waited for him to continue. 

“My plans had fallen through today as well,” he said in a low voice, shaking his head. Leaning over, he pulled her up onto her feet. “But we’ll have a brilliant time. You just bring yourself, and I’ll take care of the rest.” With a wink, he turned on his heel and followed trotted up the stairs to the boys’ dormitory.

Shaking her head, Angelina once again picked up her things.  If only she’d managed to accomplish as much with her essay as she had for the bloody ball. As she trudged up the stairs to her own dormitory, she couldn’t hide the small smile that slipped over her lips. In just sixteen days, she’d be celebrating Christmas Eve at the Yule Ball in her beautiful gown in the company of a date. And for the first time that day, she let herself feel a rush of anticipation.

~::~  

Author's Note: I would like to extend my gratitude to those of you who have read, reviewed and favorited this story thus far. To new readers, welcome!! I hope you all enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. I'd love to hear your thoughts, so please review, even it it's brief. As always, thank you to Annie, Sarah and Jane... Rave on puffins!

 

Edited 23/10/2016


Chapter 3: George, September 1998
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George, September 1998

The days following the impromptu class reunion at the Fizzing Whizbee passed slightly quicker than the months prior to it had. It was a small, mostly insignificant change, but George had taken to leaving his tiny window open to the outside environment. Granted, the air that filtered into his flat felt stale and tasted urban and over-used – it definitely was not the fresh air he had grown up breathing in the countryside surrounding the Burrow – but nevertheless, it seemed to carry a hint of vitality that had been missing from the flat’s congested interior.

George rolled his face away from the deep imprint it had made in his pillow. The September sunlight was warm on his skin, and the sound of the hustle and bustle on the street below flitted into his ears through the open window. The cackle of the old hag selling gurdyroot on the corner, the rustling of the shoppers’ cloaks meandering down the alley, and the clear voice passing out brochures for the weekend’s Quidditch match gave the illusion that he wasn’t alone in the flat. Running his tongue over his teeth, he slowly opened his eyes to the brightness. The digits of his bedside clock told him that it was nearly two in the afternoon. He groaned before pushing himself up into a sitting position. The lines defining day and night had become blurred since he had moved back in above Diagon Alley, and his sleep schedule had been awry at best. He knew that he should really try and regain some semblance of normalcy in his daily schedule, and intended to, but he also knew that the road to Salazar’s grave was paved in good intentions. Exhaling, he shuffled off the edge of his bed towards his kitchen.

Flicking his wand at the kettle on the stove top, George stepped forward and opened the door of the icebox. His stomach gave an audible growl, and he cursed himself for procrastinating on a much needed trip to the food shop. The lone box of cereal in his cabinet was empty except for the crumbs in the bottom of the bag – exactly why he had not yet thrown it away was a mystery. Even if he had cereal, he was certain that the quart of milk on the top shelf was not supposed to have chunks floating in it as it currently did.

Settling on plate of left over, take away noodles of questionable age, he stood back and hastily shoveled the first bite into his mouth. He immediately wished he had been born with a tad more patience. The offensive noodles tasted about as awful as he imagined Filch’s dirty socks would. He scraped the rest of the old plate into the rubbish bin as his stomach growled with more insistence. Resigning to consuming a kettle of tea for breakfast, he slumped down into a kitchen chair. With no milk or honey for his tea, the steaming liquid tasted bitter as it seared its way down his throat.

A small stack of post lay neatly on the edge of the table. George picked up the envelope on the top of the stack. A chirp of approval sounded from the coat rack standing in the corner of the room.

“Shall we check the post, Oddie?” A red-coloured crested owl fluttered down from his perch onto the table and nipped at George’s fingers. “Let’s see what we have here, boy.” He shuffled through the stack of mail, reading aloud to the small owl. “Letter from Mum. A notice for this month’s rent. One, two, four advertisements – one for that new café down the alley. Another letter from Verity – Merlin, this is the second one she’s sent this week. Wanting to know about the shop, no doubt. I don’t - I just can’t.”

He tossed Verity’s letter and the advertisements into the rubbish bin next to the old noodles. He took a large gulp of his tea and, running his hand through his hair, looked back at the now much-smaller stack of mail in his hands.

“Oddie, one of these days I’m going to train you to only bring the mail I want to open.” The owl hopped up onto his shoulder and clacked his beak as if in response. “Look at me, Oddie – sitting here, in my empty kitchen, listening to the sounds from the alley, drinking tea for breakfast, talking to a bloody owl.”

George patted the owl’s extravagant fringe.

“A second letter from Mum – she’s a determined woman. A letter from Lee. And last but not least, a – ”

His voice trailed off like the end of one of his mum’s old records. The final letter from the pile was addressed to Misters Fred and George Weasley. Despite the tea he had just drunk, his mouth felt dry and the corners of his eyes tingled. The sight of his and Fred’s name, penned side by side on the envelope, was a sharp reminder of what he had been and never again would be a part of. He wondered how much time would pass until people stopped addressing post to Fred. A small dark corner of his mind quietly hoped that they never would, that he would always have at least an envelope that believed his twin was alive and well.

His breath caught in his lungs and his vision blurred. He hated this, feeling so powerless to normal events. He had only looked at his bloody post. Running his hand through his hair, he rapidly blinked his eyes and forced himself to swallow. The envelope was still grasped in his fingers, and he made himself look at the address once more.

Misters Fred and George Weasley.

“Ah, Oddie,” he said, turning the envelope over, hiding Fred’s name from sight, “I really ought to get out of this flat. Fancy Lee will want some company? He never works on Saturdays.”

The small owl chirped and fluttered off of his shoulder and out the open crack in the kitchen window. A slight breeze blew in, and George inhaled it deeply. He needed to continue moving forward. Nothing good had come from sitting around. Leaving the kettle, his mug and the mail on the table top, George rose to his feet. His stomach gave another loud grumble. Perhaps Lee’s place would have something edible that he wouldn’t have to drink.

~::~

A light was visible beneath Lee’s door when George reached the top floor of the old Muggle building. More as a formality than to actually announce himself, George knocked and opened the door to his best friend’s flat.

“Lee?” George called over his shoulder as he made his way through the sitting room to the kitchen. The icebox was full of food, and he momentarily forgot about letting his old dormitory mate know that he was there. Images of large sandwiches, crisps, and biscuits danced through his mind, and he set to work rummaging through the cabinets. He was a man of priorities, after all.

With a plate piled high with food he did not purchase, George settled into an ancient, overstuffed chair in the corner of the sitting room. Project scarf-Lee’s-food-before-he-realized-that-it-had-been-nicked commenced, and he shoved far too much corned beef into his mouth. He scrutinised his plate and shoved several crisps into his mouth for good measure. Lee was probably reciting his latest routine into a hair comb in front of his mirror or something – he took his broadcasting job very seriously.

A shrill, feminine scream pulled his attention up away from the food.

“George Weasley?”

Indira Shah, the quiet girl from their year who had always been with Libby, stood in the doorway leading back to Lee’s bedroom and office. To say her face looked surprised would have been an understatement. Her jaw hung slack and her eyes were wide.

“Indira,” George said, trying his hardest to ignore the fact that the girl was clothed only in an oversized button-up shirt and that her long legs were much shapelier than he would have expected. “Fancy seeing you here.”

“Fancy seeing me here?” The pitch of her voice was high and panicky. “Fancy seeing me here? Bloody Merlin, I can’t even – what are you doing here, don’t you knock?”

“George.” Lee had appeared behind Indira in the hallway. “I, er, I didn’t hear you come in. We were, we were, um, going over some notes for next week’s broadcast.”

George cocked an eyebrow and smiled at his friend.

“Well, I am, I should go and make sure,” Indira said, stepping back from the doorway, “check those notes.” Her voice had returned to a more human pitch and trailed off as she turned away from the sitting room.

Waiting until she had disappeared through one of the hall’s doorways, George turned to Lee, still smiling. “So, do you always review your broadcasts with trouser-less, leggy women?” A deep laugh rolled out of his chest.

“Stop laughing, George.” Lee’s voice betrayed him and a rich chuckle slipped out from his serious façade.

“You and Indira, huh?” George continued when he had finally caught his breath.

Waiting for Lee’s response, he shoved another large bite of his corned beef sandwich into his mouth. Project scarf-the-food had clearly been derailed, and so he may as well enjoy it now.

Lee glanced over his shoulder down the hall and slid onto the sofa. “When you didn’t show up for lunch, we just assumed you weren’t coming, and so one thing lead to another and broadcast editing happened.” Lee smiled across the room. “And then you appear in the sitting room eating all my groceries as though you’ve been living on tea or something. Where were you for lunch?”

“Lunch?” George asked between the last two bites off his plate. “Is that what you wrote about? I never even got out of bed until two – my sleeping habits are atrocious – I got the letter, just didn’t get around to reading it. Doesn’t look like you two missed me too much.” He grinned.

“You’re never going to let us live this down, are you?”

“Oh, no. I’ll let Indira live it down. She seemed nice enough, and I don’t know her well enough not to. But you, on the other hand – ” He allowed his voice to trail off for dramatic emphasis. “So, how long have you two been, er, editing broadcasts or dating or whatever it is you’re doing? I saw you talking to her at the Fizzing Whizbee.”

“We started seeing each other back in March.” At the surprised look on George’s face, Lee spoke faster. “During Potterwatch. I worked so closely with her dad with all the broadcasting - stop laughing, actual broadcasting, but with the war and whatnot, we just never told anybody. And then, when it was all over, we didn’t want to tell you, what with Fred and everything.”

George winced at the sound of Fred’s name, but just barely. Lee was one of the few people who ever mentioned Fred by name in conversation with him, and for that, he was grateful.

“And now you know,” Lee continued, “even though this may have not been the ideal way for you to find out. Fortunate we tried it out on you, and not her parents or something.”

George chuckled, imagining his own mother’s face if she’d have walked in on a trouser-less woman in his flat. “Don’t her parents know you’re dating?”

Lee’s lips pursed together. “Nah, Indira says they wouldn’t approve of me. So, we just sort of take it a day at a time and hope they don’t find out. Not to change the subject, but did that Verity girl get a hold of you? I ran into her in London yesterday. She says that she’s written you a couple times and you haven’t responded or whatever.”

George sighed.

“Well, if it’s personal or whatev – ”

“It’s nothing personal, Lee.” George ran his hands through his hair. “It’s just that I know her letters are about the store. Inventory, or ideas or whatever. I just, I don’t know. I just am not ready to think about anything like that just yet. I’m also not ready to look into anything. There is an entire closet in our - my flat that is filled with ideas and sketches. It’s all there now, so it’ll be there whenever I do decide I’m ready to go through his - our things.”

“There’s no rush, George. You just have to do what you do, when you’re ready to do it.” Lee stood up from the sofa and stretched. “Now, I think I ought to go and check on Indira and her pride. I’ll be right back.”

~::~

Indira eventually did come out of Lee’s bedroom. When she did, she was fully dressed and did not look at George as though he were a Dementor hovering in the sitting room. People really didn’t put enough stock in second impressions. Though her smiles and input into the threesome’s conversation felt slightly strained, Lee had assured George later that evening on his way out of the flat that Indira loved him.

George had smiled, winking over his best friend’s shoulder at Indira, and said, “I’ve got excellent hearing, and heard it’s not a difficult thing to do.”

It really had been a good day.

A content smile passed over George’s face as he tapped the door of his flat door with his wand. The interior was as vacant and quiet as ever, but the emptiness and silence didn’t weigh on him like an oppressive hand. Instead, it felt relaxing. Flicking his wand at the dusty wireless sitting in the corner, he slid down onto his sofa as the music filled the room.

Picking up a magazine from the side table, he glanced at the date on the cover. July 1998. His eyes stared at the words on the page, but they did not reread the article on the re-instatement of Britain’s Quidditch League. Instead, they flicked between the glossy page and the closet on the wall opposite where he sat. Years of hard work, and memories – souvenirs from late night raids of the castle and less-than-moral business dealings sat, carefully packaged in boxes behind the wooden door. Verity wanted to know his inventory count, no doubt. She was very insistent on finishing up her marketing statistics before Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes faded into the background of Diagon Alley’s memory. George was numb and wonderfully ignorant about the future of the WWW name. He could care less about Verity’s statistics or her inventory. It was the potential of closure, of a temporary walk with his twin that drew his attention towards the door, and guided his feet across the floor, and raised his hand towards the cool brass doorknob.

Every inch of available space behind the door was filled with boxes of all sizes and shapes.

Inhaling the dusty air, George lifted the first box from the closet and set it out on the sitting room floor. He wasn’t entirely sure that he was ready for this, but his arms and back continued unloading the storage space. Before long, he sat amidst dozens of cardboard boxes and crates. Carefully, he pulled the flap of the first box open.

The tin at the top of the box’s contents was filled with small sweets wrapped in bright, yellow-coloured foils. Canary Creams. A smile spread across his face as he rolled one between his fingers. The foul sweets had been one of their first products to undergo major trial runs. Fred had been the first to try the finished product, and had made a spectacularly interesting bird – especially during his moult. A short chuckle broke the silence in the flat as George recalled an image of Fred standing in an unused classroom they had commandeered for testing their products. He was completely covered in yellow down save for his bright red hair, but his features had been very human – not a beak or wing in sight. That first batch of Canary Creams had been far from foolproof, and seemed to accessorize the consumer’s bare skin with a layer of feathers instead of transfiguring them into a songbird. Trials two and three had gone much smoother, and the issues with the hair colouring and the missing bird features were resolved. Only weeks later, standing surrounded by a flock of second and third year canaries in the otherwise empty common room, George and Fred had clapped each other on the backs. They had done it – Canary Creams were a marketable commodity.

George tossed the cream up into the air and snatched it, setting it back down into the box.

“Nice catch, Ace.”

He jumped and glanced over his shoulder.

“Sorry.” Angelina stood just inside the flat. “I didn’t mean to startle you – should have written, or knocked at least. It’s just, your door was open, and so I just let myself in.”

Of course George was startled; he certainly hadn’t expected Angelina to pop by for a visit. It had been over a week since he had seen her at the pub and spoken to her, and even then the alcohol he had consumed blurred any memory of conversation that had taken place between them. He knew he ought to give her some indication that he had heard her – stand up from behind the boxes, invite her in from the doorway, say hello at the very least, but the words were thick on his tongue.

“Are these –” Her voice trailed off as she glanced around the room at all of the cardboard boxes. “If this is a bad time, I could just – ”

“No, no. Come in.” Words had finally appeared in his mouth, and George jumped to his feet. “I’ve gone and forgotten my manners. Sit down, please.”

“Are you sure, George?” She sat herself on the sofa. “I don’t really have anything particular to talk about, and, well, you look like you’re in the middle of something.”

Slowly lowering himself back onto the floor, George smiled up at Angelina. “I’m just going through some of Fred’s and my things.” He fished through the box nearest him and grabbed a small phial. “It’s really great to see you here, Angelina. I can’t say I was in the best of shapes last time I saw you.” He patted the space on the ground next to him.

“Well, perhaps you should dance drunk more often, I had a splendid time – ”

“You said I was still an awful dancer – ”

“ – you only tramped on my feet twice the whole evening.” She had moved and was sitting next to him on the floor. She smiled and pushed a thick chunk of his hair from his face. “I consider that a major improvement.”

“Ah.” George turned his face from hers, nudging her shoulder with his own. “This,” he trained his attention on the phial in his hand, “is the Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder. It was all Fred’s idea. He was always a bit gutsier with our more suspicious dealings. Met with this Peruvian goblin-looking wizard whose face was all wrapped in bandages.” He paused to look over at Angelina. She leaned her shoulder against his, as though she were a young child preparing herself for story time. “You’re comfortable? We don’t have to sit on the floor if you’d prefer the sofa. I do have furniture.”

“I’m comfortable if you are.”

“Right.” Though he didn’t say anything, he was very comfortable there, on the floor with Angelina on his shoulder and the world of his youth at his fingertips. George tipped the phial and watched the powder rush towards the side. “You should have heard his jokes after I lost my ear and my head was bandaged. I have to admit, they were pretty clever.”

~::~

Author’s Note: I’m so sorry for the long delay between chapter 2 and this update. Veterinary school finals owned 100% of my attention the last few weeks. To those of you who stuck around and waited for this update, thank you. To those of you who are new to the story, thank you and welcome. I hope that you enjoyed this chapter, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!! Reviews are always loved and appreciated. And finally, a special thank you to all of my lovely friend – especially Jane for her beta magic, Gina for her insight and Sarah for the suggestion of Peruvian Instant Darkness powder. 


Chapter 4: Angelina, December 1994
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Angelina, December 1994

The last few days leading up to the winter holiday and the Yule Ball crawled by in an endless parade of essays, assignments, and deadlines.

The blank, nearly robotic looks on her classmates’ faces as they filed into their Charms term examination and their sunken-in sleep deprived eyes made her wish she had woken up early enough to have dabbed a bit of powder onto her face before racing down to breakfast. As it was, she had only got out of bed after some fervent shaking from Lora. Alicia, always nervous before examinations, had left their dorm already and the two girls had had to run down to the Great Hall to meet her. Angelina had promptly spilled her tea on herself and, after a quick Scourgify spell, decided she wasn’t meant to eat breakfast that morning. If her state of mind was any reflection of the rest of the sixth year, the winter holiday and its ball could not come soon enough.

The Charms term examination was the last obstacle separating them from a momentary freedom from academics. Three essay prompts, two feet of her neatest penmanship, and several creative explanations for the intricate workings of Bubble-Head Charms later, Angelina sat in her cramped wooden desk looking up at the clock in the front of the classroom. The sound of Alicia’s bouncing leg next to her told her that she was nearly finished with her essays as well. Behind her, she could hear George, or maybe Fred - without turning around, she couldn’t be certain - tapping their quill against their inkwell. Lora had finished her exam several minutes earlier and was most likely waiting in the hall for her friends. Angelina exhaled. With exactly seven minutes left in the exam block, she was finished. Glancing over her lines of slanted scrawl, she signed her name with a little more flourish than necessary and rolled up the scroll of parchment.

It was finally winter holiday. Slipping her bag up onto her shoulder, she dropped her exam onto Professor Flitwick’s desk and wished him a ‘Happy Christmas.’ As expected, Lora sat on a stone bench in the corridor outside of the classroom.

“So what’d you think? That third question tripped me up a bit.”

Angelina sat down onto the bench next to Lora. “I think that it’s over and that we’re now on holiday and we don’t have to worry about coursework until after Christmas.” She smiled at her friend who shook her head in disapproving amusement. “Alicia should be done soon. She was tapping her foot like a madwoman.”

“She told me she was going to wait for Eddie after the exam, so I’m guessing we’re not to wait for her.”

“I see.” Angelina rolled her eyes, drawing out the last syllable. “If her head wasn’t currently in the cloud-Eddie McDonald, she’d be appalled by herself. Traditions being quashed left and right by the male gender. The feminist in her would die. ” Angelina laughed. “If either of us left her after an exam for a boy, she’d whinge for days.

“We wouldn’t love her if she wasn’t so fickle,” Lora rose to her feet. “God, I can’t believe I still have to finish packing, would you hate me if I asked you to help?”

“Obviously,” Angelina followed her and the girls made their way from the corridor to the grand staircase. "I'm surprised that you weren't packed for winter holiday last week. Merlin, Lora, such a slacker, a true embarrassment to the prefects of old."

“Oh, shush. Six years with the two of you was bound to have some effect on me.”

“You love us.” Angelina paused outside of the portrait of the Fat Lady. “Fairy lights.”

The portrait door swung open, revealing the Gryffindor common room. The circular room was deserted and the fire had burnt out in the fireplace. It looked as though the space was as ready for the holiday as the students were. They crossed behind the plush scarlet chairs to the stairway to the girls’ dormitories. Erin and Marjorie, both of whom had opted out of Charms, brushed by them in the stairwell.

“So sad you won’t be joining us at the Ball, Lora.” Marjorie’s voice never failed to sound rehearsed. If Angelina did not share a dormitory and bathroom with the girl, she’d have sworn that she practiced it in the shower. “But you try to have fun at home. We’ll think of you while we’re all dancing in our gowns,” she said, batting her precisely made-up eyelashes.

“What a cow,” Angelina hissed as they entered the sixth year dormitory. “She has to know how awful she sounds, she’s not the brightest, but she’s not stupid either.”

Lora sighed and dropped her bag onto the floor next to her trunk. “Marjorie is about as palatable as Hagrid’s Blast-Ended Skrewts, but I don’t think she means to be as grating as she is.” Her bed was the closest to the door, and Angelina flung herself across it.

“You’re too reasonable. Takes all the fun out of gossiping about people.”

Angelina slipped her flats from her feet and tossed them across the dormitory. They landed in a pile of robes and jumpers at the foot of her four poster bed. Lora’s things were stacked neatly in and around her trunk. The lack of clutter around the girl’s bed was refreshing. Across the room, piles of clutter surrounded her own four poster. Neatness was an attractive-enough concept, but the effort needed to maintain organization was not. Maybe someday she’d talk Lora into helping her to organize her things.

“I can’t wait to hear about the ball.” Lora said, flattening out the pleats in her skirt and opening up her trunk. “I’m so excited to be able to see Michael, but you know. It’d be nice to be able to do both. You’ll have to tell me everything.” She continued methodically piling things into her trunk while Angelina watched. “Please tell me that you’re excited?”

“Of course I’m excited.” Angelina slid off the bed and tapped the wireless with her wand. A soft Christmas carol filled the room. “Granted, it’d be better if I was spending it with my two best friends,” she smiled, “but knowing I’ll be able to hear new Michael the Muggle tales and Alicia’s Eddie stories afterward makes this so much better.”

“And Fred’s got to be an entertaining date.” She shoved several books on top of the trunk and sighed, “I swear this trunk shrinks each term.”

“Yes, I’m sure it’s your trunk that’s shrinking, and not the fact that you have about a thousand new books this term.” Angelina leaned her weight onto the lid with Lora until the latch finally clicked shut. “And Fred is brilliant; we’ll have a grand time. We already agreed to poke fun at Lee and Libby the entire time.”

“Damn it.” She looked up at Lora, who swore only on the very rare occasion. “I forgot to leave out Alicia’s and your gifts.” The blonde eyed her trunk warily.

“I’m not getting into that trunk again, Lora.” Angelina said, shaking her head. “We can just do a late Christmas together, when you get back with your Michael stories.”

“What about Michael the Muggle?” The door opened as Alicia skipped into the dormitory and plopped onto Lora’s bed. Angelina fought the urge to roll her eyes. One of Alicia’s favourite past times was joshing Lora about her boyfriend’s way of life. “You will send him my love for Christmas, won’t you?” she wagged her eyebrows, suppressing a giggle.

“Only if you send dearest Eddie mine.” Lora did not suppress her giggle. “How was your walk? Ange and I were thinking you had gotten lost, or perished before you had finished your exam.” Her teasing voice was light and sing-song-y.

The brunette blushed and pulled her legs to herself.

Angelina could tell that Alicia was dying to tell the secret she was trying to keep. She tilted her head and looked at her friend, waiting for her to give into her inherent need to share every detail of her walk with Eddie.

“The walk was, er, nice,” Alicia began, resistance crumbling. “We walked. And we talked. And walked some more.” Her voice trailed off and her cheeks burned a deeper shade of crimson. She paused before practically squealing, “He kissed me.”

The proceeding excitement in the dormitory was nearly ear shattering. The three girls sat on Lora’s bed, probing Alicia for details. They anxiously asked about the when, the where and the how. Angelina had to smirk at Alicia as she ate up all the attention, feigning reluctance for a moment or two before answering each question in gregarious detail. The huge smile plastered across her face was infective, and the girls sat talking and laughing until the evening sun had fell below the level of the dormitory window.

“Good God.” Lora jumped from her bed, staring incredulously at her watch. “How in the world did it get to be this late already?” She grabbed her cloak from the peg by her bed and slipped it onto her shoulders. “I’ve got to catch the carriages down to Hogsmeade, or I’ll miss the train.” Charming her trunk and placing a kiss on both Angelina and Alicia’s cheeks, she hurried towards the doorway. “You two better have enough fun for me too at the ball.” She tried her best to look stern. “You know I’ll be expecting fully detailed stories when I return.” She scampered from the room shouting, “Have a happy Christmas!” over her shoulder.

Angelina and Alicia smiled at one another. Tomorrow evening, they would be at the ball.

~::~

The transformation in the appearance of the Great Hall between lunch time and eight o’clock, when couples began filing into the ball, was jaw-dropping. The long House tables had been removed and replaced by several small, round tables situated around the perimeter. The large Christmas trees looked at home lining the long walls of the Hall. A delicate silver frost covered all the surfaces, and a soft, enchanted snow fell from the ceiling.

Angelina sighed. She had never been one to be swept away by fairy tales, but the aura in the room was enchanting.

Fred linked his arm through her elbow and led her into the hall. “Dumbledore sure knows how to throw a party, eh Ang?” he said over the soft carols floating through the air. He plopped them down at a table near to the dance floor to wait for the commencement of the ball by the Triwizard champions. His gaze travelled up towards the greenery hanging above the table. “So do we think Flitwick strung up enough mistletoe?”

She glanced up, following Fred’s eyes. Long garlands of ivy were strung around the entire hall, and bunches of mistletoe hung above each of the tables and the large dance floor. “I’m sure after having you blokes for Charms, he knew you needed all the help you can get.”

“Oi, Fred.” George loped over to their table from across the hall. “Have you seen Lee and Libby? Geoffrey and I promised not to intrude on the date so of course we must find the happy couple and, er, not intrude.” He glanced towards her, and she felt his eyes make contact with hers for a moment.

Angelina smiled. “Knowing Libby, Lee will probably need you two for backup, emotional support, reinforcements, the like.”

“Oh, hey Angelina.” He dropped his eyes, and seemed to study his short fingernails.

“All of the above?” Fred offered. “You could stay here with us, Georgie, let Lee sweat it out on his own for a while.”

“That’d just be cruel.” Angelina supressed the malicious giggle that rose in her throat as thoughts of the frog-like Ravenclaw played out in front of her eyes.

“Er, I think I ought to go and find Geoffrey. It’s no good being a lone-stag at something like this.”

“Well,” Fred practically sang, “you and I both know you didn’t have to be here stag. Why, I reckon that if you would – ”

“Right. I’m going to find Geoffrey. Just cruel to leave Lee with Libby on his own,” George said, shuffling away from the table.

Angelina followed his path across the hall and watched as he and Geoffrey sat down directly across from Lee, behind Libby’s back. The Ravenclaw’s mouth was moving a mile a minute, clearly engaged in some thrilling tale of her pure, unadulterated genius or another. Lee’s expression was hard to judge from this distance, but Geoffrey and George were clearly as amused watching the couple’s interactions as she was. The foursome was surely in for an entertaining evening.

“You may have thought you were joking, about Flitwick,” Fred’s voice cut into her observations, “but you were more right than you know. We - well some of us more than others - really do need all the help we can get.”

Before she could ask him what exactly he meant, the music swelled to a hard-to-ignore volume and the four champions and their dates paraded into the hall. As if on cue, they bowed to one another and began a slow, ballroom step across the floor. She watched the couples move, admiring the girl’s dresses and laughing at the varying degrees of awkwardness set out on display by the young men.

“Merlin, Harry looks like he may vomit on Parvati.”

“Exhibit A of the genius that is Flitwick.” Fred chuckled and stood up, offering an extended palm to Angelina. “Shall we, my lady” He waggled his eyebrows.

Smiling and shaking her head, Angelina threw her hand over Fred’s. “May as well.”

Several off-beat and mostly ridiculous dances later, Angelina found herself at the punch table with Fred. The later had worked up a sweat during his exaggerated ministrations on the dance floor, and was rapidly emptying the cup of punch he had poured himself. She glanced through the crowd, hoping to spot Alicia and Eddie. To her amusement, the two were practically glued to one another, still swaying in time to the music. Knowing her best friend’s flare for the dramatic, she knew that the impending stories were sure to be on the calibre of the ancient epics. In all truthfulness, she reckoned that Alicia and Homer would have gotten along well had they lived in the same century. She turned her attention back to Fred, hoping he hadn’t managed to drown himself in the cherry-flavoured drink, and realized that Lee had joined them at the table.

“I swear, Fred she’s awful. Terrible.” The boy ran his hands through his thick dreadlocks. “She’s gone and convinced herself that I love her. She’s trying to seduce me – tricking me into the gardens with all those damn fairies floating around, and how that’s seductive I can’t even begin to guess. Creepy, is what they are, with their little wings and their little voices.”

Angelina suppressed a smile and turned her head from the boys, hoping that they’d continue talking and not realize she was listening. Growing up in a house the youngest of four girls, she was well versed in the art of eavesdropping.

“Lee, mate, everyone told you that there was a reason a girl as good-looking as Libby McNaulty was dateless when you asked her.” She heard him clap his friend on the back. “Just think of yourself as a martyr.”

He mumbled something unintelligible before continuing. “Any progress with George?” He paused, most likely waiting for a response and Angelina wondered what sort of progress George was probably not making. “Earth to Fred. Stop staring at her, you’ll just make yourself look creepy. You know, you’re just as bad as your twin. You know you could have asked her. Merlin knows Pucey is a right arse.”

Angelina fought the urge to look and see who Fred had not asked to the ball.

“I could have maybe asked her, if George wasn’t such a pansy.” Fred’s voice was playful. “I thought that he’d take my ultimatum seriously, but since he didn’t and decided to clam up around her instead – I had to look out for him and keep my word.”

She jumped when she felt Fred’s hands on the sides of her shoulders.

“Budge over, Ang. You’re hogging the punch bowl.”

Turning to face Fred and Lee, she found her date’s face studying her with a look of astute suspicion. Lee had commandeered a chair from a nearby table and was nervously glancing over his shoulder, as though he was hoping to remain unnoticed by his less-than-favourable date.

“Looks like we have a class-O eavesdropper here, Lee.” A mischievous smile hovered on his face. “Walk with me, Ang. I need to talk with you about what we do with spies as admirable as yourself.”

“I cannot believe you caught me.” Angelina walked next to Fred back towards the dance floor. The redhead placed his hands on her sides, and they began a semi-normal dance step.

“Angelina, you are talking to a master at all things amusing and deceptive.” He lowered her into an awkward and ill-timed dip. “Of course I knew you were listening.”

“Fine, then. Who exactly did George fancy bringing to the ball?” She felt his muscles in his shoulders tense and stepped back a bit, narrowly missing another flourishing dance move. “And you. Who did you want to bring to the dance? That little strawberry blonde girl that Pucey is flaunting?”

“I cannot believe that you think I’ll just tell you these things.” A wide grin flickered across his face. “But if you don’t know who George has been pining over these past few weeks, then he’s worse off than I imagined. Speaking of George – ”

Fred stopped them next to a table where Lee had been joined by George and Geoffrey. It was apparent that he was now sharing his Libby-horror stories with his new audience.

“Oi. George, I’ve got some business to attend to.” Angelina watched Fred nod down and gesture towards his pockets, and she wondered what sort of trouble he was stowing in his dress robes. “If you’d be so kind as to look after my date?”

Not waiting for a response, Fred disappeared into the crowd.

“Merlin knows what he’s up to.” She turned her attention towards George, who still sat at the table. “So you want to dance or something?” She extended her hand and lead her new date onto the dance floor. His hands were much more hesitant on her waist than Fred’s had been, and his grey dress robes gave his eyes an almost soft look instead of their normal mischievous expression.

“I’m glad I got a dance with you. Fred said you hadn’t asked anyone to the ball, and it’d be a damn shame not to dance at all.”

“Fred talked about me, then?” Despite his awkward hand placement, they had settled into a natural-feeling rhythm in time to the music. “That must have been a terrible bore.” He smiled, readjusting his hands yet again. “I just didn’t get around to asking anybody. I not a fan of deadlines and ultimatums, much rather just sort of wing it.”

“George.” Angelina felt his hands moving yet and stopped in the middle of the dance floor. She dropped her hands from his shoulders and placed them over his hands on her waist. “Right there is fine. If you keep changing your mind about where your hands should be, you’ll make me laugh.”

“Ticklish?” She nodded. “Well, making people laugh is what I do.” She winced as he stepped down on her exposed toes. “And Merlin knows I’m better at that than I am at dancing. You know, Fred and I are going to own our own joke shop someday.”

“We don’t have to dance.” Angelina bent over to rub her foot.

“Maybe we should do something a bit less hazardous? Check out the gardens or something?”

George’s suggestion was not a totally unique one; the garden seemed a very popular place to be. A few couples walked around in glow of the live fairies hovering in the hedges. Angelina spotted an empty bench across the courtyard and gestured towards it. He shrugged and followed her, his attention turning towards the handful of snogging couples tucked in the bushes along the way. Though she didn’t spot her, Angelina was willing to bet a Galleon that Alicia and Eddie were tucked away somewhere.

She sat on the bench and looked up at her second red-headed companion of the evening. George was standing about three feet away. He ran his hand though the top of his hair and kicked the toe of his shoe against the dirt.

“Well, this is awkward.”

“Why is this awkward?” She cocked her head to the side and studied him. She had played on the same Quidditch team as him since she was a third year, and had never seen him look so vulnerable. A sliver of an idea floated into her mind that perhaps she was the girl George had wanted to ask to the ball, that Fred had perhaps threatened his twin that he’d take her to the dance if he didn’t ask her, and that when he had failed to do so, Fred had subtly passed her off to George in favour of mischief.

Angelina was thankful Alicia couldn’t read minds; else, she’d never live it down. After what seemed like an eternity of fanciful thinking, George finally opened his mouth to answer. “You know - all these snogging people, and the bleeding fairies, and this suspect lighting. I swear to Merlin I didn’t bring you out here to snog.”

Whatever she had thought he’d have said, that was not it, and she failed to cover the laugh that rolled out from deep within her chest.

George’s shoulders relaxed, and the first flicker of a comfortable smile showed on his face, though he had not moved any closer to the bench. “I told you I was good at this laughing business. I completely planned that horribly executed explanation.”

“So, why don’t you tell me about this shop you and Fred want to have someday, and you and Geoffrey’s Lee and Libby espionage?” She scooted over on the bench to make room for him next to her. The side of his thigh barely touched hers, but it was warm in the cool night air. “I’m sure there’ll be plenty more for you to make me laugh about.”

The corner of George’s mouth pulled up into a cheeky - almost bashful, Angelina imagined - smile. “That sounds like a fantastic idea.”

~::~

Author’s Note: I hope that you enjoyed this latest chapter and would love to hear your thoughts in a review. –wags eyebrows suggestively – To any of you who have read “So Listen” by toujourspadfoot, there is a subtle reference to her Yule Ball chapter and Frollis here, so I hope you caught it. I’d like to extend my gratitude to Janechel for her lovely work as my beta, to sarah for her support and the rest of the raving puffins. Thank you again, and I look forward to seeing you for the next chapter.


Chapter 5: George, October 1998
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George, October 1998

The cool country air felt fresh in his lungs.

George wasn’t sure what had prompted him to decide that today was the day he ought to finally visit his family, perhaps it had been the slightly burnt oatmeal he had eaten for breakfast or the complete lack of hot water in his shower, but when the thought had flickered through his still-foggy brain earlier that morning he knew that it was time to give it a try. Pulling a relatively clean jumper and an only mildly wrinkled robe over his head, he forwent scribbling a note to his mum in case he changed his mind and Disapparated from the Flat.

Standing at the end of the long lane leading through the fields surrounding his childhood home, he wasn’t entirely sure he was ready for the inevitable onslaught of family members that would certainly appear once word he had stopped by was sent. He knew that he wasn’t properly prepared for the myriad of memories surely lurking in every corner, crack and crevice. Not knowing how he would respond to each as they flittered through his mind, they made him uneasy. Rooted in the deepest place inside his chest, a piece of him was terrified that seeing his face and its likeness to Fred’s would only cause his family reflexive pain. He squeezed his eyes shut and forcibly exhaled. Despite these trepidations, he was fairly certain that he was glad he had finally come home.

He inhaled deeply, drawing the clean air into his lungs once more.

Several crooked stories of architecture that could only have been held together by magic stood at the end of the lane. Several thin wisps of smoke trailed up from its chimneys into the sky. A few chickens clucked around a patch of dried and dying vegetables in the yard. He couldn’t remember another summer in which his mum had not managed to do any planting, and a small ball of guilt sank into his stomach. Of course she had had just as difficult a few months as he had. Perhaps he would help her clean out the small garden next season –toss a few gnomes over the hedge and plant a few tomato bushes. The door of the shed was not latched, and appeared to have blown open in the autumn breeze. Without lighting the interior lamp, it was difficult to discern what his dad had been tinkering with lately, but several crates of gizmos and gadgets were stacked outside the doorway. There were no broomsticks leaning in the corner where they were always kept – of course only Ron and Ginny were living there and the latter had surely taken her broom with her to school, and the stoop outside the front door wasn’t littered with kettles or cauldrons or wellingtons. It all felt very distant – different and emptier than he was accustomed to, but at the same time it was very much the same. It was still the Burrow, and it was home.

Before he had realized it, his feet had started moving down the rest of the path towards the house. The chickens chattered and squawked, running over and between his feet as he cut through their cluster. At the door, he raised his hand to knock, but thought better of it. This had been his home for nearly twenty years, and knocking would be an insult to those years. Dropping his hand to the knob, he found it to be unlocked as he knew it would be – there was nothing really to lock out these days.

Here he was. Something – nerves, anxiety, anticipation fluttered in his stomach as his hand turned the knob and  he heard the handle of the door click.

To his great surprise, the door flew outwards much faster than he had pulled it in a blur of ginger hair, rosy cheeks and colourful yarns. He was quickly enveloped into a tight embrace, and firm kisses were pressed to each of his cheeks. Warm, loving hands brushed his hair back from his face. He watched as two misty brown eyes studied it, soaking up his presence in the doorway as though he may disappear.

“Hey, Mum.”

She stood there for a moment, mouth opening and closing, before tearing her eyes away from him. Somewhere between shooing him into the house and ushering him into the kitchen, she found the words she had been looking for. “George. What a nice surprise.” Her voice trembling slightly, she pushed him down into one of the long table’s chairs, “I didn’t expect to see you today. That owl of yours didn’t bring a letter.”

“That’s good considering I didn’t write one.” George felt a small smile play at the corner of his lips. His mother was a remarkable woman – surprised because she hadn’t expected him today and not because he had been avoiding the family for a little longer than two months and was finally there.

“I wish I would have known you were visiting.” She had turned away from him and was in full-out Molly-Weasley-Mum-Mode rummaging in the cabinets. “I’d have cooked something better than steak pie. You never did care much for it, always pushed it around on your plate to make it look eaten.”

A small, nostalgic chuckle escaped him. He had always loved pie – it was Fred who had never cared for it. Almost instinctually, George opened his mouth to poke fun at her, but the traditional ‘honestly woman, you call yourself our mother’ line seemed inappropriate in the context, and he bit down on his lip. She was a damn good mother, the best, and he couldn’t bear to crack the look of happiness and purpose on her face. He imagined that she missed having her chicks in the nest to mother over.

“But don’t you worry.” Her voice cut into his thoughts. “I’ll fix something for dinner this evening.” Turning to face him at last, she clucked her tongue against her teeth. “Skin and bones. You’ve not been eating right, George Weasley – in the city all by yourself.”

It was a testament to her strength and her love for him to hug and kiss him, to putter around the kitchen fixing dinner, and to fuss over his body condition as though he had just been home to visit last week. Not once did she ask why he hadn’t been home sooner, nor did she mention the stack of unanswered post from her that was sitting unopened in a basket on his kitchen table. She gave no sign that she was angry or hurt by his long absence, but rather seemed to bask in peaceful contentment. Several flicks of her wand and a bin of potatoes sprung to life skinning themselves over the sink. A large kettle of water rolled to a boil over the fire, and a large blob of dough she must have prepared earlier in the day began to knead itself on the countertop. With dinner satisfactorily in progress, she finally sat down across the table from him and slid a mug of steaming tea with milk and honey towards him. He took a long sip, not even caring that it burnt his mouth and throat on its way down. Even scalding him, it was a vast improvement over the bitter teas he’d been drinking.

She squeezed his hand, a warm smile painted on her aged face, before summoning several scraps of parchment and a quill. “Now, just let me owl the others. They’ll all want to know you’re here.”

~::~

Those who weren’t in Romania or at Hogwarts, had certainly wanted to know he was there and had begun Apparating outside the kitchen door shortly after the letters were sent, though George suspected that the promise of a home-cooked meal had also been a primary motivating factor. Only Percy, who had said he’d be late, was still unaccounted for as the dishes were scraped clean of second helpings and dessert. Stuffed to the brim with steak pie and bangers ‘n mash and the custard tarts Fleur had brought – his mum had taken the dessert from her, muttering something under her breath about her daughter-in-law finally learning to cook like a Brit – he stretched, hoping to open an empty spot in his stomach for his dinner to settle into. Glancing around the table, he couldn’t remember the last time there had been that much elbow room between the chairs, but in his food induced stupor he gladly took advantage of the space. His dad and mum, when she was actually sitting and not fussing over the preparations, occupied the ends of the table. Bill and Fleur sat across the table from him, Harry and Ron. Ginny and Hermione had written from school saying they wished they could have been home. The latter was miraculously still dating Ron, who at the moment was wiping custard from his nose with his sleeve. George suppressed his chuckle so as not to disrupt digestion. He hadn’t eaten this much food in a long time and was sorely out of practice.

“There’s a bit more of the tart here, George?” His mum stood with the custard tarts and a serving spatula. Shaking his head no, she offered it around the table. Ron finally sacrificed himself and held up his plate for it. She turned away from the table, empty serving dish in hand, and began cleaning up the sink. George watched as his dad rose from the table and joined her.

“Hello all.” The pompous voice of Percy was followed by the sound of the door latching. “Sorry I’m late. Dinner smells amazing.” Taking off his cloak and scarf, he dropped a quick kiss to each of his mother’s cheeks before he walked out of the kitchen towards the table.

“So nice of you to finally join us, Perce.” Ron said, clapping the older redheaded man on the back.

“Yes, yes. I was delayed at work.” He grabbed a plate and began to shovel the room temperature dinner into his mouth, avoiding the looks of his brothers.

“That’s it?” George asked. “No ‘I was delayed triple checking the crossed status of every T in the new foreign relations memorandum’ or ‘I was busy helping Kingsley select the appropriate earring for the upcoming Minister’s Summit?'"  You’ve grown so modest in your old age.”

There was a pause, almost as if his comments were unexpected, before a ripple of laughter passed over the table.

Not finding George’s comments quite as humorous as the others, Percy cleared his throat. “Well, I was er, I was – it’s complicated and confidential and –”

Ron snorted loudly into his extra helping of tart.

“You see Georgie, we – ” Bill paused and amended his statement at a rather stern look from his wife, “Harry, Ron and myself – not Fleur, we have this theory that Perce is having a sordid affair with this new clerk in the Minister’s office.”

“This is the fourth time he’s been late for something.” Harry piped up over the sound of protest across the table. “And sauntered in wearing trousers and a blazer instead of his Ministry robes – ”

“Smiling like a little kid who’s just gotten their first broomstick and smelling like women’s perfume,” Bill continued. “We’ve got no real proof, after all Percy could just prefer women’s perfume to men’s cologne, but it’s a working theory. ”

Merlin, George had missed this. Laughter rolled out of his chest, and his over-stuffed stomach cramped in objection. “So what’s this clerk like, Percy?” He asked, clutching at his stomach and wagging his eyebrows suggestively.

“Bloody right you’ve no proof.” Percy blatantly ignored George’s question. His indignation raised the octave of his voice as he spoke. “Besides, the new clerk is not my type. She’s erm, she’s – ”

“Fit.”

It was George who snorted this time, and was seized by a coughing fit as the water he’d been sipping slid into is respiratory tract.

“She’s got these legs and these – ” Ron trailed off, most likely thinking about what Hermione would say if he finished his thought. “But she’s scary brilliant. Confident and motivated and – ”

“She’s a regular old femme fatale,” Bill saved his youngest brother’s description from nose-diving into its own fiery implosion. He ducked a playful swat from Fleur. “Moral of the story – we think she’s adopted young Percy as her plaything.”

Percy had apparently adopted the strategy of sudden onset deafness, and was concentrating much too hard on his food. A deep scarlet blush had crept over the tips of his ears and cheeks, and his leg bounced beneath the table to an unnaturally quick rhythm.

“Well good for you, Percy.”

“I am the Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic.” Percy’s patience had apparently been spent. “I am not some clerk from our office’s plaything.”

“But you didn’t deny sleeping with her.”

Ron, being Ron, had taken the conversation a step too far. Percy set his fork down with authority and rose from the table, disappearing into the kitchen with his plate. George’s abdomen hurt from laughing and his face felt stiff from smiling. Even though they weren’t all there, and could never all be together again, he felt perfectly content sitting at the table with his brothers and sister-in-law. He had missed this.

“Merlin it’s good to be home.”

~::~

The rest of the evening passed far less scandalously.

Seated comfortably around the sitting room, they listened to the evening’s broadcast on the wireless – George still had to hide his amusement whenever he heard Lee’sstory and wondered how much help the leggy Indira had been for this report. There was something relaxing and wonderful about the headlining story only being an elderly wizard who had unknowingly been selling Bowtruckles to Muggles, and if he exhaled and shut his eyes, he could almost convince himself that the war had never happened and life had always been this comfortable – that Fred would be bounding down the stairs to join them at any moment. When his eyes opened and he ran a hand through his hair, the masquerade ended. His ear was still missing, and Bill’s face was still disfigured. If Fred was there with them, he would not be bounding down the stairs. He knew this, but sitting there with his family made it manageable.

Towards the tail end of the program, they slipped into a casual game of catch-up. His mum, turned out, had begun knitting the Christmas jumpers early this year. Bill and Fleur had been battling rainstorms and had decided while dancing around buckets collecting rain water that their roof was in need of replacing. Percy had been working – keeping tabs on the political reformation and judicial proceedings for the Minister’s office – and not fraternizing with any of the clerks. Ron had been helping with the reconstruction efforts at the school, and Harry had been dodging the public eye. It seemed as though they each avoided asking George what he’d been doing, for which he was grateful. It was difficult to make ‘nothing’ sound particularly productive or exciting when their lives had finally begun to creep forward. It was only when his mum patted his dad on the knee and squeezed his hand that George realized that the oldest Weasley man hadn’t offered anything to the conversation either.

His dad’s face and hair were thinner than they used to be, and his mouth was drawn into weary smile. Worry creases spanned his forehead and accented the corners of his eyes, which lacked their usual lively gleam. It was a face George had come to know well looking into the mirror as he brushed his teeth each morning, and a reason why people had continued to ask him if he was alright occurred to him. What else was there to say?

“Dad,” Arthur’s head snapped up from his chest at George’s voice, “How about you show me what you’ve been working with in the shed. I saw some crates on the way in, but couldn’t tell what was in them.”

The older man seemed to appreciate the suggestion, and only moments later George found himself inside the cluttered shed.

The single lamp hanging from the centre of the ceiling cast a dim glow throughout the work space. The bench top was covered in storage bins full of batteries and wires, nuts and bolts, and various other gizmos and gadgets. Crates containing records, cassettes, video tapes and CDs were lined and stacked against each wall, making walking impossible and standing comfortably nearly so. A sad smile washed over George. He and Fred had spent a good bit of their early childhood summers – when not playing pickup games of Quidditch – in this shed secretly playing with their dad’s projects and formulating ones of their own. Now, thinking about it, they probably owed their need to create to those summer days their dad never knew about. Glancing around now, it all looked smaller and far less grand than George had remembered it.

“This,” his dad’s voice sounded worn and tired, “is one of the most remarkable Muggle contraptions I’ve ever seen.” He held a small rectangular object in his hands. “You see, this bit that lights up when you push the button? It rotates whenever the device does as if it knows which way is up. Brilliant.” Pressing the button to demonstrate, his face looked a shade brighter. “Muggles call it an Eye Pod. I’ve still not figured out what its function is, but I think it’s for communication. Sometimes, words appear on the screen. Why just yesterday, I was tinkering with it and some man named John Lennon had a message about imagination on the screen – just tiny little letters.”

“Sounds brilliant, Dad.” George said, forcing a smile onto his face. His mind was whirring with a decision whether to ask the older man how he was doing – how his mum was doing, but before he had come to a decision, the words were out. “So, how’ve you and Mum been doing?”

A silence fell over the shed.

“Oh, some days are better than others.” He answered at last. “It’s just hard. Days that are good for Mol – your mum are bad for me, and days that are good for me are hard for her. But we’re getting by in this old house. It’s times like these that are the best, having a full table and sitting room – voices in the house.” A genuine smile flickered in his eyes. “We’re so glad you stopped by, George.”

George felt a small bubble of tears rise up in his throat and blinked his eyes rapidly.

“I am too, Dad, I am too.”

The arms that enveloped him into a firm hug were not worn or tired, and seemed to transfer a vitality he had been lacking into him. When at last the older red head pulled away, he coughed and removed his glasses, rubbing his eyes.

“So, have you thought any about what you’re doing with the shop?”

No. He, with the occasional help of Angelina, had sorted through countless boxes over the past few weeks, but all of his thoughts had been in the form of memories and not the future.

“Not really, I should decide something sometime soon.” George ran a hand through the front of his hair, stalling for time before he continued. “Verity has written me a dozen times at least wanting to know. I just don’t know. Angelina and I have sorted through some of the boxes from the shop, but I don’t want to rush the decision. I don’t have to – I have enough galleons saved up from what we made over the past few years; I don’t have to worry about money.”

“Angelina?”

“That’s a bloody poor way to treat your investment.” The horn-rimmed face of Percy Weasley appeared in the doorway. “Sorry if this was a private chat, but Mum’s trying to pawn more tea off on everyone and sent me to fetch you two.”

“Ah.” Their dad said with a hint of laughter in his voice. “We better go back inside, wouldn’t want to let her get too worked up.” He set the Muggle Eye Pod down on the bench top and brushed by his two sons.

George stepped to follow him, but found that Percy had stepped between him and the door.

“I mean it, George.” Percy said in an authoritative tone that, in years past would have garnered snide comments and teasing from the twin, but now commanded his attention. “I know it’s hard – he wasn’t my twin – but I lost my brother too. Sitting on that money Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes made, that you and Fred earned, it’s just not right. You should invest it in the company or something more productive that supporting your indecisiveness.”

“You done, Perce?”

His brother exhaled, effectively deflating his puffed out chest and smiled. “I think so.” He clapped his arm around George’s shoulders. “Should we go inside before mum has a Hippogriff?”

~::~

Later that night as he lay in his bed, Percy’s words ran through his head. The pompous redhead had said innumerable irrelevant and stupid things in his lifetime, but one thing he had said George knew was true. It wasn’t right to keep spending his and Fred’s money while he avoided thinking about what to do. He still wasn’t sure what he wanted, but he needed to make a decision no matter what it was.

Rolling over, he grabbed a scrap of parchment and quill from his bedside table and penned a quick note. Maybe a meeting with Verity would help him to clear his head. He whistled to Oddie and tied the letter to the owl’s leg. As the bird flew out his window into the night, a feeling of ease washed over him.

Tomorrow would be a good day. 
 
~::~
 

Author's Note:  Please be aware that the quote, "honestly woman, you call yourself our mother" has been taken from Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone (UK, Paperback edtion, page 70).  The reference to John Lennon and Imagination can be attributed to his song, Imagine.  A big thank you to Janechel for betaing this and to Lily and the rest of my lovely friends for cheering me onward.  Finally, thanks to you my readers who want to talk about him.  If you have the time, please leave a review!


Chapter 6: Angelina, February 1995
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Angelina, February 1995

Large white snowflakes floated down from the low skyline and gathered in puddles of discoloured slush along the pathway. The small population that did not make it to the ground clung to the hair and cloaks of the line of students making their way towards the village of Hogsmeade. Despite the less-than-favourable weather, the residing aura hanging over the procession was positive. A day away from the corridors and the eyes of their professors was a welcomed reprieve for all.

Angelina walked between Lora and Alicia on the path, both of whom had drawn their cloaks tightly around themselves. She ran her hand over her hair, immediately wishing she hadn’t as melted snowflakes ran down onto her scalp. “I wish I wouldn’t have laughed at those snow caps that Valerie was knitting over the holidays, maybe she’d have sent me one from home for Christmas.”

“No, Angelina. Those caps were hideous. Even wet hair is better than wearing one of those. Your sister’s sense of style leaves a lot to be desired. Trust me.” Alicia picked up her pace and pulled ahead of her friends. “Let’s walk a little quicker,” she grumbled, lifting her feet from the ground and shaking the slush from them. “My boots are practically soaked the entire way through.”

“Well, if you’d have paid attention when I was – ”

“Lora, I’m barely mastering the charms we’re required to learn,” Alicia shouted back over her shoulder, still marching ahead as though determined she could outrun the slush on the ground. “Only you would think that I have the time to learn a Waterproofing Charm too.”

Angelina and Lora shook their heads. Exchanging amused glances with one another, they were glad that the third girl was walking ahead of them and did not see. Ever since they had woken up that morning, Alicia had been slightly less than pleasant and hadn’t yet been at a loss for something to whinge about. First it had been the amount of sunlight streaming in the tower window, then the lack of marmalade at the breakfast table, and now her boots were the latest source of irritation. Angelina, knowing all too well that the causative agent would surface eventually, purposefully avoided asking her what was bothering her. Nearly six years of friendship had taught her that it was always best to let irritated-Alicia to run her course and burn herself out.

“Maybe you can get Michael the Muggle to send that stuff in the can that you were talking about,” Alicia continued, still shouting back at them about her boots, no doubt. “Those cans of smelly ointment that the Muggles use on their shoes.”

“It may be a little late for that, Alicia,” Angelina laughed as the girls passed under the stone archway that demarcated the entrance to the wizarding village. The sound of water squelching beneath the brunette’s every step man made it difficult to stop laughing long enough to speak. “I think your boots may be a little wet already.”

“Ha-ha.” Alicia rolled her eyes. “You don’t say.”

“What’s gotten you in such a mood today?” Lora, the bleeding-heart was never content to allow anyone to brood with their problems, much less one of her best friends. She sped up to Alicia’s side, nudging her with her elbow.

“You mean besides the ice cold water squishing in my socks?”

A crowd of over-zealous third years brushed by the group of sixth-year girls – their excitement was palpable. Each one was surely anxious to bask in their newfound independence and spend the coins jingling in their pockets. Angelina couldn’t help but smile. On her first trip to Hogsmeade, she had watched as George and Fred won a what-was-then sizable prize from a bet that they wouldn’t touch the fence surrounding the Shrieking Shack before leaving to accompany her best friends to Honeydukes and the Three Broomsticks. It was there that Alicia had indulged her sweet tooth and eaten so many sweets that she was ill the rest of the day, and Muggle-born Lora had tried her first mug of warm butterbeer. Even though that day was only three years ago, it felt like another lifetime.

“So, I know that I needed to stop and get a new quill – ”

“ – Because you write Michael the Muggle so often.” Alicia nudged the blonde. No matter how horrid her mood was, anything involving Michael the Muggle was usually enough to coax a smile, even if only brief, from her. She loved to tease Lora, and fondly listed it amongst her hobbies.

“From Scrivenshaft’s,” Lora continued, ignoring Alicia’s comment, “but where else do we have to go today?”

“With you moping around like you are, I’m surprised you had it in you to tease Lora.” Angelina said despite Alicia’s over-exaggerated eye roll, before turning towards Lora. “That’s as good a place as any to start the day.”

Much to Alicia’s dismay, Scrivenshaft’s Quill Shop was, of course, on the other side of Hogsmeade. Lora rationalized – as she was prone to do – to try to abate Alicia’s continued grumbling, that once they made it to the quill shop, they could stop in the other shops they wanted to visit on their way back to the Three Broomsticks so as not to have to walk through as much slush. The brunette never voiced her approval, but followed Lora and Angelina with only mild reluctance. The shop was a small, square room, filled with numerous bins containing quills of varying intricacies. The lighting was dim, and a lingering smell of parchment and cedar hung in the air. It was, Angelina knew, the sort of shop in which Lora could spend hours browsing, but to her the shop was nothing more than a practice in not sneezing despite the tickling in her nose.

“I don’t think I can stand spending any more time with Eddie,” Alicia suddenly blurted out as they browsed the bins of feathered quills. “He’s always there, always. With his stupid white smile and that weird mole on his neck. And he’s always saying -Licia this and -Licia that, and I swear to Merlin if he kisses me before the first lesson one more time, I will dump my coffee on him and not even pretend it was an accident.” She tossed the quill she was holding back into the pile. “He’s so eager and clingy. I don’t know. Sometimes I just don’t want to be kissed in the middle of the corridor in front of everybody.”

“Maybe Eddie isn’t as great as you thought he’d be?” Angelina suppressed her desire to sing I told you so, and gloat about being right in favour of her best friend’s current emotional state. Alicia’s tendency to fixate on a boy before knowing anything about him was expected, and was one of the things Angelina adored about her. “Perhaps it is time to move on?” She said in a careful, sympathetic tone.

“Or maybe Eddie really cares about you and doesn’t realize how suffocating he’s being?” Lora chimed up from her intense concentration on a grey eagle-featherquill. “Have you ever told him that certain things he does irritate you?”

Alicia muttered something unintelligible and picked up a plush, venom-green quill from the bin. “Holy hippogriff. Six Galleons for this?” Of course, being the only one of the group with any significant long-term relationship experience, the other two were prone to ignore Lora’s advice. She tossed the ridiculously coloured and priced quill back into the pile. “I don’t know, I just sort of want to ignore it and make it, and him, go away.”

“When Michael and I first started dating – ”

“Lora, darling, you and Michael the Muggle have been dating since before Hogwarts was founded.” Alicia grinned momentarily, relishing her opportunity to poke fun at the couple’s extensive history. “You were probably making eyes at one another before you were born. While your mums trimmed the backyard gardens from adjacent sides of the hedge or something.”

The blonde completely ignored her comments and continued on speaking as if the interruption had never occurred. “We always were sure to talk about little things that irritated us, you know, so they didn’t turn into big things. And just so you know,” having finished giving her advice, she pierced her lips together defensively, “we met in primary school. We were never neighbours and our mums do not garden together.”

“Moral is, Alicia,” Angelina said, feeling the need to cut into the conversation before Lora’s cheeks got any redder, “unless you think Eddie is really worth working for, if you’re not happy, it’s probably not worth it.”

“And what about Sir George?” Lora asked in a fake sing-song voice, apparently flustered about Michael the Muggle, a bit bitter that her counselling was going ignored, and anxious to prod somebody else. “Is he worth working for?”

Angelina felt her eyebrows jump up into her hairline. “George? George Weasley, George?”

“No, you nitwit, the other George. You know red hair, has a twin, plays Quidditch with us. The one you were talking to in the garden for so long after the ball ended that Adrian Pucey , that prefect from Slytherin, had to kick you back to the tower and deduct points.” Alicia said, jumping on the chance to tease Angelina that Lora had presented to her. The change of topic away from her own boy-troubles seemed to do Alicia some good, if the lilt in her voice and the annoying all-knowing grin on her face were any indication.

“I’ve told you this already – every time George even so much as says hello to me and you ask again – we just talked out in the garden. Fred disappeared from the ball with that fifth year, so he left me with George, is all. We’ve hardly talked since the ball, and when we have, it’s been about coursework or Quidditch or the Triwizard Tournament.” She let out an exasperated sigh. “Besides, we’re just friends.”

The idea that had occurred to her at the ball - that George had wanted to ask her to the ball, and perhaps fancied her - had all but dissipated over the past six weeks, and was perpetuated only by the occasional, teasing questions like this one from Alicia and Lora. Angelina considered herself to be a rational young woman, not somebody who jumped to believing things without proof, of which she had none. The conception of the idea was the fault of the atmosphere of the ball – the dancing, the decorations, the lighting. It was anything but rational.

Both girls were gazing at her with scepticism plastered across their faces.

“Angelina, Alicia.” The familiar voice of Katie Bell shouted in the shop’s open door from the street, ending the awkward staring contest that was unfurling within the shop. “Oh, hey Lora, didn’t see you there. I’m on my way to the Three Broomsticks now, if you want to join.”

“Gladly.” Angelina trotted out from the shop, aggravation at her friends’ insistence and appreciation from her fellow Chaser filling her chest. “I feel like I haven’t seen you in ages, Katie.”

“Life with no Quidditch is sad,” Katie said as Alicia and Lora joined them. “O.W.L.s are devouring all my time. I’m hardly ever in the common room anymore. I miss seeing you girls.”

“You can’t study all the time.” Angelina rolled her eyes. “You have to take time to do other things, even if it means you have to work a lot harder afterwards.” She had hated every moment of her O.W.L.s and was dreading her N.E.W.T.S. “We should all go out and fly sometime. Toss the Quaffle around, relax.”

“Oh, definitely. I live to throw Quaffles around. Quidditch or bust.”

Lora’s slightly unexpected tongue-in-cheek comment sent all four girls reeling into fits of giggles that carried them the length of the long lane to the pub. The interior of the Three Broomsticks was warm and crowded. Angelina could feel the outside weather melt away from her cheeks. Her hair was soaked from the large flakes that had stuck to it during the walk. She hoped that it didn’t manage to dry while they were there – else she’d have a ball of frizz on her head where her hair once was.

Surprisingly, four stools had opened up at the bar. The girls quickly commandeered them before some lurking group of younger students managed to snag them.

Alicia fiddled with the edge of her napkin. “Listen,” she finally said, “if Eddie shows up here, I’m not completely sure what I’m –”

“-Licia.”

Angelina had to disguise a rather violent snort as a cough as Alicia’s qualm was cut short by the arrival of Eddie and his annoying pet name for her friend.

“I’m sorry if you thought I forgot that we were meeting for lunch. I had Cedric save seats for us at a table over there,” he said, gesturing towards the dining room.

“Oh, I knew you’d show up.” For all the moping and whinging she had done today on the Hufflepuff’s behalf, Alicia’s voice sounded bright and receptive. She flung her arms around his neck and planted a quick kiss on his cheek.

“Have fun, -Licia,” Angelina called at her friend’s retreating back. “You’ll have to finish whatever it was you were telling us sometime.”

“You’re awful, you know?” Lora shook her head at Angelina, glancing down at the menu.

Angelina considered her lunch options and glanced around the groups of people gathered around the tables. Lee and the twins were seated near the door. He waved at her before leaning in to tell his red-headed companions something. Whatever he had said to them caused Fred to grin like the Muggle Cheshire Cat character that her dad had read to her when she and her sisters were young. George seemed largely unaffected. She watched him run his hand through the front of his hair several times before pushing back his chair and standing. He approached the bar, his cheeks flushed from either the cold outside or the heat inside the pub. The combination of the red of his cheeks, red hair and his orange-is coloured jumper was quite the spectacle, and Angelina let a small giggle escape her lips. She deliberated if he knew or even cared how badly his colour palette clashed.

Watching him from not even two yards away, she wondered if he’d seen her and didn’t feel obliged to say hello, or if he’d simply not seen her. He smiled and nodded at Rosmerta as he passed her several coins and received a tray with four Butterbeers on it. He turned away and she watched his eyes as they found Fred’s across the room. The latter twin nodded and shook his head. Whatever they had communicated to each other across the room was lost on her, but George turned back towards the bar.

Angelina turned her attention back towards Katie and Lora. She couldn’t for the life of her figure out how they had gotten onto the topic of Shrinking Solutions so quickly, and so she gestured to Madam Rosmerta. Ordering a Butterbeer instead of embarking in the thrilling academic affair happening next to her seemed to be a smart decision.

“Hey, Angelina.” George’s voice startled her, and she spun around on the stool. He stood with a frothy mug in his outstretched hand. “You can have this one, if you’d like. I have an extra here on this tray, and I’d hate it to go to waste.”

“Thanks?” Angelina hesitated in taking the mug. Years of contact with the twins had taught her to second guess anything that they tried to convince somebody to consume.

“Oh, go on.” George pushed the ceramic cup towards her. His fingertips were warm where they brushed her hand. “I’ve haven’t touched it, straight from Madam Rosmerta herself.” He slid onto the stool that Alicia had vacated and took a gulp from his own mug. Fred and Lee’s butterbeers sat on the tray, seemingly forgotten. “So what’ve you been up to all day?”

“Not much, honestly. Lora found a new quill, we poked fun at Alicia and Eddie. Typical day, really.” She glanced to her side to see if Lora or Katie were going to jump into the conversation, but the two girls had suddenly – and no doubt conveniently – relocated to Cedric and Eddie’s table with Alicia. Angelina shook her head – her friends thought they were so clever – before she continued speaking. “Alicia’s boots were leaking, and she was grumbling and moody, so we didn’t really get to spend a lot of time walking between shops.”

“Have you eaten yet?” He picked up the menu off of the bar. His eyes stared straight ahead and didn’t appear to focus on the words. “If not, we should get something to eat, and then we should go hit up the shops. I can’t promise you that my boots won’t leak, but I can swear I won’t grumble.” He smiled at her.

“What about Fred and Lee?”

“We’re good, really.” She was surprised to find Lee standing on her other side. He grabbed the abandoned tray of butterbeers from the bar much too quickly, nearly spilling one of the mugs. “You kids have fun.”

She shook her head in exasperated amusement and said, “And no, I haven’t eaten yet.”

For some reason, the fact that she was sitting alone with George Weasley in the middle of The Three Broomsticks suddenly seemed glaringly obvious, as though neon signs and sirens were alerting the entire pub to the fact. She felt her face flush and began to fiddle with a paper napkin from the bar. Angelina dreaded having to listen to Alicia and Lora’s thoughts on this subject later. They always thought they knew what Angelina was thinking, sometimes more so than she did herself.

“Brilliant.”

As they ordered two sandwiches, the anxious feeling in Angelina’s stomach seemed to abide, and lunch passed in a moderately comfortable silence. Angelina was grateful that George hadn’t insisted on making small talk during the meal. If she had to pick one thing that annoyed her about people, it was feeling the need to talk while eating. When they had finished, George grabbed Angelina’s tab from her plate and laid a few coins on the bar.

“Oh. Thank you.” Angelina stood up and slipped her cloak back over her shoulders. The thick fabric was still wet from the snow earlier in the day. “I guess I’ll owe you some sweets from Honeydukes or something.”

George shrugged his shoulders and smiled. “It was no problem, but Honeydukes sounds fantastic. Let’s start there?”

The slush that had coated the ground before the girls had entered The Three Broomsticks had been covered by a thin layer of snow. Angelina smiled, hoping Alicia would be happier whenever she walked outside. The wind was cold and she slipped her hands into the pocket of her coat. The memory of how warm George’s fingertips had been when he handed her the butterbeer flitted into her mind. She quickly brushed it away. The idea that had formulated at the ball stirred dangerously around the back of her mind.

“I want to remember to get some sweets for Ginny.” George’s words pulled her from the thoughts she was trying not to think. “She was complaining the other day about not being old enough to visit Hogsmeade. And how her dormitory mate always get treats from her sister. Ginny is so subtle sometimes.” He chuckled.

“You’re such a good brother.” Angelina pulled her hands out from her pockets and lightly shoved his shoulder. George ginned before he stumbling a few steps and rebounding on her.

“Woah, woah. Sorry.” His brown eyes lit up with a mischievous glint. “Some jerk pushed me back there, I couldn’t help myself.”

“How rude of them.” Angelina willed herself to keep the laughter out of her voice.

“Yes, very.” He nudged her shoulder with his own. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep my eye out for the culprit.”

She could no longer hold back the giggle that demanded to be let out. “Well, thank Merlin for that.”

George stopped in his tracks and turned towards her. His mouth was pulled into a straight line, and no hint of laughter was visible in his eyes. “Miss, this is no laughing matter.”

Angelina turned to face him. She, too, attempted to hold a straight face, but she could feel that her eyebrows were raised and that the corners of her mouth were curled upwards. She bit her bottom lip, trying to restrain herself. His eyes locked onto hers and laughter danced from them down towards his smile. Finally, after what felt like ages, he broke into a deep laughter from his chest. It was a contagious laugh, and Angelina soon found herself laughing as well.

“Well, look who isn’t breaking curfew?”

Angelina had to wipe the tears that had gathered in her eyes. Adrian Pucey and a younger Slytherin girl she did not recognize stood in front of them on the path. “Astute observation, Pucey, considering it’s the middle of the day and all.” She rolled her eyes and turned towards George and grabbed his wrist. “Come on, let’s go get Ginny some sweets, before I say something I shouldn’t to this Prefect.”

Angelina pulled George along and brushed by the two Slytherins.

“Please promise me you’ll hit him with a Bludger first chance you get next term?” Angelina dropped George’s wrist and glanced back at him. “He’s such an arse.”

“To be fair, we were out far past curfew last time we ran into him,” George said. “But why wait until next year to hit him with something?” He turned and watched Pucey’s back moving away from them on the path. “One thing to always remember, never pass up an opportunity as good as this.”

Angelina watched as George picked up a handful of snow, moulded it into a ball, and tossed it up into the air. Pulling his wand from his pocket, he muttered a charm under his breath. The snowball zoomed down the path and exploded between the Slytherin prefect’s shoulder blades.

She couldn’t help but laugh at the boy’s reaction to the charmed snowball. He leapt straight up into the air, reaching behind his shoulders trying to figure out what had hit him.

“Come on and run.” George grabbed her hand. “Before his thick skull can process enough to know it was us.”

The two ran the entire way to Honeydukes. When they finally entered the shop, they were both panting and out of breath. Angelina’s lungs burnt from the cold air that filled them. As she leant forward to help her breathing normalize, she thought about how enjoyable her afternoon had been. Only after she thought this did she realize that George still had a hold of her hand, and that his broad palm was just as warm as his fingertips had been.

~::~

Author’s Note:  So there you have it! George and Angelina’s first date (of sorts). I cannot even begin to thank you enough for still being here reading this little story of mine, but I’ll try. THANK YOU. This last chapter I reached and surpassed 100 reviews because of you. This still blows my mind. I can’t really believe what a warm reception this story has had so far. I’d like to extend my gratitude to Janechel for beta’ing, to Sarah for her general loveliness, to my puffins, and to you for your reviews and support. I’d love to hear what you thought of this chapter, so if you have the time, please leave a review! Lastly, I’d like to credit Lewis Carroll for my use of the Chesire Cat taken from Through the Looking Glass/Alice in Wonderland. 


Chapter 7: George, December 1998
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George, December 1998

Currents of electricity prickled beneath his skin, and he could feel his heart pump in his throat. George suddenly wished that he would have listened to the advice in his mum’s letter and eaten a proper breakfast instead of rearranging the chartreuse display of Two-Ton Tongue Toffees (For Twice the Tonguefoolery) for the umpteenth time. Of course, showmanship was integral to the success of any undertaking, but he, Verity and Ron had been working around the clock for the past month in preparation for the big day. Each shelf, bin and display case was stocked with enough brightly-wrapped sweets, intricate potion phials and objects ranging in appearance from the ostentatious to the mundane to bring the finely tuned halls of Hogwarts to a screeching halt. He knew that the interior of the shop could not be more ready, but his hands itched for something to do. Beneath all of the nerves and excitement, a small part of him worried that waiting in the stillness, he would lose his gumption and it all would have been for naught.

“Oi. What time is it?” Verity’s voice carried over from the violently pink Wonder Witch section. “These miniature Pygmy Puffs are all squirming around and fussing – I think all this bloody pink is hurting their retinas too.”

The gold-coloured pocket watch that George had received when he had come of age nearly four years ago sat on the front counter next to the old register box. Its face read twenty-seven past four. Only three minutes, not even two hundred ticks of the second hand remained until he would flip the sign on the front door and unlock it. He sighed. These three minutes were bound to be three of the longest minutes in the history of time. Patience was not a virtue he’d been born with, especially in the face of such heavy anticipation and the flickering possibility of failure, though he knew that once the throngs of customers entered the shop, all would be well and there would be no turning back.

“We’ve still got a few minutes.” George said. Amused by his assistant’s obvious displeasure with her assignment for the grand re-opening, he rolled his eyes. She’d never notice it from all the way across the shop. “And Pygmies don’t see in colour, they probably just want some attention.”

He swore he heard her mutter lucky, and shook his head before rechecking his watch.

It was still only twenty-seven minutes past four. Restless from the adrenaline still flooding his system, George pulled the blinds away from the window and glanced outside. A large crowd of young witches and wizards had gathered in an impatient clump. Their chatter was audible through the store front, and their excitement was tangible. Several older witches and wizards – parents most likely – were trying their hardest to look less-than-thrilled about standing in the cold waiting for a joke shop to open. Despite their efforts towards reluctance, it was clear that they had pockets full of coins ready to spend on little Johnny or Susie’s more mischievous side. It had been Ron’s idea to schedule the grand re-opening to coincide with the arrival of the Hogwarts Express at King’s Cross with all of the students traveling home for the holidays. Judging from the number of people on the wintry street waiting for the doors to unlock, it was a fantastic plan.

He smiled. The youngest Weasley brother had been such an asset over the past few weeks. He had popped by each day after his work at the school was complete in order to help transport the boxes that George and Angelina had sorted into the shop, and now that Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes was in working order, he had offered his time to work a few shifts during the week. George owed his younger brother a lot, but he owed Percy more. It had been the Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic’s frank encouragement that pushed George to actually consider reopening the shop and his offhand suggestion to approach Ron for help that had made all the preparations possible. George had sent a gift very much in the style of his and Fred’s Percy-pranks of old, but he still needed to properly thank the mostly humourless redhead. Somehow, George wasn’t sure that the basket of his finest Wonder Witch products he had sent in the post with an anonymous, rather suggestive note about tardiness and office clerks would be interpreted as gratitude. He chuckled at the mental image of his straitlaced brother opening the package to see the bright-red Love Me Lusty Lip Gloss (Infused with Long-Acting Love Potion No. 5 to Make Every Kiss Memorable ) on the top of the basket. Thinking about it, he hoped his gift wouldn’t put a damper the newfound appreciation they had for one another.

Turning away from the window, he was surprised to see Verity standing in front of the counter with her arms crossed in front of her chest. The blonde’s face was pulled into a forced scowl, but her dark eyes flickered with an amused smile.

“I saw you roll your eyes at me.” She leaned against the counter, the smile from her eyes now playing at her lips. “But, I’ll have you know that forcing me to work over in the pink prison is an exploitation of my gender role as a woman, and I won’t stand for it. Make Ron work the section and I’ll man the pyrotechnics. Besides, I have seniority over him.”

George couldn’t hold it back, and laughed.

“This isn’t funny, Mr Weasley.”

“Verity, can you imagine Ron working the Wonder Witch line?”

“Hey.” Ron’s voice piped up from behind a stack of wooden crates labelled with animated images of shimmering, crimson dragons chasing small toads clad in pink cardigans and bows. “You two do know I can hear you?”

“Ron would do a ” – her voice cracked, but she did an admirable job of forcing through her own, obvious lie – “spiffing job selling Patented Daydream Charms and Ten-Second Pimple Vanishers to all the chipper, love-struck teenaged witches in London.”

“George, I – ” Ron had appeared at the counter as well, his magenta robe clashing wonderfully with his bright red hair.

“Ron,” George held his index finger up towards his brother, but maintained eye contact with his suddenly feministic employee. He cocked an eyebrow and leaned towards her. “Verity,” he said slowly, “this little protest of yours wouldn’t have anything to do with you not wanting to deal with the client base for the Wonder Witch line, would it?”

The blonde scrunched her eyes together and stared, reluctantly beaten, back at George. “Who doesn’t love quirky, hormonal teenagers?” She gave an exaggerated smile and turned her back on him.

“That’s the spirit.”

“George,” Ron said for a second time. “It’s half-past four. Should you maybe open the door?”

George exhaled. A loud buzzing filled his head and he glanced down at the pocket watch. It was time. Rolling his wand between his fingers, he pulled it out from his pocket and flicked it at the entrance to the shop. The sign on hanging in the glass flipped from closed to open, and the dead bolt slid from its place. The doors swung open and the first customers since the he and Fred had been forced to close the shop down entered the colourful space. With a second flick of his wand, several dozen multi-coloured bubbles filled the air above the heads of the customers and the tops of the shelves. The amorphous figures floated around the room, changing colours as they bounced off of the walls and one another. It was a small addition to the overall atmosphere of the shop, but it was the first product George had created on his own. If all went well during this trial run, Indestructible Bubbles would be the first item put to market.

A large smile spread across George’s face. He had done it. Number 93 Diagon Alley was once again open for business.

~::~

The number of people that had flitted into the shop during the first hour of business was mindboggling. The sound of laughter and squeals of excitement twinkled through the space more appropriate than any other ambiance music could. George found his hands constantly exchanging coins from the Register box with customers adorned in wide smiles and cheeky grins. Some shopkeepers may have thought it mundane to work the register, and foolish to trust employees to man the purchasing floor, but George found the position of cashier to be rather intimate. It was important to him to greet his customers and introduce himself, to see what they were purchasing and comment on the product, and to personally thank each one for their support. Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes had started within a family, and would grow as a family.

Ron’s voice carried snippets of his favourite anecdote across the busy shop. “And you should have seen the toad’s face – fireworks everywhere. It took the professors weeks to finally extinguish them all. These ones here are bloody brilliant”

George imagined his brother standing in the middle of a group of third- and fourth-year boys, regaling his tale to the awed audience like an ancient epic. Ron may not have shared the same passion for pranks and inventions as Fred had, but he was an asset to the store. At least three customers had asked him, while at the cash register, if the man in the pyrotechnics section was the Ronald Weasley. If he knew, George feared that his already-large head may not fit out of the shop door and he would be forced to stay in his flat with him.

George chuckled. Perhaps someday he would share this information with his younger brother, but for now, he couldn’t interrupt his dramatic narration. The sound of small footsteps drew his attention back to the counter. Not seeing anyone, he peered over its edge.

"Hey mister. Do heads really disappear? Where do they go?" A floating, feathered cap and a small headless body clutching several more Headless Hats to his chest stood in front of the counter. His pockets were loaded with what appeared to be a considerable supply of Puking Pastilles, and a pile of rubber chickens and fake wands lay at his feet.

George smiled. He liked this headless-kid.

“Does your head really disappear?” George asked, a look of well-practiced disbelief on his face. “Shall I get you a mirror, or would you prefer I send a search party for your missing head?”

The small child paused, as though contemplating his options, as several obnoxiously-coloured bowlers slipped from his grasp. “You really got a mirror back there?”

Unable to contain his smile, George held up a mirror in front of the boy.

“Galloping Godric!” His hands flew to his face just in case his head had actually disappeared. “My whole head is gone!” The remaining bowlers, a ten-gallon hat, and two tossle caps lay at his feet with the chickens and wands. “This is brilliant, wait until Trevor sees these. We’re going to figure out how all these things work.”

"I'll tell you what," George said picking up the boy's items and setting them on the counter. "I like your charisma. What's your name?"

The boy pulled the cavalier off of his head, which was topped in unruly brown hair and covered in dirt. “The name’s Frederick.” He ran the sleeve of his jumper across his nose. “But only my mum calls me that. You can call me Rick.” He extended his hand.

Still smiling, George shook the boy’s hand in all its sticky, youthful glory. “It’s very nice to meet you, Rick.” A feeling of serenity washed over him. It wasn’t just the boy’s proper name or his love of Headless Hats and other joke products that made George pause. It was the curious gleam in his eyes and the confidence he carried himself with. Of course everyone had told him that his twin would always be there looking down on him, but today George knew that Fred was right there in the shop with him. “How about this. Why don’t you just take these items as a gift – from one aspiring inventor to another?”

He could feel the boy’s dumbstruck eyes on him as he slipped the products into several paper bags and heard the sound of coins jangling back into his pocket. Looking up, he handed the haul across the counter.

“Gee, thanks a lot, mister,” the boy’s voice squeaked.

“Nah. Just promise me you’ll let me know if you ever figure out how those hats work? I’ve been trying to figure it out for years.” Winking, George tousled the kid’s hair.

Somehow, a short queue had formed since he had last looked, and he turned towards the next customer. To his surprise, a familiar redheaded face stood across the counter.

“Ginny.” He jumped over the counter and wrapped his sister into a tight hug.

“Urghh.” She squirmed out of his grasp as he flipped her hair over her face. “Thanks, George. Love you too.”

“Of course you do – you’re my favourite sister, after all. Besides, who doesn’t love me?” he said, smiling at her unsuccessful attempts to smooth her hair down. Despite being his only sister, George had referred to Ginny as his favourite for as long as he could remember. When she was too young to join his and Fred’s escapades, the title had served to appease her and had prevented her tantrums from alerting their mum to the mischief at hand. Straightening a small stack of adverts for Cantankerous Cauldrons (Guaranteed to Complain More Than You While Brewing) that he had bumped jumping over the counter, he sighed. “So, what do you want to see? Everything is on the house for you, of course. I have a few newer products that you may not have seen before we had to shut the place down. The Black (Moustache) Tea Leaves have done fairly well today. Prepare a cup for somebody, and they will have a fairly impressive black moustache in seconds – handlebar, pencil and Fu Manchu seem to be the crowd favourites. Oh and the Extendable Ears, an oldie but a goodie.” He said, pulling items from their shelves at random.

“George.” He felt the palm of her hand rest on his shoulder. “Stop. I came here to see you, not to leave with half the merchandise in the store.” She shook her head. “I miss you, and, and – well I haven’t seen you since summertime – I just wanted to see how you were doing and to tell you congratulations.”

He turned towards her, his arms still full of the things he had pulled from the shelves. Something seemed off, though he wasn’t sure if it was the lower volume than would be expected in a busy shop or the almost-stammer in her voice. “I’ve missed you too, Ginny.” He paused for a moment, watching. One hand pulled a chunk of hair that had fallen over her shoulder. The other fiddled with the gold and scarlet fringes on the end of her Gryffindor scarf. The corner of her bottom lip was clamped between her teeth, and she chewed on it every few seconds. Her gaze was directed downward, fixedly away from him, on the tip of her trainer sticking out from beneath her cloak. Everything about her posture and mannerisms suggested that she was trying much too hard and failing to look okay. George felt his heart plummet into his stomach. “Gin, how’ve you been?” He set the armful of joke products down onto the shop floor. “It’s okay, you know? Not every day can be a good one.”

“No, George.” She finally looked up from the floor and made eye contact with him. “I mean, yes. I’m fine. Sorry, I mean, this shouldn’t be about me. This is your big day, after all.”

“You’re right, it is my big day. And if I want to make it about my favourite sister, then so be it.”

“The shop looks phenomenal.” She continued talking as though she hadn’t noticed his attempts towards more serious talk, but the corners of her lips were pulled up a tad and her hands hung relaxed at her sides. “I’m proud of you.”

“You know you can talk to me whenever you need to.” Though he made a good attempt at pretending he hadn’t heard her, he couldn’t ignore her compliment. “You really think so?”

“Of course she thinks so. Everything in here is brilliant.” George turned towards arrival of a familiar voice. “Of course brilliant in a shows-an-intricate-understanding-of-magical-theory sort of way and not in an it’s-brilliant-to-prank-people sort of way.”

“That really means a lot coming from you, Hermione.” He grinned at the brunette witch. “Your boyfriend” – he drew the word out in a schoolyard singsong voice – “is in the back in the pyrotechnics section – revelling in the glory of being the Ronald Weasley.”

She rolled her eyes and turned away from him on her heels. “Boyfriend feels like such a juvenile term,” she shouted over her shoulder before she disappeared behind a large display.

George shook his head at her retreating back and turned back towards his sister. “I really meant what I said, Gin.”

“So I can really have the grow-your-own moustache tea like you said?” She smiled a wide, toothy grin. “I think Ron would look smashing in a black handlebar moustache. I’m sure Hermione would agree.”

The image of his brother with a black moustache was nearly as funny as the look George would expect to be on Hermione’s face when she saw the facial hair. Ginny had always had a good sense of all things amusing and nearly impeccable comedic timing. A swelling of pride filled his chest, and he threw his arm around her thin shoulders. She had very nearly distracted him from what he wanted to say. “Oh, Ginny. You’re skilled at the art of distraction, but you have a lot of learning to do yet.” She rolled her eyes, and George squeezed her shoulder to his a bit tighter than necessary. “What I was going to say is that I meant what I said. You can talk to me whenever about whatever.”

“Even Fred?”

The boldness of her question surprised him, and he felt his feet stop of their own accord.

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have – ”

“No, Ginny. Anything means anything. Even Fred. It’s good to talk about him.” George felt his throat crack. “I mean, talking about him and the things we did, it almost makes it feel like he’s here. I don’t want to forget what that feels like.”

He felt her pull away from his arm, and she turned to face him “George, I – ”

The sound of the shop suddenly broke through the capsule that had surrounded their conversation. His throat felt dry and he was a bit shaky on his feet. This was not the time nor the place for melancholy. Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes had always been a lively, energetic place, and it would certainly remain that way. “Right.” He cleared his throat. “So you said you wanted the handlebar variety? I have a few hybrid varieties if you’re feeling brave? They’re in the back room, if you want to help yourself. Take whatever, just let me know how they work?”

“Sounds great, George,” she said, smiling as she turned towards the back room.

He was grateful that she had gracefully allowed their long-overdue conversation to be set aside in favour of the festivities of his grand re-opening. Somehow, they always seemed to be on the same page. If he had to guess, she would stop by his flat later in the evening armed with enough Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavoured Beans and Pumpkin Pasties to choke a Hippogriff, and they would sit up far too late into the night stuffing their faces and catching up on lost time. She really was his favourite sister.

Smiling, George turned back to the bustle of customers in the shop. “Hi, ma’am how can I help you? I trust you’re enjoying your shopping experience here at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes?”

~::~

George inhaled and let a content, but tired sigh rush out of his chest. At last – there was no one standing in front of the register. Glancing down at his pocket watch, he couldn’t believe that it had been a solid three hours since he had not had a line of people waiting to pay for their purchases. Opening the shop in synchrony with the arrival of the Hogwarts Express back to London had proved to be a brilliant plan of action. Only a little over an hour remained until the grand opening came to a close, and the rest of the evening had passed in a blur of chatting customers, jingling Sickles and smiling faces. The aisles were beginning to clear out, and only a handful of shoppers still flitted around the various sections of merchandise.

“You did well today.”

Ron’s voice behind the counter surprised George, and he turned to see his brother. The younger Weasley’s lanky frame was leaned forward onto a display of Exploding Bubble Gum and a large grin was plastered on his face. George couldn’t help but mimic his face.

We did really well today,” he said, clapping his shoulders. “Though, we’re still open. Shouldn’t you be manning the fireworks? I don’t fancy having one of those dragon whizbangs accidentally going off in here.”

“Merlin, that’d be awful.” Ron chuckled. “But I figure I’d give you a heads up – I think somebody may be here to see you. In case you maybe wanted to go say hello, or something.”

“Angelina’s here?”

“Easy there, I never said it was Angelina.” Ron’s eyebrows slyly rose into his hairline, and his mouth adopted an amused, all-knowing smirk. George didn’t like the look one bit, and cursed his voice for sounding so eager. “But if it were Angelina, would that make a difference?”

“Ron, get back to the pyrotechnics section before I tell Hermione that story of the one Boxing Day when you cried because –”

“That’s a low blow, George. Low blow,” he said, grumbling as he retreated to the back corner of the shop.

George watched Ron walk away and he contemplated who else his visitor could be. Lee had stopped in earlier in the evening and bought a wide assortment of products that George very much doubted he’d be telling Indira about. Bill and Harry had both popped their heads in on their way home from the Ministry. Even Oliver Wood had paid him a visit with the youth Quidditch team he coached on the weekends. George exhaled and ran his hand through the front of his hair. He supposed it could be Percy, though that was a long shot. The idea of Percy in a joke shop was nearly as ludicrous as the thought of his rumoured affair with the office clerk. Sifting through the list of possible visitors made George feel better about jumping to Angelina so quickly. At least reason didn’t dispute his keen subconscious.

“Hey stranger.”

The sound of her voice affirmed her identity.

“Hey yourself.”

He felt the corners of his mouth pull upwards. They had talked about this phenomenon – how he couldn’t help but smile whenever she was around – the last time she had stopped by his flat to help him finish sorting his and Fred’s things. She of course was sceptical, and he had valiantly attempted to regain voluntary control of his facial muscles. He had failed miserably and ended up laughing and snorting the tea she had prepared for them up his nose. Whatever it was about her, he appreciated it and had begun to look forward to the limited time they spent together.

“Is that really him?”

The sound of a small voice pulled George from his thoughts. A young boy was hiding behind Angelina’s legs, more or less failing at being inconspicuous. Another, younger boy held her hand at the end of a chubby extended arm.

“Of course that’s him, Andre. Mr Weasley Wheezes himself,” the smaller of the boys said, tugging at Angelina’s arm.

George glanced from the boys to Angelina and bent his knees to be at their level. “So how is it that you know who I am, but I don’t know either of you?”

The smaller boy piped up and pulled away from Angelina’s grasp to stand directly in front of George. Both his hands were tucked behind his back and he swayed from side to side. “I’m Elliot Johnson-Guidry and I’m five years old.” As if to prove his age, he held out his hand with all five fingers extended. “And that’s my brother. He’s eight.” Elliot turned his attention to his fingers, and struggled with them as though he wasn’t sure exactly how many eight was.

“These are my nephews, George.” Angelina reclaimed Elliot’s hand before he had solved his numerical problem. “This one here, as you’ve been told, is Elliot and this is Andre.” She stepped to the side to reveal the older boy. “He loves jokes. Valerie brought them here once and Andre fell in love.” She ruffled the boy’s braided hair. “When he found out I knew you, he begged me to introduce you.”

“Yeah, but now he’s being all shy. He’s always shy.”

“Elliot.” A woman, very much resembling Angelina save for her wild, combed-out hair and the beginnings of lines around her eyes came out from around the corner. “Be nice to your brother or you’ll have to wait outside.” She turned her attention away from the boy. “And you must be George Weasley, Valerie Johnson, it’s so nice to finally meet you.” She extended her hand.

George pulled himself back to his feet and returned the handshake. “Nice to meet you, too.”

“Valerie,” Angelina hissed.

The older Johnson smiled at her sister and grabbed Elliot by the hand. “Come on El, let’s look at all these things over here. Leave Auntie Ang alone.”

Smiling, George turned his attention back towards Angelina and Andre, who still stood mostly behind her. She rolled her eyes and pushed the boy in front of her, resting her hands on his shoulders. “Merlin. You’d think that after twenty-one years, she’d be tired of teasing me. But, you know how older siblings are, I suppose. Always think they know everything.”

“Hey.” Andre pulled away from her, giving the sternest look his face could muster.

“You’re the exception to that rule, of course, Andre.” She poked the boy’s nose. “Why don’t you say hello to Mr George? It’s all you’ve been talking about for days and the shop closes soon.” He seemed to contemplate her words, but made no attempt to actually say anything. She glanced back to George. “We meant to be here earlier, but Valerie is about as prompt as a troll.”

“I’m glad you could come, Angelina.” Honestly, he wasn’t sure where’d the shop would be right now without her help. She had kept him company throughout most of his evenings spent going through dozens of boxes – had listened to each of his stories, shared her own and politely looked away when something caught him off guard and made his voice wobble. He knew that he ought to thank her, but the words were stuck in his throat. Instead, he turned to Andre. “So Andre, how does this sound. You go and pick your favourite thing from the shelves. Anything at all, and I’ll tell you exactly how it works. Just you.”

“Really?” His voice was small, but excitement quivered on its surface. “You’d do that for me? Could you even sign it? Gee whiz, if Elliot sees I have your autograph.”

George had to bite his lip to keep from laughing. “Of course I’ll sign it. Go on and pick something out, all right?”

“Do you realize the can of Flubberworms you just opened?” Angelina smirked at him as Andre disappeared behind a shelf of rubber chickens.

“Eh. Andre’s a tough kid. He’ll be all right. Though that Elliot is a firecracker.”

“You have no idea. He was rather subdued today.” She took a step closer to George, and he felt his heart rate flutter.

She was close enough now that he could smell her light perfume and could see the glossiness of her lips. His breath caught in his throat as he remembered how soft they felt beneath his own. He wondered if they still tasted like oranges and whether they would still leave trails of heat along his skin. A numbness washed over his body and he inhaled deeply, trying to clear his mind of thoughts from another lifetime. It was no good to dredge through the past and what could have been. He liked what he and Angelina had now – a simple, easy friendship.

“So I was wondering” – he jumped as the sound of her voice broke through the thoughts racing in his head – “if maybe you’d like to –”

“Mr George, Mr George.” Elliot’s shrill voice broke through the shop. “This package says U-No-Poo. Mum says ‘poo’ is a nasty word. You’re gonna be in trouble.”

“Elliot, get your skinny little arse back over here. Now. Auntie Ang is talking to Mr George. It’s rude to interrupt.”

Angelina pursed her lips together and looked downward for a moment. “She doesn’t see it, but it’s amazing how alike those two are.”

George chuckled. “They both have impeccable timing, that’s for sure. What were you going to ask me?”

“Oh, that. I was just going to see if you’d like to come to Alicia’s and my New Year’s party with me. It’s just casual. Nothing big. Just some friends and stuff. I’m pretty sure Lee is going to be there. He asked if he could bring a date, so I’m anxious to see who this mystery lady is.”

“Did he now?” George smirked hoping that his second encounter with Indira would be less awkward than his first.

“Here. I found it.” Andre scampered over to George’s side with a stuffed, furry rat in his hands. “A disappearing rat. This will drive Mum bonkers.” He handed it to George and smiled expectantly as George signed the creature’s stomach. “Wait until Elliot sees this. Elliot, Elliot –”

“He really idolizes you, George. You probably made his week.” Angelina tucked several loose braids behind her shoulder and glanced over to where Andre had found Elliot. Valerie was nowhere to be seen. “Oh, I should probably go and break up the fight that is surely about to happen.”

“They’ll be fine.”

Smiling, she rolled her eyes at him and turned towards the boys.

“I’m really glad you came today, Angelina. I’ll see you at your party, then?”

~::~ 
 
Author's Note:  Thank you so much for reading! The support this story has garnered thus far is unreal, and I cannot thank you enough.  This is officially both my longest WIP and my my most reviewed WIP. I hope you enjoyed this chapter! I know it was a long one, but it was an important stepping stone for George.  Aren't Angelina's nephews cute?  This was my first attempt at introducing a bit of George and Angelina's romantic (?) history.  I'd love to hear what you thought.  As always, a huge thank you to Janechel, Sarah and Annie for betaing and helping me iron out the Ginny scene.  Any WWW products you recognize come from the lovely world of Harry Potter and are not mine. 


Chapter 8: Angelina, June 1995
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Angelina, June 1995

"Cedric was a person who exemplified many of the qualities which distinguish Hufflepuff house. He was a good and loyal friend, a hard worker, and he valued fair play. His death has affected you all, whether you knew him well or not.”

Dumbledore’s words from the end of term banquet rang in her mind as she stared out the lone window of her dormitory. It was far too late and too dark to discern anything besides vague outlines beyond the window pane, but having lived in the same dormitory and having looked out the same window for the past six years made seeing more or less irrelevant. The grounds were surely there, rolling out and around the walls of the castle. Ripples likely spread across the surface of the lake as the giant squid or some such creature glided beneath its surface, and the tiny silhouettes of owls stretching their wings almost certainly dotted the sky.

It seemed odd that everything was more or less the same as it had always been when so much had changed. Cedric was dead. He would not be returning to school with the rest of the seventh years next autumn. He wouldn’t play Quidditch, or study for N.E.W.Ts, or get the chance to be chosen as Head Boy. The finality of it all felt very surreal, and Angelina inhaled an unsteady breath in an attempt to shake the numbness that had settled over her. Never in her wildest dreams had she ever considered the possibility of losing a classmate and friend before he had gotten the chance to find a life outside of Hogwarts. Of course, they had all been told that the Triwizard Tournament was dangerous, and that if they chose to enter, they did so at their own risk, but those warnings had surely just been words passed along by adults obligated to worry over them. No one was actually supposed to die – and all the talk about murder, about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named – it was just too much.

Angelina scrunched her eyes shut tightly before opening them. Colorful flecks dotted her vision, but the window remained just as black as the sky. She jumped when a loud snore from the direction of Marjorie’s four poster cut through the silence of the dormitory. Clearly Witch Weekly’s snore-no-more solution that the girl swore by was working wonders.

Sighing, she turned away from the window.

The scarlet bed hangings were closed tightly around three of the five beds. In an uncharacteristic move, Erin and Marjorie had retired not long after the somber end-of-term feast had ended, and if Marjories’s snores and their lack of whispers were any evidence, they were now both fast asleep. Lora, who had been quiet on the trek up from the Great Hall, had also disappeared, though Angelina knew that her friend wasn’t yet sleeping. The sound of her quill scratching lightly against parchment, most likely writing to Michael the Muggle, betrayed her early retirement. Only the curtains around her own bed and Alicia’s bed remained open. The latter had disappeared shortly before the headmaster had given the feast’s closing remarks, leaving Angelina alone with her ruminating thoughts.

Angelina had a fairly good idea where Alicia had disappeared to, and had already convinced herself that the absent brunette was the reason she was still awake, perched on a window ledge – she was definitely only waiting for Alicia’s return. That’s just what friends did. She was certainly not avoiding closing her eyes out of fear of the empty numbness taking over. Merlin, she had put her name into the goblet last term, and had been a twinge jealous of the boy ever since. What if she had been in the maze, instead of Cedric? She shook herself, roughly swallowed the feeling of bile creeping up the back of her throat, and wished for Alicia’s return. She inhaled a slow and shaky breath, willing the dormitory door to swing open. When no such thing happened, her eyes panned over the unusually bare walls around her.

Five mostly-packed trunks sat in the center of the round room. Tucked away within them was all the clutter – the school supplies, clothing, pennants, posters and photographs – that typically made the dark stone walls feel like home. Rather than suggesting that a long, relaxing summer was right around the corner, the trunks left a cold, empty feeling in the pit of her stomach. She swallowed that back as well and chided herself. If only there was an off-switch for this line of thinking.

Pushing the heels of her hands into her eyes, she slumped back against the cool glass. Perhaps, despite feeling hollow and wholly unaffected by the prospect of summer, it was just what she needed. A summer away from the castle, away from all the grief and the whispered rumors of how and why and who would do everybody some good. According to the last letter her mum had written, her oldest sister, Valerie, was still in the country with Andre and her newest little nephew - Elliot, she said his name was. Angelina felt a small smile flicker at the corner of her mouth – meeting the newest Johnson was definitely something to look forward to.

The sound of the dormitory’s wooden door slowly swinging open cut through her thoughts.

“Alicia?” She sat up from her slumped position on the window ledge and glanced along the sliver of light shining across the stone floor from the stairwell. “That you?”

“Yeah, it’s me.”

“It’s about time you showed up,” Angelina said, with all the playfulness she could muster. “I’ve been watching for you to come back since the feast ended.” Her eyes followed her friend as she crossed the room and pulled herself up onto the window ledge next to her.

“I know what you’re going to say, but don’t.” There was no playfulness in Alicia’s voice. Her normal teasing tone sounded weary and defensive. “I know you keep telling me that I shouldn’t continue spending time with guys after I break up with them, but I don’t know. Eddie had asked if we could take a walk and, well, I couldn’t tell him no – ”

“Alicia, I – ”

“And besides, all we did was walk down to the pitch. We barely even said anything – he was so quiet, we just sat there in the grass under the near-hoops. It was sort of weird, but I think it helped him some to get out of the castle. So I don’t care what you think about me sneaking out of the castle with him, I’m glad I did it, and I’d do it again. And you can just keep your big-sister-advice to yourself.”

Angelina watched as she scrunched her eyes shut and leaned back against the cool glass of the window. A heavy silence had settled between the two girls - even the scratching of Lora’s quill from behind her bed curtains has stilled - and she paused a minute before breaking it.

“Alicia, I wasn’t going to say anything, even before you gave your little monologue.”

The brunette opened her eyes, but made no attempt to pull herself up from her slouched position. “You weren’t?” she asked. A hint of incredulousness laced through her words. “I’m always doing the same thing, falling back into the same old patterns. You’d probably be right to say something.”

“Well, don’t worry about that. I wasn’t going to say anything. Cedric was Eddie’s best mate, and you’re a lovely person. He may be denser than troll hide, but he was smart enough to know he could count on you.”

“I swear nothing happened this time – I’m really done dating him.”

“I know, Alicia. I know.” She snaked her arm around her best friend’s shoulders. “I feel like the rules of social norms are allowed to be broken when bad things happen.”

“I can’t believe he’s really dead, Ang.”

“Oi, are you two awake?” Lora’s head peeped out from her bed.

“No, we’re both fast asleep,” Alicia called across the room.

“Well, I’m not either.” The sarcasm seemed to escape her, and Lora continued speaking from between her curtains. “I’ve tried, but I just can’t seem to fall asleep – I just keep thinking about his poor parents. And Cho, God. And how I’d feel if that’d have been Michael.”

Angelina slipped down from the window ledge and made her way to Lora’s four poster. The stone floor was cold against her feet, and her toes curled in protest. “Here,” she said pulling the curtain aside, “budge over, will you?”

“We haven’t had a sleepover in years.” Alicia called, shuffling over to the bed. “Bloody shame something like this has to happen to prompt one.”

Angelina scooted down so her shoulders were beneath to the covers. It had been several minutes since anyone had said anything, but she could tell by their pattern of breathing that Alicia and Lora were both still awake too. It really had been years since the three of them had hidden out in one of their beds, sharing secrets and jokes until late in the night, when sleep would finally take over. They had called it their fort – it had been the foundation their friendship was built upon. The years had slowly stripped away their time for late night frivolities and stolen the space behind the curtains so that the three girls were forced to lay shoulder to shoulder, but she still felt the same peace and comfort knowing her best friends were at her side.

“Lora? Alicia?” she whispered into the darkness. “I’m glad I have you.”

~::~

The gentle rumble of the Hogwarts Express as it careened southward toward London, and an entire, glorious summer away from the castle’s stone corridors and the shocked silence that had filled them during the past few days of the term, had lulled Angelina into a barely-conscious state. Sunshine shone through a thin wisp of clouds that lined the border between earth and sky. Leaning against the window next to her seat, she could feel its warmth seep into her skin. It was a beautiful day beyond the walls of the train car – the sort of day that Oliver Wood had always categorized as a ‘Quidditch Day.’ She hadn’t spent much time on a broomstick of late, but could imagine the feel of a broomstick in her hands and the rush of air around her body with very little effort.

At least there’d be Quidditch next term.

“Ang?”

The sound of her name crashed through her lazy thoughts like an unanticipated Bludger. Recognizing Alicia’s voice, she shook the sleepy feeling from her head and turned away from the green Scottish hillside rolling past the window. The interior of their compartment was dim in contrast to the sunlight beyond the window, and it took a moment for her eyes to adjust. The seat next to Lora had been vacated. Alicia stood in the doorway of the compartment, and her hands grasped the door frame to keep herself from losing her balance if the train happened to give a particularly large lurch. She was staring at Angelina, most likely waiting for the answer to whatever question she had preceded her name.

“Do you want anything off the trolley?” Alicia asked, apparently repeating her question. “It’s over at the next train car, and I don’t know about you, but I need a Chocolate Frog or ten. And Lora wants a Pumpkin Pasty. ”

Lora sat with a colourfully bound book open on her knees, but it didn’t look as though she had made any process with it since they had boarded the train – the top corner of the page was still turned down where she had last marked her place. Her head was tilted and Angelina wondered whether her blue eyes had been watching her while she had been lost outside the window.

“What’re you thinking about, Ang?” Lora asked. Her eyes gazed out the window as though she were looking for a clue. “It’s a beautiful day out there.”

“Yes, it really is.” Angelina pushed several of her braids back from her face. “Just thinking about Quidditch next term, and – ”

How strange it would to take the field against Hufflepuff without Cedric.

Her brain completed the thought where her words had dropped off. She was surprised – she actually hadn’t been thinking anything of the sort before answering Lora. The warm, soaring feeling she had felt imagining herself up in the air was promptly staunched. If they weren’t before, Lora’s eyes were now certainly watching her.

“ – and N.E.W.Ts and such.” Angelina quickly finished her sentence, fighting the hollow sensation creeping up her throat.

“N.E.W.Ts? God, Ang. I’m not even thinking about N.E.W.Ts yet.” Lora shut her book, as though she was finally admitting a defeat in making any progress with it. “I hope the weather is this nice in London.”

“Right, Chocolate Frogs it is, then.”

Angelina’s and Lora’s heads both snapped towards the doorway, where Alicia was still leaning. Her arms were crossed over her chest, and one of her eyebrows was cocked up beneath the edge of her fringe.

“Holy hippogriff, Alicia, I’m sorry. I completely forgot I hadn’t answered you. Here, I’ll go get sweets for all of us.” Angelina jumped up from her seat, hoping to leave the increasingly familiar hollow feeling behind her, and bounded towards the door, pushing away the coins in Alicia’s hand. “No, no. My treat.”

The length of the corridor outside their compartment buzzed as students made their way to and from the trolley in the neighbouring car. A pair of now-second year boys scampered towards her, their pockets loaded with so many lollies and pasties and frogs that Angelina could only hope there were at least three or four more of them in their compartment. She recognized one of the as the little Gryffindor that had fallen in the lake on the very first night in the castle – Dennis Creevey, his name was. He nodded, smiling as he brushed past her. She watched as he and his friend disappeared into their compartment. The boy was always smiling – there was something to be said for that ability, and she felt the whisper of a smile play at her own lips.

“And for you, dears – what can I get for you?” The sound of the trolley witch’s voice rang down the corridor.

The handful of Sickles she had stashed in her robe pocket before they had left Hogwarts weighed against her leg. She had to get Chocolate Frogs for Alicia soon – the whinging that would surely happen if she didn’t was nearly as frightening as the thought of next term’s potions course. Now that she thought about it, perhaps she’d buy a Frog or two for herself. Some chocolate was beginning to sound nothing short of necessary.

Angelina hastened along the corridor and squeezed through the door to the next train car, the idea of introducing her nephew to Famous Witches and Wizards Cards bouncing around in the back of her head. She heard the trolley before she saw it. Bits of conversation – summer plans, gossip about who was seen snogging whom, rumours about Cedric and what had happened in the maze – floated in the air with increasing volume as she approached it. A handful of students milled around the red-and-white-striped cart. A cheery, round-faced witch stood behind it, exchanging Knuts and Sickles for smiles and sweets.

“And what can I get for you today, my dear?” The witch, whose name tag identified her as a Violet, asked in a wobbly voice.

“Erm,” Angelina stalled as she fished money her pockets. She swore they were only deep while she was trying to find something in them; any other time, they almost too shallow to secure a quill. “All right,” she finally said as her hands closed around the coins and she handed them to Violet, “I’ll take two Pumpkin Pasties and a dozen or so Chocolate Frogs, please.”

“A dozen or so Chocolate Frogs? Bloody hell, Johnson, do you have a date with a Dementor that I don’t know about?” Lee had appeared at her side – a smirk, which shouted just how clever he thought he was, was pasted on his face. He tossed his dreads back from his face and swung his arm around her shoulders. “Between you and me, I’d choose a Dementor over a certain ginger any day. I’m sure the hooded soul-sucker wouldn’t drag its feet about things quite as much – since they float and all.”

Angelina narrowed her eyes at him as he grinned, waiting for her to say something. Their friendship, she had determined, revolved around this continued interplay of action and reaction – she swore he lived for her response. It had been a while since they had danced a round of their game, and she figured she may as well play it up for him. Slipping out from his arm, she shook her head and made sure he saw her exaggerated eye roll.

“Now, now Johnson – no need to get hostile.”

“I’m just going to ignore the last part of what you said, since it is completely ridiculous,” she said, unable to keep from smiling, “and unless the Dementor’s name is Alicia, the first bit is ridiculous too. She’s a firm believer in chocolate therapy as a solution for all problems.”

“I see.” A serious look crept up his face. “I saw her leave the Great Hall with Eddie last night. Is she doing all right?” Lee asked.

“Well, she ordered up a Chocolate Frog or ten, if that’s any indication – I just think we all need some time.”

Lee nodded knowingly. “If it makes her feel any better, I ended up in the Astronomy Tower with Libby last night.” He chuckled at his own predicament.

“Libby McNulty?” Angelina felt her brow dart up her forehead. “You spent all of January trying to avoid her after the Yule Ball debacle, and now you decide to, four months later, take her up to the Astronomy Tower?” She winced at the incredulous tone her voice had adopted, wondering if she should have tried to sound more sincere.

“I’m not even sure how I ended up there. Relapse, I suppose. Something about grief and loss and the stars smiling on her and I – I’m not proud, but like I said, if Alicia needs a little pick-me-up – ”

“Do I hear my Lee?” a voice called down the corridor.

Angelina watched in amusement as Lee’s eyes dilated in panic. It was a fight not to laugh as Libby came strutting down the corridor towards him. It really was a shame that a girl as pretty as she was, was such a toad.

“Thank Merlin I ran into you,” Libby cooed, sidling up against his chest. “I was so afraid you wouldn’t get to see me before we got to London, and, well, I know how horrible that would have been for you. You’ve said so yourself – I work emotional magic.”

Lee stood perfectly still while she talked, as though there were a chance she’d forget he was there – which, given the size of her ego, was entirely likely.

“Oh, Angie,” she said, likely only then realizing Angelina was also standing near the trolley, “Fred, or George - no – maybe Fred - oh, as if it matters, right? One of the twins asked if I’d seen you when I popped into their compartment to look for my Lee. People clearly recognize what a social presence I am in this school. But, yes. I think he may want to see you – third compartment down from here.”

“Thanks, Libby.” Angelina shot Lee a sympathetic look and scooped her bag of sweets off the side of the trolley where Violet had set them – if nothing else, the witch’s hours behind the trolley were undoubtedly amusing.

George wanted to see her.

She made a conscious effort not to walk the distance to the third compartment from the sweets trolley too quickly, cursing herself for the hike in her pulse and the flutter in her stomach. After all, they were, for all intents and purposes, only friends. Of course, they had spent a lot of time together this past term, but his body language was so consistently platonic, save for some hand-holding that was all too easy to explain away. No, Angelina completely blamed Alicia’s perpetual game of Salazar’s advocate – all of her observations, what-ifs, and hypotheses – for her continued courtship of this irrational optimism.

Taking a deep breath to try and regain her composure, she slid the door of the compartment open.

“Angelina,” George said. He sat alone in the compartment; a roll of parchment was unrolled in his hands, and a bright red quill was tucked behind his ear. His face wore a wide smile that continued all the way up into his eyes.

“Libby ran into Lee and me by the trolley and said you were looking for me?” She slipped down into the seat next to him. “Though she didn’t seem able to tell if you were you or Fred.”

“Ah, Libby. Lee’s a lucky man.” He turned towards Angelina, settling back into his seat. “He’ll have to let me know how he found such a great catch. The pride of Ravenclaw house, that one”

His eyes made contact with hers, and she had to force herself not to read into it. A summer away from Alicia’s romantic conspiracies was definitely in order. Breaking eye contact, she stared into the compartment and cleared her throat. “So, where’s Fred at? I didn’t expect to find you alone in here.”

“Eh, he went off to find Hollis – something about wishing her a happy holiday.” He began to roll the parchment. “Plus, I assume he wanted to share the news with her.” Tapping the parchment with his wand, it vanished. He looked back up at her with wide eyes, and fidgeted in his seat. His whole body seemed to encourage her to ask him what the news was.

“And what news is that?” Angelina didn’t have to pretend to play along; a tingle of curiosity danced under her skin.

“It’s actually going to happen – the joke shop,” George practically shouted. “Harry, that bloody wonderful scrawny git, he gave Fred and me all his winnings. All one thousand Galleons of it. Ang – ” he grabbed her shoulder, practically shaking her “ – the research, the materials, the actual premise, we can afford all of it. Merlin, just think how many Canary Creams that is.”

Without thinking, Angelina threw her arms around him. The dream of owning a joke shop was something George had talked to her about so often that she struggled to find the words adequate enough to congratulate him now that the dream could be a reality. One hand on the back of his head, his hair rough against her palm and the other in the middle of his back, she became acutely aware that his own hands had wrapped behind her waist, pulling her towards him. The feel of his breath against her neck sent trails of cauldron fizz flooding through her body.

She dropped her hands, not knowing exactly what to do. Her mind was racing, and she didn’t trust her own assessment of the situation. He followed suit and pulled away from her. Settling back in her seat, she chanced a look back up at him.

His eyes watched her for a moment before he, too, sat back in his seat. “Harry, erm,” he said, struggling to find his voice, “he didn’t want the money, especially considering how he had won it. He told us to get inventing – that the world could do with a few laughs.”

“That’s brilliant, George.” She had finally found her voice. “Harry – he’s a good one. Do you really think that, everything he said – everything Dumbledore said. Do you think that You-Know-Who’s really back?” The question surprised her – she hadn’t realized she was wondering it, and felt slightly traitorous asking. After all, she knew how close the Weasley family was with Harry. She fiddled with the bag of sweets that she had left sitting on the seat, cursing herself for the umpteenth time that day.

She had single-handedly derailed the celebration over George and Fred’s news.

“I should get back to my compartment.” She rose from her seat not waiting for his answer. “I was supposed to be bringing Chocolate Frogs back to Alicia, and I’ve been gone forever. She’ll be crankier than one of Hagrid’s Skrewts.”

“Hey, Angelina,” George called as she turned towards the compartment door. “Be careful this summer, eh? I, erm, I don’t think I’d know what to do if something happened to you.”

“You, too.”

They were only two words, but as Angelina left the compartment and made her way back to Alicia and Lora, she felt as though some sort of mutual understanding had settled between them.

~::~

Author’s Note: Let me first give credit where credit is due. The quote, "Cedric was a person…him well or not” was taken from pp. 421-422 of the American Hardback Edition of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The bit about how many Canary creams and the world needing more laughs was inspired from the exchange between Harry and the Weasley twins on p. 433 also of the American Hardback Edition of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The name Hollis is a reference to ToujourPadfoot’s character from her Fred/OC story, So, Listen… (my Fred Weasley head canon). Now, let me thank you, the reader for being here despite the amount of time that has passed since my last update. This story means a lot to me, and I’m very grateful for all of your support thus far. I’d love to hear what you thought, and appreciate any reviews you leave. Lastly, let me thank Rachel for being a stupendous beta and Ariellem for her quick help locating my quotes. 


Chapter 9: George, December 1998
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George, December 1998

Turning the nozzle off, the spray of the shower slowed to its normal, irritatingly persistent drip. One of these days he was going to have to break down and call a maintenance wizard to repair it – his own rather crafty attempts at repairing the faucet had apparently been insufficient. Despite the heavy moisture now hanging in the small bathroom, the air in his flat felt lighter than it had in months. Though he’d thought about it, George couldn’t quite put his finger on what exactly had caused the change.

In truth, it had more likely been a slow evolution. Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes had opened, and holiday sales had far surpassed even his most optimistic expectations. He, Ron, and Verity had been working almost literally around the clock in order to keep the shelves stocked and the patrons satisfied. There had scarcely been a time in which there was nobody at least browsing the display cases or watching a demonstration in awe. It had certainly been an exhausting few weeks, but whenever he finally got the chance to lay his head on his pillow he had often found himself wondering why he hadn’t done it all sooner. Christmas too had come and gone in the hustle and bustle of carols, heaping dishes of his mum’s cooking, and walls bursting at the seams with friends and family. Though each seat around the Burrow’s long table had been occupied – Hermione and her dentist parents, Harry, Kingsley, Luna Lovegood and the batty Xenophilus from over the hill – the space Fred left behind could not be filled. Despite the bitter ache of his absence, they had all been able to enjoy the holiday together. His mum had called it the magic of the holiday. Now it was very nearly a new year – and not a moment too soon. The wizarding world was long overdue for a fresh start, after all.

Stepping out of the shower and running a towel over his hair, George cleared a circle in the condensation that had collected on the mirror over his washroom sink. He hadn’t seen Angelina since the joke shop’s grand opening, but she had written him earlier with the specifics of the New Year’s party she had invited him to – festivities would be starting up around eight, there would be plenty of food and drink, and she was looking forward to spending the evening with him. The soft lines of her signature, the possibility of what this evening could mean, had left his pulse elevated and memories of heated, orange-flavoured kisses racing through his mind.

“Merlin, Oddie,” he said to the reflection of his small, red-coloured owl perched on top of the shower rod across from the mirror, “what on earth did she mean by that?” The meaning of the words in her letter flickered teasingly in his mind, and he scrunched his eyes shut before leaning in closer to the mirror. Scrutinizing the layer of stubble that had appeared on his chin - and looked more like a bad sunburn than actual facial hair - he retrieved his razor and shaving salve from the tiny cabinet below the sink. “At the shop, she made tonight seem like a casual get together with some people from school, but now - now she’s looking forward to spending the evening with me.”

Oddie let out a long hoot and fluttered down to the edge of the sink bowl.

“I mean, it is New Year’s Eve, and, well, I just don’t know what she expects from me this evening – am I her date? Not that I’d complain. Angelina, she’s just brilliant. And of course we’ve – ” He felt his pulse hitch at the memory.

The owl cocked his head, clacking his beak in an almost teasing fashion.

George glared at the owl and began spreading a layer of the shaving cream over his face before continuing where he left off. “But that was different, everything was – us, the world, the bloody war. I just don’t know.” Turning the faucet on, he ran the blade of the razor under the stream of water. Had his facial hair first started growing at any other point during his adolescence, he could have just muttered a run-of-the-mill hair removal charm, but it hadn’t. Instead, he and Fred had learned to shave at the height of their dad’s fascination with Muggle shaving mirrors and razors, and old habits died hard.

Stretching out his face, he pulled the blade across his skin. He could feel Oddie’s eyes watching him and heard him fluff his feathers. George knew the bird was settling into his perch on the sink.

“You’re a good owl, boy,” he said, clearing another strip of his face, “tolerating me whining like a school girl. But you know, what Angelina and I have now – it’s good, and I don’t want to mess that up by thinking she wants something more if she doesn’t, or continuing on like we are if she does. Godric, I feel like we’ve always come back to this unspoken cat and mouse game. I wish we could just be.” Cupping his hands under the stream of water, he leaned over the sink bowl and splashed on his face.

Oddie let out an agitated shriek. George jumped and rapidly blinked water from his eyes – he had apparently splashed the poor owl that was once again perched on the shower rod, preening his feathers.

“Sorry, boy.”

The owl looked down at him with a sullen stare.

“Fine then, stay mad at me,” he said, turning his back on the brooding bird. “Just remember this if you ever need to talk.” Reaching up, he grabbed the owl and tossed him out the window into the evening air. It was already after eight, the wording of Angelina’s letter was no less baffling, and he still needed to find a clean robe to wear.

~::~

The world around him stilled, and George felt his feet make contact the brick bottom of Angelina and Alicia’s fireplace. He had been ready to Apparate from his Diagon Alley flat when he remembered that the girls’ flat was located in Muggle London, and while materializing in an unsuspecting, likely-intoxicated group of Muggles would certainly have been memorable, breaking the International Statute of Secrecy may have put a damper on the evening’s festivities. Luckily, there had been a pinch of Floo Powder in the bottom of his canister. Brushing the bit of soot from his green dragon-skin jacket, he stepped out of the hearth. A handful of familiar faces filled the room – the lucky ones crowded on the sofa while others sat at the wooden chairs from the table, or stood leaning against bookshelves. The buzz of their voices, cheery with the promise of a new year and a hint of the alcohol they had already consumed, intermixed with an upbeat pop tune playing from the wireless in the corner.

Despite the anxious feeling swirling around in the pit of his stomach, he felt a wide smile spread across his face. It had been a long time since he had had a good time with friends.

“Well, fancy seeing you here,” said the smiling face of Indira Shah. She had appeared at his side from the direction of the kitchen with Lee in tow. They both had white cups grasped in their hands, and the latter held a plate of crisps and some sort of steaming dip.

“Georgie.” Lee drew out the last syllable, looking between his hands as if to confirm that they were in fact full, and nodded in greeting. “Bloody hell, Wanda Garcia, do you think you could MC a worse program for New Year’s Eve?” he shouted over his shoulder in the direction of the wireless, before turning back to the group. “I do have to be grateful. She took my shift so I could be here with Indira – can’t leave my girl alone on New Year’s Eve,” he said wrapping his arms around her shoulders. “But good old Professor Binns is more interesting than she is – Wanda, not Indira, of course. Indira is very interesting.” He winked at George and dipped his head to nuzzle her shoulder.

Smiling, Indira rolled her eyes and skirted away from him.

“Oh, Lee.” George clapped his hand on his friend’s shoulder, sensing that he had beaten most of the party to the point of intoxication. “It’s good to see you, mate. And Indira.” He turned towards her and hooked his arm over her shoulders. “I barely recognized you with your trousers on. Last time you found me in a sitting room you and Lee had just been –”

“– broadcasting, yes, I remember,” she said, slipping away from his arms as well. “You’re really never going to let me forget that, are you?”

“Oh, I will eventually, when something equally amusing replaces it in my arsenal.” He smirked and helped himself to the white cup in Lee’s hand. The burn of firewhisky seared his throat. “So, are you two actually here together? You finally out of the broom closet, then?”

“Well –”

“—I finally managed to convince her that I’m much too good looking to keep secret,” Lee stated, cutting off whatever explanation she was about to offer.

Indira stared at him, a hint of amusement played behind her eyes. “What Lee is trying to say,” she said without breaking eye contact with him, “is that we’ve been keeping everything quiet for so long, and we’re going to have to tell my family eventually, so I thought it may be helpful to be honest with you all first – sort of like a practice trial.”

“Well I think it’s brilliant.” George smiled at his best friend and, now, non-secret girlfriend, his thoughts flickering to Angelina and her note. Regardless of how he interpreted her words, she still wanted to spend the evening with him. “Say, do either of you know where –”

“Johnson’s in the kitchen, lover boy.”

Lee had most definitely reached intoxication – even without the cup of firewhisky that he had swiped from him. George smiled at Indira, who had flashed him a sympathetic grin, before making his way through the room to the kitchen.

A delicious smell wafted up from the several trays and bowls that lined the small countertop. George inhaled and felt his stomach rumble, but the sound of laughter recaptured his attention. Angelina stood in the centre of the kitchen with Katie Bell and Alicia. All three women clutched at their sides with their heads thrown back, not noticing him standing in the doorway. A warm feeling rose up in his chest. There was something cathartic about seeing other people so happy.

“And then, if you remember –” Alicia said between bursts of merriment “—Oliver nearly choked on his biscuit, and Madam Hooch had to perform a Summoning Charm to save him.”

“Oh my Merlin, could you imagine the Prophet’s obituary if she hadn’t?” Katie asked. “’Budding, neurotic Quidditch star chokes to death on biscuit in response to the detention of his team’s Seeker.’” Laughing along with the others, she glanced up and smiled warmly in the direction of the doorway.

“George,” she exclaimed, “we were just remembering some Oliver Wood Classics – he’s supposed to be stopping by later, and we wanted to be prepared.”

Alicia’s and Angelina’s heads swivelled towards the doorway, their circle expanding to accommodate him, but George hardly noticed. The latter’s eyes had locked onto his, and he momentarily felt as though he had been Petrified.

“Right,” he heard Alicia’s voice say, “come on, Katie. We should probably go check in on the guests in the other room – leave these two here.”

George blinked as they brushed passed him. He needed to reign in his thoughts – his speculative conversation with Oddie had him over-analysing everything. He watched Angelina cross the kitchen towards him. A smile crept across his face, and he took a step forward.

“I’m so glad you were able to be here.” She threw her arms around him and pulled him into an amicable hug. Before he could decide what he should do with his own arms, she had stepped back. “Have you eaten? My mum sent me some of her party recipes – I’m anxious to see what you think of them, especially these. I spent most of the day cooking; Merlin knows Alicia’s a nightmare in the kitchen.” She turned and grabbed a plate and piled a bit of everything on it. “She took over planning the bar. Needless to say, there is enough alcohol in this flat for everyone to float into the New Year.”

“Lee must be the captain of the raft, then,” he chuckled, taking the plate from Angelina’s hands. “I talked to him and Indira when I got here, and he was already about halfway to floating.”

She laughed and rolled her eyes at her friend’s expense. “He’s quite the character. I cannot believe they’ve been dating since last March without us knowing. You should have seen Libby’s face when they Flooed in holding hands.” She paused in response to the incredulous look that flashed across George’s face. “We didn’t intend to invite her, really, but she overheard Katie talking about it in the atrium one day, and, well, here Libby is.” She shrugged, and he felt her watching him as he chewed a bite of the vol-au-vent she had placed on his plate with particular flourish.

“Holy hippogriff, Ang,” he said, swallowing, “this is brilliant.”

“Really? You’re not just saying that to be polite?”

“Really, truly. I pinkie swear.” He held up his hand with his smallest finger extended.

She giggled and grasped his pinkie with her own. “I cannot believe I’m twenty-one years old and am still making pinkie promises.”

“Eh, I’m a good investment.”


“Oi,” Lee called from the doorway, much louder than necessary, “George, Johnson - I don’t know what you two are doing in here, but there are drinks to be drunk in the next room. You’ll be the only sober ones here if you hide out in here much longer.”

“Thanks, Lee,” George called over his shoulder, matching his friend’s volume. He turned back to Angelina, who still had her finger wrapped around his. “So, would you like to go and get a drink with me?”

“Sounds brilliant.” Several seconds, which could have well been full minutes, passed before her dark eyes looked away from his face, and she dropped his finger. “I’m glad you liked my food.”

The sitting room was a touch livelier than it had been when he had first arrived. Several of Alicia’s friends from the Ministry had congregated in the corner and were dancing in time to the music. Oliver Wood had apparently arrived and was sitting at the table with Katie and Alicia and a few others. If the wild gestures he was making with his hands were any evidence, he was in the midst of a gregarious Quidditch story. Lee and Indira were sitting on the couch – Libby had wedged herself between them and was chatting a mile a minute.

“So,” George said to Angelina, pulling the cork out of the top of the firewhisky bottle and pouring a several inches into the bottom of his cup, “what would you like to drink?”

“Surprise me.”

He looked over the collection of bottles set up on the top of the bookshelf. A rich, amber-coloured bottle of curacao caught his eye – it was her favourite, he knew. Unscrewing the cap, the citrusy scent of oranges assaulted his nose. Though he had never tried it, memories of the liquor’s taste on her mouth assaulted his mind. His hand shook as he poured it into a small white cup and added a splash of juice. Handing her the drink, her hand brushed against his. He felt his mouth go as dry as if he had eaten Doxy powder. His heart leapt up into his throat as he recalled the heat of her palms against his bare skin.

“Curacao?” she asked as she took a sip of the orange liquid. “Good choice – it’s my favourite.”

George’s mouth moved as though he was speaking, but his brain struggled to form words. A desperate need to say something, anything, to fill the lag of time rose up in his chest, and so he drained his firewhisky in a single mouthful. “Oh, yeah. It is, isn’t it?” he said, finally finding his voice as the burning sensations from the liquid slid down his throat.

Occlumency should be listed as a prerequisite to agreeing to attend a party with a woman -- was she smiling at him because she approved of the drink he chose, or because she too was caught up in past memories? Reaching for the bottle, he refilled his cup.  It was going to be a long evening.

“Well, look who finally showed up.”

George’s head swivelled in the direction of Alicia’s voice, thankful for the distraction from his thoughts. The brunette had risen from the table where Oliver and Katie still sat and was walking towards the entranceway where Lora and Michael-the-Muggle Carmichael stood, still bundled in their coats and scarves. She wrapped Lora into a slightly overzealous hug and nudged the blonde girl’s husband playfully with her elbow.

“You know, we were starting to think you two weren’t going to show up, weren’t we, Ang?” Alicia called in the general direction of George and Angelina, never turning her head from the newcomers.

George was startled when he felt Angelina tug on the sleeve of his robe. She tipped her head in the direction of her friends, as though asking him to accompany her. He grinned and topped off both of their drinks before following her to the group of people congregated in the flat’s open doorway.

“Lora,” Angelina said, also pulling her into a hug, “I’m glad you made it. We’ve missed you.”

“Ah. I’ve missed you all – not living in London anymore is so strange.” Lora stepped back into Michael the Muggle’s side. “I’m sorry we’re so late. Since we were in the city, we stopped in to see both our parents.” She gazed up at the sandy-haired man with a look of doting admiration. “We had some news to share with them, and of course we wanted to wish them a happy New Year.”

“Lora,” Alicia said, smirking, “if I didn’t teach you to do this myself, I’d be shocked. You’re fishing for somebody to ask you what your news is – well played, my friend, well played.”

“I’m - I don’t know – I’m not fishing for you to ask me anything, Alicia.” Even in the dim lighting, George could see the blonde woman’s cheeks turn a shade of scarlet that could give any of the Weasleys a run for their Galleons. Despite the indignation in her voice and the blush on her face, her eyes were bright. Michael the Muggle squeezed her shoulder, and she seemed to remember that she had been trying to say something. “But, since you asked, no matter how rudely – ” she shot the gloating brunette a stern look, before beaming around the entire group “— we do have some news. Some pretty exciting news, actually.” Her voice practically squeaked. “I, erm, we – ”

“Lora and I, we’re going to have a baby,” Michael the Muggle said, picking up his wife’s faltering words. “Isn’t that brilliant?”

If George hadn’t played Quidditch and celebrated victories with Angelina and Alicia, he wouldn’t have believed that the squeals that came out of them were human in origin. A grin spread out across his face and he found himself shaking Michael the Muggle’s hand and clapping him on the shoulder without thinking. There was something profound about the couple’s news – a new life for the new year, for the new world – and it was beautiful.

The next few hours passed on a wave of that understood, yet unarticulated notion. Lee had managed to pull himself and Indira away from the clutches of Libby’s stories of self-glorification, and had launched himself on a campaign of increasingly slurred congratulatory toasts. George wasn’t sure how many firewhiskies had ensued, when he had traded in his white cup for the bottle, or why he had been so nervous and agitated earlier in the evening. It was nearly a new year – and everything was better than it had been in a long while. Michael the Muggle swayed in time to the music that still played from the wireless, Lora wrapped up in his arms. Katie and Alicia were immersed in a deep pool of gossip with the latter’s coworkers. Lee appeared to be in the midst of some sort of interpretive dance – Indira’s shoulders shook from her attempts not to laugh at his antics. Libby, to everyone’s amusement, had managed to seduce Oliver into a corner, where two had been snogging, none too subtly. They had all placed bets on how long it would continue before she felt the need to tell everyone about it, the winner getting the rights to inform Oliver that he had spent the evening in the arms of the infamous Libby McNulty. George smiled – he couldn’t have imagined a better way to spend the evening.

“Oh, George, look,” Angelina said stepping away from him – he was suddenly aware that she had been leaning back against his chest, and that he had been standing with his arms draped over her shoulders. She pulled the curtains back from the window. “The Muggles from upstairs are lighting fireworks out there.” She grabbed his arm and tugged him towards the window. “They’re not as good as Fred’s and your fireworks, but they’re still pretty – oh no.” Her jaw dropped. “We didn’t miss midnight, did we?”

“Nah,” he said, checking his pocket watch, “there’s only five minutes left until midnight – why don’t we go outside and count down with your neighbours?” He was acutely aware that he had no idea what to do with his hands. Slipping them into his pockets, he turned away from the window to the interior of the flat. “Oi, grab your drinks," he shouted over the music. "There’re some people counting down to midnight on the street. We should join them – show them how to celebrate the New Year.”

Outside, in the frigid night air, beneath a colourful display of fireworks, and mixed amongst a cluster of Muggles – who thankfully never batted their eyes at the group of people who had joined them dressed in robes – they all waited anxiously for midnight. George glanced away from one particular Muggle who had a giant, glowing clock on a rather ostentatious top hat to Angelina, who was standing with her head tipped back, watching the sky. He was rather impressed with her balance—when he tipped his head back in a similar fashion, the world spun. Taking his hands out from his pocket, he touched her elbow.

“Count down with me?” he smiled as she stepped under his arm.

“Ten,” the small crowd said in unison.

George glanced down at Angelina, surprised at the quiet ease they had settled into as the evening had progressed. He wondered if it was only due to the alcohol they had drunk – if it would last once they were both sober.

“Nine… eight – ”

“You’re right, you know,” he whispered over the crowd’s count. “My fireworks are much better than these.”

She tipped her head up at him – her lips parted in a wide smile, and smacked his chest playfully.

“Five… four –”

Her smile jolted something in the back of his mind, and a smattering of sweat broke out on the palms of his hands. Was he supposed to kiss her at midnight?

“Three –”

Something stirred in his stomach at the thought. He would gladly kiss her at midnight, but not at the cost of their friendship, or whatever it was they shared.

“Two –”

This was going to have to be her decision. He turned to face her and returned her smile.

“One –”

Several fireworks cracked overhead, and murmurings of “Happy New Year!” rippled through the crowd of witches, wizards, and Muggles gathered on the street corner.

George pulled Angelina into a hug, hoping that she couldn’t feel the spike in his pulse as her body nestled into his chest. He sensed her eyes on his face, but before he could process this or even begin to react, he felt her press her lips to his cheek. It was the confirmation he needed, and he turned his head towards the kiss, imagining the feel of her lips on his own once again. However, he did not get the chance to bring his thoughts to fruition. She ended the kiss just as suddenly as she had started it, and laid her head on his shoulder. Bringing his hand up and brushing her braids back from her face, he pressed his own lips to the top of her head.

“Happy New Year, Ang,” he whispered into her hair.

~::~

Author’s Note: So there you are! When I initially started writing this story, I had intended to post this chapter around the New Year in the spirit of the holiday, but you know what they say about good intentions. I know there’s a lot of build up to the ending of this chapter, so hopefully it wasn’t too disappointing. I’d love to hear your thoughts! As always, a special thank you to Rachel, my beta, and to my friends who provided the encouragement I needed to finish this chapter. 


Chapter 10: Angelina, August 1995
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Angelina, August 1995

The heat wave that had taken up residence hovering in the skies over most of England that summer had been particularly nasty over the past week. Temperatures had topped out around thirty-five degrees, and not a drop of rain had fallen. According to the Muggle news programme that her dad had watched every evening for as long as she could remember, town and boroughs across the country had banned the use of hosepipes.

Sitting on the sofa and gazing out the large bay window overlooking her mum’s garden, Angelina idly wondered whether such limitations had any consequences for the witches and wizards tucked away from the notice of Muggles. Here, the ordinances on water had limited the spells and charms her mum was able to use, and though they had lasted a bit longer than their neighbours’ gardens had, her own neatly manicured hedges and flowers had finally succumbed. Somehow, the withered stalks and dried leaves on the other side of the glass made the oppressive heat within the house more bearable.

Glancing at the clock on the wall, Angelina sighed, nearly jumping at how loud it sounded in the stillness of the afternoon. It would be a few hours still until either her dad’s shift at the Food Market or her mum’s shift at St. Mungo’s ended, and it had been over a year since her last sister moved out on her own – Brianne was now living in France as an apprentice to some noted fashion designer. Elise had been living with her fiancé’s family in Ireland since she had completed her N.E.W.T.s nearly three years ago, and worked in their apothecary. Only her oldest sister, Valerie, was staying at the Johnson residence. She had been visiting from the United States with Andre and the new baby, Elliot, since his birth. Her husband, who was an area of continuing contention due to the fact that the family had never actually met him, was less than no support in matters concerning his children, and though she never said so outright, Valerie seemed to reluctant to leave behind the help her family was providing.

Angelina wiped the beads of sweat that had gathered on her brow with the back of her hand and racked her brain for something to entertain herself with until her nephew woke from his nap, or her sister returned. Grateful not to have to drag the four-year-old along, her sister had packed up Elliot for a day of showing him off to her old school friends and had left Andre under Angelina’s care.

At a loss for ideas, novel or otherwise, she stood up from the sofa, stretched, and made her way to the kitchen – biscuits were always a good companion to help pass the time, and she was almost certain that there was a brand new tin in the cabinet.

Once her nephew woke up, she was certain she’d be able to entertain herself for several hours, at least. Last night, during a particularly competitive game of hide-and-seek, Andre had found her broomstick and Quidditch robes in the hall closet – the ultimate hiding spot in the mind of any four-year old. Angelina remembered hiding there herself when she and Brianne used to play. He had been keen to learn about flying ever since, and she was equally keen to teach him. Her mum never got rid of anything, and her dad never meddled with magical things, so her childhood broom was likely to still be in the house somewhere. Perhaps she and Andre could search for it together.

Grasping the tin of biscuits from the top shelf – her mum seemed to think that storing them almost out of reach would deter her family from eating them too quickly – she plopped down at the kitchen table and opened it. Her stomach rumbled in response to the assorted collection of delicious baked treats – custard creams, jammy dodgers, bourbons and digestives – and she groaned. Choosing just one biscuit from the tin was simply impossible – comparable to a mother being asked to choose a favourite son or daughter – so it was best to just accept the enormous failure in her diet that was about to occur.

Resigned, Angelina plucked a bourbon and a jammy dodger from the tin and turned her attention to the copy of the Prophet that her mum had left on the table that morning.

The titles of various trivial articles swam across her vision as she thumbed through the pages it was opened to – Fudge Voted One of England’s Most Stylish; Overweight Workers Blame Overuse of Summoning Charm; Florean Fortescue Reveals New Ice Cream Flavour. Her mum was right: For every pertinent article, there were a dozen or more articles just filling space on the pages. Picking up a digestive and another bourbon, she flipped the paper over to the front page. A large black-and-white photograph of Harry and Cedric, taken prior to the first task of the Triwizard Tournament, accompanied the leading story. The headline, ‘Potter Plotter, Liar too?’ rippled across the page in a bold typeface.

A sigh of vexation escaped her lips, and for a moment she was grateful she was alone as the bite of biscuit in her mouth threatened to jump ship. If it wasn’t Harry’s face decorating the front page, it had been Professor Dumbledore’s. Angelina had followed the series of articles attempting to discredit them, and had slowly been able to sort her thoughts. Even though she wasn’t entirely sure how to process the return of You-Know-Who or how to feel about the way with which her headmaster was handling the Ministry, she decided that she trusted Harry Potter. She had shared the Gryffindor common room and locker room with him for four years, and while he was without a doubt a peculiar individual, he had never been a liar.

Dissatisfied with it, she tossed the paper into the middle of the table and took a fifth and sixth biscuit from the tin.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a small figure still rubbing the sleep from his eye. Despite it being hotter than a dragon’s lair in the house, Andre had insisted on napping beneath a thick quilt, and his cheeks were flushed and sweaty.

When the boy finally looked up, his eyes widened. “Angelina,” he shouted and scampered across the tile floor. “Mommy said I get to spend the day with you, and it’s true.” With a look of determination on his face, he crawled up onto her knees, none too gracefully. “I really don’t have to share you with Mommy’s new baby?”

“Nope.” Angelina ruffled his hair. “Your mum took Elliot with her to visit some friends. It’s just you and me until they come home. What do you think we should do?” When Andre didn’t answer, she leaned around him to look at his face. His brow was furrowed and the tip of his tongue stuck out from the corner of his mouth in the most serious of manners. A look of concentration radiated from eyes, which stared straight ahead at the opened tin. Her words had clearly been lost on the boy, understandably, in favour of biscuits. “So, Mr Serious,” she said, bouncing him on her knee, “what’re you looking at that’s more important than our itinerary?”

“I’m not looking at anything,” Andre piped up; his voice hitched in self-defence. “Mommy says I’m not allowed to eat cookies before dinner. Says all they do is ruin my appetite ‘cause of the fat.”

Angelina pursed her lips, trying not to laugh at the boy’s American accent, and wondered for a moment what his father sounded like. “Well, how about we keep this as our little secret, then?” She handed him a custard cream from the tin. “How about some water to drink with that?”

He eyed it hesitantly for a moment before grabbing it with eager fingers and nodding. “So,” he said slowly, pausing to lick the cream from the centre of the biscuit, “what’s an itery?”

“An itinerary?” She drew her wand from her pocket and, summoning a glass of water, handed it to him. It was so convenient to be of age. “Well, it’s a plan, like, erm, a list of things to do.”

“Lists are boring.” Angelina watched as the boy slid down to the floor and ran towards the doorway, the cup of water forgotten. “Bet you can’t do this.” He jumped up, and spun around with all the coordination and grace his four-year-old limbs could handle. “You try.”

She laughed. “No, I’m certain I can’t do that, but –” She leant down and bent her finger, beckoning him to her. “Can I tell you a secret?”

Intrigued, Andre nodded and scampered back over to her side.

“I don’t like lists either, but I don’t think we’ll need one – that is if you chose to accept this super-secret mission we were assigned.” She waited to see if he took the bait she had laid out.

Valerie had mentioned once how much Andre loved watching their father’s old Muggle secret agent films. It had been a while since Angelina had seen one, and she could only hope she had referenced the genre correctly. Her own childhood had been a fairly equal balance the Muggle world and the magical one, but now that she was of age and could use magic at will, she found herself needing to use things like the microwave oven or public transportation less and less. She slowly felt herself drawing away from her father’s world of electricity, appliances, films, and automobiles. Perhaps after he returned from work and settled in for the evening, she would watch some television with him – they had always enjoyed the evening comedy programs.

“A secret mission?”

Andre’s voice pulled her from her thoughts – he had taken her bait.

“Oh, yes,” Angelina said in her most serious voice. “I received word that somewhere in this house, there is a broomstick that is exactly –” she poked him in the chest “– your size. And if we find it, I may be able to teach you how to fly. So, what do you think? Should we accept this secret mission?”

He paused for a several seconds before nodding very seriously. “Let’s do this.”

Settling back onto the sofa by the window, she smiled – she had absolutely no idea where her mum had stashed her childhood broom, but Andre didn’t need to know that. Looking around the room, her eyes landed on the first item of her impromptu scavenger hunt. The remote control for the television peeked out from a basket of other odds and ends. This game would surely keep him busy for a while.

Having found the remote control, a potato from the bin in the pantry, and a roll of scotch tape from the desk in the upstairs hallway, Andre was running back and forth through the house attempting to locate a Quaffle. A look of pride and determination was pasted to his face.

“Angelina, Angelina.” His voice echoed into the sitting room from the back of the house. “I didn’t find the Quaffle, but I found a huge owl on the counter. I think you should come here – it keeps staring at me.”

Though he had tried to sound brave, Angelina could hear the panic in his voice and hurried to the kitchen. There, sitting on the counter, was one of the school’s large barn owls. A slim roll of parchment sealed with an elaborate wax seal was tied to its left leg.

Hogwarts letters had finally arrived.

~::~

“So, Quidditch captain then, Ang?” Alicia smirked at her over the bowl of butter toffee ice cream that sat between them on the table. “You know this means you should share the password to the prefects’ bathroom with me, right?”

The awning outside of Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour was doing very little to shade the patio from the heat of the late summer sun. Angelina wiped the back of her hand across her forehead, regretting her decision to wait here for Lora instead of inside one of the shops. After their booklists had arrived, the girls had decided that should all meet up to do their shopping. Looking around the bustling alley, it seemed as though everyone else in the school had had a similar idea – the queues in the shops were going to be heinous. Despite the oppressive heat and the sure-to-be-long-lines, this was the first time they had made a trip to the narrow, winding street without their parents in tow, and it felt glorious to stretch their newly acquired Apparition rights.

“Oh, absolutely.” She smiled and rolled her eyes at Alicia. “Truthfully, the first thing I thought when I saw the letter was, ‘Now I can risk my badge and share the password to the prefects’ bathroom with Alicia.’ It’s like you can read my mind or something.”

“A-ha. It was just a thought.” Pouting, the brunette scooped an exceptionally large bite of ice cream onto her spoon. “Are you going to eat any more of this?”

Angelina shook her head and pushed the bowl across the table.

“You know, I am happy for you,” Alicia mumbled through a mouthful of ice cream. “Now you can make sure that nobody annoying makes the team.”

“I’m not going to be partial at the try-outs – we’re not Slytherin House. And besides, if we want to win the cup, we’ll have to field the best team,” she said, shooting her best friend a disproving look. “Not the coolest one.”

“And this, Angelina, is precisely why you’re the Gryffindor team captain.”

“Oh my Merlin, Ang, congratulations,” a familiar voice practically shouted from behind their table. “That’s brilliant.”

Angelina spun around to see the bright face of Lora Paisley rounding the corner of the ice cream parlour, with a stocky, sandy-haired figure following closely behind her. As they approached the table, it became evident that he was incredibly nervous – his eyes were the size of dinner plates and he held himself more stiffly than the suits of armour in the castle did. Lora had kept a motionless Muggle photograph of her beau on her bedside table in their dormitory, but Angelina had never seen the boy in person. Glancing at Alicia and smiling, she knew that they were both thinking the same thing – they were finally going to get to meet the legendary Michael the Muggle.

“Thanks, Lora.” She smiled at the blonde girl. “So –”

“Who is this dashing friend of yours?” Alicia interrupted, blinking at Lora innocently. Michael the Muggle’s title had been a product of her own teasing, and it behoved her to be the one to lead his introduction. “Anyone we should know?”

Lora’s shot her a stern look before turning to grab Michael’s arm. “Michael, this lovely individual with the really attractive smudge of ice cream on her chin is Alicia Spinnet –”

Her eyes widened, her mouth dropped open, and a deep blush seeped across her face. Her fingers fumbled hurrying to grab a paper napkin from the dispenser on the table.

“– and this is Angelina Johnson. Alicia and Angelina, this is my boyfriend, Michael Carmichael.”

“Erm, it’s nice to finally meet you two.” Michael stuck out his hand to shake theirs and chuckled nervously. “Lora talks about you both so much, I feel like I already know you. Sorry about the sweaty palms – all this is a bit overwhelming.” He gestured around the alley. “I’ve gotten used to Lora being magical and all, but this much magic, it’s sort of surreal.”

Angelina offered the nervous Muggle the warmest smile she could muster. “Well, I can promise I won’t turn you into a toad or anything –”

“I can’t.”

“– and don’t mind Alicia either, her pride is easily bruised.”

“Aw. Well, hopefully nobody turns me into a toad today.” Michael the Muggle smiled – he was beginning to look less nervous as their conversation continued. “So, Quidditch captain?” he asked turning towards Angelina. “That’s brilliant. I can’t even imagine watching a game while sitting on a broomstick.”

A laugh snuck up on her, and she quickly disguised it as a cough.

Not seeming to notice, he continued talking – he certainly was a chatty character. “I’m sure Lora told you she was asked to be Head Girl.”

“No, she did not,” Angelina gasped as she turned towards the blonde. “Lora, when were you going to tell us? Congratulations.”

Lora’s face flushed as a smile crept up from her mouth to her eyes.

“Well,” Alicia huffed, “I suppose you won’t be sharing the password to the prefect bathroom with me, either.”

A silence fell over the table as they each turned and smirked at the cranky brunette. One by one, Angelina, Michael the Muggle, Lora, and finally even Alicia herself burst into laughter.

It was so refreshing to be back with her friends after the long summer holiday, and Angelina never ceased to be amazed by how easy it was for them to simply pick up where they had last left off, almost as if no time had passed. Of course, worries about the upcoming year – passing N.E.W.T.s and finding a job – flitted into her mind as they made their way down the alley, but she didn’t mention them. If the same worries plagued Lora and Alicia, she couldn’t tell. Instead, their afternoon exploring the shops and purchasing the items on their Hogwarts lists passed to the soundtrack of laughter, playful teasing, and stories from their summer holidays.

The line at Flourish and Blotts had been so long that it had wrapped around the shop and out the double front door, and waiting outside in the high temperatures had left Angelina’s forehead coated in a thin sheen of sweat. Despite the thick layer of dust coating it, the dim interior of the apothecary was a reprieve from the sunlit street. Though she hated the smell of apothecaries, it was preferable to the unusually warm weather.

Feeling the heat radiate off of her skin into the cool air, she wiped her hand across her face and made her way to the advanced potions supply section.

From the corner of her eye, she saw Michael the Muggle and Lora standing at a bin of black beetles. The look on his face – confusion with a hint of disgust masquerading as a smile – nearly caused Angelina to choke on her chewing gum as she tried to stifle her laugh. Shaking her head, she dug her hands into a bin of dragon claws. She only needed a few grams for her potions kit, and as overpriced as whole claws were, she hoped to find a small one.

“Come on, Dung, you didn’t think that we–”

“– wouldn’t follow up on our business investments.” The voices of George and Fred Weasley carried in the dusty air from around a row of bookshelves.

Angelina’s head snapped up in curiosity – she hadn’t expected to see them here today. She hadn’t heard from George since a few days after term ended, when a large, reddish-coloured owl had appeared at her window. She knew that it was difficult to stay in touch with people over summer holidays, but rationale didn’t prevent her from wondering whether or not he even wanted to stay in touch with her. Tucking her braids behind her ears, she peered around the corner of the shelves. She couldn’t see either of the twins, but she could see the man they were talking to.

“And does yer mother know you two’re here? I’m sure Molly’d have a fit if I told her you’re out and about,” the wizard said in a whistling voice. He was short and stocky, and wore a robe so wrinkled that she wouldn’t be surprised if he had slept in it. Leave it to Fred and George to consort with the likes of him.

“Does our mother know we’re here? Why, Georgie –”

“I’m almost ashamed of our dear friend, Freddie, trying to blackmail us like that.”

“Especially when we know he’s got a pocket full of Doxy eggs –”

“ – that the Office of Magical Law Enforcement would be all too happy to take off his hands –”

The unkempt man dropped the volume of his voice and began muttering something that Angelina couldn’t discern. She leaned forward, hoping to catch at least some of it. His head swivelled in her direction as he continued murmuring under his breath, and realizing how ridiculous she looked spying on their conversation, she stepped further back behind the shelf.

“Ah,” she exclaimed as she collided with a firm body.

“Angie, Angie, Angie,” Fred said as he spun her around to face him, “I’m almost envious of your eavesdropping prowess, but alas, almost doesn’t quite count.” He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and walked her away from the shelving and the sound of George’s voice. “I could see a bit of your face peering between the bins of newts and crow beaks the whole time.” He winked.

“I, erm, I was –”

“It’s okay. I know you couldn’t possibly be interested in our little chat with Dung.” He turned towards her with a smirk on his face. “Which leaves only one possibility – you just wanted an opportunity to stare at my brother’s handsome mug.”

She felt heat rise up to her cheeks and inhaled before attempting to speak again. “You caught me – that’s exactly what I was trying to do. Merlin knows it’s loads more handsome than yours.”

“You wound my pride, but I’m just going to let that one go.” He grinned at her before continuing. “I want you to hear me out for a moment. George is the best sort of bloke and anyone would be lucky to have him, but he’s a bit daft when it comes to, well, when it comes to–”

“When it comes to what, exactly, Fred?”

George had appeared next to them – his conversation with Dung apparently over. He gave Fred a look that Angelina couldn’t quite translate before grinning at her. All her worries about him not writing her over the summer vanished as she felt her lips mirroring his smile.

“Oi, is that the Michael the Muggle over with Lora?” Fred said, conveniently ignoring his twin’s question. “If you two will excuse me, I need to go and meet this legend.”

“So, erm,” Angelina said slowly, watching Fred conveniently disappear behind the corner after the couple. She wished he would have finished whatever it was he was going to tell her before he walked away. “Did you have a good summer? I hadn’t heard back from you since you wrote last.”

“Oh, sorry about that. It’s been an interesting summer, to say the least. Sending post hasn’t exactly been easy.” He shrugged his shoulders and his face twisted in frustration. “I am sorry.”

“An interesting summer?”

“Eh, don’t worry about it. We’re staying with some family friends. Muggle London – Mum was worried about Oddie coming and going. You know how that goes.”

His words were smooth, but Angelina couldn’t help but wonder if they were totally honest. “So, how’re things going for your shop?” she said quickly, hoping he hadn’t noticed her eyes lingering on his face for a moment too long to be accidental. “I can't wait to see what you and Fred come up with."
 

“Ah, we’re just trying to get some supplies and things together, but some of our sources are” - George’s eyes slipped over to where he had just been talking to Dung - “a little less than reliable. With all things considered, we’re planning on running product trials this term. So, how w –”

“– would you like to go to dinner with him, is what he was about to ask you.”

Angelina surprised, turned to see Fred smiling at her side, heat rising in her cheeks.

“Fred, I, er. Angelina –” His ears a shocking shade of red, George stumbled over his words.

“Turns out that Lora was chosen as Head Girl, and Angelina here has been asked to captain the finest House Quidditch team in the school.” His grin had risen up into his eyes.

“Really?” George exclaimed, turning towards her. “Angelina, that’s great, let me see the badge, oh captain, my captain.”

“And so you want to ask her to dinner –” Fred’s voice coached.

Angelina ignored Fred and reached forward to hand George the badge from its place in her robe pocket. “I’d love to go to dinner, George.”

“Well, this is just brilliant.” Fred clapped both of them on the back. “Lora, Michael the Muggle, Alicia, Lee, and I were just about to meet at the Leaky Cauldron – talk about coincidences.”

“Yes, coincidences. Trelawney would be so proud of you,” George said, rolling his eyes. He offered Angelina a smile that she could only describe as apologetic and, as he took the badge, squeezed her hand quickly before turning towards the shop door.

She wasn’t sure if it was his smile, her anticipation to begin captaining the Gryffindor Quidditch team, or the feel of his broad hands around hers, but a light tingle buzzed in her head as she fell into step with him.

~::~
 
Author's Note:  The references to the heat wave and to the Prophet headlines were inspired by Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix book and film.  "Oh Captain, my captain" is the title of a Walt Whitman poem.   I'd like to thank everyone who's supported this story thus far!!  This being chapter ten, we have reached the halfway point of the novel, crazy, I know.  I know that this chapter is mostly filler, but it was necessary to move Angelina's timeline along.  So, thank you for reading and for the any reviews you leave.  Lastly, let me thank Rachel for being a superb beta and friend.   


Chapter 11: George, April 1999
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George, April 1999

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.

“George?”

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.

“George –”

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.


Chapter 12: Angelina, October 1995
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~Dedicated to a special friend for her birthday~

Angelina, October 1995

A pitiless wind whipped through the grey-green mist hovering over the Quidditch pitch, pelting seven scarlet-clad figures with sheets of ice-cold moisture picked up from the surface of the Black Lake and blowing their broomsticks off course. Though the weather wasn’t severe enough to warrant calling off practice – years of training and playing under the intensity of Oliver Wood had taught her that – Angelina knew that nobody, herself included, was thrilled with the present conditions. To her exasperation, this weather seemed on par with the theme of Gryffindor’s season so far. The forces of nature seemed determined to keep them from winning the Cup.

Only yesterday, when the Slytherin team had booked the pitch, the sun had been shining and the sky clear. She swallowed back a sharp taste of bitterness. Never in her life had she seen more examples of sheer, dumb luck than when they were concerned.

Rolling her eyes, she lifted a delicate pair of Omnioculars, a gift from Valerie for making captain, and glanced around the sky.

Katie and Alicia weaved back and forth across the pitch, passing the Quaffle with admirable acuity, but their turns were too wide, too erratic. As if to emphasize the point, Fred swooped up from below them, nearly missing his block of a particularly deft Bludger – if he was only a fraction of a second slower, Alicia would have been sideswiped as she looped left around Katie. Realizing how close of a call it was, she pulled her broom to a stop to steady herself.

Angelina flinched at the near miss and wondered whether the formation’s flank was as exposed when flown with all three Chasers.

Several metres above them, Harry was tucked neatly against the handle of his Firebolt in pursuit of a Snitch. Typically the combination of the broomstick’s unrivalled speed and his athletic talent made for an impressive display, but not today. His cuts and dives were full seconds late and over-exaggerated. Circling a perimeter around him, George, assigned with the task of keeping the Seeker on his toes, lobbed a Bludger his way. Harry’s head jerked up as it grazed by his shoulder, and his broomstick spun off course. Focused on the parade of Quaffles bewitched to launch themselves at the three rings behind him, Ron was helpless to avoid Harry as he careened into him with a sickening crunch.

Frustration welling up behind her eyes, Angelina took a deep breath before dropping the Omnioculars and tapping her throat with her wand.

“Oi, everyone in, now.” Her voice echoed through the damp air.

Today was one of the first practices that the entire team had managed to be present for, and it showed. As it turned out, not only nature had a grudge against the Gryffindor House team. Thus far they had been plagued by a Keeper with zero self-confidence; a distracted Seeker with a penchant for landing in detention; Beaters who were preoccupied with teasing their younger brother and testing their joke products; Chasers who liked to take advantage of their friendship with the captain, and a captain, Angelina would be the first to admit, who had no idea how to refocus any of them.

“All right, Ang,” Alicia called, as her broomstick pulled up beside Angelina’s. “I don’t remember ever getting out of a practice early before, but I’m certainly not complaining.” Her hands played with the ponytail hanging at the back of her head. “Now I’ll have a chance to dry my hair before dinner . Duncan Inglebee – you know, that Ravenclaw with those stylish glasses – asked me to meet him in the Great Hall tonight, but I’m positive he’d regret it if I showed up like this. I swear –”

Whatever the brunette was about to swear, Angelina would never know; she was cut off by Fred’s voice as he slowed to a stop in between his younger brother and Harry.

“Please tell us we’re done for the day, this weather is bloody terrible,” he said, running a sleeve under his reddened nose. “I think even my snot is frozen.”

Angelina studied the group gathered around her. It had been anything but a good practice, but weather should not be an excuse – Merlin knew that they had never played a match without some inclement condition or another – but forcing them to continue playing when they were so clearly distracted would help no one.

“I’ll make a deal with you,” she said slowly. “We can be done today if – and only if – tomorrow, when we come out here, I see a better effort from all us. Today was uglier than Umbridge’s fuzzy cardigan – we were sloppy fliers, we weren’t paying attention to our surroundings, and we surely didn’t look like a team expected to play for the Cup this year.”

Around the circle, six heads nodded equally slowly as they each tipped their brooms downward and began their descent.

Anxious to primp herself before her dinner date with Duncan, Alicia excused herself almost before her feet hit the ground. Katie, Ron, and Harry, in what was likely an attempt to make up for a less-than-stellar practice, offered to corral all of the Quaffles and Bludgers and return them to the team locker room. Angelina watched as they disappeared over the hill with a large wooden chest floating between them. Her feet sinking into thick mud, she suddenly realized just how cold and wet the wind was, and crossed her arms over her chest.

“Where’s Spinnet off to in such a hurry?” Fred slung his broomstick up over his shoulder.

“Ah, our dear Alicia is off to woo her newest unsuspecting love interest.” Angelina glanced over her shoulder, to where George was brushing drops of water that had collected in his hair away with his hand. “So, do you two have dinner plans? Alicia is off with Duncan, and Lora and Peregrine think it’s nice for the Head Girl and Boy to have dinner with all of the prefects once a week – builds community or something.”

“I don’t know, Ang,” Fred said, a teasing lilt in his voice. “George and I are meeting up with Lee, maybe Geoffrey.” He glanced at his twin.

“We can’t very well let her eat alone, Fred.” George straightened his posture and puffed out his chest. “We’d love for you to eat with us.” He smiled at her, and her heart fluttered against her ribs. “If you can stomach watching Lee eat, that is – I swear, it’s mildly traumatizing.”

“Mildly traumatizing?” She fell into step, Fred and George on either side of her. “After today’s practice, I think I can handle anything.”

“Aw, Angelina,” George said, throwing his arm around her shoulders. “It’s really not your fault that we’ve been such prats.” He squeezed her to him for a moment before dropping his arm. “You’ve been a bloody brilliant captain so far.”

Angelina chided herself for the Flutterby bush that seemed to have shot up in her stomach at the feel of his hand. It had been nearly a year since Fred had asked her to the Yule Ball and the delusional plot that maybe, just maybe, George fancied her was born, and still absolutely no evidence to the theory had surfaced. Friendly chats, teasing grins, and sweet gestures did not a romance make – yet she couldn’t prevent the back corner of her mind from clinging to the theory like a petulant child.

“Yes,” Fred piped up, pulling her from her thoughts. “George and I – er – we’ve always had a bit of a problem with authority figures.”

“You two?” She did nothing to hide the incredulous tone in her voice. “Problems with authority? I’d have never guessed.”

“Speak for yourself, Fred, I’m an upstanding individual. Never even step a toe out of line.”

“Oh, fair point, mate.” This time it was Fred who jovially draped his arm around her shoulders. “You see, Ang, when George and I step out of line, it tends to be all in. If you’re going to be reprimanded, you may as well have your entire body well over the line – with extravagant magenta and chartreuse flourishes, or something equally unforgettable.”

The honest truth of the statement pushed all of her Quidditch frustrations and self-reproach about her unsubstantiated crush far from her mind. She tipped her head back and laughed, the condensation of her breath curling in the frigid air.

As they passed out of the wind into the sanctuary provided by the great castle’s walls, Angelina noticed Lee and Geoffrey leaning against the railing at the bottom of the grand staircase. They both wore the sort of matching grins that left no room to doubt that some wily plot was afoot. Cautiously, she glanced around the entrance hall, in case anything seemed out of place.

Argus Filch stood near the doorway, armed with a ragged mop, muttering something about mud and shackles. Several groups of students dotted the hall as well, likely waiting to meet up with friends from other Houses for dinner. In one corner, a group of Ravenclaws she didn’t recognize stood near the staircase, giggling and gossiping at an admirable rate. Two of the girls clutched a large banner that read ‘Happy Birthday, Sarah!!’ in large, indigo-coloured letters. Rough drawings of rainbows and cupcakes lined its border, and several well-placed sequins gave it a bit of sparkle. A third girl stood with a tiny grey and white kitten in one hand and a tin of biscuits in the other.

Angelina smiled at their enthusiasm before turning back towards Lee and Geoffrey. “So, should I be suspicious of the enormous grins on your faces? Because I am half-expecting something Lora would not approve of to happen when we get into the Great Hall.”

“Why, Johnson,” Lee exclaimed pressing his hand to his heart in mock horror, “I’m hurt you’d even suggest –”

“You walk in with Fred and George in tow,” Geoffrey said sceptically, eyeing the twins, who were in the midst of exchanging several brightly-wrapped sweets for a handful of Sickles with a small Hufflepuff boy, “and you’re concerned that Lee and I are up to no good? I don’t know whether to feel honoured or insulted.”

“Valid point.”

Turning towards the giant wooden doors leading into the Great Hall, Angelina glanced over her shoulder to where George and Fred were wrapping up their business deal and shook her head in amusement. They certainly were trying to make the most of their last year at Hogwarts. She hadn’t completed her first full step when she felt a jolt as her body collided with a short, broad form.

“Hem, hem.”

Angelina winced at the high pitched voice, and, stepping back, looked down to see the fuzzy pink cardigan and round, painted face of Professor Umbridge. “Sorry, Professor,” she quickly mumbled under her breath, making to skirt around her before she was forced to have a conversation with the old toad.

“And just where do you think you’re going?” she said her syrupy voice.

Angelina’s stomach growled just then, and she absently wished she had some toast.

“Filthy, traipsing mud all through the castle, out of school uniform – in Gryffindor Quidditch robes, no less, bold as brass.” Her volume had steadily elevated as she spoke, and was now nearly painful to listen to. “I’ll bet your Head of House doesn’t see it fit to enforce a bit of discipline amongst her precious Quidditch stars.”

Angelina felt something brush her left shoulder, and turned to see that George, Fred, Lee, and Geoffrey had all stepped up around her, and were nodding their heads in mock sincerity.

“Oi, we’re just trying to go to dinner, ma’am,” George piped up, “and wouldn’t be standing in the corridor if you hadn’t stopped to have this lovely chat with us.”

“I don’t like your tone, Weasley, and it may benefit you to learn to hold your insolent tongue,” she said in a low voice. “Now, ten points apiece from Gryffindor. I wouldn’t want to keep you from your dinners. A well-fed mind is a sharp mind.”

“I suppose now’s as good as time as any to tell you,” Geoffrey said, breaking the silence as they entered the Great Hall, “but before you lot came in from the grounds, when we were grinning suspiciously, I had just dared Lee to set a Niffler loose in that pink old bat’s office before the end of the year –”

“ – and, of course, I accepted.” Lee grinned, slinging his arm around Geoffrey and Fred’s shoulders. “I cannot wait to see the look on her face.”

~::~

The next morning had dawned bright and clear, with no sign, except for the occasional muddy Wellington discarded in dormitory stairwells, of yesterday’s inclement conditions.

Stuck at a desk in the Charms classroom, Angelina idly watched a trail of dust flecks suspended in a particularly wide patch of sunlight. It was the first lesson of the day, and sleep still clung to the corners of her eyes. She had woken up with plenty of time for breakfast, but wished she would have grabbed a second cup of tea – Flitwick was one of the few professors who didn’t mind if students brought food or drinks with them into the classroom.

The tiny professor stood on a large stack of books in the front of a rather impressive-looking podium. He shuffled through several long sheets of parchment, “hmm”ing and “aha”ing to himself for several seconds before looking up at the classroom.

“Good morning, class,” he said, flicking his wand at one of the many cabinets lining the room. Several stacks of handheld mirrors floated out and neatly landed one per desk. “This morning we will be tackling a particularly tricky bit of magic that will most certainly appear on your N.E.W.T examination in a few short months.” With a second flick of his wand, each of their textbooks flipped open to page 241. “Disillusionment Charms,” he practically squeaked. “But before we begin, I feel should warn you: We will undoubtedly have a guest in our midst this morning, and so I expect you will all make her feel welcome. Now, if you’ll refer to your texts, you’ll see that the half-jab before the slow swish is crucial. If you give a full jab –”

“Hem, hem.”

“If you give a full jab,” Flitwick continued, smiling, “there's a very good chance you'll turn into a crab."

“Hem, hem.”

This time, the distinct voice sounded louder and more insistent. Angelina followed Professor Flitwick’s eyes to the back of the room, where Professor Umbridge stood in the doorway, rocking on the heels of her polished black shoes.

“What in the name of Merlin is she doing here?” Alicia hissed.

Angelina shrugged at the brunette and turned towards Lora. As Head Girl, it was assumed and expected that she should know everything happening within Hogwarts.

“I heard she’s been sitting in on lessons, seeing if our professors are up to Ministry standards,” Lora whispered darkly. “Apparently her own lessons are exempt from this process.”

“Welcome, welcome, Professor Umbridge – please make yourself at home.” Flitwick gestured towards a plush pink chair that had seemingly just appeared in the corner. “I have tea and biscuits in my office, if you’d care for either – as I always say, productivity cannot happen with an empty stomach or cup.”

“This is a classroom, Professor – ” She glanced down at the form in her hands --“Flitwick, not a kitchen or a  lounge. I’ll be sure to note your confusion -- mildly delusional, lack of appropriate spacial proprioception." Her quill scratched across the form as she muttered under her breath.  "Now, please continue with your… teaching, or rhyming, or whatever it is you were doing with these students’ precious time. Just pretend I’m not even here.”

“Would that it were true, Professor,” he said sweetly, the covert insult lost on her. “Right then, class, wands out – half-jab, long swish. Very good, Mr Inglebee – and again.”

With that, the classroom set to work in a flourish of wands and set faces.

Angelina had swished and jabbed more times than she could count, with not so much as a flicker of her skin. Complete Disillusionment was going to be a difficult task. Next to her, Alicia was staring at a single invisible hand with astonishment. Lora was leaned over her textbook, tongue protruding from the corner of her lips – she was a proponent of the notion that a spell could not be learned before understanding the theory behind it. Sometimes they joked that she was secretly supposed to be a Ravenclaw.

Across the room, Professor Umbridge was circling a section of desks where several actual Ravenclaws sat, like a pink, overstuffed vulture. The sound of her clearing her throat rang through the air with the regularity of a metronome and grated on Angelina’s nerves.

“Oi,” a familiar voice said over her shoulder. She jumped and spun around, searching for its source before colliding with a hard chest.

“Ooof,” George winced, flickering back into visibility. “Easy there, Angelina – just thought that you, Alicia and Lora may want to watch the show that’s about to happen on stage left. I’ve always been fond of Flitwick, but I never truly appreciated his genius until today – planning a lesson where we get to be invisible while that cow is observing – that should go down in the history of excellent teaching decisions.”

Smirking, he winked before disappearing into the backdrop of the classroom.

“Please tell me they’re pulling a prank on her.” Lora’s head poked up from the pages of her textbook.

Alicia, amused scepticism painted on every inch of her face, stepped towards the blonde girl. “Lora, can I get that officiated in writing? You, our beloved Head Girl, hoping that Fred and George are pulling a prank on a professor?”

“As if she qualifies as a professor,” Lora spat, barely keeping her volume in check. “Her lessons are rubbish, her ideas are rubbish, and so help me, if I don’t pass my N.E.W.T –” Her voice trailed off as she eyed Professor Umbridge, who was currently flipping through a copy of their textbook with an intense look of disapproval.

Angelina stifled her giggle with the back of her hand. Of course she agreed with everything Lora had said – the timing of Umbridge’s appearance from the Ministry – with her strange, propaganda-laced teachings, so soon after Cedric’s murder, after what Harry had seen – seemed a bit too coincidental; but hearing such heated words from her typically diplomatic friend was amusing. There was little doubt in her mind that George and Fred were up to something devious. The combination of their invisibility and an unsuspecting Professor Umbridge was too good for them to pass up.

Just then, a sharp whistle split through the white noise of the classroom. Around the room, heads snapped towards the sound as several sharp cracks followed it. A large plume of foul-smelling turquoise smoke began pouring out of Umbridge’s cardigan pocket. She screamed, jumping around and slapping at her pocket. However, the more she fussed, the thicker the smoke became.

Professor Flitwick scuttled towards her and calmly flicked his wand towards her pocket. “Now, now, I tried to pretend you weren’t here, but with you leaping around and shouting with Bubotuber Pus burning in your pocket, it was rather difficult.” The smoke quickly thinned before vanishing altogether. “Class, let’s use this as a lesson – never leave anything as volatile as Bubotuber Pus outside of a vial in your pockets unless you’re trying to attract a flock of Jabberwockies – they’re terribly fond of the smoke colour.”

No longer literally smoking, Umbridge stood with figurative smoke pouring out from both of her ears. Angelina wasn’t sure if she was imagining it or not, but she thought she caught a hint of a smile on Flitwick’s face before he turned back to help Libby and Indira.

~::~

“Ugh,” Alicia groaned, dipping the tip of her quill into her inkwell with particular reluctance. “I swear to all the Muggle gods that I’m never going to live to take my N.E.W.T exams. These assignments are going to kill me.”

It was late, but Angelina noticed that there were still a surprising number of Gryffindors milling about the common room. She sat with Alicia and Lora and a half-dozen or so rolls of parchment at a small table near the fireplace. On the other side of the fireplace, Lee appeared to be sleeping in a plush red chair, a quill tucked behind his ear. The Sarah whose friends had been waiting in the entrance hall to celebrate her birthday yesterday was lying on the rug, dangling a bit of string for her tiny new kitten to play with. Harry, Ron, and Hermione, likely drowning in their O.W.L. coursework, sat bickering on the large sofa. How they managed to remain friends, fighting as often as they did, Angelina wasn’t sure. Near the bulletin board, a small group of second years stood in a tight huddle around George and Fred, raptly listening to whatever they were telling them about the bright orange sweets clutched in their hands. George’s hair stood up at odd angles, as though he had pushed his fringe out of his eyes a few too many times, and he wore a wide, lopsided grin on his face.

“Right, Ang?” Lora looked imploringly at her.

“Ah, what? I’m sorry – I zoned out.” Angelina brushed her braids back from her face.

“I was telling Alicia that she’s being overdramatic – nobody has died preparing for the N.E.W.Ts in over three –”

Alicia clearly did not care how many centuries had passed since the last seventh year had dropped dead in a pile of essays in need of writing, chapters in need of reading, and spell work in need of mastering, and so cut off the blonde. “You’re staring at him, Ang – and smiling. This has been going on for far too long – come on and spill it. We want all the details.” She pulled her legs beneath her and smiled expectantly across the table. The overall effect looked rather like a bird preparing to take flight.

Next to her, Lora grinned apologetically before earnestly leaning forward.

“I, erm, I –” Angelina could feel a heat rising up in her cheeks. What was there to tell? She had managed to talk herself into full-fledged crush on one of her better friends based off of an almost-surely incorrect assumption. “I don’t know what you mean,” she said, backpedaling.

“We know you like him, Angelina.”

To her surprise, it was Lora who let this Kneazle out of the bag.

“You wouldn’t have spent the last few months overanalysing everything he says and does if you didn’t,” the blonde said, elaborating the evidence to her claim. “And you wouldn’t look like a Hinkypunk caught in a torch-light.”

At a loss for words, Angelina sat and blinked across the table at her friends.

“You should probably tell him – maybe the two of you could double with Duncan and me?” Alicia said brightly. “George would love Duncan. He’s so witty and bookish – he can recite verses of poetry from his memory.”

“Oh, that’s, erm… nice.” She finally found her voice. “I’m sure he and George would get along swell.”

“Aha,” the brunette exclaimed, practically knocking her chair back as she jumped up to her feet. “You do like him. Now you must tell him, bloody Merlin, Ang. Do you have any idea how exciting this is? And there’s a Hogsmeade trip this weekend – could this be more perfect?” she practically sang.

“You really ought to let him know, Angelina,” Lora said in an even voice.

“I’m not telling him anything.” She quickly looked around the room for anything to save her from this conversation. “It’s just a crush – and a completely unfounded one at that. You may not mind making an arse of yourself,” she said, looking at Alicia, “but I do.”

Hermione had risen from the sofa and was ushering the group of second years, almost entirely covered in multi-coloured feathers, away from the proud faces of Fred and George. She said something to them, her posture suggesting she was in the midst of a lecture on responsibility and common sense. Before walking away from them, she slipped a small sheet of parchment into Fred’s hand.

“How do you know it’s unfounded if you never talk about it?” Leave it to Lora to diffuse any potential bickering. “Sure, he’s never specifically made a move, but neither have you, and you know that you like –”

“Who do you like?” Fred asked, far too casually.

Clearly he and George’s conversation with the bushy-haired prefect was finished. They both stood next to the girls’ table with boxes of their products clutched in their hands. A roll of parchment with notes on each item balanced precariously on top of Fred’s box.

“The author of this Potions text,” Angelina muttered quickly, picking up the first book her hands came in contact with and desperately hoping that the book was on Potions. “He’s just a brilliant brewer.”

“Yes,” Alicia agreed with a mischievous glint in her eyes. “I’d even go out on a limb to say he’s perfect for Angelina.”

“I see,” Fred said slowly. “Well, George and I are off to our dorm before Hermione confiscates any more of our products – I swear we’re going to send her a bill before this year’s over. Good night, ladies.”

Angelina saw a look of understanding flash across Fred’s face and swore loudly inside her head as the twins turned towards the boys’ stairwell. They had already started up the stairs when George spun around and trotted back to the table.

“Here,” he said in a low voice, “take this and read it. Just be sure to burn it once you do.”

After he had caught back up with his brother, Angelina glanced down at the small piece of parchment in her hand – the same piece of parchment Hermione had slipped to Fred. Slowly she unfolded it and read it twice before tapping it with her wand. Her blue flames quickly engulfed it and burnt out, leaving behind no evidence besides Alicia’s and Lora’s looks of confusion and curiosity.

“And what, may I ask, was that?”

“That, my friends, was the start of something quite intriguing.” Angelina smiled as bits of Hermione’s precise handwriting flashed in front of her eyes.

~::~

Standing outside the entrance to the Hog’s Head, Alicia paused. A look of trepidation flashed across her face as she glanced up at the peeling paint of the wooden sign. “Are we sure we want to do this, Angelina? I mean, maybe Lora was right.”

Angelina pulled her cloak around her shoulders. The pub looked about as inviting as the entrance to Knockturn Alley, and it had the same eerie sort of feel to it as if the air around the property held secrets never told. Surely nothing good – or legal, for that matter – had happened inside its walls for quite some time, if ever, but it was what Hermione’s message had said. Everyone interested in learning real, practical defensive magic from Harry was to meet inside the Hog’s Head at noon.

“I’m sure Lora would be here if she could be, but she is the Head Girl. It wouldn’t look good on her part if she was found usurping the Ministry’s Defence against the Dark Arts curriculum.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Alicia said slowly, taking a step towards the door. “I’ve always wanted to be part of a rebellion.”

Laughing at her friend’s flair for all things dramatic, Angelina followed her into the dank interior of the pub. Though this small rebellion wasn’t on the scale of the historic uprisings that Binns droned on about for their first five years of school, it was enough to make her feel like she was one-upping Umbridge, that she was a part of something special.

~::~

Author's Note: And so there is chapter 12!! I hope that you enjoyed it and would love to hear what you thought of it.  The Jabberwocky mentioned by Filius Flitwick refers to the creature in Lewis Carroll's poem of the same title.  Everything else you recognise is intellectual property of J.K. Rowling.  A huge thank you to Rachel for her continuously stupendous work as my beta.  And finally, to my friend, Happy Belated Birthday!! I hope that you enjoyed this chapter. I know you love all things OotP, so I wanted this first OotP era chapter to fall on your birthday.


Chapter 13: George, May 1999
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George, May 1999

The grounds of Hogwarts wouldn’t open to the public until just before the memorial service at dawn, but already, beneath the sinking evening sun, the narrow winding streets of Hogsmeade Village were packed with witches and wizards from every corner of the country. Proud-looking mothers and fathers navigated the crowds with rows of children, still too young to understand what they were taking part in, following hand in hand. At every corner, warlocks with gaunt features and long beards tucked into the waistband of their matching tartans stood handing out enchanted red poppies to passersby. Elderly couples with silvered hair and stooped backs leant on each other’s arms as they hobbled along the street, nodding reverently to the village residents and shop owners. Large memos floated through the air, shouting advertisements for open rooms and hot meals at the Three Broomsticks, and for ponchos, scarves, and other odds and ends at Gladrags. In the shadows of storefront awnings, Aurors sent across the channel from the French Ministry to ensure peace for all those in attendance stood with their hands resting lightly on the handles of their wands.

Lee’s report on the six o’clock broadcast had certainly been accurate. The entire nation was converging, well before tomorrow’s ceremony to commemorate the Battle of Hogwarts, in an attempt to beat the congestion sure to plague the Floo Network and Portkey schedule.

Looking around, George inhaled a shaky breath as he tried to take in the magnitude of the scene in front of him. He recognized a few faces that flashed through the throngs, but the outpouring of strangers was stunning. This – these people and families – is what they had fought for.

“Name, sir?” a batty-looking witch, with thick lenses that magnified her eyes to an almost comical proportion, asked, glancing over the top of her scroll behind a booth emblazoned with the Ministry of Magic’s crest. “And which Portkey route did you travel?”

“George, George Weasley.” He knew from Percy’s reports that all travel into and out of Hogsmeade was being tightly regulated. “I took a hubcap from the corner of Diagon and East Hemlock.”

The flamboyant witch eyed him for a moment before standing up and grasping his hand. “Oh, it’s so very nice to meet another Weasley – bless you and your family.” She pressed her cold lips to the back of his hand before dropping it and looking back at her parchment for the place where she had deviated from her script. “Do you have arrangements to stay in the village of Hogsmeade tonight? If not, may I suggest moving to the next queue over, where Mr Cypress Blacknold from the Department of Mag–”

“Thank you, ma’am, but I’ll be staying at the Hog’s Head – my family has several rooms there,” he said, despite the woman’s evident surprise at being interrupted. She meant well, he knew, but her evident admiration had left him feeling flustered and exposed.

A sudden need to find his family commandeered his mind and burned the back of his throat. Turning away from the Department of Magical Transportation registration station, he secured his satchel on his shoulder before diving into the crowds.

Before him, in the distance, the spires of Hogwarts’s towers rose in stark contrast to the reddish light bleeding out from the sunset. Pausing mid-step, George studied the castle’s darkening silhouette. The last time he had been there had been a waking nightmare, fuelled by the scourge of desperation, blood, and fear. Of course, the fires had since been extinguished, and the rubble had been cleared. The wizarding world’s efforts to return the school to its prior grandeur had made tremendous progress – restoration teams had worked to repair bridges and raise crumbled ramparts – but there was still work to be done. Swallowing back feelings he couldn’t hope to put a name to, he wondered if Hogwarts would ever be the same again – if he’d ever be the same.

“Oi, watch where you’re walking, son,” a crackling voice crowed, effectively pulling his attention away from the castle, as a rotund witch in a bright purple smock sidestepped him

“Sorry, ma’am, excuse me.” He watched her back disappear into the crowd before continuing down the street.

According to the letter his dad had sent tied to the leg of their new keen-faced barred owl earlier that afternoon (his mum hadn’t yet conceded to any of his dad’s suggested names for Errol’s replacement), Aberforth was serving dinner at sunset. Already late, George groaned and doubled his pace. Growing up next to Ron’s voracious appetite, he knew that he ought to hurry if he expected there to be any food left for him.

As he neared the end of the lane, the grimy front windows and the large wooden boar’s head hanging above the tavern’s door came into view. Nothing about the establishment’s peeling paint or patched roof looked particularly welcoming. In fact, it was easily the least inviting building in the entire village. The recent influx of visitors had all passed by it without so much as a glance on their way to plusher accommodations at the Three Broomsticks, and for that, George was very grateful. Nervous about what sort of emotional floodgates tomorrow’s ceremony might open, he wanted nothing more than to avoid the crowds and spend the evening alone with his family and their friends.

He hoped to find comfort in their common experience.

A cool breeze kicked up, carrying with it the smell of potatoes and roasted lamb, and his stomach gave a deep rumble, a reminder that he hadn’t eaten since mid-morning. Agilely skirting around an elderly wizard walking hand in hand with a young, bright-eyed boy, he finally reached the Hog’s Head. His hand reached out to the tarnished brass knob, and he peered through the filth-coated window. Fuzzy silhouettes clustered around several tables. Straining to identify them, George jumped when a hesitant hand tapped his shoulder.

“George Weasley?” an unfamiliar voice said, in a quick staccato that sounded very much like a ripple of laughter.

George turned towards its source, a thin wisp of a man with a head of tight blond curls and a nose large enough to comfortably host a family of doxies. He didn’t know this newcomer, but there was something familiar about the twinkle that pulled up at the corner of his eyes, like a smile.

“I know this is probably a bad time.” The man continued speaking at a blinding pace. “But I heard your name when you registered with that old bat at the Department of Magical Transportation station a few blocks back, and have been following you, trying to get your attention ever since. I called your name like this” – the man cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted George’s name – “but, of course, the din here is horrible today, isn’t it? And you’re missing an ear, so naturally you didn’t hear me. But that’s neither here nor there. I’ve been meaning to speak with you for some time, but with your brother’s tragic death – well, I suppose death is a subject I’m frightfully insensitive to, but Marlow assured me it wasn’t appropriate to contact you – but seeing you here today, I simply felt inspired to finally speak with you.”

The man paused for a moment as if to catch his breath, and George blinked dumbly, trying desperately to find his voice before he missed what may be his only opportunity to get a word into the conversation.

“I’m sorry – I don’t want to sound unappreciative,” George finally said, “but what is it you’d like to speak with me about? I’m running late for a family dinner.”

“What is it I had to say? Oh, my, my. What is it indeed? Oh, yes. I do remember.” The man’s face cracked in a wide grin that betrayed his true age, as heavy lines formed across his forehead and at the corners of his mouth. “I have many, many things I could say, but only one thing is the thing meant for you. But neither here nor today is appropriate for such a thing, so please – take my card and contact me when you’re able. Oh, and do stay on a lookout for a marvellous blue bird, won’t you? I seem to have lost my assistant – Marlow is quite the wanderer. ”

George gawked as the peculiar stranger slapped a small, printed card into his open palm, and turned away into the crowded streets. He shoved the card into his robe pocket without a thought, and, unsure whether or not he was seeing things, rubbed his eyes in disbelief. From behind the man’s receding form, a large plume of bright blue feathers jutted out like a tail.

Bewildered by such a strange encounter, George turned the Hog’s Head’s brass doorknob and stepped into the tavern.

The air inside the small space felt heavy and restrictive, like it wasn’t made for comfortable breathing, and it took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim lighting. Scattered around the small wooden tables was a small gathering of familiar faces. Hermione and Ginny, who had snuck down from the castle, sat in a corner chatting with Ron. He was, uncharacteristically, shoving uneaten food around on his plate. Harry, too, sat with them, cradling Ginny’s hand between his own and staring at the table top as though there were secret messages inscribed in the wood grain. Bill and Fleur sat with Charlie and Hestia Jones, whose raven black hair was now streaked with flecks of silver. Percy and Kingsley sat quietly next to a rather short, garrulous wizard – Dedalus, George thought his name might be. Nearest to the fireplace, his mum and dad sat, delicately holding each other’s hands in silence across from the stiff-faced Professor McGonagall and bleary-eyed Hagrid, who was humming a slow folk song under his breath.

George inhaled deeply, trying, with little avail, to shake off the heavy feeling that had wrapped itself around him. This small gathering, with their drawn faces and conflicting emotions, contained the remnants of the Order of the Phoenix – and while the Order had never been large in number, the last time they had shared a dinner together, there hadn’t been empty spaces at the tables. At this observation, an overwhelming thought tugged at his mind: Fred was only one of the many faces missing from the group.

The sound of a chair scraping across the stone floor commanded his attention, and he looked up to see his mum walking towards him. She wrapped him in a brief hug before holding him out at arm’s length.

“Oh, George,” she said, in a voice somewhere between cooing and scolding. “I was worried you weren’t going to show up tonight. I didn’t want you –” Her voice faltered. “I didn’t want you to have to walk up to the ceremony alone tomorrow.” She cleared her throat, and dropped her hands from his shoulders. “Now, let’s fix you a plate – you’re looking rather peaked. Don’t suppose you eat right on your own. Aberfoth is out back, threatening to hex the next Prophet reporter that steps foot on his property, but he left the food out in the kitchen.”

Following her through the swinging wooden door that separated the kitchen from the rest of the pub, George felt a large swelling of appreciation for his mum fill his chest. Despite being far from peaked – truly, his robes were a bit snugger since he and Angelina had begun cooking dinner together several nights a week – he was hungry and tired and more than willing to allow his mum to fuss over him.

After all, fussing over her children made her happy, and Merlin knew they could all do with a few more smiles.

~::~

The impending dawn hung heavily in the air as George took his seat near the end of a long row of spindly golden chairs assembled in a clearing next to the Black Lake. He knew from the little bits of conversation that had filled the Hog’s Head last night that Professor McGonagall and her N.E.W.T. level students had spent the last few weeks conjuring the countless chairs that spread across the damp grass.

From what he could tell, they had done an excellent job.

“Everything looks great, Gin,” he whispered to his left, where Ginny was sitting, concentrating on the skin around her thumbnail.

“Thanks,” she said in a low voice. “Though I don’t envy whoever gets stuck sitting in the back few rows; we got a little sloppy this past week. Believe it or not, conjuring chairs gets a bit dull after the first hundred or so.”

Despite the solemn aura hanging over the clearing, he felt a small smile flick across his face. Ginny was always good for that.

George patted her knee and retrained his attention to the growing congregation. The few rows in front of his family were filled with important-looking witches and wizards flanked by severe-looking security details, delegates from ministries and republics around the world who had come to express their nation’s respect and gratitude for those who had taken part in Voldemort’s defeat. The very first row was primarily occupied by the professors and staff of Hogwarts, dressed in their very best dress robes – even Professor Sprout looked well-polished. Nearest to the centre aisle, McGonagall and Kingsley sat on either side of Harry Potter, who, if George knew him half as well as he thought he did, was surely wishing he could slip under that brilliant Invisibility Cloak of his and escape the public’s rapt attention.

Seated all around him were clusters of faces he knew to be the witches and wizards who had lent their wands to the Battle of Hogwarts, willing to sacrifice their lives for the chance of a peaceful and secure world: Members of Dumbledore’s Army, his schoolmates and Quidditch teammates, shop keepers from Hogsmeade, and the handful of remaining Order members. Turning over his shoulder, he found a vast array of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, spouses and friends of the innumerable victims lost to Voldemort and his followers over the years. Filing into the next section of chairs, a long column of students dressed in black Hogwarts robes accented with the scarlet, blue, yellow, and emerald of the four Houses slowly snaked its way down path from the castle. George’s breath caught in his throat as his eyes came to rest on the wiry frame of Dennis Creevey; the boy stared straight ahead, with a determined look of pride emanating from him. At the back of the clearing, hundreds more witches and wizards clambered out of carriages drawn by skeletal, winged horses. Very few of them seemed to notice the thestrals, and George felt his heart thrum in his chest. Of course he knew that the beasts had always been there, but seeing them in all of their horrific tangibility reminded him how much the battle, and the war prior to it, had changed him.

He had seen a family killed in their home for harbouring a Muggle-born girl. He had read the names of the deceased over the airwaves, shattering the lives of the living. Only a year ago, he had fought alongside men and women who had ended up as cold and stiff as the stone floor of the Great Hall where they were laid. As that night had worn on, and they had been instructed to gather their dead, he had held the hand of a brave Hufflepuff who had snuck back into the castle to fight as she cried into the night for her mother, and after she stilled, he had carried her lifeless body in from the chaos of the grounds; Anna Rocks, her name was.

Numbly, he wondered if her mum was here today.

A sound somewhere between a cough and a sob at his right snapped his attention forward. Percy was sitting with his hand clamped over his mouth and chin, as though he were trying to hold in whatever the sound had been. He looked uncomfortable, and toyed with the neck of his robe with his other hand.

“You all right, Perce?” George asked.

The older Weasley didn’t answer.

“Do you know what time the sun’s actually supposed to rise this morning?” George asked, trying to guide Percy’s mind away from whatever he was thinking. “I’d think this all should be starting soon.”

“I’m sorry,” Percy spluttered.

George blinked at him for a moment, surprised that whatever was causing him such turmoil involved an apology.

“It should have been you. You should have been with him.” His voice was little more than a croak. “You should have been with him instead of me – you two were always together. I’m sure he would have wanted you there when – when he –”

“Percy, I –” George felt as though all intelligible thought had been doused in a Disillusionment Charm. “You don’t – I –”

“Good morning.”

Kingsley’s amplified voice rang through the hint of dawn peeking up over the mountaintops, effectively saving George from having to come up with a response.

“As Great Britain’s Minister of Magic, I welcome each of you to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry on this, the first anniversary of the battle fought and won here on these very grounds. This morning, we honour the men, women, and children, both living and dead, who risked their lives so that we may enjoy” – standing on the edge of the lake in front of an ornate podium, he gestured around him with his arms – “a future in which the magical community does not have to live in fear of tyranny; a future in which the only importance of blood is to sustain life and all of its glorious pursuits. This moment right now is a piece of that future, and it is a precious gift. So, as the sun rises over these now-hallowed grounds, please join me in a moment of silence to remember the cost paid for such a gift.”

A palpable silence rippled over the already-quiet crowd, pressing in on George’s chest, staying his breath.

In the back of his mind, he could hear Kingsley’s voice as it rang through that stark night “– and I will take groups into the grounds. We’ll need somebody to organize defence of the entrances of the passageways into the school –” George could feel the creeping acceptance of his own mortality that had crawled beneath his skin, and could see the chaos that had reigned within the castle’s walls as he and Fred had divvied up a small group of students to help them safeguard the integrity of the castle. Just before they had parted ways, Fred had placed a hand on his shoulder and smiled. “No one knows these passages better than us, mate. I better see you when this is all over,” he had said. George could hear his own voice as he had forced a laugh out of his tight chest, and could smell the night air as he had turned away from Fred and jogged down the corridor towards the statue of Gregory the Smarmy.

“May the sacrifices of both the living and the deceased be ever remembered and celebrated.”

The voice of present-day Kingsley tore through the memory hovering just behind George’s eyes, and he blinked rapidly, trying to dislodge it from his mind.

“And now,” the Minister continued in his rolling voice, “I’d like to introduce the headmistress of this institution of learning, Professor Minerva McGonagall.”

George watched as his onetime Head of House rose from her seat in the first row. In the early morning light, she looked older than she had yesterday evening. Her hair was much greyer than it appeared beneath the flickering torches that illuminated the Hog’s Head. Her movements were stiff, as though her joints weren’t entirely in agreement with her body’s intentions. Reaching the podium, she nodded ever so slightly to the Minister of Magic before replacing him behind the podium. As she opened her mouth to speak, George noticed that her jaw was trembling.

“Good morning.”

A programmed response rumbled through the crowd.

“Hogwarts has always been a hallowed place, a safehold for magic that has nurtured and cultivated our youth for very near a millennium. Each and every one of the students, teachers, and employees that have passed through its corridors have left their mark on these walls and added something to the rich heritage of the castle. Today marks the first anniversary of a great day – a day that will be celebrated in our world for generations to come – but no matter how joyous the celebrations, the fact remains that we must honour the numerous lives that were sacrificed so that we could enjoy a better world. This world. Hogwarts castle will always remember the fallen. The blood spilt on these grounds, though washed away, is a part of the very stone that gives the essence of Hogwarts its form. Those that gave their lives are a part of the sanctity and fortitude of this great castle. They are a part of wind that blows across the lake, a part of the grass and the trees, and a part of each of us. So celebrate the great victory won here one year ago. Honour those that risked their lives, and thank them. I can say from personal experience that the brave men and women who fought here are the finest witches and wizards I’ve ever had the privilege to know, but do not forget those you cannot thank – those that made the ultimate sacrifice.

“On that note, I am pleased to announce the unveiling of the Battle of Hogwarts Monument. Hewn from stone from each corner of Hogwarts castle, the names of all of those who took part in the battle, both living and dead, are etched into its surface.”

With that, George watched as each of the professors stood with their wands raised. In an almost eerie unison, they flourished them, and a puff of purple smoke overtook the shore of the lake. When the air cleared, an enormous stone phoenix stood several metres from the edge of the water. Its polished white surface shone in the morning sunlight.

“Now,” Professor McGonagall spoke up, over the buzzing chatter that had risen over the assemblage, “if you would each take out your wand and cast Lumos, and join me in remembering the dead: Miss Mary Ackerly; Mr Cuthbert Balberton; Mr Colin Creevey –”

He listened as the list continued, but his mind was far away from the shore of the Black Lake. He was in what had been left of the entrance hall when Voldemort had called his forces back. About to push open the door to the Great Hall, George had been met by his dad’s firm hand on the front of his chest. Sitting on his spindly gold chair now, he could see how his dad’s mouth had moved, could feel the confusion he had felt when his dad’s words failed to make any sense – how could Fred be dead? George shuddered in his seat, remembering the numbness that had sunk into his abdomen when he had looked up into his dad’s eyes and saw nothing but raw grief in them. He had pushed past his dad’s frame, leaving him helpless in the doorway, and charged into the makeshift medical ward.

“Mrs Nymphadora Lupin and Mr Remus Lupin –”

George felt his breath shaking in his chest and his throat closing to the passage of new air as his memory drew closer to seeing Fred’s lifeless frame – as McGonagall drew closer to reading Fred’s name from her list. George’s vision swam, and before he processed it, he was on his feet, clambering over Percy’s long legs and down the side aisle. He had no idea where he was going, but his feet never wavered in their blistering pace, marching him over a low-lying stone wall and down a wide-set staircase. It was only when his reached the wooden dock outside of the boathouse that his feet stilled. He fell to his knees, and heaved into the water.

He wasn’t sure how long he sat there before a warm hand gently tapped his shoulder. Turning his head, he squinted as his dilated pupils protested against the sun’s brightness. He could make out a tall, slender figure and sighed in relief.

“If you want me to leave, I will,” Angelina said in a low voice, kneeling down beside him on the dock, “but I saw you stumble away from the ceremony and was worried. I couldn’t help myself from following you.” Her hands hovered over his for a moment before she took them into her own and squeezed them.

“Bloody hell, Ang.” Unable to dispel his discomfort by running a hand through his hair, George exhaled sharply through his nose and squirmed.

“Should I leave you here, then?” She released his hands, frowning with concern.

“No,” he said, much quicker than he anticipated, combing his hair back from his face with his fingers. “No, I’m glad you’re here. It’s – this, it’s nothing really. I just – the last few months have been so good, almost normal. Well, as close to normal as they’ve been since –” His voice cracked. “Since Fred died. I really thought I was okay. That I was making progress with everything. And then today – I feel so bloody dramatic. Half the living world lost somebody last year, and I’m the only prat who had to run out in the middle of the tribute. I just… I don’t even know.”

His chest quaked as a low sob rattled out, and he pressed his eyes shut. He could feel Angelina’s arms wrap around him and pull him to her chest, and he felt her lips press a kiss to his forehead.

He wondered for a moment if he should feel foolish, crying into a woman’s arms, before pushing the thought away and reveling in the warm comfort that seemed to seep out of her pores. Suddenly, George knew why the few times he had seen his dad weep, it had been into his mother’s shoulder. There was something sacred and secure about being in Angelina’s arms – something that made the rest of the world fall away for a moment.

“Are you okay, George?” Her whisper was barely more than a breath on his ear.

He extricated himself from her embrace and studied her face while he searched for his voice. “Angelina, thank you,” he said at last. “I certainly hope you know how amazingly brilliant you are. I honestly don’t know where’d I’d be right now without you.”

He watched as her eyes lowered from his for a fleeting second and as the corners of her mouth pulled up a bit before he placed his hand at the back of her head and pulled her towards him. He kissed her, willing her to know that he had meant everything he had just said to her.

“And I hope you know how brilliant you are,” she said into his lips, before pulling away and standing. “I’m sure the ceremony is over by now, if you'd maybe want to go look at the monument – find Fred’s name for yourself, or whatever.”

George took the hand she offered and rose to his feet.

Together, they made their way back up the wide stone steps and around the shore to where the monument stood, still surrounded by flocks of people.

“Oi, George. There you are.” Ron trotted into view. “We’ve been looking for you. Mum’s been worried – had us searching all over the place for you.” He spun around and cupped his hands around his mouth. “Dad, I’ve found him.”

“I was only down by the boathouse,” George said, unable to keep a touch of defensiveness from his voice. “I don’t know where you lot could have thought I’d disappeared to.”

“You know how Mum is.” Ron kicked the toe of his trainer into the dirt. “Plus you did look bloody terrible when you walked out.”

“Ah, George.” His dad appeared next to Ron, panting to catch his breath. A thin sheen of sweat dappled his forehead. “We missed you at the end of the ceremony, and wanted to wait for you so we could all go and look at the monument together; I think your mum'd like that.”

“I’m sorry, Dad,” George said. “I needed a bit of air, that’s all.” He felt Angelina drop his hand, and glanced over his shoulder into the crowd after her, catching her warm smile before she disappeared behind a gaggle of elderly witches.

“Quite all right.” His dad clapped him on the back and, arm draped over his shoulders, turned towards the path leading to the shining hunk of white stone. “You know, that woman who was holding your hand? She’s quite beautiful.”

George almost halted mid-step, astonished his dad had noticed his hand within Angelina’s despite her covert disappearance. “She really is, isn’t she?”

For the first time that day, he could feel a wide grin split across his face.


~::~

Later that night, in the solitude of his flat, as he waited beneath his covers for sleep to come, George's mind played over the events of the past two days. It jumped from the busy streets of Hogsmeade to the batty witch from the Department of Magical Transportation, to his need to be with his family inside the Hog’s Head, to the bizarre stranger who had given him his business card – the business card.

He sat upright, nearly twisting his back in the process.

Curious as to what the peculiar man could possibly have wanted to speak to him about, George clambered out of his bed to the pile of dirt laundry flung in the corner of his room. He found the green robe had been wearing that evening, and his hands dug through the pockets. Closing around the sharp corners of the heavy paper rectangle, he pulled out the card and flipped it over. Printed on it in in precise penmanship was a singular name – Mr Garfield Zonko.

George slowly rose to his feet, and propped the card against his alarm clock on the bedside table. Curiosity anything but satiated, he climbed back into bed, knowing that sleep was a long way off.

~::~

Author’s Note: First, for some proprieties: the quotation by Kingsley in italics is from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, American Hardback Edition, page 611. As of 11/9/12, this chapter is now beta'd. Now, let me apologize for how long it has been since my last update. The outline for the remaining chapters of this story has been re-vamped and with this chapter, we are now just past the halfway point in the story!! Thank you so much for reading thus far. The overwhelming support for this story continually amazes me, and all of the nominations I’ve received for the Dobby awards thus far is beyond all my expectations! You are all fabulous!

I’d love to hear what you thought of this chapter, so if you have a minute, please leave a review. Lastly, I'm open to suggestions for the Weasley's new owl's name!


Chapter 14: Angelina, December 1995
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Angelina, December 1995

Angelina felt the line of her mouth tense. The sound of spells crackling through the crisp night air and colliding with their targets hummed beneath her skin as her hand tightened around the handle of her wand. Across from her, Alicia smirked, and, dropping her shoulders, leaned forward a fraction of a centimetre. The brunette looked calm and relaxed, but her eyes gave away her façade. Behind her grey-coloured irises, Angelina could see that she was plotting, and felt her mind race into action – what would Alicia be sending her way? A stunner, obviously, given the subject matter of the evening’s meeting, but would it be only one? Two? A quick burst? Would the spell be coming from the right or left? Perhaps it would come straight down the middle –

A flutter of panic rose up into her chest, and she felt her heart tap against her chest wall.

Angelina had never considered herself easy to fluster – after all, she handled the pressure of flying one-on-one against opposing teams’ Keepers with a confident sort of grace – but dueling was something else entirely. It came with so many uncertainties. In Quidditch, there were only two discrete conclusions: Make the shot and score ten points, or miss the shot and forfeit possession of the Quaffle to the other team. In dueling, it seemed, the possible outcomes were endless, and the ambiguity associated with it never failed to leave her feeling as exposed and jittery as a peeled sopophorous bean.

A flurry of activity from the left caught her attention, and she felt her head swivel towards it.

Fred and George were circling each other with wide grins pasted on their faces. As Harry circled to the other end of the vast room, where Cho Chang and her curly-haired friend were dueling, George nodded to Fred, and they stopped their circling. Casually flicking their wands at one another, aquamarine sparks and orange puffs of smoke sailed through the air. What spells they were casting, Angelina wasn’t sure, but she was certain that she hadn’t yet seen a stunner or a Shield Charm in their arsenal. A small smile played at the corners of her lips – of course they weren’t doing what they should have been.

“Ang, are you ready?”

Alicia’s voice pulled Angelina’s attention back to their impending duel. The brunette’s eyebrows had disappeared beneath her fringe, and a smug smirk gave her a rather annoying, haughty look. Angelina knew the look; it was her I-caught-you-looking-at-him-again-and-I’m-a-martyr-for-not-pointing-it-out look, and she struggled not to roll her eyes in response to it.

“Er, yeah. I’m ready.” Inhaling, she turned back towards Alicia and raised her wand, feeling her nerves creep back down her arm to her chest.

Forcing the air out of her lungs, she recalled Harry’s advice from one of the first DA meetings, when he had reviewed the more tactical aspects of dueling. His voice, laced with dedication and a quiet sort of passion, rang in her mind’s ear as she drew in a shallow breath of air. “Wands and torsos can’t lie to you nearly as easily as eyes, arms, and feet can, so try and focus your attention there whenever you can. Hopefully then you won’t be faked out.”

Bending her knees slightly, she dropped her weight into the balls of her feet and forced her eyes to heed Harry’s instructions – torso and wand tip. Her wand centred in front of her chest, she summoned the incantation for the Shield Charm. Its syllables felt heavy, clamped between her teeth.

Then, far too many things happened in far too narrow a stretch of time.

A voice called George’s name, and Angelina again felt her concentration slip away from Alicia. Her head snapped to the left, and she found herself unable to look away from the scene unfolding there. George, in response to what must have been Ginny’s voice, stepped over to where she was dueling Dean Thomas. Fred’s spell, a sizzling ball of pink sparks, was already airborne and sailing towards the spot where George had been standing only a second earlier. With its target no longer there, the spell continued onward to the next solid object in its path: Colin Creevey.

As the sizzling pink ball collided with his back, the boy’s scrawny frame crumpled and sailed through the air. Giant pink and lilac coloured pouf-balls began erupting from every visible surface of his skin. By the time he hit the ground, Colin more closely resembled a pile of Puffskeins than he did a fourteen-year-old wizard.

Angelina felt laughter well up in her chest, but she didn’t get an opportunity to let it out. A strong force struck the side of her body, lifting her off her feet and rocketing her through the air. She slammed into the floor, a full metre behind the large pillow set-up to soften people’s falls. The stone was much harder than it looked, and it took her a full minute to find her breath.

“Merlin’s bloody beard, Ang,” Alicia shouted, racing towards her with wide eyes. “I got distracted for one second and assumed you were paying attention to me – in my defence, you did say you were ready.” She reached out her hand to Angelina and smiled. “You do have to admit, that was a damn good stunner.”

Angelina had been reaching her hand up to accept Alicia’s assistance, but slapped it away in response to her last comment. She gently hoisted herself to her feet, wincing as her knee screamed at her in protest.

“Oh, don’t be like that, Ang.”

“Is Colin all right?

With a cross look on her face –probably because Angelina hadn’t praised the quality of her stunner, or accepted her help – Alicia looked at her for a moment before opening her mouth. “Oh, yeah, the twins tried, but couldn’t seem to reverse the charm. Ginny and Collin’s younger brother offered to take him up to the hospital wing. Fred and George are still baffled about not being able to –”

“Not being able to what, Alicia?” Fred had appeared in front of her and, dipping into an unnecessarily low bow, didn’t bother waiting for an answer. “If you’d like to show me that stunning charm of yours, I’d be more than willing to stand on the opposite end.”

Without another word, the two of them stepped away and began exchanging spells. Angelina watched for a minute, quietly hoping that Fred would give Alicia a taste of her own potion. Rubbing her lower back where it had slammed into the floor, she turned away from the duel. George stood beside her, and she couldn’t stop her lips from smiling at him, despite the instantaneous fluttering he had incited in her head and stomach. She was unsure if she was disappointed with herself for expecting George to be beside her, or because she did expect him to be there and he actually was.

“Are you all right?” he asked her. “I didn’t see you get hit, but Fred said it looked nasty.”

Something about the look in his eye –a sort of tenderness, almost – left her searching for her breath. Or maybe her lungs just hadn’t yet recovered from being ploughed into solid stone.

“Merlin, I was hoping nobody saw that. I thought that maybe Puffskein-Creevey would have been enough distraction.” Angelina forced herself to blink and break eye contact with him. “I’m a bloody terribly duelist. I can never judge the timing of any of it.” Disgusted with how whingey she sounded, she forced her voice to adopt a lighter, more laissez-faire tone. “Clearly you and Fred don’t have that problem – you weren’t even practicing the right spells.”

“Oh, I don’t believe that,” he said, taking a step behind her. “You just need to relax a little bit, is all –”

He placed his hands on her shoulders and gently kneaded them. She felt as though every muscle in her body had ceased to function – even her heart stilled in her chest.

“– have a little fun with it. That’s Fred’s and my secret to everything, you know.” His hands dropped away from her shoulders, and he returned to where he’d been standing. “But that’s just for your ears. Fred and I can’t have it getting out; it’d be the end of us.”

Angelina hoped her mouth didn’t actually flap as it speechlessly searched for words. Perhaps her silly, drawn-out crush on George wasn’t so unfounded after all. As soon as this thought flickered through her mind, she quickly banished it. Touching a person’s shoulders was hardly evidence to the contrary of a year-long history of platonic gestures.

“Right then, everybody bring it in here.” Harry’s voice rang through the room, and Angelina felt herself exhale in gratitude. “Everyone did really well tonight – I saw some really good spell work from the lot of you. We still have a meeting next week before the holidays, so I want everyone to relax until then. We’ll likely use that time to review everything we’ve done so far this term. Good work.”

In a well-practiced, covert sort of haste, the members of Dumbledore’s Army dispersed into the corridors and made their way to their respective houses.

Once back in the comfort of the Gryffindor common room, Angelina muttered hasty good nights to Lora, who was slaving away over a large role of parchment and a yellowed Arithmancy text, and to Alicia, who had plopped down on the sofa next to Katie Bell, and quickly made her way up the narrow staircase to the seventh year girls’ dormitory. She hardly cared that it was barely past nine. The comfort of her pillows and bed was the foremost thought on her mind.

Changing into her pyjamas, Angelina crawled beneath her quilt and flicked her wand at the scarlet hangings. The curtains closed snugly around the four poster.

There really was no reason for her to feel so crummy all of a sudden. Aside from her collision with the floor, today hadn’t been a bad day at all. She had gotten good marks on her Potions and Charms essays, and despite fielding a brand new pair of Beaters and a new Seeker, her Quidditch practice had gone exceptionally well, too. She hadn’t felt this way until her mind had started its grand debate over George for the umpteenth time. She sighed and scrunched her eyes shut. No boy, whether he was aware of it or not, should have this sort of power over her.

Rolling over, she buried her face into a pillow.

The early stages of sleep must have taken hold of her, because the next thing she knew, she was blinking her eyes open in response to Alicia’s voice.

“Wake up.” Alicia plopped down onto the side of her bed. “Lora and I want to talk to you.”

Leaning on the bed post, Lora offered an apologetic smile.

Without waiting for a response, Alicia ploughed onward. “We were assured by two different, reliable sources that Marjorie and Erin are down in the boathouse with two Slytherin sixth years and a bottle of Firewhisky, so it’s just the three of us here.”

“And I’ll be having a little talk with Marjorie and Erin whenever they get back,” Lora added, in case anyone thought otherwise.

“Okay –”

“Wait, Ang.” Alicia cut her off. “Let me say what I need to say. I know that you’re all about practicality, and not assuming, and being independent, and all of that malarkey, but this game is getting bloody old. At least tell the poor bloke that you fancy him.”

“I – what?” Angelina felt her mouth stammer. “Is this really necessary? I feel like we’ve talked about this before, and –”

“Angelina.” This time it was Lora who cut her off. “Everyone in this room knows that you fancy George, which I think is brilliant. He’s quite nice. A bit devil-may-care, but he’s a really good person. And, yes, we’ve talked about this before, but only because we really do think that you should tell him. I know it’s scary – not knowing if he likes you or not – but you’ve been over-analysing this all for so long, I don’t think you’re qualified to pass judgment on the issue anymore.”

“So we’re here to give you a friendly kick in the arse.”

Lora glared at Alicia before turning back to Angelina. “But even if he doesn’t like you, at least you’ll know if you talk to him. You won’t have to wonder and then spend the evening upset with yourself for wondering.”

“Even though we know he does like you.” Alicia smiled in mock sweetness at Lora in an attempt to ward off another infamous Paisley glare.

Angelina blinked, trying to process her thoughts. Curse Lora for always making so much sense, and Alicia for being bull-headed enough to force this pseudo-intervention upon her. Of course, she’d fleetingly thought of everything her two friends had just said on her own at one time or another, but never all together in such an orderly fashion. They both, in their own way, had made telling George sound like such an obvious thing to do.

“Well, are you going to say anything?”

“Give her a minute to process, she did just wake up.”

“No, no,” Angelina said at last. “I’m fine, and awake. You’re both right. I ought to tell him that I fancy him –I mean, I do.”

Two faces stared back at her in complete shock.

“That’s it?” Alicia’s voice was shrill and much too loud, considering their proximity. “No arguments? No blah-blah-he-doesn’t-even-like-me-that-way, everything-is-fine-the-way-it-is nonsense?”

“You’re actually going to tell him?” Even Lora had trouble maintaining the pitch of her voice.

“Yes, I’m actually going to tell him.” Angelina felt something – relief, perhaps – flood through her veins. “Merlin knows it’s the only way you two are going to let me get any sleep tonight.”

~::~

Her last parsnip skewered on the end of her fork, Angelina watched as the vaulted ceiling rapidly faded from a dull, greyish-purple to a deep indigo, and as the torches lining the long walls ignited in an impressive wave of flickering light. The clatter of cutlery against the plates and bowls combined with the rumble of a hundred conversations into a sound that she was certain she’d always identify with dinner in the Great Hall.

She popped the parsnip into her mouth and glanced towards the door. If Alicia and Lora didn’t hurry, she was going to finish her dinner before they even arrived.

Across the table, Erin and Marjorie had claimed two seats, and were now chatting animatedly about how Roger Davies was still seen chatting so-and-so up outside the Charms classroom, despite how bad her new hair colour looked. Angelina fought the urge to roll her eyes. Whether or not she was expected to be paying attention to the conversation, she wasn’t sure, but she had a smile and a nod at the ready just in case they expected her input.

Plucking a biscuit off of the nearest pudding tray, she reminded herself that she wouldn’t be eating it if either of her friends had been on time.

“Oi, sorry we’re late,” Alicia huffed as she flung herself down onto the bench. “A biscuit? So much for saving our biscuit eating for Fridays.” Looking a bit dejected, she began piling potatoes and parsnips onto the plate that had appeared in front of her.

“You mean I’ve been refraining from eating biscuits all week, and you’re sitting here with a bourbon in your hand?”

Angelina rolled her eyes as Lora settled into her seat across the table. “I blame the both of you. If you wouldn’t have nearly stood me up, we’d have eaten dinner together and left before the dessert trays appeared.

“I’m sorry, Ang. Professor Burbage had just gotten in a new collection of records and she wanted me to thumb through them.” The blonde crinkled her nose at the bowl of parsnips and pulled the platter of candied yams over towards her plate.

“And what’s your excuse, Alicia?”

“Oh, well,” she muttered through a mouthful of food, “Dunstan needed help proofreading his latest poem – he’s a writer, you know – so I agreed to meet him in the library.

“He’s a writer, and he wanted you to proofread his poem?” Angelina smiled, repelling the scathing look that the brunette shot across the table.

“So, it’s been nearly a week since our little talk. Any progress with Mission Tell Ge –”

Panicked, Angelina slapped Alicia’s hand with the back of her spoon and tipped her head in the direction of Marjorie and Erin. It was common knowledge that, aside from Libby McNulty, they were the biggest gossips in the seventh year. All Angelina needed was for them to catch wind of the fact that she fancied George Weasley.

Alicia cocked a brow for a second, and then nodded her head slowly. Without lowering the volume of her voice, she rephrased her question. “So, have you?”

Lora’s eyes flicked nervously to the side of her, where Marjorie and Erin sat, before leaning across the table in earnest.

“Oh, erm, well – no, not yet.”

“Ha. I win.”

Alicia extended her hand across the table as Lora dug into her robe pockets.

“You placed a bet on me?” Angelina couldn’t keep the sound of incredulity from her voice. “Lora, you – the Head Girl – placed a bet on me?”

“Technically, gambling isn’t against the school rules.”

“She would know,” Alicia said, selecting a particularly chocolaty biscuit off of the platter. “Since she had to check before she’d agree to it. And thank you for breaking the biscuit-fast, this is delicious.”

“Well, if you must know,” Angelina said under her breath, “I made plans to meet him later. After –” She looked across the table at Lora. Of course, Lora knew that Alicia and Angelina were involved in some likely-illicit evening activity, but thus far they had managed to keep the precise existence of the DA from her. Ever a good friend, Lora had graciously taken to playing deaf when the need arose. “Well, I made plans to meet him later tonight. I figured that I’d try to tell him then.”

“Ooh,” Lora exclaimed, “that is brilliant.”

“It’s about bloody time, is what it is.”

Taking a second biscuit from the tray, Angelina felt her mouth go dry. She was certainly going to tell him tonight and could only hope that she wouldn’t humiliate herself in the process. “I guess we’ll see how brilliant it is once I actually tell him.”

~::~

The final DA meeting of the term had been shorter than most, but the energy that filled the room was thick with a realized potentiality. Little Dennis Creevey had managed to disarm Hermione; Neville Longbottom had produced a Shield Charm so impressive that it had also blocked the neighbouring Hannah Abbot from an incoming jinx; and Ginny had reduced a suit of armour to a pile of metallic dust. The Christmas spirit – or maybe the knowledge that a reprieve from Umbridge and her tyranny was just around the corner – had empowered all of them.

Angelina had left the Room of Requirement filled with warm feelings of accomplishment, but now, creeping in the shadows of the castle’s curfew, her nerves were proving dominant. Taking care to not attract the attention of Mrs Norris, she hardly noticed the icy chill that pervaded the deserted corridor and coaxed her breath from her in pale white clouds as she scanned the walls.

It was nearly eleven o’ clock.

In far too little time, she would be meeting George in the unused classroom where he and Fred had been concocting most of their products for the joke shop. In only a few steps, she would finally be admitting her feelings for him aloud.

She sighed, the sound a startling contrast to the silence.

If only he had been able to meet her directly after the DA meeting as originally planned, she would already be tucked away in her dormitory, doing her best to satiate Alicia and Lora’s inevitable interrogation. Of course, they hadn’t met as planned – George had apologized, telling her that there was a rather delicate, less-than-legal potion simmering in the empty classroom, and asked if she minded if they met up a bit later – and so now, she was nowhere near to the comfort of her dormitory. Instead, her nerves were firing brightly enough to illuminate the dark corridor, and her stomach felt as though it housed a swarm of angry Doxies.

Noticing a tapestry depicting a battle from the goblin revolutions, her feet slowed to a stop. According to George, the classroom’s door would be located across from this rather violent, red-and-grey tapestry. The door was certainly there, she noticed, but located behind a rather dull-coloured suit of armour leaning lazily against its lance. George hadn’t mentioned that. Not knowing what else to do, Angelina knocked lightly against its breast plate. Almost instantly, the suit sprung to attention, its visor slamming down over the opening in its helmet, and readied its lance.

Startled, she jumped back so as not to be skewered.

“Well, well, an impatient little lass, art thou,” the suit wheezed, taking two clanking steps to its right. The sound of metal clacking against metal as the suit of armour’s joints bent and straightened, and the sound of metal dropping none too lightly against the stone floor, echoed through the corridor.

Glancing over both her shoulders, Angelina grabbed the doorknob that had appeared where the offended suit of armour had been standing, and yanked the door open. If Filch were to come investigating, she certainly didn’t want to be in the corridor. Even her impending conversation with George was favourable to an encounter with the old caretaker.

She had barely taken a full step into the room when something rustled in the rafters.

“Ooohoohoohoo, a student out of bed,” a high pitched voice sang out as she stepped into the room. “You’re certainly not one of the Weasley-weasel-kins. So what could we possibly be doing here, me wonders? Spying, perhaps?”

Angelina ducked as Peeves swooped down from the large candelabra, and eyed him suspiciously as he settled into a cross-legged position, floating in the air just in front of her. Of all the poor outcomes she had imagined for her past-curfew adventure, this one was quite possibly the worst. Leaning to the side, she tried to glance around the poltergeist’s semi-transparent form to see if George was even in the classroom.

“Looking for someone?” His sing-song voice slid up an octave as he glided over to block her view.

“Peeves, I just need to –”

Though it was hard to tell in the dim lighting, it looked as though he was smiling and batting his eyelashes at her. Frustration welling up inside her chest, she stepped to the side and hoped the impish spectre would take her hint and take his hauntings elsewhere.

He did not.

“If you are looking for one of the Weaselbees, I should tell you –” he said slowly, leaning over onto his side and propping his head up on his hands.

“Tell me what?” she spat, unable to keep her exasperation from her voice.

“I said I should, and not that I would. Sir Linnaeus was right; you are an impatient thing. Bu-ut since I’m such a kindly spirit, I’ll oblige you.” His smile and eyelashes were infuriating. “The both of them left ages ago, and not a one is here now. ‘Tis just good old Peeves here, keeping watch.”

Angelina felt her heart drop into her abdomen. He wasn’t here. George hadn’t come back to meet her as he’d promised. Only moments ago in the corridor, her biggest worry had been how she was going to tell him about her feelings for him. She hadn’t even considered the fact that he wouldn’t be here– that he perhaps he didn’t want to meet to talk.

“Impatient and rude. No ‘thank you’ for poor Peeves – my, my, how Mr Filch enjoys hearing when there’s a student out of bed.” He began drifting towards the door as he spoke, slowly cupping his hands to his mouth.

“No, no – I’m sorry, Peeves.” Angelina ran to the doorway, as if blocking the path would detain him if he actually wanted to leave the classroom. “Thank you, for all of your help. I’m actually going now, no need to wake Mr Filch. I’m sure he needs his rest.”

Fully expecting to hear the poltergeist shouting with glee, alerting Filch and the rest of the castle to her transgression, she winced and shut her eyes. She waited a moment, then two, and when his voice had still not rung through the silence, she chanced opening one eye. Peeves was nowhere to be seen. The classroom was indeed empty, aside from a few dusty boxes stacked along the wall and a small pewter cauldron, simmering in the corner.

How could she have agreed to Alicia and Lora’s demands to actually tell George that she fancied him? How had she managed to talk herself into her crush on him in the first place? The ridiculous notion that he may have wanted to ask her to the Yule Ball, combined with her own wild imagination, was how. They’d always been friends – good friends, for Merlin’s sake – and they were good at being just that. Had she sounded too formal when she had asked to meet to talk? Maybe he’d noticed all of her lingering eye contact, heard her heart when it leapt up into her throat, felt the thrill that had raced beneath her skin every time they had brushed hands, and didn’t want to talk to her about any of it.

No matter the reason, he had stood her up.

She quickly blinked back the burning sensation that had begun to radiate out from the corners of her eyes. Her rational side had been right all along – he didn’t fancy her, and likely never did. Angelina felt her head spin – what would she say to him in class tomorrow?

Before she could think another thought, she spun around and sprinted out the door, past Sir Linnaeus. She wasn’t cognisant of navigating through the twisting corridors or around the trick staircases, but somehow, her feet brought her to the familiar seventh floor landing.

“Dugbog,” she said rather impatiently to the large woman snoozing in her frame.

“What – huh?” The Fat Lady stirred, fluffing the pile of hair on her head. “Do you have any idea what time it is? I have half a mind to –”

“Dugbog, dugbog. Just let me in, please.”

“Very well. I certainly hope whatever you were up to was worth waking me over.” Chin tilted high, the woman shifted in her seat as the large portrait swung away from the wall.

Crawling through the hole in the wall, Angelina’s thoughts fled to the warm safety of her bed. Maybe, if she was lucky, Alicia and Lora would already be asleep, and she’d be able to just sneak by them without any questions. To her surprise, the common room was still well-lit. Light from the fireplace flickered lazily against the wall, casting long shadows in its wake. To her even greater surprise, Lora, Alicia, Lee, Geoffrey, and Andrew sat around it, huddled in close conversation.

As she stepped off the rug and onto the stone floor, Alicia’s head snapped towards her. The others quickly followed suit.

“There you are, Ang.” Alicia stood up and scooted over, clearing a space on the sofa beside her. “We’ve been wondering when you’d be back.”

Angelina felt her head pivot around the circle, considering each of them in turn. Something wasn’t right – only Lora and Alicia knew that she was sneaking out of the tower – yet most of the Gryffindors in her year were gathered in the common room, as though they were waiting for her return. “What’s wrong?” she asked, when she finally found her voice.

“It’s Mr Weasley,” Lee said slowly. “McGonagall sent word to Fred and George to meet in Professor Dumbledore’s office – that their dad’s been injured.”

For what had to be the hundredth time that evening, Angelina felt her heart drop into her abdomen.

“This all happened right after you snuck out.” Alicia poked a log deeper into the flames and crossed her arms over her chest. “Fred and George fetched Ginny, and the three of them went straight to Professor Dumbledore’s office. Ron was already there; apparently he had taken Harry there when it all started.”

“Harry?” Angelina felt her voice hitch in confusion. “When all of what started?”

Slowly, everyone turned towards Lora, who was rocking in her seat and picking at her cuticles. Angelina had known her long enough to know that she was nervous about something.

“Well,” the blonde began, “Peregrine and I were outside of Professor Dumbledore’s office, waiting to talk to him about an issue we’ve been having with one of the Slytherin prefects, when Professor McGonagall and Professor Snape stepped out from behind the gargoyle. I don’t think they saw us– the lighting was rather dim, and we were sitting against the wall – and they were talking sort of low, so I didn’t catch everything they said. But apparently, Harry saw Mr Weasley being attacked – something about a snake, and a dream, and I don’t know.” Lora shuddered.

“Attacked?” Angelina spluttered. The disappointment and hurt she’d felt when George hadn’t met her suddenly seemed incredibly petty, and her stomach squirmed uncomfortably with guilt – her mum had always told her it was dangerous to make assumptions.

“He was found in a corridor at the Ministry.” Lora continued her report. “Professor McGonagall seemed to think it was quite serious. And I’m not positive, but I could have sworn I heard Snape say” – her voice dropped to barely more than a whisper – “You-Know-Who’s name.”

“My mum’s been warning me things like this’d start happening,” Geoffrey piped up from his seat, furthest from the fire. “Ever since all that business with Cedric last semester – she was on the original investigative team before Fudge disbanded it.”

“Yes, but Mr Weasley?” Alicia’s face was drawn, and though the sound of her question faded into the air, the resonance of its gravity remained.

Angelina’s heart beat so perfunctorily it hurt. She had never met Mr Weasley, but had always imagined that he had the same ginger hair and vital, inquisitive eyes as George. Imagining him lying injured and bleeding somewhere caused her breath to catch in her chest. George had told her once that if he and Fred ever got the joke shop off the ground and made a little money, he’d like to renovate his dad’s tinker shed – that the Weasley patriarch, with all of his Muggle gizmos and gadgets, had unknowingly inspired the joke shop dream.

How could anyone have attacked such a well-loved, good man?

A chill that had nothing to do with the dying flames flickering in the hearth ran through her.

The world outside the walls of Hogwarts was changing. The simple truth crawled its way up Angelina’s spine, the reality of it wrapping around her like a scarf. Fathers simply should not be attacked and seriously injured in the Ministry, of all places; families should not be torn from their beds in the middle of the night, and You-Know-Who’s name should not be whispered in the shadows. Somehow, everything Harry had been preaching to them during their DA meetings clicked in Angelina’s head, and made perfect sense. This –whatever it was that was going on in the world – was a lot bigger than sticking it to Umbridge and her totalitarian methods, or making good marks and passing the N.E.W.T. examinations.

“Well,” she said, forcing the words out from her tightened throat, “all we can do is hope that he’s going to be okay.”

A wave of quiet agreement rippled through the group. In silence they sat, hoping that their hope would be enough, until the last of the flames faded into the night.

~::~

Author's Note:  Anything you recognize belongs to J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter. The references to the DA and to the attack on Mr Weasley were inspired specifically by Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Now, I’d like to take a moment to thank you, the reader, for sticking with me and this story. I’ve never before made a serious attempt at writing a novel-length story and here we are chapter 14 and nearly 60K words into one. Your support and enthusiasm means the world to me. Thank you for any support that you have given or will give to With All Things in the Dobby awards. I’m still having a hard time believing that this little project of mine is up for Best Romance and Best Novel! Lastly, I’d like to thank Sarah for being generally lovely and encouraging and inspiring, and Rachel for being an incredibly dedicated beta and support system.  


Chapter 15: George, July 1999
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George, July 1999

Though Number 93 Diagon Alley was usually quite boisterous during normal business hours, George was certain that the other residents of the street had come to expect the quiet sort of calm that typically fell over the gregarious purple building as the sun set each evening. However, no such calm was falling over Number 93 tonight.

Window open to equilibrate the stuffy summer heat within the tiny kitchen with the cool night air, a series of throbbing bass lines and spliced choruses wafted out from the upstairs flat beneath the sound of raucous chatter, clinking glassware, and the occasional accusation of cheating. It had been long time since such an infectious feeling of mischief had coursed through him, and George couldn’t wait to hear his neighbours’ versions of the evening’s escapades floating through the shops tomorrow morning. Merlin knew the gossipy Madam Malkin wouldn’t be trying very hard to ignore their goings-on, and would have a story ready for anyone who’d listen.

If any of the other shopkeeps were too cross, he could always blame everything on Lee – after all, poker night had originally been his idea.

Stuck in the cramped seat between the wall and the wobbly kitchen table, Lee’s face was trained on the pair of playing cards in his hand. George impatiently watched his best mate as his eyes flicked shrewdly between his cards. Lee took the game of poker very seriously, and much to everyone’s dismay, had made out with their weekly pocket spending like a professional pickpocket at each of their previous three poker nights.

“For the love of Merlin,” George said at last, “make your bet already – it’s poker, not an unspeakable mystery. You’ve been staring at those bloody cards for almost ten minutes.”

“Don’t try to rush my genius.” Lee smirked, passing his cigar from one side of his mouth to the other.

George rolled his eyes. Lee insisted that the game of poker couldn’t be played without cigars – “It’s a necessary prop, you wouldn’t play Quidditch without a broomstick, would you?” – yet never lit the blasted thing.

“Right then.” Ron, who had already folded his hand, rose from his seat. “I’m grabbing us some more crisps before I keel over. Merlin, I didn’t survive on roasted mushrooms for months only to die of starvation at a poker night. Geoffrey better get here soon with the food.”

“Oi,” Lee called to the irritable ginger, “turn the wireless up on your way through – hearing Wanda botch another program will make this hand all the sweeter. I don’t know how she keeps getting promoted, the bloody cow.”

“Tell us how you really feel, Lee.” George took a long sip from his beer – Ron’s offering in exchange for an invitation to play with them. “And I don’t know,” he yelled after his brother as the volume of music pouring out of the wireless doubled, “when Geoffrey will get here –his wife was sort of reluctant about him coming at all, after last week’s debacle.”

Poker night had taken place at the Hoopers’ home last week, and Glinda Hooper had been less than thrilled with the resultant state of her kitchen, the front garden, and her husband’s wallet the following morning.

“Four Sickles,” Lee said at last, staring straight-faced across the table.

“About time. I’ll raise you two Sickles.” George tossed a few silver coins out in front of him.

“Oh-ho-ho, somebody is confident. Hopefully you’ll have better than two-pair this time.”

“Another drink, anyone?” Ron marched back to his seat, armed with a heaping bowl of crisps and three tawny-coloured glass bottles.

With each turn, they exchanged their bets, the pot in the middle of the table growing at a pace suggestive of Lee’s ego, until it came time to flip the river card: The Supreme Mugwump of hearts. A chief warlock, a druid priestess and a three of clubs had been flipped on the flop, a five of spades on the turn. Eyes gleaming, Lee barely glanced at his cards before he tossed another four Sickles onto the table. George knew his hand was a good one, but he was all too familiar with his friend’s dumb luck when it came to poker. Sighing, he modestly matched the bet, adding his own coins to the pile.

“Ha. Three of kind – read them and weep.” Lee threw down his own cards with a marked exuberance and began pulling the pile of Sickles and Knuts towards himself.

George picked up the two Supreme Mugwumps and slowly shook his head. “Nice try, mate” – his voice hung in the air – “but a straight beats a set any day of the week.” Relishing in his exceedingly rare victory, he slowly flipped over his nine of clubs and then his ten of diamonds. “Nine, ten, warlock, priestess, Mugwump – and I do believe that this pot is mine.” While Lee was still blinking in disbelief, George flicked his wand at his winnings, and watched as they floated across the table towards him.

“Hey, now!” Lee sprung to his feet, nearly knocking the table over in the process. “That’s a violation of poker night’s code of ethics. No magic at the table.”

“He does have a point, George.”

Cocking an eyebrow, the older Weasley stared at his brother’s sudden onset of gumption. Apparently his spine had confused the two beers he’d already drank with pints of Skelogro.

“Who has a point? This guy here?” Geoffrey had appeared in the doorway, his arms laden with a large, steaming casserole pan, nodding his head in Lee’s general direction. “I didn’t realize he knew how to make one of those.” He laughed and turned to set the food on the counter. “Sorry I’m so late,” he shouted over his shoulder. “I was late getting home from the office, and Glinda was already in a state about me coming here. I swear, that woman –”

Whatever he swore trailed off as he joined the table with a heaping plate of his wife’s stew– from the smell, George guessed it was of the lamb variety.

“Aye, Indira’s been bloody impossible lately too.” Lee split the deck for what had to be the sixth or seventh time since the last hand. “Can it be helped that the station’s new intern just so happens to be fit and thinks my dreadlocks are sexy? It’s not as if I hired her.”

“Ooh, I wouldn’t have pegged her as the jealous type – Glinda, absolutely, but Indira’s always been so nice and non-hostile.”

“I don’t know,” George said, chuckling. “She was a bit hostile that time I walked in on her wearing only her knickers and Lee’s shirt.”

“Women,” Ron grumbled, casually slipping away from the conversation towards the casserole on the counter. “I swear – they’ve all got it in for us.”

“Aww, does Granger have ickle Ronniekins on a short chain?”

Ron barely seemed to register his brother’s teasing nickname, and shoved two enormous bites of the stew into his mouth before he even sat back down at the table. “No, Hermione is fine – she’s always been bossy. It’s Mum who’s got me on the short chain. ‘Ronald, have you mucked the chickens yet? Ronald, can you de-gnome the garden? Ronald, I know you work sixty hours a week, but do you think you could help me polish the silver?’ Bloody hell, I need to move out of there.”

“Or feign deaf –”

“— or change your name ¬–”

“— or pretend you’ve been hit with a Babbling Hex?”

“You do know that if you live on your own, you’ll have to prepare your own food?”

A sad, wistful expression passed across the youngest Weasley brother’s face. “We all have to make sacrifices occasionally –”

A ripple of laughter filled the room, and George glanced around the table. The four of them were kicked back, having a few beers and playing poker after a long week of work, and complaining about the women in their lives. Adulthood in a world with no war, with no imminent threat of death or loss of loved one, was a strangely relaxing.

“So, what about you, George?” Lee said, as he cut the deck of cards once last time, his cigar once again clenched in his teeth. “You’re awfully quiet about your woman.” George considered the implication of the term ‘your’ before opening his mouth to answer for a moment, but the moment was too long for Lee’s patience. He’d already turned away from him and was beginning to deal the playing cards around the table, setting the hand’s ground rules as he went. “All right, five-Knut ante to play the hand – you all know the drill.”

“Oh, yeah, how is your bird? Johnson still dangling you out at arm’s length?” Geoffrey asked, sliding five bronze coins into the centre of the table and waggling his eyebrows.

“Angelina’s not a possession,” George said hotly, his own bid clenched forgotten in his hand. No matter what he said to them, the idea of her being his filled his chest with a primal sort of need to defend her. “She’s her own person – and she’s not dangling me anywhere. We’re just spending time together, taking it one day at a time.”

Despite his best intentions, Angelina’s one-day-at-a-time felt a bit lame on his tongue.

“For two people taking it one day at a time, every day’s awfully similar.” Ron nodded, forfeiting his cards back to Lee. “It’s like clockwork – closing time each day, she’s nosing around the shop, waiting for you to finish your paperwork.”

Damn Ron and his backbone.

“I think Georgie here is holding back from us, my friends.” Lee rocked back into his chair, a disgustingly pompous grin pasted on his face. “Why, only yesterday I ran into Alicia down at the Leaky Cauldron, and she just happened to mention that Johnson hasn’t been coming back to their flat on the weekends.” He addressed his next question to George. “Do you have any idea why that may be? And be honest – Merlin knows we’ve only been waiting since bloody sixth year to hear these details.”

“Oh – her sister Brianne is back from her apprenticeship thing in France, so Ang has been going home on the weekends to visit with her.”

Lee’s face fell like one of Hagrid’s rock cakes.

It was blatantly obvious what he wanted to hear, and so George purposefully didn’t give it to him. In truth, his response hadn’t been a lie – she really had been going home on weekends to spend time with her family. He had just casually left out the bit where Angelina also hadn’t been returning to her flat on Tuesdays – she never has to be at the office until mid-morning on Wednesdays – because she’d spent the night tucked into his chest.

“You two defy logic.” Lee sombrely shook his head before snapping his attention back to the two cards in his hand. “Now, onto more productive things, I’ll start the betting off with two Sickles.”

~::~

The sky outside the front windows of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes was the image of a prototypical summer day: Overcast with the promise of more rain.

In true Diagon Alley fashion, the mid-July hustle and bustle had prevailed, unfazed by the weather. Armed with umbrellas, Wellingtons, and an unafraid spirit, parades of N.E.W.T.-level students flaunting their newfound Apparition privileges and young witches and wizards dragging their parents in tow had been dripping water across the shop floor since the doors had opened earlier that morning. Bence Jones, the most talented of the three interns George had taken on at the start of the summer, had graciously set aside the trial runs of the promising new Funhouse Photo Developing Solution for the day in favour of sales floor upkeep. Glancing around the lime green display of Indestructible Bubbles, George saw that the rotund intern was still making his way up and down the aisles, wielding a Siphoning Charm and mop.

From the other side of the shop, the sound of Verity’s faltering tolerance carried through shelves packed with enough merchandise – or contraband, depending on who you asked – to cause Hogwarts’s newly-retired caretaker, Argus Filch, anxiety, even in the peace and quiet of his rumoured seaside estate. George knew that his assistant had done her best to remain patient with Mindy Pinkerton, another of the new interns, but patience wasn’t a virtue that came easily to Verity.

“No, Mindy, I’ve told you about a dozen times already. We are not rearranging the shelving chromatically. All the pink in this bloody section is bad enough; I don’t want to see rainbows in my sleep as well,” Verity said, through what sounded like clenched teeth.

“But rainbows are so cute and happy! How can you not want to see rainbows in your sleep? Personally, I use this clever little charm every night, and if you just –”

George pressed his face into his palm, imagining the intern’s annoyingly keen face – Verity’s faltering tolerance was justified.

For every bit as talented as Bence was, Mindy was equally as frustrating. Though she expressed a specific interest in the Wonder Witch line during her interview, she had still not made an attempt to do any sort of product testing, and instead had taken to following Verity around all day, talking her ear off. If it wasn’t for the girl’s ability to sell a copious amount of the bright pink products to nearly every customer – male or female – who walked through the shop doors, George would have had to excuse her from the internship weeks ago. As she in fact was a walking, talking, marketing aberration, the line’s sales were up nearly ninety percent and so George had finally decided to shunt her research-and-development off to Quincy Lawrie, the shop’s third, nearly invisible intern.

“Maybe you should follow Bence’s example and work on keeping the floors dry, instead of following me around. We don’t need some tyke with wet trainers slipping and falling. Besides, I already have a shadow – I was born with it.”

From the opposite end of the shop, he couldn’t see Verity’s face, but George was certain it looked about as pleasant as a basilisk.

Though he had initially been reluctant about expanding the staff, he couldn’t imagine keeping up with the continually increasing sales and customer demand with only Ron, Verity, and himself. Even with Mindy’s faults, she, Bence, and Quincy had helped the shop to not only keep up, but begin to once again develop, test, and put new products to sale. George loved interacting with his customers, but there was something about having the time to tinker over a cauldron that took him back to the days of hiding out with Fred and their tiny pewter cauldrons in cramped, abandoned classrooms.

A familiar tickle crawled up the back of his throat.

Only a few months ago, he would have swallowed it back and cursed himself for it. Today, he inhaled slowly before checking his pocket watch and glancing out the store front window. He wasn’t sure when the idea had occurred to him, but he’d come to associate the tickle with Fred’s presence – it reminded him that his twin was still here, a part of the shop and a part of him.

He blinked and cleared his throat. The sky beyond the glass pane was still grey, and large raindrops still pattered against the pavement. He certainly hoped that Mr Zonko had thought to bring an umbrella with him.

George had finally picked up the peculiar man’s business card a few days after the memorial service, and had written him to arrange a meeting. According to his assistant, Marlow – who was, in fact, a giant blue and red macaw – Mr Zonko was travelling the Alps, and would contact him upon his return. Not untrue to his word, a long scroll covered with elegant purple ink detailing every moment of his trip, and a request to meet today, had arrived via a large bird of paradise only yesterday.

“Mr Weasley?” Verity’s voice stole through his thoughts, and he turned away from the window. “Mr Zonko is here. He, erm – well, he let himself in the back door, and is waiting for you in your office. And just so you know, he has a tail, which Mindy didn’t hesitate to point out to him.”

“Sort of like when she told me that I only have one ear? She’s sharp as a tack, that one. Can’t get anything by her.”

Mr Zonko was indeed waiting for him in his office, perched on a giant, lavender-coloured pouf that he must have conjured for himself, and he did most certainly have a tail. It was a bit fuller and much brighter than it had been when George first met him in Hogsmeade. As George entered the room, the lithe blonde man sprung to his feet, hand extended in greeting and mouth chattering at the speed of spellwork.

“Hello, hello, hello, my friend – if I may call you my friend. I trust you received my letter, but surely you must have, or else you’d be asking why on earth I’m sitting in your office. Such a splendid office it is, too, I must say! The purple is particularly ravishing.”

George managed to blink once before Mr Zonko, crossing his legs and leaning forward, barrelled on with his elocution.

“Now, you must certainly be wondering why I sought you out – and let me tell you, you weren’t an easy man to track down. Marlow, the dedicated assistant she is, spent many a night perched outside your window. Unfortunately, she’s rather frightened of the dark, and the night is really rather dark – poor thing.”

If this were anybody else, George was certain he’d feel very uncomfortable, standing in his office doorway, being told he’d been followed by a talking macaw for the better part of a year. But there was something about Mr Zonko that filled him with an amused sort of ease. That something identified him as a sort of kindred spirit – the love of fun and laughter and mischief twinkled just beyond the surface of the man’s grey eyes.

“But persevered we most certainly did. I was just tickled chartreuse – pink is such an overused colour, don’t you think? – when I finally spied you in Hogsmeade. You see, my dear uncle – rest his soul – was not so different from you: Intelligent and creative, driven with a natural sort of ease that makes children toss away their parents’ hard-earned Galleons and Sickles for the latest gizmo or gadget. You, my lad, are an exceptional entrepreneur – such a strange people, the French – but silly-sounding word and alliteration aside, I very much admire your eye for business.”

To George’s great surprise, an extended silence followed as the eccentric man stared at him over the tip of his enormously long nose. Was he supposed to finally say something?

“Erm,” he said, faltering for words, “thank you?”

Though it still amazed him, his favourite childhood shop was one of many Hogsmeade locations that had still not bounced back from the war, and George was suddenly suspicious of his kindred spirit’s intentions. Fred had always dreamed of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes competing with Zonko’s Joke Shop – slowly winning the loyalty of its clientele and overtaking its place in every young mischief maker’s vocabulary – and it had. George had known so even before June’s quarterly numbers had come out, but he had a hard time revelling in such a circumstantial victory.

The war had side-lined far more than just a few businesses.

“I don’t want to rush you,” George said slowly, trying to predict the multitude of angles this conversation could go – anything was possible when dealing with such an eccentric character, “especially since you’ve been nothing but complimentary, but what is this meeting really about? I’m sure you and your parro – er, assistant, didn’t follow me for months just to tell me you appreciate my business sense. ”

“Oh, most certainly not,” the man exclaimed in his staccato manner of speaking, practically leaping to his feet. “That’d just be preposterous. I, my good sir, did a lot of thinking while meandering through the Alps – the yeti are a delightful population of creatures, make the best tripe stew I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting – and I have a little offer for you.”

Mr Garfield Zonko of the Zonko’s Joke Shop had an offer for him.

George took the three steps separating him from his desk and dropped down into his cushy chair, steepling his fingers in his best attempt not to look like a giddy child playing businessman. Clearing his throat, he was relieved when his voice came out nice and level.

“An offer, you say? Well, let’s hear it.”

~::~

Rubbing his eyes, George yawned and slid his chair closer to his desk.

The normal buzz of excitable customers, the ringing chime of the till, and the amiable banter of his employees had long since faded into the comfortable sort of silence that now filled his office. Quincy and Mindy had bid their farewells, followed soon after by Bence, who nearly always hung back to help Verity count stock. Even Verity had called it quits on her list of duties and had poked her head in to wish him a good night.

Outside of his bright purple walls, nighttime had definitively fallen over Number 93 Diagon Alley.

While he wasn’t the sort of shop owner who dumped unfinished work on his employees so he could leave on time – they were a team, after all – he also wasn’t the sort who spent more time than was necessary in his office once the day was through. Ever since the addition of the three interns to the staff, he had more or less gotten the end-of-sales paperwork down to an efficient science. That afternoon’s meeting with the particularly talkative Mr Zonko had perfunctorily derailed that efficiency; he had barely managed to usher the man out of the shop with the assurance he’d think over his offer before closing time.

Dipping his quill in the wrought-iron inkwell that Percy had given to him for his birthday, he struck out the last four figures he’d penned. It was late, and his mind was far away from the scroll of parchment on his desk, courting the nearly surreal notion of expanding the Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes name.

His chest swelled at the thought of his purple WWW stamped over the label of Zonko’s products – of the enormous prospect a second location – in Hogsmeade, no less – would be. He forced himself to push down the impulse to send an urgent note accepting Mr Zonko’s more-than-generous offer with Oddie right then and there. If accepted, this deal would be an enormous acquisition. George knew better than to rush into it without first combing over the fine print and considering every implication.

His hesitancy always was the perfect complement to Fred’s brashness.

Dropping his quill tip to the parchment, he forced himself to focus on the scroll of numbers in front of him. Only three calculations and he’d finally be free from work for the evening. Idly, he wondered if Angelina was upstairs waiting for him – sharing dinner after they both finished at work had become an intimate, nightly habit.

“You know if you stare at that any harder your eyeballs may fall out, right?”

George jumped, knocking over his inkwell as a wide grin spread across his face. He barely noticed the thick black ink slowly spreading across his desktop; his attention was trained on the doorway, where Angelina stood, still dressed in her work robes. He did notice the way that a few of her braids had escaped from behind her ear and hung down between the open top buttons of her robe. His heart thudded against his ribcage.

Suddenly, the air in the office felt too thin and too hot, and he found himself tugging at the collar of his own robe.

“I was upstairs waiting for you, but it got so late I figured I should come down and make sure you hadn’t drowned in one of your potions or been held hostage by a rogue Whizbang or something.” Her smile was playful as she sauntered over to the desk, siphoning up the spilled ink with her wand before leaning against it. “Long day, huh?”

“Seems that way,” George said, wishing his mouth didn’t feel quite so dry, “I’m sorry, Ang. I had that meeting with Zonko today, and Merlin, that man can talk. I didn’t even realize how late it’d gotten.”
He struggled to maintain his composure as the scent of her perfume – cinnamon and pears – seemed determined to pull him away from his figures and calculations ¬– and rational thought, for that matter. “I just have to –”

And then her mouth was on his, hungry and insistent.

George’s words were lost somewhere in the humming static that filled his brain. His heart rate hitched, battling to perfuse his body as it screamed for oxygen. He scarcely noticed that he had begun rising up out of his chair, closing the distance between Angelina and himself, until he felt her hand on the centre of his chest.

She pushed him back down and, smiling against his lips, sat back against the desk. The end-of-sales paperwork sat forgotten somewhere beneath her hips.

“What’re you smiling at?”

He was suddenly acutely aware of the lopsided excuse for a smile that had had taken up residence on his face as he watched her breathing slow to a normal depth. “Oh, just the other beautiful woman sitting on my desk – definitely not you.”

“Ha ha.” She crossed her ankle over her knee and her foot bounced, grazing the side of his thigh. “Well, tell this other woman that I’m not too keen on sharing you.”

“Angelina,” George blurted out, “what would you say about us opening a second location in Hogsmeade – prime real estate? Mr Zonko… Merlin knows the man is crazier than Lockhart, but he made this offer today, and, well – he’s offering me his premises there.”

“What do you mean, us? It’s your business. Your decision.”

Her head tipped to the side, and he could almost see the cogs whirring behind her eyes – women and their bloody astuteness.

“Oh. Erm,” he said, backpedalling like a Muggle cyclist before flipping on the brakes and inhaling. “I meant us – you and me. I know you always say that we’re just taking this one day at a time, but as far as I’m concerned, we’re in this together, in a way.” He didn’t give her time to respond before continuing. “Besides, you’d have to be dense not to know that your opinion matters to me.”

Whether or not she had truly heard him, he couldn't tell.

“So you’re really opening a second location? George, that’s bloody brilliant.”

“Well, I still have to read through the deal – make sure it’s all kosher, but” – he strove to keep his words those of a professional, even though he knew his face looked like a small child’s on Christmas morning – “it’s a very real possibility. I almost can’t believe it. This literally – well, not literally – but this practically fell into my lap.”

Her eyes were staring into his, the whirling cogs replaced by a look he knew to be pride, and he was helpless to look away. She brought her hands up to either side of his jaw and pulled him towards her, pressing a light kiss to his lips.

His lips parted even as she broke the away.

“I’m so proud of you,” she said against his cheek, her forehead resting against his.

“Do you remember the first time I showed you this shop?” Tipping his head, he nuzzled the side of her jaw and supressed a grin as he felt a shiver run through her.

“Of course I do.” She dropped her ear to her shoulder, exposing the long lines of neck. “I was a bloody idiot. We could have –”

Her words fell off as George trailed kisses down the length of her neck to her collarbone. The urge to throw what little patience he had to the wind danced beneath his skin. Lifting his face, he looked into her dark eyes. “We have this now, and I’m happy with it – with you.”

This time it was his mouth that crashed onto hers, just as hungry and insistent as hers had been. Sliding his hands behind her, he slid her off the edge of the desk into his lap.

What he said had been true: He was perfectly happy with what he and Angelina had together. She had a funny way of completing him, buoying him up just enough when he struggled to keep his head above water that he still was forced to keep kicking his feet so as not to drown. She had not, and would not, let him give up. He felt at ease with her, comfortable and safe and whole – a novel feeling since Fred’s death.

It was all of these far-from-simple truths that he willed into his every touch and caress as they made their way up the stairs to his flat – dinner long forgotten.

~::~

Author’s Note: And there is chapter 15. I’m sorry for the lag between chapter updates. I’m 9 weeks into this semester of veterinary school and time is a very hard thing to come by. I’d like to thank everyone who nominated and/or voted for With All Things this past Dobby Awards! I was immensely pleased and surprised by how much support this little story garnered. I must credit Gina and William for teaching me about the game of poker and for looking over my first scene – it’d certainly be a mess if it wasn’t for them. As always, a very special thank you to Sarah for her loyalty and enthusiasm, and to Rachel for doing a stupendous job of keeping my occasionally wayward grammar in check, and to you for reading!

I’d love to hear what you think, so if you have a moment please leave a review.

-Beta’d as of 30/10/12-


Chapter 16: Angelina, April 1996
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Angelina, April 1996

Despite the beams of bright, early morning light punctuating the soft, golden glow of the library, Angelina still found her eyelids growing heavy and her mind gliding away from the enormous potions book open on the table in front of her. Stifling a yawn, she wiggled in her seat and sat up just straight enough that if she did slip off to sleep, the resulting crick in her neck would surely wake her up straight away.

N.E.W.Ts weren’t until June, but she already felt like she’d stepped off a curb and been hit by the Knight bus.

Her daily Quidditch practices, courses and assignments would have been more than enough to fill her schedule without the additional time she had to devote to practicing defensive spells for the DA and revising for what Lora consistently reminded her were only the most important examinations they’d ever have to sit. Sleep had fast become a luxury rather than a necessity and it was beginning to take its toll. One by one, the seventh years were beginning to crack, for if it wasn’t Quidditch and DA meetings it was the Gobstones and Book Club or Chess Team and Prefecting. Only that morning at breakfast, surrounded by other bleary eyed fifth and seventh year students, Angelina watched as Libby McNulty’s friend and fellow Ravenclaw, Indira Sha, broke down into her bowl of porridge and had to be escorted from the Great Hall by Madam Pomfrey.

Rumour had it the matron had devoted a section of the hospital wing to the N.E.W.T level students nursing colourful bottles of calming draught.

Of course, rumour also had it – if one cared to listen – that every seventh year would reach their breaking point before they took the exams. Angelina rather preferred to keep her ear out of the gossip stream. Every Hogwarts graduate in recent history, the source of most of the pre-test rumour mill, had managed to sit through their examinations, and so she would too.

Sliding the yellowed text to the edge of the table, she began reading the same paragraph for the third time. Apparently something about the sentence – “Simmered, but never boiled, Asphodel contains the inherent physio-active properties to incite the magical conversion of what-is-not to what-is when combined with compounds high in denatured keratin as long as both are present in quantities greater than five knarl-portioned scoops.” – had the inherently magical effect of inciting blank-mind syndrome in her. What even was a knarl-portioned scoop? Hoping that a change in topic may help her clear her mind, she flipped away from asphodel to the next yellow flag sticking out from the book’s fourteen hundred or so odd pages.

She’d always found Dittany to be one of the least boring potions ingredients, and hoped it would help her mind to focus.

A quick glance around the library assured her that everyone else was in fact busy revising, or at least making a better show of it than she was, and so she turned her attention fully towards the new chapter opened in front of her. When finally the third page flipped over, she decided that she deserved a reward. Tapping her wand against the pages, the automated Page-Turning Charm – handy for reading in chilly, stone castles when you wanted to keep your hands buried in the sleeves of your robes – ceased, and she began to count the number of pages remaining in the chapter. She had made it to fifteen when a slip of parchment slid out onto the table top.

To anybody else, the parchment would have appeared to be the game of consequences, scribbled by two bored students trapped in the library when they’d rather be elsewhere – which it more or less was, but Angelina knew better. She recognized the page it slid out of – Harmful Outcomes Associated with Dittany – and the shocking shade of neon green ink that made up the more ridiculous half of the figures’ heads, limbs and bowties on the page.

This was the game she and George played together when he’d found her in the library shortly after he’d returned from the Christmas Holiday.

She quickly squashed down the sad sort feeling that had closed over her throat. There was no use in wallowing over spilt potions – though she was certain whoever came up with that phrase had never had never been taught by Professor Snape – especially when it was her bloody fault.

George had sought her out after hearing from Lora that she was in the library trying to finish her essay on Animagi that she hadn’t worked on over the holiday. He’d apologized for not meeting her in the empty classroom as they’d planned; assured her when she asked that his dad was home from St. Mungo’s and doing well; revealed a bit more to her than he intended about his family’s very strong anti-You-Know-Who stance; and asked the question she was too cowardly to answer honestly: What was it that she had wanted to tell him? His eyes had looked soft and curious, and the faint smattering of freckles across his cheekbones had been more visible than usual in the warm lighting of the library’s candelabras. Her heart had swelled up, pushing almost painfully against her ribs at the thought of finally telling him – telling him that she fancied him and that spending time with him caused Flutterby bushes to sprout up in her stomach – but she didn’t. Instead, she’d just laughed – it sounded forced and hollow in her memory – and rambled out some nonsense about wanting to thank him for being such a good friend and wanting to wish him a happy holidays. His face hadn’t given much away, but his eyes dropped for a fraction of a second before he grinned and pulled out a scrap of parchment from his school bag, drawing a silly-looking pear shaped head in a shocking shade of neon green.

Neither of them had brought either the meeting that never happened or their conversation in the library up again, and so they both had continued on in their seemingly-effortless pattern of friendship. It was April now though, and soon they would be leaving Hogwarts for the real world outside of the fanciful stone walls where everybody you wished to see was nestled in the next four poster or tucked away amidst the clutter of the boys’ dormitory. Come summertime, they’d all have jobs and responsibilities and wouldn’t have the luxury of group dinners, gossip sessions by the fire, or midnight jaunts to the kitchen.

Angelina wiped away a tear that had trickled down her cheek, suddenly feeling very childish especially considering she’d spend the better part of the last seven years counting down the time until she finished her seventh year. Blinking, she forced her eyes to remember what they had been reading only moments earlier.

“If your face is any indication of how good that book is, I’m even more glad than usual that I dropped potions.”

Her head snapped up as George slid into the seat across the table from her. His hair was still messed from sleep, and he clutched a crust of toast from the Great Hall in his hand. Without meaning to, she felt the corners of her mouth rise into the bright smile that she unintentionally seemed to reserve for him.

“Ah, that’s a better look for you.” He grinned and popped the last of his breakfast into his mouth.

“You should be glad you dropped potions – I swear these revisions are going to kill me. I’ve been here since a little past seven and haven’t even gotten through one entry from the major ingredients list.”

“How many are on the list?” he said through a mouthful of toast.

“About a hundred – major is used rather loosely.” Angelina felt her eyes lingering on his face for too long, and so dropped her gaze back down to the book.

“Ouch.”

The words on the page blurred in her flustered attempt to look as though she were actually reading. This was ridiculous. He was her friend – she should be able to maintain her composure and look at him while they shared a conversation. Glancing back up, his eyes caught hers and whatever she was about to say flitted out of her head like a dream just before waking.

“So,” she said slowly, searching for her words, “what brings you to the library this early? Is the apocalypse upon us?”

“Good guess, but no.”

This time it was George who dropped his eyes from her face. As she watched him, he seemed to play around with the words in his mouth before opening it to speak.

“I actually wanted to see if you would maybe want to meet me in front of the statue of Gunhilda of Gorsemoor at eleven tonight? I um… well, there’s something I’d like to show you and tonight seems as good a night as any.” His brows rose to somewhere beneath his fringe, and he looked eagerly across the table at her.

“The one-eyed witch?” Angelina had been friends with the twins long enough to know that his selection of that particular statue was likely not coincidental. She racked her mind for any significance she could associate with the nearly blind hag. “Isn’t she the one that guards the –”

“Ah, mum’s the word, lo –” George nearly leaped out of his seat, his hand flying through his fringe, flattening it to his forehead. “Lo….ok – yes, look. Can I look for you at eleven?”

She considered his strange demeanour for a minute – one could never play it too safe around either of the Weasley twins when there was suspicious behaviour afoot, but this was George and something about his antics seemed rather endearing.

“Eleven o’clock by the one eyed witch – I’ll be there.”

“Good. Now I need to get out of this library before I come down with something and feel obligated to open a book or something equally horrifying – that’s when you’ll know the apocalypse is imminent.” He stood up, stretched, and as he walked away, called over his shoulder, “so if I don’t see you between now and then, I’ll see you tonight.”

It was a statement, but his voice lilted up at the end as though it were a question. As he disappeared amidst the shelves of books, Angelina couldn’t stop her mind from wondering what it was that he wanted to show her.

~::~

Though she saw George sitting at dinner with Fred and Lee, he made no allusion to their late night plans or to their meeting in the library earlier that morning, and the meal concluded with a suggestion by Fred that they all go down to the lake to relax with a few butterbeers and celebrate a productive day of revising, pretending to revise, or successfully avoiding revising all together. To Angelina’s surprise, even Lora had agreed to take an hour break from the intensive schedule that she had drawn up for herself and joined their procession across the grounds.

Now, Settled against a conveniently-placed hunk of stone and filled with the sugary warmth she associated with drinking too much butterbeer too quickly, Angelina surveyed the small group sitting in the foreground of the sinking spring sunshine. Lee was gazing out over the swatch of orange light reflecting off the surface of the water, a rare thoughtful look rested on his face. George and Fred were balanced on a decaying log, taking turns skipping small pebbles out into the lake to see who could get his the farthest. Alicia was laid back with her hands folded behind her head and her eyes closed – her breathing was so slow that she could very well have been sleeping. Lora sat plucking the sparse blades of grass from the rocky soil, periodically checking the thin, silver watch that Michael the Muggle had given her for her birthday. Nothing much had been said, but the quiet was a warm and comfortable one.

“So,” Lee said, breaking the silence, “do you ever wonder how many more evenings like this we have here?” He leaned back onto his elbows and took a long sip from his bottle of butterbeer.

“Bloody Merlin, Lee, why don’t you try to be a bit more depressing? I don’t think you managed to completely kill the mood just yet.” Alicia sat up and clapped her hands towards Fred, who was stationed closest to the wooden crate George and Lee had nicked from Hogsmeade sometime before dinner. Reaching into it, he tossed her a brown glass bottle which she caught with an ease that had earned her a spot as a Gryffindor chaser five years ago.

“It is sort of strange to think about – before much longer, we won’t all be together all the time.”

“Oh for the love of Merlin, Ang, not you too. You all need an attitude readjustment.” Alicia scooted over to make room for Fred, who plopped down beside her. “I should have just spent the evening with bloody Dustan.”

“Well, there’ll be no need to miss me, Angelina,” Fred said. “You lot won’t be getting rid of me any time soon. Why, you never know when George and I may pop in for a visit. Boxing Day, New Years, May Day – when else, George?” he shouted to where his twin still stood on the edge of the water.

“The Vernal Equinox –”

“Oh, good one. Goblin Rights Appreciation day –”

“Days that start with the letter T–”

“Heck, with as big of a disappointment as we are, with only three potential N.E.W.Ts apiece and lack of aspiration for anything practical, we may just end up living on your sofa.”

“Or in a broom closet –”

“Under a bridge –”

Angelina rolled her eyes, but couldn’t keep a smile from creeping over her face. Only they could make light of an unknown as huge as the future.

“Not to interrupt this very eloquent list of places to live when we’re broke, unemployed and homeless,” Lee said in an upbeat voice, “but does anyone else think that Alicia should just man-up and lose Dustan already if spending time with him is such a chore?”

“Oh, is that what you think, Lee? Tell me, how’s Libby doing?” The brunette’s voice was sharp.

“I wish I had the option of spending the evening with Michael whenever I wanted.” Lora smoothed down the front of her robes in what Angelina suspected to be an attempt to hide the sadness in her face – she and Michael the Muggle had had a rough go of it over the past few months, and Angelina knew she was very much looking forward to being able to spend more time with him.

“You just don’t understand, Lee.” Alicia was not prepared to let his comment go. “Dustan is so tedious – he picks everything I say apart and corrects my grammar and always wants to understand the deep meaning of life. I swear for every one good thing about him there are ten things that drive me bonkers.”

“So why are you still with him?” George asked as he finally joined the group, creating a seat for himself in the small space between Angelina and Lora.

“Eh, I’m sure you know how it is. You get comfortable with how things are – be it a friendship that could be more or a relationship that isn’t the best – because it’s safe and you know where the boundaries are, but that doesn’t make it right or best.” Alicia finished her butterbeer and added the bottle to its growing pile of its comrades. “Besides,” she added with a sly grin, “Dustan’s a really good shag.”

An exclamation of surprise and distaste, undoubtedly from Lora, filled the air and was quickly followed by the shrill sound of playful bickering, but Angelina’s focus was hung up on Alicia’s words. Her friends had dropped their campaign to get her and George together after the Christmas holiday – conceding to Angelina’s insistence that she was content with her friendship with the twin – and while was certain that Alicia hadn’t meant to direct her philosophical monologue towards her, the brunette’s words felt heavily applicable. Angelina’s friendship with George was comfortable and safe – but was it right? For the second time that day, the memory of the conversation with George in the library and her less than truthful response to his question rushed back to her.

“I shouldn’t even have come out here with all of you.”

The abrupt change in the tone of Lora’s voice triggered Angelina’s return to the conversation. The blonde was no longer playfully sparring with Alicia – she was upset.

“I should be studying or writing Michael since I’ve not had time to owl him in almost two weeks because I’ve been busy trying to assure that I’ll pass my N.E.W.Ts – that position in the Department of International Relations I applied for, they want six. Six, can you believe it? I’m only taking six courses, but God knows I better pass them all if I want a career. Never mind the fact that I may lose my boyfriend over it all. God, I should just apply for a position at a Muggle sandwich shop – of course I may not be qualified for that either.”

“Lora, don’t be ridiculous. Michael is crazy about you – he’d have to be to put up with owls and wands and magic, trust me.” Angelina reached over George’s lap to squeeze her friend’s hand.

“And besides,” Lee said, “not everyone can have the luxury of having to beat off job offers with a stick.”

“Wait, how many offers have you gotten?” Alicia eyed him suspiciously.

“Oh, hundreds, at least” – he nodded, grinning devilishly – “in my dreams.”

“Has anyone gotten any offers?”

Almost in unison, each of their heads shook.

“I applied for a job flying with that Quidditch editorial, Across the Pitch,” Angelina said at last, “but more out of curiosity than anything. I’m hardly qualified to be a journalist – I just thought it’d be fun to be able to fly and watch the games.”

“I’ve put my application out there – just waiting to hear something I suppose,” Lee said, shrugging his shoulders.

“Well, I just refuse to start applications until I leave this place – I’ll be forced to be an adult soon enough, I don’t need to rush into it.” Alicia nodded perfunctorily.

“Ooh. Are we talking about the job search?” The shrill voice of Libby McNulty rang through the evening air as she skipped over from the path leading up to the castle.

Angelina watched in amusement as the closer the Ravenclaw came to their circle, the more Lee looked as though he wished Disapparating from the school grounds was possible, and the more pretentious Alicia’s smile became.

Unfazed by the collective lack of response, Libby continued speaking. “I personally have had more offers than I can count, but of course I’ve been told that anybody would be foolish not to hire me. I’m just such an asset to have on staff – people say it’s because of my big heart. Literally, ask any healer at St Mungos – they all know me by name. My heart is actually almost twice the size it’s supposed to be. It’s practically a miracle I’m still alive.”

“You have no idea.” Lee muttered under his breath.

“So have you accepted any of your job offers, then?” Lora asked in an attempt to maintain some semblance of a conversation.

“Well, I’m still waiting to see where my little Lee-Lee ends up working. I’ve already told him – I am amazing enough to get a job anywhere, so I’ll follow him where ever he has to go to find a job.” She turned towards Lee, who seemed to have forgotten that butterbeer was meant to go down the oesophagus and not the trachea, and batted her eyes.

“Aw, isn’t that sweet.” Fred stood up and crossed over to Lee, patting him on the back. “She’s going to follow her Lee-Lee to the ends of the earth and back.”

“Please,” Lee croaked between sputtering coughs, “just let me choke.”

“See,” Libby said as she settled down into their circle and helped herself to a butterbeer, “isn’t he just the sweetest?”

No matter how irritating Libby could be, she never failed to provide a good laugh, and Angelina knew that the laughter that rolled out from the group of seventh years gathered on the shore of the lake carried away with it a bit of the frustration and melancholy that had been simmering inside each of them.

~::~

George was leaning against the statue of Gunhilda of Gorsemoor’s humped shoulder when Angelina arrived, jumpy and out of breath from her past-curfew trek through the castle.

“I was beginning to think I was going to have to take Gunny here with me tonight.” He gestured to the grotesque stone carving behind him, smiling.

“Ah, I’m sorry I’m late – first Filch was, and then Mrs Norris, and then – what?” She pursed her lips as George brought his hand up to his mouth to hide his laughter. “I can’t help it that I’m not very good at this sneaking around thing – it’s not a skill I’ve worked to perfect. So, if you’d prefer her company, feel free to take, erm, Gunny with you and I’ll just head back to the dorms and sleep like a normal person.”

“Well I would, but seeing as she’s made of stone and immobile, I guess I’ll just have to settle for you.” He pushed himself up and away from the statue and extended his hand to her. “You ready?”

Placing her hand in his, Angelina worried that her heart might leap of her mouth if she exhaled too hard and so she held her breath until her head felt woozy and she had to let it out. She really needed to regain her wits – she’d done an excellent job at maintaining a casual friendship with George since her decisive, post-Christmas white lie, but then again, she hadn’t made a habit of grabbing his hand in dark, abandoned corridors since then. Eager to get moving, to get out of the corridor, or to have something to think about besides the warmth of his hand over hers, she nodded in agreement.

Squeezing her hand, George turned to the one-eyed witch and, tapping the stone socket where her second eye should have been with his wand, whispered, “Dissendium.”

A passage that looked very much like a slide into complete darkness opened up where the stone witch’s hump had been. George helped her step up to it, and with an adventurous gleam in his eyes that left her a touch breathless, gave her a light shove.

Angelina squeezed her eyes shut as she rushed down the slide, only cracking one when she came to an abrupt stop on what felt like a dirt floor. Cautiously, she opened both eyes fully and, retrieving her wand from her pocket, cast lumos just in time to see George tumble from the slide onto the ground. Supressing a giggle, she looked around. They were in a very tight, ancient underpass dug through the rock and soil hundreds of feet below the castle.

“Where are we?” She whispered as though use of her full voice might cause the dirt tunnel to collapse on them. “Is this one of those secret passages to Hogsmeade that you and Fred always use?”

“It is,” he said placing his hand in the middle of her back, “but Hogsmeade isn’t our final destination tonight.”

Angelina looked at him questioningly as a tingling warmth radiated out from his hand’s touch on her back. No matter how many times she told herself that he was just her friend and reminded her heart that anything more would be undoubtedly messy, her body wanted proof to the contrary.

“We just needed to be outside the castle’s apparition wards.” Turning her to face him, his smile widened. “You trust me, right?”

In the cramped space of the passageway, only a dozen or so centimetres separated their bodies from one another. She wondered if he could feel the charged sort of heat that occupied the sliver of space between them, if the current of electricity that ran from his hand still placed in the centre of her spine ran both ways. Looking up at his face she began to answer him when her eyes locked onto his and, afraid of what she may do if she opened her mouth, she clamped it shut and nodded.

“I don’t know why,” he chuckled, “but I’m glad. Now, shut your eyes and hold on.”

Without question, she did as he said. George’s arms snaked around her, and then they were spinning through a peculiar vacuum. Angelina had been legally allowed to Apparate for well over a year, but she still had not grown used to the feeling of squeezing through the laws of nature as if they were a jelly mould.

Just as quickly as the spinning began, the earth stilled and she felt her feet hit some sort of solid surface. Her knees buckled and she staggered from George’s arms until she regained her sense of balance. Opening her eyes, her head swivelled taking in her surroundings.

She stood in the middle of a large, open room. The bit of lighting, perhaps from a lamp post, that filtered in through a large pane of glass was just enough to make out the multitude of empty wooden shelves that lined the walls. Turning a circle around the room, she ran her fingers through the thick layer of dust that lay along the shelves. Practically every exposed surface was coated in it, even the floorboards. She almost felt badly for the trail of prints her feet had left behind – everything was so untouched that she felt a bit like an intruder.

“So” – Angelina jumped at the sound of her voice and lowered her volume as it echoed back to her – “where exactly are we? You really take sneaking out of the castle to a new level – we could be in so much trouble.”

“Eh, relax. I make it a habit not to get caught. But this,” he said, the tone of his voice softening as he gazed around the space, “this is Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes – me and Fred’s shop. We signed the lease and everything – this, it’s all ours. Ang, I’m actually a joke shop owner.”

“George,” she said when at last she found her voice, “that’s brilliant – congratulations.” A new appreciation for every speck of dust in the place filled her and she felt her heart swell with pride. “Why didn’t you say anything today when we were talking about jobs and such? I’m sure everyone would have been thrilled to hear about this. Merlin, now all you have to do is take your N.E.W.Ts and you’re all set.”

“Well, about that –” His voice trailed off.

“What is it?”

“Ang, that’s partly why I asked you to come here with me. I mean, of course I wanted to show you the shop, but I wanted to talk to you, too. “

There was something very grown-up and serious in his tone that Angelina considered as she watched him pull his wand out of his robe pocket and clear the dust from a patch of floor. He lowered himself down to, leaning forward on his bent knees.

“Sit with me?” He glanced up at her.

She nodded sat down beside him, just close enough that her shoulder grazed his. She wasn’t sure where this conversation was going to go, and the possibilities ate at her nerves. “So, what are we talking about?”

“Well, I wanted you to hear this from me, and not Fred – though he knows that I’d curse him in his sleep if he told you – or Lee – he very well may be the world’s worst secret keeper – but we, Fred and I, we’re not going to finish out the year or sit our N.E.W.Ts.”

Her heart dropped into her stomach as the months and weeks she kept telling herself she had with him vanished.

“I mean, there’s no reason to. We’ve had success with the mail order products and have enough merchandise stocked to fill these shelves, and well, now we have the premises. It’s all ready to go – we’re really doing this, Ang.” The smile on his face was so wide, it made her insides hurt. “Besides, everybody knows we’re not the academic type – you can’t get an N.E.W.T for innovation.”

“When?”

“When, what?”

“When are you planning on leaving?” A touch of desperation coloured her voice.

“Well, you know we can’t leave without a bang, and we’ve still got a few kinks to work out in order for that to happen – but I’d imagine before the end of the month.”

Before the end of the month.

Acting was not reality, and while she had played the part of the content friend superbly, sitting there beside him with such a looming deadline brought reality crashing down around her. She had liked him for the past year and a half, and now he was leaving. Angelina inhaled, forcing herself to remain calm at least on the outside. Inside, a torrent whys and whats raged compressing her chest and burning the backs of her eyes. Why hadn’t she been courageous enough to tell him how he made her feel? What could they have had if she’d not done such an excellent job of compartmentalizing her feelings for him?

The look of concern on his face told her that she was doing a poor job of maintaining her poise.

“You all right?”

She opened her mouth to answer, but didn’t trust her voice not to waver. She had made the decision to play this charade and so would see it through. She couldn’t afford to fall apart now – not here with him. Nodding, she scooted over opening a small space between them.

“Okay. Well, this may seem sort of lame – it probably is – but I have something for you.” He handed her a small, irregular shaped parcel wrapped in yellowed page from an edition of The Daily Prophet dated 13 December. “I meant to give it to you that night we were supposed to meet and talk, but then with everything that happened it got lost in my trunk – I only thought to look for it today, so?”

Angelina freed a small, Snitch-sized chunk of glass from its makeshift wrappings and couldn’t help but gasp. Its surface was smooth and glossy, but it had a depth that seemed to continue on far beyond the limits of its size. Colours and textures moved and shifted within it creating a new palette in rhythm with her breath.

“Oh, George – what is it?” Her voice practically dripped with awe, and she didn’t even care.

“It isn’t anything, really.” He shrugged at her look of surprise. “It came in a bottle of powdered river rock that Fred and I ordered to brew our Patented Day Dream charms. I just thought it was nice, and that you might like it?”

“It’s beautiful, but I – you – I don’t know what to say.”

Finally tearing her eyes away from the hunk of glass, they fluttered up towards George’s face. It was much closer to hers than she remembered it being, and a shiver ran through her as his breath grazed over her cheek. Tentatively, his hand rose and pushed her braids behind her ear as he tipped his head slightly to the side. His eyes trailed from her eyes to her lips, and she felt her eyelids flutter just before his lips grazed over hers ever so gently.

Frozen, all rational thought seemed to sequester itself in some inaccessible nook of her brain as she revelled in the pressure of his lips pressing more firmly to hers, as she allowed him to pull her closer so that her chest moulded against his, and as she savoured the sensation of his tongue running over the outside of her bottom lip. Then, as if he had flipped some ‘on’ switch, she was fervently kissing him in return. Even though her nose felt awkward squashed against his face and she couldn’t quite seem to time her need for oxygen with his, it was a better first kiss than the any of the ones she’d read about in Alicia’s racy romance novels. The feeling of his mouth on hers, the sensation of her heart beating against his slipped over her until the conscious fact that she was actually snogging George Weasley, came slamming into focus.

Pushing against his chest she broke the kiss, shaking her head.

“No, I’m – I just can’t.” Her voice trembled.

A look of confusion and hurt washed over his face as his chest heaved to fill his lungs with air. Brow furrowed, he ran a hand through his fringe flattening it back into place. “I’m sorry, Angelina – I thought, well I, I just thought that erm – Do you fancy me?

The brashness of his question left her more winded than his kisses had, and she found her mouth fumbling over her words.

“No, I mean yes, of course I do – but just, just not like –” The role she’d forced herself to play over the past year tasted bitter on her tongue and sounded harsh to her ears.

“Right, friends.” George blinked and slid back, creating more space between them.

“George, it’s not like that,” she said, placing a hand on his knee that he promptly jerked away from, “it’s just that it’s already April, and even if there was more than a month and some odd weeks left, you just said yourself that you’re not staying until the end of the year. You – you’re going to be running this shop and becoming a household name and I, hell, I could be anywhere – I don’t even know what I’m doing come June. Even if I did fancy you –”

The look of optimism that flashed on his face made her feel sick to her stomach.

“I just think that we’re friends, great friends – we’re good at it. It’s tidy and safe and –”

“Of course,” he cleared his throat, “we do make bloody good friends –can’t argue with that.” She suspected that he meant for the smile on his face to be more convincing, but it just looked sad. “Now, we should see about getting back to the castle. It’s probably late.”

Angelina managed a quick nod, fighting back tears of anger and frustration with herself that threatened to make a bigger fool of her than she already had. She had called the shot – she didn’t deserve to cry. Clutching the bit of glass firmly in her left palm, she stepped slowly into George’s arms and hoped that the crushing pressure of Apparation would help to numb her feelings.

~::~

Back in her dormitory, she finally allowed the tears to come. It was her own fault for overthinking everything and for rationalizing that she knew best, which is what made everything hurt so much. When Alicia slipped beside her and pulled her into a tight hug whispering that everything would be okay, a thought occurred to Angelina that she never thought would.

Perhaps it would be nice to be a part of the real world and to move on from Hogwarts.
 
~::~

Author’s Note: Sorry that was such a depressing chapter! But as George’s chapters continue to get brighter, Angelina’s unfortunately will get a tad darker – balance must be maintained! No, but seriously, change is always something I’ve struggled with. Even small changes (like my characters growing up and leaving Hogwarts – wahh!) makes me restless and sort of inherently sad, so I really tried to channel that feeling into Angelina in this chapter. Anyway, I hope that I did this chapter justice since it’s a bit of a fulcrum for the story as a whole, and I hope that you enjoyed it!

If you would be so kind as to take even a few seconds to leave a review, I’d be very grateful.

And what author’s not would be complete without my list of thank you-s? So a tremendous thank you to Rachel for her infinite patience and zealousness for word races that forced me to open my doc to write this chapter in the first place, to Sarah for being a steadfast source of support and a continual inspiration, and to you the reader for sticking with my story despite my slow updates. 

Anything you recognize is intellectual property of JKR, and specifically inspired by Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  The reference about stepping off the curb and being hit by the Knight bus is a magical translation of a particularly memorable scene from the film Mean Girls. 


Chapter 17: George, September 1999
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George, September 1999

There were many topics in which George had very little interest, but after an entire day seated at a long, polished wooden table listening to legal thrusts and parries about suspiciously worded phrases, he could now say with great certainty that contractual law was one of them.

Now, standing outside on the narrow cobbled street, George inhaled a gulp of stale London air and glanced up at the building he and Percy had just exited from with a tired grin on his face. The grim, grey granite was a rather poor indication of the ornate interior of the office of Shunpike, Shunpike and Associates –the Shunpike men, who didn’t make a living hoisting wayward travellers’ luggage onto the Knight Bus, had a long and successful history in the field of legal representation – where the brothers had spent the better part of their morning. He’d take grim granite and stale air over polished cherry and legal jargon any day.

Thank Merlin that Percy felt differently – the older Weasley had practically leapt on George’s request to accompany him to his meeting with Mr Zonko and his legal team, and had spent the better part of the last three days – according to Audrey – poring over the deal with a fine toothed comb. George still wasn’t sure if she had meant that literally or not, but, assuming that Oddie had delivered it, a basket of fine toothed combs bewitched to temporarily turn the user’s hair into spaghetti noodles was waiting outside his brother’s flat.

Pranks aside, he really did appreciate his brother’s meticulous tendencies.

“So George,” Percy said, patting him on the shoulder, “how does it feel to be the owner of a franchise?”

George’s grin widened as Percy’s voice rang in his ear.

Zonko’s Joke Shop had been one of his and Fred’s favourite childhood locations – they had spent countless hours sitting between the tall dusty shelves trying out each and every product – and now it was all a part of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.

“Surreal?” He laughed, running his hand through his fringe.

“Well, let me at least buy you some lunch, though” – an awkward, I-am-about-to-say-something-only-I-find-funny sort of grin creeped across Percy’s face – “with as much money as you’ll be making, you should probably be the one buying me lunch.”

“Perce, I really appreciate everything you’ve done for me with these negotiations” George fell into step next to him. “I can pay for lunch if you’d like.”

Or buy you a jar of pasta sauce.

“Are you kidding me? I was barely necessary – Mr Zonko practically gave the premises and product line away. I just had to play the part well. After all, I may never have another opportunity to represent somebody in a legal setting. This was practically a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

All the younger Weasley could do was laugh at the way his brother’s chest had puffed out in pride and face had adopted a look of absolute seriousness as he spoke.

No matter how self-important he had made them sound, Percy’s words were true. Mr Zonko really had given it all away. The shop, all the merchandise on the shelves and back stock, and the rights to reproduce all of Zonko’s products were now property of WWW. The only thing George had to put on the table in exchange was a promise to allow the batty Mr Zonko access to tinker in the back of the shop should inspiration arise, a very modest yearly stipend, and a constant diet of macadamia nuts and papaya for Marlow. Even Shunpike Sr. had tried to convince the peculiar man that he could and should try and get more out of the deal, but Mr Zonko wouldn’t hear of it and had insisted that he wanted George to have it all.

Passing out from the shadow of a particularly broad building, Percy opened the latch of a knee-high decorative gate that surrounded a quaint patio. Brightly coloured potted plants dotted the round, glass tables arranged on the cobbles.

“The McNeals make the best chicken salad croissants,” the lanky red head dropped down into a seat with a surety that told George that he was a regular at the café.

“The McNeals? Any relation to Audrey?”

“Oh, yes. This is her parent’s café,” Percy said, pushing his un-needed menu towards George. “We actually met here – she waits tables a few nights a week after her shift at Flourish and Blotts. You know, extra spending money and all.”

“So they’re Mu –”

“Oh, yes. Most definitely. Primary reason Dad hasn’t been given the opportunity to meet them just yet.”

“Fair point,” George said scanning over the menu, “Ang’s dad’s a Muggle, too. I imagine Dad would have a field day with them – you said the chicken salad was good?”

“Very. So, are you and Angelina serious, then?”

George looked up from the menu and across the table at Percy. Growing up, he had never been one to share anything personal with his overly-keen brother, choosing rather to express his fraternal affection with anonymous baskets of dragon dung (or combs) or by tampering with the lanky ginger’s important pins and badges – both of which he still did from time to time. Amusedly he wondered if Percy had noticed the changes on his clearance pass for the Minister’s office. Surely not – the undersecretary would most definitely have mentioned being denied access to the most secure wing of the ministry because his ID badge read “Percy Ignoramus Weatherby, Under-secretory to the Minister of Marbles.”

Truth was, though Percy undoubtedly would always make a perfect target for pranks and jokes, George had found himself growing closer to his straight-browed brother since the latter had pulled his head out of his arse and decided to associate with the family again. Or maybe it was since Fred had died and he no longer had his partner in crime to share everything with – or maybe it was some combination of the two. Whatever the reason, one thing was certain: War did strange things to the dynamic of a family

Case and point, he was about to talk about he and Angelina’s relationship with Percy.

“Well,” George said slowly thinking of the feeling of Angelina nestled in his arms, “I’d like to think we are.”

~::~

Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes’ daily registry of sales, inventory, and figures – sat uncharacteristically incomplete and forgotten on the corner of George’s desk. Leaving his work unattended felt strange, but Verity had sworn up and down that she could handle it. Besides, whenever he did open the second shop for business, he’d have to hand over at least half of the daily paperwork to somebody – he couldn’t be in two places at once, after all.

George turned towards the mirror that hung on the wall nearest the door, and leaned in to examine his teeth. He’d brushed his teeth already, but one could never be too careful – he distinctly remembered having to break the news to Fred after returning from an evening with Hollis that there was large swatch of spinach wedged between his two front teeth from dinner earlier that evening. Smiling, George ran his tongue over his pearly whites and deemed them acceptable.

An amused hoot rang out from the perch in the back corner of the office.

“I don’t know what you think is so funny, Oddie. Rogue spinach is no laughing matter,” George said as he began rifling through a filing cabinet drawer. “Aha. I thought I threw this in here after –” the memorial service his mind finished where his words left off.

Hand closing over a swatch of fabric, he pulled out a neon orange bowtie speckled with purple reindeer and slammed the drawer shut. His hands were fumbling to tie it when he felt the Oddie’s talons land lightly against his shoulder. The little owl hooted and pecked its beak against his cheek.

“Thanks, boy.” George ruffled Oddie’s feathers fondly as he finished adjusting his shirt’s collar. “So,” he said turning back towards the mirror, “how do I look?”

“You look fine – big date?”

He jumped at the sound of Verity’s voice and spun towards her.

“You left that awful neon green jacket of yours by the till. I figured you would want to wear it tonight.” Handing it to him, she sauntered over to the desk and leaned against it.

“Thanks,” George said, running his hand through his fringe. “And yes, it’s a date. It’s Angelina’s birthday. I’m surprising her at the office.” He slipped his arms into his dragon hide jacket. “Are you sure you don’t mind finishing up the paperwork?”

A thin grin slipped across her face, and she shook her head. “Are you crazy? Of course I don’t mind. Get out of here and go surprise your lady.”

George smiled at his assistant, made certain his wand was secure within his pocket, and strode from the office.

The trip to the Ministry was uneventful, but his transit through the visitor’s entrance left the small bouquet of flowers he had picked up from a street vendor looking a little worse for the wear. Tapping his wand against them, he muttered rennervate beneath his breath before entering the first available lift. The only other occupant was a tiny, elderly witch with purple-grey hair that stuck out at odd angles from beneath her pointed hat. George recognized her as one of the ministry employees who had proctored his O.W.L examinations nearly six years ago. He nodded to her politely before turning to face the gate.

“Those are lovely posies, my dear. She must be a very special girl,” the elderly witch said in a wobbling voice as the lift’s voice chimed level seven in a clear smooth tone.

Taken aback by the feel of her shaky hand and long fingernails against his shoulder, George could only smile and nod appreciatively as the gates began closing behind her. It was only when the sound of the gate latching reached his ear, that he realized level seven was his destination. Frantically he pressed the open-door key hoping that his epiphany had come soon enough.

A sigh of relief rushed out of his mouth as the lift’s gears stilled and the gate slid back open.

“Again, Level Seven: Department of Magical Games and –” the lift’s voice quipped.

George didn’t wait to hear the rest of its script. He was fairly certain that Angelina’s cubicle was somewhere amongst the British Quidditch League offices, and so as long as he was able to pick those offices from all the other offices within the department, he should be able to find her with no trouble.

Unfortunately, after what felt like an entire trip through the department, the only section of offices he could assuredly identify was that of the Irish National League – subtle as they were, a twelve foot tall shamrock stood glimmering next to their row of green cubicles. Returning to the front of the department, George slumped against a wall and pulled his pocket watch from his jacket pocket. If he didn’t find her bloody office soon, there was a chance he’d miss her altogether.

“Can I help you, sir?” a rather plump, middle aged woman wearing far too much makeup asked him from a large, reception-type desk. “Of course, you could always walk your sweet bum over this way and give me those flowers.”

George blinked at the woman as a horrible, screeching laugh filled the still office air.

“Oh, I’m just joshing you, son – poor Eunice doesn’t get many opportunities for fun here. No need to look like you’ve just seen You-Know-Who.”

When George didn’t respond, the Eunice woman flicked her wand at a portfolio on her desk. “You’ll be looking for Miss Johnson, if I can wager a guess? A group of her friends had a bunch of balloons delivered for her birthday earlier today – such a sweet girl, she is. But of course you know that, don’t you, stud?”

Rather entertained at the woman’s ability to carry on a full conversation with herself, George didn’t realize she was waiting for an answer until she loudly cleared her throat.

“Oh, yes. She’s the best.”

Eunice mimed wiping a tear from the corner of her eye before opening her mouth once more. “Go straight down this row of offices here and then turn right. Her cubicle is the third on the left,” She said, gleaming at him from behind her desk. “You kids have a good evening – don’t do anything Eunice wouldn’t do.”

George nodded his thanks – concerned that if he spoke, the one-sided conversation might continue – and made his way down the row of offices as per her directions.

As he turned into the third cubicle on the left, a wide smile spread across his face. Angelina sat with her back to him. A thick scroll of parchment was unrolled on the top of her desk and a deep red quill was poised in her left hand. Framed posters of each of the British and Irish League’s thirteen teams hung along the walls. The bunch of balloons that he assumed that Alicia and Lora sent was tied to the back of her chair.

Tiptoeing across the floor, George wrapped his arms around Angelina’s shoulders. He had to stifle a laugh as she jumped out of her chair and spun towards him.

“Nice to see you too,” George said, not bothering to contain his smirk.

“In my defence, I didn’t know it was you,” Angelina huffed.

“You didn’t know it was me?” He tipped his head, handing her the bouquet of flowers. “How many other blokes in this office wrap their arms around you?”

She rolled her eyes, smiling as she clutched the flower to her chest.

“Happy Birthday, Ang.”

“They’re beautiful – thank you.” She withdrew her wand from her robe pocket and conjured a small vase on the corner of her desk. Placing the stems into it, she turned and leaned into George’s chest. “Did you come the whole way here just to give me flowers?”

He pulled her close and pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “Ahh. You see, a little bird told me you’d be getting off of work soon, and I just happen to have a surprise planned for you.”

“Aw, George,” Angelina said pulling out from his arms, “I’m so sorry, but I just made plans with my parents – told them I’d be over for dinner. I should have mentioned it to you, but you can come with me if you’d like. They’d love to finally meet you.” She squeezed both his hands. “I am sorry.”

“You don’t need to be. That sounds perfect.”

~::~

The Johnson home was, as George found, a very inviting, relatively normal house in a lively, Muggle-London neighbourhood.

Knowing that she was anxious to show him the town in which she had grown up, George allowed Angelina to Apparate them into a secluded alcove between two buildings so that they could walk the several blocks through a street market bedecked with coloured awnings, bright against the grey sky, and eclectic stands ripe with plump fruits to her family’s house.

At one such stand, a stooped and lined, elderly woman wearing a head wrap welcomed Angelina home with a warm hug and kiss. She spoke in an accent George couldn’t name and sent them on their way with a basket of end-of-summer mangos and green, prickly fruits that he also couldn’t name. Several metres down the street, Angelina finally answered his curious looks and told him that the woman was Grammy Amelie, a matriarch of the neighbourhood who had run the same fruit stand since Angelina’s dad was very young. Though she was her grandmother in title only, Grammy Amelie had fawned over her since she was a small girl.

Just outside of the Johnson’s front garden, George pulled Angelina into close hug and held her there for a moment.

“What’s this for?” she asked, glancing up at him with a coy smile on her face.

“I’m just glad to be here.” Dropping his arms and following her up the short cobbled path to the door, George couldn’t help but think about how he could see the little bits of the town he’d experienced in her. “Should we go inside?”

Angelina nodded and squeezing his hand, opened the door.

However, before he had a chance to look around and take in the house’s lack of crooked walls, mismatched furniture and overt magic, he was engulfed by the warm smile and firm arms of a witch who very much resembled an older, greying Angelina.

“Happy Birthday, baby girl,” Mrs Johnson said to Angelina over his shoulder even as she was pulling him into the hug, “and it’s so nice to finally meet you –” She stepped back from him and implored her daughter with her eyes.

“For the love of Merlin, Mum, you know his name.” Angelina rolled her eyes and stepped into her mother’s arms.

“That doesn’t mean you don’t need to introduce us, I do believe your father and I raised you better than that,” she scolded, barely keeping her eyes’ teasing smile from her lips.

“Just what did we do, Louise?” a tall, lanky limbed man asked in a voice laced with a hint of Grammy Amelie’s accent. His round stomach protruded over the band of his trousers beneath his store-bought jumper. “And just who may this interestingly dressed individual be? I say, that is quite a unique shade of green.”

George swallowed roughly. He wasn’t able interpret her dad’s facial expression or tone of voice, and it made his hands sweat. Sensing a brigade of impending handshakes, he wiped them on the outside of his jacket.

“Mum, Dad,” Angelina said, glancing between the two of them, “this is the George Weasley I’ve told you about.”

“Mr Weasley’s here?”

“Mum, Mum did you hear that? Auntie Brianne, did you hear that?”

George had barely finished shaking Mr Johnson’s hand when the bright faces of Angelina’s nephews appeared in the doorway, dragging their mum and another woman who George assumed was Brianne, another of Angelina’s sisters who had returned from her fashion internship in France not too long ago.

Angelina laughed and scooped the smallest boy, Elliot, who was much too big to be held, up into her arms before he had a chance to accost George. “The boys are big fans of his work. Valerie and I took them to his shop last year – that’s where they got those clever little disappearing mice. George,” she said crouching down to release the squirming six year old, “you’ve met Valerie. The over-dressed pariah in the doorway is my sister, Brianne.” She offered her sister an innocent smile before standing up to pull her into a hug.

“Mr Weasley, Mr Weasley, Andre said that you didn’t come here to see us.” Elliot stood beside George, tugging at the leg of his trousers. “I told him that wasn’t true. I always know bestest – Auntie Ang finally brought you to play with us.”

“Boys,” Valerie said in a warning tone, “why don’t you go upstairs and wash up? Then wait in the kitchen – Grammy may need some help.”

George watched in amusement the two boys scampered up the stairs pulling and tugging at one another’s jumpers to try and reach the top first. Turning towards him, the oldest sister apologized before pulling Angelina into a hug and wishing her happy birthday.

“Girls,” Mrs Johnson said to her daughters, “if you wouldn’t mind giving me a hand in the kitchen for just a moment? Give the poor boy some room to breathe before he decides not to come back.”

One by one the Johnson women disappeared from the narrow entry hall. Angelina was the last to follow her mum to the kitchen, flashing George an empathetic grin before giggling and disappearing around the corner. He knew that she was probably concerned that he was feeling overwhelmed by all of the new faces he’d shaken hands with and smiled at since he walked through the door only moments earlier. However, he was a Weasley and had grown up in the controlled state of madness that was the Burrow, and so this swarm of faces and buzz of voices left him with a comfortable feeling of belonging.

A blur of movement in his peripheral vision reminded him that her dad was still standing with him. Not sure what the older man thought of him just yet, George smiled and nodded at the older man.

“Come, walk with me, George,” Mr Johnson said, motioning for him to follow him through a doorway. Only when they were seated in two stiff-backed armchairs in the sitting room did he continue. “So, my Angie tells me you’re in the joke business – that you own a shop?

“Erm,” he responded, willing his voice to cooperate, “yes, sir. We actually just finalized the deal to open a second location today. We’re hoping to open for business sometime this spring.”

“And you’re a wizard?”

George had to stop himself from chuckling before opening his mouth to answer. “Yes, sir, I am – Angelina and I were in the same year at Hogwarts, played on the same House Quidditch team.” He was beginning to get the impression that her dad’s questions and hard-to-read facial expressions were more or less good natured despite interview-tone of the conversation.

“Oh, yes. Angie did mention that.” Mr Johnson shifted in his seat and cleared his throat. “You know, Louise – her mother – and I got to see her play a game once. I’m sure they only let me in because of Louise. Not a magical drop of blood in me and here I am in the middle of a house full of witches.” He laughed. “It’s an awfully dangerous game, that Quidditch – is the joke industry very dangerous?”

“Well, I suppose it could be.” George flashed what he hoped was an assuring grin.

“Is that how you lost your ear?”

Whatever he was expecting the older man to ask next, that wasn’t it. George’s hand instinctually rose up to where his missing flap of cartilage should have been. “No, sir. I lost it in a wand fight during the war. They were going to put it back on, but I told them not to bother – that one earful was enough for anyone.”

There was a short pause before Mr Johnson broke out in laughter, slapping his knee with the palm of his hand. “Well, I can tell you – you may come to thank that missing ear someday. The Johnson women are strong willed and only get more so with age.”

“Mr Weasley, Mr Weasley,” an excited voice sang as a small body catapulted over the arm of the chair and into George’s lap, “you have to come see – Andre and me decorated the pudding.”

He wasn’t given a chance to respond before the boy’s hands gripped around two of his fingers and pulled him to the kitchen where Andre was standing licking a bit of chocolate icing from a spatula. The cake sat on top of a small table and more closely resembled a lumpy brown rock than pudding. Three piles of pink sweets that vaguely resembled two eyes and a nose sat on one end of the cake and a singular piece of black liquorice stuck straight up out of the other.

“Boys, you did not interrupt Grandpa and Mr George did you?” Valerie asked from the sink, brandishing a sudsy serving spoon.

“It’s a mouse.” Andre said in a matter of fact voice, ignoring his mum and taking another big lick from the spatula. “Just like the ones we got from your shop.”

“Yeah, only this one is made of cake.” Elliot shoved past his brother and hoisted himself up onto a chair to survey their work. “But it doesn’t disappear like your mice do.”

“It doesn’t disappear?” George feigned surprise and shuffled around the table. Cocking his head, he prodded murine pudding with his wand. “Oh, wait just one minute –”

The boys gathered around the table, their anticipation palpable, and watched as he conjured a tiny red bowtie around what he assumed to be the rodent’s neck. Tapping his wand, he casted a silent disillusionment charm over the platter and smiled at the gasps of surprise at the suddenly invisible pudding.

“You did it.” Andre jumped up and down tugging at the bottom of George’s dragon hide jacket.

“You better hang onto to this one, Ang,” Brianne called over her shoulder enough for George to hear, nodding her head in his direction.

“I plan on it.” Arms laden with a tray of some sort of meat, Angelina paused just long enough to kiss his cheek before she continued into the dining room.

~::~

Later that evening inside his flat, George smiled and pulled Angelina closer to his chest, pressing a line of kisses along the back of her head. She mumbled something unintelligible and nestled her face into the pillows. He knew sleep wasn’t far off for her, but his mind was far too active to contemplate sleeping. The evening had been one of the most enjoyable he had had recently – he had fit into the ebb and flow of the Johnson family almost effortlessly. He wasn’t sure when exactly he had settled into such an easy, comfortable rhythm with Angelina, or when he had first begun to consider her such an integral part of his daily life, but he had, he did, and he was glad for it.

“I love you, Ang,” he whispered into her hair. “I hope you had a good birthday.”

Eyes bleary and only half open, she rolled towards him, pushing his fringe back from his eyes. “I’m sorry I bailed on your surprise plans,” she murmured, “but I’m glad you got on so well with my family. They really liked you.”

“Well I really liked them.”

“So what did you have planned?” she asked, propping herself up on her elbows.

“Oh, nothing nearly as good as your plans – besides, if I told you I couldn’t reuse them next year.” The corner of his mouth turned up into a playful grin.

“Ugh – I should get back to my flat,” she grumbled. “I work in the morning and I don’t know that I have anything left here to wear.” She spun, turning her bare legs towards the side of the bed. “We should probably make an effort to do a bit of laundry sometime sooner rather than later – with as many clothes in that hamper, I’m surprised you’ve not been forced to run around naked.”

“Eh, you’d like it.”

She giggled as she stood up fastening the buttons of her robe. “You’d like to think that, wouldn’t you?”

“Move in with me.” George’s words surprised even him – not because he hadn’t thought of the possibility before, but because he hadn’t anticipated asking her tonight.

“Are you serious?” Her hands paused as she sat back down onto the edge of the bed, a hint of a smile playing at the corner of her mouth.

“As serious as Percy on his first day on a job – so what do you say?”

~::~
 

Author's Note:  And there is chapter 17, I hope you enjoyed it.   Only 8 more to go...  I'd like to thank you for reading and reviewing.  I'd also like to thank Rachel and Sarah for being two of my best FF friends, I'm quite sure I'd not be 75K words into a novel without your support, inspiration and friendship. The character Hollis belongs to ToujourPadfoot's Fred/OC, So Listen, and the voice on the lift was inspired by the same voice on the film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Thank you for reading!! If you have the time, please leave a review -- I'd love to hear what you think. 
 


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