Chapter 2: The Nerve


 He couldn’t concentrate. The rest of his working day was a complete wash. Had he not told Verity that she could leave early today, he would have retired for the day as soon as she got back from lunch. He could feel the weight of the black business card in his pocket as he cashed out the last of the remaining customers in the shop. He was unnerved, perturbed, anxious. His fingers itched to take the card back out. He recognized the protean charm that was placed on the small rectangle once the message appeared.

 He had paused once the message sank in. Was this so called proprietor in the store? He had glanced around, but no one seemed to be paying him any mind. The young man behind the register was counting change back to a customer. Mary was restacking boxes on a display. So George did the only thing he could think of, he put the card in his pocket, grabbed a Booster bottle and left the store.

Forgetting to nourish his stomach with lunch, George walked back towards the store with bottle in hand. Upon entry of the shop, he noticed that quite a few patrons were carrying black and silver bags as they walked around his store. Verity glanced up from the register and gave him a confused look, as she glanced at the clock on the wall. She was about to ask if he even ate when a customer came up to purchase a handful of trick wands.

George rotated the bottle in his hand as he made his way to his workshop. He placed the bottle on his workbench and sat upon his stool. He sat there for a few minutes, glaring at the clear liquid in the silver topped container. Fingers drumming on his crossed arms. ‘Take your competitors down a notch,’ it was a small slap in the face. A taunt to get him to play some game. He wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t give in to some snobby, hobnobbing, invisible shop owning greenhorn. It wouldn’t be fair, what with his years of experience, and knowledge of charms. The game would end before it began. So with that, George brushed it off and headed back out front to let Verity go to lunch a few minutes early.

Now with the last few stragglers picking out the last of their purchases, the thought of the small bottle on his workbench kept beckoning him. He tried to think as if it was one of his own devices. How would one brew such a potion without it turning into Felix Felicis? A luck potion and a confidence potion would have to require some of the same ingredients. Yet the drinker wasn’t looking for things to go their way exactly, just the nerve to act upon something they normally wouldn’t do.

‘A bottle of Firewhiskey could do the same thing.’ George thought to himself with a small laugh.

With a wave to the last customer he escorted out the door, George took out his wand to place the protection charms upon his shop and dimmed the lights. He charmed the brooms to begin the tedious task of sweeping the floors and straightened displays and tables as he walked the two floors of the shops. Once things were to his liking he cashed the register out and brought today’s sales back to his bench.

He rubbed his eyes as he counted and re-counted the money before him. The small devious bottle was gleaming in the corner of his eye. It was making it very difficult to concentrate on the books. After his third failed attempt, he finally grabbed the bottle and placed it in the pocket of his robes. Finally able to account for the day, George placed the book back on the shelf, locked the money away in the safe for a deposit to Gringotts in the morning, he made his way to the Burrow.

Sad really, a grown man with more money than he knew what to do with, living in his parent’s home. After the war, George couldn’t spend more than one night in his flat above the shop without turning to talk to his twin, only to remember, he was gone. He couldn’t walk past Fred’s room without feeling as if his heart would rip from his chest. It was a few weeks ago that he found he couldn’t even unlock the door to the flat. It was that evening that he started spending every night in his old room at the burrow. While the pain was still present, sleeping in the room they had grown up in, George found that having Harry’s snores filling the silence of the room at night somewhat relaxing. He wasn’t alone.

No one really gave it much thought when the others started living in the Burrow. It seemed like the most logical thing for them to do. All of them too young, fresh from a war and sights no normal person could handle. What better and safer place to be than with a family that all shared those experiences and could help you ease back into a normal life.

Percy began to attend family dinners again, if only a few times within the week, as the reestablishment of the Ministry often kept him late. Bill and Fleur had settled back into Shell Cottage. Between curse breaking and traveling, the Weasley/Delacour household were busy chasing after a very vibrant toddler.

The first grandchild was a joyous distraction. Victoire proved to be just as charming as her mother, and as adventurous as her father. There were time when she would sneak away and get herself into a newly folded basket of laundry, only to throw every item out onto the floor, as if offended by their occupation of the basket. When caught, she would give the accuser a few blinks of her long blond eyelashes to prove her innocence to avoid a scolding. George liked her instantly.

Hermione had helped Ginny rearrange her room, so that the two girls could each have a space to call their own while sharing it. Harry had moved into the twin’s room not long after the war. Ron’s room had always been too cramped to accommodate the extra bed. At first, Harry was a bit hesitant about moving into Fred’s space, but at the time Molly had assured him it would be perfectly fine. Not realizing then that it would be exactly what George needed to sleep at night.

Hermione had decided to go back to Hogwarts with Ginny for their last year. Not that anyone was surprised, but it earned Ron and Harry quite the lecture about their educational decisions when they had told Molly and Arthur that they would be joining Shacklebolt in the new Auror training class. While they assured her that they would learn more by the experience than the pages of books, Molly insisted that they stay at the Burrow during the duration of their training to ensure the quality of their instruction.

The year to come would prove challenging as everyone had different ways of coping. For George, it took him a good three weeks before he could open the shop again. It wasn’t until Verity’s howler of being dirt broke that he realized the decision of keeping the shop closed was having the opposite effect of what it was intended to do. So with a heavy heart George reopened the store. Ron had helped him throughout the summer, managing the store front, while George hesitantly threw himself back into product designs. It wasn’t the same. It still wasn’t. Fred wasn’t there to bounce ideas off of, or test finished projects. But George learned quickly, adapt or die. He loved his twin, but he wasn’t ready to join him just yet.

George apparated to the back door that led to the kitchen. He could hear his mother moving and shifting pots and pans of food from the stove or oven while directing Ginny and Hermione how many utensils they will need for the night. George opened the backdoor and instantly found himself fumbling for the second time of the day. The small bump between his chest and Hermione’s right arm caused her to lose the balance of the glasses she was balancing. George instinctually grabbing Hermione’s arm with his left hand to steady her while reaching his right one out to catch the descending glass proved fruitless. The shattering of the cup earned him a small sigh in the hole that was once his left ear.

“Sorry ‘bout that.” George said as he straightened.

“You really should be more careful George.” Hermione lightly scolded as she stepped over the mess of glass.

“I’ll get it.” George said as he took out his wand.

But with a wave of her free hand, Hermione told him not to worry, and before he could argue the reassembled cup was in her hand. Wandless and silent. She really was the brightest witch of her age. The silent summoning was never that hard for George, but to be without his wand was like losing his ear all over again.

“Dinner is just about ready, George dear. Why don’t you fetch the others, you look a bit pale, some food will put some color back in your face.” His mother noted as she placed a large bowl of potatoes on the table.

Within a few minutes the table was bustling with activity. Bowls being passed, arms reaching for rolls, elbows bumping while meat was being cut. The conversations waivered from chores, to qudditich, to work. It was when his usually quiet father called attention to Hermione that George’s focus on one conversation was brought forth.

“…joining the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, is that true?” asked Arthur.

Hermione nodded as she swallowed the steam vegetables she had just placed in her mouth.

“I am. Shacklebolt was impressed by my ‘powers of persuasion,’ as he put it, during my time in Regulation and Control that he thought I could be put to good use by eradicating some old laws and writing new ones.” She explained. “It’ll require more hours and research, but it should be the challenge I was looking for.”

‘Only Hermione could make writing laws sound like watching a quidditch match.’ George thought.

“Speaking of challenges,” George started as he fished into his pocket to pull out the black business card. “You lot heard of this new shop on Diagon Alley? Defiantly Devious?” He tossed the card onto the table for them to look over.

Harry picked it up and gave it a once over, he frowned as he ran a finger over the double D’s on the card.

“Can’t say I have. I went last week to pick up some new gloves for work; I didn’t notice any new stores. Where is it?” He asked as he passed the card to Ginny.

“In Gambol and Japes’ old shop. Just noticed it today on my way to lunch.” George explained as he watched his sister inspect the card.

“What do they sell?” she asked, reaching across the table to hand it to Ron.

“Well, they’re sort of an oddities shop. Not really a joke shop of sorts, but…” he trailed as he got up to retrieve his cloak from the peg on the wall. He reached in and pulled out the small clear bottle. “…the owner offered me to look over their products.”

He placed the bottle in the same spot he had thrown the card. Hermione reached to read the tag on the neck.

“’Confidence Booster: drinker will experience a boost in self esteem to conquer all fears and harrowing endeavors. Side effects included extreme arrogance, slight astonishment, or overall embarrassment. Drink with caution.’ Sounds lovely.” She said sarcastically.

“I know a certain brother that could have used this during his first quidditch season.” Ginny replied, earning her a glare from Ron and a laugh from Harry.

“Who’s Red?” Ron asked when he turned his attention back o the card.

“Huh?” George asked as he glanced at his brother.

“The card. It says, ‘your move, Red.’ Who’s Red?” he asked again.

“Oh. Apparently this new shop owner has an acquired sense of humor.” George said as he took the card back. “He knew I would come into the shop, apparently he wants me challenge him in coming up with the best product in the alley. Ridiculous really. In all honesty, I’m quite pissed. The nerve opening another oddities shop within sight distance of another. One of the reasons Fred and I chose Diagon Alley was because we didn’t want to interfere with Zonko’s. It’s an unspoken rule, but one that should be honored! ”

George huffed as he put the card back into his pocket.

“So you’ve met this new owner? Anyone we know?” Harry asked as he scraped his put and brought it to the sink to begin its wash.

George paused, “That’s the other weird thing; he wasn’t there. One of his workers gave it to me. In fact, she never told his name. Kept calling him ‘the proprietor.’”

Harry turned with a frown on his face as he leaned on the counter.

“In my experience, when a weird yet mysterious figure enters your life, it usually ends bad. Watch yourself George.”

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