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Chapter 2: Brotherly Love
Ron was a wreck for the next month. At least, Harry knew he was. Fortunately, Ron had become better at controlling his emotions, as far as keeping them from interfering with his work was concerned. (He did have one slip-up, when, instead of Disillusioning Neville as he had meant to, he cast a spell that made Neville about two feet tall. He then turned Neville five different colors before finally putting him right.)
Harry had asked Ron whether he was planning to propose as soon as Hermione finished her NEWTs, and this had rendered Ron temporarily incoherent, as he would rather have gone ten rounds with an Acromantula than set himself up for rejection by Hermione Granger. Harry had then adopted a policy of encouraging Ron to get it over with sooner rather than later if he was truly serious about it, and had even gone so far as to ask Ron whether he had learned anything from the Yule Ball Fiasco of 1994.
This comment had steeled Ron’s determination somewhat; however, he was so nervous and edgy that, even though they had planned to visit the girls in Hogsmeade the following weekend, and even though it had been several weeks since their last reunion, he sighed with relief when he received an apologetic letter from Hermione stating that she simply couldn’t spend a minute away from her NEWT studies or she would surely fail all of them.
Ron had immediately written back that she should definitely spend as much time as necessary on her studies, and that he would visit as soon as her exams were finished. He jokingly added that he would only see her on the condition that she not ignore him by obsessing about her exam results – and lucky for him he was able to put this all in writing, since his face turned green with nausea at the very thought of talking to her.
* * * * *
“Yes, I’m very busy and important. How can I help you?”
Harry and Ron were thus greeted by George when they Apparated into Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes in Hogsmeade a month later. George let them stay with him in his loft above the shop whenever they visited Hogwarts, and, as always, they were regaled with a presentation of George’s newest product as soon as they arrived.
“Metamorph Munchies – check it out, latest innovation from the Weasley labs!” George indicated a product display that had been given a place of honor right inside the shop’s entrance doors. There looked to be about 25 various types of sweets, in different shapes and colors, and each type marked with a different placard:
and so on.
“Sweets that change your appearance?” asked Ron, glancing over the selection.
“Exactly!” George beamed. “You take one of these little treasures and alter any part of your appearance that you like – I’ve covered all the major areas, I think. Hair color, eye color, height, width. Even got some for removing freckles and changing the shape of your facial features.”
“How long ‘til it wears off?” asked Harry.
“About an hour, but you can take more than one to make the effect last longer.”
“It’s brilliant, George!”
“Yeah, well, not everyone can be naturally gifted like Tonks was, can they? It was actually her who inspired me to do it, and I reckoned there’d be a good niche in the market for it. Who wouldn’t want to be able to change their appearance at will? Mind you, they’re mainly meant for messing around…not a great way to really disguise yourself. Although if you took several kinds all at once to alter five or six parts of your appearance, you probably wouldn’t look that much like yourself anymore. So I suppose it could be used for that purpose.”
“Let me try a couple of those freckle-removers, George,” said Ron, eyeing the sweets with fascination.
“Sure. Three Sickles each.”
“Sod off! I can’t believe you’re still charging me for things – I’m your brother!”
“A man’s got to support himself, hasn’t he? And, by the way, you’re a brother who borrowed a load of money from me several months ago, without telling me what it was for, and still hasn’t paid me back.”
“Well, add it to my tab, then,” retorted Ron.
“Don’t press my generosity, Ronniekins. I hope you at least used the money for something good, considering how secretive you were about it. If I find out you used it for something stupid and boring, the interest rate will increase exponentially.”
Ron’s face started to flush scarlet, and Harry knew why. Ron had borrowed that money from George to buy Hermione’s ring, and of course he hadn’t told George what it was for.
To save Ron, Harry spoke up as though he had only just remembered a vitally important message he was supposed to deliver to George.
“Hey, George, I just remembered! – Your mum wants you over for dinner sometime this week. She says it’s been ages and she’s going mad.”
“It’s only been three weeks, I was just there – you remember.”
“Well, she gets lonely, mate, and she misses you.”
George could very well have chosen to live at the Burrow, like Harry and Ron, and Apparate to work everyday. But George had said that he preferred to be in the thick of things, making sure that everything ran smoothly even when his shops were closed – and so he split his time between the new Hogsmeade location and the one in Diagon Alley (he had a loft there as well), choosing Hogsmeade whenever he knew Hogwarts students were going to visit the village.
It was obvious to everyone what was going on – George had thrown himself into his work after Fred had died. Whether it was to distract himself or, alternatively, to remember Fred in the best way possible, was unclear. But Harry fully understood why George would not want to live at home. After you had suffered a loss, people who loved you always wanted to tell you, “You’ll get through it,” or, “It’ll all work out.” And words like that were irksome and ultimately meaningless…empty words that people used to try to make sense out of senseless situations, or to try to heal wounds that could never fully heal.
And George did not grieve traditionally, so to be around those who did, would probably have driven him mad in a short period of time. Still, George had been hit a lot harder than he let on – at least, everybody figured as much. He had, after all, lost the person who had literally been his other half.
But the only public comments George could be heard to make on that matter, were typical George-isms: that he and Fred had been a matching set, and that Fred had gone and ruined the bloody aesthetics of the situation; or that he, George, now had a much harder time picking up girls without the twin gimmick working in his favor, especially since (he maintained) Fred had been the good-looking one.
“Oi!” said George suddenly. “Customers!”
Harry and Ron followed George’s gaze out the window; sure enough, dozens of Hogwarts students were pouring down the street, looking as though they were positively bursting with the giddy happiness that accompanied the end of another school year.
“Come on, then, Ron, let’s go find Ginny and Hermione,” said Harry. “See you later, George.”
“Oh, wait a minute,” said George. He scooped up a handful of bright yellow Metamorph Munchies and placed them in a small bag. “Ron, take these to Ginny. I promised I’d give her some of the freckle-removing ones.” Harry wondered vaguely why Ginny would want such a thing – he had always been fond of her freckles, and couldn’t imagine her face properly without them.
Ron glared at George and accepted the bag. Then he and Harry stepped outside into the sunshine and headed up the street towards the Three Broomsticks, Ron muttering irritably under his breath.
“Bloody stupid –”
“So,” said Harry, changing the subject in an effort to keep Ron in a good mood, “have you decided to do it today, then?”
Ron looked as if Harry had just suggested Ron strip down and run naked through the village.
“I dunno…” he answered.
Harry looked amused.
“Well, just in case, maybe you want this back.” Harry pulled a small black box out of his pocket and handed it over to Ron. Harry had been holding onto Hermione’s ring ever since he had confiscated it from Ron, who had developed a compulsive habit of opening and closing the box, almost as though he wanted to make sure the ring was still there.
“And,” continued Harry, as Ron pocketed the ring, “if you want, I’ll give those sweets to Ginny.”
“Alright, but I’m taking a few, she won’t know the difference.” Ron grabbed three of the bright yellow, cube-shaped candies and handed the rest over to Harry. Ron nibbled the corner off of one sweet, and then, apparently approving of the flavor and the fact that he hadn’t burst into flames or anything equally alarming, popped all three into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully.
“So, where are we meeting them?” Harry asked.
“Three Broomsticks. I think I fancy a drink.”
“Romantic. Just don’t ask her in there, ok?”
“What would I do without your words of wisdom, mate?”
“Probably something stupid like asking your girlfriend to marry you in a bar surrounded by third-years and the bartender everyone knows you have a crush on.”
“Piss off. What are you and Ginny gonna do?”
“Dunno, it’s up to her, really. Since they just finished NEWTs, they’re probably still stressed o–”
Harry abruptly stopped talking and walking, and was staring at Ron as though Ron had sprouted a second head.
Ron looked at him warily.
“Harry!” called an excited voice.
Ginny and Hermione were hurrying up the path towards them, Ginny with a gleeful look on her face, and Hermione looking rather tired but cheerful.
As they approached, Hermione looked from Harry to Ron and back to Harry – then did a double-take at Ron, her eyebrows raised in shock. Ginny’s reaction was a split second after Hermione’s, her arm frozen in mid-air as she waved to them.
Finally, the girls were mere yards away from the boys.
“Ron,” said Hermione, sounding incredulous, horrified, and amused all at the same time. “What on Earth did you do to your hair??”