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Chapter 1: George, August 1998
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.
“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.
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.