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Chapter 1: George, August 1998
George, August 1998
The distinct popping sound outside his flat signaled 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 quickly quashed the urge to shout over his shoulder at the now unused bedroom – a habit formed from a lifetime spent as half of a pair. He felt an all-too familiar lump rise up into his throat.
A firm knock at the door pulled him away from the borderline 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 never been on time in the nine years I’ve known you – Ron?”
“Hey.” Ronald stood in the dimly lit corridor. His hair stood up in tufts and his navy robes were soiled with dust. “Was at school all day. Figured I’d pop in.” A speculative concern radiated from his eyes, his lips pursed tightly shut before he continued. “Found us some food, fish and chips?”
“Oh, well.” George opened the door. “I’ve been cooking you know, at least trying – ” Ron’s eyes surveyed him thoroughly before he brushed by him 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 flat had been met with long 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. 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 away from their aggrieved, worried eyes if he was going to learn to stand on his own 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.
Glancing at his brother, he sighed and also sat down at the table. He should have figured she’d send out reconnaissance sooner or later. Ron was divvying out two large portions onto plates he had taken from the sink board. The tantalizing smell of fry grease tickled George’s nose. In truth, it had been exactly two weeks since he had eaten something that did not come from a box with the instructions, “Tap twice with wand, wait five seconds, and repeat.”
“Blimey, this smells fabulous.” Ron grinned up at the steaming dish of food. “You’ve got any tartar?”
“It really does, and er, no.” George watched his brother, waiting for him to drop some hint as to why he was there. “Slight chance there’s some vinegar in the cupboard?”
Instead of rising to rummage through the barely organized shelves, Ron looked up from his plate and stared at him. The concern in his eyes felt like a chain, tying George to a grief with which he had slowly begun coexisting.
George sighed under his breath.
“So, er, how are you doing?”
There it was, the question that persistently reminded him that he shouldn’t be okay accompanied by the look that said it stings to really look at you. The question meant well, he knew, but it also reminded him that no matter how hard he tried to forget, 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 had never been an individual. The look filled his chest with an irrational feeling of guilt.
He stood up from the table and turned away from Ron. There had to be vinegar somewhere on his shelves.
“What, Ron?” He turned back to face his brother.
“Mum’s worried about you, you know.” His voice sounded tired. The long hours spent helping to reconstruct the school showed in the dark circles beneath his eyes. He shifted in his seat, and took an enormous bite of his fish, watching George as he chewed.
“I know that, but I – ”
“You haven’t stopped by or written her back.” 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.”
“Thanks.” He ran his hand through his hair. Truth be told, George had asked himself the same things, but knew better than to wait for the answer. “I guess I just need to – ”
“You really should eat some of this.” His brother slid the second plate of food across the table towards him. “It really is tops.”
The corner of George’s mouth pulled up into a small grin at the gesture. “Little Ronnie offering me food? I must really look like a charity case.” He slid the tray back across the table. “But I’m actually going out tonight.”
Whatever reaction he 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. George quickly regretted divulging his plans. Opening the final kitchen cabinet, his hands closed around a mostly-empty bottle of vinegar.
“Vinegar?” he said, tossing the bottle across the small room.
Ron barely caught it before is tumbled onto the table. “So, you’re going out, then?” He shook the bottle over his plate. A lilt of surprise hung on his voice.
“Just 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 strode over to the door for the second time that evening. “Seventeen minutes late,” he swung the door open, “not too shabby.”
“I guess I’ll be going.” Ron stood up, scraping the remnants of the two plates back into the box. “George, if you ever need anything, or want to do something, Burrow’s not too far. I’m going to leave this food here.”
Bumping fists with Lee, more out of habit than actual salutation, George felt Ron’s eyes linger on him for a moment before brushing past the two friends into the corridor.
“Good seeing you, Ron,” he shouted out after his brother, turning his attention towards the new arrival to the flat.
“So.” Lee’s eyes flicked over George’s briefly. “You sure you want to go out tonight?”
Ron had asked him how he was getting along, if he was doing okay. George inhaled. 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.
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 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. Andrew and Geoffrey 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 Geoffrey 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 could only assume was 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. 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 her hand on his chest. “I know that I did.”
“Libby, you’ve got the heart of a cow.” George turned to see Alicia standing behind him in line. She smiled at Libby so believably that he wondered if the Ravenclaw knew 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 in that line again was not something he wanted to do. 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 paused mid-sip and set his mug down onto the table. He had assumed that Angelina was not at the pub since Alicia was alone. 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 atypical, and he longed to, if nothing else, regain the comfortable normalcy they once shared.
“Er, no.” He realized that Alicia had been waiting for an answer. “I didn’t realize she was here.”
“I’m not sure if she is or not. Something about having to pop home to see her mum.” She took a long sip of her drink. “She was anxious to see you, though. I know she’s worried about you.”
What that comment was supposed to accomplish, he was not sure, but the hopes that had risen in his chest fell. Of course she 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 normal relationship he once shared with her 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.” His words, influenced from the alcohol he had consumed, slurred together slightly. “And we’ve been through a lot together -- cauldron explosions, Quidditch feuds, crushes and heart breaks and awful dates. We’ve been through Dementors and 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 in the back of his throat. Whatever prompted him to come out with Lee this evening, he regretted. A heavy numbness flooded his body. He rose to his feet and turned towards the door. He needed to be away from this.
“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.
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 outside of the Fizzing Whizbee. Though the pounding of the music could still be heard from the open doors, 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 the rest of the evening, but his desire to see her won out. George turned towards Angelina, preparing himself to stomach another concerned look and to tell her that he didn’t know how he was.
“Care to budge over so I can sit down too?” She squeezed beside him on the bench. “It really is a nice night. Finally no rain.”
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.
“It has been. You know, I don’t blame you for sitting out here, it was so stuffy in there.”
She looked the same as she had when he last had seen her, but more relaxed. Her thigh barely brushed against his as she shifted into a more comfortable position. He felt at ease for the first time all evening, and inhaled deeply. The scent of her perfume filled his nose. It was different than it used to be, but nice.
“You smell good.” He braved looking up at her face.
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 an old friend.
“So, since I know how much you love dancing,” she said, staunching her giggle and still looking at him, “care for a little dance? Remember old times, and whatnot?”
She rose to her feet and reached down for his hand.
It had been so long since he had last touched her, and so much had changed – they both had - that he was unsure of where to place his hands as he rose to his feet. Laying them on 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 back, or somewhere, when he felt her lay her hands over his. They were warm.
“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, a genuine laugh poured out of his chest.
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.