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Chapter 3: George, September 1998
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.
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.”
“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.