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Chapter 5: George, October 1998
George, October 1998
The cool country air felt fresh in his lungs.
George wasn’t sure what had prompted him to decide that today was the day he ought to finally visit his family, perhaps it had been the slightly burnt oatmeal he had eaten for breakfast or the complete lack of hot water in his shower, but when the thought had flickered through his still-foggy brain earlier that morning he knew that it was time to give it a try. Pulling a relatively clean jumper and an only mildly wrinkled robe over his head, he forwent scribbling a note to his mum in case he changed his mind and Disapparated from the Flat.
Standing at the end of the long lane leading through the fields surrounding his childhood home, he wasn’t entirely sure he was ready for the inevitable onslaught of family members that would certainly appear once word he had stopped by was sent. He knew that he wasn’t properly prepared for the myriad of memories surely lurking in every corner, crack and crevice. Not knowing how he would respond to each as they flittered through his mind, they made him uneasy. Rooted in the deepest place inside his chest, a piece of him was terrified that seeing his face and its likeness to Fred’s would only cause his family reflexive pain. He squeezed his eyes shut and forcibly exhaled. Despite these trepidations, he was fairly certain that he was glad he had finally come home.
He inhaled deeply, drawing the clean air into his lungs once more.
Several crooked stories of architecture that could only have been held together by magic stood at the end of the lane. Several thin wisps of smoke trailed up from its chimneys into the sky. A few chickens clucked around a patch of dried and dying vegetables in the yard. He couldn’t remember another summer in which his mum had not managed to do any planting, and a small ball of guilt sank into his stomach. Of course she had had just as difficult a few months as he had. Perhaps he would help her clean out the small garden next season –toss a few gnomes over the hedge and plant a few tomato bushes. The door of the shed was not latched, and appeared to have blown open in the autumn breeze. Without lighting the interior lamp, it was difficult to discern what his dad had been tinkering with lately, but several crates of gizmos and gadgets were stacked outside the doorway. There were no broomsticks leaning in the corner where they were always kept – of course only Ron and Ginny were living there and the latter had surely taken her broom with her to school, and the stoop outside the front door wasn’t littered with kettles or cauldrons or wellingtons. It all felt very distant – different and emptier than he was accustomed to, but at the same time it was very much the same. It was still the Burrow, and it was home.
Before he had realized it, his feet had started moving down the rest of the path towards the house. The chickens chattered and squawked, running over and between his feet as he cut through their cluster. At the door, he raised his hand to knock, but thought better of it. This had been his home for nearly twenty years, and knocking would be an insult to those years. Dropping his hand to the knob, he found it to be unlocked as he knew it would be – there was nothing really to lock out these days.
Here he was. Something – nerves, anxiety, anticipation fluttered in his stomach as his hand turned the knob and he heard the handle of the door click.
To his great surprise, the door flew outwards much faster than he had pulled it in a blur of ginger hair, rosy cheeks and colourful yarns. He was quickly enveloped into a tight embrace, and firm kisses were pressed to each of his cheeks. Warm, loving hands brushed his hair back from his face. He watched as two misty brown eyes studied it, soaking up his presence in the doorway as though he may disappear.
She stood there for a moment, mouth opening and closing, before tearing her eyes away from him. Somewhere between shooing him into the house and ushering him into the kitchen, she found the words she had been looking for. “George. What a nice surprise.” Her voice trembling slightly, she pushed him down into one of the long table’s chairs, “I didn’t expect to see you today. That owl of yours didn’t bring a letter.”
“That’s good considering I didn’t write one.” George felt a small smile play at the corner of his lips. His mother was a remarkable woman – surprised because she hadn’t expected him today and not because he had been avoiding the family for a little longer than two months and was finally there.
“I wish I would have known you were visiting.” She had turned away from him and was in full-out Molly-Weasley-Mum-Mode rummaging in the cabinets. “I’d have cooked something better than steak pie. You never did care much for it, always pushed it around on your plate to make it look eaten.”
A small, nostalgic chuckle escaped him. He had always loved pie – it was Fred who had never cared for it. Almost instinctually, George opened his mouth to poke fun at her, but the traditional ‘honestly woman, you call yourself our mother’ line seemed inappropriate in the context, and he bit down on his lip. She was a damn good mother, the best, and he couldn’t bear to crack the look of happiness and purpose on her face. He imagined that she missed having her chicks in the nest to mother over.
“But don’t you worry.” Her voice cut into his thoughts. “I’ll fix something for dinner this evening.” Turning to face him at last, she clucked her tongue against her teeth. “Skin and bones. You’ve not been eating right, George Weasley – in the city all by yourself.”
It was a testament to her strength and her love for him to hug and kiss him, to putter around the kitchen fixing dinner, and to fuss over his body condition as though he had just been home to visit last week. Not once did she ask why he hadn’t been home sooner, nor did she mention the stack of unanswered post from her that was sitting unopened in a basket on his kitchen table. She gave no sign that she was angry or hurt by his long absence, but rather seemed to bask in peaceful contentment. Several flicks of her wand and a bin of potatoes sprung to life skinning themselves over the sink. A large kettle of water rolled to a boil over the fire, and a large blob of dough she must have prepared earlier in the day began to knead itself on the countertop. With dinner satisfactorily in progress, she finally sat down across the table from him and slid a mug of steaming tea with milk and honey towards him. He took a long sip, not even caring that it burnt his mouth and throat on its way down. Even scalding him, it was a vast improvement over the bitter teas he’d been drinking.
She squeezed his hand, a warm smile painted on her aged face, before summoning several scraps of parchment and a quill. “Now, just let me owl the others. They’ll all want to know you’re here.”
Those who weren’t in Romania or at Hogwarts, had certainly wanted to know he was there and had begun Apparating outside the kitchen door shortly after the letters were sent, though George suspected that the promise of a home-cooked meal had also been a primary motivating factor. Only Percy, who had said he’d be late, was still unaccounted for as the dishes were scraped clean of second helpings and dessert. Stuffed to the brim with steak pie and bangers ‘n mash and the custard tarts Fleur had brought – his mum had taken the dessert from her, muttering something under her breath about her daughter-in-law finally learning to cook like a Brit – he stretched, hoping to open an empty spot in his stomach for his dinner to settle into. Glancing around the table, he couldn’t remember the last time there had been that much elbow room between the chairs, but in his food induced stupor he gladly took advantage of the space. His dad and mum, when she was actually sitting and not fussing over the preparations, occupied the ends of the table. Bill and Fleur sat across the table from him, Harry and Ron. Ginny and Hermione had written from school saying they wished they could have been home. The latter was miraculously still dating Ron, who at the moment was wiping custard from his nose with his sleeve. George suppressed his chuckle so as not to disrupt digestion. He hadn’t eaten this much food in a long time and was sorely out of practice.
“There’s a bit more of the tart here, George?” His mum stood with the custard tarts and a serving spatula. Shaking his head no, she offered it around the table. Ron finally sacrificed himself and held up his plate for it. She turned away from the table, empty serving dish in hand, and began cleaning up the sink. George watched as his dad rose from the table and joined her.
“Hello all.” The pompous voice of Percy was followed by the sound of the door latching. “Sorry I’m late. Dinner smells amazing.” Taking off his cloak and scarf, he dropped a quick kiss to each of his mother’s cheeks before he walked out of the kitchen towards the table.
“So nice of you to finally join us, Perce.” Ron said, clapping the older redheaded man on the back.
“Yes, yes. I was delayed at work.” He grabbed a plate and began to shovel the room temperature dinner into his mouth, avoiding the looks of his brothers.
“That’s it?” George asked. “No ‘I was delayed triple checking the crossed status of every T in the new foreign relations memorandum’ or ‘I was busy helping Kingsley select the appropriate earring for the upcoming Minister’s Summit?'" You’ve grown so modest in your old age.”
There was a pause, almost as if his comments were unexpected, before a ripple of laughter passed over the table.
Not finding George’s comments quite as humorous as the others, Percy cleared his throat. “Well, I was er, I was – it’s complicated and confidential and –”
Ron snorted loudly into his extra helping of tart.
“You see Georgie, we – ” Bill paused and amended his statement at a rather stern look from his wife, “Harry, Ron and myself – not Fleur, we have this theory that Perce is having a sordid affair with this new clerk in the Minister’s office.”
“This is the fourth time he’s been late for something.” Harry piped up over the sound of protest across the table. “And sauntered in wearing trousers and a blazer instead of his Ministry robes – ”
“Smiling like a little kid who’s just gotten their first broomstick and smelling like women’s perfume,” Bill continued. “We’ve got no real proof, after all Percy could just prefer women’s perfume to men’s cologne, but it’s a working theory. ”
Merlin, George had missed this. Laughter rolled out of his chest, and his over-stuffed stomach cramped in objection. “So what’s this clerk like, Percy?” He asked, clutching at his stomach and wagging his eyebrows suggestively.
“Bloody right you’ve no proof.” Percy blatantly ignored George’s question. His indignation raised the octave of his voice as he spoke. “Besides, the new clerk is not my type. She’s erm, she’s – ”
It was George who snorted this time, and was seized by a coughing fit as the water he’d been sipping slid into is respiratory tract.
“She’s got these legs and these – ” Ron trailed off, most likely thinking about what Hermione would say if he finished his thought. “But she’s scary brilliant. Confident and motivated and – ”
“She’s a regular old femme fatale,” Bill saved his youngest brother’s description from nose-diving into its own fiery implosion. He ducked a playful swat from Fleur. “Moral of the story – we think she’s adopted young Percy as her plaything.”
Percy had apparently adopted the strategy of sudden onset deafness, and was concentrating much too hard on his food. A deep scarlet blush had crept over the tips of his ears and cheeks, and his leg bounced beneath the table to an unnaturally quick rhythm.
“Well good for you, Percy.”
“I am the Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic.” Percy’s patience had apparently been spent. “I am not some clerk from our office’s plaything.”
“But you didn’t deny sleeping with her.”
Ron, being Ron, had taken the conversation a step too far. Percy set his fork down with authority and rose from the table, disappearing into the kitchen with his plate. George’s abdomen hurt from laughing and his face felt stiff from smiling. Even though they weren’t all there, and could never all be together again, he felt perfectly content sitting at the table with his brothers and sister-in-law. He had missed this.
“Merlin it’s good to be home.”
The rest of the evening passed far less scandalously.
Seated comfortably around the sitting room, they listened to the evening’s broadcast on the wireless – George still had to hide his amusement whenever he heard Lee’sstory and wondered how much help the leggy Indira had been for this report. There was something relaxing and wonderful about the headlining story only being an elderly wizard who had unknowingly been selling Bowtruckles to Muggles, and if he exhaled and shut his eyes, he could almost convince himself that the war had never happened and life had always been this comfortable – that Fred would be bounding down the stairs to join them at any moment. When his eyes opened and he ran a hand through his hair, the masquerade ended. His ear was still missing, and Bill’s face was still disfigured. If Fred was there with them, he would not be bounding down the stairs. He knew this, but sitting there with his family made it manageable.
Towards the tail end of the program, they slipped into a casual game of catch-up. His mum, turned out, had begun knitting the Christmas jumpers early this year. Bill and Fleur had been battling rainstorms and had decided while dancing around buckets collecting rain water that their roof was in need of replacing. Percy had been working – keeping tabs on the political reformation and judicial proceedings for the Minister’s office – and not fraternizing with any of the clerks. Ron had been helping with the reconstruction efforts at the school, and Harry had been dodging the public eye. It seemed as though they each avoided asking George what he’d been doing, for which he was grateful. It was difficult to make ‘nothing’ sound particularly productive or exciting when their lives had finally begun to creep forward. It was only when his mum patted his dad on the knee and squeezed his hand that George realized that the oldest Weasley man hadn’t offered anything to the conversation either.
His dad’s face and hair were thinner than they used to be, and his mouth was drawn into weary smile. Worry creases spanned his forehead and accented the corners of his eyes, which lacked their usual lively gleam. It was a face George had come to know well looking into the mirror as he brushed his teeth each morning, and a reason why people had continued to ask him if he was alright occurred to him. What else was there to say?
“Dad,” Arthur’s head snapped up from his chest at George’s voice, “How about you show me what you’ve been working with in the shed. I saw some crates on the way in, but couldn’t tell what was in them.”
The older man seemed to appreciate the suggestion, and only moments later George found himself inside the cluttered shed.
The single lamp hanging from the centre of the ceiling cast a dim glow throughout the work space. The bench top was covered in storage bins full of batteries and wires, nuts and bolts, and various other gizmos and gadgets. Crates containing records, cassettes, video tapes and CDs were lined and stacked against each wall, making walking impossible and standing comfortably nearly so. A sad smile washed over George. He and Fred had spent a good bit of their early childhood summers – when not playing pickup games of Quidditch – in this shed secretly playing with their dad’s projects and formulating ones of their own. Now, thinking about it, they probably owed their need to create to those summer days their dad never knew about. Glancing around now, it all looked smaller and far less grand than George had remembered it.
“This,” his dad’s voice sounded worn and tired, “is one of the most remarkable Muggle contraptions I’ve ever seen.” He held a small rectangular object in his hands. “You see, this bit that lights up when you push the button? It rotates whenever the device does as if it knows which way is up. Brilliant.” Pressing the button to demonstrate, his face looked a shade brighter. “Muggles call it an Eye Pod. I’ve still not figured out what its function is, but I think it’s for communication. Sometimes, words appear on the screen. Why just yesterday, I was tinkering with it and some man named John Lennon had a message about imagination on the screen – just tiny little letters.”
“Sounds brilliant, Dad.” George said, forcing a smile onto his face. His mind was whirring with a decision whether to ask the older man how he was doing – how his mum was doing, but before he had come to a decision, the words were out. “So, how’ve you and Mum been doing?”
A silence fell over the shed.
“Oh, some days are better than others.” He answered at last. “It’s just hard. Days that are good for Mol – your mum are bad for me, and days that are good for me are hard for her. But we’re getting by in this old house. It’s times like these that are the best, having a full table and sitting room – voices in the house.” A genuine smile flickered in his eyes. “We’re so glad you stopped by, George.”
George felt a small bubble of tears rise up in his throat and blinked his eyes rapidly.
“I am too, Dad, I am too.”
The arms that enveloped him into a firm hug were not worn or tired, and seemed to transfer a vitality he had been lacking into him. When at last the older red head pulled away, he coughed and removed his glasses, rubbing his eyes.
“So, have you thought any about what you’re doing with the shop?”
No. He, with the occasional help of Angelina, had sorted through countless boxes over the past few weeks, but all of his thoughts had been in the form of memories and not the future.
“Not really, I should decide something sometime soon.” George ran a hand through the front of his hair, stalling for time before he continued. “Verity has written me a dozen times at least wanting to know. I just don’t know. Angelina and I have sorted through some of the boxes from the shop, but I don’t want to rush the decision. I don’t have to – I have enough galleons saved up from what we made over the past few years; I don’t have to worry about money.”
“That’s a bloody poor way to treat your investment.” The horn-rimmed face of Percy Weasley appeared in the doorway. “Sorry if this was a private chat, but Mum’s trying to pawn more tea off on everyone and sent me to fetch you two.”
“Ah.” Their dad said with a hint of laughter in his voice. “We better go back inside, wouldn’t want to let her get too worked up.” He set the Muggle Eye Pod down on the bench top and brushed by his two sons.
George stepped to follow him, but found that Percy had stepped between him and the door.
“I mean it, George.” Percy said in an authoritative tone that, in years past would have garnered snide comments and teasing from the twin, but now commanded his attention. “I know it’s hard – he wasn’t my twin – but I lost my brother too. Sitting on that money Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes made, that you and Fred earned, it’s just not right. You should invest it in the company or something more productive that supporting your indecisiveness.”
“You done, Perce?”
His brother exhaled, effectively deflating his puffed out chest and smiled. “I think so.” He clapped his arm around George’s shoulders. “Should we go inside before mum has a Hippogriff?”
Later that night as he lay in his bed, Percy’s words ran through his head. The pompous redhead had said innumerable irrelevant and stupid things in his lifetime, but one thing he had said George knew was true. It wasn’t right to keep spending his and Fred’s money while he avoided thinking about what to do. He still wasn’t sure what he wanted, but he needed to make a decision no matter what it was.
Rolling over, he grabbed a scrap of parchment and quill from his bedside table and penned a quick note. Maybe a meeting with Verity would help him to clear his head. He whistled to Oddie and tied the letter to the owl’s leg. As the bird flew out his window into the night, a feeling of ease washed over him.
Tomorrow would be a good day.
Author's Note: Please be aware that the quote, "honestly woman, you call yourself our mother" has been taken from Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone (UK, Paperback edtion, page 70). The reference to John Lennon and Imagination can be attributed to his song, Imagine. A big thank you to Janechel for betaing this and to Lily and the rest of my lovely friends for cheering me onward. Finally, thanks to you my readers who want to talk about him. If you have the time, please leave a review!