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Chapter 7: George, December 1998
George, December 1998
Currents of electricity prickled beneath his skin, and he could feel his heart pump in his throat. George suddenly wished that he would have listened to the advice in his mum’s letter and eaten a proper breakfast instead of rearranging the chartreuse display of Two-Ton Tongue Toffees (For Twice the Tonguefoolery) for the umpteenth time. Of course, showmanship was integral to the success of any undertaking, but he, Verity and Ron had been working around the clock for the past month in preparation for the big day. Each shelf, bin and display case was stocked with enough brightly-wrapped sweets, intricate potion phials and objects ranging in appearance from the ostentatious to the mundane to bring the finely tuned halls of Hogwarts to a screeching halt. He knew that the interior of the shop could not be more ready, but his hands itched for something to do. Beneath all of the nerves and excitement, a small part of him worried that waiting in the stillness, he would lose his gumption and it all would have been for naught.
“Oi. What time is it?” Verity’s voice carried over from the violently pink Wonder Witch section. “These miniature Pygmy Puffs are all squirming around and fussing – I think all this bloody pink is hurting their retinas too.”
The gold-coloured pocket watch that George had received when he had come of age nearly four years ago sat on the front counter next to the old register box. Its face read twenty-seven past four. Only three minutes, not even two hundred ticks of the second hand remained until he would flip the sign on the front door and unlock it. He sighed. These three minutes were bound to be three of the longest minutes in the history of time. Patience was not a virtue he’d been born with, especially in the face of such heavy anticipation and the flickering possibility of failure, though he knew that once the throngs of customers entered the shop, all would be well and there would be no turning back.
“We’ve still got a few minutes.” George said. Amused by his assistant’s obvious displeasure with her assignment for the grand re-opening, he rolled his eyes. She’d never notice it from all the way across the shop. “And Pygmies don’t see in colour, they probably just want some attention.”
He swore he heard her mutter lucky, and shook his head before rechecking his watch.
It was still only twenty-seven minutes past four. Restless from the adrenaline still flooding his system, George pulled the blinds away from the window and glanced outside. A large crowd of young witches and wizards had gathered in an impatient clump. Their chatter was audible through the store front, and their excitement was tangible. Several older witches and wizards – parents most likely – were trying their hardest to look less-than-thrilled about standing in the cold waiting for a joke shop to open. Despite their efforts towards reluctance, it was clear that they had pockets full of coins ready to spend on little Johnny or Susie’s more mischievous side. It had been Ron’s idea to schedule the grand re-opening to coincide with the arrival of the Hogwarts Express at King’s Cross with all of the students traveling home for the holidays. Judging from the number of people on the wintry street waiting for the doors to unlock, it was a fantastic plan.
He smiled. The youngest Weasley brother had been such an asset over the past few weeks. He had popped by each day after his work at the school was complete in order to help transport the boxes that George and Angelina had sorted into the shop, and now that Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes was in working order, he had offered his time to work a few shifts during the week. George owed his younger brother a lot, but he owed Percy more. It had been the Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic’s frank encouragement that pushed George to actually consider reopening the shop and his offhand suggestion to approach Ron for help that had made all the preparations possible. George had sent a gift very much in the style of his and Fred’s Percy-pranks of old, but he still needed to properly thank the mostly humourless redhead. Somehow, George wasn’t sure that the basket of his finest Wonder Witch products he had sent in the post with an anonymous, rather suggestive note about tardiness and office clerks would be interpreted as gratitude. He chuckled at the mental image of his straitlaced brother opening the package to see the bright-red Love Me Lusty Lip Gloss (Infused with Long-Acting Love Potion No. 5 to Make Every Kiss Memorable ) on the top of the basket. Thinking about it, he hoped his gift wouldn’t put a damper the newfound appreciation they had for one another.
Turning away from the window, he was surprised to see Verity standing in front of the counter with her arms crossed in front of her chest. The blonde’s face was pulled into a forced scowl, but her dark eyes flickered with an amused smile.
“I saw you roll your eyes at me.” She leaned against the counter, the smile from her eyes now playing at her lips. “But, I’ll have you know that forcing me to work over in the pink prison is an exploitation of my gender role as a woman, and I won’t stand for it. Make Ron work the section and I’ll man the pyrotechnics. Besides, I have seniority over him.”
George couldn’t hold it back, and laughed.
“This isn’t funny, Mr Weasley.”
“Verity, can you imagine Ron working the Wonder Witch line?”
“Hey.” Ron’s voice piped up from behind a stack of wooden crates labelled with animated images of shimmering, crimson dragons chasing small toads clad in pink cardigans and bows. “You two do know I can hear you?”
“Ron would do a ” – her voice cracked, but she did an admirable job of forcing through her own, obvious lie – “spiffing job selling Patented Daydream Charms and Ten-Second Pimple Vanishers to all the chipper, love-struck teenaged witches in London.”
“George, I – ” Ron had appeared at the counter as well, his magenta robe clashing wonderfully with his bright red hair.
“Ron,” George held his index finger up towards his brother, but maintained eye contact with his suddenly feministic employee. He cocked an eyebrow and leaned towards her. “Verity,” he said slowly, “this little protest of yours wouldn’t have anything to do with you not wanting to deal with the client base for the Wonder Witch line, would it?”
The blonde scrunched her eyes together and stared, reluctantly beaten, back at George. “Who doesn’t love quirky, hormonal teenagers?” She gave an exaggerated smile and turned her back on him.
“That’s the spirit.”
“George,” Ron said for a second time. “It’s half-past four. Should you maybe open the door?”
George exhaled. A loud buzzing filled his head and he glanced down at the pocket watch. It was time. Rolling his wand between his fingers, he pulled it out from his pocket and flicked it at the entrance to the shop. The sign on hanging in the glass flipped from closed to open, and the dead bolt slid from its place. The doors swung open and the first customers since the he and Fred had been forced to close the shop down entered the colourful space. With a second flick of his wand, several dozen multi-coloured bubbles filled the air above the heads of the customers and the tops of the shelves. The amorphous figures floated around the room, changing colours as they bounced off of the walls and one another. It was a small addition to the overall atmosphere of the shop, but it was the first product George had created on his own. If all went well during this trial run, Indestructible Bubbles would be the first item put to market.
A large smile spread across George’s face. He had done it. Number 93 Diagon Alley was once again open for business.
The number of people that had flitted into the shop during the first hour of business was mindboggling. The sound of laughter and squeals of excitement twinkled through the space more appropriate than any other ambiance music could. George found his hands constantly exchanging coins from the Register box with customers adorned in wide smiles and cheeky grins. Some shopkeepers may have thought it mundane to work the register, and foolish to trust employees to man the purchasing floor, but George found the position of cashier to be rather intimate. It was important to him to greet his customers and introduce himself, to see what they were purchasing and comment on the product, and to personally thank each one for their support. Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes had started within a family, and would grow as a family.
Ron’s voice carried snippets of his favourite anecdote across the busy shop. “And you should have seen the toad’s face – fireworks everywhere. It took the professors weeks to finally extinguish them all. These ones here are bloody brilliant”
George imagined his brother standing in the middle of a group of third- and fourth-year boys, regaling his tale to the awed audience like an ancient epic. Ron may not have shared the same passion for pranks and inventions as Fred had, but he was an asset to the store. At least three customers had asked him, while at the cash register, if the man in the pyrotechnics section was the Ronald Weasley. If he knew, George feared that his already-large head may not fit out of the shop door and he would be forced to stay in his flat with him.
George chuckled. Perhaps someday he would share this information with his younger brother, but for now, he couldn’t interrupt his dramatic narration. The sound of small footsteps drew his attention back to the counter. Not seeing anyone, he peered over its edge.
"Hey mister. Do heads really disappear? Where do they go?" A floating, feathered cap and a small headless body clutching several more Headless Hats to his chest stood in front of the counter. His pockets were loaded with what appeared to be a considerable supply of Puking Pastilles, and a pile of rubber chickens and fake wands lay at his feet.
George smiled. He liked this headless-kid.
“Does your head really disappear?” George asked, a look of well-practiced disbelief on his face. “Shall I get you a mirror, or would you prefer I send a search party for your missing head?”
The small child paused, as though contemplating his options, as several obnoxiously-coloured bowlers slipped from his grasp. “You really got a mirror back there?”
Unable to contain his smile, George held up a mirror in front of the boy.
“Galloping Godric!” His hands flew to his face just in case his head had actually disappeared. “My whole head is gone!” The remaining bowlers, a ten-gallon hat, and two tossle caps lay at his feet with the chickens and wands. “This is brilliant, wait until Trevor sees these. We’re going to figure out how all these things work.”
"I'll tell you what," George said picking up the boy's items and setting them on the counter. "I like your charisma. What's your name?"
The boy pulled the cavalier off of his head, which was topped in unruly brown hair and covered in dirt. “The name’s Frederick.” He ran the sleeve of his jumper across his nose. “But only my mum calls me that. You can call me Rick.” He extended his hand.
Still smiling, George shook the boy’s hand in all its sticky, youthful glory. “It’s very nice to meet you, Rick.” A feeling of serenity washed over him. It wasn’t just the boy’s proper name or his love of Headless Hats and other joke products that made George pause. It was the curious gleam in his eyes and the confidence he carried himself with. Of course everyone had told him that his twin would always be there looking down on him, but today George knew that Fred was right there in the shop with him. “How about this. Why don’t you just take these items as a gift – from one aspiring inventor to another?”
He could feel the boy’s dumbstruck eyes on him as he slipped the products into several paper bags and heard the sound of coins jangling back into his pocket. Looking up, he handed the haul across the counter.
“Gee, thanks a lot, mister,” the boy’s voice squeaked.
“Nah. Just promise me you’ll let me know if you ever figure out how those hats work? I’ve been trying to figure it out for years.” Winking, George tousled the kid’s hair.
Somehow, a short queue had formed since he had last looked, and he turned towards the next customer. To his surprise, a familiar redheaded face stood across the counter.
“Ginny.” He jumped over the counter and wrapped his sister into a tight hug.
“Urghh.” She squirmed out of his grasp as he flipped her hair over her face. “Thanks, George. Love you too.”
“Of course you do – you’re my favourite sister, after all. Besides, who doesn’t love me?” he said, smiling at her unsuccessful attempts to smooth her hair down. Despite being his only sister, George had referred to Ginny as his favourite for as long as he could remember. When she was too young to join his and Fred’s escapades, the title had served to appease her and had prevented her tantrums from alerting their mum to the mischief at hand. Straightening a small stack of adverts for Cantankerous Cauldrons (Guaranteed to Complain More Than You While Brewing) that he had bumped jumping over the counter, he sighed. “So, what do you want to see? Everything is on the house for you, of course. I have a few newer products that you may not have seen before we had to shut the place down. The Black (Moustache) Tea Leaves have done fairly well today. Prepare a cup for somebody, and they will have a fairly impressive black moustache in seconds – handlebar, pencil and Fu Manchu seem to be the crowd favourites. Oh and the Extendable Ears, an oldie but a goodie.” He said, pulling items from their shelves at random.
“George.” He felt the palm of her hand rest on his shoulder. “Stop. I came here to see you, not to leave with half the merchandise in the store.” She shook her head. “I miss you, and, and – well I haven’t seen you since summertime – I just wanted to see how you were doing and to tell you congratulations.”
He turned towards her, his arms still full of the things he had pulled from the shelves. Something seemed off, though he wasn’t sure if it was the lower volume than would be expected in a busy shop or the almost-stammer in her voice. “I’ve missed you too, Ginny.” He paused for a moment, watching. One hand pulled a chunk of hair that had fallen over her shoulder. The other fiddled with the gold and scarlet fringes on the end of her Gryffindor scarf. The corner of her bottom lip was clamped between her teeth, and she chewed on it every few seconds. Her gaze was directed downward, fixedly away from him, on the tip of her trainer sticking out from beneath her cloak. Everything about her posture and mannerisms suggested that she was trying much too hard and failing to look okay. George felt his heart plummet into his stomach. “Gin, how’ve you been?” He set the armful of joke products down onto the shop floor. “It’s okay, you know? Not every day can be a good one.”
“No, George.” She finally looked up from the floor and made eye contact with him. “I mean, yes. I’m fine. Sorry, I mean, this shouldn’t be about me. This is your big day, after all.”
“You’re right, it is my big day. And if I want to make it about my favourite sister, then so be it.”
“The shop looks phenomenal.” She continued talking as though she hadn’t noticed his attempts towards more serious talk, but the corners of her lips were pulled up a tad and her hands hung relaxed at her sides. “I’m proud of you.”
“You know you can talk to me whenever you need to.” Though he made a good attempt at pretending he hadn’t heard her, he couldn’t ignore her compliment. “You really think so?”
“Of course she thinks so. Everything in here is brilliant.” George turned towards arrival of a familiar voice. “Of course brilliant in a shows-an-intricate-understanding-of-magical-theory sort of way and not in an it’s-brilliant-to-prank-people sort of way.”
“That really means a lot coming from you, Hermione.” He grinned at the brunette witch. “Your boyfriend” – he drew the word out in a schoolyard singsong voice – “is in the back in the pyrotechnics section – revelling in the glory of being the Ronald Weasley.”
She rolled her eyes and turned away from him on her heels. “Boyfriend feels like such a juvenile term,” she shouted over her shoulder before she disappeared behind a large display.
George shook his head at her retreating back and turned back towards his sister. “I really meant what I said, Gin.”
“So I can really have the grow-your-own moustache tea like you said?” She smiled a wide, toothy grin. “I think Ron would look smashing in a black handlebar moustache. I’m sure Hermione would agree.”
The image of his brother with a black moustache was nearly as funny as the look George would expect to be on Hermione’s face when she saw the facial hair. Ginny had always had a good sense of all things amusing and nearly impeccable comedic timing. A swelling of pride filled his chest, and he threw his arm around her thin shoulders. She had very nearly distracted him from what he wanted to say. “Oh, Ginny. You’re skilled at the art of distraction, but you have a lot of learning to do yet.” She rolled her eyes, and George squeezed her shoulder to his a bit tighter than necessary. “What I was going to say is that I meant what I said. You can talk to me whenever about whatever.”
The boldness of her question surprised him, and he felt his feet stop of their own accord.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have – ”
“No, Ginny. Anything means anything. Even Fred. It’s good to talk about him.” George felt his throat crack. “I mean, talking about him and the things we did, it almost makes it feel like he’s here. I don’t want to forget what that feels like.”
He felt her pull away from his arm, and she turned to face him “George, I – ”
The sound of the shop suddenly broke through the capsule that had surrounded their conversation. His throat felt dry and he was a bit shaky on his feet. This was not the time nor the place for melancholy. Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes had always been a lively, energetic place, and it would certainly remain that way. “Right.” He cleared his throat. “So you said you wanted the handlebar variety? I have a few hybrid varieties if you’re feeling brave? They’re in the back room, if you want to help yourself. Take whatever, just let me know how they work?”
“Sounds great, George,” she said, smiling as she turned towards the back room.
He was grateful that she had gracefully allowed their long-overdue conversation to be set aside in favour of the festivities of his grand re-opening. Somehow, they always seemed to be on the same page. If he had to guess, she would stop by his flat later in the evening armed with enough Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavoured Beans and Pumpkin Pasties to choke a Hippogriff, and they would sit up far too late into the night stuffing their faces and catching up on lost time. She really was his favourite sister.
Smiling, George turned back to the bustle of customers in the shop. “Hi, ma’am how can I help you? I trust you’re enjoying your shopping experience here at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes?”
George inhaled and let a content, but tired sigh rush out of his chest. At last – there was no one standing in front of the register. Glancing down at his pocket watch, he couldn’t believe that it had been a solid three hours since he had not had a line of people waiting to pay for their purchases. Opening the shop in synchrony with the arrival of the Hogwarts Express back to London had proved to be a brilliant plan of action. Only a little over an hour remained until the grand opening came to a close, and the rest of the evening had passed in a blur of chatting customers, jingling Sickles and smiling faces. The aisles were beginning to clear out, and only a handful of shoppers still flitted around the various sections of merchandise.
“You did well today.”
Ron’s voice behind the counter surprised George, and he turned to see his brother. The younger Weasley’s lanky frame was leaned forward onto a display of Exploding Bubble Gum and a large grin was plastered on his face. George couldn’t help but mimic his face.
“We did really well today,” he said, clapping his shoulders. “Though, we’re still open. Shouldn’t you be manning the fireworks? I don’t fancy having one of those dragon whizbangs accidentally going off in here.”
“Merlin, that’d be awful.” Ron chuckled. “But I figure I’d give you a heads up – I think somebody may be here to see you. In case you maybe wanted to go say hello, or something.”
“Easy there, I never said it was Angelina.” Ron’s eyebrows slyly rose into his hairline, and his mouth adopted an amused, all-knowing smirk. George didn’t like the look one bit, and cursed his voice for sounding so eager. “But if it were Angelina, would that make a difference?”
“Ron, get back to the pyrotechnics section before I tell Hermione that story of the one Boxing Day when you cried because –”
“That’s a low blow, George. Low blow,” he said, grumbling as he retreated to the back corner of the shop.
George watched Ron walk away and he contemplated who else his visitor could be. Lee had stopped in earlier in the evening and bought a wide assortment of products that George very much doubted he’d be telling Indira about. Bill and Harry had both popped their heads in on their way home from the Ministry. Even Oliver Wood had paid him a visit with the youth Quidditch team he coached on the weekends. George exhaled and ran his hand through the front of his hair. He supposed it could be Percy, though that was a long shot. The idea of Percy in a joke shop was nearly as ludicrous as the thought of his rumoured affair with the office clerk. Sifting through the list of possible visitors made George feel better about jumping to Angelina so quickly. At least reason didn’t dispute his keen subconscious.
The sound of her voice affirmed her identity.
He felt the corners of his mouth pull upwards. They had talked about this phenomenon – how he couldn’t help but smile whenever she was around – the last time she had stopped by his flat to help him finish sorting his and Fred’s things. She of course was sceptical, and he had valiantly attempted to regain voluntary control of his facial muscles. He had failed miserably and ended up laughing and snorting the tea she had prepared for them up his nose. Whatever it was about her, he appreciated it and had begun to look forward to the limited time they spent together.
“Is that really him?”
The sound of a small voice pulled George from his thoughts. A young boy was hiding behind Angelina’s legs, more or less failing at being inconspicuous. Another, younger boy held her hand at the end of a chubby extended arm.
“Of course that’s him, Andre. Mr Weasley Wheezes himself,” the smaller of the boys said, tugging at Angelina’s arm.
George glanced from the boys to Angelina and bent his knees to be at their level. “So how is it that you know who I am, but I don’t know either of you?”
The smaller boy piped up and pulled away from Angelina’s grasp to stand directly in front of George. Both his hands were tucked behind his back and he swayed from side to side. “I’m Elliot Johnson-Guidry and I’m five years old.” As if to prove his age, he held out his hand with all five fingers extended. “And that’s my brother. He’s eight.” Elliot turned his attention to his fingers, and struggled with them as though he wasn’t sure exactly how many eight was.
“These are my nephews, George.” Angelina reclaimed Elliot’s hand before he had solved his numerical problem. “This one here, as you’ve been told, is Elliot and this is Andre.” She stepped to the side to reveal the older boy. “He loves jokes. Valerie brought them here once and Andre fell in love.” She ruffled the boy’s braided hair. “When he found out I knew you, he begged me to introduce you.”
“Yeah, but now he’s being all shy. He’s always shy.”
“Elliot.” A woman, very much resembling Angelina save for her wild, combed-out hair and the beginnings of lines around her eyes came out from around the corner. “Be nice to your brother or you’ll have to wait outside.” She turned her attention away from the boy. “And you must be George Weasley, Valerie Johnson, it’s so nice to finally meet you.” She extended her hand.
George pulled himself back to his feet and returned the handshake. “Nice to meet you, too.”
“Valerie,” Angelina hissed.
The older Johnson smiled at her sister and grabbed Elliot by the hand. “Come on El, let’s look at all these things over here. Leave Auntie Ang alone.”
Smiling, George turned his attention back towards Angelina and Andre, who still stood mostly behind her. She rolled her eyes and pushed the boy in front of her, resting her hands on his shoulders. “Merlin. You’d think that after twenty-one years, she’d be tired of teasing me. But, you know how older siblings are, I suppose. Always think they know everything.”
“Hey.” Andre pulled away from her, giving the sternest look his face could muster.
“You’re the exception to that rule, of course, Andre.” She poked the boy’s nose. “Why don’t you say hello to Mr George? It’s all you’ve been talking about for days and the shop closes soon.” He seemed to contemplate her words, but made no attempt to actually say anything. She glanced back to George. “We meant to be here earlier, but Valerie is about as prompt as a troll.”
“I’m glad you could come, Angelina.” Honestly, he wasn’t sure where’d the shop would be right now without her help. She had kept him company throughout most of his evenings spent going through dozens of boxes – had listened to each of his stories, shared her own and politely looked away when something caught him off guard and made his voice wobble. He knew that he ought to thank her, but the words were stuck in his throat. Instead, he turned to Andre. “So Andre, how does this sound. You go and pick your favourite thing from the shelves. Anything at all, and I’ll tell you exactly how it works. Just you.”
“Really?” His voice was small, but excitement quivered on its surface. “You’d do that for me? Could you even sign it? Gee whiz, if Elliot sees I have your autograph.”
George had to bite his lip to keep from laughing. “Of course I’ll sign it. Go on and pick something out, all right?”
“Do you realize the can of Flubberworms you just opened?” Angelina smirked at him as Andre disappeared behind a shelf of rubber chickens.
“Eh. Andre’s a tough kid. He’ll be all right. Though that Elliot is a firecracker.”
“You have no idea. He was rather subdued today.” She took a step closer to George, and he felt his heart rate flutter.
She was close enough now that he could smell her light perfume and could see the glossiness of her lips. His breath caught in his throat as he remembered how soft they felt beneath his own. He wondered if they still tasted like oranges and whether they would still leave trails of heat along his skin. A numbness washed over his body and he inhaled deeply, trying to clear his mind of thoughts from another lifetime. It was no good to dredge through the past and what could have been. He liked what he and Angelina had now – a simple, easy friendship.
“So I was wondering” – he jumped as the sound of her voice broke through the thoughts racing in his head – “if maybe you’d like to –”
“Mr George, Mr George.” Elliot’s shrill voice broke through the shop. “This package says U-No-Poo. Mum says ‘poo’ is a nasty word. You’re gonna be in trouble.”
“Elliot, get your skinny little arse back over here. Now. Auntie Ang is talking to Mr George. It’s rude to interrupt.”
Angelina pursed her lips together and looked downward for a moment. “She doesn’t see it, but it’s amazing how alike those two are.”
George chuckled. “They both have impeccable timing, that’s for sure. What were you going to ask me?”
“Oh, that. I was just going to see if you’d like to come to Alicia’s and my New Year’s party with me. It’s just casual. Nothing big. Just some friends and stuff. I’m pretty sure Lee is going to be there. He asked if he could bring a date, so I’m anxious to see who this mystery lady is.”
“Did he now?” George smirked hoping that his second encounter with Indira would be less awkward than his first.
“Here. I found it.” Andre scampered over to George’s side with a stuffed, furry rat in his hands. “A disappearing rat. This will drive Mum bonkers.” He handed it to George and smiled expectantly as George signed the creature’s stomach. “Wait until Elliot sees this. Elliot, Elliot –”
“He really idolizes you, George. You probably made his week.” Angelina tucked several loose braids behind her shoulder and glanced over to where Andre had found Elliot. Valerie was nowhere to be seen. “Oh, I should probably go and break up the fight that is surely about to happen.”
“They’ll be fine.”
Smiling, she rolled her eyes at him and turned towards the boys.
“I’m really glad you came today, Angelina. I’ll see you at your party, then?”
Author's Note: Thank you so much for reading! The support this story has garnered thus far is unreal, and I cannot thank you enough. This is officially both my longest WIP and my my most reviewed WIP. I hope you enjoyed this chapter! I know it was a long one, but it was an important stepping stone for George. Aren't Angelina's nephews cute? This was my first attempt at introducing a bit of George and Angelina's romantic (?) history. I'd love to hear what you thought. As always, a huge thank you to Janechel, Sarah and Annie for betaing and helping me iron out the Ginny scene. Any WWW products you recognize come from the lovely world of Harry Potter and are not mine.