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Chapter 9: George, December 1998
George, December 1998
Turning the nozzle off, the spray of the shower slowed to its normal, irritatingly persistent drip. One of these days he was going to have to break down and call a maintenance wizard to repair it – his own rather crafty attempts at repairing the faucet had apparently been insufficient. Despite the heavy moisture now hanging in the small bathroom, the air in his flat felt lighter than it had in months. Though he’d thought about it, George couldn’t quite put his finger on what exactly had caused the change.
In truth, it had more likely been a slow evolution. Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes had opened, and holiday sales had far surpassed even his most optimistic expectations. He, Ron, and Verity had been working almost literally around the clock in order to keep the shelves stocked and the patrons satisfied. There had scarcely been a time in which there was nobody at least browsing the display cases or watching a demonstration in awe. It had certainly been an exhausting few weeks, but whenever he finally got the chance to lay his head on his pillow he had often found himself wondering why he hadn’t done it all sooner. Christmas too had come and gone in the hustle and bustle of carols, heaping dishes of his mum’s cooking, and walls bursting at the seams with friends and family. Though each seat around the Burrow’s long table had been occupied – Hermione and her dentist parents, Harry, Kingsley, Luna Lovegood and the batty Xenophilus from over the hill – the space Fred left behind could not be filled. Despite the bitter ache of his absence, they had all been able to enjoy the holiday together. His mum had called it the magic of the holiday. Now it was very nearly a new year – and not a moment too soon. The wizarding world was long overdue for a fresh start, after all.
Stepping out of the shower and running a towel over his hair, George cleared a circle in the condensation that had collected on the mirror over his washroom sink. He hadn’t seen Angelina since the joke shop’s grand opening, but she had written him earlier with the specifics of the New Year’s party she had invited him to – festivities would be starting up around eight, there would be plenty of food and drink, and she was looking forward to spending the evening with him. The soft lines of her signature, the possibility of what this evening could mean, had left his pulse elevated and memories of heated, orange-flavoured kisses racing through his mind.
“Merlin, Oddie,” he said to the reflection of his small, red-coloured owl perched on top of the shower rod across from the mirror, “what on earth did she mean by that?” The meaning of the words in her letter flickered teasingly in his mind, and he scrunched his eyes shut before leaning in closer to the mirror. Scrutinizing the layer of stubble that had appeared on his chin - and looked more like a bad sunburn than actual facial hair - he retrieved his razor and shaving salve from the tiny cabinet below the sink. “At the shop, she made tonight seem like a casual get together with some people from school, but now - now she’s looking forward to spending the evening with me.”
Oddie let out a long hoot and fluttered down to the edge of the sink bowl.
“I mean, it is New Year’s Eve, and, well, I just don’t know what she expects from me this evening – am I her date? Not that I’d complain. Angelina, she’s just brilliant. And of course we’ve – ” He felt his pulse hitch at the memory.
The owl cocked his head, clacking his beak in an almost teasing fashion.
George glared at the owl and began spreading a layer of the shaving cream over his face before continuing where he left off. “But that was different, everything was – us, the world, the bloody war. I just don’t know.” Turning the faucet on, he ran the blade of the razor under the stream of water. Had his facial hair first started growing at any other point during his adolescence, he could have just muttered a run-of-the-mill hair removal charm, but it hadn’t. Instead, he and Fred had learned to shave at the height of their dad’s fascination with Muggle shaving mirrors and razors, and old habits died hard.
Stretching out his face, he pulled the blade across his skin. He could feel Oddie’s eyes watching him and heard him fluff his feathers. George knew the bird was settling into his perch on the sink.
“You’re a good owl, boy,” he said, clearing another strip of his face, “tolerating me whining like a school girl. But you know, what Angelina and I have now – it’s good, and I don’t want to mess that up by thinking she wants something more if she doesn’t, or continuing on like we are if she does. Godric, I feel like we’ve always come back to this unspoken cat and mouse game. I wish we could just be.” Cupping his hands under the stream of water, he leaned over the sink bowl and splashed on his face.
Oddie let out an agitated shriek. George jumped and rapidly blinked water from his eyes – he had apparently splashed the poor owl that was once again perched on the shower rod, preening his feathers.
The owl looked down at him with a sullen stare.
“Fine then, stay mad at me,” he said, turning his back on the brooding bird. “Just remember this if you ever need to talk.” Reaching up, he grabbed the owl and tossed him out the window into the evening air. It was already after eight, the wording of Angelina’s letter was no less baffling, and he still needed to find a clean robe to wear.
The world around him stilled, and George felt his feet make contact the brick bottom of Angelina and Alicia’s fireplace. He had been ready to Apparate from his Diagon Alley flat when he remembered that the girls’ flat was located in Muggle London, and while materializing in an unsuspecting, likely-intoxicated group of Muggles would certainly have been memorable, breaking the International Statute of Secrecy may have put a damper on the evening’s festivities. Luckily, there had been a pinch of Floo Powder in the bottom of his canister. Brushing the bit of soot from his green dragon-skin jacket, he stepped out of the hearth. A handful of familiar faces filled the room – the lucky ones crowded on the sofa while others sat at the wooden chairs from the table, or stood leaning against bookshelves. The buzz of their voices, cheery with the promise of a new year and a hint of the alcohol they had already consumed, intermixed with an upbeat pop tune playing from the wireless in the corner.
Despite the anxious feeling swirling around in the pit of his stomach, he felt a wide smile spread across his face. It had been a long time since he had had a good time with friends.
“Well, fancy seeing you here,” said the smiling face of Indira Shah. She had appeared at his side from the direction of the kitchen with Lee in tow. They both had white cups grasped in their hands, and the latter held a plate of crisps and some sort of steaming dip.
“Georgie.” Lee drew out the last syllable, looking between his hands as if to confirm that they were in fact full, and nodded in greeting. “Bloody hell, Wanda Garcia, do you think you could MC a worse program for New Year’s Eve?” he shouted over his shoulder in the direction of the wireless, before turning back to the group. “I do have to be grateful. She took my shift so I could be here with Indira – can’t leave my girl alone on New Year’s Eve,” he said wrapping his arms around her shoulders. “But good old Professor Binns is more interesting than she is – Wanda, not Indira, of course. Indira is very interesting.” He winked at George and dipped his head to nuzzle her shoulder.
Smiling, Indira rolled her eyes and skirted away from him.
“Oh, Lee.” George clapped his hand on his friend’s shoulder, sensing that he had beaten most of the party to the point of intoxication. “It’s good to see you, mate. And Indira.” He turned towards her and hooked his arm over her shoulders. “I barely recognized you with your trousers on. Last time you found me in a sitting room you and Lee had just been –”
“– broadcasting, yes, I remember,” she said, slipping away from his arms as well. “You’re really never going to let me forget that, are you?”
“Oh, I will eventually, when something equally amusing replaces it in my arsenal.” He smirked and helped himself to the white cup in Lee’s hand. The burn of firewhisky seared his throat. “So, are you two actually here together? You finally out of the broom closet, then?”
“—I finally managed to convince her that I’m much too good looking to keep secret,” Lee stated, cutting off whatever explanation she was about to offer.
Indira stared at him, a hint of amusement played behind her eyes. “What Lee is trying to say,” she said without breaking eye contact with him, “is that we’ve been keeping everything quiet for so long, and we’re going to have to tell my family eventually, so I thought it may be helpful to be honest with you all first – sort of like a practice trial.”
“Well I think it’s brilliant.” George smiled at his best friend and, now, non-secret girlfriend, his thoughts flickering to Angelina and her note. Regardless of how he interpreted her words, she still wanted to spend the evening with him. “Say, do either of you know where –”
“Johnson’s in the kitchen, lover boy.”
Lee had most definitely reached intoxication – even without the cup of firewhisky that he had swiped from him. George smiled at Indira, who had flashed him a sympathetic grin, before making his way through the room to the kitchen.
A delicious smell wafted up from the several trays and bowls that lined the small countertop. George inhaled and felt his stomach rumble, but the sound of laughter recaptured his attention. Angelina stood in the centre of the kitchen with Katie Bell and Alicia. All three women clutched at their sides with their heads thrown back, not noticing him standing in the doorway. A warm feeling rose up in his chest. There was something cathartic about seeing other people so happy.
“And then, if you remember –” Alicia said between bursts of merriment “—Oliver nearly choked on his biscuit, and Madam Hooch had to perform a Summoning Charm to save him.”
“Oh my Merlin, could you imagine the Prophet’s obituary if she hadn’t?” Katie asked. “’Budding, neurotic Quidditch star chokes to death on biscuit in response to the detention of his team’s Seeker.’” Laughing along with the others, she glanced up and smiled warmly in the direction of the doorway.
“George,” she exclaimed, “we were just remembering some Oliver Wood Classics – he’s supposed to be stopping by later, and we wanted to be prepared.”
Alicia’s and Angelina’s heads swivelled towards the doorway, their circle expanding to accommodate him, but George hardly noticed. The latter’s eyes had locked onto his, and he momentarily felt as though he had been Petrified.
“Right,” he heard Alicia’s voice say, “come on, Katie. We should probably go check in on the guests in the other room – leave these two here.”
George blinked as they brushed passed him. He needed to reign in his thoughts – his speculative conversation with Oddie had him over-analysing everything. He watched Angelina cross the kitchen towards him. A smile crept across his face, and he took a step forward.
“I’m so glad you were able to be here.” She threw her arms around him and pulled him into an amicable hug. Before he could decide what he should do with his own arms, she had stepped back. “Have you eaten? My mum sent me some of her party recipes – I’m anxious to see what you think of them, especially these. I spent most of the day cooking; Merlin knows Alicia’s a nightmare in the kitchen.” She turned and grabbed a plate and piled a bit of everything on it. “She took over planning the bar. Needless to say, there is enough alcohol in this flat for everyone to float into the New Year.”
“Lee must be the captain of the raft, then,” he chuckled, taking the plate from Angelina’s hands. “I talked to him and Indira when I got here, and he was already about halfway to floating.”
She laughed and rolled her eyes at her friend’s expense. “He’s quite the character. I cannot believe they’ve been dating since last March without us knowing. You should have seen Libby’s face when they Flooed in holding hands.” She paused in response to the incredulous look that flashed across George’s face. “We didn’t intend to invite her, really, but she overheard Katie talking about it in the atrium one day, and, well, here Libby is.” She shrugged, and he felt her watching him as he chewed a bite of the vol-au-vent she had placed on his plate with particular flourish.
“Holy hippogriff, Ang,” he said, swallowing, “this is brilliant.”
“Really? You’re not just saying that to be polite?”
“Really, truly. I pinkie swear.” He held up his hand with his smallest finger extended.
She giggled and grasped his pinkie with her own. “I cannot believe I’m twenty-one years old and am still making pinkie promises.”
“Eh, I’m a good investment.”
“Oi,” Lee called from the doorway, much louder than necessary, “George, Johnson - I don’t know what you two are doing in here, but there are drinks to be drunk in the next room. You’ll be the only sober ones here if you hide out in here much longer.”
“Thanks, Lee,” George called over his shoulder, matching his friend’s volume. He turned back to Angelina, who still had her finger wrapped around his. “So, would you like to go and get a drink with me?”
“Sounds brilliant.” Several seconds, which could have well been full minutes, passed before her dark eyes looked away from his face, and she dropped his finger. “I’m glad you liked my food.”
The sitting room was a touch livelier than it had been when he had first arrived. Several of Alicia’s friends from the Ministry had congregated in the corner and were dancing in time to the music. Oliver Wood had apparently arrived and was sitting at the table with Katie and Alicia and a few others. If the wild gestures he was making with his hands were any evidence, he was in the midst of a gregarious Quidditch story. Lee and Indira were sitting on the couch – Libby had wedged herself between them and was chatting a mile a minute.
“So,” George said to Angelina, pulling the cork out of the top of the firewhisky bottle and pouring a several inches into the bottom of his cup, “what would you like to drink?”
He looked over the collection of bottles set up on the top of the bookshelf. A rich, amber-coloured bottle of curacao caught his eye – it was her favourite, he knew. Unscrewing the cap, the citrusy scent of oranges assaulted his nose. Though he had never tried it, memories of the liquor’s taste on her mouth assaulted his mind. His hand shook as he poured it into a small white cup and added a splash of juice. Handing her the drink, her hand brushed against his. He felt his mouth go as dry as if he had eaten Doxy powder. His heart leapt up into his throat as he recalled the heat of her palms against his bare skin.
“Curacao?” she asked as she took a sip of the orange liquid. “Good choice – it’s my favourite.”
George’s mouth moved as though he was speaking, but his brain struggled to form words. A desperate need to say something, anything, to fill the lag of time rose up in his chest, and so he drained his firewhisky in a single mouthful. “Oh, yeah. It is, isn’t it?” he said, finally finding his voice as the burning sensations from the liquid slid down his throat.
Occlumency should be listed as a prerequisite to agreeing to attend a party with a woman -- was she smiling at him because she approved of the drink he chose, or because she too was caught up in past memories? Reaching for the bottle, he refilled his cup. It was going to be a long evening.
“Well, look who finally showed up.”
George’s head swivelled in the direction of Alicia’s voice, thankful for the distraction from his thoughts. The brunette had risen from the table where Oliver and Katie still sat and was walking towards the entranceway where Lora and Michael-the-Muggle Carmichael stood, still bundled in their coats and scarves. She wrapped Lora into a slightly overzealous hug and nudged the blonde girl’s husband playfully with her elbow.
“You know, we were starting to think you two weren’t going to show up, weren’t we, Ang?” Alicia called in the general direction of George and Angelina, never turning her head from the newcomers.
George was startled when he felt Angelina tug on the sleeve of his robe. She tipped her head in the direction of her friends, as though asking him to accompany her. He grinned and topped off both of their drinks before following her to the group of people congregated in the flat’s open doorway.
“Lora,” Angelina said, also pulling her into a hug, “I’m glad you made it. We’ve missed you.”
“Ah. I’ve missed you all – not living in London anymore is so strange.” Lora stepped back into Michael the Muggle’s side. “I’m sorry we’re so late. Since we were in the city, we stopped in to see both our parents.” She gazed up at the sandy-haired man with a look of doting admiration. “We had some news to share with them, and of course we wanted to wish them a happy New Year.”
“Lora,” Alicia said, smirking, “if I didn’t teach you to do this myself, I’d be shocked. You’re fishing for somebody to ask you what your news is – well played, my friend, well played.”
“I’m - I don’t know – I’m not fishing for you to ask me anything, Alicia.” Even in the dim lighting, George could see the blonde woman’s cheeks turn a shade of scarlet that could give any of the Weasleys a run for their Galleons. Despite the indignation in her voice and the blush on her face, her eyes were bright. Michael the Muggle squeezed her shoulder, and she seemed to remember that she had been trying to say something. “But, since you asked, no matter how rudely – ” she shot the gloating brunette a stern look, before beaming around the entire group “— we do have some news. Some pretty exciting news, actually.” Her voice practically squeaked. “I, erm, we – ”
“Lora and I, we’re going to have a baby,” Michael the Muggle said, picking up his wife’s faltering words. “Isn’t that brilliant?”
If George hadn’t played Quidditch and celebrated victories with Angelina and Alicia, he wouldn’t have believed that the squeals that came out of them were human in origin. A grin spread out across his face and he found himself shaking Michael the Muggle’s hand and clapping him on the shoulder without thinking. There was something profound about the couple’s news – a new life for the new year, for the new world – and it was beautiful.
The next few hours passed on a wave of that understood, yet unarticulated notion. Lee had managed to pull himself and Indira away from the clutches of Libby’s stories of self-glorification, and had launched himself on a campaign of increasingly slurred congratulatory toasts. George wasn’t sure how many firewhiskies had ensued, when he had traded in his white cup for the bottle, or why he had been so nervous and agitated earlier in the evening. It was nearly a new year – and everything was better than it had been in a long while. Michael the Muggle swayed in time to the music that still played from the wireless, Lora wrapped up in his arms. Katie and Alicia were immersed in a deep pool of gossip with the latter’s coworkers. Lee appeared to be in the midst of some sort of interpretive dance – Indira’s shoulders shook from her attempts not to laugh at his antics. Libby, to everyone’s amusement, had managed to seduce Oliver into a corner, where two had been snogging, none too subtly. They had all placed bets on how long it would continue before she felt the need to tell everyone about it, the winner getting the rights to inform Oliver that he had spent the evening in the arms of the infamous Libby McNulty. George smiled – he couldn’t have imagined a better way to spend the evening.
“Oh, George, look,” Angelina said stepping away from him – he was suddenly aware that she had been leaning back against his chest, and that he had been standing with his arms draped over her shoulders. She pulled the curtains back from the window. “The Muggles from upstairs are lighting fireworks out there.” She grabbed his arm and tugged him towards the window. “They’re not as good as Fred’s and your fireworks, but they’re still pretty – oh no.” Her jaw dropped. “We didn’t miss midnight, did we?”
“Nah,” he said, checking his pocket watch, “there’s only five minutes left until midnight – why don’t we go outside and count down with your neighbours?” He was acutely aware that he had no idea what to do with his hands. Slipping them into his pockets, he turned away from the window to the interior of the flat. “Oi, grab your drinks," he shouted over the music. "There’re some people counting down to midnight on the street. We should join them – show them how to celebrate the New Year.”
Outside, in the frigid night air, beneath a colourful display of fireworks, and mixed amongst a cluster of Muggles – who thankfully never batted their eyes at the group of people who had joined them dressed in robes – they all waited anxiously for midnight. George glanced away from one particular Muggle who had a giant, glowing clock on a rather ostentatious top hat to Angelina, who was standing with her head tipped back, watching the sky. He was rather impressed with her balance—when he tipped his head back in a similar fashion, the world spun. Taking his hands out from his pocket, he touched her elbow.
“Count down with me?” he smiled as she stepped under his arm.
“Ten,” the small crowd said in unison.
George glanced down at Angelina, surprised at the quiet ease they had settled into as the evening had progressed. He wondered if it was only due to the alcohol they had drunk – if it would last once they were both sober.
“Nine… eight – ”
“You’re right, you know,” he whispered over the crowd’s count. “My fireworks are much better than these.”
She tipped her head up at him – her lips parted in a wide smile, and smacked his chest playfully.
“Five… four –”
Her smile jolted something in the back of his mind, and a smattering of sweat broke out on the palms of his hands. Was he supposed to kiss her at midnight?
Something stirred in his stomach at the thought. He would gladly kiss her at midnight, but not at the cost of their friendship, or whatever it was they shared.
This was going to have to be her decision. He turned to face her and returned her smile.
Several fireworks cracked overhead, and murmurings of “Happy New Year!” rippled through the crowd of witches, wizards, and Muggles gathered on the street corner.
George pulled Angelina into a hug, hoping that she couldn’t feel the spike in his pulse as her body nestled into his chest. He sensed her eyes on his face, but before he could process this or even begin to react, he felt her press her lips to his cheek. It was the confirmation he needed, and he turned his head towards the kiss, imagining the feel of her lips on his own once again. However, he did not get the chance to bring his thoughts to fruition. She ended the kiss just as suddenly as she had started it, and laid her head on his shoulder. Bringing his hand up and brushing her braids back from her face, he pressed his own lips to the top of her head.
“Happy New Year, Ang,” he whispered into her hair.
Author’s Note: So there you are! When I initially started writing this story, I had intended to post this chapter around the New Year in the spirit of the holiday, but you know what they say about good intentions. I know there’s a lot of build up to the ending of this chapter, so hopefully it wasn’t too disappointing. I’d love to hear your thoughts! As always, a special thank you to Rachel, my beta, and to my friends who provided the encouragement I needed to finish this chapter.