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Chapter 15: George, July 1999
George, July 1999
Though Number 93 Diagon Alley was usually quite boisterous during normal business hours, George was certain that the other residents of the street had come to expect the quiet sort of calm that typically fell over the gregarious purple building as the sun set each evening. However, no such calm was falling over Number 93 tonight.
Window open to equilibrate the stuffy summer heat within the tiny kitchen with the cool night air, a series of throbbing bass lines and spliced choruses wafted out from the upstairs flat beneath the sound of raucous chatter, clinking glassware, and the occasional accusation of cheating. It had been long time since such an infectious feeling of mischief had coursed through him, and George couldn’t wait to hear his neighbours’ versions of the evening’s escapades floating through the shops tomorrow morning. Merlin knew the gossipy Madam Malkin wouldn’t be trying very hard to ignore their goings-on, and would have a story ready for anyone who’d listen.
If any of the other shopkeeps were too cross, he could always blame everything on Lee – after all, poker night had originally been his idea.
Stuck in the cramped seat between the wall and the wobbly kitchen table, Lee’s face was trained on the pair of playing cards in his hand. George impatiently watched his best mate as his eyes flicked shrewdly between his cards. Lee took the game of poker very seriously, and much to everyone’s dismay, had made out with their weekly pocket spending like a professional pickpocket at each of their previous three poker nights.
“For the love of Merlin,” George said at last, “make your bet already – it’s poker, not an unspeakable mystery. You’ve been staring at those bloody cards for almost ten minutes.”
“Don’t try to rush my genius.” Lee smirked, passing his cigar from one side of his mouth to the other.
George rolled his eyes. Lee insisted that the game of poker couldn’t be played without cigars – “It’s a necessary prop, you wouldn’t play Quidditch without a broomstick, would you?” – yet never lit the blasted thing.
“Right then.” Ron, who had already folded his hand, rose from his seat. “I’m grabbing us some more crisps before I keel over. Merlin, I didn’t survive on roasted mushrooms for months only to die of starvation at a poker night. Geoffrey better get here soon with the food.”
“Oi,” Lee called to the irritable ginger, “turn the wireless up on your way through – hearing Wanda botch another program will make this hand all the sweeter. I don’t know how she keeps getting promoted, the bloody cow.”
“Tell us how you really feel, Lee.” George took a long sip from his beer – Ron’s offering in exchange for an invitation to play with them. “And I don’t know,” he yelled after his brother as the volume of music pouring out of the wireless doubled, “when Geoffrey will get here –his wife was sort of reluctant about him coming at all, after last week’s debacle.”
Poker night had taken place at the Hoopers’ home last week, and Glinda Hooper had been less than thrilled with the resultant state of her kitchen, the front garden, and her husband’s wallet the following morning.
“Four Sickles,” Lee said at last, staring straight-faced across the table.
“About time. I’ll raise you two Sickles.” George tossed a few silver coins out in front of him.
“Oh-ho-ho, somebody is confident. Hopefully you’ll have better than two-pair this time.”
“Another drink, anyone?” Ron marched back to his seat, armed with a heaping bowl of crisps and three tawny-coloured glass bottles.
With each turn, they exchanged their bets, the pot in the middle of the table growing at a pace suggestive of Lee’s ego, until it came time to flip the river card: The Supreme Mugwump of hearts. A chief warlock, a druid priestess and a three of clubs had been flipped on the flop, a five of spades on the turn. Eyes gleaming, Lee barely glanced at his cards before he tossed another four Sickles onto the table. George knew his hand was a good one, but he was all too familiar with his friend’s dumb luck when it came to poker. Sighing, he modestly matched the bet, adding his own coins to the pile.
“Ha. Three of kind – read them and weep.” Lee threw down his own cards with a marked exuberance and began pulling the pile of Sickles and Knuts towards himself.
George picked up the two Supreme Mugwumps and slowly shook his head. “Nice try, mate” – his voice hung in the air – “but a straight beats a set any day of the week.” Relishing in his exceedingly rare victory, he slowly flipped over his nine of clubs and then his ten of diamonds. “Nine, ten, warlock, priestess, Mugwump – and I do believe that this pot is mine.” While Lee was still blinking in disbelief, George flicked his wand at his winnings, and watched as they floated across the table towards him.
“Hey, now!” Lee sprung to his feet, nearly knocking the table over in the process. “That’s a violation of poker night’s code of ethics. No magic at the table.”
“He does have a point, George.”
Cocking an eyebrow, the older Weasley stared at his brother’s sudden onset of gumption. Apparently his spine had confused the two beers he’d already drank with pints of Skelogro.
“Who has a point? This guy here?” Geoffrey had appeared in the doorway, his arms laden with a large, steaming casserole pan, nodding his head in Lee’s general direction. “I didn’t realize he knew how to make one of those.” He laughed and turned to set the food on the counter. “Sorry I’m so late,” he shouted over his shoulder. “I was late getting home from the office, and Glinda was already in a state about me coming here. I swear, that woman –”
Whatever he swore trailed off as he joined the table with a heaping plate of his wife’s stew– from the smell, George guessed it was of the lamb variety.
“Aye, Indira’s been bloody impossible lately too.” Lee split the deck for what had to be the sixth or seventh time since the last hand. “Can it be helped that the station’s new intern just so happens to be fit and thinks my dreadlocks are sexy? It’s not as if I hired her.”
“Ooh, I wouldn’t have pegged her as the jealous type – Glinda, absolutely, but Indira’s always been so nice and non-hostile.”
“I don’t know,” George said, chuckling. “She was a bit hostile that time I walked in on her wearing only her knickers and Lee’s shirt.”
“Women,” Ron grumbled, casually slipping away from the conversation towards the casserole on the counter. “I swear – they’ve all got it in for us.”
“Aww, does Granger have ickle Ronniekins on a short chain?”
Ron barely seemed to register his brother’s teasing nickname, and shoved two enormous bites of the stew into his mouth before he even sat back down at the table. “No, Hermione is fine – she’s always been bossy. It’s Mum who’s got me on the short chain. ‘Ronald, have you mucked the chickens yet? Ronald, can you de-gnome the garden? Ronald, I know you work sixty hours a week, but do you think you could help me polish the silver?’ Bloody hell, I need to move out of there.”
“Or feign deaf –”
“— or change your name ¬–”
“— or pretend you’ve been hit with a Babbling Hex?”
“You do know that if you live on your own, you’ll have to prepare your own food?”
A sad, wistful expression passed across the youngest Weasley brother’s face. “We all have to make sacrifices occasionally –”
A ripple of laughter filled the room, and George glanced around the table. The four of them were kicked back, having a few beers and playing poker after a long week of work, and complaining about the women in their lives. Adulthood in a world with no war, with no imminent threat of death or loss of loved one, was a strangely relaxing.
“So, what about you, George?” Lee said, as he cut the deck of cards once last time, his cigar once again clenched in his teeth. “You’re awfully quiet about your woman.” George considered the implication of the term ‘your’ before opening his mouth to answer for a moment, but the moment was too long for Lee’s patience. He’d already turned away from him and was beginning to deal the playing cards around the table, setting the hand’s ground rules as he went. “All right, five-Knut ante to play the hand – you all know the drill.”
“Oh, yeah, how is your bird? Johnson still dangling you out at arm’s length?” Geoffrey asked, sliding five bronze coins into the centre of the table and waggling his eyebrows.
“Angelina’s not a possession,” George said hotly, his own bid clenched forgotten in his hand. No matter what he said to them, the idea of her being his filled his chest with a primal sort of need to defend her. “She’s her own person – and she’s not dangling me anywhere. We’re just spending time together, taking it one day at a time.”
Despite his best intentions, Angelina’s one-day-at-a-time felt a bit lame on his tongue.
“For two people taking it one day at a time, every day’s awfully similar.” Ron nodded, forfeiting his cards back to Lee. “It’s like clockwork – closing time each day, she’s nosing around the shop, waiting for you to finish your paperwork.”
Damn Ron and his backbone.
“I think Georgie here is holding back from us, my friends.” Lee rocked back into his chair, a disgustingly pompous grin pasted on his face. “Why, only yesterday I ran into Alicia down at the Leaky Cauldron, and she just happened to mention that Johnson hasn’t been coming back to their flat on the weekends.” He addressed his next question to George. “Do you have any idea why that may be? And be honest – Merlin knows we’ve only been waiting since bloody sixth year to hear these details.”
“Oh – her sister Brianne is back from her apprenticeship thing in France, so Ang has been going home on the weekends to visit with her.”
Lee’s face fell like one of Hagrid’s rock cakes.
It was blatantly obvious what he wanted to hear, and so George purposefully didn’t give it to him. In truth, his response hadn’t been a lie – she really had been going home on weekends to spend time with her family. He had just casually left out the bit where Angelina also hadn’t been returning to her flat on Tuesdays – she never has to be at the office until mid-morning on Wednesdays – because she’d spent the night tucked into his chest.
“You two defy logic.” Lee sombrely shook his head before snapping his attention back to the two cards in his hand. “Now, onto more productive things, I’ll start the betting off with two Sickles.”
The sky outside the front windows of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes was the image of a prototypical summer day: Overcast with the promise of more rain.
In true Diagon Alley fashion, the mid-July hustle and bustle had prevailed, unfazed by the weather. Armed with umbrellas, Wellingtons, and an unafraid spirit, parades of N.E.W.T.-level students flaunting their newfound Apparition privileges and young witches and wizards dragging their parents in tow had been dripping water across the shop floor since the doors had opened earlier that morning. Bence Jones, the most talented of the three interns George had taken on at the start of the summer, had graciously set aside the trial runs of the promising new Funhouse Photo Developing Solution for the day in favour of sales floor upkeep. Glancing around the lime green display of Indestructible Bubbles, George saw that the rotund intern was still making his way up and down the aisles, wielding a Siphoning Charm and mop.
From the other side of the shop, the sound of Verity’s faltering tolerance carried through shelves packed with enough merchandise – or contraband, depending on who you asked – to cause Hogwarts’s newly-retired caretaker, Argus Filch, anxiety, even in the peace and quiet of his rumoured seaside estate. George knew that his assistant had done her best to remain patient with Mindy Pinkerton, another of the new interns, but patience wasn’t a virtue that came easily to Verity.
“No, Mindy, I’ve told you about a dozen times already. We are not rearranging the shelving chromatically. All the pink in this bloody section is bad enough; I don’t want to see rainbows in my sleep as well,” Verity said, through what sounded like clenched teeth.
“But rainbows are so cute and happy! How can you not want to see rainbows in your sleep? Personally, I use this clever little charm every night, and if you just –”
George pressed his face into his palm, imagining the intern’s annoyingly keen face – Verity’s faltering tolerance was justified.
For every bit as talented as Bence was, Mindy was equally as frustrating. Though she expressed a specific interest in the Wonder Witch line during her interview, she had still not made an attempt to do any sort of product testing, and instead had taken to following Verity around all day, talking her ear off. If it wasn’t for the girl’s ability to sell a copious amount of the bright pink products to nearly every customer – male or female – who walked through the shop doors, George would have had to excuse her from the internship weeks ago. As she in fact was a walking, talking, marketing aberration, the line’s sales were up nearly ninety percent and so George had finally decided to shunt her research-and-development off to Quincy Lawrie, the shop’s third, nearly invisible intern.
“Maybe you should follow Bence’s example and work on keeping the floors dry, instead of following me around. We don’t need some tyke with wet trainers slipping and falling. Besides, I already have a shadow – I was born with it.”
From the opposite end of the shop, he couldn’t see Verity’s face, but George was certain it looked about as pleasant as a basilisk.
Though he had initially been reluctant about expanding the staff, he couldn’t imagine keeping up with the continually increasing sales and customer demand with only Ron, Verity, and himself. Even with Mindy’s faults, she, Bence, and Quincy had helped the shop to not only keep up, but begin to once again develop, test, and put new products to sale. George loved interacting with his customers, but there was something about having the time to tinker over a cauldron that took him back to the days of hiding out with Fred and their tiny pewter cauldrons in cramped, abandoned classrooms.
A familiar tickle crawled up the back of his throat.
Only a few months ago, he would have swallowed it back and cursed himself for it. Today, he inhaled slowly before checking his pocket watch and glancing out the store front window. He wasn’t sure when the idea had occurred to him, but he’d come to associate the tickle with Fred’s presence – it reminded him that his twin was still here, a part of the shop and a part of him.
He blinked and cleared his throat. The sky beyond the glass pane was still grey, and large raindrops still pattered against the pavement. He certainly hoped that Mr Zonko had thought to bring an umbrella with him.
George had finally picked up the peculiar man’s business card a few days after the memorial service, and had written him to arrange a meeting. According to his assistant, Marlow – who was, in fact, a giant blue and red macaw – Mr Zonko was travelling the Alps, and would contact him upon his return. Not untrue to his word, a long scroll covered with elegant purple ink detailing every moment of his trip, and a request to meet today, had arrived via a large bird of paradise only yesterday.
“Mr Weasley?” Verity’s voice stole through his thoughts, and he turned away from the window. “Mr Zonko is here. He, erm – well, he let himself in the back door, and is waiting for you in your office. And just so you know, he has a tail, which Mindy didn’t hesitate to point out to him.”
“Sort of like when she told me that I only have one ear? She’s sharp as a tack, that one. Can’t get anything by her.”
Mr Zonko was indeed waiting for him in his office, perched on a giant, lavender-coloured pouf that he must have conjured for himself, and he did most certainly have a tail. It was a bit fuller and much brighter than it had been when George first met him in Hogsmeade. As George entered the room, the lithe blonde man sprung to his feet, hand extended in greeting and mouth chattering at the speed of spellwork.
“Hello, hello, hello, my friend – if I may call you my friend. I trust you received my letter, but surely you must have, or else you’d be asking why on earth I’m sitting in your office. Such a splendid office it is, too, I must say! The purple is particularly ravishing.”
George managed to blink once before Mr Zonko, crossing his legs and leaning forward, barrelled on with his elocution.
“Now, you must certainly be wondering why I sought you out – and let me tell you, you weren’t an easy man to track down. Marlow, the dedicated assistant she is, spent many a night perched outside your window. Unfortunately, she’s rather frightened of the dark, and the night is really rather dark – poor thing.”
If this were anybody else, George was certain he’d feel very uncomfortable, standing in his office doorway, being told he’d been followed by a talking macaw for the better part of a year. But there was something about Mr Zonko that filled him with an amused sort of ease. That something identified him as a sort of kindred spirit – the love of fun and laughter and mischief twinkled just beyond the surface of the man’s grey eyes.
“But persevered we most certainly did. I was just tickled chartreuse – pink is such an overused colour, don’t you think? – when I finally spied you in Hogsmeade. You see, my dear uncle – rest his soul – was not so different from you: Intelligent and creative, driven with a natural sort of ease that makes children toss away their parents’ hard-earned Galleons and Sickles for the latest gizmo or gadget. You, my lad, are an exceptional entrepreneur – such a strange people, the French – but silly-sounding word and alliteration aside, I very much admire your eye for business.”
To George’s great surprise, an extended silence followed as the eccentric man stared at him over the tip of his enormously long nose. Was he supposed to finally say something?
“Erm,” he said, faltering for words, “thank you?”
Though it still amazed him, his favourite childhood shop was one of many Hogsmeade locations that had still not bounced back from the war, and George was suddenly suspicious of his kindred spirit’s intentions. Fred had always dreamed of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes competing with Zonko’s Joke Shop – slowly winning the loyalty of its clientele and overtaking its place in every young mischief maker’s vocabulary – and it had. George had known so even before June’s quarterly numbers had come out, but he had a hard time revelling in such a circumstantial victory.
The war had side-lined far more than just a few businesses.
“I don’t want to rush you,” George said slowly, trying to predict the multitude of angles this conversation could go – anything was possible when dealing with such an eccentric character, “especially since you’ve been nothing but complimentary, but what is this meeting really about? I’m sure you and your parro – er, assistant, didn’t follow me for months just to tell me you appreciate my business sense. ”
“Oh, most certainly not,” the man exclaimed in his staccato manner of speaking, practically leaping to his feet. “That’d just be preposterous. I, my good sir, did a lot of thinking while meandering through the Alps – the yeti are a delightful population of creatures, make the best tripe stew I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting – and I have a little offer for you.”
Mr Garfield Zonko of the Zonko’s Joke Shop had an offer for him.
George took the three steps separating him from his desk and dropped down into his cushy chair, steepling his fingers in his best attempt not to look like a giddy child playing businessman. Clearing his throat, he was relieved when his voice came out nice and level.
“An offer, you say? Well, let’s hear it.”
Rubbing his eyes, George yawned and slid his chair closer to his desk.
The normal buzz of excitable customers, the ringing chime of the till, and the amiable banter of his employees had long since faded into the comfortable sort of silence that now filled his office. Quincy and Mindy had bid their farewells, followed soon after by Bence, who nearly always hung back to help Verity count stock. Even Verity had called it quits on her list of duties and had poked her head in to wish him a good night.
Outside of his bright purple walls, nighttime had definitively fallen over Number 93 Diagon Alley.
While he wasn’t the sort of shop owner who dumped unfinished work on his employees so he could leave on time – they were a team, after all – he also wasn’t the sort who spent more time than was necessary in his office once the day was through. Ever since the addition of the three interns to the staff, he had more or less gotten the end-of-sales paperwork down to an efficient science. That afternoon’s meeting with the particularly talkative Mr Zonko had perfunctorily derailed that efficiency; he had barely managed to usher the man out of the shop with the assurance he’d think over his offer before closing time.
Dipping his quill in the wrought-iron inkwell that Percy had given to him for his birthday, he struck out the last four figures he’d penned. It was late, and his mind was far away from the scroll of parchment on his desk, courting the nearly surreal notion of expanding the Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes name.
His chest swelled at the thought of his purple WWW stamped over the label of Zonko’s products – of the enormous prospect a second location – in Hogsmeade, no less – would be. He forced himself to push down the impulse to send an urgent note accepting Mr Zonko’s more-than-generous offer with Oddie right then and there. If accepted, this deal would be an enormous acquisition. George knew better than to rush into it without first combing over the fine print and considering every implication.
His hesitancy always was the perfect complement to Fred’s brashness.
Dropping his quill tip to the parchment, he forced himself to focus on the scroll of numbers in front of him. Only three calculations and he’d finally be free from work for the evening. Idly, he wondered if Angelina was upstairs waiting for him – sharing dinner after they both finished at work had become an intimate, nightly habit.
“You know if you stare at that any harder your eyeballs may fall out, right?”
George jumped, knocking over his inkwell as a wide grin spread across his face. He barely noticed the thick black ink slowly spreading across his desktop; his attention was trained on the doorway, where Angelina stood, still dressed in her work robes. He did notice the way that a few of her braids had escaped from behind her ear and hung down between the open top buttons of her robe. His heart thudded against his ribcage.
Suddenly, the air in the office felt too thin and too hot, and he found himself tugging at the collar of his own robe.
“I was upstairs waiting for you, but it got so late I figured I should come down and make sure you hadn’t drowned in one of your potions or been held hostage by a rogue Whizbang or something.” Her smile was playful as she sauntered over to the desk, siphoning up the spilled ink with her wand before leaning against it. “Long day, huh?”
“Seems that way,” George said, wishing his mouth didn’t feel quite so dry, “I’m sorry, Ang. I had that meeting with Zonko today, and Merlin, that man can talk. I didn’t even realize how late it’d gotten.”
He struggled to maintain his composure as the scent of her perfume – cinnamon and pears – seemed determined to pull him away from his figures and calculations ¬– and rational thought, for that matter. “I just have to –”
And then her mouth was on his, hungry and insistent.
George’s words were lost somewhere in the humming static that filled his brain. His heart rate hitched, battling to perfuse his body as it screamed for oxygen. He scarcely noticed that he had begun rising up out of his chair, closing the distance between Angelina and himself, until he felt her hand on the centre of his chest.
She pushed him back down and, smiling against his lips, sat back against the desk. The end-of-sales paperwork sat forgotten somewhere beneath her hips.
“What’re you smiling at?”
He was suddenly acutely aware of the lopsided excuse for a smile that had had taken up residence on his face as he watched her breathing slow to a normal depth. “Oh, just the other beautiful woman sitting on my desk – definitely not you.”
“Ha ha.” She crossed her ankle over her knee and her foot bounced, grazing the side of his thigh. “Well, tell this other woman that I’m not too keen on sharing you.”
“Angelina,” George blurted out, “what would you say about us opening a second location in Hogsmeade – prime real estate? Mr Zonko… Merlin knows the man is crazier than Lockhart, but he made this offer today, and, well – he’s offering me his premises there.”
“What do you mean, us? It’s your business. Your decision.”
Her head tipped to the side, and he could almost see the cogs whirring behind her eyes – women and their bloody astuteness.
“Oh. Erm,” he said, backpedalling like a Muggle cyclist before flipping on the brakes and inhaling. “I meant us – you and me. I know you always say that we’re just taking this one day at a time, but as far as I’m concerned, we’re in this together, in a way.” He didn’t give her time to respond before continuing. “Besides, you’d have to be dense not to know that your opinion matters to me.”
Whether or not she had truly heard him, he couldn't tell.
“So you’re really opening a second location? George, that’s bloody brilliant.”
“Well, I still have to read through the deal – make sure it’s all kosher, but” – he strove to keep his words those of a professional, even though he knew his face looked like a small child’s on Christmas morning – “it’s a very real possibility. I almost can’t believe it. This literally – well, not literally – but this practically fell into my lap.”
Her eyes were staring into his, the whirling cogs replaced by a look he knew to be pride, and he was helpless to look away. She brought her hands up to either side of his jaw and pulled him towards her, pressing a light kiss to his lips.
His lips parted even as she broke the away.
“I’m so proud of you,” she said against his cheek, her forehead resting against his.
“Do you remember the first time I showed you this shop?” Tipping his head, he nuzzled the side of her jaw and supressed a grin as he felt a shiver run through her.
“Of course I do.” She dropped her ear to her shoulder, exposing the long lines of neck. “I was a bloody idiot. We could have –”
Her words fell off as George trailed kisses down the length of her neck to her collarbone. The urge to throw what little patience he had to the wind danced beneath his skin. Lifting his face, he looked into her dark eyes. “We have this now, and I’m happy with it – with you.”
This time it was his mouth that crashed onto hers, just as hungry and insistent as hers had been. Sliding his hands behind her, he slid her off the edge of the desk into his lap.
What he said had been true: He was perfectly happy with what he and Angelina had together. She had a funny way of completing him, buoying him up just enough when he struggled to keep his head above water that he still was forced to keep kicking his feet so as not to drown. She had not, and would not, let him give up. He felt at ease with her, comfortable and safe and whole – a novel feeling since Fred’s death.
It was all of these far-from-simple truths that he willed into his every touch and caress as they made their way up the stairs to his flat – dinner long forgotten.
Author’s Note: And there is chapter 15. I’m sorry for the lag between chapter updates. I’m 9 weeks into this semester of veterinary school and time is a very hard thing to come by. I’d like to thank everyone who nominated and/or voted for With All Things this past Dobby Awards! I was immensely pleased and surprised by how much support this little story garnered. I must credit Gina and William for teaching me about the game of poker and for looking over my first scene – it’d certainly be a mess if it wasn’t for them. As always, a very special thank you to Sarah for her loyalty and enthusiasm, and to Rachel for doing a stupendous job of keeping my occasionally wayward grammar in check, and to you for reading!
I’d love to hear what you think, so if you have a moment please leave a review.
-Beta’d as of 30/10/12-