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Chapter 17: George, September 1999
George, September 1999
There were many topics in which George had very little interest, but after an entire day seated at a long, polished wooden table listening to legal thrusts and parries about suspiciously worded phrases, he could now say with great certainty that contractual law was one of them.
Now, standing outside on the narrow cobbled street, George inhaled a gulp of stale London air and glanced up at the building he and Percy had just exited from with a tired grin on his face. The grim, grey granite was a rather poor indication of the ornate interior of the office of Shunpike, Shunpike and Associates –the Shunpike men, who didn’t make a living hoisting wayward travellers’ luggage onto the Knight Bus, had a long and successful history in the field of legal representation – where the brothers had spent the better part of their morning. He’d take grim granite and stale air over polished cherry and legal jargon any day.
Thank Merlin that Percy felt differently – the older Weasley had practically leapt on George’s request to accompany him to his meeting with Mr Zonko and his legal team, and had spent the better part of the last three days – according to Audrey – poring over the deal with a fine toothed comb. George still wasn’t sure if she had meant that literally or not, but, assuming that Oddie had delivered it, a basket of fine toothed combs bewitched to temporarily turn the user’s hair into spaghetti noodles was waiting outside his brother’s flat.
Pranks aside, he really did appreciate his brother’s meticulous tendencies.
“So George,” Percy said, patting him on the shoulder, “how does it feel to be the owner of a franchise?”
George’s grin widened as Percy’s voice rang in his ear.
Zonko’s Joke Shop had been one of his and Fred’s favourite childhood locations – they had spent countless hours sitting between the tall dusty shelves trying out each and every product – and now it was all a part of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.
“Surreal?” He laughed, running his hand through his fringe.
“Well, let me at least buy you some lunch, though” – an awkward, I-am-about-to-say-something-only-I-find-funny sort of grin creeped across Percy’s face – “with as much money as you’ll be making, you should probably be the one buying me lunch.”
“Perce, I really appreciate everything you’ve done for me with these negotiations” George fell into step next to him. “I can pay for lunch if you’d like.”
Or buy you a jar of pasta sauce.
“Are you kidding me? I was barely necessary – Mr Zonko practically gave the premises and product line away. I just had to play the part well. After all, I may never have another opportunity to represent somebody in a legal setting. This was practically a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
All the younger Weasley could do was laugh at the way his brother’s chest had puffed out in pride and face had adopted a look of absolute seriousness as he spoke.
No matter how self-important he had made them sound, Percy’s words were true. Mr Zonko really had given it all away. The shop, all the merchandise on the shelves and back stock, and the rights to reproduce all of Zonko’s products were now property of WWW. The only thing George had to put on the table in exchange was a promise to allow the batty Mr Zonko access to tinker in the back of the shop should inspiration arise, a very modest yearly stipend, and a constant diet of macadamia nuts and papaya for Marlow. Even Shunpike Sr. had tried to convince the peculiar man that he could and should try and get more out of the deal, but Mr Zonko wouldn’t hear of it and had insisted that he wanted George to have it all.
Passing out from the shadow of a particularly broad building, Percy opened the latch of a knee-high decorative gate that surrounded a quaint patio. Brightly coloured potted plants dotted the round, glass tables arranged on the cobbles.
“The McNeals make the best chicken salad croissants,” the lanky red head dropped down into a seat with a surety that told George that he was a regular at the café.
“The McNeals? Any relation to Audrey?”
“Oh, yes. This is her parent’s café,” Percy said, pushing his un-needed menu towards George. “We actually met here – she waits tables a few nights a week after her shift at Flourish and Blotts. You know, extra spending money and all.”
“So they’re Mu –”
“Oh, yes. Most definitely. Primary reason Dad hasn’t been given the opportunity to meet them just yet.”
“Fair point,” George said scanning over the menu, “Ang’s dad’s a Muggle, too. I imagine Dad would have a field day with them – you said the chicken salad was good?”
“Very. So, are you and Angelina serious, then?”
George looked up from the menu and across the table at Percy. Growing up, he had never been one to share anything personal with his overly-keen brother, choosing rather to express his fraternal affection with anonymous baskets of dragon dung (or combs) or by tampering with the lanky ginger’s important pins and badges – both of which he still did from time to time. Amusedly he wondered if Percy had noticed the changes on his clearance pass for the Minister’s office. Surely not – the undersecretary would most definitely have mentioned being denied access to the most secure wing of the ministry because his ID badge read “Percy Ignoramus Weatherby, Under-secretory to the Minister of Marbles.”
Truth was, though Percy undoubtedly would always make a perfect target for pranks and jokes, George had found himself growing closer to his straight-browed brother since the latter had pulled his head out of his arse and decided to associate with the family again. Or maybe it was since Fred had died and he no longer had his partner in crime to share everything with – or maybe it was some combination of the two. Whatever the reason, one thing was certain: War did strange things to the dynamic of a family
Case and point, he was about to talk about he and Angelina’s relationship with Percy.
“Well,” George said slowly thinking of the feeling of Angelina nestled in his arms, “I’d like to think we are.”
Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes’ daily registry of sales, inventory, and figures – sat uncharacteristically incomplete and forgotten on the corner of George’s desk. Leaving his work unattended felt strange, but Verity had sworn up and down that she could handle it. Besides, whenever he did open the second shop for business, he’d have to hand over at least half of the daily paperwork to somebody – he couldn’t be in two places at once, after all.
George turned towards the mirror that hung on the wall nearest the door, and leaned in to examine his teeth. He’d brushed his teeth already, but one could never be too careful – he distinctly remembered having to break the news to Fred after returning from an evening with Hollis that there was large swatch of spinach wedged between his two front teeth from dinner earlier that evening. Smiling, George ran his tongue over his pearly whites and deemed them acceptable.
An amused hoot rang out from the perch in the back corner of the office.
“I don’t know what you think is so funny, Oddie. Rogue spinach is no laughing matter,” George said as he began rifling through a filing cabinet drawer. “Aha. I thought I threw this in here after –” the memorial service his mind finished where his words left off.
Hand closing over a swatch of fabric, he pulled out a neon orange bowtie speckled with purple reindeer and slammed the drawer shut. His hands were fumbling to tie it when he felt the Oddie’s talons land lightly against his shoulder. The little owl hooted and pecked its beak against his cheek.
“Thanks, boy.” George ruffled Oddie’s feathers fondly as he finished adjusting his shirt’s collar. “So,” he said turning back towards the mirror, “how do I look?”
“You look fine – big date?”
He jumped at the sound of Verity’s voice and spun towards her.
“You left that awful neon green jacket of yours by the till. I figured you would want to wear it tonight.” Handing it to him, she sauntered over to the desk and leaned against it.
“Thanks,” George said, running his hand through his fringe. “And yes, it’s a date. It’s Angelina’s birthday. I’m surprising her at the office.” He slipped his arms into his dragon hide jacket. “Are you sure you don’t mind finishing up the paperwork?”
A thin grin slipped across her face, and she shook her head. “Are you crazy? Of course I don’t mind. Get out of here and go surprise your lady.”
George smiled at his assistant, made certain his wand was secure within his pocket, and strode from the office.
The trip to the Ministry was uneventful, but his transit through the visitor’s entrance left the small bouquet of flowers he had picked up from a street vendor looking a little worse for the wear. Tapping his wand against them, he muttered rennervate beneath his breath before entering the first available lift. The only other occupant was a tiny, elderly witch with purple-grey hair that stuck out at odd angles from beneath her pointed hat. George recognized her as one of the ministry employees who had proctored his O.W.L examinations nearly six years ago. He nodded to her politely before turning to face the gate.
“Those are lovely posies, my dear. She must be a very special girl,” the elderly witch said in a wobbling voice as the lift’s voice chimed level seven in a clear smooth tone.
Taken aback by the feel of her shaky hand and long fingernails against his shoulder, George could only smile and nod appreciatively as the gates began closing behind her. It was only when the sound of the gate latching reached his ear, that he realized level seven was his destination. Frantically he pressed the open-door key hoping that his epiphany had come soon enough.
A sigh of relief rushed out of his mouth as the lift’s gears stilled and the gate slid back open.
“Again, Level Seven: Department of Magical Games and –” the lift’s voice quipped.
George didn’t wait to hear the rest of its script. He was fairly certain that Angelina’s cubicle was somewhere amongst the British Quidditch League offices, and so as long as he was able to pick those offices from all the other offices within the department, he should be able to find her with no trouble.
Unfortunately, after what felt like an entire trip through the department, the only section of offices he could assuredly identify was that of the Irish National League – subtle as they were, a twelve foot tall shamrock stood glimmering next to their row of green cubicles. Returning to the front of the department, George slumped against a wall and pulled his pocket watch from his jacket pocket. If he didn’t find her bloody office soon, there was a chance he’d miss her altogether.
“Can I help you, sir?” a rather plump, middle aged woman wearing far too much makeup asked him from a large, reception-type desk. “Of course, you could always walk your sweet bum over this way and give me those flowers.”
George blinked at the woman as a horrible, screeching laugh filled the still office air.
“Oh, I’m just joshing you, son – poor Eunice doesn’t get many opportunities for fun here. No need to look like you’ve just seen You-Know-Who.”
When George didn’t respond, the Eunice woman flicked her wand at a portfolio on her desk. “You’ll be looking for Miss Johnson, if I can wager a guess? A group of her friends had a bunch of balloons delivered for her birthday earlier today – such a sweet girl, she is. But of course you know that, don’t you, stud?”
Rather entertained at the woman’s ability to carry on a full conversation with herself, George didn’t realize she was waiting for an answer until she loudly cleared her throat.
“Oh, yes. She’s the best.”
Eunice mimed wiping a tear from the corner of her eye before opening her mouth once more. “Go straight down this row of offices here and then turn right. Her cubicle is the third on the left,” She said, gleaming at him from behind her desk. “You kids have a good evening – don’t do anything Eunice wouldn’t do.”
George nodded his thanks – concerned that if he spoke, the one-sided conversation might continue – and made his way down the row of offices as per her directions.
As he turned into the third cubicle on the left, a wide smile spread across his face. Angelina sat with her back to him. A thick scroll of parchment was unrolled on the top of her desk and a deep red quill was poised in her left hand. Framed posters of each of the British and Irish League’s thirteen teams hung along the walls. The bunch of balloons that he assumed that Alicia and Lora sent was tied to the back of her chair.
Tiptoeing across the floor, George wrapped his arms around Angelina’s shoulders. He had to stifle a laugh as she jumped out of her chair and spun towards him.
“Nice to see you too,” George said, not bothering to contain his smirk.
“In my defence, I didn’t know it was you,” Angelina huffed.
“You didn’t know it was me?” He tipped his head, handing her the bouquet of flowers. “How many other blokes in this office wrap their arms around you?”
She rolled her eyes, smiling as she clutched the flower to her chest.
“Happy Birthday, Ang.”
“They’re beautiful – thank you.” She withdrew her wand from her robe pocket and conjured a small vase on the corner of her desk. Placing the stems into it, she turned and leaned into George’s chest. “Did you come the whole way here just to give me flowers?”
He pulled her close and pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “Ahh. You see, a little bird told me you’d be getting off of work soon, and I just happen to have a surprise planned for you.”
“Aw, George,” Angelina said pulling out from his arms, “I’m so sorry, but I just made plans with my parents – told them I’d be over for dinner. I should have mentioned it to you, but you can come with me if you’d like. They’d love to finally meet you.” She squeezed both his hands. “I am sorry.”
“You don’t need to be. That sounds perfect.”
The Johnson home was, as George found, a very inviting, relatively normal house in a lively, Muggle-London neighbourhood.
Knowing that she was anxious to show him the town in which she had grown up, George allowed Angelina to Apparate them into a secluded alcove between two buildings so that they could walk the several blocks through a street market bedecked with coloured awnings, bright against the grey sky, and eclectic stands ripe with plump fruits to her family’s house.
At one such stand, a stooped and lined, elderly woman wearing a head wrap welcomed Angelina home with a warm hug and kiss. She spoke in an accent George couldn’t name and sent them on their way with a basket of end-of-summer mangos and green, prickly fruits that he also couldn’t name. Several metres down the street, Angelina finally answered his curious looks and told him that the woman was Grammy Amelie, a matriarch of the neighbourhood who had run the same fruit stand since Angelina’s dad was very young. Though she was her grandmother in title only, Grammy Amelie had fawned over her since she was a small girl.
Just outside of the Johnson’s front garden, George pulled Angelina into close hug and held her there for a moment.
“What’s this for?” she asked, glancing up at him with a coy smile on her face.
“I’m just glad to be here.” Dropping his arms and following her up the short cobbled path to the door, George couldn’t help but think about how he could see the little bits of the town he’d experienced in her. “Should we go inside?”
Angelina nodded and squeezing his hand, opened the door.
However, before he had a chance to look around and take in the house’s lack of crooked walls, mismatched furniture and overt magic, he was engulfed by the warm smile and firm arms of a witch who very much resembled an older, greying Angelina.
“Happy Birthday, baby girl,” Mrs Johnson said to Angelina over his shoulder even as she was pulling him into the hug, “and it’s so nice to finally meet you –” She stepped back from him and implored her daughter with her eyes.
“For the love of Merlin, Mum, you know his name.” Angelina rolled her eyes and stepped into her mother’s arms.
“That doesn’t mean you don’t need to introduce us, I do believe your father and I raised you better than that,” she scolded, barely keeping her eyes’ teasing smile from her lips.
“Just what did we do, Louise?” a tall, lanky limbed man asked in a voice laced with a hint of Grammy Amelie’s accent. His round stomach protruded over the band of his trousers beneath his store-bought jumper. “And just who may this interestingly dressed individual be? I say, that is quite a unique shade of green.”
George swallowed roughly. He wasn’t able interpret her dad’s facial expression or tone of voice, and it made his hands sweat. Sensing a brigade of impending handshakes, he wiped them on the outside of his jacket.
“Mum, Dad,” Angelina said, glancing between the two of them, “this is the George Weasley I’ve told you about.”
“Mr Weasley’s here?”
“Mum, Mum did you hear that? Auntie Brianne, did you hear that?”
George had barely finished shaking Mr Johnson’s hand when the bright faces of Angelina’s nephews appeared in the doorway, dragging their mum and another woman who George assumed was Brianne, another of Angelina’s sisters who had returned from her fashion internship in France not too long ago.
Angelina laughed and scooped the smallest boy, Elliot, who was much too big to be held, up into her arms before he had a chance to accost George. “The boys are big fans of his work. Valerie and I took them to his shop last year – that’s where they got those clever little disappearing mice. George,” she said crouching down to release the squirming six year old, “you’ve met Valerie. The over-dressed pariah in the doorway is my sister, Brianne.” She offered her sister an innocent smile before standing up to pull her into a hug.
“Mr Weasley, Mr Weasley, Andre said that you didn’t come here to see us.” Elliot stood beside George, tugging at the leg of his trousers. “I told him that wasn’t true. I always know bestest – Auntie Ang finally brought you to play with us.”
“Boys,” Valerie said in a warning tone, “why don’t you go upstairs and wash up? Then wait in the kitchen – Grammy may need some help.”
George watched in amusement the two boys scampered up the stairs pulling and tugging at one another’s jumpers to try and reach the top first. Turning towards him, the oldest sister apologized before pulling Angelina into a hug and wishing her happy birthday.
“Girls,” Mrs Johnson said to her daughters, “if you wouldn’t mind giving me a hand in the kitchen for just a moment? Give the poor boy some room to breathe before he decides not to come back.”
One by one the Johnson women disappeared from the narrow entry hall. Angelina was the last to follow her mum to the kitchen, flashing George an empathetic grin before giggling and disappearing around the corner. He knew that she was probably concerned that he was feeling overwhelmed by all of the new faces he’d shaken hands with and smiled at since he walked through the door only moments earlier. However, he was a Weasley and had grown up in the controlled state of madness that was the Burrow, and so this swarm of faces and buzz of voices left him with a comfortable feeling of belonging.
A blur of movement in his peripheral vision reminded him that her dad was still standing with him. Not sure what the older man thought of him just yet, George smiled and nodded at the older man.
“Come, walk with me, George,” Mr Johnson said, motioning for him to follow him through a doorway. Only when they were seated in two stiff-backed armchairs in the sitting room did he continue. “So, my Angie tells me you’re in the joke business – that you own a shop?
“Erm,” he responded, willing his voice to cooperate, “yes, sir. We actually just finalized the deal to open a second location today. We’re hoping to open for business sometime this spring.”
“And you’re a wizard?”
George had to stop himself from chuckling before opening his mouth to answer. “Yes, sir, I am – Angelina and I were in the same year at Hogwarts, played on the same House Quidditch team.” He was beginning to get the impression that her dad’s questions and hard-to-read facial expressions were more or less good natured despite interview-tone of the conversation.
“Oh, yes. Angie did mention that.” Mr Johnson shifted in his seat and cleared his throat. “You know, Louise – her mother – and I got to see her play a game once. I’m sure they only let me in because of Louise. Not a magical drop of blood in me and here I am in the middle of a house full of witches.” He laughed. “It’s an awfully dangerous game, that Quidditch – is the joke industry very dangerous?”
“Well, I suppose it could be.” George flashed what he hoped was an assuring grin.
“Is that how you lost your ear?”
Whatever he was expecting the older man to ask next, that wasn’t it. George’s hand instinctually rose up to where his missing flap of cartilage should have been. “No, sir. I lost it in a wand fight during the war. They were going to put it back on, but I told them not to bother – that one earful was enough for anyone.”
There was a short pause before Mr Johnson broke out in laughter, slapping his knee with the palm of his hand. “Well, I can tell you – you may come to thank that missing ear someday. The Johnson women are strong willed and only get more so with age.”
“Mr Weasley, Mr Weasley,” an excited voice sang as a small body catapulted over the arm of the chair and into George’s lap, “you have to come see – Andre and me decorated the pudding.”
He wasn’t given a chance to respond before the boy’s hands gripped around two of his fingers and pulled him to the kitchen where Andre was standing licking a bit of chocolate icing from a spatula. The cake sat on top of a small table and more closely resembled a lumpy brown rock than pudding. Three piles of pink sweets that vaguely resembled two eyes and a nose sat on one end of the cake and a singular piece of black liquorice stuck straight up out of the other.
“Boys, you did not interrupt Grandpa and Mr George did you?” Valerie asked from the sink, brandishing a sudsy serving spoon.
“It’s a mouse.” Andre said in a matter of fact voice, ignoring his mum and taking another big lick from the spatula. “Just like the ones we got from your shop.”
“Yeah, only this one is made of cake.” Elliot shoved past his brother and hoisted himself up onto a chair to survey their work. “But it doesn’t disappear like your mice do.”
“It doesn’t disappear?” George feigned surprise and shuffled around the table. Cocking his head, he prodded murine pudding with his wand. “Oh, wait just one minute –”
The boys gathered around the table, their anticipation palpable, and watched as he conjured a tiny red bowtie around what he assumed to be the rodent’s neck. Tapping his wand, he casted a silent disillusionment charm over the platter and smiled at the gasps of surprise at the suddenly invisible pudding.
“You did it.” Andre jumped up and down tugging at the bottom of George’s dragon hide jacket.
“You better hang onto to this one, Ang,” Brianne called over her shoulder enough for George to hear, nodding her head in his direction.
“I plan on it.” Arms laden with a tray of some sort of meat, Angelina paused just long enough to kiss his cheek before she continued into the dining room.
Later that evening inside his flat, George smiled and pulled Angelina closer to his chest, pressing a line of kisses along the back of her head. She mumbled something unintelligible and nestled her face into the pillows. He knew sleep wasn’t far off for her, but his mind was far too active to contemplate sleeping. The evening had been one of the most enjoyable he had had recently – he had fit into the ebb and flow of the Johnson family almost effortlessly. He wasn’t sure when exactly he had settled into such an easy, comfortable rhythm with Angelina, or when he had first begun to consider her such an integral part of his daily life, but he had, he did, and he was glad for it.
“I love you, Ang,” he whispered into her hair. “I hope you had a good birthday.”
Eyes bleary and only half open, she rolled towards him, pushing his fringe back from his eyes. “I’m sorry I bailed on your surprise plans,” she murmured, “but I’m glad you got on so well with my family. They really liked you.”
“Well I really liked them.”
“So what did you have planned?” she asked, propping herself up on her elbows.
“Oh, nothing nearly as good as your plans – besides, if I told you I couldn’t reuse them next year.” The corner of his mouth turned up into a playful grin.
“Ugh – I should get back to my flat,” she grumbled. “I work in the morning and I don’t know that I have anything left here to wear.” She spun, turning her bare legs towards the side of the bed. “We should probably make an effort to do a bit of laundry sometime sooner rather than later – with as many clothes in that hamper, I’m surprised you’ve not been forced to run around naked.”
“Eh, you’d like it.”
She giggled as she stood up fastening the buttons of her robe. “You’d like to think that, wouldn’t you?”
“Move in with me.” George’s words surprised even him – not because he hadn’t thought of the possibility before, but because he hadn’t anticipated asking her tonight.
“Are you serious?” Her hands paused as she sat back down onto the edge of the bed, a hint of a smile playing at the corner of her mouth.
“As serious as Percy on his first day on a job – so what do you say?”
Author's Note: And there is chapter 17, I hope you enjoyed it. Only 8 more to go... I'd like to thank you for reading and reviewing. I'd also like to thank Rachel and Sarah for being two of my best FF friends, I'm quite sure I'd not be 75K words into a novel without your support, inspiration and friendship. The character Hollis belongs to ToujourPadfoot's Fred/OC, So Listen, and the voice on the lift was inspired by the same voice on the film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Thank you for reading!! If you have the time, please leave a review -- I'd love to hear what you think.