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Chapter 2: Not Leaving
Happy March! Enjoy!
My breath caught in the back of my throat and suddenly things were smaller than they had been, crushing skin into my bones.
“What?” I whispered, staring at Mrs. Weasley.
“George is gone,” she repeated. “I went to bring him breakfast this morning and he was gone. His bag wasn’t in the closet. He’s not at the shop or his flat above the shop. He’s gone.”
I let this sink in. “Where is everyone?”
“Out looking,” Mrs. Weasley said. “But they’ve had no luck all day. We’ve checked everywhere. Arthur even went to Hogwarts.” Her eyes were puffy.
“And you’d like me to help?” I guessed, my gaze moving around the living room. The Weasley family belongings looked in place, but altered ever-so-slightly. Like a frame just off balance.
“I know you can find him,” Mrs. Weasley said. “If anyone can, it’s you.”
I paused. “What?” I said. “Why? We’re just mates.”
Mrs. Weasley didn’t say anything for a while. She stood before me, twisting her skirt between her fingers. “Trust me,” she said. She placed her hand on my shoulder, squeezing it. “Will you help?”
“Of course.” I was still confused as to why I would have a better shot at finding him than his own family, but I couldn’t tell her no. Not when he was out there somewhere.
I remembered what I’d said after the funeral.
“Fred would have come.”
How that must have impacted him. Cut him like a slow butter knife.
I was as much at fault as anyone.
Mrs. Weasley nodded. “Just owl if you hear anything, darling.” She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and bustled into the kitchen. I heard a pan fall onto the stove and the soft sounds of her weeping.
I rubbed my hands over my face, trying to think. The problem was, I couldn’t. If they’d already checked everywhere, where in Godric Gryffindor’s name was I supposed to look? Not the shop. Not Hogwarts. Not Hogsmeade.
Where would George Weasley go to be alone?
I took the steps two at a time and walked back into the twins’ room. The beds were made. A few photos were missing off the walls since my last visit. I had a feeling they were in George’s bag.
The grass in the back garden still showed the impressions of the white chairs.
It had to have driven him mad.
“George,” I whispered. “Where have you gone?”
I kissed George once. It was in second year and it was a dare from Alicia. She said either kiss George Weasley or stick a toad down my skirt and I opted for the first. Besides, he was cute, funny, and good on a broom.
He was sitting in the common room with Fred, kicking him on the sofa. Lee Jordan was nearby actually studying.
Alicia half-pushed me down the spiral staircase, giggling.
I tentatively moved toward the couch, slippers sliding across the floor. I finally made it to the space in front of the boys. Fred was trying to get George to move over. George was kicking his twin in the ribs. I cleared my throat.
Both looked up at me, awe in their eyes.
I leaned down and kissed George right on the mouth, my hands cupping the side of his face because I was twelve and didn’t know what to do when you kissed someone. I pulled away, blushed furiously, and ran back to Alicia. The pair of us retreated to the dormitory, but before I made it to the top of the steps I looked over my shoulder.
George’s lips were parted, his eyes wide, and he was staring at me. Dumbstruck.
I always told Fred my first kiss was some boy named Sandy when I was five. The truth was, it was George. Age twelve. In the common room.
It was still raining when I arrived in Diagon Alley. I hurried to put up a charm, but still ended up wet. I moved into the shop, which was chilly, and looked around. It was busy as usual, a girl with a slick ponytail running the register. A few younger boys were stocking shelves.
The place was enormous. The boys did well for themselves.
I slid through the rows of products, careful to avoid anything that might grab me as I walked by. I’d had that experience on one too many occasions. A girl in the corner was leafing through booklets about love potions. I had to shove through a pair of kids far too young to be touching things alone.
Finally, I made it to the back corner of the shop. The door was plain. I pulled out my key and moved inside, facing a steep set of wooden stairs which led to the twins’ flat. Fred had given me the key after they got the place.
“Come see me whenever you can,” he said, pressing it into my palm.
Knowing he had waited for me was making each step heavier.
Just as expected, the flat was empty. It was a good size, large fireplace flanked by windows on one side, the kitchen on the other. Straight ahead was a small hallway which held a bathroom and two bedrooms. One door was closed. The other was open.
George’s room was to the right. Fred always joked about kicking him out and making it into a library even though he hated the library at Hogwarts. Too dusty, he used to say.
The bed was on the far wall, two tables on either side. He had a lamp and a few books with markers in the middle. Everything was tidy. Where I had seen frames on previous visits, there were none.
A few hangers were on the floor by the closet. A shirt was mangled with them. The one George was wearing the morning of the funeral. So he had been there.
I pulled open the top dresser drawer. Five frames, facing the ground. One was broken, the glass scattered over a few pairs of socks.
“Bugger.” I fell back onto his bed, staring at the ceiling.
What was I even doing? Running after him like this? I should have been at home under the covers not facing the world. Shutting it out before returning to Quidditch. Blaming Quidditch for pulling me away from my life here. Brooding and ignoring my family.
I rolled over, looking at George’s silver lamp. The books under it. The first was Shakespeare, which startled me. I guess everyone had their secrets.
The second was titled “In the Trees” and had a thick, green cover. I pulled it onto the bed. It was old and the pages had a rusty hue to the edges.
I flipped to the page George had ended on. In the place of a bookmark, there was a brochure.
The Forest of Hardin.
I flipped through it. Cottages for rent. Lakeside views. Old, powerful trees. Shady biking lanes.
It didn’t take me long. I shoved the door open to an old pole barn, which housed the front office. A girl behind the desk shot me a cheery smile, but it faded when she saw me. I didn’t blame her. I didn’t exactly look like I was headed to a fundraiser.
“I’m looking for someone,” I said, pressing my hands to the desk. “I need to know where he’s staying.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” the girl said. “That information is confidential.”
“Did you just call me ma’am?” I said.
“Yes,” the girl replied. She looked older than me.
“Listen, I don’t have time for this. This is an emergency.”
“Don’t you think that is what a murderer would say?” the girl asked. “I can’t give out personal information. Can’t you just call him?”
“No,” I replied. “I can’t.” I stomped off toward the edge of the place and peered out the window. There had to be dozens of cottages out there. “Can you at least call him and tell him I’m here?”
“I can do that!” The girl grabbed a thick book and plopped it onto the desk. “What’s his name?”
“George Weasley,” I replied, returning to the desk. He could have opted for a fake name, though. I hadn’t considered that.
“Found it!” she squealed and picked up the phone, dialing.
I released a breath. I’d found him.
The desk clerk twirled her blond hair around her index finger, waiting. She hung up. “He’s not there, sorry,” she said. “Must have stepped out. I’ll try back later if you’d like.”
I ran my fingers through my hair, which was in desperate need of being washed. “I’ll let you know.” The door slammed behind me and I wandered off down the dirt path toward the cottages. I took a map from the clear plastic bin at the edge of where the forest thickened and unfolded it.
Forty-seven cottages in total.
“George Weasley, you’re going to pay for this,” I grumbled.
The first cottage I knocked on was occupied by a scantily clad man and six terriers.
At the second, a toddler answered the door in a diaper, swinging a teddy bear around by its neck. He growled at me.
I barely made it to the third before I was chased away from the porch by a hungry-looking cat.
“You have got to be kidding me,” I muttered. My shoes were covered in mud, shoulders aching from the tote bag. There were twigs stuck in my hair and a rip in the bottom hem of my jeans.
I went to sixteen other cottages, each time being told I was at the wrong place. Some friendly – some not so much.
Each time, I returned to the road because I made a promise to Mrs. Weasley and I made a new promise to myself to hit that git in the face when I found him.
I turned down a second road, which led down toward a lake and had three cottages at the end. I’d go back for the others after. It was a sloping path, my shoes slipping on a few stones. I caught myself before falling twice.
Stupid George Weasley and his stupid abandoning his family.
The first cottage was vacant. The second had one too many barking dogs.
The third was rented and a fire was going, but no one was there. Great. Now I’d have to come back.
I peeked through the separation in the curtains, but couldn’t see anything that might give it away as George’s. Fine. I’d come back on my way back to the front office.
I turned, kicking the mud from my shoes, and watched George Weasley climb the stairs onto the porch, unaware. He was carrying an armful of firewood, his red polo shirt dirty from gathering it.
“Do you understand there are people worried bloody sick about you?” I snapped, unable to help myself.
George looked up, gasped and dropped the wood. It landed on his feet, causing him to jump back and yell. It echoed on the lake. “What in the – what’re you doing here, Ang?” He paused, scrambling to pick up a few pieces. “How are you here?”
“You ran away,” I said, starting toward him. “You left. You didn’t even tell someone where you were going. You could be hurt! Killed!”
George met my eyes with more anger than I expected. “You need to leave,” he said. “Thanks for making sure I’m alive.”
I took another step. “I’m not going anywhere until you owl your mum and tell her you’re safe,” I said.
“Fine. I’ll owl her. Leave.” George kicked some of the wood to the side and brushed past me. He shoved open the door, walked inside, and slammed it behind him.
The back of my fist found the door. “George Weasley!” I cried. A few dogs started barking from the other cottage. “You let me in right now! I did not go through all this trouble to go home after I found you!”
He didn’t respond. I heard another door slam inside.
My eyes narrowed. No way. I did not take rubbish from him at Hogwarts and I was certainly not going to put up with it now.
“Alohamora,” I whispered and the lock clicked, allowing me inside. Everything was dark, illuminated just barely by a few gaps in the curtains and a yellowing light in the dining area off to the left. I tiptoed down a hallway at the end of the cottage. A bathroom was to the right. A closed door a little further down. I took a breath and twisted the door handle, pushing it open.
It was just as dark in the bedroom with all the curtains drawn. George was curled up on the far side of the bed with his shoes still on and the blankets under him. I heard a pair of sniffles and frowned.
“I’m not leaving,” I said, crossing the room to sit on the closer side of the bed. It sank under my weight, forcing him a little closer to me.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because I care about you,” I replied. “A lot. And you can’t get rid of me by shutting a door in my face. You didn’t even lock it with magic. Try harder next time.”
George didn’t respond.
I sighed and kicked off my muddy shoes. I climbed into bed, scooting toward him, and wrapped my arm around his middle. “Some days are better than others,” I whispered.
George found my hand and laced his fingers with mine. “I wish you would leave.”
“No, you don’t.”
He was silent for a while.
“I don’t,” George said.
He fell asleep a half hour later after I played with his hair. I pulled off his shoes and tugged the blankets on top of him. He looked like he hadn’t slept for days. I reminded myself he probably hadn’t.
I left the door cracked for light and walked into the kitchen. George hadn’t touched anything. I busied myself cleaning quietly and fixing a couple sandwiches. I had to. I had to do something.
I wiped down the counters and pulled open the curtains in the kitchen and living room. I started a small fire even though it was summer.
Anything to keep my mind off the boy in the other room and what must have been going through his mind when he decided to leave.
I was dreaming about a pond. The one at the very back of the Burrow, nestled just inside the trees. Mrs. Weasley used to tell us not to swim in it. It’s stagnant water, she said. It has diseases. We did it anyway. It was an excuse for the boys to flaunt their muscles and the girls to get a good look.
In my dream I took a step into the pond, but it started to rain. I was in a long t-shirt, like pajamas, and nothing else. My toes were cold. It started to rain harder.
I turned and a blurry figure moved out of the trees. Red hair. Blue shirt.
“Yeah?” I said. I took another step into the water.
“Ang?” he repeated.
I squinted, but the rain was too strong. Too loud. I couldn’t tell if it was Fred or George.
It felt like an earthquake until I jerked awake, the face of George Weasley over me.
“Ang?” he said, looking concerned. “You okay?”
It took me a moment to realize where I was. I’d fallen asleep on the sofa the night before after I realized George would likely sleep through the night. I put the food in the fridge, built up the fire a little, and started reading a trashy romance novel I found on a shelf. I must have drifted off somewhere around two.
“What?” I stammered, leaning up on my elbows.
“You were thrashing about,” George said. He was beside the couch on his knees, hair at odd angles. “I wanted to make sure you’re okay.”
“Yeah, fine.” It hurt to breathe, but I managed. “There’s food in the fridge.”
He raised a brow. “Why?”
“Because I made it, git,” I said, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. “So eat it.”
To my surprise, he smiled. “Yes, ma’am.” George tipped an invisible hat and walked into the kitchen. “You actually made sandwiches.”
“It’s not exactly a five star meal.” I tossed my legs off the couch and leaned against my knees, still catching my breath. I didn’t like how vivid that dream was.
“Well, it’s good,” George said, mouth full. He pulled a pitcher of water out of the fridge and poured a glass. He then downed it while still chewing.
“When are you coming home?” I flattened my hair with my palms, now very aware my appearance was less than stellar. Not that it mattered when I was around George, but all the same. I probably smelled like wet dog.
“Not today,” George replied, setting the empty water glass into the sink.
“Fine.” I folded my arms. “Then we’re going to do something fun.”
He stared. “I don’t follow.”
I thought about the pond. How many times we used to try and best each other diving off the makeshift dock. “We’re going swimming.”
George shook his head. “Absolutely not.”
George was not a happy camper. He insisted on dragging a giant round tube to the lake, wearing it around his middle like a dress. He held it up and ignored me while he walked, though did pause long enough to mutter a few colorful phrases.
“Buck up,” I said cheerfully, skipping past him. I didn’t have a swimsuit with me, so I settled on a tank top and shorts. I slapped the tube and it fell to the ground, splattering George’s legs in a mud puddle.
I took off running and he threw the tube at me, but it landed a meter short.
The lake was just as stunning close up as it was from the cottage. There was a small stretch of sand on the edge, which went for about forty meters and didn’t quite cover one side. The rest of the lake had trees dipping into the water. There were a few people sunning themselves, but no one swimming.
“This was a stupid idea.” George kicked the tube into the sand.
“You’re a stupid idea,” I countered. Stupidly.
“Is that what you think of me?” George said, pulling off his shirt and throwing it with a towel into a lump. He was pale and freckled everywhere and my eyes lingered for longer than they should have.
It wasn’t my fault I was practicing Quidditch for months on end. Not many opportunities for swimming with boys.
“Is what?” I looked up, but it was too late. My face was burning.
“A stupid idea?” George was smirking. I was relieved. It was like his whole face dropped its angsty charade.
“What?” I said, staring. Clearly I needed to spend more time with the opposite sex that weren’t on my team and trying to shove me off a broom.
George smirked and ran at me, grabbing me around the middle and throwing me over his shoulder. My ribcage cut into his shoulder, hands falling behind them. I couldn’t help it. I all but shrieked. “George! Bloody put me down! Who do you think you are?”
All he did was laugh, take a few steps forward, and throw me in the lake.
I surfaced, sputtering water. Swimming was a terrible life decision. The water was cold and something slimy was attached to my left foot. I shoved my hair away from my eyes and spotted the ginger up on the shore, sitting in his tube on the sand. Leaning back and taking in the sun.
“You’ll burn,” I called. “You’re not wearing sunscreen.”
“I could use some color.”
“Lobster?” I said.
“I want to be like you, Ang,” George said and I could see his smirk. “Get that whole mocha thing going. Or is it cappuccino? I could go for a coffee right now, thinking about it.”
I rolled my eyes and moved out of the lake, water dripping down my clothes and legs. The sand stuck to my feet. George opened his eyes as I approached. I stood next to him, turned around to face the lake, and then wrung out my hair over the tube. He yelped and fell out the side of the tube.
“Oy!” George cried, kicking sand at me. “I was dry, you know. Getting color. Remember? Mocha?”
“Get in the lake, Weasley.” I narrowed my eyes and for a moment it reminded me of being back on the pitch seventh year with a team of minions to boss around.
“Or?” George prompted.
“Or I’ll make you do laps,” I said.
“Just like old times.” He winked and got to his feet. The sand covered his back and the bum of his blue shorts. “I’d like you to know I get absolutely no pleasure from this.” He started toward the lake and eventually dipped his feet in the water.
“You and me both,” I said, shoving him so he lost balance and toppled in. “Okay, maybe a little.”
It didn’t take long before I was back underwater.
I appreciated that about George. That even though he fought it, he did what he had to. He didn’t want to go swimming or crawl out of bed or even talk to me. But he did.
Because part of him knew I was going through the same pain he was, just in a different way.
So he smiled at me, splashed me, and raced me along the sandy shoreline. I dared him to throw me and he did. Then he dared me to throw him and I shoved him a little. I was strong, but not that strong. Eventually we grabbed the tube and held onto it, floating out to the center of the lake. It was quieter out there, though it wasn’t exactly loud on the shore.
I pressed my cheek to the side of the tube, which was warm from the sun. “Sorry I ruined your tranquility,” I said.
George didn’t reply for a while. He adjusted himself on the other side of the tube, reaching for a better hold on the rubber. Then he exhaled. “Thank you,” he said.
I smiled a little. Maybe Mrs. Weasley was right.
“You still didn’t tell me how you found me,” he said.
I was thankful I couldn’t see him. That he couldn’t see me. “You should be careful what you use as a bookmark.”
“You have got to be joking.”
“I’m here, aren’t I?”
George slapped the water and some rained down on my face. “You are,” he said. “I just didn’t think a brochure would be the thing to do it.”
A/N: Thanks again to those of you who have opted to give this story a shot. I know it's very different from my other stories, but for me it is a story that needs to be told. I hope you're enjoying it. This story will be 5 chapters total.