Chapter 2 : The North Star
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The North Star
“Angelina, thank Merlin you’re here.”
It was George’s younger brother. He caught sight of her expression and looked more nervous. “Err – you alright? You look kind of - ”
“Yes, I’m fine,” said Angelina through her teeth, “How’s George? Is he alright?”
She was looking more and more like a sabertooth tiger. Ron shrank back. “Not really…he’s still…”
“Still in bed?”
“Well, yeah, but don’t wake him up or anything.”
They knew little of each other; she knew Ron, knew that once, they had played Quidditch together and he’d very nearly cost her three different matches (and honestly, how hard was it to be a Keeper, really? Even Wood’d done a better job!). Ron knew that when she arrived, she was every bit as bossy and patronizing as their mother.
It was a thought enough to frighten anyone. Her eyes were narrowed with practice.
“What is it this time?”
“I – I dunno…” His suddenly alarmed expression at the questioning did not escape her. She rolled her eyes. “I reckon it’s the store. It’s reeking like hell and he’s been cleaning it up, but we’re both kind of useless at that stuff.”
The slightly pointed look he was giving her elicited another roll of her eyes. She could almost hear her mother’s voice in the background. Men’re so useless in times like these, Angelina. They’re absolute rubbish with things like sensitivity, and that’s why the world needs women. And then the feministic rant would be flourished by some inane anecdote about her poor father. And don’t even get me started on your bum of a father! This’s the fourth month he’s been out of a job! Again! Can you believe it?
But Angelina took a deep breath and surveyed her surroundings with a deft eye.
It was mid-afternoon and Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes was still as boarded up as it had been in the months following the end of the war. The paint was yellowing and some of it had peeled off. The shelves were in disrepair; someone had knocked over the fake wands and there were now dozens scattered across the floor. As Angelina kicked them across, one half-heartedly turned into a rubber duck and let out a feeble quack. The entire stock of Peruvian Instant Darkness powder was gone and the section of the store that had held muggle novelty items had been closed off entirely.
Ron had done what he could. The windows were less grimy and some of the shelves had been prodded back into straight lines. The place looked only slightly more habitable than it did in the two weeks since he’d moved in with his brother. The effect was visible. The store was breathing again at the least.
Angelina pushed back a garishly red set of curtains – they had been Fred’s favorite color– to find a door. She yanked open the knob and climbed up the winding staircase into a small flat.
The entire flat was shrouded in darkness. Sighing once more, she set down the bags laden with food against the ground, before reaching for the heavy drapes around the windows.
She yanked them. Light fell over in troves, illuminating the sparseness of the flat. Most of its possessions were on the floor or in boxes. There was a large, molding bag of Fainting Fancies that Angelina knew hadn’t been touched for over six months. The fruits she’d bought for George last week were still sitting where she’d left them on the table, now rotting in the afternoon sunlight. The rubbish bin was overflowing.
Some Saturday this was turning out to be.
The sudden light elicited a moan from a large, swaddled mass on the cot. Angelina ignored it.
Crinkling her nose against the stench, she set to work.
Within moments, there were footsteps against the stairs and Ron emerged. He took a look at the bags that Angelina had set against the floor, and gave her a grateful look.
“What should I do?”
He was hovering behind her sullenly and an odd, pitying feeling rose within her. He looked entirely clueless and it was unbelievable that the boy she had once played Quidditch with had gone on to fight Death Eaters and was now trying to pull the pieces of his family together. But that was also her story. That was also the story of so many others, including the boy hiding in his bed, cowering away from the world.
This was a time that had lost the pleasure of self-pity.
She cleared her throat. “Put the food away. And make sure he doesn’t just waste it this week, will you? And when you’re done with that, clean out all the rotten stuff from last week.”
“’S not my fault he won’t eat what you buy,” Ron mumbled, but he picked up the bags with a grunt and shuffled off to the kitchen, looking as exhausted as she felt.
She spared Ron an exasperated glare, before glaring at the floor in turn. With a vindictive rage, she picked the newspapers off the ground, and tossed them into an empty box. A flick of her wand send the drapes beating the dust out of each other.
The afternoon passed like that. With Angelina working in quiet discontent and with Ron stocking the kitchen again. She wrung the sofa free of stains and he washed the dishes piled up in the kitchen sink, hardly letting two words pass in between them.
Angelina threw out the entire stock of Fainting Fancies, cringing the whole while at the yellow fungus around the bag. Ron found a Pygmy Puff infestation under the sofa and she held back unseemly giggles as small pink puffs growled and beat him around the head. He emerged, marvelously red and swearing brilliantly under his breath. He almost made her laugh again as he ushered the puffs into one hand and sped out of the room. Almost.
But she returned to sweeping the floor, unperturbed. There would be time for laughing later. Months of only laughter. Years, perhaps.
That was the undividable hope of the future.
From where she stood, she could hear George turning and tossing. It bothered her immensely – the spring of the bed, the small groans he made in his sleep – but she took a deep breath as she always did in troubled times and worked on.
She came early every Saturday with food and hope, if only because she knew she had to. There was Quidditch practice on the weekdays and the usual family problems and all the rubbish that her two older sisters gave her, but she was always here among the ruination of the flat.
On lunches during practice, the others laughed, though not unkindly.
“Everyone’s going to think you’re in love with him or something, the way you carry on,” said Katie. She said it with only the slightest hint of teasing in her voice. Her eyes seemed to hum something more.
But Angelina, as always, pulled her hair from her eyes and set her sights straight forward at the path in front of her.
Her in love with George Weasley?
Maybe she was.
Maybe she always had been.
But right now, that was irrelevant.
There was another day for that.
George and Angelina. Someday. Just not today. She would have him for her own, but today, he did not yet have himself.
Today, there was rent to pay and trash to take out. Today, there were more problems than solutions. She was pragmatic and level-headed. She knew what had to be done and what had to be given up. Life began with question marks and ended with full stops; it was certainty, logic and calmness.
George and Angelina?
The question was the answer.
George was laughter. George was memories.
It didn’t matter that he didn’t feel the same way about her.
Really. It didn’t. It didn’t faze her at all. Her mum had taught her as much – never to depend on a man for anything but laziness and months of unemployment. Though, to be fair, her mum did seem a bit biased…
Fred was everything happy about the distance. He was once and they were once, and as in all things, they faded. Fred had been vivacity, Angelina had been life, and they had been a treasured relic of years long gone.
Today was here and Fred was the past as surely as George was the future.
Angelina knew what she wanted. She followed Ron down the stairs and picked up a damaged box of Dungbombs and set them aside. She knew what she wanted and it had something to do with cleaning newspapers and dungbombs.
Her palms were reddened and scratched and the air was stifled, but every second of discomfort was a tribute to the man who had left them all behind and the man that would someday know of all the dreams she had alighted for him.
The beckoning light of mid-afternoon had smoothed into the fanning flare of twilight. From somewhere in front of her, Ron straightened up and made his way towards her, massaging his arms.
“I’m exhausted. I can’t – I mean, if you need more help, I suppose I – ”
“No, we should probably stop.”
There was a pause. It was a slightly uneasy one and only from unfamiliarity.
For a brief moment, Angelina imagined what it would be like to have Ron as a brother. He was awkward and insensitive, but endearing in his own stupid way. But within the second, she shook her head and rose back to the reality of the store. The burden was now their shared responsibility. He was almost her brother already. Almost. He certainly exasperated her enough to warrant the claim.
She gave him a half-smile. “You should go upstairs and rest. You look horrible. I can finish up.”
“Thanks,” he said dryly. “You don’t have to. I’ll get to it tomorrow.”
“No, it’s no problem. There’s this huge tub of ink that’s spilled over in the back and it’s now dried on the ground and it’s never going to come out until – ”
“Aren’t you tired?”
“Yes, a bit.” It was a sore understatement, as her arms would attest, but there was still a bit of pride left in her, dungbomb stench withstanding, and to be beaten out by a gangly younger boy did little to help it.
He shrugged. “Then why don’t you – “
“But it doesn’t mean I can stop now, I mean – just look at this mess! If I don’t do it, who will? George’s been a mess and frankly, you can only handle so much and everyone’s been so busy – ”
He gave her a tired smile; with it, he aged in front of her eyes, until she was a smile child being smiled down upon. She broke off and stared up at him defiantly.
“You think I’m nosing, don’t you?” It came out sounding as an accusation. But she held her chin aloft, until she was peering down the sides of her face to see him, even though he towered over her. “Well, I don’t really care. George’s a mess and Alicia’s not helping like she promised to, and you’re not holding it together as well as you said you would, so I have to do something – this place is filthy and at this rate, George’s going to be practically comatose – ”
“I reckon you’re a bit nosy, but you’re a girl, so what can you do?” He shrugged.
There was a pregnant pause, before Angelina began heatedly, “And just what is wrong with that?”
He took a step backwards. “N – nothing, I swear, I didn’t – I mean, I meant – ”
“Just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I can’t do anything as well as – “
“Oi! I didn’t – “
“ – you can, and if you haven’t noticed, I’ve been doing most of the work! – “
“Will you just – “
“- and honestly, I don’t appreciate hearing rubbish like – “
He clapped his hand over her mouth. “Merlin, you must really fancy hearing your own voice.”
She spared him a testy, overworked glare as he removed his hand.
There was another silence. From upstairs, there was a loud groan and a shuffling of feet.
Ron gave a hasty, awkward cough. “Damn, that’ll be George. I suppose I should – err – I should probably see if he’s alright, you know?”
“D’you think he’d be willing to see me?” It slipped out off-handedly. She tried to look disinterested as she said it, but Ron gave her a more wry smile than she thought appropriate to his level of intelligence. “I mean, it’s not a big deal if he doesn’t want to – he probably looks horrible anyway - “
“I don’t reckon he’ll fancy any company at the moment,” said Ron apologetically. “Actually, he doesn’t really know that you’ve been over.”
“So I can’t see him?”
It sounded pathetically desperate.
“He’s a right mess. Not yet.”
Her world was made of not yets. Not yet successful and still striving. Not yet happy and still trying. Not yet George-and-Angelina, but still only Angelina.
She took a deep breath, inhaling the scents of the coming sunset.
She loved him. He didn’t love her.
But she did not think she needed him to. For now, she was strong enough to wait. They were the collision of another day’s aspirations.
But for now, she watched Ron fumble with the doorknob.
“I’d better go upstairs.”
“Thanks for everything today.”
“I’m glad I could help.” She turned away.
Ron’s voice drifted down through the open door. He was already climbing up the staircase. “He’ll know soon. Just hang on.”
She smiled at his retreating figure one last time, but gave no response. She picked her way across the distinctly cleaner floors of the store and gave the premise a sweeping look. It stirred something iridescent inside of her and she beamed at it, at the promise it radiated, and the thought that she had enough to see it.
With that, she opened the door and escaped into the coolness of the sunset, into oranges and yellows pulsating around a withered moon. She stood there for a moment, her eyes fixated on a spot in the sky that, under the coming night, would become the North Star.
She gave it a second's thought, felt the wind in her hair, and walked on.
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