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Chapter 3 : The Same
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George and I swam for a while, eventually calling it a day and dragging ourselves back up to the cottage where we dried off. I changed into the other set of clothes I brought and he lent me a warm sweatshirt to snuggle up in. I liked the way he smelled. It was familiar. Like when he let me borrow his shirt after we walked back from Quidditch and it was raining.
I liked familiar. At this point, familiar is exactly what I needed.
He made hot chocolate and we threw blankets on the ground, sitting with our mugs between us.
“Did my mum owl you?” George asked, draping one of the blankets across his broad shoulders. He was in a baggy flannel shirt and pants. “About me being gone?”
“She asked me to help,” I replied.
“How did you get into the flat?”
I pressed my lips together, eyes on the fire. “Fred gave me a key before. For emergencies.” I shrugged. “This was an emergency.”
I wanted it to be easy again like it had so many times before, but there was something missing between us. The cause of us being together.
“George, listen,” I started, but he put up a hand.
“I’m glad you’re here,” he said, his palm facing me. “I want you to know that.”
The fire crackled and a few ashes floated into the room. It was getting warmer now, but I didn’t want to take off the sweatshirt. It reminded me of a different time. Before Quidditch or graduation or the war. Before everything got so complicated.
I put my hand on his, squeezing a little.
“I’m glad I found you,” I said.
“Did the nosy bint at the front desk tell you which cottage I was in?” George asked. “I was told that would remain confidential. Not that it matters.”
“She called, but you weren’t in,” I explained. “It definitely remained confidential.”
“Then how did you find me? There must be almost fifty cottages.”
“I know,” I said darkly.
He smiled. Brightly. “Look at you, knight in shining armor. Is that sexist?” George paused. “I’ve decided it is.”
“You’re something else.” I squeezed his hand again before letting go to take another drink of cocoa. It tasted homemade. “Did you owl your mum?”
“Not yet. I have a fear a Howler will find me.”
“You should,” I said, and not just because I told Mrs. Weasley I would keep her posted. “She’s worried sick.”
“She has other people to occupy her.”
“George, you disappeared,” I said. “Don’t you understand? She’s your mother.”
“Does it matter?” he asked, irritation growing in his voice. “She should focus on them. They don’t look like Fred.”
I couldn’t help it. I slapped him with the back of my hand. His arm reddened. “She just bloody lost one son. Could you not make her think she’s lost two?”
George’s eyes flashed and I knew immediately I’d said the wrong thing.
He shoved the blanket off his shoulders, abandoned his cocoa, and retreated into the bedroom. The door slammed and I jumped.
I made a lumpy bed on the sofa, grabbed the trashy beach novel, and read until I fell asleep again.
George was in the kitchen when I woke, washing out the mugs. The sound of china pressing together jerked me awake. I hated that noise.
I rolled over, the side of my face stuck to the pillow. It was already hot and the cottage didn’t come equipped with air conditioning.
“Good morning, sunshine,” George said with a bite to his voice. “I thought you’d be gone.”
“Should have,” I muttered, sitting up and looking around. It was a bloody sauna in there. “Did you sleep well?”
“I didn’t.” He pulled a kitchen towel off the rail and dried the mugs before sliding them back into the cupboard.
“You just sat in there all night?”
“Inventing.” He shrugged.
I twisted my body around, looking over the side of the sofa. “Inventing?”
George rinsed his hands and ran them through his hair, creating a dark auburn streak. “Fred and I used to do it. If we couldn’t sleep we’d stay up and think of new ideas for the shop. Half an aisle is designated for them. We came up with some good ones, I might add.”
I could picture it. The boys nervous or excited, unable to sleep. Sharing a bed. Scribbling down ideas and sketches and flavors. Prodding the paper with their wands.
“Did you come up with anything?”
He shook his head. “Haven’t in a few weeks,” he replied. “But it’s always worth a try.”
I drug my tote over to the side of the sofa, digging inside. My only clothes were dirty and my hair smelled like the lake. “I’m going to take a shower,” I said. “And then I’ll get out of your hair.”
He didn’t say anything. Instead, George walked out the front door and the screen slammed behind him. I heard a chair adjust on the porch.
The shower didn’t get too hot, though I didn’t expect it to. I used George’s shampoo and conditioner, which brought back that familiar comfort. Not that I needed it now.
I needed to leave. It was clear he didn’t want me there. He wanted to grieve for his brother alone, however stupid I thought it was for running away. I had no business being there. Interrupting him. Trying to make him back into the person he used to be.
George wasn’t the same. None of us were the same.
Maybe that was the point.
I felt the water begin to run cold, but I didn’t move. The conditioner drained out of my hair and I stood there for a while, even until goosebumps crawled up my arms.
Godric, I missed Fred. I missed everything about him. His smile. His eyes. His snarky comebacks. His letters. All of his amazing letters.
I sank to the bottom of the tub, pulling my legs to my chest. The sobs came too soon, choking out of my throat. I hated that I had to come looking for George. Fred would have known where to find him. Would have already known where he’d go. What he’d do. Fred would know everything. But Fred wasn’t here anymore.
He wasn’t here to tell me he loved me.
Or to help me get by. To tell me it was all going to be okay like he used to do after I bombed a Potions exam.
I rocked at the bottom of the tub, shoulders shaking.
“Ang?” George rapped on the door with his knuckles.
“I’ll be out in a minute!” I called, voice painfully high to mask the tears.
Hell. How long had I been in there? Ten minutes? Twenty? Forty?
“Can I come in?”
I paused. “Definitely naked in here,” I said.
“Close the curtain.”
“It’s closed.” I leaned against the wall opposite the faucet.
The door open and shut with a snap. George cleared his throat. “Is that water even warm?”
I paused again. “No,” I admitted.
“What’re you doing in here?” I could see his shadow through the curtain. He dropped the toilet seat and sat on it.
“Hanging out,” I said, sniffling.
“Ang,” George said. “You’re crying. Come on out and I’ll fix you breakfast.”
I leaned my head against the wall. “Sometimes I wonder if it’ll feel like this forever.” It sounded melodramatic. Of course it wouldn’t. This was real life. It was a fresh wound. But the thought crept into my dreams.
George’s hand appeared where the curtain ended. He rested it on the side of the tub. Upon instinct, I took it. “It’s not going to feel like this forever,” he said. “That is the only thing I’m positive of right now.”
He squeezed my hand.
“I’m sorry about my temper,” he continued. “About everything. I used to be really good at controlling myself and keeping things in, but lately I haven’t.”
“Can hardly blame you.” I shifted a sheet of damp hair out of my eyes. “I haven’t exactly been in a right mind either.”
“Do you want eggs or sausage?” he asked.
“Bloody hell, woman.” George squeezed another time and let go, heading for the door. “Get dressed before I start visualizing what’s going on in there.”
“Washing my hair?”
“Yes…washing your hair.” The door closed and he was gone. Pots and pans clanged together in the kitchen.
When I emerged, hair up in a white fluffy towel, George was pushing scrambled eggs from a pan onto a red plastic plate. He had a floral apron tied around his middle. He smiled when he looked up. “These are world famous eggs,” he told me.
“By world famous do you mean regular eggs with some salt and pepper?” I said, sitting at the counter.
“Doesn’t even have pepper yet. The world famous may have been an exaggeration.”
I smirked as he slid the plate toward me, tossing a fork with it. There was a sausage patty leaking grease on the side. Not exactly Hogwarts cuisine. “I bet it’s famous.” I put it into my mouth, and it was clearly a lie. “Have you been…taking cooking classes?”
“Not funny, Johnson.” George pulled off the apron and threw it at my face.
I peeled it away. “I thought it was.”
“What? And you can do better?”
I shook my head. “I’m a critic, George. Not an expert.”
“Bloody critique yourself.” He stuck out his tongue and it reminded me of the locker rooms. The Quidditch pitch. The common room. It reminded me of everything.
I was beginning to hate myself for running off for Quidditch. Hadn’t even gotten a good starting position out of it. I was still being shuffled around farm teams.
“Shut your mouth or I’ll push you in the lake again.” I finished off the food and rinsed the plate. “We both know you smell like a wet dog when you swim.”
“You’re charming, did you know?”
“One of my many personality traits.” I smirked and moved back to the sofa, falling onto it and stretching out my legs. “What’s yours? Snark and cynicism?”
“Caught me.” George moved over to the couch, grabbed my shoulder, and shoved me off, onto the floor. Then he plopped down, sinking the cushions.
“Real gentleman.” I grabbed his foot and tugged, but he wasn’t exactly light. He wiggled his foot away and sprawled out.
“What’s the plan today, Angie?” George said.
I stared. No one called me Angie. Not that I didn’t want them to, but at school I went by Angelina to the professors and Ang to my friends. That’s just the way it was. Fred didn’t even pick a pet name other than the times he tried to annoy George by calling me “sugar cookie” or “wool cap.” Afterward, Percy attempted to give him a lesson on attracting women over break. Fred came back and called me “schnookums.”
I backhanded him.
“Owl your mum,” I told him.
“She’ll come looking.”
“She’s already looking, twit,” I snapped. “Probably hysterically sobbing her eyes out too. Good on you.”
“Fine.” He folded his arms like a child. “Then what?”
I shrugged. How was I supposed to know? I moved, leaning against the sofa and facing the fireplace. “We could cook or something? Go exploring?”
“Raid the wine cabinet?”
“Read my mind.” I leapt to my feet while George rushed to get some parchment.
If there was one thing George Weasley knew how to do above everyone else, it was how to professionally uncork a wine bottle. They counter was lined with the corks and empty bottles scattered along the floor. One rolled toward the fireplace and George pretended to play spin the bottle but quit after two turns when he had to snog a lamp and a dry log.
We all used to have a few drinks after a Quidditch victory (when we weren’t supposed to) or before leaving Hogwarts. Every time something humiliating happened to someone, but it was a story we always told at the next get-together. After graduation, we got together over the Christmas holiday and ended up playing strip poker in the basement of the Burrow.
I discovered Lee doesn’t know the rules to strip poker.
I also saw more of Lee Jordan than I wanted to.
George sprawled out on the cottage floor before me, pretending to swim. “I’m drowning!” he cried.
“You’re not,” I said, sliding from the sofa to the floor with a thud. My bum was going to ache in the morning. “You’re not even in water.”
“What if this is a dream and we’re actually underwater?”
“Why would I be asleep underwater?”
George raised a ginger eyebrow. “How am I supposed to know? Why are you letting yourself fall asleep underwater? A bit irresponsible, don’t you think?”
I nudged him with my foot and he rolled toward the fire. “You’re irresponsible.”
“Wow, did you take a course on comebacks? Your smack talking has really improved since Quidditch. What did you call Flint once? A green bean?”
My face darkened. “Change of subject, please.”
“At least you’re a polite irresponsible person.” George shrugged and rolled back toward me, his shaggy hair spilling onto the carpet. “You know, Fred would have snogged you by now.”
“George,” I said. “Stop.”
“I’m serious!” he said, but he didn’t look sad or angry. He was laughing. “He was always the one to make all the moves. Ask a girl to the ball? Sure, right now. Get a girl to snog him in a broom cupboard? Just walked up to them and said, Let’s snog! Worked every time. No idea how he did it.”
“He asked girls with low self esteem?” I guessed.
“Pretty sure you got drunk and snogged him in a broom cupboard.”
Ah. Yes. Right.
George smirked at me. “Should have asked him for lessons,” he said.
“I think you’ll be fine.” I nudged him again, but he didn’t move. “You do things in your own way. I think girls appreciate that more.”
“What? Running away?”
I shifted against the sofa. “You didn’t run away from a girl.”
“Didn’t tell you where I was going, did I?” George asked, arching his back. I heard it pop. “Didn’t tell anyone. Running is not exactly a charming trait. I believe it’s seen as a Slytherin quality. Selfishness.”
“Are you joking?” I steadied myself. The wine hadn’t kept the room from spinning. “Do you even understand what you’ve done? Potter Watch? Coming back to Hogwarts? Fighting?” I took a breath. “You are one of the bravest people I have ever met, George Weasley. You’re kind, chivalrous, passionate, and you have such a warm heart.”
He didn’t respond. Instead, his eyes moved to the ceiling, lips cast in a frown.
I moved to my feet with the assistance of the sofa arms, and stumbled into the kitchen. “Why are you worried about being a coward?”
“Fred was a hero,” George spat. “I’m a coward. They’re just going to look at me and know I was never like him. I was never as good as him.”
“You have an opportunity to become a hero,” I said, fingers around a wine glass. I looked for another bottle. “Not through fighting in a war or dying. Through helping people and finding your footing. There are other ways to become a hero, George. And being upset because you didn’t die in a fight like your brother is not one of them.”
“What do you think of me then?” George prompted. “Coward? Hero? No one?”
“Where is this coming from?” I asked. “Why do you care?”
“Because I am Fred!” George cried. “He’s me. We’re the same bloody person and how can I live up to that when everyone looks at me and sees a failure?”
“How could you fail?” I shakily poured a glass of red I found in the cabinet. “You lost your brother. You’re not failing at anything except opening up to people.”
“You mean you.”
“Stop hiding things.” I shrugged. “Just tell me how you feel.”
“Sounds like something Ginny would say.” George rolled toward the fire again, brushing some hair away from his eyes. He reminded me of his fourteen-year-old self.
“George,” I warned.
When he didn’t reply, I walked over and kicked his leg. He didn’t move.
George was snoring.
He woke somewhere around eight. It was getting dark in the cottage and I had been sobering up on the sofa for a few hours, draining half the cold water in the fridge. My book was just getting steamy when he stirred, groaning from sleeping on the carpet.
“Did I pass out?”
“Seems so,” I said, dog-earing a page and tossing it onto the end table.
“On the carpet.”
“It would appear that way.”
“Did I say something stupid?” George sat up, groaning again as he wiped the goop from his eyes. He looked like hell. “You know, while we were drunk?”
“A lot of things. Did you have something particular in mind?”
He laughed. “I do, but if I would have said it, you would remind me.” He shot me a sly smirk and got up, heading to the bathroom before I could wrap my head around what he said. The shower turned on.
I, stupidly, marched into the bathroom. “What do you mean?” I said, shoving open the door. “What could you have possibly said?”
It was not my shining moment as a person. Especially since George hadn’t actually gotten in the tub. He was waiting for the water to warm up and undressing.
I staggered into the doorway, back slamming against the frame. “George!” I said. “You’re naked!”
Also not my best line.
“Did you not hear the water?” He grabbed a towel off the rack and quickly wrapped it around his middle. His face was scarlet.
“I—“ I cleared my throat. Everything was warm. I kept my eyes off his face, but that was quickly becoming a problem. It wasn’t my fault. George Weasley hadn’t been a couch potato for two years. It was clear the extra money at the shop had enabled him to hire pretty cashiers and hit the gym or Quidditch pitch. I tried very hard not to stare at his torso – his collar bones – but the heat on the back of my neck told me the attempts were unsuccessful.
“Are you staring, Angie?”
I coughed, quickly spinning around. “Not at all.” This was stupid. George had been one of my best mates for years. I heard him talk about snogging girls. I watched him eat slugs on a dare.
Besides, we were here because of Fred. Not because of how his midsection looked.
“You fancy me?” George teased, nudging me with his bare foot.
“Stop being a prat.” I turned around, covered my eyes with my hand, and yanked on his towel. Then I walked back into the living room, towel draped over my shoulder.
There weren’t any other towels in the bathroom.
“There are large leaves outside,” I told him and headed outside.
It wasn’t as if George wasn’t cute. He had to be if I thought Fred was, right? It was just that he was like a brother. He was always with us when Fred and I went out. He had other girls on his arms. He made very inappropriate and disgusting comments in front of me.
It was just strange seeing him like that, I supposed.
But the sooner I got him to accept he wasn’t a coward, the sooner we could go home. He could make up with his family and I could pack up and head for Quidditch. I was sure another farm-teamer had my reserve slot already.
I tried not to let him remind me of Fred, however impossible it might have seemed. I refused to treat him differently just because looking at George brought the pain in fresh batches. He knew, of course. Hell, George left for that very same reason. So his family wouldn’t relive the pain every time he waltzed into the room.
Even though I wanted to break down every time I thought of Fred’s death – of what George told me in his room – I refused.
He deserved to be treated like himself, not like his brother.
“I used a sweatshirt,” he said bitterly, stomping onto the front porch where I sat on an old rocking chair. “Did you see anything?”
“Pasty skin,” I replied, shrugging.
“You’re a piece of work.”
“I’m stuck here with a piece of work.”
“So go home.”
Finally, I looked up. George was in a short-sleeved button down and khaki shorts. His hair was still damp. It was his typical summer wardrobe. “You want me to go home?”
“You don’t want to be here.” He took a few steps and leaned against the rail overlooking the lake. “My parents sent you off looking for me, you got lucky and found me, and that’s it. I’m safe. You did your job.”
“Don’t be stupid.” I rolled my eyes. We were forever talking in circles. “Get used to the fact that I’m not leaving without you. You have a shop, a family, and plants that are probably dead.”
“Like my brother.”
I grabbed the cushion off the chair beside me and chucked it at his back. “Shut up! Jesus, George. I am so sick of this.”
“Of Fred?” George turned, ignoring the impact of the cushion. “Of talking about it? I thought you’d be the only one who would understand.”
I groaned, lifting my hair off my shoulders and tying it up. “Look,” I began, softer, “I understand. But you’re blaming yourself. You’re putting all of this weight on yourself just because you were both in the wrong place at the wrong time. It could have easily been someone else in that place. In front of that window. Taking that curse.” I stood, legs a little shaky. “It was just something that happened. He’s gone and we’re dealing with that, but if you continue like this, you’re going to be gone too. In an entirely different way.” My gaze moved over his shoulder to the water.
The wind was blowing harder today.
He pressed his back into the rail. “I wish it would have been me,” he whispered.
The air vanished from my lungs.
“I wish it would have been me,” George repeated. “He had so much. He took care of the finances. Dreamed up so many things. He was in love with someone he was waiting for.” He moved his fingers through his hair. It stuck up at odd angles. “He was a hero. He deserved to be the one here with you now, not me.”
“It doesn’t matter what you think Fred deserved,” I told him, choking on the words as his image blurred at the edges. “There’s nothing that can be done about it now. You have to take steps to move on and honor your brother while being true to yourself.” My teeth pressed together hard to stop the tears.
He sighed. “I miss him, Angie.”
“I miss him too.” I closed the distance between us and moved my arms around his middle. “It’s not going to be easy.”
“Some days are easier than others,” he said, moving his lips to my forehead.
A/N: Thank you for those of you who have given this story a chance. You have no idea how much it means to me, especially given this is not my usual humor-laden character-exaggerating crazy story. So thank you. A lot.
It'll be five chapters total. This chapter has a special place in my heart. Nothing happens, but everything happens. Those are my favorite chapters.
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