Chapter 7 : Affection
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31 December 1998
As she stood in front of the mirror trying to tame a loose strand of hair that stubbornly refused to stop sticking out (her own fault – hair drying spells existed for some reason, even if she never had the patience to use them), Izzy Black couldn’t help reflecting about the nearly-past year. It sure had been an eventful one by anyone’s standards: war, fear, death, destruction… and then victory, but still a fair amount of destruction that took its time to vanish. Yep, it had been some year and she sure was glad it was just hours away from being over – one could only take so much of the endless roller-coaster that it had been.
One year before, she recalled, there had been no celebration, no special gathering to mark the end of an year and welcome another one – only dread that, the more hours passed, the closer she and her mother would be to going back to a Hogwarts that seemed like something out of a nightmare. But now… now everything was different, brighter, happier. The whole Wizarding World seemed eager to welcome the new year as the first one free of Voldemort’s shadow in a long time and they were planning to do it in style, if the cardboard box full of party invitations (ranging from house parties to really fancy ones sponsored by the Ministry and the Daily Prophet) that Harry had in his room was any indication.
Of course, fancy parties full of strangers was not something Harry fancied for himself and, faithful to that, he’d declined every single invitation, except for the one he was interested in: the Weasleys’. Which, not so coincidently, was also the one Izzy was currently headed to… if her stupid hair decided to cooperate. “Oh, dang it,” she mumbled, grabbing an elastic and just making herself a ponytail. “There.”
Grabbing herself a winter scarf and a hat, she made her way to the door and stalked down the stairs, vaguely hearing her mother scolding her baby sister in the bathroom of the floor below for throwing water everywhere during her bath. She decided against heading there to say goodbye, unwilling to get herself wet from head to toe right before she was to leave, and kept going down until she reached the first floor and made a detour to the living room. There, she unsurprisingly found her father sitting on the sofa with a blanket thrown over him as he watched the telly, having been allowed out of bed for the special occasion.
He wasn’t having a very good week, Izzy knew. For starters, while his youngest children had been practically cured from their bout of Dragon Pox after a few days, the only reminder of the disease having ever hit them being their fading green rashes, Sirius was just barely starting recover (which was to be expected, really, since Dragon Pox usually hit adults harder than children). Then, the Full Moon had come and he’d still been too ill to spend it helping his best friend getting through it like he always prided himself of doing. And, as if that wasn’t enough, his condition, once deemed deadly by the papers, which had offered him plenty of laughing material for the first few days, had been quickly eclipsed by the news that that Celestina Warbeck was expecting her first child with an undisclosed man, something that seemed to catch every headline in every paper in the country. Safe to say, all the material he’d pre-emptively prepared for the eventuality of being mistakenly declared dead by some newspaper had gone down the toilet, much to his own chagrin and his family’s relief. A crappy week indeed, Izzy reflected. But then again, at least he wouldn’t spend New Year’s alone in his misery.
It had been her mother’s idea – a pretty good one at that – that, even though neither Sirius, due to his Dragon Pox, not Remus, due to the previous night’s full moon, would be able to enjoy a traditional New Year’s bash, they might as well spend it together anyhow. True, Remus might not offer that great a company, seeing as he was so drained he was currently dozing on the armchair he was sitting on, but at least Tonks and Teddy certainly made up for that (a bizarre fact for the latter, who was probably the most ridiculously cheerful Dragon-Pox ridden child she’d ever seen in her life, giggling all over the place as he played with Alex while coloured bright green from head to toe).
She cleared her throat as she made her way further into the room, causing both her father and Tonks to look away from the telly, turning to her instead. “Hey, I’m going now, okay?”
“Alright, Izzybel. Be back by eleven,” he told her.
Izzy frowned immediately but, before she could even protest, Tonks made herself heard. “You are joking, right? It’s New Year’s Eve – the whole point of going to a New Year’s Eve party is to be there at midnight when the New Year comes.”
“Yeah, what she said!” Izzy agreed.
“Well, can’t you make it a ‘Pre New Year’s party’ instead and just come spend midnight here with all of us?” he asked.
Izzy huffed. “Dad! If you wanted me to spend midnight here with you why did you say I could go in the first place?! I offered to stay when Mum decided to invite them!”
“Yeah, Sirius, don’t mess with the kid’s plans on our account,” Tonks said, trying to hide a smirk caused by the fact that she was perfectly aware that Sirius’s curfew-worries were more related to being an overprotective arse than a gracious host. “I mean, I don’t mind, Teddy just doesn’t care either way and sleepy over there probably won’t even be conscious most of the night.”
Sirius narrowed his eyes at his cousin, knowing she was calling his bluff. “Fine. Let’s make it one minute past midnight. That way, she still spends midnight over there.”
“Oh, great! I get to wish everyone a Happy New Year all the way from the fireplace. That sounds lovely,” Izzy spat.
Her father groaned. “Just out of curiosity, what hour would you think appropriate for you to arrive?”
“Well, considering I’m of age, going to a party that’s practically only going to have people we consider family in it and that Harry’s also going without a pre-set curfew, I might just say ‘any hour’ but since I know you’re going to claim the ‘my house, my rules’ card, I guess I could live with two… three in the morning.”
“Three in the morning?! Well, just go ahead and sleep there instead, why don’t you? Half past midnight is my offer.”
“You might as well make it even and go with one in the morning,” Izzy pointed out.
Just entering the room with Mary on her hip, Mia cleared her throat. “Alright, what is going on in here?” she asked, placing her daughter down on the floor.
“Dad and I are negotiating curfew times,” Izzy announced. “And he’s being a real pain about it!”
“Hey, I am being nothing more than a concerned, responsible father!” he argued, causing Tonks to snort by his side. He turned to her, raising his eyebrows. “Something to say?” he asked the metamorphagus as Mary scampered all the way onto his lap, dragging her favourite stuffed animal behind her by a leg.
“Nothing. You’re just missing a few prefixes there…” the pink-haired auror mumbled.
Mia cleared her throat, circling the couch in order to take a seat by her green husband’s side. “Alright, what’s the matter with the curfew, after all? I thought this was a straight-forward thing: she goes with Harry, she comes back with him. You know he won’t let her get into trouble. Besides, it’s a Weasley celebration, not some wild teen party.”
“A Weasley celebration without Molly or Arthur Weasley in it,” Sirius pointed out. “They’re stuck with that hag Molly calls an aunt for tonight, remember? Bloody woman just had to fall and break her hip two days before the end of the year! Anyway, since they’re stuck looking after her while she recovers, somehow, the lack of adult supervision makes me feel less confident about this party.”
“I’d say Bill, Fleur, Percy, George and the many other people over the age of twenty, with steady jobs and living on their own who are going to be there might disagree with your whole ‘lack of adult supervision’ assessment,” Tonks pointed out.
“You forgot to mention Charlie too,” Izzy pointed out.
“No, I didn’t,” the metamorphagus said with a snort. “He may have a steady job and live abroad but take dragons out of the equation and you’ll realize that in all other areas that one’s brain has been stuck at fourteen for years. Can’t you just smell the puberty hormones whenever he’s around?” she asked, causing Izzy to snort. “Anyway, I ran into Fleur over at Gringotts the other day and she told me it wasn’t going to be a big bash, anyway. She and Bill are just experimenting a little with having people over: aside from the ones we know, I think there’s only a few friends of theirs and Fleur’s kid sister Gabrielle, who’s staying over, coming by.”
“See, Dad? Even a twelve-year-old is going! What’s the worst that could happen if I stay there a bit late?”
Sirius pursed his lips for a moment, an expression Mary seemed to find funny, promptly throwing her stuffed toy in the air, standing up on his lap and poking his face with her finger. He managed to brush her hand away without more than a giggle from her part and, looking at his littlest girl, a hundred different possibilities of what could go wrong with a New Year’s outing crossed his mind in a flash. Not, he added in his mind, that they were likely enough to happen for Mia and Tonks not to pick them apart and mock him for it. Damn women, he thought in frustration. Damn women and damn daughters… why couldn’t they just stay little forever? Even his little Mary was growing up on him – in a few hours she’d be turning two and, next thing he’d know, she’d be bargaining curfews with him too. “Don’t you dare go boy-crazy on me before you turn thirty, okay?” he told the little girl, who just giggled before abandoning his lap to go search for her discarded toy. Great, he thought. Just what he needed – another traitor. Hopeless, he just huffed, turning to Izzy. “Fine. But you had better head straight here the moment you step foot out of that party. And that had better happen long before dawn,” he told his eldest daughter, who smiled.
“Thank you, Daddy,” she said, strategically using the mellowest of terms of endearment to end the discussion before he could change his mind.
His lips curled a bit and, although he didn’t argue with her any further, Tonks wasn’t so lucky. “But if something does go wrong, I’m blaming you, you… bad influence,” he told the metamorphagus, who frowned.
“Me? A ‘bad influence’?!” she asked in outrage. “You didn’t seem to think so when you were practically throwing me into your best friend’s arms!”
“Oh, I did think so… but he was practically a little angel romance-wise. He desperately needed somebody to lead him astray,” Sirius argued.
“Ah, so that’s what I am to him in your view? The little devil standing on his shoulder?”
“If the shoe fits.”
“I’ll give you the shoe,” she said, not so ironically picking up one of Teddy’s discarded shoes on the floor (the when he managed to go for more than two hours without prying them off was yet to come) and throwing it at his cousin who, despite not being on his best health, managed to catch it before it did any damage.
“Oi!” he complained, throwing the tiny shoe back onto the floor just as Harry made his way into the room, looking mildly frustrated.
“What the hell, Izzy?!” he asked his sister, who turned around to face him.
“Harry! Little ears in the room,” his godmother immediately scolded him, gesturing to Mary and the spot in the middle of the room where Alex stood holding little Teddy under his armpits with some difficulty, unsuccessfully trying to get him to take a few steps (he was desperate for a non-girly playmate that could chase him around and since Teddy didn’t seem to be getting there on his own, it seemed he had to intervene).
“Sorry,” the so-called Chosen One mumbled in embarrassment. “But I’ve been standing at the porch for like ten minutes waiting for her to come.” He turned to the girl in question. “It’s freezing out there! You know, if this is going to take very long, I’ll just apparate on my own and you can take the floo with all the ash that comes along with it.”
“Hey! It’s not my fault Dad decided to get difficult about me going right before I was to step foot out the door,” Izzy replied.
“Oi! It’s not too late to change my mind,” Sirius reminded her.
“Well, if you’re going to, can you please do it fast?” Harry asked of his godfather. “I’ve already told you that I talked to Ginny and she’s okay with coming to spend midnight here if you’d rather we stayed. I don’t mind either way – I just need to know what to tell her.”
“Tell her you’re going to Bill’s because you’re not cool enough for this party, no matter what your godfather says,” Tonks suggested.
Harry raised an eyebrow. “Not that I use this card often, but one might say that the ‘Chosen One’ is cool enough for any party.”
“Not this one, he’s not,” the metamorphagus said. “You have to either be married to or parent to someone suffering from Dragon Pox to be welcome here. So, unless there’s something you want to tell us, Potter, I suggest you take Izzy and get lost until it’s well past midnight.”
“Not that well past it,” Sirius argued. “But fine, go. Just keep an eye out for Izzy here, will you, Harry? Enlist the Weasley boys into the job if you have to. They’re bound to be good at scaring the perverts away.”
The irony of his words didn’t go unnoticed and, for a moment there, Izzy was sure Harry was about to burst into a fit of laughter. Before he could, though she aimed her foot to his shin and kicked him there… hard. He yelped in pain immediately and Tonks, recognizing the action, snorted loudly.
Izzy, in the meanwhile, tried to show a look of sympathy on her face. “Oh, leg cramp? That sucks,” she said, as if she had nothing to do with her Harry’s sudden bout of pain. Then, turning to her father, she glared. “We really need to have a conversation about my ability to keep an eye out for myself. Do I seem like some airhead to you, Dad?”
Mia rolled her eyes, getting up before making her way to the two teenagers. “Of course you don’t, honey. Don’t mind your father. What’s important is that the two of you have fun and use your heads while doing it,” she said, placing a kiss on each of their cheeks. “Now, don’t forget to take your heaviest coats. Molly tells me it’s very cold where Bill and Fleur live.”
“We will,” Izzy promised before tilting her head to the left so she could see her father behind her mother’s back. “I guess I’ll see you next year then, Dad.”
“I don’t like the sound of that,” he grumpily replied.
“Well, then get used to it!” she said, promptly turning to Tonks, who seemed to have been able to snatch Teddy back from Alex’s walking training, seeing as the boy was currently sitting on her lap. “Bye, Tonks. Bye Teddy!”
“Bye,” the older metamorphagus replied, lifting Teddy’s chubby arm and using it to wave. She then turned brought her lips closer to the baby’s ear. “Tell your godfather not to forget to plant a good one on Ginny at midnight,” she instructed the green little boy, who just gave Harry and Izzy a confused look, as if asking ‘What the hell is she saying?!’ “Mummy sure won’t forget to do the same for Daddy.”
Harry groaned. “Merlin… are you going to make a lot of comments like that one when you’re officially training me?”
Tonks grinned. “I might try to control myself if you prove to be a good paperwork slave.”
Again, a groan was heard as the two of them exited the room, Harry limping as he followed Izzy. “For your information, I ought to apparate to bloody Inverness and dump you there to freeze for that kick you gave me,” he said as they made their way down the stairs to the ground floor.
She didn’t bother looking back at him as she led the way, busy putting her winter hat and scarf on. “Well, it’s not my fault you cannot control yourself. You were about to start giggling like a three-year-old!”
“Well, can you blame me?” he asked, lowering his voice so they wouldn’t be heard as they put their cloaks on by the door. “It was ironic hearing your dad asking me to – I quote – ‘enlist the Weasley Boys to help me keep perverts away from you’.”
She smacked him on the arm before opening the door. “Forgive me if I don’t see that irony,” she said, even though she did see it, ‘pervert’ reference aside.
He followed her out the door, closing it back behind him once they were out, standing at 12 Grimmauld Place’s front porch. “I’m not saying he’s some degenerate,” he said, referring to George. “An arse, sure, but you have to realize that, in your Dad’s eyes, any bloke who might want date you is a pervert.”
Izzy groaned, frustrated at the fact that he was probably right. “He’s not an arse,” she defended George, purposely not referring to his last sentence. “Not at the moment, at least.”
Harry scoffed. He liked George. Generally, he really did… but recently, well, he wasn’t too happy with his actions of late. “He made you cry. People don’t make you cry. The fact that he ever did permanently grants him the title of ‘arse’,” Harry told her.
“Well, I do appreciate the loyalty, Harry, but if anyone can throw around permanent titles for the tears I shed, then person is me. And, for your information, he’s done nothing but apologize since it happened – apologies I gladly accepted. You’re not supposed to fight my battles, especially the ones I’ve already put an end to: that’s not fair to me or to you. He’s your friend too – don’t go around shunning him on my stead.”
Her brother huffed, pursing his lips. Easier said than done, he thought even though he know she was right about that. “He’d better not do it again,” he told her. “Maybe I don’t get to fight your battles but, considering he and his brothers promised to tear me a new one if I crush their sister’s heart, it’s only fair I get the same kind of deal.”
“They only said that because you’re dating her and, for your information, we’re not.”
Harry snorted. “You know, that’s a pretty flexible word these days – ‘dating’. I’ve seen people use it to describe a lot less than what you told me about the two of you the other day.”
Izzy glared. “Let’s just go,” she mumbled, looking away, unwilling to go on with the conversation.
Her brother’s lips curled, feeling somewhat satisfied that he’d hit a nerve. “Careful not to let go until we arrive,” he reminded her, giving her his arm to hold on to.
She took it and, knowing the oncoming experience was not a pleasant one, took a long breath before closing her eyes. Then, it happened: she was being pulled, twisted, dragged so fast she couldn’t breathe. Once she felt ground under her feet again, she couldn’t help letting out a sigh of relief, letting go of Harry’s arm for the sake of checking herself for any lost parts… one couldn’t blame her for that, considering her history with apparition.
“Uh-oh,” she heard Harry saying, finding him looking at her with wide eyes once she turned to him.
“What?” she asked, sounding fearful.
“Your hair… I think it didn’t make it through the trip,” he said.
Panicked, she reached up for it… only to find her ponytail correctly in place under the winter hat she was wearing. Turning her attention back to Harry, she saw his expression shifting into a disgustingly self-fulfilled grin, which only encouraged her to punch him in the arm harder than she’d already been intending to. “Arse,” she said. “You know, that has happened before. Me leaving my hair behind, among other things. One of the many reasons why I’m beginning to think I’m more suited to Muggle means of travel than Magical Ones. Much more comfortable…”
Harry scoffed. “Yeah, right. Do I need to refer you to our conversation from last week? This is just another one of those I-refuse-to-be-beaten sort of situation – one week for now or a month or maybe a year you’ll be trying to apparate again and you won’t stop until you can either do it or your mangled body is spread all over Britain.”
“Please do go on – I need more mental pictures like that one to motivate my masochistic mind,” she said dryly.
He chuckled. “I don’t think you need any more motivation that your own hard head.”
“Shut up,” she mumbled, looking away from him.
It was only then, as she turned away from Harry, that she took in their surroundings. For whatever reason, Harry hadn’t quite apparated into the house’s backyard or even the front yard for that matter – she could see the lights of it maybe two hundred yards away, downhill from the cliff they were standing on. It was a beautiful view from up there, the dark night only lit up by the house and the one-day-past-full moon: the ground under her feet was covered with snow – not a thick, uniform blanket but a thinner, patchier one that seemed more like white lace against the dark rock of the cliff. The snow went all the way down to the beach below, only a thin strip of sand against which the waves languidly crashed being free of it. The wind was murderously cold, though not as strong as one might think it to be that close to the sea – she might actually be able to stand on the edge for a while taking in the scenery without being knocked down from the cliff by a gust of air. “So, this is where you hid out last year after the Malfoy Manor thing,” she said, her words intended for Harry although she didn’t turn to face him.
“Yeah,” he said, moving to stand by her. “It wasn’t too bad. Bill had wards over most of the area, so we could walk around without fearing we might run into a Death Eater. This was my favourite place. We buried Dobby over there,” he said, pointing his thumb at somewhere behind them. Izzy turned around and actually saw a raised mound over there with a headstone on it.
She nodded. “It’s a nice place,” Izzy told him, turning back.
“I thought so,” he agreed. “Anyway,” he added, changing the subject, “it was actually nice staying here after camping around for so long. Fleur is a bloody brilliant host too. In all, it wasn’t home but it was homey, which was more than we’d had in a while.” He sighed after saying that and then took a glance at his watch. “Alright, we should head to the house. Everyone is probably already there. We’re already late for whatever reason,” he added, referring to her delay with Sirius.
“Oh, shut up,” she mumbled, rolling her eyes before following him as he lit up his wand and made his way down a narrow, steep path along the Cliffside. Even though it was bloody hard to keep balance and not fall face-first on the floor, the slippery snow adding up to the already-existent steepness, she couldn’t help noticing Harry seemed to be enjoying the walk. Must be some sort of nostalgia, she thought, which was the one reason why she didn’t berate him for not just dropping them off at the house’s door.
By the time they were just reaching the beach, they saw a group of four people at a distance approaching the house from the opposite direction. They couldn’t quite tell who it was at first as the flash of white light from their lit-up wands was far too bright for them to see through. However, as they finally reached what could be loosely considered Bill and Fleur’s front yard (there was no real fence around it or anything, so Izzy imagined one could state their front yard was everything between the door and the sea) and put out the wands – unnecessary by then, as there was plenty of light coming out of the windows – Izzy finally recognized one of them as Ginny, judging by the long red hair, and later, as they got closer, the other three as Ron, Hermione and, to her own satisfaction, George.
Despite the cold, the distant group didn’t go in, clearly waiting for them to join them, judging by the wave Ron gave them.
“Well, look who’s decided to show up. I was starting to think you’d forgotten about us,” Ginny commented once they reached them.
Harry thrust his thumb Izzy’s way as he approached. “Blame her,” he said before leaning closer to his girlfriend and greeting her with a kiss on the cheek.
Izzy huffed. “For the last time, it was Dad’s fault!” She saw George raining his eyebrows, shooting her a wordless question of ‘How?’ from where he stood. “He decided that the moment when I was leaving was the right one to be whinny about curfews and lack of thereof,” she answered without the need for a spoken request.
“Oh, Ron told me your dad got Dragon Pox right after Christmas,” Hermione suddenly said, concerned. “Is he alright?”
“He’s fine. Just tired, whiny and bored. He’s also extremely outraged that Teddy Lupin caught it too and he’s practically breezing through it like it’s nothing,” Izzy told her.
Harry proudly grinned. “What can I say? The kid is a trooper,” he boasted his godson.
“If you asked me, it’s the universe throwing Remus a bone,” Ron pointed out. “Seems only right after all the crap it’s sent his way over the years.”
“So, anyway, is everyone in?” Harry asked, nodding at the house.
“Mostly,” Ginny told him. “Some of Bill’s friends haven’t made it yet but no one’s really waiting up for them.”
“Speaking of which,” Ron prompted, rubbing his stomach. “I could use a bite to eat right around now.”
Hermione turned to him, a look of disbelief on her face. “You’ve just had a platter full of cheese pastries before we came out!”
“But they were tiny!”
“They were covering a whole platter! What does it matter how tiny each portion was when you ate them all?” Ginny pointed out.
“Do I have to hand you people a written report on everything I eat?” the other redhead asked, frustrated.
Hermione sighed in defeat, rolling her eyes. “Fine, we can go back in. I suppose I wouldn’t mind something warm to drink, anyway. Are you guys coming?”
There was a general murmur of agreement, in which only Izzy didn’t take part. “You go on. I think I’ll stay out here and explore a little before going in,” she said. Somehow, she felt that if she walked into the party at that moment, between all the greetings and inter-crossing conversations, it would be a while before she managed to catch a moment alone with George, who, she hoped, would catch a hint and stay as well.
If he’d caught it or not was something she’d have to wonder about since, before he had a chance to speak, Ginny beat him to it.
“Take your time,” Ginny said before turning to her older brother. “Why don’t you give Izzy here the grand tour, George? I’m assuming you haven’t forgotten all the highlights in just a few minutes.”
She didn’t give him a chance to refuse – not that he planned to – just walking away towards the door seconds later. Harry, Ron and Hermione followed her into the welcoming house, and only when they were out of sight did George speak.
“So,” he started, “just how badly do you want that Grand Tour?”
She smiled, guessing he could tell that ‘exploring’ had been just an excuse from her part. “I suppose I could live with just a small one. Starting with what the heck that is,” she said, pointing at what appeared to be a large pile of something covered with tightly-wound tarp that seemed to be standing halfway between the house and the sea. Approaching it, she noticed, with some annoyance, that the large mound was actually taller than herself.
“Honestly, I have no idea. Ginny stood there for about ten minutes after we arrived poking and prodding – that sheet thing seems to be magically unmovable. Bill said it was a surprise for midnight. I have my suspicions.”
“Well, when your brothers barge into your shop and screw you out of galleons-worth of fireworks by guilting you with your ‘probation period’ and then, in the same day, there’s a big pile-shaped surprise waiting to take place on the lawn of one of them, you have to at least suspect that both events are related,” George explained.
“Hum… I see,” she mumbled. “So, galleons, you say…”
He groaned. “Not enough to be that whole pile but enough to annoy me. I couldn’t even look at the unpaid bill for the specific amount. I just told Verity to take it straight to Remus’s desk – he can have the heart attack himself when he comes back. This probation thing had better be over soon or else it’ll drive me bankrupt.”
“Well, you have been quite the model atoner,” she observed, giving him a smile. “And there’s always the chance that, next time they try to screw you out of stuff you’re selling, you’ll threaten to go tattling to your mother. I’m sure she wouldn’t approve.”
He seemed to actually consider it for a moment. “Well, I’m not usually one for snitching but I guess the threat alone might do the job. Now, all snitching aside, Isabelle, I believe the two of us were in the middle of quite an interesting written discussion when you oh-so-conveniently had to leave because your little brother allegedly walked into your room crying,” he said, shooting an accusing look.
She groaned, recalling that they had, indeed, been having a discussion the previous night via papyrus, though in her mind the part he was referring to had been more annoying than interesting. It wasn’t that they’d been angry at each other or anything… they were just being themselves, pushing stuff further bit by bit. That time, it had been his letter-related questions, which were usually mild and fun to discuss… until he’d asked a specific question she hadn’t really felt like answering. Not that it was too personal or anything, she really just didn’t want him to join the flanks of those concerned for her mental health. “For your information, he did come to me crying,” she said, starting to walk away from the pile, treading along the beach towards a wide boulder perched on the snow-covered sand. “He’d had a pretty awful nightmare and went to my parents’ room but only found Dad in a drug-induced stupor. Mum was still downstairs doing something, so he came to me instead. He actually slept in my bed last night.”
“Well, truth as it might be, there’s no little boy to save you this time,” he informed her, following her. “So, come on, Isabelle. Tell me. What happened on the last week of November that caused you not to write to me?”
She huffed as they reached the boulder in question. “Why do you care? I’ve told you last night: it’s nothing interesting,” she argued.
“Then tell me about ‘nothing interesting’,” he said. “What can I say, Isabelle? I’m intrigued.” He really was. During what had to be his tenth read of the Black Chronicles, as he now referred them, the extended gap that took place between the letter of the second-to-last week of November and the first week of December had caught his attention. After checking that, indeed, she’d faithfully written to him every single Saturday since September except for that one, he’d thought he might have just misplaced the letter referring to the 27th of November, only to realize upon carefully examining the contiguous letters that it couldn’t be the case since there seemed to be continuity between the two, something that didn’t quite fit with a letter in the middle. He’d gone to Ginny first, asking her if something special had happened on the weekend in question, only to have her roll her eyes at him and redirect him back to Izzy – that had only served to intrigue him more.
Banishing the snow covering the boulder away from it with her wand, she decided that was a good place to sit down as any. “Can’t you just leave it alone? What’s your business asking me why I didn’t write to you that one time when you didn’t write back on any?!” she asked as she used her arms for thrust while propping herself onto the boulder, facing the sea. The cold was biting so, before putting the wand away, she cast a warming that was bound to be short-lived in that cold on her cloak.
He frowned, moving to stand opposite her. The boulder was slightly elevated, conveniently bringing her up to his eye-level despite the height difference. “Look, I’ve already told you I’m sorry about that. I’m just curious! Is it really that touchy a matter? Am I getting into something that’s very personal here? Or touching a nerve or… stuff like that? Because If I am, then I guess I could just suck it up,” he offered, recognizing he really had no business pushing her into talking.
She bit her lip, considering just how easy it would be to say ‘yes’. But, damn it, she didn’t want to lie to him. It wasn’t personal or… sensitive. It was just an overrated bit of stupidity. “No. Look, you’re just going to make a big deal out of it like everyone else.”
That part had him raising his eyebrows. “Like everyone else, you say? The same way I’ve been assuming for months that it was no use talking to you because you’d just be a patronizing pain like everyone else? I recall someone telling me that I shouldn’t just assume stuff like that.”
She felt like growling, frustrated by being caught in a trap that, essentially, she’d been the one to create. “Fine. But if you get all kid gloves around me because of it, then I swear I am throwing your papyrus…”
“You mean your papyrus,” he corrected.
“My half of our papyrus, then,” she said. “I’m throwing my half into the bottom of my trunk and I won’t be digging for it out until I’ve forgotten about this. And, by the way, I have a bloody brilliant memory.”
“I’m sure you do. Now, speak.” He moved to take a seat by her side on the boulder for the sake of making a point that he wasn’t going anywhere.
She took It for what it was and, sighing, wondered where to start. “Remember how I kept mentioning how crappy I am at apparating? And how I kept splinching my hair and nails and little stuff?” He nodded. “Well, it was only a matter of time before I left something important behind.
“You mean you didn’t write because you splinched yourself,” he guessed, receiving a nod in return. “Merlin. It was so bad that it put you out of commission for a whole day?”
“More like… a week or something.”
“Don’t even start. I’m fine, I’m alive, I’m in one piece, so there. Don’t you become another one of those idiots that deeply believes I’m heavily traumatized and thinks that the best way to handle me is to act all weird about it. As in ‘let’s not mention apparition at all around her in case she has a panic attack or something’. It’s annoying!”
“People are actually doing that?” he asked, receiving a nod in return. “After you tell them you’re not traumatized?”
“Yes! Like I said, it’s annoying.”
“Well, I can see that, so give me a little more credit,” he told her. “But a week? It was really that bad?”
She shrugged. “I’m told it was. Honestly, I don’t remember. I just passed out and woke up three days later in St Mungo’s when the worst of it was basically over.”
“You mean you actually had to go to St Mungo’s?” he asked, alarmed. “Madam Pomfrey couldn’t fix it?”
“Well, from what I’m told, she could have but she didn’t feel comfortable with administering that much Skele-Gro without hospital-grade sedation involved,” she informed him. “Apparently, it would be pretty uncomfortable – and by uncomfortable I mean downright excruciating – re-growing so many bones without being knocked out.”
His eyes widened. “Re-growing? You mean you splinched…”
“Bones? Yeah, a bunch of them.” According to the healers, more like about 40% of the bone matter in her body, but who was counting? “Nasty, isn’t it?”
“That’s putting it lightly! And you didn’t feel a thing? At all? Not even when it first happened?”
She shook her head. “No. I just… blacked out. The last thing I remember is disapparating and then… bam, I was in the hospital. Thank Merlin. Ginny tells me it was a complete freak show when it happened. She and Harry are practically the only ones who don’t clam up about it. Anyway, you may notice that I never mention apparition lessons in my letters again after this – that’s because Wilkie Twycross and McGonagall thought I should ‘take a break’ from them. They didn’t think I was on the right mind-set to take them.”
“And were you?”
Of course she wasn’t. He’d been ignoring her and she’d been worrying about that non-stop. She wasn’t about to tell him that, though – she didn’t need him agonizing over the fact that he might have indirectly nearly gotten her killed. So, she shrugged like she didn’t know. “Hermione blames it on stress from the NEWTs. I think she may be mixing my mind up with hers.”
George chuckled. “Yeah. Only she would stress about NEWTs to the point of splinching nearly six months in advance,” he agreed. “So, anyway, are you going to try again? When you get into the right mind-set, I mean.”
She shrugged. “I suppose a normal person might take what happened as a sign that they’re just not made for apparition… Harry tells me I won’t, though. He seems to think I’m stubborn to the point of madness.”
“Hey, trying again wouldn’t be madness. As long as you took special care about focusing on not splinching and stuff… I’m sure you could do it.”
Izzy chuckled. “I’ll think about it. In any case, I’d better not become the butt of jokes about my lack of ability to apparate the way Charlie still is about failing at his first apparition test,” she warned him.
George rolled his eyes. “Okay, first, I’d never do that to you. Second, I think I’m done teasing Charlie about that as well. It’d be a bit… bad if I did.”
Izzy raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean ‘bad’?”
His lips curled a bit. “You may not realize it but, by asking me that, you’re essentially asking me to tell you a big secret of mine.”
“A big secret? How big?”
“Big enough that only myself, Fred and a third party that is professionally bound to secrecy know about it,” he told her.
“Professionally bound to secrecy? What? Like a healer?”
“Something of that sort,” he confirmed.
She narrowed her eyes. “All of a sudden I’m not liking this at all.”
“I didn’t mean an actual healer. I meant a kind of professional secrecy like that. As in the person in question not being allowed to discuss individual cases and stuff like that,” he explained.
“And what, might I ask, is this individual case about?” she asked.
“Didn’t you hear the part about it being a big secret and all? Are you trying to gather dirt on me?”
“Hey, I’ve just told you about my apparition problems. And I’ve been practically mailing you my diary for months. You have plenty of dirt on me!”
“Oh, yeah. Like that slightly worrisome rant you wrote about how you think that whomever came up with the idea that lemon had a place in dessertery should be beaten and fed to a dragon because you found some in your strawberry pie?”
She narrowed her eyes. “It was strawberry cheesecake and it was completely ruined! Why would anyone think to put lemon in something that’s supposed to be sweet?!” she said in complete disbelief. “It’s bitter! Isn’t that proof enough that it has no place there?!”
George chuckled. Clearly, she had a very well-formed opinion on the matter. He wasn’t about to go against her on it.
“Anyway,” she continued, settling herself back. “I believe you were about to tell me a secret.”
“I believe you’re recalling it wrong.”
“No, I’m not. Because if I were recalling it wrong and you were just mentioning a secret and basically teasing me about it when, in fact, you weren’t planning to reveal it, that would make you kind of a jerk, which I believe you’ve been trying very hard not to be lately. So, George, are you or are you not trying not to be a jerk?” She gave him a pointed look, daring him to deny it.
He eyed her with raised eyebrows for a long moment. “You drive a hard bargain, Isabelle,” he told her.
She smiled. “Yes, I do.”
“Alright, I suppose you’re trustworthy enough. But this had better never, ever reach anybody’s ears, especially Charlie’s. I’d never hear the end of it if it did,” he warned.
“I do know what the meaning of a secret is, George,” she said. “Spit it out. What exactly was that third party professionally bound to secrecy if it wasn’t a Healer?”
“A Ministry official. Like I said, they are not allowed to discuss individual cases for privacy reasons,” he said.
She narrowed her eyes. “If you tell me this was all about you being secretly late paying taxes or something equally pointless, I’m going to kill you.”
“It depends… Do you think my telling everyone I passed my apparition exam at the first attempt when I actually didn’t is pointless material?”
Izzy stared at him for a few moments. “No. I think it’s rubbish. As if I don’t remember how annoying you and Fred were that summer… You kept apparating everywhere just to remind us you could!”
“No. Fred kept apparating everywhere… I just went along for the ride. Do you actually remember me apparating anywhere alone back then?”
“That doesn’t have to mean anything. Just because I didn’t see it, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” she replied. “You’re just making that up to make me feel better about my monumental lack of talent for apparition, aren’t you?”
“Of course not! I didn’t pass it – I swear! Fred and I only managed to hide it because, with the Triwizard Tournament going on, the test over at Hogwarts got scheduled too soon for us to take it, so we had to get an individual test in the beginning of the summer. No one but Wilkie Twycross, who couldn’t discuss it with anyone else, was there to see it.”
She still seemed suspicious. “And if I asked for some proof…”
He shrugged. “I guess I could show you the certificate I was given when I finally passed,” he said. “You’ll see it’s dated from late August, not late June like you would expect.”
So there was paperwork involved, she thought. Oh, well, she didn’t think he’d go as far as to forge it… “So, what did you leave behind, then? I’m assuming that’s why you didn’t pass – splinching.”
“You assume correctly. It was a wisdom tooth,” he said, making her raise her eyebrows. “What? It was bothering me! I guess I got distracted by it and it ended up staying behind. And, honestly, I wanted it out, anyway, so it shouldn’t count as splinching, in any case. But it did and I got held up for another two months, during which Fred covered for me.”
“But why? Was it so bad not passing?”
“Well, yeah. In case you don’t know, Fred and I were pretty stellar during apparition lessons, so we figured the licenses were already in the bag before we even went for the test, which led us to making the stupid mistake of mocking Charlie about not passing at his first try in advance.”
“And then you failed.”
“And then I failed…” he confirmed. “It’d be completely humiliating to admit we were wrong… or, well, I was wrong.”
Izzy snorted. “You’re an idiot, you know? You and Fred were just asking not to pass – divine retribution if I’ve ever seen it. It’s a wonder he didn’t get held back too.”
“I guess he needed the luck more than I did,” he mumbled. Not in all ways that mattered, though. Fred had gotten himself a short, eventful life while George still had a future ahead of him, uncertain as it might be.
“Speaking of luck,” Izzy said, looking at the house over her shoulder. “It’s a wonder nobody’s shown up to check if we got lost or something.”
He had little doubt that might have something to do with Ginny working her magic to cover for them. “It’d probably be pushing it if we stayed here much longer, wouldn’t it?”
“Definitely. They might just come out to find our fatally frozen bodies,” she said.
George nodded, getting up. “Yeah, I guess the cold might be a problem. Also, if I don’t show my face anytime soon, I might be accused of running out on the party.”
“Well, we wouldn’t want you to have your probation extended, would we?” she said, taking the hand he was offering her for support while climbing down from the rock.
They made their way to the comfortable warmth of the house silently, only to find the get-together going lively inside. If their absence was noticed by anyone but those who’d been outside with them before, it wasn’t mentioned by anybody – to George, that could only mean his brothers had been otherwise distracted. He had no doubt in his mind that, had they gotten a wind that he was outside alone with a girl, they’d have had a field day teasing him about it.
Like Tonks had said, there weren’t too many guests besides the Weasleys themselves and the always present Izzy, Harry and Hermione: maybe more than half a dozen but certainly not twice that number. Izzy didn’t recognize most of them which she supposed went down to the fact that they were either co-workers or old classmates of Bill’s – indeed, he and Charlie (also Percy, on occasion) seemed to be the ones socializing with them the most.
All the while, Fleur gracefully floated around playing the perfect hostess, greeting guests, refilling platters with bite-sized French delicacies Ron and Charlie seemed to gobble up by the pound and making small talk, creating a welcoming, relaxed environment in the house. She did it with such an ease and grace that would either make Molly Weasley endlessly proud or green with envy. Ginny seemed to think (maybe hope) it would be the latter that applied: that way, Fleur could make up for her own faults in the domestic front, she’d said.
The rest of the night passed in a rush in Izzy’s mind. Sitting with the usual group of Harry, Ginny, Ron, Hermione and George, she heard it as they talked about the most varied subjects, ranging from the funniest, such as Ron’s experience with meeting Hermione’s extended family just before Christmas (including his wonder and bafflement at various Muggle habits), to the most boring ones, namely the older girl naming all the reasons why the boys in the group should take the time to sit in for their NEWTs even if they weren’t enrolled in school anymore.
In all, when they heard Bill calling everyone’s attention from the centre of the room because it was close to midnight, the passing of time caught them all by surprise.
“Alright, everyone!” Bill shouted, catching everyone’s attention. “It’s ten minutes ‘till the New Year. Everyone get outside! We’ve got something prepared there for the occasion.”
While there were a handful of complaints concerning the fact that it was below zero outside, soon enough everyone was following Bill out the door, Izzy and George remaining the last ones to go.
Something had changed the moment Bill had mentioned how near the end of year was – Izzy had seen it on George’s face almost immediately. The smile he’d had most of the night had vanished, being replaced by a solemn look that made her somewhat afraid.
“Are you alright?” she asked as she finished putting her winter cloak on by the door.
He turned to her sharply, not in a threatening way like he was angry, but as if he’d just been suddenly awoken from a dream. “What?”
“I asked if you were alright. You look… thoughtful.” Troubled, haunted, dangerously close to melancholic, she added in her mind. And, worse, it had happened in the blink of an eye.
“It’s nothing. I’m alright,” he said.
She raised one eyebrow. “Are you sure?”
He nodded and, maybe to get her to drop the subject, draw his lips up in a smile before opening the door for her. “Come on. Let’s see what Bill’s got planned out there,” he told her, urging her to step out.
She sighed. The smile was fake – she had no doubt of it. But still, she allowed herself to just nod and go along with it – the fact that he was bothering to try and reassure her had to at least be a sign that he was still trying.
Outside, it seemed the big pile-shaped mystery under the sheet had been revealed: apparently, it was just a big pile of lumber that was now lit with fire, forming a large bonfire that most of the guests were now surrounding, likely thankful for the heat source. It was actually quite beautiful, Izzy thought, the orange flames contrasting with the thin snow covering the sand, all of it set against the dark sky that was only lit by the distant moon.
She glanced at George, standing close by her side, and saw that his eyes were also on the bonfire, though she could tell his mind was, again, elsewhere. There was the solemn look again, she thought, wondering what sort of thoughts were running around his head. Part of her felt like telling him to stop it but another knew there would be no point in trying to control his mind. The most she could do was stand with him and let him know she was there if he wanted to talk about it.
As such, she silently took a sideways step that brought them so close to each other their shoulders were almost rubbing. They didn’t say another word during those last five minutes of the year, instead just watching – at least in Izzy’s case – people’s antics by the beach. Soon enough, the countdown started over there, Bill guiding himself by his watch as he counted back the seconds out loud.
He’d barely had a chance to shout ‘Happy New Year’ when a loud blast announced that Charlie had sent the fireworks off (likely the ones George had been ‘screwed out of’ that morning). Around the bonfire, people not so surprisingly kissed, hugged and shouted as they watched the explosions go off in the sky, loudly and brightly. All the while, detached from the crowd, there was only silence between George and Izzy.
It felt wrong.
George should be over there. He should have been the one setting the fireworks off. He should have been down there to help his brothers when, not thirty seconds after midnight, they jumped Percy (much to his horror), grabbed him by his arms and legs and carried him all the way to the shore, ultimately throwing him into the icy water in a sort of New Year’s baptism ritual. But he wasn’t. He was just standing there, probably poisoning himself with his own thoughts.
She was about to try and save him from himself when he finally spoke.
“I thought it would be more impressive,” he observed. “The end of what, by my standards, was the worst year in the history of the world.”
Izzy stared at him for a few seconds. She wasn’t sure how to describe his expression… maybe a mix of sadness, resignation and absentmindedness. But, also, there was something good in it – that wasn’t the part she couldn’t quite put a finger on. It wasn’t quite genuine happiness – maybe relief of some sort. Then again, she might be imagining it – everything seemed much more positive under the explosion of lights that was currently covering the sky. “You’ve got fireworks,” she told him. “What else did you want? A parade? A ceremonial effigy burning?”
“We’ve got the fire already,” he offered.
“We do,” she agreed. “What were you thinking just now?” she asked without thinking. She just couldn’t help it.
He sighed. “Just now? What I’ve just told you, I guess.”
“Loads of things. Why do you ask, Isabelle?”
She hesitated before answering. “Sometimes it scares me when you think,” she told him.
He just looked at her for a long time before saying anything. “Well… I’d offer to quit thinking but that might not work out so well in a daily basis.”
She looked down, knowing he did have a good point. “I know. But sometimes you just look so… haunted when you do… I wish you’d just say whatever is going through your mind out loud so I could tell you that you’re wrong.”
“And when I’m not wrong?”
She shrugged. “Say it anyway. I’ll figure something out.”
He didn’t reply for a long time, instead turning to face the fading fireworks on the sky. Silence reigned for maybe two or three minutes.
“I was thinking this is going to be my first whole year without Fred,” he told her. “And it feels… lonely to think of it like that. The first year without Fred… I don’t want this year to be that year. Fred wouldn’t want this year to be that year either.”
Izzy was confused. There was nothing in the world she wished more at that moment than assuring him that the current year wouldn’t be the first one without Fred. But it would be, wouldn’t it? Of course it would be. Fred had died – every year after the past year would be a year passed without him in it. So, what on Earth could she tell him? To get used to it? Because that was just wrong. “George, I’m not sure…”
“Okay, before you think I’ve lost my mind for good – I’m not planning to lose my way trying to bring him back or anything. I am perfectly aware that’s impossible. But still… him not being here is not what I want to label this year with. That just feels like… I dunno, setting myself up for everything to go to hell.”
That actually made a lot of sense. “Fair enough. What else do you want to remember it by, then?” she asked.
“I want this to be the year when I finally keep my New Year’s resolutions,” he said.
She felt her lips starting to curl. “Really? That’s such big a deal? Are you really that bad at keeping them?”
“Usually. In my defence, I haven’t been making them that long – maybe a couple of years… but, yeah, there’s always one thing or two that I leave hanging.”
“Have you thought that maybe you’re being a bit too ambitious in your resolutions?”
“Yeah… but I quickly realized that I’m not,” he declared. “I’m just… wasting time. And I need to stop… eventually.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Need to stop wasting time eventually? Sounds like classic procrastination if you asked me,” she told him.
George chuckled humourlessly. “You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But it’s not. Not in this case, anyway.”
“What’s so special about this case?”
He shrugged. “It’s complicated. I just know that if I did it right now, I’d muck it up in a spectacular manner.”
“Maybe you wouldn’t,” she said.
“But probably I would. I don’t want to risk it. Not this. Not until I’ve had a little more time to… sort myself out.”
“It’s that important? This resolution of yours?”
“It’s the best thing I have to look forward to right now,” he told her, looking her in the eyes in such a fashion that made her feel weak on the knees.
The question sounded in her mind before she could stop herself. Could be referring to them? Could that be his resolution? For that to be the year when he made the definite move? For the recently-past year to be the last one when they let fate tear them apart?
“Always go positive,” he told her, as if reading her mind.
She furrowed her brows. “What?”
“On the day of the battle, I told you to always go positive when you have doubts about something I say,” he reminded her. “It still applies, Isabelle.”
Her heart nearly stopped inside her chest. It was the first time he’d ever addressed that conversation since they’d rekindled their friendship. I hadn’t come up once in one of their written conversations or spoken ones and, now that it did, he’d gone straight to the part that had kept her awake at night. To this day, she still wasn’t completely so how much he’d meant by that – when she’d been running for her life from Death Eaters, she’d allowed herself to believe it could extend to a love declaration. Why not? Her life had been hanging by a thread. She could have used something positive at that moment and that had been it.
But now she wasn’t being chased for her life. Now, she was standing there and George was telling her the exact same thing – the difference was that, that time, she didn’t care about how much he was trying to stretch the ‘always go positive’ notion. She only cared that it meant he hadn’t forgotten about it. The book was still open for them and – maybe, just maybe – George was determined to reach the end of that volume and move on to the sequel without skipping through the chapters in a half-assed read.
“So, a year, you say?” she asked, a smile playing on her lips.
“Doesn’t have to be a year,” he told her. “More like… if one year from today the two of us are standing here – here or wherever we choose to celebrate New Year’s – and I’m still wasting time, then you’re allowed… no, you’re expected to make me regret it. No excuses… well, except circumstances beyond my control.”
He looked away, scratching the back of his head in thought for a moment. “Extended coma, extended memory loss… something like that.” He looked back at her. “Is that okay with you?”
She eyed him for a long moment in silence, feeling like everything that had just been said was almost too good to be truth. “Yes,” she finally agreed, not willing to care. “Yes, that is.”
He smiled widely and so did she before turning, shoulder to shoulder, to face the distant bonfire at the beach. Their hands accidentally rubbed for a moment but then, not do accidentally, didn’t pull away, slowly coming together in a silent hold.
At that moment – at that very moment – there was no doubt in Izzy’s mind that one year from then the two of them would be standing together wherever it was they decided to spend New Year’s Eve. And, when that happened, they’d be far more than two friends striking a bargain.
They’d be two people who were done with wasting time.
A/N: Well, I hope you liked it! And, completely unrelated, I've got to say I was completely surprised when I came here to update and saw the new site visual. It's so... new. Kudos for the disigners. Anyway, feedback is welcome! Review!
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