Author's Note 1: Again, thank you to Burgundy Hope for being an amazing beta and friend. This chapter ends the Epiphany Cycle. I don't know when there will be another chapter for George and Angelina, but I should have some one-shots coming up in the next few weeks. Thank you to everybody who has read, reviewed, followed, or favorited this story. I appreciate the support, and always enjoy hearing from readers.
Disclaimer: The world and characters belong to the incomparable JK Rowling.
Epiphany: Chapter 8
After Luna left for South America (still a virgin, though Ginny was the only one to truly believe that), George sat at Sunday dinner making faces at Teddy and Pax, Charlie's kid who was not really his son, when Percy gave his little brother the perfect excuse to make up with Angelina. They were all dining in the garden, enjoying the last of the summer sun. Just as Ron was tucking in for thirds, Percy stood up, puffed out his scrawny chest, and clinked his fork against his glass.
"If I could have everyone's attention," Percy said, the crowd around him quieting down. "I have an announcement."
"Obviously," Ron muttered.
"Yes, well, I am pleased to say that Audrey has agreed to marry me."
A collective squeal rendered every person within a five-mile radius deaf, but all George noticed was Percy's dopey smile as he gazed down at Audrey. It was gooey and emotional and George was completely envious. Percy, for all his faults, really loved Audrey, and was better for it.
"And," Audrey added with a big grin, "we'd like to have the wedding here, in about a month."
"A month?" Mum screeched, turning narrowed eyes on her third son. "Percival Ignatius, did you get that girl pregnant?"
"Wh-what?" Percy sputtered. His face went from pleasantly pink to apoplectically red in an instant. "Of course not!"
"Then why the hurry?" Mum continued, properly reaching her stride. "A month is hardly time to plan a proper wedding. And what will people say?"
George was filled with glee as he watched his elder brother get flayed by their mother. It was jolly good entertainment. Besides, he was going to need a date for this hastily thrown together do, and George knew just who he would ask.
"This is it?"
Angelina was facing the bedroom window, watching a pair of grindylow chase each other through the waters of the Black Lake, but when Adrian spoke, she rolled over to face him. He was appallingly handsome first thing in the morning. No pillow creases marked his face, and his black hair only stood in one or two odd angles, but his hazel eyes were still sleepily half-mast and his mouth a bit puffy and red and utterly kissable. It wasn't fair that a man should wake up looking that shaggable.
"It is, I'm afraid," Angelina agreed.
It was the morning of August 31. The next day, students would be arriving at Hogwarts ready for a new school year, and this thing that Angelina had been conducting with Adrian would be over. They'd agreed to the summer, nothing more, and now their time had come to an end. Angelina was feeling rather bittersweet about it, to be honest.
"This has been good, hasn't it?" Adrian said.
"It has." Angelina grinned slyly, wagging her eyebrows at him.
Adrian grabbed her by the hips and pulled her close. "Not this, wench."
Angelina chuckled. "Well, it has."
"I'm willing to concede that, but it's not what I meant."
"You're not going to get sentimental on me, are you?"
Adrian shook his head. "What now, Chaser Johnson?"
Affecting a playful pout to hide her very real contemplation, Angelina gave his question the proper consideration. It was back to her life, she supposed. Adrian had given her a safe place away from her cares and concerns, and she realized now that she'd needed it, but it was time to return to the real world.
"A Championship year, hopefully," Angelina replied.
Adrian shook his head. "Fine. Keep your secrets. But I hope you'll think of me fondly from time to time."
"Oh, I will." A small smile came to Angelina's face. "Particularly a few weeks from now when I'm randy and need a good shag."
"You're welcome to owl me, but I don't think you will."
He was right. They both needed a good, clean break. Angelina doubted they'd ever call on one another again. In the years to come, they would just be two people who nodded at one another as they passed in Diagon Alley. That didn't make Adrian's place in her life any less important though.
"And what about you?" Angelina asked. "What's in store for you, Professor?"
Adrian shrugged one shoulder. "Classes, mostly."
"Touché." Angelina rolled her eyes, realizing that her flippant reply deserved recompense.
"Thank you," Adrian said. "For a hell of a summer."
Angelina pressed her body to her lover's. "The pleasure was all mine."
Ginny had come around the shop after her first day of training with the Harpies full of enthusiasm. Apparently, Puddlemere poached Chaser Wilda Griffiths. What might be bad news for the Harpies, was good news for Ginny who seemed confident that she could work her way onto the starting roster. Where she would play alongside Angelina. As happy as George was for his sister, his mind made the immediate link with Angie, and maybe that was why he finally found the courage to apologize. He'd left Ron to close up shop (did the wanker think he would just live rent free?), cleaned up a bit (sure, those were his best jeans and a button down, that didn't mean he was trying to impress her, or anything), and went around Angelina's in hopes that she would be home (please let her be home).
After knocking, George stood outside the door, smoothing his hair down with his hand. He'd cut it short again a few months after Fred died. It had been Fred's idea for them to grow it out, to make their differences less obvious. George, however, preferred the ease of short hair, and he was less bothered by his earlessness than one might expect. Besides, he no longer had anybody to match.
Just about the time George was going to give up hope, the red lacquered door swung open. There stood the private Angelina, the one even George didn't often see. Her hair was pulled back, her face scrubbed clean. Instead of looking like a fashion plate, Angelina wore jeans and a Harpies t-shirt, her posh shoes traded in for house slippers. It was a sight George thought he could get used to.
"Hey," he said, and did his best not to cringe. He hadn't seen her since bloody Scotland, and that was the best he could do?
"Hey," she replied, and wiped her fingers under her eyes.
"Long time no see."
"Whose fault is that?"
There was a flatness to Angelina's words that George didn't like. If she yelled at him, then at least he would know where he stood with her. That low-key, almost emotionless tone left George feeling wrong-footed. Angelina wandered into the flat, leaving the door open. It wasn't an invitation, more like she was putting the Quaffle in George's hands. Still it was his move, and George wasn't going to muff it. Taking a deep breath and holding it, he stepped inside, closing the door behind him.
"I'm sorry," George blurted out. He thought it might be best to get that out and over with as quickly as possible.
"That was nearly a month ago," Angelina said. "What's taken you so long?"
"I was afraid you would hex me," George said.
That was true, technically, but only a small part of it. He didn't want to admit that he was a coward. For all of the schemes he came up with to win Angelina's forgiveness—and there had been some grand ones—he didn't want to face her. What if she didn't forgive him? What if he lost her because he'd opened up his big fat mouth? Those were prospects George didn't want to face, so instead of being a man and owning his mistakes, he'd sat in his flat dreaming up ways to whitewash his shortcomings.
"What I said," George started. He took a deep breath, stealing a look at Angelina to see that she was waiting for him to continue. "I was out of line."
"You made me feel dirty and low." Her voice was quiet, but gritty.
It was like she slapped him again. He might still be trying to figure himself out, but he knew he didn't want to be the kind of person who treated people the way he treated Angelina that night. Blinking rapidly, he forced himself to look Angelina in the eye.
"I'm sorry. I'll do better."
Angelina nodded her head once. "I'm sorry I slapped you. But, George, our friendship doesn't give you the right to choose my boyfriends for me."
"I know." That didn't mean he had to like it. "Are you still with Pucey?"
"No, we went our separate ways."
"Just like that? What did the git do?"
Angelina's eyebrows were angry. "Not that it's any of your business, but we agreed to end things once school started up again. We parted as friends."
"That sounds very…adult."
"Unlike shagging your baby sister's best mate," Angelina snapped.
In the space of one sentence, George went from wrong-footed to hopeful. He tamped down the fizzy giddiness that was bubbling up in his chest. Angelina Johnson was jealous. Of him. This right here, it was promising.
Play it cool, Forge.
"Jealous?" George smirked.
Angelina pursed her lips. "I told you, I'm not interested in a lousy shag. Butterbeer?"
George thought it was a good sign that Angelina was offering him refreshment. She went into her small kitchen, while George flung himself onto her sofa. Angelina liked red, and that was reflected in her crimson, velvet sofa. There were even yellow pillows with big red flowers blooming across them. Very posh, and very Gryffindor. It was like the common room got a makeover.
"So you know, I didn't shag Luna," George called out.
"You are welcome to shag anybody you like," Angelina retorted. Her words might be indifferent, but her voice held a note of growl in it.
George grinned to himself. This Angelina he could deal with. There was always something a bit exciting about an edgy Angelina. When he was a kid, George had liked to goad her into popping because he never knew what to expect. Would she yell? Would she hex him? The possibilities were endless, one more exciting than the next. Now, he realized, what he really liked to see was the passion that was gurgling just under the surface of anger.
On the glass coffee table, George noticed a framed photo laying face down. When he picked it up, he saw that it was the picture of the lot of them at the Yule Ball, the one they had found in Fred's room at the start of the summer. Angelina had put it in a simple black frame, their youthful smiles radiating from its confines. This was such a girl thing to do. All of the other photos were still a jumbled up pile in their box. It had never occurred to George to do something this nice.
"Here you go," Angelina said as she walked in with two Butterbeer bottles.
"This is really nice," George said, holding up the photo.
Angelina's features froze, then moved into a slight frown. "Oh. Cheers. I'll just…put that…up."
Snatching the frame from George's hands, she moved to the hearth and set the photo in pride of place amongst a silver vase and some candlesticks on the mantle. Angelina's back was to George, but he watched as she fussed with the frame for a moment. Her perfect posture was even more rigid than normal. It was as if someone had rammed a board against her spine.
George got up from the sofa with great care. He'd said her name, but got no response in return. Instead, Angelina stood at the mantle, unmoving, her hand clenched around the wood. Vulnerability radiated off of her, George could feel it prickle his skin. Like the hum of magic, it was almost imperceptible, except that George knew all too well what that kind of rawness felt like. He'd glimpsed this side of Angelina a few times before. The day Katie was cursed, or the night Alicia's family were murdered came to mind. There were other instances, too, ones that didn't leave as much of an impression. All of them had been short-lived. One moment, Angelina was an open wound, but in the next she would be steel-clad. Merlin, how George had admired that strength, but he'd never considered that maybe he was taking it for granted.
Touching her shoulder, George said her name again softly.
Angelina brushed a tear away. "I was looking at the photo earlier, before you got here."
"Does it make me a terrible person to say that I hated him a bit?" George admitted. "For having the bollocks to ask you to the Ball when I didn't?"
"I won't judge you," Angelina said, keeping her back to him. "If you don't judge me for saying I hated him a bit afterwards."
"I'm sorry I believed him when he said those things about you. I know it's a few years too late…I should have known better. No one could detect Fred's bullshite like I could."
"Why did he do it?"
George shrugged, even though Angelina wasn't looking at him to see it. He wished he could defend Fred somehow. Maybe claim that Fred wanted to make sure George stayed focused on their plans for the joke shop rather than getting caught up in a girl. There might be an element of truth in that. Fred certainly knew better than anyone George's feelings for Angelina. The truth was harsher than that though. Just like Fred knew George, George knew his twin. Fred told those lies because he was an absolute bloody effing git, and a teenage boy to boot. He told those lies so that George and Lee would think he was cool, and Fred never took the time to consider how that might impact Angelina.
"Because," George started, and blew out a breath. "Well, because he was an arsehole. It was something we had in common."
Angelina closed her eyes. She took a few deep breaths through her nose. Her shoulder under George's hand was so stiff he could have broken tree trunks over it.
"Angie?" George whispered.
She shook her head, tears escaping from under her eyelashes. "He was such a prat."
George turned Angelina so that she was facing him. Her eyes were still closed, but the tears were slipping down her face fast and furious. Harshly, she swiped at them with her hand, like if George didn't see them it would make none of this happen. She took another deep breath through her nose, but then her mouth parted and it snuck tremulously passed her lips.
Every fiber of Angelina's being was trying so hard to keep her shell from cracking that she was nearly vibrating with the effort it took. The beauty of it, the loneliness of it, left George in awe. All this last year, George had wallowed in his grief, depending on Angie's strength to bolster his own. Had it taken this much effort for her to present that strength to him every time?
Epiphany No. 4 hit George like a rock between the eyes. Angelina's beauty didn't come from her strength. It came from the vulnerability the strength masked.
George folded her into his arms. "It's okay," he murmured against her ear.
The cry that escaped from Angelina was like a wounded animal being freed from a vice. It was ragged, fierce, and relieved. Her arms cinched around his ribs, her face against his shoulder, and George was thankful for their breadth. Grateful, too, for the strength of his arms as they held her, feeling the sobs shake her body and the tension leave it so that in the end she lay quietly against him, her shoulders curled towards him and her weight against his.
"I just miss him," Angelina rasped.
"I know the feeling."
Angelina sniffed a few times, and pushed away. "I'm sorry."
"For what?" George asked.
Her face was shiny and stark with her tears. "I didn't mean to put this on you. Of course you miss Fr-Fred. Much more than I ever could."
"Less, more, who cares? You loved him, right? Despite his prattish tendencies."
Angelina bit her bottom lip. Merlin, George had never seen her do that before, and he thought under different circumstances it might drive him mad. Really, it was just a sign that George needed to see more of this Angelina.
"You don't always have to be strong for me," George said.
Angelina looked away.
"I know, I'm a mess—"
"No!" Angelina looked at him, her cheeks slightly pink. "Do you know how strong you are?"
"Let's not wax poetic about my ability to muddle through. It's embarrassing, and it doesn't make me any less of a mess. You know that better than anybody."
"I know Fred couldn't have done what you've done this last year."
George shrugged. There might be some truth to that. When George lost his ear, he'd once jokingly referred to it as the Great Untwinning, and Fred had gone mental. All George wanted to do was make the best of a bloody miserable situation, but Fred wanted no part of his jokes. In hindsight, George thought maybe Fred's identity was even more tied up in their twinness than George's was.
"We'll never have to know, will we?" George cleared his throat. "It made me feel good being strong for you. That's probably a horribly sexist thing to say."
Angelina laughed a little. "George, that's because you're a horrible sexist."
"I am, aren't I? Why do you put up with me?"
"I've no idea." Angelina smiled softly at him, then reached up to touch the side of his head right above where his ear should be but wasn't. They both froze, staring at each other. Her eyes were wide in horror, but George thought maybe he didn't mind Angelina touching him there.
"I like this side of you," George said, he placed his hand over hers, flattening it against his head. "I don't want you to be afraid to show it to me because…because you're my best mate."
Angelina's eyes hid shyly behind her lashes. "It's hard for me to be this…this weak in front of other people."
"You got it all wrong."
Their eyes met. The breath stilled in George's lungs, time was something that existed outside of this place. Angelina was looking at him with gratitude and understanding in her eyes, emotions that echoed inside of George. If Angelina could look at him that way, maybe George had a chance. He wanted to hang onto this moment forever, so he tucked it into his heart as a reminder that this was the first step on his journey to being a better man.
Although, probably not a very mature one.
"My brother's getting married," he announced, letting Angelina step away from him.
"Oh, did Charlie settle on a nice Welsh Green then? Or something more exotic like a Chinese Fireball?"
George laughed. "No, Percy, you Harpy. He finally popped the question."
"True, and Audrey was mental enough to say yes."
"Be nice," Angelina chided. "They're good together."
"The date is set for two weeks from now."
Angelina's brow furrowed. "Is she pregnant?"
"He says no, but only time will tell, I reckon. Anyway, I need a hot date for my brother's wedding."
"Did you want me to set you up? How about Gwenog? She was good enough for Fred."
George felt the tip of his ear turn red. "You knew about that?"
"Gwenog Jones is definitely the kiss and tell type. Or shag and tell, as the case might be. Though 'shag' is much too delicate a word to describe that encounter."
Laughter bubbled out of George at full force. Someday, he was going to kiss that woman, but not today. Merlin's balls, the only thing hotter than Angelina was Angelina cracking jokes.
"Did you have something you wanted to ask me, Georgie?" She fluttered her eyelashes at him.
"Be my date?"
"Absolutely. Trying to guess how far along the bride is has become my favorite new parlor game."
"I'll show you a good time."
George was just wondering if Fleur would give him dancing lessons, when Angelina hugged him.
"I know you will," she said. "Have you had dinner? I was just thinking about getting some Indian. Training was brutal."
"Ginny said as much. And Indian sounds great."
"I love having Ginny on the team," Angelina said. She moved to her desk to send an owl to the Indian place down the way. "Already I feel a camaraderie with her that I've been missing since…since I played with Katie and Alicia, honestly."
"Gin thinks she'll make first string." George tossed some pillows on the floor and sat on the sofa.
The owl flew out the window and Angelina picked up the pillows. "I hate it when you do this."
"What's the point of them anyways? They're always in the way."
Angelina opened her mouth, but smiled instead. "Never mind, Georgie, you wouldn't understand."
She tossed the pillows into the chair, and plopped next to George on the sofa. Careful not to actually look at Angelina, George draped his arm across the back cushions. Was that too obvious? He held very still, waiting to see what Angelina would do next.
It was true, George was pathetic, he didn't need his brother's disembodied voice to tell him that. His body was tight, his fist was spasmodically clenching and unclenching. He wanted Angelina to lean against him, to know the weight of her, the scent of her, even in a platonic way. And he hoped to hell that she didn't notice.
Then it happened. Angelina's head was on George's shoulder, her back resting against his chest. She smelled like soap.
Don't bloody mess this up, wanker.
But George didn't need to be told. He kept his arm safely on the back of the sofa, suppressed his shit-eating-grin, and just enjoyed having Angelina near. The way she smiled, the way her hands moved as she talked about Quidditch. A new feeling settled over George, something he could only describe as rightness. For a moment, George's heart tightened with betrayal. Nothing in his life should feel right without Fred.
His twin's voice remained stubbornly silent on this account. George would hate it if anybody else presumed to speak for Fred, but the two of them had been more than brothers. For twenty years, their thoughts had been perfectly synced. Fred didn't need to give his permission for George to know that his twin would want him to have a good life. After all, it's what George would have wanted for Fred if the roles were reversed.
With that thought, George let himself sink into the moment with Angelina. He let himself hope for more.
A/N2: Thank you for reading. Please leave a review!