Corking to See You

George kept his promise to himself and did not tell Fred anything about his feelings for Luna Lovegood. He hardly ever kept anything from his brother, yet the thought that he had a secret from Fred made him feel almost ...empowered. He was independent, breaking away from the mold, standing alone. It wasn't for lack of trying, though, that Fred didn't realize the truth.

"You staring at Loony again?" Fred would often interject during meals.

George was always quick to reply, "Why would I, when I can stare at Angelina?" He winked at Fred's unofficial girlfriend, who would giggle and wink back, just to cheese off Fred.

"Oi, get your own girl!" Fred elbowed him.

Lee got in on it too, since Fred probably reckoned that with the two of them ribbing him about Luna he would wear down twice as fast. "Going to Hogsmeade this weekend?" Lee asked him as they sat down in Defense Against the Dark Arts on Tuesday.

"Yeah, mate," George said.

"Going to check out Zonko's?"

"Sure."

"Going to ask Luna to go with you?"

"Of course not, what are you talking about?"

It had crossed his mind several times to ask Luna to go with him. More than several, actually. She was a third year and just old enough to go, and the idea of spending an afternoon in Hogsmeade with her enticed him a lot more than spending yet another visit finishing Fred's sentences. They could go to the Three Broomsticks and talk over butterbeers in one of those little tables in the corners, away from the prying eyes of their housemates. He could show her the stores he liked to visit, she could tell him more about the Quibbler and whether or not she really believed in Crumple-Horned Snorkacks and Gippyslinks.

But these daydreams were usually interrupted by the presence of Ron. George and Luna would be sitting in the Three Broomsticks of his imagination, about to hold hands or maybe even snog, when Ron would come thundering towards them.

"Hands off, Fred!" Ron would shout, looking rather more dashing and heroic than in real life.

"Oh Ronald," Luna said, swooning. Somehow her standard student uniform had turned into shimmering blue robes, and her figure that of a woman at least ten years older. "My love, my true love!"

"My lady, I shall save you from this prat!" Ron pulled out his wand and hexed George across the room.

"Ronald, my hero!" Luna sighed. She put her arms around his neck and they flew away on a hippogriff that had been standing incongruously in the middle of the room.

Fred would then lean over and ask if the doodle George was scratching out was supposed to be Ron with a bad case of boils, because that's what it looked like to him.

The only time George was able to see Luna was during meals, when everyone was diving for the last piece of treacle tart and arguing over who got to it first. Luna sat alone, at the end closest to the staff table, usually with a book or back issue of the Quibbler. He made it his mission to catch her eye as many times as possible, and Luna seemed to have caught on because she would toy with him: George would look right at her, from between Angelina and Alicia's shoulders, staring intently while she pretended to be oblivious. Luna's eyes floated all around the Great Hall, taking in Dumbledore, the other students, the enchanted sky above them, whatever book she was reading. Then, just when he was about to look away and chalk it up as a loss, Luna looked right at him and smiled broadly. George grinned back and returned to his meal and daydreams.

And yet, he didn't have the stones to ask her to Hogsmeade. In that respect he was no better than Ron, whose infatuation with Hermione was so well known, there was a pool going for when he'd finally ask her out. The process was a basic one, one that had worked several times for him in the past: George met the girl. Decided he liked her. Asked her to Hogsmeade. So where was the problem?

"Right, mate," he said into his mirror one morning, while Fred was finishing up in the loo. "You can do this. You're George Weasley."

"No, remember?" His twin had come out of the bathroom, his hair still damp from bathing. "You're Fred today, Fred."

"Oh yeah," George said, grinning evilly. "How could I have forgotten, George?" They had stopped switching places last year, but ever since Mad-Eye Moody had arrived with his magical eye, they had been dying to know what kinds of things it could see through.

They didn't have Defense Against the Dark Arts until that afternoon, and all morning and during lunch, Angelina, Katie, Alicia, and Lee had taken the bait and called them by the wrong names. McGonagall had looked slightly suspicious at the beginning of Transfiguration, but she fell for it too.

Kind of depressing, isn't it? George wrote during class, when they were supposed to be taking notes.

Yeah, Fred wrote back. Though I can't see why. You get to pretend to be me, and we both know I'm the more striking twin. George rolled his eyes and sent the scrap of parchment back with a picture of Fred looking like a hag.

Their ruse went swimmingly until they showed up at Moody's classroom for Defense Against the Dark Arts. They were earlier than usual, because Angelina had started sidling up to George and asking him if he wanted to head for the darkest corner of the library, which Fred hadn't liked at all. They'd gotten away from her before she could get suspicious about George's less-than-thrilled reaction to her proposition. And since they were never early if they could help it, they learned something new that day: the class before theirs was Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff third years.

George watched disinterestedly as the younger students walked past, talking about whatever scary thing Moody had just shown them, or asking each other what they were going to do in Hogsmeade that weekend. Some of them still looked nervously at Fred and George, even though the Stephen Cornfoot incident was weeks ago now and neither of them had hit anyone since. George was very close to shouting "BOO!" at the next student that looked at him, and then Luna came floating out of the classroom.

George, who had been leaning against the wall with his arms crossed in front of him, straightened so quickly he nearly stumbled. Luna only smiled serenely at him, her wand stuck behind her ear. She had radish earrings on today. "Hello, George," she said to him. "Hello, Fred."

Fred's eyes bugged, but only for a moment. "No, you've got it wrong," he said with a grin. "I'm George, that's Fred."

Luna shook her head and sighed, as though she were dealing with very small children. "George already tried that with me," she said. "I know you're Fred, Fred."

Moody came stumping out into the corridor behind her, magic eye swiveling like crazy. "Ten points to Ravenclaw for constant vigilance," he barked. "Good eye, Lovegood."

"Thank you, Professor," Luna said dreamily. "Goodbye, George, Fred." She smiled again at George, and breezed down the corridor towards her next class, moving as though she didn't walk on two feet like everyone else. George stared after her until she had disappeared around a corner.

"Great," Fred muttered, as the rest of their class trickled in and Moody started setting up their next lesson. "She ruined it. We'll have to try again, to see if that eye can tell the difference between us."

"Let's wait a couple months," George agreed, "and not be early to class that time. And tell your girlfriend she needs to settle down with the dates in the library."

Fred looked smug. "Can I help it if I'm irresistible? And how did Loony -- er, how did Luna tell us apart? Mum can't even keep us straight sometimes."

George told him about the freckles on the backs of their necks, and about the scar he had under his ear from one of their experiments with Fizzing Whizbees. "I don't know if I should be impressed or a bit frightened," Fred said darkly. Just as George had at the Yule Ball, he had reached back to touch the freckles that formed Sagittarius on his neck. "That's kind of dodgy, her watching us. Maybe she fancies you as much as you fancy her."

Before George could retort, Moody snapped, "Weasley! Weasley! Shut up or I'll do it for you!" Fred and George immediately put innocent, angelic looks on their faces, and their class commenced.

At supper that night, George mooned after Luna even more than he usually did, so much so that Fred and Angelina didn't even joke about it the way they always did. He fancied her, he would admit that now. And now that he knew when one of her classes was, his mind had jumped automatically to all the extra seconds he could hang out with her in the hallway. This is pathetic, he thought morosely, as he shoveled his food into his mouth. Just ask her to Hogsmeade already, Weasley.

Later that night, they were sitting on George's bed working on a new idea they had for a Wheeze, with the curtains pulled to keep hidden what they were doing. George took careful notes as they tossed feature ideas around, and Fred waved his wand around to illustrate what he was thinking of.

"We could sell them separately," Fred said. "Maybe have different colored labels so you can tell them apart. And we can sell them altogether too, in packages --"

"'Skiving Snackboxes,'" George said, having a sudden brainstorm.

Fred beamed. "Perfect. Students all over England will be thanking us in no time."

As George made a notation of the potential name and other packaging ideas, he asked Fred, "Are you and Angelina going to Hogsmeade together, then?"

"Yeah," Fred said. "Are you finally going to get off your arse and ask Luna to go with you?"

George looked up, blinking. "What? No taking the mick out of me about it?"

Fred shrugged. "D'you want me to? 'Cause it was pretty fun, I'll admit that much --"

"No thanks." He looked down at his parchment, twirling the quill between his fingers. "Reckon she wouldn't want to go with me."

Fred's eyes bugged at that. "Wouldn't want to? Why not? She's only flirted with you every bloody time she sees you."

George threw a pillow at him, which Fred neatly ducked. "It's not that, it's..." He made a face, wondering how he could explain it without sounding like a whingy, jealous wanker.

"You know you can tell me." He looked up and saw that Fred was very serious, and the way he was leaning forward showed he was in earnest. "Honestly, George, if you just can't do it there's no shame in it."

"Don't let another Gryffindor hear you say that," George said dryly, stalling for time.

"What?" Fred shrugged. "I fancied Angelina for ages before I got the stones to ask her to the Yule Ball."

"Luna doesn't fancy me that way." He tossed aside the quill and parchment. "She fancies Ron."

"I knew that drawing of yours looked like him!"

"And I don't want to go out with someone who fancies Ron," George said, frowning. "Not like she has a chance with him, though. Hermione's got him wrapped around her finger."

Fred rolled his eyes. "If ickle Ronniekins is the only obstacle to the girl you fancy, then what's stopping you?"

George opened his mouth to retort, "everything!" but then he paused. If Ron had given her any hope of a relationship that would have been another matter, but as far as he knew Ron had done no such thing. Most people looked past Luna, George had noticed, and only paid her heed when someone was doing something cruel to her. Just the thought of how Stephen Cornfoot had plotted to embarrass her in front of everyone made him clench his fists in anger.

Fred nudged him with his shoulder. "Curfew's not for another hour," he said. "She's a Ravenclaw, she's probably in the library."

George looked at him, eyes wide. "Fred, I'm --"

"I know. We can finish up this stuff with the joke shop some other time."

George slid off the bed and pulled his trainers back on. "Fred," he said, "you were always my favorite twin, you know."

"I won't tell the others you said that," Fred said with a wink. "I want a full report when you get back."

George saluted smartly, though he ruined it by grinning, and ran out of the sixth year boys' dormitory, through the common room, through the portrait, and on to the library.

He was confident like he never had been before. Fred was right; Luna had to fancy him as much as he fancied her. She was always smiling at him during meals, and she did kiss him after the Yule Ball... George picked up his pace. Not even having Peeves shooting spit balls at his head slowed him down.

The library was nearly empty when he burst through the door, for it was, just as Fred had said, only about another hour until curfew. George was glad, for he wanted as few people as possible to witness the event just in case Luna said no. Because maybe her dad was one of those strict ones, who wouldn't let his daughter date until she was thirty. With his luck, it would be something like that.

She was sitting by herself in the corner, a whole stack of books beside her and her wand tucked behind her ear for safekeeping. He stopped at the end of the row of bookshelves, suddenly incapable of movement. This was it. Merlin, he was really going to do it.

He was going to ask her to Hogsmeade.

After his heart stopped pounding, he'd ask her.

Pretty soon he'd do it.

Any time now.

Luna looked up from her book and her eyes fell on him immediately. "George," she said, smiling dreamily. "Hello."

"Er -- hello," he said. "I'm -- I'm not disturbing you or anything?"

"Oh no, not at all." She placed a marker in her book and closed it. He swallowed, trying to pretend his hands weren't shaking, and took the seat across the table from her. "I was looking up a few things for Care of Magical Creatures."

"You mean you don't already know everything about them?" George said, grinning.

"No," Luna replied solemnly. "We don't learn about creatures like Crumple-Horned Snorkacks, which is a shame. I would think that if anyone could find one, it would be Professor Hagrid."

"Yeah," George said. He had no idea what to say next that would make a good lead into asking her out.

"Did you have to look up something too?" Luna asked.

"No...just -- out for a nighttime stroll..." His voice drifted off. He contemplated banging his head against the table, for surely that would be less painful than this conversation.

"It is a very nice night, isn't it?" Luna said. "Maybe I should start taking nighttime strolls too. There are so many parts of the castle I've never been to."

George's nervousness dropped away just like that. "What? Seriously? Merlin, Luna, have I got just the spots for you..." He delved right into his secret knowledge of Hogwarts Castle -- heretofore only known to him and Fred -- and watched delightedly as Luna soaked in his every word.

"There are really secret passages here?" she said, looking as though nothing else could make her more excited. "I always thought there must be."

"Some of them are blocked off for one reason or another," George admitted. "Fred and I accidentally set off a Dungbomb in one and some of the masonry collapsed, so that one's not usable anymore."

"Wow," Luna said, leaning back in her seat dreamily. "I'd love to see one, George."

"Yeah?" Bloody hell, this was it, just the lead in he needed. "You know, there's actually a passageway that leads right to --"

She turned then, distracted, as harried voices came into earshot. George frowned and turned to see what had caught her attention, and sure enough, Harry, Ron, and Hermione appeared. They were on their way out, and they all looked upset.

"Poor Harry," Luna said, not sounding upset at all. She twirled some of her stringy hair round her finger. "He's having such a hard time figuring out the second task."

"Yeah," George said, heart sinking in his chest. Great timing, Ron, he thought darkly. "Well, um, like I was saying --"

"Oh yes, I'm sorry," Luna said, looking back at him, but only after the trio had gone. "What were you saying before?"

George opened his mouth to speak -- and then thought better of it. Even if Luna fancied him, even a little bit, and even if Ron were no competition at all, the fact remained that every time they were talking, Luna always chose to pay attention to Ron over him. Fred was wrong. This was a horrible idea. He was sixteen, she was a third year. They were in two different houses. It just wasn't conceivable.

"Nothing," he said. "It was nothing important. Good luck studying, Luna."

"Thank you, George," she said pleasantly. "Good night."

"'Night."

George got up and dragged his feet as he walked towards the door, hands shoved in the pockets of his faded jeans. He would just not be interested in her in that way, and that was that. There were tons of other girls at this school that would love to go with him to Hogsmeade. But he and Luna? They would just be friends.

"George! Or Fred, whichever one you are."

He turned as someone called, and found Alicia coming from the back of the library, her school bag slung over one shoulder. "Fancy meeting you here," she said, smiling broadly at him. "I thought you two didn't study."

He gave her a lopsided smile. "Who said I was studying? Maybe I was just snogging some lucky girl over in the Herbology section."

"Now I know you're lying," Alicia said, laughing, as they left the library and started up to Gryffindor Tower. "I was just in the Herbology section, and there was nothing nearly that exciting going on there."

"Ah, you've caught me." He fell so easily into the way he bantered with Alicia. They had known each other and been friends since their first year, and it was ...comfortable. Familiar. "What were you doing there?"

"Trying to cram in some more information before our test next week," she said. "But it's getting late now, and if I look at one more plant description my head is going to burst." They walked in silence for a few steps. "But really, what were you up to? Should I avoid the library tomorrow, in case you planted more Garroting Gas pellets?"

"Actually...no," George said, having a brainstorm. "I was looking for you, Alicia."

She blushed at that, and though it was subtle he saw it right away. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah."

"Not going to use me as another one of your guinea pigs, are you?" she said, and just like that it hit George that Alicia liked him. Like, really liked him. Fancied him, even. And if she had a thing for him, it would only make his plan to Not Think About Luna Lovegood As More Than A Friend even easier to initiate.

"No," he said, "I was wondering if you were going with anyone to Hogsmeade this weekend."

The pause between his question and her answer was perfectly timed, he knew: long enough that she didn't seem too eager, but short enough that she didn't sound completely disinterested. "No, not yet," Alicia said, smiling at him. "Is someone asking?"

"Maybe." He grinned back at her.

"Well, maybe if someone asked, maybe I'd say yes."

"Then maybe I'll meet you at the Three Broomsticks?"

She laughed and he liked the sound of it. How hadn't he noticed her laugh before? "Maybe I'll be there," she said, as they arrived in front of the Fat Lady's portrait. He said the password, and they both stepped into the common room.

Fred was scratching a few things onto the parchment they'd been taking notes on earlier, but he looked up as soon as George entered the sixth year boys' dormitory. "So?" he said. "How'd it go?"

"Alicia and I are going to Hogsmeade together on Saturday," George said, flopping onto his back on his bed.

Fred frowned at him, confused. "Wait -- how do you go to the library to ask out one girl, and then end up going out with a completely different one?"

"The One Girl acts uninterested, and the Completely Different Girl happens to be in the right place at the right time."

"So she said no." Fred had slid off of his bed and was now leaning against one of the posts of George's.

George hid his eyes under his arm. "I never asked her," he said bitterly. "My favorite brother happened to walk past at the opportune moment, and that was it. She's just not into me, Fred."

"And Crumple-Horned Snorkacks actually exist," Fred said. "George --"

"I have a date with Alicia," George said, sitting up. "I like her, she likes me."

"You --" Fred stopped, eyebrows drawn together at the middle. "Oh, bugger," he said, sighing. "I give up."

"Well thanks."

"You're digging your own grave from now on." Fred climbed back into his bed and shut the curtains behind him, and that was the end of that.

The rest of the week flew by, what with classes and homework and other things that George paid little attention to, and before he knew it, Saturday morning had come, and he was queuing up with the other students to have his permission slip for Hogsmeade checked by Filch.

"I've got my eye on you two," he said, glaring at him and Fred when they stepped forward. "If you bring back so much as a Dungbomb --"

"Mr. Filch! We'd never do such a thing," Fred cried dramatically, hand over his heart.

"You've made us see the light, Mr. Filch," George declared. "We've renounced our evil ways forever."

Alicia had already arrived at the Three Broomsticks when George walked in, kicking the snow off of his hand-me-down winter boots. "Hey, slow poke," she teased.

"Hey yourself." He slid into the opposite side of the booth.

"I only just ordered us butterbeers, so they should be here in another minute." George nodded, and the conversation wandered away into other topics: how upset they were that the Quidditch season had been cancelled, who would replace Wood as their Keeper, who would be trying out for the other teams. So basically, they talked about Quidditch.

Their butterbeer arrived a few minutes after George did, and not a half hour after that, Lee, Katie, Angelina, and Fred all came through the front door, their faces ruddy from the cold. "There they are," said Katie, pointing, and the four descended on their table en masse.

"Thanks for getting a table," Lee said, forcing Alicia down her bench so he could sit.

"Our pleasure," Alicia said dryly, and she and George looked at each other and rolled their eyes.

As the day progressed, and the six of them sat together in their booth, laughing and joking and just having a good time, George gradually felt his heartache over Luna fade. He had to be realistic: the six of them, his best mates in the whole world, just made more sense. Fred and Angelina were going out now, and it was only a matter of time before Lee stopped pining for Katie and asked her out too. They fit: six people, three couples. Everything was so clean cut and perfect, it would have been strange to introduce anyone else to their little group.

They walked back up to Hogwarts late that afternoon, as the sun skimmed along the evergreen trees of the Forbidden Forest and edged them in red-gold. Again, they had paired off: Fred and Angelina led the way, Fred showing off all the things he had bought at Zonko's; Lee and Katie in the middle, dancing around each other cautiously; and George and Alicia bringing up the rear.

"Cold, isn't it?" George said, when he noticed Alicia shivering again.

"Yeah," she agreed, rubbing her bare hands together. "I couldn't find my gloves in my trunk before I left -- I mean, I know they must be in there somewhere --"

"Here, take mine." George stripped off his blue handknit mittens and handed them over. Alicia took them gratefully, with a quick smile of thanks.

He liked this, he decided. He had much more in common with Alicia than...certain other people. And they were the same age too, so there was no strangeness about being seen as a cradle robber. Alicia was smart, and pretty with her warm brown eyes, and she liked Quidditch, which was always a priority. He would never get nervous or jittery around her.

"Hey," he said abruptly, just as they crossed the threshold into Hogwarts.

"What?" Alicia said. She stamped the snow off her boots.

"Maybe we should do this again sometime," he said, before he could really think about what he was saying.

She smiled up at him brilliantly. "Okay, sure," she said. "That'd be fun."

"So if any other bloke asks you to the next Hogsmeade weekend," George said with a grin, "tell him you're taken."

They chatted amiably as they walked up to Gryffindor Tower together, and before they went up to their dormitories to change into something warmer, they promised to meet again at dinner in the Great Hall. George whistled to himself as he went up the stairs, thinking about what the next few weeks would bring.

When he reached his school trunk, positioned at the foot of his bed, he opened up his cloak and dumped six butterbeer corks into it, then hid them under some socks where no one could see them. He'd taken them from everyone at the Three Broomsticks while they weren't looking.

George had been thinking about Luna's earrings. Now, he reasoned, she had enough for a matching necklace.