A/N: Sorry this took so long for such a short, uneventful chapter! My life is super busy right now, between work and getting ready for my Freshman year of college. I really appreciate all the response I've gotten for the last chapter and I'm working as hard as I can to get this all done.
BTW- I'm glad so many of you got a kick out of the potato line. :D Now, on to the next chapter!
It had been nearly a week since his breakdown in the kitchen and George had taken to locking himself in his room. For the first couple days nobody disturbed him, not so much as asking him to come down for dinner. For these days George would wait until everybody had gone to sleep to go down and grab a drink and a small meal, usually a piece of fruit or toast. It wasn't much, but he really wasn't hungry.
After a few days, however, people began knocking on his door trying to get a response for him. First was his mother, than slowly a parade of different people came by, knocking and talking to him through his wooden door. Ron even tried to bust in, but fortunately for George he and Fred had left the prototype of the SuperHidden Wealsey SuperSpringboard (name pending) by the entrance. Unfortunately it was a little TOO SuperHidden, blending into the floor like a chameleon, and Ron, who didn't know it's location like George did, was shot unceremoniously back into the hallway. Since then no one barged into his room under the rumor that it was booby-trapped.
By the end of the week he had ignored nearly every member of his family, Harry, Hermione and, oddly enough, Lee Jordan. He hadn't talked to Lee since the war and was amazed to hear his voice float through the door of his room one morning. He wondered who's idea it had been to contact him.
He spent most of his days sitting by the window, watching the world outside of it without actually seeing much of anything. He did notice that Luna never returned to their hill, though, which made him terribly sad. The thought that he had scared away someone so pure and kind made him feel somehow tainted. More than that, though, he found he actually missed her simply as Luna, not just as the girl who listened or as the person who understood what he was feeling. He even missed hearing her tell him about her father's ridiculous theories.
"George? George, darling, won't you come down for breakfast?" he heard his mother ask through the door, her voice trembling slightly. George looked away, guilt eating at his insides. He was too ashamed to see his family and too guilty about ignoring them to even start getting over it. He listened in silence as his mother's footsteps disappeared down the stairs.
"Fred," he sighed, wishing he could believe that his brother would respond, "What would you think about all of this? I'm such a mess..."
He rested his forehead against the glass of the window, watching his reflection stare back at him sadly.
"George? May I come in?"
As distracted by his reflection as he was, even Luna's soft voice took him by surprise. His eyes locked on the door and his mouth opened slightly. He didn't know what to do. He wanted to see her, but he also dreaded it on some level.
Luna opened the door without him answering, glancing about the entrance with her wide blue eyes. She had a painting tucked under one arm and a basket grasped in the other, yet she still managed a graceful flying leap over the SuperSpringboard, twirled and leapt again across the remainder of the distance to his window, landing lightly a couple feet away from where he sat.
"They said you had it booby-trapped, but I told them it must be a Difflespurt spirit," she explained, her eyes scanning the room as if the Difflespurt would suddenly show itself, "They live in the floors and don't particularly like being tred on."
"Ah," George responded, "Actually it..." he hesitated, then trailed off. He like the idea of letting the rumor his room was haunted spread.
"Here, I brought you some breakfast," she offered, ignoring his unfinished sentence and offering him the basket in her arms. It was full of colorful pastries and muffins of every sort he could imagine, carefully tucked into the checkered cloth lining. They looked and smelled wonderful.
He really looked up at Luna, catching her eyes for the first time since the dinner fiasco. He expected her to look at him differently, but the change he saw there was not the one he had expected. There was a warm fondness sparkling back at him behind the understanding, dreamy expression he was used to. It was like he had endeared himself to her by attacking his emotionally unstable brother and throwing a fit.
"I don't understand," he told her quietly, hoping she would know what he meant. She smiled down at him and offered him a yellow pastry.
"I know," she said gently, "You're more angry with yourself than any of your family is with you. Even Percy feels that way."
He took the pastry reluctantly, looking dubious. How would Luna know?
"I mean it," she said, reaching out to pat his free hand softly, "Just go down and see."
George flipped the yellow pastry in his hands thoughtfully before finally taking a bite and chewing slowly.
"I don't know," he told her, taking her dainty hand into his own and giving it a small squeeze. The action that had seemed so unsure and awkward a week before somehow seemed comfortable and natural in their current situation. She looked down at their hands with a pleased look on her face, tilting her head thoughtfully.
"Well, we can stay up here for a little while if you would like," she said, "but I think it would mean a lot to your family if you came down soon. They are worried about you."
George didn't respond, not quite ready to agree but not wanting to disappoint Luna either. She seemed to accept this, sitting down across from him on the window ledge. She turned his hand over, taking it in both of her own and inspecting is carefully with her wide eyes and curious fingertips. He munched on his pastry thoughtlessly.
"Hey... what's that painting?" he asked suddenly, his eyes locking on the canvas that was resting against the wall by Luna's legs. It was turned around so all he could see was the blank backside of it.
Luna released his hand, looking down at her lap a little tentatively.
"It's for you, but I'm not certain you're going to want it," she told him, picking the painting up without turning it around and handing it to him. He held it in front of him, not looking down at it quite yet. Instead he looked at Luna, curiously tilting his head to the side.
"When did you do this?"
"I started it a while ago, but I really did most of it this week," she admitted, not looking up at him when she spoke. Instead she looked down at her hands which were twisting together in her lap. He noticed that a couple of spots on her nails had been stained by the pigments in paint, and it gave them a colorful, speckled look. It suited her somehow.
Looking back down at the painting, he flipped it over carefully in his hands so it rested face up on his lap. He felt his heart constrict tightly in his chest.
It was his own face that stared back up at him, yet at the same time he knew it wasn't, really. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was Fred staring back up at him from the canvas on his lap. His twin was laughing, his eyes crinkled in mirth and his mouth drawn into a comfortable grin that George knew so well. Luna had somehow captured the subtle differences between himself and his twin that even his own family had struggled with, and she had hardly known Fred.
"It's okay if you don't like it," he heard her say, "I know it may not be my place to give this to you."
Caressing the edges of the dry paint with his thumbs, he spoke without looking up, "Why did you do this?"
"Well, I used to watch you two when we were in the DA together. I always thought that you were amazing, the way your interacted and planned things so seamlessly together without ever having to ask what the other was thinking. And I... I know how easy it is to forget what our loved ones were really like when we are so distracted by our grief," Luna's soft speech faltered for a moment before she continued, "This is how I will always remember Fred. I wanted to give you this so that maybe one day you can remember him like this, like I do, and not just as someone precious you lost."
George was floored. Their eyes found each other and something profound passed between them unspoken. He wasn't sure if it was gratitude, friendship or something else, but he did know that right there in that moment Loony Luna Lovegood was his favorite person in the entire world.
Unable to find the right words to express what he felt, he just leaned forward and pulled her awkwardly into a tight hug. It was very uncomfortable since they were sitting facing each other on the window sill; their legs got in the way and Luna was so slight she got completely enveloped by his arms and broad shoulders.
Slightly amused by the odd attempt at a hug, George decided to remedy the situation in the only way he could think to fix it. With all the grace he could muster he stood, picking Luna clear off the floor in the process. The small girl trapped in his arms gave a small surprised noise but let him continue, trusting him not to drop her. Giving her his best bear hug, he swung her back and forth a couple of times before setting her back on her feet and letting her go.
She looked adorable, her face a blotchy red color and her hair mussed worse than he had ever seen it. She didn't bother to try to fix it to he took the liberty to straighten it out and flatten it down as best he could.
"Thank you," he finally said, knowing she must understand how much it meant to him by his crushing hug but feeling the urge to say it anyway, "Now, where do you think we should hang it?"
Luna seemed to have recovered a little and smiled warmly at him, her face still a little pinker than usual. She seemed flattered that he wanted to hang the picture at all
"I think it would look rather nice by your Weasley Wizard Wheezes poster, don't you?" she suggested, gesturing at the orange and maroon poster on the far wall.
"I do think I agree," he said, taking his wand off his nightstand and waving it lazily at the painting sitting on the window sill. It whizzed across the room, situated itself on wall, then, with a soft plunger-like noise, adhered itself to the wall.
They both just stood in silence, their eyes locked on the painting hanging on the other side of the small room. Fred's laughter seemed to haunt the room, a spector of the brother that would never return there. It was sad, but also reassuring in a way.
"Uh, George?" Ron's muffled voice broke the silence from beyond the door, "Can I come in? Safely?"
Luna giggled, amused by Ron's trepidation. George wasn't quite sure he wanted to see his family just yet, but he wasn't sure he'd ever really be ready. Catching Luna's gaze briefly, he made a decision.
"Sure. Open the door and jump," he called back.
"Do what?" Ron called back, sounding utterly disgruntled. Luna giggled again, and George grinned.
"Open the door up and jump. There's a... Gifflespurt right inside the door."
"Just do it!"
Ron still seemed very uncertain, pushing the door open slowly and looking intently at the floor as if it would leap up and attack him (which wasn't a completely unfounded fear he supposed). Finally, taking a small step backwards and made a gangly, uncoordinated hop over the Springboard, landing loudly in the middle of the floor. He glanced about nervously for a moment before straightening up and trying to gather his wits about him again.
George fought the urge to grin at his brother's utter lack of grace. Some things never change.
"What do you need, Ron?" he asked, feeling oddly comfortable around his younger brother. Of all his family he felt like Ron was the one he was most ready to see, since he too had a tendency to say stupid things.
Ron seemed as if he was uncertain whether he was on the verge of saying one of those dumb things right them, rubbing the back of his slightly flushed neck and stalling. George knew his brother well enough to know that staying silent was the best encouragement he could give. If he said something it would either add pressure to him or give him an excuse to say nothing at all.
"I was wondering if you wanted to go to Diagon Alley with Harry, Hermione, Ginny and me," he said, tugging at the edge of his hair and staring towards the upper-righthand corner of the room. He seemed determined to look everywhere but at his older brother.
"Your grammar is rather poor, you know," Luna responded as George processed what his brother was asking, "But the trip sounds lovely, doesn't it George?"
He wasn't so sure. Seeing Luna and Ron was one thing, but being out in public and seeing his old shop... he wasn't so sure about that. Part of him was dying to get out of the house but a larger, stronger part of him was petrified by the idea. The idea of seeing the shop dead, empty and covered in dust was just too much for him.
He opened his mouth to decline the offer when he caught Luna's eyes in his peripheral vision. Her large blue eyes were sparkling hopefully in his direction, silently pleading with him. His refusal lodged itself in his throat and got stuck there.
"You can come too, Luna," Ron offered, seemingly having a rare moment of insight. He must have noticed the silent conversation the two were having because he still looked too miffed by the grammar comment to just be inviting Luna out of kindness.
"That would be wonderful," the small blonde said, taking his hand in both of hers and giving them a hopeful squeeze. Ron followed their interaction with raised eyebrows. George fought with himself for a moment, than sighed.
"Alright," he conceded, his eyes catching the beautiful painting hanging across the room, "When are we going?"
"As soon as Hermione floos in from her parent's place," his brother responded, still looking slightly befuddled by the interaction between George and Luna. He seemed to decided not to say anything and just waved in an awkward 'goodbye' over his shoulder and turned to leave. George opened his mouth, but it was too late.
Ron had forgotten to jump the springboard and paid for it accordingly. With the sound of a spring releasing he was thrown violently out the door and into the hallway where he collided roughly with the far wall. George would have worried for his health, but the string of unique cursing that spilled from his lips was enough to assure him that he hadn't hit his head too hard.
Luna, on the other hand, seemed worried. She leapt gracefully several times to cross the room, reminding George strongly of a gazelle, before landing by Ron's side and offering him a hand.
"Your grammar may be poor, but your profanity is excellent," she told him, her tone like that of a compliment. Ron seemed torn between irritation and confusion, finally settling on just shaking his head and taking her proffered helping hand.
As he watched them George felt himself ginning despite everything negative swirling around inside of him. He wasn't looking forward to seeing Diagon Alley for confronting his family, but he found he wasn't really dreading it anymore either.
He knew this change was largely because of Luna. Her presence, her her kindness and her unwavering companionship gave him something solid to hang onto, something he hadn't had since Fred had been torn from his life. She had seen him at his worst and at his most emotionally naked and came back anyway. She seemed to understand what was going on with him better than he did sometimes. More than anything, though, she seemed to still enjoy being around him anyway.
She turned and smiled at him, and he knew he owed her the world.
A/N: Sorry about the lack of drama in this chapter. I wanted to use this chapter to have George really start to realize how important his relationship with Luna is, but it was very hard to write such a subtle thing.
So here is the scoop... I leave for college in less than five days. Depending on how much time I have and how well everything comes together, a couple of different things could happen with LoaDH. I originally intended to have one more chapter and an epilogue, but if time is tighter than that I may combine the two. I want to get as much of it done as I can before I leave, but it may take a longer time to get everything done since my life really is much busier than it was when I started this fic.
So the gist is this: I'm hoping you all can be patient and keep up the lovely reviews even if it takes me a little longer than usual. I'll be working my tail off as best I can!
Much love, as always.