All was not well.
Voldemort was defeated. Kingsley Shacklebolt, the new Minister for Magic, vowed to forge a harmonious relationship between magical creatures and wizard kind. Diagon Alley shops had reopened. The economy was booming. None of it mattered to George Weasley. He didn't care how many Wizarding World Saved stories were printed by the Daily Prophet. His world had shattered the night he lost his twin, and nothing could put it right.
If he used work and Firewhisky to cope, it was no one's business but his own. It never stopped him from doing his family duty–until today. He didn't feel up to seeing Ginny onto the Hogwarts Express; he felt like something a Kneazle dragged in. When the alarm rang earlier, he had knocked it onto the floor and pulled a pillow over his head. Forget solidarity and all that rot. He had a hangover.
Knock! Knock! Knock!
"We don't want any. Go away," muttered George. Pain sliced through his heart the way a spell had once sliced off his ear. There was no "we" anymore.
Sure there is, he could almost hear his brother say. Nothing separates twins. It's just that death has sadly limited my wit and charm to an audience of one.
In his mind, Fred grinned. Tears pricked George's eyes. "Shut the hell up," he said thickly.
"If you're talking to yourself, you're awake, so roll out of bed and drag your arse into the shower," said a voice from the doorway.
George stayed where he was. "How did you get in?"
Bill said, "Forgot giving me the counter ward that time I brought you home from the pub? Maybe you should stop drinking."
"I'll change the ward instead, thanks." George scrunched his eyes shut tighter. "I feel like shite. I'm not going. Tell the family I have dragon pox for all I care." He sat up when the pillow was yanked away. "Hey!"
"I'm not taking no for an answer."
"That line might work when Fleur isn't in the mood, but I'm not impressed, brother." George mentally ran through his repertoire of nonverbal jinxes.
"Protego!" said Bill, an instant before George cast a jelly legs. "Aquamenti!"
A string of curses left George's lips upon being drenched with icy water.
Bill sighed. "Call me anything you like, but get up."
George stubbornly laid back and closed his eyes.
"Fine. Be that way. Mobilicorpus!"
The sensation of floating toward the bathroom was nauseating. "Let me down, you bastard!" If only Bill was in range. George would vomit on him. Dumped onto the tiles beneath the showerhead, he groaned. His entire body ached. Cold spray propelled him to his feet. "Ahhh!"
"I'll lay out some clothes and fix breakfast." Bill took a vial out of a pocket. "Drink this," he said.
"W–what is it?" George's teeth were chattering.
"Hair of the Dog. It'll sober you up."
George pulled the stopper from the vial and chugged down vile-tasting glop. "Sadist." He threw the cork at his brother's head.
Bill caught it. "Be out in five minutes."
A smile pulled at the scars on Bill's face. "Who told you? Mum?"
"Told me what?"
"Fleur's pregnant. It's a boy."
"Congratulations." George reached blindly for the soap.
"Really?" Bill's smile widened and then faded. "I've felt guilty for being so happy after…you know."
Fred's death hung like a dark cloud between them. George didn't want to talk about it. He said, "Look, unless you want to watch me wash something that'll give you an inferiority complex–"
Bill snorted. "I don't," he said. "Not that I'd have a complex, little brother."
George's mouth barely turned up at the corners. Months ago, he would have laughed his head off and dared Bill to compare.
"Okay," Bill said. "I'll go search for clean clothes in that pigsty you call a bedroom."
George let the water pound over him, wishing it would numb his emotions the way it did his skin. How nice it was for the family to have a new Weasley to replace the one they had lost: how bloody wonderful.
Bitterness welled. Everyone else seemed eager to forget the war and go on with life. He barely made it through each day. Sometimes, on sleepless nights, he wondered why he even bothered to make the effort.
Who are you kidding? You'd never hurt the family that way—much less leave them the shop! They've got no imagination, no business sense. The lot would ruin our reputation and go bankrupt within a year! Fred's imagined words brought a fleeting smile to George's face. It was the truth.
All humour drained away when he saw the green suit on the bed. He and Fred had thought they were cool wearing dragon hide. A flick of his wand made the outfit float back into the wardrobe before he searched through a mound of clothes beside the bed. There was a plain black tee and trousers that smelled reasonably clean. He put them on, thinking they matched his mood.
At the station, he greeted everyone while pretending not to notice the looks of concern. He checked the time.
"You bought a new watch?" his mother asked sharply. "Did you lose the one we gave you on your seventeenth birthday?"
"No." I put it in a box next to the one you gave Fred, because I every time I look at it I want to drown in a bottle of Firewhisky, he thought, but you don't want to know that, do you, Mum? You want to believe we're one, big, happy family. George's eyes went to Ginny. "Shouldn't you be boarding the train?" He made an effort to smile. "You don't have to hold Harry's hand so tight. You'll see him at Christmas."
An uneasy silence fell. Ron said, "What are you talking about? She'll see him every day."
George blinked. "What?"
"We're all going back to complete seventh year," said Harry. "Don't you remember? We made the announcement weeks ago."
Everyone was staring. It was one of the most awkward moments of George's life. Now they all knew that he had fallen into the habit of tuning out during family dinners. He glanced at his mother. Her lips were trembling as if she would burst into tears. Beside her, Percy frowned.
George decided to brazen it out. "Better you three than me," he said heartily. "The only books I want to open are account books." He checked his watch again. "Hate to run, but I'm expecting an early delivery, so…see you!"
"Wait up!" called Percy. "I'll walk with you." The moment they strolled out of earshot, he said, "How are things going these days?"
"Business is good, but I've noticed that the Ministry's temporary improvement has eroded since you've accepted another post." George lifted a brow. "Coincidence? I think not."
Percy didn't splutter the way he would have in the past. Instead, he said quietly, "You still haven't forgiven me, have you?"
A muscle jumped in George's jaw. "Forgiven you for what?"
"You're mental." George made to walk on.
Percy caught his arm. "No. I'm not." His voice wavered. "Admit it. You wish I had died instead of Fred."
George looked back to see his family and friends gathered in a tight circle. Their expressions were tense. Hoping he and Percy would hug, were they, or afraid that he'd knock the wank's teeth out? He pulled his arm away. "You're damn right I do."
Alicia Spinnet was waving goodbye to her cousin Stacie when she saw George Weasley. The bottom dropped out of her stomach. He looked so angry and miserable. She left her family to follow him through the barrier.
Gods I'm out of shape. She panted as she sprinted across the platform. "George!"
He glanced over his shoulder and then stopped to let her catch up. Brown eyes flickered over Alicia in a way that deepened the flush on her cheeks and made her even more aware that curvy women should not run in a sundress and heels.
"Hullo, George," she said.
The boy she had gone to school with would have made a joke about her odd running gear and put her at ease. This man waited for her to speak. She smiled hesitantly. "I've been meaning to ask for months. Would–would you like to meet for a drink sometime? I know managing the shop doesn't leave you with time to have lunch anymore, but I miss talking Quidditch." I miss you.
After a moment, he nodded. "I'm at the Bat and Bludger most nights."
"How about tonight?"
"I'll be there."
"Great!" Alicia wanted to hug him, but his closed expression kept her at a distance. She wondered if he kept the world at a distance now, if that was his way of coping with pain. Her heart went out to him.
George's eyes looked past her shoulder. He said, "I have to get back to the shop. Early delivery. See you later."
She watched him walk away before turning to see what had made George's eyes darken. It was his family.
Hours later, her own family–her mother–hovered, transparently curious to know the name of the "friend" Alicia was meeting, although she didn't ask. The two of them got along so well because each respected the other's privacy. If her mum hadn't found a piece of parchment with "Mrs. George Weasley" written on it during Christmas break fifth year, Alicia might have told her. As it was, she didn't want to deal with the questions that would follow.
George Weasley? The one you had a crush on? The one who lost his twin during the war? Is it wise to be in his company right now?
Mum thought she had too soft a heart. She would worry that George would take advantage of it. Alicia smiled wistfully. As if he had ever looked at her with anything except friendship.
She glanced down at her halter top and took the statement back. It wasn't quite true. There were times at school when she'd caught him giving her an up-and-down look. Earlier, he had definitely stared at her chest. She pulled her shoulders back and down. If George enjoyed the view, she'd give him plenty to see!
Inside the Bat and Bludger, however, Alicia nervously realised that the place was filled with rowdy Quidditch fans who seemed to appreciate a short skirt and an eyeful of cleavage as much as she hoped George would. Spying a redhead sitting alone at the far corner of the pub, she stopped by the bar for a glass of wine and hurried over. Her pulse leapt when he saw her and rose to his feet. It was an effort to breathe slowly. She didn't have running to blame anymore.
"Hullo," he said. "You look...nice..."
His tone turned "nice" into "sexy." Alicia smiled. "You look nice too."
One corner of his lips turned up. "Thank you."
She took a seat. The butterflies in her stomach fluttered madly when he slid onto the bench beside her.
He leaned close. "I hate shouting over noise, don't you?"
There was a hint of boyish mischief in his eyes. Alicia was glad to see it. She swayed toward him. "Yes."
His gaze fell to her mouth.
Her lips parted.
The server chose that moment to drop by. "Another round?"
George said, "A bottle of Ogden's Best and a second glass."
"And here I thought you drank alone," said the woman, sashaying off to the bar.
Alicia lifted her wineglass. "I'm not much of a drinker."
George's smile was brief and wry. "Neither was I before the war."
Alicia put her hand on his arm. "When my father was murdered, I felt so low, and yet, I can't begin to imagine what you're going through. I'm so sorry about Fred."
"Thanks, here's our drinks." George's smile was tight.
She watched him pay the server and pour two shots. He obviously wasn't ready to talk about Fred. Alicia understood. She still got teary when she thought of her father.
George offered her a drink. "I don't know," she said. "Maybe I should stick to wine."
"But liquor is quicker."
What was he trying to say? "Quicker, how?"
"Heard it in Muggle Studies. Some bloke wrote it about ice-breaking."
"Oh." She lifted her glass. "Here's to breaking the ice."
By the time the bar closed, Alicia was thankful that she had touched glasses but not drained the contents after the third round. George wasn't staggering drunk the way she would've been, but he leaned against her with his arm wrapped around her shoulders for stability.
"Don't even think of trying to Disapparate," she said. "I'll do a Side-Along Apparation or we'll walk. It's up to you."
The ghost of a smile flitted across his face. "Never done it sideways before."
Once they Apparated to the shop, he led her around to the back entrance and up the stairs to his flat. "Don' want you to see how messy this place is," George said, pulling her though the lounge in the dark. There was an orb glowing softly in his bedroom. "Made the bed, though." He began sifting his fingers through her hair. "Got my priorities right."
The timbre of his voice made her shiver. "What are your priorities?"
"I want to feel something." His fingers trailed across her face. "I'm tired of being alone." Slowly, he bent to kiss her.
It was like a fantasy come to life. She slid her arms around his neck and opened her mouth and heart, kissing him the way she had longed to for years. When he deepened the embrace, she responded passionately.
"Stay," he whispered against her lips.
There were reasons why she should leave. He was drunk and grieving, and she wasn't into casual relationships or taking a contraceptive potion. If she was smart, she would go before things went too far.
He moaned. "Nothing's ever felt this good."
A/N: Ogden Nash is the Muggle who reflected about ice-breaking, Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker. As for me, I once wrote a fluffy good George/Alicia fic called Christmas Sweet. This story isn't as fluffy, but I hope readers find this story cathartic as well as entertaining! Special Thanks go to MollyCoddles, Vei, and the anime-writing other Kerichi for reading and giving feedback on the story!