George woke up with Alf tucked under shoulder, the boy's arm draped protectively over his father. He couldn't help but smile. He knew Alf had been worried about him last night, and he suspected it really hadn't been much to do with Dorcas Bell or even a crazed Vernon Dursley. George's head and heart still hurt from what had happened, or rather hadn't happened, between he and Michelle yesterday. But he hoped, if she read that manuscript, that she would get in touch with him. He'd left instructions on how… and, well, if she could wrap her head around the fact that the story he'd told was fact, not fiction, then they'd have a good shot. If not, well then, he supposed it was never much meant to be.
"You awake?" His son spoke, sleepily.
"Yeah…" George sighed, and stretched, getting up from the bed stiffly, and holding his hand out for Alf. Neither of them had changed from last evening, and both of them were looking it.
"You want first dibs on the shower?" Alf asked through a yawn.
"Nah…I want coffee most immediately. You go ahead." He ruffled his hair.
Alf was rubbing sleep out of his eyes. "Are you okay, Dad?"
Funny, Alf had asked the same question last night. "Maybe." He changed his opinion with the dawn of the new day. "I left her a way to get in touch with me, Alf. If she does…then yeah, I'm fine. If not, then I'll survive, eventually."
"It still sucks." He replied, watching George carefully.
It does. Bug George forced a smile. "Let's focus right now on getting your magic back, eh? That, at least, is somewhat under our control." Alf nodded and turned towards the bathroom, and George headed downstairs.
Bill was there, reading the Prophet, and his eldest brother passed a mug of coffee across the table for him. "Hermione and Draco are on their way over, to give Alf that potion." Bill said, quietly.
"Great, it will be good to have things stable." George began preparing his morning brew, pretending not to notice that Bill was watching him very carefully. "Percy go home?" He asked, trying to keep his eldest brother from starting a fight.
"Yeah." Bill folded the paper. "About our conversation last night, George…and Alf calling you Dad…"
George put the mug down, and put both hands on the table, and leaned forward. "I am his father, Bill. I may not have contributed biologically to his creation, but if there's one thing I've learned over the past year it's that fatherhood is a lot more than the donation of sperm. If Fred was alive, there would be no doubt that he'd be a terrific father; he isn't and Alf has been left to my care. He deserves a Dad, and that's what I am to him; he shouldn't be penalized because of circumstances he had no say in. And if you can't handle that, then just let me know, and I'll gather up my son and go somewhere that we are welcome, as the family that we are." His words were quiet, but his eyes were blazing.
Bill leaned backward. "Whoa, George. I was going to apologize for being a total butt-head last night…no need to tell me what Fleur bitched at me about for an hour this morning before she went out. Geez!" Bill rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "What's got in to you?"
George closed his eyes. "Look, Bill, the woman I thought I was going to marry seems to have decided she didn't want me, my son was attacked by a muggle fruitcake, I just picked up and moved my life for the second time in less than twelve months, and I'm facing having to watch my son take a dose of an experimental potion that has a very outside chance of killing him. I reserve the right to be a little off."
"Right. Gotcha." Bill passed over a plate of pastries, and shrugged, turning his head towards the door. "Hermione and Draco." Bill watched him carefully. "The sooner we get Alf's magic back, George, the safer everyone is…you know that."
"I know." George sighed. The way his life and his luck were going lately, he just didn't have a good feeling about anything.
Michelle lay listlessly in the hammock in Jimmy Castelli's back yard. She had a large margarita in one hand and the other flung across her head. Jimmy sat not far from her, and listened as she finished up her explanation of the day yesterday.
"So Tony was right, then…" Jimmy whistled. "I knew something was up with them…just never thought that it would happen this quickly."
"Me either." Michelle murmured. "And I wish he hadn't opted to rip my heart out in the process."
"Would it make you feel better or worse that I urged George to not stick to that stupid time-table for your show and tell?" Jimmy said.
"You know about that, eh?" She shrugged. "It makes me feel neither…my friend Karen urged me to talk to him the minute I realized I really loved him. I don't know why we felt like he had to stick to that stupid date, except that the end of the school year would make everything less awkward if it had gone wrong."
"So…you never told him…" Jimmy paused. "Um, about the fact that…you're a witch?"
Michelle sat up abruptly, which wasn't a healthy idea in a hammock. It flipped her over and dumped her and her drink on to the ground. "Wh-what did you just say, Jimmy?"
Jimmy was a shade of red not often seen on brunettes. "I, um, well, I know Michelle. I mean, Tony called me the night you two had the fight, drunk off his ass…and hey, if he was blowing smoke out of his ass, now would be a nice time to tell me…but I don't think he was. So I'm just saying…I know, Michelle, and I'm okay with it." He reached down to help her up.
"You…know" She stared at his offered hand, and then took it, rising, and setting into a more stable lawn chair across from him. "All this time…you never said anything."
"Well, it's kind of a bizarre thing to bring up." Jimmy began to calm down. "Tony called that night, ranting and raving…and he must have repeated pretty verbatim what you told him…said you'd actually levitated an entire tray of snacks?"
"I thought it was cute and harmless…why would the easy delivery of nachos and beer scare him?" She grimaced. "He almost jumped over the couch." Her eyes slid over to Jimmy. "And you…weren't freaked out?"
"Startled, perhaps. But strange things seemed to happen when we'd all go out together…tickets that shouldn't have been available, were…tables that shouldn't have been ready, were…and then there was that night we nearly got into an accident on the highway, during that ice storm…we were certain sure going to hit that tree…and somehow we didn't." Jimmy coughed. "So I knew if you were a witch it was…well, a good thing…like Glinda in the Wizard of Oz."
She groaned. "Do not, Jimmy, bring that movie up…you want to set someone in the magical community's blood on fire, throw that out there. Stupid Frank L. Baum…squib, you know…tried to expose us all."
"Squib?" He asked, brow furrowed.
"Never mind." She sighed. "Well, I'm glad your okay with it, Jimmy…I thought George would be too, but I never even got the chance to tell him."
"I know. I thought he'd be okay too. He's a lot more open minded than Tony ever was, God rest his soul." Jimmy leaned back. "So…what are you doing here, Michelle?"
"At the moment, hoping you'll offer me another margarita." She quipped.
"Not here. Here. Living away from your people…I'm not even sure if that's the right term, but…you ought to be able to be what you are." Jimmy watched her. "Don't you miss it? Shit, if I were able to do what you can, I'd want to be doing magical things all day long."
She shrugged. "I gave everything up for Tony…I think a part of me always knew he wouldn't understand. And then when he didn't, I'd cut myself off from all of that for so long. I think I was afraid to go back."
Jimmy had gotten up and refilled her glass from a pitcher on the picnic table. "I hate that I'm saying this; it already sucks that I lost George. But I think you should consider it. Nothing good comes from burying such a huge part of yourself. You're a great teacher; couldn't you teach in your world?"
Michelle accepted the margarita. "I could, I suppose…not sure where I'd want to do that. I hated the school I went to here…lots of Boston blue bloods who clamed relation to the original Salem witches." Jimmy choked on his own drink, and she smiled at him. "Sorry, buddy. A word of advice…anything strange and untrue you always wondered about, probably actually is true, in some way. And connected to my people." She teased.
"Right." He wiped his mouth with a wry smile. "Well, anyway, whatever you do, I support you in it. Just, keep in touch, okay? Little Tony's already down because Alf's gone. I don't want him to totally lose you too. Promise."
"Promise." She clinked glasses, and sighed, half wishing that Anthony had been as sensible as Jimmy, and at the same time knowing, deep inside, that she never quite loved Anthony as she loved George.
A saying of her mother's came back to her. If it's meant to be, it will be, and all the bad luck in the world cannot stop it.
Maybe she'd see George again. Maybe he'd come looking for her. Maybe, when it stopped hurting so much, she'd read that damned book of his. But right now, there were too many maybes.
And not enough tequila.
Everyone was gathered around Alf's bed back in the flat above the shop in Diagon Alley. Well, everyone but Ron, and Charlie, who were on guard downstairs. But Hermione and Draco had felt that being in Diagon Alley and in the proximity of supplies in an emergency was better than the safer isolation of Shell Cottage.
Alf held a smoking potion in his hand. He looked remarkably calm; George's skin had taken on the hue of skim milk. He sat as close by Alf's bed as he could get, elbows on his knees and chin resting on his hands, listening to Draco and watching his son.
"This is what should happen…Alf is going to first fall into a light sleep, nothing scary at all. Then he's going to develop a fever…based on how the mice reacted, I'd say he's going to be in a deep fever, about 101 degrees, for two days."
"Sounds like what I remember from when they gave me the potion the first time." Alf interjected.
"Pretty much." Draco nodded. "The fever is your magic reigniting, so to speak, as the last time it was the feeling of your magic burning away. Like I said, two days should do it. Once you wake up, you should be a perfectly normal eleven year old wizard."
George huffed, running his hands through his hair. He looked at Draco seriously. "Are you sure? I don't mean to insult you, or Hermione…but are you sure?"
Draco raised his chin slightly. "George, all I can tell you is that I wouldn't hesitate to give this potion to my own son, if he needed it. Does that answer your question?"
It did, and George nodded. He knew how much Draco loved his son, it had been all over his face that day in Diagon Alley when Alf had saved little Scorpius' life. If he was that sure…well, then…
"Alright." Draco nodded. "Down the hatch then, Alf."
Alf squeezed George's hand, reassuring his father, and then drank down the potion quickly.
Together, the family waited.
Hours passed. Then a day. George barely left Alf's side, and wouldn't have done it at all except that Bill insisted he smelled. So far, everything was exactly as expected.
Then Alf's fever spiked.
George leaned forward, fear coursing through him at the change. Previously the boy had been mildly warm, sweating and flushed. Now, he tossed in his bed, the sweat more furious and his cheeks actually red. Beyond his flushed cheeks, everything was a pale grey pallor, even the boy's lips. George watched, helplessly, as Hermione and Draco rushed in; Draco swore and Hermione cried. The fever was high…nearly 103…too high…and they could not give him magical potions. Cold compresses and frequent freshening spells, yes, but nothing else.
And George sat, everything inside of him freezing, knowing, sensing, that this was it; that he was losing Alf too. He must have done something heinous in a past life (though wizards didn't really believe in reincarnation) to deserve this, this cycle of losing those he loved most. It was like King Midas, in a sick way, only everything he touched died.
Don't leave me, Alf. Please, Don't leave me! Inside his mind the mantra was frantic and vivid; outside, George appeared nearly catatonic. Arthur came to him, and rubbed his shoulders, but he didn't move; Molly came to his side and kissed him, and he didn't blink. He knew his family was there, but his life was now bound to the child beside him, and the child was dying, taking him along for the ride. What would be left of George Weasley without Alfred wasn't going to be worth thinking about.
Ron came to him, and put a hand on his shoulder. "Don't give up, George…please don't give up." Ron urged, fear in his voice. "You've survived so much, don't give up now."
But George was beyond hearing anything anymore, except the labored breathing of his son. And each breath longer between than the one before.
Fred Weasley paced, frantic, from the monitor before him and across the floor of "Kings Cross Station." This wasn't happening, couldn't be happening. George couldn't take it, shouldn't have to take it. No, it was all wrong. His boy couldn't die…there was so much that Alf had to do, so much the boy should live for. "He can't die!" Fred yelled.
Cedric Diggory was with him, a deep sadness over his face. "We can all die. You and I did, Fred. I wish this wasn't happening…but…"
"No!" Fred turned on him. "I won't hear it Cedric, I won't! My son isn't dying, and that's all there is to it!"
A wail came up from the monitor; Alf had gone still, and George's reaction nearly tore Fred's heart in two. In a rage, Fred grabbed a chair, and smashed the monitor to bits.
The entire room stilled, and filled with a fog. Fred turned around.
His son was walking towards him.
Michelle looked at the resignation letter she'd penned to the Salem school district. All in order there. And she looked in her hand at the ad placed in the Salem Mirage, the American wizarding paper. The ad was for a teacher, one in muggle studies. Well, hell, she could do that. The application had already been sent off.
It was a long way to go, and Jimmy would miss her. But she recognized that he was right. Part of what had doomed her and George was the fact that they were from different worlds…without those secrets to tell, who knows what might have been? No, she needed to be a witch again, to live the life she was born to.
Even if it required moving to another country to do it.
Alf blinked, and came over to him. "Dad?" He asked, looking at him strangely. And then realization came to him. "Oh…Dad." He stood still, registering Fred, the father he'd never known, who stood before him with tears streaming down his face, hand over his mouth. He particularly noted both ears. "So…I'm dead then?" He asked, quietly.
"Nooooo." Fred moaned, and then rushed forward. He embraced his son, committed the feel and the smell of him to memory…kissed the boy on his own ability for the first time in his life. Alf, in turn, grasped him, reveling in the connection and in the love. But Fred came up with a start. "No, Alf, no, no…" Containing a sob, he held the child out just a bit from him. "You can't be here, you can't…I love you…I love being able to hold you…but you can't be here yet. Can you feel it, feel a line back to the other side…can you still connect to George?"
Alf frowned lightly, thinking, and then nodded. "There's a pull there, Dad. It's calling me back. But it's growing fainter."
"Go, Alf...please…I love you and some day we'll be together…but George needs you; he can't go on without you and I can't live with that. Go, Alf, go back to George. Please, son…do your best to make it back to him." Fred wiped tears from his eyes with his sleeve.
Alf gave him a brave smile, and nodded, turning away to the foggy nothingness. Just once he turned back. "I'll make you proud of me, Dad."
"I already am." Fred gave him a watery grin, and watched his son fade away, a new hole in his heart, but one that was soon filled with hope, for his brother and his family.
"Gryffindor bravery." Cedric said, but with no trace of mockery. "You were sorted well."
Fred looked up; the monitor had returned, whole, and playing the scene of sobbing from the shop in Diagon Alley, and he waited, hoping Alf would make it there. It was where Alf belonged.
Alf coughed suddenly, a feeling of wetness flowing over him. He sat up suddenly and looked about. "I'm cold." He said.
George raised his head, stunned…everyone just stared for a moment. Then George rushed forward, grabbed his son and cried out loud. "I thought I lost you…I thought I lost you, Alf…" He hugged his shivering boy tightly.
Draco's color began to return, as much as he ever had. "The fever appears to have broken." He said, relief in every fiber. The entire family seemed to feel a dark cloud lift from the world.
Until a voice called out. "Unhand that squib claiming to have my blood."
The room whirled to see Dorcas Bell, a tall, sparse, severe witch, standing over them. Her wand was out. "I'll not have our name besmirched by such a claim. Bad enough that my daughter befouled herself with a blood traitor…to leave behind this… this… abortion …is something not to be lived with."
With her wand full on Alf and George, none dared move, and the tension was terrible. If she struck them, they would soon strike her down, but none wished to see Alf or George harmed to begin with.
Dorcas snarled. "Thought you could get away from me…and you nearly did. But no magical court will convict me for removing a squib from the family…"
"He's a squib because you made him one." George growled. "And if I raise him, with our family name, how could it possibly be anything to you?"
Dorcas tossed her head. "It's an abomination. He's a freak, you are an embarrassment to wizards, and my daughter was a whore…"
Dorcas had her focus on George, which is why the curse hit her so unexpectedly and with a bang. Her wand fell to the ground, as tiny bats began to pour from her nose. The perfect bat bogey curse. Ron and Harry quickly subdued her.
"Way to go, Ginny." George quavered out, able to breathe again. Ginny, wandless and to the side, looked confused.
"Aunt Ginny didn't do it." Everyone looked to Alf, who had managed to get George's wand from his pocked without Dorcas noticing. "I did. I know I'm not supposed to. Sorry." He said, in a tone clearly not sorry at all.
Laughter burst forth from the room, and George rocked his son back and forth. "You're forgiven…this time." He gasped. "Nice shot."
"I guess the potion worked." Ron said, with his usual penchant for stating the obvious.
George shook his head. "Impossible, the lot of you…get that trash out of my store, by the way…" He nodded to Dorcas, now stupefied. "I love you all…but please…I need a minute alone with my son…"
Arthur shoed everyone out. Alf looked up at him gently. "I told you I wouldn't leave, didn't I?" He said, rather weakly.
"That's not a promise anyone can keep, Alf." George smoothed his hair back. "But I am glad that you were able to this time." He leaned back, and realized just how tired he was. "We'll be okay…I just need to rest."
"Darn straight you do." Alf teased. "I want a broom, and I want you to teach me how to ride it!"
George laughed. "Not today, kiddo. But soon…"
An owl floated outside the window, and George wearily went over to it. Taking the letter, he chuckled.
"Prescient as always." He joked.
It was Alf's letter of acceptance to Hogwarts.
Whew! I am heading out of town and I knew I'd have an angry posse after me if I didn't wrap this up today. I know a lot of folks were expecting Michelle and George to end up together last chapter, but I have plans within plans…besides…when has anything ever been easy for George? But I promise there is more to come, perhaps in about two weeks.
Thanks to everyone for reading!