August 17, 2008
A blur of speed, denim and pullover on a broomstick swirled around a gnarled oak tree, rustling branches and snapping away a few twigs. A red ball threatening to soar to the ground, was suddenly halted, seemed to become one with the broomstick, which neatly spun around.
A breathless Alfred Weasley gently steadied his broomstick, red hair wild with exercise and face glowing with success. In his hands he held the quaffle that had been thrown by his friend Teddy Lupin, with whom he'd been reunited. Across the expansive field in Godric's Hollow, Teddy was on his own broomstick, laughing at him.
"You might consider letting me get just one in, Alf!" He yelled, in not-entirely mock exasperation.
"You've had years to learn how to score. I have two weeks left till we get to Hogwarts to translate my goalie skills to keeper!" Alf floated gracefully down to the ground, to be joined by his friend.
An adult stood just beyond them, watching them with an amused grin. "First years don't make house teams anyway, boys." He pointed out.
Both boys turned to him with identical glares, each with just one eyebrow raised. Teddy's hair turned a shade of magenta that made Alf's ruddy hues seem tame. And the adult had the grace to blush.
"Well…" Harry Potter admitted. "They don't often make house teams." He tousled his god-son's hair. "And the way I made it is not advisable, to either of you…I ought to have properly broken my neck, by all rights! It's a miracle Professor McGonagle let me live."
"She wanted the house cup." Teddy playfully nudged him. "And besides, even Alf's had tons more experience on a broom than you did when you started school. Uncle Ron says Gryffindor hasn't won since Aunt Ginny graduated…McGonagle's sure to take one of us, or maybe even both, if it helps."
"But it's Headmistress McGonagle now…so she's not going to be so worried about how Gryffindor does, is she?" Alf asked, thoughtfully. Ever since he'd gotten his magic officially "back", he'd poured over Hogwarts: A Modern History so much that he could have given Aunt Hermione a run for her money on factoids.
"Oh, once a Gryffindor, always a Gryffindor." Harry slung his arms around both boys, guiding them towards the neat little grouping of houses. "She may have to pretend to be impartial now, but if I know her, she still bleeds Gryffindor red and gold profusely!" Harry paused. "The cups gone mostly between Slytherin and Hufflepuff these past few years, hasn't it, Alf?"
"Yes…except for one year of Ravenclaw, about five years ago. The Hufflepuffs had a great run with all the younger Bones siblings being excellent seekers." He rattled off statistics from memory with great relish, while Teddy smirked and Uncle Harry humored him. Only once he paused for breath did Teddy get a question in.
"Do you want to stay over tonight, Alf?" He asked. "We could diagram some moves out, to work on tomorrow?"
Alf hesitated, but only for a moment. "No, I think I should eat at home. Dad is cooking."
"And you want to spend as much time with him as you can before you leave for Hogwarts." Uncle Harry prodded, but with an understanding smile as Alf blushed. "I think that's a good idea, Alf. Although, you know, we'll manage to keep him occupied. Hell, if Ginny has her way, George'll be cooking our dinner each night."
Alf laughed a little at Uncle Harry's understanding, and at Aunt Ginny's idea. It was true, though; he still worried about his Dad, worried about leaving him alone, and worried about being away from him. They had spent nearly the first month after they came back from America together, doing everything and sometimes nothing, but always together. George, as promised, had taught him to ride his broom, even if it sometimes made his hair stand on end in terror; they had done simple spells, studied the Hogwarts charter together, and had sung the school song…always in dirge version…while roasting marshmallows over a campfire in Harry's backyard.
Amidst all their time together, one major decision had been made by George…the tiny flat over the store in Diagon Alley was not where he wanted to raise a family. Among may reasons, he simply was unable to fully use his new-found culinary skills in the miniscule kitchen that was good for warming soup, but not much else. The two had discussed moving closer to The Burrow, but when a house had come open just down the street from Harry and Ginny, had immediately decided that was the best option. George had grumbled about it good naturedly; after all, he and Fred had talked about nothing else but getting out, about living more of a city lifestyle after years of unremitting family. But George had to admit, that tastes changed as one got older. And a year of having a more domestic situation, while at the same time being without family, had made him appreciate both more.
"Is he home yet, Alf…or do you want to hang about until he is?" Harry asked, knowing that the connection between Alf and George was so strong that they could often just sense each other's presence.
Alf raised his chin slightly, and gave a little smile. "Just got home, I think. I'm going to go in to the shop with him tomorrow, if he's okay with that, so I'll see you later in the week." He nodded to Teddy, who gave him a mock salute, and he watched as his friend and his Uncle Harry went on the farther path, towards Harry's house. And slinging his broom over his shoulder, and whistling, he jogged towards his own home, looking forward to a peaceful evening with his uncle.
George felt himself relaxing instantly as he came through the floo to his new home. He was glad...more than glad, really, that he'd purchased this place. It was a home, the place one ought to live when you had a child. And it was perfect for Alf...Ginny was nearby, which meant Teddy was around for him, and also that George didn't have to worry when he was at the shop that Alf was alone.
He smiled to himself as he entered the kitchen. Alf...alone. Two words that were quite an impossibility together. Because Alf stuck to him like glue, and had since...well, since they'd returned from Salem. The familiar ache, duller but still present, reared its ugly head, and George forced it down. He'd suffered worse losses than that of a lover in his past...and so what if in choosing this house, in the back of his mind he considered that maybe someday he and Michelle just might manage to find their way back to each other, and just might have another child...or two.
In any event, it had taken mighty persuading to get Alf to hang out with Ginny and her brood for at least three days a week. Alf had been hell bent on going in to work with him each day, but George was firm...the boy needed to start living the life of a normal eleven year old child. And they needed to wean themselves off of each other. That first month that Alf's magic had come back had been amazing, like he'd been with Alf since birth. His eagerness to learn, his delight in even the simplest of things, had been infectious, and had been a balm to him, really. But his son would be going to Hogwarts...that was the point, after all...and therefore would be away from home come September. They might as well start getting used to it gradually.
Besides, for all the fuss Alf had kicked up initially about being left behind (George was quite certain that the kid still had some latent abandonment fears) he was blossoming now. Alf was a social kid, gregarious and bound to be popular wherever he went, and being around Teddy brought out the healthy boy in both of them, and if George occasionally found himself sighing over torn jeans and scraped knees, then at least Alf was learning that George wasn't going to freak out over his being a typical kid.
The screen door banged and said typical boy bounded into the kitchen. "Hey, Dad!" He came over with a rush and a big hug that was perhaps not so typical, though George wasn't complaining. "You smell pungent. Fireworks?"
George laughed at him. "Big order...and you smell like sweaty child playing Quidditch all day long!" George brandished a wand, freshening them both. "But you still need to go have a wash, while I get working on dinner. Lamb curry sound good?"
"I'd eat ground warthogs if you were making it." Alf said, his stomach growling in agreement.
"Don't tempt me...you still haven't seen the worst of my sense of humor, kiddo!"
Later on after dinner, George was tinkering with his new project...a magical television set, something that could pull down signals of muggle programming through the air without electricity, which didn't work when surrounded by strong magic pulses. He was getting close...he could actually pick up random stray signals now, but no way to control what came in when. That had lead on more than one occasion to some rather interesting programming that made him blush crimson and dive to push Alf out of sight. Ergo the drape that now hung over his screen.
"You know..." Alf looked up from his Hogwarts book, where he was memorizing the exploits of Albus Dumbledore. "...muggleborns will probably kill for one of those when you get it working. I bet they miss the telly big time. It could be your biggest seller ever."
"Maybe." George admitted. "Although muggleborns probably only account for about 5 percent of the wizarding community, and I'm not sure how many purebloods will be interested."
"YOU got hooked." Alf pointed out.
George smiled at him. "Touché!" And then, with a gasp. "Got it...I think..." He pulled the screen away.
An American baseball game was in progress.
"Cool." Alf came over, looking at the slightly flickering screen. "It's a repeat from yesterday, Royals versus Devil Rays."
"Well, it would have to be a repeat...with the time difference it's only about 2pm back in the states." George brandished his wand, muttering an incantation under his breath. A new game came in to view, the Yankees versus the Tigers. He frowned. "I'm aiming for the Red Sox game yesterday...this is closer, but still not quite."
"Are you sure they played yesterday?" Alf asked.
George's brow eased. "Ah...perhaps..." He incanted again, and this time a repeat of a game of the Red Sox playing the Angels came in. "I needed to request the last game played..." He watched in silence for a moment, and then brandished his wand, wiping out the screen. "Still needs some work, but it's getting there." He sat back on his haunches, and looked over at Alf, with a wan grin. "You're going to have that thing memorized."
"I keep reading over Dumbledore's stuff. It's funny what they say...and what they don't." Alf shut the book and came over next to George, stretching on the floor beside him. "I still say you were a better writer, and more honest."
"You only think it was more honest because you trust me." George leaned back against the sofa, watching Alf. "But it is how I remember it. Memory's a tricky thing, though...it can make you see things the way you wish they had happened sometimes." He rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. "For example, Fred and I might not have been the paragons of justice that I recall us being. Pansy Parkinson Malfoy might remember us as being thugs."
"Of course...if you're a thug for resenting having your parents called names, or watching other students be hexed without repercussion." Alf nudged him. "But I see what you mean...perspective matters." Alf turned thoughtful eyes on George. "Can I go into work with you tomorrow? There aren't that many days left before Hogwarts, and I'm going to miss you."
George managed a smile perhaps braver than he felt. "I am going to miss you too...and I'm counting on you owling me frequently to tell me what you're up to...what professors you detest, who detests you, if there is still a burn in the third cushion on the left sofa in the common room from when Fred and I tried to make s'mores without the fireplace..." Alf laughed at that one. "And yes, you can come in to Diagon Alley with me tomorrow, but not for work...we're going to do your Hogwarts shopping. You need books, robes, potions ingredients, and of course, a wand..."
Alf lifted his head up slight. "But I don't need a wand. I have..." He hesitated, as he often did when coming to that awkward crossroads.
"You have your Dad's." George said, easily. It was no problem to think that he and Fred both claimed Alf as a son. "Wands are tricky though, Alf. Fred's wand is working perfectly fine for you, because you're not trying anything tricky, and because it does recognize in your blood the connection to its original owner. But once you find your own wand, the one destined for you, you'll understand. It will feel different to you, better, even, than this one." George stroked Alf's head gently, watching as his son battled with this.
Alf was clearly in a dilemma. "It's just...I feel like I'm really connected to him now, when I use the wand. Ever since that night when I had that fever..." Alf shrugged lightly.
George draped an arm over his shoulder, and squeezed. Alf had told him of that experience, of feeling he had actually met Fred, and that Fred had told him to go back. A few years ago George wouldn't have believed his ears...or rather, ear...but experience had made him a firm believer that, in his near death state, Alf had in fact connected with Fred. That Fred had made that sacrifice for him was no surprise. "You're still connected to him. You always will be, you know. The wand doesn't change that, one way or another."
They sat in a quietly reflective silence, watching the fire. George sensed the question before Alf asked it. "And stop worrying about me. I'm not the same man I was over a year ago. You are going to go to Hogwarts and have a fantastic time, and I will try and wrest control of the store back from Uncle Ron while attempting to dodge Fleur's well meaning attempts at match making. And when Christmas break comes around, it will be like we were never apart. Got it?"
"Got it." Alf leaned against him. "But whether you like it or not, I'm still going to worry about you a little. I'm afraid the boredom will kill you."
George laughed out loud at that. "Promise not, Alf. In this family, boredom is a myth."
The last two weeks before Hogwarts flew, for both Alf and George. Alf was tense with anticipation, and George, for all his bluster, was tense with worry. He told himself he was worried about Alf's getting along at school, about his having to make up for lost time with his magic, about his being tagged with a reputation from some of the teacher's for being the son of a Weasley twin. Truth was, he was a little concerned about how that new house was going to feel when he was the only one living in it. But he was determined, and he was going to move forward.
Alf looked up at him, as they strolled towards the hidden Hogwarts platform. "You know, three months is a long time, Dad." Before George could say anything to insist he would be fine, Alf continued, "Might be a nice time to take a vacation…maybe to America?"
George huffed…he really didn't want to fight with Alf during their last few minutes. "She can reach me…I left her instruction how. If she'd wanted to, Alf, she'd have done by now."
Alf protested. "Maybe there's something you don't know about, something going on…" Seeing George's jaw set, Alf sighed. "Right. Dropping it. Just…don't go take up with one of Fleur's offerings in spite, okay? They're pretty and all, but they're scary."
That did make George smile. "Right. I actually quite agree with you there…one veela in the family is enough!" He spotted Harry, with Teddy and Andromeda, and Alf ran forward to join them.
"At a run, then?" Harry laughed, seeing the glint in George's eye…and four boys, two of them adults, charged with giggles through the seemingly solid barrier, while Andromeda Tonks could no more than shake her head.
Alf and Teddy had settled in to an open berth on the train, Alf now leaning out the window to watch Uncle George waving towards them.
"Send food!" Alf yelled.
"Oi, you won't need any…the elves loved us…you'll have food up to your eyebrows!" George laughed at him.
"They can't cook as good as you do!" He yelled back, as the train jolted forward. "Take care of yourself, Dad!"
"Mail me a toilet seat!" George yelled back, with a grin at the shocked look he got in return. "Love you!" He yelled, with a well of emotion inside him.
Alf blinked. "Love you too!" He yelled back, not particularly caring that the rest of the train think him a complete sissy. Screw them if they did. He kept his eyes on George as the train lurched away.
"Brrrr…can you close that, mate?" Teddy was rubbing his arms vigorously.
Alf sighed as the track curved, sending the platform out of sight, and he slid the window up, collapsing back into the seat. Teddy sat across from him, with an understanding smile. "We'll be fine, Alf. Take over Gryffindor house by storm, we will."
Forcing a smile, Alf turned around and pulled his pet, a large sleek black-furred cat, who had a throaty purr and who instantly curled up on Alf's lap. Teddy shook his head.
"I can't believe you went cat over owl." He muttered.
"I've always liked cats." Alf protested. But there was more to this cat than Teddy could ever understand. Alf'd entered the Animal Emporium with an open mind, and this giant lump of affection had taken to him immediately. When he'd tried to walk around, the animal had followed, weaving between his legs, and purring loud enough to wake the dead. George had laughed, and told him just to give up…he'd been chosen, and the cat wasn't taking no for an answer. "What's his name?" Alf had asked the shop keeper, picking up the animal and holding him close.
"Rufus." The keeper had answered.
The jolt had thrown both he and his father, but George, before Alf could protest, had paid for the animal. "If that isn't destiny, Alf, I don't know what is."
The cat was now kneeding Alf's leg determinedly. "Easy there, Roo." He said, using the short version of the name he'd adopted immediately.
Teddy was polishing his wand carefully. "See those kids look at me when we got on the train? The third years in Slytherin?" He asked.
"Never mind them." Alf said, stoutly. "There are a lot of people who are shite in this world, Teddy, and we just found some of them early." The group of boys had jeered under their breath when Teddy walked past. It wasn't the first time that had happened in Teddy's life; when you were the son of a werewolf, even one who died a hero, people did look at you funny.
The door to the compartment slid open. A young boy…evidently a first year…looked in at them. He had dark hair, pale skin, and seemed to be almost too good looking for an eleven year old. Alf was about to invite him in, but he saw the kid's eyed narrow, as he looked from Teddy…who was resplendent in purple hair today…to him, and the visitor's mouth narrowed. Without a word, he backed away, letting the door slide back in to place.
Teddy's hair faded to a dull brown, and Alf bristled. "Don't, Teddy…it was ME he was looking at when he backed away. Maybe he doesn't like red hair."
Teddy managed a smile. "Everyone likes you, Alf. No way he left because of you." Roo left Alf's lap and hopped on to Teddy's, reaching up to nuzzle the other boy's jaw, forcing Teddy to laugh. "Maybe Roo scared him away, though."
"Yeah, big fierce beast that he is…" Alf joked, glad to see Teddy's mood shifting slowly. "Clearly that guy is not Gryffindor material…"
Teddy and Alf both turned back towards the door, where a tall, thin girl with two long black braids, a pale face and wide, dark eyes, was watching them. A blush came up on her cheeks as they looked her over. "All the other compartments look full…can I sit with you two?"
Alf smiled in welcome, and Teddy's hair returned to purple. "Sure!" They said, together.
The girl was looking over Teddy with interest. "Wow. Metaphorphagus?" She asked.
Teddy perked up immediately. "Yep. Like my mum." He held out his hand. "I'm Teddy Lupin." He waited for her reaction.
There was one, but not quite what he expected. "Oh…your parents were Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks…my father told me all about the battle of Hogwarts. Pretty cool."
"I think so." Teddy held his head high. "This is my friend, Alf Weasley."
Alf was curious to see if this newcomer knew about his family as well. She in fact, did. "Oh…which Weasley are you related to? There were quite a lot, I know."
Alf smiled. "Fred is my biological father…he was killed in that battle like Teddy's parents. George Weasley is my father now." He raised an eyebrow at her. "You know quite a lot for someone from…America." He guessed
She blushed. "Is my accent that bad? I was hoping it wouldn't be." She tugged nervously at one of her braids. "My Dad wanted me to go to school where he did, instead of at Lumieres."
Seeing Teddy's confusion, Alf explained. "That's the American academy at New Orleans." And turning back to the newcomer, he continued, "I lived in Salem last year, so that's why I spotted your accent. So…do you have a name to go with that accent?" He asked.
She stuck her chin out a little defiantly, although she kept her smile. "It's Prince…Eileen Prince." Seeing that the name didn't immediately mean anything to them, she went on, "My father is the cousin of another hero who died at Hogwarts…Severus Snape."
Alf and Teddy both stared at her in confusion. "I didn't know…" Alf said, slowly, "That Professor Snape had any relatives." Alf said, thinking over the painting that hung in a lonely bar, the occupant of which had helped to create the potion which had returned his magic.
"Most people don't." She said, understanding. "I don't think he ever knew my Dad…my Grandfather was his mother's brother, and when she married muggle they stopped communicating. But my Dad always kept up with what was happening to him…we're quite proud, really, of what he did. Although some people…" She tossed her braids wildly, causing Rufus to leap up to the luggage rack. "Don't understand him. I guess you two must know better…there was a group of kids at the front of the train who were just jerks."
Teddy gave her a tight grin. "Yeah, I think we ran across them earlier." He admitted. The train hit a curve, and Rufus lept down once more, darting through the compartment, making the group of them laugh.
The door slid open again, and the same boy who had walked away from them earlier stood there. He looked sheepish as Teddy and Alf both glared at him. "Everywhere else is full." He said, rather shortly.
Eileen, who had not been present earlier, nodded to the seat across from her with a smile. The newcomer ignored all of them, and immediately sat down and buried his nose in one of his books. Eileen may not have been present for the earlier encounter, but she still recognized the snub. She looked over at Alf and Teddy; it was Alf who spoke. "Never mind him, Eileen. What house do you think you're going to be in?"
She turned one shoulder to the boy across from her. "I'm not really sure. My cousin was of course head of Slytherin, and a lot of my family were…but my Mom's American…she was sorted into Sagessense, which seems pretty equivalent to Ravenclaw. What house do you guys think you'll be in?"
"Gryffindor!" Teddy and Alf said together, both with broad smiles.
She raised an eyebrow at them both. "You seem very sure?"
Teddy laughed. "I suppose I could be in Hufflepuff…my mother was. But I think I'm all Gryffindor, myself…hope so, anyway. No question on Alf, though…"
Alf counted on his fingers… "My dad's one of seven, all Gryffindor…son of two Gryffindor parents, from Gryffindor families. And my Mum was a Gryffindor as well…not much else for me to think than that."
"Then I hope I'm Gryffindor too…it'd be nice to have friends once we get there." Drawing her shoulders together, she looked again at the other boy. "You there…what house do you think you'll be in?" With insistence, she moved his book down away from his face.
He went pale. "I…uh…" He gulped. "My older brother was in Hufflepuff." He looked around furtively, and again at Alf. "I'm sorry…I'm not supposed to speak to you…my father's a little…well…" He shrugged and then returned to his book.
Alf looked over at Teddy, and together they looked at Eileen. Then, as if they'd talked about it out loud, the three of them proceeded to ignore the fourth child for the remainder of the trip, instead starting a game of exploding snap. If anyone else had wished to join in, all they'd have had to do was ask.
George watched as the last customer of the day headed out the door, and he rose to lock it behind them. The day of departure for Hogwarts was always a slow day at the shop, always had been, and today had been no exception. But George had busied himself with inventory, with cleaning up the shelves, and bringing order to the chaos that the store had been left in with the last minute crush of shoppers from yesterday.
Ron was singing to himself behind him, going over the books. George smiled at his brother's off-key rendition of some Celestina Warbeck song that they would have both denied even knowing. Growing up with Molly for a mother, they had against their will absorbed her music subconsciously.
"Oi, a little less noise there, or I'll revoke that partnership, mate." He called out.
"Fine thanks I get for raising income 86 percent in my first year without you." Ron answered back.
George just chuckled and grabbed an empty box, and headed into the back rooms.
Once out of sight, he put the box down, and looked around. Here, just over a year ago, Alf had nearly blown the entire place up in a fit of anger and fear. He spotted a box of Weas-works and chuckled to himself remembering that moment, that trial that had in the end only made them stronger. Surely he would survive his son going off to school.
"Guess this is why Mum and Dad had seven of us." He said to himself, crossing through the maze of boxes. He walked in to his little office, and sat down, with a sigh. He opened the top drawer of the desk, and pulled out a box. The ring…the engagement ring…that he had intended to give to Michelle.
It still hurt. He couldn't pretend otherwise. He still didn't understand…why didn't she ever call him? Why hadn't she at least been home when Vernon Dursley attacked? And when she got home, why hadn't she read the manuscript and responded to him, at least done him the courtesy of breaking it off in person?
He had gone as far, once Alf's magic had been restored, of contacting the Salem Ministry of Magic. He'd asked them to confirm that she was okay, that nothing tragic had happened. The response had been brief…his neighbor, Michelle Fabry, was alive and well and still living in the house wedged between his old place, and the one now occupied by Dudley Dursley.
He could then have arranged a visit. There was no threat to Alf any longer, and clearly Dudley was not going to be an issue. But something had stuck in his craw about that…she was the one who'd blown him off, after all, why should he go crawling back?
"Oi there…" George heard Ron coming and quickly shut the door. "You want to come over for dinner tonight, George?"
He looked up at his brother with an affectionate smile. "That's the fourth dinner invite I've had for this evening…funny thing, a year and a half ago, nobody thought I could live with a child, now you all seem to think I can't live without him."
"Hey, don't be lumping me in that group…I was one of the first to stand up for you, you one-eared clown." Ron mocked anger. "So…where are you dining this evening."
George held his breath, and then admitted the truth. "Bill's house."
"Ah." Ron leaned against the wall. "Another well meaning attempt by Fleur to get you married off?"
George forced a laugh. "Not this time." He remembered too well how active Fleur had been in that department since his return. "I haven't seen Bill's kids in a while…not since Alf and I first returned from Salem. I see the rest of you all pretty often, and besides…well, it's the biggest change from home."
"Gotcha." Ron looked at where George's hand was resting on the desk drawer. "Look, George…if you ever, want to…you know…talk about anything..."
"What, Ron…" George asked, meticulously, "Would I have to talk about?"
They stared at each other, and Ron backed down. "Right. Well, we'll see you tomorrow, George. Say Hi to the kids for me."
George watched his brother…his only younger brother…go. He knew Ron wanted him to talk about Michelle; Ron had tried a thousand times to get him to speak. He was actually worse than Alf in that regard; of course, George still was able to intimidate Alf, whereas Ron could just play obtuse when he glared at him.
Still, how in God's green earth did he talk to his little brother about his love life? And what exactly was Ron going to say to him, anyway? Ron had exactly one girlfriend before Hermione, if you could call Lavender Brown a girlfriend. And once he and Hermione had begun, they'd never looked back. No, Ron wasn't going to be any kind of help to him whatsoever.
Bill, though…Bill had dated a bit before Fleur. Bill, possibly, might be able to give him some helpful advice. Charlie would have been even better, but his playboy brother had gone on back to Romania. He would lay out his problems to Bill, and Bill would be sensible about the whole thing. First and foremost…should he try contacting her? He sure as heck couldn't stop thinking about her. Maybe, maybe he should cave in and try.
Bill would know. Bill always knew. Or at least, George smirked to himself, he thought he did.