Disclaimer: In this world, I own my laptop and the clothes on my back. That may be it.
Summary: George Weasley never was the same. A story in endless present
Eons ago, Rosie wrote me fic for my birthday:) I asked her what kind of fic she would like, and she told me: "Ooh, I would love anything Weasley, but especially anything relating to Bill and/or Fleur, or Victoire and/or Teddy Lupin." So, here it is, for Christmas (only it's late, so Happy New Year?).
This isn't quite what you asked for, but the plot bunny hopped and I followed. I hope you like it.
In the weeks that followed the Battle of Hogwarts, parties and funerals were so interspersed that wizards and witches got confused about whether they were supposed to be laughing or weeping, celebrating victory or mourning the fallen. Inevitably, the two blended together, so that at victory celebrations they cried about the deaths and fallen heroes, and at funerals they drank to and cheered reunions and survivors.
They lived in ruins…but they lived.
The Ministry started to sort itself, and Azkaban, and Hogwarts, out. Witches and wizards wedded and bedded each other. Children received their Hogwarts letters. Quidditch matches became public again. Muggles continued on in blithe ignorance. The Wizard world returned to "normal."
But what did that mean to the families who lost the most—to Teddy Lupin's grandparents, who'd lost Nymphadora and her husband, who were wondering how they were going to raise a child? To Neville Longbottom, who'd lost his grandmother and whose parents weren't healed by the death of their tormentor? To the Malfoys, who forfeited more property and galleons than most families owned, to make recompense?
What did it mean to the Weasleys?
True, they'd gained back their lost ones—Ron, back from a year on the run, and Percy, returned to them from the Ministry and self-imposed exile. Ginny, from a year at school under headmasters crueler than Dolores Umbridge. Bill and Fleur, who'd been insulated and isolated in the cabin by the sea. Charlie, home from Romania on extended leave.
Harry, who came with Ginny, and didn't have family of his own to speak of. Hermione, who came with Ron, and had banished the only family she had to Australia. Fleur's sister Gabrielle had come for the summer and attached herself like a burr to her adored older sister.
There was George, decidedly less whole than he'd been a year ago.
And one member was gone, not like Percy had been but gone like Fabian Prewett, like Dumbledore, like Sirius. Beyond the veil. Fred was absent, and his laughter would never mirror his twin's, no prank of his devising would ever again disturb Molly from a morning's work. He would never again kiss Angelina Johnson, never wed or father children.
Percy and Ron and Harry and Hermione and Bill and Fleur and Ginny and Charlie home—it was a blessing, even if it didn't quite balance George and Fred.
Because George was alive, but it wasn't only his ear that was missing.
Hermione insisted on apparating to the Burrow before the Weasleys after the battle, in case a patrol had been through while they were away. Her bossy interference irked Harry on the Weasleys' behalf, until she hissed at him, "The clock."
The Boy who Lived couldn't bring himself to go with her, but he could imagine all the hands pointing to "School," except for one hand which had sprung off, one hand which would not point to anything, even "mortal peril."
When they all came home, Hermione had cleaned up the kitchen, though the rest of the house looked like Grawp had had a temper tantrum and then used it as a restroom. She transfigured a handkerchief into a curtain, which she strung across the kitchen door, so they didn't have to look at the untidiness. The family ate potatoes and sausage she conjured. She was tired and lacked focus; the meal wasn't very good, but they all ate it, and slept the sleep of righteous heroes, on pallets and cots in the kitchen.
After the funerals, everyone goes away. At least, that is how it feels to George, but really, he goes away from them first. He goes to the back room of the Diagon Alley shop with multiple bottles of firewhiskey, and he locks the door and he pretends he's not there or doesn't hear when (one by one) Charlie, Ron, Bill, Lee, Harry, and Percy knock. He thinks that Dad comes too, and the girls, Mum and Ginny and Hermione and Fleur. Maybe Angelina, but he may have imagined that. By the time Percy leaves, he's put a significant dent in the whiskey, and doesn't remember much.
After the funeral, George cannot bear their noise, because it's all muddled. When Fred was here, even with only one ear, it hadn't been so bad for George—Fred had stood between him and the loudest crowds and interpreted anything he missed. And hadn't it been natural, one twin with the other, even if they weren't quite identical for those few months?
But now they're all gone—stopped knocking, got the hint—and the silence is deafening, worse than losing the ear, worse than the noise he couldn't understand.
He cannot even joke about it, not really, because the only one who would understand why it is funny (or why he needs it to be funny even though it isn't) isn't here to share the joke.
George never thought Fred would leave him—no, never. When they'd been children, and alone, and serious without the eyes of others on them, when they were just old enough to understand the First War and all the children who didn't have families—they'd planned what to do without Percy or Ron (find someone else to play jokes on), or baby Ginny (do something naughty; that'd be bound to bring her back to tattle to Mum), or Bill and Charlie (take their rooms and Quidditch gear), or Dad (they'd use his tools and Muggle toys) and last of all, Mum (she'd turn into a ghost before she'd ever leave them alone, so they didn't worry). But neither had said anything about living without the other. Neither planned for it.
Charlie leaves to go back to Romania, and he takes Katie Bell with him and no one knows what to make of it. Or rather, everyone has an opinion on it, but no one has the final word on what it means. George declines invitations to crawl out of his firewhiskey bottle long enough to contemplate it. Gabrielle Delacour pouts a bit because she wanted to see the dragons too, but was deemed too young. She returns to Beauxbatons, with many promises to visit.
Hermione and Ron depart to Australia. Bill and Fleur travel to France, and her family, for a holiday after the tragedies and before the first baby comes. Harry and Ginny split time between Bill and Fleur's cottage and Grimmauld Place. Mum and Dad are at the Burrow, but not the Burrow as it used to be, not the place that filled up with boy laughter and Quidditch gear and shouting and tussling and Mum's cooking. No, it's quiet too, except for when Molly begs Andromeda for a turn to babysit little Teddy. Then baby laughter fills the kitchen and Molly's nagging and scolds and lavish love words bubble out to fill the empty spaces.
And Percy—what does George care? Even if Percy did come back to the Weasleys, he's gone away again too. And good riddance, because all Percy does is take—take Mum's happiness, and Dad's peace and Fred's last words.
It's not fair that Percy got to hear Fred's last words, not fair at all. George and Fred began life in the same second, in the same womb, and George had rather planned on them leaving the world together, at the same moment.
But plans don't always work out (he's been a practical joker long enough to know THAT). But he didn't have a backup plan to cover this.
He's just finished his last bottle of firewhiskey and is considering leaving the back room to buy more, and maybe to bathe. But that would mean getting off his nice floor, which he is equal parts unwilling and unable to do. That is the moment when Percy manages to jinx, hex, or spell the door open. The older brother makes a face—what George thinks of as his Ministry face. It's more sneer than anything, and it's particularly unattractive. George is lying flat on his back, but for a chance to remove that sneer, he'd go through worse obstacles. He manages a sitting position, and angry mumbles. After a moment, Percy snorts. "You rotten stinker... This is what you've been? The whole time? Mum's convinced herself that you've gone to Azkaban to plague the Death Eaters."
George manages the start of an obscene gesture, since it's too much trouble to work his tongue and jaw to form words. He's never been this drunk in his life, and while part of him doesn't like the way the ceiling spins (he's lying flat on his back but thinks he finally can feel the entire world rotating under him, like Hermione says the planet does), he knows it's a hell of a lot better than being sober. He wonders if this is how ghosts feel. He's about to sleep and make his poncey older brother go away when Percy roars a spell that Mum perfected during their childhoods. "ELAVO!"
It apparates the person it is aimed at to a tub, while it sends their clothing to a laundry hamper—a very handy spell to have, with six boys. But Percy casts with all his strength, and George is stripped so violently he gets attacked by the buttons that pop off, and he's half drowned in the bath by the time he knows what spell has hit him. George howls like a beast and flops around, but he feels a stirring of something he later recognizes as relief when he starts to scheme how to get back at Percy for this outrage. His sluggish brain seizes on the (familiar) task—revenge on Percy—and though the prank is less creative than some old ones, for his first solo act, it's not pathetic.
A week later, Percy is waiting for Penelope Clearwater, and a date. George grants him similar treatment to Mum's spell, only Percy's "bath" is a fountain and he doesn't lose all his clothes (George allows him to keep his underwear). Percy seems rather put out about the whole thing, but the rest of the Weasley clan breathes a huge sigh of relief. Mum doesn't even send a Howler, just an invitation to supper, now that he's feeling more like himself. George doesn't have the heart to tell her he's more depressed now than he was before. Without Fred to help plan it and execute it and laugh about it later with, it really wasn't all that fun. Although the expression on Percy's face was worth more than Galleons.
He drifts. He hires back the staff (those who are alive and out of Azkaban) and sets them to work producing the best sellers of the past. Skiving Snackboxes thrive. Within a week, their staff complains that supplies are starting to run low, but Fred did the ordering, and George doesn't know what they're liable to run out of.
Mum sends long letters full of advice about how to know you're going to run out of something before you actually do, and how to bargain so you get a thing cheaply, and how to evaluate the quality of a seller if you can't inspect the goods ahead of time, and how not to acquire too much of any one thing (turns out that mothering seven children on a Ministry salary and feeding and supplying the Order of the Phoenix through two wars taught her a thing or two about monitoring supplies). George offers to hire her, and gets his first Howler since the war for his pains. Things feel more normal after that.
He does learn how to place orders, sort of, but he doesn't work on developing new products for a long time. He recycles the old, until Ron marches in with new sample products for him to try. It's a surprise that his younger brother—Ronnikins—is a man now. The first three samples are really just additions to the candy line and skiving snackboxes—a lolly that changes flavors and the color of your hair as you eat it, a chocolate orange that releases an image of an orange tree that grows, blooms, and bears fruit when broken, and a caramel that gives a fever diagnosis to all the common diagnosis spells, without actually giving the eater a fever. It's preferable to the Fever Fudge and others because it doesn't really cause pain.
From stray comments, Ron gets the idea to introduce more WonderWitchproducts—mirrors that show your ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend looking fat and old (even if she's not) and combs that tame frizz (tested on Hermione's bushy mane) and scent that changes with the tap of a wand—jasmine, rose, and lavender to start. Ron's creative, and when he's not being compared to Harry or Hermione, he's actually a decent wizard. For almost two years, George gives him free reign in product development, but then Ron leaves to go to the auror academy and to be best friends with Harry again.
The business keeps going. George brings in Luna, from time to time, and she develops detection kits for nargles and blibbering humdingers and crumple horned snorkacks, which children love. Her Ravenclaw crowns are less popular, which baffles her, and makes him smile, which is why he doesn't pull them off the shelves, though they don't sell well.
Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes keeps growing (they open a stall in Hogsmeade on weekends, and later expand to a year round shopfront), and it turns a profit, but he just doesn't care as much. He gets Bill's help with the books (Gringotts trained him into something fierce with figures, and it's how he justifies the plural Weasleys', since Ron left to be an auror), but Bill eventually gives up trying to teach George, so he hires Fleur part time, to do the books and fool around with product development. Early on, she brings Victoire with her three mornings a week, and spends afternoons in Diagon Alley. She brings her young daughter to the wizarding museums, which are accessed via closets and emergency exits and "construction zones" in Muggle museums. Fleur particularly likes the Victoria and Albert museum in Kensington, and Victoire chooses to like everything with a name so close to her own. Fleur never quite loses the habit of acting as though she is visiting England; she's a tourist, despite living and working in London for years. She still irks Molly and Ginny at times, but all three (and Hermione) close ranks against the Weasley men with alarming success.
He and Lee drink together, from time to time, but he's afraid that Lee will see how big the void is if they spend too much time together. And the man who kept Potterwatch on the wireless has been given his own wizard wireless program. It's a dream come true for Lee; he slaves over it, trying to make it more interesting and better.
So George learns. He copes. But he doesn't move on, not like his family thinks he should.
He hides it pretty well, but certain things expose the wound to the open air. Angelina and Lee and Percy are three. But there are others. He casts a spell, a desperate one, on the first birthday he endures alone. He's trying to conjure Fred from the spirit realm for a chat, and winds up unsure of his own name. He answers only to Fred for about thirty-six hours, and asks where George is; Ron and Bill lock him in his flat and take turns babysitting him. When he comes back to himself, he wonders if he really called Fred back, or if he needed to believe he could so badly that he hallucinated the whole thing. He doesn't try that particular spell again—it walks a little closer to the darkness than he's comfortable going. For the same reason, he carefully skirts talk of the Deathly Hallows with Harry. And that depresses him. Are there truly things he would not do to get his twin back, to make himself whole again? And does that make him a coward, a false son of Gryffindor?
Somewhere in that time, Bill and Fleur's first child is born. Their daughter, Victoire, may only be one quarter veela, but she has no trouble wrapping men (her daddy, grandpa, and uncles to start) around her infant finger. Even Teddy Lupin is casually interested in the baby, and he's still practically a baby himself.
Fleur asks her sister to be Victoire's godmother, and Bill asks George to be godfather. He should ask Charlie, because they were always closer, but Charlie is so far away that he's not able to be much of an uncle. Even at the time, George knows Mum thinks Bill has lost his mind (and he senses that, painful as it is for them, Fleur and Ginny agree with Molly and each other). But Bill's not about to ask Percy, and George is the one who looks least likely to have a kid of his own. Plus, making him godfather means that he won't be out of his mother's sight for the entire ceremony. The monitoring chafes like a tie that's too tight, but he shoulders through manfully, watches Gabrielle hold the baby or keeps his eyes straight ahead, and only halfheartedly sets a few fireworks, because it's expected.
At the party after Victoire's ceremony, when Molly is crowing over her first granddaughter's achievements and carrying the little white bundle of lace hither, thither and yon, George retreats to a quiet corner. The noise is overwhelming him, and he needs to get away from the eyes that are staring and the whispers he can see but can't hear.
Gabrielle finds him. She's dressed to the nines in a shade of blue that seems made for blondes, and her silver hair looks like a living thing as it coils over her shoulders in the most fetching way. But it's been a long day, Gabi's practically a Weasley herself, and George can almost taste the first shot of firewhiskey that will fill his mouth when he goes home. He's not inclined to flirt.
The French girl sticks out her chin. "You are loneleee today." Her voice rises at the end, which should make the sentence a question. It isn't.
He flashes a smile at her. "Lonely? With all this family around? Don't talk nonsense."
"Lonelee." She repeats, then touches her finger to the corner of her mouth. "Because you are like me. You are G without F."
His mouth goes dry, and he really wants that drink. No one else has broached the subject so bluntly, or so callously compared their situation to his.
The blonde looks at him. "You have instructions, I think, not to fight? To make no problems. To be good, for the babee."
He nods, cautiously, unsure what this girl wants.
"We will be good, for Victoire. She is a lucky girl, I think, to have so many loving her."
George's gaze travels to Teddy Lupin, who is sitting on a bench by Harry, his godfather. Teddy has a lot of people who love him too, but he's not "lucky." He shrugs, then agrees that Victoire is doing well to start.
"You are not good. You drink too much for that," Gabrielle says, coldly honest. "Your family sees only what they want to see, so they deny that you are missing yourself still."
"What do you want?" He finally demands.
"I want you to be a good man, for our goddaughter. Even with her dear Maman and Papa, she will need us, I think."
He runs through a range of responses, most of them too loud or too rude to say aloud. He settles on, "Leave off, little girl."
"You think I do not know your hurt, so I should not speak. You think my hurt is so small, because I did not lose my Fleur forever, and you think you did lose your Fred for good, but it is not true."
His hands itch to do some violence to the impertinent minx.
"In the war, she could not talk to us. And we did not know how she was, or 'Arry Potter, and all the news looked bad, all the time. And today, we can talk, but she is not my sister first now, oui? She is Bill's wife, and now Victoire's mother, and last she is Gabi's sister. And she does not dream to be champion today. Is a person I do not always know, because the dreams are different. But, alone, I talk to her, like she is in the next room, out of my eyes and in the hearing. Like she was with me, but pretend. Do you see?" Gabrielle looks anxious. It's obvious that her English is rustier than George imagined, or maybe emotion is choking off eloquence. "I pretended to have her to talk to, and tried to think what she would say. Would this help you?"
"No." He apparates away before he can say something he'll regret. He returns to the party a half hour later, having missed the commotion resulting from Teddy Lupin taking a handful of cake before it was ready to be served, and of Hermione and Ron's announcement of their engagement (which surprises no one).
But after that, George does, on occasion, talk aloud to Fred, as though his twin were with him still. He stops when Lee drops in unannounced and catches him at it, though the school mates don't talk about it. He knows Lee and Angelina think that Fred may have stayed as a ghost only George can see, but that's their imagination. Fred is an ache along George's side, a void, not a presence.
For the first year, George avoids Angelina Johnson, even though really there wasn't anything too serious between her and Fred. They meet up at a pub, in an "accident" engineered by Lee. For months, Lee's been complains that George drinks too much alone, so George offers to do his drinking in a pub for a night. When he gets in the door, Angelina is there, also thinking she was going to meet Lee. It's awkward, but they pass the time together, sharing pints and stories but not memories. It's nine when they realize Lee's set them up; they don't leave until eleven.
They linger at the door.
"This was fun." She smiles a little.
"Yeah." He agrees.
An awkward pause ensues.
"We should do it again." He offers, "Sometime."
"And we shouldn't wait a year." She adds, like she's waiting for him to say something else.
"How about a week from now?"he suggests, "Thursday?"
"Shop closes at 7; why not half past that?"
She assents, and leaves, with an awkward little wave, and without a hug or something more personal.
They begin meeting at the Leaky Cauldron most Thursday nights. After a few months, they add to the ritual—dinner beforehand, sometimes, or dessert after. They change locations, try different place along Diagon Alley. So to avoid confusion, she even starts meeting him at the store, waiting for him to lock up. Slowly but surely, their routine involves ending the night drinking in her flat. George doesn't bring her back to their flat—he still thinks of it as theirs, his and Fred's, not his own.
Their conversations range widely. They can chew over Quidditch like mates, but he surprises himself by talking to her, seriously, about the store and his ideas for new products and how hard it is to keep the place staffed and stocked. They don't often talk about Fred, and then only when they're both drunk and maudlin. One night, months after it's become routine for him to stay over at her place, she tells him, "You're not the only one who lost him, you know?"
He doesn't answer verbally for about a minute. He can't. His voice is caught in his throat, but he manages, "Never said I was the only one."
"No." She agrees. "You never said it, you only act like it."
Later that same night, she kisses him. They're both drunk (her more than him, for once). She pulls away when his hand begins to massage her breast through her bra. He apologizes, and apparates away (by the grace of Merlin he avoids splinching himself). He decides in the morning that it was all for the best that it didn't go further. It was because they'd been talking about Fred, both of them missing him. He doesn't chase her, though it would be easy (and a bit kinky) for him to get close to Fred's girl like that, and for Fred's girl to lose her head over Fred's twin.
He ducks out of the shop early the next Thursday, but he decides that was petty and cowardly. But the second Thursday, she doesn't turn up. He owls her a cryptic apology. She sends back a polite, baffling little acceptance of his apology, but says she has a date for next Thursday and can't make their "standing appointment." That makes him mad, so even though he's getting too old for such measures, he plots and executes an elaborate prank involving a crate of fireworks, dishtowels, six garden gnomes, Luna's bilbbering humdinger detection kit, and the waiter at the trendiest French cafe on Diagon Alley.
At the end of it, Angelina is beating him alternately with the detection kit and a dishtowel. He chooses to believe she's being helpful because he was a little bit on fire (the fireworks). Her date is horrified, and it's clear he'd run away screaming if his shoes weren't Stuck to the floor. George and Angelina are friends, and he decides that's how things are supposed to be. Probably.
There are other women in George's life. Alicia makes it clear she's interested, if he is. Gabi Delacour flirts like she breathes, reflexively, and there's enough veela in her to get his pulse going. But it's not much more than words—and he doesn't forget that she knows how to draw his blood. He picks up girls while on holiday—on memorable occasions, a gypsy fortune teller (not a maiden, though) in Romania, a full veela in France, and a Muggle in Spain. But they're not the sort he would bring home to Mum, if you know what that means.
George is lost, but he eventually starts faking it better. It is, oddly enough, Gabrielle Delacour, little Victoire and young Teddy Lupin who remind him to enjoy life. It's Angelina who makes it possible.
It is one of Victoire and Fleur's mornings at the shop. Teddy has come too because Andromeda is tired and Molly is in Romania (nagging Charlie) and Fleur rather likes children. Teddy is six and Victoire is four. They are in the shop proper because Fleur has locked herself in an office. His sister-in-law has informed his in rather graphic terms and loud tones that he is an idiot and a fool and he deliberately makes her job more difficult by doing &)&??? with the receipts. He doesn't understand what he did that made her angry, because she launched into French before they got to the explanation of what he did wrong. George wisely did not ask if she were troubled by feminine matters and retreated with the children to the shop.
Business was slow this morning, so he sent the clerk on break. He entertained the children with Vanishing coins, which he pulls out of Teddy's ear, and then shakes out where his ear is missing. Victoire caresses the side of his face. "Does it hurt?" She asks.
Both children are studying him soberly, and he doesn't know what to say. He's always been fun, silly uncle George. He doesn't answer hard questions. "Not anymore." He lies. He still has trouble with his hearing sometimes.
Victoire kisses him impulsively, to heal the booboo. Enough of that. He gives Teddy vanishing jacks to entertain himself, and lets Victoire play with a doll he is experimenting with. The doll is supposed to look like the girl she belongs to, but they have a problem with the doll changing appearance based on the girl playing with her at the moment. Right now, the doll has been experimentally spelled to belong to Fleur, so it should have blonde hair and blue eyes, but it has adapted to Victoire. Victoire's hair isn't Weasley red, but a delicate strawberry blonde that mixes Fleur's blond and Bill's red. It has the texture of veela hair; spun starshine. His goddaughter is a precious sight, carefully dressing the doll whose pink yarn hair seems to be trying to unravel into finer strands.
The doll is a fashion doll, so when she is safely in a new outfit, Victoire can offer simple commands like "walk" and the doll will obey. This amuses Victoire for a short time. "Jump!" She orders. Then, "Fly!" The doll can't, and Victoire sighs, but then tries "Float!" She's good at giving orders, Victoire is, and it amuses her uncle.
Teddy is distracted too. He tries to command the doll to take off her clothes, and she begins to do so, until Victoire shrieks "Stop!" (directed at Teddy, but the doll listens too). Victoire yells at Teddy, who looks rather pleased to have earned such a reaction from the girl.
George makes a mental not to think about ways to protect the dolls from boys—he's sure he and Fred would've had endless fun with a doll of Ginny's that obeyed them.
That's the moment Gabrielle strolls in, looking ravishing. She's dressed in a long white rain jacket/trench coat she belted with some flowery scarf, and boots with heels, which should look ridiculous. She doesn't. Her long hair is arranged across her shoulders so artfully he wouldn't be surprised if it were done by the hand of a painter. She actually seems to float across the room, bringing some scent of Provence and lavender with her, through the thick London rain. It's ridiculous how pretty and polished she is (she's nothing like she was at 12), and George tells her so as she approaches the counter and presents her cheeks for kisses.
Gabrielle's laughter rolls across the store, and for the first time, Victoire and Teddy notice her presence (George isn't sure how they missed the entrance, but then, Teddy is prepubescent).
The children drop their toys and run to her. She produces sweets from the pockets, and drops kisses on their heads. The commotion attracts Fleur, who takes the measure of the situation in a moment. "Stop flirtin' with my seester, Georges," She tells him affectionately, and pats his cheek.
He puts his hands over his heart, as though he's been struck there by a jinx. "You'd better tell her not to flirt with me, then."
Fleur shrugged, somehow making a casual gesture elegant, and said, "She iz much too good for you."
"And she knows it." George says ruefully. "We're not all lucky like Bill, to find a woman who overlooks it."
"Ah, but he knows too." Fleur drawled, smirking so a dimple winked in her cheek. "'E appreciates all my finer qualiteeez." Fleur's English has improved over time, but she still drags out "e"s to impossible lengths, and drops "h"s on occasion.
Gabi left the children to embrace her sister. They share a rather quick conference in French. When they both turned to George and began to smile and emit veela charm like a perfume, he knows he's in trouble. He counts himself lucky to escape from the combined persuasive might of the Delacour sisters with a five percent raise for Fleur, and babysitting duty for an afternoon.
The clerk returns, so George takes Victoire and Teddy to the workroom, where he lets Victoire add "unicorn tears" to a WonderWitch skin cream, and where he lets Teddy add the secret ingredient to a batch of Nosebleed Nougat. When the children express interest in actually SAMPLING the nougat, he decides it's time to leave the shop.
The children run him ragged, frolicking across the pavement and London sidewalks. He feels old—he never used to worry like this. They wind up at an ice cream shop. Victoire is dainty with her strawberry sorbet—pink, of course. She arranges a napkin to protect her frock and then begins. Teddy is less nice, smearing chocolate cheerfully across his face, then cleaning his face with his shirt. George laughs, but makes a note to think about some kind of prank chocolate spill, and a potion to lift real spills. Having been a prankster, he knows that cleaning up the aftermath is the biggest downside (it's the most frequent punishment Mum devised). Teddy is finishing his ice cream when all three of them see Angelina passing on the sidewalk. Perhaps he is being lazy about babysitting, and perhaps he really just wants to share the day with her, but George flags her down. She joins them, smirking at the state of Teddy's face and shirt, and Victoire's dainty manners.
George hastily defends himself from her smirk, "It melts fast."
Angelina doesn't answer him directly, but speaks to Teddy. "Right then. Time to wash up." She aids in scrubbing chocolate and stickiness off Teddy's hands and cheeks. Victoire offers the rest of her ice cream to George. The strawberry is sickly sweet, but not as sweet as the way Victoire crawls into his lap and begins to prattle a story.
Angelina suggests returning to the shop, in case Fleur returns. Teddy puts his hand in her dark one. Victoire clings to her godfather's arm, till he realizes she wants to be carried. Despite the application of sugar, it seems to be Victoire's naptime. She rests her head on his shoulder and slumbers. The four of them drift down Diagon Alley. George is struck by the peace of it—the sweetly sleepy little girl, the messy boy. And Angelina. He gets his first look at the four of them when they stop before the window of a Quidditch shop. Teddy's pressing his face against the glass, trying to see the uniforms and kit, and oh glory, the brooms.
George finds himself studying their reflection, not the brooms or merchandise.They look like a family, he and Angelina and the children. He wonders what a child of Angelina Weasley's would have looked like, and then has a heart stopping realization that he could still find out. He's tongue-tied, so at last he turns from the glass and he looks at Angelina, face to face. He tries to put everything he feels into that look.
She glances at him, mouth opening as though she's going to say something. Instead, she frowns a little, and purses her lips as though she's a little confused. She squints, so he looks more earnestly.
"What did you do?" She hisses.
"What?" He asks, and for once his outraged innocence is not feigned.
"You're looking at me like you want something." She looks around suspiciously, as though she suspects garden gnomes or French waiters might be about to come out of the paving stones. "Like you did something."
He protests, defending himself, but she ignores him to interrogate Teddy about his favorite Quidditch team and players. He's convinced Ginny is great, but expresses undying loyalty to Viktor Krum, which makes George smirk, since Teddy has never seen Krum, only heard of him. His Quidditch opinions are closely aligned with Harry's.
The four get back to the shop just as Fleur and Gabi do. The sisters are walking arm in arm, and emitting enough veela charm to attract a small parade of followers—probably wizards from the Ministry or St. Mungo's who were dining at the same restaurant.
Gabi greets George and the kids in effusive French, as though she hadn't seen any of them in months. She grabs his face by both cheeks and leans forward, her hair forming a curtain. It looks, to all intents and purposes, like she just kissed him, and the wizards disperse, grumbling.
George is half dazed himself, but he's been building immunity to veelas since Fleur started working for him. "Admirers?" He teases.
"Oui." Gabrielle looks sheepish.
"We were not careful, you see." Fleur sighs.
"We drank the wine with the lunch," Gabi begins.
"And we laughed, being happy." Fleur looks annoyed, but mostly tired.
"We forgot that…"Gabrielle is at a loss for words, it seems, as she looks at her sister.
"We forgot to be careful." Fleur concludes, taking her sleeping daughter out of George's arms, and cuddling her close. He wonders what is running through his sister-in-law's mind, if it's fear she's feeling, and if so, for herself or her child. "We forgot how few veela are here. We forgot to apparate, so they do not follow."
Teddy is still holding Angelina's hand, but the young woman is glowering at Gabrielle. Teddy holds out his hand to Gabrielle, who looks at the chocolate smears on his shirt with some trepidation. "Home now?" He asks hopefully.
"You fed them sweets." Fleur sounds unsurprised.
George nods. "His hands are washed, see. And the shirt won't take much…" He trails off, sensing tension as Angelina glares at him. He's not sure what sin he's committed, but he backpedals. "Why don't I give you one from the shop? A gift. I'll get this one clean." He offers, fully intending to wheedle Molly into doing his wash for him.
Fleur waits for him to open the door. He does so, almost gallantly. Fleur leads the way, Victoire still asleep in her maman's arms. Teddy and Angelina follow, and Gabrielle is last. She pauses in the door, looking mischievous. "You are very stupid, if you do not kiss her anger away." She walks the rest of the way in, wiggling her hips for his benefit.
George rolls his eyes. Gabrielle flips between being an extra little sister, flirting partner, and pseudo conscience with annoying frequency.
In the store, Fleur is preparing to Floo the children and Gabrielle home. Victoire is awake again, and slightly cranky. Teddy is cleaner than he was; Gabi looks rather self satisfied. Angelina looks uncomfortable; George realizes it's a Thursday, and she's waiting for him to say something. He can't. He's between worlds here; he has no clue what to do. In the past, when that happens, he thinks about what he and Fred would have done, or what the people he knows expect. And then he does it. For years, he's been trying to be what his family expects, be half of the whole or make a whole out of the half he is. But right now, he can't figure out the expectations.
Victoire, the only one who can get away with it, asks, "Are you coming home with us, Tonton?" It's Fleur's influence, to teach her daughter French words for family. Molly insists on being "Gran Weasley," but Ron and Charlie and George answer to uncle, oncle, and tonton. Not Percy though. He's always "Uncle Percy." He's no child's favorite uncle, but George doesn't mind that.
George makes eye contact with Angelina, but speaks to his goddaughter, "I'm having dinner with my friend tonight, Viki."
"He can come too." Teddy invites, no self-consciousness about issuing invitations.
Gabi and Fleur look at him in challenge. Angelina drops eye contact and snorts.
"This friend." George says, moving to stand near her. Angelina doesn't quite look at him.
"And 'ave you been seeing this," Gabrielle pauses, significantly. "Friend very often?"
George doesn't know what to say. Angelina is looking at him for his answer, and so are Fleur and Teddy and Victoire and Gabrielle. And in that second, he's not trying to answer like Fred's twin who's muscling in on Fred's girl. He's not trying to answer like a brother-in-law or an uncle. He's those things, but what he's thinking about is being George, a man attached to a woman. So it feels like he's letting something go when he says, "Yes. Often."
And he doesn't know how Angelina is going to react, if she's going to pull away or slap him for not being Fred. But he hopes that being George is enough.
He hopes it like hell.