Author's note: This story is a continuation of the We Belong Series. If you haven't read parts 1-III, you're probably going to be pretty confused. If you have read the series, be advised that there is a time jump here, to just before Alf's third year at Hogwarts.
WE BELONG IV
August 17, 2011
It had been a little more than a year since the wedding of George Weasley. From the outside, not so much seemed changed at their house in Godric's Hollow. A year is, in the grand scheme of things, not so long a time.
But if it's the difference between twelve and thirteen, or in the case of Alfred Weasley, nearly thirteen and a half, the difference could be huge.
Alf and CJ were in the back yard on brooms. Their second year had come, and gone, mostly uneventfully, save for one major event for Alf: Ravenclaw had won the house cup, thanks in no small part to his performance as the full time keeper. Now CJ was determined to make his house team, as a chaser. He and Alf had spent most of the summer essentially playing chicken with each other, hours and hours of CJ attempting to get a quaffle past Alf.
"And if I ever even think…" CJ had warned. "…that you're taking it easy on me, I will kill you."
"CJ, there are a lot of things I'd do for you, but let a quaffle past me will never be one of them!" Alf had laughed back.
So in other words, it had been a long summer for both George and Michelle, as dangerous mishaps seemed to be just avoided, at least twenty times a day.
On this day, they had been at it for a solid four hours after lunch. As CJ bore down on Alf, Alf waited to respond, and their eyes locked. CJ went to toss the quaffle left; Alf went right, familiar with the feint CJ had been working on for a month. But this time, CJ rolled the toss over his hand and sent it back left.
"BUGGER!" Alf cursed, as he just missed the play.
"Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeessssssssssssssssssss!" CJ whooped triumphantly.
"You two!" George yelled up at them, his hands on his hips, shaking his head with a fond smile. "You're going to forget to walk if you're not careful. Now get down from there…we're off to the Burrow in half an hour!"
Alf and CJ zipped quickly down to the ground, laughing. "Okay, so you got what, five scores in four hours?"
"I figure five against you is twenty against a normal keeper." CJ retorted. "Besides, now I've seen all your best moves." They put their brooms away in the garden shed, and then their eyes glinted at each other.
"RACE YOU!" They said together, and ran full tilt towards the house, Alf just beating CJ to the kitchen door.
"Masters!" Dixie shook her head. "You will makes yourselves sick, Sirs!"
"Not likely, Dixie." Michelle looked up from the table, where she was mapping out her lesson plans for the fall. "They move far too fast for sickness to catch them."
"Showers, both of you!" George said, as he followed the boys into the house.
Alf turned immediately and gave George a crushing full body hug, as if trying to rub as much sweat off on him as possible. George yelped in protest, laughing the whole time. "CJ, a hand here?" He begged.
CJ had paused in the door, leaning against the sill with a smirk of amusement. "Or I could seize the opportunity to get into the shower first." He pointed out. And, as he saw Alf suddenly pull up short from sliming George, CJ thundered up the stairs, to be followed by Alf in hot pursuit. The entire house shook with their effort.
"Ugh!" George was holding his hands up and looking down over his now quite rumpled and dirty person.
"Hm." Michelle raised her wand with a smile and a flick, cleaning George's clothes and freshening him up. "Better?"
"Indeed." George came up behind her, wrapping his arms around her shoulder and kissing her head tenderly. His hands went to her mid-section, five month's swollen with their child; those hands stayed in a gentle caress over her. The baby she carried responded with a kick as if it felt George's efforts. "Feeling well, love?"
"Perfect." She leaned back against him, shutting the folder she was working on. "What time is Molly expecting us?"
"No later than 6. Plenty of time for our wild animals to scrape the dirt off." He came around and sat by her. "Are you sure you're up to a picnic tonight?"
"As long as we floo." Michelle had discovered quickly that apparating while pregnant had the same effect as sticking her face in a vat of curdled milk would. She gathered all her lose papers and packaged them neatly in an envelope. "There…that's settled."
Michelle had opted not to teach this year at Hogwarts. The baby was due in December, and she didn't feel right about leaving her class mid-year. Next year, she would go back on a part time bases, focusing only on the advanced healing classes and turning muggle studies over to a new professor. Hopefully the interim professor would work out…her eyes twinkled at George. "Are you sure your father can handle a class full of kids?"
"Hell, he handled us!" George chuckled. When Michelle had hit Minerva with the news about the baby, and her future plans, the Headmistress had worried about ever finding somebody with the sort of muggle/magical credentials that Michelle had. Arthur had gotten wind of it, and immediately decided that the retirement from the ministry he'd been thinking about really was overdue. "I don't know why none of us ever thought Dad could do this before."
"Well, I've set out the lesson plans for him, for all the years. He can always come to me or to Hermione with questions, I guess." She pouted a little. "I might be just a tad stir crazy this fall, George…I've never not worked."
"Just stay out of my kitchen, is all I ask." He teased as he turned around to where several pies were waiting to be transported.
"You are so not a normal man." She stuck her tongue out at him.
CJ came downstairs then, freshly showered and hair still damp. "Alf's in now." He sprawled in the chair opposite Michelle. "Is it true that Teddy will be back?"
George looked fondly over the young man who was now totally a part of the family. The passage of time had been kind to CJ…he was wiry still, and hadn't yet filled out, but he was over five six now, and he looked more like his brother every day. Now that he no longer lived with a maniac, the lines of worry had eased from his face, and his smile was genuine and took less impetus to appear. If occasionally George noticed a haunted look fill the boy's eyes, he chalked it up to still having to battle the demons of his past.
"Yeah, Teddy will be there." Harry's god-son had been gone for the entire summer with Andromeda, on a Mediterranean tour . "Bill says Victoire hasn't shut up about it for a week."
CJ snorted. "She starts Hogwarts this year, doesn't she? I don't know how Teddy will handle it if she sorts into Gryffindor…he'll have a permanent shadow!"
George and CJ laughed together, while Michelle looked back and forth. "Why, does Victoire have a crush on Teddy or something?" They both turned and stared at her with wide eyes and raised eyebrows. "Okay, I'll take that for a yes."
Alf came down the stairs, freshly cleaned. He was little changed from a year ago, now just a shade shorter than CJ, and was still thin as a reed. His hair had grown a tad longer, prompting him to have to perpetually dodge Molly and her trimming spells, but otherwise he was remarkably the same old Alf. Like George had done, he came up behind Michelle and hugged her. "You going to be okay in the floo?" He asked, looking very concerned.
"Heaven help me, pregnant and surrounded by men!" She groaned, but with a smile. "Alright, kiddo, help me up here and see if we can't waddle my fat body through the fireplace…"
"You're not FAT!" George, CJ and Alf said together, quite indignantly.
"Right." She looked town at her belly, which really did not appear so large yet. Well, it was only five months, still quite a ways to go on this journey. "However, if you let me carry those pies, I might well be fat by the time we get there."
"Alf, CJ…guard the pastry." George said at once, coming up to his wife and wrapping his arms around her, pinning her arms against her body. "I will do my best to control the wild pie thief."
"Gotcha, Dad." Alf answered, each boy taking a baked good, and together they headed towards the Burrow.
It was Percy's birthday.
Percy's hair was now decidedly thinning, and he was looking more and more like Arthur every day. It was perhaps fitting that he was stepping into Arthur's position within the ministry. A position that in Shacklebolt's continued successful run as Minister was growing in importance. Several trial liaisons were underway to unite muggle and wizard worlds, and Percy was now in charge of a small force of trusted wizards and witches trained to move smoothly between the two. One of them was Hermione.
His daughter Perri ran wildly over the yard, now four years old. His son was a smiling toddler who people naturally gravitated to. The poor child had remained unnamed for three weeks, because he and Penny simply couldn't agree on the right one for the boy. It was only while visiting Harry and Ginny, while George and Michelle were on their honeymoon, that a name had found him.
He and Penny were in the midst of another round of arguments on Arthur versus Albertus, which was her father's name. CJ had been cooing over the child, who was smiling despite the argument.
"He doesn't look like an Albertus" Percy had protested.
"What makes you think he looks like Arthur? He doesn't even have red hair!" Penny pointed out to the dark brown waves that graced the child's head.
CJ hadn't missed a beat. "He looks like a Cedric."
It had stuck.
"AF! SEEEJAY!" Little Ced called out.
Sure enough, George's boys, as Percy thought of them, ambled out to the back yard, having just flooed. "Hey, Uncle Perce…how's the youngest doing?" Alf asked at once. CJ went immediately to the toddler, kneeling before the swing.
"Hey buddy…catch any snitches lately?"
"NITCH!" Ced said at once, reaching up from his seat in the swing up to the mobile above him, and correctly grabbing the snitch from the selection of Quidditch paraphernalia to choose from.
"ATTABOY!" Cedric said. "High five!" He said, using the expression he'd learned from Alf and Michelle.
Percy laughed, and came over next to Alf. "Where's your Dad?"
"Helping Miss Shell." Alf replied, reaching over for a chip. "She did fine with the floo, but Aunt Fleur came up to her with some special drink concoction she said she relied on, and it set her stomach right over." Alf wrinkled his nose a bit, then scanned over the back yard. "Teddy here yet?"
"Haven't seen him…why don't boys do your Gran a favor and help set up those tables. Last time Bill and Charlie did it, took over half an hour to put the legs back on."
"Gotcha." Alf nodded at CJ, who wiggled his nose once at little Cedric, and then rose.
"Right-o." They darted together over to the fields, and Penny came up to Percy. "They've grown quite a bit, but they still are boys, aren't they?" She asked, watching as the two young men tackled each other playfully the entire way towards where the tables were waiting to be set up.
"You were expecting them to turn in to girls?" Percy teased. Penny went to swat at his head, and he straightened out his glasses. "Seriously, Penny, don't know how to break this to you, but boys never really grow up." He looked across the lawn, to where Charlie and Bill were making a pair of chairs battle each other in the air.
"Especially not Weasley men, apparently." She sighed in resignation, and looked down to her young son. "Remember, Cedric, you're half Clearwater!"
Alf and CJ got the tables set up without too much incident, and were setting silverware out, chatting with each other over the din of the younger kids running around.
"Think Teddy will go out for his team?" CJ asked, as their thoughts turned back to Qudditch.
"Not sure. He was never as in to it as everyone else. And Gryffindor has six players returning from last year. It would be tough." Alf said. He paused, counting place settings. "I bet he's got some great travel stories, though. What was it you asked him to bring you back again?"
"Oh, uh, just anything he could find about the history of magical contracts." CJ tried to be off-hand.
"You thinking about a career in law suddenly?" Alf raised an eyebrow.
"Nah, just interested. Thinking about the contracts with house elves, actually."
Alf shrugged. He was fairly sure that CJ was lying to him, and he was also entirely sure that CJ wasn't going to tell him anything that he didn't want to. This all went back to the promise the four friends had made to each other, from the time when CJ was recovering from the violent attack he suffered from his father. He always told them there were things in his life they were going to have to trust him on. Alf imagined this would be one of those times.
"TEDDY!" Alf heard Victoire call out. "Look, Teddy is here."
"About bloody time." Alf joked, looking up. And then he froze.
Beside him, Alf felt CJ cone still, giving a low, "Bloody hell…Teddy?"
Alf and CJ may not have changed much in the past months. But for Teddy, the summer had made a noticeable difference.
Teddy had grown…well, he'd done that during the year, shooting up at an alarming rate, Alf thought. Entering school second year at just about 5-4, he'd finished the year at about 5'-8. Now, he was a good six feet tall.
But that wasn't all. He'd been a gangly, uncomfortable 5-8. Now he had filled out…obviously his summer sailing and hiking must have done that. Because he was more muscular; still thin, but strong and agile.
And he'd apparently decided on a favorite appearance. He was going with his natural face, mainly the features that his father had been known for, only he was a Remus Lupin who never had to deal with monthly illness. He'd chosen a golden brown for his eyes, and his hair was a dark blonde, streaked with highlights. He'd come back tan, and fit, and somehow much, much older than when he'd left.
Alf saw CJ rather uncomfortably rubbing the back of his neck. Alf crossed his arms almost defensively over his own chest, which suddenly seemed deficiently thin. And then CJ squinted a bit, and grumbled. "Hell, I think he's shaving!"
"Hey, Guys!" Teddy saw them, and came ambling over. His smile at least was unchanged. But Alf couldn't help feeling rather insignificant suddenly. "You two been playing Quidditch all summer?" He teased, knowing them both well.
"Um…yeah. I take it not so much for you?" Alf asked.
Teddy gave a half laugh and a shrug. "Nah…spent a lot of time sailing on the Mediterranean…you should see some of the young witches there…Cannes… Barcelona…Italy! Man, were they hot!"
CJ and Alf looked back at each other, rather at a loss for words. Teddy sat down by the table, his long legs lounging in front of him. He glanced back over at the other kids playing ball. "Silly lot, aren't they?" He managed to sound amused and condescending at the same time. "Vicki's not out there with them, eh? Trying to act all grown up now that she's going to Hogwarts, I guess." He gave a slight smirk.
CJ muttered under his breath. "She's not the only one putting on an act."
Teddy ignored him. "I guess you're going out for Quidditch, eh, CJ? I don't think I will, actually; I think I want to focus properly on curse breaking. Lot's of lovely information I found this summer."
Alf looked over from Teddy and then back to CJ. "Find anything CJ had asked for?"
Teddy looked perplexed "Huh? Oh, yeah, I forgot. Still, not that big a deal, right? I mean, who uses those crazy contracts anymore?"
CJ's eyes became dark, deeply hooded, but he didn't say anything. Alf bristled at how cavalier Teddy was being. This whole evening was not turning out at all the way they had planned. Alf only hoped it didn't get any worse.
FROM THE DIARY OF CJ DIGGORY:
Well, tonight was interesting. Teddy came back from his summer travels, and is apparently now the second coming of Christian Bale. I see a long school year ahead of us.
Literally, Alf and I are goofing off in the back yard of the Burrow when he struts in...and I do mean strut. Somehow the git has managed to grow another four inches and he looks like he could be modeling for Abercrombie and Fitch. And instead of a plethora of goofy, mood indicating colors that he used to change his hair into as a joke, he has apparently decided to go mostly natural, only the natural that he chooses. I hate him.
Not really of course. But still...Alf and I were like inferior satellites in the company of a super-nova; the diamond chips next to the three-karat center stone. Everyone came up to him talking to him about how great he looked, asking about how he spent his summer. Nobody could take their eyes off of him, and it was like Alf and I weren't even there. It's funny, but it became clear: we're still boys; Teddy is now a man.
I think Alf may be a little ticked at him. Not because of anything he did to us, but he made Victoire cry. Alf found her later on in the picnic hiding in a little cove of trees, sniffling pretty hard. Turns out Teddy hadn't even said one word to her, not even "hi." Alright, I know it's just a crush on her part, and she is only eleven years old, but still not right of Teddy to dismiss her.
When Alf brought it up to Teddy, Teddy shrugged and told Alf that it made him uncomfortable how she made herself silly about him. And then he said, loud enough for her to hear, that she was just a little girl anyway. I think Alf nearly popped him one, but Alf is Ravenclaw enough to know that Teddy has him outmatched at this point.
Teddy also made a comment to Alf about Miss Shell being pregnant (she hadn't yet announced it to the family before he went away). And he asked Alf, out right and in front of everyone, if Alf was still freaking out about that. Alf turned a thousand shades of red, but merely turned away.
Not right. A few folks do know that Alf has always been worried about being replaced in George's life when George had, as one might say, kids of his own. Stupid, actually; I don't think it would be possible for George to love anybody more than he loves Alf. As much as, maybe; the man actually has got quite a lot of love to give. And on one level I think Alf knows that. But Alf is still a bit uneasy. I suppose I understand because of where I come from...as much and as often as Uncle George tells me that this is my home and I am a part of the family, I still feel a bit separate, and wonder if my old man showed up in the country again if the Weasleys would just let me go. Teddy's never had worries like that, despite him having some similar circumstances. He's lived with Harry and Andromeda his whole life, and he was raised with love from day one. Neither Alf or I really had that...Alf only half, and me not at all.
But Teddy has known pain; he has known prejudice. Alf never once, from what I understand, ever looked down on him for being the son of a werewolf. Alf always stuck up for him. Alf is nothing if not loyal in that regard. So it really is inexcusable for him to mock Alf. Just because Teddy seems to have suddenly turned in to some sort of movie star doesn't mean he should forget the people who didn't mind hanging out with him when he was just a silly bloke with turquoise hair. Namely, us.
Alf's still pretty smoldering about it. Looking over what I wrote, I guess I am too. Not exactly how we expected to head to our new year.
George knocked on Alf's door, entering once Alf called out for him to come in. The boy was sitting at his desk, working on a summer essay requested by Professor Flitwick. He had before him several fanged frisbees that he was using as reference material.
"You have an unfair advantage there, kiddo." George teased, sitting on the bed by the desk.
Alf managed to give him a smile. "And I'd be a fool not to use it. Although I don't suppose you'd care to explain to me the exact properties that ensure that the toy in question merely snarls without biting or causing serious injury?"
"And do your homework for you? I don't think so." George laughed, but reached over to give Alf's shoulder a squeeze. "But I would be happy to look the paper over for you once you're done, and give you any pointers I can."
"Thanks." Alf paused to sharpen his quill. In the ensuing silence, he gave George a curious look. "Did you need something else?"
"I thought you might." George admitted, watching Alf carefully. "Teddy was a bit of an ass tonight." He started.
"Oh, so I wasn't the only one who noticed." Alf made a great show of shrugging theatrically. "I rather thought everyone else might have been blinded by his tan."
George gave a little snort, but forced himself to stay on point. "I thought he might have upset you."
"He did. How he treated Victoire was inexcusable." Alf said, very deliberately. "I know she's only eleven, and it's not like I'm saying he should be marrying her or anything, but he didn't have to hurt her feelings." Alf paused once, and then continued. "When I first came here she went out of her way to make me feel welcome, and I will not have her hurt. By anybody."
George narrowed his eyes just slightly. "So, you're upset about Victoire. And not about anything else Teddy might have said?"
Alf seemed to bristle. "I don't understand, Dad. What else am I supposed to be upset about?" George was about to start, but Alf cut him off. "I know you don't think that I'm upset about his snarky comments about Miss Shell's having a baby, right? I mean, why would I be upset about that? I don't think I've been running around here acting all stupid, have I?"
"...I haven't been moping or grumbling or anything like that. In fact, I think I've been pretty darned good about the whole thing. I am happy about it. I think it will be great to have a little brother or sister. So why would you think I would be upset about Teddy's stupid, idiotic comments?" Alf snapped.
"I think that you are pretty worked up for somebody who's not upset." George finally got in, reaching over to rub Alf's shoulders. "And yes, you have been really wonderful all summer. But clearly you are upset."
Alf closed his eyes, resting his head in his hands. "I'm not upset about what he said. I'm NOT." He insisted, and then looked over to George, more calmly. "I'm upset that HE said it. Does that make any sense?"
"It does, actually." George reached over to stroke Alf's head. "He's one of your best friends, and he kind of threw out one of your biggest fears for public consumption. Not cool. I just want to make sure that there isn't anything else behind that little comment."
Alf sighed, and sat back, huffing lightly. "There isn't, Dad. Really. Yeah, I know a couple of years ago I was all wound up about this possibility, but a lot has changed since then. I've changed. I know it's not all obvious like it is with Teddy, but I'm growing up too!"
George looked at his son, arms crossed defensively before him and lower lip trembling slightly, and determinedly did not give in to any sort of amusement at that statement. So he made a point of grasping Alf's hands tightly, and looking him in the eye without any sort of condescension. "You are, in many ways, more grown up than Teddy is. He's taller, and he looks older, but a mature person wouldn't have made that comment about Michelle. Nor would he have treated Victoire the way he did. Now, I believe Teddy will come to his senses...he is a good person. But he's found himself changing rapidly in body, and he's trying to force himself to keep up in mind. Only he can't, yet. You can't force your mind to mature. YOU, on the other hand, have had to grow up a lot more quickly than he ever did. So it doesn't matter if you're still shorter and skinnier than he is...you have a maturity that he hasn't reached." George bit back a smile. "And when he gets there you have my permission to take the low road and rub his stupidity in to him."
Alf huffed a little, and looked like he wanted to argue something, or fight something, but couldn't figure out what. Then, to George's surprise, Alf leaned in against him, and accepted George's hug, with a deep hitching breath. "I shouldn't let you do this. I'm too old."
"Ha." George managed, squeezing him as tight as he could. "You could be fifty, Alf, and if I feel like hugging you I will, and you just try to stop me."
"Yeah...if you can get out of the wheelchair." Alf joked. He gave a big sigh. "Thanks Dad. I know you and Miss Shell understand that I get muddled up about the baby, but there's a difference between you knowing and having it announced in front of a whole lot of people."
"And may I say, again, that you showed quite a lot of maturity in how you handled the situation." George took advantage of Alf's complacency to kiss him on the head. "At your age I would have hexed him silly."
"Not in front of witnesses." Alf pointed out, with a faintly sly look on his face.
George got up with a grin. "I don't want to know. Boy, do I not want to know!" He gave Alf quick head rub and turned around to go, confident that Alf was really going to be just fine.
Bill Weasley was sitting outside by himself, on a bench overlooking the ocean at Shell Cottage. He had spent the better part of the last half hour calming his very upset young daughter down. He knew, of course, that her infatuation with Teddy Lupin would come crashing up against reality someday, but he hadn't expected it to be quite so soon. And to be honest, he hadn't quite realized just how much of a crush little Victoire really had.
But tonight had been tough. It had been startling to see how grown up Teddy had looked, and a little surprising to see how good looking a young man he had become. He had all of the graceful features Remus Lupin had been gifted with, without the illness; Teddy also had the ability to subtly enhance his gifts and to make the little improvements that moved him from fairly good looking to future lady killer. The air of confidence that he suddenly exuded had taken them all by surprise.
However, Bill much preferred the old Teddy Lupin. The one who had always been patient with his daughter and kind. The one who thought being a metamorphagus was a kick and who thought purple hair was fun, or who allowed his moods to be displayed by the face he showed to the world. That Teddy Lupin had been a good kid without a cruel bone in his body.
This Teddy Lupin reminded Bill Weasley too much of...Bill Weasley.
He hadn't meant to be an arrogant snot when he was growing up. It had, Charlie had told him, just come naturally. And everyone knew it, except perhaps for Molly, who had one blind spot in her life, and he was it.
Bill had been fifteen. And coming out of Madam Malkin's, he'd turned to find a group of girls a year ahead of him at school watching him with approval. With a studied air he let his robes swing slightly as he came forward, and pretended he didn't see them when he went to look in to the window of Eeylop's. He leaned in a studied pose, giving a little smile to himself. He observed the owl in the window, and made a show of talking to it, while all the while being acutely aware that HE was the one being watched.
"Oy, Bill! Mabelle Woods has got a new broom...a nimbus stormcloud...you've got to come check this out!" Charlie had appeared out of nowhere.
"Sod off, Charlie." Bill had given his younger brother a scathing glare.
"But you said you wanted to see the new Nimbus...and Mabelle said she'd let you try it out..." Charlie came up short.
"I have no interest in that stuff. You are a silly little child, Charlie." Bill drew himself up, trying to look important. "And besides, Mabelle is as ugly as an old dish rag. Why would I care about her?" He looked down his nose.
Charlie had gotten very pale, his freckles standing out, and his eyes narrowing. Bill soon saw why...Mabelle had been right behind his little brother.
Bill could still see the pain on her face at his words, as she ran off. And he remembered what Charlie had said back to him: What's the point of being good looking if you're ugly inside?
Bill had discounted Charlie, of course, and at the time he'd stuffed away the twinge of guilt he had about Mabelle. He had dated one of those older girls for a bit...he couldn't even remember her name now...but it hadn't lasted. Then another one...which also ended soon. And thus the pattern began. Until a year after graduation, when visiting in Hogsmeade, he'd overheard a rather attractive girl he didn't recognize, say disdainfully to her friends, "Oh, Bill Weasley's good looking enough...but he's as shallow as a puddle. That's why all none of those girls stay for long. Charlie's worth ten of him."
He'd realized with a shock that the girl who'd spoken was in fact Mabelle Wood.
Maybe it had been too easy for him, always, how girls just noticed him. It had taken him too long to realize the difference between being noticed and being able to keep one's interest. So when Fleur fell for him he was determined not to screw this one up. All the more important when he'd been mauled, and those good looks he might have counted on were now gone.
But it struck him as incredibly painful that his daughter should be suffering for the sins of her father, nevertheless.