Disclaimer: I don't own HP.
Thank you, my dear readers and reviewers, for your positive feedback for my first chapter. I hope the second one won't leave you disappointed.
Fourteen hours later…
It was raining and the clouded sky looked gray, just like Ron and Ginny's mood, when they softly closed the door behind them. Since there was no change in George's state, they were allowed to enter his room by one or two, if they didn't do anything to disturb him, and now it was Ron and Ginny's turn. They approached the bed, slowly, as if afraid of what they might see, but there was nothing scary in it: George was lying in the hospital bed, as if asleep. But he was so pale, so very pale…
"I don't think I've ever seen something as awful as this," Ron said, shuddering. "Not even when Bill was wounded by Greyback."
Ginny looked at him, surprised. He wasn't joking. "I mean it," her brother said, defensively and then continued in softer tone, "With Bill, there was blood and scars and everything. It was awful, but it was obvious what the problem was. But George here – it's just sinister, Gin. I've never seen something so dreadful."
"I have." Ginny's voice was barely audible and when he looked at her with confusion, she shrugged. "It was in my fifth year – your sixth. When you were lying in the infirmary and – " She did not finish.
Ron squeezed her hand and they both looked at George. "Are you doing it on purpose?" Ron asked him. "Is that one of your tricks? The Healers say that since you haven't gone worse, you'd probably get better, but you haven't yet. Do you think it's a great joke?"
Ginny laughed, with a slight note of hysteria in her voice. Ron stared at her in puzzlement. "What has gotten into you?" he asked.
"Sorry," she said. "It's just – what you said suddenly sounded so funny, because it would be typical for George. Oh, so typical."
They both stood there and looked at him for a while. "You know what, George?" Ginny asked. "That's rich, even for you. It isn't funny. Not in the slightest. So open your eyes, tell me that it was all a big and awful joke and be done with it."
But he remained completely stationary, as she knew he would be.
A few minutes later, there was a slight knock at the door and Lee entered the room. His face fell, when Ron shook his head, showing that there was no change yet. "He hadn't moved at all," Ginny said.
She and Ron were on their way for the door and Lee – to take their place at George's side, when the sheets rustled and sent them all running for the bed.
"Merlin on a bike!" George gasped, when, after a few failed attempts, he finally opened his eyes. "What happened?"
"You are an idiot, that's what happened," Ginny said, unable to hide the relief in her voice. Anyway, she still managed to glare at him. "If you do it again, I'll kill you myself."
George winced. "Not so loud!" he hissed. "I've got only one ear left and you're going to deafen me."
She glared at him again, but thankfully, she kept her mouth shut. He looked at Ron and Lee. "What happened?" he asked again and grimaced. "My head is killing me."
"You got drunk," Ron said accusingly. "You drank so much that you got yourself poisoned."
George stared at him. "Really?" he asked and then looked at Lee. "He is serious, right?"
"Yes," Lee said. "I found you unconscious in your flat and I had you rushed here and ever since we've all been standing here, worrying about you."
"All of you?" Suddenly, George looked more cheerful. "Angelina, too? Was she worried?"
No one answered. He frowned. "Lee? She's here, right?"
"No?" George made an attempt to rise, but the world started whirling around him, so slumped back against the pillow. "Why?"
"Her grandmother is ill. She left for the States a few days ago."
George slowly shook his head. "That's rich," he said. "It's simply rich. Why did I drink myself into stupor?"
Again, there was no answer, but soon enough, he worked it out by himself and his face fell. "What's the date today?" he asked.
"3rd May," Ron said hurriedly. "You missed the memorial service, as you obviously planned to. We missed it because of you, too. We've been waiting here to know whether you'd live or die, only it hasn't stopped raining for ten hours straight and the ground is all mud, so we wouldn't have even known where to dig your grave."
George laughed. The relief in Ron's brisk voice had been blatantly obvious. "It's nice to hear such concern. Did you choose an outfit to dress me in for the funeral?"
Ginny felt his forehead. "You don't have a fever," she announced.
"I've got a rotten taste in my mouth," he complained.
"Good," she answered without any sympathy.
He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. I suppose I deserve it.
She headed for the door. "I'll call Mum and the others," she said, without looking back. Ron went after her, but when Lee made a movement to follow them, George grabbed his hand. "Stay," he whispered hoarsely, and Lee obeyed.
When they were alone, George had his first look at his best friend and felt a sting of remorse. Lee looked awful – tired, pale, his eyes sunken with the lack of sleep and surrounded by deep lines of exhaustion. He wanted to tell him that he was sorry, but offer his apology was not something that George Weasley did. He just squeezed Lee's hand tighter and was surprised to feel how strong the responding squeeze was. I must have scared them worse than I thought.
Before he could say anything, Lee spoke quickly, "We don't have much time before the others arrive. Tell me one thing, George: you didn't try to – you didn't?"
George blinked, confused. "What?"
"You didn't – "
Still, Lee seemed averse to voice it – whatever it was. It was like he was afraid of something – afraid to ask and even more – to hear the answer. And then, at once, George knew. "Oh! No! Not at all!"
He was shaken by the thought that Lee had assumed he would want to take his own life away. But it can't be Lee alone – they all must think that I tried to commit a suicide. "I didn't try anything like that," he said softly. "I just wanted to drink it off, so I would spend the memorial service and preferably the whole day unconscious. I must have overlapped myself. It's just – I couldn't go there and go through all this again. Last year was bad enough. That was all."
It was impossible to doubt his sincerity. Lee blew out a breath gustily and laughed deeply. "Merlin, how good is to hear that! I told your sister that it was an accident, of course, but deep down I couldn't help but wonder – " He laughed again with relief.
The door opened and all the Weasleys plus Alicia, Katie, Harry, and Hermione poured inside. George found himself being hugged, questioned and reprimanded all at the same time and his weak objections that he was still too weak and they would have time for it later were simply ignored. He let his mother cry with relief and grinned at the sight of Teddy, who immediately started clambering up to his bed. "Hi, Teddy Bear," he told him, and the small face contorted in anger.
"She scold me!" Teddy cried. "She say I am bad!"
Teddy had started talking later than most children, but when he had started, it was with whole sentences. No baby words for Teddy Lupin.
George looked at the others for a cue to what Teddy was up to. It didn't take him long before he realized who the toddler was staring with such indignation at – Ginny. "And why does Ginny say you are bad?" he asked.
Teddy's hair turned to determined blue. "Don't know. She is bad. Can I come to live with you?"
George didn't laugh, but it was a close call. At a second glance, however, he realized that the kid was genuinely miserable – his lips were trembling and his eyes were red and puffy. "What happened?" he asked the others.
"She say I am bad, because I poked the toy and it started cry!" Teddy's lips trembled harder. "But it wasn't on purpose!"
Helplessly, George looked at the others for explanation. "What is he talking about?"
Ron grinned. "He and Victoire didn't exactly hit it off."
This story was becoming more and more confusing. "Krum is here?"
Ron's face darkened. "He isn't! It isn't Viktor – it's Victoire."
"And who is Victoire?"
Molly looked at the door and smiled. "It's her."
George looked at the door and his eyes narrowed in surprise, while Bill was helping Fleur into the room. She was carrying a little bundle. George held his breath. It could not possibly be – "What is this?" he asked suspiciously.
"This," Fleur said, while she was slowly making her progress into the room, "is Victoire Weasley. She is exactly eleven hours and twenty minutes old and she is eager to meet her uncle."
George's face fell. Eleven hours. Was she - ?
"Yes," Bill said, as if he had read his brother's thoughts, "that's right. She was born on 2nd May."
For a moment, George held his eyes tightly squeezed and then opened them and looked at Fleur. "Well," he said, "her uncle is eager to meet her too. Give her here."
They came nearer and George held his breath at the sight of the newborn that was now placed in his arms, under Molly's careful watch, at the perfection of the baby's translucent skin, at the blue light in her impossibly big eyes that – he could swear it – were examining him with the same interest like the one that he was looking at her with. Her rosy mouth opened and George winced, steadying himself for the high-pitched wail that he remembered from Ginny's baby days, but Victoire only smacked her lips and kept staring at him, as if she waited for him to reveal her all secrets of the universe.
"Stupid," Teddy said. "It stupid. Send it back."
"She isn't stupid," George told him. "She is beautiful. Don't you think she's beautiful?
Teddy looked again, but the thing was no more beautiful than the first time Aunt Ginny had lifted him up to look at it. It still had ugly pink face and almost no hair. "Ugly. It's ugly," he declared, much to amusement of the adults crammed into the room.
George laughed, looking at the indignant toddler. "She's gorgeous," he told the new parents. "And now I want you to go back to bed," he added, looking at Fleur. "Otherwise, I'll be worried about you. You gave me the greatest present ever."
Fleur smiled at his concern and came closer to take Victoire from him, but he looked at her with a silent plea. "Can I keep her for a while?" he asked. "Mum will bring her back to you in a few minutes."
Fleur looked at Bill, uncertainly, and he nodded without hesitation. "But if she starts to cry – " he started.
"I'll immediately send her to her mother," George interrupted. "You don't think I can give her what she needs, do you?" And he looked pointedly at his flat chest.
Everyone laughed. That sounded like George from the period when there had been Fred and George.
Five days later…
Angelina stopped dead at the door of the hospital room, looking at the man and the baby in front of her. She had never thought that George would ever look so naturally with a newborn sleeping upon him and yet he was, lying immobile, as if not to disturb Victoire's slumber. But when Angelina came closer, she saw that he was staring at the small head nestled against his chest so intently that he was not even blinking. Yet, he heard her steps and looked at her. His eyes were red and his cheeks wet. He did not even try to hide it.
Angelina sat beside him on the bed. "She's so pretty," she whispered. Her hand reached for the baby's cheek, but hesitated. George took it in his own and placed it upon Victoire's head.
"She is, isn't she?" he whispered back. "Merlin, if she had been born a few years earlier – " His voice cracked. "It's her, you know. It's always been her."
Angelina drew her hand back from the newborn's head and squeezed his fingers. Her other hand touched the side of his face and he reached and held it there, against the new drops falling from his eyes. They both knew what he thought: had Voldemort been alive, had he managed to maintain his control over Britain, this lovely little girl would have been considered lower than even the most untalented witch. Her beauty, her brains, her wizarding skills wouldn't have mattered. All people would have seen would be her mixed blood. She would have been rejected as a half-breed.
It was a strange coincidence that she had been born on the anniversary of the great battle, but at the same time, it was fitting in more than one way. The people who had died that day had died to make the world a better place for all children who would grow up without the dark shadow of the war. Fred had died for that. For you, Victoire. For you. George and Angelina had known Fred good enough to know that he would have gladly died again for his little niece, had he ever met her. And wherever he was, he was glad that she was born on that day, they were sure of it. Fred the optimist, Fred the fighter was glad to know that there was something wonderful that had happened on this day, George was sure of that. Fred wanted them to take it as a symbol, as a reminder that it had been worth it.
But Fred was still gone. And the pain was still the same, sharp, tearing George apart.
Angelina's fingers were almost crushed in his strong, desperate grasp, but she did not pull her hand away. Victoire was still sunken in her blissful sleep, completely unaware of the grief that was pouring around her.
Finally, George looked at Angelina and smiled. She smiled back. "You know, I've been waiting for you ever since I woke up," he whispered.
"Oh? Didn't you think, just for a moment, that I might not come?"
She grinned with relief and did her best to glare at him. The effect, however, was ruined by the fact that she still kept her voice low, fearing of waking Victoire up. "That's it! Sometimes, I wonder why do I keep bothering myself with the likes of you. Have you forgotten what the point in breaking up is?"
"Yes," George whispered back, cheerful and unrepentant. "Going back together. After our fourth separation I kind of got it."
Angelina shook her head in mock desperation. "You'll never change."
Victoire stirred and opened her eyes. "And now, George, what happens next?" Angelina asked.
George looked at his niece. "What happens next? Well, you'll have to take her to her mother, because she is due to be – "
A deafening wail made Angelina freeze.
" – hungry," George finished the line.
Angelina reached for the baby, wondering how on earth such a small thing could produce such a loud sound. And Victoire gave no indication of letting go. In less than a minute, her little face turned red with the effort and Angelina hurriedly carried her outside. Before closing the door, she turned to look at George. "George, you didn't do it on purpose, did you?"
"No," George said. Honestly, he was getting tired of explaining to everybody that no, he had not tried to kill himself.
"Good," she cried, to be heard over Victoire's yelling. "I was afraid that – "
George shook his head. "You know, you really shouldn't think that everybody will try to end his life because of you," he said. "You are a pretty girl, but not this much."
Angelina sent him a deadly glare and slammed the door shut. George stared after her. "What did I say?" he wondered aloud.
And he imagined hearing a voice that sounded exactly like his own, "You were you, Gred. You were you."
I hope the people who liked the first chapter are not disappointed with this one.