A/N: Thanks to ihearthp96 (x2, since you reviewed ch. 4 and 5 this week), Lela-of-Bast (hope you like this last chapter too!), and junebugbug96 (what is with the number 96? Just realized there are two of those in my regular reviewers for this story . . . anyway, your review made me laugh)
Chapter 6: Healing
I forgot I have to close the restaurant tonight, so I won't be done until 10. Sorry! I'll stop by afterwards—that's not too late, right?
I knew that thinking of this note as a death sentence was a little overdramatic, but still. I was now facing dinner at my parents' house with no buffer against any awkwardness or tension—and I was counting on both—between me and my parents. I wrote her back saying it'd be fine for her to come over later tonight and sent it back with her owl.
I showed up as late as I safely could without it seeming too obvious that I was trying to assure as little time at the Burrow as possible. When Dad opened the door, I greeted him apprehensively, but he just smiled and asked how I was. I got a similar reaction from Mum—Okay, so I guess we're just going to pretend last time never happened. Fine by me.
As before, I quickly escaped into the living room while Mum and Dad finished preparing dinner. The others acted normally towards me as well. It occurred to me briefly that perhaps Ron had asked for this on my behalf since he knew how little I'd wanted to come in the first place. Then again, I wouldn't necessarily expect that much thoughtfulness from him.
Dinner started off tolerably enough as well, but as always, it was too much to hope for that it'd last.
"So, how's Auror training going, Harry?" Dad asked as we all tucked into roast beef and mashed potatoes.
"Pretty easy, compared to everything you've done?" I added teasingly.
Harry grinned. "Yeah, I wish. No, now I have to learn all the tactical stuff—doesn't really fit with my previous method of doing whatever came to my mind and praying it worked."
Ron and I laughed, my mother and father smiled slightly, and Ginny and Hermione just rolled their eyes. I suppose it was a bit weird to be joking about all of it already, but honestly, what else could you do?
"And how is all the general . . . er . . . clean up, I guess you'd call it, going?" I asked, shoveling a forkful of potatoes into my mouth.
Harry shrugged. "It's fine—honestly, much less terrifying than . . . before."
"Hermione, dear, you just started at the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, right?" Mum asked, clearly wanting to direct the conversation away from the recent war and the arduous task of picking up the pieces.
Hermione nodded. "Yes, I'm really liking it," she said enthusiastically. "A lot to learn, though."
"Which is quite a change, for you," Ron said seriously.
Hermione elbowed him in the ribs.
"What? It is!" he protested. When she just gave him a look, he continued, "I'm serious! You always knew everything at school, so now you're finally seeing what it's like for the rest of us."
"Was that supposed to be a compliment?" Ginny asked skeptically.
"That never was his strong suit," I added.
"Oh shut it, all of you," Ron grumbled.
After everyone had finished eating, Mum got up and began clearing plates and dishes. "Hermione, Ginny, could you grab the dessert?"
The girls nodded and headed into the kitchen.
"Oh, and some more plates!" Mum called after them. Turning to me, she said, "Can you hand me that bowl, Fred?"
My hand, which had started towards the dish she'd indicated, froze in midair. That same compressed, surreal feeling I'd had when the woman had asked about Fred my first day back at the store overcame me again. I couldn't breathe; it was like an iron fist was squeezing my lungs, forcing the air out while allowing no new air to enter. Time literally seemed to halt as everyone stared at Mum, and she stared at me, a look of horror creeping into her eyes.
Before it had quite manifested itself, I had shot up from my chair and bolted into the hallway. This time no one called after me or tried to stop me. I Apparated back to Diagon Alley and blindly climbed the stairs to my flat, stopping just inside the door. I was shaking uncontrollably, and each breath still took effort to draw into my lungs. I felt rooted to the spot while at the same time experiencing a desperate urge to run, and keep running until I couldn't go any further.
Suddenly, an inexplicable rage filled me. Before I quite realized what I was doing, I'd grabbed a plate from the sink and slammed it against the floor, where it shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. I felt a strange sense of satisfaction watching the glass skitter across the floor, so I took another plate and repeated the motion. As I pulled a third from the sink and raised it above my head, the weird force that had been controlling me abruptly melted away. What the fuck am I doing?
I put the plate back and sank into a chair, burying my face in my hands. I took a couple of deep breaths—relieved to find that I could finally do so—got up, and opened the fridge, not really sure what I was looking for, but just to have something to do. I need a distraction, I thought, and was on the point of closing the refrigerator door when I spotted a bottle of firewhiskey at the back, behind a carton of milk. I frowned. When did I get that? Wracking my brains, I suddenly recalled the day Fred and I had bought it, intending to use it to celebrate the first week of the store being open. Apparently we'd never gotten around to that. Well, no time like the present, I decided, reaching for the bottle. I paused halfway, my hand outstretched in the cold interior of the fridge. I was fully aware that this could lead to dangerous territory. Almost as though it had a mind of its own, my fingers moved the remaining distance to close over the neck of the bottle. Ah, what the hell, I thought, pulling it out and shutting the door.
The knock on the door sounded oddly muffled. I lurched to my feet, almost tripped over the table leg, and fumbled with the doorknob before finally opening it on Angelina. "Hey!" I said, my voice too loud. "Sorry," I whispered. "That was reeeally loud."
Angelina stared at me for a couple seconds, her expression going from surprised to confused to angry almost too fast for me to follow. "Are you drunk?" she demanded.
"What? No'm not," I said, grinning at her.
"Oh, my God, George," she said angrily, shaking her head and pushing past me into the kitchen. I stumbled back against the wall as I moved to let her by. Her eyes alighted immediately on the half-empty bottle on the table, and she strode over, grabbed the bottle, and upturned it over the sink.
"Hey, I'm not done with that!" I protested.
"Yes, you are," Angie said shortly. She finished dumping the contents of the bottle down the drain, set it on the counter, and turned to face me, arms crossed.
"Are you mad?" I asked.
Angie snorted. "What was your first clue?"
"Well, first you—" I started, but stopped when Angelina's eyebrows climbed dangerously high on her forehead. "Oh, that was a rhetorical question," I mumbled. I was sobering up quickly, at least emotionally, and was starting to feel a little ashamed.
Angelina looked away from me with a frustrated sigh, and her eyes found the shattered pieces of glass on the floor. "What's all that?" she asked, thrusting a finger at the glass.
"Broke a plate," I said quietly.
I met her eyes briefly, then dropped my gaze, scuffing my shoe on the floor. "Yes," I mumbled. "And it was two plates, actually."
Angelina sighed again, pulling the waste bin from under the sink and directing the pieces of glass into it with her wand. Replacing the bin, she grabbed a glass from the cupboard to the left of the stove and filled it at the sink. She shoved it into my hand. "Drink this," she commanded.
I obeyed, and when I'd finished, she refilled it and brought it back to me. Then, without saying anything, she turned and started towards the couch in the living room. I followed her, knocking against the table on my way. Wincing and rubbing my hip, I fell more than sat down next to her.
"I broke the plates before I started drinking," I said, feeling that it was important she know this fact.
Angelina glanced at me briefly but didn't say anything. She drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, staring at the opposite wall. Looking at her profile, I could see that her jaw was still tight with anger.
"I'm sorry," I whispered.
Angie turned to face me, tucking her legs under her. "No, don't apologize—I didn't mean to get so angry, I was just . . . scared, more than anything. I mean, I don't want you to . . ."
"Turn into a raging alcoholic?" I said, half smiling.
Angelina looked away again.
I gently turned her face towards me. "I promise you it won't happen again," I said. "I—I wasn't thinking clearly when I did it. But I'm not expecting to encounter similar circumstances anytime soon."
"And what exactly were those circumstances?" Angie asked warily.
I paused for a minute, deciding how best to say it. Well, no point beating around the bush. "My mum called me Fred."
Angie just stared at me for a moment. "Merlin, that's—I don't even—'I'm sorry' doesn't really sound right, but . . ."
"I mean, normally it wouldn't be strange—she mixed us up all the time when he was alive. But now—God, I wouldn't have expected it to hurt so much, but it did."
Angelina reached over and squeezed my hand. We sat like that, just holding hands, for several minutes. I debated whether I should ask her something that had been on my mind ever since dinner that night. I didn't really know how to put it—basically any way I did, it would come out sounding . . . bad. But I had to know. "Can I ask you something?" I said aloud.
"Anything," Angie replied.
I half-smiled. She might regret that once she hears what I have to say. "This is going to sound . . . strange, and I don't mean to offend you or anything, but—" and here I could no longer force myself to look her in the eye, so I dropped my gaze to our still-clasped hands. "Do you think—you're not just dating me as some sort of replacement for Fred, are you?" I winced as I finished; it sounded even more horrible said aloud than it had in my head.
Angie's hand tightened over mine almost compulsively, and I finally looked up at her again. There was pity in her eyes that was worse than the anger or insult I'd expected. "I can't believe you would even think something like that," she said, and her tone at least was a little irritated. "You aren't like Fred at all." When I raised an eyebrow at her, she smiled slightly and said, "Okay, so you're a lot like him because you're twins, but . . . here, do you want a list?"
"You've made a list of our differences?" I asked, amused and a little creeped out, if I was being perfectly honest.
Angie shoved me, almost dislodging me from the couch—I still hadn't quite regained my full sense of balance. "Sorry," she said, pulling me back up. "And no, I didn't mean a written list, but I can give you a spontaneously generated one."
"Go for it," I said.
"Okay. Well, for starters, you have a freckle above your lip that Fred didn't." She brushed her thumb over the spot, and my upper lip tingled pleasantly. "And yes, that was how I told you two apart for most of first year. Not very effective from a distance, so that's probably why I never called either of you by your name if I could help it."
I grinned. "I don't remember that, but that's hilarious."
Angie grimaced slightly. "Anyway, you also have a scar on your right elbow from falling off Charlie's broom the first time you and Fred sneaked out to fly it. You hate peas, and you insist on finishing each type of food on your plate completely before moving on to the next. Fred held his beater's bat in his right hand; you hold yours in your left—I always thought that was really interesting, with you being identical and all—"
"These are hardly profound differences," I interrupted, though I was impressed and a little touched that she'd noticed all these things over the years.
"I'm getting there," she said sternly. "You're more sensitive than Fred was—"
I wrinkled my nose. "Sorry I asked."
Angie glared at me. "Not in a 'girly' way," she said, putting air quotes around the word, rolling her eyes, "but in a you-actually-have-some-regard-for-the-feelings-of-others way. Not that Fred didn't. Just—sometimes, he could be . . . well, a bit of an asshole, to be perfectly honest."
I laughed. "I really hope he can somehow be listening in on this conversation right now."
Angelina smiled. "Right, well, moving on—from what I could tell, whenever you two pulled pranks, Fred was always the initiator, but you were always the planner, making sure everything went smoothly. Or not smoothly, as I guess is the point when pranking." She fell silent.
"That's it?" I asked, but more to clarify that she was finished, not as though I was offended with the number of things she'd come up with.
"Yeah, for now." She looked down and started tracing random patterns on the back of my hand with her finger. "Well, okay, not really."
"Yes?" I prompted when she didn't expand on that statement.
"I always kind of had a thing for you," she said, the words spilling out in a rush.
I sat silent for a moment, absorbing this. "Oh," I said finally.
Angie chanced a look at me. "That's all you have to say?"
"No, I'm just . . . kind of rethinking my whole outlook on life."
She snorted and hit me on the arm. "No you are not."
"I'm serious!" I said, but I was grinning. "Wait, so why did you date Fred, then?"
Angelina shrugged, dropping my hand and turning away again. "I don't know—I knew you weren't interested, and I just thought that maybe . . . it'd make you jealous." She mumbled this last bit quietly before hugging her knees to her chest again and burying her face on top of them. "Merlin, that's embarrassing to admit," she said, her voice muffled slightly.
I pulled her arms from around her legs and waited until she looked at me. "I think it's funny," I said.
Angie frowned at me before pulling her arms from my grasp and hiding her face again. "Of course you do," she grumbled.
Laughing, I wrapped an arm around her shoulders. Eventually, she unfolded herself and leaned back against my chest with a sigh. "So, things were never really serious between you two, then?" I asked, still surprised by her recent confession.
"No. I mean, I never loved him, not like that anyway."
Perhaps I'd imagined it, but I thought she'd put a slight emphasis on the word 'him,' and the thought made my stomach leap slightly. "Did you . . ."
"Did I what?"
"Never mind," I said. That conversation can wait for another time. "Listen, thanks for, you know, being here."
"I promised, didn't I?" she said, as though this should have been obvious.
"That I'd never let you get that drunk again."
Someone was whispering my name. "Wha?" I said groggily, opening my eyes. I was lying on the couch in my living room, and Angie was sitting up near me.
"We fell asleep," she informed me. "And it's pretty late, so I should probably go."
I sat up, rubbing my eyes and stretching. Looking at her, I said, "You can stay, if you want. I mean, it'd be easier, wouldn't it?"
Angie considered this for a moment. "Yeah, I guess."
She sounded hesitant, and I figured it probably had something to do with the fact that we'd specifically decided not to spend the night with each other yet. "I still have two beds," I offered, hoping this would clear up any potential awkwardness about the sleeping arrangements.
Angie gave me a slightly horrified look. "No way, I am not sleeping in Fred's old bed; that is weird and disturbing."
"All right, sorry. Well, I can sleep here and you can have my bed."
After a few more minutes of thought, Angie said slowly, "Okay. That is, if you don't mind. I don't want to steal your bed."
"Not in the slightest," I assured her with a smile. Going into my room, I changed the sheets on my bed and got her a fresh pillow. Grabbing my pillow and an extra blanket, I said, "Well, good night."
"Good night," Angelina replied, reaching up to kiss me.
I'd barely begun to feel drowsy again when Angie hissed from the bedroom doorway, "George, you still awake?"
"Yeah," I said, sitting up and looking over at her.
"I can't sleep—I think it's something about the empty bed, or . . . I don't know."
"Okay, well, do you want to just go home?"
"No, I . . . can you . . ." she trailed off.
"I don't think I can sleep in Fred's bed either, if that's what you're thinking. Not even for you," I said apologetically.
"No, that's not . . ." she trailed off again, dropping her gaze to the floor.
A grin started to spread across my face. "Do you want me to sleep with you?"
"Yes," she said quietly.
I got up off the couch and followed her back into the bedroom. "It's not that big a deal, you know," I said as we both got under the covers. "We have done it once already, after all."
Angie looked at me. "Well, that's true." She lay down, her head resting on the groove between my chest and shoulder.
Wrapping my arms around her, I kissed the top of her head lightly. "Good night," I whispered again.
That morning, I woke up with only a slight pain in my head, and a very clear idea of what the pressure on my chest was. Opening my eyes, I craned my neck to see Angie still asleep, her mouth slightly open and her chest rising and falling slowly. Smiling a little, I tried not to move her too much as I shifted into a more comfortable position.
What day is it? I wondered absently as I lay there, staring at the ceiling. I mentally counted the days in my head, and nearly sat bolt upright in bed when I'd calculated it. At the last moment, I remembered Angelina, asleep, and stopped myself. It's been a month. Wow, has it really been that long already? It's gone much faster than I would've expected at the beginning.
Just then, Angie shifted and let out a sigh. Moving to look at her again, I saw that she was awake. "Good morning," I said, smiling at her.
She smiled back, then leaned up to kiss me.
"So, it's been a month," I said as she pulled back again. "And I think I'm well overdue for a visit." I realized belatedly how jumbled that sounded, but Angelina just nodded.
"Okay, just let me—well, I guess I'm already dressed, but give me a couple seconds—that is, unless you wanted to go alone?"
I frowned at her. "Why would I tell you if I didn't want you to come?"
We Apparated to just below the small cemetery, glanced at each other briefly, and started up the hill. Angelina took my hand as we walked. When we reached the gates, I pushed on them and they swung open silently. "I don't know about you, but I was expecting them to creak a little—you know, with it being a graveyard and all."
Angie smiled at me and I grinned back. "You know, we're probably not supposed to make a joke out of this," she pretended to reprimand me.
"I think he'd appreciate it."
Angelina nodded. "I think you're probably right."
We reached the headstone and I took a deep breath before looking down at Fred's name carved on the grey stone. Angie squeezed my hand once before dropping it and moving closer to the headstone. She traced Fred's first name with her fingers, looked back at me and smiled briefly, and then moved down along the line of graves.
I took her place at the head of Fred's grave. After a short consideration, I sat down on the hard ground. "Uh, hey," I said, feeling slightly stupid talking to a solid piece of stone. I closed my eyes and called Fred's face to mind. He'd probably be laughing at me right now. "Okay, I know I look like an idiot, but just bear with me, all right? This isn't easy." I took another deep breath and let it out in a long sigh. "So, bottom line, I still miss you like crazy. But . . . it's not as bad as I would've thought. I mean, the dream thing sucks, and I can't go home without causing problems of epic proportions, but I think it'll get better."
I deliberated what I'd just said—saying it, I realized I really did believe it to be true. I was on the upward slope now. Sure, I had a long way to go, and I didn't think I'd ever truly be back to normal, but that was life, wasn't it?
"Actually, I think I'm going to go see Mum and Dad today—I don't think I've been appreciative of how hard this has been on them. And I can't lose my entire family over it.
"As for Angie"—I glanced around and spotted her several feet away, slowly moving among and reading the headstones as she passed—"er, I hope you don't mind too much about that. I know it's a little strange, but you can't help who you fall for, right? Plus, losing you . . . I lost a part of myself, and I think she might be able to . . . well, not replace it, but fill it in some way."
I fell silent again. After a minute or two, I nodded decisively, rose from the ground, and put a hand on the headstone that marked the place where my twin lay. "I think that's it for now—I'll be back soon."
I walked over to Angie, gave her a long hug, and we walked hand in hand back down the hill.
A/N: Well, that's it folks! Hope you liked it :) And, to any STAC readers out there, I have approx. 1 ½ chapters of the sequel written. I'm a little hesitant to post the first one though, because I'm realizing this one is going to be A LOT harder to write for some reason . . . but if you beg me hard enough, maybe I will anyway ;)