"Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage." – Lao Tzu
George reached into the plastic bag and took a pinch of the sticky, dried leaves. He sprinkled them onto the book on top of his coffee table and proceeded to pick out all of the stems and seeds. When the aromatic leaves were all that remained on the book, George pulled out his most prized possession.
For the past month, the hand-blown Muggle-made glass pipe was his only companion. Nothing else meant anything. How could it, when the entire world had turned black and left him to drown. The only way to keep from dying was to turn away from everything he knew, to hide until the blackness finally took over him as well.
A silent spell lit the end tip of his wand and he held it precariously over the bowl of the pipe, causing the leaves to crackle and sizzle under the heat. George inhaled the smoke, relishing the burn in the back of his throat before exhaling into the dimming light peering through his curtains. He never woke up before four in the afternoon anymore, unable to face the golden summer sun. It was too happy, too evocative of better times, and it mocked him.
A few more intakes of breath and his head began to swim slightly. George couldn't be awake very long without the disconnected feeling the smoke gave him. As long as his mind could venture away from reality for one more day, he could make it. On those rare occasions between sleep and smoking when reality washed over him like fire, George would fall to his knees, barely able to grasp the ever-increasing hole in his chest.
When the numbness and lightness took over, George was ready to venture out into Muggle London and find himself some curry, the thought of which was already making his mouth water. Every day for the past month George would get himself something from one of the lovely street vendors London boasted, continuing to marvel at them, and begrudge the fact that Diagon Alley had nothing like it. After eating, he sauntered through the seedy and questionable areas of London, relishing in the dark and decrepit of humanity. As his buzz wore off, he would wander home and sleep for more than half of the day. It took all of his will just to get up out of bed, and some days he couldn't.
He made it to his shabby, rented flat just as the sun was starting to peak over the clean, brick buildings of the large industrial area. He was relieved not to have to face the light. He couldn't face anything like that. Sunshine was a reminder of running through endless fields, of trick wands hiding in his father's shed, of his mother cooking in the kitchen…of Fred's smile.
George closed his eyes and felt the mattress moving beneath him like waves. He sighed, wishing he could just drown and never have to face the choice of getting out of bed or wasting away again. His vision faded to black with the remarkable speed that the drug allowed.
George woke up to a frantic banging on his door. He tried to ignore it, only to be shaken by the crashing of the door off of its hinges. He knew it had to be a witch or a wizard that was looking for him with that force. He hadn't set up any wards, doing too much magic always made him ache, and long for times that would never come back. Without caring much, he sat up in his bed and drew his wand.
Lee Jordan stood in the doorway to his drab little bedroom, seething with magic, his dreads hanging wildly around his shoulders. Standing behind Lee was Ron, looking painfully familiar, his shock of hair glinting in the afternoon sun and causing George to wince. He wanted to just vanish, but he didn't think he' make it if he apparated.
"George…you're…I found you…" Lee whispered, his anger seeming to melt as reality hit him.
"G…George," Ron just croaked, rushing toward the bed. George let out a wail and immediately put up a shield with his wand. Ron was thrown back against the wall, a look of hurt and shock on his face.
"Leave me alone! Please! Just let me be! I can't handle this!" George cried, panic rising in his chest and his hands clenching hard on the sides of his head.
Tears flooded George's eyes, he was afraid, and he was facing something he had been hiding from for weeks. He wasn't ready to admit all that he had lost. He wasn't ready to embrace everything he loved again. He felt as though comfort would never be enough. If he was going to live an empty life, he'd rather do it alone.
"George, please, Mum…" Ron started.
"No! No! No!" George shouted, he couldn't think about his mother. Her warm arms and soothing voice would only make him want to go home, and home would rip apart the last shred of composure he had.
"We've been looking for you for so long…" Lee said, some of his voice returning to him. His fists tightened. "Ron and I have been running the shop."
And the mention of his shop, George couldn't stymie the influx of Fred that came to him in sight, smell and sound. He was overwhelmed with the emptiness, the blank space next to him becoming impossibly cold. He wrapped his blanket around himself and laid back down in bed.
"I know it's rough, but we can help you. Come home where you belong," Ron said, his voice so wise and gentle that George thought he was hearing his father…which only opened up the chasm inside of him further.
"I can't come home, I can never go back…"George whispered into his bedding.
An innocuous tapping broke the silence, and Ron went to the window to find an owl holding a letter. Ron handed the letter to Lee, who tossed it violently in the bin and crumpled to the floor in a heap of magenta robes that George hadn't even noticed before.
"I can't take it anymore! I can't do everything!" Lee suddenly cried.
"George! We're all so worried! Just come back, just let us help!" Ron pleaded. George just laid down and rolled over.
"You fucking coward!" Ron suddenly yelled. Fire rose inside of George at the words.
It took all of his strength to stay alive. Courage was the last thing on his mind. Ron would never understand. Ron had the pieces of his soul still…Ron had something to live for. George could think of nothing. To have it shoved back in his face so callously made something snap. Soon, George found himself hitting his younger brother across the face hard.
He felt Ron's blows, felt himself slammed against the hard floor, but he didn't care. Dying would be welcome at this point. As suddenly as the fight started, however, it ended. Ron and George stood frozen at opposite ends of the room while Lee held his wand high.
"Come on, Ron. We need to get back to the shop," Lee said gently. Ron nodded and began to follow him out. He cast one last forlorn look at George.
"Please," he whispered. The slamming door echoed ominously through George's flat.
Please just answer me! All I need is a note! A word! Anything to know that you're alright. Your mother had no idea where you are and she's worried sick. I haven't seen you since the day after…the day after Fred's funeral. You were so silent, I thought you might have died too.
Listen, Oliver Wood told me you were there, next to Colin, arguing with him to go back when the curse hit him in the back. That doesn't sound like it was your fault at all! Please, you're one of my best friends, if you come back I promise I'll take care of you. I can't promise you'll feel better, but I can say I'll be there no matter what.
Fuck, Angie! I don't even know if you're alive. It's been almost two months and no one has heard from or seen you. Please understand what this is doing to the people who love you. And please understand we all love you.
Just a note…that's all I'm asking.
George smoothed out the letter again on his old coffee table before burying his face in his hands. After Lee and Ron stormed out, George set out to his sitting room to get obliviously stoned again, only to notice the wadded up paper in his bin. His natural curiosity may have been dormant, but it was not dead, and he had to read the letter…he had to know what had caused Lee to be even more upset.
The reality of what that letter meant hit George like the pile of rocks that came down over Fred. Angelina…his Angelina…was missing. She was likely upset, drowning in guilt, and no one could offer her help because no one could find her. George felt his limbs trembling under the weight of what might have happened to her.
For the past weeks, George had been hiding. He hid from himself, from his family, and from any reminder of the deep chasm inside of him that only got bigger by the minute. After Fred's funeral, all of the bravery and fire that he had once proudly possessed was buried, laid to rest inside of the purple casket that now occupied a space in the Weasley Family Plot. George became nothing, unrecognizable even to his own soul.
The thought of Angelina sparked something in the cold recesses of mind. It was a tiny flicker of light, and would never make everything better, but it was something nonetheless. George could feel his heart beat a little faster and his blood become a little warmer. The vision of Angelina's flinty, dark eyes made George want to risk everything just to see her again.
As soon as that small flicker of light was back inside of his black mind, and his hands stopped gripping his hair so tightly in helplessness, George knew exactly where Angelina was.
"Blimey, Angelina! If I'd have known you were bringing a picnic, I would have brought you a Weasley's Patented Portable Picnic Pack!" George said, nestling himself on an open space of the plaid blanket. They were in a vast. Open field, and the only thing for miles was the sound of a distant stream and the large old oak tree they were beneath. The wind in the high grass sounded like small ocean waves.
"I will never allow you to pack my lunch again! Remember that tart you charmed to make my braids dance in third year! They wouldn't settle down for a week and I had to wear a wool cap wherever I went!" Angelina said, turning her nose up mockingly as she laid out their sandwiches and pumpkin juice.
"Well now I'm not sure I want to eat this. It's probably retaliation!" George said, poking at his sandwich with his wand.
"Eat it, or you'll know what retaliation is!" Angelina smiled, her wand pressed against his neck. He gripped her wrist firmly, turning to look at her. The smirk on her face nearly made him come undone.
He captured her lips with his, immediately threading his hands through the smooth collection of braids that gathered around her neck in a loose bun. He heard her sigh, that beautiful light sigh that he knew only he heard and he breathed her in deeply. After several moments that seemed to be forever fleeting, she pulled away from him.
George's shoulders felt heavy. She wanted to wait until the war was over to be serious, and she made perfect sense, but all he wanted to do in that moment was pull her close to him and tell her how much he loved her, tell her that the thought of losing her ripped him apart. She met his eyes and it felt for a second like she could read every thought in his head. He willed her to understand. She looked up sadly before speaking.
"I never knew my father. He was killed in the first war," Angelina whispered.
"Angie, I didn't know…"
"That's because I never told anyone! Do you think I wanted to be pitied and coddled? He died a hero, fighting off Deatheaters that had come to ransack the small village we lived in. He wasn't part of any organization, but he protected us and most of the town for as long as he could." She started. George put his arm around her shoulders. She looked up again.
"He built this tree house when my mother told him she was pregnant," She said quietly. "She came out here one day and asked him, 'What if it's a girl?' and he answered, 'She'll love to be up high just as much as I do.' And I do, George," Angelina finished, leaning her head against his shoulder.
He looked up at the setting sun peeking through to top of the large, lush tree and to the weathered and study wooden structure built around the very top of the sturdy trunk. He smiled as he imagined a smaller Angelina, swinging from the hanging ropes around it, climbing onto its roof, and peering out over the vast green of the English Countryside. He wondered if she came back here often, when she missed her father.
"Want to go for a climb?" George said, kissing her softly on the cheek.
"You have to understand!" She turned to him abruptly. "This is why we can't be together yet, why I won't take the next step. If something were to happen to one of us, all that would be left is pain and thoughts of all the things we had left to do. I don't want that hanging over either one of our heads, George. I can't bear it if I have another tree house and no one to watch me climb into it, no one to see me enjoy it. Being with you now would just give me a taste of something I may never have."
Her logic was sound, as it always was, but in the face of the pending war, George thought logic should be shoved out the window. If he died tomorrow, he wanted to die knowing Angie's body, her mind, her heart. Otherwise, what were they fighting for?
But as he looked at her shattered features study the wood of a forgotten tree house, George decided he would give her whatever piece of mind that she needed to get her through. They would just have to try that much harder to make it out of this horrible mess alive.
George could hear the echoing slam of a hammer against wood long before he made it across the field. He had no idea what he would find, but the thought that Angelina may be working with dangerous Muggle tools did not ease his worry any. As he approached the familiar oak tree, there were still the sounds of construction, but no sign of her.
He didn't want to call out to her, fearful that he could scare her away. If Angelina was in hiding, being found was obviously not something she would welcome. When the cooler air of the shade hit his face, George was able to see books upon books scatter across the ground, opened and marked on various pages. He picked one up, and read the passage that was marked by a blade of grass.
"It's a Muggle construction book," Angelina whispered over George's shoulder, causing him to jump and drop the book back onto the ground. "There are a couple of wizard ones around here too if you want to pick one up and give me a hand."
George was too shocked to speak as he studied Angelina's harried appearance. Her braids were all coming undone, causing her dark hair to curl and frizz wildly around her face. There was sawdust mixed with dirt and leaves in the mess of her hair, as well as covering what once must have been jeans and a tee shirt. Her eyes has very pronounced dark circles, and her cocoa skin had an unhealthy, gray pallor. She looked at least 40 pounds lighter, which was disturbing to George, because while she had always been a thicker woman, she shouldn't have been able to survive such a drastic change in weight. The results had George looking at a wild-haired, sickly woman with a mad look in her eyes.
"Isn't it spectacular? I started doing this five days ago and haven't stopped. Daddy would love it so much!" Angelina exclaimed, looking genuinely happy in a disturbing way. "I wish he was still around to see it."
George looked up, and what he saw was truly amazing. The single little wooden structure that had stood there 2 years ago was now a series of oak and pine turrets, decks, stairs, ladders, and more rooms than he could count. The wood looked freshly cut and stained, and everything looked it like was fit for the king of all oversized Bowtruckles. He could feel Angelina's magic interspersed in every aspect of the structure and the surrounding field. Boards were floating of their own volition, and full logs were cutting themselves into beautiful planks. He couldn't even find the words.
"There are so many spells for magical construction! I can even summon logs from the forest on the other side of the hill. I just have to keep casting ," Angelina said breathlessly, casting so many spells in succession that George was sure she would pass out from the drain.
"Angie…how…how long have you been here?" George asked, worried that even though she had been building for five days, she could have been in this field for longer.
"Only a few days. Before, I was drinking in some Muggle pub and then sleeping it off. Then, one night I just figured that I was wasting away everything! I might as well do something…well…constructive!" She said happily, never pausing in casting more logs to be cut into planks and staining themselves with a shining lacquer.
"Can we stop and talk for a minute?" George said quietly, swallowing down the lump in his throat.
"No!" Angelina screamed. All of the floating planks and tools fell to the grass with a 'thud'. "If I stop, I think, and if I think…it hurts. It hurts too much to think about!"
She turned her back on George and immediately started to recast her spells, her body swaying with weakness. He came up close behind her, afraid to touch her, but needing to be there in case she fell. George was suddenly struck with the thought that this was the strongest and most coherent he'd been since the battle. He needed Angelina as much as she obviously needed him.
"When was the last time you ate?" George said, bravely placing a hand on her shoulder.
"Eating! How can I eat right now? I have to keep working!" Angelina said breathlessly.
"You can, you can, but it's not going to look as nice if you don't stop and eat." George responded delicately, desperate to reason with her.
"Colin ate! He loved éclairs! His mother used to send him packages full of fresh pastry when he first started school. I remember him sitting at a table in the common room, face covered in icing and creams, smiling bigger than humanly possible!" Angelina was raging now, the freshly-cut planks of wood beginning to spin around their heads.
George put both of his hands on her shoulders and forced her to meet his eyes. "He's gone, he died a hero, but he's gone nonetheless. You killing yourself is not going to change that."
"I'm not killing myself," Angelina murmured. "I just want to forget."
"And it's going to kill you. You need to eat. You need rest," George said gently. He pulled her bony body against him and wrapped his arms around her waist. Despite her filth, he couldn't resist finding comfort in burying his face in her wild hair.
Her body remained tense for a few moments before she melted against him. He could hear her beginning to sob, clutching desperately at the back of his shirt. He held her impossibly tight, convinced that he would fall back into darkness if he even thought about letting go.
"They're all gone! Colin, Demelza, Peakes…Fred," She pulled back and met George's eyes, lucidity finally returning to hers. "Oh God, George…"
George turned his eyes away from her to hide his anger. How could she forget about Fred? However, he knew her need was greater in this moment than his, and he just shook his head slightly, begging her silently to drop whatever was going through her head.
He jumped when she put her hands on either side of his face. When his eyes met hers again, he felt a little bit more alive, a little bit more at home. That sharp, calculating look was back in her vision, and the warmth she reserved only for him radiated from her features. She still looked ill, still looked a little mad, but she finally resembled his Angie again. He pressed his forehead against hers and willed his chest to stop heaving.
"George…I need…you and me…" Angelina couldn't find her words in between her sobs, but George knew exactly what she meant. The same words were on the tip of his tongue.
Once he had been lifted from his fog, the desperation and pain hit him so hard that he could barely move. But as he clung to Angelina, he knew that is what he needed to keep from drowning. In her arms was where he belonged. The look in her eyes, the quiver in her voice, revealed the same all-encompassing need in her.
"Angie, you need to eat," George whispered, trying to hold on to her more tightly. As if the fact had just occurred to her body, Angelina began to waver in his arms. He held her up as she lost her balance.
"I don't want to leave all of this…can't just abandon daddy's tree," she mumbled, her words beginning to slur.
"We'll come back, love. But first, we need to get you some help," he answered.
When he was lost, when he felt like nothing anchored him to the world, he always folded himself into his mother's inviting arms. The Burrow was the only place he could think of to help Angelina. He pulled Angelina into his arms, trying not to dwell on the fact that he shouldn't have been able to lift her. George raised his wand and felt the familiar pull of apparation. Before he could even register what he was doing, the ramshackle, toppling house appeared in front of his weary eyes.
Within the span of a second, the front door crashed open, and Bill stood there with his wand drawn.
"Sorry, George. Old habits and…wait…George!" Bill shouted, rushing toward them. "Where have you been…and…is that Angelina?"
"She's had a rough time of it. She needs food, and…well…she needs mum," George said, his own knees becoming weak at the gravity of the situation. As if on cue, the door opened again.
"Bill? Is everything alright?" George's heart began to race at the sound of his mother's voice, and he couldn't help but feel just a little more safe and secure. "Oh sweet Merlin."
Bill took Angelina out of George's arms as Molly started naming off potions she would need. She commanded George to go and warm up food in the kitchen, as though he hadn't been missing for the last month. He was grateful that the focus was on Angelina for the time being, and once he knew she was okay, and then he could face the rest of the demons that he knew danced in the back of his mother's eyes.
Within the hour, Molly had managed to give Angelina a restorative potion as well as some bread, broth, and ice cold pumpkin juice. Angelina looked markedly better, the color already returning to her skin. George let out a breath he didn't know he was holding, and began to shake slightly at the thought of being at home and surrounded by memories for the first time since Fred's funeral. He stood in the doorway to the kitchen watching his mother put away her potions. All of his apologies, hopes, fears, and grief seemed stuck in his throat.
"George, my love, I don't think I can stand here pittering about much longer and avoiding you. Please tell me I can hug you," Molly finally said, turning around with tears in her eyes.
"Mum, I'm sorry…I'm so sorry I…" George started. He was cut off as his mother dashed through the kitchen and pulled him down close to her.
"I don't care. You're home. That's all I could ask for," She whispered into his shoulder. "You're here, you're safe, and you'll be alright now."
For the second time that day, George began to sob. That was all he needed to hear.