Chapter Twelve / Rolling Like A Stone
TIME STAMP: Approx. 3 months after the Battle at Hogwarts. (August 1998)
In this chapter, George and Angelina have a chat, and realize they have more in common than they thought.
It's gonna take a long time to love,
it's gonna take a lot to hold on.
It's gonna be a long way to happy.
Left in the pieces that you broke me into,
torn apart, but now I've got to,
keep on rolling like a stone.
'Cause it's gonna be a long, long way,
-Long Way To Happy, by P!nk
It isn't like George spent his life stuck to Fred. It isn't like they were one being, one mind, split in two.
Sure, they were twins.
But they weren't the same person. Weren't the carbon copies of each other that most people seemed to perceive them as.
George remembers clearly the first, and probably only time that he hated being a twin. He was eight years old, and had been trying to impress a muggle girl in the village by making dandelions disappear into thin air, a magical trick he'd mastered behind his mother's back. He remembers making the girl shriek with delight and thinking maybe he would finally have a girlfriend like the ones Charlie always had at Hogwarts. He remembers the anger he felt when Fred came along and the girl confused their names and seemed to prefer Fred's trick of making the dandelions reappear out of thin air. He remembers stalking up to the house alone. Getting upset and asking his parents, Why did he have to look like Fred? Why did they have to be twins? Why couldn't anyone ever tell them apart? And his father sitting him down and giving him the best bit of advice anyone had ever given him, "There are going to be a lot of people in your life, who will see the two of you as one, as twins and nothing else. They'll forget your names and think you're copies of each other. But the ones who take the time to get to know you, who take the care to tell what makes each of you special, those are the people who really matter, George."
And yeah, most of the time, people didn't seem to get that. People still acted like Fred was George and George was Fred, and telling them apart wasn't a huge deal. But they knew who they were and how they were alike and how they were different, and isn't that what counted?
And yeah, they lived in the same flat, and ran the same business, and slept in the same bedroom in their twenties. But they spent time apart too.
George spent more than a few nights a week drinking and tearing up and down the Alley with Lee and Alicia. And Fred spent more time at Angelina's then he ever did at home. Right after they'd left school, in the weeks before they opened shop, they went their own ways. Saw the world. Fred went to America- met a witch in California who taught him some bizarre sport called surfing, and came back home with sun-bleached, strawberry-blonde hair and a crude muggle tattoo of pair of dice on his forearm. George had spent nearly a month in Romania, where he rode dragons and learned nearly fluent German from Charlie's roommate. They were surprisingly good at time apart, Fred and George. Days, weeks, nearly months apart, reunited with nothing more than a rough hug and a butterbeer, like they'd never left each other.
George was used to time alone. He was used to being without Fred. And so sometimes, it hits him hard when he realizes this time, Fred isn't coming back.
The sun is setting low over Diagon Alley as George flips the sign on the door to the shop, getting ready to close for the day. He winds his way up the shop, through the shelves and displays, straightening packages as he hums a Weird Sisters tune to himself. Coming to halt in front of the register, he stumbles for a moment, failing to remember his own code number, and instead, punches in Fred's simpler combination of 3's and 6's. The till pops open and he collects the day's gold into a small Gringotts sack.
He hears the office door open and close behind him, and footsteps across the wooden floor. He turns around, with Fred's name on his lips, ready to ask his twin where the day's receipts are when he realizes it isn't Fred standing behind him.
"Alright, we're out of here," Alicia says, absentmindedly rummaging through her bag for her key. "Lee's gonna lock up."
It hits him like an angry hippogriff. Fred's not here. He hasn't been all day. And he won't be ever again. And you've gone nearly all day without so much as giving him a second thought. The pain comes back threefold, as if it has to make up for the few hours it was absent and the weight in his chest is suddenly so physically heavy he's not sure he can stand. Alicia pauses in her search and tilts her head to the side, studying him carefully.
The bag of gold slips from his shaking hands and hits the floor, Sickles and Knuts spilling over the uneven floor panels. George grabs the side of the counter as his knees buckle and he slides to sit on the floor, blood rushing in his ears. He hears Alicia saying something, registers her hand on his arm, but all he can think about, all he can feel is the emptiness. The hollow hole in his mind, in his soul, where his brother should be.
He's never dealt with trauma very well. He's always been a really fucking happy person. Always driven by the positive, but shaken to his core by the negative. He remembers the first war- he was young, barely even two at the time, but he remembers the feeling of fear even at that young age. And very vividly in the back of his mind, is a night when his father woke him and Fred and huddled them in Charlie's room, and they all watched as wand-fire danced outside their windows and the orchard went up in flames. He remembers the night Ginny was taken into the Chamber of Secrets. Remembers Oliver sitting him in an armchair in the Common Room, telling Lee to fetch Fred. He'll never forget that night: Fred racing into the room asking "Who've they taken?" and the look of devastation on his face when George told him it was Ginny.
He's not sure how long he sits there on the shop floor, the world a blur of sound and color around him, every breath a struggle as his whole body trembles. When he comes back to himself, Alicia is snuggled up next to him, forehead pressed against his cheek, and Lee is on his knees in front of them, one hand on his shoulder.
"Alright, G?" he asks casually, the darkness behind his eyes the only giveaway of his concern.
"Fine." George croaks, reaching out and grabbing the first thing his hand comes in contact with- Alicia's knee. She clutches back and Lee tightens his hold, grounding them both.
"You don't have to do this." Alicia says, her voice pleading. "You don't have to feel guilty for letting yourself live."
"Leesh- I can't-" George struggles to get the words out, to let himself be so open. "I can't let myself forget he's gone, even for a second. I can't forget that."
"No one's forgetting, G." Lee says, forehead creasing.
"I spend every second of every day waiting for him to walk through the door. And every day he doesn't it's like losing him all over again."
"He isn't coming back, George." Lee tries to sound stern, but his voice shakes a bit near the end.
"You think I don't know that? You think I don't want to fucking die every single day when I wake up knowing that he's six feet in the ground under my parents' bloody orchard?"
George shakes Alicia away from him and throws Lee's hand away suddenly feeling suffocated. He stares past his friends' sullen faces at the coins littered over the floor. There's silence. And then, the shop door opens, the bell tinkling merrily.
"We're closed!" George calls, rudely. The voice that answers is hesitant.
"It's- I'm not- it's just me."
George, Lee, and Alicia all scramble up to peek over the counter at the visitor. Angelina is standing there, shifting nervously from foot to foot. Her eyes are red rimmed and bloodshot, and her hands are wound tightly in the straps of a rucksack that George recognizes as Fred's.
"Angie." Alicia hurries to her feet and rushes around the counter to give her friend a hug, while Lee waves at her from his place next to George.
Angelina hugs Alicia back and then takes a hesitant step forward, looking straight at George.
"I- I was hoping- I mean, I'd like to talk to you."
George is silent, staring at Angelina over the shop counter. He wonders, not for the first time, what Fred would have done in this position.
Their group of friends was far from simple, from solid. Oliver was a year older, and out of country half the time. Lee and Fred were spit fires, out of control and in a land of their own, with George tearing along behind. Alicia was free and loving and threw herself in and out of their lives as she pleased. And Angelina was quiet and reserved and more independent than the rest combined. While Oliver had always gotten on well with the girls, and Lee was always fancying one of them, the twins always seemed split down the middle. Fred loved Angelina, he had for a long time, but she and George always seemed to clash. Alicia was George's safe haven; everything he had ever wanted or needed in a friend, and sometimes something more.
George looks at Alicia now, where she stands with a nervous look on her face and tears in her eyes, clutching Angelina's hand. Fred liked Alicia, but they were never close, never interacted outside of the group, or Quidditch. What would he have done had he been the one standing here? George knows. He knows Fred, despite temper and tantrums, was full of emotion and affection, and had more love to give in his short life than most people had in a hundred years. Fred would have welcomed Alicia with open arms, would have offered comfort and taken it.
"You know, it's getting late, I shouldn't have-" Angelina interrupts George's thinking as she smiles shakily and turns to leave.
George speaks, surprising even himself. He clears his throat awkwardly and gestures towards the back stairs that lead up to the apartment. Angelina blinks at him and then nods, giving him a grateful smile.
George walks Lee and Alicia to the front door. He lets Alicia hug him and kiss his cheek, shakes Lee's hand and promises he'll floo if he needs anything; he'll come to Lee's if he doesn't want to be alone. Finally they step out onto the dark cobblestone street and George lets the door lock with a sharp snap behind them. He shuffles awkwardly up the stairs in silence with Angelina behind him, and lets her into the dimly lit apartment.
"Sorry 'bout the mess." He says softly, as he clears his pillow and bed sheets off of the couch, throwing them unceremoniously into a pile by the closed bedroom door.
"It's fine." Angelina's voice is nearly a whisper as she sits near the end of the now clear sofa, setting Fred's rucksack in her lap, still twisting her fingers in the fabric. George shifts from foot to foot, trying not to feel awkward.
"Milk and sugar?"
George is grateful for an excuse to escape to the small kitchen. He tries to talk himself down as he heats water and pulls out dusty mugs. Buck up, you sorry prick. She was Freddie's girlfriend, there's no reason not to talk to her. There was never any reason you two didn't get along, just get over it. He pulls a half-empty bottle of Firewhiskey down from the cupboard and splashes a generous bit into his own tea. He pauses for a moment and then throws caution to the wind and spikes Angelina's as well before picking up both cups and making his way back into the small living space.
"Here." George says softly, gently pushing the warm mug into Angelina's hand. She startles a little as he sits next to her and when she looks as him he sees tears still pooling in her eyes. Fred. George thinks. Do it for Fred. "How- How've you been?"
Angelina shrugs a little; the miniscule smile on her lips a bitter one. Her eyes remain focused on her lap, avoiding her surroundings. George realizes, with a pang of involuntary sympathy, that this is the first time she's been in this apartment without Fred. Angelina takes a single sip of her tea before setting it on the small sofa table and tilting her self to face George.
"Look, I didn't come here for comfort," she says, evenly. She tries to meet his eyes, but keep looking away, at her own hands, at his. "So you don't have to pretend to care, or listen to what I have to say, bu-"
She freezes, because George doesn't call her that. The others do. Fred did. But not George.
George isn't even sure why he's just said it. To offer her some comfort perhaps, or to make himself feel more comfortable. To trick them both into believing they're closer than they really are.
"Don't-" she turns away again, a chill in her voice and a sob in her throat. "Don't, please- you aren't him-"
"I'm sorry, I know. Angelina, I know. Look, please just listen to me." George puts down his tea and grabs her hands in his. They're both shaking. He's surprised to find himself sincere as words start to pour out of his mouth. "I'm not going to try and tell you what he would have told you, because I don't know. But what I do know if that he loved you- so much."
"I know." Angelina is sobbing right-out now, and it makes George uncomfortable and its breaks his heart all at the same time.
"I haven't been fair to you." He says, trying to keep his own emotions at bay. He's cried too many tears in the past few weeks, he doesn't think he has anymore to give, yet still his eyes are growing moist, his throat sticking. "I'm so so sorry. God, Fred would kill me if he knew how I've been treating you."
Angelina squeezes his hand in hers and brings the other to her face, wiping quickly at the tears that are falling there. She takes a shaky breath and when she speaks her voice is low and trembling.
"I don't blame you, George. I think everyone assumes that I'd take comfort in seeing you; but- you aren't the same people, you and him. You never have been. I just thought I could help, you know? Fred told me once, that he always knew where you were, always knew how you felt, whether or not you were alright… and I knew how much it would have torn him apart if he couldn't do that anymore, if he couldn't tell if you were alright-"
Angelina stumbled over her words, seemingly wanting to get as much out as she could before she lost her nerve.
"I know there's something more- when we're done here in this life, there has to be somewhere else for us to go, and wherever he is, I just want to know that he's alright, and George, I know that if anyone wants that as much as I do, it's you, and I just thought that I could help- that maybe we could help each other…"
George can't help himself then, and suddenly he's leaning forward and wrapping Angelina in his arms, hugging her for all he's worth. Because after weeks, and months, of suffering alone, of friends and family trying to comfort him when they didn't even feel a fraction of what he felt, finally, this girl he was always at odds with, in the span of just a few sobbed sentences, has managed to capture everything he's felt. She understands, and that feels better than anything he's felt in a long time. He can't thank her with words for what she's giving him in that moment, and so he gives her the only comfort he can think of. Gives her the one thing he has to comfort himself, something he hasn't shared with anyone else.
"I felt him go. What we had didn't break off right away, and before he went wherever it is that he was going, he opened it up, and he let me feel what he felt."
Angelina pulls away from the hug and leans back to look in George's eyes, her face full of apprehension.
"And- he- he didn't want to go, obviously. But- it- it can't have been bad, whatever it was, because he wasn't scared-"
"He was never scared of anything in his life though, was he?" Angelina interrupts, her voice dry. The tiniest of laughs building in the back of her throat.
"No, I don't suppose he was." George snorts. "Git."
The two stare at each other for a long moment, tears shining in both sets of eyes. Finally, George looks away, clearing his throat uncomfortably and downing his rapidly cooling tea in one go. Angelina also shifts, now that the moment has passed and wipes tears from her eyes as she finally releases the rucksack in her lap.
"He left this at my flat." She says, dumping the contents of the bag onto the small sofa table. A toothbrush, a pair of trainers, several loose pieces of parchment and a small leather-bound notebook spills out of the bag with a dull thud. "I wasn't sure if the papers were important."
George shifts through the sheets gently, running his fingers over the ink of his brother's crude sketches. Most are prototype drawings for older products already on the shelves, a couple of some things they'd been working on before the war got really heated. It's the notebook that draws George's attention though. It's a small bright magenta book, with the store's triple W emblem stamped into the leather cover.
"I've been looking for this." George says, softly, as he cracks the book open to reveal pages upon pages of Fred's messy scrawl. "It's the Ingredients Listings for the new batches we were working on. Joke Sweets. Seems so trivial now, so stupid."
"I don't think it's stupid at all." Angelina says, lightly, as she busies herself, neatly stacking the other papers and arranging Fred's belongings on top of the bag on the table. "I'm sorry I didn't bring that by sooner… I guess I thought it would comfort me some… holding onto his things."
George puts the book back on the table and blinks at Angelina as he registers what she's just said. It stirs something in his mind; something he remembers spotting in the bedroom the very brief times he's snuck in there to grab fresh clothes. He gets up from the sofa without a word to Angelina and walks to the bedroom door. He steps over the mess on the floor, and with a steadying breath, he pushes the door open with a loud creak. The room is dark and stale smelling, dust floating in the air. He hasn't been in here very much in the past few months, hasn't slept in his bed since a week before the battle at Hogwarts.
George walks across the room swiftly, not planning to stay longer than required. He spots what he's looking for lying trapped in the covers of Fred's dusty, unmade bed. A faded mustard colored jumper; one of his mother's making, it was Fred's and a few years old. The yellow clashed horribly with Fred's hair and he didn't wear it often, but George had often seen Angelina wearing it at Lee's, or on the occasions she spent the night with Fred.
George grabs the sweater and backs out of the room as fast as he can, slamming the door shut behind him. He stands against the wall for a moment, lungs heaving and hands shaking, before moving across the sitting room, back to Angelina who is collecting herself, putting on her jacket, getting ready to leave. He hands her the sweater without comment. Angelina looks startled for a moment and then takes it from him gently, her expression softening.
"Thank you." She whispers, and then she turns to leave. She gets to the door and as she turns the handle, says to George with a small smile, "You know, you're really not a whole lot alike, you and him. I don't think you ever were."
A memory flashes in the back of George's mind, and for the first time in a long time, he remembers the advice his father gave to him in Burrow's tiny kitchen, all those years ago. And then he realizes something.
She turns back to face him, one foot already out the door.
"You can tell us apart."
"Of course I can." She says, as if it's the most obvious thing in the world.
"Before you ever dated Fred," George continues, swallowing thickly. "Even back in first year, you always knew that he was Fred, and I was George."
Angelina is silent, her face still wearing a slightly bemused, slightly pained expression.
"That- that meant a lot to him… It means a lot to me." George says.
"Don't be a stranger, George."
Angelina steps out into the cool night air. The door shuts behind her with a very final snap, leaving George standing alone in his sitting room, more confused than he's felt in a very long time.
Hey guys, so sorry about this update. I accidentally uploaded a partial file before Christmas, which is why the chapter didn't appear, and I've been away from the Internet for a while due to a family situation. Thanks so much for your patience and to everyone who messaged me to let me know there was a problem! :)
I'm in University full time now, so things are busy, but I'm still writing. My stories are not abandoned. And although updates may be slow, I promise they will keep coming.
Thanks so much everyone, hope you all had a happy and safe holidays!