8 June 1998

"D'you want anything else?" the little brunette witch asked meekly, coming over to the dark little corner table with a washcloth and an empty tray. She waved her wand. The two empty firewhisky bottles floated to her tray and the washcloth began wiping down the table.

George shook his head. "Jus' another bottle, thanks," he said in a low, slightly slurred voice. The waitress blinked and looked over her shoulder at her boss, Tom. He hadn't noticed George. "I'm good for it, you know I am," George insisted when she did not answer. He pulled out his money and slapped another three Galleons onto the tabletop.

The waitress sighed, picked up the money, and retreated to the bar, where a few more late-night customers sat; two wizards with thick, dark beards and heavy accents were examining the contents of a box, while a witch with long, dark hair that hung down her back rested her head on her elbow, looking away from George.

When the waitress returned, she carried a fresh bottle and an additional glass, which she left sitting opposite George. He looked exceedingly startled, but she gave no explanation, simply filling each glass to the brim and walking away.

George scowled and hunched over his drink, staring into the dark, reddish bubbles. Four weeks was a damned long time to go without sleeping. Or eating, when he wasn't at Molly's. Which he was, and often. But more recently, George had taken to spending days away from the Burrow and his family.

It wasn't as though George felt that they didn't understand what he was going through—quite the opposite. Watching his mother plod through the last four weeks had been the most strenuous, painful thing George had ever seen.

No, in truth, it was that his family was finally trying to pick up the pieces and find a way to move along, as they had to, with a massive, Fred-shaped hole in each of their hearts. But George…George couldn't even begin to imagine moving on without his brother, and he was envious of his family for their strength.

And as much as Molly might kiss him, and Arthur might grip his shoulder, and Ginny would tell him that it's completely understandable, and he should take his time, George couldn't be the one part of their whole who slowed them all down in their recovery.

For George did want them to recover. He wanted to recover, too, but he had not yet found a way to do it. And so, here he was, hiding from the people he loved most because he couldn't stand to hurt them with his uselessness, his head halfway in a barrel of firewhisky.

George heard the scrape of a chair and looked up. The witch from the bar had gotten up and walked over to him. George blinked blearily up at her, and she tossed her hair once before sitting down opposite him.

"Angelina?" asked George, frowning. "Whadderyu doingere?"

Angelina said nothing, but reached for the full glass of firewhisky and raised it. "To Fred," she said softly, scrutinizing George's face carefully.

George stared back at her, disgruntled but not coherent enough to be truly angry, and grudgingly raised his glass. They each drank, and George rested his elbows on the tabletop once again, staring into his firewhisky.

Angelina studied George's face. She was still not used to seeing him with only one ear. His eyes were red and puffy, ringed with dark circles. He was very pale.

"How's the joke shop?" asked Angelina in a quiet voice, taking another sip.

"Fine," George grunted.

"Think you'll be open before school starts again?"

George shrugged noncommittally and gulped down half his drink. "Whadderya doin' here, Ange?" he asked again, pouring himself more firewhisky.

"I went to the Burrow," she answered. "I wanted to—"

"Mum show you where he is, then?" George mumbled.

Angelina closed her eyes. "I saw everyone," she sighed. "And yes, I did see Fred's—" she broke off.

"Grave, Angelina," said George. "Isscalled a grave."

Angelina rubbed her eyes. "George, look—"

"Ange, I'm gonna be fine," George told her loudly. The wizards at the counter turned and frowned. Angelina's eyes narrowed.

"That's not how it looks," she said fiercely. "And I care too much about you to watch you do this." She picked up the firewhisky bottle and shook it in George's face. "Your parents—your brothers, and Ginny, and Harry, and Hermione…they're all worried about you. I'm worried about you."

George stared at her coldly. "Jus' give me a little time," he growled. "I haven't had a bleeding moment to myself in ages—"

"That's not what your mum told me," Angelina replied. "She says no one's seen you for almost a week."

George scowled. "So what, she's keeping track of me?" he asked derisively.

Smack.

Angelina sat back, rubbing her palm. George gaped at her, touching his cheek.

"What the bloody hell was that for?" he demanded angrily.

"You're damn lucky you've still got your mother to keep track of you, George Weasley," Angelina told him, her tone furious. She blinked rapidly several times and took another drink from her glass, looking away from him.

George said nothing for several minutes. "When—"

"February," said Angelina shortly. "They vanished. Didn't even find them for three weeks."

"Ange," George said. He reached across the table. "You didn't tell me."

"You were all in hiding. I didn't know how to find you," she answered, shrugging, but still not meeting George's eyes.

They were silent for several more minutes. George stared into his glass again, running his thumb along the rim. Then he raised it, and Angelina looked at him. Her eyes were very bright, and a little red.

"To Roxanne and Frank," he said. Angelina smiled a little and raised her glass as well.

"Mum and Dad," she murmured, taking a sip.

This time, when they fell silent, the quiet was warm and comfortable. Angelina moved her chair closer to George's and put a hand on his arm. George felt a corner of his mouth lift—it was a strange feeling, one that he wasn't accustomed to.

"You know what Fred would say if he saw us sitting here like this?" Angelina asked. George's heart clenched, and he shook his head mutely. Angelina sighed. "He'd be really annoyed that we're moping about him. And then he'd start a bar fight, just to get us both up and moving again."

Involuntarily, George laughed. Just a brief, strangled shout of laughter. Angelina looked at him and nodded, a small smile on her lips.

"See?" she said. "He hasn't gone anywhere." Angelina reached up one hand and gently touched the white, scarred area that marked George's missing ear. He flinched, so she moved her hand to take his.