Disclaimer and author's note: Harry Potter is the property of JK Rowling. Title from 'The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade' by The Joy Formidable. This was written for the Hospitalisation Horror competition by Hermione's Harmony on HPFC.
Hermione hadn't wanted to tell him, but George said that Percy would, and so she rooted through the Ministry records and confirmed it to him: Augustus Rookwood had never been on trial, never been imprisoned, never paid for any of his crimes. It didn't surprise George that he'd missed this information after the War had ended. He'd had other things on his mind.
"George, no one knows where he is," Hermione said in a low tone when they met surreptitiously for coffee at a Muggle café on Charing Cross Road. George had joked, when they'd sat down, that any wizard who saw them would think they were having an affair. She hadn't been amused.
"You sure about that?" George asked. He'd ordered a cappuccino, though he'd no intention of drinking it.
"Of course I'm sure," Hermione answered. "He fled the country, I expect. Most likely dead by now."
George raised his eyebrows. "Well, which is it?"
She shrugged helplessly, and he couldn't help noticing that she hadn't touched her tea. "I don't know. No one knows." For a moment, she stared darkly at the table. "He got away."
Of the three statements, only two of them were precisely true. George knew that it bothered Hermione quite as much as it did him – well, maybe not quite as much, but close – knowing that any Death Eater had got away, but Rookwood especially. She obviously resented that he'd never been imprisoned; that she didn't know where he was – however, it was not precisely true that no one knew where Augustus Rookwood was.
George was pretty sure that he did. At least, Lee Jordan had been pretty sure; sure enough to Apparate straight into the Weasley sitting room at nine o'clock on a Sunday morning, jolting both him and Angelina out of an extremely pleasant lie-in. George had had most of the story by the time Angelina came downstairs, showered and dressed, muttering darkly about needing to put anti-Apparition charms around the house.
He'd started out going on about a soup run, which George, still half-asleep and thinking longingly of his bed and the way he'd just pulled Angelina close to him before Lee's arrival, had to ask him to explain.
"The soup run," Lee had repeated as though George was stupid. "At our church. Katie's and mine."
George had run a hand over his face blearily. One day, one day a week, he could be up half the night and have a lie-in next morning. After twelve years of being woken up by some crash or another from his children, he rather thought he and Angelina deserved it. "Right." Could he still swear at Lee when the man had been up since five serving food to homeless Muggles? Maybe not out loud. "Well, I'm really proud of you, but why are you here instead of there?"
"Well, you know, I try to talk to most of the people that show up, right? Try to give a little hope to the down-and-out; Katie says I use my Potterwatch voice—"
"Lee," George had interrupted, "I could be showering with my wife right now. Get to the point."
"Rookwood was there." The words had seemed to shock Lee all over again – because that, George had realised, was why Lee's face seemed so blanched. Shock.
For a moment, the kitchen had been completely silent. The sound of water spraying in the shower upstairs was clearly audible. "Rookwood," George had repeated. "Augustus Rookwood? The Death Eater?" Lee had just nodded while George felt his chest constrict. How—hadn't all the Death Eaters been locked up? He'd assumed—anyone defeated at the Battle of Hogwarts—but he hadn't been paying any attention to the trials that had gone on that first summer; he was too busy learning how to be a twin without a twin; learning how not to be a twin, he'd realised later, but it'd seemed too depressing to think it at the time.
Lee had nodded cautiously. "He looked bad, mate. Katie didn't recognise him—I don't know if she would've, anyway, but—"
"Rookwood's alive and wandering around eating at churches?" George had asked in a low tone.
"I'm not sure he's doing magic anymore," Lee had gone on uncomfortably, the statement answer enough to George's question. "I dunno how he could be, looking the way he did. I think he must be homeless – I watched him go, once he'd eaten, and he was heading towards this derelict old wreck of a building down the street; some of the homeless sleep there sometimes—"
"Lee," George interrupted. "Why are you telling me this?"
His friend had looked quite as horrified as George was feeling. As though it wasn't enough to see a Death Eater after all these years, but to see that Death Eater, the one who'd murdered Fred Weasley. No wonder Lee looked pale. "I thought—Harry, you could tell him."
George hadn't bothered asking why Lee hadn't contacted the Aurors instead of him. His relationship with Harry was good enough that it wouldn't have been odd for him to contact the Head of the Auror Office himself. No, there had been another reason that Lee had come to George straight-away, and maybe neither of them had known it, or at least been able to put it into words at the time, but a week and a half later, George did. And would. But not to Hermione.
"Did you hear me? George?"
He shook himself as Hermione's voice brought him back to the present. "Sorry? No, I was just…thinking for a second; didn't catch that."
She was giving him a penetrating look. "I said, why the sudden interest in Rookwood? It's been over twenty years."
"And you think that's long enough, do you?" he asked mildly, toying with the idea of actually drinking his cappuccino.
There'd been a point when a comment like that would have got a reaction from Hermione; but he supposed sometime in the past thirty-odd years she'd got used to him. "Don't be ridiculous," she said. "You've always known it was him." Proof positive that over twenty years still wasn't enough – not even Hermione could say 'who killed Fred'. "Why are you asking me now? Why not then, when someone might have still found him?"
"Myopia?" George said, inflecting it to give her a chance to decide whether or not that was the case. Maybe to give himself that same chance. The explanation wasn't so much why he hadn't thought of Rookwood before, but why he was thinking of Rookwood now. And he was thinking of Rookwood now because he'd just found out that the man had escaped punishment for every abhorrent thing he'd done in the Second Wizarding War. Terrorising. Torturing. Killing.
For a long moment, Hermione stared at him. A group of teenagers sat down at the table next to them, talking loudly, and George half-glanced towards them. When he looked back to meet Hermione's eyes, it was in time to see them widen slightly, then narrow. "You know something," she murmured. "About Rookwood. You already knew he'd never gone to Azkaban." George didn't answer, but apparently that was answer enough. Instead of questioning him further, though, Hermione just asked quietly, "Does Angelina know about this?" Without really meaning to, knowing it incriminated him even as he did it, he flicked his gaze away from hers. His sister-in-law sighed. "Maybe the fact that you haven't told her about this should tell you something."
"Like that I don't want to row with her over it?" he asked.
Hermione looked at him sharply. "Why would you row over it? What are you planning on doing, George?"
He stood up from the table and gave her shoulder a pat. "Thanks for meeting me, Hermione."
As he started towards the door, she jumped up and came after him, grabbing his arm as they both exited the café. "Don't you do anything stupid," she said to him fiercely. "Don't—you've your family."
Raising his eyebrows, he asked, "What exactly d'you think I'm going to do?"
For the first time, there was a shadow of fear in her eyes. "George," she just said, then went on, "Fred and Roxanne. And Angelina. Angelina needs you. Don't you dare do anything stupid."
"Hermione," he said with a grin, though it felt forced and he was sure it looked the same way, "when've I ever done anything stupid?" He disentangled his arm from her grasp and started down the street; brushed her off, really, because he didn't want her looking into his face and knowing what he was planning.
Lee had looked away from George's eyes because he hadn't wanted to know. He was the messenger. He was always the messenger, wasn't he? "I've got to get back," he'd said, glancing over George's shoulder through the door to the living room, at Angelina's back as she opened the curtains. "I've got to get back—I told Katie I was only popping back home to change—"
George had nodded "Where's the church?" he'd asked.
"Brixton," Lee had muttered. "St Anne's." And then he'd Disapparated with a pop, and Angelina had come back into the kitchen and given him an odd look. Even if the whole thing hadn't been strange, she'd have been suspicious, and he'd needed her not to ask because he hadn't been sure what he was thinking himself at that moment, but he'd been sure everything Lee had told him would come spilling out if Angelina asked.
And so he found himself walking away from Hermione not a week later, who also was suspicious, but whom wouldn't ask because of who she was at the DMLE, and because they were family. By the time he'd asked her for what she knew about Rookwood, the need for revenge had reared up at him, fast and deadly as a snake. It scared him as it happened, the savage need for violence against this man, the man who'd taken his brother from him, hitting him in the chest like a blow. Like a hex. It didn't feel like something that was part of him; it felt separate; hard and separate like something that needed to be cut away before it poisoned him, like some slow curse working its way through his bloodstream.
He spent late nights in the shop – working, he told Angelina, and she'd asked if she could help with anything and looked wounded when he'd said no. Maybe he'd been sharper than he normally was, and maybe the way she'd drawn herself up and tried to hide, with nonchalance, the fact that she'd been hurt at his tone, had driven him to stay later than he'd meant to and drink more Ogden's than he'd planned on. The idea of Rookwood alive and living off charity was pummeling him and the more he drank, the clearer it became that there was only one solution.
He came home late, went to bed even later; and slept until Angelina left in the morning so that he wouldn't have to see her face, because he'd a sick feeling that if he looked into her eyes he'd tell her everything and never go through with it. And he had to go through with it; the poison in him might kill him if it were any other way; it was like the days after Fred's death but everything coursing through him was bitterness instead of grief, and he had to turn the photo on the bedside table down so he wouldn't see his wife and children smiling at him before he went to murder a man.
It was raining in Brixton. It had been raining in Diagon Alley when he'd left the shop, after a jittery day there, but somehow that same weather surprised him in Brixton. It was only a few miles away but it felt like a different world. The church car park was empty, a sagging chain-link fence surrounding it. His foot had landed in a deep puddle when he'd appeared there and he shifted it to drier ground, his trainer soles scuffing on the cracked asphalt. An estate rose high over the church on one side, the small, ugly flat windows staring out over the rain-streaked towers of St Anne's, reflecting the dingy landscape blackly. Down the street, the crumbling building that Lee had described to him was clearly visible.
George's stomach roiled as he stared at it. Rookwood might not even be there. Maybe he should just go – go home, sit in front of the fire and have a butterbeer and dry off and wait for Angelina to return from Ballycastle, and write to Roxanne and Fred…
And he found, suddenly, that he couldn't make himself Disapparate, even if he had wanted to, which part of him did, but…that sick pulsing in his veins wouldn't leave him and he set his shoulders and set off down the road, every muscle in his body locked and tight.
There was hardly anyone out, and he didn't make eye contact with anyone who was. It wasn't that late but the dark rainclouds made it feel like dusk, and he'd a sneaking suspicion that people in this particular part of town didn't have a habit of striking up conversations after dark. As he walked, he murmured the incantation for a Disillusionment Charm and felt the cold dampness slide down his back from his head, so no one saw him enter the decaying old structure.
Not, he thought, as he glanced once over his shoulder before slipping through the door that was hanging off its hinges, that anyone was likely to see him anyway. He kept one hand in his pocket, his fingers wrapped tightly around his wand, as the door fell shut behind him.
The building was damp. Water was dripping from somewhere, slowly working its way down through the building from the splintered roof and plinking to the floor out of George's sight. For a moment, he stood in the gloom, listening to the trickling of the water and breathing deeply. There was a pervasive odor of damp and rotting wood, plus an underlying suggestion of human rankness. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he looked around and decided that the building probably had been flats at one point. He was in a long corridor, down the other end of which he could see a sagging staircase. Where the building still retained its structure, individual rooms were visible, though most of the doors had either fallen in, and many of the walls were nonexistent or collapsing. Even the ones that were still standing had large holes through them.
He froze for a moment as a shadow of movement through one of the gaping holes flashed across his vision, but then a cat darted past his ankles and slithered out the front door. He exhaled the breath that he'd been holding and loosened his grip on his wand just slightly. This was stupid. If he was nervous, he shouldn't be doing this at all.
But he wasn't nervous.
George allowed himself to crack a small, grim smile. Think it enough times and maybe it would come true. What was to be nervous about – here he was, carrying out a bit of vigilante justice. It sounded much better that way, it did – vigilante justice rather than murder—
He shook himself to halt the train of thought and muttered, "Hominum revelo," unsurprised when the spell revealed multiple human presences in the old building. With a steadying breath, he started towards the nearest one, just at the top of the sagging staircase. As he got nearer, he slowed and drew his wand.
A pair of feet, sprawled in the corridor, came into view, and George cautiously took another step closer. A young man – younger than him by at least ten years – was passed out on the floor, his eyes rolled back into his head so that a sliver of white showed between his eyelids. Several sharps littered the ground around him, as well as empty beer cans and a mostly-empty liquor bottle. George's stomach clenched for a second as he wondered if the man was dead, but then the Muggle's chest heaved out with a breath and George stepped over him, taking care to avoid the sharps.
The next person he came upon was a woman; awake and standing at a partially-collapsed window. She met George's eyes, looking frightened, and he walked on without saying anything; in a minute, there was a scuffling behind him as the woman left.
That left the third and final person in the building. George considered, for a moment, that it wasn't Rookwood at all, but just another homeless Muggle eking out some shelter. He hoped it wasn't. He didn't think he'd have the stomach to come back here.
When he'd performed hominum revelo, the third person in the building had been on one of the upper floors, but there was no one there when George finally reached it. When he murmured the incantation again, he found that whoever it was was moving slowly down through the building and was currently almost to the ground floor.
There was no guarantee that it was Rookwood. Nevertheless, George threw caution to the wind and rushed to intercept the other party. He put his foot through a rotten floorboard and it snagged on his trousers, holding him there until he pointed his wand at the wood cast reducto at it. The spell took a small piece of his trousers with it but it was a small price to pay. Down the rickety stairs he went, avoiding the comatose Muggle again, and stopping just out of sight of the ground floor.
A creak below him told him that there was someone moving down there. Slowly, he descended the staircase, hoping muffliato would work on footsteps and creaky floorboards..
And there, shuffling through the ground-floor corridor, was a once-tall man, now bent over, with lank, greasy hair. His back was to George but he'd seen Rookwood's photo enough through the years – though admittedly not recently – to recognise the man.
A sudden lance of fury slashed through him and he bolted the remaining distance with no care for stealth. The moments between standing on the stairs and grabbing Rookwood; spinning him round by his bony shoulder and grabbing the front of his shirt to slam him up against the wall, were blurred, and then he was holding his wand up, pointed straight at Augustus Rookwood's face, and his teeth were gritted in anger and preparation.
The man's appearance was so shocking that George nearly let go of his shirt. His face was pockmarked as ever, but there were red blotches across it and veins spidering out in clumps. Patches of his scalp showed through his stringy, greasy hair and many of his teeth were broken or missing. His eyes, though, were what startled George the most. They were rheumy white, filmed-over and unseeing. Rookwood was blind.
George tightened his grip on his wand but didn't speak. Then, Rookwood did. "You're a wizard."
His voice was cracked with disuse or damage. For a moment, George considered not answering. He knew that he should just kill Rookwood right there – it would be no trouble meaning Avada Kedavra, not for his brother's murderer.
But instead, he replied, "Got it in one."
George swallowed. "No." This was the moment; before the man spoke again, before George had time to think anymore.
A second passed, and then another. George kept his wand raised, pointed between Rookwood's rheumy eyes, his fist clenched round the man's filthy shirt. His hand wasn't shaking. He could do it. He could kill the bastard who'd murdered his twin brother.
There was no fear on Rookwood's face, no remorse, no…nothing. Just a certain boredom that George supposed, considering that he'd a wand digging into his forehead, qualified as defiance. He didn't speak again, just stood there. Waiting. George wondered if he should say something grand and accusatory. Announce why he was there or something. Otherwise Rookwood might just think he was there simply to kill him, for no reason at all other than he liked killing.
At that thought, his breath caught in his throat. Was there a difference? If he told Rookwood who he was, why he was there, did that make it any less of a murder?
Suddenly, George realized that Augustus Rookwood was an old man. Maybe not by wizard standards, but however he'd been living; whatever he'd done to himself, had aged him in the last twenty-some years far beyond his actual age. An old, homeless man, relying on church soup runs to eat – relying on the people that he'd once cut down because of his idiotic ideas about blood purity. George supposed that was justice, in a way.
He stared into the man's clouded-over eyes and furrowed his brow, imagining without wanting to what it would be like to be old and alone and broken. He never thought for a second that Rookwood was any less evil than he'd been twenty years ago. But here he was, George Weasley, getting ready to be just as evil, to commit the same horrid crime that he hated in the former Death Eater. Suddenly he tried to imagine going home to Angelina, climbing into bed and putting his arms around her, when he'd just come from murdering a man in cold blood. That would be something he'd have to keep from her forever, because she wouldn't understand; and he wouldn't want Fred and Roxy ever finding out, besides.
And just as suddenly, George found that he didn't understand. What, in Merlin's tangled mess of a beard, was he doing?
With a harsh exhalation, George pulled his wand away and stepped back. Rookwood's face still showed nothing more than boredom. "You're not worth it," George said.
Then, Rookwood began to laugh. At least, George thought it was laughter – at first, all he could do was stare in alarm as cracked, wheezing gasps filled the air. "You Weasleys," he panted, "you blood-traitors; always cowards; never have the guts to do what should be done—"
George let his wand drop to his side. Somehow, Rookwood recognised him. "That's me," he said, "George Weasley, blood-traitor extraordinaire. And proud of it," he added, suddenly tired. He was so, so tired of these people who'd lost long ago, hopefully forever but at the very least for the foreseeable future. Killing his brother's murderer wouldn't give him any peace; it only gave the bastard further hold over him. It let Rookwood win where he'd already lost. And anyway, George wasn't a killer – he made people laugh. It was all he'd ever wanted to do; and now he couldn't remember the last time he'd laughed.
With a deep breath, he took a step back and said, "I reckon it takes more guts to let you walk out of here."
Rookwood's eyes widened a little but George didn't hang about to wait for a response. The desperate feeling of wanting to go home finally asserted itself fully and whatever had been keeping him from doing it before was gone; and he turned, only wanting to get a few feet away from Rookwood before Disapparating.
He hadn't expected the old Death Eater to do anything. He was decrepit and blind and little danger. But Rookwood moved faster than George thought possible. One minute his back was turned on the old man, broken and defeated and harmless, and then there was a scrape, and a scuffling sound, and George's wand slipped from his hand, yanked away by Rookwood. He barely had a chance to turn back around.
The air exploded around him and rent the whole world into chaos; screaming, blazing shards of chaos and everything collapsed inwards on him in a howl of heat and shrieking light; and then there was nothing.
He woke up, he thought. At least he swam towards it, deep underwater like he was. Dead, like he was. He assumed? The murmur of the water was all around him, the currents of sound like voices, like half a dream. Death was like sleep. Funny, he thought as he drifted back down into it. Funny, because he always thought he'd see everyone who'd come before him…
There was light beyond his eyelids. Light and silence.
No, not silence. George let the faint sound worm its way into his ears. Voices. A faint, nearly inaudible murmur of voices, and an occasional click of shoes on a hard surface. He supposed this could be what it was like to be dead, but somehow he'd always imagined it less sterile-smelling. Not only that, he realised as he drifted further into awareness, but his hand hurt, as though something was crushing it, and he'd never imagined that there'd be much pain once he snuffed it. His head hurt too, and his arms and back and legs – in fact, everything ached, but nothing so acutely as his hand.
With supreme effort, he forced his eyelids open They wanted to stay shut. He felt as though he was dreaming that he was waking up without actually waking, struggling with all his might just to achieve the smallest, simplest movement. The light was whiter and brighter once his eyes were open, and it took him a moment to realise he was staring up into a globe emitting a clean, white glow.
The sound changed as well. There was a gasp, and the pain in his hand worsened as whatever was clenching it did so harder. And then a face appeared above him, fear and relief battling on it. "George," Angelina breathed.
For a moment, all he could do was stare at her. He hadn't a clue where he was, but Angelina was there, and her eyes were red, the skin around them swollen, and there were two bloody indentations on her lower lip where she'd obviously been biting it.
"Ange," he croaked, "you're breaking every bone in my hand."
With a laugh that was more like a sob, she let go of his hand, which she'd apparently been clutching with every ounce of her not-inconsiderable strength, and put one of her palms gently to his forehead. "How are you feeling?" she asked quietly. Her voice sounded hoarse. Her fingertips brushed his hair.
He just shook his head. Levity eluded him at the minute. "Awful." When his eyes slid from her face slightly, back to the white light, he asked, "Where am I, anyway?"
"St Mungo's," she replied. "The Healers said you might not wake up for another twelve hours…but they said it'd be a really good sign if you did…" She trailed off before her voice could completely hitch.
St Mungo's? How had he—why was he…? He couldn't remember anything. And then bits poked their way into his memory, pricking him sharply as they fell into order and he recalled Rookwood, and how he couldn't kill him, and he'd turned round and something had happened – his wand taken, and then…
He couldn't piece that together, but he could imagine what had happened. Remembering the confusion and the furor of that last moment in Brixton, and taking into account the pain he was in, his mind slowly picked its way towards what made sense – Rookwood had taken his wand and blown up that building, and the whole thing had come down around him, and he was lucky that his head wasn't cracked open and his insides weren't scrambled by the explosion.
But it didn't explain how he'd got from that dingy Brixton neighbourhood to St Mungo's. "How—?" he just began.
"Dean Thomas's sister," Angelina answered, anticipating his question. "She's an A and E doctor. She—she recognised you when the ambulance got you to the hospital. By the ear, she said. She rang Dean…" Angelina looked stricken. "They said another few minutes and it would've been too late."
George looked at her, a bolt of sick self-disgust lancing through him. He'd almost died. He'd almost died and left his wife, who'd already lost the first man she loved, and his children, who were supposed to be growing up in a better world than he'd done. "Ange," he began, "I've been monumentally stupid."
She leaned forward and rested her forehead against his lightly. "I know," she murmured. "I already know. Harry said they found Rookwood's body in the rubble." That same half-laugh, half-sob escaped her. "I'd be furious with you if I hadn't just spent the last twelve hours sitting here, clutching your hand, praying that you'd just open your stupid bloody eyes again."
Experimentally, he tried moving his arms. It hurt. But he kept on, until they were around Angelina, and then he pulled her against him hard and she buried her head in the crook between his neck and shoulder and slipped her arms around his neck as best as she could. He didn't think he'd ever been in so much pain but it was worth it to be alive and holding his wife. Suddenly he felt like he was waking up after a long, sick stupour and despite the pain pulsing through him, he felt more himself than he'd done in ages. "What the bloody hell's been wrong with me?" he mumbled, not really expecting an answer.
At that, she straightened up and gave him a piercing, measuring look. "George, I don't need to know. I mean, I do, but…I don't need you to tell me. All I need to know is that this is over. Whatever's been happening this past week—I just need to know that you're finished with it. And I don't care what happened; I don't care what you did—" A twitch of fear flickered over her face at those words, but she plowed on, "—but you've not been yourself, and I want you back."
There was such a fierce look on her face at the end of this, the fierceness in her that George loved, that he wanted to grab her again and hold her close. Instead, he said, "It's over," not knowing how to inject into those words how much he meant them and just hoping that it showed. The amount of pain he was in probably did, anyway, and if that wasn't reason enough… "And Ange—" He reached up and brushed a hand against her face. "Of course I'll tell you. I've got to tell you. I think if I just had done from the start…"
She looked like she might cry. "You great, daft bastard," she murmured, and leant down again to kiss him softly. "I'm never going to let you leave my side again if this is the sort of rubbish you're capable of getting up to."
He grabbed her hand and kissed her palm, her gold wedding band glinting as it caught the light. "S'pose I just proved I need constant supervision."
"Completely," she murmured, still close to him.
"I won't complain if it's you supervising me."
Angelina gave a more genuine, less teary laugh. "I'm glad to see you being your irreverent self again, but, you know, as you said, you've been monumentally stupid and I'll have to be angry at you at some point."
"Not while I'm in hospital though, Ange," George replied, closing his eyes with a grimace. "That'd just be cruel." He opened his eyes again to find her staring like she was afraid to blink and lose sight of him. "Hey," he said. "That was a joke."
Angelina bit her lip, her teeth fitting exactly into the bloody indentations. "I was so afraid, George. I've never been so terrified. It's been like—Fred died in the explosion…only this has been so much worse…"
"The irony isn't lost on me," George replied quietly.
Her breath hitched again but she tried to smile. "Figured it wouldn't be." She exhaled forcefully and leant over again, dropping her head onto his chest. "This is all supposed to be over," came her muffled voice. "I'm not supposed to have to worry about Death Eaters killing my family."
He put a hand on her head and said, "Ange." She looked up at him. "I love you. I'm sorry. I thought I needed...revenge...or something. Against Rookwood. Once I found out he was alive—" She opened her mouth to question him, but he went on, "––which is a long story, it seemed really important to get revenge." When he paused, she just waited for him to go on. He took a breath. "Except this is it, isn't it? I mean the fact that I've got you, and Fred and Roxanne, and we're here—I mean, not here, lovely as St Mungo's is, but here. Alive. And happy." He paused again. This was the muddle of thoughts that had been in his head since he'd lost consciousness and then started drifting back towards it, and he didn't feel as though he was making himself clear. "I guess I should've realised it before I nearly went and got myself blown up, but just the fact that we won and we were right, and none of our kids've got a clue what living through a war's like – that's the revenge, isn't it?"
For a long moment, she just stared at him. Then, she breathed, "Oh, George," and kissed him again; a deep, slow kiss that made him wish he was at home instead of aching in a hospital bed. He wrapped his hands around both her upper arms until, some minutes later, they separated.
Angelina cleared her throat. "Anyway, your whole family's here."
"All of them?" Poor Hermione – George could imagine how she was feeling; even if she'd had nothing to do with it she'd suspected him of planning something. He'd have to make it up to her.
"Yeah. Charlie might have to be hospitalised himself after however many Portkeys it took to get here so quickly."
"What about Fred and Roxanne?" He kept his hands on her.
"No, no…I asked Minerva not to tell them yet." She took a breath. "I wanted…I wanted there to be something to tell. Not just waiting." Then she put a hand close to his head, brushing her fingers against his hair. "Do you want me to see if they can come visit?"
"Yeah." He smiled. "Provided I don't look too terrible."
Angelina gazed down at him, her eyes warm and her smile soft. With another quick, light kiss, she said with a hint of mischief creeping into her tone, "You've looked much worse. If they weren't permanently scarred when you were inventing the Belle of the Ball Beautifiers then I doubt they can be fazed much."
"That wasn't that bad."
"Your mouth ended up on your forehead – and that was after your face was done looking like it was melting – and your eyes got all wonky."
George snorted with laughter. "Well, maybe. But it wore off in the end, didn't it? And it works brilliantly. At least until midnight."
"Yes," Angelina said dryly. "You know Percy caught Molly trying to pack a bottle of it in her school trunk?"
"Did he? Well, I hope he told her that she takes after Audrey and hasn't got anything to worry about." He held his wife's gaze, and then sobered and said more quietly, "Seriously – I don't want Freddie and Roxy…worrying. Or…"
She gave him a look full of understanding. "I'll tell them it was an accident. An improperly stored erumpent horn at one of your suppliers."
That sick feeling lanced at his heart again. "I can't even tell you how stupid I feel—"
The rest of his self-remonstration was cut off as she kissed him again. "The important thing is that you're here," she murmured. "Things come out right in the end."
For a moment, they looked at each other and George wanted to tell her that he hadn't done it, what she'd been afraid of for that brief moment; in the end he hadn't had it in himself to murder, and that it was because of her and Freddie and Roxanne, and his whole family waiting outside the ward's doors. And he thought, lying there in St Mungo's, that when he did die, and thank Merlin it wouldn't be today – but when he did, and he saw Fred again after all their years apart, that his brother would be happier to be un-avenged and have his twin's soul whole and undamaged.
He opened his mouth to speak; to voice at least some of this, but Angelina just gave him half a smile and he stopped, because she'd probably already got there on her own. So he opened his mouth again to say again how much he loved her, but then the door to the ward opened and his sister's hushed voice asked, "Ange? How is he?"
Angelina slid her hand into his and turned round to face Ginny. "He just woke up," she said, and the brightness of her smile made George grip her hand even more tightly.