A/N: It is unforgivable how late I am! Christmas was chaos with cousins coming over from overseas and expecting us to play tour guide and wait on their every whim... I love my family but sometimes I just hate my family. Anyway, after that, I had the bolts in my ankle removed (I never thought they'd do that just months after the break!) and, though it feels weird, everything seems to be fine. I can't jog just yet but it's so much better than before.
I had promised myself I'd write a smaller chapter and post it in schedule but these things have a life of their own... it's even bigger than the last one! This was a hard chapter, what with the heavy emotions coming from the day it takes place on. I hope you enjoy it!
1 April 1999
"Why does this stupid train journey have to be so long?" Izzy said out of nowhere, about ten seconds after Luna stepped out of the compartment they were sitting in to go to the loo.
On the seat across from hers, Ginny gave her a look of annoyance. She was quite aware that she had a very short fuse that day. "It is as long as it has ever been since our first year. Seven hours from Hogsmeade to London," she said, her tone flat.
"We're in the Wizarding World – couldn't they make it go any faster?"
"Apparently not. Now, can you stop complaining about it?!" Ginny snapped.
Izzy stared at her and then went quiet, mostly because she knew Ginny had a right to get a break that day. A break she should have given her already by keeping quiet about her complaining in the first place, she thought, feeling bad about it. It was Fred's birthday (George's too but, above everything, it was Fred's birthday). And Fred's birthday was no longer an occasion for friends and family to celebrate – it was just an occasion to get through. And that was what Ginny was trying to do.
Most of the time, it was easy for Izzy to forget that it wasn't just George who'd been shaken to the core by Fred's death. It wasn't that no one else showed their grief over losing him, but nobody's grief had affected her more intensely than George's. Not even Ginny's – although Izzy had been more than willing to console her friend through the worst, truth was that Ginny wasn't one to be often consoled after the initial shock. And when the time came when she needed to be consoled, Harry, who'd barely left her side all summer, had quickly jumped to the task. Izzy didn't complain: she'd been going through the motions herself and Harry and Ginny had their own thing going – they'd both come out of the war a bit messed up, so patching things up together had been kind of a mutual, intimate, making-up-for-the-time-apart thing. So, Izzy supposed that it was understandable (although still a bit crappy) that she'd been too busy worrying about her own (well, not her own) thing to really pay attention to the fact that it was a bad day to Ginny too, so she might want to keep a lid on her own complaints.
Ginny didn't seem to hold that much of a grudge, though, as, two minutes after snapping, she was breaking the silence. "Sorry, I shouldn't have shouted."
Izzy shook her head. "Don't sweat it."
The redhead huffed. "Did you really have to pick today to cease being bizarrely excited about rides on the Hogwarts Express like always?"
"I am not always bizarrely excited about the Hogwarts Express," Izzy replied, a bit miffed.
"Yes, you are. You're like a little kid," Ginny insisted. "And the fact that right now you're not is bizarre on its own. Which leads me to the point when I ask what's got you all mopey and answer my own question by concluding that you're worried about George and would rather be in London with him than wasting time in a seven-hour train journey. Which, in turn, leads me to the other point when I ask: What the hell are you doing here when you could have just flooed to London from Hogsmeade, you moron?!"
"Hey! Don't you think I thought of that? He told me not change my plans in his stead! That he'll be fine," she said, a bit stung.
"And why did you listen to him? He's an idiot who thought the best way to handle Fred's death was pushing away everyone around him and use those who got too close as a chew-toy, only to be proven wrong," Ginny replied.
"Because I don't want him to think that I'm worrying."
The redhead gave her a look. "But you are worrying. I know it, you know it and I'm pretty sure even he knows it. I mean, the fact that you offered to floo early to London in the first place entails a certain amount of worry."
"Well, yeah, but there's worry and there's worry. And I don't want him to think that this is worry because I don't want him to think I don't have faith in him."
Ginny sighed. "You are ridiculous. Both of you. It's like a match made in hell."
Izzy pursed her lips but didn't comment on her accession. "It's too late to go back now, anyway. Even if I was mad enough to jump out of a moving train and managed to live through it, I'd just end up stranded in the middle of nowhere since I can't apparate."
The redhead sighed. "You really need to show that pansy Wilkie Twycross that you're not a moron. It's like he's afraid to teach you anything useful! I mean, he's got you reading apparition pamphlets and doing 'focusing exercises' during lessons. What is that?"
She shrugged. "At least he's finally allowed me back into classes…" she mumbled, though she wasn't sure what for, anyway. Honestly, at that point she was more or less resigned to the fact that maybe she should just rely on Muggle transportation for the rest of her life. Better buy herself a Travel Card once she graduated…
"Well, I guess you're right, anyway," Ginny said with a sigh. "No use crying over spilled milk. Ron has the day off today but I'm sure Lee and Remus can keep an eye on George. My family will probably take turns checking on him too."
Izzy sighed. That wasn't that comforting really. They'd been checking up on him all those months too and that only served to make him angrier. "What about you?" Izzy had to ask, just to shift her worries. "Are you okay?"
Ginny gave her a sideways look, as if annoyed by the fact that Izzy had to ask. "You know me. I'm always okay."
Izzy didn't bother to call her on the blatant lie, knowing it would take an unbearable amount of drilling to get Ginny to spill out what she was currently using as fuel for her current, somewhat volatile mood. She decided to leave that task for Harry to tackle later, not doubting for a second that he was already counting on it.
Their faces turned to the compartment's sliding door as they heard a familiar voice. Right outside, Luna stood with her hand on the doorknob talking lively to someone out of their eyeshot. She waved the unseen person goodbye before motioning to turn the knob… only to be thrown down against the floor as something caused the whole train to shake and lurch forward all of a sudden.
Both Izzy and Ginny were on their feet immediately, rushing to the door in order to check on their friend.
"Are you okay? Did you hit your head?" Dean Thomas was asking just as they stepped out of the compartment. He seemed to have beaten them to the scene and had already helped Luna up onto a sitting position.
The blonde shook her head, instead clutching an arm close to her chest. "No, I managed to land on my hands. My wrist doesn't feel too good, though," she said.
"Can you move it at all?" Izzy asked, kneeling by her friend and carefully getting a hold of the arm, supporting it as Luna attempted to move it, only to let out a sharp hiss as she did so. That wasn't good. "Alright, better not try that again, then."
"What the bloody hell was that?" Ginny inquired, getting up from her position on Luna's other said and moving over to the window as Izzy and Dean helped the blond girl up from the floor. The aisle was no longer empty aside from them, a few students having left their compartments to try and see what was going on. "We're losing speed," the redhead observed, watching as the landscape outside of the window moved slower and slower.
"Did we hit something?" Izzy asked.
Ginny put her face against the glass, trying to get a glimpse of what was going on towards the front of the train but the angle wasn't enough. "I can't see anything," she said before taking a look up at the window's opening. It was far too high up for her to poke her head out with her diminutive stature. Annoyed, she turned around to face Dean. "Oi, Stringbean, do me a favour and take a look outside for us," she told him.
"Stringbean?" he asked, narrowing his eyes.
"Just do it already!" she insisted, glaring at him.
Dean mumbled something under his breath but knew better than to protest out loud, being frequently exposed to her temper as a Chaser for her Quidditch team. He made his way to the window and, pulling the top open, poked his head out, trying to see the front of the train. At that point, the train was barely moving at all, leading more students to exit their compartments.
"So? Can you see anything? Did we derail or something?" Ginny asked.
"Doesn't look like it," they heard him saying through the window. "I can't see much of the front, though. We were about to enter a tunnel. But, anyway, doesn't seem like anything serious – not like we're under attack or anything."
"Attack?!" a shrill female voice shouted by their side. A blond girl they knew to be a fifth-year Hufflepuff stared at them with eyes the size of saucers.
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Calm down, he was just saying that…!"
The blonde screamed loudly. "Oh my god, we're under attack!"
And everything went to hell.
Most of those who still hadn't exited their compartments did so at that very moment, screaming in a panic as well as most of them ran around like headless chicken, something more than a little uncomfortable in a crowded aisle. Soon, people were pulling at the doors, quickly realizing it was to no avail. "The doors are locked! We're doomed!"
All the while, Ginny stood looking at the scene around her in disbelief – and she wasn't the only one: she could see a few faces locked up inside their compartments as they looked out their doors, staring at the roaring crowd like it was some brain-damaged sideshow. It was about thirty seconds before Ginny was able to say anything. "Alright, everybody cal…"
She was unable to finish that sentence as someone crashed right into her, hands first on her chest. Her chest. The first thing she noticed was that the culprit, some third or fourth year boy she'd never seen before, looked far less sheepish than he should – in fact, he seemed like he couldn't believe his luck.
Ginny saw red. "You little bastard…" she hissed. "Eat bogies!"
Inside the compartment she and Dean had just helped Luna retreating to, mindful of the further damage a badly-placed bump could do to her wrist, Izzy heard a loud yelp above all others coming from the outside as she stood over her trunk, searching for something she could lend Luna to use as a sling for her arm. Just then, Ginny opened the compartment's door and stepped in looking red with rage.
"What is wrong with these people?! Have they all lost their wits?" the redhead said, furious.
"Can you really blame them for freaking out over the prospect of an attack after everything we all went through last year?" Izzy argued.
Luna sighed. "Everyone is a little broken now," she said in her dreamy voice.
Ginny sighed, turning to Dean, who was busy conjuring ice-cubes into a bag. "Are you sure nothing looked odd outside?"
"Other than the train losing speed, no, not really," he said.
Again, the redhead took a deep breath. "How's your arm, Luna?"
"Painful," the girl casually said. Her tone didn't seem all that tense and, if they didn't know her any better, they'd say she was lying. Of course, that wasn't her kind of thing – Luna was just odd like that. She didn't function like everyone else which, in all, was one of the things that made her the Luna they knew and loved.
"It's starting to swell up," Izzy observed as she tied a winter scarf loosely around Luna's neck and carefully helped her slip her arm onto it.
"I hear Umgubular Slashkilter marrow does wonders for swelling," the blonde informed them.
All three of her friends looked at each other. Yep, Luna was going to be just fine.
"Why don't we just get started with some ice?" Dean suggested, moving to sit by Luna's side.
There was a thud on their door, probably from somebody crashing into it, and the sound from outside became much clearer. "Let's break the windows," somebody enthused. "We can jump out of them."
That was it for Ginny. "Oh, for Merlin's sake," she said, rushing out the door with Izzy following close behind, mindful of the risk that her friend would just blast everyone to smithereens.
Indeed, she saw the redhead reaching for her wand but, instead of pointing it at somebody else, she pointed at her own neck. "Sonorus," she said, and immediately Izzy took a step back and covered her ears, knowing what was about to happen. "Everybody shut up!" the redhead yelled, her voice sounding extremely loud.
It worked like a charm. Not only did everyone go completely quiet but also they stopped on their very tracks. Some actually lost balanced, maybe due to burst eardrums.
"There is no attack! That moron," Ginny said, pointing at the blond girl in question, "misheard something and decided to throw a fit. There is no reason to believe this is anything other than the train breaking down, so keep your blasted trousers on and stop acting like idiots!" She mumbled the counter-charm under her breath and allowed her voice to go back to its regular level.
"But the doors are locked," someone pointed out. "Why are they locked?"
"Maybe so nobody would think to jump out of a moving train?" she suggested.
"The train isn't moving."
"I'm pretty sure it was supposed to, though," the redhead replied. "Now go back into your compartments and stop making a fuss before you hurt yourselves."
"Who died and made you queen, Weasley?" an annoying voice came from somewhere behind her. She turned and saw a group of Slytherins led by Astoria Greengrass standing at their compartment's door. She didn't recall seeing any of them taking part on the group freak-out, so she assumed they'd just been standing there, enjoying the pitiful scene.
"No one. But they did make you a prefect, didn't they, Greengrass? Would it have killed you to try and help out a little?"
She just shrugged and went back into the compartment. Typical Slytherin, Ginny thought.
She turned back to the still uneasy crowd. "I'll try and go to the front so I can let you know what is going on. If I find a circus here when I get back, I swear I'll hex each and every one responsible, detention be damned. Just ask that kid how he likes my bat bogies," she said, nodding at the tearful, terrified boy who'd groped her earlier, causing him to flinch and obediently run back to his compartment.
From that moment on, no one dared to go against her – it seemed she'd scared the panic out of them.
"Are you coming along?" she asked Izzy, who simply nodded in response, poking her head into the compartment to inform Dean and Luna of where they were going.
By the time they reached the gangway passage, the loudest thing around were the conversations inside the compartments, rather than the hysterics from before. On the next compartment, the scene they found just annoyed Ginny – no screaming, no people running around, just a few students looking out the windows in the midst of a mild sense of orderly anxiety. "Great, we just had to go and pick the carriage where all the dimwits landed on," she mumbled.
Izzy rolled her eyes. "Calm down. That much anger can't be good for you," she told her friend.
"Forgive me for being in a bad mood after the riot back there caused some little pervert to enjoy groping me," she hissed.
"Groped you? Who? No, let me guess… Bat-bogey boy?"
"It was probably an accident, really. You did say it was in the middle of the… er, riot."
"I don't care! No one is allowed to touch my assets unless they're my mother, my healer or the Saviour of the Wizarding World," Ginny said, a little too loudly, causing some strange looks to be sent her way.
"Wow, some people have high-standards but you… yours are a whole new level," Izzy commented before a silence formed between the two of them.
The crossed to the next carriage and, just as they were halfway down the aisle, Hermione came in through the door opposite them. She looked positively murderous.
"What happened?" Ginny immediately asked.
"The locomotive's gone!" Hermione shouted, flabbergasted.
"What?!" Izzy said in disbelief. "What do you mean it's gone?"
"It's just… gone! Looks like somebody rigged the coupler to separate the carriages from the locomotive in the middle of nowhere!"
"But why? Could it be part of some sort of attack?" Ginny asked, alarmed.
"I don't think so. Professor Vector and Professor Cattermole are searching the area around the train but, as far as we can tell now, this seems like just a bad April Fools' prank! This is going to take ages to fix – the locomotive is probably miles away by now and I'm not even sure the driver noticed we're gone! Can't people just do normal pranks? This is not funny!"
"Hey, don't shout at us. We didn't do it," Izzy assured her.
"I know! It just… annoys me beyond words!" she hissed. "And Anthony isn't here, so I have to do all of the Head's duties on my own… I've spent the last ten minutes trying to find prefects around this place to put some order around here. It's chaos! I've seen at least half a dozen people breathing into bags, some girl fainted over at the first carriage and a guy had a panic attack over at the second one when he realized the doors wouldn't open. Is it so hard to guess that's just a safety matter?"
"Well, you can add a riot over at our carriage to the list of unfortunate situations spawning from this," Ginny informed her.
"Don't worry – Ginny scared everyone into submission," Izzy assured her. "Luna's hurt her wrist too – she fell when the train gave that big lurch. I think it may be broken."
Hermione looked like she wanted to scream. "When I get my hands on the little jokers… I swear, Izzy, if this turns out to be your Dad somehow…"
"My Dad? He's nearing forty! His days causing chaos around school property are behind him," Izzy argued.
"Yeah right, the only time when days of chaos are behind Sirius Black is when he's six feet under!" she said darkly. "Let him know that I've got my eye on him and all the usual suspects."
"Hermione, I seriously doubt it was him. He's been threading really lightly around my Mum lately. I think he may be trying to sweeten her up into something," Izzy said. "Probably wants her to let him buy Alex a real broomstick or something."
The older girl sighed. "Yeah, well, we'll see about that. In the meantime, if you'd go back to your carriage and keep things under control there, I'd be eternally thankful. Professor Cattermole said to keep everyone in their seats to avoid too much commotion. She's already sent a Patronus over to McGonagall telling her what's going on and asking for instructions – it shouldn't be long before we hear something."
"Yeah, let us know if you need something, okay?" Izzy agreed.
"Half a dozen duplicates of myself, that's what I need!"
Half a dozen Hermiones… that was a scary thought.
The two girls made their way back to their carriage as requested and, upon arrival, they saw that people seemed to have indeed taken Ginny's threat to heart. While Ginny kept her promise to inform everyone of what was going on, Izzy made her way back to their compartment… only to find Dean and Luna kissing.
"Oh, crap. Don't mind me. I'm leaving," she immediately said. What was it with broken bones and kissing? Just one year before, she'd been on the exact same situation with George.
"No!" Dean quickly replied, getting up, his face full of embarrassment. "Please, stay. I'm… er, I'll go hear what Ginny's saying outside." And, with that, he walked past Izzy, making his exit.
A bit unsure of what to do, Izzy just raised her eyebrows before turning to Luna.
"Sorry about that," Izzy apologized before moving to take a seat.
"So… I guess this means you two have a thing going, hmm?" she asked.
"I suppose," the blonde said with a little smile. "Dean is very kind to me – he always was, even before the Malfoy Manor."
Izzy smiled. "Well, then I'm happy for you."
Minutes later, Professor Vector's voice sounded throughout the entire train, urging its occupants to come out and gather outside as all doors had been unlocked by then. Mindful of Luna's arm, they waited for all the other occupants of the carriage to get out of the way before helping her out.
Outside, they found the students gathering around Hermione, as well as Professors Vector and Cattermole, shouting one question after another. By the time she was certain everyone was within earshot, Vector quieted everyone down with a shout of 'Silence' and proceeded to put all cards on the table.
"To answer what most of you were asking," she started in a commanding tone, "it seems that the reason for this conundrum of ours is some sort of a bad April Fools' prank. We don't have many details right now, although Professor Cattermole and I found no reason to believe this is part of some elaborate attack. We plan to start an investigation in order to discover the culprit, however, our priority right now is getting you home. "
"We contacted Professor McGonagall and she's already trying to get in touch with the driver but it should take at least a couple of hours for the train to resume the journey," Cattermole supplied, causing an uproar among the crowd even though it was clear in her tone that she took no pleasure in delivering such news.
"Silence!" Vector repeated, once again shutting everybody up. "Professor McGonagall was not insensitive to the situations. She extraordinarily sent some instructions for us to follow and if the pipsqueaks talking to each other over at the back quiet down, we may be able to share them," she declared, causing the 'pipsqueaks' in question to quiet down. "As per the Headmistress's instructions, any student over the age of seventeen is allowed to gather their belongings and head home by their own means, as long as they write their names down with on a list Miss Granger will be responsible for. For those of you seeing this as an opportunity to spend half a day freely unrestrained by parental supervision, you can forget it. Your parents are being contacted and informed of what is going on as we speak. Which brings me to the underage students – I'm afraid your situation is a little more dire: unless you have siblings that are of age traveling with you, I'm afraid you'll have to wait for your parents to respond…"
And so, the uproar resumed.
"Well, I guess that's it for us," Ginny said, turning to Izzy and Luna. "It's probably best if we split up: one of us should fetch the trunks, another should go sign our names up…"
"I'll get the trunks," Izzy offered.
Ginny nodded. "Okay, then I'll go to Hermione." She then turned to her injured friend. "Luna, I think it's best if you just wait here away from the crowd… You're in no condition to be ran over by an angry mob."
The blonde girl didn't protest and so they split up and got to work. Fetching the luggage, Izzy had to admit she was thankful that the carriage they were in had been mostly occupied by younger kinds, aside from their compartment and Dean's – that way, there was much less people around to get in her way as they were all busy protesting their fate to Professor Vector.
With some difficulty, Izzy was able to herd all three school trunks out of the train at once, as well as a couple of handbags aside from her own. Outside, she found Luna was still in the spot they'd left her, although not alone – not only was Dean by her side but also Professor Cattermole herself.
"…my Maisie broke her wrist last Winter and it didn't look very different from yours," the older woman was saying, inspecting Luna's arm as Izzy approached.
"I could fix it myself. I keep tripping on things… my toes break all the time. A wrist can't be that different," Luna pointed out.
"Luna, that's your wand arm!" Dean reminded her.
"Oh, yeah… that's right," she said, as if she hadn't noticed it yet.
"I really have to insist that you let me take you to St Mungo's," Professor Cattermole told her. "As a teacher, I wouldn't feel good with myself if I allowed you to let you go on your own with a broken limb."
Luna sighed. "Daddy will worry. Since Mama died, he always worries when there are hospitals involved."
"I can go tell him myself," Dean offered. "He's at the Quibbler's headquarters, right? I'll go there and tell him what happened. I swear I'll make it clear that you're perfectly fine."
Luna smiled. "You'd do that?"
Izzy cleared her throat, drawing their attention. "I guess you'll need this, then," she said, pushing Luna's trunk and handbag their way.
"Oh, I'll take it," Dean offered. "I'll leave it at your Dad's office. No need to drag luggage into a hospital. Just let me go get my trunk and I'll be right back," he said before walking off to the train.
Looking positively exhausted, Professor Cattermole sighed. "My, my… this is quite the situation we've found ourselves in. I've got to ask, since it's my first year here, but does this sort of thing tend to happen a lot on April's Fools' Day?" the Muggle-Studies teacher asked them.
Izzy scratched her head. "Well, not this in specific, mostly because I think it's the first time since I started school that a school break just happened to start on the first of April. But if you're referring to trouble in general… I'm sure you've heard the rumours. And seen the newspaper headlines. Since I came here, there was that matter with the Chamber of Secrets…"
"Oh, and then the Dementors chasing your father because they thought he was a criminal," Luna supplied.
"Yeah. Then, there was the Triwizard Tournament and then Umbridge's reign…" She saw the teacher wincing at the name and immediately regretted mentioning it. According to Hermione, Professor Cattermole had been one of the many Muggle-borns prosecuted by Umbridge's Muggle-born Registration Commission… in fact, she'd only escaped arrest due to Harry's intervention when he and Ron were impersonating a couple of Ministry officials (one of them Professor Cattermole's own husband) upon their infiltration into the Ministry to collect a Horcrux. She'd been as much a victim of Umbridge's as they had and Izzy supposed that was what made her probably one of the most likeable teachers in the school, despite her relative new-ness to it. Then again, Izzy was biased – Muggle-studies was her favourite subject. "The two years after that were a different kind of bad but, then again, that was before the war ended. A runaway Locomotive is probably the worst we'll have this year." That and people (mostly her father) aiming things at Snape's ghost behind his back and causing him to throw his infamous hissy fits.
"I suppose there's some comfort to be extracted from that," Professor Cattermole said, just as Ginny approached.
"Did you get everything?" the redhead asked Izzy, who nodded.
"Professor Cattermole is taking Luna to the Hospital," she informed her friend.
"Oh… do you want us to come along?"
Luna shook her head. "Oh, no. Go on home. Dean is getting my dad and meeting me there," she said casually.
Ginny raised her eyebrows, noting just how clingy Dean was these days, but refrained from commenting. Instead, she turned to Izzy. "Well, I guess it's just the two of us, then," she concluded.
Izzy nodded and, after a brief farewell with Professor Cattermole and their friend, they made their way farther away from the train, outside of the anti-apparition wards surrounding it, and Ginny side-along apparated her to 12 Grimmauld Place.
"Home, sweet home, hum?" Izzy asked, tapping her wand on the doorknob in order to open the front door. "Come on in for a little bit. Mum will probably want to say 'hi'."
"I shouldn't take too long," Ginny said, dragging her trunk behind her as she stepped through the door. "Mum will have a litter if that letter from McGonagall arrives before I do. Today is not a good day to cross her, if you know what I mean."
Izzy nodded silently, refraining from commenting as she closed the door. If Ginny and George's moods were bound to be unpredictable on Fred's birthday, Molly was probably not going to be any better.
"Harry? Is that you?" they heard Mia calling from upstairs.
"No, Mum, it's me," she called back.
"Izzy?!" Mia replied, just before the sound of her steps down the stairs reached their ears. Soon enough, she was coming down the last flight of stairs, raising her eyebrows at both girls. "Weren't you supposed to be in the Hogwarts Express right now?"
"We were, but that was before the locomotive got hijacked by an April Fools' prank," Ginny explained shortly. "We got stuck in the middle of nowhere and, since it'd take a while to get things running again, they let everyone of age go home on their own. You should be getting a letter about that soon."
"It was Vector and Cattermole on the train, wasn't it?" Mia asked, getting a nod in return. She sighed. "Poor May… It was her first time escorting the Hogwarts Express."
"Professor Cattermole seemed to be handling it pretty well," Izzy assured her. "So, where's Dad?"
"Upstairs. We were moving Alex's things into the spare room on your and Harry's floor while he and Mary are off on a playdate," Mia informed.
"My floor?" she asked, raising an eyebrow. "Why? Doesn't he like his room now?" It wasn't that she minded having her little brother closer by – he did tend to linger around when she was home, but stairs were no barrier to him these days, so she doubted that would change anything. It just seemed off to move the kid into another room all of a sudden…
"Not as much as he likes the idea of moving up to the 'grownup floor'," Mia replied with a smile.
"Mia, was it the dresser you wanted by the window or the bed?" they heard Sirius calling from upstairs.
"The dresser," she called back. "But come down here. Your daughter's home."
"What?" The heard him climbing down the stairs up until he showed up by Mia's side. "What are you doing here so early? I thought I was supposed to pick you up from the station later."
"Change of plans," Izzy informed him. "Just tell me: were you anywhere near the Hogwarts Express sometime lately?"
"Because someone played a prank on the train that got it stuck somewhere in the middle of Scotland and Hermione's got you at the top of her suspect list," she explained.
"Well, let her know that I'm flattered and, if she ever finds the real culprit, I'll be more than happy to handle his or her detention," Sirius offered with a grin.
Mia scoffed. "As if you'd do anything more than praise him and share your own inspiring stories," she mumbled.
He just smirked, not even bothering to deny it.
Ginny cleared her throat, then. "Well, I should head home. I did just come by to drop Izzy off, so…"
"Oh, why don't you stay for lunch?" Mia asked her. "Harry should be arriving any minute now. He left for some sort of raid before dawn, so they're giving him the afternoon off today. He'd be happy to see you when he arrived."
"I don't know… I should probably check in with my mum before. In person, preferably, to show her that I'm in one piece. Today of all days, I think reading the words 'problem with the Hogwarts Express' might send her in a panic before she had a chance to read any further."
Mia nodded understandingly. "That's probably a good idea. You know, why don't you ask her to join us too? Maybe some company would be good for her. Kreacher is cooking meatloaf – it always leaves plenty of leftovers, so it's no trouble at all."
Ginny nodded. "I'll let her know," she promised, making her exit about thirty seconds before Harry made his own entrance and inquired Izzy about her presence that early in the day.
"April Fools' and train rides don't mix up very well," Izzy explained before instructing him to get more details from Hermione later, seeing as she was bound to be on top of the matter.
At the top of the stairs, Sirius and Mia could be found whispering among themselves while stealing glances at the kids. At some point, Sirius cleared his throat. "If you wouldn't mind stepping into the living room, the two of us have got something we need to tell you," he announced with a smirk, causing both teens to look suspicious.
The obeyed nonetheless, mildly curious, and followed their parents/godparents into the designed room, each taking a seat on the sofa. While Mia sat down as well, Sirius stood, looking considerably excited, like a kid about to open a Christmas present.
"Well?" Harry urged him.
Sirius cleared his throat. "As you both know, the war is over," he declared, receiving a look from Harry in return that clearly said 'No... really?'. "And with the war over, people felt inclined to... er, celebrate."
"Sirius!" his wife scolded, giving him a look that told him to just get to the point.
"Alright... Merlin, a guy can't make an introduction. This is supposed to be the last time I get to do this," he mumbled. "Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that, come this Autumn, maybe Winter, the two of you will have a new brother or sister."
The silence that immediately formed in the room was so heavy that they could've heard a pin drop. At some point, Harry and Izzy turned to look at each other and, for a single moment, the very same thought reached both of their minds at exactly the same time. There was a silent exchange that led to a silent conclusion... and seconds later, both of them were bursting into a fit of near-hysterical laughter.
Stunned, Sirius stared at the two youths as Mia simply raised her eyebrows. "Did I say something funny? Because, let me add, this kid was one hundred percent planned, so you don't even get to take jabs at us not following the advice we gave you."
If anything, that made them laugh even harder. So, helplessly, Sirius crossed both of his arms and took a seat by Mia's side, waiting for them to get that out of their systems.
It took a couple more minutes for any of them to catch their breaths, Izzy, being the first. "Oh, Dad, you're losing your touch..."
Sirius gaped. "What?!"
"We expected a little more from you in a day like this," Harry informed him.
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Come on, Dad! It's not going to work," Izzy told him. "The whole pregnancy announcement on April Fool's day is used to death."
"What's next? You have ten months to live?" Harry asked, amused.
"I am not tricking you! This is for real," he insisted, turning to his wife. "Tell them, Mia!"
She just sighed. "Just let it go, Sirius," she told him. "It's clear they're not going to believe it now."
"Listen to Mum, Dad. At least she knows when to give up the charade," Izzy advised him.
"Well, I'm starving," Harry declared by her side as he moved to stand up. "So, if we're done here, I think I'm going downstairs to fetch myself a snack."
"And I think I'll join you," Izzy announced, getting up too. "We expect more creativity next year, Dad."
Sirius glared at the retreating teens. "Sure… How does my getting the baby to throw up all over you two sound?"
"Pretty unlikely," his daughter replied on her way out. Still, once they were out of earshot, she couldn't help questioning Harry. "You don't think Mum really is… you know?"
Harry was quiet for a moment as they started making their way down the stairs headed to the kitchen. With those two involved, there was always a chance Sirius had been telling the truth. But still… "Nah… who would announce an actual pregnancy on April Fools' Day? That's just pointless. Sirius knows that better than anyone."
"Yeah, that's what I thought," Izzy agreed. "Anyway, what the hell kind of raid requires you to leave home as early as Mum made it sound you did? Don't tell me you went knocking down someone's door first thing in the morning."
"I'm not sure half past four fully classifies as 'morning', but yeah, I did. It's better when they don't see it coming," Harry told her. "Less fighting back, less paperwork to fill up…"
"Do you people measure everything up in paperwork?"
"Basically," he admitted as they stepped into the kitchen.
"Hi, Kreacher," Izzy greeted the house-elf, who only gave her a nod before shooting a glare at Harry.
"Young Master leave without breakfast," he accused.
Harry scratched the back of his head nervously. "I had an apple…"
"Apple is not breakfast!"
Harry sighed and gave Izzy a meaningful look. How could someone possibly accuse him of being an orphan when he basically had two mothers? "I ate more later. The auror office was footing the bill, so Tonks and I swarmed this Muggle bakery after all the arrests were finished," he said, hounding the cupboards for the cookies he knew Kreacher always had. "Which reminds me, I ran into Dudley."
"Your cousin Dudley?" she asked, getting a nod in return. "Today?"
He nodded again. "Yeah. The raid was in Exeter. Dudley commutes there for his Police training – we ended up chatting for a while." Finding the jar he was looking for, he brought it over to the table and set it between himself and Izzy.
"So, how's he doing? How is Quinn?" she asked, remembering, the talkative little girl who'd awed at everything magical that one time they'd been to Hogsmeade together.
"A bit down, apparently," he said, sounding genuinely upset by that. "You know my uncle and aunt are splitting up, right?" Izzy nodded in return. "Apparently, things are getting pretty heated and Quinn's getting most of the collateral damage."
"What? Are they fighting over her?"
"The opposite. He wants nothing to do with Quinn, so he's using her to humiliate my aunt," Harry told her, nibbling on a cookie.
"What do you…?"
"She's not his. Quinn, I mean. She's not his daughter." Izzy only raised her eyebrows. "Don't ask me for the story – Dudley doesn't know the half of it himself. The facts are that there were suspicions for a while and then my uncle asked for a blood test that proved them, so now he's shouting it to everyone who wants to hear it, which in turn led it to reach Quinn's school and, by extension, Quinn herself."
"Merlin," Izzy mumbled, fetching a cookie for herself.
"Yeah… I mean, she wasn't particularly attached to the man – he's always been an arse to her. But still, hearing that your father is not really your father has got to be tough," Harry pointed out.
"You can say that again," Izzy said. "Well, at least she's got Dudley… she should be on Easter Break too, right? You could ask Dudley to bring her around sometime. Maybe it'd cheer her up."
"I did. And I was actually thinking of doing more than that, though I'm still wondering if it's not too… morbid for a kid her age," he cryptically said.
Izzy raised her eyebrows. "I fail to see how something potentially morbid might cheer Quinn up in any way," she pointed out.
Harry sighed. "It's not…" He paused, thinking of a way to phrase it. "You know how Quinn is nuts about Hogwarts, right?"
"Of course I do. She practically climbed up the walls when we took her to Hogsmeade and she spotted the castle from afar."
"Well, the school will be open to guests for the ceremonies on Victory Day," he said, wincing at the name of the day. Victory Day was, unsurprisingly, the anniversary of the day when Voldemort had been defeated. The occasion was promising to be kind of a big deal, featuring a memorial and celebrations all over the country, the biggest one likely being the one taking place at Hogwarts with the students, high-ranking members of the Ministry, most of the fighters, the Order and their respective families being among the invited. "I think I have enough pull to get Quinn and Dudley into the guest list, even though they're only marginally connected to the Wizarding World. It might actually make Quinn's day… hell, Quinn's whole month to use the opportunity to let her take a little tour around the castle, though there's always a chance that the whole thing will be downright depressing and completely inappropriate for a kid her age, being the day that it is… What do you think?"
"I think Quinn won't really care how depressing or how inappropriate it is the moment she sees moving staircases and talking portraits," Izzy replied. "Still, you should probably ask Mum what she thinks. And Dudley too. Still, you should know that McGonagall has no patience for depressing stuff. She'll kick everyone out of the school before they can turn the whole event into a t…"
She was unable to finish her sentence, however, as soon the fire rose in the fireplace and Ginny stepped out of the green flames, looking positively crushed. Harry was on his feet before Izzy even had a chance to react and before she knew it, the redhead had raced into her boyfriend's arms, burying her face against his chest in a rare (so rare it was practically mythical) display of vulnerability.
The moment seemed so intimate that Izzy found herself averting her eyes, although she didn't shut down her ears.
"What's wrong?" she heard Harry asking. He could tell it wasn't just grief from her part.
"She's taking today really hard. Mum…" Ginny said. "She won't even come out of bed – Dad had to stay home from work to take care of her. He wouldn't even let me go to her – he said she wouldn't want me to see her that way."
"He's probably right, Gin," Harry whispered. "It's a hard day for her… she probably needs to air it out and having you see it probably wouldn't make it any easier… It's okay – I'm sure she'll be fine." And yet, he shot Izzy a look of concern over his girlfriend's shoulder. Molly's reaction to the day was reason to be alarmed.
After the loss of Fred, Molly had been anything but fine: she'd cried, she'd shouted, she'd bargained with the universe to no avail… she'd done the whole range of grief-related reactions, all except from apathy. Through pain and grief, she'd always gotten up in the morning and put herself to work, either it was by taking care of her family or baking to an obsessive level. The fact that, all of a sudden, apathy was hitting her on her late son's birthday might just indicate significant back-tacking on her healing path.
That alarmed Izzy especially because she wondered if George was going through the same. He'd gotten so much better lately, even if he openly admitted to his own moments of darkness… if he backtracked as much as his mother seemed to have… I need to get myself to Diagon Alley, she concluded. Fast.
Her parents came down for lunch moments later and, perhaps sensible to Ginny's current state of mind, no mention was made to the alleged pregnancy throughout the whole meal. It was a bit hard to make an excuse to leave right after lunch, especially considering she had a whole trunk to unpack upstairs, but Ginny was actually the one to give her an exit, inviting her to go on a walk with her and Harry, which her parents didn't question, though her mother did give her a look that basically said she knew her one stop at that walk would be George's.
Once outside, the redhead pulled her aside while Harry waited across the street. "Dad told me he went to the shop for a bit this morning while Mum was asleep," she said. "Apparently, George is taking today very well, which, if you ask me, is bullshit – he's going to crash and burn before the day is over and I'd rather you were there to put out that fire." Through the harsh pragmatism Ginny's voice, Izzy could clearly hear the concern and just a hint of the vulnerability from early. It was clear she couldn't handle the possibility of her brother re-joining their mother in the club of shattered souls.
So, minutes later, after apparating her to Diagon Alley, they went on their separate ways, with the young couple de-materializing to an unknown location as she remained behind.
Being the day that it was, Izzy wasn't surprised to find the shoppers mostly gravitating around the joke shop, either spending their galleons or admiring the bombastic window displays. Inside, Verity was helming the counter, as usual, while Lee ran around like a madman re-filling shelves with the classic Dung-bombs and Canary Creams. George was nowhere to be seen and, upon questioning Lee, she was informed that she'd just missed him as he'd just started a break.
"Please tell me it's you," she then heard Lee saying, a begging tone in his voice.
She gave him a confused look. "What?"
"You. Please tell me you're the one George listens to," he said.
Again, Izzy stared. "What are you…?"
"Last Christmas… one day he was gone, the other he was back. He told me that was because someone talked some sense into him, though he didn't say who. But I know you were here around that day. You were here and you left looking really upset because of something he did… but a few days later you were back and the two of you hanging out here like nothing was wrong. Also, there's the fact that, back when Fred was alive, I heard him teasing George a couple of times about being all sensitive about liking a younger girl. So, it's got to be you, right?"
She was more than a little stunned at his conclusions, which were dead on right, of course. That shocked her especially because Lee had never rubbed her as that observant a person before… then again, she didn't know him that well: basically she knew (mostly from George's account) that he was one of his best friends and fellow pranksters and that he had a passion for broadcasting and a gift for comedy, which culminated in his highly successful humorous sports commentary column over at the WWN; also, he was a half-blood and was dating Verity. That was basically it.
But now… now she had another thing to add to her Lee Jordan mental file – he cared a great deal about his friend and his well-being was no joke to him. "What's wrong with him?"
"He's trying too hard. He's putting up a show that he's okay for everyone to see but I don't think he is. It's not that I don't have faith. I just…"
"You just know," she provided for him, getting a nod in return.
"He won't talk to me or Remus about it – he never does about this kind of thing. If it was you last time… please just do something. Get him out of here if you have to: this day was everything to the two of them – grinning and bearing through it now that Fred is gone won't do him any good."
That was Izzy's turn to nod. "Is he upstairs?"
"Yes. You can go right up – Veri will let you through if you tell her I sent you," he said.
"Thanks," she said. "Oh, and Lee…"
"I won't say anything until he tells me himself," the dark-skinned boy promised. "Whatever the two of you've got, it's working for George. I wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole in case I ended up nudging him in the wrong direction." And, with that, he went back to work.
Well, that was… odd, Izzy thought to herself as she approached the counter. Verity let her through, as indicated by Lee, and she made her way up the stairs, headed to George's flat. On the way there, she vaguely noted Remus' office was unoccupied and concluded he must be busy in the storage room or something. She was thankful because less run-ins with acquaintances meant less to explain and less wasted time.
As such, soon enough she found herself opposite George's door, firmly knocking on it. Unlike on her infamous visit a few months before, the steps on the other side were immediate and, seconds later, the door opened, revealing George on the other side.
The first thing she noticed about him then was his reaction to seeing her: usually, his eyes would lit up, even if just a little when she surprised him… that time, however, they hardened, if possible. In fact, he looked altogether tense, enough to tell her that if he was indeed putting up a show as Ginny and Lee had indicated, the mask had most definitely slipped off. He was anything but fine.
"Hi," she said anyway.
He pursed his lips at first. "I thought I'd told you not to skip the train because of me."
"You did, but…"
"Damn it, Isabelle! I'm trying, okay? I don't need you breathing down my neck today! It's hard enough putting up with everyone treating me like I'm going to explode at any second!" And, with that, he walked away, leading her standing frozen at his open door.
As he disappeared into a room Izzy felt like following him and smacking him across the head immediately. She vaguely recalled promising him to do something like that if he ever 'slipped back into his king-of-all-jerks' shoes', which seemed to be the case at the moment. Still, she forced herself to stop – thirty seconds. She was going to pause, take a breath and wait thirty seconds before doing anything. Why thirty seconds? Well, because she had hope he'd fall into his senses before she needed to intervene. So, she counted… one… two… three…
"Damn it!" she heard him cursing inside the room before his approaching steps reached her ears again. "Wait up, Isab…" He stopped on his tracks at the door as soon as he saw her still standing there, raising her eyebrows at him. That time, it wasn't tension and annoyance on his face as his eyes met hers – it was relief. Just like that, she knew she'd been right to wait. "I'm sorry."
"It's okay," she said, knowing he – like had been the case with Ginny that morning – hadn't been in control. Hell, he probably still wasn't – not fully, anyway. That day would ever allow him to achieve full control…
"No, it's not. Bloody hell, Isabelle, I just snapped at you!"
"Yes, and you've apologized five seconds later," she replied. "Get over it already, will you?"
He groaned, reluctant to obey, and started pacing. Izzy shook her head with a sigh and closed the door behind her. She leaned back against it, just observing George for a few seconds, giving him a little moment to gather himself. She could see he was hanging by a thread and yet, maybe stubbornly, he was using tooth and nail to hold on to sanity. He was trying – even at his most painful time, he most definitely was. She felt proud for that on his behalf.
At some point, she left her position against the door and took a few steps forward, standing near him. "Stand still for a moment, will you?" she instructed.
He obeyed, looking confused. "What for?" he mumbled moodily.
"So I can do this," she said, standing on tiptoes in order to wrap her arms around his neck and pull him into a hug, which required a great deal of effort due to the height difference up until he reciprocated, wrapping his arms around her waist and actually lifting her off the ground. "I'm sorry Fred's not here today to share this day with you," she whispered into his ear.
He didn't say a word for several seconds but she didn't miss it as he held her tighter and buried his face against her neck. It was a rather intimate gesture that sent her heart rate up for a few seconds but she didn't allow herself to read into it. He needed the comfort and the closeness and she was there to give it to him – who cared if they weren't officially a couple yet, anyway?
"This isn't fair," she heard him mumble at some point.
"I know," she replied.
She felt him shaking his head against her neck. "No, I'm not talking about him being gone, though it is also unfair," he told her and soon her feet were back on the floor, allowing her to take a step back and look at him as he gave his explanation. "I'm talking about how I've been tiptoeing on the line between losing it and not losing it all day and then you come here, say a few words and give me a hug and suddenly, it's not so hard anymore. It's still a horrible day but not as horrible as it felt ten minutes ago and that's enough to get me to step onto the right side of the line for a little bit. It's not fair you can make that happen when I can't."
"I wouldn't have been able to make it happen if you hadn't let me," she argued.
He sighed and, loosening his hold, placed her down on the floor. "It's still not fair I can't work it out on my own."
The spell of tenderness from before was broken and, suddenly, a thought of annoyance crossed her mind. Immediately, she reached to punch him on the arm, causing him to yelp indignantly.
"You're an idiot!" she accused him. "If you knew I could help, why did you tell me not to come? I could've skipped on the train and come here first thing in the morning!"
"You mean you didn't do that in the first place?"
"No, though I'm starting to regret it," she informed him. "There was a problem with the train and we got stuck somewhere on the way, so they sprung everyone who was of age out. But that's beside the point – why didn't you tell me to help? I've told you time and again that I want to!"
"I know you do, but I needed to see…"
"I wanted to see if I could make it through by myself," he told her. "I told you, Isabelle. I don't trust myself yet."
And, suddenly, it hit her – their conversation from the last time she'd been to that building. Him being ready and yet not being ready for them to be a couple, his lack of trust on his capability not to slip back into a funk… and then, his plan. "Don't tell me this was one of your 'tests', George!"
He looked away. "It doesn't seem like I'm doing very well in this one."
She nearly growled. That absolute… idiot! "Sometimes, you just make me want to kill you," she said under her breath.
His ears didn't miss the words and he looked at her with an expression of complete surprise. She what?
"Sit down," she told him, pointing at his sofa.
"I said 'sit down'!" she repeated, glaring. "I need to lecture you and I can't do that when you're standing there a foot taller than me!" Maybe not a foot taller but close enough. "So, sit… down."
Slowing her tone down and hissing the words through her teeth was certainly enough for him to obey. He didn't even know what to think – his mind was a mess with thoughts of grief, confusion and god knew what else mingled as if forming a messy, unidentified ball of goo.
She paced back and forth in front of the sofa, thinking of a way to phrase what she wanted to say that didn't involve calling him a moron repeatedly. She needed him to reach that conclusion by himself.
"So, you're testing yourself today," she said, stopping.
He sighed. "Yes, Isabelle. Today."
"Hmm," she mumbled, pacing a little more for about thirty seconds. "Enlighten me here: what would a passing grade for this test entail?"
He took another deep breath. "Not losing my mind, not hurting the people I love, not snapping at people who only mean well…"
"Today? You want all of that for today, considering the day that it is?"
He looked down. "I figured that if I succeeded today, I'd succeed any other day."
And, there it was. She sighed… well, that was going to be way easier than she'd predicted. "Fair enough, then," she said, much to his surprise. "I suppose you have a point there. Now that that's settled. Let's change the subject: I'm thinking of taking up mountaineering."
George looked back up, frowning at the completely random announcement, as well as her quick 'defeat'. There was no way she didn't have anything up her sleeve to rebuke his words. She always had something up her sleeve. "What?"
"Bear with me here," she told him. "I want to take up mountain climbing. And, mind you, I've never done anything remotely related to mountain climbing in my life – hell, I don't even know how high a hill has to be in order to be considered a mountain! But, I still want to do it."
"Okay…" he mumbled slowly, waiting to see where she was trying to get. Because she had to be trying to make a point, right? She wasn't actually being serious.
"And I want to get a strong start, so I figured I'd go right to the top and start this new hobby of mine by climbing the Everest – you know, the biggest mountain in the world – by myself. Because if I can climb the Everest in my first outing, it'll be a picnic for me to climb any wee little mountain I fancy getting to the top of. That's a good plan, right, George? Getting started by climbing the Everest solo?"
The point she was trying to make was starting to dawn on him. "No."
"Because it's nuts and you'd never live through it," he admitted, sighing. "But this is different."
"What is different?"
"This… today," he replied, sounding a bit frustrated. "Mountaineering my arse, Isabelle – you're trying to make a metaphor here and you're stretching it a little bit thin."
"Am I really?" she asked sceptically before letting out a sigh and taking a seat by his side.
"Yes. As far as I know, today can't possibly give me frostbite or freeze me to death," he replied.
"Oh, for God's sake, George, it's not about the act itself – it's about the planning!" she replied. "Think about it! It's been less than a year since Fred passed away and barely more than three months since you started being able to deal with it without lashing out at everybody. Can you honestly tell me – keeping all of that in mind – that my climbing the Everest by myself is any more ridiculous that you expecting to get through the birthday you shared all your lives like it was any other day right on the first time you have to do it without him?"
He didn't respond. Her words hit something sore within him even though he could tell she hadn't been aiming for it.
"You know, every year around the first week of June there's a few days when Luna is even more distant than usual. She never told us why but I think that's around the time of the anniversary of her mother's death – you'll probably notice that the Quibbler usually comes out a lot less whacky around that time, which means her Dad is probably not at the publishing helm for that week either. Then there's Lulu – she was never what you'd call a 'protective grandmother'. Whatever stupid thing Harry and I felt like trying, be it sliding down the banister or touching the underside of the clothing iron, she went along with it as long as she was sure it wouldn't kill us or cripple us for life – I guess she figured that that if we got hurt, we'd learn not to do it again. But for a time every year, she'd just go nuts with safety – no flying in case we fell and broke our necks, no playground because they were death traps, no playing on the backyard unsupervised… in hindsight, I guess it must've had something to do with Gabe's supposed death because she got extra clingy with Mum too. And that one's no different either – my mother, I mean. She had a sister, you know? I think they were about a year apart in age but she died when Mum was little. It happened really suddenly and Mum didn't get over it for a very long time. Dad once told me that every year on her birthday (which was actually also the day she died) Mum would disappear to go wallow somewhere. She kept doing it for years even though she was mostly fine otherwise. She doesn't do it any more but she hasn't forgotten it either – she even named me after her, you know?" Izzy told him.
She went quiet for a few moments and he didn't break the silence. She could tell he was listening, though his eyes were still on the floor rather than on her as he leaned forward in a pensive pose.
"The point I'm trying to make is that it's okay to have bad days sometimes," she continued. "Maybe that's hard for you to swallow because you've been having so many good days lately and a really bad one seems like a massive step back. But it's not – days like today don't fall in the same category as others. As long as you don't forget that you're meant to keep trying to be okay on all other days, it's okay to lose it a little. It's okay to be a bit less considerate to the people around you and it's alright to let them worry about you because, if you put on a brave face for them, they'll know you well enough to worry anyway. You just do what you have to do to get through the day."
He gritted his teeth and let out a long breath, finally finding it in him to speak again. "Get through the day, you say…" he mumbled, leaning back against the sofa, exhaustedly. His eyes didn't turn to her, facing the ceiling instead. "You know, if one year ago you'd told me that one day I would be scraping to survive this day on my own… that before lunch I'd have wished a hundred times for it to just be erased off the calendar for all eternity, I'd have called you a liar," he said. "Aside from Fred not being here, that's what irks me the most about today… how it was all so clear and simple before and now it's all so muddy and complicated. I don't know what to make of it anymore. No one's wished me a happy birthday, you know? Not a soul. And I am thankful for that to a degree that you wouldn't believe because thinking of celebrating another birthday today of all days makes me sick…"
Izzy bit her lip, unable to admonish him for his words. If losing a sibling was horrible, losing a twin as close as Fred had been to George had to be excruciating. The amount of links that were severed… the amount of rotten things it left behind. That day was just another one of those things – George Weasley, for all intents and purposes, didn't have a birthday anymore. And that was just wrong. "Just think that, by tomorrow, it won't be back for another year," she suggested.
"Yeah," he mumbled. "Maybe I should celebrate that."
"Maybe you should," she urged him, leading him to scoff because he hadn't actually meant it. "I mean it. Everyone's got a right to a birthday, George. I know it's too painful for you to celebrate now but maybe one day that will change and if it does, hell, why not let it happen on the second of April rather than the first since it's such a hard day for you to swallow? Keep today for Fred, have tomorrow for yourself – at least then you'll have something positive to wake up to when you realize that the first of April couldn't possibly be farther away in the calendar than it is on the second."
He considered it for a moment… then decided to leave the considerations for later, when his mind wasn't so muddy. It was just too soon, he guessed. "It's a possibility," he offered.
She smiled, seeing the lack of an immediate rebuff as progress. They didn't speak for several minutes after that. He just sat there, looking at the ceiling with an unreadable expression of his face and, fearful of the thoughts on his head, Izzy tentatively edged closer to him on the sofa, as if to reassure her of her presence.
He still didn't look at her but his arm, which had been resting along his side, moved up, snaking behind her neck and resting atop her shoulders, encouraging her to get even closer. She took it as acceptance and that gave her the confidence she needed to interrupt the silence.
"George?" she asked.
"Yes?" came his whisper in response.
"Stop thinking so hard," she urged him
His eyes finally met hers. "Why? Do my thoughts still scare you?" He hadn't forgotten what she'd told him on New Year's Eve.
"Yes," she confirmed it. "Especially today."
He shook his head. "I was just thinking about this flat."
"Too many memories here?"
To her surprise, he shook his head again. "Not as much as downstairs or at certain places at the Burrow," he said, much to her surprise. Downstairs could be hell sometimes – he loved the shop to death but it didn't lack mementos of Fred that, at harder times, brought emotions he wasn't ready to deal with… such had been the case that morning, when every hour or so he'd needed to retreat to the flat in order to spend ten minutes pulling at his own hair as his sanity threatened to crack. "Honestly, I didn't spend much time up here doing anything other than sleeping and eating until Fred was already gone. He, on the other hand, spent a lot of time here with Angie… one of the reasons why I sometimes avoided coming here – she liked to 'surprise him' and I sure as hell didn't want a glimpse of her kind of surprises. If it weren't for her, we'd probably have lived out of boxes for months. She basically furbished the place herself and just sent us the bill."
The shadow the day had brought to his face seemed to darken for a few seconds but he seemed enough in control that he continued. Talking about the memories was proving to be much better than thinking of them in silence. "When Angelina wasn't around, we practically lived at our lab down at the basement, inventing stuff. Sometimes we even slept there. And when you couldn't find us there, odds were we'd be at the shop, managing away. And when that wasn't the case, you'd have more chance of running into us at the Burrow outside of sleeping hours, hounding Mum for her cooking and sneaking our stuff into her laundry basket (which she pretended not to notice), than in here. So, no ghosts here, against all odds – that's why it's easy to hide up here."
That was a blessing in disguise. Considering the trouble he had at the Burrow, especially in the proximity of his and Fred's old room, it was a good thing that the two of them hadn't created many memories in the flat that would propel him to feel like avoiding it. It certainly saved him the trouble of having to find somewhere else to live…
"Is that what you're planning to do for the rest of the day? Hide?" she asked, no judgement in her voice.
He sighed "I don't know…" he confessed. "It's probably a bad idea, isn't it? It sounds like a bad idea. It's bad enough I have to re-schedule testing myself…"
She immediately pulled away and glared at him. "Forget the stupid test, George! It was all wrong! What are you going to do next? Set up a massively high standard for the anniversary of Fred's death?" He looked like a kid caught in the act. He was planning something for the next anniversary. "Oh my god, why do I even bother?" she said, pulling away to the other end of the couch, looking annoyed. He was a bloody masochist! Yes, that's what he was.
"It's not what you think, Isabelle. I'm not going to repeat today – I learn from my mistakes, you know? I was asking for an Outstanding as a passing grade and that was wrong. So, I will adjust my expectations for… you know, an Acceptable or something."
"What do you even need to test yourself for? This is not a class you're taking! This is your life! And I get that you told me this was about being ready for you and me to happen but – guess what – I don't come with an admission exam!"
"I know that," he replied. "But I need to know where I stand. I need to know how far I can push myself even in a day that is inherently hard without falling apart because if I don't, I'll just go running straight to you since I know you'll make it all better."
"I don't mind it if you do."
"Well, I do. You've got a life, Isabelle. You've got a life, you've got friends, you've got Hogwarts… and when you don't have Hogwarts anymore, you'll probably have a job and responsibilities and I can't expect you to always be able to drop everything when I'm feeling down. I know you probably would but I don't want to put you in that position. I love you too much to keep you chained to me that way." He saw her eyes widen as she practically gaped at him like a fish. "What?" he asked.
"What?!" she asked in disbelief. "Did what you just said not register in your head?"
He was silent for a few seconds. And then… "Oh," he mumbled.
"Yeah. Oh," she replied.
He scratched his head, a bit lost at what he should do. "Well, it was sort of already implied, wasn't it?"
"There's implied and there's said," she said softly, her voice sounding giddy.
"I guess," he agreed, sounding very, very coy at the moment. "Well, I'm not taking it back so…"
His lips were captured by hers in a kiss before he could add anything else. It was more to the sweet side than the heated one – the kind that would've made him smile widely against her lips any other day. But it was over a little too soon when she pushed him away.
"Crap, this is a bad time to be kissing you," she said.
Part of him wanted to tell her that there was no such thing but he didn't. His tongue was more restrained that usual that day.
She sighed. "You do realize that since you've told me you love me and I am telling you right now that I love you too (because I do, I really do), it is abominably stupid that the only reason why we won't get officially together right not is a test. A test of all things."
"An important test," he corrected her.
"Important my arse," she grumpily said. "I should be angry at you for this."
"Aren't you?" he questioned, a ghost of a smile on his face. It was barely there, like a pebble covered by layers and layers of blankets but Izzy could see enough of a lump to consider it genuine.
She sighed and her face softened. "Not today." How could she be angry at him? They'd done the impossible – they'd gotten a smile(-ish) out of him on the worst day of the year. Not to mention the fact that well, it was out there – he loved her, she loved him. The finish line was so close she could actually taste it. "But I will be if you make me wait too long."
"I won't," he promised, determined to make it so.
"Good," she said, just as something Lee had said to her crossed her mind. "So… Fred really did tease you that much about liking me?"
He raised an eyebrow, wondering where that had come from. Still, he answered. "It wasn't as much about me liking you as it was about me feeling like I was robbing the cradle…"
"Robbing the cradle?!" she asked in disbelief. "Merlin, you're not that much older than me! It's just…"
"… three years, eight months and two weeks," he supplied.
She frowned. "Merlin, you did think about it a lot," she mumbled.
He nodded. "I'm sure I've told you before that Fred was very much for us. He kept telling me to just…" He trailed off suddenly, the words he'd been about to say filling his own mind, bringing along a thought that hadn't occurred to him before. A purpose. Maybe something to look forward to on an otherwise dark day? Just like that, he was on his feet.
"George? Are you okay?" she said, standing up as well in alarm.
"Yeah, I… I've got to go somewhere," he told her.
"You'll see," he said, grabbing her hand. "Come along."
And, just like that, she found herself being dragged out of the flat, down the stairs and out through the building's back door. Soon after they were outside in the alley behind the shop, the uncomfortable feeling of being apparated away consumed her from head to toe, only releasing her when the two of them found themselves standing in a sunny hill not very far away from the Burrow – a setting Izzy recognized from unpleasant memories almost one year old. Fred's funeral. In fact, they were standing not ten yards away from Fred's grave.
"Why… why did you have to come here so suddenly?" she had to ask.
"I…" he paused, realizing he might just be about to say something completely moronic. "I know this will sound nuts because he's gone and odds are he can't hear me but I needed to tell him something… and I didn't know where else to do it."
She nodded understandingly. "Well, go ahead," she urged him. "I'll go wait by that tree," she informed him, pointing at a large oak standing behind them.
He watched her go and, a few seconds later, took a few steps towards the grave. It stood under a rare April clear sky, the view from it even more striking than it had been the last time he'd been there last Christmas.
He looked down and, again, felt more than a little awkward talking to a grave but what else, really, could he do? It took him a long time (maybe more than half an hour, though Izzy never approached him even as he lost track of time) to sort out the words in his mind and speak up.
"So, it's our birthday today," he said, his eyes not meeting the grave. "Or it was. Now you're gone and I don't want it anymore, so I guess it's all yours from now on. Maybe I'll take tomorrow for myself – Isabelle seems to think it's a good idea. We'll see."
He paused, took a breath, and went on. "Truth was, I didn't know what to make of this day anymore. I hate it and yet I hate that I hate it because it was special to us. I wanted it gone because I saw no purpose to it other than feeling like crap. And then, something happened: I told Isabelle I loved her, a bit by accident, not that it makes it count less, and then I remembered how much you bugged me to just go ahead and do it back when you were alive. Somehow that made the whole thing feel… right. Not just because things are completely out in the open with Isabelle now and that's brilliant but because on this crappy day that I started to hate I finally did something you'd always bugged be about and that made me hate it a little less. It's never going to be my day again but I guess maybe this can give it a purpose: your day, the day when I pull up my sleeves and do something you'd talked about us doing. Still, don't count on me getting a lion for a pet next year – I'd rather not be mauled – or getting you those nieces and nephews you teased me about anytime soon. Maybe I'll open a new Hogsmeade location for the shop… that is, if I manage to get my head back in the game in what comes to inventing new products. Some inspiration from afar wouldn't hurt, you know?" He paused, sighing. "I guess we'll have to wait a year and see. Until then… happy birthday, Fred. Say 'hi' to Angie for me."
He walked away feeling considerably lighter and a little less bothered by the day. Talking to Fred felt as good as it felt nuts. Maybe he should do it more often… it probably wouldn't be too worrisome as long as he didn't expect an answer in return.
He found Izzy by the tree, as promised, though her back was turned to him as she appeared to be observing something at a distance. She turned around before he could see what it was, though, probably alerted by his steps. "Hey," she said. "Are you done?"
"So, how was it?"
"Refreshing," he replied. "What were you looking at?"
She turned her face back to what she'd been looking at lately. "There's someone up there," she said, gesturing at a section of the hill even higher than the one they were currently on. "I think it may be Ginny. It's hard to tell with all the light."
George thought the same. The general shape seemed to match Ginny but it was hardly more than a shadow against the bright sky.
"What would she be doing there?" Izzy mumbled.
"Do you want to go over and see?" he asked.
"Don't you have anything else you want to do?" she asked.
He shook his head. "Let's go."
He led her knowledgably up the hill, familiar of every inch of terrain in a multiple hundred yard radius around the Burrow. It wasn't that long a climb as they reached the top in about five minutes, familiar voices reaching their ears before they even got up there.
"… isn't it terribly bulky?" Harry's voice was saying. "It looks uncomfortable."
"It's not that bad. It's actually not as heavy as it looks," the response came, much to their surprise in Luna's voice.
Soon enough, they saw it was indeed them, Ginny standing on the hill, facing the Burrow with what looked to be binoculars on her face as Harry and Luna chatted away a few yards behind her. Although it was no wonder that Harry would be with Ginny, Luna's presence was more surprising, as was the new contraption on her arm.
"Luna? Is that a muggle plaster cast on your arm? Don't tell me they weren't able to fix it with magic," Izzy stated, alarmed.
"Oh, they were," Luna told her. "It's not broken anymore but while I was waiting to be looked at, Dean was telling about how Muggles handled breaks and how they wore something like a piece of plaster armor around them, which all their friends would sign and write messages on…" She smiled. "It sounded really nice, so I got myself one of those for all my friends to sign. Then, when I take it off, I'll keep it in display in my room!"
Izzy was sure that wasn't even the weirdest thing Luna would have under her roof…
"You're going to write a message, aren't you?" she asked Izzy, smiling. "Dean got me a marker and everything!"
She saw through the corner of her eye as George walked over to Ginny and, deeming their conversation private, she decided she could busy herself with just Harry and Luna. "Sure, hand it over," she said.
A few yards away, George approached his sister as she adjusted her binoculars. "Are you spying on your own house?" George asked her.
Ginny pulled the binoculars away from her face and turned to him. "I didn't think you'd come here," she said, not really responding. "I was under the impression that you were all the way at the shop, being just fine and dandy about today." Clearly, there was a hint of bitterness in her voice.
"That didn't work out," he told her.
"No kidding," she said, sarcastically. "You're lucky the bloody train got whacked or else you would have drowned in your own stupidity without Izzy there to save you."
He sighed. "That's been pointed out to me," he said. "What about you? Are you okay?" She responded with a non-commitant sound. "So, I guess you standing on the top of a hill spying on home isn't a cry for help, then."
"Almost a joke," she observed. "Fred would be proud."
George sighed. "Just tell me what you're standing here for."
"I'm checking on Mum," she said.
"Wouldn't that be easier if you just went home and did it on person?"
"Dad doesn't think so," she replied.
He frowned "Why not?"
Ginny turned to him, giving him a look of confusion. "I thought you'd been with him today."
"I was. I asked him about Mum when he came over and he said not to worry about her," George explained.
His sister sighed. "Boy, you really are somewhere else today… He was covering for her."
George's frown deepened. "Why would he be doing that?"
"Because she's not fine and he doesn't want us to worry about it," she replied. "He doesn't think she'd want us to see her that way."
"Crushed… unable to come out of bed… though, apparently he managed to coax her out of bed because I could see her sitting at the kitchen table with these, " she said, showing him the binoculars.
George was lost in his words for about a whole minute. Then, he cursed. "Damn it!" He was on his feet immediately, walking away.
"Where are you going?" his sister asked.
"To fix this," he said, walking over to Izzy.
She stood next to Harry, writing on Luna's arm as Harry helped her holding it up. Luna smiled at him when she saw him approaching. "Hi, George! Do you want to be the next one writing?"
"Maybe another day, Luna," he said. "Mind if I steal Izzy away?"
The blonde shook her head as Izzy asked him to wait just a second as she finished her message.
"There," she said, capping the marker and handing it to Harry before turning to him. "Is there something wrong?" she asked, taking a few steps away from the others.
"So much I couldn't even begin to list it," he said. "Ginny told me Mum's having a hard time. I think maybe it would help for me to be there. Would you really mind it if I ditched you to go check on her?"
She shook her head. Of course, she'd always prefer to be in his company but as long as he wasn't on his own… "Of course not. Take as long as you need. I'll be with them if you need me," she said, gesturing at the group around them.
He nodded and, after glancing around to see that Ginny was back on her spying and Harry was distracted drawing on Luna's plaster, he gave Isabelle a little kiss. "Thank you. For everything today."
She smiled. "You're welcome."
She approached Ginny when he started walking away. Her friend was now sitting cross-legged on the ground, observing away, so Izzy sat by her side.
"So, how was it with Harry in the couple of hours since we've seen each other?"
She shrugged. "We went for a walk around Muggle London, then we dropped by St Mungo's to see if Luna was still there. She was all excited about wanting an arm cast, so we helped her get one while Dean went home and her dad had to go back to work. Then, I wanted to check on Mum and Luna had nothing better to do, so she stuck around."
"Where did you get the binoculars from?" she asked.
"Luna had them at home… What about you? Did you whack George good and proper over the head?"
"Metaphorically," she said. "We talked and it was bad at first but then it was better. He said he loved me."
Ginny gave her a look of surprise. "Well, are you a couple yet?"
The redhead groaned and rolled her eyes. "Just stop wasting my time," she said.
Izzy elbowed Ginny in response and snatched the binoculars away, aiming the lenses at the tiny form of George walking over to the burrow. The range was just ridiculous, showing off distant things with far too much clarity for it to be possible without magic.
She didn't take her eyes off him until he entered the house through the back door and, even then, Ginny instructed her to click a button on the side of them. All of a sudden, she could see inside the house.
"Holy crap, is this legal?" she asked.
Ginny shrugged. "No idea but it sure is creepy."
Izzy refrained from wondering why Luna possessed such a thing. She was actually thankful she did for the moment, as it allowed her to watch as George approached his mother's still form at the table and sat by her side. All of a sudden, Molly was breaking down and sobbing on her son's shoulder. George hardly did anything but rubbing her back and holding her in return, yet he held strong.
From her spot, Izzy felt a chest swelling with pride at the way he was handling his mother. It was the ultimate proof that he wasn't going to revert back to his old behaviour – while a few months before he couldn't have cared less if he made his mother cry, not he was consoling her even though he wasn't even the culprit.
Reassured, she smiled. Maybe that wasn't such a horrible day, after all…
A/N2: I hope you liked it! Feedback is very welcome! Review!