George Weasley was bored. So bored that he wanted to tear his hair out. Fortunately, before he did, he got a mental image of his father’s pathetic hairline and reckoned that he ought to be kind to his hair while he still had it because he would miss it when it was gone. The trouble was, George was not a sit-at-the-table-on-a-Sunday-morning-drinking-tea-and-reading-the-Prophet kind of bloke. It would have been much better if Fred had been there to liven up the situation, of course. But Fred was still sleeping. And George was well aware that Fred needed some sleep, and he wasn’t quite ready to forgive Fred for forcing him to sleep on the settee the night before. Well, to be honest, Fred had not forced anything; it was more like George had volunteered. Actually, there was no volunteering involved. George had walked back into the flat and immediately known from the sounds coming out of the bedroom that Fred would not appreciate his intrusion. George reckoned they really needed to get a two-bedroom flat. Especially once…
No. Best not to let your mind wander in that direction, Weasley. Of course, the trouble was, once his mind wandered in ‘that direction,’ it was fairly difficult to redirect it. The best thing would have been to find somewhere else to go or someone else to hang out with. However, the shop was closed, so that option was out, unless he wanted to something completely dull like accounting or inventory, and he most certainly did not want to do that. He could go to the Burrow, but it was still much too early to arrive for dinner. His mum might think he was coming by to help, and put him straight to work. George was certainly not in the mood for de-gnoming the garden. Although, come to think of it, it was always a rather effective way to burn off aggression.
Don’t you mean sexual frustration, Weasley?
No, not sexual frustration--not much, anyway. And that was something that he could handle. It was more of a matter of wanting to go and see Luna. And that, of course, was rather embarrassing because he had just seen her yesterday--had lunch with her actually. But she always said no when he asked to see her at night. Granted, she had a pretty good reason; she had promised her dad that she would always be at home after dark, for her safety. But it sometimes left George feeling a little out of sorts, because it seemed as if going out to dinner would be considered actual dating. Come to think of it, maybe that’s what her dad objected to.
No, George knew that it was a safety issue. And she had invited him to come to dinner at her house. George had declined because that particular night he had an Order assignment. He hadn’t brought it up again because deep down, he really didn’t relish the idea of having dinner with her father. George thought that, myopic as Jack Lovegood appeared to be, he couldn’t help but notice that the third person at their table was having impure thoughts about his daughter.
So that left George pursuing his usual nighttime entertainment, namely, hanging out at pubs, both wizard and Muggle - at least on non-Order nights. And drinking...sometimes butterbeer, sometimes firewhisky, occasionally ale or …what did they call them? Irish Car Bombs? Playing darts or snooker with Fred. Halfheartedly flirting with women, both Muggle and Wizard, and occasionally fending off more obvious advances, especially from the Muggles. Damn if those girls weren’t blunt.
Last night, however, had been the worst yet, because suddenly, without anyone’s consulting George, Saturday night had become a universal ‘date night.’ Fred was busy, Lee was busy, and George was lonely, damn it! The Leaky was dead because of a terrible Death Eater attack on a wizard wedding in Wales two nights before.
The first Muggle pub he tried was filled with a bunch of people watching that stupid ‘football’ thingy. What was the point of that game, anyway--only one ball? And you couldn’t even chuck it at the other players? No wonder their fans were always starting fights. He even tried one of those Muggle ‘moovy’ whatsits. The story had sounded promising; it was supposed to be set during the time when that mad wizard, the one who mentored Grindelwald, killed all those Muggles by sinking their boat. He had read about it in the history books, of course, and Grandpa Prewett had told stories about all of the work that the Department of Misinformation had had to put in, in order to convince two governments that it had all been the work of an iceberg. It ought to have been rather interesting to be able to watch the Muggle perspective, but the ‘moovy’ quickly disintegrated into a fairly sappy love story, which got George on the wrong track all over again. And the couple in front of him would insist on slobbering all over each other and cooing audibly.
George left halfway through in disgust, intending to walk in the park and set off a few almost innocent fireworks, but the park got depressing too. It was filled with snogging Muggle couples of all ages, some of which were really too old to be making such displays in public. George finally found himself sneaking into the zoo and watching a couple of gorillas performing some complicated ritual which turned out to be all about mating, after all. Then laid out on a grassy area and tried to look at the stars, but the lights of the city obscured most of them.
So he went home. And got to spend the night on the couch, reading a Quidditch magazine and trying to ignore the sounds coming from the closed bedroom door. After about thirty minutes of extreme discomfort, he remembered that a Silencing Spell could work two ways, so he was able to eliminate that issue. Just before nodding off, he remembered that he ought to have slept at Headquarters. It was something that he hoped he would never forget in the future. (And he was impressed by Fred’s stamina.)
So here he was, trying not to resent his twin for having the good fortune to be able to spend a lazy Sunday morning snuggled up to his girl, while trying to curb the impulse to show up at Luna’s doorstep. Perhaps if he showed up with a bunch of cinnamon buns…
But, no; Luna had spent the previous evening at a publishing industry awards ceremony with her father. (Not that Jack had won anything or even been nominated, but he did feel that keeping in touch with fellow publishers and editors was a vital part of his job. And Luna knew that those contacts would eventually come in handy for the Order.) So it was a little too early to visit Luna. The dinner had been in Berlin, after all, and later would be too late to see her, because he had to go to the Burrow for dinner.
Now there was an idea. Remus was a notoriously early riser, and he wouldn’t be busy, would he? George could sit down and talk to him about Jack Lovegood’s request. And hopefully Remus would decide that George would be the best person to be Jack’s Order contact, which would mean that George would have an excuse to see more of Luna—or rather, her father. Plus, he could find out if anything had come of that Snape sighting.
A few moments later, George found himself slipping inside the door of Headquarters. Thankfully, all of Dumbledore’s enchantments had held up, so it continued to be an ideal secret location. He slipped past the portrait of Walburga Black, giving her the ‘very special salute’ that he and Fred had created in Sirius’ honor. It was much more fun, of course, to offer the salute from behind his mother’s back when the canvas covering was off the portrait. But still, it was the thought that counted, wasn’t it?
Chuckling, he made his way toward the kitchen. He had a mental image of what he would find beyond the swinging door. Remus would be sitting there, wearing his usual meticulously mended gray cardigan, with a perfectly pressed threadbare oxford shirt underneath, his hair carefully combed, and in perfect sitting-at-the-table-on-a-Sunday-morning-drinking-tea-and-reading-the-Prophet mode.
As it turned out, Remus was in the kitchen, but the cardigan and the oxford shirt were conspicuously absent. He found his former teacher bare-chested, leveling a seriously overburdened breakfast tray in front of him, which George very nearly caused to crash onto the floor.
“Oh, sorry, Remus, I didn’t mean to…”
“George! Hello there.” Remus’ eyes widened in surprise and then a rare flash of irritation crossed his features. “Well, don’t worry about it. No harm done.”
“I meant to…” George looked down at the contents of the tray. There seemed to be more food piled on it than even the most ravenous werewolf could possibly eat. First of all, there were two plates. Two plates, two forks, two spoons… Scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, bangers, toast, a tea service, and…chocolate sauce?
He looked up to find Remus not quite meeting his eyes as he said, “So, George, is it me you’ve come to see, or were you looking for someone else?”
“Uh, you, actually ... I wanted to--” He discovered that Remus’ ears were reddening. Then, as George looked down, his eyes were involuntarily drawn to the faint scar tissue scattered over his former teacher’s too-thin frame, and among the scars, he noticed…was that…?
George grinned. “Damn, Professor, I would have bet money that you were the biter in that relationship!”
Remus cleared his throat and said, “I’m sure I haven’t the foggiest idea of what you are talking about, George. At any rate, I am just bringing Nym...er, rather, Miss Tonks her breakfast. She worked a double shift last night. So…what was it that you wanted to see me about?”
George’s grin widened. “Er, yeah, right. You know what? I think it can wait; I didn’t mean to intrude. Are you going to be at the Burrow tonight?”
“I imagine your mother would hunt us down like a couple of criminals if we weren’t.”
“Reckon you’re right. I suppose I’ll talk to you about it then.” George backed out the door, holding it open so that Remus and his tray could follow him. They walked down the hallway together for a moment, then parted ways at a corner.
“Oi, Remus,” George called out after a few steps.
Remus sighed and turned around.
George let out an exaggerated wolf whistle.
Remus rolled his eyes. “Very original, Mr. Weasley. I don’t recall ever hearing that one before. Until later tonight, then.”
George called out after him, “Give her hell, Professor!”
He couldn’t be sure, but he could have sworn that he heard a very faint, “I plan on it,” coming from the rapidly disappearing back of his former teacher. Grinning maniacally, George left the depressing old mausoleum and entered the bright sunlight of London.
Where to go now?
Not back home --Fred and Angie would probably be feeding each other strawberries or something equally revolting.
The Burrow, then, and a little gnome warfare. Not to mention a far more appetizing lunch than his breakfast had been. Within seconds, he was opening the garden gate.
“Hello Mum!” he called out as he entered the kitchen.
“Fred! No, George!” Molly rushed forward to embrace him and give him a hasty kiss on the cheek. She pulled away and held him steady as she looked him up and down.
“You need a haircut dear,” she clucked, then her eyes grew wide. “But oh, my, where is Fred, anyway? Is something wrong? Why are you here so early?”
George laughed. He really needed to spend time away from Fred more often. “Fred’s still sleeping, Mum, he’s fine.”
“Still sleeping?” Her eyes narrowed in disapproval.
“Well, he was when I left. He was up late last night.”
“Oh,” his mother said knowingly. George could tell she was thinking, ‘Order business,’ and wasn’t stupid enough to correct her. She asked, “So why are you here so early?”
George put on his most winning smile. “Here to see you, Mum. And Ginny. Where is she?”
“Oh, she got up early to de-gnome the garden for me.” Molly sighed, “You know, George, I think she’s a little depressed. I’m getting worried about her. She’s so quiet, and she doesn’t argue when I ask her to do something, and she never laughs anymore, nor teases your dad, and she’s just not…”
“Ginny,” George supplied.
George accepted the glass of pumpkin juice his mother poured him, squeezing her hand in the process. “She’s worried about Ron, I’ll wager, Mum. And Hermione, too, no doubt. They’ve got as thick as thieves, those two.” Not to mention she’s terrified for her clueless, reckless, sorry git of a boyfriend.
Molly was two steps ahead of him. “Not to mention Harry, I’m sure. And this is the first summer she’s been alone out here. I’m sure she is bored. Tell you what, George, why don’t you take her out for a little flying? Not too far, mind you, but I’m sure she’ll be safe with you.”
George tried not to show a reaction to this unprecedented display of trust and confidence from his mother. It somehow reminded him of the way that he had felt, dancing with Luna that first time, when she called him kind. And, of course, that got him thinking about Luna again, and he realized that he had the perfect way to start introducing the idea of her to his mother and make her feel good at the same time. “Oh, Mum, someone was saying nice things about you the other day.”
“Oh really, who?”
“Jack Lovegood. He called you a ‘good woman’ and said that he would prefer your cooking to a restaurant’s any day.”
Molly puffed up like a hen who'd just laid a prize egg. “Oh, that’s nice. Where did you see him?”
“At his office. We’re going to be taking out an ad.”
She raised her eyebrows, giving him a look of skepticism. “Hmm.”
“You know, Mum, after I met him, I started to think about the two of them, out there by themselves amongst all those Muggles. I realized how lucky we are that we have such a lot of people to count on, and I don’t mean just our family. But he - Jack, I mean - could very well be a target because of that article about Harry. Not to mention that his daughter was at the Ministry that one night over a year ago, and Ron said she fought at Hogwarts, too.”
True to form, Molly reacted immediately. “You know, dear, you’re right. I must ask you father what’s being done to protect people like them. Well, not people like them, actually—them in particular. I’m ashamed to say that I’d never even thought about it. She’s Ginny’s friend, you know, poor little motherless child. And he’s an odd one, but a good man, really. And she must be so lonely out there, with just the two of them. I should invite them over some time. It’d give Ginny someone her age to talk to. In fact, perhaps…let me see if Errol is in the roost.”
George suppressed a sly grin. “I’ll get him, Mum. You thinking about inviting them tonight?”
“Yes, dear, I can’t believe I haven’t done it before. Why, the Diggorys come over every few months ever since…well, you know. And it ought to be a nice group tonight. Remus and Tonks have promised to stop by, and Mad-Eye, and oh, Bill and Fleur are coming…”
George smirked. “Came up for air, did they?”
Molly eyed him sternly. “I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
This made him laugh out loud, and he replied, Oh, yeah, Mum, because we all know you found each and every one of your seven children under a cabbage leaf…Mollywobbles.” He winked at her.
He grinned. “I’ll send Errol over, Mum, then I’ll go looking for Ginny. Anything you need us to pick up while we’re out?”
“No dear, nothing…” He could see the wheels turning in her mind as she began to add more items to the menu. “Although, perhaps a bottle of firewhisky. Your dad and Jack used to occasionally enjoy…well, you know, before his wife…And I’m sure Remus, and oh, dear, Bill, too.”
George was not about to be counted amongst the kids any more, and made sure she knew it. “And me and Fred.”
“Yes, well, I suppose so…At any rate, pick up a bottle of firewhisky and a couple of extra bottles of wine. And thank you, dear.”
George kissed his mother on the cheek and turned toward the door. On the way out, he stole a finger-full of trifle icing, narrowly avoiding his mothers swatting hand. Once in the back yard, he began to look out for Ginny, at the same time praying that he wouldn’t find the ancient owl keeled over from a heart attack.
After successfully convincing the reluctant owl to fly to the kitchen window (which was, after all, something of a priority), George found Ginny sitting at the edge of the pond on a hollow log, her arms wrapped around her knees.
She looked up, startled from her musings. “Oh, hi…George. You’re early, aren’t you? Looking for Dad?”
“Looking for you. Shove over.”
“Get your own log,” she protested, even as her eyes lighted up in pleasure.
“How about I push you in?” he asked, knowing it would be a challenge.
She countered without a moment’s hesitation. “How about I tell Mum and Dad about what you and Fred and those two Muggle girls did in the pond two summers ago?”
George plopped down next to her, his grin becoming decidedly evil. “How about I tell them about that time we caught you and that Corner bloke stepping out of the Room of Requirement?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Hypocrite. How about I tell Mum who really blew up the broom shed?”
She was ruthless. He laughed, “How about flying with me?”
She jumped to her feet instantly. “Cool, I’ll go get a broom, you ask Mum.”
“Already did,” he said, and summoned the brooms that he had removed from the shed a few moments before. They were on them and in the air within seconds.
They didn’t speak much while soaring through the wind, but somehow seemed to agree without words to chase the same birds or to pick walnuts off the top of a tree and pelt each other with them. They swooped down to a deserted part of the river, letting their feet dangle in the water as they flew. Some distance away from the village, they dismounted, and George transfigured the brooms into a pair of roller skates, which he slung over his shoulder. They walked through the village, heading toward the old wizard who lived near the far end and had a sort of liquor-store-slash-distillery running out of his basement. On the way, they picked up a couple of ice cream cones and walked even more slowly as they savored them.
Between licks of rocky road, George asked, “How’ve you been, Gin?”
“Fine,” she replied.
She looked at him as if he were an idiot. She sniffed, “Yeah.”
Ginny frowned. “A little.”
“Missing your boyfriend?”
She looked up and glared at George, while mocha ice cream dripped down her fingers. “He’s not my boyfriend.”
“So find another one.”
“Not interested,” she muttered.
He decided to go for an even more direct approach. “Worried about them?”
That condescending look was back on her face. “Aren’t you?”
“Yeah, reckon so.”
“Where’s your better half today, George?”
“Snuggled up to a girl.” He shook his head.
Ginny grimaced. “Eww. You miss him?”
“So why not get a girl of your own?” She looked over slyly.
“Who says I haven’t?”
“If you had, you wouldn’t be spending the morning with your dull sister.”
George leaned over, bumping her to the side of the road. “Maybe I want to. We seem to be the only two single people left in the world this morning.”
She bumped back. “I thought you said you have a girl.”
“I don’t--not this morning, anyway.” He bumped her again, harder than before. “Besides, no one will ever compare to you.”
She linked her arm into his. “Git.”
He sighed, changing the course of the conversation to something more lighthearted. “The girl of my dreams will have to cook like Mum, have Hermione’s brain, Fred’s sense of humor, and your Bat-Bogey Hex. And play Quidditch like Angelina.”
She laughed, asking, “And looks?”
Together, they laughingly said, “Phlegm.”
After a while, he spoke again. “So what about you, Gin?”
“The bloke of your dreams.” He nudged her, more gently this time. “Harry Potter?”
"Git,” she replied.
“Him, or me?”
“Him.” She rolled her eyes.
George persisted. “So, you have to make one up too.”
“Hmm…That’s a tough one. I spent so long idealizing Harry that I don’t know anymore.” Sighing, she shook her head.
“Okay, I’ll help.” George said. “First, brains…someone from Ravenclaw, maybe that pompous arsey Boot bloke.”
Ginny laughed. “Nah, if this is going to be an ideal, I should aim higher than that. Professor Lupin…No, Dumbledore.”
“Good one!” George exclaimed, nodding. He continued with a smirk, “And sense of humor would be me, of course.”
“Nah, I’m gonna have to go with Dumbledore again, more subtle.” Ignoring George’s exaggerated scandalized look, she continued. “Let’s see…Quidditch, I’ll have to go with Viktor Krum. That’d piss both Harry and Ron off.”
“I like the way you think.”
“And Neville’s courage.”
This time George really was scandalized. “I take it back, you’re mental. You’d think that your boyfriend would have a lock on that one.”
Ginny shook her head. “He’s not my boyfriend. And Harry, brave as he is, doesn’t always think of the consequences of his actions. Neville, on the other hand, is always aware of what the consequences are and risks things anyway.”
“You’re probably right, Gin.” George nodded, then said with a sly smile, “And looks, is that Neville, too? Or …I know…Diggory. He seemed to be the universal standard for male beauty at Hogwarts.”
Ginny shook her heard vehemently. “Nope. Too fair. Prettier than me, and that wouldn’t do.”
“So Potter it is, then.”
“We’re not putting Harry into this, are we?” she reminded him. She thought for a minute, then stated emphatically, “Sirius Black.”
George hadn’t seen that one coming. “You like your blokes skinny and pale?”
“Yeah, and that’s why I went for Dean and Michael, isn’t it?” Ginny had sarcasm down to an art. “And I meant the way that Sirius looked in Harry’s parents wedding picture. He showed it to me once.”
“So basically you have a thing for older blokes, some of whom are dead,” George teased.
Ginny nudged him. “Arse. And you have no right to say anything when your list is nearly incestuous.”
“What do you mean? Fleur’s just an in-law, and I’m not related to Angelina, or Hermione.”
“You will be,” Ginny replied, and he couldn’t really argue with that.
After finishing their ice creams they rang the old wizard’s doorbell. There was a considerable bit of negotiation, and a little bartering for WWW products, but Fred managed to get a nice little supply of wine and firewhisky for his parents, more than they could use in a year. He reckoned it would be an early anniversary present or something. He also arranged to have it delivered, which saved him the trouble of bringing anything back on a broomstick. He and Ginny made their way back through the village, and along the way he encouraged Ginny to look around a Muggle clothing store and insisted upon buying her a pair of sandals that she’d eyed longingly through the window. She put them on immediately, and, as she admired her feet, George marveled at how Ginny could hold her own with six brothers and still be such a girl.
“Thanks, George, I’ve really had a good morning, thanks to you.”
“Same here, Gin,” he said, and he meant it.
They walked for a while in silence. Finally, Ginny sighed and said, “So, tell me something interesting, George.”
“Hmmm…” George thought for a moment and finally said the thing on the forefront of his mind. “Mum is inviting the Lovegoods tonight.”
Ginny looked surprised, but genuinely excited. “Really? That’ll be cool. I like Luna.”
“I know. That’s one of the reasons I suggested it.
“One of?” she asked, one eyebrow raised.
He moved on, quickly. “And we have a new catalogue. It’s really wicked.”
“Cool. I want to see it.”
He kept thinking and suddenly remembered…“Oh, and Lupin and Tonks are definitely shagging.”
Ginny snorted, “Of course they are…wait, did you walk in on them?” Her eyes widened.
“No, I walked in on him making her breakfast in bed.”
“Nearly starkers and carrying chocolate sauce.” He paused as a grin spread across his face. “Hey, you know what? I forgot to add Tonks into that ‘ideal woman’ thing. It should have been Tonks’ personality, not Fred’s. And, of course, throw in that whole Metamorph…”
She smacked the back of his head. “Oh, shut it, George. You blokes are so predictable.”
“Hey, I said I liked her personality.”
Ginny glared at him. “I bet you do. At least Lupin wouldn’t ask her to change.”
“How d’you know that?” he asked.
“I just know,” she grumbled.
“Odd couple, anyway,” he observed. “He’s so dull, and she’s so…not.”
“Some people are drawn to opposites sometimes. Like maybe the other person will make up for some quality they are lacking. And sometimes you have no choice, really. You just…don’t really have any choice in the matter. Your heart…No one else will do.” Her eyes began to well up and she looked away.
George stopped and looked directly at her. “He’ll be back, Gin. And when he does, you’ll be the first thing he’ll go running to. He’s got it bad for you. It’s kind of pathetic to watch, really.”
“Oh, shut up!” Ginny rolled her eyes and laughed wryly. After a while she looked at him with fear in her eyes. “How can you be so certain he will come back? You must have some idea what he’s doing.”
George put a hand on her shoulder in reassurance. “It doesn’t matter. That kid has had a charmed life. It’s almost like he’s invincible, yeah?”
“What if his luck runs out?” Her voice had lowered to almost a whisper.
George gave her shoulder a squeeze, stating emphatically, “Then Ron’ll protect him. And Hermione. And no matter how stupid our Ronnikins can be about girls and life in general, he’s a quick thinker and has excellent instincts. Besides, Hermione is so brilliant she’s scary. They won’t go into any situation unprepared.”
“I suppose not,” Ginny conceded. After a pause she continued, “But George, what if he doesn’t come back? What if he decides to be all stupid and self-sacrificing and gets himself…I just don’t know if I could go on…”
“But I know you could, because you’re our little firecracker, Ginny. And if old U-No-Poo ever hurt your boyfriend, you would be the first in line to kick his scrawny white arse. And you could do it, too.” George grinned reassuringly, but added, “But you better not get yourself hurt in the process, because you’re too important to all of us.”
She reached up to muss his hair. “Yeah, I love you too, George. I’m just…going mad out here. I hate being left in the dark. I hate being apart from him. I miss him terribly.”
“I understand, Gin.”
She muttered, “You have no clue, George.”
“Yeah, Gin, I do.” He laughed, shaking his head. “You’re going to force me to admit it, but there was another reason I got Mum to ask the Lovegoods tonight. It’s pretty pathetic when you can’t stay away from someone for more than twenty-four hours.”
It only took her a couple of seconds to catch on, and when she did, her mouth dropped open. “George!”
“Don’t tell Mum, okay? Hell, I’m sure she’s gonna figure it out after about five minutes, anyway. Fred did.”
Ginny shook her head in wonder. “She’s got…two years of school left, George. What are you gonna do when she’s away for all that time?”
“Dunno. Deal with it, I suppose. Develop patience, which has never been one of my strong suits. I’ll look forward to Hogsmeade weekends like I’m fourteen all over again. Maybe I’ll even apply for a job as Filch’s assistant.”
Ginny burst out in laughter at that one. “Ha! Who would have thought? My brother, the cradle-robber.”
He tugged on her plait. “My sister, the ‘Potter groupie.’”
“Git.” She nudged him again, as hard as she could manage, which had him stumbling into a low stone wall. “I really do like her, George.”
“Good. So do I. Let’s go back along the river and take our shoes off this time. I’ll Disillusion both of us and we’ll confuse the hell out of the Muggles.”
Fred arrived at the Burrow several hours later, and alone. George called him over to complete a two-on-two Quidditch game with Ginny and Tonks. Remus sat at a table, deep in conversation with Mad-Eye, but he always kept an eye on the game, with an expression of pride and amusement on his face. Arthur and Jack Lovegood eventually joined the two men, and then the conversation seemed to turn very serious very quickly. George kept an eye out for Luna, nearly compromising the game in the process, and he began to wonder if her father had come without her when she emerged from the kitchen with Molly, carrying a large bowl of strawberries. He waved, and immediately afterwards got smacked in the head by a Quaffle thrown by his twin, who shouted out, “Keep your mind on the game, you prat! We can’t get beaten by a couple of girls!”
Their opponents considered Fred’s remark as nothing less than a declaration of war, and began to play ruthlessly. The game was tied, sixty-sixty, when Molly called them down to get ready for dinner, no longer willing to wait for Bill and Fleur, who arrived just moments later, flushed and out of breath.
The first thing that George did after jumping into the pond to cool off was to seek out Jack, who gave George all the credit for the dinner invitation and thanked him earnestly. He then looked for Luna, whom he found sandwiched on a large garden swing between Fred and Ginny, looking overwhelmed. When she caught sight of George, she beamed.
“Hello, George,” she said happily.
“Hey, Luna. Shove over, Fred.” He nudged Fred’s knee with his own.
Fred scowled, not budging at all. “Get your own chair,” he said.
George countered, “Get your own girl!”
“Got one,” Fred replied with a grin.
“Yeah, that I know…” George muttered, and then continued, in a breathless falsetto tone, “Ooh, ‘Fred, baby!’ Ever heard of a Silencing Spell?”
“Jealous?” Fred’s grin turned more than a little cocky, but he reluctantly got off the swing and plopped back down onto the ground near Ginny’s feet.
“Not for a minute.” George slid down next to Luna.
“He tried to pretend he was you,” Ginny said to George.
She added, “Luna didn’t buy it for a second.”
George looked at Luna, who was staring at her hands, crossed in her lap. He reached over and held one of them. “No, she wouldn’t.”
“How can you always tell, Luna?” Ginny asked her.
“Can’t you?” asked Luna.
“Well, yeah, but I know them nearly as well as they know themselves, don’t I?”
“Hmm,” Luna replied. “Well, I just… know. In any case, George would be the one who went and cleaned himself up after a game of Quidditch, wouldn’t he? Fred would be willing to put it off for a bit in order to play a prank.”
George grinned and said, “In other words, ‘Fred baby,’ you smell.”
“Do not, you wanker!”
Ginny interrupted. “Yes, you do, Fred. And so do I. And so does Tonks, over there, but Remus doesn’t seem to mind. However, you smell the worst, Fred.” She turned to Luna. “It’s the eyes, isn’t it? Mum and I talked about it. George’s eyes are softer.”
Fred interrupted. “You calling my eyes hard, little girl?”
Ginny stuck her tongue out. “You both have an evil little gleam in them. But George’s are just a bit softer.” She looked from one twin to the other and asked, “So, who else can tell the difference?”
“Lee.” Fred replied. “He told us it was because he has ‘the Sight.”
“But that’s bollocks,” George added. “He just knows which of us will stand on which side of him. Every time we switch it around on him he gets confused. Mad-Eye, however, can always tell.”
“The eye, obviously.” Fred said.
“Harry can,” said George.
“That’s right, said Fred, sounding a little surprised to realize it.
“Not sure how,” said George. “Maybe being able to spot the Snitch from across the pitch has made him perceptive in other ways.”
Ginny snorted. “That’s a load of crap if I ever heard one.”
This got a laugh from everyone except Luna, who just looked at Ginny sympathetically.
George remembered something from that very morning, and said, “And then there’s Lupin, too.”
“Werewolf senses,” said Ginny. “You would smell different to him.”
“Also, he’s a powerful Legilimens.” Luna offered. They all turned to her. “He is,” she said, with not a shred of doubt in her voice.
“Speaking of which, Dumbledore always could tell,” said Fred. “But he knew everything, didn’t he?”
“Except who to trust,” George said bitterly.
“Time will tell,” said Luna, staring off at the sky. All three of them looked at her quizzically, but she did not expound on her remark.
They didn’t have time to discuss it much anyway, because shortly after that, Molly called them over to sit down, her eyes doing a double take at George and Luna. He realized that he was still holding her hand, and decided to keep holding it all the way to the table.
After dinner, George managed to slip past the boisterous group sitting around the wireless, past the serious group sitting around the kitchen table and past the shrewd eyes of his mother in order to lead Luna into the garden. Once outside, he slid his arm around her waist as they walked.
“Missed you,” he said.
Luna looked surprised. “Did you? You just saw me yesterday.”
In answer, he only tightened his hold on her. “Did you have a good time last night?”
“Oh, it was…educational.” She laughed slightly, shaking her head, and looked up at him. “Actually, it was rather dull. And I missed you too.” She stood on her tiptoes and kissed the end of his nose, asking, “Why did your mother invite us to dinner? She hasn’t, you know, in years.”
“She said that your dad kept saying no. Finally she gave up.”
Luna nodded seriously. “He was very depressed for a long time and wouldn’t see other people. I wish she hadn’t given up, though. It would have made things so much simpler.”
She smiled. “I wouldn’t have had to wait so long for you.”
George felt that tightening in his gut again. She was absolutely guileless. “Were you waiting for me, Luna?”
“I think I’ve known that you were coming since I was…Well, since right after she died.”
“Yes. She showed me things. And although I couldn’t always identify them easily, now that I know what they mean, they make perfect sense.”
He felt the hair at the back of his neck prickle. “What sorts of things? Like visions?”
“Sometimes. But they are not always easy to understand. I mean, I told Professor Trelawnley about my dreams and she tried to convince me they meant that I would be run over by a Muggle lorry and spend five years in a vegetative state, waking up to find that the world had ended.” She gave George a serious look, and he controlled the snort of laughter that threatened to come out of his nose. “I didn’t believe her. But I told Professor Dumbledore about them, and he said that I was dreaming about love, and that it was a very important dream.”
Did she just say that she loves me? “And I’m in it?”
“I don’t know for certain, but I have a pretty good idea.”
“What happens in the dream?”
Luna laughed. “Oh, I couldn’t tell you that. It would spoil the surprise. But I will tell you that it is a very nice dream, if only a little sad.”
“I can’t tell you. Of course, maybe I’ve already said too much. You probably think I’m a little mad--loony, even--talking about visions and such, especially so soon. I may have jinxed it.” She looked at him with eyes that seemed to beg him not to disappoint her.
“I don’t think you’re loony.” He pulled her close and kissed her with a great deal of pent-up emotion. “I don’t think you’re loony. I think you’re…unique.”
With a happy sigh, she rested her head on his shoulder. “So are you, George.”
He grinned and tightened his arms around her. Only Luna Lovegood would think that a twin was unique. Which reminded him of their pre-dinner conversation. “Can I ask you something Luna?”
“What did you mean, before, about Dumbledore, and…Snape?” He practically spit out the last word.
“Did I say something about Professor Snape?” Her voice had taken on that far-away tone that she sometimes got.
“Yeah, I think you did,” he replied, staring at her intently.
“Hmm…” She pulled away from him and took him by the hand, walking in the direction of the pond. After a while, she said, seemingly out of the blue, “I think that Professor Dumbledore must have been a very good chess player.”
“Undoubtedly,” George said slowly.
Luna continued, “And, I think that Professor Snape was also an expert chess player. Couldn’t you just picture them playing weekly game, after dinner, in Dumbledore’s office?”
George muttered, “That’s an image that really pisses me off to consider, but yes…”
She sighed and looked out at the pond. “I don’t really like chess, myself.”
“No?” He watched her profile.
“It’s a little too much like war,” she said softly.
“It is,” he agreed. For some reason the hairs at the back of his neck began to prickle again.
“It always makes me very sad when I have to sacrifice my players.” She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, then looked up at the sky, watching the progress of a distant airplane. Eventually she turned back to face him, squeezing his hand. “I like poker better. I’m very good at it, actually. No one ever expects me to win.”
“I’ll bet you’re great.”
“What’s your favorite game, George?”
She smiled. “Of course it is. Are you going to kiss me again, before one of our parents comes out to look for us?”
Grinning, he did just that, again and again, until they broke apart, breathless, at the sound of the back door opening.
George brought a stack of teacups and whisky glasses into the kitchen. “Great dinner, Mum.”
Molly looked up. “Why, thank you, George, dear. I think it went well, actually. It’s so nice to have Bill and Fleur back, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” he said, filling the sink with water.
“What are you doing, George?”
He looked over his shoulder at Molly. “Helping, Mum.”
“Oh, dear…why thank you, George!”
George felt a twinge of guilt that his mother would be so unused to his voluntary assistance. “Sit down, Mum, I’ll take care of the dishes.”
She protested, “Oh, I couldn’t…”
“Sit, Mum. You work too hard.”
Molly compromised by bringing the dessert plates to him. Her voice was somewhat wistful as she said, “I don’t work hard at all, George, not anymore. You know, with just your father and Ginny.”
Which probably meant she got to bed at ten, rather than midnight. He remembered getting up for a snack in the middle of the night only to find his mother still doing laundry or mending. It always made him lose his appetite. “Yes you do, Mum. Sit.”
She gave in completely and sat at the table, pouring herself a glass of wine. After a few moments, she said, “So, George, I don’t know if I’m supposed to say anything yet, but…it looks like we have a new Order member.”
George turned quickly. “Lovegood? I thought he wanted to wait.”
Molly eyed his dripping hands but refrained from commenting on them. She said, “Well, your father and Tonks managed to convince him that his daughter would be much more safe at Hogwarts, even without Dumbledore, than at home. And then Remus convinced him that her future was too important to compromise due to his fears. Once they convinced him of those things, Remus and your father and I assured him that his daughter would be taken care of, should anything unexpected happen to him.”
“You mean you and Dad would…” He gestured to the kitchen and the house at large.
“Well, actually, Remus was the first to insist that the Order would look out for her, but I made certain that Jack knew that Arthur and I would consider it our personal responsibility as friends. And, of course, I didn’t say anything, but I suspect that you would consider her your personal responsibility even after she comes of age.” She gave George a piercing look, making him completely flustered.
He waved his had dismissively. “Now Mum, don’t read too much into tonight, I don’t know what you think you saw…”
Molly just continued staring at him. “Oh, I know what I saw, young man. This entire conversation took place as I was making the coffee, looking out that very window.”
George turned and looked out the window, where he found an unobstructed view of the pond. He grumbled. “I just kissed her, Mum.”
Molly snorted. “That’s not what I’m talking about, George. I knew there was something different about you even before she arrived. And at dinner, I realized what it was; I haven’t seen anyone look like that since…”
“Ron and Hermione,” muttered George.
Molly laughed merrily. “No, not quite. You couldn’t look like Ron at your most lovesick. I was actually thinking of your uncle…”
George turned abruptly and his mother broke off, shaking her head and smiling sadly.
“Mum?” he prodded after she had stared into space for a few moments.
Molly gathered her wits. “Oh, yes, your uncle Fabian. You resemble him, did I ever tell you that?”
“Yeah, you did, once or twice,” he said.
“Anyway, this was when he brought Laura home for dinner, the very first time…”
“Laura?” George asked.
“Yes. They were going to be married. I really liked her. Well, actually, I didn’t at first--didn’t think she was good enough for my brother--but once I got to know her…” She smiled in reminiscence.
“What happened to her?”
“Oh, I’m not really sure. I lost touch with her after…” Molly shook her head. “Well, you know. We weren’t close enough friends to get past it, really, and I leaned on your father a lot at that time. It wasn’t long after that we got married.”
George decided to take advantage of her unexpectedly informative mood. “Luna’s father said he knew them—your brothers, I mean.”
“Oh, yes, he was one year below them at school.” Molly seemed for a moment to morph into her teenage self, and George saw a wicked smile not unlike his own. “As a matter of fact, Jack and Gideon were after the same girl at one time.”
George raised his eyebrows. “Really?”
“So who got her?”
Molly’s grin widened. “Jack did. It was Luna’s mother, actually.”
She explained, “Well, his glasses weren’t quite so thick, then. And he had more hair, naturally. It looked like they were very happy together, too. He was besotted with her--you wouldn’t have recognized him.”
George shook his head in wonder for a moment, and then frowned. “Too bad it turned out so badly for them, and for your family.”
Molly sighed. “Yes indeed. But look at how blessed your father and I have been. That’s what I try to keep focused on. Now, let’s talk about you and Jack’s daughter, George. How long has this been going on?”
Now that the dishes were charmed to wash themselves, George had no excuse to keep his back turned on his mother. He sat down at the table and poured a glass of wine for himself. “Yeah, err, not long.”
Molly kept her eyes fixed on him, waiting for him to elaborate. Finally she said, “Humph. You kids these days always jump into things so quickly. But you must promise me to be careful, George.”
“Careful?” He made his voice as innocent as possible.
“That is a very young girl, and you are a grown man. You are in no position right now to rush into things, especially with a war on. She still has two years of school to finish, and from what her father says, she really cares about her education. So don’t go ruining it for her.” She waggled her index finger at him threateningly.
“Mum, I’m not even thinking about getting married at my age,” George protested.
“You’d better not. But that is not what I am talking about, actually. I want you to treat this girl with respect. So, don’t you go charming her into anything she’s not ready for, nor will she be for some time.”
He rolled his eyes. “I get it, Mum.”
“Good. So how are you going to manage while she’s at school?”
She looked at him pointedly. “Well, you couldn’t even manage to eat dinner with your family without working out a way for her to be invited. I’m wondering what’s going to happen next month, when she returns to school and you won’t see her for months at a time.”
“I can manage it, Mum.”
“How?” Molly persisted.
“I don’t know...I’ll write, and get up there for Hogsmeade weekends, and see a lot of her next summer.”
“George...” she said with a sigh.
“You were always my worst correspondent. Or, actually, my worst co-correspondent, because you and Fred always wrote me a letter together.” She pursed her lips in disapproval.
“What were we going to tell you about, Mum? Our pranks? Our mediocre marks?”
“Your marks were just fine until you got so obsessive about the idea of a joke shop.”
“Good thing, too, wouldn’t you say?”
“Don’t change the subject, dear. If this Luna business is going to last…”
“It’s going to last—it has to,” George stated emphatically. “I want this more than I’ve ever—more than the joke shop, actually. I’ll just have to get better at letters.”
“And what happens when you get lonely?” Molly asked gently.
“I’ll get a puppy.”
She swatted his shoulder. “George, be serious, now. I’ve seen the way girls are with you. And the way you are around girls. What happens a few months from now, when you’re missing her, and some customer, or some waitress, or barmaid, or for that matter some pretty new Order member comes along?”
George shook his head. “I wouldn’t do that to her. She’s had to put up with a lot of rejection in her life. She expects the worst from people and just sort of takes it with a smile, never complaining. But when someone is kind to her, she just lights up like a Roman candle. So I’m determined to be the one person who doesn’t let her down. And with a little more self-confidence, I suspect she may just amaze the world. Anyway, I’m fairly certain that she loves me, and I’m pretty sure I love her, so I couldn’t hurt her that way.”
“Oh, George…” Molly had tears in her eyes.
George reached over to pat her hand. “Don’t worry about it Mum. You’re not saying anything I haven’t already thought of and worried about. Believe it or not, I can take things seriously, at least occasionally.”
“Oh, I know that, dear. I just... I suppose I didn’t expect all of my children to get attached so early in life. You’re all heart, every one of you,” she sniffled.
“Yeah, well, maybe we’re just following your and Dad’s examples. Anyway, Mum, cheer up; Charlie seems content to play the swinging bachelor, and with Percy, you’re guaranteed to have a middle-aged virgin left over.”
“George!” She shook her head, trying to look stern and failing spectacularly. “I have to tell you, even though I think you have made an odd choice, I don’t think it’s a bad one. I like her, she’s…”
“Special,” George interrupted. He picked up his wineglass, intending to wander back into the living room, locate Fred, and head home. He turned back at the doorway. “And I really didn’t have any choice, Mum.”
Molly smiled and said gently, “You never do, dear.”
Lying in his bed that night, listening to Fred’s light snores, George thought over the events of the day. It occurred to him that it had been something of a turning point for him. Little by little, without even being aware of every small step he had taken, George had enfolded Luna into his present life and his future.
First of all, as someone who spent most of his life seemingly carrying an ‘If you don’t like it you can stuff it’ sign on his forehead, he was genuinely surprised to discover that obtaining Fred’s and Ginny’s and his mum’s approval of Luna really mattered to him.
However, it also occurred to him that Luna already meant so much to him that he had been willing to face opposition from all of them, including Fred. And that was something really remarkable; it signified the start of a new way of life for him and Fred, one which had really begun to make itself visible at Bill’s wedding. They were growing up, and growing apart in ways that would be barely noticeable to others, but monumental to themselves.
Some time in the not-so-distant future, each of them would have a family of his own. They would live apart. Days like today, where they spent hours apart, would start to be the rule rather than the exception. Conversations like the ones he had participated in today, where it was just George and another person, with no Fred in sight, would soon be so common that he wouldn’t even notice the difference. To George, the prospect was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.
Fred would no longer be the person whom George focused on the most, nor would George be the primary focus of Fred. They would always be the closest of brothers, the best of friends, but no longer the person in the top slot--someone else would replace them. And once kids arrived, the position would slip further. George had never really stopped to think about it before.
Somehow he knew, though, that Luna had already become the first person he wanted to talk to about what was on his mind. Hers would be the first face he now looked for in a crowd. She would be the first person he looked for after a battle, for that matter (though the near certainty that he and Fred would be fighting side-by-side made this rather a moot point). And what would he do if it came down-- in a battle--to a choice between Luna and Fred? What would Fred do if he had to choose between Angelina and George? That’s not the kind of thing you want to be thinking about if you want to get any sleep tonight, Weasley.
Tonight had been a turning point in another way, too. Luna would be in the Order someday. While her loyalties in the war had been clear the moment she set foot in the Hog’s Head nearly two years ago, it was comforting to realize that both they and their families would be working together. He didn’t have to keep anything secret from her, either. They could talk about anything, and judging by the things they had discussed so far, especially earlier in the evening, he was going to be fascinated by what she had to say. She would be a good addition to the Order, with her razor-sharp observation and remarkable ingenuity. And the Order meetings had become deadly dull since Dumbledore…went. Luna and Jack would provide a little sadly missed absurdity to the proceedings
He tried not to dwell too long on the dangers she would face. She had already put herself in harm’s way. The Order was the safest option for them. He tucked his fears in the back of his mind, which was already crowded with fear for his family members.
He also tucked away worry that he was incapable of sustaining a two-year long distance relationship. He had to, because he had no choice, really; it was too important. And besides, who knew how to sneak in and out of the castle better than he? He bet that Fred would even help him manage it, especially if an opportunity to torture Filch came along with it.
He tucked away worry about his youngest brother, and whether that scrawny kid that was with him was capable of saving the world. He tucked away fear that the shop would fail spectacularly, forcing him to sit behind a desk all day like Percy. He tucked away fear for Percy-- that something terrible would happen to ‘old Bighead’ before George got a chance to welcome him back into the family as a brother.
Once all of his fears and worries were tucked away, George thought some more.
He thought about the look on Fleur’s face when Fred revealed the punch line to that dirty joke that Lee had told him. He thought about the look on Tonks’ face when they slipped one of those Muggle ‘whoopie cushions’ on her chair just before dinner. He thought about his father’s face when he absentmindedly picked up a wand to light the lanterns and it turned into a rubber flobberworm. He thought about Luna’s face when Ginny told Tonks about Luna’s brief but brilliant Quidditch commentator career.
What was the point of all the drama, if you didn’t get a few laughs out of it? And Fred apparently agreed, because he was laughing in his sleep. George went to sleep with a smile on his face.
A/N: Epilogue to follow shortly