The bitter wind spiraled down the busy street, sending dead leaves scattering into the air. Birds overhead flew south, chirping and trembling under the wind’s relentless onslaught. George pulled his black winter jacket tighter around him as he hurried down Hogsmeade, dodging the numerous shoppers walking in the opposite direction.
He came to a stop outside Honeydukes. George tilted his head back and gazed at the bright, colourful sign displayed above the sweets shop, and the countless different candies featured in the foggy display window. The sight was familiar enough that it made his heart ache at the buried memories it stirred deep within him. Taking a deep breath, he pushed open the door.
The bell jingled overhead as he strolled inside. George sighed in relief when the door closed and the cold air stopped blowing in his face. Despite the large number of people outside, the inside of Honeydukes was nearly deserted. Only the cashier, an old man buying a package of blood lollipops, and a young woman perusing the shelves could be seen.
George strode immediately to the back, where “all the good stuff was”, as Fred had put it. He ignored the tightening sensation in his chest at the thought of Fred and quietly filled a plastic bag with candy. After weighing the bag on the scale and calculating the price, a habit he’d never dropped despite his significantly higher income, he tied the top in a knot and turned to pay.
His body slammed into that of the woman, whom he hadn't heard walk up behind him. With a cry of shock, the woman staggered backwards, clutching the shelf to prevent herself from falling. Her box of chocolate frogs dropped to the ground with a loud thud.
“Oh my god, I'm so sorry!” gasped George. He quickly picked up the box and handed it to her. His eyes travelled from her hand to her face, and he blinked twice to make sure he wasn't seeing things. “Angelina?”
“George. Hi,” said Angelina in a stunned voice, straightening and taking the box from him. “Long time no see.”
He smiled awkwardly. Lately every smile on his face felt awkward, out of place. “Yeah.”
After a long silence, Angelina peered up at him through dark eyelashes. “Hey, after paying, do you want to grab a Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks and catch up? It's bloody freezing outside.”
He tried to think of an excuse that would get him away from Fred’s ex-girlfriend, but nothing came to mind. “That sounds great,” lied George.
Angelina gave him a tiny smile, and he had the unnerving feeling that she could see right through him. “Great,” she echoed, sounding slightly skeptical.
They headed to the till, and Angelina placed her box of chocolate frogs on the counter. As she counted out the number of Sickles, the cashier’s eyes darted between her and George.
“I've seen you two together in here, haven't I?” he asked Angelina.
“No, I was with his twin brother at the time,” replied Angelina, giving him the money.
“Oh,” said the cashier. He rang up her purchase and asked George, “Where's your twin, then?”
“He's dead,” said George flatly.
The cashier clammed up and, after shooting George a pitying look he was all too familiar with, finished their payments in silence. The pair exited the shop and trudged down the road to the Three Broomsticks.
As they walked, George glanced at Angelina out of the corner of his eye. She had grown taller, though not quite as tall as him, and her dark skin tone contrasted with the pearl white ski jacket she was wearing. Her long black hair spilled over her shoulders in a graceful wave. Angelina’s cheeks were tinted pink from the cold, and she kept shivering in the wind. As if she could sense his gaze, she frowned up at him. George quickly looked away, slightly embarrassed to be caught staring at her.
They reached the Three Broomsticks, and George opened the door and stepped aside to let Angelina in first. After giving him a strange look, she walked inside. George followed her in, and the two headed to the front counter.
Madam Rosmerta was polishing the glasses with a clean rag. When she caught sight of the two, she smiled warmly. “I haven't seen you dears since you graduated!” she exclaimed. “What brings you to Hogsmeade?”
“Just some last-minute Christmas shopping,” replied Angelina, lifting her purchased chocolate frogs.
“Me, too,” said George.
“Well, there’s only three days left, so you’d better hurry!” said Madam Rosmerta as she put aside the glasses she was cleaning. “Now, what would you like to order?”
“Two Butterbeers, please,” said George.
As Madam Rosmerta bustled off to retrieve their orders, he took out his wallet. Angelina eyed it and promptly grabbed his wrist. “Forget it. I'm paying,” she said firmly.
“What? No. I’ll pay-”
“I'm the one who asked you to come here with me. Put that away and let me pay.”
George opened his mouth to keep protesting, but Angelina ripped his wallet out of his grasp and forcibly stuffed it back into his pocket.
“Here you go!” said Madam Rosmerta cheerfully, handing George the two flasks of Butterbeer. Angelina paid her a Galleon, and the two made their way to a booth near the back and sat down on the cushioned seats.
George slid one of the Butterbeers across the table. Angelina caught it and took a long draught, sighing appreciatively. “After a few hours in the freezing wind, this is heavenly,” she stated.
He took his own sip of the rich buttery drink. The syrup flowed down his throat, warming his insides like a roaring fire. “You're right,” he agreed.
Angelina toyed with the tassels on her ruby-red scarf. “So…how have you been?”
“I’ve been doing great,” replied George, doing his best to sound like his old cheery self. “Finished drawing up the latest stack of order forms for the shop.”
“That's rubbish,” she said bluntly.
His mouth dropped open. “Excuse me?”
“You’re the worst liar in all of London, George. Besides, from what I've heard, all you do is work in your shop and barely talk to anyone. That's not ‘doing great’.”
“And who might this informant be?”
“I ran into Ginny a few days ago.”
“Ah, so that's how she knew you were drafted as reserve Chaser for the Caerphilly Catapults. Congratulations.”
“Thanks,” said Angelina with a proud smile, “but don't you dare try to change the subject, George.”
George lifted his hands, palms up. “What do you want me to say?”
“Fred died over half a year ago,” replied Angelina. “I really hate to say it, but everyone else has moved on. Even Molly.”
His lips twisted into a sardonic smile. “Yeah. I know something’s wrong with me. You don't need to remind me.”
“God dammit, there's nothing wrong with you!” shouted Angelina, making him jump. “It's normal for you to miss Fred. Hell, you'll probably him for the rest of your life; I know I will! But moping around in your room isn’t going to bring him back!”
“It's not like I haven't tried!” George fired back. “I've tried smiling and laughing like I used to, but they're all forced! Every single one of them! That's not how I want to live, but it's something I can't change!”
“You can still make more of an effort!” she yelled. “Do you have any idea how worried and stressed your family is? Ginny nearly broke down in tears when she told me about your behaviour, and she never cries! They’re suffering too, you know! No doubt it's unintentional, but face it, George, you’re treating them like dirt!”
His face burned. George glanced away and realized their impromptu shouting match was attracting some attention from the other patrons. Upon seeing his dark glare, they quickly looked away. Refocusing his gaze on Angelina, he said in a low voice, “You have no idea what I lost that night. I lost Fred, my twin brother. He was my other half for as long as I can remember. And he’s gone. Dead. Before me. It-” His voice cracked, and tears blurred his vision. “It wasn't supposed to end that way.”
“I know it’s hard,” said Angelina after a moment of silence. He eyed her carefully and noticed her eyes looked just as watery. “I know I can't even begin to imagine what you lost. But if it’s any consolation, George, I lost someone I loved that night too.”
George stared at her. Angelina’s voice sounded broken, and her shoulders were hunched over in a way he had never seen on her before. For the first time, he recognized the depth of which she had loved his brother.
Maybe she did understand his own grief, at least more than he'd originally cared to admit.
George cleared his throat awkwardly and tipped his glass of Butterbeer down his throat. After swallowing and setting down his glass, he said quietly, “I know, and I'm sorry.”
Angelina met his gaze. “I know,” she responded.
They sat in silence for the next few minutes, sipping Butterbeer and listening to the crackling fireplace situated close to their booth. George glanced out the window and noticed that it had begun to snow, soft fluffy flakes drifting gently to the ground.
Then Angelina said abruptly, “Do you remember the prank you and Fred pulled on me in our third year?”
George racked his brain. “The one where we enchanted your shampoo to turn your hair red and gold?”
“Yes!” she said, laughing. “I was so angry, and you wouldn't tell me how you managed to get your hands on my shampoo.”
“We bribed Alicia with chocolate to fetch it for us,” said George. That was the first time he and Fred had gone to the school kitchens after being tipped off to its location by an older Hufflepuff. The house-elves had been more than willing to give them armloads of their finest chocolate.
Angelina sighed, but she was still smiling. “I should've known-she couldn't stop laughing at me the whole week, especially when I tore into the common room, screaming bloody murder.”
George laughed, the first genuine one he'd emitted since Fred’s death. From the satisfied look on Angelina’s face, he guessed that was her intention. He’d forgotten what it felt like to truly be merry.
“I remember that,” he replied through choked laughter. “We were playing Exploding Snap and your shrill screams made me lose, but Fred and I just couldn’t stop laughing at the sight of you.”
“And your brilliant excuse was, ‘We thought you needed more House spirit!’” she said, imitating his voice in falsetto. “I was on the bloody Quidditch team-how much more House spirit did I need?”
“You knew it was just an excuse, though,” said George, grinning. “Back then you hardly said a word to us. We just wanted to rile you up. And besides, you looked even prettier with Gryffindor-coloured hair.”
Angelina blushed, and he belatedly realized what he'd just implied. “Er, thanks,” she said, uncharacteristically quiet.
George drained the rest of his Butterbeer in one gulp. “Fred came up with that prank,” he said. “Actually, he came up with the ideas most of them. I was better at carrying them out.”
“I would never have admitted it back then, but they were pretty amusing,” confessed Angelina.
He quirked an eyebrow. “Even the one where we rigged your broomstick?” he said with a chuckle at the memory.
“That wasn't funny!” she growled, but the corners of her mouth curved upwards in response. “It was my chance at proving I would be a good Captain for the Quidditch team, and you demons made my broom spout inappropriate phrases at the most inopportune moments! Professor McGonagall nearly kicked me off the field, and Oliver looked like he wanted to cry!”
George burst out laughing at her stricken face. For a fleeting moment, he could see exactly how and why Fred had fallen for this hot-tempered, passionate, beautiful girl. Then the moment passed, and she was just the same old Angelina again, the one whom he realized was a better friend than he deserved.
“You still got promoted to Captain,” he pointed out. “I always thought McGonagall was secretly amused by our pranks.”
Angelina snorted in disbelief and finished her Butterbeer. After she set hers back on the table, George took their empty flasks and returned them to Madam Rosmerta, who was still manning the counter.
When he walked back to their booth, he wordlessly extended his hand. She took it, and the pair left the Three Broomsticks, flinching from the violent gust of wind that seemed even fiercer after having been in the warm inn for so long. After checking the giant clock hanging on the wall across the street, George was shocked to see how much time had passed since they'd walked into the Three Broomsticks.
“Is there somewhere you have to go now?” asked George.
Angelina glanced at the time. “I have to get back home really soon if I want to finish wrapping presents before my family gets back,” she replied, biting her lip.
“Oh. Okay.” To his surprise, George was reluctant to part ways with her, opposite of his sentiments earlier in the day. He gestured towards her box of chocolate frogs and questioned, “Who’s that for?”
“My younger brother,” she said with a grin. “He’s addicted to chocolate. What about your bag of candy?”
“I bought it for Fred,” he answered quietly. “I thought I’d leave it at his grave. These were his favourite candies.”
George knew how stupid it sounded when he said it aloud, but somehow he knew Angelina would understand. For a while they stood in silence, letting the snowflakes drift around them. Somewhere in the distance, a pair of kids giggled at the falling snow, waving their arms and opening their mouths to the sky to catch the snowflakes on their tongues.
“Angelina, thank you,” said George suddenly. “Not just for the Butterbeer, but also for all the stuff you said about Fred and my family and myself. I, well, I really appreciate it.”
Angelina smiled. “Anytime, George. All you have to do is ask.” After tilting her head and studying him, she added, “You know earlier, when you opened the door for me? I was shocked. Didn't you used to pretend to slam it in my face?”
“Once upon a time,” agreed George. “I like to think I'm more chivalrous now.”
“Gryffindor to the bone, huh?” she said, punching him affectionately on the shoulder.
George shoved his hands in his pockets. “I could use that Gryffindor courage right now,” he muttered. At Angelina’s puzzled look he clarified, “I'm going to talk, really talk, with my family.” Despite knowing that was the right thing to do, the mere thought filled him with trepidation.
“Don’t be frightened; they're your family, George. They’ll understand. They were just scared that the night they lost Fred, they lost you too.” She smiled softly and squeezed his hand. “They'll be overjoyed to know the real you is back.”
He sighed. “I reckon you're right. But...I don't know how to go back.”
“Well, that's easy,” she said. “What do you want?”
George stared at her. What did he want?
He wanted to crack jokes again. He wanted his parents to laugh at their kids’ antics, after being scolded by his mother first. He wanted to tease his siblings and play Quidditch in the backyard with them. He wanted to run his shop with as much enthusiasm and joy as he did before. He wanted to actually feel happy, not slip on a mask of happiness over his facial features every day.
“I want to live again,” he said confidently.
Angelina beamed. “There’s your answer. That's the first step. The other steps might be harder to jump onto, but it'll be worth it once you reach the top.”
George believed her, and wondered whether that was the second step-believing that after a long winter, spring might be right around the corner.
She checked the clock again and winced. “Shoot, I really have to go now. If you’d like, I can pop by Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes tomorrow?” The last part she added almost hesitantly, as if afraid he might reject her idea.
“That’d be great,” replied George. She smiled in relief.
“Merry Christmas, George,” said Angelina, leaning forward and embracing him. Before he could anything other than register the fact that her arms were around him, she released him. After a quick good-bye wave, she Disapparated with a loud crack.
“Merry Christmas, Angelina,” he whispered. As he stared at the spot where she'd been seconds ago, he mentally added another want to his list: he wanted to hang out with Angelina again. Tomorrow, and another day, and maybe a whole lot of days after that…
With a foolish grin on his face, George started walking back to the fireplace he’d Flooed from. The snowfall grew lighter and lighter until it stopped completely, which made George pause and look up. The sun was shining brightly at him, and he could almost picture Fred’s encouraging, smiling face in it.
Almost. Fred would probably laugh himself silly if he knew his twin brother had compared his face to the sun.
Chuckling quietly, he reached the fireplace and tossed a handful of Floo powder onto the embers, causing the flames to blaze a bright emerald green. He stepped into it, letting the cool flames wash over him, preparing himself for a pivotal conversation with his family where they would hopefully forgive him so they could all face the future with a smile.
For himself, at least, there was nothing to do but look forward to tomorrow.