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Ripple from a Stone by WeasleyMom

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I'm not Jo Rowling. Also, I am rusty and did not have the sense to employ a beta. Proceed at your own risk.
Ripple from a Stone

The bell that rang when the shop door opened was charmed to sound in every room. It had been Fred’s idea from the beginning, and even now, six months after his death, the arrival of each and every customer was announced in the shop itself, the office, the storage room, and yes, even the loo. An affirmation, he’d called it, a constant reminder that the brothers had been right to believe witches and wizards would pay good money for a laugh plucked straight from their combined imaginations.

The sound itself was less a bell and more the sharp, terrified shriek of a kneazel. This detail had been George’s contribution. The first time Molly Weasley had come through the door, she’d jumped and looked down, clearly thinking she’d stepped on cat. Finding no complaining pets loitering round her ankles, she’d glared at her sons with a weary sigh. “Disturbing,” she’d told them. But the Weasley twins had not lacked confidence at any point in anyone’s memory. “Charming,” they’d corrected their mother in unison.

So many things were in the eye of the beholder.

George remembered Fred’s enthusiasm as the sound found him at his desk, but these days it felt less like an affirmation and more a baseline reason to get out of bed in the morning. Perhaps they were the same thing.

Verity knocked twice and poked her head into the office. “A friend of yours is here.”

George Weasley had more friends than most people, but very few stopped in the shop in the middle of the afternoon for a visit these days. It was probably Lee, coming round to check on him, though he would never to admit to such motivation. George, however, as the most checked-upon man in all of England, was skilled at seeing through excuses. But he couldn’t complain. As much as the meddling annoyed him at times, he didn’t care to imagine how much worse off he would be right now without it.

He quickly sorted the paperwork into two stacks, rose heavily, and walked into the shop.

“George.”

Her voice found him at the same moment his eyes landed on hers. Angelina.

It was Angelina Johnson, and the sight of her pulled a knot up sharp into the back of his throat. Unwanted images of the funeral service dropped into his mind like photographs, one after another, finishing with one of her standing in front of him, tear-drenched and silent. It was the last time he’d seen her. She’d not said a word to him that day, not a single word. Words were rubbish then, and it meant a lot to George that she’d understood that enough to not even bother. Instead, they’d embraced and cried together for a long time.

That was six months ago. She looked the same today but for dry eyes and an uncertain smile.

“Hello,” she said, fiddling with the hem of her jumper.

A noise behind the counter reminded him they were not alone. He watched as Verity made herself extremely busy with suddenly pressing matters related to organization behind the counter - matters George immediately recognized as being completely non-existent. He knew this because, only half an hour ago, Verity had been perched in her chair with her feet on the counter, engrossed in a Muggle romance novel. He hadn’t minded in the least - it was slow afternoon and there wasn’t much to do. If Angelina’s presence hadn’t put him in a questionable emotional state, George would enjoy giving his prize employee a hard time about her obvious attempt to stay and listen in on their conversation.

He had no idea what Angelina was doing here, and the prospect of having an audience for whatever was coming did not comfort him in the least. Fortunately, Verity caught his eye and figured this out on her own. Sheepishly, she grabbed something from a low shelf (the novel, George assumed), and made her way to the office.

“Maybe I should have owled,” Angelina said.

He realized he’d not yet spoken. “No,” he finally managed. “It’s… it’s good to see you.”

As he moved to hug her, the lump in his throat swelled fast and hard. These were the places he never expected grief to take him. He’d lost half of himself. Every day, he started over, each step slow and exhausting, like walking through chest-high water in a place where everything was too hard and too quiet. But it didn’t end there. As it turns out, George now knew, loss ripples out like water from a thrown stone, changing other relationships, too. Because here was Angelina, in his arms (of all places), but halting, not as certain as their friendship had been.

God, he had missed her.

He might not have let go at all, but she disentangled herself. “Can you get away for a bit?” She met his eyes briefly. “I know you’re busy.”

He would have closed the shop if he’d had to do so to keep her from leaving. Fortunately, Verity was more than capable of handling things. “Yeah. Just give me a minute.”

_________

“Butterbeer?” She wrinkled an eyebrow. “You surprise me.”

They’d walked to The Leaky Cauldron in a silence that was not quite awkward but not particularly comfortable for George either. Desperate as he’d felt for more time with her, now that he had it, the prospect was worrying. Learning to manage his life solo was not something he had mastered by any means, but most of the time he didn’t have the energy to care what others thought of how he was handling it. Angelina, though, was a different matter. She’d been one of their closest friends. It had been painful enough thinking he’d lost her; he wasn’t sure he could handle it if their relationship were to become something less without Fred. But how could it not be? Everything else was.

“George?”

He met her eyes across the table, registering her comment about his drink order. “Right. Promised I wouldn’t drink before dinner.” He didn’t want to say more about that, and her suddenly-sober expression revealed her understanding.

“Who’d you promise?”

“Whom,” he said, bang-on Professor McGonagal. He hadn’t intended the joke, but sometimes it just came out of him, like a regular breath.

Her amused, pissed-off look was unreasonably satisfying.

“Still a prat, then?” She smiled her old smile. “Well, that’s something.”

“My brothers,” he explained. “Then Ginny turned on the waterworks. I’m a stubborn man, but I can’t fight Crying Ginny.”

The drinks arrived and time passed in silence. George gulped the Butterbeer, watching Angelina run circles round the rim of her wine glass with her middle finger. He counted twelve circles before the silence began to get to him.

“We could talk about Quidditch,” he suggested, not caring about the edge creeping into his voice. “Sometimes people start with that. Then there’s always our respective jobs and extended family--”

Her eyebrows scrunched together. “What are you on about?”

“You don’t know how to talk to me.” He said it simply, holding her eyes, daring her to deny it. “S’all right, nobody does. Half the conversation has disappeared. I get it.”

Her eyes narrowed. When she spoke, her voice was a low growl, like a teammate had taken a cheap foul. “That’s rubbish.”

He’d made her angry. Good, he thought, feeling like he’d won something. She could deny it, but George knew better. This was his life now - his new reality, and Angelina didn’t get it. How could she? She hadn’t been around.

“I’m not afraid of you, George.” She leaned forward on her arms, her anger twisting into something else, something George didn’t immediately recognize. “I miss him.” She dropped her gaze to the table, pushing into the grain of wood with her fingertips. “Of course I do. I miss him here with us, sitting at this table where he belongs...” Her voice broke on the words and she swallowed hard.

George couldn’t speak. The lump was a boulder.

“But I know how to talk to you, George. I know everything must be different for you. I can’t imagine… what you’ve been though.” She looked into his eyes. “But you’re the same to me.”

There was a lot in her words, so much he couldn’t unpack it all.

“If I seem strange, it’s because I’m nervous. I bloody-well didn’t come to talk about Quidditch.” She took in a long, shuddery breath. “I came to apologize.”

Neither of them bothered to discuss why.

I needed you, he wanted to say. Where the hell have you been?

The words in his head accused her, but at the same time, his anger was shrinking away almost as quickly as it had blown up. He knew her as well in this moment as he ever had - a fact that comforted him more than a hundred well-meaning platitudes ever could. Her face and her posture revealed the depth of her remorse, and for George, somehow, it was enough.

“Ange--”

But she wasn’t listening. “I was hiding, I guess,” she paused, swiping at tears. “If I stayed away, I thought it would be less painful. Or something. Or maybe I didn’t even think about what I was doing. And then I wanted to see you, but it had been so long… I don’t know, but I see now how selfish and stupid--”

“Don’t.” His voice broke hard on the word.

“I should have been here for you.”

Yes, he thought. But the anger was gone. “You’re here now.”

She lowered her head, unconsoled.

“It’s enough.” His fingers found hers on the table. “Really. It is.”

She smiled feebly. “Do you mean... we’re okay?”

He nodded. We’re okay.

“For what it’s worth, I missed you as much as I miss him.”

Though her cheeks were dry now, her eyelashes still sparkled with leftover tears. He couldn’t say anything back to her. Hopefully she knew.

“How are you?” Her voice was soft. “Really?”

Her genuine concern tugged at the string that would unravel him completely. He didn’t dare tell her anything about Fred, about the white emptiness of his life without his brother, and how he was really doing these days. A part of him really wanted to, though. A part of him felt like unloading completely. Unfortunately, his emotional control had reached its end, and the last thing he wanted to do was fall apart in the middle of The Leaky. Nor could he risk scaring Angelina away from the him the very moment he’d got her back.

George settled for a morsel of the truth. “I don’t know what I’m doing, Ange.” His voice was low and tight with effort. “Every morning, I just keep waking up.”

Tears filled her eyes again as she squeezed his hand hard - painfully hard. “You just keep on doing it, George Weasley,” she told him fiercely. “Promise me.”

He tried to nod, wondering how many promises would be demanded of him before he survived losing his brother.

The tears were coming now, and he wasn’t sure he could stop them. “Shit.” He pressed the thumb and fingers of one hand into his eyes, leaving his other hand in hers.

“I don’t care.” She leaned in toward him. “I don’t care, George.”

“I care.”

“Okay. I'm sorry.”

A noise like a bark - part sob and part laugh - escaped his throat. “Make me laugh,” he told her.

“What? Right now?”

“Yeah,” he said, taking as deep a breath as he could manage. Where was Ron when he needed him? His younger brother had become a master of distraction -- and distraction, George had learned, was a griever’s best friend.

Angelina’s gaze darted around the room desperately, as if one of the patrons or Hannah-behind-the-bar might rush over and whisper a joke into her ear so she could repeat it and help her old friend recover.

George mopped at his face, feeling the smallest twitch at the corners of his mouth.

“Merlin’s knickers, Ange. Did we fail you so completely? You can’t think of a single funny thing to say?”

Their eyes locked, and George knew: they really were okay. Even better, she might be the one person in his life that hadn’t changed. Amused determination was spreading over her features, and soon, he knew, they would be laughing. Because the Angelina Johnson he knew never backed down from a challenge and always made the shots she took.

As she leaned forward and began to speak, George wondered if she realized they were still holding hands in the middle of the table. In fact, both of her hands were wrapped around his one.

“You’ll never guess who I ran into a couple weeks back.”

George leaned in and raised an eyebrow.

“Roger Davies.”

“Where?”

“On the street, near the Ministry. Guess what he was doing?”

“Picking up blonds?”

She shot him a threatening look that made him grin outright. She’d had a thing for Davies in school but could never get the Ravenclaw’s attention due to his preoccupation with girls of the fairer-haired variety. Angelina was a lot of things; fair was not one of them.

“He was walking Kingsley Shacklebolt’s dog.”

“What? How do you know it was Kingsley’s?”

“I’ve seen him with it.”

The muscles George’s face tightened and stretched before settling into their old familiar places. It felt good to laugh with her. He knew the guilt would come later, but in this moment, it just felt so good.

She went on talking, telling George what she’d learned from Davies. He’d recently acquired an entry-level ministry position, and told Angelina freely that he hoped to advance quickly by doing favors for higher-ups. George couldn’t help but think of the old Percy. He wondered if Roger Davies had been measuring cauldron thickness lately, an image he found very amusing, indeed.

“He asked me out.”

This news sobered George quickly. “You’re kidding.”

“Nope.”

He watched her carefully, but couldn’t get hold of her thoughts. “Better late than never?” He kept his voice light, but his stomach clenched. Was this her way of telling him she was dating someone? And why should he care, one way or the other?

“Maybe.” She let the word sit between them, studying him, then she grinned. “But only so I could have the satisfaction of turning him down flat after all these years.”

George let out a slow breath. Relief?

“He was only interested because I’m playing professionally now.”

George tended to agree but wasn’t about to say so. He sat up taller. “Poor Davies. It’s his loss. If he doesn’t know a smart, great-looking witch full of wit and athletic ability when he goes to school with one for seven years, well… it’s his loss.”

She raised an eyebrow suspiciously in his direction. “Flattery?” But she couldn’t hide the glow his words had put on her face.

Silence rose up between them - a comfortable one they both recognized.

“Can we do this again soon? We don’t travel again until Sunday.”

Their drinks were gone; they’d been here longer than either of them had probably intended, but George couldn’t bear the thought of it ending. “Sure. But, you have to go?”

“Don’t you?”

He considered the question.

Probably. Yes, there were things to do. He had the shop and (hopefully) customers and stacks of paper demanding his attention. Verity might not appreciate him taking advantage of her availabilty, but somehow, he doubted she would mind. For all her gum-chewing and novel-reading, she’d proved herself a friend. The more he thought about it, the more he knew that Verity would tell him to stay right where he was, lingering over drinks during working hours and catching up on an important friendship. He hadn’t done any such thing even once since he’d reopened the shop.

“It can wait.”

Angelina was here. She was here, and she hadn’t changed, and George needed to soak up something that hadn’t changed.

“What’s been going on with you?”

He signaled for more drinks, and after a brief hesitation, she began to fill him in on recent happenings with her family. When he asked about Quidditch, she obliged him with stories and concerns and the obligatory team gossip. And on and on.

It would all be waiting for him when they parted, George knew. The weight and silence of a Fred-less world was still there, waiting just below the surface. Yet, at the same time, his reclaimed friendship with Angelina was a balm for torn flesh, a flash-glimpse of impossible healing, and a reminder that a part of him, down in the deep places, was still alive. As her voice filled his senses, he began to wonder if, with the right company, he might be able to find it again.
Chapter Endnotes: Thanks for reading. I'm out of practice and taking advantage of a relaxing summer month to dip my toes in again. I put this in CR as George/Angelina because I see it as the first step on that path. But I suppose it could have gone in General or PH as well. Reviews are love... just saying.
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