“With the Order?” asked Fred.
“Any of it,” said George.
This place was horrible. It was dark, and miserable, and gloomy and boring, and there was no Lee.
They thought they’d known, hadn’t they? They’d known that fighting You-Know-Who wouldn’t be all sunshine and daisies. When they’d been told they were going to go live for the summer in former Death Eater Central, Fred and George had braced themselves for danger and terror.
But somehow George had expected it to be more exciting and less squalid. The most exciting thing they’d done was clean.
“Fred! George!” Mum was yelling downstairs. George and Fred exchanged a look, silently debated the anger in her voice and decided whether she’d be more put out at having to yell at them more than once versus having them Apparate in front of her.
They should just walk downstairs, thought George.
Not bloody likely, said Fred’s grin.
They Apparated downstairs.
“For Heaven’s SAKE!” Mum shouted, dropping her bowl of porridge into the sink with a clatter. “You don’t need to do that every time!”
“Sorry, Mum,” said Fred breezily. “Didn’t want to make you wait. Got a big day ahead.”
“Here!” she slapped a small scroll at Fred’s chest. “And tell your friends they are not to keep sending owls! This is supposed to be a secret Order safehouse!”
George glimpsed Lee’s owl flying out the door, and his heart gave a small thump. “Lee!” He snatched the letter from Fred, who flailed his arm out to get it back and then chased him as he headed out the door.
“Go easy on them, Molly, they’re bored silly, cooped up here,” Sirius was saying as they raced up the stairs. George and Fred shared a grin as they ran into their room and flopped onto Fred’s bed, unscrolling Lee’s letter and reading it together.
You’re a couple of miserable arses, Lee’s letter began, and George felt a warm glow at the familiar looping script. Leaving your best friend behind. We were going to have a great time this summer, remember? You were going to come and visit me?
“We were, too,” George noted. “Would’ve been brilliant. We were going to sneak into the Leaky and the Weird Sisters concert.”
“Instead we’re listening to Sirius’s batty mum and that horrid little monster calling us unnatural,” Fred agreed.
I don’t mind so much that you two disappeared, Lee’s letter continued. I figure it’s got to do with the stuff we talked about last year. But you couldn’t let me in on any of it? My mum and dad are right dull. They keep going on about me getting serious about Potions and wanting me to be a bloody Prefect...
“It would be brilliant if he was a Prefect,” Fred remarked. “Told him he should’ve tried at least. Can you imagine, Lee with the power to take points off Slytherin? Sneak us off the school grounds at night? Get us into the Prefects’ bathroom?”
“With great power comes great responsibility,” George agreed.
So I’ve been chatting up this Muggle girl at the local tea shop, Lee wrote, and George’s stomach tightened uncomfortably. Beside him, Fred cleared his throat. I think I was getting somewhere but then she told me her whole family fund-raised for the Labour party and I told her I voted Narcissist. I dunno what happened...
George and Fred laughed. “I swear he’s never going to get a leg over in his entire life,” said Fred, chuckling fondly.
They continued reading, snickering as Lee wrote increasingly impossible anecdotes about his mother’s magical explosions business -- and how she somehow managed to make explosions dull -- and his attempts to learn radio spells, and about his sister’s boyfriend, whose spots were beginning to take on personalities of their own, and...
Write me, mates Lee implored at the bottom of the letter. It’s barely six weeks between school terms but feels like forever, I swear. Write me.
“Can’t wait for school,” George said. “It’s going to be brilliant.”
“Yeah, not like this bloody depressing hellpit.”
“Never thought I’d miss mucking out our old chicken coop,” said George. Never thought I’d miss our best friend quite so much either, he thought but didn’t say. He got out a quill and piece of parchment.
“What are you doing?” said Fred. “Mum’s expecting us to tackle half the third floor today. Especially now Harry’s here.”
“You heard her,” said George. “Our friends aren’t taking the secrecy of Order headquarters seriously. We have to explain it to them.”
Fred grinned. “Yeah, fair enough.” He flopped down on George’s bed and took out his wand, lazily making patterns of sparkling colour on the ceiling. “Explain away, then, oh responsible one.”
Our friend arrived. He’s in a marvelous mood. Very easygoing, quiet, serene. We’re all having a wonderful time. Too bad we’re so busy. Mostly developing new products for our ongoing project. You’re going to love what we’re doing with nougats, though we’re quickly discovering that the charms we learned for cleaning cloth don’t do nearly as good a job as we need when it comes to blood.
He paused, glancing over at Fred.
We miss you, mate. It’s not the same without our third wheel.
Lee liked her. Really liked her. As more than a friend. He’d been flirting with her since first year.
George shook himself impatiently. It didn’t mean anything. Fred had asked her to the Ball last year, and - well they hadn’t spoken to her, of course, over the summer, and hadn’t had any owls from her, but still, Angelina and Fred had gone to the Ball together and that meant something, didn’t it?
“George, pay attention,” hissed Fred, poking him, and George realized he’d been talking in a low voice for a while now and George had completely not noticed.
“Yes, Mum,” George muttered, turning toward his twin as Lee and Angelina settled onto the bench next to them. “Why?”
“That’s got to be the Defence professor,” Fred murmured. “She’s... she’s disturbing.”
“Seems all right to me,” said George, looking her over. Unattractively toadlike, and with a bizarrely girlish look to her, all pink and with a bow in her hair, but he saw nothing disturbing about her. “What’s wrong with her?”
“Look at McGonagall. And Sprout. They’re almost crawling away from her in their seats.”
Then Dumbledore welcomed them to school again and made bade them tuck in, in lieu of a speech - there was a reason he and Fred loved the barmy old bat - and it was all right again.
Lee was full of stories from his summer, even funnier than his letters, and full of righteous anger at them not telling him a bloody thing about how they’d spent their own hols.
“We would’ve mate, we swear,” Fred protested at one point, and Lee flicked his wand and made Fred’s nose elongate. Fred, not to be outdone, made Lee’s dreadlocks rise from his head and wave gently in the air above him. One of them wound its way towards George.
He batted it away. “And what else did you do?” he asked. “Besides work for you Mum’s shop and drive her spare?”
“It was a good summer in many ways,” said Lee mysteriously, his dark eyes sparkling and a small smile playing about his lips.
“You did finally meet that girl!” Angelina crowed. “The one you wrote me about! Did you?”
“You wrote to my girl?” Fred asked Lee in mock hurt.
“Can’t be your girl if you don’t write to her,” said Angelina tartly, and Alicia snickered.
“You wound me,” said Fred. “You wound me grievously. What was in my heart was too deep for parchment.”
Angelina rolled her eyes. “I’m sure.”
“Fickle woman,” said Fred dramatically.
“Fickle?” Angelina’ dark eyes snapped with anger - and amusement. “Lee here spends most of an hour whinging about you not telling him what you were doing and you grovel to him. I make one comment and I’m a fickle woman? You didn’t ask Lee out to the Ball, did you?”
“He was George’s date,” said Fred. His eyes brightened. “Ergo, George is the one who mucked up, not me. I’ve just been a supportive twin, this whole time, and got not one bit of appreciation from either of you ungrateful sods.”
Lee rolled his eyes and turned his back on Fred. “I did not get my leg over with that particular female,” he admitted to Angelina. “It was an illuminating summer nevertheless.”
“In what way?” asked Fred.
“Not bloody telling you, mate. Turnabout is fair play.”
“We couldn’t tell you,” Fred repeated patiently.
“Maybe if you get yourself back in my good graces I’ll tell you,” said Lee haughtily. “But it’ll require a lot of groveling.”
Finally dinner was done and they were all feeling a lot lazier and fuller. Dumbledore got up and began, speaking briefly about Forbidden this and Banned that, and George paid no more attention than he ever did - until the new teacher got up to speak.
“Does she think we’re all infants?” muttered George.
“I am very much looking forward to getting to know you all and I’m sure we’ll be very good friends!” she chirped.
“You are, are you?” muttered Lee.
The she started to talk in earnest, dropping the chirpy tone and replacing it with something distinctly Percy-like. They all glanced at each other as she droned on.
“A balance, then, between old and new, between permanence and change...”
“What a twit,” said Angelina.
“She’s not,” said Fred.
George snickered. “Really? Are you hearing the same twaddle I’m hearing?”
Fred shook his head, looking decidedly unamused. “She’s not a twit. A fanatic, is what she is. Lot more dangerous than she looks.”
George shrugged and didn’t argue. Fred had been getting more moody and occasionally gloomy over the last little while. More serious, more driven - and sometimes, less likely to be on the same page as George. They’d had a serious disagreement over their Quidditch Cup bet with Ludo Bagman last year, and George was still somewhat shaken over it. He had no desire to go there again.
He listened to Umbridge with half an ear, not particularly seeing what had Fred so disturbed. He glanced at Lee and Angelina, who also seemed to have completely turned off.
Though it was strange, he thought as they went back to their common room, that Hermione apparently seemed to think the same way as Fred.
“We’re going to have to watch ourselves, that’s all I’m saying,” she was saying to Ron as they finished shepherding a gaggle of tiny children toward the first-year dormitories.
“She’s just a professor. Ten to one she doesn’t even last the year.”
“Harry said she worked for Fudge. And didn’t you notice how the other teachers were looking at her?”
“Dumbledore can take her,” Ron said confidently. “If he could handle Grindenwald and You-Know-Who, he can handle the pink toad.”
“Ron!” Hermione hissed, glancing around the common room, relieved that only Fred and George seemed to be paying attention. Fred gave her a grim nod and signalled to George and Lee to head to the bathrooms, and they got ready for bed without the usual boisterous hilarity that usually accompanied anything the three of them did together. Somehow, with Fred so dour, it was hard to muster up the required level of humour.
“This is crap, mate,” said Fred hollowly as they headed to their dormitory, leaving Lee at the bathrooms.
“Well, Hermione agrees with you,” George noted. “Good on you, mate.”
“It’s not that funny,” said Fred, taking off his jumper and pulling on his pajamas.
“I know,” George said, stripping off his own pants. “What can we do, though?”
“Not sure,” said Fred. “I just know that this is... school isn’t going to be what we thought it would be, this year. Umbridge is a loon, there’s lots going on...”
Lee entered the room, a towel slung over his shoulders, and stopped by Fred and George’s beds, glancing around the dormitory.
“What is it?” asked George.
“Don’t say too much,” Lee said softly.
“What d’you mean?”
“I mean, whatever you weren’t telling me about about this summer... don’t tell me yet. Not here.” He gave a significant look at the last two beds in the room, belonging to Kenneth Towler and Garett Hung.
George glanced over at the beds too, mystified. “Why not?”
“Because you’ve been in deep with the good guys all summer,” said Lee. “You haven’t seen what’s going on outside of your bubble. It’s not all sunshine and daisies.”
“It wasn’t all sunshine and daisies where we were either--” Fred began, and Lee shushed him.
“All right, now you’re being dramatic,” George teased him. “What’s with the two of you? I was looking forward to coming back here; you’re making me miss that blasted old elf with his mutterings--”
“-good thing they’ve got somebody here with some sense,” Kenneth was saying as he pushed the door open and entered the room, chatting with Garett.
“I don’t know...” said Garett slowly.
“Oh come on,” said Kenneth. “This is our education we’re talking about.”
“You’ve never been that concerned with it before.”
“Maybe I should’ve been,” said Kenneth. “We’re going to look for jobs at the end of the year. D’you want to know what you’re talking about and have a chance at employment, or do you want to be loyal to some barmy, delusional--”
“Beg pardon?” said Fred, rounding on Kenneth. Kenneth blinked and Garett pressed his lips together. “Who’s delusional?”
Kenneth and Garett exchanged a glance, and then Kenneth lifted his chin and narrowed his eyes, putting his hands on his hips and giving Fred a long, measuring gaze.
And George had a distinct memory of him doing the exact same thing in first year, when he and Fred had charmed his trousers to squeeze his bits, and the same thing in second year, when they Transfigured his nose into a trapeze, and in third year when they put Stinkpus in his shoes--
This didn’t look like that.
“Listen, Weasley,” he began, and flicked his gaze at George. “Both of you.” He paused, carefully thinking over his next words.
Kenneth had always been a pretty good sport everything they’d done, before. Occasionally impatient with them, sometimes giving them mock-stern lectures - especially after the Bulbadox powder in pajamas incident - but eventually amused. And Garett was usually on their side. Not that it mattered; he, Fred and Lee were the acknowledged leaders - especially now that they were seventh-years - and Kenneth and Garett were lucky to live with them.
This felt different.
“I was just saying that I’m glad there’s somebody with some sense on the staff,” said Kenneth, as if making an important pronouncement.
“As opposed to who?” said Fred.
“Dumbledore,” said Kenneth, and Garett blew out his breath softly, but moved to stand slightly behind Kenneth, giving him silent support. “And I’ll tell you something else: I’m glad there’s somebody on staff who sees that kid you’re so fond of for what he is.”
“What kid?” asked Fred, his voice hard.
“You know who I’m talking about. The one your family’s all but adopted.”
“You have something to say about our friend?” asked Lee icily.
Kenneth pressed his lips together. “All right, mate, never mind,” he said, his tone abruptly conciliatory. “Let’s not get in a fight on our first day back. You three like the kid, and - who knows, maybe he believes what he’s saying. He’s always seemed harmless enough.” Though they’d had words over him in third year, when Harry and Ron and Hermione had cost the House more points than even Fred and George had ever dreamed possible, and in fourth year, when Harry had been suspected of being the Heir of Slytherin, and last year, when they’d thought he put his name into the Goblet. Kenneth shrugged. “You’ve always defended him, boys--”
“And we’ve been right to, haven’t we?” said Lee.
Kenneth reluctantly nodded. “Except for last year. Maybe he finally cracked under the pressure.”
“No,” snapped Fred. “He didn’t.” George deliberately didn’t look at Fred. Harry had hardly been an example of calm steadiness this summer...
“Let’s all just agree to disagree, all right?” asked Garett. “We won’t badmouth him in our dormitory. You can say whatever you want.” He turned decisively to his bed and got in, drawing the curtains around himself. Kenneth did the same, visibly unsettled.
Fred gazed at Lee quietly as the second set of curtains closed. He got into bed silently, turning onto his side.
What the hell had just happened? An abortive half-argument, a few sentences - but it suddenly felt to George like a wide gap had just yawned open in the middle of their dormitory room.
He got into bed silently and turned over, deliberately calming his thoughts. He and Fred were Beaters. Lee was the Quidditch announcer. They were popular, they were admired. They were leaders. The other two were rubbish who were lucky to live with them. Right?
George suddenly wondered how Harry and Ron were doing in their own dormitory. Ronnie was a Prefect now, which was good - though nauseating - but... how were they doing? What did the rest of their year think of them this year?
He added Snotweed and glanced over at Lee, quietly preparing for a NEWT Charms presentation on his bed. They’d all looked forward to coming back to school. School meant fun and lessons -- which they were actually quite good at, thank you very much -- and teachers who now knew them and loved them.
With the glaring exception of Snape, they got along with everyone. Sprout tolerated their antics because they’d helped her rebuild her entire Greenhouse #4 after the Gurdyroot explosion killed it and even though she’d discovered it was because they wanted Toejam flowers for potions they were planning, she still appreciated them. Flitwick was always coming up with wicked -- and often slightly dangerous -- charms for them to work with outside of class. His murmured, “Thought you might like to look at this,” after class was often like Christmas come early, and had directly resulted in Canary Creams, Belching Breath Mints and Farting Frisbees. McGonagall loved their work as Beaters and had over the years learned to take the thousands of House points they’d cost her in stride. Hagrid was brilliant. Trelawney didn’t matter; they’d never taken her classes anyway.
But this year...
It was like living in a dungeon, he thought, and added in some Skunk Lily. And not the fun kind that they’d read about in those Naughty Witch magazines that Lee had started smuggling in for them in second year.
Everyone was gloomy. The professors walked around grim and taciturn. Fred had been right, damn him, that the kitten-obsessed pink monstrosity was taking over everything, and she had nobody’s good time in mind.
And Harry was being hounded. Treated like a criminal when he hadn’t done anything wrong.
The only good parts of school this year were Quidditch, Lee and Angelina. And even there...
Well all right, Quidditch was fine. After a rough start the team was doing well, and it wasn’t like Umbridge had any control over what happened on the pitch, thank Merlin.
Lee and Angelina, on the other hand...
George carefully waved his wand over his solution counterclockwise and glanced over at Lee, now absently doodling in the margin of his parchment as he recited music spells under his breath. He really couldn’t deny where his feelings were going with regards to Lee, and it was confusing and annoying and a little bit terrifying. He’d ignored it and dismissed it and minimized it all since last year, but it was probably far past time for him to admit it to himself.
Also, Fred and Angelina were no more.
“It’s not right, I’m your Captain” she’d told Fred.
Lee had paused very briefly when Fred had told them, asked “You all right about that?” and the moment Fred had gamely replied, “Course I am - plenty of other fish in the sea, right?” Lee’d shot back, “So it’s not wrong if I ask her out again, right?”
Fred had laughed and aimed a punch in Lee’s direction, calling him an insensitive wanker. It was all right, though; they all knew that if Lee had treated the break-up as serious, that would’ve made it serious, and Fred didn’t want it to be. In fact, he was out with Angelina right now, helping her study for Herbology as just friends, just to prove that he didn’t give a toss about dating her.
But George hadn’t liked Lee’s reaction one bit. And it wasn’t because Lee was being flippant about Fred and Angelina not lasting.
It was because Lee would never date Angelina, but he would date somebody, some day. Maybe Katie. Maybe Alicia. Maybe some girl in another house. And George...
All right, time to get off the pathetic train. He was a big boy, he could admit it:
He was all sorts of smitten. With his best friend. There.
And it didn’t matter, he thought as he stirred the potion some more, releasing a mildly vomit-scented vapour, and Lee’s nose scrunched a bit. Didn’t matter that he was always acutely aware of Lee’s presence, whether they were interacting or not. Just made things a little weird, that was all. It was a phase. After all, Fred had had a thing for Angelina, and now they were back to normal. That was all it was, nothing to concern anybody.
And loads of boys got weird about other boys; Steve Bennings and Alec Fletcher had been caught rubbing against each other in the third floor bathroom last year and Alec was dating a Ravenclaw girl a month later. Old biddies like Umbridge would probably go sideways at the idea, and Mum and Dad would be all funny and concerned if any of their boys was ever caught doing anything like that, and he had no clue what Fred would think, and it would be horribly awkward, but...
But it didn’t have to be. So he’d admitted it to himself; he didn’t have to do anything else about it. Just push it out of his mind, go on as normal, and concentrate on his studies and on their plans for their own shop.
They’d be out of here soon. They’d have money. Success. A chance to help the Order. Have girls tripping over themselves to date them. No more of this stupid shite with school, bowing to the horrible toad who’d taken over everything...
“George, what the hell is that?” Lee’s irritated voice startled him out of his reverie. “It smells like my grandmother’s bra.”
“Oi, mate, I don’t want to know how you know what your grandmother’s bra smells like,” said George. “It’ll get better. Just need to add Pogrebin root.”
“Pogrebin root. Ugh. That’s like arse and treacle. What the bloody hell are you making?”
“Arse and treacle? That’s oddly specific.” George waved his wand over the solution. “Y’know, you don’t have to smell this.”
“You’re throwing me out of my own dormitory?”
“No, I can do a spell to block your sense of smell.”
“The one you perfected that year that you and Fred decided not to bathe? Knew it had to come in handy eventually.”
George rolled his eyes and waved his wand at Lee, and gave himself permission to gaze at Lee affectionately for a moment after Lee bent his head back over his book.
It didn’t mean anything. Yeah, it was a little distracting sometimes, noticing Lee the way he did, becoming fixated with the way his teeth worried absently at his lower lip as he studied, but it didn’t mean anything. He’d just keep ignoring it, and grow out of it.
“I know--” George began, keeping his tone calm. DADA class drove Fred spare these days. No need to add fuel to the fire. Besides, there was practice tonight, and Lee had smuggled some firewhisky in for after--
“Umbridge is taking over the school,” Fred continued, stalking up to the Gryffindor door. “Hippogriff,” he barked, and the Fat Lady silently opened the door. He strode through to the empty common room. “The Ministry has taken over everything, everybody’s scared, everybody thinks Harry’s a liar...”
“I know, I know. It’s bollocks. I agree.”
“But you’re not taking it seriously!” Fred snapped.
George stopped in his tracks. Fred strode ahead a few paces, then stopped and turned when he realized George was no longer beside him.
“Beg pardon?” George asked mildly. Fred blinked at him. “Mate, I’m not the enemy, right?”
Fred flushed. “I didn’t say--”
“Don’t bark at me,” said George firmly.
“You’re more worried about Quidditch and Lee than you are about what’s important,” said Fred.
George froze. “What?”
Fred gazed at him for a moment, then shook his head. “Nothing. Forget I said anything.” He cleared his throat. “You’ve heard Hermione talking?”
“About what?” asked George, and the door swung open behind them.
“Ah, Lee, we were just talking about you,” said Fred, and George gave him an angry glare. “Did you talk to Hermione?”
“Hermione?” asked George.
“There’s a meeting at the Hog’s Head,” said Lee, dropping down into the couch next to George. “Hermione just told me about it. Keep it hushed, though.”
“About what?” George said, keeping his voice steady.
Lee looked around the common room quickly. “She wants Harry to teach us Defence Against the Dark Arts.”
“What? We could fight circles around him,” said George. Fred turned on him, mouth open for a retort. “Look, he’s a great kid, he really is. We all love him. But he’s just a kid.”
“He’s beaten You-Know-Who,” Fred pointed out.
“Luck,” said Lee. Fred raised his eyebrows. “Listen, I like the kid too, and I didn’t want to be rude to Hermione. But he’s just a kid. He’s two years younger than us and he’s a fine flyer but--”
“He won the Triwizard Championship,” said Fred.
“Also luck,” said Lee. “Were you watching what I was watching?.”
“He went up against three older students and beat them,” said Fred.
“It was a game, Fred,” said George.
“Yeah, it was. And he won it. And then he went up against You-Know-Who and--”
“And barely got away,” said Lee.
“But he got away!” said Fred. “He’s gotten away over and over. From You-Know-Who, from Quirrel, from his bloody family, from Barty Crouch - you think it’s all just coincidence?”
George traded a glance with Lee. Fred did have a point. “He’s also had help, every time,” he said.
“So he’ll need help again,” said Fred firmly. “And I’d like to be there when he does.”
A slow smile spread across Lee’s face. “You know what, mate?” He looked over at George and laughed. “I think I do too.”
George felt a grin beginning on his face too. “Doesn’t sound half-bad when you put it like that,” he said.
Lee reached out and squeezed George’s arm, and his heart skipped a beat. He quickly glanced at Fred, who narrowed his eyes.
“So I argue for it and you think it’s ridiculous, but Lee does and all of a sudden it’s a fine plan?” Fred said flatly.
George swallowed. “I know better than to stand against two of you, mate,” he said, still acutely conscious of where Lee’s hand was squeezing his arm. “So. Are we going to this meeting?”
“Bloody right,” said Lee, with a wide grin. “Let’s go. Let’s be part of history.”