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love like the love in storybooks

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Three years after Arthur had given them The Talk, Fred discovered girls– the way Angelina bent forward on her broom, streamlining herself for a dive, ponytail whipping behind her; the thoughtful beauty of Eloise Midgen chewing on her pen as she poured over her poetry notebook, however off-center her nose might be. Fred discovered boys at about the same time–Cedric Diggory’s golden grin, Cassius Warrington’s broad shoulders–and he stared after them in the Great Hall.  

George knew this, because Fred told him in the little inventing niche they’d set up in an alcove of one of the Hogwarts passages. He also knew it because Fred had been the other half of his world for all of his life– Fred didn’t like peas, so George ate them. George was afraid of heights, so Fred dared and dared him into going higher and higher–patiently, kindly, gently–until at nine George didn’t want to get down from a broom, even for dinner.

When one of them set it up, the other had the punchline. When one of them started it, the other finished the sentence, or the sandwich, or the job. When Fred stared after Angelina in the Great Hall, George noticed, and looked to his plate.

When Fred waxed eloquent about the grace of Angelina’s passes in practice, George thought about what that meant for Oliver’s game strategies. He remembered what it had been like, being afraid of air beneath your feet. When Fred talked smugly about the gardens outside the Yule Ball–the little niches and nooks, shadowed and cool, Angelina’s backless dress–George fiddled with their latest recipe for Puking Pasties.

Millicent Bulstrode curled up with her cat in the Slytherin Common Room and read trashy romance novels late into the night. She didn’t call them literature but she did call them more worth reading than a lot of so-called literature.

Their Head of House didn’t care for enforcing curfews and bedtimes, except on the rare occasion he got a bee in his bonnet and went about stripping House points from everyone but his nonexistent favorites, so sometimes she fell asleep out there with her cat purring in her lap.

She survived a lot that way–Draco’s sneers at her plump hips and arms, Pansy’s whispers, Gryffindors’ taunts in the Great Hall where she flipped pages beside her morning eggs and read about fainting milkmaids and brave dukes and sinister rogues with hearts of gold. She read through that terrible last year at Hogwarts, and the war, and then her parents’ divorce, and then boring afternoons running the register at a magical flower shop.

In the evenings, Millicent came home from the shop and curled up under a big quilt in her cozy little home. She wrote letters to friends met via owl mailing lists and long lines at book signings. Her cat settled down into the little plush hollow of her lap and purred as she read through the night. 

Padma Patil painted light into the curtains of her four poster in Ravenclaw Tower– the insides, so she could watch constellations as she slept. She and Parvati had shared at room, with big windows, at the top of their parents’ spindly house. It had been on the outskirts of a small town and on hot summer nights they had left the windows open and made up stories about the stars.

Padma kissed Eloise Midgen at the Yule Ball, when she’d tired of Ron’s bitter apathy, and the handsiness of Durmstrang boys. She hadn’t tired of the volume of the music, had liked how it beat through her skull, but Padma also liked new things. So she’d tip-toed into a side corridor with Eloise, and tried something new, and decided she didn’t care for it. She preferred painting people, she told El, though kissing was alright sometimes, and that worked out just fine for both of them. 

It was a book that clued Hermione in–when she told Ginny that it had been a book that began her wondering, her sister-in-law would nod, with no evidence of surprise, and offer to buy her another drink.

Hermione read a book–a fun book, even, the kind of light and often Muggle fiction that she mandated for herself to fit into the half hour after her third morning meeting and before her working lunch. But she resonated with a character in ways she rarely did. Eighty-six pages in the book used the word “asexual” and Hermione paused, rereading the page, as her tea went stone cold.

So she read. She researched. She walked out to the public Muggle library to use the Internet, because no matter how often she tried to get a router working in their little flat the wizardry made it go grumpily awry. She found forums, she found studies, she found books, and then she went home to talk to Ron.

When Hermione was done, Ron kissed her absently on the cheek, then paused. “Uh, was that okay?” He shifted on their hand-me-down sofa and she fiddled beside him with the fringe on a pillow.

“Yes, silly, it’s not–” She stopped, sighing. “I’m figuring it out.”

A bird shrieked outside the window with a warble that could be generously described as a song. Ron slung an arm around her shoulders and she leaned into him, shy. “You have some reading for me, don’t you?” he said.

“Well…” Hermione said. “Four books, a few pamphlets, some printouts. A bit of light reading.”

Ron choked on a laugh. “I do love you for reasons,” he said.

“Do you?” she said. Her voice muffled into his shirt. He smelled like George’s joke shop–polished wood and the sharp must of Peruvian Darkness powder, firework ash and sinister sweets. He was warm and solid under her cheek and she liked it, had always liked it–bringing her back down to earth in the midst of swarming plants; pale and mouthing off to a murderer in an abandoned shack; remembering the basilisk’s fangs; remembering the house elves; caring so little except when he cared too much; bitter and petty and brilliant and warm and hers. “Even now?” she said.

“For a smart person,” Ron said, “sometimes you can be really dumb. It’s gonna be okay.” He kissed her on top of her bushy head. “But are you sure I can’t just–what’s that Muggle thing?–read the SparkNotes?“

Oliver Wood poured over the training camp notes for Puddlemore United’s rookie roster, gnawing at the back of his ballpoint pen. The other junior assistant coach, a Muggleborn, had introduced pens to Oliver a few weeks back and now his desk was bursting with every type and color. Oliver scrawled a comment about left-sided feints, staining the paper with easy, even strokes of ink. He was pretty sure he was in love.

Angelina Johnson was the middle of three sisters and she thought that was one of the things she liked about Fred–that he knew that if you wanted attention, you had to earn it.

Fred put in the work–the sort of work that made things look easy. But she could see the edges of it, the years of practice that went into the jokes that he and George tossed back and forth between their freckled grins. They snapped Bludgers back and forth the same way, on the field. That was how it started–she appreciated the lack of bruises and worry, as she sped toward the goal. They had her back. They’d done their time, and here they were, broad-shouldered, on point.

So when Fred asked her to the Yule Ball, she said alright–she knew this story. Pretty boy, pretty girl. She leaned her weight on his arms on the dance floor, touched the nape of his neck in the cool of the gardens. It was nice, sweet as a fairytale story. He’d clearly thought about it a lot, and she appreciated his attention to detail the same way she appreciated how he had brushed his teeth, and combed his hair, and how he carried her books sometimes.

Maybe, she thought. In a few years, after school, when she wasn’t worried about grades, or futures, or Quidditch House Cups, or the way Pansy Parkinson sneered at her hair. When she had a place to live, and a life she liked, and maybe a dog. Maybe she’d grow into wanting this, the way you were supposed to.

But then Voldemort came, and then the war. Angelina lived in her parents’ spare room and flew quiet missions for the Order. She heard Fred and George tell stories on the radio, and met them sometimes when she came to give Lee reports and news. She held Fred’s hand, she kissed his cheek, but they didn’t have time for much else.

When Fred died, she thought about his family–the Howlers and warm sweaters his mother had sent him, and the way she’d looked up to Charlie as a rookie on the Gryffindor Quidditch team, and Ginny’s red hair tied back into a war banner, her freckles smudged with ash. Angelina thought about the joke shop whose walls she had helped the twins paint.

She thought about the house she had imagined, the little yard, the bed, the kitchen table with a basket of apples in the fall. Fred had been nice. He had asked her to dance. He had put in the work. Maybe they could have built something, if she had just tried hard enough to want it.

Angelina went home to her parents. She got a job at a local cafe, pouring coffee, cleaning tables, paid to smile and pretend to mean it. Her oldest sister came back from Germany, and her youngest sister left for a teaching position in a little wizarding school tucked away in rural Kentucky.

Angelina helped her mother with the house, and her father with his medicines, and got up before dawn so there would be hot, fresh coffee for the earliest risers in town. One day, at the end of her shift, she found George Weasley sitting in a booth. He was missing part of an eyebrow from an invention gone wrong and he was surprised and pleased to see her, so she hung up her apron and sat down.

They talked about Fred, which was a weird way to begin a romance, but George had loved him, and Angelina had thought she should.

But they also talked about the war, about the joyous and goofy look Lee got on his face when his little sister insulted him lovingly, about Ireland’s chances for the Quidditch World Cup, about George’s plans for the joke shop and Angelina’s plans to continue with her schooling.

“Hermione’s got opinions about advanced magical learning,” George said, over ice cream, two weeks later. Angelina had been listing out her pro and con lists for universities–she never wrote them down. “If you want opinions. You might not, though, fair warning.”

Angelina’s father was sick again, but that was nothing new. Angelina had never talked about it with Fred, because when you are sixteen and holding hands with a cute boy, you are supposed to be thinking about life, not death, and she had been trying.

But she was twenty-four, now, and she had flown over occupied territory, holding her breath, had snapped curses at cloaked strangers and known enemies alike, had started thinking about what she wanted. George came by her parents’ house later with loaves of zucchini bread. “I’ve got a little box in the flat’s window,” he told her. “For vegetables.”

“I’m not going to sleep with you,” Angelina told George, matter-of-fact, four months into something they weren’t naming. They were holding hands, passing through a public park on the way home from an Indian dinner that sat heavy in her stomach.

“Uh. Okay. Because of Fred?” said George.

“No,” she said. “I like how you make me laugh. I like how you listen. But I don’t really want to sleep with anyone.”

“Huh,” said George. “What about, just, actual sleeping, though? Fair warning, I’m a cuddler.”

Four months turned into eight turned into a year. Angelina moved out of her parents’ house. They gave this thing they were not naming a name.

They held hands under the table at Weasley family dinners. Angelina liked it–the noise, the speed of conversation, the way this family tossed words and rolls across the table and make it look easy. They had put in the work, and they were here–Arthur asking Hermione about subway systems while Molly and Fleur teamed up on Bill. They had put in the work. They were here. They made good things look easy, but Angelina could see the years of love and learning.

Hermione and Ron Flooed home, but George and Angelina still liked to fly when they could.

The flat over the joke shop was not a house with a little yard, but George kept vegetable boxes in the windowsills. The stairs up were narrow and creaky, but when they came home by broom they just landed on the tiny, wobbly little balcony and came through that way.

Angelina hung up her coat on a rack by the door and shook the damp of clouds out of her hair. The smells of char, sugar, and wood polish rose up through the floor, and she had been calling those lungfuls home for months now. Angelina’s mother had gifted her curtains for the windows, but she hadn’t hung them yet. The kitchen table, which stood streaked with lamplight under the largest window, was covered in old mugs and old mail and George’s experiments and her schoolwork.

George chewed on his bottom lip as he worked through early mornings and late nights, the shop closed and quiet under their feet. Angelina spoke aloud as she studied, and he listened, and made her tea, and puttered in the windowboxes until his hands were lined with rich black dirt.

When Angelina brought home apples in the fall, George enchanted them to taste like cotton candy, or eggplant, or brown bread, and they dared each other to eat them the same way they had with Bertie Bott’s Beans on the Hogwarts Express. The flat was warm, especially once they put up the curtains. When they went to bed, they stayed up late. George whispered in the dark, lights winking through the smudged window glass, and Angelina laughed loud enough to fill the whole room.