The Way Forward: Chapter Five

George and his father arrived home to find a packed kitchen, its long, narrow table lined with people. Family, George thought, taking them all in. Only two faces missing: Charlie, who was dining with friends in London, and Fred. George listed them as missing in his mind, then felt the lurch as he realized that the word “missing” implied the possibility of return. He wondered how long it would be before his mind accepted that his brother Fred was not missing but irretrievably lost.

Every face turned to look at them as they walked in the door, though the smiles offered them were often wan, empty. My god, George thought, they all look so tired, drained. He saw in their faces what he himself was feeling.

“Ron and Hermione are leaving in the morning for Australia, George dear,” his mother said, bustling up to hug him and lead him to his usual seat at the end of the table nearest the door. “We thought we’d have a bit of a goodbye party.”

His youngest brother offered a pained look from the other end of the table and George saw tears in the eyes of the tall, bushy haired girl who sat beside him. George nodded, pushed his smile wider, sat down.

“Georgie’s not going to be very hungry, Molly,” said Mr. Weasley, taking his own seat at the end of the table, facing the family. “Seems he had a bite to eat with a young lady in London before I tracked him down.”

His father tried to put teasing into his voice, looking to draw the rest of the family into the usual banter, but soon his own face slid back into sadness to match the room.

With a wave of her wand, Molly brought the serving bowls to the table, steam rising from some, a sumptuous meal distributing itself onto the plates in front of the gathering.

George’s own plate remained empty. He saw his mother watching him and he tried for another smile. She had sat down opposite him and he realized, with some shock, that she was sitting in Fred’s traditional place at the table.

The family ate in silence, no one seeming willing to attempt to start a conversation. George sat back, sipping a glass of water, and looked them over.

It was a crowded affair. George’s only sister, Ginny, sat at the far end with the Potter boy, each turned in towards the other. Ginny, George thought, was already starting to rebound. The exhaustion had left her face and she was slowly regaining the tender bloom of youth. Her hair shone in the sunlight from the window and her eyes glistened as she looked around the room, caught George watching, and offered a rueful smile.

The Potter boy, sitting next to her, still looked tired. Defeated almost, George thought, and lost. Scars and welts showed wherever skin was visible, on his hands, his neck, his face. George knew there was a long story to be told about the past year in this kid’s life but he wasn’t sure he had the strength to hear it right now.

Ron and Hermione sat opposite them, both quiet as well, still showing the worst scars of their intense, eventful year. Ron has gotten big, George thought, glancing at the baby brother he remembered teasing for so long. He’s lost the bewildered look. He’s grown up.

Hermione, meanwhile, had grown pretty. When had that happened? No longer the bookish, bottle-brush-haired little girl but a grown woman, tall, slender, the marks of the past year giving character to her face.

Percy was there with his girlfriend, a smaller pretty girl with curly hair. George struggled for her name. Penelope something, he thought. But something was wrong. They both sat stiffly, side by side but not looking at each other. A strangeness, distance in their manner toward each other. Percy still bore the sheepish look he’d worn when he came back to the family. The look that said he wasn’t sure he belonged, wasn’t sure he was welcome. Percy had been with Fred at that last moment, George thought, and the thought banged at his conscience.
Finally, beside him, Bill, the older brother, the business man. Tall, slim, strong, Bill. The marks of Frenrir Greyback explicit on his face. But somehow faded, neutralized. George looked at him some more, wondering if it was simply that he’d gotten used to the damage to his brother’s face. Across from Bill, the lovely Fleur, his wife, her glowing blonde hair and dancing blue eyes muted somehow, as if in mourning.

“I zee it too,” she said, her voice soft, fluid. “Somehow, zey have softened, zee scars.”

Bill looked up, startled, saw both Fleur and George staring, smiled slowly. “What?”

“Your scars, my love,” Fleur said, smiling too. “Zey have softened, I sink, since it all ended.”

George found himself nodding. His mother got up from her chair beside him, went over to take Bill’s face between her hands. She looked closely, intently at the scars.

“Merlin’s beard,” she whispered. “I think you’re right, Fleur. They are softer, less harsh.”

Gasps from around the table. Mr. Weasley went to look too, nodded, his eyes wide with shock.

Bill rose as well, pushed his way through them, went to the bathroom to look for himself. The mirror’s voice came to them all. “You’re looking better, then, lad,” it said.

Mrs. Weasley, stunned, looked around the table as if for an explanation.

George saw both Ron and the Potter boy glance almost unconsciously, towards Hermione. She blushed.

“Well,” she said after a moment, her face drawn tight, “there’s nothing I’ve read anywhere to suggest that a werewolf bite will heal under any circumstances.” She looked around at them. “I’m sorry. Maybe we’re just seeing what we want to see, or simply becoming used to the way the scars look.”

Fleur made a disgusted sound. “No, eet iz much better, today better than yeesterday, yeesterday better zan za day before.”

Hermione saw the need in her eyes, merely looked down at her plate.

“Dumbledore might argue something more mystical,” the Potter boy said, his voice showing strain, pain.

George registered that this was the first time he’d heard the boy’s voice since… since…

“Dumbledore always told me about the magical power of love,” Potter continued, though his face suggested he wasn’t entirely convinced either. “Maybe as long as Voldemort was alive, as long as we all faced such evil…”

Mrs. Weasley glanced out at the brilliant sunshine, the bright blue sky. “Maybe we all couldn’t really start to heal, until the evil was conquered?”

Bill entered the room, his fingers still touching the scars, his eyes wide. “There really is a difference,” he said, “isn’t there?”

Fleur nodded, then leapt to her feet and ran over to hug him.

Mr. Weasley nodded, sat back down in his chair. “I think it’s true,” he said, “and we should be grateful for it. I don’t think, however,” and he glanced here apologetically at his son and apologetically, “we can hope for the scars to disappear completely.”

The discovery of Bill’s improvement brought a lightness to the table that had long been missing. George watched and listened as the family started to come back to life in front of him.
He felt isolated and alone. The weight of his twin’s death still hung like a millstone around his neck and he wanted to shout at them, to stop them from moving on, to tell them that happiness was no longer possible in a world without Fred.

He saw Percy staring at him, looked away. Then, as the conversation continued around him, he got up from the table and walked out into the yard. He heard a chair scrape beneath the chatter, footsteps follow him.

He expected his mother. When he got to the gate at the back of the yard, he found Percy, instead, following him, concern behind his rimless glasses.

“We haven’t had a chance to talk,” Percy said, his voice neutral. “I’m sorry about that.”

George nodded, leaned on the gate, looked out over the field beyond.

“I feel like I owe you and,” Percy glanced back at the house, “all the others a true apology for everything I did, everything I became, over the past three or so years.”

George heard him but kept looking off into the distance.

“I got caught up in my own self-importance, caught up in what was going on at the Ministry. I was so wrapped up in pushing my own way forward and I let them convince me…”
George heard pleading in his brother’s voice, and something deeper. Self-loathing, perhaps.

“…convince me that their way was the better way, that the influence of the Ministry was more important than anything else. I am embarrassed by what I became, by what I did…”

George wasn’t really listening anymore, his mind miles away, in that corridor at Hogwarts, during the battle. Percy spoke for some time, the words passing over George like so much air, the pleading, self-loathing tone along making an impression.

Then George suddenly turned to look at his brother, the question that had been burning in his mind for days suddenly on his tongue.

“How did it happen, Perce?” he asked.

His brother stopped in mid-sentence, shock on his face. Then, as he gazed into George’s eyes, his face disintegrated into a mixture of misery and guilt.

“You really want to know?”

George nodded. Closed his eyes. “I feel like I have to know.”

“Okay. Okay.” It took a moment for Percy to prepare himself, to marshall the words. “We were fighting on the fifth floor. Side by side, brothers.”

Where I should have been, George thought. By his side.

“Fred was battling Dolohov, I was duelling the Minister. The sounds of the battle outside must have been overwhelming but, you know how it is when you’re in it to the death, you don’t really see or hear anything else.”

George nodded, his eyes now fixed on his brother, his mind playing the scene.

“All was confusion. Ron, Hermione and Potter suddenly appeared behind us, just as Fred cast a body-bind curse that caught Dolohov and defeated him. I managed to hit the Minister with a transfiguring spell. I remember turning toward Fred and seeing in his face exactly what I was feeling: elation and terror, mixed together. I had made some stupid comment to the Minister during our duel, some crack about resigning my position with the Ministry, and Fred thought it was fabulous.”

Percy’s eyes dripped tears as he remembered. “Even as we were battling, I could feel Fred’s grin. ‘You made a joke, Perce,’ he said, and when we turned to each other in victory, with the two lying helpless on the ground, I saw mixed with the elation, the terror, on his face a look of pure delight that I had made a joke. An astonishment almost.”

Percy paused. Tears slid down his cheeks. “And then the walls caved in and Fred’s astonished look changed. Still astonished but no longer with joy. I don’t think he even knew what happened. One minute he was so alive, so vibrant, the next minute…”

George felt his own tears, his own astonishment. “Where did it happen exactly?”

“On the fifth floor, just near the Room of Requirement, by the statue of Balderdash, or at least where it used to stand. The battle was still raging and we had to hide him, then fight our way onward.”

George nodded, closed his eyes, pictured the spot. The decision came immediately, impenetrably: he would go to Hogwarts, visit the place where his twin had died.

Percy reached across and put his hand on George’s shoulder. “He fought bravely,” he said. “He felt no pain. And his last thought was apparently one of joy.”

George opened his eyes and glanced at his older brother, saw the need in his face. “That his stodgy older brother could actually make a joke,” he said, his voice paper thin.

Percy smiled a brief smile. “Yeah,” he said.

Minerva crossed the Great Hall with long, quick steps that echoed around the vast, empty room. Her eyes swept the many statues that now populated plinths along the walls on either side of the house tables, statues that reminded her too strongly of her recent losses, of the sacrifices so recently made. She wondered when she would become used to them, their presence, their meaning.

Not too soon, she hoped. It is important, after all, to remember.

Kingsley waited for her in the small room off the Great Hall and, with him, dwarfing him, the imposing bulk of Rubeus Hagrid. Minerva felt a wave of pleasure mixed with surprise wash through her at the sight of the school’s former grounds keeper and Care of Magical Creatures instructor. Hagrid had not been seen at Hogwarts since the day after the battle ended, having disappeared, she believed, to take care of his half-brother and, perhaps, deal with the grief of his own loss.

“Hagrid,” she said, rushing forward to greet the massive half-giant, “it is indeed a pleasure to see you here again.”

“My pleasure, Professor McGonagall,” he answered, offering a swift, gentle hug which she, under those circumstances, accepted with good grace.

Up close, she saw the imprints of the recent war on his face, his neck, his hands. She also saw that he had made some effort to clean himself up for this meeting but, with his beard and hair as wild and out-of-control as it was considering he’d been living rough (and in the company of a full-grown giant), the effort was something of a failure.

“Will you be coming back, then?” she asked. “To teach at Hogwarts again, Hagrid?”

Tears appeared in his dark eyes. “Don’ know if I can, Professor, what with Grawpie needing me right now and, well,” he nodded toward Kingsley, “other responsibilities I may be takin’ on.”

The tall, handsome man beside Hagrid smiled and nodded, seeing the widening of Minerva’s eyes as she took in what Hagrid was saying.

“Yes, Professor, I have indeed asked Mr. Hagrid to join us in this task,” the Minister for Magic said, his rich, deep voice warm, his eyes sparkling in the torch light.

Minerva swallowed her surprise and turned again to the beaming half-giant before her. “I am delighted, Hagrid, absolutely delighted. You will bring excellent insight into this process!”

Hagrid shook his head. “Don’ know ‘bout that, Professor,” he said, dust shaking from his beard, “but I do know a thing or two about the other magical races that might come in handy.”

Kingsley clapped a laughing hand on the big man’s arm. “More than a thing or two, I’d say,” he boomed.

The door to the room opened just then, ushering in the tall, florid form of Arthur Weasley.

“Sorry I’m late, Minister,” he said, his voice low, tired. He smiled at the other two. “Good to see you both, Minerva, Rubeus.”

Hagrid swept the quiet man up in a bear hug, bringing smiles to the faces of the others in the room.

Once set down again, Arthur turned to Minerva, a tear now in the corner of his eye. “Those statues,” he said, “your idea?”

Minerva shook her head. “Apparently, Hogwarts itself made that decision.”

Arthur’s eyes widened. “Merlin’s beard,” he said. “Wonderful likenesses. Fred especially…”

Silence fell on the group. Arthur turned away to stare for a moment at the empty fireplace. Then, he went over to the table in the corner and sat down.

“Before we get started, Minerva,” he said, his voice full, “I wanted to ask if George could come for a visit, perhaps after our meeting. I’ve left him in Hogsmeade for now.”

Minerva took up the seat beside him. Kingsley sat at the end of the table while Rubeus pulled a stout bench over for himself.

“Of course, Arthur, absolutely,” Minerva said, watching Arthur carefully.

“He feels he needs to…” Arthur stopped, his face flat, his lip trembling. “I think it would be good for him to, you know, see the place where…”

Minerva reached over the touched his hand. “I understand completely. I’d be happy to accompany him, and you if you’d like.”

Arthur turned his face away but nodded.

Another brief silence then Kingsley, with a sweep his wand, conjured a roll of parchment and a quick-quotes quill.

“Shall we begin?” he said.

Nods all around.

“Good, then we have been brought together to begin an important process which, if successful, should solidify our newfound peace among ourselves as witches and wizards and, if possible, with all other magical races.”

More nods.

“I believe it to be of supreme importance to begin this process quickly, to take advantage of the positive feelings currently flowing in the magical community. We cannot forget that all races were affected by the recent war and that factions of every race contributed to the victory.”

The quill flashed across the parchment, capturing the Minister’s every word.

“Despite initial reluctance, the Centaurs took an active and integral part in the final battle for Hogwarts. The house elves of Hogwarts, as well, displayed courage and zeal in battling the Death Eaters. Goblins may not have fought actively but they too suffered gravely at the hands of Voldemort’s forces and, as we all know, there are long-standing issues between us and our long-fingered friends.”

Arthur and Minerva exchanged a glance, which Kingsley caught. The Minister turned to the quill, now paused, hovering in the air above the parchment, and said, “Erase ‘long-fingered’ and replace it with ‘Goblin’, if you please.”

The quill responded, then hung waiting again.

Kingsley offered a wry smile. “Old habits die hard, I guess,” he said, his voice still warm, almost chuckling. Then he continued in his Ministerial voice, the quill flashing again. “Not many wizards and witches know about the contribution of the merpeople,” Minerva’s eyes widened, “but it is a fact that the merpeople both resisted efforts by Death Eaters to recruit them to the side of Voldemort and, where possible, actively attacked the Death Eaters when they strayed too near the lake.”

Rubeus nodded, smiling. “That is so, Minister,” he said. “I saw it meself.”

“Thank you, Hagrid,” Kingsley said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that we need to reach out to all of these races to try to identify and address issues, create the foundation for a lasting peace and ongoing cooperation.”

More nods around the table. “But what about the other races, whose participation in the recent war was less positive: the werewolves? the giants?”

Minerva gasped. Arthur looked grim.

Rubeus, glancing around at his companions, finally spoke up. “We won’ have no peace w’out dealin’ with the tough ones, I suppose,” he said. “It’s ‘cuz he could count on the giants, werewolves, even the Dementors, that You-Know-Who got as far as he did.”

“Rubeus,” Arthur said, “you can say his name. He’s gone for good.”

Rubeus shook his head. “Sorry ‘bout that,” he said. “Kinda got in the habit.”

Kingsley offered a laugh.

Minerva smiled but her voice was serious. “Do the Dementors even have a system of government; can we deal with them as a unified group?”

Kingsley and Rubeus shook their heads but Arthur said, “It’s the fact we have to ask such questions that proves why this is so necessary.”

The four looked at each other for a moment, recognizing the truth in that.

The Minister then said, “Fine. We’ll include all groups, then: Centaurs, Goblins, House Elves, Merpeople, Werewolves, Giants and Dementors. That’s seven, plus us.”

“We won’t include Muggles, then Kingsley?”

“No, Arthur, I’d prefer not to at this moment,” Kingsley said. “Let’s get our own messes cleaned up before taking that on.” He looked at the others. “Agreed?”

Nodding heads.

“Good. Then I propose the following plan of action: each of us takes on two of the races we’ve identified, make first contact, bring to them our proposal, get their buy-in, ask them to start to compile a list of issues that they wish to discuss and nominate representatives to the committee.”

More nods. “How shall we assign the races amongst ourselves?” Minerva asked.

“I’ll take on the Giants,” Rubeus said, “and the Centaurs, if that would help. I know them and they know me.”

Kingsley nodded. “Good, good. Arthur, can we ask you to contact the Werewolves and the Goblins?”

Arthur smiled. “Makes sense. I’m sure Bill can introduce me to the Goblin leadership.”

“Well, Minerva, that leaves us to sort out the House Elves, the Merpeople and the Dementors.”

Rubeus gave a nervous laugh. Minerva smiled at him, then said, “At the risk of seeming unwilling to take on the most difficult tasks, Minister, I would think it would be logical for me to accept responsibility for the former two, since Hogwarts has the biggest community of house elves in the country and the Merpeople live in the lake on the grounds.”

Kingsley beamed. “No risk involved, Minerva. It seems right that the Minister for Magic take on the Dementors for this purpose.” He then surveyed the three. “Anything else we need to discuss?”

No one spoke.

“Fine. Then we’ll plan to meet in two months time, with hopes that we have all made some progress on our tasks.”

The quick-quote quill captured this last comment then, on a signal from Kingsley, set about producing three more copies of the notes it had created.

“I’ve arranged with the house elves to provide lunch, gentlemen, if you’re interested?”

They moved back out into the Great Hall, where four place settings waited for them, along with a collection of serving bowls filled with a selection meats, vegetables and breads.

Kingsley went instead toward the statues in the centre of the Hall, near the front. The others followed. The Minister walked around the likenesses of the Potter boy and the dying Voldemort, murmuring to himself. “A most amazing moment,” he said to the others as he came back around. “Sort of anticlimactic, really. Just one spell and Voldemort was done.”
Arthur nodded, moving on to survey the statues along the walls again. Footsteps in the entrance hall announced the arrival of George Weasley, who joined his father in front of the statue of his twin brother Fred.

Minerva couldn’t help but notice that George had grown his red hair long, long enough to cover the missing ear he’d lost in an early battle. She watched him examining the life-size statue that could as easily be of him. She saw the sag in his shoulders, then turned away at Arthur slid his own arm around his son’s back.

The table held five place settings now. Minerva sat down at one and began to pick at the food provided, not particularly hungry, already planning her approach the Merpeople. As far as she knew, the house elves had no formal structure to their society. She would ask the Hogarts community for advice on how to find representatives. The Merpeople would be at once simpler and more complex: simpler because they have a strict governmental structure; more complicated because, frankly, she herself did not speak Mermish and nor did anyone, still living, that she knew.

It would be an appropriate sign of respect, she decided, if she could learn at least some rudimentary words and phrases before approaching the proud Merpeople to talk. She made a mental note to consult the library for information that would help.

Slowly, the other four drifted over to the table from their tour of the new statues.

George glanced around the table as he nibbled at his food, taking in the familiar faces of Rubeus Hagrid, Minerva McGonagall, Kingsley Shacklebolt and his own father. He felt like it had been a million years since he had seen these people yet, in fact, it had been less than a week.

Coming back to Hogwarts had not been easy for him, nor was the trial he knew he would face up on the fifth floor. He felt the eyes of Fred’s statue boring into him and tried not to glare back – he felt guilt, and anger and humiliation in that stare.

The others spoke quietly among themselves, a conversation George forced himself to track even though he couldn’t force himself to care.

“Has the Ministry made decisions about the fate of the surviving Death Eaters, Kingsley?” Minerva asked, her creased face tense, serious.

The Minister glanced over at Arthur, who raised his eyebrows and smiled a hollow smile.

“I’m pleased to say that’s Arthur’s job, now, Minerva,” Kingsley said, “as our new Director of Magical Law Enforcement.”

Arthur nodded, swallowing. “And the Wizengamot as well, I’d say.” He put his fork down, took a sip of pumpkin juice. “Not that there are many left, though, Minerva.”

“Scarpered?” George asked.

“Dead, I’m afraid,” Arthur answered. “Once the parents, townspeople, Centaurs and house elves got into the fight, it became more of a slaughter than a battle. There were only a few Death Eaters still standing when Voldemort fell,” he nodded in the direction of the statues of the Dark Lord and Potter that stood nearby, “the rest having been mown down in the second phase of the battle.”

Rubeus was nodding his large head vigourously. “Savage, it was,” he said. “Wha’ with everyone thinkin’ little Harry was dead an’ all, we was all right angry.”

“Those who had fought to subdue before were cursing to kill by then,” Kingsley added.

Minerva shook her head, though her eyes were bright. “I wish I could say I was sorry…”

“Fact is,” Kingsley said, “we fought many of the same Death Eaters this past year that we had defeated 17 years ago. I’m not one for killing when it can be avoided but escaped Death Eaters cost us a lot of good people this time around.”

“Bu’ without havin’ You-Know-Who to lead’em, now,” Rubeus said, his voice raw, concerned, “there’s no real danger in’em now, is there? The survivors, I mean?”

Kingsley deep, warm laugh filled the room. “Don’t worry, Hagrid. We’re not about to adopt the death penalty yet!”

Arthur wiped his lip with a napkin. “The what?”

“Muggle terminology, Arthur. The ‘death penalty’: where the government ends the life of a criminal who has committed certain heinous crimes.”

"Surely we're not there yet, are we Kingsley?” Minerva whispered.

Kingsley shook his head. “Without the Dementors, Minerva, I'm not sure what we can do.”

Minerva pulled her shoulders back and thrust out her chin. “Then that makes our work even more important.”

Kate’s cousin was crying on the telephone when she called her the day after her strange meeting with the handsome redhead at the Fox and Hound. She didn’t know what made her think of Penny out of the blue like that but, for some reason, her cousin was on her mind.

“You okay, Pen?” Kate asked when she heard the full, lifeless sound of her cousin’s voice. “What’s happened?”

“Why are you calling me, Kate?"

Kate hadn't seen her cousin in almost a year. She felt suddenly nervous.

“Why are you wasting time with me, Kate?” Pen went on, her voice quivering. “Shouldn't you be focusing on building your power career downtown? Living in the real world?”

Kate's stomach dropped. This was what had been worrying her. The last time she'd seen her cousin, it hadn't been pretty. Kate had tried to convince Penelope to drop out of her special school and start to take her career, her life seriously.

“Well said,” she said, her voice quiet. “I deserved that, Pen. I'm sorry.”

A pause. “I”m not sure I know how to respond to that.”

Kate squirmed inside. “Accept it. The apology is sincere. I had no business. I didn't know what I was talking about.”

“No, you didn't.”

Kate felt tears rising. She fought them down. “I know now. I just didn't understand. I'm sorry. I don't know what else I can say.”

Silence hung for a moment, many things unspoken.

Then Penelope sighed, said, “Let's leave it for now. What's up?”

Kate hesitated, not sure what to say. Why had she called? She’d woken up this morning, still a little fuzzy, feeling strongly like she had to speak with her cousin. She had no idea why.

“It’s not important, Penny,” she said after a moment. “You sound upset. What’s happened?”

The pause came from the other end of the telephone this time. Kate heard a sniffle, a swallow, then Pen said, “It’s nothing. No big deal.”

“It doesn’t sound like nothing...” Kate began.

More silence, then an indrawn breath, a sob. “Percy’s broken up with me,” Pen blurted.


“My boyfriend. From school. He’s got a new job, an important job, and he says he doesn’t have the time anymore.”

Kate scanned her mind for any information on Percy. Had she ever spoken to Pen about him? “I’m so sorry, Pen,” she said, having found nothing.

Another pause. Then some firmness in her cousin’s voice. “You at home, that flat near the Fox and Hound?”


“You got plans?”


“Okay. I’m on a train in ten minutes. I’ll meet you at the pub in forty. You game?”

Kate laughed. Now this was the cousin she remembered. “I think we can both use a drink,” she said.

Forty-five minutes later, the two women sat opposite each other at a corner table in the quiet pub. Saturday afternoons are slow around here, Kate thought, especially in places that cater to the office crowd.

She glanced up at Pen. Her cousin looked tired, but more than that. And it wasn’t just the break up that was bothering her.

“You want to tell me?” she said, placing her drink carefully on the small paper mat.

“About Percy?” Penelope’s dark eyes closed for a moment, then opened again with tears in the corners.

“Or whatever.”

“Screw Percy,” Pen said finally, waving to the barman for another gin and bitter lemon. “Him and his entire family.”

“How long were you together?”

“Four years, almost five, really.” A silence followed. The second drink arrived. Penelope took an appreciative sip. “I guess I can understand what he’s going through,” she said after a moment, running her tongue along her lip. “We met at school. We were both Prefects. He became Head Boy, even.”

Kate watched her, saw the ghosts in her eyes.

“He had a falling out with his family, really bad, just after he graduated.”

“When was that?”

“Three years ago. He’d gotten a job with our government...” Pen hesitated, thinking.

“If it’s too hard...” Kate said, listening avidly.

Her cousin thought a little longer, then shook her head. “He’s been through a lot.” A sigh. “We’ve all been through a lot.”

Kate tried to follow, couldn’t, took a sip of her own drink.

“And then his brother was killed. Fred, while Percy was with him. It hit him hard. He blamed himself.”

“Killed?” Kate felt a thrill of revulsion. “How? An accident?”

“A wall collapsed on him.”

“Oh god,” Kate said. She gulped some of her drink. “Was it, you know, Percy’s fault?”

Pen shook her head. “No. But he still felt he should have, could have...”

The two women looked at each other for a moment. Then Pen said, “Anyway, what with a new job, lots of new responsibilities and that crazy close family of his drawing him back in, I guess there was no time, no energy left for me.”


“Last night. We went to dinner at his parent’s house and his entire family was there. There must have been fourteen people around the table. Lots of tension, lots of sadness. His mother was beside herself.”

Kate listened some more, wondering.

“Then Percy went outside to talk to George, his brother, the twin of the brother who died.”

Kate’s mind bent a little. She’d met a George yesterday too. And there was something about him that she just couldn’t remember, something interesting, something important, something that had to do with Pen. But she just couldn’t remember it.

“And when he came back, he seemed upset. We went for a walk ourselves. And he broke up with me, just like that. Right there in the field behind their house.”

Kate was still listening but just barely. She was thinking about the George she had met, straining her mind to recall what it was about him, about the incident.

Pen had stopped talking, downed the last of her drink in a gulp, and was now staring at her cousin. “You still there, Kate?”

Kate shook herself up. “Yeah, sorry, yeah, I’m here. Just got lost in something for a minute.”

Kate waved to the barman for another round. “You going to be okay?”

Tears now in Pen’s eyes, on her cheeks. “Five years, Katie. Five years of my life. I thought he was going to ask me to marry him and he pulls... he pulls... he dumps me. Just like that. Says his life is too full, too complicated. That I ask too much of him.”

Kate nodded to the barman who, glancing at Pen with a sympathetic smile, dropped their drinks in front of them, picked up the empty glasses, and left.

Penny hoisted the full glass and drained it in one go.

Kate watched her, then smiled. “Looks like you’re staying with me tonight, huh Pen?”

“Why not? Let’s make a night of it. Screw Percy and his whole damned family.” She waved again to the barman. “I haven’t been dancing in years, Kate. You know that?”

Kate could hear the alcohol in the back of her cousin’s voice, the slight slurring of her words.

“You know, he didn’t even take me to the Yule Ball when the Tournament came to Hogwarts? Nope. He was part of the organising committee, became a judge, for Merlin’s sake, and didn’t even bother to take me.”

Kate wasn’t sure she was following but let her cousin go. She sounded like she needed a good venting session.

“I’m well shut of him. I want to have some fun.”

Kate nodded. “Sure. Sounds great. We’ll have another couple here, get some take out, then go out to a club. Make a night of it.”

A smile wreathed across Pen’s face. “Sounds great.”

The barman brought another drink of Pen, glanced at Kate, who shrugged, then retreated.

Pen picked this one up, spilled a little, then sipped from the top. “Wait, Kate, you don’t have plans, do you? Some handsome, hard-working career type? Huh? Wouldn’t want to trample your plans.”

Kate let out a laugh. “No, no one. I mean, I did meet someone interesting yesterday but...”

Pen spilt more of her drink trying to raise it to her mouth, her eyes goggling. “Really, tell me, tell me all.”

Kate smiled at her, suddenly self-conscious. “Well, it’s funny, cause his name is George, just like Percy’s brother, like you mentioned.”

“Well,” Pen said, gulping the drink and slamming the empty glass down onto the table, “unless your George is a squat, burly redhead with an ear missing, I don’t think it’s the same guy!”

Kate sat back like she’d been slapped. Could it be? Was it possible?

“Redhead? Ear missing?”

“Yep. That’s Percy’s brother. The whole family’s got red hair, including their mother and father. Can’t miss’em if you’re in a crowd.” Pen motioned to the barman who nodded, his face worried.

Kate thought back to George, in the pub, in the alley, in the restaurant. The glimpse she got beneath his curtain of red hair, the hole where his ear used to be. Then she thought of his father, the red thatch of hair over a balding spot.

The barman dropped another drink in front of Penelope, glanced again at Kate, then went back to the bar. Penelope picked up the fresh one, then saw the stunned look on her cousin’s face.

“What’s up, Kate? You look all funny.”

Kate saw the fuzz in her eyes, heard the slurring of her words even more clearly. Reached into her purse to get her wallet.

“Well, Pen,” she said as she drew out a couple of twenties, “if I’m not mistaken, my George is in fact Percy’s brother. It’s the same guy, right down to the red hair, the missing ear and the dad.”

Pen dropped her glass onto the table with a crash. “You’re kidding me!”

The barman approached with the bill, accepted the money from Kate, then wandered away.

“Come on, Pen,” Kate said, getting out of her chair. “I think we need some pasta and a longer talk about this family of Percy’s, especially his handsome brother.”

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