The Way Forward: Chapter One

Aberforth looked past the tomb to the placid lake beyond. A gentle breeze rippled its surface so that the early-morning sun danced like a troupe of faeries on the water. The mermaids were quiet after several days of joyful singing and Aberforth found himself missing the strange, entrancing music much more than he missed the brother whose body lay beneath the white marble.

It had been a year, a single, tumultuous year, since Albus had met his violent end at the top of the tower. Aberforth glanced back, saw the tower still peering silently down at him. He imagined that final moment, marvelled still that his elder brother had had the presence of mind to plan his own death, to make it, in fact, a vital part of the well-laid plan to bring a final, just end to the gathering storm of war.

Just four days had passed since the war had come to a victorious, though bloody end. The echoes of the battle no longer resounded across the grounds of the great school. All was quiet. Mother Earth was already in the process of healing the injuries she had suffered in the late-won war.

Aberforth heard the swish of the grass as light footsteps approached. He chose not to turn to greet the tall woman who approached, concern on her finely-featured face, but continued to gaze out across the lake instead.

She spoke with something of a brogue, the product of several different linguistic influences, he thought. “Aye, I miss him too,” she said quietly once she stood beside him. “More so every day, I’m afraid.” She glanced back at the castle, hulking like a wounded beast behind them. “Especially now that it’s all over.”

Aberforth nodded, not correcting her interpretation of his presence there. He stood and faced her, a head shorter but just as thin. “It is a beautiful day,” he said finally, his bright eyes reflecting the blue of the clear, clear sky.

A startled look crossed her face and then, as if she had not seen it before, she peered up at the cloudless firmament. “Yes,” she said, her voice still quiet. “Odd, I hadn’t noticed. The vapours and fogs have finally dissipated.”

“You have been named Headmaster, I understand, Minerva?”

She nodded.

“Congratulations.” He offered a gentle smile. “Though perhaps that is not precisely the word that suits the occasion.” He cast his eyes toward the castle. “You have an arduous task ahead of you, to rebuild not just the physical but also the social, the emotional structure of the school.”

She responded with a smile of her own. “Indeed,” she said, “though by some miracle the physical appears to be taking care of itself.”

Minerva thrust her chin toward the owlery that stood atop one of the smaller towers in the massive stone building. It appeared undamaged.

Aberforth’s eyes followed hers and, for a moment, they narrowed in surprise. Then his smile widened. “Remarkable,” he said. “I distinctly recall seeing the owlery in tatters not two days ago. And now…” He turned to gaze back into her face. “Not your work, I assume,” he said.

“No, nor anyone else’s.” She turned to face the marble tomb once again. “At least, not anyone still living.”

Aberforth fought the rage that rose in him at this latest sign of blind, uncritical faith and devotion. He set his features and nodded. “Or perhaps the work of those longer passed.”

He saw the shift in Minerva’s expression, the subtle registering of the slight he had offered toward his dead brother. Then she nodded. “Indeed, very possible.”

“Is this… rejuvenation general across the castle?”

She nodded. “A magic the like I’d never thought possible. It is as if the school were a living body with the power to heal itself. And there are changes occurring, improvements if you will, that we had long been contemplating.” She shook her head this time. “Remarkable.”

The two figures stood in silence for another moment before deciding, as if their minds were linked, to turn away from the tomb together. They walked side by side up the hill toward the castle, neither glancing back at the white monolith nor at the smaller, grey tomb that marred the field less than a hundred yards away, nestled into the shadow of the deep forest.

At the marble steps that led into the school they stopped and faced one another again.

"Will you stay?” Minerva asked.

“In Hogsmeade, you mean?”

She nodded. “Or, perhaps,” she ventured, her voice now hesitant, “here at Hogwarts, as a professor.”

His blue eyes widened, his wide, thin mouth fell open. “Is this an invitation?” he asked.

“Yes.” She stood looking at him.

He felt the tug of the offer throughout his body, the idea of a home, a place, a contribution that would be his. But the tug lasted only a second and then something larger, more important, re-asserted itself. He shook his head. “I’m not my brother, Minerva,” he said, his gaze on the steps beneath his feet.

“No one said you were,” she countered, her voice now stern, the headmaster exerting herself, “but you have much to offer to our students. I know there is more to you than the simple barman you present. Albus...” she paused, caught by the sudden savagery in her face, “Albus did not know you the way I do, Aberforth.”

He accepted the acknowledgment, nodded.  “No, as I recall, my brother once wondered if I was capable of reading at all,” he said, his eyes acid.

Minerva watched him. “You had a troubled history together,” she said, her voice still quiet, “one that blinded him to your abilities, your strengths.”

Aberforth stared at her, the drop of his chin expressing the shock he felt at her last comment. Had she really made a comment critical of his brother? The great Albus Dumbledore? Was that possible? He listened to its echo for another moment, then closed his mouth.  His eyes remained on her.

Sensing the resistance in him, Minerva took a step back, turning as if to go back into the castle. “I anticipate many changes in our staff,” she said calmly. “Several of our professors have already told me they feel it is time to move on to other challenges, other opportunities.” She reached across the touched his arm, very gently. “Think about it, Aberforth. Promise you will think about it?”

He looked up at her, surprised at the intensity in her eyes, the need that he saw there. He wished he could believe it was meant for him. Instead, he shook his head. “I’m not Albus, Minerva.”

With that, he turned and walked resolutely along the path to the wrought iron gates, which swung open as he approached. “Remarkable,” he murmured, remembering the shambles he had passed through mere hours before where now full, complete and stately gates stood.

George sat, cross-legged, at the foot of the grave, running his long fingers through the loose, loamy soil that covered his twin brother's body. Behind him, the Burrow towered in its misshapen way, still quiet in the early morning sun.

His voice came, a whisper, against the early calls of birds. "Fred," he said, his fingers continuing to sift the soil, "Oh, Freddie, why couldn't I have been there?"

A garden gnome ambled past, saw the wizard and sprinted back for cover. George had no heart for a chase.

"You always said bad things happened when we weren't together, didn't you?" he said, his voice cracking. "So why, on that night of nights, would we let ourselves get separated? Eh Fred? How could we let that happen?"

No one had been able to tell him precisely how Fred died — in the confusion of the battle, all that was clear was that Fred had been duelling alongside Percy, that they had just defeated two Deatheaters when an explosion had rocked the hall wherein they fought and Fred lay dead. George still felt amazed that he hadn't felt the death in his soul the moment it happened, that the bond that tied him to his twin had not transmitted this most terrible, most final of events directly to him, no matter how far away he had been. He recalled the scene when he found out, when he led his fighters back to the Great Hall during the brief intermission in the battle to find his family gathered, stark and quiet, around a table.

His mother had turned and seen him approaching. She'd had blood on her cheek, her entire face was quivering with the tears, and at that moment he knew, he knew and he ran to the body, pushed aside the arms of his family and pulled his brother into his embrace, as if he could transfer some of his life into the lifeless. He might have let out a wail but he didn't care. Fred's face stared at him, frozen in a twisted smile, a smile he knew all too well. A smile he feared would never visit his own face again.

Even in the still morning sunlight, miles and days away from that terrible night, George let out a much quieter, much more plaintive cry. He pushed himself to his knees, then lowered his entire body down onto the soil.

Minerva watched Aberforth until he disappeared from sight, around the bend in the road towards the town. There is a deep sadness in him, she thought, and anger and resentment and a great deal more. She turned and walked into the quiet halls of the school where, if she looked closely enough, she could see the healing progressing.

In the headmaster’s study, she dropped herself into the chair behind the desk and enjoyed the warmth of the shaft of sunlight that knifed through the windows above and bathed her in its glow.

It’s a new world, she thought to herself, allowing her eyes to slip shut. People are not going to know how to live in it, what to do with themselves. Once the celebrations have finally ended, there will follow a period of adjustment, almost a confusion. Even though He had first disappeared 17 years ago, no one had ever really believed He was gone for good and the celebrations then had been muted.

Today, as that small grey tomb would attest, He was at long last gone. Forever. And her world was in the throes of a celebration that was unprecedented. A celebration punctuated with tears of relief. And tears of loss and sorrow.

She opened her eyes before her own tears began to flow again and did what she always did when emotion threatened to overcome reason. She planned. Her people would need order, a purpose, and structure once the celebrations were over. And for their children, at least, she could provide it.

The remaining professors would be gathering soon to talk about the future. She knew some of them resented it, felt that planning could wait, believed they were entitled to partake in as much of the celebration as any one else.

And Minerva agreed. In fact, she could think of few people more deserving than the staff at Hogwarts to their days of celebration and relaxation. She hoped that this one meeting would be all that was necessary to set new plans in motion so that they could all go to their villages, their homes, their families and enjoy a month or so in the sun.
It would be for her to start putting the plans in motion.

Aberforth shed his cloak half-way back to the village and enjoyed the feeling of the sun on his back and shoulders, warming him through the thin material of his tunic. He felt confused more than anything else, by the intensity of his anger towards his brother, by the fact that it waited until now – a year and an entire war later – to surface fully, by the offer Minerva had made and the strong attraction it held for him, by the fact he knew he could never accept it.

Whatever lay before him, he would not live his life in the shadow of Albus Dumbledore.

The celebrations in the town were still in full swing and the fact that the Hog’s Head had not stayed open day and night had done little to detract from the parties. Madam Rosmerta, he knew, had opened her doors as soon as the word came down that He was quite and finally dead. She had kept them open, with mead and fire whiskey flowing, ever since.

Aberforth greeted his friends warmly, nodded to acquaintances, even enjoyed watching the people dancing and hugging with joy, but there was no joy in his own heart. Just a heaviness of loss, of grief and confusion. Of anger and resentment.

He turned off the main street and left the sounds of the celebrations behind. His tavern loomed before him, dark and cold in the sunshine.

He held his wand in his hand, his mind already summoning the charm that would unlock the door. Then he let his arm drop, cleared his mind, and walked away.

He could easily have apparated to the city in the blink of an eye but, instead, he set himself to the long journey on foot. Hogsmeade lay as far north in the British Isles as one could travel and still be on land – a seven-hour journey on the Hogwarts Express, in fact. On foot, the journey might take months. A year, even, if it came to it.

He didn’t think these thoughts then. He simply walked. Spring was upon the land, the sun shone warmly down and nothing tied him to the place he’d spent the last 30 years of his life.

So he walked.

George sat on the edge of his bed, deep within the Burrow, his heart as conflicted as those of the rest of his family. Fred’s empty bed cried out to him and the small mound of dirt that marked his twin brother’s grave at the end of the yard sat like a weight on his soul.

He could hear muffled voices from several directions – his parents sitting huddled in the parlour, consoling and cajoling each other; his sister and the Potter boy in the kitchen, stunned, whispering quietly; his younger brother and Hermione out in the yard, planning their trip to Australia, still trying to make sense of it all. Percy and Penelope had gone off to her parents’ house to join the celebrations there while Bill and Fleur had gone for a walk with Charlie.

How does a family mourn when all around are celebrating? How does a family celebrate when the loss still stung so deeply?

George lay back on his bed and closed his eyes, shutting out reality. He could feel Fred then, with his eyes closed, could hear his voice, sense his presence. Fred had been dead for no more than four days and yet, George realized, that was about as long as he had ever spent without his twin brother near.

He felt the loss in his body as much as in his soul, like a person who has lost a limb, a part of themselves. His parents had lost one of seven children and it was killing them. Charlie, Bill, Percy, Ron, Ginnie had all lost a brother, one of six siblings, one of five brothers, one of two twin brothers. And the loss ached in them.

But what was that compared to losing half of one’s self?

A knock came at the door.

“Come,” he said, his voice sounding strange, familiar.

His mother stood in the doorway, the exhaustion that had lined her face now lifted somewhat, but streaks of tears still marking her cheeks. “George, dear,” she said, then lost her voice and collapsed on Fred’s bed.

George forced a smile. “At least you can tell us apart now,” he said, forcing lightness into his voice.

She smiled despite herself. "The loss of your ear made that easy, my dear."

He touched the side of his head gingerly, felt the hole where once there was an ear, and nodded mutely.

“What will we do?” she said finally, wiping tears away with a frilly kerchief she produced from a pocket in her skirt. “What will we do?”

George had no answer. What would they do? What could they do but move on? Live. Remember.

She offered him a shaky smile. “Can I get you something, dear?” she asked, moving, he knew, into the mother role as a defence against the misery.

He shook his head. “I think I’m going to go for a walk,” he said.


His eyes widened. For the first time in his life, yes, he would walk alone.

She nodded and patted his arm. “Dinner will be ready at six, dear.”

Minerva watched the last of them go and sat back in her chair, satisfied. The school would go on. She had several posts to fill but, otherwise, the situation seemed very positive. At her urging, they had agreed to recommend to the Board of Governors to offer students two options: first, they could simply return in the fall and repeat the year of schooling that was so badly compromised by the events of the past 12 months or, second, they could attend a specially condensed series of courses offered in the summer, with examinations in August, with hopes of not losing the year. The choice would be up to each individual student and his or her family.

She doubted many of the seventh year students would accept either option; they would, instead, simply move off into their lives. In fact, she would not be surprised if some six and even fifth years made the same choice. But the offer would be there and Hogwarts would continue.

She reviewed the parchment upon which she had set down the recommendations for the Board, nodded, then attached it to the leg of the tawny owl that stood waiting patiently on the sill of the open window. The bird blinked once at her, then launched itself with abundant grace through the window and into the open air.

That done, she sipped the last of her tea and prepared herself for the next task at hand. The house elves, she knew, were at that moment waiting in the Great Hall to discuss the future with her before continuing their own celebrations. They had fought with admirable determination alongside the witches and wizards and deserved their share of the spoils.

In Minerva’s mind, that meant they had earned their freedom. She was not certain that the Ministry would agree but she didn’t mind. If she took this step now with regard to the Hogwarts elves, it might just influence the Ministry’s more general decision later.

The Great Hall glittered in the sunlight and the dozens of small creatures that gathered around the long table nearest the main doors hooted and hollered in excellent spirits. The table itself bore mounds of delicacies most palatable to the elfin tastes and mead flowed into every glass.

Several of the elves, led she realized by Kreacher, the elf who served the house of Black and had led the attack at the height of the battle, had gathered a short distance from the table, in the middle of the room. They were hooting over the statues that had appeared earlier that morning of their own accord in the middle of the Hall. Minerva had examined these statutes, herself with a feeling of awe, when they originally made their presence felt: the Potter boy, wand held high in his right hand, his left raised to catch a second wand that, for all eternity it seemed, would hang in the air between him and the stricken figure of the Dark Lord, half-way collapsed into death perhaps ten feet away, a vivid reminder of the final moments of the battle.

“A fine likeness of my master,” Kreacher croaked, his bulbous eyes on the Potter figure. “A hero for all eternity.”

Minerva cleared her throat and the elves turned as one to face her. Kreacher and his colleagues scurried back to the table, resumed their seats and looked at her expectantly.

The tall, stern-looking witch stepped forward, her arms suddenly filled with brightly coloured scarves. She approached the first elf, Delphic, smiled and placed a green and orange scarf around his neck. Delphic, his bulbous eyes wide, his long, thin lips trembling, touched the scarf with tentative fingers, hardly believing what was happening. Minerva repeated the quiet ceremony with Anora next to Delphic, and on down the line.

Elves sat silent, eyes wide.

When she got to Kreacher, she smiled sadly. “Unfortunately, brave Kreacher, I do not have the power to free you for you are still of the House of Black and its heirs.”

Kreacher gulped at her. His voice creaked with emotion. “You honour us, headmaster, with this grand gesture,” he said, “but I would not accept my freedom from the House of Black were it offered to me. I am proud to serve this noble house and to be recognized as the elf of Harry Potter.”

Minerva merely nodded and continued her way around the table, handing scarves to each elf in turn. She wasn’t surprised, however, when one by one the elves removed the scarves and placed them, with no lack of reverence, on the table in front of them.

“I am offering you your freedom,” she said finally, “for two reasons: first, because no being has the right to enslave another being,” this brought murmurs of approval, “and second because your contribution to the recent struggle with evil deserves the highest of recognition from all magical races.”

“Are we being asked to leave the castle, headmaster?” another of the elves, Lambic asked, his voice trembling. “This castle has been my home for many years, headmaster, all of our home. We do not have another place to go.”

Minerva smiled, touched by the fear that now flitted across the faces of the group. “No,” she said, her gaze moving from face to face, “you are welcome to stay at Hogwarts for as long as you wish, to continue in your duties for as long as you wish to so devote yourselves. But you are free elves and your contribution to the school shall be all the greater for the fact that it is provided with a free and open heart, that you choose to be a part of the school and its future.

“I am not asking you to leave. At the same time, I can no longer require that you stay. I ask you to stay and continue to be members of the Hogwarts family. We rely on you. We will be hard-pressed to proceed should you decide to leave. But it is now your decision and yours alone whether or not you wish to be here.”

She watched as the tiny creatures digested her words, understood the sentiment in her voice, recognized the change that had occurred. Several took long draughts of mead while many hugged and sobbed and clapped their hands together.

“As you make your decision,” she continued after the group had settled once again, “I want to reassure you of our commitment to continue the school in the fine tradition that our late headmaster ran it. We plan to run a summer program of courses for those students who wish to return to make up for studies that were lost during the recent unpleasantness. This will involve more work for all of us who chose to remain but it will be joyous work, a celebration of the re-emergence of goodness in our world.”

She saw the glow in their faces, the sparkle in their eyes, and smiled back at them. Then she saw something else dawning in their wide, lined faces, something like fear or astonishment, and without thinking she drew her wand and whirled to face whatever new threat seemed to be emerging behind her.

Instead, she found herself facing a third statue, much smaller than the figures of the boy who lived and the evil that finally died, but nearby. A statue of an elf, with large, bulbous eyes and a furry hat. A statue of a free elf named Dobby, who had given his life nobly in the battle against that evil.

A raucous chorus of cheers rose behind her and the scuffling of many feet brought the entire group of house elfs to her side to look in wonder on this new statue, to celebrate their emancipation and this recognition of their sacrifice.

Minverva returned her wand to her robes, smiled down at the now dancing elves and turned to leave them to their celebrations. It was only then that she saw that the walls of the Great Hall were now lined with more statues, many of which she recognized, some she did not. She saw Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks, Fred Weasley and Mad-Eye Moody, and many more, including figures from every magical race that had fought on the side of goodness.

She wiped a tear from her cheek and swept out of the room, leaving the elves to celebrate among the statues.

George let himself out by the gate in the back of the yard, keeping his eyes away from the mound of dirt and the small, white stone, ignoring a troupe of garden gnomes that watched him from behind the bushes. He set off across the field toward the hills beyond. The sun felt warm on his face. The sky dazzled blue for as far as his eye could see, no sign of the fogs and vapours that had for so long obscured the landscape.

He felt the loss of Fred bitterly. He felt it in every part of his body. He had always rolled his eyes when he heard people say that they half-expected their lost loved one to stroll into the room at any moment but now he knew that feeling to be true. He battled to accept the reality that his brother was, indeed, dead. That he would never be strolling into the kitchen, his eyes twinkling, a laugh already forming at the corners of his mouth as he looked at George.

George tried to shut thoughts of his brother out of his mind. He had to find a way to move on. He simply had no idea where to start.

He came upon Charlie, Bill and Fleur just over the rise, their long, lean bodies draped over the abandoned hay wagon that sat rusting in the field. Fleur lay with her eyes closed, her shining silver hair sprayed like sunlight around her head, in the bed of the wagon. Bill sat nearby, his back against one of the walls of the wagon, his head hanging down. Charlie sat on one of the great wheels, a sprig of wheat between his teeth, his exhausted eyes scanning the landscape.

George thought about turning away before they noticed him but then Charlie stood up and turned.

“Hey, brother,” he said quietly. Bill raised his head and gave George a weak smile. Fleur appeared to be asleep.

George hoisted himself up on the tail of the wagon and sat, his legs dangling, his hands at his sides, finding comfort in the weather-rough wood. “Nice day,” he said to Charlie, finding no lightness to throw into his voice.

“Yeah,” said Charlie. “Nicest day in months.”

“Years, really,” added Bill, pulling himself forward to sit beside George. He looked at his brother with narrowed eyes. “You okay?”

George looked past him, across the fields, past the hills. He shook his head. He fought the tear that was forming in the corner of his eye, then gave up and let it fall.
Bill nodded, allowing his gaze to drift into the distance. Charlie busied himself by pulling another blade of wheat.

George swallowed, then cleared his mind and said to Charlie. “How long will you stay?”

Charlie smiled. “I’m not sure. My work will wait.” He looked George up and down, then added, “Not sure how much good I’m doing here, though.”

“I think Mum and Dad like having you here,” Bill said. He turned to George. “You heard the news?”

George had been cooped up in his room for most of the past three days and hadn’t heard much of anything. His family had been giving him a wide berth. He shook his head. “Harry Potter been elected God?”

He was as surprised by the bitterness as they were. He looked down. “Sorry.”

Charlie glanced at Bill. “Dad’s been promoted. Kingsley Shacklebolt has asked him to take over the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.”

Bill nodded. “And he’s been asked to serve on the new Committee.”

“What Committee?”

“The Committee for Cooperation Among Magical Creatures,” Bill explained. “It’s intended to settle the differences between humans, goblins, elves, centaurs, werewolves and all the other non-wand-carrying races.”

Charlie smiled. “If it succeeds, it could mean peace for a long time to come for our people,” he said.

George wished he could feel more excited for this father, about this well-deserved honour, but he found an empty well instead. He forced a smile to his brothers. “What about you, Bill?” he asked, trying to inject an ounce of interest into his voice. “How long will Gringotts allow you to take before you’re sent back to Egypt?”

George saw Bill glance nervously at Charlie and wondered at it.

Bill then cleared his throat. “I’ve, uh… I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that, George,” he said, his voice a little shaky.

“To me?” George asked, surprised.

“Yeah, well, you see...” Bill struggled for words. “Well, Fleur and I have been talking and, well, we feel like I’ve gone as far as I’m going to go in Gringotts, you know, what with the changes that are coming, the goblins now worried about the prospect of wizards interfering.”

Charlie nodded. “They weren’t happy when the Ministry stepped in and took over and they want to make sure it doesn’t happen again, Dad says. Life won’t be so easy for a wizard at Gringotts for a while, if they should keep him on at all.”

The thought of leaving Gringotts didn’t seem to worry Bill much. He said, “We’d kind of like it if I could find a position closer to home. You know, nearer Shell Cottage, so that we can start a family.”

George’s heart grew heavy in his chest. So, they have already started to move on.

“And so,” Bill continued, “we thought, maybe, well, perhaps you’d be willing to take me on at Weasleys. I figure you’re going to need some help there now that…” his voice faltered, tears formed in his eyes. “Well, you know. The business is growing. And you’ll find it hard to run it on your own.”

George’s eyes widened as he watched his older brother ask him for a job. Nervously ask him for a job. He hadn’t even thought of the business, the business he had started with Fred a couple of years earlier, since the end had come and here was Bill asking for a job.

Bill saw George’s reaction and rushed on. “I’m not suggesting that I could take Fred’s place, you know, from a creative standpoint…” He faltered for a moment. “But I’ve gained a very good sense of business at Gringotts and I think I could help you in those ways.”

George saw great sense in the suggestion, if he intended to continue the business without his twin. But he wasn’t sure he ever could. Their creative endeavours, so key to the success of Weasleys, had always been joint efforts – they had come so easily because they had flowed spontaneously from his relationship with Fred. Could he really think about carrying on the business without his brother?

Charlie, as if reading his mind, took up the argument. “I know it’s hard to think about a future for Wealseys without him,” he said in a quiet voice. “But I think we all owe it to Fred to keep his dream alive. And yours. You’ve got a huge variety of products already so, if you don’t feel like you can create anything new for a while, that’s fine. Hire Bill to run the business side of things with the product line you’ve got and take your time getting back.”

There was excitement now in Bill’s voice. “Think about it, George. The wizarding world is going to be in a state of euphoria for a long time to come and they’re going to be looking for your kinds of products to help in their celebrations. Plus, with Dad now a Director in the Ministry and Percy being tabbed for something there too…”

George looked up, startled. He hadn’t thought about Percy returning to the Ministry. But, then again, with the number of Ministry people lost in the recent war, anyone with government experience would be in high demand. And Percy was just the guy.

“…we’ll have an in to supply them with some of your more serious products.”

His two brothers looked at him expectantly. George felt odd, having his older brothers looking to him for leadership. He and Fred had always been the jokesters of the family, not the leaders. He and Fred… He felt the tug at his heart again.

“I don’t know… I don’t really feel up to…”

Charlie jumped in. “That’s why you need Bill. He could start right away and at least keep the place running while you…” He stopped. “Well, you know…”

George wanted the conversation to be over. He wished he hadn’t stopped here to talk to his brothers. But he realized the only way to bring it to an end was to agree to their plan. Could life really be moving on already?

“What about Fleur? How does she feel about you giving up a stable, well-paying position with Gringotts to take a flier with me?” he asked, stubborn.

A lovely, musical voice came from behind them. “I tink it is a vunderful idea,” Fleur said, pulling herself up to a sitting position. “I cannot tink of a better way for us all to face zee future together, as a family.” Her stunning eyes swelled with tears. “And if it means my husband is closer to home, to me, to our children, to your parents, then it is all very good.”

George felt the warmth of her gaze. He didn’t feel he could refuse. Instead, he found himself nodding. “Okay,” he said. “Okay. Bill, welcome to the company.”

Bill’s eyes glowed as he grabbed George’s hand and pumped it enthusiastically. Charlie clapped them both on the back while Fleur offered a stunning smile.

George tried to smile back but shrugged instead. He dropped to the ground and nodded to his still smiling brothers, then wandered off across the field. He felt stunned to find that, just four days after he lost his twin, he was already starting to move on with his own life.

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