The Sugar Quill
Author: Thevina (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Countdown  Chapter: August/September- Chapter 1
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Countdown


I. August/September

"G'night."

"G'night."

There was a slight rustling of sheets as George Weasley shifted in his bed, placing his freckled hands behind his head. He stared up at the now-familiar ceiling at 12 Grimmauld Place, eyebrows furrowed in thought.

"Hey Fred?"

His twin stirred in the bed across the room. "Hmmm?"

"How's this for an additional delicacy for the snackboxes? 'Fever Fudge.'"

An appreciative but sleepy noise came from his brother's direction.

"You remember those Sandblast Snaps we had in Egypt? Those were fiery alright. If I can just figure out…"

"Leshtalkaboutitinmorning," Fred mumbled.

George sighed, listening to his brother's deepening breaths which soon turned into an expected, all-too-familiar snore. With a practiced arm, he lobbed a fake wand at Fred, who muttered, "Ickle prefect," and rolled over, his snoring temporarily silenced. George snickered, though Fred's subconscious reply reminded him of just how much on his own he was.

They were.

He had been as shocked as Fred that Ron had been appointed prefect that year for Gryffindor, and in a convoluted way, he was grateful. If nothing else, it had stopped his Mum's seemingly unceasing litany of how many ways he and Fred had managed to be continual disappointments to the Weasley name. After Percy's royal row with their dad, George had, in a rare attempt at familiar maturity, made a point of mentioning to their mum that he was actually doing not half-poorly in Transfigurations. It had not made the positive impression he had hoped for.

"Doing passably well in Transfigurations and only three O.W.L.s?" she replied absently, flipping through the recipe section of Witches Weekly and glancing furtively at the ever-moving hands on their kitchen clock. Suddenly she sat up straight, her blue eyes boring into him, surprising him with their intensity. "It's not too late," she said, eyes shining. "You and Fred are clever boys, if you would only stop putting so much energy into those infernal toys of yours."

At that, George lost his temper, a rare enough event given his agreeable personality, but made even more so because he had been sitting alone with his mother.

"First of all, Mum," he simmered, "those 'toys' are not infernal, they're popular. They've got market value. We can actually make real money selling them. I've been talking with Zonko, and he says-"

"The joke-shop owner?" his mother interrupted, reproach heavy in her words. "You should have higher aspirations than running a store like that. You two-"

"I'm the only one here talking with you," George fumed, standing up, his face scarlet with rage underneath his freckles. "Even you may not always be able to tell us apart but we are NOT one person."

As his mother gaped, George paced from one side of the table to the other before rounding on her. Heatedly he said, "For your information, Fred's piss-poor at charms. Ruddy brilliant at numbers, though. Maybe if all else fails he can work at Gringott's." The wave of anger was receding, but he had to leave with one last jab. "Wouldn't that be irony for you; one of your non-perfect, non-prefected sons working at a bank with Bill."

"GEORGE XANADU WEASLEY!" she yelled to his retreating shoulders. "Don't you EVER talk back to me like that again!"

He continued with pounding footsteps to a side door of the Burrow and then, after getting outside, let it slam satisfyingly behind him. He was later forced to be especially ginger around his Mum for days afterwards, and had had to deal with mini-lectures from Fred about leaving her out of it on top of it all.

Admittedly, it would be far easier to think of himself as GeorgeandFred, though it was usually FredandGeorge. Always together, and identical.

Only they weren't. And they weren't.

Really, it was much more apt to say it was FredandGeorgeandLee. George didn't want to give much thought to the fact that while Lee Jordan was the Third Musketeer in their trio (having a Muggle father, Jordan had come up with that analogy, and their other roommate, Kenneth Towler, had never been as close to them), he actually had plans beyond Hogwarts that did not include being a part of their joke-shop enterprise. They had invited Lee in, of course, but he really had his heart set on being a professional Quidditch announcer.

And they weren't identical. Not really. Well, they were in appearance, usually, though Fred was more likely to forget to do his shaving spell for days on end until Kenneth, who was decidedly priggish and came from a well-off wizarding family in Oxford, asked if he was trying to emulate a young Dumbledore. George was also left-handed, and Fred was not. It was part of what made them such brutally seamless Beaters, able to act like two hands on one body. George sometimes wondered if Hermione, Ron's overly-observant friend, had told Harry about that, as the two of them were among the few outside of their immediate family who almost never confused their identities.

Fred's newly rumbling snores brought George out of his reverie, and he leaned over to find something - anything- under the bed to toss at him. At Hogwarts they all had curtains which shut out the noise, but he'd always been a much lighter sleeper than his twin. While being in this house had certainly had its advantages, namely a perfect place to pick up unexpected things like Doxies and snuffboxes with Wartcap Powder, for some reason it seemed to amplify noises in ways that didn't happen in their own house, which, granted, was never quiet.

His hand scrabbled around on the floorboards until they closed around a broken quill. "Useless," George grumbled, his fingers still searching for something that would make it across the room. He smiled tiredly as he found a dungbomb, then closing one eye, aimed it at Fred's thigh.

"Fizshing… Filch, never there, honest…" Fred commented in his sleep, one arm rubbing his nose.

Though he didn't know how long they would actually be there, George was more than ready to return to Hogwarts. He closed his eyes and dozed off in the interim quiet.


***


George hadn't been standing on the platform long before he saw the unmistakable dreadlocked head of Lee Jordan. Lee grinned at them as he started up the steps of the train, then he caught sight of Padfoot and yelled, "Nice dog, Harry!" before disappearing in the crush of returning students.

He and Fred reluctantly hugged their mother, vaguely acknowledging her admonitions to stay out of trouble and not to undermine Ron's new authority as prefect without actually agreeing to any of her warnings. George took the stairs two steps at a time despite lugging his trunk behind him and hit his head soundly as he reached the top step. "Bloody hell!" he swore, rubbing at his forehead as he made his way down the corridor.

He shoved his trunk next to Fred's as his brother quickly made the pronouncement to Ron and company, "Well! Can't stand around chatting all day, we've got business to discuss with Lee. See you later." Fred bid a hasty retreat from the compartment and George followed.

Soon they were at their usual haunt on the Express, sprawled across from each other on the seats and listening to the details of Lee's summer adventures. He'd travelled to Brighton where he'd met a young woman with the unfortunate name of Prunella who was fortunately skilled in many pleasurable ways. He also seemed to be suffering from the grief he was getting from his parents about his post-school plans.

"Too right!" George agreed, shaking his head. "Mum's not exactly supportive. She made us chuck out our first orders of trick wands."

"She didn't!" Lee exclaimed, clearly appalled.

"She did, the wicked woman," Fred echoed angrily. "Stood over us with her wand, threatening to hex us into next week if we didn't destroy them properly."

"And it gets better," George muttered, rolling his eyes.

"Ron. Hopeless, sodding Ron is a prefect," Fred finished.

Lee stared at them in disbelief. "It must be a joke."

"But it isn't," George said, pulling a small bag from his pocket. "Chocolate frog?"

Lee shook his head. "No thanks. Shoved down a huge breakfast not long ago."

Fred nodded. "Well, his new status won't change our plans. George and I have come up with several new items over the hols for our Skiving Snackboxes. We'll just need to put up some signs and convince some of our innocent, brave first-years to try some of them."

"We've been trying them out on ourselves, of course. Still perfecting some of the ingredients," George added.

"No permanent damage," Fred continued, grinning.

"Yet," Lee chuckled. "Oy, how many N.E.W.T.s are you pair going for? I tried explaining to Mum how useless they are, which brought on the 'there's more to life than Quidditch' speech."

George looked at Fred, who shrugged and pulled out a deck of cards. "As few as possible," Fred said vehemently. "Exploding Snap, gents?"

The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful, though there were two somewhat unexpected visitors. Their compartment had been quiet; George had been staring at the Muggle contraption Lee called a CD player while Lee himself was splayed prone on the floor, listening to some music on it. Suddenly Angelina Johnson burst in, announcing her Gryffindor Quidditch Captaincy and that Fred and George had best not been getting soft over the summer.

"Who could be soft when you're around?" Fred leered. George and Lee both looked up, staring at Angelina to gauge her reaction.

"Rude git!" she shot back, but she seemed to be smirking as she left the compartment as hastily as she had entered.

"Hey mate," Lee scowled, twisting his napped chocolate-coloured hair between his fingers. "I'm the one who's had my eye on her for years."

"Why didn't you ask her to the Yule Ball, then?" Fred retorted, but held up his hands in mock surrender. "Not that we have anything going on."

Lee looked suspiciously at him. "You don't?"

"Well," Fred admitted, stretching out his long legs to the seat across from him, "We have snogged a couple of times. But we aren't dating or anything."

"Snogged?" Lee uncurled from the floor and stood upright, his imposing height shadowing their window as George shook his head. "You're supposed to tell a friend about things like that."

"What do you want to know?" Fred asked, instinctively drawing his legs back closer to his body. "You've mooned over her, but Merlin's beard, Lee, a bloke's gotta…" But the lesson in what a bloke should do in such instances was unexpectedly cut short by an enthusiastic rapping on their compartment window.

"Why is she here?" Lee asked, irritably.

"Probably coming to pay her respects," Fred replied, glancing knowingly at George. "She has a thing for redheaded Quidditch players."

"Shut up, twit," George answered, his stomach churning in rather unexpected ways as he waved in their visitor.

Thalia MacGhinty was a rather plain-faced, auburn-haired Gryffindor sixth-year from Dublin. George had danced with her during a couple of the more enthusiastic songs at the Yule Ball until he heard one of the Slytherins from his year loudly exclaim, "Oh, the horror! Even their hair clashes!" At that, George had made a rude gesture toward the offending student unseen by his dancing partner. While Professor McGonagall pointedly had not taken points away from her own house, her disapproving eyes were message enough and George had only hoped that Thalia hadn't heard. She was the youngest of four with three older brothers, and came from a family of similar means to the Weasleys. That and the fact that one of said older brothers played for the Kenmore Kestrals meant that George had a soft spot in his heart for her, especially since she cheered for Fred and him with sentiments that only someone who truly knew and loved Quidditch could express.

She seemed to have matured somewhat over the summer. George motioned for her to enter and tried valiantly not to look at her jeans which hung on newly-exposed hips.

"Thalia!" he enthused. "How was your summer?"

She stood, uncertain, in the doorway. "Alright, I suppose," she ventured, then walked into the testosterone-filled compartment and sat on the cushioned seat across from the twins. Lee glowered menacingly from the far wall. "You?" Her brown eyes danced with mischief. "More progress on the Snackboxes?"

Fred glared at George as he shrugged as innocently as possible, rolling a Galleon over his knuckles, then, in a wave of prestidigitation, the coin vanished.

"I think they're brilliant," she continued.

"Care to buy an Extendable Ear?" Fred suggested, always eager to make money whenever possible.

"What does it do?" Thalia asked.

Fred explained and her eyes lit up. "I can think of plenty of uses for that. What'll it cost me?" Soon the haggling began.

Seven Galleons and a few moments later, she and their first sale of the school year had left the compartment. Next Ron walked by, looking rather official and proud and very wary as he motioned that they would be at Hogwarts soon and should change into their robes.

"Prefect," George exhaled, then jerked his head toward the back of the train, indicating that he'd get their trunks and robes.

"Prat," Fred spat, looking at Lee. "You wouldn't believe the righteous spewing from Mum. As though being a Weasley was a shoe-in for being on the right side of the law. Except for us, of course."

"That combined with the shite with Tripe, and you have an idea of our summer," George went on, opening the door.

"Tripe?" Lee asked quizzically, pulling his robe over his 'Got Quidditch?' t-shirt.

"Tri-P," Fred explained, a clouded, menacing expression on his face. "Percy, the Poncey Prick. Huge, dragon-sized pile of droppings. Told Dad as much as he was embarrassed by the family and that Dad was clinging to Dumbledore's robes."

"Worst summer ever," George offered.

"Bollocks," George heard Lee say in affirmation as he wove down the corridor, trying not to trip over the younger students who looked petrified, much like bees without a queen and .

"Nice first years," George cooed, patting a few on their ridiculously short heads. He ducked into the compartment where his and Fred's trunks were, pulled them out and headed back toward the front of the train.

This was it. Their last year.

Couldn't come too soon, he reckoned, accidentally running a trunk into a dazed third-year Hufflepuff as he hauled their belongings into their compartment.

"They're getting shorter," he pronounced.

"Shut the door," Fred murmured in a suspiciously quiet voice.

"Right," George replied.

He heard a disguising spell quickly cast while Lee produced a bottle of Bitter Banshee.

"'Ere's to us, mates. This is it," he said, having thrust recently-transfigured glasses into the twins' hands. He poured the potent green liquid in, then gesticulated for a toast.

"To us!" Fred roared.

"To us!" George echoed. "'Here's to us, 'oos like us, damn few, and they're all dead.'" He raised his small glass, they all clinked, and tossed back the *Merlin!firedownthethroat!oh, that's better now* substance.

Lee shook his head, grinning.

"Let's make it count, lads."

"All for one, and one for all!" George said, swaying only slightly.

"Best pack this up, mates, before the prefects start banging on the door," Lee said, tossing the bottle into his trunk.

"Best," Fred and George replied in tandem.


***


"What kind of shite was that?" Lee queried, tacking his well-worn Chudley Cannons poster in its familiar locale on the wall to the left of his bed.

The beginning of term feast and sorting process was over and the four male seventh-year Gryffindors were moving their belongings back into their room for the last time.

"Shite? Which shite?" Kenneth answered, carefully hanging up his robes on hangers enchanted to keep any garment draped on them wrinkle-free.

"That Umbridge woman," Lee continued, placing a new picture to the right of his four-poster, a fledgling Quidditch team, the Green Knights of Glasgow. Youths dressed in emerald robes swooped from one side to the next, looking very enthusiastic and a just a bit unnerved.

"Oy! What are you two up to?" Lee stared at Fred and George, who were taking an astonishing amount of bottles, carved boxes of seemingly ancient origin, and suspicious-looking cauldrons from out of their trunks and placing them in some kind of predetermined order on a shared bookshelf.

"Unpacking. What does it look like?" Fred replied, raising an eyebrow. He stood up straight and paused, staring at the wall. "What is that?" he challenged, pointing at the new poster.

"Green Knights," Lee said, provoking a confrontation by standing even straighter. "They're new. Oliver owled and recommended I keep an eye on them."

George turned around to his roommate. "Wood owled you?"

Lee shrugged dismissively. "Yeah. So what?"

"Was the Umbridge woman spouting shite?" Kenneth interjected. "I had quite ceased paying attention to any of the staff once I saw Leonora."

"Of course you did," Fred sniped, placing two flasks of blue liquid between a rather dangerous looking clawed foot and a more innocuous bottle of ink. "How is our darling Duchess of Dorset?"

"Shut it," Kenneth grumbled as he walked toward the twins and their ever-increasing panoply of unlabeled containers. "How did you get all of this?" he asked suspiciously. "Did you actually bet on something and win?"

"We…" George began.

"We aren't at liberty to discuss our excellent skills in acquisition right now, Kenneth Antonius Towler, the Third." Fred smiled benignly at him.

"No, really," Lee said, walking over from his bed and gazing at the astonishing array of legal, questionable, and highly suspect substances now jumbled in the shelves between Fred and George's beds. "Where'd you get the funds for that?"

George looked uncomfortably at his best friend, and then back at Fred. They had never kept any secrets from Lee, not until Harry had shoved that bag of Galleons at them. What could they say?

"We…" George tried again.

"It's best that we not tell you," Fred said softly. "Far better to protect the innocent, right lad?"

Lee scowled, but seconds later a look of hurt ghosted across his face. "Right," he muttered, as he went back to his bed. "I'm just not used to not being in on it, that's all."

Kenneth had gone off to the toilet with a disapproving noise after his full name had been invoked, so only the three remained in the room. Their other roommate, Muggeridge Finlayson, had moved to Canada during their fourth year, so it had been just the four of them for the last two years. George looked at Lee, who was now rubbing a sleeve against a picture of his parents, smiling and tilting their heads despite the motion.

"It's not like that." George dropped onto his mattress. "We'd let you know, honest, you know we would, but…"

"But we can't," Fred's tone left no room for argument. "Doesn't mean we aren't going to raise some serious hell this year, and we're counting on you being a part of it."

Lee looked up as he placed the frame on his bedside table and smiled. "I would expect no less."

"All for one!" George exclaimed.

"And three for all," Kenneth finished as he strode back into the room, his voice betraying a modicum of resentment. "This year cannot go by quickly enough. Why on Merlin's verdant hills I was sorted into this house I can't imagine."

"You're the one getting laid, not us," Fred offered as he slammed his trunk shut.

The blond youth winked.

"Too right I am."

George chucked a fake wand at Kenneth's curtains as they were hastily drawn shut.
//
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