The Sugar Quill
Author: Thevina (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Countdown  Chapter: October- Chapter 2
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II. October


George aimed his wand at the flames under the cauldron and watched them subside until their glowing blue flickers were barely visible. Casting a hovering and shadowing charm on a mid-sized hourglass, he stepped away from the impromptu potions lab by his bed and traversed the room to the opposite window, the timer gliding along behind him. His other project was nearly complete, and he smiled in satisfaction, leaning over a heated tray. He checked that the colour was what it should be, a shining tawny brown, before using a makeshift spatula to lift it onto a small serving dish.

The door to the room flung open.

"Hey!" Lee's voice rang from the doorway. "That smells great, for once! What are you concocting today?"

"Grilled cheese and tomato," George replied, cutting into his sandwich.

"Y'know, you could have just come to lunch," Fred commented, dropping several rolls of parchment on his bed. "I couldn't imagine that you were still in the library. What we're making isn't complicated enough to warrant spending quality time with Madam Pince."

George swallowed a bite, then gave his brother an affronted look. "Somebody had to babysit this particular potion. I'm glad it was me or we would have had little more than boiled custard a la dragonsbane. And you know that ingredient didn't come cheap."

Charlie, trying to resurrect some peace in his family, even from another country, had agreed to send them the tradeable-only, illegal substance on the condition that they contractually vowed not to send anything else suspicious or dangerous to Percy. "Tripe's got his head so far up his arse he wouldn't know it was from us anyway," Fred had muttered, and signed the agreement next to George's scrawl.

"Hrmph," Fred acknowledged, looking out the window. "Who's practising on the pitch?"

"Slytherins," Lee said, collapsing onto his bed. "They've not improved over last year, but I must say that, no offence to the Weasley name, little Ronnie has launched the team into new levels of mediocrity."

"Don't remind me," Fred groaned, snaking out his hand to grab a bit of George's sandwich, but George batted it away. "He's dismal."

"Not all the time," George said in his defense. Fred cocked an eyebrow at him. "Well, most of the time."

Fred snorted. The hourglass made a small chiming sound and George shoved the rest of the grilled cheese into his mouth before walking back to the cauldron. After extinguishing the flames, he got a spoon to stir the viscous contents, counting the rotations under his breath.

Lee and Fred spoke disparagingly of the current state of the Quidditch teams at the school for a few minutes before Fred approached the table and peered over George's shoulder.

"Now what?" Fred asked, eyeing the cauldron.

"It needs to sit, undisturbed and covered for four days. Reckon I'll put it in the back corner of the loo."

"It's not going to suddenly explode while any of us are in there starkers, is it?" Lee asked, looking apprehensive.

"Oh you faithless friend!" Fred exclaimed. "Georgie here is brilliant." George grimaced at the nickname as Fred clapped an arm around him. "I am the Master of Galleon Management, as well as coming up with a never-ending string of ideas for products. George here, with his non-Hogwarts-appreciated exceptional wizarding skills, makes it all work."

Lee was forced to smile. "You two are quite a pair. Multitalented."

George leaned back against the wall. He paused to think before speaking, a new and odd habit which unexpectedly and inexplicably manifested itself on occasion. "There's still room for a third, y'know," he said, hope creeping from his chest and into his voice. "Can't you just see it? Three carefree bachelors, the world at our feet, each day an adventure. Bollocks, but we'd share some good times after getting out of this prison they call a school."

"Cause some riots, I reckon," Fred grinned evilly.

"A different girl each day!" Lee chimed in with enthusiasm.

"Who could resist us?" George added, arms crossed and his thumbs thrust into his armpits.

Silence descended upon the room, and George's enthusiasm was smothered by the reality of the situation.

"Now, mates, you know I would," Lee said, looking first at Fred, then George, a confusion of wistfulness and determination battling in his expression. "But this is your dream. Being a match commentator is never going to make me rich, but it's what I want. My dream."

Fred offered up a rueful smile. "Merlin knows, we could be in and out of business in a year and you'd suddenly find yourself with Gred and Forge again, like it or not."

George turned to look at him, shocked. "You've never said anything like that before!"

Fred shook his head as though to dislodge an irritating insect, or shard of honesty.

"Momentary lapse into drama." He sighed. "Must've been channeling Ginny. Wrong Weasley."

Lee coughed, looking from twin to twin with an awkward gaze.

"Between a never-ending succession of perfect prefects and the youngest generation who obviously don't have nearly the good sense in making friends that we do, I guess we've found our niche." George loosed his hands. "I'm taking this to the bathroom."

Using his wand, he levitated the cauldron and, clasping his DADA text in his right hand, walked toward their toilets. Once there, he lowered the sludgy substance into a neglected corner against the far wall then placed the book on top. Ought to write a note to the house-elves, too, he considered. Can't have them mucking it up.

George passed one of the mirrors above the sinks and paused to look at himself. As weird as it might seem, he really didn't know what he looked like, despite the fact that most people assumed he was constantly looking into a mirror when he looked at Fred. Hags' hounds, he thought, disgusted. I only see Fred. My brother. Not me.

George stared, categorising what stared back at him. Wide face, brown eyes, freckles. Stubbled cheeks and chin, the latter with a small cleft. Hair, that damnable and immediately recognisable colour that certainly needed a trim. Ears that stuck out. Not hideous, but certainly not anyone would call attractive. Irresistable, my arse, he contemplated when he saw Fred swing into the doorway.

"You're gorgeous. Now let's go charm some ladies by the lake while we have this decent weather, shall we?"


***


That evening in the common room, the trio were showing off a new prototype, a deck of cards charmed to a spoken keyword to reveal nubile witches wearing precious little clothes and writhing or winking at the cardholder. Too many of the boys in the younger Gryffindor classes showed interest in them and kept clustering near the table where Lee, Fred and George were playing a rather demure game of Hearts. Hermione kept patrolling the room, positively growling, while the Queen of Spades continually unrolled black stockings down her legs, only to pull them back up again.

After an hour or so, George pocketed the contraband deck to play regular exploding snap with Lee. Fred sequestered himself near them in a high-backed chair with a long parchment and quill. George knew that he hadn't tallied their expenditures in days, and for all of Fred's spontaneity and generosity, he wanted to know how every Knut had been spent, and where they stood from a fiscal vantage point. He really should work at Gringott's, George mused, but knew that he didn't really mean it. They simply had never had any money before now, and they knew this could well be the only time they did. They couldn't afford any mistakes.

"Hey," George asked. "Where's Towel-head?"

In tandem, Lee replied, "Trying to be the first Gryffindor to defect to Hufflepuff," while Fred deadpanned, "Practicing his skills at 'hide the sausage' with Leonora."

Hermione, Ron and Harry had all been hovering over some book near the fire when Hermione's head snapped around.

"Fred Weasley," she fumed, as Ron's face turned a disturbing shade of fuscia and Harry gaped. "There are first years here. First Years!"

"Why, yes there are," Fred scoffed. "With such exceptional skills of observation, no wonder you were chosen as prefect. Still doesn't explain Ron, though."

Lee inhaled a laugh which soon exploded in a series of throat-clearings while he rubbed at his eyes. George glanced over at Ron, who was fuming and resisting his friends' attempts at pacification.

"And no wonder why you lot are constantly on your own," Alicia taunted, though she leaned down, perching her elbows on Fred's shoulders to speak into his ear. "You all have such delightful, charming manners."

Angelina chuckled from another part of the room, and George felt a prickling on the back of his neck as though he were being watched. As Lee regained his composure and the room resumed its normal din, George turned around and saw Thalia smirking benevolently at him, curled up sideways in a chair.

Fred instinctively followed his gaze, and after giving George a "this should be good" wink, shouted, "Oy! Thalia! Don't you think we're a charming, delightful lot?"

She raised an eyebrow. "I have older brothers. Don't think I haven't heard such commentary before. It takes more than that to embarrass me." After brushing some hair out of her eyes, she continued, "And yes, at least one of you has been known to be charming on occasion."

George let the words settle into a rather stunned part of his brain while he watched Fred start to make what was sure to be a provocative parry. Suddenly Hermione was standing there, planted in front of Fred, hands on her hips and wand clutched in her hand with a grip so tight her knuckles stood out pink against her pale skin.

"Don't think I won't banish all three of you from the common room," she threatened. "First testing your potentially dangerous products on innocent children, and now using incredibly vulgar language…"

"Now, now," George found himself saying, walking over and pulling her to him, his hand grasped firmly to her hip. "You would miss us. Who else would you pick on? It would become dreadfully boring."

Hermione harumphed, but her posture relaxed against him, and George nodded imperceptibly at Fred.

"Anyway," Fred drawled, "you know I'm right. He probably is knackering around in The Duchess' knickers."

"FRED!" Hermione squealed as he uncurled from the couch, picked up his scroll and quill, and left the room, an uncompromised grin on his face.

"He's incorrigible," George apologised to the back of her head as she had shrugged out of his embrace and was stalking across the room.

Lee stood and stretched, faking an enormous yawn. "Yes, time for bed, lads and lassies."

A few students waved at them, and George made one last scan before heading up the staircase. Angelina rolled her eyes, and Thalia made a mock gesture of submission, throwing the back of her hand to her forehead and mouthing, "my hero."

As George turned and started up the stairs, he was suddenly struck by the thought of her saying that again with a much more serious expression on her face and wearing many fewer clothes. As a shiver ran through him, he doubled his pace up the stairs. Ridiculous, he chastised. You heard her, she has older brothers, that's how she sees you, nothing more. He could hear Fred and Lee rehashing the scene as he entered their room, and moments later, he was doing the same.

After checking up on the potion, George bid all three of his roommates goodnight. Even smug Kenneth had been welcomed back into the fold, appearing rumpled and right on the cusp of their curfew, but exuding happiness. He had half-heartedly threatened Fred with one of the more obscure and definitely personal hexes he had learned while studying Ancient Runes for sullying his good name, but after weathering a couple of taunts, they all settled down for the night.

George dreamt of sunsets, and freckles and fire-breathing dragons; a sanguine-flecked kaleidoscope of imagery whose colours he could never escape.

He didn't remember any of it in the morning.


***


"Right Lee? Got the chronomos set?"

"Bloody hell, yes!" Lee stood at the end of George's bed, holding the timepiece in his hand and looking insulted. "I'm not dim. All I have to do is write down how long it takes for the fever to set in and how long before it subsides."

George glanced down at the square of confectionery in his hand, then back at his friend.

"We're none of us Ravenclaws, though I'm beginning to wonder about you two," Lee continued.

Fred chuckled. "They care far too much for rules to my taste. No, it was always Gryffindor. The few, the brave. Eh, Georgie?"

"Most certainly," George replied. "Let's give this a go."

"Right lads." Lee stood at attention. "On my mark. Now!"

Lee waved his wand at the timekeeper and it began tallying the passing seconds. George put the fudge in his mouth at the same time as his twin. They both chewed, then swallowed. George looked over at Fred, who was licking his fingers with zeal.

"Where'd you get the recipe?" Fred asked, sitting on the edge of his bed.

"Where d'you think?" George retorted. "Mum, of course. Tried and true. It's not as though I spent the summer sitting on my bum looking through her cooking books."

"You wouldn't know it," Fred said, admiringly. "Excellent stuff. Very chocolaty, but smooth as silk. And nuts! You put-"

"A few bits of walnut. Shut it. I wanted to be sure to cover the taste of the potion." Fred grinned at Lee. "George here has missed his calling! He should be a chef at one of those posh… Oh. Bollocks."

George felt the sensation as Fred started to swear. It was a wave of heat, beginning in his stomach and spreading outward, settling in his forehead and in the palms of his hands. He began to sweat.

"Now, Lee," George muttered.

"Got it." His hands clutched at a quill, scratching down the time that had elapsed from when they had ingested the chocolate until the effects took place. "Wow, that was fast." He gazed at them worriedly. "How d'you feel?"

"Hot," George answered.

"Ill," Fred said, and George quickly turned to look at him. "No, not really," he backpedaled. "Just hot. Guess it's working."

While George was uncomfortable, he was gratified that his research into the mysterious ingredient in the biscuits he'd had in Egypt had come to fruition. Now all he had to do was sit out the odd sensation of getting a sunburn from the inside out.

Fifteen minutes later the heat dissipated as quickly as it had surged through him at the onset. George looked at his twin. "Gone?" he asked.

Fred nodded. "Vanished!" he said encouragingly. "Time?"

Lee turned the face of the chronomos to the pair and confirmed it had lasted a quarter of an hour.

"Just long enough to get out of class and say you're going to have a lie-down and have proof to back up your claim if you get waylaid in a corridor," George explained as he stood up from his bed.

Lee shook his head, a look of awe on his face. "You're really clever, you know?"

George acknowledged the compliment with a grudging shrug of his shoulders, then busied himself with juggling three items currently transfigured into red and gold balls with a big "G" on them. He enjoyed juggling; it allowed him to concentrate one part of his mind while the rest worked through other, more complicated thoughts and issues. Or not being embarrassed.

"We should celebrate the creation of yet another successful product in the Weasley line!" Fred said with enthusiasm.

"Firewhiskey?" Lee motioned toward their well-stocked pantry of contraband alcohol.

"Excellent choice," Fred replied, rubbing his hands together. "You in, George?"

"'Course." He applied more muscle into his throwing and the balls arced into impressively high zeniths before he collected them in his left hand and dropped them onto his bedcovering. He joined Fred and Lee in a toast to their continued success, tossing back the liquid and slamming down the glass when their door opened.

"Towel-head!" Fred enthused as their roommate walked toward them.

"Gentlemen," Kenneth said, making disapproving 'tsk'ing sounds with his tongue but striding straight toward the bottle. "There are terms for people who are found drinking at two o'clock in the afternoon."

"Magnificent," "Bloody fantastic," George and Fred said at the same time.

Kenneth got his own glass and poured a healthy shot, then raised his glass to the trio.

"Hypocrite," Lee scowled as he watched Kenneth drain the contents.

"No, my dear Lee. I was merely making an observation." He looked over at George's lab table, saw the fudge and chronomos and suddenly went pale. "Bloody hell," he swore. "Did you put something in this? I'll kill you both. I'll kill you all if…"

"No, Towler," George reassured him. "We were trying something out, but only Fred and me. If anybody's doctored the Firewhiskey, it's Lee."

Lee raised his hands in innocence. "We're all drinking from the same bottle. You're safe."

Kenneth relaxed his shoulders. "After the Bulbadox Powder incident, you can't blame me for wondering."

Fred snickered. "Water under the bridge, mate."

"It wasn't funny," Kenneth glared.

"We aren't wasting our time on trivial pranks like that now," George said. "Too many other projects. Speaking of, I need to visit the library." He poured himself another dram of the amber liquid and swirled it around his mouth briefly before swallowing. "Lee, thank you. You are a true gentleman, generous in all things."

"I'll go with you," Fred volunteered. "The weather's dismal and there's just no challenge anymore into seeing how quickly I can make Ron wish he were invisible. The common room isn't like it used to be." He looked at Lee. "You coming?"

"Nah," Lee said. "All those people studying. Gives me a headache. Got the new Quidditch Weekly at breakfast that I'll read in the comfort of my bar. I mean bed."

"Off you go," Kenneth said, dropping several books for his Ancient Runes class on the floor beside his desk with a resounding thud. "For whatever reason, I find it far easier to concentrate without you two around."

George rummaged around for some parchment and a quill. Fred picked up a small journal and an extendable ear and shoved both into his robe pocket. George eyed him curiously.

"One should never go anywhere unprepared," Fred explained.

There was only the quiet sounds of pages turning and a quill scratching on paper as they left the room.


***


It was the next day when George realised that there was a flaw in his potion. He woke up uncharacteristically early with painful, unfamiliar swollen sensations in his… unmentionable area. It was still dark when he gingerly got out of bed and walked carefully to the bathroom, only to find Fred already there.

"You have them too?" George asked, sitting on the toilet in the stall next to his twin.

"Piss off," Fred replied grumpily. Then, after a pause, he tacked on, "I trusted you."

"You piss off!" George railed back. "Let's see you do something as complicated as a time-release potion next time. You knew there might be side-effects. They're bound to be temporary. Very temporary," he echoed quietly, reassuring himself.

"They'd better be," Fred said, sighing. "We have Quidditch practice this afternoon."

"Merlin's mangy moustache." George leaned his head into his hands and tried not to think about what it would feel like to be on his broom in his current state with throbbing blisters on his backside.


***


George took the lead as he and Fred tried valiantly to walk through the common room as normally as possible; as though it didn't feel like he had miniature volcanoes erupting in his bum with every step. It didn't work. He had to slow his usual fast pace and widen his stride as though he were a cowboy from a Muggle American western, recently dismounted from his horse.

"You all right there, Fred? George?" Patrick Gross called, overseeing a game of chess being played by two of his fellow sixth-years. "What's with the silly walk?"

"Oh. Nothing," George managed, but the pain in his rear would not allow him to put his legs any closer together.

"Nothing to see here," Fred said as he grimaced, and a few of the first years who they had paid to try their Nosebleed Nougat looked as though they would faint.

"George?"

He looked around to see Thalia staring at him, anxiety veiled loosely in her gaze.

"Rough Quidditch practise, that's all," George lied. "'Til we got rained out. Couldn't see a bloody thing." That, at least, was honest truth.

"You lot should just subscribe to The Quibbler," Fred suggested. "You'd find as much truth there as anywhere. Nobody else would care so much about Gryffindor Quidditch players. See you later."

"Another cup for Gryffindor, eh!" This was uttered by Grant St. George, an enthusiastic fourth-year, who sparked a chant soon picked up by the rest of the students in the room. "Gung-ho for Gryffindor! Gung-ho for Gryffindor!"

George and Fred made their way to the staircase where they bowed with all of the aplomb they could muster, waving as they climbed the stairs.

"It's like a circus," Fred grumbled.

"Who's the one who wanted fame and fortune?" George threw back, cranky and ready to go and beg Madam Pomfrey for whatever it took to make him feel like a regular person again.

"Not me," Fred replied, bow-legged and cross.

"Shut up, you liar," George said, shoving him against their room door.

"No! I didn't want this," Fred snarled.

George stared at him, physically uncomfortable beyond belief and furious. "Always wanting to be on the edge. Always. Well, here's the edge of my potions knowledge. Eat it and weep."

"Wish I hadn't," Fred said, repentant, pushing George away.

George pondered that comment for a moment. "It's still a prototype."

"Well, don't go too much more proto with it."

Despite the aching in his backside, George couldn't help but laugh. "Pomfrey?"

It was raised as a flag of peace, and he knew that Fred would acquiesce.

"Yes, but you'll have to explain why we're going back through the common room."

"I don't feel like explaining anything," George grimaced. "But this is dismal."

"Too right it is." Fred shook his head.

"Not that I want anyone of any persuasion, male, female, neuter, whatever, touching that part of me," George breathed out, angry at himself.

"I don't either," Fred agreed. "But I'm sure as hell not asking Lee to put some kind of salve on my arse."

When couched in such obvious terms, the rest of the plan fell into place. Get to Madam Pomfrey's, as quickly as possible without being caught.

Not a problem.


***


Three hours and infinitesimal questions later, George found himself much relieved but in a rather unfamiliar area of Hogwarts.

"All praise to Madam Pomfrey," Fred enthused.

"Indeed," George agreed.

She had seen them often enough in their seven years to know better than to ask any questions which required more than a yes or no answer, but she continued to ask nonetheless. She also sent her Healer's notices straight to McGonagall, whose only admonition was a raised eyebrow as long as points had not been deducted from Gryffindor prior to the twins landing in the infirmary. If points were lost, it was another issue entirely.

"Hush," George hissed, suddenly aware of another noise. It was music. A mournful tune, almost certainly not meant for anyone else to hear.

He stood still, pressing his back against the cold stone wall as though to hide from the secretive melody

"What the…?" Fred asked, then George saw that he heard it as well.

"Clarinet," George answered. "But who? And why?"

"Dunno."

"Got an extendable ear on you?"

"'Course."

They put the fleshy string near the door and the music continued on, then stopped suddenly. Fred had just yanked the ear and was wrapping it around his hand when the door swung open. A very malcontent Severus Snape stood glowering in the doorway.

"Ten points from Gryffindor - apiece- for lurking." Snape gazed in a focused, malevolent way at George and Fred.

"But we aren't…" Fred began.

"Ten more - apiece - for talking back," Snape continued.

"I haven't even…" George offered in consternation.

"If I were you," Snape drawled, drawing his robes around him in what was surely meant to be an intimidating manner, "I would stop speaking."

The problem was that that George and Fred really couldn't give a hair out of Merlin's beard what made Snape intimidating or not, but as he continued, they did take a breath before talking.

"You are not in my house. However," Snape drew in an admirable intake of breath through his nose, "I do have the sense that Professor McGonagall will be, shall we say, livid, should she find that it took only two students under five minutes to empty her house coffers of the few points it previously contained."

George shut his mouth, and in a flight of cognizance, realised that he was as tall as the Potions professor.

"You shouldn't keep that talent hidden," Fred went on casually.

"I beg your pardon?" Snape asked, his dark glaze glittering as he stared at Fred.

"The music. It was profound, in a dark sort of way."

George counted the twelve or so times while his heart continued to beat, waiting for he and Fred to be hexed into the sixteenth century or so. If they were lucky.

"Get out."

"Good evening to you, too, Professor Snape."

George pulled on Fred's elbow, and they walked upward into far more neutral territory. They were standing on one of their favorite trick staircases when George looked at Fred.

"Why?" he asked.

"Why what?" Fred shot back.

"Why… Oh, I dunno," George repeated, petulant. "Why in poltergeist's purgatory would you pick a fight with Snape?"

Fred feigned ignorance. "It wasn't a fight. I was telling the truth. He is talented."

George rolled his eyes. "Great. Be sure to remind him next month at our Quidditch match that you are his one person fan club."

"When did you become so cynical?" Fred asked.

"Must've been the Fever Fudge," George grumbled as they walked up the stairs toward the Gryffindor Tower.

Fred draped an arm around his shoulder. "You're forgiven for that, y'know."

George made a half-hearted chuckle. "Thanks for nothing."

Fred was quiet for a few steps. "Do you know how much we've already made?"

George shook his head, noticing that they were in front of the Fat Lady's portrait.

"Enough that we need to be getting serious about putting some Galleons down on a place after we graduate."

George looked at Fred, his shaggy red hair falling into his eyes. "You need a haircut," he observed.

"So do you. Shut it. We're a success. The fudge incident was a temporary setback. 'Naughty knickers,'" he spoke cheekily to the portrait.

"Ooh!" she giggled. "Not quite."

"I knew that, love," Fred quipped. "'Mimbulus mimbletonia.'"

The door swung open.
//
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