“Sleight of Hand”
Thank you to my beta, Night Zephyr.
Disclaimer: All characters and settings belong to J.K. Rowling. This story includes a direct quote from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, page 328 in the U.S. version. See www.trickmagic.com for more on George’s card trick.
“ – and if you want people to help you, Ron,” added George, throwing the paper airplane at him, “I wouldn’t chuck knives them. Just a little hint. We’re off to the village, there’s a very pretty girl working in the paper shop who thinks my card tricks are something marvelous…almost like real magic….”
Following Fred out of the house, George pulled the Burrow’s kitchen door shut, causing a clump of snow to fall from the overhang onto the ground. The strong winter sun had begun to melt the previous night’s snow, so that blades of brown grass poked through the surface.
“What sort of nasty look do you think Ron is giving us through the window right now?” George wondered, as he joined Fred in the garden.
“I suspect it would look something like this,” said Fred, squinting his eyes and furrowing his brow.
“An uncanny resemblance,” said George.
Fred glanced in the direction of the village. “Want to Apparate and get a bit closer?”
“I’d rather walk, if it’s all the same to you,” George replied. Though he did not want to admit it to Fred, George felt quite nervous about seeing Celia again and thought the walk to the village would give him time to calm himself. “The air will give my face a rosy, boyish glow, which I’m sure Celia will appreciate.”
“Oh, I’m certain,” Fred teased.
Several weeks earlier, George had met Celia for the first time when he and Fred had been visiting the Ottery St. Catchpole village. Reminded by Hermione’s encounter with their punching telescope, they had popped into the Burrow to pick up some Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes products that they had left behind in their room. They had happily accepted their mother’s dinner invitation, as it gave them a reprieve from their own lackluster cooking. While Molly bustled around the kitchen, Fred and George decided to pass the time before dinner in the village.
At the paper shop, Celia had caught George’s attention as she worked behind the counter. She had smiled at George, and without even thinking about it, George found himself walking over to her. After they exchanged pleasantries, George had the awful realization that he was speechless. He thought that she was the prettiest girl he had ever seen and he could not think of a thing to say to her.
For George, the silence seemed to stretch on for an eternity, made worse by the fact that Celia was obviously waiting for him to ask her a question or ring up an order. Instead, George suddenly remembered the deck of Muggle cards he had in his pocket and, in a bid to impress Celia, asked her if she wanted to see a trick. When she keenly agreed, George performed a simple trick that he had recently learned from a tattered book that belonged to his father. Celia was delighted and had even declared it almost like “real magic,” while George was both chuffed and relieved. With what George thought of as terrible timing, Fred wandered over to remind him that they needed to head back for dinner. Reluctantly, George had said good-bye to Celia.
As they walked to the village for the second time in three weeks, George nervously tapped his pocket to make certain that he had remembered his deck of cards, since he was planning on performing a new trick for Celia. He had continued to learn more of the Muggle magic tricks from the book, which he had borrowed in from his father in secret, lest he get overexcited that George had a latent interest in Muggles. Sales of Muggle magic items at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes had been slow at first, so George had begun learning the tricks so that he could perform demonstrations. Though he found them dull at first, George had taken a liking to them with a bit of practice. After his own experience, George was not surprised to find that the customers enjoyed the cards when they realized what Muggles actually did with them.
George had often thought of Celia since their first meeting, and hoped that he had made half the impression on her that she had made on him. He could still picture her in his mind: she was trim, a crisp green apron tied around her waist, almost as tall as him, with her smooth blond hair pulled back in a neat ponytail. His favorite thing about her was the dimple that flashed in her cheek when she smiled.
“George? Hello? Anyone home?”
“Oh, sorry. Were you saying something?”
“Yeah, I was saying that I wish I could see Ginny’s face when Mum tells her that Fleur is staying in her room over Christmas,” said Fred.
“Yeah, I’m sure she’ll be thrilled,” George replied hazily.
After a period of silence, Fred continued. “You don’t really think Percy would have the nerve to show up for Christmas, do you?”
“No,” said George. “And it’s just as well. We don’t want him around.”
“No, but Mum does,” said Fred, echoing George’s own opinion.
“I know,” said George quietly. “I think it’s going to be hard on her when he doesn’t come. I’m hoping our gift will cheer her up a bit.”
As they shuffled through the snow, the overgrown countryside became tamer; the trees thinned out, houses cropped up along the hills, and the gravel road turned to pavement. They each walked in one of the tire treads left by Muggle cars until they crossed over a wooden bridge, where the melted snow had left the boards wet and drops of water slipped through the cracks and trickled into the stream below.
They entered the village and the main road stretched ahead of them, until it wound around a corner and disappeared. Side streets branched out from it like long fingers. Most of the small shops were connected to each other, each with its own glass front window display. The larger businesses were separate buildings, though, as George had previously noted, none of them were as tall as the Burrow. Banks of snow separated the streets from the footpaths, which had been swept clean. Muggles hurried about here and there and George assumed that they were finishing their Christmas shopping.
Stopping in front of a candy shop, George paused to check his reflection in their window. He ran his fingers through his hair to smooth it, and then tousled it, wondering if Celia would prefer a more casual look.
Beside him, Fred sighed dramatically, folded his arms, and leaned against a wall. “Are you trying to become the next Gilderoy Lockhart?”
“Do you think she’ll remember me?” George asked, doubt creeping into his mind.
“Of course,” said Fred reassuringly. “How could she forget the Weasley charm?”
George smiled nervously, tugged on the cuffs of his coat, and turned to face Fred. “How do I look?”
“Smashing. You’re a handsome devil, George. Almost as handsome as I am,” said Fred, one eyebrow raised.
George laughed, a little of his tension broken. “Your looks are only surpassed by your modesty, Fred.”
“I do my best,” Fred replied, shrugging his shoulders.
They walked a short distance until they came to the paper shop where Celia worked. Its front window was brightly lit, with a display of piles of candy, newspapers from all over England, and a shiny stack of tinned fruits and vegetables in the shape of a pyramid. Fred pointed to sign advertising lottery tickets. “Where was that when we needed it?” he asked darkly.
George pulled on the black handle of the shop’s worn wooden door and heard a bell ding over his head. At the sound, Celia glanced up from her spot behind the counter. George gave her what he thought of as his most charming smile, and felt a tingle run down his back when she smiled back at him. He passed through a short aisle lined with bags of crisps and boxes of candy and made his way towards her, with Fred following slightly behind him.
There was one other customer in the store, an old man waiting at the counter. Celia handed the man some Muggle coins as change. “Thank you, Mr. Davies. Happy Christmas,” she said warmly.
“Thank you, same to you,” the man said as he headed out.
Now that he was face-to-face with her again, George found that his nerves had returned in full force.
“Hello again, Celia,” he said, his mouth suddenly very dry. George fidgeted, unable to decide whether to place his hands by his sides, in his coat pockets, or on the counter. He ended up shoving his cold hands in his pockets, and hoping that Celia had not noticed his awkwardness.
“Hello, George,” she said, her warm brown eyes twinkling in the light. He saw that her hair was down, not pulled back as it had been the day they met. George thought that she was even prettier than he remembered. He had just spotted a blush creeping across her face when Fred, who had just cleared his throat, distracted him.
“Hi, Celia,” said Fred, smiling.
“Hello to you to, Fred. What brings you two in tonight? Anything I can help you with?” Celia asked, and George could not help but be pleased when she quickly turned her attention back to him. He noticed her long, delicate fingers as she tucked her hair behind her ear.
“We were just in the area and thought we’d stop in,” said George. “But I have to admit, the wonderful service here is quite a draw.” Feeling more confident, he took his hands out of his pockets and leaned an elbow on the counter.
Just as George opened his mouth, an older woman emerged from a back doorway and came to stand beside Celia, her arms folded in a protective posture. The woman adjusted her glasses and fixed Fred and George with a knowing look. “Can I help you boys?”
George had not expected this at all, since Celia had been working alone the first time he met her. He cleared his throat and took his elbow off the counter. “We’re all set, thank you. Celia was doing an excellent job. We just stopped in for a…newspaper,” said George, mentioning the first thing he saw. Celia tucked her hair behind her ear again, and George wondered if it was a nervous habit.
The woman did not look convinced and George knew that he would not get another moment of Celia’s time with her looming nearby. His careful plan unraveling by the second, George turned to Fred, desperate for help.
He felt relief almost immediately, for he could tell by the look in Fred’s eyes that his brother had an idea. Fred shifted his attention back to the older woman and sprung into action. “I don’t believe we’ve met,” said Fred, offering his hand to the woman. “I’m Fred Weasley, and this is my brother, George.”
“I’m Margaret, Celia’s aunt. This is my shop,” she replied, as she took Fred’s hand and shook it in a polite, but slightly cool, manner. George mustered up a weak smile when Margaret looked at him.
“Celia’s aunt!” Fred gasped dramatically, his hand on his chest. “Pardon my surprise, but you look so young that I had just assumed that you were Celia’s older sister.” George held his breath, knowing that this was a risky move.
“Celia is most definitely my niece,” said Margaret, looking at Fred as if she saw right through his act, although the corner of her mouth twitched, as if she was fighting off a smile.
“Margaret, I’m a believer in taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves,” Fred continued. “So I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask a successful business woman such as yourself for some tips. You see, my brother and I are thinking of opening our own shop.”
“Oh really? What sort of shop?” Margaret asked, seemingly interested.
“Novelty items mostly,” said Fred. “Magic tricks and such. My brother George is quite good at card tricks actually. Isn’t that right, Celia?”
“Oh, yes,” said Celia, turning to her aunt. “George does wonderful tricks, Auntie.” She smiled at George, who made a mental note to thank Fred for that later.
“Well, knowing how to do tricks is all well and good, but it’s not easy to run your own business. And I don’t know if that sort of thing would be very profitable. Although,” said Margaret, her voice trailing off. “Now’s the time to try. I wasn’t much older than you boys when I opened this place. And I could have done with some friendly advice when I was starting out.”
“I’d happily take any tips you’d be kind enough to give me,” said Fred. George took in Margaret’s curious expression, and it seemed as though Fred’s charm was winning her over.
“All right, Mr. Weasley. What would you like to know?” Margaret asked.
“Well, Margaret, I couldn’t help but notice your well laid-out window display. That must bring a lot of customers in. How did you decide where to put everything?” Fred asked, taking a few steps closer to the window.
“I wanted to give people an idea of what we have to offer,” she replied, following Fred.
“Oh, and please call me Peggy. Most people do,” Margaret continued, smiling at Fred.
Celia and George exchanged an amused look. She started to giggle and covered her mouth with her hand. Seeing that Fred had succeeded in luring Margaret away from the counter, George turned his attention back to Celia.
“I’m glad you stopped in, George,” said Celia. “It’s nice to see you again.”
“Nice to see you, too,” George replied. “So, do you work here all the time?”
“No, I’m just helping out my Auntie while I’m on break from university.”
“Oh, you go to university? What do you study?”
“A bit of everything right now. I’m a bit aimless, I’m afraid,” she said, smiling a little. “What about you? Are you in school?”
“Not at the moment, no,” said George, his mind flashing back to flying out of Hogwarts on a broomstick with Fred.
“Do you live in town?” Celia asked, her head tilted.
George started to panic; he couldn’t just tell her that he had grown up on the outskirts of the village in a tall house held up by magic. He had no idea how to answer her questions without telling her that he was a wizard, something he didn’t think either of them was ready for. But at the same time, he did not want to lie to her.
“Uh, we’re just visiting for Christmas, they live out by the edge of the village,” George muttered, gesturing towards Fred. George glanced at his brother, and saw that he was acting very interested in what Margaret had to say. Turning back to Celia, George could sense from her curious expression that she was about to ask him which family he was visiting.
Thinking quickly, George reached into his pocket and slipped one of the Muggle cards on the top of his hand between his index and pinkie fingers.
“Hmm, what’s that?” George asked her, looking vaguely at a spot over her shoulder. While she was still looking at his face, George swiftly reached up near her ear and, turning the card over with his thumb and index finger, produced it from behind her ear with the flick of his wrist.
“Oh, George! That was excellent! How did you do that?” Celia asked, looking at the card in George’s outstretched hand.
“Sorry, magician’s secret,” said George, tucking the card back into his pocket and smiling at her. He was still thinking of the silky texture of her hair from when his fingers had brushed against it.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was real magic?” Celia asked wistfully.
George was silent. If you only knew, he thought. He was relieved that he had avoided her unasked question about the people he was visiting, though he felt guilty for avoiding it.
“My brother had a magic kit when we were young and he used to do tricks for the whole family,” she said. George’s heart abruptly sank; he certainly did not want Celia to associate him with her brother.
The bell above the front door rang, startling George. He turned and saw a young mother enter the shop with a small boy in tow.
“We’d best get back to work,” Margaret said to Celia, as she and Fred returned to the counter. “Good luck with your future endeavors, boys.”
“Thanks, Peggy,” said Fred. “And thanks for the advice too.”
“You’re very welcome, Fred,” said Margaret.
“We should be going,” said George, motioning to Fred. Discouraged, George wondered if he had misjudged Celia’s feelings towards him and she did think of him in a brotherly way.
“Don’t be strangers now, boys,” called Margaret as they headed for the door. Fred and George turned back and waved.
“Yes, please stop by again,” Celia called, looking directly at George. Her cheeks flushed pink and she quickly dropped her gaze, as if she was surprised by her own boldness.
“We will,” said George, his spirits suddenly lifted. “Bye Peggy!” Fred called, as they left the shop and headed down the footpath.
“Dad would love this place,” said Fred, as he looked around the village at all the Muggle cars and buildings.
“You’ve got that right,” said George, laughing. “Now we know why Mum doesn’t let him come here much, he’d never leave.”
“Thanks for your help back there,” George added.
“No problem. She actually has some good ideas,” replied Fred. “She said she runs a lot of specials. The specials themselves don’t bring in much money, but they create more foot traffic and people end up buying other things. I think we should try it. I mean, the shop is doing great but I think we can do even better.”
“Sounds like you two got on well. Going to ask Peggy for a date?” George teased.
“I don’t think so,” Fred laughed.
“Well, I must have misunderstood things,” said George, in a tone of mock confusion. “You seemed to be having a lovely time. She seems just your type. I bet Mum would like her.”
“Get off it,” said Fred, laughing and playfully punching George on the shoulder.
“I have to say, I’m a little disappointed to hear that,” said George. “I was hoping that we could go on a double date.”
Fred looked at George with a smirk on his face.
“Seriously, though. I owe you one,” George continued. “Maybe I can chat up Verity for you. I could tell her about all your wonderful talents and sing your praises, that sort of thing.”
“Verity?” Fred replied, a surprised look on his face.
“Yes, you know, the lovely blond witch who works in our shop. You can’t fool me, Fred. I’ve seen how you look at her when you think no one is around,” said George playfully, wanting the same kind of happiness for Fred that he had at that moment.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Fred, waving his hand dismissively.
“That doesn’t sound like much of a denial,” said George, who could tell by Fred’s quick look away that he had hit close to the mark.
“So, what did Celia think of your new trick?” Fred asked, in an obvious attempt to change the subject.
“She really liked it,” said George proudly. “She seems to like magic. She told me that her brother had a Muggle magic kit when they were kids and he used to do tricks for their family.”
As they crossed back over the wooden bridge, Fred wondered aloud about what types of things would be in a Muggle magic kit, and how it might be something they should stock for their shop. George nodded absently, but Fred’s voice faded away as he found himself still thinking of Celia. He had only left her shop minutes earlier, but he was already looking forward to the next time he would see her.
He wanted more than a few minutes of conversation in between customers. With a sinking realization, George knew that if he wanted to spend more time with her he would have to pluck up his courage and ask her on a real date. This was a daunting task, as George was aware that he had never really done this before. He had been on several casual dates at Hogsmeade, but it was a much different prospect to ask a girl out properly. Even if she accepted, where would he take her?
Though George very much liked the idea of going on a real date with Celia, he was worried about how he could keep from telling her that he was a wizard without lying to her. Having grown up in a magical family, he wasn’t even sure how wizards and witches went about telling Muggles who they really were. Things had been so much easier just a few hours before, when George’s only concern had been impressing a pretty girl.
But now George knew that he could develop real feelings for Celia, and eventually he would have to think of a way to tell her about himself. He turned her offhand comment over in his mind. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was real magic?” In the back of his mind, he was already trying to figure out a way to tell her that he was a real wizard. He imagined the different reactions she could have. Would she be angry that he had dodged her questions from the start? Would she want anything to do with him? If she were upset at first, would she come around? Could she accept him and try to see things from his point of view? With all the current danger in the wizarding world, would he be compromising her safety if he revealed himself?
But in his mind he could see Celia’s face and hear her genuine laugh as though she were standing next to him. He loved the thought of spending time more time with her and getting to know her better. And knowing that she wanted to see him again made his steps feel light. He decided that he would take things slowly and focus for now on a way to ask her on a date.
Unexpectedly, George felt a plop of snow hit the side of his head. “What was that for?” he asked Fred, smiling and brushing the snow out of his hair.
“You haven’t been listening to a word I’ve said,” said Fred, laughing. “And you were grinning to yourself like an idiot. You really like her, don’t you?”
“Is it that obvious?” George smiled at the knowledge that Fred had known exactly what he was thinking.
“Yeah, but you shouldn’t worry too much,” said Fred.
“Why’s that?” George wondered.
“Because you’ve got me for a coach. Otherwise, I’m afraid you’d be considered a hopeless case,” said Fred.
In one continuous motion, George stooped down, scooped up a handful of snow, and tossed it at Fred. Fred had started to turn in anticipation, and the snowball connected with his shoulder. Fred and George flung snowballs at each other all the way back to the Burrow, their fingers leaving trails in the wet snow and their laughter ringing out in the still winter air.