Disclaimer: Thanks to J.K.Rowling for creating Harry Potter and his world and letting people play in it. And thanks to Gabriella Du Sult for inspiring me with George/Padma and to St Margarets for Jack Jordan and other next generation inspiration.
Chapter 1 - Diagon Alley
London looked beautiful. The sky above the eclectic mix of old and new buildings that Ben loved was a steel grey tinted with pink. His own flat was on the fifth floor of one of London’s ugliest buildings: a 1960’s concrete block which dominated the surrounding area with its dirty, uncared-for appearance. Still, you could see the river and Canary Wharf and the Gherkin. If you climbed up the service staircase onto the roof, then on a clear night you could even see some stars.
On this particular overcast morning, Ben wasn’t looking at the architecture of the buildings around him. He walked eagerly, glad to have good news to share with his family. Even they would appreciate this news; understand that it was important, an achievement. He felt the first drops of rain and laughed, buttoning up his dark blue overcoat and turning down a small alleyway.
There were not many passers by. Ben eyed them all carefully, looking for the telltale signs: someone wearing strange garments or looking ill at ease in apparently normal clothing; someone looking around furtively or slipping their arms around his waist from behind and…
‘What are you doing here?’ shrieked a female voice. ‘I thought you were working today.’
Reluctantly, Ben freed himself from the warm, fragrant figure embracing him and turned to look at her. A small, dark-haired girl with demanding eyes and promising lips confronted him, hands on hips.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I think you wanted my brother.’
Her lips formed an O. ‘You’re…’
‘Ben Weasley. And you’re?’
‘Zoe. Zoe Harris.’ She shook her head disbelievingly. ‘I’m sorry, I…’
‘It’s fine. It’s an easy mistake to make.’ He smiled.
‘You look just like him.’ Ben shrugged. He knew that. ‘But you’re…’
She obviously knew so he made it easy for her. ‘A Squib. Yes.’
Her eyes widened and he noticed that they were the exact colour of Honeyduke’s butterscotch chocolate.
‘I shouldn’t have said that.’
‘You didn’t,’ he pointed out.
Zoe hid her face in her hands. ‘Mouth open, foot in, that’s me. Forgive me?’
Amused, Ben reached up and pulled her hands away. ‘On one condition.’
She looked up at that, surprised but intrigued. ‘What?’
Take me in to Diagon Alley. I need to see Dad and I can’t get in on my own.’
‘Oh. Of course.’ She crossed over to the entrance and tapped the wall with her wand. ‘There.’
‘Thank you.’ He stepped through and raised a hand to say goodbye.
‘Can I come with you?’
Ben paused and turned back to look at her. She’d gone bright red and was biting her lip. The rain had grown heavier and water was dripping from her chin. She looked gorgeous. She was his brother’s girlfriend. ‘Sorry?’
‘Can I come? To the shop? With you?’
He shook himself. ‘Sure. Why not?’
Quickly, Zoe scrambled through the entrance after him and tucked her hand into his arm. ‘Great. I’ve run out of Ton-Tongue Toffee and it’s the best thing for persuading my boss to listen to me. He can’t resist a square of toffee after lunch, so I just unwrap it and slip it in and tell him what I’ve decided when he’s in no position to argue.’
Ben laughed. ‘Brilliant. What was the last thing you persuaded him to do?’
‘That.’ Zoe pointed across the street to the window display in Flourish and Blotts. Books were piled high in colour co-ordinated stacks. Large signs announced that customers purchasing any of the featured volumes could have them Charmed into their chosen colour scheme.
‘I don’t get it.’
‘Well, think. Where do most people keep their books?’
‘Umm. In a bookshelf?’ he tried.
‘And where are most bookshelves?’ Zoe persisted.
‘In libraries? Studies?’ She was still looking unimpressed.
‘Most people keep books on show in their sitting rooms,’ she informed him.
‘So,’ she continued patiently, ‘how long do you think the average woman spends choosing curtains or paint colours or furnishings for her sitting room?’
Ben shrugged, completely out of his depth by now.
‘A long time. But she has no control over the books that she has to put in there. Until now.’
Privately, Ben was starting to feel a lot of sympathy with Zoe’s boss.
‘And, er, has this been a successful promotion?’
She frowned. ‘Not quite in the way I expected. People keep asking for their books to be Charmed to match the ones they already have. They like tatty leather in brown or black best.’
‘What colour would you have?’
‘Pink,’ she responded instantly. ‘And turquoise. And mocha. And the occasional deep chocolate brown.’
‘Like your eyes,’ interrupted Ben before he could stop himself.
But Zoe just laughed and agreed. ‘Yes, I suppose so.’
Ben ducked instinctively when he entered Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes but there was no evidence of any practical joke, so he nodded to Zoe to follow. Immediately a shower of purple rain drops descended, causing her hair and robes to turn to a shimmering violet.
‘Impressive,’ observed Ben.
‘Hope it doesn’t last,’ giggled Zoe. ‘I’ve got to be back at work in ten minutes and I can’t see my boss being taken with this look.’
‘No, it should be fine,’ said a tall, red haired man appearing from the back of the shop. ‘Hello, young Ben.’
‘Hi, Uncle Fred.’
‘And who’s this lovely lady?’ inquired Fred with a knowing look.
‘Zoe Harris, Fred Weasley. Zoe’s a… friend of Bert’s.’
‘Is she now?’ asked Fred, taking Zoe’s hand and kissing it gallantly. ‘What a shame. Did you want your father?’ He addressed his final question to Ben.
‘In the back.’ Fred nodded to indicate Ben should go through.
‘Right. Well, it was nice to meet you Zoe.’ Ben smiled and, for the second time, raised a hand to sketch a farewell wave.
For the second time, she stopped him. ‘Can I have your phone number?’
‘You do have a phone number?’
Ben nodded in amazement. Most witches and wizards he knew hadn’t so much as heard of a telephone.
She smiled, though she was blushing furiously. ‘So I can phone you sometime?’
He acknowledged this but shook his head. ‘Sorry. I don’t think that would be a good idea. Sorry.’
‘Can’t blame a girl for trying,’ Zoe commented to Fred who had watched the whole scene with evident interest.
‘Are you really going out with Bert?’ he asked bluntly.
Zoe looked him straight in the eye. ‘We’ve been out a few times since school. I wouldn’t say I was his girlfriend.’
Fred nodded. ‘Right. Well, I’m prepared to do you a deal, Zoe Harris. If you break it off with Bert - properly - then I’ll get you his,’ he jerked his thumb towards the back of the shop, ‘number.’
She tilted her head consideringly. ‘And why would you do that?’
Fred laughed. ‘Because I think you might be good for our Ben. He’s not had a lot of fun.’ Zoe nodded thoughtfully. ‘But he won’t enjoy being messed about. He’s not like his brother, do you see?’
‘Yes, I see. Or at least, I’m beginning to.’ She held out her hand. ‘You’ve got a deal, Mr Weasley. Oh!’
She looked down at her robes and grinned. ‘I can go back to work after all. Still raining, though. Ah, well, here goes.’ Fred watched her run blindly down the road ricocheting off three wizards and a lamppost before she reached the staff entrance to Flourish and Blotts.
Padma reached for a cloth to wipe her hands on and went through to the sitting room. ‘Bert? I thought you were working today?’
Ben twisted his mouth wryly and once again identified himself. ‘It’s me, Mum.’
‘Ben, darling!’ She knelt before the fireplace wreathed in smiles. ‘How lovely to see you. Is everything all right?’
He raised a knowing eyebrow. ‘Been worrying about me, have you?’
Padma shrugged. ‘You know me, darling. I always worry about you.’
‘Well, I’m fine. In fact, I have some good news.’ She waited. ‘I’ve been offered the job. Trainee accountant.’
‘Oh darling, that’s so wonderful. I’m so pleased for you. So proud. Does your father know? When did you find out? Oh, we must have a dinner to celebrate. Only Amy’s in Norway and your brother’s…’
‘…working, apparently. Yes, I know.’
Padma stopped talking. ‘Sorry. I’m just so happy for you. You are pleased, aren’t you?’
He gave her one of those broad smiles that reminded her so powerfully of George when he was still a teenager. ‘Yes. I’m really pleased. I know it’ll be hard work, but this way I can be independent and secure.’
Padma frowned. ‘You know we’ll always help you.’
‘I know, Mum. But you know it’s not that easy and I really want to do this.’
‘You always were the independent one. Can you come for dinner tonight?’
Ben nodded. ‘I’ll come along with Dad later.’
‘Great. I’ll do a proper feast.’
‘With naan bread?’ he asked hopefully. It was his favourite but Padma rarely made it since the tandoori oven took so much effort to light and work.
‘Yes, all right and I’ll get some ice cream.’
‘You’re the best, Mum.’
‘Cup of tea?’ Fred pushed a mug across the table to his nephew.
‘Thanks.’ Ben sat down and looked from his uncle to his father, noticing, as he always did, the tiny differences between the faces which so many thought were identical. Two pairs of bright blue eyes were fixed on him. Both held the same mixture of pride and concern and curiosity. ‘Well?’ he asked, ‘Who’s going first?’
‘Congratulations on the job,’ offered Fred.
‘Thanks.’ Ben sipped his tea and waited.
‘Nice girl,’ observed George.
‘I didn’t think you met her.’
‘I’ve met her before.’
‘With your brother.’
‘Right.’ Ben lifted his mug and refused to meet his father’s eye. ‘Anything I can do to help while I’m here?’
‘Well, we need someone to test…’ began Fred.
Ben put his hands up in defence, ‘Not a chance. In fact, I think perhaps there’s some shopping I ought to do. It’s Laura’s birthday next week.’
‘She might like a Pygmy Puff,’ suggested George.
‘Dad! She’s not thirteen anymore.’
‘I’ll have you know that women of all ages buy those things.’
‘Yeah, right. But I bet they prefer to be given something a bit more grown up.’
‘Whatever you think. Be back by five. I promised your mother I wouldn’t be late home.’
‘Fine.’ Ben stuck a hand in his pocket and brought out a small pile of coins. ‘Do you have any gold I could borrow? I wasn’t really thinking when I came out and I’ve only got Muggle money here.’
George brought out a small bag. ‘Here. Get your cousin something decent.’
‘Wow! Thanks, Dad.’ Ben went to leave then remembered something and turned back. ‘Mind if I have this?’ He picked up a bag of Ton-Tongue Toffee. George looked surprised but shook his head.
‘Five Galleons says he goes straight to Flourish and Blotts?’ offered Fred.
‘No bet,’ said George, striding across to watch his son through the shop window. ‘Do you think she’ll break his heart?’
‘I think she’ll be the making of him,’ prophesied Fred. ‘Now, since we couldn’t persuade your son to act as guinea pig, I suppose we’d better get started on those Lookalike Lozenges ourselves.’
‘What’s up with Ben?’ wondered Padma much later that evening. ‘He hardly said anything at dinner. Do you think he’s worried about this job?’
‘He’s met a girl,’ George informed her.
‘Really?’ Padma’s eyes lit up.
George flicked her nose. ‘Yes, really. But don’t get too excited. I don’t think it’s going to be smooth sailing.’
Padma pulled away slightly. ‘Why? What’s wrong?’
‘Well…’ George dropped a kiss on his wife’s creased brow. ‘Don’t screech,’ he warned her. ‘It’s Zoe Harris.’
‘Zoe?’ Padma looked at him in amazement. ‘Bert’s Zoe?’ she clarified.
‘That’s the one,’ he nodded ruefully. ‘From what I can gather, he ran into her in Diagon Alley today. Fred said they couldn’t keep their eyes off each other.’
‘Oh no.’ Padma sat down heavily on the bed and her shoulders sagged.
‘He spent the afternoon in Flourish and Blotts, claiming to be buying a birthday present for Laura.’
‘Laura? A book?’
‘Oh, George.’ Padma reached for her husband and hid her face in his shoulder. ‘I want him to be happy, so much. More than any of the others.’
‘I know, sweetheart.’ He stroked her silky hair and let her crawl into his lap. ‘I do too.’
‘Did you and Fred ever, you know, fall for the same girl?’
George laughed and Padma snuggled closer. ‘No, sweetheart. But then we were lucky. We found two beautiful girls - one each.’
‘Cute, Weasley. Very cute.’
‘Thank you.’ He bent and kissed her. ‘You can’t do anything about it, you know.’
She let her hands curl up into his hair. ‘I know, but I can still worry.’
George shifted slightly so he could kiss Padma’s collar bone. ‘You can certainly do that.’ He could feel the tension in her shoulders. ‘Just relax, sweetheart.’ He lifted her onto the bed and began to soothe away Padma’s anxiety. ‘Hey, this is bad.’ He leaned down to catch Padma’s eye. ‘Have you been worrying about your other son as well?’
She turned her face away. ‘Might have been,’ she mumbled.
‘Padma?’ George asked sternly.
‘Oh, all right,’ she admitted, rolling onto her front so she could look up at him. ‘I’m terrified that Bert’s going to do something completely unnecessarily brave and foolish and end up in St Mungo’s or…or worse.’ She brushed away a tear. ‘And I’m worried that Amy’s miserable in Norway with no friends. And I’m afraid that Annette thinks her life is wasted now that she’s pregnant and that she won’t know what to do with the babies and that… that husband of hers won’t be any use. And now you tell me Ben’s met Zoe Harris and he can’t keep his eyes off her.’
‘Ever wonder why we were so pleased when you fell pregnant?’ George winked at her.
‘If we knew then…’
‘…what we know now. Would you have done it?’ He wasn’t smiling any more.
Padma nodded. ‘Without hesitation. Think of all the good days. Teaching the girls to fly.’
‘Bert’s first magic,’ countered George.
Padma laughed. Aged three and a half, Bert had evidently decided that it would be better if all the presents under the Christmas tree were for him. There had been total confusion when present after present was found to bear a label saying ‘For Bert,’ with no indication of who had sent it or who it was really intended for. Amy and Annette had argued for months about their share of the gifts and there were some items that no one could imagine any of them being given. Bert had worn a smugly contented smile for days. ‘I still think that My Little Porlock kitchen set was meant for me.’
George smiled. ‘No, it was definitely Fred’s idea of a joke to give it to me.’
‘Ben nearly drowning in the lake when he built that canoe.’
‘That’s your good memory?’
‘Mmm. He looked so happy and excited when you pulled him out. Do you remember?’ Padma’s eyes sparkled at the memory. ‘He kept saying “I almost did it, Mum. I almost did it!” I couldn’t help kissing him even with all the smelly weed in his hair.’
‘You always knew when to kiss them,’ murmured George.
‘Never knew how to stop worrying about them.’
‘Bet I can stop you.’ George rolled on top of her and tugged at her pyjama top.
‘Go on then, I dare you to try.’
And, for the next half an hour or so, Padma didn’t give any one of her children a single thought.
Over in Diagon Alley, a man walked into the Leaky Cauldron and demanded a Firewhiskey. ‘And make it large and strong.’
Zoe slipped off her chair and went over to him.
‘Long day,’ she remarked.
‘It’s not over yet, gorgeous.’ Bert Weasley gazed down at her and for the first time Zoe realised why his face had never quite looked right to her. When he smiled, his lip curled higher on the right hand side.
Ben’s lip curled higher on the left.
‘Actually, it is,’ said Zoe. ‘Over, I mean. Between us.’
Bert didn’t say anything but he called the barman over and ordered another drink.
‘So, um, is that okay?’
‘Fine. Met someone else?’ He didn’t sound interested.
‘Yes, actually, I have.’ She fiddled with the ends of her scarf to stop herself from putting her hand on his arm and kissing away some of his bad mood.
‘Great. Good luck, then.’
‘Thanks.’ Zoe drew a deep breath. She had to tell him. It was only fair. ‘See you around.’ She couldn’t.
Besides, Ben hadn’t given her any encouragement. Maybe there wouldn’t even be any point telling him.
‘Whatever.’ He’d called for a third Firewhiskey and hardly seemed to notice when she got up and left.