George Weasley wondered how long he’d been staring idly at the spot on the wall between the window and the corner. He didn’t try to figure it out, however, because the answer didn’t interest him.
He sat in the guest room of his brother’s house, in a low, slouchy chair, watching the walls turn grey in the waning light.
The chair was from his bedroom at the Burrow; he and Fred used to fight over it. Before the funeral, the sight of it made him so desperate with grief that his sister-in-law Fleur had offered to keep it for a while. But when Bill invited him to visit yesterday and he was confronted with the chair once more, he’d felt nothing.
That’s what he felt about everything lately — nothing.
And that’s what he’d been doing all this week — nothing.
He’d start a task, perhaps something his mum set for him, but his thoughts would drift away. Someone would find him hours later, staring off into space. He would have no memory of the time that had passed, and no feeling that time had passed at all.
Or he would decide to make himself useful by organizing his dad’s Muggle widgets or repotting his mum’s herbs, only to find that he couldn’t remember the steps needed to complete the job. He supposed he should be worried about this, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.
In his hand George held a condolence card. It had only three lines, but he’d been reading them over and over all day. He couldn’t decide how he felt about the message, because he had apparently lost the capacity to feel, so he tried to decide what he thought about the message, and he decided it was really the only useful idea he’d received since Fred had died.
He was wondering vaguely if he’d missed supper, when he was startled by a silvery Patronus that shot through the room.
The Patronus was the first thing in two weeks to capture George’s complete attention. It could be good news, it could be bad, but either way, he felt he just had to know its message.
He ran after it as it zoomed through the cottage and out to the beach, where Bill and Fleur were sitting in wooden chairs, enjoying the gentle waves as the tide came in. George reached them just as the Patronus stopped in front of Bill. It was an otter, and in Hermione’s voice it said,
“Bill, we need your help! Bring your curse-breaking kit and meet us at the Burrow right away. This is urgent! There’s a demon at Hogwarts!”
The Otter dissolved into a silvery mist. Bill, Fleur, and George all stared at each other for a moment.
“What did it say?” asked Fleur.
Bill asked George, “Didn’t you say Ron and Hermione were going to Hogwarts today?”
Bill leapt to his feet and ran to the cottage. Over his shoulder he called, “You two get to the Burrow and tell them I’ll be there as soon as I pack my kit!”
George and Fleur apparated into the Weasley’s garden, startling Molly and Arthur, who were enjoying tea and biscuits on the patio.
“Well, hello dears, what brings —“ Molly noticed their faces. “What’s the matter?”
“‘Ermione called for Bill,” said Fleur. “He sent us ahead to say he is packing his kit.”
“What’s that you say?” said Arthur, rising and looking alarmed. “Hermione isn’t here. She and Ron are…”
They heard raised voices from inside. As one, they all drew their wands and raced toward the sound.
Ron and Hermione were in the living room, still dusty with ash from the floo network. Hermione was in tears as she paced the floor, shaking her fists in the air. Ron stood helplessly by the fireplace, watching her like a confunded Quidditch spectator.
“What’s wrong with me, Ronald?” she shouted. “I used to be so brave! Nothing bothered me, not even the thought of dying. And now look at me! I was too frightened to draw my wand!”
Ron attempted to block Hermione and touch her, but she just spun off in another direction.
“But what were you frightened of?” he asked desperately. “Why did you need your wand?”
“Seamus was going to Obliviate me!”
Ron saw his family standing at the doorway and mouthed, “Help me!”
They eased into the room as Ron attempted again to block Hermione.
“That can’t be right, Hermione! Why would Seamus Obliviate you?”
“Because of what I saw!”
“Weren’t you just at… a tea?” asked Molly of Ron, sounding bewildered.
“Yes, Mum,” said Ron. “And Hermione….. Hermione!”
Ron finally managed to leap right in front of Hermione, forcing her to stop in her tracks.
“Seamus didn’t have a wand.”
Hermione spun to march off again, but stopped as Ron’s words sunk in.
“What?” She turned to look at him.
Ron continued, “I saw the whole thing, because I was looking for you. It looked like Seamus was inviting you to dance, and then you started screaming. He didn’t have a wand in his hand.”
Hermione grabbed fistfulls of Ron’s shirt and pulled his face closer to hers.
“You saw it? You saw it, too?”
Ron awkwardly attempted to remove Hermione’s hands as he said, “Saw what? I’m telling you, Seamus wasn’t trying to curse you!”
George heard the back door open, then heavy footsteps walking quickly through the house. A moment later, Bill entered the room, shrugging off a heavy canvas backpack.
“You say the demon was trying to curse you?”
“Bill! Thank Merlin you’re here!” said Hermione, finally releasing Ron.
“Demon?” said Ron incredulously. “Hermione, Seamus is not a demon!”
Molly put her hands on Hermione’s shoulders.
“I think you’re overtired, dear,” she said gently. “And perhaps the punch was a little strong?” She looked at Ron, who nodded.
Hermione pulled away from Molly. “The demon isn’t Seamus — it’s Serena Serpentia!”
“Adjoua Kouassi’s daughter?” asked Molly.
“Wasn’t she just visiting Ginny?” added Arthur.
Hermione rushed to Bill and said, “She Disapparated from the common room, but not in the normal way — which no one can do within the walls of Hogwarts, anyway. It looked like she dissolved into a flurry of shiny black pebbles and red sparks. I’ve read about this in a book from the restricted section of the library: “Beings Moste Evile.”
“I’ve never heard of such a thing, have you Arthur?” Molly asked her husband.
Arthur furrowed his brow as he said, “No, I haven’t.”
“Hermione, are you sure about this?” asked Ron.
When Hermione threw him a dirty look, Ron stammered, “I… I’m sorry if it sounds like I’m accusing you of being mental, but the room was packed! Someone would have seen something like that.”
Bill looked grim as he said, “That’s what I’m afraid of. Hermione, this is very important: Did anyone else see this girl dissolve away?”
Hermione thought carefully. “The only one I’m certain of, besides me, is Seamus Finnegan. I overheard them arguing. Well, actually, I was eavesdropping. There was just something odd about her and Seamus dancing together!”
“Something disgusting, you mean!” exclaimed Ron, aghast. “Dunno how I missed that.”
Hermione ignored him. “They were at the back of the room, and I was hiding behind a bookshelf. The lights were very low, and everyone was dancing. It’s definitely possible that no one else noticed.”
“What did you overhear?” asked Bill.
Again, Hermione thought hard. “She was leaving, and he wanted to walk her out, and she refused. He said she had promised to walk out, and she said —“
Hermione spoke more quickly and looked more excited as she recalled the conversation.
“— no one would notice because Dean had spiked the punch! I didn’t know what she meant, but it all makes sense now! She meant no one would notice her Disapparating, or whatever she did. He was holding her arm very tightly, and she tried to trick him into letting her go, and finally she hurt him in some way and he swore and she… dissolved.”
“And what happened then?”
Hermione swallowed several times, and looked as though she were about to cry again. Ron came up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders. This time she didn’t pull away.
In a tremulous voice she said, “I was just so scared. I don’t know why. I don’t normally get frightened like that. I was simply terrified!”
“Do you think Serpentia did something to her?” asked Ron of Bill.
It was Arthur who answered. “No,” he said soberly, “I think this is a sign that Hermione is taking on too much too soon after living through some terrible things.”
Hermione opened her mouth to protest, but Arthur raised his hand.
“No, Hermione, I know what I’m talking about. I’ve lived through two wizarding wars, and I also work at the Ministry. You’re not the only witch to need a bit of a break before getting on with her life.”
Ron told Bill, “Hermione was just telling me that she thought Seamus was going to Obliviate her. But I saw both of them as soon as she started screaming, and I swear I didn’t see a wand in his hand.”
“But it does sound like this Seamus is in the know, so to speak, one way or another,” said Molly. At Hermione’s look, she added, “It does sound like the punch was a little strong.”
Fleur spoke up. “If anyone else ‘ad seen them, would they not have been surprised enough to scream also, even if they did not know what it means?”
Bill shook his head and said, “Not if they do know what it means, and they don’t care. This girl — do any of you know her family?”
Molly said, “Your father and I know her grandparents quite well, and you’ve met them too, Bill; they joined us at the tombs the last time you gave us a tour. They’re a very old wizarding family from Côte d’Ivoire. Her mother, Adjoua, married an American named Serpentia. I don’t know anything about him, except that he went to Durmstrang. But I really can’t believe — ”
Bill interrupted, “I know a Serpentia. He was in my year at Hogwarts. He transferred over from an American school to be a Beater on the Slytherin Quidditch team. I’ll start with them.”
He lifted his pack again and kissed Fleur on the cheek. “I’m off to Hogwarts. I need to speak with McGonagall.”
George had been following the conversation with mounting interest, and by the end, some actual emotion. For the hundredth time, he looked at the condolence card he still held in his hand, the one he’d received by raven at Fred’s funeral.
He couldn’t quite identify the way he was feeling, he thought as he fingered the card, but if he had to describe it, the feeling was….
A Wednesday in July of 1996 brought some unusual visitors to George and Fred’s new joke shop in Diagon Alley.
It was an unusually quiet day, and George wondered if it had been a mistake to fill the entire front window with their newly-expanded line of Wonder Witch products. Fred, however, believed that lots of women would be walking right past Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes on their way to the big summer sales at Gladrags, Twilfitt & Tattings, Teen Witch, and Madam Malkin’s. Foot traffic in Diagon Alley was falling each week as people became frightened of random Death Eater violence.
“This may be the only time they come out this summer, so we have to catch them now.” said Fred.
George was at the front counter when two beautiful witches entered the store and walked directly to the Wonder Witch display. They were greeted by the bubbly blonde shop assistant, Verity, but she quickly came to get George.
“Mr. Weasley, those ladies are owl-order customers. They’re visiting from the States, and they want to meet the inventors of Wonder Witch.”
“Really?” said George.
He took a better look at the customers, and what he saw actually made him a little nervous. In a low voice, he said, ““Verity, you… er… might want to call Fred out, too.”
“He’s not here, Mr. Weasley,” replied Verity. “He’s giving a shield hat demonstration to the Ministry.”
“Oh…right. I’d forgotten.”
George straightened his shocking fuchsia sales robes and tried to appear confident as he went to meet his unusual visitors.
Muggle-style clothing was fairly common in Diagon Alley, but these witches were dressed for another world entirely. They reminded George of the motionless women who graced the gigantic billboards in Muggle London.
One was very tall; the other only shorter by comparison. Each of them wore a shirt that ended at the ribcage and trousers that started at the hips, leaving quite a bit of skin exposed between.
The tall one wore stacked-heel boots with her blue jeans, making her seem even more like a marquee girl. Her raven-dark, wavy hair framed a face with a strong jaw and a stern expression.
The shorter one wore her beige trousers in a way that made George’s heart skip a beat. Her thick, chestnut hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail, which accentuated her huge, velvety-brown eyes.
George quickly learned that the two were sisters: Jessica (taller and older, a financial analyst for Ophidian Enterprises) and Nicole (a bit less intimidating, a student of fashion merchandising at a place called You-see-el-ay.)
George had never met magical folk who spent so much time around muggles. He’d also never met customers who were so keen to hear about the business side of Wheezes. They asked him very pointed questions.
He wasn’t sure he should reveal so much of the Wheezes’ business strategy to strangers, but he couldn’t seem to stop babbling. He felt an irrational need to impress them — well, Nicole, anyway. And a fat lot of good it was doing him; they didn’t seem particularly enthusiastic about the Wheezes’ business plan, even though he and Fred had been told they were making record profits for a new store in a bad economy.
While George was talking to the sisters, Fred’s strategy started to work. In twos and threes, witches with shopping bags from Gladrags and Teen Witch lingered by the window and then entered the shop, looking over the displays of skin creams, hair potions, and daydream kits. George was forced to turn his attention from the sisters and answer questions.
He found himself glancing back at Nicole, to see if she were still there. He hoped she wouldn’t get bored and leave before he could speak to her again.
As he was handing an “over-seventeen” daydream kit to a faintly embarrassed mum, he overheard a teen girl say, “I don’t know whether to buy something now, or wait until I go on holiday with my mum and dad. We’re visiting eight countries!”
A warm, tingly feeling ran through him as he heard Nicole reply, “Well, I have traveled the world, and I can tell you that this is the very best clarifying cream on the market.”
Looking impressed, the girl and her friends each took a jar to the register, along with vials of spot zapper and bottles of hair smoother.
“Did you really mean that?” George asked Nicole, a little awed that so beautiful a witch was so taken with a cosmetic he had invented. Well, partly invented. He’d had some help from one of his classmates at Hogwarts.
“Why do you think we wanted to meet you?” she replied. “It’s as good as the stuff my aunt makes, and she won “Potioneer of the Year” three times.”
Nicole’s compliment made George feel satisfied in a way that had nothing to do with entrepreneurship.
She continued, “We were even thinking that with a little rebranding, you could reach a whole new market, weren’t we, Jessica?”
“Mmmm…. well….. I don’t know about that.”
Looking bored, Jessica pulled some kind of device out of her pocket and glanced at it. To George it resembled one of those mobile felly-tones his dad had been admiring, but he didn’t see how it could be operating. He’d learned from Professor Burbage that Muggle machines didn’t work around magic.
Working or not, Jessica didn’t seem to do anything with it. She just said, “C’mon, we’ve seen enough here. We have to get to Twilfit’s before all the good boots are —“
She broke off as the door opened and Fred entered, dressed not in his shop robe, but in an iridescent white sharkskin suit with matching pointed-toe boots and a colorfully-striped shirt.
“Well, hello,” she said with a sly smile. “You must be the fly one.”
Fred grinned and offered his hand. “Fred Weasley, Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes’ better half.”
Without introducing her sister, Jessica asked Fred about his suit, and soon the two were talking animatedly about the fashion industry in Wizarding England. George didn’t really listen; he was busy stealing glances at Nicole, who was following the conversation.
Eventually Nicole pulled one of the mysterious devices out of her own pocket, glanced at it, and said, “Hey, Jessica! Stephanie says they’re running out of your size at Twilfit’s, so she had them put some behind the counter for you, but they’ll only hold them for an hour. Do you want to go?”
“Not yet,” said Jessica. She took Fred’s arm and led him away toward the back, saying, “I have a few ideas I’d like to run by Fred here.”
Nicole scowled, which didn’t make her look any less pretty.
“So what am I supposed to do?” she said to nobody in particular.
Huffing with annoyance, she headed for the door, calling over her shoulder to George,
“Well, nice meeting you! See you later!”
The word was out of George’s mouth before he knew it. Nicole turned back, and George’s stomach filled with butterflies. He had no idea what what to say or do next; he just knew that he didn’t want to say goodbye just yet. He blurted out the first thing that came to mind:
“Do you like ice cream?”
Which was how George came to be sitting on the patio at Florean Fortescue’s ice cream parlor, not quite believing his luck as he enjoyed ice cream sundaes with a captivating young lady. He’d left the shop to Verity and a stock boy, and Fred, of course, although Fred probably didn’t even know he was gone.
George and Nicole talked about nothing but silly stuff, and he loved it. He couldn’t remember last time he’d had a conversation without any mention of the bad economy, disappearances, Death Eaters, or You-Know-Who. It was as if none of these things had ever touched Nicole, perhaps, George thought, because she lived so far away; perhaps the place where she lived didn’t interest You-Know-Who.
They didn’t talk about business either, although Nicole did give George an idea of what Fred was discussing with her sister: placing repackaged Wonder Witch products in posh American shops owned by Ophidian Enterprises.
Nicole told George about life at You-see-el-ay, which was a Muggle university. This fascinated George — imagine going to school with Muggles! What his dad would say! Nicole insisted it wasn’t as great as it sounded. She wished she could’ve been a “Charms Girl” at the University of Magic, but she wanted to join the family business, and her family needed her to understand Muggle economics and marketing.
He learned that the little felly-tone in Nicole’s pocket was called a “sell,” and it while was similar to devices used by Muggles, it had been fortified in some way to operate in both the magical and Muggle worlds. George saw this as evidence of an exciting rebellious streak, because bewitching Muggle items was illegal, but Nicole just laughed and said it wasn’t bewitched, it was “upgraded,” and anyway, British wizarding laws were “lame.” (George was pretty sure that America’s wizarding laws were the same, but he decided not to bring it up.)
All too soon, the felly-tone told Nicole that she was to join her group of friends at a shop, and once again George found himself asking her to wait while he tried to invent a reason to see her again. It was harder this time, because she was returning to Los Angeles that very evening.
He finally asked, “How can I reach you? You know, to talk about this Wonder Witch business?”
Nicole pulled out her felly-tone and appeared to be about to say something, but then she stopped, put it back in her pocket, took a little black card of her handbag, and stopped again, looking confused.
“I don’t know!” she said. “You don’t have a phone.”
“Well, at least give me a way I can send you an owl,” said George.
Nicole handed him the little black card. Printed on one side in gold lettering was “Nicole Serpentia – Manhattan Beach.” There was other information, too, such as strings of numbers, but George’s eyes were glued to just one very odd thing.
“Your name’s Serpentia?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she said casually. “Why?”
“Er… I…” said George. “Well, I know that name.”
“Well, of course!” said Nicole, with an expression that indicated this was the most obvious thing in the world. “We own Ophidian Enterprises.”
“No….” said George, “I’ve heard it… elsewhere.”
He looked into her velvety brown eyes and felt rather cowardly for not saying exactly what was on his mind.
Nicole bit her lip, cocking her head to the side and looking up as if the sky would give her an answer. Finally she said, “Well…. my uncle had some press in England a few years back when he turned this decrepit estate his wife inherited into a private hospital.”
“Hang on!” cried George, as he remembered a minor scandal. “Wasn’t there some kind of dispute with the neighbors?”
“They were mad that he renamed the house — it was historic or something — so there were all these editorials in the Prophet. The property’s in…. Huh. I can’t remember where.”
George felt simultaneously relieved and embarrassed. He’d assumed that the Serpentias involved in the scandal were related to certain nasty Slytherins he knew from Hogwarts. He also now felt quite the prat for quizzing Nicole about her name.
“I’ve heard about that!” said George.
“Well, there you go!”
“Where am I going?”
Nicole looked at him strangely. “Okay, I’ll bite. Where are you going?”
They stared at each other for a moment, and then Nicole burst into laughter.
“And that’s… a good thing?” said George hopefully.
“Maaaaybe….” said Nicole, leaning back in her chair and pretending to evaluate him. At least, George hoped she was pretending.
“Your uncle’s property’s in Wiltshire, by the way,” said George, striving to be more helpful than weird.
“Doesn’t sound familiar,” said Nicole, sitting forward again. “I just know it’s the town where the Flints throw all their parties.”
Now, this was as nasty shock. What would a nice girl like Nicole be doing with the likes of them?
“Yeah, you know — Octavius Flint? He plays for the Wasps. And his brother Marcus just got picked up by the Falcons. About four times a year they…. What’s wrong?”
Looking puzzled, she studied George. Then she brightened.
“OH! You’ve never been invited to one!”
A sly smile crossed her face. “Don’t worry — you’re cute enough to come. Well, not wearing that.”
She made a comical face at the shirt and trousers he’d been wearing under his shop robe.
“Just a tip — never dress like a slob under your uniform, because you never know when you’ll have to take it off. If we were in L.A. you totally could not go anywhere. Anyway, there’s one at the end of the summer. I’ll hook you up.”
“I’ll get you an invite.”
“Er… thanks but… I don’t know. You see, I know Flint. Marcus. He’s….”
George wondered if he should share what he really thought of Flint.
“Oh, I know,” said Nicole with a derisive snort, which made George feel better. “Could he be a bigger jerk? But he does throw one awesome party. You just can’t sweat it when he cops an attitude. I ignore him.”
“And I suppose one shouldn’t mention his teeth?”
Nicole put her hand to her mouth and snickered. “Oh, don’t EVEN!”
George was puzzled. “Don’t even what?”
“Don’t go there!”
“But I thought…. Didn’t you say we should….”
Suddenly he heard music coming from… Nicole’s jeans? She stood, pulled the felly-tone from her pocket, did something to it, and gathered her bags.
“I really have to go!”
George stood rapidly. “Can I help you with those?”
“No, I gotta book. Thanks for the date!”
“This was a…?”
For a split second, Nicole’s lips were pressed to his, and then she was gone, walking rapidly up the street in those trousers that fit so well, her dark, shiny ponytail swinging behind her.
George’s legs were a little weak. He could still feel her lips on his. He sat back down and realized that he was still nagged by a thought, a question he hadn’t been able to ask.
He stared at the Nicole’s black and gold calling card and wondered: How in Merlin’s name did a university student from California get to know the Flints?
George returned to the shop in a good mood, only to find Fred in a foul one. After having become excited about Jessica’s proposals for Wonder Witch, Fred had discovered that she was a Serpentia — and unlike George, he had confirmed that the sisters were, indeed, those Serpentias.
He was venting his frustration by tearing open boxes of new products with a vengeance, marching across the fortunately-empty store, and slamming the items onto the shelves with unnecessary force.
“Are you sure?” asked George. “There are other Serpentias. Nicole said she’s related to the bloke who rebuilt that old ruin in Wiltshire and renamed it Helophis.”
Fred smacked George on the back of the head as he walked past.
“Oi! What was that for?”
“For being daft! The bloke who owns Helophis is that bastard’s uncle!”
It took George a moment to realize that Fred was referring to the brutal Slytherin Beater who had transferred to Hogwarts from an American school and became Bill and Charlie’s arch-enemy on the Quidditch pitch. He looked at Fred in dismay.
“The light bulb just went on, did it?” growled Fred, as he vaporized an empty crate with an angry burst of red light.
Fred’s uncharacteristic insult hurt.
“Now, see here!” George cried. “I know you’re disappointed, but why take it out on me? Or on them?”
Fred turned to George in astonishment. “Come again?”
“Nicole and Jessica didn’t choose their relatives! I’ve just spent the last hour with Nicole, and she never mentioned them. Maybe they don’t get on. Maybe they’re nothing alike! In fact, I know they’re nothing alike, because Nicole is nothing like Serena.”
“And how can you be sure about that?”
“What do you mean, how can I be sure? Didn’t I just say I’ve spent the last hour –”
Fred snorted in disgust and turned away to send a shelf full of products whizzing into the storeroom with a sweep of his wand.
“You’ve spent the last hour staring at her arse!” he growled. “You don’t know what she’s like.”
George felt himself getting angry. “Well, you spent the last hour with Jessica. Tell me, is she a right bitch?”
Fred turned back to George. “I’ll tell you what she is: a woman obsessed with profit. Which isn’t bad in a business partner, so long as you’re not worried they’ll steal, cheat, and consort with Death Eaters. “
Now it was George’s turn to be astonished at his brother’s attitude.
“That’s…. that’s completely illogical! They’re not Slytherins! They never went to Hogwarts, for starters, and what makes you think they would have been sorted into Slytherin had they gone? Nicole didn’t seem to know anything about the troubles we’re having here — never once did she mention politics or You-Know-Who!”
“Serena Serpentia’s father went to Durmstrang!”
“You did not discuss that with Jessica! I know you didn’t!”
“No, but it’s true! She’s mentioned it in class more than once.”
“Well, Nicole’s father went to a place called Harvert, which is a famous Muggle school, and now he’s stockbreaker.”
“Er…. I dunno exactly…. but it has to do with business. Anyway, the point is…” he said, following Fred as he stalked away, “… that he went to a Muggle school, and so did his children, and when have you ever heard of a Slytherin who would have anything to do with Muggles?”
Fred stopped and turned back to George, who, still feeling stung, said with satisfaction, “The light bulb just went on, did it?”
But Fred still wasn’t convinced.
“Okay,” he said, “maybe they don’t hate Muggles… but if they’re not Slytherins at heart, why are they all cozy with the Flints?”
George had no reply to that. Fred stomped away towards the store room. He paused at the door and turned back.
“It’s just as well,” he said. “No deal of theirs would have worked in our favor.”
“And why do you say that?” sighed George.
Fred looked rueful as he said, “Don’t you remember whom it was helped you perfect Wonder Witch?”
He disappeared into the store room, leaving George standing amidst a pile of empty boxes, frustrated and confused.
By the time George received Nicole’s invitation to the Flint’s end-of-summer blowout, Fred had calmed down enough to reconsider Jessica’s proposal rationally. The numbers did reveal a very satisfactory profit margin for rebranding select Wonder Witch products to sell out of overseas boutiques, and Fred was quite keen to raise capital for the Order.
Jessica didn’t seem to know that her English cousin had made several key suggestions for improving the Wonder Witch line, and Fred was far too wise to tell her. On Rodeo Drive, Wonder Witch became Magical Wonder, and it was sold in sparkling black containers.
Weasleys Wizarding Wheezes signed a contract with Ophidian enterprises and began making money almost immediately, but this didn’t help George’s social life. The political and economic situation in Wizarding England had taken another turn for the worse, and the twins spent every moment at the shop or with the Order. Many of their fellow merchants had mysteriously disappeared, including Florean Fortescue, the ice cream man, and Garrick Ollivander the wandmaker. George sent Nicole his regrets, and secretly hoped that she was at least a little disappointed he wasn’t at the party.
George didn’t hear anything more from Nicole, however, until March of 1997, right after he and Fred discovered that opening a second Wheezes location in Hogsmeade was impractical because the Hogwarts students were indefinitely confined to the castle.
Fred and George weren’t quite sure how word of their interest in a second shop had spread to California — perhaps Serena had overheard Ron talking about it? — but one morning they received a very large owl carrying a heavy package from Ophidian Enterprises. Jessica had sent charts showing the projected profits of a Beverly Hills location, but it wasn’t a Wheezes shop she was suggesting; Nicole’s contribution was a beautifully-illustrated animated booklet proposing a boutique called Fred & George.
George burst into laughter when he saw the drawing for the California shop, enchanted to show Muggles browsing racks of puzzling clothing at street level, while wizards were magically whisked to the second floor to buy spectacular tailor-made robes and receive beauty treatments with Magical Wonder products.
“Are those blokes getting their faces massaged?” he asked incredulously.
But Fred was too engrossed in another of Nicole’s pamphlets to hear him. Curious, George looked over his brother’s shoulder and saw a collection of vignettes, all featuring he and Fred as they attended glittery events in eye-catching outfits. Some parties were obviously Muggle, others obviously magical.
“Are they mad?” George asked in wonder.
Fred snorted in disgust. “When did you become so pedestrian?”
George was astonished. “But…. Muggle dos? And those aren’t just any Muggle dos — look closely! Haven’t you ever noticed what’s playing on those gigantic telly-visage marquees in Muggle London? See this stage with the purple background and the rotating guitar? They have us consorting with famous Muggles! We’re on the bloody telly!”
“I think it’s brilliant!” declared Fred. “Imagine — it would our job to look sharp and chat up beautiful women!”
“Mum will be apoplectic.”
“Why? Mum doesn’t mind Muggles, and Dad positively loves them.”
“She already thinks we’re too high-profile and You-Know-Who is out to get us for it. Imagine if Dad were on the job in Muggle London and caught a glimpse of us on a marquee in Piccadilly Circus.”
“You were the one who wanted so badly to do business with these particular Muggle-lovers. How did you not suspect that they would want us to promote our wares in the Muggle world?”
And so it was that Fred and George took a port key to Beverly Hills and waited nervously at noon in front of the devastatingly fashionable Spago, hoping that their Muggle attire fulfilled Nicole’s request that they appear more chic than geek — whatever that meant.
A fiery red sports car caught George’s eye as it pulled up to the valet station.
“Wouldn’t Dad get a kick out of that!” he said. “I wonder who owns it?”
On cue, Jessica and Nicole emerged from the white leather interior.
“Us,” said Fred jauntily, “if we play our cards right.”
He looked thoughtful, however, as he watched Jessica hand her keys to the valet. “Still…. I can’t believe we’re considering doing business with Slytherins.”
George sighed impatiently. “This again! They’re not Slytherins! They never went to Hogwarts!”
Fred wasn’t dissuaded. “Their cousins were Slytherins. To use their own vernacular, they’re Slytherin-adjacent.”
Fred repeated his concern at lunch, after the waiter brought them their drinks and Jessica raised a toast to “new ventures.”
Fred repeated, “I can’t believe I might do business with Slytherins.”
“For Merlin’s sake, Fred!“ cried George,
Nicole furrowed her brow. “What’s a Slytherin?”
It was Jessica who answered. “It’s the Quidditch team Asmo played on when he went to school in England.”
Nicole brightened. “Oh, yeah! Their mascot is a snake!”
She turned to Fred. “You must be for the lion team.”
George caught Fred’s eye and tried to arrange his face to convey the message, “Told you.”
Jessica managed to get a message to them, urging them to abandon England and start a new life the States, but of course, Fred and George wouldn’t leave their family to their fate.
Once again, George hoped that Nicole was just a little worried about him.
George stared at the smooth, white object in his hand. It was a lot lighter than he had expected. Which end did you talk into again? And more importantly, what exactly was he going to say to Nicole?
He was standing in a rather puzzling room at the home of Hermione’s parents. They said it was the kitchen, but George didn’t see anything in it that looked like it was made to prepare food. All of the furniture was hard and square, in shades of bright white and dark grey, and adorned with dull silver metal.
They had provided George a stool to sit upon, but he wasn’t sure how exactly he was supposed to perch on the small black seat that was balanced on a single, narrow metal pole.
He was at the Granger’s under false pretenses. After his mum had ushered Hermione into the kitchen for tea and sympathy, and Hermione began to look more herself, George told her he wanted to check on the well-being of a Muggle-born he knew from Diagon Alley. He asked her if she knew how where he might find a felly-tone, and how to use it. Over the protests of Mrs. Weasley, Hermione took George and Ron to her parents’ home in Hampstead.
George, of course, didn’t have a Muggle-born friend from Diagon Alley. He wanted to locate Nicole so that he could meet her and get to the bottom of this demon thing. Fred had been wrong about the Serpentias as Slytherins; maybe — hopefully — Bill was wrong about them as demons.
George didn’t know where Nicole was or what she was doing, but he did know that she was never without her cellie-phone, which one could ring from a felly-tone. Feeling less duplicitous than he supposed he should, he copied down the number from her calling card onto a blank slip of paper so that Hermione wouldn’t know to whom the number belonged.
Hermione added “001” to the front of the number and showed George how to push the felly-tone buttons. Then she unsubtly dragged Ron from the room and shut the door. George knew she suspected he was sweet on the person he was calling. And it was true, he was sweet on Nicole. It just wasn’t Nicole’s welfare that was in question.
He held the handset to his ear as Hermione had instructed and carefully pushed the black buttons. He was surprised to hear a musical tone with each tap, and even more surprised when long alarm-rings started to play into his ear. He almost dropped the device when he suddenly heard Nicole’s voice say, “Hello?”
She had to repeat herself a few more times before George was able to speak. Actually, he shouted into the phone.
“Nicole? This is George Weasley. I’m using a felly-tone in London. Can you hear me?”
“Geez, dude, stop shouting! I can’t understand you. Who is this?”
George took a breath, gripping the handset tightly. Forcing himself to speak normally, he said, “This is George Weasley.”
“George? No way! When did you learn to use a phone?”
“Just now. I borrowed it. Look, Nicole, I know this is rather sudden, but –”
“Where are you?”
“Um…. I’m in London. But what I’m calling you about is –”
“Are you doing anything tonight?”
“Er…. well…. yes, I’m doing this…. calling you because —“
“Oh, that’s right. It’s like, night over there already. Well, my sister’s having a beach party tonight — California time tonight — that’s like, morning where you are. You should come!”
“Er…. I don’t… really know about a party, but, well, I really do need to talk to you —“
“Then you totally should come. We can hook up at the party and then do breakfast at the Santa Monica Ivy and talk business.”
“Um, well, this really isn’t about busin—“
“Whatever, I gotta go. I’ll have someone set up a portkey in the usual spot.”
“Wait! When should I come?”
“I dunno — when it gets dark. Like after ten. California time. Catch ya later! Ciao!”
But her voice was gone, replaced by an unending musical tone. George carefully put the handset back on the felly-tone body and stared out the Granger’s kitchen window into the quiet street. He felt very confused and conflicted.
After several minutes the kitchen door slowly opened, and Hermione poked her head through.
“Are you finished, George?”
George came back to reality with a start. “Yes! Yes, thank you, Hermione.”
Hermione walked all the way in. “Is your friend all right?”
“Uh… I think so, yes. She’s… she’s invited me to a party.”
“Oh, that’s nice!” said Hermione with a smile. “You should go.”
“I really just wanted to talk to her….”
“Go, mate,” said Ron, pushing his way past George to the icebox. “You really need to get out of the house.”
“Ronald! What are you doing?” scolded Hermione.
Ron removed a lemon meringue pie and said, “I’m hungry!”
George didn’t bother to pay attention to their argument, but he did wonder: Was he hungry, too?
“Wait up, George!”
Nicole giggled as she stumbled after him along the dark beach. George was striding away from the party’s huge bonfire, the sand growing colder and harder under his bare feet with every step.
There was a wet, plopping sound.
“Oh, damn. I spilled my beer.”
George kept walking.
“Hey, what’s the rush?”
He heard the sound of a plastic cup being crumpled, and quick footsteps trotting toward him. Then the footsteps stopped.
“Well, if you’re gonna just stomp your way to El Segundo, I’m going back to the party!”
George finally stopped and turned around. The flames were somewhat distant; the music was muffled. They wouldn’t be overheard.
“I’m sorry, Nicole, I just…. I’ve been trying to talk to you in private all night. It’s really important.”
A sly smile came over Nicole’s face, and she approached him flirtatiously, hips swaying. For a moment, George was mesmerized, but then, for what seemed like the twelfth time that night, he managed to summon his willpower and remember with whom — what! — he could be sleeping — dealing! Merlin, this was hard!
She was getting close, her arms outstretched. George thrust his hands out in front of him, palms forward, and spoke with force.
Nicole did stop, and raised her eyebrows.
“I mean it!” said George. “I have to ask you something.”
She sighed. “So ask already!”
This was it. This was the moment. What had he finally decided to say? He’d planned to lay out everything he’d heard, and everything he’d noticed, neatly and logically. But now that he finally had his chance, he couldn’t remember any of it. All that was left was The Question, and it burst out of him in a rush.
Nicole stared at him. George couldn’t tell what she was thinking. He wondered if she’d heard him correctly. He took a deep breath.
Nicole crossed her arms and rubbed them with her hands.
“It’s kind of cold out here,” she said impatiently. She glanced back at the bonfire.
Yet another breath. George steeled himself and, slowly and deliberately, said,
“Are. You. A. Demon?”
Nicole rolled her eyes and smirked.
That was not the answer George had expected.
He had thought, if she were a demon, she would deny it. He realized that he had been mentally rehearsing a lot of interrogatory dialogue. Now that he had his answer, he didn’t know what to do with it. He wished his guts were working properly, so he could feel something.
Wait a minute…. he did feel something. It felt like…. he felt…. hurt.
Suddenly he was washed in a bitter wave of betrayal. His face grew hot and his eyes stung with tears. His question tore from him in an agonized wail.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
George didn’t know exactly how he’d expected Nicole to respond, but he was certain that surprise wasn’t it.
“Geez, dude, don’t have a cow. How was I supposed to know you thought I was a witch? I assume you didn’t think I’m a — whada you guys call it? — Muggle.”
“That’s exactly what I thought! The witch part, not the Muggle part.”
Still hugging her arms, Nicole shifted her weight to one hip and casually considered him.
“Well. Now you know. What, do you have something against demons?”
George felt his mouth drop open with incredulity. He shook his head a few times before he was able to force out the words.
“Yes! YES! Everyone has something against demons!”
Nicole had a doubtful look on her face. “Not people who do business with us.”
This time it was George who silently stared.
A loud cheer came from the bonfire, and Nicole tipped her head in its general direction.
“So are you coming back, or are you gonna just stay here and be all bummed out?”
George stammered in amazement. “You…. you expect… you expect me to attend a party…. now…. with you?”
Nicole turned to go with a dismissive huff. “Whatever, dude.”
Then she turned back and thoughtfully regarded George.
“You know, I sorta liked you, but now I can see you’re not as smart as your brother.”
“The dead one? Now that guy really had it goin’ on. Bet he knew a demon when he saw one. Later.”
George stared after her until she disappeared into the crowd.
How could anyone be so… so….
But then it occurred to George that Nicole wasn’t actually trying to be hateful. Because if she were, well…. she could say a lot worse. She could do a lot worse.
She just didn’t — and now he was sure he was right about this — she just didn’t care.