AN: Thank you all for the support! I deeply appreciate it!
A little cold air could do a world of good.
The breeze nipped at Rose's nose. Her breath wafted from her mouth, as if it was smoke. Still, she did not so much as shiver.
Rose strolled down the cobblestone streets. While a few shoppers scurried between stores, she was at no risk of bumping into anyone. She could set her own pace and observe her surroundings.
One building in particular caught her attention. Unlike the faded stone of its neighbors, this store had a wooden frame. A warm light shone from the window, illuminating an inside dancing Santa. The decoration winked before spinning around and pulling down its pants. Rose rolled her eyes before shifting her attention to the wreath in the window. The red ribbon was torn on the edges, and the berries were chipped. Despite that, the scarlet and golden "welcome" letters on the top of the arch appeared to be freshly painted.
"How did I do with the decorations?"
Rose spun around. "George?"
"The one and only," he approached her, holding a green cup in his hand.
Rose cleared her throat. "It is lovely to see you again."
George smiled. "It is lovely to see you as well."
Rose relaxed, but said nothing.
"You must be freezing," George began.
She shrugged. "I feel fine actually."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I do not mind the cold."
"No," Rose answered. "After living in the dungeons for so many years I have become accustomed to a little chill in the air."
"I see," George replied.
Rose glanced at his drink. "I would imagine that you want to go inside in order to keep that warm. Please, do not let me stand in your way."
"It's fine." George took a sip of it. "I just got it. Even if it gets cold, there are always warming spells."
"I suppose you have a point there," Rose replied.
"Yeah," he muttered.
She inhaled the cup's aroma. "What are you drinking?"
"It's a hot chocolate." George pointed to his right. "It's from a place just east of here called Nana's Cafe. If you want we can go over and I'll grab one for you."
"I would not want to distract you."
"You wouldn't be distracting me from anything."
"Do you not have to work today?"
"It's a slow day."
George took another sip of his hot chocolate. "If you'd like, we can go inside and play another round of Reusable Hangman. I'm sure this time I'll beat you."
"Perhaps some other time," Rose replied. "Right now, I am too preoccupied to play."
"What's wrong?" George asked.
Rose blinked and frowned.
George sighed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to overstep my bounds."
Her expression softened. "You are trying to be a good uncle. I do appreciate it."
He gave her a small grin.
"That being said, I do not wish to discuss it with you. I doubt you would understand what I am going through fully."
"That's fine. We can talk about something else then, assuming you still want to talk."
The tension left Rose's body. "I suppose I can spare a few seconds to chat."
"Well then," George took a deep breath. "I hope you and your parents had a Happy Christmas."
There was a pang of pain in Rose's chest at the word, "parents."
George took another sip of his drink. "Are they doing well?"
"They are doing as well as can be expected," Rose replied.
"That's good to hear."
Her eyes grew. "You truly are sincere, about hoping they are doing well."
"Yes, I truly hope Professor Snape and 'Mione are doing well," George replied.
"My mother's name is Hermione. It honestly feels weird to hear her called anything else."
"Hermione, excuse me," George answered. "I am glad to hear that Hermione is doing well."
Rose hummed. "I was not aware that you held any lingering affection for her."
George shook his head. "I know I haven't been the best friend over the years, but I do care about her."
"Why do you care for her if you believed for over two decades that she betrayed your brother?"
"I, I did consider her a close friend at one point. She was in many ways like a sister to me." George snorted. "Not that I treated my actual sister much better than I treated Hermione. Looking back, I have been an arse to both of them."
Rose did not contradict him.
"Anyway, I've done a lot of thinking over the years, and I've realized that I've burned more than a few bridges. Now, I wish I had been a better friend and brother."
"I am sure they wish you had not been so awful to them as well," Rose noted.
George exhaled. "I know I need to apologize to your mother, but I don't know where to begin."
"Saying, 'I am sorry' is a good start," Rose offered.
"Yes," George answered. "It is."
Rose gave him a half grin. "I think Mum would be receptive to a letter from you actually. Right now, she could use all the support she can receive."
"We could all use more friends."
"Are you sure you don't want to go inside?" George asked. "I wouldn't mind some company."
"No, I need to be on my way," Rose answered. "I need to pick up a few potions ingredients."
"Oh," George shivered. "If you don't mind me asking, what are you creating?"
Rose swallowed. Her eyes darted around, and she dug her foot between two stones.
"You don't need to say anything if you don't want to," George answered. "I understand."
"No, I do not mind you asking," Rose began. "Mum is sick."
George turned white. "I-I'm so sorry to hear that."
"It is not your fault she has fallen ill."
"Maybe not, but oh man..." he shook his head. "I can't imagine what you're going through."
"Thank you for acknowledging that."
George took a deep breath. "Merlin, that's horrible."
"I am researching a way to cure her illness. I was taking a stroll to clear my head and perhaps get some ideas. Now I have a better idea of what to buy," Rose continued.
"That's good to hear. I just wish I could help 'Mi-Hermione." George sighed. "Then again even if I could help her, I doubt she wants to see me again."
"I cannot speak for her," Rose admitted. "I believe she would appreciate an apology from you though. It never hurts to make amends."
"No, it doesn't," George answered.
"That being said," Rose straightened her posture. "I must be on my way."
"Yes, you should go," George answered. "And please, tell her I said, 'hi,' but only if that won't upset her."
"I do not think she would take offense with you supporting me."
The tension in his muscles eased.
Rose's expression lightened. "Thank you for speaking with me. I truly enjoyed seeing you again."
"I'm glad I ran into you as well," George answered.
"Perhaps the next time we meet, I will be better company," Rose replied.
"Don't worry about it," George answered. "I'm always happy to see you, even if you aren't beating me at Reusable Hangman."
Rose chuckled before backing away. "Enjoy your hot chocolate."
"I will," George answered.
Rose took a few more steps.
"Good luck on your potions project," George called.
"Thank you," Rose replied.
With that, Rose darted towards the nearest apothecary with a clearer idea of what she needed to do.