God, the corridor was in ruins. George ducked his head through the haze of smoke and debris and struggled down the hallway. He was sure he had heard Percy yelling, but now the floor was deserted. Flashes and bangs echoed from up ahead, but they were already in the stairwell. He held his wand out in front of him, waiting for the slightest movement.
He ran over the litany of his family members as he struggled down the hallway. He had just seen Bill going after Fenrir Greyback mere minutes ago; Fleur and Kingsley were with him, so he pushed them aside. His mother and father, the last he had seen, had been fighting on the second floor; they had attempted to follow Tonks and Lupin onto the grounds but were cut off by several Death Eaters. He had no idea where Charlie or Ginny were; his stomach churned. If Ginny got killed
he tripped over a fragmented suit of armor. Ron and Percy, he was sure, had been in this hallway with Harry and Hermione. He hoped Fred was with them. He and Fred had been fighting back to back; he grinned remembering
they had been something to see, throwing curses and dodging hexes like clockwork. But then George had seen Dolohov and had yelled at Fred to come along, streaking off down the hallway. That was the last he knew of where Fred was, and that was over fifteen minutes ago. He hoped Fred was with Percy and Ron; if anything happened to Percy, after just getting over being a git, George would kick himself (and Fred too), and Ron
Ickle Ronnie, George muttered under his breath.
The haze in the hallway was clearing, and George was almost free of the rubble. There was a gaping hole in the wall and a chill breeze blew through from the grounds. Yells and flashes reverberated in the empty corridor, filtering up from the battle outside. He lifted his leg to step over a chunk of the wall when a flash of ginger caught his eye.
His beam of light fell into the dark crevice where a suit of armor normally stood; he knew because he and Fred used to hide extra stashes of Dungbombs in it during the school year. But now the suit was gone and the space was occupied, instead, by a hunched over figure with red hair.
The figure didnt move.
Fred, are you hurt?
There was a bang from down the hallway and a faint cry. George glanced back down the corridor and directed his wand at his twin.
Rennervate! Now come on, you prat, I think Perce is in trouble, and I havent seen Ginny at all
His twin still hadnt moved. George blinked.
He jumped over the rubble and landed next to the still form. His movement dislodged his twins shoulder and he rolled out into the hallway, face up.
George dropped to his knees, jabbed his wand directly onto Freds heart and shouted, Rennervate!
Freds eyes fluttered open, and he grinned. Strong stuff, our Fainting Fancies, arent they? And he began to laugh
Georges eyes flew open, his breathing heavy. He stared at the ceiling, the darkness obscuring the many smoke stains and scorch marks from his and Freds experiments. An owl hooted from somewhere outside.
For the past two weeks, his dream had been the same, except for that last line. But it was always a last line. Fred always woke up, each time with a new retort. George rolled over onto his side, away from his twins empty bunk across from him. The right side of his head throbbed where his ear should be.
Each night it was the same; instead of remaining cold and motionless on the stone of the destroyed hallway, his brother woke up. But George had no idea what came after that, for he was always jolted awake by his twins laughter and failed to fall back asleep afterwards. He leaned over in bed and shoved his window open, letting the early morning chill slide into his room. George shivered and wrapped himself more tightly in his quilt, knowing he would not be able to get back to sleep; knowing hed have to wait out the two hours left before dawn in dark, contemplative silence while waiting to face the day he had been dreading for two weeks.
This was the day he was going back to Diagon Alley. He had made up his mind; Weasleys Wizard Wheezes had been closed for over a year now; he wouldnt be surprised if his and Freds protective spells had worn off and all their wares had been stolen. He didnt care much at the moment about their stock, but he needed to get back and see what shape the store was in.
He was dreading it so much that his stomach had been in a perpetual knot ever since he had told his father his plan.
George, you should take someone with you.
He had shaken his head. Im going alone.
People could have broken in
you had some advanced stuff in there
the darkness powder
there could be residual curses in the place.
His mother had had different reasons.
Oh Georgie, she nearly whispered to him. Take Charlie or Ron with you. You need someone with you
that whole place
you and Freddie
No, Mum. Im going by myself.
She hadnt had another chance to argue with him, mostly because he took pains now to stay away from his family. He saw the hopeless way their eyes lit up when he entered a room, as if Fred had suddenly Apparated into their midst, before the grief of realization took hold that noit was not Fred. It was just George.
He understood it perhaps better than any of them, but it didnt make him feel any more apt to be sympathetic. Every time he passed a mirror, he jumped at the pale and hollow reflection of his twin staring back at him, until the twin slowly morphed back into himself. His dreams didnt help erase the image of his brother, his twin, his other half, himself lying there in the corridor, unresponsive to his attempts at reviving the lifeless form
George squeezed his eyes shut tight against the charcoal morning sky, remembering how the events afterwards had happened in slow motion, as if moving through water. He had kneeled, eyes locked on his face reflected back up at him, wan, still, and cold, until he could no longer tell whether it was he who was dead and Fred staring down at him. Then he had Summoned Freds wand, shattered, and hoisted the body of his brother over his shoulder, stumbling back down the hallway.
It had never occurred to him to worry that his twin would be killedobviously he knew that it was a possibility, but in his whole time wondering whether any of his family were left alive, he had never dwelled on Fred, because Fred couldnt die. Fred was invincible, a force of nature.
He had met no resistance as he struggled back to the Great Hall. He was coming down the main staircase, chunked and stained from the battle raging in the castle, when he heard a cry from behind him.
He half turned to see his father flying down the stairs towards him. Who
his eyes flew to Georges missing ear. Fred, he whispered. Fred
Arthur had fallen upon them both, all three sinking to the ground. Sobs began to rack his fathers frame as he searched Freds face for any signs of life.
He heard his mothers scream. The whole world seemed to jump into sharp, brutal focus when the high-pitched wail rent the air. George struggled backwards from the body of Fred as his mother threw herself onto his twins still chest.
George had gotten to his feet and run away from the Great Hall, the pounding of his feet drowned by the roaring in his ears and the cries from the castle. He headed for the door to the grounds, suddenly wishing to be out in the open, somewhere where he would be found by an opponent too skilled to fight against and win. The great double doors had been blown off their hinges, and he made for the opening to the flashing and boiling grounds, wanting only to come to the end of a wand, any wand, that would end the horrible nightmare he was running through
He came up short as figures struggled through the doorway. He did not raise his wand; he couldnt even feel his body.
Whos that? came a sharp, deep voice. Im warning you
Weasley! Fred! Or George? Ah, George, your ear, I see. Move those rafters for me, will you?
Kingsleys voice sounded oddly strained as he pushed his way through the wreckage of the doors, and soon George saw why. The man passed him, carrying a figure over his back much as George had done with his twin, and the light from his still-lit wand fell across the silent face of Remus Lupin. Bill was following closely behind, Tonks draped in his arms. Her hair was brown.
no, sorry, George. Bills voice cracked. They fell
almost together. They practically died in each others arms
they went down fighting
God, Ill never forget
have you see Mum and Dad? Help us get these two to the Great Hall
George, whats wrong?
George stared at the frozen faces of Lupin and Tonks as Kingsley moved farther into the hallway.
George? Bill shifted Tonks in his arms. George, whats happened?
He pulled his eyes away from Tonks and looked up at his brother. Fred
Bill hesitated, staring at George, then pivoted on the spot and ran into the hall. George gazed straight ahead, out onto the grounds, hearing his mothers renewed cries at the arrival of Lupin and Tonks and his older brothers hoarse yell.
Someone else was running to the doors, hair flying in dark ropes, but there was a figure chasing her
she didnt see him
she wasnt going to make it. Without thinking, George hurtled through the doorway.
His red jet shot past Angelina Johnson and sent Dolohov backwards, slamming him motionless to the ground. His hand shook as he held it out in front of him.
Her hands grabbed his t-shirt, and she whirled him around, laughing, and kissed him full on the mouth. Marry me, Weasley. Promise me if we get out of this alive, youll marry me and wellGeorge!
She dropped him like a hot coal. Im sorry George, I thought you were your brother
where is he? She grinned again. I have to make him promise to
Angelina, he interrupted, hes dead.
The smile froze on her face, seconds slid by, and then her expression became replaced by a look of horror. For the second time, she grabbed his shirt. No, George, no
But now hot torrents of tears suddenly burst forth from his eyes at the realization of what he had just said aloud, was happening to him, what his world was going to be like
And he had been right. He shifted in his bed, pressing his face into his pillow. His mother, on three occasions, had drawn him tightly to her, crying into his hair, murmuring Freddie, Freddie, until George had to remind her who he was. He constantly regretted this, though, as it made her feel worse.
George, dear, she said to him one night last week after finding him on the roof. You know I love you, you know we all do. These coming weeks will be so hard for us, and for you. Georgie, you just have to understand, you look
exactly like him, he finished for her. I know, Mum, I grew up with him for twenty years.
He shivered again in the chill breeze coming through his window and flung his quilt away from him. He couldnt keep lying in bed, going back over the last two weeks until the sun rose. He pulled on a pair of trousers and a button-down shirt, and then slid silently from his room and down the hall, moving as quietly as he could.
He passed Ginny and Percys rooms, efficiently avoiding the boards he knew creaked. Harry was upstairs in Rons room, but Hermione had hop-scotched continents, Apparating until she got to Australia, where she revived her parents memories. As far as he knew, she was still there. He wished she would hurry up and get back; Ron was even more silent and touchy with her gone.
He reached the dim kitchen and scribbled a note hastily for his mother. He didnt plan on coming back to the house that day, and he didnt want her to worry more than he knew she already would. He left the note on the scrubbed table and opened the door onto the 4 am drizzle.
He walked for a while up to the hill where he and his brothers used to play Quidditch. His breath fogged in front of him, despite the fact that August was closing in upon Ottery St. Catchpole. As he neared the crest of the hill, ringed with trees, he suddenly turned and headed to his left, where a small wall of stones marked the graveyard of the Weasley family.
He weaved in and out among the silent tombstones, the dewy grass soaking his shoes and numbing his feet. He finally reached the freshest grave, the one that had been dug just six days prior. His knees buckled and he sat down hard on the settling earth, facing the cold headstone.
He didnt speak for a while, staring at the motionless, carved marks representing his brothers name. FRED WEASLEY, it read. BELOVED GIFT OF LAUGHTER. Strewn about the base were various items others had left there during and after the ceremony; several King of Hearts playing cards, some flowers that were beginning to wither, a Gryffindor badge, a miniature beaters club. Harrys first Golden Snitch, its wings finally still.
The ceremony had been extremely uncomfortable for George. He sat at the end of his family, next to Charlie. On his other side was Angelina Johnson, who sat through the service with her head bowed and one hand over her mouth, as if to keep all her grief from pouring out. During Lee Jordans eulogy, a sharp, dry sob broke through her fingers, and George reached out and took her free hand in his. She squeezed it in return and let her tears fall down her face.
George had been asked to give a eulogy after Lee. He had declined. There was no way he could weave any kind of meaningful message into a string of words, so limited in their expression of what he needed to say about his brother. So Ron had stepped up to speak instead. He did a good job, but George couldnt look at him.
He had asked, however, to be a pallbearer. He hoisted the box holding his brothers body onto his shoulder, feeling the weight of his twenty years sink down into his chest. With Bill, Charlie, Ron, Percy, and Lee, they had carried Fred to the mouth in the ground and allowed him to be swallowed by the earth.
During the reception back at the Burrow, George had been quiet and still, tucked into a corner of the lawn. He watched as people milled around and greeted each other, embracing. Some laughed, some cried. They stayed away from him, casting furtive glances in his direction before looking quickly away.
Two people, one of his older aunts and a second cousin, had come within hearing range, but they hadnt noticed George sitting among the hedge.
poor Molly just doesnt know what to do with herself; did you see her during the ceremony?
Its a hard thing, to be sure, but maybe its the best of the situation, or perhaps the worst, depending on your point of view.
Well, as I told Myrna, Fred will always be young, he will always be beautiful
But thats just it, dont you see? He wont be either of those things at all.
How awful of you to say! What do you mean?
Only this: when someone dies, then yes, their memory is preserved as they were in life, in Freds case, indeed, young, exuberant, charming
but his spitting image is still alive, isnt he? Fred wont be remembered the way Fred was; Fred will be remembered the way George is. They were inseparable during life, and Im afraid theyre going to continue being inseparable.
But surely you dont
what a horrible thing to suggest
as if one could take the place of the other!
I didnt say interchangeable, did I? But if you want to get right down to it
George hadnt stayed to hear more. He rolled backwards, right through the hedge, coming out into the field on the opposite side. He picked himself up and set off at a brisk and determined walk. At the edge of the field was a shed where his mother kept gardening tools and old brooms. He wrenched open the door and kneeled down on the wooden floor.
He set his wand against a plank with a crescent-shaped chunk missing from it. Zebedeo Zonko is my hero, he said aloud.
The crescent divot stretched into a mouth and began to squeak with laughter before opening up and revealing an impressive stash of Weasleys Wizard Wheezes; boxes of discarded Snackbox ideas (the Palpitating Petit-Fours never worked quite right), dangerously strong love potions (Charlie had developed a frightening obsession with a Muggle short-order waitress until they had managed to slip him an antidote), Decoy Detonators that ran for miles until finally exploding, and a large cache of Wildfire Whiz-bangs. George leaned in and scooped up as many of the fireworks as he could carry, bewitching the others to float along after him. Shifting them in his arms, he replaced the board, whispered, the fun is done to lock it, and left the shed.
Fred didnt want Lee Jordan and Angelina Johnson dressed in black, kneeling over a piece of stone. He didnt want his mother crying unceasingly and his father unable to keep a steady hold on his wand. He didnt want Ron, Bill, Percy, Charlie, and Ginny to be hugged and consoled by relatives they hardly knew. And hell, he did not want his twin brother to be avoided and whispered about or satisfied with lowering a coffin into the ground.
Fred wanted to go out with a bang.
Fecking git, George said out as he reached the hedge once more. He dropped his armload of fireworks and began to arrange them. You really are, Fred, I hope you realize. Weve hardly tested some of these. I hope one hits Muriel; it would take something about as dire as a meteor crash to finish her off. Shite. At the very least one might hit the house; maybe itll explode in our room. That would be a suitable goodbye from you, dont you think? Bullocks.
He stepped back, pointed his wand at the first volley, and sent a jet of sparks into its midst.
George was blown off his feet as the set went whistling and cart-wheeling into the air, rending the night sky with smoke and fire. He heard momentary cries from the lawn. Scrambling back to his knees, he set off the next wave, sending streaks of blue and green sparks three stories into the air. The cries began to turn to applause and shouts of laughter. He heard Ginny and Lee begin to chant Freds name as he set off a volley of Catherine Wheels. Some of these rocketed into the heavens, others just barely made it over the hedge and went whirling off to wreak havoc on the lawn. Reports and stars rained down over the Burrow; tides of skyrockets, roman candles, and night parachutes blazed through the air and set the clouds alight. He lit a fistful of strobes and hurled them over the hedge, making the lawn flash in a dozen different colors. Double and triple aerial shells split the dazzling sky with fountains of red and gold, some petering out halfway through, others exploding into spheres of light a quarter of a mile wide. His face blackened and his dress robes scorched, George sent a final jet of sparks into his last and most uncertain pile of cakes; he then streaked off in the opposite direction and flung himself into a ditch as the volley went off like a round of Muggle artillery fire. He lifted his head and watched the final display, silently praising himself and his twin for their superb handiwork. Glittering phoenixes burst from the flames and sailed off into the skies; dragons and snakes and winged horses swept over the crowd and into the clouds. After a final, terrifying report, a massive scarlet F split the night.
Damn you, Fred, George said, half laughing, half choking as tears ran in sooty rivulets down his smoke-stained face. That was supposed to be a W.
George leaned forward and brushed the damp headstone with his fingers. A chaotic fireworks display was definitely more suitable for a tribute to Fred than a lifeless stone was. After leaving the sanctity of the ditch, George had Apparated back inside, scrubbed his face, and locked himself in his room. Each of his family members rapped on his door as they came back in, one by one, after the reception ended. He didnt answer any of them, and they all left him alone, except for Ginny.
George, she said through the wall. I know youre not asleep, and I know you wont come out, but that was brilliant, what you did tonight. It was perfect
you know, a Catherine Wheel nearly destroyed Aunt Muriel
Dad had to do the protego charm to keep her from being steamrollered
food was flying everywhere
the gnomes were terrified beyond their wits
Percys best cauldron has a great melted split up the side
George. She was crying. I just wanted to tell you that. Its how he would have wanted to go. Anyway. Goodnight. I love you, Weasley, and you know he loves you, too.
A watery pink fringe was spreading across the horizon. George rubbed his eyes, bleary and ringed from his two-week long insomnia, and got to his feet.
Im going back to the shop today, he said, gazing down at the headstone. Just to see how much damage has been done. Just to get a feel for
he took a breath. I dont know if I can do it, mate. Keep it up, that is. I dont know how I can work there
now. I dont know what Ill do instead, though
we never did come up with any other options
Dadd always give me a job
or chasing dragons with Charlie wouldnt be so bad
He trailed off, running down the list of things his twin would have called him had he ever suggested switching to a Ministry career. I think Ill go now, to avoid the morning crowd, he said, more to himself than Fred. Repair crews are starting to show up, Ive heard, and some businesses have already reopened. He pushed his toe into the dirt by the headstone. So
thats what Ill be doing. You have a nice long rest for me; catch up on the forty or so hours of sleep Ive lost in the last two weeks
He stood a moment longer in front of Freds grave, and then turned sharply on the spot and Apparated to London.
The Leaky Cauldron was completely empty, which George was thankful for as he passed quietly through. Tapping the bricks on the wall behind the pub, he marveled briefly over how much Diagon Alley had transformed in the year he had been gone.
The cobbled street had a darkness about it that was not due to the gray morning light. Almost every opening was boarded, every surface grimy with neglect. There was absolutely no one out. Even at this hour before the war, there would have been bakers, vendors, and shopkeepers setting out their wares and sweeping out their stores. He and Fred had never liked getting up that early, but there were a few times it had been necessary, and the Alley was a completely different world than during the day; serene, peaceful, and quiet. Now the silence was ominous and heavy, and traces of smoke and acid stung the dewy air. He passed Florean Fortescues empty ice cream parlor and the stained display cases of Flourish and Blotts. With a wrench of his heart, he walked past Ollivanders, the windows smashed and foul words scrawled around the doorframe. No doubt every wand inside had been stolen or tampered with. He clutched his own wand tightly in his hand, remembering the day he had gotten it with Fred in Ollivanders eight years before. The finish was wearing off and the tip was scorched from many an experiment gone awry, but it had never failed him yet. He and Fred both had unicorn-hair cores, not twin ones, but from a pair of males who had been foaled together. He passed by the dilapidated store, recalling the fragments of Freds wand that had been buried with him. All except a shard of the tip. George had kept that one.
He neared Weasleys Wizard Wheezes and couldnt decide whether he was relieved or dejected that the window was still intact. The bright orange and purple lettering had faded slightly, and the glass was scratched and filmed with dirt, making it impossible to see inside. He placed his hand on the doorknob, but the lock charm was still, surprisingly, effective.
Alohomora, he murmured, proceeding to lift the half-dozen protective spells encasing the storefront. He then lit his wand, took a short, sharp breath, and pushed the door open.
His wand cast a watery, dismal light as he stepped over the threshold, throwing shelves and boxes into shadow. His tired eyes swept the room. Cobwebs lay thickly over every surface, and the floor was carpeted with dust. A few items blinked and glittered feebly in the pale light, still attempting to work properly, and something somewhere was emitting a faint peeping sound, which the Canary Creams tended to do after they had lived out their shelf life. Almost everything else, however, was silent and still.
George paused, realizing the enormity of what this shop washis and Freds entire life was stacked in here; countless results of tireless testing, conniving, and chiding that they had been working on since they could first perform levitating charms. He took his hand off of the doorknob and stepped further into the room.
The hex was immediate. Georges legs and arms snapped to his sides; his wand clattered to the floor and rolled away, still lit, under one of the shelves. He twisted jerkily to avoid landing on his face as he crashed to the dusty wooden floor of the shop.
Bloody hell, he thought, his jaw locked shut. Shite. Bullocks. Damn, damn, damn.
How stupid could he get? He and Fred had always had a great laugh from having someone enter their shop before they had lifted the Full-Body Bind curse from the perimeter. They had pulled it on Lee, and on Ron, and also on Ginny (although her Bat-Bogey hex made them slightly regret it later). Why the hell had he forgotten about it? He struggled, thinking that maybe the spell had lost some of its potency in its dormant months, but he remained completely paralyzed, his cheek pressed into the inch-thick dirt. His nose tickled, but he couldnt move it; with his mouth shut, he was inhaling streams of dust
his eyes began to water, he couldnt sneeze
this could be painful
It felt as though a great iron fist had suddenly opened around him; he rolled onto his back and sneezed explosively three times in succession. Wiping his teary eyes on his sleeve, he looked up into the doorway to see two dark figures silhouetted against the lightening morning sky. The taller one was waving her wand, lifting the Body Bind curse. The shorter one stepped forward and pulled George to his feet.
Serves you right, Lee Jordan said, beating the dust away from George with enough strength to repel a Bludger. You pulled that on me once, remember? Oh, go ahead, Lee, we just have to nip over to our Gringotts vault... Are you alright?
Yeah, he replied, blinking as warm light flooded the room. Angelina Johnson put her wand down. How did you know I was here?
Your mum Flooed my fireplace ten minutes ago, Lee answered. Scared the hell out of me. Said you had left a note in the kitchen and that she didnt want you here by yourself. Angelinas staying with me until her parents get back from the Kazembes funeral in Senegal.
You look awful, George, she said. Havent you slept at all?
Hardly, he answered. The git keeps waking me up at wee hours of the morning. Somebody Summon my wand, will you?
The thin stick of wood came shooting out from underneath the shelf. Angelina caught it and handed it to him. Thanks, he said, glancing at her. No offense, Johnson, I love you dearly, but youre really not one to talk about me looking awful.
She shrugged her tired shoulders, a heaviness weighing down her normally upbeat features. What can I say, George, I wanted to marry your brother.
Lee had walked further into the shop. It looks like all your crap is still here, Weasley. Most of its kaput, and these Canary Creams seem to be molting everywhere, but at least nobodys nicked anything.
George began to follow Lee, weaving up and down the shelves, brushing his fingers over the piles of his and Freds handiwork. Everything was silent and forlorn. The Decoy Detonators lay on their sides with their little legs splayed out, the Headless Hats were half-vanished, and a few Nose-Biting Teacups had wearily clamped themselves onto confused fake wands.
Everything he passed made his heart rend and shatter, until he felt as though his whole body was an old rag that had been squeezed and wrung out too many times. Fred had once blown a hole in his dorm bed hangings while testing those Christmas Crackers; Fred had once made a second-year Gryffindor girl fall madly in love with Professor Flitwick when his love potion flask exploded at the breakfast table; Fred had once turned the entire Slytherin Quidditch team into canaries an hour before their match with Hufflepuff
He reached the back wall and stopped, leaning on a shelf. Tears pricked his eyes; this was why he had wanted to come alone. He heard Lee and Angelina moving slowly up the next row. George rubbed his eyes furiously and rested his forehead against the wood of the shelf, feeling a Whizgigging Warbler tap wearily against his head.
A pair of brown arms wrapped around his chest, hugging him tightly. He heard a sharp sniff as Angelina laid her head against his shoulder. He paused a moment, then wriggled away from her and turned around.
Im not Fred, he said hoarsely. I never was Fred, Ill never be Fred. He felt everything he wanted to say to his mother and father and every last relative come shooting full force out at Angelina, who stood silently, tears sparkling in her eyes. No matter how much we look alike, no matter how much we sound alike, or
or talk or walk or think alike, were not the same person. Were not interchangeable. Lee had come around the row of shelves and stood next to Angelina, his eyebrows snapped down at Georges raised voice. Youboth of youall of youyou think Im
Im like Fred reincarnated or something, like I can be both him and me
But Im not, I wont
He gripped his wand as if he expected to be attacked; red sparks spat out the end of it. You cant make me be Fred.
You git Lee began, but Angelina cut him off.
Dont flatter yourself, she said flatly. I never loved you the way I loved him. Yeah, you two look exactly alike, but believe me, after one gets over the temporary shock of thinking theyre seeing Fred, no one could ever think you were anyone but yourself. She had meant it to be hurtful, but her voice broke halfway through, and tears began to stream down her face. She looked directly at him and said in a different, more anguished voice, You said it yourself, George. Youre not Fred; you never were and you never will be.
Gratitude burst forth from George like a spring flood, he leaned back against the shelves with both hands over his face, crying as he had not allowed himself to cry yet, not even when he was cradling his dead twins head in his hands two weeks ago. Two pairs of arms wrapped around him; the three friends cried unabashedly at the hole in their lives left by Georges twin and the solace they now found in simply being together, that some shred of normalcy was left after the ravages left by the war. Some arbitrary toy on a shelf registered their noise and began to wail as well, which set off the rest of its shelf, and soon every noise-making item in the store was adding its own sounds to the chorus of cries. George, Angelina, and Lee stood pressed together amid the mourning shop, their cries slowly turning into laughter at the ridiculous noise.
Im sorry, George said to Angelina once he had finally regained control of his voice. I didnt mean to go off on you like that
I know you didnt mean anything
at the funeral, and my mum and all, its just been driving me up the wall
I know, she replied, squeezing him and kissing his cheek. You have a very rough couple of months coming ahead of you, George Weasley, but you know well always be right by your side.
Hell, Lee said hoarsely, wiping his damp cheeks. Id be more by your side if I had something to eat
its nearly time for breakfast. You still have that stash of Pumpkin Pasties in the back? He made for the store room.
Theyve surely all gone stale by now, George called after him. There should be some unopened bottles of butterbeer, though, that might still be good.
Five minutes later, the trio sat around the front counter with a pile of slightly stale pasties and Cauldron Cakes between them and a bottle of butterbeer each. They sipped their bottles in silence, each absorbed in a different string of thoughts.
You know what you should do, George, Angelina said. She was sitting in front of the counter and was staring at the wall behind it. Currently, it was plastered with promotional posters and merchandise. You should sanction off this wall and make it a tribute
you know, cover it with pictures of Fred
I have two or three you could put up
Yeah, Lee put in. But you should put up everybody, you know, people weve lost along the way. Remus and Tonks
Dumbledore, Diggory, Mad-Eye
Sirius Black, too. Heck, throw Snape up there, if you feel so inclined. Im sure lots of the Order have pictures
and Dumbledores on Chocolate Frog cards
I guess, George answered, staring down into his bottle.
What do you mean, you guess? I think its a great idea. What else are you going to do with that wall?
George looked up at the both of them and then back down in the bottle. I just
Im still not sure
that I want to keep this up.
Lee set his butterbeer down. Keep what up?
The shop. I dont know if I can, now that Freds gone. I dont mean run it by myself, I know I can do that, we used to switch off all the time
thats not the problem
He looked back up at them, their faces blank. I just dont know that I want to.
Lee and Angelina were silent. The rogue Canary Cream started its peeping again from the shelves.
What will you do instead? Angelina finally asked, her voice unreadable.
George shook his head. I dont know. We never had any other plans. This was our lives ambition. I hear the Ministry is going to undergo some major overhauls, though
I could find a job there
I wouldnt mind being an Auror, I suppose
or Charlie might be able to find me a job with the dragon keepers
You cant, Lee said quietly.
Why not? A handful of them got killed off, too, theyre going to need more Stunners
You know what I mean, Lee replied. You cant close this shop. What would Fred say?
Well, well never know, will we, as he was flattened
Hes right, George, Angelina interjected. Youve been planning this since you were eight. You cant go and get a Ministry job; can you just imagine? George Weasley, famed Hogwarts escape artist and creative genius extraordinaire, sitting in a cubicle filing papers
Maybe you can start writing reports on cauldron bottoms, if Percy needs an assistant
Just think, George! she said, her voice rising. You know very well what Fred would say! Hed call you a git for thinking about chucking all your work into the dustbin, a pansy for thinking of a Ministry job, and probably a jaded son of a
Now listen, he burst in angrily. You think I want to just deep six everything we worked for? Can you imagine, no Angelina, listen to me, just imagine coming into this place every day, over and over, being reminded constantly that Fred is dead, gone, and then trying to sell Nosebleed Nougats and Puking Pastilles as if it mattered? It was fun in school, throwing ideas around, being the center of attention, and then when we opened, we felt like were helping to raise the mood
give people a few laughs
He looked at his two friends with weary eyes. But it doesnt feel like that anymore. It feels childish, petty, insignificant
So you want to go shelve reports on dragon dung instead? Lee asked flatly.
No! I dont know. I just
its going to be so hard
Since when were you anyone to step down just because something was hard? Angelina asked pointedly.
Ill help you, Lee said quietly. Im getting tired of doing promotional work for Cleansweep
I was hoping to get into the sportscasting circuit, but Im kind of in a rut
Ill help you here. If youd want me, that is. I realize I could never take his place, ever, but youll need an assistant, not to mention someone to test your products on. Well get the place fixed up, mate, we could reopen in a month if you really wanted to
Its what Fred would want, Angelina said, taking Georges hand. Do it for the people who care about him, who care about you. Of course its going to be hard, of course youll think of him, and itll be painful for a long while. But I think it will become less so, in time. Itll be a way to celebrate him, George, not just simply remember him.
Besides, Lee continued with a weak grin, what in the name of Zebedeo Zonko will you do with all this stuff, if not sell it?
George was silent, gazing out through the window into the alley beyond. A few solitary figures moved down the street now. A faint waft of baking pastries filtered in over the smell of smoke. Somebody out of sight was whistling Puddlemere Uniteds team anthem. The reddish glow of sunrise had begun to filter in through the grimy glass, illuminating the items in the front display case. Underneath a years worth of dirt and dust, the Whiz-Bangs still had a faint purple glitter to them and the lettering on the boxes of U-NO-POO feebly flashed their changing colors.
George looked back at his friends. Youll help me?
Of course, idjit, what did you think? Lee ran a finger over the grubby counter and held it up, coated with dust. That we would just leave you out to sea?
From somewhere in the back of his mind, an image swam into view: Fred sitting on the floor of their room, his wand smoking. A Whizgigging Warbler he had been attempting to grow wings on had suddenly sprouted feet and run across the room before hitting the far wall and exploding. Thus, the idea for their Decoy Detonators had been born. Hey, mate, Fred had said later when they were planning out the finer details. Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.
One year later
Oi! shouted the picture on the wall. You in the green! Buy that Snackbox! Dont put it down, you git, buy it! You think any professor with a knut for a brain is really going to buy that lame I have a stomachache story? You need quality products, and Weasleys is the best! While youre at it, you might pick up a couple bottles of Daydreaming Delights as well, you look about as imaginative as the backside of a
Lee! shouted George over the noise. I need a couple of Basic Blaze Boxes; that last group wiped us out. And can it, will you? he addressed the large picture of Fred on the wall. Youre antagonizing the customers.
Just doing business, the image of his twin replied, glancing across the store. IF YOU BEND IT, YOU BUY IT, SMARMY! he yelled, making several Hogwarts students-to-be jump.
Here, Lee said, dropping a pile of Whiz-Bang boxes onto the counter. We need another order of Frog-Spawn Soap, when we have the time to send an owl.
Maybe if youd quit snogging my girlfriend, youd have spare time, yelled Freds picture over the din of the shop.
Oh shove it, you, Lee replied. I only went with her to see Wood playing against Ballycastle. Keep your shirt on.
The bell over the door, never quiet for very long anymore, jangled. Ron strode into the bustling shop.
Ickle Ronniekins! Freds picture called. Has Hermione asked you to get a Headless Hat yet? Or are you still together?
Hi Fred. Lee, George.
What brings you here? George asked as he took the pile of Blaze Boxes to the window. Percys not wanting more Smart-Answer quills, is he?
Fleur had her kid, he answered. Bills been at St. Mungos all day. Its a girl.
No kidding! George straightened and turned back. Ill have to nip over there after we close
what are they naming the baby Veela?
Victoire, he replied, helping George arrange the stack. Fleurs pretty disappointed that she has freckles, figures theyll mar her skin or something later in life, but Mum thinks shes beautiful. All blonde tufty hair and everything. Can you believe it?
Yeah, George answered, frowning at the Blaze Boxes. You think Mungos would object to me letting off one of these in the ward as celebration? Or should I go for the Deluxe package?
Fleurd probably destroy you. You are ze most orrible oncle in ze world
He jerked his thumb at the wall over the counter. You have a few new pictures up.
Yeah, Angelina found that Quidditch one in an old album, and Viktor Krum sent us a signed picture.
ONLY THE BEST AT WEASLEYS WIZARD WHEEZES! Freds picture roared. BUY ALL YOUR TOP-NOTCH TOMFOOLERY FROM ONE-EARED GEORGE AND DEAD FRED!
I see you havent bewitched any of the others to talk, Ron said.
Yeah, George replied, grinning at his twins picture. Lee and I figured Fred does enough damage single-handedly.
Ron looked around at the jam-packed shop and then checked his watch. I have to run; Mum wants to know if youll be at the Burrow for supper.
Yeah, I will, after I go see Bill and Fleur.
Alright then. See you tonight. Bye Lee! Bye Fred!
Bye Ronnie! shouted the picture.
Congratulations, Weasley, youre an uncle, said a girl wearing the green and pink robes of the shop. She was carrying a stack of boxed Portable Swamps. These had been an especially big hit item with returning Hogwarts students.
Thanks, Verity, he replied just as Lee poked his head around the shelf nearest him.
Were out of Extendable Ears, and I have a queue of first-years begging me for them, he said.
Urgh, George replied.
Oh, there are more in the back, Verity said. Under that monstrous stack of order forms youve yet to sort through. Ill get them.
Ah Verity, George said as she walked off. Where would I be without you?
She gave him a grin over her shoulder and he felt a swooping sensation in his stomach. She had been having that effect on him lately.
The day was one of their busiest yet as customers came and went in a steady stream. When the last shoppers finally left with stacks of Deflagration Deluxe, George waved off the lights and booted Lee and Verity out of the shop (Lee had opted not to move into Georges flat above the store; he lived instead in his own apartment outside of London). He then went around the store laying down protective charms and came to a halt in front of the wall behind the counter.
It was plastered with so many pictures that they were spilling onto the ceiling and over the doorframe. Lupin and Tonks hugged each other, Mad-Eye glared around the empty store, Dumbledore smiled from his Chocolate Frog card, Cedric waved in his yellow Quidditch robes, Sirius turned into a dog and back, Snape glowered, Oliver Wood laughed, Krum scowled, and Harry, Ron, and Hermione beamed from their photos covering the walls. Grinning down at him from all angles was Fred, waving from an Egyptian pyramid, slinging his beaters club, dancing with Angelina, exploding things with Lee, and standing with his arm around his twin brother.
George was very much aware that the picture in the middle was not Fred. It was only his image, bewitched to talk. It couldnt think like Fred had; if George got too complex whilst speaking to it, the photo would fall silent and make firecrackers burst from the end of its wand until George let it recuperate.
But it was a window; a glimpse of his twin whom he loved and missed with all his heart. He liked to think, too, that perhaps it was a glimpse of himself from wherever Fred was at the moment; no doubt wreaking havoc with the Marauders. There had been a few times that the picture had uttered words that no charm could have generated. When business was low, or when George was having trouble with a new product, or when he was simply sitting silently in the shop, reminiscing, hed hear a quip or a phrase that sounded so much like Fred, the real Fred, that he had to look around and make sure his twin hadnt suddenly popped out from behind the Snackboxes.
George stood in front of the framed picture, captioned by the words In celebration of Fred Weasley.
Verity likes you, his twins photo said.
You like Verity.
Bring my picture to the wedding so I can take the mickey out of you.
Freds picture snickered as George headed for the door. Say hi to Bill for me.
Alright. George turned, his hand on the knob. He gazed back into the shop, full to the brim with items of complete nonsense, things to make people laugh. Things turned out alright, eh?
His twins grin mirrored his own. The best, Fred answered.