It had been a long month – the longest month that George had ever experienced. But here he was, in one piece. He had not fallen apart yet, which was a miracle in itself.
He gazed upon the jagged edges of the Burrow in defeat, expecting a swarm of nostalgia to rise up from the pit of his stomach and swallow his resolution, preventing him from doing what he had come there to do. He waited for memories of days long gone to start flooding back, hurting him in the worst of places – relentless. Strangely, however, this did not happen. Even though George resorted to purposefully staring at places that would be sure to stir faded reminders – the chicken coop, the gnome-infested garden, the little patch where he and his siblings had played Quidditch as children – he felt nothing.
Simply put, the Burrow was not the Burrow anymore, without his parents’ love and Molly’s around-the-clock pattering up and down the stairs like a mother hen. Not without smoke drifting out of the twisted chimney, smelling of his mother’s fantastic cooking. It wasn’t home without the tell-tale tinkle of Arthur working on something he wasn’t supposed to be working on, secluded in his garage. It wasn’t the Burrow anymore. It was only a disfigured house now, a shell of what used to be.
First, there had been the quiet annual anniversary of that terrible accident with Albus; the topic that everyone tiptoed around. Ginny still couldn’t bring herself to box away his possessions, even after all this time. In those distracted days, everyone was still struggling to grasp Fleur’s sickness – they were all worrying over Fleur and tending to her, owling all sorts of Healers up and down the country in search of answers. The tragedy with Al had struck everyone from behind, completely blindsiding the family. They were all stumbling around, dazed by the shock of it… And now here they were, one year later and still not discussing what had happened.
Mum was still in St. Mungo’s then, and no one wanted to tell her for fear that it would upset her, make her worse. She went seven months before finding out, and by then, she couldn’t understand what the words meant. George doubted she even remembered who Albus was. So there was Albus, and there was Mum, and it was only a matter of time before Death came and stole another member of the family.
Dad hung on for as long as he could. Truthfully, he had started preparing for it as soon as Mum became a permanent resident of St. Mungo’s. He allowed himself to waste away for months, waiting to die with her. And George would never forget his father sitting in the dark living room at home, the day that his wife passed, just sobbing into his hands because he had not died with her and she’d had to cross into the afterlife all alone. He couldn’t get over it. “All by herself,” he had repeated over and over. “She must have been so frightened, so lonely.” And somehow, two weeks ago, Arthur Weasley finally got his wish granted.
George pushed through the gate, holding an empty cardboard box in the crook of his elbow. “I don’t want anything,” he had tersely reminded Angelina that morning. “I haven’t been back there since before…” he trailed off. “I don’t think I could stand to see it.”
“If you don’t look through it, everything will be picked clean by the others,” Angelina said to him. “You know Dominique. She’s got stickier hands than Mundungus Fletcher.”
George had smiled somewhat at this. Angelina never knew Dung, had never met him. These days, however, the words ‘Mundungus Fletcher’ had become synonymous with ‘thief’. Ang must have picked it up from Roxanne, who used the popular saying all the time. But as much as he didn’t want to admit it, Angelina was right. In the end, George couldn’t stand the thought of Dominique cooking with his mother’s oven mitts, and reluctantly set off for Ottery St. Catchpole.
He tapped the phonograph in the kitchen with his wand, smirking at the ever-annoying voice of Celestina Warbeck spilling through the air. The phonograph was programmed to play the most frequently played favorites on rotation. For the first time in his life, however, George did not mind Celestina’s voice. It reminded him of his mother humming to herself as she set the table, or dusted off the curtains, her mind a thousand kilometres elsewhere as she fretted over people and events beyond her control. It filled George with a peaceful sense of home – as home had been when the Weasleys were alive and whole and happy – and he could close his eyes for a brief moment and imagine that everything was exactly as it had been.
His sister and brothers would be safe and cared for under his parents’ protection, and he would be entirely carefree. The worrying, the anguish over mortality in the war and all of the Order business – that was always for someone else to be concerned about. To George, it was like some exciting event happening far away on the other side of the world. He reckoned himself a hero in his daydreams, fantasizing about the war hitting closer to home so that he could fight and win and destroy Death Eaters. So that he could bring fame and gold to himself and his family.
Soon enough, the wallpaper would be peeled away and the scraped furniture would be dragged outside to be divvied up among cousins and long-lost uncles who only turned up for this sort of thing. The house itself was going to James, Harry’s son, and his new wife Felicity. Lucy had tried to dig her claws into it, as she was dissatisfied with her small flat in Bath, but the other kids (as George couldn’t help but still refer to them as ‘kids’ in his mind, even though they were all grown now) had quickly put a stop to that. No one could bear the thought of Lucy’s enormous, hideous sculptures littering the shelves that once held Arthur’s toaster collection, or of her paintings and modern appliances that would taint Molly Weasley’s beloved walls.
George could tell that someone had already been through earlier in the day, as there was a newspaper on an end table, the plastic wrapped around it still wet from rain. George stopped in the middle of the living room. All around him, he could feel the swarming footsteps of people who had come and gone through his childhood home, the home where his parents had gotten married in, where he and his sister and brothers had been raised. He couldn’t feel any Charlie or Bill or Ron, or the ghosts of his parents. He only felt the younger generation – with Lily having taken the set of blue plates and Louis having come by in search of extra bath towels. It made George sad, with the pronounced lack of his original family stirring in the air as children who weren’t much bothered by the situation rummaged and pilfered shamelessly. Like it was just an abandoned house full of free stuff and they could take whatever they wanted, no memories attached.
George closed his eyes and saw it all again like it was yesterday rather than forty years ago – Ginny curled up in the armchair, stroking her cat. Dad and Ron at the table, playing a game of chess while Charlie looked on and commented that they were making the wrong moves. Mum would be standing on the back porch, hands on her hips, staring out at the garden and wondering exactly what it was that she had forgotten to do that day. Bill would be up in his room, as usual, poring over his extensive collection of Wizard trading cards while Percy pestered him to put his laundry away. And George…
He hesitated. Two carrot-topped boys flashed in his mind’s eye, freckled and grinning with the promise of a forever-long future and naïve invincibility. Two boys, much too clever for their own good…much too brave…much too stubborn and eager to prove themselves.
George’s eyes fell across a framed picture of himself and Fred on Christmas during their seventh year, and several images began to churn out; slow with rust, like the reels of an old film.
The ghoul in the attic. Flying the car to Little Whinging. Dreaming about successful futures as business partners. Pretending they knew how to fight like Aurors in Dumbledore’s Army sessions. Spreading fireworks and swamps throughout Hogwarts and smiling at everyone’s awestruck faces, basking in their own glory and everyone else’s admiration. Watching the rain leak through the roof of their Diagon Alley flat, grinning at each other excitedly and trying to figure out how to turn the stove on. It was a grand adventure, every single day of it. Most of what had made it fun was always having someone else there to share it with. Fred had been such a tremendously large part of him, his very best friend and mirror image, in nearly every way. George never realized exactly how much of himself was actually Fred until Fred was gone, leaving a cold, gaping hole in his wake.
George was thankful that Angelina hadn’t come along. He hadn’t anticipated the pain of trudging through this house alone, sticking bent-up forks and an old quill that everyone used to like because it had the best ink flow, but was completely dry now, into his cardboard box. Worthless items. He found a dishcloth with a pattern of a rooster on it and dropped that inside, too, having remembered his mother using it to wash dishes over and over again. He passed up more expensive items – a watch he had given his father for his last birthday – in favor of things like Arthur’s old plugs, and a small green dish that once held bars of soap that smelled like vanilla. He would leave Victoire and Roxanne and Rose to fight over who got to keep the objects of monetary value. To him, the real treasures were the useless things that everyone else overlooked; the things that served as memoirs to real people who had lived under this roof, blissfully ignorant of what was to happen. Things that meant family.
He was not alone in this. He knew that Ron had come by, also alone, for their mother’s special clock. Ginny had taken a pair of dirty old Wellingtons and a sheet of parchment that used to hang over the wireless, with little words like “Romulus”, “Albus,” “Mad-Eye”, and “Rodent” written on it and then scratched out, like a shopping list. George knew that his parents had listened to Potterwatch, but until he saw that list of passwords, he never fully understood how seriously he should have taken the show, and how seriously his parents must have taken it. He could envision his mother staring intently at the wireless, stricken, at the things he and Fred and Lee had dared to say on their broadcasts. Just to think that if he had gotten caught, what the Death Eaters might have done to his family in retaliation…
Bill had taken a photograph album and a cup with a blue dinosaur on it that used to hold toothbrushes. Charlie had taken Arthur’s glasses and one of Molly’s flowered aprons, although he tried to hide it. Percy wanted an antique oil lamp that had been a permanent fixture of the living room in the old days, but no one could find it. After much disappointment, Percy acknowledged defeat and settled for one of his mother’s hand-written cookbooks and the doorknob that went to his old bedroom. Even Harry had come by once, without Ginny – but whatever he may have taken would remain a mystery, as he didn’t say and no one asked out of respect for his privacy.
One by one, the original Weasley children had made their way into the house, on a solo trip, to bid their final farewells. They would see the Burrow again, many times. They would sit around a different table in a newly-painted kitchen, with different curtains and different children. They would swing by for holidays and wish James and Felicity a Happy Christmas. But really, it would be a completely new place. It would no longer be home, and would lend George no comfort. Death had taken the Burrow for his own, as well.
At last, George could avoid it no longer. He began to mount the stairs, heading toward the one room he had come to see all along – the bedroom that he once shared with Fred.
It was mostly used for storage now, with battered yellow copies of Witch Weekly all the way back from 2011 sitting around. The air tasted stale and stagnant, and the room looked much, much smaller than he remembered. Looking around now, he couldn’t fathom how they ever fit two beds in there. It looked so empty without knitted Gryffindor jumpers and early drafts of punching telescopes leaking all over the carpet.
Although most of his belongings had been packed up and moved to who-knows-where, George was surprised to see the gray filing cabinet resting sturdily in one corner. It, too, looked much smaller than he remembered. He made his way over and pulled out one of the drawers, his eyes clearing as a wealth of memories flew open from where he had pinned them, hidden them, away from himself.
There were bulging folders that stocked sheet after sheet of parchment scribbled with ideas that, in retrospect, could have been utter disasters if carried out. And some of them definitely did result in catastrophes. He recognized the properties for Ton-Tongue Toffee, and a receipt for Twilfit and Tattings that was used as a spare bit of parchment, with Fred’s handwriting lining the back.
George’s twin had written on it in the dead of night, after waking up with what he had called a “revolutionary idea”, and it was the first thing he found that was eligible to write upon. That old scrap of paper was the beginning of their WonderWitch line, in the early stages. George could see that a few of Fred’s proposed ingredients for the Grow A Better Nose In Three Days would have gone horribly wrong if implemented. This revelation depressed him, since he had regarded Fred as a genius.
Fred certainly was a genius; but because his life was cut so wretchedly short, he was never able to grow up and learn as George did. He would never see that beetroot would clearly be more effective than floxgrass, or that Armenian Sprouts should never be added to a mix with so many acidic elements already in it. Here was Fred, fiercely writing in the dark with his tongue between his teeth, coming up with what he believed were fail-proof inventions. And in the morning, of course, George and his untrained brain had swiftly agreed and they had happily set to work on their new adventures – some of which failed and some of which blossomed into huge, grossly manufactured commodities.
And now… Now, George had to be both of them. He had to have the business skills and the creativity, the financial brains and the advertising know-how. Fred had always been the master of the ‘hook’ – the one-line statement about a product that would reel customers in. Even all these years later, George was still running back and forth doing the jobs of two different people. He had never quite adjusted to operating alone, depending wholly on himself.
Death owed George quite a lot.
He shut the drawer, grazing one thumb over a sticker he had peeled off the back of a Bertie Bott’s box and pasted there, not really thinking about it. “Oh, what I would tell you, Fred,” he spoke quietly, a lump catching in his throat. He would tell Fred about how Bertie Bott’s went under several years ago, having been replaced by Jack Beanstalk’s Magic Beans. Fred would never have believed it.
George would tell him how beautiful Angelina looked under a wedding veil, and how when he was with her, he was exactly in the place he needed to be – a comfortable middle ground between the past he longed for and the overwhelming present. Angelina had known both of them before the war began, and was there through it all. She represented stability and youth and everything he needed, everything Fred would approve of.
He would, after a dramatic pause so that Fred could impatiently stew in anticipation, inform him of how Harry fainted when Ginny’s water broke before she gave birth to James. Fred would’ve found that a riot. He would tell his brother about testifying at the trial of Lucius Malfoy, and how they all roasted him to a cinder with their eyewitness testimonies. The old man was still rotting in Azkaban, as far as George knew, and George did not feel bad about this one whit. He would tell Fred about Roxanne’s obnoxious boyfriend, and about the night terrors his own little Fred had when he was a toddler.
Most of all, George would repeat their mother’s words to him on the day of Fred’s funeral, with her eyes misted over and her nose rubbed red and raw. “He knew I was proud, didn’t he?” she had whispered, lips trembling. “No matter how much I…may have acted otherwise…he knew I was so very proud of the both of you and your business? I fussed so much about your O.W.L.s, your N.E.W.T.s… You’re both so ambitious,” she said, unwilling to refer to Fred in past-tense. “I admire you so much for it. And I love you both more than anything in this world.” She had reached up and pulled George down to her in an embrace, covering his face with her shoulder so that he could hide the tears that streaked his cheeks, and the red-rimmed eyes that stung with a tragedy he couldn’t wrap his head around.
And George would have told Fred this because, honestly, he wasn’t sure if Fred did know for sure that Molly was proud of their decision to create a joke business in the midst of a war they didn’t quite understand or comprehend the magnitude of. Neither of them were nearly afraid enough; they whittled away hours gaily counting their Galleons and scheming up the next trick while they read bits of the Prophet whenever it suited them and fancied themselves ready for battle.
George had comforted his mother with words like, “Yes, of course he knew you were proud of him,” and he saw that regret was a close companion to Molly Weasley, and that it haunted her for many long years. She made up for it by buying up as much Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes as possible. There were still a few boxes with Decoy Detonators and Headless Hats sitting in the garage, unopened. Both he and Molly were the only ones that never quite recuperated, who quietly grieved in the darkest parts of their hearts long after Fred became a fixture of the past, just like the old oil lamp.
Now that Molly was gone, George was the only one who still nursed a crippled soul due to Fred’s death. But everyone was splintered, in their own way, because of the blows life had dealt them. Albus. Mum. Dad. It would never end. Someone else would always have to die next, and their loved ones would be left sitting in the broken pieces, not wanting to move forward into the future. The only way to survive was to pretend to be strong for the sake of other people around you still alive. You never see how much you should enjoy them now while they’re still here, and how much you take them for granted, because tomorrow they will be gone, too. You cannot see it until after they are taken from you. And the pattern repeats.
The world still ticks, with or without you, and either you can stay at Mortal Peril or you can move with the time, and somehow make it around the face of the clock. One year. Two years. It goes by and the pain gets less consuming. It doesn’t burn as much. Three years. Four. You’re a father now and you wish that your best friend could see that wrinkled little face, with the tiny lips stretching wide into a yawn. You wish so badly for it, but it will never happen, and so you have no choice but to hold your new son close to your heart, his very namesake, and cry with misery because you feel so alone in so many ways, but also with joy because you’ll never be alone again.
One half of their legacy still survived. And this legacy would pass down to another Fred, so that it would be almost like everything was right again. And someday… Someday the company would fade out altogether, like Bertie Bott’s, in the natural cycle of life and replacement and death. And George wouldn’t be there to care because he would be on the other side of everything. All of the people he loved would be there, finally all together again, and his heart would burn no longer.
George levitated the file cabinet with his wand and moved it across the room to the doorway, as he would be taking the whole thing with him. It would look right at home in his Hogsmeade office, overlooking the newest branch of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes joke shop. It only made sense to keep it near Hogwarts, where most of their inventions were developed and really began to take flight. Fred would have appreciated the sentimentality.
He looked all around. “And what would you have taken, Fred?” he asked the particles of dust shining from the light of the window. A small smile crept across his face. What with final farewells and a younger generation taking over the Burrow, George suddenly knew exactly what his brother would have taken as a memento.
George descended the staircase, passing barren walls that once overflowed with portraits of moving Weasleys; Ginny on a broom, Percy and his prefect badge, Bill shaking the Minister’s hand after he was named Senior Undersecretary. Everyone in motion, moving forward, except for Fred. He would never grow old and weary like George. Fred would never have arthritis or the wisdom that accompanies age. He was eternally twenty years old, laughing and invincible in the corridors of Hogwarts, brandishing his wand at a Death Eater like he matched him, like he stood a chance in hell. He would never get married and have children of his own. Fred could no longer be George’s mirror image, not with the latter’s nearly-bald head, reading glasses, and missing ear. The emotional problems that plagued George had manifested physically, betraying him with spots and lines, and aches in his joints that woke him up whenever it rained. A luxury, compared to Fred's fate.
And because of Fred and all that he would never have, James Potter would be missing a roof to go with his new house when he and his wife moved in later on that day – for George had pointed his wand at the crooked, climbing roof and Vanished it. Gone.
It belonged to Fred now, wherever he was. And George grinned, thinking to himself that Fred would be just fine with that exchange.
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