Number 93 Diagon Alley had been abnormally quiet in recent months.
George Weasley stood outside of his store and looked in the window. Some of the signs and fireworks still blinked feebly. Most had just given up, too tired to continue. George couldn't blame them; that was how he felt. He hadn't wanted to get out of bed today, or many recent days. It had taken him all morning to work up the courage to come down here. He sat in their room and whispered to himself how Fred wouldn't want the store to close.
He sighed and unconsciously fidgeted with his ear.
Owls carrying orders had been pouring in. People wanted to celebrate. They wanted to laugh. George had ignored them for the most part. He stayed at the Burrow with his family and shut out the world. But it had been so long. He hadn't made any galleons and now his rent was due.
He reckoned no one expected him to be so sad. He was supposed to tell jokes and make people laugh, not close himself in their room and cry. People expected that of his mum. But even she was up and about now.
He had to get back to work.
Again, George touched his ear. He was transfixed by their awning. It said, as it had since the beginning: Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. Weasleys.
He wondered if he'd have to move the apostrophe.
George didn't want to change it. He wanted everything to be as it was. But now here he was standing there, in front of the stupid sign and he felt like sobbing over the damned grammar of the thing. It'd be like that on the letterhead and packages too. How would he get through the day looking at it all the time?
He shouldn't have come down here. He wasn't ready yet.
Fred wouldn't want the store to close, he reminded himself again. Fred and he had given their life savings (and Harry Potter's) to this place. It was their pride and joy. It was important to keep it going.
Important, but still difficult.
George went to the door and slowly turned the lock with his key. When he pushed the door open, he was met with quiet and not the typical noise explosion. He looked around the store, at the Basic Blaze Boxes, Canary Creams and WildfireWhiz-Bangs. They were all just where they had left them. Everything was eerily the same.
He went around flicking on the lights with his wand. There wasn't anywhere in the store he could go and not think of his twin. They had built the place together and everywhere was Fred's touch. George wasn't sure if he wanted to keep it all exactly as it was, not touch anything ever again, or burn the place to the ground.
He couldn't really do either. It would be difficult for business.
There was a stack of letters in the back room. Most were new orders, but some were old. And George found that Fred had begun to fill them, marking off the inventory in his messy handwriting. Again, George felt a surge of emotion. He dropped the parchment to the desk as if scalded.
Then, tenderly, he picked it up again.
George looked at it sadly, and fell to ground, next to the fake wands and the Headless Hats (they had been Fred's idea) and buried his head in his hands. He didn't want to get up. He didn't want to look at what else was left. He wanted to go home again and get his mother to make him tea and pretend that Fred was just upstairs in their room sleeping in.
"I can't do this alone," he said aloud, to his brother. It was true. Neither of them had been particularly good at maths or book-keeping. Business was booming and it had been a lot of work for the two of them. By himself it would be next to impossible, even if he didn't feel like being sick ever other minute. The place could never be Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. It just couldn't be done. It had to be Weasleys. It had to be two of them.
There was a knock on the front door.
"We're closed!" shouted George to the intrusion, wiping tears from his eyes.
The knock came again, more insistent. "George! It's me!" called a familiar voice. For a split second, George's heart surged and he recognized it has his brother. Then he remembered it was a different brother.
He got to his feet and ambled toward the door. He opened it a crack and looked out at Percy's concerned face. "Mum said you came here," he said.
"Yeah," answered George, not sure what to say. He let his brother into the store and watched as Percy looked around.
Percy was the only Weasley who had never visited the store. George saw his eyes fall on the Reusable Hangman and Self-Inking Quills, with wonder.
"I'm sorry I didn't come before," whispered Percy. George nodded. He also rather wished Percy had come when the store had been in its glory. It had been impressive once. Now it was sort of depressing.
"What do you want, Perce?" George asked, somewhat rudely. It still made him mad to think about how long Percy had been estranged from the family. Sure he had come around eventually, but there had been times when they needed him and he hadn't been there.
Percy shuffled his feet awkwardly. "I know you're angry with me," he said, softly. "If I hadn't distracted Fred..." his voice trailed off and he thought he saw tears in his brother's eyes.
George looked at him, dumbfounded. "Perce, I don't think that," he said. "It wasn't your fault."
Percy had been with Fred when he died. George should have been there, he knew. He had always thought he'd be with Fred at death. He'd believed they'd go out together, or at least soon after each other. He pictured them getting old and crotchety, and then when one of them succumbed to age the other would slip away shortly after, nothing left to wait for. George hadn't even known his twin was dead until he entered the Great Hall and saw him lying there, motionless. Another delusion shattered. He was sure if his twin was in trouble or hurt, he would know. He would i feel /i it somehow. But he hadn't. He had been happy, pleased with himself for getting two wands off Death Eaters. He couldn't wait to show Fred and see how many he had got.
Percy touched his brother's shoulder, bringing him back from the memories. "It wasn't your fault either, George," he whispered.
George looked at the letter still in his hand and Fred's writing. "I don't know what to do," he confessed. "I never expected this."
"Let me help," said Percy, taking the order from his brother and carrying it over to the desk. "I... I know I'm not him. But... I want to. And..." he added softly, "I need a job."
"Yeah." George smiled half-heartedly. "I heard you resigned."