what you forget
"Is it real?"
His own voice startles him - he meant for it to come out strong and clear like a man asking a simple question. Instead, he sounds meek and husky and childish and scared and tentative and worried and... George looks up from over his drink, hollowed-out eyes (they've been hollow since the incident, which all of them know in sharp focus - ohgodit'sfredhe'sgonehe'sdeadi'msorryi'msorryi'msorryicouldn'tsavehimicouldn'tstopitforgivemeplease - but none of them dare say aloud). George looks up with haunted eyes and laughs, just a little, bitterly.
(Like Azkaban, Percy thinks suddenly - like what Azkaban does to people.)
George laughs in a way Percy has never heard him laugh before, and says, "Do you think it would hurt if it were a dream?" and downs the rest of his mug. He motions to Rosmerta for a refill, and runs a hand over his face.
It's been six months, Percy thinks, six months and fifteen days and eighteen hours and forty-three minutes. Fred rots underground while George and Percy and Bill and Charlie and Molly and Arthur and Ron and Ginny rot on top, trying not to mention -
Trying not to think -
"Dreams can cause physical pain," Percy blurts suddenly, falling back on knowledge, "Nightmares, night terrors, or when a person does something painful in their dream and re-enacts it in real life, they can hurt themselves physically, and realize it in the dream, translating it into physical or mental pain. It happens. Often, particularly in sleepwalkers and vivid dreamers. Dreams can hurt, so -" George doesn't look up, which Percy is glad for, because he doesn't want his brother to see the raw, eager, desperate, foolish hope in his face. "Dreams can hurt. That means this can be a dream, even if I pinch myself and don't wake up. All it means is that, while sleepwalking, I accidentally got my arm caught in something and was pinched."
"Don't kid yourself, Perce. You know all that stupid nonsense doesn't change a thing." George swirls his drink mournfully, and a heavy silence falls.
George is bored, and lonely, and afraid. He wants to do something drastic, wants to make himself laugh or act or do something instead of sit and think with that hollow look, but George feels like doing anything without Fred is some sort of betrayal. He hasn't yet realized that doing nothing is betrayal. And Percy can't explain it to him, because he can't understand it himself. George wants to act and can't - Percy wants to think and can't. If they could only switch brains. He laughs to himself at the thought.
"It makes me feel better."
"No, it doesn't," George murmurs. "Why did you come here, anyway? What do you want?"
"I wanted..." To make you laugh. To hit you. To let you hit me. To make you hate me. To make you feel something, anything. "To tell you the truth. About how Fred died. Everything."
"I already know everything. Harry told me, and so did Ron, and so did Hermione. I don't need you to explain it again."
Percy expected this when he came, expected George to brush him off, expected the excuses. The only problem is, he's forgotten what he'd planned to say. So he begins babbling, saying whatever comes into his head, trying to remain calm and steady and collected.
(He's falling apart, inside. Seeing George is worse than hearing about him. He never suspected his brother to be quite like this.)
"I know they already told you what they saw. But did they tell you that Fred was teasing me? Or that he was laughing when it happened? Or that he'd just told me all about his girlfriend and how he was thinking about proposing to her? Or that, ten minutes before, he told me that he wanted to go left instead of right, because he had a bad feeling about that corridor and I told him to ignore it?" Percy is shaking now, unshed tears blurring his vision. "Did they tell you that he said it would be a great night to die, and a great way to go out? 'With a bang,' he said. 'Fighting, like Uncle Gideon. That'd be a fabulous way to die, don't you think?' Did they tell you that he knew?" He whispers, letting the tears fall, foolishly pretending that if he doesn't acknowledge them, then George won't notice them.
George doesn't reply for a long time, just takes another deep draught.
(It's at least his third drink, and George was here before Percy showed up, and he has no idea how many he had before, so he doesn't know if George is drunk or just wishes he were.)
For almost five full minutes, George stares into his drink as if the answers to all life's questions will leap out of its depths, before saying, barely audible - "I knew."
There's a beat, and Percy is acutely aware of the noise around him. People still celebrating, children who've sneaked out of Hogwarts, the occasional teacher appearing not to notice, a hag in the corner, a loud, ruddy-faced man in the side table. All around them, life continues. And at this table, with this drink, with this weight, time has no meaning. Both of them trapped by their own secrets, consumed with their own idle guilts.
A woman laughs at the next table.
"Felt it. I just suddenly thought, 'Fred's going to die.' You know how that happens?" George picks up a napkin and wrings it in his hands. "Where you just think, 'Oh, this happened,' and you don't know how you know, but you do. And you sit there and you tell yourself that it isn't true, that's stupid, why would you think that? but you can't escape it. You know. I didn't freak out when I saw you with Fred because I knew, and I couldn't breathe because, because," He's shaking as hard as Percy was and crying to boot, and he looks so depressed and it aches so much, and then - "Because it's my fault."
"That doesn't mean -"
"I know that!" George shouts suddenly. "But if I'd just gone and found him and not denied it, I could have stopped it! I could have - I should have - saved him. That's what brothers do for each other, right?"
Percy told Fred to ignore his premonition. George didn't run when he sensed danger.
"If you'd gone and found him and not denied it, you would have died too," He whispers. "Then both of you would be dead, and Lynna wouldn't have had a shoulder to cry on, and Mum would have lost two sons, and your shop would have gone under, and no one would ever talk about you again because it would be so tragic, just the same way none of us ever talk about Fred anymore because it isn't right. Because it's so - damn - wrong that none of us want to admit that it happened." Percy stops and takes a deep breath and George won't look up from his mug. "It's an insult to Fred's memory to forget about him.
"We don't want to -" Percy falters. "We don't want to admit that his death has affected us so much that the only way to cope is to pretend that there never was a Fred Weasley, and... And I'm beginning to think that's worse than drowning in alcohol to pretend he's still alive.
"What you forget," He continues after a moment, voice hoarse with stubbornly-held-back tears, "Says more about you than what you remember. Forget that you ever had a twin, and you'll be a happy fool. Hang onto the memory and become a melancholy sage. Do you want to dwell on this forever? Do you want to spend the rest of your days comforting Fred's girlfriend and never opening the shop back up? Do you want to die on the floor of the Leaky Cauldron or the Three Broomsticks, empty tankard in hand? Or do you want to be a jackass and go on with life like nothing happened?"
"Shut up," George hisses, fist clenched. "You don't know what it's like, you've never - you weren't - you don't -"
But Percy is overcome with a reckless energy. He keeps going, digging deeper. "No! You can sleep with his girlfriend and wear his face and call yourself Gred and do everything he did and it won't change anything. You can drown your sorrows in a mug and it won't bring him back. It's been six months, George, and have you even moved from this spot? You've done nothing but drink and you aren't doing your job at all. People come and go and you sit here, wasting all the money you and Fred worked so hard to earn on alcohol and sex and suffering, and all for what?" The truth is pouring out of him, the real reason he came, the answer he's been trying to work toward the entire time. Do something about it, Percy, Mum had pleaded, Bring him back. You were there, you saw it all happen. He might listen to you.
He's going to listen, Percy thinks, he's going to listen, whether he likes it or not.
"For what, George? For more of the same? For a wasted lifetime? What are you doing to yourself? What do you plan on accomplishing?"
"Nothing," His brother whispers, studying the grains of wood. "I don't want to accomplish anything."
Percy stares at George for a long moment, and then replies, loud enough for the entire pub to hear - "Then you're a bigger fool than I thought you were. Fred would be ashamed of you."
(Two weeks later, Weasley's Wizard Wheezes is up and running again.)