He had the nightmare again that night.
It was always the same; a confusing mix of sights, sounds, and smells with almost everything obscured by a dense fog that hadn't been there when the events he dreamed of had happened. He understood that the fog was just his subconscious's way of reminding him of how tangled and confused everything had been, but it only served to make the climax of the dream that much more frightening.
There was always the blinding flash of green light and then the fog would miraculously clear, giving him a clear view of a sight that was permanently embedded in his memory. He saw himself, frozen with a wide grin on his face, falling to the floor, dead before he made contact with the rough stones. And a dimly heard masculine voice shouting Noooooooooooooooooo!.
Only it hadn't been he who had died that day.
George Weasley jerked awake from the dream, sweating and for a moment confused about where he was. The sound of a ticking clock from downstairs gave him his first clue; he was at The Burrow, in his old bedroom. The family was gathering that weekend to celebrate the ten year anniversary of Voldemort's defeat and to commemorate the death of. . .
No, he told himself. Don't say the name. Just let go of it.
He had been giving himself the same advice for nearly ten years, and during the daylight hours it actually worked. But with darkness came sleep, and with sleep came the dreams. Tonight's had been a particularly vivid one.
He stretched out a hand and felt the edge of the small twin-sized bed that he lay in. A far cry from the larger, more comfortable bed that he had in his own home. And without the woman he loved to share it with.
Angelina was always able to comfort him after the nightmares. In fact, when she slept at his side the dreams rarely came. But she was away on a special Quidditch exhibition tour of Australia and New Zealand, and the schedule of matches was so jam-packed that she was only able to Apparate home once every four days. As he thought of Angelina his heartbeat started to slow and he could feel himself growing calmer and more relaxed. He marveled at how she didn't even need to be present; just the thought of her could make him feel better about the bad dreams.
Theirs had always been a somewhat unlikely romance. He had long been attracted to Angelina, but had hung back, being quieter and somewhat more introverted than his twin. He had stood aside when his brother had finally asked Angelina out, but it had taken nearly a year of on-again, off-again dating between the two of them for her to realise that the Weasly twin she really wanted to be with was George.
He reached out towards the bedside table, picking up his wand. "Lumos," he said, quietly enough to avoid waking any of the rest of the household. Not that there were so many people to wake; his mother and father were there, and his brother Percy. Percy's wife was in Wales on a business trip but would apparate to the Burrow tomorrow before the commemorative ceremony began, just like the rest of the family. Ron, Hermione, and their little daughter Rose were in Ron's old garrett bedroom at the top of the house, so he didn't worry about bothering them.
Using the glowing tip of his wand for light he quietly made his way down to the kitchen. The early May night was chilly, so he stoked up the embers in the stove to get the fire going. With a quick wave of his wand he made himself a cup of tea and then sat at the table, cradling the warmth in his hands. Now he could let the memories come.
It was strange that his thoughts started with Angelina. They had gone through some very rocky times after the end of the war. George had been completely numbed by grief; he had withdrawn from friends and family, and eventually lost himself in firewhiskey. His family had all but given up on him, all except his younger brother. Ron had stepped in and taken over the reins at Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, working hard at keeping the company going while George attempted to drink himself into oblivion.
Oblivion had been just what he had wanted. Not money, not friendship, not love. What he had wanted was nothingness. And it had nearly cost him everything.
Oh, he had thought that he had ample reason to want to forget. His self-pity was probably the ugliest part of the whole saga. He had been seriously – some might argue grievously – injured. He had lost not just a brother, but his twin brother, the other half of himself. Everything else had paled in comparison to that, at least in his twisted, drunken reality.
And all of it for Harry Freakin' Potter, hero and saviour of the wizarding world. Every ounce of disgust that the war had engendered in his soul had been directed at Harry, the "cause" of so much misery. His heart still curdled with shame when he thought of the scene he had made at Harry and Ginny's wedding. . .
Ron finished stumbling through his best man's speech and sat down, his ears the same shade of red as his hair. Harry was too busy laughing to offer any comfort, but Ginny leaned across her new husband and gave one of Ron's hands a squeeze. From where he was sitting George could see the entire bridal party looking relaxed and happy, and that made him angry. He quickly swallowed what was left of his champagne and got unsteadily to his feet.
"I'd like to propose another toast," he said, holding the empty champagne flute aloft. His words were slightly slurred, and he saw his mother begin to rise from her seat as if to stop him speaking. He quickly turned on her, his face and voice angry. "Can't I toast the happy couple?" he asked, derision making his words harsh. "Surely you don't think Ron's pathetic words were sufficient?"
Ginny gasped and tightened her grip on Ron's hand, who otherwise would have sprung to his feet and confronted George. Harry whispered something into Ron's ear and he subsided into his chair, but not without a murderous look for his brother.
"Here's to Harry Bloody Potter!" he shouted, snatching a full glass of champagne from the tray of a nearby waiter. "Our hero and saviour, and to my baby sister, for finally getting what she's always wanted." He gestured toward Ginny with the flute. "Good luck, Gin-Gin," he continued, letting all of his anger flow into the words. "You'll need it, because the only people that "Hero" Potter has never been able to save are the ones he cares about."
There was a brief moment of stunned silence as he downed the champagne in one swallow before the room erupted in angry, strident voices. Above everything he could hear Ron shouting "I'll kill that son of a bitch!" but it wasn't until he was at the door, pulling it open to leave, that he finally heard his sister's sobs.
But it was the memories of Angelina that hurt the most. She had not been able to handle his angry moods or his frequent drunkeness. He well remembered her words to him shortly before she had walked out of their shared flat: I love you George, but I can't live with you any longer. At the time he hadn't cared. Good riddance, he had shouted as the door closed. But the next day, after he sobered up, he had sobbed like a child and poured out every last drop of firewhiskey and butterbeer that was in the flat.
It hadn't been easy to return to sobriety after nearly four years inside a bottle. In fact it had felt more like a battle than anything he had done during the war, probably because he had done it alone. Although he had more or less voluntarily estranged himself from his family after Harry and Ginny's wedding he had known that they would have showered him with help and support if they had known how much he had needed it. So he hadn't mentioned anything about not drinking anymore and had fought himself by himself. And when he had finally returned to Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, clear-eyed and clear-headed, Ron had welcomed him back with teary eyes and open arms.
"George? What are you doing up at this hour?"
The words startled him out of his reverie and caused tea to slosh over the lip of his cup. He looked up and met Percy's eyes, which had the slightly off-center, unfocused look that they always wore when he neglected to wear his glasses.
George shrugged, tapped the tea kettle with his wand to warm it again, then poured his brother a cup before topping off his own. "Couldn't sleep," he said in response to the question, sipping his tea to avoid spilling his guts about why he couldn't sleep.
Percy slid into the chair opposite George, rubbing his eyes as he did. "Me too," he said. "The 'couldn't sleep' part." He Summoned the sugar bowl and creamer from across the kitchen and took his time about adding them to his tea. When he spoke again he kept his eyes on his cup, as if the secrets of the universe where contained in its depths.
"I kept thinking about that day, you know? And how it's been ten years. It doesn't seem that long, does it?" He glanced up long enough to see George shake his head. "I guess it's because the memories are so vivid. . ."
If you only knew, Perce, George said to himself. If you only knew just how vivid the memories are.
"I have nightmares, sometimes. About. . ." Percy looked uncomfortable. "His death."
George stopped moving with his cup halfway to his mouth. He felt as if his body were slowly freezing from the inside out. He carefully set his tea on the table but didn't speak. He couldn't speak. Not about this.
Percy turned away from his brother and stared out the window at the back garden, shrouded in darkness. "I can never forget the fact that it happened right in front of me." He closed his eyes and George could see the muscles of his throat work as he swallowed. "And I especially can't forget that it was my fault."
George started so violently that he knocked his cup off of the table. It made a most satisfying crash as it shattered on the floor and hot tea scalded his bare feet. He ignored the pain, though. His attention was riveted on his brother.
"Your fault, Perce? How do you figure that?"
Percy stared into his cup of tea as if it held all the secrets in the universe. "I made a stupid joke," he said. "A stupid joke to Thicknesse about my resignation, and he was so surprised and pleased that it distracted him for just a moment. . ."
"But it wasn't just the two of you, Perce. Ron told me what happened. He, Harry and Hermione were there as well. And it was a freak spell that exploded. It could even have been cast from outside! There wasn't anything that anyone could have done."
"I know," Percy replied, finally lifting his face and meeting George's eyes. "I know all of that intellectually. Emotionally, though, is a different story. I can't help but feel that if I had done something else, said something else, then Fred would be here with us right now."
It was the first time either of them had spoken Fred's name in the conversation, and it was a jarring note. But as the silence following Percy's last words lengthened George found that he wasn't as uncomfortable as he thought he'd be with his twin's name being mentioned. In fact he was surprised that it didn't hurt at all to hear the name. Percy's face wore a stricken expression; he was pale and his eyes were wide.
"It's OK, Perce. I can hear his name without going off." George smiled. "In fact, it doesn't really bother me now. A couple of years ago it would have been a different story – any mention of Fred would have sent me straight for the firewhiskey." At Percy's surprised look George had to laugh. "That's something else it's OK to mention," he said. "I'll even tell you the whole sordid story of being an alcoholic."
Percy looked uncomfortable; he dropped his gaze to the tabletop and a flush started to spread across his face. "I don't want to pry."
"It's not prying, Percy. You're my brother. You have a right to know. Even if Mum did tell everyone they shouldn't ask."
Percy smiled slightly at that. "You've got her pegged, don't you? Yes, Mum did tell us that we should leave well enough alone, but I think we all need to hear about it. Do you agree?"
"I do indeed," George replied. "So ask."
Percy looked non-plussed; he chewed on his lower lip as he thought about how best to ask. George hid a grin as he recognized his brother's most common nervous mannerism. Percy always gnawed on his lip when he wanted to gain time. George took pity on him. "Honestly, Perce, you can ask anything. I made a promise to myself that I would never be less thsan truthful about the whole thing, so don't be afraid of offending or upsetting me."
Percy relaxed at those words and released his lower lip from the death-grip of his teeth. "I just. . ." he began. "I wondered. . ." he stuttered. Finally he took a deep breath. "I just can't help but wonder about everything, considering. . ." His words trailed off but George understood.
"Considering how wizard medicine treats anything to do with alcohol, you mean?" he asked, trying to keep the disgust from his voice. "Why bother to acknowledge that people can become alcoholics when you have sobriety spells and potions to instantly cure hangovers?"
"So what did you do?" Percy asked, resting his elbows on the table and leaning closer. "It must have been hellish to fight that without help."
George grinned. "I had help. I went to a Muggle hospital."
Percy's jaw dropped and then he let out a long, slow whistle. "No wonder you don't discuss this with Mum! She'd have kittens if she knew!"
George laughed. "Tell me about it. But I didn't have a whole lot of choice, since St. Mungos doesn't have a rehabilitation clinic. Plus I wasn't exactly hurting for money, so I was able to afford a Muggle facility that didn't ask a lot of questions about who I was or my National Health number, whatever the hell that is."
"And how did this hospital help you?"
"In just about every way there is" George replied, getting serious. "Mainly by teaching me the things I needed to know so that I could take back control of my life."
Percy absently re-filled their tea and took a sip from his. "Like what?"
"Like recognizing what triggers the desire to drink. Like knowing the difference between drinking for the hell of it and using alcohol as a painkiller. And realizing that the only person in the world that had control over my behavior was me." He smiled slightly at that. "It sounds like such a simple thing, but it's harder than it sounds."
Percy smiled. "It's not just a facet of treatment for alcoholism. Sometimes I have a hard time remembering that I am the person in control of my own behavior." He quickly grew serious again after that comment. "But why didn't you tell anyone about this?" he asked. "I understand why you couldn't talk to Mum about it, but why not Ron or Ginny? Or me, for that matter?"
"Because I couldn't. I couldn't go to any of you until I proved to myself that I could get past it."
"Why? Because of what happened at Ginny's wedding?"
George blushed at the memory. "Mostly, yeah. I didn't want my family to know until I could stand before them, sober and in control. That way you could all know that I was OK."
"Do you ever slip back?" Percy asked. "I mean really slip, like a complete bender?"
"Oh, yes! One time in particular." He paused to take a sip of his tea. "It was after I had asked Angelina to move back in with me and she refused. She said that she needed more time to sort out all of her feelings for me and that living together wouldn't allow her that. I completely lost it that day."
"That must have been difficult," Percy said. "I know how much you love her."
George felt his eyes start to sting as tears rose in them. He blinked rapidly to hold them back. "Angelina was the hardest part of all of this," he whispered, staring into his mug to hide his unshed tears. "I needed to show her so much more; prove so much more. Not because she demanded it of me, but because I felt I owed it to her, and to us."
"Well, you must have succeeded," Percy said. "You two seem very happy together."
"You think you're not? Do you think something's wrong between you?" Percy asked.
George sighed. "I don't know. But doing this Quidditch exhibition tour was optional. Why would she have chosen to leave for so long if she wasn't having doubts about us?"
"I don't know, George" Percy replied. "The ways of woman are pretty damned incomprehensible at times."
"Why not try asking a woman, then?"
The two of them started at the voice; George jerked around in his chair to look towards the kitchen doorway. Their sister-in-law Hermione stood there, a lighter sahdow against the deeper dark of the sitting room behind her. She stepped forward into the light from the fire and repeated her question.
George grinned and flicked his wand to pull out a chair for her. "Because, dearest, darling sister-in-law, until this moment there wasn't a woman to ask."
Percy Summoned another cup from the dresser and poured her some tea as Hermione slid into the seat beside George. She stirred milk and sugar into the tea before taking a sip. "So, what, exactly, is this burning, woman-are-incomprehensible question?"
George quickly summarized what he and Percy had been discussing just before Hermione's arrival. He concluded with "I just can't understand why she would have gone on this tour.".
Hermione drank her tea while she considered the issue and studied George. He had always been the least easily read of all of the Weasleys, to her at least. Most everyone else in the family wore their hearts on their sleeves, especially Ron. But George was quieter, more introspective and less demonstrative. Plus there was the fact that he, more than anyone else in the family, had been personally affected by the war with his injury and his twin brother's death.
George quickly grew uncomfortable under Hermione's gaze. She was, without a doubt, the smartest, most intelligent person he knew. He could almost see the gears moving in that phenomenal brain of hers as she thought about the situation, and it felt as if she could see right into his soul. But the first words she spoke came as a complete surprise.
"Do you love Angelina, George?" She quickly held up a hand to stall the protest she could see coming. "No, you're right. That's the wrong question." She sat for a moment, thinking. "How do you show Angelina that you love her?"
"I tell her I do every damned chance I get!" George said, sounding aggrieved and just the slightest bit annoyed.
"That's not what I asked."
George and Percy exchanged a confused glance. "What else is there besides telling her I love her?" George asked.
Hermione smiled; one of those small, irritating little smiles that spoke of feminine superiority in matters of the heart. "Angelina isn't like me, George. Words aren't enough for a woman like her. You have to show her how you feel. And that, I think, is why she chose to go on this tour."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" George asked, his voice raised.
Hermione laid a calming hand on his arm. "Hush. You don't want to wake the entire house. Especially not my daughter. And I was just about to explain what I mean."
"Sorry," George whispered, feeling a contrite blush climbing his cheeks.
"You're forgiven," Hermione said, again with that little smile. She took a sip of tea before she spoke again. "And what I meant was maybe going on this tour is Angelina's way of giving you the space and time that she thinks you need to sort out how you feel. You gave that to her when she needed it, after all. She's just returning the favour."
"But I don't need to sort out how I feel," George protested. "I know. I've always known. There's never been another woman for me. Never! She's the only one I've ever wanted to be with and the only one I will want to be with. I can't imagine my life without her."
"Do you want to spend the rest of your life with her?" Percy asked.
"Of course I do!"
"Then tell her that," Hermione said.
"What, go to New Zealand? Now?"
"Why not?" Percy asked. "When you find the person you want to spend the rest of your life with shouldn't the rest of your life begin right now?"