A/N: Written as an audition piece for the Fanfiction Factor competition at HPFC.

Disclaimer: I do not own the Harry Potter series or the poem "Fermata."

One promised nothing would break, and nothing did,

And one saw breaking everywhere

And could not say what he saw.

-Andrew Zarwycki, "Fermata"

George felt a dull twinge of awe upon returning to Diagon Alley. All of the shops' owners, employees, and regular customers had come together to sweep, shovel, and lay fresh brick, resuscitating the place that unified them before the war forced them apart. No magic. Just hands. Hands that clap one another on the back, offer a consoling hug, hold a sheet of glass as four men walk it forward, pressing it into the opening that was once a blasted wall. The magic community had eaten its own, and from the bones of the fallen arose a brotherhood not aided by any wand.

George's hands were balled into fists, jagged nails digging into his palms. All of these people knew what happened to Fred; some were even at his funeral yesterday. George kept his head down; he needed to avoid them and their "Oh, I'm so sorry," "I can't imagine how hard this must be for you," and the worst, "I understand." Liars! he thought, the corners of his eyes burning. How could they ever understand? His mother had tried to convince him that those people were just trying to sympathize with him, and that Mr. Stevens did lose a twin brother during the First Wizarding War. Yeah, but he didn't lose Fred. So how could he ever know?

The Weasleys were shocked that George was returning to the joke shop so quickly. George knew they all expected him to be too grievous to work, but he knew he couldn't handle being surrounded by sadness much longer. Besides, it's what Fred would want him to do—right?

Ron had offered to help him with Wheezes once it re-opened. George said he'd think about it. Ron had also offered to come with him today, to help clean up whatever was there, to be with him in case "er, something" happened. George told him to stay home. He didn't need any help. If anything, Mum and Dad needed help. And if "er, something" did happen, George would rather be alone. He didn't want a repeat of yesterday. Never, ever again.

George placed a trembling hand on the grimy door of 93, expecting the worst to overtake him, secretly wishing that insanity would strike and dispatch him quickly. The door drunkenly swung open, hanging by a hinge. George stared unfeelingly at the bleak scene that was once Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. Everything in the shop had been ransacked, smashed, and covered in a thin layer of death-gray ash. Cash registers had been flipped upside down, shelves blasted apart, Pygmy Puff cages reduced to tufts of cheerless pink fur. Even the "FILTHY BLOOD TRAITORS" graffiti on wall looked a dull maroon.

George was either excellently keeping his composure or already helplessly mad. He Summoned a broom from the shop across the street and began to vigorously sweep the floorboards, sending ash everywhere in dense, billowing clouds. Despite the fact that it was becoming quite difficult to breathe, George continued to sweep as the ash clouds hid the destruction that surrounded him. Harder and harder George swept until his eyes involuntarily shut from the grainy burn. Giving up, he dropped the broom with a clatter and walked away, thrusting his palms into his blinded, watering eyes. The floorboards creaked quietly—too quietly—under his feet. No familiar echo of another left foot. He quickened his pace, trying to find that echo again, but bumped into the corner of the countertop. Silently cursing his clumsiness, George clutched his thigh and let himself fall over the dusty counter, pressing his face against the cold steel.

He heard a tiny woosh and saw a beige envelope flutter to the ground. At first, he only stared; it appeared unusually vibrant amongst the lifeless dust. It was addressed to just him—"Mr. G. Weasley." It was probably a sappy sympathy note or, hell, maybe an eviction notice. George had no desire to see what was inside, yet he dropped to his knees and opened the envelope, half-expecting to throw it away after reading the first line.

Dear Mr. Weasley,

I know I am probably the last person on your mind right now, but I am writing to say that I am safe. I fled with my family to France when the Death Eaters invaded Diagon Alley. I tried to set up protective enchantments, but Merlin, they were closing in so fast and I was so afraid for my life. I take full responsibility for whatever destruction they may have caused. I shall return later this week, but if you want to fire me, I understand.

I heard. Everyone has heard. Congratulations on victory, my dear soldier. I admire you so deeply for fighting. I never could have. My magic is too weak and I know I would have been killed. You're not just a prankster mastermind. You are Gryffindor brave through and through.

Yet despite all the celebration, I offer you my sincerest condolences. I am sure you had the funeral already. I won't even pretend to understand how you feel right now, but it sickens me to think about the loss you have sustained. You have such a strong, beautiful family, and I know that a tragedy as painful as this can only unite you further. Although the Wizarding world is finally at peace, my greatest wish is for you to find it within yourself.


Verity xx

George read Verity's letter three times before folding it up and placing it in his breast pocket. He momentarily held his hand over it, expecting a volatile wave of emotion to release him from this suffocating nothingness he felt. His body felt weak, empty, and trapped, incapable of feeling. George sat on the floor of his joke shop for a long time, watching the ash clouds settle over everything like a dirty snow.