A/N 1: Hi, friends! If you read up to chapter 21 before, you may be surprised, but I am in fact going through and making edits to all the chapters before I finish up this fic. Forgive me for the long hiatus. I am trash and you all are perf.
A/N 2: Professor Severus Snape, Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, and Nagini are still alive, though Neville maimed her. Everyone else who died in the books stays dead, though. I know, it sucks, but "life is unfair."
Gold and violet light fluttered through the mullioned windows of the Hogwarts infirmary, spreading over the white sheets of Headmaster Dumbledore's bed. Black, wrinkled hands sat useless on top of his encyclopedia of snakes. Skin crisped on his shoulders like burnt paper whenever he turned a page.
The door at the end of the infirmary squeaked open. The door to Dumbledore's office and bedroom didn't make any noise whatsoever. The doors to the dungeons, soaked with humidity of the underground caverns, produced a different squeak when expanded and contracted. Above ground, the doors creaked. Some doors weren't always around. How many squeaks had the wizard heard during his 116 years?
Soon his hearing would fail as the curse reached his ears. Perhaps in only a few days, as his neck no longer pivoted. Poppy Pomfrey did her best to stave off the atrophy but Tom Riddle left nothing to chance in his devious concoctions. Albus waited patiently for his mysterious visitor to enter his limited line of vision.
The newcomer dragged a chair to Albus's bedside. The sharp scrape reminded Albus of the front doors to the castle.
Headmaster Dumbledore peered up at his former student, his bright red hair still in place even if the grin had dimmed. George Weasley had excelled in Herbology and Potions and no doubt would have aced those N.E.W.T.s. The late Fred Weasley would have scored higher in Charms and Defence, no doubt. Both jokesters knew the ins and outs of Transfiguration according to Minerva.
Their brilliance and business savvy led to the success of the Weasley's Wizard Wheezes establishment. Curtis Zonko, a personal friend of Dumbledore's, had both admiration and animosity towards the up-and-comers.
"How have you been, Mr Weasley?"
"I've been doing my best." He scratched the space where his ear used to be. "Fred and I did the books together, but he was the one discussing sales with contributors. So that's a bit sticky at the moment."
"Your business continues to prosper."
"Thankfully. Your students are our biggest buyers." Mr Weasley smirked at him, knowing that eighty percent of his products made it through the doors of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and that one hundred percent of them were on Filch's infamous list of Banned Objects.
"The student body will be increasing, now that the war is over."
The entrepreneur retained his mischievous, playful air, despite losing his womb-mate. "The increase in post-war babies will help business as well."
"Did you just so happen to be in the neighborhood, Mr Weasley?" Dumbledore had a teasing edge to his question, to lessen the abruptness.
"Nope. I only came to see you."
"I am flattered."
Mr Weasley paused. His arms crossed over the back of the chair, he scrutinized the cotton sheets tucked under the mattress edge. "Sir…I know that Voldemort's snake…the one that bit Dad, and Snape, is still out there, somewhere." He nodded to the encyclopedia of snakes in the headmaster's lap. "Somebody has to kill it. And I don't think it will be Harry."
The aging wizard remained silent, staring at the purple sky across from him.
"Harry's not a kid with free time to kill Voldemorts anymore—Kingsley is training him to be a politician—a minister, I suppose."
"Mr Weasley, are you trying to convince me to go snake hunting?" Dumbledore grinned, flexing his papery hands. "I am hardly in any state to catch a cold, let alone a snake harboring Tom Riddle's soul."
The red-headed wizard pulled a jar from his purple dragon-hide jacket. "That's true—but you could be. With this."
Dumbledore eyed the jar, still wary of the Weasley ingenuity. The glass jar was full of grey powder. The particles caught the dying sunlight in their sharp, sparkling edges.
"It hasn't been tested. You would be the first, and only, person to try it."
"You would use me as a guinea pig for a new product?" He looked humored, but George had seen that grin many a time—while sitting before the headmaster for blowing up another lavatory and costing the school money.
"This product will never go on the market, sir." The young man was resolute. "If everyone had the opportunity, they would abuse it." George scooted his chair closer. "I made it to try to heal you, temporarily—so that you can take down Voldemort. I don't want anyone else to have it. I could become fabulously wealthy—but selling this Devolve Dust would be dangerous. Another Dark Lord might pop up. With another snake slithering around the country, biting people."
George's knees were against the mattress. "Please, sir—if you take this, and it works—and it probably will—you won't live forever. Only for a bit longer. Like the Philosopher's Stone, but…healthier."
A bushy, white eyebrow ascended. "Healthier?"
"So much healthier." George shoved the jar into Albus's hand. "According to my calculations, that curse of yours can be gone by Christmas. And we may be able to speed up the process, as long as you're willing to go the Muggle-route."
Albus screwed off the lid. A bit of dust puffed up. "Muggles, eh?"