Disclaimer: Usual disclaimers apply. I don't own Harry Potter or the Harry Potter universe, of course. This one was written for the Teachers' Lounge 2012 Winter Exchange for Bad Mum.
They were all walking on eggshells again.
George Weasley indifferently moved his spoon around his soup, some creamy thing Fleur had brought over. The one bite of it George could manage was actually very good, like most things his sister-in-law involved herself with were, even if it was cold. But George didn't feel like eating lately. He rarely did.
It had been exactly one month. One month since the battle. One month since Fred died.
Surrounded by his family, George still felt so alone.
Everyone else felt it too. Mum didn't make it more than ten minutes through lunch before she excused herself with tears in her eyes and rushed upstairs, with Ginny following to keep her company. She'd been doing her best to keep busy, throwing herself into her many domestic tasks as best she could, when she wasn't broken down and overcome with grief. Ginny and Percy tried their best to help out, but they didn't have Mum's magic touch when it came to the Burrow. As for George? He didn't have the energy or the drive to help out much at all. So the home alternated between cleaner than George had ever seen it, and dustier than Mum had ever allowed it to come before.
Hogwarts was closed, so Ginny stayed home at the Burrow. Dad said the Ministry would reopen it, grander than ever before, but George wondered if they should just leave it in ruins as a monument to the dead (to him) and start afresh. He doubted he was the only one who thought that.
Charlie had gone back to Romania after a week. Always the most independent, he couldn't handle the stifling atmosphere in the Burrow after the battle, and he had a job to go to. As did Dad. Bill had Fleur, and his own home and family. Ron had gone to Australia with Hermione Granger for a week, but when she decided to stay with her parents for a while, he came back. Harry Potter came by occasionally, and Ron hung around with him then, but mostly Ron stayed around the Burrow.
Percy, too, had become a homebody. He had been asked to return to the Ministry, but requested an indefinite leave of absence, for family reasons. He had been granted it without question, something that George gathered was very common these days. Percy spent his days helping Mum, or trying to rebuild his relationship with his family, or talking with Ron, or trying to support George though his sorrow.
George wished he would stop trying so hard. To Percy's credit, he usually took the hint.
George took another bite. Tasty, but weird, like most of the dishes Fleur brought over. He idly wondered whether Bill would ever get her used to proper British food. Thinking of that creamy scallop dish she brought a week ago, he wondered if Bill even should – Fleur's food was really good.
"So, Harry says Kingsley Shacklebolt's going to be hiring a bunch of new Aurors. They won't even need N.E.W.T.s. I might have to look into that," Ron said between mouthfuls of his second bowl of soup. "This fishie-saws stuff is pretty good, even if there's no fish in it," he added.
"Vichyssoise," Percy corrected over Ron's snicker. "That's probably a good idea. Scrimgeour was always saying there weren't enough Aurors. Of course, he used to head the Auror Office, so you would expect him to think that."
"I know Harry'll probably sign up. He's always wanted to be an Auror. I may look into it myself. Shouldn't we be having wine with this?"
"It's lunch. We don't drink wine at lunch."
"The French do. We're eating this French soup. We should have some wine with it. Maybe some chips with it, too."
"Chips?" Percy asked.
"Yeah. You know the Yanks call them 'French fries'. I bet back in Paris they always have a big plate of them with this vichyssoise," Ron said.
"I highly doubt that," Percy said.
"Why? You ever been?"
"No, but – "
"Will you two shut up already about bloody food!" George shouted, tossing his spoon into his mostly-full bowl with a loud clang. "Do I have to hear you two nattering on forever about this damned soup?"
"I've got to find something to do..." George said to himself as he got up from the table and went out of the house.
Half an hour later, Percy came out and began degnoming the garden along side him.
"Are you ever going to go back to your apartment?" he asked gently.
"Can't. Your Ministry stole the place from me, along with Fr... our shop." George said, bitterness dripping from his voice.
"You know that wasn't me. Almost all of the Thicknesse Ministry's expropriations – "
"Is that what they call theft?" George laughed darkly. It seemed like that was the only kind of laughter coming from George these days.
"Yes, actually, it is, when it's the Ministry that does it. As I was saying, almost all of the expropriations were improper at best. You can just apply to get it back. It's just a matter of applying to the right office and filling out the right forms," Percy explained patiently.
"Why bother?" George muttered.
"Why bother? That store was your dream, George. It may not have been Mum's dream for you, or my dream for you, but it was yours. Why would you not try to get it back?"
"It was Fred's dream, too. How can I do it without Fred? It's a two-man job," George said, taking our his frustrations by flinging a gnome from the garden with uncharacteristic force.
"You hate jokes and pranks."
Percy shrugged. "Not always. I just didn't like being the butt of your pranks."
"Stuffed shirt," George said.
"Maybe. But I'm a stuffed shirt who wants to help his brother. At least let me help you get your shop back. You need someone who knows the Ministry. If you decide to sell it, at least you'll end up with something. And if you want some help getting it started, I'm good with figures and organization," Percy said.
"I'm no slouch at it either."
"Well, good. We'll start the paperwork this evening," Percy said slapping his little brother on the back. "I never did see that shop before."
George knew that Percy was thinking that the reason for that was his misplaced pride.
"You'd hate it," George said.
"But you love it. And that's what counts."
"Bloody hell," said Ron as he looked about the shop floor of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. "Look at all the dust in here."
"At least it wasn't ransacked," George said, pulling out his wand and saying "Scourfigy" at a box of Skiving Snackboxes. He frowned when not only the dust, but all of the printing on the box came off.
Percy came up to his two surviving younger brothers. "Try this: Purgo pulverem," he said, waving his wand with a slight flourish at one of the other Snackboxes.
As the dust vanished, leaving the box looking as good as new, Ron said, "Percy Weasley, from Head Boy to Dust Boy," which made George chuckle slightly. It felt good to laugh.
Percy stood up perfect straight, and said, "You have to know all kinds of charms and spells if you're going to be a proper wizard. Not just how to cast a Patronus, or transfigure a pumpkin into an easy chair."
"Exactly. Getting rid of dust and mildew is also important," George quipped.
"Look, do you want your shop cleaned or not?"
"Of course, Big Brother. Did you learn these from Mum?" George said teasingly.
"I did, in fact. I've been helping her around the house. Nothing wrong with a little hard work," Percy said with far more dignity than George thought the situation warranted.
"Thanks for helping me get the shop back. I couldn't have done it without you," George said, sincerely.
"You could have eventually. I just knew which form to file with the Property Restitution Committee," Percy said, waving off the compliment.
The three brothers began casting Molly Weasley's Dust Removal Charm with varying degrees of success, but after a few hours, the shop was relatively dust-free. Percy was looking at the various products that Fred and George have offered. "There's some ingenious products here," he said with admiration in his voice.
"Fr... we designed lot of them ourselves," George said. "Like those snackboxes. The testing was awful, but it was our best seller. Before..."
"Yeah, I kept confiscating lots of those bloody things last year," Ron said.
"Traitor!" George said with mock indignation.
"Look, I'd rather not have, but Hermione, you know..."
"Speaking of your lady fair, when is she coming back? Or are we losing her Down Under?"
"Nah, she's coming back at the end of August when we're going back to Hogwarts," Ron said.
"You're getting your N.E.W.T.s? Mum will be so proud," Percy said.
"I don't think it's our mum he's trying to impress," George said.
Ron blushed. "Yeah, well, she wants to go off to Muggle university after Hogwarts, so I want to spend all the time I can with her before she does. I don't want to waste a moment more I could spend with her."
"Smart move. She's going places," George said.
"She could find herself with a very good position at the Ministry. War heroine, brilliant student... she wouldn't need to go to university," Percy said. "Although it wouldn't hurt, either. We're going to be working more closely with the Muggles now, according to what they're saying. She could have a bright future ahead of her."
"How 'bout you? When you going back?" Ron asked.
"In a month or two," Percy answered.
"That's what you said a month ago," George said.
Percy pushed his glasses to the top of his nose with his wand, and said, "I've got family commitments. You need my help. Have you even ran any of these things past the Committee on Experimental Charms?"
"And give away our secrets?" George asked, shocked.
Percy shook his head. "It doesn't work that way. If they approve it, you get a monopoly for twenty years. If you don't bother to apply, someone else could claim they invented it, and steal the rights."
"How 'bout you make that Percy's speciality?" Ron asked.
"Good idea. Percy, you're our Ministry liaison, until you go back."
"Fine by me. Someone has to keep things legal."
It was the weekend before Hallowe'en. The Grand Re-Opening, and customers and well-wishers filled the shop. George greeted everyone who came into the store, and Ron and Verity, who had agreed to come back to her old job, helped George serve the customers. Each of them was dressed in colourful outfits, to try and portray the right sense of fun for the occasion, and to entice customers to by the joke products.
It was perfect. If only Fred could be here to see this.
Percy, ever the contrarian, was dressed in formal black business robes. He was spending most of his time in the office, mostly making sure that all of the paperwork he had completed over the past three months for the Committee on Experimental Charms and the Business Licencing Office was correct. George knew it was – Percy was nothing if not thorough – but Percy needed to be certain.
All of the family was here, along with Harry and Hermione. Headmaster McGonagall was far more lenient in allowing students to leave the school on Hogsmeade weekends than Dumbledore ever had been, due to the wishes of all the families who had suffered during the war, so Ron was able to stay all weekend to help. George and Percy were ready to open weeks before, but they wanted to wait for a Hogsmeade weekend, as Ron had been such an important part of getting the story running during the summer that George wanted him to be part of the re-opening.
By the look of things, Ron was loving it – selling, greeting customers like they were old friends, and greeting old friends with a hug and a bit of a tour. George had seen a number of Ron and Ginny's friends come through, and all of George's friends (all of his surviving friends) had stopped by. Seeing Lee Jordan come by was a treat, of course, but Angelina Johnson was probably the most welcome visitor for George. She took him aside, made sure he was okay, and told him, "I'm sure this is exactly what Fred would have wanted you to do." He appreciated her comforting him, and she said she would drop by after closing, and take him for a celebratory drink at the Leaky Cauldron.
Percy didn't have any old friends come by. He had isolated himself from most of his school friends during his years of exile from the family, and hadn't made many friends at the Ministry. He only emerged from the office to greet family, and members of the Diagon Alley Chamber of Commerce, which George had joined at Percy's insistence. Fred and George had not had much use for it before Voldemort's takeover of the Ministry, but Percy argued that it was better to make allies of the other businesses in the Alley than to ignore them.
As the day drew long, the crowds thinned out. Percy emerged from the office, finally convinced there was nothing in the paperwork he had to worry about, and meandered through the shop floor, straightening the product and making sure the chaos was controlled as best he could. George stifled a smile at his older brother's fastidiousness as Verity introduced Ron and him to her sister Audrey, a pretty brunette who was far shier than the outgoing and vivacious Verity.
Percy came over and greeted George and Verity, and introduced himself to Audrey, who mumbled a greeting in return. "This is a smashing success," Percy announced to his brothers.
"Yeah, we're taking in galleons by the fistful," Ron said.
"More than that. Did you see how Timothy Greenstaff looked? He was impressed, George, and nothing impresses him, according to what I've heard."
"Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce," George said, impressing Percy. "Oh, Ron, we have a box of new merchandise to test. Lee brought back some Custard Carnations he picked up in Ireland for me," he said, pointing to the flower he had placed in his lapel earlier. "Don't worry, Percy, there's no experimental charms in them."
"Oh, what do they do?" asked Percy, leaning in for a closer look. "Something for the Skiving Snackboxes?"
"Not quite." George couldn't help himself. He was planning to test it on Ron, but this was just too good an opportunity. He tapped the carnation and whispered aspergo. A huge dollop of custard sprayed out of the carnation onto Percy's face. George, Ron, Verity and her sister all broke out laughing, as did a small group of onlookers.
George thought it was hilarious, but worried about the reaction of his older brother who had helped him so much. Percy stood up with as much dignity as he could muster, custard covering his face and dripping down onto his smart-looking business robes. He calmly took out his wand, pointed it at his face and cast a vanishing charm, disappearing the creamy dessert. He looked straight at George, his expression unreadable. After moments that seemed like forever, in a deadpan voice, Percy asked, "Does it come in chocolate?"
Everyone broke out into peals of laughter at that. George hadn't laughed so much in months, since before the battle. It was perfect, a perfect cap to this wonderful day. As he recovered, he looked at his brother, who's face was as neutral as ever, but who's eyes were full of mirth. "Not yet," George said, answering his brother.
"You should look into that. I bet they'll be a big seller," Percy said, taking out a handkerchief to wipe away any remaining custard. "I should get back to the office. It was a pleasure to meet you, Audrey," he said to the woman who was still giggling.
"That was Percy?" George heard her say to Verity as he followed his brother. "You didn't mention he was hilarious!"
George entered the office, where Percy was sitting behind what had become his desk.
"Sorry about that, Perce. I couldn't resist," George said in an apologetic tone.
"Don't worry," Percy said, waving the matter off. "I imagine they'll be great sellers. We sell something like that in the 'Muggle jokes' section, don't we?"
"Yeah, flowers that squirt water."
"These are probably funnier, based on how everyone out there reacted," Percy said.
"Yeah, no doubt. You made quite the impression on Verity's sister. She thought you were hilarious."
Percy turned around to look at his younger brother. "Me? Hilarious?"
"I know. I never would have thought it. But she's right. You're the perfect straight man. Dignified, serious... this thing wouldn't have been as funny on Ron," George said, tapping his flower with his wand again and causing Percy to duck before he realized George hadn't activated it again. "He doesn't have your gravitas. I'd love it if you'd help me with more product demonstrations."
"I always hated bearing the brunt of your jokes," Percy said.
"But you wouldn't be. You'd be part of the joke. An inside man. Every comedy team needs a straight man, Perce. You'd be perfect for it."
Percy frowned. "I don't like being laughed at."
"Trust me, Percy, if you're trying to get the laugh, when they do, you've won. And we make the sale. I'll bet you sickles to scones that we've already got a bunch of orders for these things, and it's all due to you."
"Yeah, I do. If you want to ever help on weekends off when you go back to the Ministry, it'd be grand. Think of the sales!" George said enthusiastically.
"I don't know if I'm going back to the Ministry quite yet," Percy said.
"Percy, I couldn't have done this without you, but if you want to, Verity and I can run things here just fine. We'd love to have you help when you get the chance, but if you want to get back to your life..."
Percy shook his head. "That's just it, George. I already have. I should have been here helping you and Fred. I should have been at home comforting Mum. I should have been helping Bill get ready to marry Fleur. I have gotten my life back. The life I should have had."
"Are you sure? If you want to stay here, I'd love it, of course. It's been, well... for these last months, with you, and Ron before school started? I don't know if I would have made it without you two," George said, his voice full of emotion.
"You would have. But I needed to be here just as much."
George hugged his brother. "If you want to stay here until you go back to the Ministry..."
"I do. Just a month or two more."
"Okay. I have to get back out there and close up. Angelina's taking me to the Leaky Cauldron to congratulate us. I was going to invite Ron and Verity along. You're coming too." George waited for Percy to nod, and said, "You want me to see if Verity's sister wants to come? She's cute. Shy, but I bet that works for you. She did say you were hilarious..."
Percy thought about it only momentarily. "Yeah. Sure. Ask her. Only if you think she wants to, of course..."
George smiled. "Of course."
It was the day after Ron and Ginny's graduation from Hogwarts. The party at the Burrow lasted well into the night, and Angelina had dropped by as well, keeping George occupied for most of the evening. So it wasn't after lunch that George, Ron and Percy went to the shop.
Verity was serving the steady stream of customers. "Finally," she said. Looking up and down at the brothers, she fixed a mock glare at Percy and said, "At least you look better than my sister did when she flooed home at two in the morning. I'm surprised she made it to the right fireplace."
Percy straightened himself. "I'll have you know I was a perfect gentleman, and Audrey had a lovely time at the party."
"She would have had a lovelier time if you weren't so perfect a gentlemen," Verity said, which made Percy blush and Ron and George laugh. "I got things out here, don't worry."
The went into the office. "So we'll do a demonstration of the Anti-Gravity Hats today, right? That's always gets a crowd."
Percy, looking immaculate as always, nodded. "Indoors, though. I know we get the attention of the 'wizard in the alley' when we do it outside, but we lose too many hats that way."
"They come down eventually," Ron pointed out.
"I worry the wind will blow one so that it comes down in Muggle London one day, and we'll all be hauled before the DMLE," Percy said.
"No worries, Big Brother," George said, slapping Percy on the back. "You'll just handle the Ministry as you always do."
Percy never had gone back to the Ministry. George had been right – he was a natural at product demonstration. Percy caught on quickly, and made a point of acting as pompous as he could when he and George were showing their wares to the customers, which he found made the laughs all the greater. George was amazed at his brother – he was still serious and dignified, but now that he was in on the joke, he played it up, acting as much of a stuffed shirt as he could (which was very stuffed), and was even having fun with the jokes. George and Percy (or Ron and Percy, when the youngest Weasley brother was able to come by) got a lot of laughs, but George suspected most of those were due to his brother.
Percy had loosened up. Due to working with his brothers, due to being away from the Ministry, due to the effects of Audrey in his life, or as George suspected, all three, he was more easy going. More fun. And a good man work with.
Ron, of course, with his fun-loving easy-going nature, was a natural, and after hearing Harry's tales of Auror training, had no wish to put himself through that.
So now, with a few strokes of a quill, it was official. Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes was a partnership again.
"I think Fred would have loved this," Ron said.
Tearing up slightly, George said, "I know he would have. So, partners, what should our first official act be?"
"Change the stationery," Ron said.
"What?" George said.
"I want it to have 'Ron Weasley: Proprietor' somewhere on it. Impress Hermione's parents and university chums next year," Ron said.
"How about 'Percy, George and Ron Weasley: Proprietors'," Percy suggested.
"I'm the senior partner. I should go first," George said.
"But I'm the oldest," Percy said.
"We'll go alphabetically," George suggested.
"Why is it I'm last in any scheme you propose?" Ron asked.
"There is a natural order and justice to the universe, Little Brother," George answered.
Percy grabbed a box containing an Anti-Gravity Hat, and walked towards the door. "Where are you going?" George asked.
"Unless you want the stationery to read, 'Gringotts Bank: Trustees in Bankruptcy', we should really move some product," Percy said.
"Right," Ron said. "I'm right behind you."
"How do I look?" Percy said.
"Utterly serious and sensible," George said.
"Good. That will make it even funnier," Percy said as the three partners went out to the shop floor.