Chapter 1 : Sweet Dreams
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"Oi, George!" A head topped with flaming red hair popped out of the bathroom. "Can I use your razor? Mine's gone mental; it keeps trying to shave off my eyebrows."
"What the bloody—Oof!"
George fell out of bed and tumbled onto the dingy carpet. He recovered quickly and made a mental note to read up on housekeeping spells at the sight of the colony of dust bunnies under his bunk before marching to the bathroom, only to be floored once again—figuratively, this time. He couldn't believe it. This wasn't real. The identical figure standing at the sink, ordering George's razor to go back over the slight stubble on its chin, had to be an illusion. A daydream. A mirage of a pool of water in the desert that was the past few years of his life.
George reached out his arm, gasping when his fingertips brushed flesh. No, he had imagined it. The feeling wasn't real. He prodded it again, only harder this time. It yelped. There was no denying it: It was as real as he was.
"Hey you prat, you made me cut my chin!" It grabbed the wand from George's slack grip, pointed it at its face, and said, "Episkey." The gash immediately healed.
"F-Fred? Is that really you?"
It raised its eyebrow.
"Well, it's not you, and as far as I know there are only two of us. Unless Mum and Dad forgot to tell us something."
"But—but—what about—the war—You—and Percy—Death Eaters—You-Know-Who—and then the wall exploded—!"
Fred sent him a strange look.
"What war? What the bloody hell are Death Eaters? And how am I supposed to know who you're talking about when you blabber nonsense like that?" He paused, frowning. "But the most important question is, what in Merlin's name does His Prattiness have anything to do with anything?"
"But—" began George again helplessly, but something made him stop short. He did a double-take, staring at his reflection in the mirror, and what he saw made his head spin.
His ear. His right ear. He had a right ear. He could see it, and...and he could touch it. He could touch it. He had a right ear!
He stood there, tugging at the skin, massaging his earlobe, feeling how it attached to his head, sticking his finger in and pulling out a tiny ball of wax, until Fred waved a hand in front of his face and knocked him out of his awestruck reverie.
"George, are you alright?" he asked, and his face held a look of real concern. "Did you sniff the cauldron I have brewing in the storage room? I told you not to go near it; it's supposed to create a temporary Euphoria but it's got all my testers walking into walls and groping each other. I think I added too many Billywig stings and not enough Glumbumble—Ah! What the—Geroffme!"
George had jumped on Fred, hugging him so tightly he lifted him off the ground. Fred was here. Fred was back. Fred was alive. Fred was wrestling out of George's death grip and thwacking him hard on the head.
"If you didn't want me using your razor, you could've just said so," grumbled Fred crossly. He left George to his wonderment in the bathroom, dressed quickly, and headed down the rickety steps into the shop below. "And when you've gained sanity, come down here and help restock the shelves," he called back up to his brother. "I can't find where Horace put the box of WonderWitch Pimple Vanisher, and he's not coming in today. I reckon we should fire the bloke. I swear he hides things on purpose. Gives him a laugh." There was a pause filled only by the creak of a step. "On second thought, he seems pretty alright."
George followed, not really knowing what he was doing, trusting his feet to lead him wherever he was supposed to go. His mind was elsewhere, still unbelieving at Fred's mere presence. What in the name of Merlin's saggy left buttock was going on?
George tripped down the last few steps and fell flat on his face. Fred's howling laughter came from above him, and George frowned. He had forgotten how much of a nuisance his brother could be.
"You should've seen your face, mate!" Fred managed to gasp out between laughs, his eyes tearing. "You looked like Great-Aunt Muriel when Dad tries to show her a Muggle magic trick!"
George grunted, deciding to let his brother off easy. After all, George hadn't seen Fred since he, er—died five years ago. But due to the current circumstances, he was starting to believe that that had failed to happen in the weird, alternate universe he had stumbled into.
He faltered as he pushed himself up, his slight stagger not entirely caused by the fact that he just got the wind knocked out of him. He simply couldn't wrap his head around the wonderful sound of Fred's loud guffaws, even if it was at his expense.
For the rest of the day, the twins bustled around the crowded shop, too busy to even catch a breath. A boy had knocked over a display of punching telescopes (George suspected the charm holding it together had been hastily performed—Horace's handiwork, no doubt), and they went wild in the shop, punching at everyone's ankles. Many customers left, bruised and distraught, before Fred and George could sort out the mess.
Despite the chaos, George was euphoric. He had reopened the shop immediately after the war under the instruction and assistance of Percy and Ron. They figured it would serve as a good distraction from what had happened, but this was the first day the hustle and bustle of the store hadn't made George want to crawl back into bed, pull the covers over his head to block out the bright colors he and Fred so used to love, and cry. He was reminded of the Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes grand opening: he and Fred dressed to the nines in dragonskin suits, putting on demonstrations of the products they had worked so hard to develop and having the time of their lives. So he chased after a particularly wily telescope with a smile, Fred's string of muttered profanities only fueling his glee.
Near closing time, Fred asked George to head over to their Hogsmeade branch and pick something up.
"It should be in the storage room; you'll see it right away," Fred told him, and with a nod and a spin, George vanished into nothingness.
He reappeared in front of the Three Broomsticks with a loud crack! and began walking along High Street towards the shop that had previously been Zonko's. It was now decorated in a similar fashion to the Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes in Diagon Alley that George had just come from, the vibrant colors and eye-popping posters and displays drawing the attention of every witch, wizard, and creature that walked by.
George went in and headed straight for the storage room in the back of the shop. Business was slow here, most likely because the Hogwarts students weren't in town for their monthly visit.
When he opened the door to the storage room, George didn't see anything "right away," as Fred had said he would. On the contrary, he barely saw anything. All there was in the tiny room more fitting for a broom closet were a couple of dusty boxes stacked untidily against the walls.
"Are you looking for this, George?"
He jumped, startled. He turned around; Ron, his younger brother, was standing before him, holding a fancily wrapped package in his hands.
"Er—I guess? Fred didn't tell me what exactly it was I came here to get. Why are you here, anyway?"
Ron looked at him strangely, much like Fred had done only a few hours earlier.
"I work here."
"Yes...I manage your shop here in Hogsmeade, remember?"
George scratched his head.
George was dumbfounded. His memory recalled Ron's help with the shop after the war as a brief stint, just to help George get his feet off the ground. He was supposed to be working alongside Harry as an Auror now. What was he doing, toiling away in the joke shop chain's least busy shop, under the employment of his twin brothers?
Ron didn't bother answering; instead, he shoved the package into George's hands and rather forcefully led George out of the shop.
"I'll see you tonight, George. But maybe you should—er—lie down for a while first. You know, get your head on straight. You seem a bit out of it today."
"Wait! What's tonight?" asked George, but Ron had already disappeared back into the jungle of bright colors and magical pranks.
George sighed. He didn't need to lie down. What he needed were answers. Where was he? This certainly wasn't the world he was familiar with. Why was Fred alive, why did he have a full set of ears, and why had Ron demoted himself to a lowly shop manager?
Just as George was about to leave for Diagon Alley, someone called out his name. He squinted in the sun's brilliant light, unable to clearly make out the person heading toward him through the crowd. It looked like an old man with a flowing beard and colorful robes, and as he came nearer, George could make out a pair of twinkling blue eyes behind half-moon spectac—MERLIN'S BEARD, PROFESSOR DUMBLEDORE?
"P-Professor?" George was dumbstruck now. Out of all the odd things that had happened today, this was by far the weirdest. Had Harry not watched him fall from the Astronomy Tower? Had there not been a grand funeral in his honor? Hadn't his death been the reason why He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named gained such immense power?
"Ah, George Weasley. How are you, dear boy? I must say, it's always a delight to see graduates from Hogwarts, especially when they're in their element." Dumbledore gestured toward Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes and smiled.
"Wait a minute, Professor. Did you just say that I graduated?"
"Why, of course! I remember your graduation most clearly, as a matter of fact." He gave a fond chuckle. "You and your brother set off some of your 'whiz-bangs' during the ceremony; they really frightened Professor Snape. He still jumps when he hears an explosion, I've been told. Quite unfortunate for him really, since explosions are perfectly common in the Potions classroom."
"But, Professor, Snape is dead."
"Sorry, Mr. Weasley?" Dumbledore looked around, seemingly surprised at his surroundings. "I must have lost myself in my thoughts. Old age, I'm afraid." He winked, and George managed a weak smile.
"You know, George, we must think ourselves very lucky. With the power us wizards possess, I'm surprised there has been no major conflict." He paused, mulling over his words. "Ah well, with great power comes great responsibility. We all own up to it very well, I think."
George didn't know what to say. What did Dumbledore mean, no major conflict? If he's alive now, he must have been present at the Battle of Hogwarts. And he was certainly there for the First Wizarding War. He was the wizard You-Know-Who feared most, for Merlin's sake!
Unless, George thought, and it came upon him suddenly, You-Know-Who never existed. That had to be it. There was no other explanation. Wherever George found himself, in this alternate universe, Tom Marvolo Riddle had never been born.
Just as he was about to confirm his theory with Dumbledore, the wizened old wizard tipped his pointed hat at him and said, "Alas, Mr. Weasley, I must be off. Forgive me for sounding bigheaded, but I have trouble believing my school can manage very long without me."
And with a wave, a smile, and a turn, Dumbledore was gone.
When George apparated back to Diagon Alley, Fred was waiting impatiently for him. The shop had already been closed and locked for the day, and Fred stood in front of it, holding two jackets and tapping his foot, annoyed.
"What took you so long? Have you got the present? Let's hurry and get a move on then, Alicia and Angelina are waiting for us."
"Er—waiting for us where?"
Fred looked at him funnily.
"At the Burrow," he said, speaking slowly and enunciating every syllable as if scared George wouldn't understand. "It's Bill's birthday today, remember?" When George's face gave away that he didn't, Fred swore. "What is wrong with you today? It's as if you got hit over the head with a Bludger or something!"
Before George could retaliate, Fred shoved the second jacket in his hands and turned on the spot. Sighing, George followed suit.
The next thing he knew, he was standing in a swamp. It was obvious his mind was still too preoccupied to apparate correctly; he was lucky he hadn't been splinched. He muttered a few choice swear words under his breath as he trekked toward the crooked, oversized pigpen that had once been his home.
"What happened to you?"
George arrived in the Burrow's vast yard and immediately collapsed into one of the chairs set around the magically enlarged table; due to the number of guests, there was no way everyone would fit inside the kitchen.
"I landed in the swamp on the other side of Ottery St. Catchpole." His tone was flat, and it was obvious he didn't want to discuss it. "Hi, Mum," he croaked wearily as she came bustling out of the house, levitating a large pot toward the table.
"Oh, hello dear," she said, and planted a kiss on his cheek. He didn’t even bother to wipe it off. "We'll be starting dinner in a minute; we're just waiting for Percy and Penelope."
George nodded and looked around the table. Harry and Ginny were talking animatedly across from him, Dad and Fred were conversing off to the side, Bill was laughing along with a woman George had never seen before—wait, where was Fleur? Then it dawned on him. If You-Know-Who never existed, Harry would never have been entered into the Triwizard Tournament, Bill and Mum would never have come to support him during the final task, and the two would never have known each other. It was a pity; he fancied looking at her and talking up her pretty Veela cousins.
George saw Ron slumped low in his seat, glaring across the table. Following his gaze, what he saw almost made his eyes pop. Malfoy was getting cozy with Hermione, and the peculiar thing was, no one was doing anything about it.
"What is he doing here?" he shouted, standing and pointing at the blond-haired git. Everyone stopped what they were doing and stared at him.
"What's going on, love?"
It was Angelina. She and Alicia had just come out of the kitchen, carrying plates piled high with food.
"What do you mean, what's going on? Malfoy and Hermione are practically shagging! How can you let this happen? You of all people, Hermione! He plotted to kill Dumbledore!"
"Told you he's gone mental," George heard Fred mumble, and George flushed, his face turning as red as his hair. Oh, right. He had just seen Dumbledore not more than an hour ago in Hogsmeade.
"I mean, he's a Slytherin," he covered lamely, but it was no use. At once, everyone started buzzing. All George could do was sit back down and rub his head. This day was giving him a headache.
Once Percy and his wife arrived, they all tucked in. George stayed silent throughout the whole meal, feeling isolated and uncomfortable as they chattered around him. He didn't belong here; he wanted to go back, back to the world he knew. But guilt coursed through him as he watched Fred chuck dinner rolls at a protesting Percy with Ron. Isn't this what he wished for, what everyone who had survived the war could only dream of? A brother who stole his razor in the mornings. A Headmaster who secretly loved when his students pulled pranks. A mother who had laugh lines instead of deep wrinkles etched in by sorrow. A father who grinned with pride at his children, raised without the constant threat of danger. Even a Slytherin, who never had to fight for the life of his family and himself and instead grew up to be a somewhat decent bloke.
His eyes roamed the table before they settled on Harry. Harry Potter, whose forehead had never held a reminder of all the deaths, all the sacrifices, all the turmoils of his life, who was not just the Boy-Who-Lived but the boy who could stop in for a home-cooked meal by his mum at Godric's Hollow, who could challenge his godfather to a game of Exploding Snap and hold his godson in his arms as Teddy's loving parents looked on.
Yes, this was how it was supposed to be. And the thought made George realize why he was so miserable as he looked upon the pleasant scene before him, why he wanted—no, needed—to escape this perfect world: because he knew, deep down, it couldn't exist, and the sight of what might have been hurt too much.
His mum was bringing out the cake now, a monstrous sheet of vanilla—the birthday boy's favorite—with the words, "Happy birthday, Bill!" written in icing in her careful handwriting. The sky had darkened almost completely by now, leaving a mess of stars across its surface, and the warm glow emitting from the Burrow's windows coupled with the flickering flames of the birthday candles set a tone of comfort and security, a luxury that could never really be acquired in the world George truly knew, where bloody visions of the war would always find a way to haunt them. A chorus of voices rang out in the still night, singing "Happy Birthday", and Bill closed his eyes to make a wish before blowing out the candles.
Yells filled the air.
"What was that?" Alicia asked, frightened. Fred put a reassuring arm around her shoulders.
"It sounds as if someone's bombing the Muggle town!" said Hermione, and everyone aside from Harry and Penelope looked at her strangely. She sighed, exasperated.
"It's a Muggle weapon, very dangerous. We should get out of here, quickly."
"Now wait just a minute," Malfoy spoke up, "We're wizards. We're not really going to be put out by a bunch of Muggles, are we?" George rolled his eyes. Not all the bad Malfoy traits were lost on him, he guessed. Ron looked as if he was struggling not to punch the blond bloke, so George put an allaying hand on his arm.
Malfoy's eyes flashed and his expression changed from haughty to petrified.
"Come on Hermione, let's go," he said and grabbed her hand. George exchanged a look with Ron, but he followed them as everyone gathered their things and prepared to apparate. The sounds were coming closer.
George opened his eyes with a start. His heart was racing, his hands were clammy, and a fresh sheen of sweat covered his entire body. Wait. Had all that been a dream?
He surveyed his surroundings. Sure enough, he was back in the flat above the shop, on the floor and entangled in his sheets. He must have fallen out of bed. He rubbed at his face which a sigh, knowing he had been right in thinking it was too good to be true and mentally cursing the part of him that wanted so badly to burrow once again under the covers and never wake up again, trapped in the other universe.
He hurried to the window, tripping more than once in the process. He looked out onto the dark street of Diagon Alley, searching for the source of the noise. Near the Leaky Cauldron, a group of underaged wizards were huddled together, setting off a huge pile of Decoy Detonators. George remembered them. They came into the shop yesterday and bought almost his entire stock.
He peeked at the watch his mum and dad had given him for his seventeenth birthday—it was identical to the one Fred had received—and sighed. It was only 3:00 AM. His neighbors would definitely complain to him about this in the morning. Many of them had already poked their heads out of their windows and were yelling at the teens to stop.
George retreated back to his bed, determined to make the most of his last few hours of sleep before his day actually began and he had to deal with reality again. The dream had really shaken him up; pulling open the drawer of his nightstand, he dipped into his store of Sleeping Draughts and gulped it down, falling into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Author's note: Inspired by the last line on HP Lexicon's page about Fred and George: "Sadly, though, [George] never completely recovered from the loss of his twin brother and best friend."