Chapter 1 : Sleeping Sun
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Fred knocked on George’s head with his fist. “Hello in there? Oh no wonder no one’s answering: it’s empty. Full of sawdust.”
“Shut up, Fred,” George mumbled, but he wanted to laugh. He was watching the sky, lying on his back in a field of heather, the silver salmon swimming overhead.
“Well, what’re you doing, taking a kip out here? You’ve got to open shop!”
George reached up and caught one of the fish in his hand. “What do you mean?”
Fred’s smile turned sad. “I mean it’s time to wake up, bro.”
George gave his twin a quizzical look. He looked at the fish in his hand and found it had become an ear. He blenched and reached up to where his own ear should have been—but there was only a hole.
And where his twin had once been, there was only a hole there too.
The ear sitting in his hand disappeared, and so did Fred.
And then George woke up to the pain of a thousand shards and splinters of glass rending through his head.
He had his head on his desk in the gloomy and grubby little office in the back of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. He was laying it on the side that still had an ear—it was still too weird to feel no ear squished beneath him.
He moaned and squeezed his eyes shut for a moment before he forced himself to sit up. An inventory sheet was sticking to his cheek. He unstuck it and looked it over, groggily, not quite comprehending it at first, even though it was what he’d been working on right before he’d fallen asleep over his desk and his bottle of gin the night before. He tossed the sheet aside, and experimentally moved his jaw and lips around, sweeping his tongue over his lips, disgusted with the taste of dead cigarettes in his mouth.
This had to be the worst hangover to date, and he still had to open up the shop in—
He turned away from the clock on the wall, and buried his face in his hands, taking refuge there, begging the throbbing in his head to stop—though it was nice to feel something, for a change.
What’s the point anymore? he wondered. The shop’s lost all its flair, and I’m damn near declaring bankruptcy.
He peeked out over his fingertips, and his eyes roved around the office. It never used to be this gloomy, nor did the rest of the shop. But it seemed that the death of Fred brought the death of the shop. All of the bright colors and glittering flashes had been subdued and drained out of it, just as it been drained purely out of life.
Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes is nothing more than wheezes now. He chuckled humorlessly—it had been months and months since his laughter had held any genuine humor.
The bell tinkled at the front, and George heard the clack of Verity’s heels on the wood. Next came a rapping on the door. “Mister Weasley? Are you ready to open up?”
Oh, of course. He had the key to the safe.
“Yes, Verity,” he croaked. “Just a minute.” He opened a drawer and found the bottle of Sober-Up Potion. He knocked back a swig. Then he put that away and took the key out, then staggered out of his chair. He paused to fix his dishevelled hair, and then decided against it. He honestly didn’t care.
When he came out, the first thing Verity had to have noticed besides his dishevelled state were his bloodshot eyes.
She said nothing however and allowed him room so that he could get to the safe under the register. Then he stood back and watched her while she filled up the money tray with galleons, sickles, and knuts. The pounding in his head was subsiding thanks to the Sober-Up Potion, but he hated the depressingly depleted state of the monies that he was witnessing.
With a sigh he decided to use the tiny back washroom and make himself look a little more presentable after all. But it didn’t matter. Aside from being deformed by his missing ear, he was half a zombie to boot, and though he tried to put on that same air of charisma and charm, making every sale a free stand-up act, the customers usually could see the hollowness beneath, and maybe only settled on one or two items of mild interest.
It just wasn’t the same doing it alone.
It didn’t help that it started to rain, and that George let the afternoon doldrums overwhelm him. It was two hours until closing, but he was still running on empty—had been since lunchtime, though the Sober-Up Potion had long done its job and physically he was, by all rights, “fresh as a daisy”. Actually, truth be told, he’d been running on empty since before he even started the day, and it was very wearisome.
George stood stock still, in the middle of shelving some more Puking Pastilles. He turned around, and there stood Angelina Johnson—Fred’s ex, and one of their beloved Quidditch comrades, back in the day. Even their unbearable captain at one point.
She was wrapped in a cloak and was toting a shopping basket in both hands. “Fancy seeing you here.”
“I...I own this place.”
“Do you now? And I thought the shop name was just a coincidence.”
George had to admit he was just a little annoyed. “Is there any in which I can be of assistance to you, madam?”
“Oh, I was just browsing while I was in the neighborhood.” She hesitated and then raised an eyebrow at him. “You didn’t seriously just address me as ‘madam’, did you?”
“Erm. I did, actually.” And to his surprise, he laughed a little, much like water nudging at a damn.
“Well, in any case, I just thought I’d say hello while I was here.” Angelina looked about the shop.
George saw her take in the veritable ghost town essence that had taken over.
“Mmmm. Have you ever thought about glass flowers?” she asked.
George blinked at her. “Glass flowers?”
George frowned. “Honestly? No.”
Angelina smiled. “Well do. I know they’re not really a gag item, but they’re quite beautiful.”
George was somewhat intrigued. He had to admit that this was a side of her that he had never seen before. Certainly not the Quidditch captain he remembered. Had Fred ever been privy to such mysteries when he and Angelina had been dating?
Meanwhile, Angelina’s dark brown eyes wandered over George’s face, towards the hole where there was no longer an ear.
George reached up and touched it subconsciously. Then he turned away and went back to shelving. “Anything else?” he asked rather bitterly.
He could feel her gaze through his back.
“We should catch up sometime,” she said.
“Yeah. Yeah, we should.” He heard her leave without another word, the bell tinkling after her.
He oughtn’t have been so cold to her, just because she’d noticed his missing ear. She hadn’t even said anything. And it was a pity really—she was rather pretty, he supposed. She had always been. It had just been too bad that Fred had asked her to the Yule Ball before he had. And to prove the point that dating was easy, no less.
Regardless, that evening found him in his usual spot in the flat upstairs. He was sitting in an armchair by the fireplace, his brain aglow with the effervescent bliss of alcohol. He was on his third drink now. As he contemplated the flames, he defined himself in terms of a sleeping sun. He knew there was a ray of happiness shining somewhere inside of him, but it was locked in a deep slumber. He was under the spell of a dark cloud, and he wasn’t certain if he would ever emerge. He may just drown in it.
His mother said she was worried about him. His father said he was worried about him. Bill, Charlie, Ron, Ginny, even Percy—all said they were worried about him. They ought to quit worrying. There was nothing more they could do, so why bother?
His mother’s tears were spent, and he had squeezed her hand, and she had squeezed back. But there was nothing left.
This was the deepest and most part of what it meant to be human—caught in the crux of sorrow.
But he couldn’t even feel the sorrow anymore. He couldn’t feel anything anymore. He could only feel the gathering darkness, and that in and in of itself should have caused him fear, but it didn’t.
All he could do anymore was wait, empty and alone.
Having finished with the bottle, he tossed it into the fire, watched it explode, the glass dusting the burning logs, only to land amongst the embers, whereupon they began to melt in snaps from the intense heat. He was reaching for another bottle, when a thought struck him, and his gaze lingered on the flames and glittering broken glass.
He was thinking about glass flowers.