Chapter 3 : Laughter
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Harry chuckled quietly to himself. When Ron shot him a questioning glance, he simply said, "I think I'm more anxious about cleaning this store than hunting Horcruxes."
Ron laughed in response as he unlocked the doors. He stood silently as he watched Harry's reactions to the near ruins of Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes.
"Didn't think it would be like this," Harry commented, his voice quiet, as if afraid of waking the dust.
"George mentioned what happened once," Ron explained, "drank too much, attacked the place. Said he could hear Fred's laughter."
Harry didn't say anything as he gingerly stepped around boxes and the WWW products littering the floor. The two could hear George moving about upstairs and decided it best to head up. On the stairs, Harry asked quietly, "Has he been in the store since that night?"
Ron looked over at Harry, a look of anguish on his face, and shook his head. He knew this was going to be hard on all of them. The process was bound to put George through Hell and back again. Upon entering the flat, the two found George in the kitchen. The man jumped slightly at hearing them.
Ron shifted his weight nervously from foot to foot, watching as George stared at Harry, his expression blank. There was a slight flush creeping up Harry's neck from the scrutiny, but he stood still as George inspected him. A few agonizingly long moments later, George only nodded his head slightly and offered the two younger men a cup of tea.
They sat at the dingy table in the kitchen in complete silence. Ron made a few attempts at small talk; George only alternated between staring at his quickly cooling tea and Harry. Growing more and more antsy by the millisecond, Ron made to stand just as Harry spoke.
"I'm sorry," Harry said, barely above a whisper as his eyes locked with George's. Ron's eyes widened as he froze, half lifted from his seat. There was so much more buried in those two, small words. Ron knew he spoke of Fred, and all the others who had lost their lives in the battle, and his heart constricted at George's wavering breath.
George stood, his back to the others in the room as he set his teacup in the grim covered sink. His hands gripped the countertop, his knuckles white. He took a calming, steadying breath before speaking, "We all chose to fight, we knew the risk."
At this, Ron clumsily collapsed back into his seat, his shoulders sagging. They all took a few deep breaths before silently deciding it best to get to work, and made their way downstairs.
"Probably best to find what's salvageable," Ron said, his voice low, to fill the void. "Hermione's been making us practice some heavy duty cleaning spells. You know how she is, always -"
Ron's voice tapered out as he heard George let out a small, strangled cry. Harry and Ron turned back, the former with his wand already held in his hands. Harry raised an eyebrow as his gaze shifted between the two Weasleys.
"I haven't," George started and faltered, "I don't..."
Ron's brain filled in the blanks, comprehension dawning on his face. He looked sideways at Harry, who seemed to have reached the same conclusion, before addressing his brother.
"You haven't used magic," Ron stated, George chewed on his lower lip. "Alright. How about we go through the paperwork in the office, figure out where the store stands financially and Harry can get started out here?"
Ron cringed slightly as the other tore a strip of skin off his lip, blood filling in the cracks almost instantly. Giving Harry a faint, forced smile, Ron followed his brother into the back room. George pointed Ron to the filing cabinets, telling him where the various papers were housed. The two set about going through the many business receipts, building rent, production costs and revenue papers.
They could hear Harry casting spells in the front room as they worked in silence. By now, Ron had grown accustomed to George's silence, and knew he preferred it that way. Occasionally, they would glance towards the door or jump slightly at a crash or swear from the next room.
"We nearly had to lock Ginny in her room to stop her from coming, you know," Ron said, cautious and watching his brother for his reactions. George briefly paused in his movements before continuing on as if Ron hadn't spoken. "She's worried, they," Ron stammered awkwardly, trying to find the words, "we're all worried." Ron sighed heavily, running a hand through his hair. "They don't know what to do, mum -"
"Stop," George grunted, his voice harsh with barely contained emotion, "please."
The younger Weasley stared a moment as George fought against his tears. Frowning, Ron did as his brother asked, needed, and went back to sorting silently through the papers. Time seemed to pass incredibly slowly as they worked. Ron cast glances every so often towards his brother, who kept his face void of expression and looked nowhere but the pages in front of him.
Moments, perhaps hours, Ron couldn't be sure, they both jumped in their seats at Harry's loud cursing. They looked at each other, expressions both a mixture of surprise and concern, before rising from their seats and quickly moving towards the door, Ron with his wand clenched in his fist.
When they opened the door, the scene before them left them both speechless. Harry was swearing loudly, in between casting spells, as what appeared to be a horde of Pygmy Puffs attacked him. Their colors were harsher, fur matted and their eyes held the gleam of a domesticated animal forced to live on the streets.
"Bloody hell," Ron cursed, "Have they been living here the whole time?"
Looking towards George, who was standing totally still, Ron walked briskly into the room. Brandishing his wand, he helped Harry cast stunning spells on the little beasts. One by one, the puffs dropped to the floor. Breathless, Ron took in Harry's appearance. It seems that the puffs' attack surprised him, and his clothes held several tears and there were scars littering his exposed skin.
"Hell," Harry groaned, "I thought those things were bad before."
A strangled, foreign sound filled the room as Ron and Harry took stock of the puffs and injuries. Ron paused, his expression showing his confusion as he turned towards the sound, wand drawn. He broke out into a grin as he located the sound, and dropped his wand to his side. George, still standing in the doorway, was clutching his sides as tears fell down his face and laughter rang from his lips.
If George was laughing, things couldn't be that bad. They'd get better.
Well, there you have it. I've finally finished this short story. This is how I envisioned ending it when I started writing, nearly six months ago. Everything that I've been through since starting this has only given me the strength to revise and finish this story.
I'd like to thank everyone who's reviewed, and those of you who will. You're all fantastic. And everyone on the forums - you've all been simply amazing in your support with my personal tragedies, and encouraging me to get back into writing again.
As usual, everything is unbeta'd, so please let me know if you see any errors. I'd appreciate your thoughts and comments :) Thank you!
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