The sky is a fiery orange as Alicia arrives at George's shop, brutally exhausted after a horrible day at work.
The doorknob is cool to the touch and she takes a moment to lean against the door, feels so weary and worn. Ever since the battle, the war, she's been kind of lost, drifting through jobs, unsure what she wants. For years she'd believed that being a Healer was her dream, but somewhere in the chaos, between lost friends and dark days, she'd lost it, that desire, her dream, the magic she used to feel every day in St Mungo's.
She works at the Ministry now, in a job that alternates between being horrendously boring and agonizingly stressful. She hates it but doesn't know what else to do, floats aimlessly through life without any real purpose. She remembers back at school before Hogwarts, remembers whispers of a lost generation and she wonders if that's them, a whole generation of kids who grew up too soon, had to fight a war someone else started and watched their whole world be turned entirely upside down.
(but even if they are lost, it doesn't mean they can't be found)
She sighs, rubs at tired eyes and she isn't happy, feels like a spark's gone out in her life.
(and one had, hadn't it?)
(a spark named Fred)
She slips inside, has had a key since it opened and peers around the gloom, feels the dust in the air settle over her almost oppressively.
"George?" she calls, words hushed and she feels odd disturbing the heavy silence. No one answers and she isn't surprised, hasn't felt life in this shop in what feels like ages. She shuffles stiffly to the back of the shop and forces open the always sticky door that leads to the not-at-all-safe looking stairs going up to George and F-George's flat. She climbs the stairs and feels tired deep down in her bones, has ever since...
She knocks lightly but again, no one answers and she slips inside, not even needing her key on the unlocked door. A musty smell hits her nose immediately and she can't make out anything but heavy shadows in the dark.
"George?" she calls again, voice still quiet but there's no reply, just a silence that aches. She stumbles through the living room, knocks painfully into the coffee table and there's not a single sign of life in the entire flat, just cold emptiness and an almost palpable loneliness.
(except rooms can't really be lonely, can they?)
(maybe she's going a bit crazy)
She doesn't stop to admire the photos on the rickety shelf by the window like she always used to, finds memories too painful nowadays. She moves deeper into the flat and begins to feel a bit of a draft, follows the faint scent of fresh air. It leads her to George's bedroom, door slightly ajar and she suddenly knows exactly where he is.
She pushes open his door, heads to his open window and thinks about calling out to him, but the words don't come, die on her tongue as she thinks them. She grips the windowsill and feels a little sick, head spinning.
You can do this, Alicia tells herself, but memories crawl down from the roof and slink through the window, wrap around her like cobwebs and rusty chains.
"Look at that view!" George crows excitedly, arms wide as they stand on the roof of his and Fred's new joke shop.
"It's amazing!" Alicia enthuses, breathless with wonder. George turns back to her and grins, bright and full of life and Alicia grins back, feels like there's an entire universe of possibility stretched out before them. There's a subtle courage building in her bones as she looks at him, sunlight turning everything golden and she thinks maybe today, maybe now.
"Dinner's ready!" comes Lee's voice and George breaks their gaze, begins to head inside. Alicia feels warm all over and maybe tomorrow, she thinks, takes one last look at London sparkling below them.
Alicia tries to shake off the remembrances, can't afford to be caught up in the past, especially not now. She starts to climb through the window and it feels like fighting through molasses, a thousand yesterdays weighing her down.
Fred smirks triumphantly and Alicia sighs exasperatedly, because somehow she's lost again.
"This is ridiculous," she mutters as Fred sets down his cards, lets her see just how thoroughly she's been trounced.
"I hate you," she tells him without feeling and he just beams, smug and obnoxious. She flops backwards on the roof, watches clouds scuttle by in the breeze.
"Anything interesting up there?" Fred asks, laying back , their toes just touching.
"That could be a rabbit," she points and Fred snorts in obvious disagreement.
"Oh shut up," she huffs and he laughs and even though the days have been growing darker lately, war looming closer, she feels light and carefree and like everything's going to be okay.
She finally gets through the window, feels oddly winded and she knows it's not because of anything physical. She hoists herself up onto the little ledge beside the window and then up onto the roof, legs feeling spongy and weak.
"This would be a great spot for a first kiss," she muses, staring up at the stars.
"Ya think?" Fred asks, sounds intrigued and she rolls her eyes. She hugs her knees a little tighter and forces herself not to glance over at George.
"Yeah, it'd be really romantic." Her voice is soft and she tries not to let her mind wander, but she can't help it, possibilities blooming behind her eyes. Fred 'hmms' in thought and George is quiet, hasn't said anything in a while.
"You might be on to something Leesh," Fred says and she looks over at him, can't help the smile that tugs at her lips.
"Gunna bring someone up here to test it out?" she teases and he grins, wiggling his eyebrows.
"Maybe. You interested?"
"Eww, no!" she protests with a grimace, swatting at him as he leans towards her. "That'd be so gross, you're like my brother." He laughs but nods, rests back on his hands.
"Yeah, it'd be a bit like snogging my sister," he agrees and they both wrinkle their noses. They meet each other's eyes and start to laugh, giggling and snorting at the very idea. George is still quiet and Alicia peeks at him out of the corner of her eye, feels a little breathless at the sight of him coloured by starlight.
"Oi, George, I think Leesh wants to snog you."
"Fred!" she squeals in horror and finally George looks back at them, slightly bemused.
She knows war is coming, knows Voldemort's a step away from taking Britain by storm, but in moments like these, she could almost forget.
George is right where she thought he'd be, sitting on the edge of the roof, legs dangling as he watches the sun set. She stares at him, all wrapped up in shadows and her chest squeezes, feels tight and achy. She steps towards him slowly, feet made of lead and tries to think of something worth saying.
"What a view," she ends up murmuring as she settles down beside him. He doesn't react, but she didn't expect him to and she chews on her lip, feels Fred pushing down on her limbs like an invisible force. She wants to say something, do something, make this better somehow but she has no idea how, feels like they're both drowning without a clue how to swim.
"Me and Lee missed you at lunch on Tuesday," she mumbles, even though neither of them had really expected him to show up. He doesn't get out much anymore, doesn't really leave this coffin filled with Fred's ghost.
"Sorry," he breathes out, word so faint she barely hears it.
"It's okay," she answers, wants to tell him they're worried, scared of losing him too. We're here for you, she thinks of saying but maybe they aren't, because they've all been running like he has, trying to escape because this can't be real, it just can't.
They're all different kinds of bitter and angry and lost, each a different sort of mess. Alicia bounces from job to job, never quite sure where she belongs, restlessness rooted in her lungs. Lee is everywhere and anywhere, buried so deep in everything he can be so he doesn't have to think, keeps himself busy enough so he never has to dwell on what happened. George becomes a recluse, locks himself away in a flat that isn't home, not anymore. He stops caring about the shop, about himself, about anything, pushes everyone as far away as he can. Angelina is the opposite, goes out all the time, loses herself in firewhiskey and dim bar lights.
Alicia looks at George, the bags under his eyes, the pasty paleness of his skin and she knows Fred never would've wanted this. He would've wanted them to live, to laugh, to be okay. It's not just Fred of course, it's everything, all the terrors of war hitting them full force. They all had brushes with death, all fought as their second home crumbled around them, saw good people fall, watched their government collapse, joined resistance movements to help any way they could.
She's not sure they'll ever be over this, over Fred, but she has to believe they'll get better one day. They've been floundering, all of them have, but moving on and letting go, it has to come someday.
(it has to)
She glances at George again, feels that old Gryffindor courage start to stir.
Maybe someday can be today.
"I miss him too," she whispers to the wind, voice carried off in the breeze. George stiffens and then relaxes, a tremor in his bones.
"I know it seems easier to run away, but real life isn't something to be afraid of, even if...even if he's not in it," she forces out, like sandpaper on her throat but she feels a little freer already, feels like she's shed a layer of dead skin. He swallows and she knows it's so much worse for him, knows he's lost something so much greater than she has. But he's strong, has always been brave and she believes in George, believes he'll rise again.
"It just...hurts, you know?" he finally whispers, voice thick and she nods, eyes wet.
"I know," she affirms, taking his hand.
He doesn't say anymore and neither does she, but he squeezes back, fingers trembling a bit and Alicia thinks that maybe they'll be okay. They lean back against the roof, take in the beauty of sunset and she keeps her fingers threaded through his, promises in silence that she'll always be here. Their shoulders touch and she leans her head over, rests it against him and beyond the brilliance of pink and purple clouds, she's sure she can make out the beginnings of sparkling stars.
She smiles softly, feels his head lean tentatively against hers and dusk begins to taste a little like moving on. She knows Fred is out there, watching over them, probably quipping something awful and it makes fond tears blur her vision.
Goodnight Fred she whispers in her heart, feels the warmth of George's body spreading through her. It'll be a long road back but somehow, she knows they'll make it.
We'll be okay.