The explosion was deafening, catapulting both twins off of the bed and across the room. George could barely hear Fred's cry over the sound of their papers and assorted belongings falling back to the floor. He fell on his back and took a moment to gather his breath before he pushed himself up.
"Fred?" he called out, squinting into the smoke that the explosion had caused. This was certainly a bad way to start off the fireworks. By his calculations, this was the worst explosion yet. He coughed as he breathed in a little too much smoke and tried to fan some of it away. "Fred?"
His groping hand touches soft flesh. He feels his way up the fabric of a jumper sleeve until he touches Fred's face, and he fans some of the smoke away so that he can actually see what he is doing. When he looks at Fred he feels a rather large panic seize him. His eyes are closed and his mouth hangs open. George begins to shake Fred violently in an attempt to wake him up.
"Come on, come on, come on, wake up!" He mutters in desperation, shaking Fred until his head lolls around on his shoulders. George stares at Fred's impassive face for seconds that stretch into decades, his heart racing throughout his chest, his fingers clutching the slightly itchy fabric of his Weasley jumper and he opens his mouth to scream for his mother.
Before he can do so, however, a hand clamps itself down on his mouth. George stares at Fred, his heartbeat beginning to slow as Fred's eyes crack open a quarter inch. "When they bury me," Fred rasps in what he obviously imagines a dying person to sound like, "make sure that they bury me with my face looking up at the sky and my feet pointed towards Honeydukes." George stares at him for several seconds, his tongue and throat and brain unable to form words.
Relief is flooding into him in waves, calming his brain and sending his breathing back to normal. Fred is all right, they're both all right, and everything's going to be OK…Fred winks up at him and starts to cackle. "I thought that you were going to start bawling there in a few seconds!"
This is entirely too much for George. Before he knows it, his hands have balled themselves up into fists and they are pounding furiously away at Fred's prostrate body. Fred quickly recovers, rolling away from George and attacking him, jumping up on top of him, his fists finding George's vulnerable ears. George finally manages to throw Fred off of him and then-
There is another explosion, but this one is infinitely worse. This one rips the curtain of heaven and earth apart and sends the entire world spinning into oblivion. Rocks fall all around George and he screams, his voice easily lost in the noise of the ending of the world.
And then his eyes are drawn to one sight and one sight only-the empty staring eyes, the limp hand dropping down to rest on the floor. And he is shaking Fred, and he knows that it's only a bad joke, that Fred will say something stupid and he'll have to hit him again, but this time Fred doesn't make a crack about Honeydukes, this time they're not in their bedroom with their Mum downstairs, they're at Hogwarts and Fred, he won't wake up, he won't move, he won't stir no matter how hard George is shaking him, and this time when he opens his mouth to scream, Fred doesn't move a muscle.
"George!" He wakes up, his eyes wild in the brightening dawn of the common room. Ginny is staring at him and George wonders whether or not it is his screams that have made everyone look so terrified. "George?" she asks as his heart slows, as the dread of the realization of what day this is sinks down upon him. Today is the memorial.
"Yeah, I'm fine," he says shortly, sitting up and running his hands through his hair. His back muscles stretch in protest; sleeping on the common room floor last night probably wasn't a good idea. Ginny looks like she's not convinced, but his grotesque, quick smile reassures everyone else, even his mother. George wonders whether she's just fooled herself into being happy, or whether she's actually convinced that he's all right and coming to terms with everything. "What's for breakfast?"
He sees Ginny deflate somewhat at this statement; it's the first time that he's expressed any interest whatsoever in food. He slowly pushes himself up and walks gingerly towards the portrait. "I'll meet the rest of you down there," he tells them over his shoulder. He remembers that he didn't used to be like this, didn't use to cherish the moments he was alone, didn't actively seek them out. As a matter of fact, he dreaded those moments, even though they were few and far between, and would always look for someone to spend nearly every single second of his time with. Of course, it wasn't like it was difficult finding someone to spend time with: he had a ready made companion from birth.
His footsteps echo in the empty hallways, though occasionally he sees people hurrying past him. He comes upon a knot of people, all discussing something in hushed whispers, though their faces look excited. Curious in spite of himself, he slows down so that he can catch what they're saying.
"Do you think she's going to talk today at the memorial? I mean, I think that she lost someone, maybe they're going to get her to talk."
"She should talk, just because of what she did. Mum can't stop talking about it; she said it was the bravest thing she's ever seen."
"You should hear Hannah go on about her. She thinks that she's better than Dumbledore and Merlin combined-but can you really blame her? I mean, Bellatrix Lestrange killed about half of her family."
George begins to feel a faint sense of pride as he realizes what they're talking about. He finally got the whole story, about how his mother dueled Bellatrix Lestrange to the death, succeeding where many others had failed. Of course, the Weasley boys had known all along that Molly Weasley was never someone to be trifled with, especially when it came to her children. It just took the rest of the world a little bit longer to figure it out.
"I mean, who would have thought that she would ever be killed by anyone, especially someone with six kids?"
George froze at this sentence, feeling like ice-cold water had been poured into his veins. He could feel his hands shaking as he quickly shoved them into his pockets in an attempt to not grab his wand and hex every single one of them. His breathing quickened and he slowly turned around to face the speakers.
"Seven," he said quietly, though he could hear the tremor of emotion in his voice. They all looked curiously at him, some with a faint gleam of recognition in their eyes. "She's got seven." Before he could do anything that he would later regret he stalked away, though he could hear the harsh whispers that began as soon as he was too far away to determine words.
George walked until he came to an all-too familiar door-Filch's office. The number of times that he had been in here, every single time with Fred at his side, both of them snickering as Filch ranted at them about the punishments that he would inflict, had this been his school-George had lost count about halfway through first year. A sudden desire seizes him, to enter into the forbidden and see something which he knows exists, but has never seen fully with his own eyes. George looks around hesitantly before pushing open the door.
Filch is not here, he is probably dashing about the castle, gaping at all of the considerable damage done. Perhaps he's already died from a heart attack brought on by seeing the complete and utter ruin that the castle is in, George wonders, as he walks towards the file cabinets, in which lie the records of the greatest troublemakers in Hogwarts history.
He finds what he is looking for near the bottom. A small snort escapes his nose as he looks at the writing on the outside of the drawer. Weasley, Fred and George. An entire drawer, devoted entirely to him. He doesn't think that any other student in Hogwarts can claim such an honor. He pulls open the drawer and pulls out a piece of paper at random.
Name: Fred and George Weasley. Crime: Befouling the castle by enchanting thirty pairs of muddy boots to walk around the floors, walls and ceilings. Suggested Punishment: Hanging from ceiling by ankles for two days, no meals. Punishment: Loss of five points from Gryffindor and a lecture from Professor McGonagall. Notes: Will make sure to work harder next time. Will achieve flogging by end of the year.
For the first time in days George was laughing, though it was the hysterical kind of laughter that was most often followed by weeping. He remembered when he and Fred had done that, it had been in October of their second year. All throughout the rest of the month they could hardly turn around without having Mrs. Norris turn up behind them, her yellow eyes glaring at them, just daring them to make a move. It was all right though: within two weeks they had invented catnip that had an unfortunate effect upon a cat's digestive systems when ingested. Alicia's cat had been banned from the Gryffindor common room for almost a month.
George flips through some more pages, smiling appreciatively as he remembers the careful planning that they put into every single one of those acts. All right, some of them didn't require careful planning, but those were just their first pranks, when they were young and unskilled. They soon moved onto bigger and better things though-after all; it doesn't take a genius to drop twenty Dungbombs in a crowded corridor just before lunch.
When he shifts and feels his leg muscles burn George realizes just how much time has passed. Maybe Filch really has died. He puts the papers back into the drawer, begins to shut it, and then pauses. An idea has just occurred to him, possibly one of the greatest that he has ever had. For a second he is astonished at his brilliance and automatically turns to his right to share it, but there is the familiar sinking sensation as he sees that there is no one standing beside him. He wonders if he'll ever get used to this, this feeling of abandonment and loss.
He wanders into the Great Hall almost by accident, his eyes automatically straying to where the High Table used to be, the place where they have now laid the bodies. He wonders how anyone is supposed to eat while looking at that and feels what little appetite he did have leaves as his eyes automatically pick out the vivid red hair. He looks at Fred and then looks at his family and now more than ever feels the gaping hole that has been torn in his life.
He remembers a typical breakfast with Fred, watching Fred shove enormous amounts of food into his mouth at an alarming rate while trying to get the best bits before he did. Growing up with three older brothers cemented the desire to eat as much as he could as fast as he could, and hardly anything can break him of the habit of eating everything in sight within four seconds or less. Of course now he just takes a fork in his hand and half-heartedly stabs at the plump sausages and perfectly brown toast. He would rather bathe a Blast-Ended Skrewt than eat much of anything. However, under Ginny's and his mother's watchful eyes he dutifully swallows his breakfast down, noting their pleased looks that say "See, he's coming around, everything's going to be all right," and he stubbornly digs down deeper into himself, where there are no sisters watching his every move, where his mother does not gaze upon him every second, trying to find the son that she lost. There is only Fred, only his favorite person in the world.
George senses more than sees Lee sitting next to him, his silent presence doing nothing more than putting him on edge. It's strange, but now that he thinks about it, he can't remember having a whole conversation with just Lee. It was always him, Fred and Lee talking. Come to think of it, there's hardly anyone that he remembers having a conversation with, just the two of them. Fred and George would have a conversation with someone or, on the off-chance that Fred wasn't at his side, George would start talking to someone and Fred would materialize thirty seconds later, a whirlwind of wit and wonder.
A cloud of awkward silence descends upon him and Lee, but George chooses to ignore it. Perhaps Lee will get the message and toddle on off to happier people, people whose entire lives have not crashed down around their ears-oops, ear. Lee is rescued from his predicament by Katie, who comes and sits on the left side of George. George now has the unmistakable feeling of being surrounded, and wants nothing more than to flee. His foot moves up against the drawer that he stole from Filch's office and he feels calmer.
"Are you ready for this afternoon?" Katie asks seriously. George wishes that everyone would stop asking him if he was all right, or if he's prepared what he's going to say, or any of the other questions that they ask because they can't just talk to him anymore. In some way he understands their predicament-he's finding it increasingly difficult to talk to anyone. He loses his train of thought and there is no one else there anymore to pick it up for him.
"Yeah," he grunts, hoping that this would be enough of a hint. Lee gets it. He turns around and starts talking quietly to Alicia. George feels grateful that Lee understands a little bit, at least enough to know that right now he just wants to be alone. Katie however, either doesn't get the fact that he desperately wants to be left alone, or she is ignoring it and trying to force him to talk. Whatever her motivation, George just really wishes that she would go away.
He almost thinks that she's gone away when she doesn't talk for a while and he glances towards his left. His heart sinks as he sees that she's staring intently at the spot where his left ear used to be. No matter how many jokes he makes about it, no matter how long it's been since it happened, he still feels a jolt whenever he looks at his reflection and sees his strangely lopsided face. His mother begged him for a few days to wear a bandage over the hole, probably just to make everyone else feel better, but he refused, mostly because Fred was getting such a huge laugh out of the entire ordeal. It made him feel better, like it was really just a huge cosmic joke and he and Fred were already planning retaliation.
George flinched as he felt a strange sensation on the side of his head. His eyes darted to the side to see Katie curiously stroking his hair out of the way. He'd deliberately grown his hair long so as to help cover the gaping hole in the side of his head. Even though it was no longer possible to look completely identical Fred had done the same thing, probably out of habit more than anything else. She finally moves his hair aside to reveal the wound that still makes him uncomfortable, that ensures that he never hears more than a hollow echo of anything around him.
He shudders at the presumptive touch, but fights the urge to lean into her gentle fingers. There is comfort in her fingers, comfort of a sort that no one else has been able to offer him. Her fingers probe the edge, making George shiver and veer away from her.
"Does it still hurt?" she asks quietly. George shakes his head swiftly, trying to erase the memory of her touch quickly. The only touches he wants to remember are those which he will never feel again-the slight shove of Fred's shoulder against his when Fred wants him to look at something, the tight grasp of Fred's hand on his forearm when they wait to see what's going to happen next, Fred's arm thrown easily around his shoulders as they think about their triumphs. He can still feel the slight pressure of Fred's arm and concentrates hard on that feeling, willing more weight and substance to his memory. But his scalp still tingles with the memory of Katie's fingers moving through his hair.
Katie suddenly gets up from the table, her face flushed as she stares down at her feet. "I guess…I guess I'll see you later," she mutters desperately and almost sprints out of the Great Hall. George almost looks after her, but at the last moment stops the movement of his head and keeps his eyes staring straight ahead at the wood grain on the table.
He doesn't understand why he should feel so bothered by what just happened. After all, he and Katie have shared much more intimate touches than that. She was the first girl that he kissed, the first girl that he seriously dated, and the object of many hurried and bungled attempts at groping out behind the broom shed when he was sixteen. He and Katie went to the Yule Ball together and dated for a few months after that, but eventually the novelty of walking down the corridors with her wore off, and he had to admit to himself that Hogsmede visits were much more interesting when he was perusing Zonko's with Fred rather than when he was sitting at the Three Broomsticks with Katie. Thus ended their brief relationship, with both of them on good terms with each other.
He did remember the horror that he felt when he heard that she had been attacked. He and Fred had gone to St. Mungo's, nearly hexed the witch behind the counter, and stormed into Katie's room. He remembered the feeling of helplessness as he stared down at her prone body, normally so vibrant and active. He can recall that feeling quite well, as it is the same one that he has whenever he thinks about Fred, which is every waking moment.
He shivers and shakes his head violently, trying to bring himself back to the present and banish all thoughts of Katie from his mind. He is confronted with another problem however, and this might be a bigger problem than the lingering thoughts of Katie. Angelina sits across from him, her eyes tired and her face drawn. She looks as if she has not slept well the past few nights, like she has spent entirely too much time crying away from everyone. It is much the same look that he himself has.
"You sure that you're up for this?" she asks him brutally, and George is actually grateful for her brusque tone. At the very least, it's better than the hushed tone that everyone has lately been using around him. For a second he almost feels like a real person again. Then that moment is gone and he's back to his quivering, half-state, and everyone should be using hushed voices when they speak to him, because it's not that much different than talking to a corpse really.
"Yeah," he answers shortly, and wishes that he could think of something witty to say, something that would make that skeptical look on Angelina's face disappear as well as make him feel better, but his mind simply won't work. Perhaps it's because it was Fred who always began the jokes and he delivered the punchlines. Maybe it was the other way around. Either way, it's impossible for him to deliver the rapid fire wit that the Weasley twins were known for.
Angelina makes a small noise that might have been a scoff and George breaks through his self-pity to look angrily at her. "I'd be a damn sight better than you," he snaps, and immediately his anger fades as her deep brown eyes glisten with tears. It suddenly hits him that this is Fred's girl and as such, she is surrounded by a kind of mystic energy to him. If Angelina was good enough for Fred then she deserves the utmost respect from him, and as Fred's girlfriend, she is one of the last remaining links to Fred that he has.
"Sorry," he mutters, actually meaning the words. Angelina meets his eyes and for the first time George notices that the whites of her eyes are tinged with red and that her nose is a little too swollen. Perhaps there's someone else out in the world that is missing Fred almost as he much as he misses him. He stares at Angelina and thinks that there is one person who he would willingly spend time with in this world. Well, two, counting Ginny.
"You're probably right," she mutters, and there is a strange kind of regret in her eyes. George recognizes the emotion, because he's feeling it as well. It is a regret that tells him that he should have said something else to Fred the last time he saw him, at least something cleverer than "You've got cobwebs in your hair". What a stupid thing to say to him. He should have said something like "Mischief's never managed" or fired off a snappy saying at the Death Eaters. He wishes that he could have had more time before the battle just to bask in Fred's presence, at Hogwarts, quite possibly the scenes of their greatest triumphs.
They sit in silence, the rest of the table giving them a respectful distance. George wonders why they are so much different than anyone else. After all, nearly every single person in the Great Hall has either lost someone, or known someone who died, yet they all look relatively happy. Their faces are drawn yes, they look entirely too pale to be healthy, but there is an air of contentment that hangs over everyone, even his own family that he simply cannot feel no matter how hard he tries. He doesn't care that Voldemort's been defeated. It isn't really a fair trade, the way that he looks at it, Voldemort for Fred. As horrible as it is to think it, as apocalyptically evil as it may be, he would much rather have both Fred and Voldemort alive. Everything in his world would be rather pleasant at that point.
Finally the bell tolls out noon, and as one, the hall rises and files out onto the grounds. George feels the weight of the box in his arms, and he brings it closer to his chest, its sharp corners digging into his biceps and stomach. Angelina walks beside him, her footsteps falling in time perfectly with his. He wonders if this is just something that she's naturally good at, walking in step with people, or whether she just had a lot of practice walking with Fred and that carries over into walking with him.
Thousands of chairs have been magicked onto the lawn, though George doesn't think that they'll be big enough to seat all these people that have turned up. He didn't know that there were that many wizards in the world, let alone fighting against Voldemort in Britain. There seems to be no order to the seating, he sees teachers and mothers sitting next to each other, Ravenclaws sitting beside Hufflepuffs. It is odd and George violently wishes for the old world back, the one where everyone knew exactly where to sit along the carefully drawn out lines that were there since before they were all born.
He sits with his family, staring blankly ahead, dreading what's to come. It begins much in the way that he thought it would: Harry gets up to speak to everyone. He looks smaller than he did last night, pushing his glasses further up on the bridge of his nose and nervously shifting his weight. George suddenly recalls the tiny boy of eleven that couldn't get his trunk onto the train and wonders at how far they've all come since then.
"Erm…good morning," Harry finally says, his voice magnified to one hundred times its normal volume. George wonders how he could face Voldemort fearlessly just a few nights ago and yet still have qualms about public speaking. It must be one of those things that he will never understand.
"Last night, our world was finally made safe for us again," he says, relaxing slightly and standing up straighter. "But it never would have been so without these brave people, whom we honor today. Their sacrifice was made for the world, so that they could ensure a better place for the rest of us." Harry pauses, swallows once and continues. "I'm sorry to say that I didn't know everyone personally, but I feel your loss, because it is our loss that these lives were taken from us so tragically soon." He really must have been practicing somewhere, because he's very good at this speech-giving. George can see his mother wipe tears from her eyes and his father is futilely patting her knee.
"We thank them from the bottom of our hearts and know that though our lives will go on, they will be forever empty without those that we love in them," Harry finishes, and goes to sit back down beside Ginny. George bites his lip as Kingsley gets up to speak. He does not say a prepared speech; instead he pulls out a piece of parchment and reads a name off of it. It is no one that George recognizes, but a sobbing witch gets up and walks forward. Her speech about her lost husband makes George's heart twist as he realizes that in perhaps only an hour that will be him standing up in front of this crowd, talking about the most personal thing that has ever happened to him. He must have been mental to agree to do this.
George does not recognize any of names until one Terry Boot is called. With a sharp jolt of recognition he quickly puts a face with the name, bought a purple Pygmy Puff and several Snackboxes almost a year ago, was in Dumbledore's Army with him. A woman, no doubt Terry's mother, gets up and speaks about him, his intelligence, how proud he was when he got his O.W.L. results, and the lengths he went to in order to fight the Carrows' hold on Hogwarts.
His stomach gives another nasty lurch when Colin Creevy's name is called out. He always liked Colin, even though he was a bit of a twit, he was good-natured, and would always provide a decent cover if you asked him. This isn't fair, George thinks blindly, his mind racing down paths that he's never tread before, hoped that he would never see. They were all so young…sixteen, twenty, it's just too damn young to die…
He swallows hard when Lupin's name is called out, remembering his quiet, troubled former Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor. The summer that they were staying in Grimmauld Place, Remus and Sirius, recognizing two kindred spirits, had taken Fred and George under their wing, telling them everything about their exploits when they were at school. True, most of their knowledge had been absorbed already in the form of the Marauder's Map (Fred had whimpered with glee and almost peed himself to discover that they were talking to Mr. Moony and Mr. Padfoot themselves), but there were still pranks to be rehashed, hints to be given and lessons to be learned. It had certainly been a most illuminating summer-George for one, had no idea before then what exactly happened when you shoved someone into a Vanishing Cabinet.
Surprisingly, it is Professor McGonagall, looking more somber than George has ever seen her, who gets up to speak for Remus Lupin. George reflects on this, trying to decide why he is surprised that McGonagall would speak for Lupin. Could it be that he believes that McGonagall no longer has emotions besides anger and frustration? It's possible. That was all the emotion she could muster up whenever she was lecturing him and Fred about another one of their adventures.
Her voice shakes as she begins speaking about a quiet boy whose greatest wish in life was to be liked and accepted for who he was, not what fate had forced him to be. A faint smile graces her face as she recounts some of the legends associated with the Marauders and how nervous he was at graduating. She becomes serious once more, recounting the difficulties he had once out of school at finding a job and keeping a job. George thinks about Lupin's robes, eternally shabby, even worse than his father's, and his prematurely lined face and grey hair and cannot repress a sharp stab of anger at the world. Her voice breaks altogether when she speaks about his pride at fathering a child and his joy at the prospect of raising him. She sits down and buries her face in her hands.
A woman that George doesn't recognize gets up, cradling a small child in her arms. Another dull blow to George's stomach-this must be Tonk's mother. And that, that small bundle in her arms…that must be their child, the one that will never know his parents beyond seeing the pictures of them. A sudden, surprising surge of pity rises up through him, stopping somewhere in his throat and staying here, leaving a huge lump that is impossible to swallow down or cough up, not that he would try. At least he had time with Fred, though that might make it worse in the end, knowing just exactly what he's lost. But he still has the memory of his smile, the crinkles around his eyes as he tried on his staff robes at Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes for the first time, his laugh as George tried on his first set of dress robes.
George can't force himself to listen to the woman's voice, telling everyone just how special Tonks was, because it's too incredibly painful. He knows these people, he knows them, and he can't listen to people describe them like they were strangers. He looks around at the gathered people and isn't surprised to see that most of them are total and complete strangers. His heart crumples up and drops to around his anklebones when it suddenly occurs to him that he will be speaking to all of them in a matter of minutes. And sure enough, all too soon, the name Fred Weasley is called out to the audience, and George forces himself up and concentrates solely on putting one foot in front of the other in a steady procession towards certain demise.
All the way there he thinks about the weight of the box in his arms, focuses all of his attention on the corners that are digging into his stomach, because then he won't have to think about what lies just a few steps ahead. His feet walk towards the podium, but he is no longer connected to them. He is a wraith, floating in mid-air, and the only thing that is keeping him tethered to this plane of existence at all is the heavy box in his arms. If that was to disappear, then so would George.
He finally reaches the podium and looks out over the audience. As if by some strange link, his eyes automatically find Angelina in the crowd. Tears are pouring down her face and George can see, even from where he's standing, that she is violently shaking. His eyes find his family, easily recognizable by the vivid hair. His mother is sobbing unrestrainedly into his father's shoulder. Bill is gripping Fleur's hand tightly, his scarred face tense and set. It is obvious that he is willing himself not to begin crying. Charlie's hand is gripping Percy's forearm almost violently, while Percy's lip keeps on trembling, and he has to keep taking off his glasses and wiping them clean. Tears are leaking out of Ron's eyes, and he wipes them off with the back of his hand, not even bothering to loosen his grip on Hermione's hand. Ginny is staring down at her lap, her face hidden, but her thin shoulders are shaking. Harry is beside her, his hand steady and firm on her knee, but his face is stricken and pale with horror. George looks at them and feels the words that he was about to say falter and die on the tip of his tongue.
He stutters, mumbles, and then his eyes catch something, a flash of red hair at the very edge of the seated mass. No one else sees it, he is sure of that. He stares, though he already knows exactly what it is. Fred stares at him, a challenging look in his eyes, a tiny smile flitting around the corners of his mouth. His arms are folded defiantly, and the look in his eyes says plainer than words could "You can't do this, you wanker."
Shut up Fred, George thinks automatically, and suddenly the words are tumbling out of his mouth before he can stop them. "Most of you already know me," he begins, and his brain is no longer really connected to his mouth, his tongue and throat are just making up words and his mouth is remaining open, spewing them out like an enormous fountain. "At the very least you've probably enjoyed some of our products." Amazingly enough, there is an appreciative titter among the crowd. George sees that the corners of his mother's mouth are twitching upwards, despite the tears still falling freely down her face. "And if you know me, even in the slightest, then you knew Fred."
He continues on, his voice stronger now, a warm conviction burning comfortably in his chest. He is sure now, and every so often he glances up, just to reassure himself that the figure is still standing there. Fred nods encouragingly every once in a while when George pauses to take a breath, the sneer now replaced by a genuine smile. "I think that everyone would agree that knowing Fred made your life just that much better. He was one of the only bright spots in these times of despair, one of the few reminders that we had left that you had to keep on at least trying to find the humor in life." He should feel grief, he should be sobbing like a boy, but right now all he wants to do is just to tell everyone how wonderful Fred was. Later tonight there will be time for tears, there will be time for breakdowns and for despair. Right now, it is about erecting a legacy that will never be torn down.
"But I know that he wouldn't want to be remembered by long boring speeches about what a great person he was. This is exactly how he would like to be remembered." George reaches down, opens the box and withdraws a paper at random. He glances over it and tearfully smiles before beginning to read aloud. "Name: Fred and George Weasley. Crime: Attempting to enter the Forbidden Forest. Suggested punishment: Two weeks worth of dentions. Punishment Recieved: Two nights of detention with Hagrid." Amazing as it is, a quiet murmur runs through the crowd, not one of incredible grief, but perhaps of laughter? A smile quirks George's lips as he departs from the present and moves entirely into the past. His fingers choose papers at random, each time recalling one of their many exploits. He remembers them all, even the most innocuous. Every now and then he glances up just be sure that Fred is still there. He is always standing there, a smile on his face, his shoulders occasionally shaking with laughter as George reads out a particularly amusing anecdote.
Finally the last piece of paper falls from George's numb fingers and he stares out at the crowd, all of whom have tears rolling down their faces, but the tears are moving their way past smiles, as strange as that is. His mother's eyes are bloodshot from crying, but her shoulders are shaking with laughter. George doesn't even realize that he's shaking until he attempts to walk, then his legs almost give out on him. He manages to totter back to his seat, a faint haze surrounding him.
Then he feels something soft, something warm, something wonderfully real. Angelina's arms curl around him, her face buried into his shoulder. Her tears begin to soak the fabric of his shirt, but George doesn't care, because for the first time in several days, physical contact doesn't make him want to shrivel and die. His arms reciprocate her action, wrapping tightly around her, his fingers tightly gripping the fabric of her shirt. He rests his head against hers, closing his eyes and trying to disappear within her.
"He's gone," he finally hears Angelina choking out. "He's really gone?" George hears her words, but does not understand them, can't she see that Fred is right there, that the smile has faded from his face now, but he is still wonderfully there? His eyes meet Fred's, and for once Fred has no answer, no quick solution to solve everything, or at least make him laugh. Fred smiles sadly, shrugs, and turns away. George wants to call after him, wants to open his mouth, but Fred raises his hand in a small salute, and George understands that now is not the time.
"It's all right," he says instead to Angelina, his hand rubbing her shoulders. "It's going to be all right." Angelina doesn't speak again, but continues to hold him tightly until George starts to feel a little uncomfortable. This is Angelina, she's not supposed to be breaking down. Angelina Johnston could beat him senseless probably any day of the week. To see her acting this way is a little disturbing at the least.
George has no idea why he is saying that everything's going to be all right other than that's what people always say in situations like these. He wonders why, when it is perfectly clear to himself and Angelina at least, that nothing will ever be all right ever again. No matter how many times he sees Fred, feels him, remembers him, Fred will never be with him. But even this realization cannot make true to him, what is true to Angelina: Fred is really gone. Fred will never come back, they will never be able to hear Percy's roar of rage as they something truly horrible to him, they will never be able to tally up the inventory at the shop after a busy day and go up to the flat and plan a new product.
George cannot force his brain around this fairly basic fact of life. No matter how many memorial services he goes to, no matter how much time he spends in Great Hall with the bodies, no matter how often his mother's eyes water whenever they look at him, it still is not real to him. Perhaps it is the fact that he still sees Fred lingering around him, that he is able to relate anything to him, that every breath he breathes still feels like someone else is breathing it with him. He has not yet separated from Fred. He doesn't think that he ever will.
His family comes up to him, and Angelina finally separates from him, though her hand still clutches his forearm tightly. "George…" his mother says, her eyes still swimming with tears. "That was absolutely lovely." She hugs him, squashing his nose against her shoulder, and George idly wonders just how many times a day he can stand being embraced. "It would have been what he wanted."
George stiffens, and his mother knows that she's said something wrong. She tries to backpedal over her words, but the damage has been done already. "What he would have wanted?" George asks, wincing as his voice almost cracks. "What he would have wanted? Since when do any of you know anything about what he would have wanted?"
"Georgie, I didn't mean it like that," his mother tries to plead, but it is too late, and George has already stormed off. He doesn't know where his feet are taking him, but eventually he ends up at the Quidditch pitch, sprawled out on one of the seats. His eyes stare at the bright blue sky, and he thinks about how it is a travesty that the sun can shine on this day. It should have been overcast at the very least, not this, not a beautiful summer's day. A drop of sweat runs down the back of his neck and he irritably wipes it away, only to confront another one.
"Damn it all!" he finally explodes in a rage that comes from nowhere and inside himself at the same time. He wishes desperately that he had something to throw, but he stormed off with nothing. He thinks back on his conversation and feels ashamed, but yet he also feels horribly pleased at the hurt look on his mother's face. How dare she try and feel the same loss that he feels? No one will ever feel the same way that he does about losing Fred, and he wants to keep it that way. Because when his grief is that much more raw and painful, it shows that Fred is still a huge part of him. When the grief subsides and becomes less, then he will know that Fred has truly left him.
"Mum's crying now," a quiet voice tells him. George starts and turns around to see Ginny sitting behind him. Her eyes stare up at him in reproach. Deep inside him somewhere, this fact makes him shrivel in guilt and want to crawl back to his mother, mewling like a small child. That part is buried deep inside him however, and will not appear due to the unflattering rage that is seizing him at the presumption of them all.
"Sorry," he grunts, sensing that something needs to be said. Maybe Ginny will leave him alone now, let him sit and be miserable by himself. She settles down into the seat, her eyes scanning the bright sky, almost as if she were searching for a Snitch. Oh well. It was a long shot anyway, and Ginny bothered him less than most people did at the moment.
"Yeah, well," she sighed, biting her lower lip. "They're all trying really hard," she said after a short pause. "Mom, Dad, Bill…even Percy. They just don't know what to say."
"There's nothing to say," George snapped. How can you tell people that you're no longer who they thought you were, that a part of you has been ripped away? What do you say when the days look like they're never going to shine as brightly as they once did, when all of your hopes and dreams have been pulled out from under your feet?
He hadn't even thought of what would happen to the shop now, without Fred to help him. It seemed like such a trivial matter, but he concentrated on it, to keep his mind from going to even deeper and darker places. How could he run the shop by himself? Fred and he shared the work equally, in business, payroll, inventions…he didn't know how he was going to manage to do all the work by himself now-because he was firmly convinced on this fact-no other person would ever run Weasley's Wizard Wheezes but a Weasley twin. Anyone else doing the work that Fred had done, wearing the awful robes that Fred had picked out-that would be nothing less than sacrilege.
"I know," Ginny said simply, interrupting his thoughts. That was most likely a good thing, seeing as he was going nowhere good with those. "But we'd also appreciate it if you tried to understand how we feel as well…we haven't lost just one of you, we've lost both of you right now, and I don't think that Mum can survive losing another son," Ginny choked out, her last words becoming garbled and almost indistinct.
George can't help but think that Molly Weasley has already lost two sons. FredandGeorge, the twin phenomenon, has vanished from the earth, leaving only George, this sad husk of a human. Everyone should learn to accept that fact, and learn to accept the fact that George will never laugh again, never feel the need to move again, would like to cease breathing as soon as possible.
"Anyway, we're going home soon," Ginny said, pulling herself together with a loud sniff. "Not Auntie Muriel's either…we're going to the Burrow."
George feels a great longing to be at his own bedroom in the Burrow-it feels like it's been ages since he's been in his own room, even though it was only just a few short months ago.
They were all sitting at the dinner table, Ginny amongst them once more. Her face was drawn and pale, her eyes reflecting her mother's worried expression. There was a worry line in the middle of her forehead that did not used to exist, and her lips were pursed tightly.
"I just wish that I knew how they were all doing," she finally said quietly. "The last time that I saw Neville before the holidays he didn't look that good."
"He'll be all right," George said, though he knew that those words mean less and less nowadays. "I know he might not look it, but Neville's a tough kid. He'll find a way to make it."
"He's more than a tough kid, he's a bloody hero," Ginny said quietly, pride glowing through every word she spoke. "No one else had the courage to do what he did. I just feel bad that he's doing it alone."
"I don't want you at that school anymore," her mother said sternly. "What, with the Lovegood girl disappearing, and now we hear that they're actually using the Cruciatus Curse on students…" Molly Weasley shuddered, her eyes becoming wild and fearful for a split-second before she calmed down and turned into the busy, bustling housewife once more. "No child of mine will attend a sham like that."
Everyone turned around in terror when the door blasted open. George glanced at Fred as he leapt up to his feet, his hand already groping around inside of his robes for his wand. He relaxed when he saw his father standing in the door, but soon tensed up again as he saw the expression on his face.
"They're coming for us," his father choked out, holding onto the door in order to stay upright. Now everyone was on their feet, expressions of terrified inactivity on everyone's faces. George felt trapped, he felt like the ceiling was going to cave in at any moment. Hadn't they already run enough, didn't they deserve a break? The wedding, countless close shaves with Death Eaters since then…they couldn't even sit down to dinner without having Death knocking at their front door? He could feel Fred's arm against his, feel his small trembles through their sleeves. It comforted him somehow, knowing that Fred was just as scared as he was. It made him feel less alone at the very least.
"We've got to get out of here," his mother said, stating what should have been obvious from the beginning. All at once everyone began to move, but George had no idea of what they were trying to accomplish. It wasn't important to pack up kitchen utensils, they ahd to get everyone moving, had to get out there before the house was torn to shreds.
"Someone tipped me off this afternoon that they were going to do a raid on the house tonight. They're looking for Harry, Ron, and Hermione," his father shouted over the din of packing. "The ghoul trick's worked for a while, but it's beginning to wear thin, because "Ron" hasn't died, and he hasn't gotten better. If they look too closely at the ghoul then they'll know that's a fake, and then if they see Ginny here we're done for."
"Get out of here!" Fred finally bellowed, pushing his mother towards the door. "Mum, leave it, it doesn't matter…just go…" George saw what his mother was tyring to bring-that damn clock that she still carried around with her wherever she went, obsessively checking it every other minute to see if there'd been any change. George was secretly glad that it was getting left behind, was tired of his mother clutching desperately onto something that could or could not be true. Besides, even if Percy or Ron was lying dead in a ditch somewhere, would you really want to find that out from a clock?
Molly Weasley finally left the house, clutching Ginny close to her. With a loud crack, they both disappeared. Arthur Weasley pushed both of his twins towards the door. "Go to Auntie Muriel's hosue, that's where we said we'd go if the Burrow ever became compromised," he shouted at them. George nodded, feeling the world rushing around his head.
Fred seized his wrist and almost dragged him outside, away from safety, away from everything that he'd ever known. Their father followed them, disappearing almost the second that he was outside. Fred waited for a moment, glancing longingly back at the house.
"All of our order forms are in there…" he said sadly. George gaped at him for a moment. How could Fred care about the business at a time like this? Then Fred smiled sadly at him, and George understood perfectly. It was that last tentative hold on normalcy that was being ripped away, that last reminder that once they had lives and that they would again someday. "All of the recipes for inventions…They're all in there," Fred finished. He sighed deeply and then stiffened as he looked towards the sky. "What's that noise?"
"They're here," George said, cold horror gripping every muscle in his body. He'd thought that it was just a false alarm, thought that they'd be back home by tomorrow night…but it wasn't true, the Death Eaters were here, at their home, at the place where he had come during every holiday. It almost made him sick. Fred seemed frozen between wanting to flee and wanting to dash upstairs and get all of their papers. George took the decision out of his hands.
He gripped Fred's arm tightly, turned on the spot and felt himself vanish, took Fred with him, away from the Burrow, away from death, away from their childhood. At that moment, turning into nothingness with his brother beside him, George finally knew that he was a man.
"George?" Ginny asks him, putting her hand gently on his arm. He starts at the touch, staring at her with wild eyes that slowly return to their clouded, pained state that is sadly becoming normal. He wishes that he were not of age, that everything was as simple as Fred being an idiot and pretending to be hurt, that he could always run to his mother, that he always would have someone by his side. But that way of life has been ripped and torn from him. Instead, he has a void at his right side, a continuously empty space that should be always filled, always.
"It's time to go home," he says as he stands up and walks away from the Quidditch pitch.
All right…I really meant to get the funeral in this chapter, but it just didn't work out that way, I'm so sorry. But next time for sure! I promise. Really.