For Maggie, for her birthday. . . . Even though it's not for another three months . . . Also, it's for Maggie because of the full hour she spent with me on the phone, revising . . . the last two paragraphs. Seriously. Appreciate those last two paragraphs. You would not believe how much effort they took. It's actually kinda sad.

DISCLAIMER: If I had written Deathly Hallows, Fred wouldn't have died because Maggie would have killed me (reason #3 why this fic is for her). But since he did, this is my therapy.

Because You're George

They gave you his wand.

Later, the sensible part of you would say that you knew full well why they had tried to give it to you, but at that moment, you couldn't understand why the man was waving a wand in your face. It wasn't your wand, though it looked a great deal similar, made of the same wood, with the same core. But it wasn't your wand. It was half an inch longer and it came to more of a point than yours did. More jabbing, sharper, whip-like. Like a rapier. Whereas yours was more rounded, gentler, flexible. It may have looked like your wand, but it wasn't, and it was just as wrong for you to have it as it was for the Ministry man.

In the end, it was your mother who took the wand and tearfully thanked him. You refused to look at him or speak to him or respond to his presence in any way. You didn't want to be anything but numb, and you'd be damned if you were going to let these people make you feel again. There was only one person in the world you'd let do that, and as he was the reason for the numbness, you were more than content to stay numb for the rest of your life.

It was a comfort, being numb. You would have felt grateful for, if you'd been letting yourself feel anything. As it was, there was no anger or hurt to deal with, no need for grief or pain or despair. You didn't have to think, didn't have to question. You could be blank. Hollow. Devoid of everything, every thought, every feeling, every memory, because what was the point of being anything else?

You left all that to the others. Even speech, except the day when you finally lost patience with the Healer who wanted to replace your ear and you shouted at her that you didn't want it replaced, that you'd lived without it for months and you'd just as soon continue on as you'd been, if that was quite all right with her, and why couldn't she get that through her head, since you'd been saying it for quite some time.

That was all you said. You didn't ask what the point was in appearing whole when you could never be whole again. You didn't say that you wanted a physical scar left, a hole, to match the gaping hole inside you that you could never be rid of. Those things came too close to being what they wanted you to say. They came too close to feeling.

And you started to think that if the situation were different, you would jump at the chance the Healer offered, that you and – and he would be eager to help the Healers make it as realistic as possible. You'd want to see how close to identical you could be again. You could even almost hear him asking if they could cut off his ear and replace it with a fake one, too.

But then you'd make yourself stop, because that definitely came too close to feeling.

And you stayed away from people, even when you were in the same room with them because your mother wanted all of you close. You would cut yourself off from them all, from everything, to the point where you couldn't even really hear the things they were saying. And if they ever started talking about him, you would get up and leave the room without a word. No one ever followed you, though you sometimes wished someone would, sent by your mother, and then you could prove to everyone that not even for your mother would you feel again.

But once you left, there was nowhere you could go. There was no place that was free of him, and you became very glad – as glad as you let yourself be – that you weren't feeling anything because otherwise it would all be too much. As it was, you refused to go into any room with a mirror; you had broken the one in your room the first night back. The second, you had found somewhere else to sleep. If any of your family noticed, they didn't say anything.

You managed to stay numb until the funeral, until today, now. But now you're sitting there, with the family, in the church and you can't stop it anymore. All those thoughts and feelings and memories that you've denied yourself are flooding back, but the one that's overwhelming you now is anger, anger at all this, at the ridiculous farce being enacted in front of you. This isn't him. These somber words and serious recollections have no place here. They aren't him. They're empty, meaningless, as much as you've been the past few days. It's that more than anything that's bringing you back.

And now the anger's building up until it's all you can sense. You can't feel anything but heat, can't see anything but a cloudy mist. The only sense left to you, cruel and ironic, is your hearing. The words they're saying are still hitting you loud and clear. You can still hear every word. You can't block any of that out.

There comes a moment when you can't take it anymore. You don't care who sees, you don't care what it looks like or what anyone thinks. You leave, rising and striding out of the church. You won't stay there, not another moment, no matter who looks at you in shock or hisses your name. You're getting out.

You wonder who they'll send after you and find that you don't care, but it's a different kind of not caring than you've been filled with.

When you hear footsteps following you, you don't turn to see who it is. You just don't care because you know it doesn't matter. Instead, you speak, practically the first words you've said since you saw with your own eyes what had happened.

"I'm not going back in there and you can go to hell," you say in a dead, hollow voice, not caring even if you just said that to your mother. "They don't know him." Part of you notes that you're speaking in present tense, but it's the part you're still ignoring. "They're saying the same things about him that they'd be saying about me if I were the one in that coffin. And all of you are no better. How often have you spoken to me and used his name? Or looked in vain for some way to tell us apart, only to decide that it didn't really matter?"

"Never," is the quiet response that you hear, and it infuriates you.

"You're a lying bastard," you say roughly, turning to face your brother. And you can't believe it's Percy, Percy that they send after you. Percy, the traitor, the rat, the one who put you all through so much pain for so many years. He is the last person you want to see, the last person who deserves to talk to you right now. Part of you notes that you'd probably think that of anyone you saw at the moment, but again, it's the part you're ignoring.

"I'm not lying," he says simply, and you'd be able to see the pain in his face if you looked for it, the harsh lines of grief and guilt. But you don't want to see those things and so you don't, and you don't want to listen to what he has to say and so you don't. "I've always been able to tell you apart. I've never confused you with Fr–"

"Don't you dare," you growl, and you're not sure what you're warning him against. Saying the name or saying he could tell you apart or saying something that might make you forgive him. He forgave Percy so quickly and it surprised everyone, even you, especially you, but you won't, not now. "This is your fault," you tell him, and you almost let yourself see how he flinches when you say that.

"I know," he whispers, and his eyes are closed and he's wracked with guilt and you stand there watching him and almost care, but you stop yourself at the last moment because you're not willing to give up the anger, not yet. It's the most real thing you've got right now, and you know when the anger's gone, other things will set in, and you're not ready for that, and so you're holding onto the anger as tightly as you can.

"I hate you," you tell him, and you really believe that you mean it. "You did this. You did this to me. You're the reason he's gone! If it hadn't been for you, he'd still be here! I hate you!" And you can't help what happens next. You attack him, not with wand or with magic, but with your own two hands, as if by attacking your brother, you can change what is. As if by getting into a fight, you can forget how to feel again. You don't even notice the tears streaming down your face as you punch every inch of him you can reach.

And you know you have to be hurting him. You're bigger than he is and stronger, and he should be yelling in pain. He should be trying to fight back, or at least to defend himself against the attack. He should be trying to call you off or to stop you or to placate you.

But he doesn't. He just stands there and takes it, just stands there and lets you hit him and doesn't say a word. And you don't understand it, and you don't understand him and you never have. And before, it didn't matter because you could laugh it off and ignore him, but you can't anymore because you don't think you'll ever be able to laugh again, and so the need to understand is that much more urgent.

And so you stop punching him and just stand there, bewildered and hurting and angry and you yell, "Why are you doing this?" in a voice that is raw and shaking, just like you are.

"Because I'm your older brother," he says simply. "And sometimes older brothers let their younger brothers hit them. Because having you scream at me and hit me is better than watching you fade away into yourself."

And you try not to hear him and you try not to feel his hand on your shoulder, but you can't. And a memory comes to the front of your mind, unbidden, and you try to ignore it, but that part of your mind won't be ignored any more.

And suddenly you're nearly six again and sitting crying on a cot set up in Percy's room. They won't let you in yours because he has Dragon Pox and you don't, and no one will tell you what that means and all you know is that dragons kill people and you know your twin is dying and they won't even let you see him and all this is Percy's fault because he's the one who had Dragon Pox first and he gave it away. And then Percy comes in and sees you crying and asks what's wrong and you start yelling and hitting him because it's all his fault and your twin's going to die and it's all his fault, and instead of fighting back, he just waits until you wear yourself out and then explains that he isn't going to die, they just don't want you in the room because they don't want you to get sick, too.

And you remember that later you asked Percy why he didn't tell your mother that you had hit him and told him you hated him, and Percy just said, "Because I'm your older brother. And sometimes older brothers let their younger brothers hit them and don't say anything. Because sometimes that's just what a younger brother needs to do."

You remember all that and you don't want to, but you can't stop it. And you remember, too, that the one person who has never called you the wrong name is Percy, that whenever he yelled at you or scolded you, he got it right, and he always knew which one of you was to blame. Percy had never seen you as just the twins, and you wanted to hate him for it, but you couldn't.

In that moment, you would give anything to be able to go back to not feeling. Because it's too much. Everything you haven't felt now comes rushing through you and it's too much and finally, finally, you break down. And when you fall, sobbing, to your knees in the dirt by the church, Percy's there, and he goes down with you.

You wish you were dead, too, you, who always was able to find the good and laugh. You want to be dead because there is nothing left to laugh at. Because your laugh sounds like his and you'll never be able to hear it again without feeling this same pain, just like you'll never be able to look in a mirror or a window or a puddle again. You know you can never be free of this pain because of what you are and what he was and what you both were. And what's the point of existing if it's going to hurt that much? What's the point of living if you can only ever be half there?

When you were younger, the both of you made a point of showing you didn't care that people confused you, that people could never seem to tell you apart. In public, you played off it as much as possible, had fun with it. Because how could you tell your mother that it hurt, just a little, to be called the wrong name? How could you explain to everyone how irritating it was to be seen as a single entity with only one set of thoughts and feelings? How were you supposed to show everyone that, even though you were similar and did everything together, you were two separate people and needed to be seen as such?

And how it is fair that it is now that fact that hurts the most? You truly are two separate people now, as you always wanted to be, for you are living and he is not and no one will ever confuse you again.

And you can't believe it, but it isn't possible to deny it and there's no way to pretend that anything else is true. You're living and he's not and you don't know how to exist in this world and you don't want to learn.

And as you kneel on the ground, your brother the only thing keeping you from collapsing altogether, you don't see how there can possibly be anything left to feel, any anguish you haven't just experienced. There's no way your being can hold any more pain. You're sure of that. But then you're proven wrong.

"I didn't know." The words are wrenched from you. You say them without fully knowing who's speaking. They come out amidst sobs and so you almost miss them except that you don't because you can't, you only wish you could. Because this is the thought, the memory, the truth that you had buried so deeply that you had forgotten it in the midst of not feeling. This was the truth that had started the not feeling.

They told you he had died and you knew they'd gotten it wrong. They told you he had gone and you knew it wasn't true. Because you would know if he was gone. And as soon as you found him and showed them it wasn't, couldn't be, true, you and he would laugh at their expense because could there be any notion so ridiculous as the idea that anything could happen to one of you without the other knowing? There was no way he could have died and you not have known it.

But you didn't. You didn't know. And when you saw him there, pale and cold and hard in a way he had never been, your world came to a crashing halt. Everything you had ever known, everything you had ever been, was gone, in that instant. And, in that instant, you stopped feeling, because doing anything else would have required admitting that you were wrong, that he was wrong. Despite what you and he had always believed, you had, just like everyone else, seen yourselves not as two separate people, but as a single entity, believing completely that what happened to one happened to both. That you would know. You would have to. He was your twin. He was you. He always had been. It was truth, simply truth.

But you hadn't known. It had happened, and you hadn't known. It feels acutely like betrayal, but the question of who had been betrayed and who had done the betraying is one you can't bring yourself to answer.

And there comes a moment when it feels as though there is nothing at all left inside of you. There comes a moment when you feel that you have finally found the way to cease to be. That gaping hole inside you is growing and threatening to swallow you completely, and once it does, you know you will no longer be anything.

It is the greatest temptation you have ever faced. Standing on the edge, you want it to swallow you. You want to be consumed, eliminated, destroyed. You want to cease to be. There's a small voice in your mind that's urging you to just do it. Just fall. It's the easiest thing in the world. Loose yourself in that darkness. You already want it, so just . . . let go. Give in. Disappear.

And you almost do. Because it would be so easy. And there's no voice to counter it.

"It doesn't matter." The voice cuts through the fog and the darkness and brings you back to yourself, and for a moment, you resent it. Slowly, you turn tired, bloodshot eyes to your brother.

"What?" you croak in a whisper.

"It doesn't matter that you didn't know," he tells you softly, and you have no idea how to respond. Before, such a statement would have made you angry, sent you into another rage, but now, you just don't have the energy.

"He's my twin," you say helplessly. "I should have known."

"No, George," he says. "You never had before, either of you, though you wanted people to think you did. Death changes a lot of things, George, but it doesn't change that."

And you know that what he's saying is true. And you've never felt more lost in your life.

"He's gone," you whisper. "He's gone." And you can't deny it any more and nothing has ever hurt you so much in your life.

"Not if you keep him alive," Percy says. "He's only gone if you keep him from coming back." You can tell he's searching for something more to say, something to make everything right again. "He died laughing, George," he says finally. "He died laughing. Don't you think you should live that way?"

"Why? Because he would have wanted me to?" you spit bitterly, a spark of anger flaring up inside you as you mock those horrible words of supposed comfort.

"No," he says simply. "Because it's the only way you can."

"I don't know how," you admit.

"Neither do I," is his response.

"Then how?" you ask, and your voice cracks and once again, you're only almost six and you still believe that your older brother has the answer to every problem.

"One day at a time," he tells you, and you really want to believe it's that simple, but you don't know if you can.

"Will you help me?" you ask, suddenly small and helpless as you look at him.

"Of course," he tells you, and then he stands and he's pulling you up with him. And you let him support you, but you stop when he heads back for the church, swallowing as you stare up at it.

"I don't know if I can," you whisper.

"I know you can," he says.

"How?" you ask again. He smiles at you.

"Because you're George."

And you don't know why that's the right thing to say at the moment, but somehow, it is. And the emptiness inside you shrinks and falls away a little, still there, but not so close that you're in danger of falling.

And you let him lead you back into the church and you sit in the last row and close your eyes and listen to the words being said. And now you let the memories come and you don't try to stop them, and somehow, it doesn't hurt as much as you thought it would. Yes, the memories overwhelm you, but it's a needed and good kind of overwhelming. You let the images flood through you and carry you away, and as you do, you whisper a single word, one you haven't even let yourself think.

Fred . . .

And when the service is over, you and Percy will approach your family and you'll apologize to your mother and let her hold you close while you both cry.

And it will be hard, for the next few months, and your family will often be the only thing keeping you from letting that darkness swallow you. But, with time, you will heal. You will be able to spend the night in your room without hearing his whisper. You will be able to look in a mirror without flinching away from what you see. And when the family remembers him, the pain will no longer send you from the room. Instead, you will stay and join in. You will be able to laugh without restraint and without feeling guilty. No, the pain will never fade completely, and the darkness will never go away, and you will never lose the feeling that something isn't there that should be, but you will be able to go on. You will be able to live and be yourself again.

And when they put your newborn son into your arms, you'll look into his bright blue eyes and see someone else looking out of them. You'll watch him smile and recognize the hint of mischief that will one day define him as it once defined another. You will hear him laugh, an echo of a laugh you hold only your memories.

Through tears of joy and pain, you will whisper your first words to him.

Hello, Fred.

Please, review.