Disclaimer: "Harry Potter" is the property of J.K. Rowling.
The door swung open and George Weasley immediately sneezed. Dust motes were floating in the air, suspended in the slanted evening sunlight, a reminder that the entire place was suspended in time. 93 Diagon Alley hadn't seen a human being set foot in it for well over six months and everything was exactly, miraculously, horrendously the way it had been when he and Fred had vacated it, jovially, on that dark, cold, deathly quiet autumn night. They had joked that it really would have been better to tidy up more, so they didn't have to face a mess when they returned from their extended holiday. "Though," Fred had remarked with a snort, "being shut up at the Burrow isn't much of a holiday."
"Yeah," George had agreed. "Makes your dirty knickers seem positively thrilling to return to."
George smiled -- just a little bitterly -- at the memory. If Fred could see his family now, he'd think it was a great joke, as suddenly his possessions -- one of Mum's knit sweaters, a pairless mitten (which, when George, Ginny, and Ron had come upon it, had prompted George to make an insipid joke about having more in common with the lone twin to all his lost socks than he ever could have imagined. Ginny, especially, did not find this amusing) -- had become treasures. Toeing the aforementioned dirty knickers, he allowed himself a moment of genuine, heartbreak-free amusement at the thought of the...er...garment, framed as a memento and tribute to Fred.
For a second, he started to open his mouth to voice this thought -- second nature, it was; always had been -- and the realisation of his loss and grief and the gaping emptiness inside him crashed upon him in waves. Again. This was how things were, now, as he went from feeling as though he was keeping afloat in his sea of loneliness to honestly thinking he might drown. It wasn't getting better or easier.
"It's only been a month, George," Charlie had said, his sturdy arm comfortingly around George's shoulders, when he had haltingly confided in his older brother.
Three days shy of a month, actually, but George didn't correct him. And if anything, everything was getting worse. Sometimes he'd feel almost fine -- for an hour, maybe, the ache would recede into the background -- and he could enjoy himself with Ron and Ginny and even Percy, and Harry -- who was now at the Burrow more often than not -- and Hermione, since she'd returned from Australia. But then, like now, it would come rushing back, like a physical blow, and it was exactly the reason he'd put off returning to their flat -- his flat, now -- for nearly a month, because it was terrible being alone and feeling like this.
It was funny, but as children, Fred and George (or should it be George and Fred?) hadn't been susceptible to the normal childhood fears. If there was a particularly loud storm or dark night, or the ghoul wailed more frighteningly, then the two of them could simply laugh it off together. Monsters under the bed held no power to terrify when one's twin could see straight under the mattress from the other side of the room.
But George had come to understand -- hating himself for not realising earlier, but hating more a world that would force him to realise in the way that he had -- that there was something he was afraid of, and probably always had been -- being alone. Fred would laugh, no doubt, and ask what there was to be afraid of in solitude. But then Fred had gone and snuffed it, hadn't he? Wherever he was, he probably didn't need to worry about being alone.
George clenched his fists, digging his nails into his palm, and stepped inside, closing the door behind himself. There were a few things, he thought, that Fred would laugh at him for. Not crying, for one, when he had just lost his brother and best friend. But the two of them didn't cry. George, especially. Fred had a tendency -- he'd had a tendency -- when they were younger, at least, to be slightly more open with those kinds of emotions, but George couldn't remember the last time he'd shed a single tear.
The thing was, George would have liked to cry. There was a pressure on his chest and in his throat and an almost constant burning in his eyes, and he had a feeling it might help, but tears refused to come.
For the first few weeks, he'd been too numb, and seeing everyone else break down around him only seemed to numb him further. Often he felt as though there was nothing that could express his grief anyway, and those times, he would sit, trying (but not very hard) not to sink into total blackness. He had a feeling it was a battle he was going to lose.
"Fred wouldn't want you to stop living, you know," Bill had said a week ago.
He didn't mean to be anything but helpful, of course; that was all anyone wanted to do, but George couldn't help snapping, "Don't you think I know what Fred would've wanted?" Fleur had given him a frightened look as he had stalked from the kitchen, but he didn't care.
He passed a hand over his eyes and wandered aimlessly about the flat. There were old Daily Prophets stacked on furniture, clippings of articles that had particularly amused or infuriated them, notes on new products, or just inspiration, scribbled on scraps of paper, order forms, accounts books, a few pictures of friends scattered here and there...it did look a little messier than they'd left it, now he thought about it. He supposed it was fairly likely that Death Eaters had searched it. They'd always had a few unpleasant surprises planned for intruders, but none of the jinxes had been meant to last as long as they'd been gone, so who knew if the gits had got the full benefit of a visit to Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes.
Something peeking out from beneath one of the books caught his eye, and he eased it out, realising, as he did so, that he already regretted it. A younger Fred and George were grinning up at him from a picture, dressed in their dragonskin jackets (which, of course, had been Fred's idea, as so many things had been). He put a hand to the table, bracing himself, and picked it up. They'd laughed about this picture, he remembered, and decided that, most likely, they were the two most dashing chaps in Diagon Alley, and quite possibly in all of magical London.
George felt something slide down his face and crossed his eyes, looking down his nose, where, to his surprise, he saw a tear dangling. Well. He quickly put the picture down. The last thing he wanted to do was drip on it, though Fred probably would've appreciated the humour of it. That made him chuckle, though, admittedly, it came out as more of a choked sob. His vision blurred and he sat heavily on the sofa. This was what he'd wanted, right? To cry? To finally come to some sort of peace with his brother's death? His absence?
Burying his head in his hands, George finally cried, letting a month's worth of pain and desolation and grief and loneliness pour off him in tears and shaky breaths and sniffles. And for awhile, he almost felt peace. He almost felt that he'd be able to face each day alone. He almost thought he'd be okay.
After a minute or two, his tears dried up and he wiped his nose on his sleeve. Almosts didn't help anybody, least of all him, and they didn't mean anything. Fred had almost made it through the war unscathed, hadn't he?
The thought almost made him cry again, but now that he'd done it and come out of it still broken, feeling the same -- or worse -- as he had before, he forced the urge down. It wouldn't help him. And looking around thei-- his flat, he had to remember, it was just his, now -- full of his old life, he wondered what would.
A growing part of him suspected that there was nothing that would help, maybe nothing in the world for him, even, except missing his brother and feeling that everything could have been different.
George heaved a sigh and rose to his feet wearily. This place was barely habitable. If he wanted to live in it -- and he was, so everyone told him, alive, though most of the time he didn't feel like it -- then he needed to tidy up. Maybe it would almost take his mind off his grief.