A/N: Partially romance, but most just a picture of George Weasley, without his twin. OC is mine; the rest is J.K.'s.
-- - - -
Since the Ministry had fallen, everything had begun to make George Weasley hold his breath.
Fred told him to worry less, to emulate his own carefree attitude toward life, but George had always been slightly more cautious than Fred, and he could not help but be a little afraid of what was going on, a little scared of everyday life. Serving customers in the store and wondering whether one of them was torturing Muggleborns for a job at the Ministry. Getting letters from Ginny, her words carefully scripted to portray happiness and failing miserably. Visiting his parents and Bill, wondering if a Dark Mark would be hovering above their houses, green and ghostly, the next time he came to call. Going back to his apartment, to Caroline Cresswell waiting for him, and acting as if he wasn't afraid of anything, that he was still the same reckless teenager who'd danced with her at the Yule Ball and charmed her in the secret passages of Hogwarts.
He really had been doing his best to keep up with Fred's unbending optimism, but it had become increasingly difficult after he'd started coming home every night to a girl whose father, in all likelihood, was going to be murdered.
When Dirk had disappeared, George had held Caroline as she rocked, trying (albeit badly) to comfort her with jokes and coaxing laughter out of her. Afterward, despite his mother's vehement protests and several attempts to send his father to abduct Caroline, he'd moved her into the flat he shared with Fred over the store.
"My hero," she'd said with a watery smile, her eyes still swollen. He'd kissed her with what he hoped was a brave grin on his face. He was ashamed to admit that he was just afraid as she was, not just afraid for her father, but afraid that he could not keep his comedian's face on for as long as she needed it. That she might see that he was not always the funny and unrelenting Weasley twin that inhabited so much of his personality.
Later, with her breathing lightly on his bare chest, he'd thought of what might happen if the Death Eaters got his father. His mother. Caroline. Fred, even- what if they got Fred? He didn't sleep much that night.
Of course he was not always scared. Not always serious. Not always holding his breath. For the most part he was the comical, silly, fearless George Weasley, one half of a very roguish duo that was prone to gleefully ignoring the dangers and obligations of life. But some nights he was sleepless, caught between the world he'd always known and a new world where jokes and antics and bravery might get you killed instead of getting you laughs.
When the snow had begun to fall in late November, he'd visited his mother once to ask her about things, because he worried about her these days, and found her sitting vacantly on the edge of Ron's bed, letting the ghoul drool on her lap. He'd helped her downstairs and made her a cup of tea, waiting late with her until his father had come home, nervously twirling his spoon in his hands.
"You're growing up, Georgie," his mother had said tiredly. "Or maybe you've already grown. Maybe you've all grown and I hadn't noticed until it was all over."
George had cracked a joke, something wildly inappropriate about growth that he knew his mother would hate. But she just patted his cheek, sighing, and George had waited in the silence for his father to come back, feeling as though he might suffocate.
He'd come home late that night, because his father had been late too, and had been just in time to catch Fred locking up the store with a giggling blonde witch clinging needlessly to his arm. He'd winked salaciously at George as he swept the blonde off her feet, and, both of them still laughing, carried her up the stairs. George had followed up the stairs into his own room, only to find Caroline still awake, lying in bed with an opened book in her lap and staring out the window, biting her lip.
"I'm home." He'd said lightly, but she'd raised her wand, startled, pointing it at his face.
"What do you call me when we're alone?" she said, looking as tired as his mother had.
"Oh come on, Caroline, I hardly think any of that matters any more," George had said, pulling off his shoes and undoing his shirt. "If they want to kill us they're going to do it right out in the open, not in secret."
"Your father said we should still do it," said Caroline uncertainly, "So just do it."
"I call you Cay," he answered, changing into his pajama pants without bothering with a new shirt. "Like the coral rocks near the ocean, a place where seagulls land."
He made to climb over her into bed, but she stopped him while he hovered over her, his body suspended by his arms.
"Now you've got to ask me." She said stubbornly, her elbows propping her up slightly. He laughed.
"Alright, alright. What's your old stuffed owl's name, the one you think everyone thinks you've tossed but I happen to know for a fact you've hidden at the bottom of your bag in my closet?"
She frowned at him, blushing. "Snowballs," she said, sticking her tongue out. Her cheeks were pink, like the coral rocks near the ocean. Like a place he could land. He leaned down and kissed her. She laughed and he'd smiled, because he loves the way it tastes in his mouth. She tugged at the buttons on his pajama top and pulled him closer to her, and he let himself be pulled on top of her, back to the bed.
- - - -
She doesn't laugh when she comes into the store today.
He'd wanted her to laugh; he and Fred had been working on a concept in which large, enchanted fireflies could spell whatever you'd wanted whenever you'd told them to. They haven't worked out the kinks yet- the damn things had the smallest attention span, magic notwithstanding- but he'd thought he'd get at least a smile from her when he'd greeted her with a giant obscenity, bright green and blinking at her when she walks in the door.
But she doesn't laugh, doesn't smile. She just stares through the bugs at him, blinking with the same slow, measured calmness of their twinkling light.
"Nothing?" He says, his own smile twice as broad as normal, compensation for his disappointment. "I thought it was pretty damn good."
"It's nice." She agrees with a small nod. Still no smile, no laugh. She does not move from the doorframe to kiss him hello, and he tries to remember what he might have done to anger her.
There is a moment of very awkward silence.
"Well," George says finally, "If you've got a suggestion as to how to improve it, really, please. I've got to say I think it's a good idea and I'm not sure-"
"My father is dead." Caroline cuts across him, her voice still that measured calm he doesn't care for.
The silence returns, deeper now. Still they do not move, though George knows he should do something more than stand in front of her, in a state of horrified shock.
"How?" He says finally, his mouth dry.
"Oh, the same way as the others." She says simply, shrugging noncommittally. "Remus and a few of the Order found him in the woods with Ted Tonks and a goblin. They wouldn't tell me much, but I overheard them telling Nymphadora and her mum about it. Apparently he put up a fight. They tortured him within an inch of his life before leaving him to bleed to death. Guess they thought a quick Avada Kedavra was too good for a mudblood like him. Maybe they just didn't like him, I'm not too keen on the-"
"Caroline." He says, and he is shaking but she is still so calm, still unsmiling. He still does not know what to say, and has to suppress a ridiculous urge to tell her to move away from the doorway because she is blocking customers.
He almost makes a move toward her, to do something in this infinite space of sadness, but he does not know the right move to make. He wonders what Fred would do, his cheeky other half, and realizes that Fred has gone to great lengths to make sure he is, as of yet, unattached to any one woman for this very reason. Or at least a reason resembling this. He remembers from a summer so long ago, when Hermione had let it slip how hard she thought it must be to follow so closely in Fred's footsteps.
It isn't, he almost told her. It's easier to be his other half than to be a whole of anything.
He stares at Caroline, still silent, and she fiddles with the sparkling band on her left ring finger, a present from him for her nineteenth birthday. He'd asked her to marry him then, and he'd loved the way she'd laughed and smiled the way she wouldn't now.
She'd cried then, too, but she doesn't cry now and George wishes for a moment he could just take it at face value and conclude that she was fine. He could tell that was what she was daring him to do, with her unearthly calm and her edge of defiance. She wants him to pretend that nothing has happened. This, he thinks, would be Fred's response. As if sensing his apprehension, she smiles loosely at him. A smile so fake it could break George's heart.
Fred, he concludes, might settle for that. He would probably try to make her laugh again. He might pull a joke off the shelves and show her how it worked, no matter how many times she may have seen it in its infancy, in the secret passages of Hogwarts where he'd first wooed her. He might let her pretend she was alright, just to avoid the infinite silence that was occurring between them right now.
But he is not Fred. He is George, the slightly more solemn version of his reckless brother. He crosses the room in two steps and pulls her into his arms.
There is a line between George and his twin, no matter how imperceptible it may seem.
She is stiff at first, and fights him. Her smile is still there, alarming.
"No," She says forcefully. "No, I'm-" and then it falls off her face, as though sliding to the floor in a sudden movement, and she begins to weep.
George holds her as she cries, even though he hates the sound of it, even though it wrenches sobs from him too. Maybe Fred would not have cried. He doesn't know. He has always been more his mother's son than he had set out to be. He has always cared just a little more than Fred. But he is still Fred's twin, and he still does not know what to say in this moment, or how to hide his tears.
What he does know is that another day, she will come into the store and laugh again. But sometimes he worries that after the War he will be the one who can no longer laugh.
At least, he knows, when that day comes, he can lean on Fred.