Author's Note: Well, here's the end of the story. Thanks so much to all of you, for all your kind reviews. It's always wonderful to hear from people who are touched by something I've written. Feels like getting a hug over the ether :)
George took a deep breath and pushed the door open, gazing into the empty corridor and mentally thanking Remus Lupin for the map that had allowed him into the castle undisturbed. Though he would bet that McGonagall was perfectly aware that he was here, it was nice to not have to deal with anybody else right now. Tomorrow the school grounds would be full of people, here to mark the one-year anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts. Tomorrow there would be time to honour the dead in the company of the living, in the company of his remaining family and friends.
Tonight was just for him.
He gazed at the portraits in the hall, searching until he found the familiar features, the red hair and freckles, so similar to what he saw in the mirror every morning. He smiled. There was Fred, juggling, to the admiration of a group of nuns. One of the prettier nuns was smiling at him in a decidedly un-nunlike way.
He observed the painting. The portrait painter had apparently used photographs taken at Wheezes, and it showed: Fred's hair had come out a little too red, probably because of the shop's lighting, but was otherwise just right, including the slight tendency to fall to the left side. The portrait didn't have as many freckles as the real Fred had had. And the clothing was too wrinkle-free and neat, but his fingers were potion-stained. Nice touch.
George let his eyes drop down to the names at the bottom of the portraits, noticing that of course Fred wasn't in his own portrait. Which he could've guessed, since the portrait he was in was dominated by stacks of books.
"No, Fred and libraries did not mix," Hermione had said once, about a week after he'd been told about his brother's existence.
"At all," Ron had added. "He wasn't a big reader. Unless it was books about business or Charms."
"Was I?" George had asked, and it had felt so incredibly bizarre to have to ask. His memories felt so real, of spending a great deal of his childhood with books as his closest friends.
"No," Hermione had said. "But you did start reading a lot after Fred died. I think you were just trying to get away from everybody who was crowding you, or maybe trying to get into things that wouldn't remind you of Fred, but... well, apparently you're a bookworm. Without, erm, Fred, that is."
Ron frowned. "Though we did find some books in Fred's room. Runes. In Norse. Weird."
Lee had shaken his head. "He did read," he'd said. "Just not that often, unless it was business-related."
They hadn't really known what to say about Fred. None of them had. Didn't know whether to point out to George the differences or similarities between himself and Fred, the differences between the person he'd been before the Reawakening spell, and after... it had all been so bloody confusing for all of them.
George watched Fred glance down at a book and then push it out of the way. The bookish little nun flirting with him looked slightly put out for a moment, but brightened as he smiled at her again.
George swallowed as he finally spotted the portrait where Fred was supposed to be, with a cauldron boiling away and sending up sparkles, and multicoloured bats winging past.
Fred Weasley, April 1, 1978 – May 2, 1998
He took a deep breath and cleared his throat.
"Hello, Fred," said George, and portrait-Fred turned around, a grin on his face. His eyes widened.
"George?" he said slowly. George closed his eyes in brief pain. His hair may have been a shade too red, and his skin tone too smooth, but the voice George hadn't heard in a year was the same. Same as in the Pensieve memories, in his dreams, in his nightmares... but not the same as his own voice. Not any more.
"How long has it been?" Fred asked, looking confused.
Portraits never had a good sense of time. "A year," said George. "Almost."
Fred's eyes widened again at the rough tone of George's voice. George could see him biting his lip to not ask why George looked and sounded the way he did.
"Why didn't you visit before? The paintings were finished two months ago, I think."
George shook his head. "I couldn't. You know it's not advisable for people to see their relative's portraits before a year's gone by."
Fred's eyebrows went up. "Since when do we ever do what's advisable?"
"Since you died," said George.
Fred frowned. "Why do you look so different?"
George sighed. He did. He knew it. His hair was sandy red now, what with all the white in it, and with the weight he'd lost and the lines of exhaustion and pain on his face, his eyes looked old.
He didn't look much like the boy in the portrait.
"And what happened to your voice?" Fred said, apparently deciding tact wasn't worth it. Typical.
"Damaged. Doesn't matter."
Fred scowled. "Doesn't matter? Don't give me that shit. I'm your twin."
George ran a hand through his hair. "It's been... a difficult year," he said.
Fred slowly sat down, and waved a hand at him. "Tell me."
"What have other people told you?" asked George, realizing he was stalling. "I know Ginny and Hermione have been here. And Mum, too."
"Nothing," said Fred. "They just said you'd come talk to me when you were ready."
And Fred hadn't pestered them. This wasn't Fred. This was a portrait imbued with some of his personality, that was all. Portraits were probably charmed to not ask difficult questions.
"Was it really that bad?" asked Fred quietly.
"What did you expect?" George shook his head. "Yeah, it was bad. Really bad."
"We'd talked about it, though," Fred said. "We'd talked about what if one of us-"
"We were kids," said George grimly. "And we didn't know what we were talking about."
"But how... I mean, what..."
"It was hell. Worse than hell." George took a deep breath, conjured a chair, and sat down. He fiddled with his wand for a moment. "I don't even know where to begin."
"You don't know what to say... to me?" Fred said, astonished.
George hesitated again. "You know..." he tilted his head to the side. Something was wrong. "You don't look quite right over here. It's not just the hair colour, it's... I know they used photographs, but didn't we have anything more recent that-"
"They did. They did a good job, at first. Only..."
"Well... you know... it's not the same without you," he said uncomfortably.
George chuckled. "You don't say."
Fred cleared his throat. "They've had to retouch me a few times. I keep... erm, fading," he said, sounding embarrassed.
George closed his eyes. Of course. "You need me there," he said. "I'll tell them to add me in."
"But you're still alive."
George smiled bitterly. "Yeah. I noticed. I don't mind, though. I think maybe..."
"We weren't meant to be separated," they both finished, and George's breath caught in his throat.
"I can't come see you, though," said George once he could trust his voice again. "Not after today."
"What? Why not?"
"Because this isn't real. It's great, seeing you, and talking to you, but you're not really Fred and you can't really finish my sentences and... and I'm not who you knew."
"What do you mean?"
George took a deep breath, and began.
It was strange, telling the tale to his brother, portrait or no. Watching Fred's eyes widen and his eyebrows go up and his mouth fall open as George told him. Told him about the accident at Hogwarts that made Mum call him home. Told him about the days at home, the magic that didn't work, the time he'd spent looking for answers. Going back to the shop, and the depression that rose and rose and rose and had him testing potions and charms on the off-chance that he might test something deadly.
It was almost like a story, to him. Like it had happened to another person. But watching Fred react, it was like feeling it all, living it.
"I don't know why I opened up to Lee, to be honest. Maybe he was just stubborn enough-"
George looked up at a sound from the portrait. Fred's head was down, his face was hidden by his hair, and George's forehead creased. "Fred?"
Fred shook his head quickly, then took a few deep, shaking breaths. Finally he looked up, his eyes glistening. "I'm... I'm sorry," he whispered. "Merlin, I'm so sorry. I didn't know. I wish... I wish I'd been there. Somehow. I wish I'd been there to help."
George's mouth twitched. "There wouldn't have been much to help with, would there?" he said.
"I suppose not." Fred took a breath. "Were things better, then, after the hospital?"
George shook his head, not knowing how to explain.
George looked down and forced himself to recount it. The days in the hospital. The potions, the psychiatrist, finally giving up and going back home, feeling not much better than before.
The despair, the desperation, the pull to end everything, the plans he'd made after Christmas. And it wasn't happening to someone else any more; it was happening right now.
"And then Ron found me, in the lab. I was unconscious, stopped breathing, and his timing was incredible. If he'd been just a few minutes later..."
This wasn't Fred, he reminded himself as the portrait bowed his head, his painted shoulders trembling as he started to weep. It wasn't. This was a recording of Fred. But it looked and talked and cried like Fred. Fred when they were both so much younger, Fred with all of his joy and bravado and suddenly carelessly torn away like a flimsy veil. And George felt so protective of him, of the kid he'd been, feeling devastated and guilty that he hadn't stayed behind.
"I wish..." Fred said brokenly. "I wish I'd stayed-"
"No, you don't," said George. "That wouldn't have been any better."
"I don't wish you had, Fred," he said gently. "Not any more, not really. You went on because you had to. It was the right thing to do. If there is an afterlife, I'll meet you there. We'll trade stories. If there isn't... then it's still the right thing to do, to go ahead to... nothingness rather than linger on as a ghost, something that isn't really real. I wouldn't have wanted that for you."
Fred was sobbing now, arms clasped around his knees, whispering, "I'm sorry. God, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry..." and George had to remind himself, this wasn't Fred. It wasn't.
He came closer to the portrait, knowing that it wasn't his brother. But it was as close as he'd ever come to him again.
He couldn't tell Fred the rest of the story, George realized. He didn't have the heart to tell him about Mum, or Healer Lethe, or Mum's trial. Real or not, this Fred had nothing to do with any of that.
Besides, it wasn't really that relevant. The magic problem had only been a part of the trouble. Had George been a Muggle, the grief and the loss and the sense of incompleteness would have all felt the same, except that he would not have had the experience of knowing what it was like to not miss Fred.
He wouldn't have known that this was better, despite the pain that would never go away. And Fred wouldn't understand. Fred couldn't understand.
"Fred," he said quietly, after Fred's weeping had died down to soft shuddering breaths. "You and me... what we had, most people only dream of. Somebody who always understands you, somebody who will always get your jokes, who'll always be there for you. Somebody who's the other half of you." Fred drew in a shaking breath and raised his head. "And I'll never get over missing you, I'll never be the same, but I... I'm grateful I got that, got you, for twenty years. It was a bloody brilliant way to grow up." He wiped his own cheek. "I only wish it could've been longer."
George could see Fred's image mulling this over. Fred chuckled, a shaky sound. "You know, it's funny how after all of this, you're still one of the only wizard atheists I've met. You know people who've literally talked to the dead, and you still don't believe?"
"I'm talking to the dead right now, Fred," George pointed out. "It doesn't prove your soul is still out there; it just proves that somebody could do a decent bit of magic. Same with ghosts. They're no proof of anything."
"And it doesn't bother you?"
"If there's nothing but an end, then I've still got my memories of you. And I've still got my life to live. And when I'm gone, hopefully I'll be remembered too."
"You'll be remembered before then, if you're a magical portrait before you've even kicked it," said Fred, giving him a small smile, though his chest still shuddered.
George smiled. "I suppose so." He took a deep breath. "I'll make sure they get my portrait in with you soon so you don't keep fading. I won't be coming back here myself, though." He paused. "Nor will Mum, not for a little while anyway."
Fred gazed at him for a long moment. "Will you be all right?"
George spread his hands helplessly. "I don't know, to be honest. I think I will. I've got things to do with my life. People I love, and who love me. Who knows." He thought briefly of his family; of Luna, and Lee, and Angelina. "I think I will."
George came closer to the canvas, and reached towards it. Fred copied him, and their hands touched for the first time in almost a year.
You made me who I am, he wanted to tell Fred. And saying goodbye to you hurts, but I have to, because otherwise I'll never be anything but the 'other twin.' The one who was left behind.
"I love you, Fred," George said softly. "I won't ever forget you."
Fred nodded and wiped his eyes.
"Goodbye," said George. And he dropped his hand, turned, and walked away.
Afterword: The title comes from a Linkin Park song. Someone I have never been able to track down made a beautiful "RIP Fred Weasley" fanvid using the song. You can see it here (you'll have to remove spaces, turn "slash," "underscore," "dash" and "dot" into actual dots, underscore, etc)
www dot 4shared dot com slash account slash file slash 47521118 slash 94a4c4f3 slash Leave underscore Out underscore All underscore The underscore Rest underscore dash underscore Fred dot html
If anybody knows who it is, please let me know. I'd love to fangirl the vidder.