Fred sat on the worn rug that had been in front of the couch for as long as he could remember. Under his palms, the thick fabric braid was rough, and there were small holes here and there. His back was pressed against the sofa where George lay, mercifully, fast asleep.
Ever since arriving at the burrow and finding his twin maimed, Fred hadn't left George's side except to run to the loo. And even then, he'd hurried back as quickly as he possibly could, because those few minutes apart had felt like torture.
It was now three in the morning, and he hadn't moved since half past eleven.
A few hours ago, their mum had come into the living room, her normally warm face a twisted expression of stress and fear. It had been a look that had seemed to have settled into the lines over her face over the past few years, and Fred hated it. There wasn't much that he truly hated, but that was definitely on the list (along with Snape and being told to "be serious.") His mum wasn't supposed to look upset, unless she was yelling about his and Fred's latest prank. She wasn't supposed to be worrying herself over every little sound or movement in the house.
While she'd been there, she'd fussed over George as she'd cleaned the bandages on his head. And as she had, she'd stroked him and told him how much she loved him. Granted, her ministrations weren't unusual. But unlike normal, Fred hadn't felt like she was being overbearing or like she was mollycoddling George.
As she'd worked, Fred had sat by, watching her. His thoughts had quickly gone from George's injury to wishing that they could once again be eleven years old, off for their first year at Hogwarts. Things had been so simple then, so easy. Now… now everything was so complicated, and every day felt like the end of the world. And the harder he tried to keep his head up, the harder things seemed to become.
It wasn't that he regretted helping Harry or joining the fight against You-Know-Who. But there were moments, like this one, when Fred wished that his and George's only problem was how they were going to explain the new hole in the rug or why the left half of Ron's body was bright purple.
Those times, those moments of nostalgia and longing, were rare. But when they crept up, they threatened to overtake Fred even as he laughed and joked.
After their mum had worn herself out with her fussing, she'd pulled George into a fierce hug. Normally, after she'd messed with their growing hair or asked how the business was going, she'd give them a peck on the cheek or a quick squeeze. But tonight she'd held on for all she was worth before turning and going back to bed.
Thankfully, before going upstairs, she hadn't told Fred that he looked tired or worn out. She also hadn't told him to go to bed or anything like that. And for that, Fred had been thankful, because there had been no way that he could have done either. He had been too worked up from the night's events and too worried about George. As tired as he'd felt physically, adrenaline and worry had been keeping him going.
So rather than try to sleep, Fred had sat down on the floor as George had begun to snore softly.
The following hours passed by in a silence so deafening it was painful. Fred spent his time on the floor, keeping watch over his twin. And over the past few hours, he'd reacted to every snuffle or grunt that came from George. But even though Fred had spoken to George and touched him, George had stayed asleep.
A few times, Fred had been tempted to wake his brother up. He'd told himself it was to see how he was or ask him if he wanted something. But thinking about how much the wound must hurt, he hadn't. So Fred sat and waiting, hoping his brother was ok.
"Would you stop thinking so loud?" George's voice was sleepy but amused. "I'm trying to get some sleep here."
Startled out of his thoughts, Fred turned so that he could look at George. Through the soft candlelight that Molly insisted stay on, Fred could see a tired grin on his twin's face. "Nonsense. My thoughts were perfectly quiet."
In response, George snorted.
Not caring about witty banter, Fred changed the subject.
"How are you feeling, Your Holeyness?" He'd tried to keep his voice as light as possible when he said 'Your Holeyness,' but it had been difficult.
Earlier, when George had first said he felt holey, Fred had been amazed at the fact that he'd managed to come up with a witty quip at all. Granted, "holey" had been the most obvious of all the possible ear jokes available to them. However, hearing it had been a relief nonetheless.
Now though, those same words felt heavy in Fred's mouth.
"Lopsided." George reached up and pressed on the bandage, grimacing as he did so. "My hair will never lay right again." His tone was joking, but Fred could still sense something there.
"We could always grow our hair back out." Fred squinted at his twin, trying to imagine him with hair like they had in sixth year.
"I'm sure mum would love that." George laughed weakly. "She would have kittens if we started running around with ponytails."
"Maybe she'd finally give Bill a rest though." Fred smirked. "But if mum gets her way, his hair will be gone for the wedding."
Laughing, George rolled over onto his back and threw his arm over his face.
Unsure of what to say, Fred stared at George. He'd seen George upset before, but normally he would snap out of it in a few seconds.
But this was different.
And Fred was desperate to get his brother to cheer up.
"You know…" Fred purposely let his voice trail off, hoping to get George's attention back.
When George lifted his elbow a little, Fred felt encouraged. "We could always make an invisibility cloak for my ear. Or… we could transfigure you a new one out of wax. Then it would be -"
"Ear wax!" George laughed in earnest. "I like the way you think, Fred."
"I told you there was better ear humor out there than holey." Fred eyed his brother as if that should have been obvious.
"Ah, give me some credit. At least I came up with something." George smiled mischievously. "Unlike you. You looked like you'd seen mum in her knickers."
"I did no such thing! I was merely trying to make sure that I was still better looking." Fred smiled roguishly.
"Ah, that's where you're wrong…." Primping his hair, George put on a haughty air. "I have always been better looking. Everyone knows that."
"I guess I'll let you think that since you're injured and all…." Fred made a great deal out of conceding the point to his brother. "But when Bill and Fleur's wedding rolls around..."
"I'll still get all of the pretty girls." George began to laugh, and Fred soon followed. But when they heard footsteps coming from up above, the both froze.
The silence that filled the room was so thick it could have been cut with a knife.
They both stayed quiet until long after the footsteps died away. And finally, after what felt like forever, George spoke; his voice was soft and filled with an unfamiliar hesitancy. "Fred, what do you think is going to happen?"
Before answering, Fred thought back to a simpler life free of death and war. Things had been so much easier then, and he wanted desperately to go back. "I think that we'll fight and that Harry will kill You-Know-Who once and for all. And then we'll get back to work and finally expand into Hogsmeade. And we'll make piles upon piles of gold."
Once again, silence filled the room.
When George finally responded, all he said was, "I hope you're right."
And as George looked at him, all Fred could think was, "I hope so too."
Squeeka Cuomo's Notes
- This fic was written for "na_shao" who wanted to see Fred comforting George after the "ear incident."
- Quack: Thanks so much for all of your help! :)
- Reviews are love.