George Weasley isn't there when his twin brother dies.
He remembers that when they were four, Fred had fallen out of a tree that they'd been forbidden to climb in the first place. It was a big fall for a little boy, and when Fred landed on the ground, there was a thump and a snap, and when George clambered, breathlessly, down to his twin's side, Fred's leg was twisted and bent in a strange and sickly shape. Fred was bawling, and George immediately started bawling too. He'd thought at the time that he could feel his brother's pain; that because they were twins, they were closer than ordinary people, and he imagined that his leg hurt as well.
The truth is, George-and Fred-are surprisingly empathetic. The other's pain causes them pain of their own, but they don't feel what each other feels, as such.
If they did, George would have known what he was going to find before he stepped into the Great Hall, during the lull in the battle. But he doesn't. He doesn't even suspect. He steps in through the huge doors, which are standing open, his feet heavy with exhaustion, scanning the room for the familiar faces of his family. The Weasley clan are never hard to spot, with their flaming heads of red hair that can usually be seen above the heads of any crowd, because while his mother and Ginny are short, the boys all make up for their lack of height by growing like beansprouts.
Sure enough, he spots a cluster of familiar heads of red hair near the other end of the hall, and starts making his way wearily over to them.
He keeps his eyes fixed on them as he walks, and slowly, little details click over in his tired brain, slowly signalling that something is wrong.
Is that Charlie, hugging Ginny, and why does Ginny look like she can't stand up by herself? Is she hurt?
Why is his mother kneeling on the ground? Who is she leaning over?
Why is his father pale, so pale, and are those tear tracks through the dirt and dust and grime on his face?
Bill is there too, with his arm around Percy, and a shell shocked expression similar to his father's on his scarred and lined face.
As he draws nearer, George can see that there is someone lying on the ground, and he feels his feet start to move faster, in time with his heart, which is speeding up with fear. Ron? His littlest brother would have been in the thick of things, with Harry, he's sure.
Charlie, Ginny, his mother and his father all have their backs to him as he approaches, but Bill and Percy are on the other side of whoever is lying on the ground, facing him. Percy is looking down, sort of hunched over on himself, but Bill looks up as George gets closer and suddenly his face tightens. He moves around the group, moves to meet George, and blocks his path when he is only steps away from the rest of the family.
"George." His oldest brother puts his hand up and presses it against George's chest, stopping him in his tracks. His voice is a little hoarse, and there is something in his eyes, a look there that George has never seen before, and it scares him. Bill always has it together; he and Charlie are their younger brother's heroes, strong, sturdy, dependable. But now Bill's eyes are opaque and red rimmed and full of pain and compassion and something else that George can't identify. "George, wait," he says, and this time his voice breaks a little, and if George was scared before, he is terrified now.
"Bill, what is it?" He asks, hearing the terror in his own voice. "Who is that on the ground? Who's hurt? Is it Ron? Is it bad?"
He tries to move past his brother, to see what is beyond him, but Bill catches his arms and holds George in front of him.
"It's not Ron, George." Bill says, and George can see his brother trying to get it together. Bill is trying to catch his eyes, and suddenly George doesn't want to know what his brother has to tell him.
"Let me see. Just let me see," he demands, trying to shove past, but Bill grips his arms tighter.
"Just…wait a second, okay? George. Listen to me. I don't know…you might not want to see, mate." Bill's voice cracks again, he closes his eyes for a long second and swallows hard. "Georgie, it's Fred." He says finally, and George freezes in his big brother's grip at last.
The use of the pet name tells him that this is bad; the tears in Bill's eyes tell him that it's even worse than that.
"Let me see, Bill." He says, completely still and calm and emotionless.
Bill stares at him for a long moment, then nods and lets him go, standing aside. The rest of the family have been watching this little exchange warily, now they take their cue from Bill and move silently aside to let George through.
His mother stays where she is, hunched over the body on the ground, and George is close enough now to hear her soft sobs, see her shoulders shaking.
He goes around her, to the other side to get a better look. And then he wishes he hadn't. His gut seems to drop away from his body; all at once he feels cold and sick and like screaming. Lying on the ground is his twin, his mirror image, except that Fred has two ears, and George only has one. Fred is far, far too still and far, far too pale. There is a hint of a smile on his lips, even now, but there is blood on his face and his shirt, too much blood.
George feels the blood drain from his own face as he drops to his knees next to his brother. His mother looks up, holding one of Fred's hands in her own. "Oh, George, darling…" She sobs, reaching across the body towards him, but he shakes her hand off.
"What's wrong with him? Why haven't you fixed him?" He demands, loudly, and his mother's face crumples further. "Fred? Fred!" That little smile on Fred's lips taunts him. It says, this is just a joke, it isn't real, gotcha, didn't I?
"Fred!" He touches his brother's shoulder, gingerly at first, then when nothing happens, he grabs it and shakes it roughly. "Fred!"
His brother's body is limp and lifeless under his hand, and rage and grief rise in him, taking him over.
"Fred!" He yells again, almost hysterically, and then he has both his brother's shoulders in a grip so tight, it hurts his fingers, and he is shaking him as hard as he can; shaking him so hard he Breaks Molly's grip on her dead son's hand.
"Arthur, do something," Molly sobs, but Bill is already moving swiftly around the body, dropping on his knees next to George, grabbing his wrists and pulling him away. It is a struggle, but Bill is older, burlier, and stronger, and manages to tug his brother away.
George isn't even aware that he is starting to cry, great, heaving, wracking sobs that physically fold him in half.
"Stop, George, stop it now," Bill is saying, gently but firmly, and then George releases Fred's wrists and Bill pulls him against his chest at the same time that George collapses into his brother's arms.
"Help him, Bill, please, please help him," he sobs into his big brother's shirt, and Bill pulls him closer and wraps his arms tightly around him, his own eyes filling again.
"Oh, Georgie, I can't. I'm so sorry, little brother. Fred's gone. He's dead, Georgie, I can't help him now."
"No. No no no no no…" George sobs, trying to shove his brother away, and even though he knows it's true, a part of him is furious at his brother for saying it. Bill doesn't let him go, though, just holds him tighter, hugs him harder, and after a long, long minute, George stops trying to shove him away, and clings to him instead.
""Bill…" He manages to sob, brokenly, his voice full of raw grief and need and vulnerability.
Bill bows his head and buries his face in his brother's red hair, and starts rocking him a little, as he'd done when a much younger George had come to him for comfort. "I know. I know, I know, I know," he says brokenly into his brother's hair, "Shhh. I'm here. I'm here, I'm here."
George keeps sobbing out his older brother's name, and clinging, and Bill keeps rocking him and stroking him and whispering to him, promising that he is here, right here. It's all he has to offer. He can't say that it's all right, because it's not. There's nothing he can do but offer reassurance that he is here, with his brother.
"I'm here, Georgie, we're all here, and we'll all get through this. We'll get through it together, little brother."
It is a promise, and he intends to keep it, even if he's not sure how he will go about it yet. But as he looks over the top of his broken, bawling little brother's head at the rest of his family's grief stricken faces, he is determined.
They're Weasleys, and they will get through this together. They have to.