Author's Note – I'd like to thank MadCatta for the review and to thank everyone who has read so far. I hope you all enjoyed the story and please read and review.

Alone I Cannot Be

Chapter 7

George could hear the laughter of customers and Ron's dorky sales pitch through the floorboards. He vaguely remembered telling Ron to leave and not come back. He should probably go down there, call him a git, and throw him out, but that would require getting out of bed. Besides it wasn't like there was anyone else who could man the shop. George supposed he could but he couldn't be bothered to move. He woke up feeling so old. Everything hurt.

George lifted up his hands, watching the sunlight shine through his fingers and the shadows they cast on the blanket. These were Fred's hands. They were exactly the same as Fred's. There were minor differences, of course: freckles that didn't quite match up, lines and grooves running in different directions… but they were essentially the same. He couldn't help but wonder if they would have aged the same. Twenty years from now when George looked in the mirror would he still see Fred's face? If Fred had lived would his hair turn white like his? Would he get the same wrinkles, the same paper-white complexion, the same sagging skin? But that was the problem, wasn't it? Fred would never age. He would never get married or laugh or grow old. He would never think up another prank or go travelling. Fred once told him a long time ago that one day he would travel the world.

George turned over onto his side, examining the wrinkles in the sheets. They looked like mountains. Colossal ridges that his fingers had to traipse across in order to reach the other side. George wondered what it was like to be dead. He tried to imagine what it was like to not exist anymore, to not be able to think or feel. Fred was gone. His body was still there, buried deep underground. It would continue to rot and decay until there was nothing left but bone and dust. Maybe a thousand years from now some Muggle archaeologist would dig him up and try to figure out who he was and what his life was like. They would look at the broken bones and crushed skull and would know that something terrible had happened to him. An accident, perhaps, or murder. They wouldn't know him; they wouldn't feel anything for him. To them, he was just some dead guy who lived centuries ago. George felt like the last bits of Fred he had left were slipping through his fingers. Soon it wouldn't even matter. No one would know his name or even be aware that a man named Fred Weasley had ever lived at all.

"Must you mope about like this?" Fred asked as he bounced on the bed beside George's head. The old mattress squeaked as it rocked underneath Fred's weight.

"My life is over!" George wailed. "My fair lady Katie Bell has spurned my love! There is nothing left for me! I shall seek sweet release!"

"Oh, shut up," Katie grumbled and shoved George from his four-post bed onto the icy stone floor of the dorm he shared with his brother while Fred laughed.

George wrenched his eyes open, gasping for breath, as he was suddenly drenched with cold water that smelled like salt and fish. The image of Fred still fluttered through his thoughts and he was unsure if it had been a dream or a memory.

"So, are you awake?"

George wiped the water from his eyes and glared up at Bill's scarred face. His older brother just smirked and held up the empty bucket threateningly, ready to conjure up more water. "What was that for?" George asked petulantly. "I was getting up soon. I'm the boss; I can sleep in if I want."

Bill snorted. "You did more than just sleep in. Ron's already closed up."

George looked in wonder at his surroundings, finally noticing for the first time how dark it had gotten. When had the sun set? George groaned as he sat up, scrubbing his face with his hands. Really, had things gotten that bad?

He felt the dip in the mattress as Bill came to sit beside him. "The whole family's coming to Shell Cottage tomorrow," Bill said. "Sort of a pre-Christmas celebration now that Ginny and Hermione are back from Hogwarts on vacation. Are you coming? Tomorrow's Sunday, so you can close shop for the day."

George just grunted, not bothering to actually give Bill an answer.

Bill shrugged. "Or, I suppose if you won't come I can always bring the sea to you again."

"Fine," George answered. "I'll be there. But I don't want anyone going on and blubbering about how it'll be the first Christmas without Fred."

Bill stood up solemnly and nodded. "Alright," he answered. "If you don't want to talk about Fred then we won't talk about him."

"Good," George answered before flopping back down onto the mattress and burying his face in the blankets. He was asleep again before Bill had even left the room, falling back into those half-forgotten visions of the past.

George stomped through the sand, letting the icy winter wind whip about his face. He had shown up, smile set firmly on his face and forced himself to listen to everyone's fake cheer. He tried to ignore how guarded everyone seemed, how careful and delicate. Ron, Ginny, Harry, and Hermione were all lost in their own little world, oblivious to the people around them. It was always sort of like that with them. Percy and Charlie had dedicated themselves to staying out of the way and were trying to avoid being pulled into the petty squabbles that would undoubtedly arise at any Weasley gathering. Tensions were high in the kitchen as his mother and Fleur battled it out in an attempt to gain control of the evening. Apparently Fleur was trying to add some spices to his mother's famous roast to make it taste just a little more French. His father was sitting at the kitchen table, trying to figure out a model airplane that Hermione had given him, happily unaware of the third Wizarding War brewing just a few feet away from him. If Fred was there they would have been in the middle of playing a prank. They would have covered Percy in feathers or pink paint, forced him to interact with them, make him chase them. Charlie would have tried not to laugh so as not to hurt Percy's feelings and would have failed miserably. His father would have looked up and remembered where he was. His younger siblings and their friends would have pulled themselves out of their secret conversations and joined in on the fun. Fleur and his mother would forget their differences in order to band together to save the roast from whatever malicious machinations he and Fred would have concocted.

George sat down on a log and looked up at the dark, churning sea. It looked angry and volatile. He could hear heavy footsteps sinking in the sand behind him. George didn't bother to acknowledge his older brother as Bill came to sit beside him.

"You know you're going to have to deal with this sooner or later."

"I am dealing," George replied.

Bill shook his head. "Why do you think we're all here? We've all been where you are now. I've watched Ginny rage and attack the things around her, heard Ron say some of the most vile things, saw Percy break down in tears, and held onto Dad when he wanted to show Fred something only to remember he wasn't there anymore. But not you. You… you haven't done any of that. You haven't cried, you haven't screamed… It's time to let go now."

"I don't know how," George whispered, never taking his eyes off of the crashing waves. The cold wind stung his face, forcing watery tears to spring in his eyes.

He felt Bill's shoulder press into his and together the two quietly watched the dark, gray sea and listened to the quiet laughter that floated down on the wind.