Maybe if he said it a little louder.

oOo

George Weasley had always been less encouraging of outright insubordination than his brother. In fact, George sometimes worried that he might not have turned out the way he did without Fred. Maybe, without his other half, he would have turned out a boring git like Percy, or even a bumbling yet lovable git like ickle Ronniekins. He supposed there was no way to tell - but he had the warning signs to guide his suspicions.

First, he kept his things neater than Fred; his side of their bedroom/laboratory was on the spicker side of span.

Second, his handwriting lay itself down on the page without a fight; it was loopy and intricate compared to Fred's firm flourish.

Third, George hit Bludgers with more accuracy than Fred, and his flying skills lacked his brother's distinctive flair.

Fourth, as a companion to the first quality, George rarely lost a thing. Fred, on the other hand, would put things down and forget they ever existed. He had the short-term memory of a fruit fly, and the only thing to rescue him from the constant state of oh-bloody-hell-where-did-I-put-that? was the assistance of his twin.

Though sometimes George felt the word 'twin' to be a misnomer. They were equal weights on both sides of the same scale. What Fred lost, George would find, but they were always so close that George never had far to look.

Now he had a very long way to look.

oOo

Maybe if he said it so quietly even the trees would listen.

oOo

George's footsteps were casual. One might think he was merely enjoying the brisk autumn day in the Forest, the rusty bands of late afternoon light cascading to crown his fiery hair. The only thing to mar the scene was the hole in the side of his head where an ear had once been. The sight, although it had been almost a year now, still unsettled him sometimes.

His gaze roved over the sticks of the forest floor, across the loam. This was the eighteenth time he'd been here in thirty days.

Obsessed, his family had said, with false lightness. He'd forced a grin and said, highly enthusiastic, not obsessed.

George tapped the tree trunks and whistled as he walked along, wondering if any of the Acromantulas were feeling particularly charitable. He might stop by and ask if they'd be willing to make a small blood donation toward a good Wheezing cause. After eighteen days of wandering the Forest, after all, some of the denizens of the woodlands had grown accustomed to his presence. Maybe they'd be generous.

George allowed himself a private grin as he entertained the notion - however briefly - of bringing Ron back an entire Acromantula. Surprise!

Then he felt a pull from the air beside him, a pull he knew he was imagining. Nonetheless, he glanced to his right and shook his head, his broad smile drooping. Sometimes he could almost feel Fred there, like a phantom limb, a presence not yet faded. He could still see his twin's warm brown eyes, the exact hue of his own, twinkling with the perpetual private joke in their unspoken words.

Sometimes he could almost hear the timbre of Fred's voice, and he clung to it, for it was that which scared him most.

At the funeral, some well-meaning distant relative had insinuated that Fred was frozen in time, frozen in some eternal glory of youth. George had almost snorted in her face when she'd suggested it. Fred would've joined him in a private snicker - after all, he knew what Fred would look like as he grew older. George had a mirror, so he would always be able to see his twin.

But Fred's voice?

That was gone. There was emptiness in the air when George stopped speaking; there was silence and stillness and a simple inability to focus on anything but the lack of him.

oOo

Maybe if he searched until his eyes slipped from focus and his hair became disheveled from repeated rufflings and his hands twitched with fatigue and his steps slowed with the urge to sleep ...

oOo

It had been here. That George knew for sure. It had been within a mile of this spot, and though it may have sifted itself down through the soil table, burying itself in rich mulch and sweet-smelling earth, it had once lain atop the forest floor. It had once been here and so easily found.

But no matter how he roamed, how he searched, how he tried to stop aching, the quiet futility of it always cocooned him eventually.

Harry Potter had dropped the Resurrection Stone in this forest. He had meant for it to be lost.

He had not meant for George Weasley to be lost. And yet these things happen.

oOo

Maybe if he called out something different -

something that was not -

my brother.

my brother.

oOo

George's face had still not grown used to the lines of grief. His tongue had still not grown accustomed to the tang of salt; his nose had not grown accustomed to the burn of impending sobs.

He did not feel proud when he sat on the forest floor and tried to calm his breathing.

He did not feel proud when the sound of his own voice echoed distended in his ruined ear.

He did not feel proud of having nothing more to say than, "Fred."

And there was something infinitely cruel about hearing only silence as a response to the name. There was something cruel about finding nothing but leaves despite so much searching for that damn stone - eighteen days of searching; ninety-six hours of searching; five thousand seven hundred sixty minutes of searching. And it was strange, for he knew one should expect nothing more than leaves and silence from a simple forest; he knew he should not have expected to find anything.

But George Weasley had not grown accustomed to fulfilled expectations. He and Fred had broken every expectation imaginable. In leaving Hogwarts, the first grand step, they had become legend. Their miscreant pursuits had brought more smiles to others than they'd taken breaths themselves, and with their inventions, they had created fiery grandeur and sleepy imagining. The brothers had scorned authority and propriety, defied discouragement and disadvantage, managed mischief and mayhem alike, and their dreams had bloomed into glorious realization.

George with Fred was an innovative businessman, a partner-in-crime; George with Fred was half of a machine that had immeasurable potential.

George without Fred was a man sitting on the forest floor.

Looking at the freckles on the backs of his hands.

Watching the tears trickle down over his nails.

oh, my brother.