The pain caused his eyes to open, back to the present. He felt as though he had been absent for several years as he relived his childhood and yet the scene had barely changed at all. Mum had now taken to sobbing silently onto Dad’s shoulder, while the latter stared blankly into space. The handkerchief Charlie had conjured lay in a sodden mass on the ground. And Fred still lay on the ground, indifferent to what was going on around him. As George stared down at his twin’s pale face, unblemished but for a large gash on his cheek like the one he himself sported, an overwhelming sense of hopeless guilt consumed him. His body heaving with huge sobs, he grabbed Fred’s hand; his warm live fingers interlocking with the cold stiff ones of his twin.
“It’s my fault,” he whispered, his breath coming in great gasps. “All my fault. You...you saved my life tonight. And then...and then I left you to...I should have saved you. I should have stayed with you. But I ran...to save my own stinking skin!” his voice cracked completely and he was unable to say anymore.
“George listen,” Percy said suddenly, extracting his arms from round Bill and Ron and coming to crouch beside George. “There was nothing you could have done. Nothing anyone could have done. But George, he was laughing when he...when it,” Percy paused to sniff loudly. “And by what you said, he’d just saved you when it happened. If I knew Fred at all, that’s what he would have wanted. I’m sure of it. You can’t blame yourself. If anyone’s to blame, it’s me. I distracted him.” A loud sob obstructed his speech and Percy could speak no more.
Someone else had joined the sombre group now. They looked up to see the familiar figure of Kingsley Shacklebolt, his tall frame towering over their crouched forms. He had never looked less in control in all the time George had known him. His bald head glistened with sweat, his fine robes were singed and torn in many places, and he nursed several half-healed cuts up and down his arms.
“Arthur,” he said slowly in his deep measured voice. “Molly.”
They looked up at the mention of their names. Kingsley gave a sad nod and moved aside. Behind him floated a multitude of stretchers, all hovering a few feet off the ground; each bearing one of the dead. There was no need for him to speak. They understood the obvious. It was time for Fred to go.
Molly bent over her son, kissed his pale forehead and moved quickly away, as if she couldn’t bear to look at him anymore, desperate sobs wracking her body. Arthur ruffled the familiar red hair and seemed to smile slightly in spite of the situation, obviously recalling a treasured memory. The rest of his brothers said goodbye in broken voice, gripping his free hand, tears freely flowing. Ginny could not bear to say the dreaded farewell, and took to crying even harder, her father’s arms round her. Fleur kissed her so newly acquire brother-in-law on the cheek. Hermione gave a brave attempt at a watery smile before gripping hands with a shaking Ron.
George looked downwards, knowing it was his turn now. He couldn’t speak to say goodbye, couldn’t do anything but clutch the cold hand even tighter.
“I’m sorry,” Kingsley and the remorse was evident. “But the hour Voldemort allocated is almost up. Obviously we can’t let Potter give himself up, so we’re going to be fighting again.”
With a wave of his wand, Kingsley directed the silent spell at Fred’s inert body as the rest of the family looked away, unable to watch. Only George remained where he was, kneeling on the floor clinging to Fred’s hand tighter than ever. But, such was the precision of the spell, the cold limp fingers slid easily from George's grasp as Fred came to lie on the empty stretcher.
For a moment, George simply stood up and watched the fleet of stretchers float eerily along at Kingsley’s command. Then a kind of fear took over him, and a sense of hopeless longing. This was it. Fred was dead. He had left the world, his friends, his family and above all, George behind. And in that instant, when George felt completely and utterly alone, he acted instinctively and involuntarily ran forward as though determined he would not be left behind. But before he could move very far, four strong pairs of arms had latched onto him and were holding him back. Bill and Percy, both taller than he was, had grabbed hold of his forearms, while Ron and Charlie, both roughly his height, had their arms round his middle in an attempt to restrain him. Arthur, Molly, Ginny and Hermione watched on in horror.
“George, you have to let him go,” Bill was saying in a cracked and broken voice. “Let him go George, you have to.”
George struggled violently, but his brothers were stronger than he thought, and he was unable to break free from their vice like grip. As the final stretcher, bearing that boy who’d always had a camera, exited the Great Hall, the doors slammed shut with a certain finality.
He dropped to his knees again as his brothers loosened their hold on him. To his surprise, his eyes were dry. His sadness had been replaced with a hollow feeling of emptiness. Footsteps were clattering towards him, their sound echoing strangely in the sombre silence. A figure knelt down in front of him, slender arms thrown round him, long braided hair caught his shoulder and a soft voice whispered into his ear.
“I’m so so sorry, George,” Angelina said gently, withdrawing herself, wiping an overflowing eye on her ripped sleeve. “I don’t know what to say,” she admitted shakily. “This all seems so surreal. Us being in Hogwarts again, the place a total shambles, Fred g-gone. I don’t think I’ve ever even had a serious conversation with you before.”
She gave a small sad smile and her dark eyes found his grief stricken blue ones. She wound her fingers into his and gently pushed his head down so it rested on her shoulder.
One of the many great things about Angelina, as George now discovered, was that she did not try to fill the silence that ensued. She seemed to understand that he didn’t want people to mutter insincerely that everything would be fine, because he knew it wouldn’t. He was unsure of how much time had passed, but whether it had been ten minutes, or ten hours, Angelina was still holding his hand.
Suddenly, a cold high voice spoke, startling everyone in the Great Hall, abruptly drawing them away from their thoughts, their grief.
“Harry Potter is dead. We The battle is won. Anyone who continues to resist, man, woman or child, will be slaughtered, as will every member of their family. Come out of the castle, now, kneel before me, and you will be spared...” (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, page 583-4)
Ginny looked up as the triumphant voice faded away, her tear-streaked face contorted with new shock and grief.
“Harry, dead?” she whispered, her voice trembling. “No, no, he wouldn’t...he couldn’t...” At that, she ran outside, as though determined to prove that Harry was alive, her long hair falling loose from the knot it had been tied in.
Ron and Hermione looked at each other; the blue eyes meeting the brown and in that moment, their seven year friendship had never seemed more apparent. And yet, despite their fiercely gripped hands, there was something missing. The trio that had stood the test of time, who had always had a certain disregard for the rules, who could always be found on the scene of the crime, was incomplete. The idea of Ron and Hermione existing together without the bespectacled, scarred figure of Harry beside them was simply odd, wrong even. It was like trying to imagine George existing without Fred.
“He’s, he’s lying,” Hermione stammered, choking back fresh tears. “Voldemort, he’s lying. Harry can’t be-” she stopped abruptly.
“Not Harry,” Ron moaned, his shoulders beginning to shake with the effort of holding in tears. “Not Harry too. Come on!”
He and Hermione, gripping still tighter to each other, ran off outside in Ginny’s wake, as determined to find their best friend alive as she was. All the survivors who had gathered in the Great Hall following the Battle of Hogwarts began to whisper to each other, conferring with their fellow mourners, their fellow injured. Some looked shocked and newly upset at the news, whilst others looked suspicious and doubtful. Everyone, it seemed, was curious to know the truth, and swiftly, the room was emptied.
George followed his grief-stricken parents out of the hall, and out the doors of Hogwarts. He was surprised to see that Angelina was still holding his hand. She looked up at him, her dark eyes brimming with fresh tears.
“I never thought Harry would die,” she said, her voice thick with emotion. “All those times he could have, and he escaped. You forget he’s only seventeen.”
George sighed; a new wave of hopelessness washed over him as they joined everyone else and witnessed the whole horrible scene.
The black-clad Death Eaters stood like an invincible army, triumphant and clearly ecstatic. Hagrid stood at the side, his massive shoulders heaving as tears fell into his matted beard. Voldemort stood before the assembled defenders of Hogwarts, his eerily pale face alive with malice and cruel delight, the red eyes glinting triumphantly. And on the dewy grass at Voldemort’s feet, lay a curled up figure, deathly still. Angelina stifled another sob as together they recognised the round spectacles, that lay crooked over the closed eyes, the jet black hair that had become even untidier than usual, and the vivid lightning scar that emphasised the deathly pallor of the pale face. There was no doubt about it. Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, was dead.
“It’s all over now, isn’t it?” George whispered, his voice cracking so much he didn’t recognise it as his own. “The Boy Who Lived has been killed. Voldemort,” he paused, hatred filling his insides as he used the dreaded name for the first time in his life. “And his bloody Death Eaters have won and they can do whatever they like! Well, he can do whatever the hell he likes to me. I don’t...I can’t care anymore. They’ve already taken Fred from me, Harry’s dead. Nothing could ever hurt this much. And even if it did, I don’t care!”
Angelina looked up at George once again and spoke fiercely, a determined glint to her eye, even though she was close to tears. “Don’t you ever, ever say that. Of course you care. In fact, you care so damn much that you think you’ll die from the pain of it. And you’ll never stop caring, or hurting for that matter, about what’s been taken from you. You hurt so much that you want to inflict the pain you feel on every single Death Eater standing there and V-Voldemort as well.”
“You’re right,” he said slowly. He tied to laugh, but what had sounded so natural and joyful only hours before now sounded cold and unfamiliar.
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