I didn’t see any of it because of the dust. That’s what I told everyone who asked. (George, George what happened?)
I didn’t see when Rookwood’s spell cracked open the passageway and dug the stone out of the walls and ceiling, when a bolt of green light planted itself into the square of my brother’s chest. When he took a half-step back, when his lower jaw came loose and opened his mouth into a sort of astonished hole, the flop of his arms, wand slipping through the slots of dark space between his fingers. When his eyes (my eyes) glassed over in some sort of dream we might have shared in the past.
The sick slow-mo of the wall, pouring over him with its brokenness, its crushing pieces. He did not see any of it (he was dead by then). He’d already taken a hit to the heart. The wall was nothing.
Ask someone else. I wasn’t there. I couldn’t have seen. Ron, Percy, Harry, Hermione – they saw. They were there.
I’d got split up from Fred. It was the screaming, the knife-streaks of spells. It was the dust.
I was on the faraway end of the hallway. It was the wrong end so I didn’t catch him when he fell. Because if I had he might not have died. In that split second before the pupils of his eyes went dark and flat, I might have clapped my palm over his mouth – I might have forced that last breath back in.
They laid him in the Great Hall with the other bodies. I knelt by his head. Mum was sobbing a wet patch into his chest. I thought of putting a hand through her hair and winding a thick strand of it round my palm and pulling until her face peeled away from his body. I thought of shaking Fred’s wrists free of Ron and Ginny who were clasping them. I wanted his hands to myself. His slack fingers, the jut of his elbow. All the rest of him.
The others soon pulled themselves away and went back to the war. I stayed as long as I could and then Dad put a hand on my shoulder and said, “C’mon, we need you.”
My legs got up by themselves and walked me out. Hogwarts was all torn up. I stumbled corridor to corridor, as good as useless. Maybe I’d hit a few Death Eaters on the way, I don’t remember. Someone’s spell slugged me in the stomach and I was thrown against a wall and my head might have caught the stone and I lay for awhile on the floor seeing red stars with long thin spokes pinholing my eyeballs.
“Jesus Fred, you all right?” Lee Jordan was crouching beside me. He looked like a ghost, his dreadlocks covered in dust. He couldn’t tell! And we’d been mates for years.
I thought of saying “George” and then wave at the left side of my head where my ear used to be but my throat was bone dry, and the chuffing syllable of my name sat like a fat slug on my tongue.
“You hear me?” Lee tried again. “Fred.”
A thought came to me. Maybe I could be Fred. After all we’re identical. We have the same body, the same laugh. We’re as good as the same, interchangeable. So I shut my eyes for a second, and when I opened them again, they weren’t mine anymore. They were Fred’s. I lugged myself up with Fred’s arms and back and shoulders. I opened Fred’s mouth, peeled his stuck voice like adhesive tape out of my throat.
“We’d best get you to Madam Pomfrey. She’ll have something for your head.”
I ran a hand through my hair. It was damp. Lee kept on talking. “It was Yaxley. Bastard shot a Stunner at you but I got him right back.”
A red streak of light shaved past my cheek. Lee grasped my arm above the elbow and hauled me onto my feet. “We gotta move.”
I was still wearing Fred’s body. His knees shook but they held me up and jolted me along. I peered out of his skull, felt my way along with his hands.
“Jordan, is that you? Who’s that with you?” Someone’s voice cut through the smoke. A figure was edging along the sharp rubble piles toward us, wand raised.
“It’s me,” Lee called back. “And it’s just Fred with me. He’s been hit in the head. Who’re you?”
The person stepped right in front of us. It was Percy. He looked tired. His robes were singed, his glasses broken, and there was a cut like a hairline crack on his face, tracing his jawbone.
“Fred is dead,” he said to Lee. He gestured dully at me. “That’s George.”
“Fuck. No. I can’t believe this – ” Lee’s voice tapered off.
Those words Percy had uttered. Fred is dead. They stripped his body away from me. (Fred is dead and I am George. George is gone and I am Fred. Forge George. Dead Fred.)
Every part of him I’d tricked myself into wearing fell away and became mine again. My eyes and hands and legs. We shared nothing. I stood there, bald.
“Madam Pomfrey’s in the Great Hall,” Perce said. He helped Lee pull me along and I let them.
There was yet another hand on my shoulder. “George – it’s over. We’ve won,” someone said. At first I couldn’t place whose voice it was, only knew it wasn’t Fred’s. Fred’s voice was dead, congealing somewhere among the sticky threads of his lungs that refused to heave.
My body was aching. It was because Fred was in my arms. My elbow held his head and shoulders and his back was slung over my knees. His legs trailed across the floor beyond my reach. His forehead, pressed to mine. The smell of him – dried sweat in his hair, the sting of blood in my nostrils – or was that my own? I couldn’t tell. It didn’t matter.
“Let’s get you away from here,” the person behind me said. It was Bill. “You need a rest.”
As if by some reflex, I dug my fingers into Fred, into the hollows around his shoulder blades, and pushed my knees into the stone floor, fixing us together and to the ground. Bill tried to pull me up. Dad and Charlie shuffled forward to help.
“George, let go of him now. You can’t do anything.”
There was a sort of ridiculous tug-of-war match as all three of them tried to shift Fred away from me and get me up on my feet at the same time. But they couldn’t move us. We were a dead weight. (I imagined his body jerking with mock shock, blackened indented eyes rolling at my bad pun.)
In the end it was Ginny who knelt beside me – I could hear the tears in her voice. They were an ugly sort of tears – the kind that leak down your face in shapeless trails and some of them slide off the backs of your eyeballs and down your throat, choking you.
“Let me help you hold him,” she said.
And so I did. I made way for her and she rested her head on my arm and slowly she picked off my fingers one by one from Fred’s back. Together we laid him down and I stood up and everything clouded over for an instant. I must’ve had been sitting on the floor for a long time with my limbs all bunched up and taut.
I remember that we won the war. Voldemort was out-duelled by Harry and the surviving Death Eaters rounded up and we reached the end, apparently. There are blanks in my mind. At certain moments memory drops away into black trenches and I can’t look into them. But I remember there was a great flush of noise rolling up from the depths of the castle, peaking as it reached the Entrance Hall and bursting out the doors into the rising morning. Laughter. I can hear it still. It is such an odd sound.
A/N: I have more or less rewritten this chapter :D I incorporated part of the third chapter into this one because it fits better here than there. Also I cut a lot of junk and clunky prose out. Thank you, reviewers for your suggestions!