Voldemort was dead. It was over. The whole crowd burst out in spontaneous laughter, applause, cheering. They had, at last, won. Voldmort was finally defeated.
George Weasley breathed out a shaky sigh in relief. It was over. Momentarily having forgotten the event of earlier that evening, he turned to his left, a smile breaking into his features, expecting to see an identical grin there, as he always had before.
This time was different though. No red-headed figure stood there, looking like him, beaming at him, sharing this with him. And it all came back to him, worse than before, because he hadn't had time then, he hadn't believed it, he had seen, but he had forced himself not to feel, yet, since they all still were in so much danger. But now...
A cold wave of emptiness shot through him, suddenly pain was pumping around his veins, spreading, overtaking him. It literally felt as though someone had punched him in the stomach. He couldn't breath.
He took one last look over at the blurry faces around him, still cheering, not caring. Then he turned around, and fled the scene as fast as he possibly could muster. He ran, his lounges aching with every inhale, forcing himself to pursue, away. He threw himself in the nearest bathroom and smashed the door closed behind him, leaning against it, catching his breath, panting, closing his eyes.
As he opened them again, it was to stare into a much too familiar face. Except the lack of laughter, the lack of colour in it, the wet stains on the cheeks. It was still him, alright, clearly. Kind of like he had looked that night – so long ago – when George had lost an ear, and lay there, bloody in front of him. He stared at his reflection in the mirror, and yeah, it was like that Fred had looked then, terrified. He had hated seeing his brother like that, so he had made the first stupid joke he could think of, even though it hurt to think at all. Holey. And Fred had felt better, it had been so obvious, all the grey paleness disappearing almost immediately.
Who was gonna do that to him now? Huh, Fred? Who the hell in the whole world was ever gonna help him now? He hadn't thought about that, no, before he went and got himself killed.
Before he went and left George alone, more holey than ever, and this was a thousand times worse than loosing an ear, a thousand times worse than giving his brother such a scare that it hurt. Now he was to be permanently holey, inside, and no one except Fred could ever heal it. Which, now, meant no one alive.
He swallowed hardly, not being able to look away from the mirror, watching tears running down his face without feeling it. It could just as well have been Fred he was looking upon, except…
He let out a sob, not caring who could hear him anymore, knowing they were all still celebrating anyway. It echoed weirdly in the room, didn't sound like it had come from him, more like some noise you could hear from a wounded animal. In any other case, he'd have thought this thought amusing. Not now, though, and probably never again.
Suddenly there was a careful nod on the door. He froze, not really caring who saw him crying, it didn't matter, but still, he didn't want to deal with anyone.
"Leave me alone," his voice spoke, gravely, weak-sounding, pathetic.
The knocker didn't listen to his words though. The door was pushed open, just enough for three heads to poke in, looking in at him with white faces and grim looks.
He felt tears welling up, and closed his eyes in reflex, trying to push them back, feeling them burn hot against his eyelids. Some leaked anyway.
It was Hermione's voice, pained, pleading. He shook his head. He didn't want their pity.
"Just go," his voice said, hollowly, unrecognizable even to himself without even the smallest hint of laughter in it.
He didn't open his eyes. It was silent for a moment. Then he heard the door close softly, and assumed they had given up. That was what he had wanted, he thought to himself. But then, why did he feel even emptier now, if that could even be possible?
He kept his eyes closed, not wanting to see his reflection again, just wanting to shut it all out, away, forever. Another tear escaped, running down his nose, over his closed mouth, leaving a small taste of salt. He didn't care.
For some reason he opened his eyes just then, just in the second to see another red-headed face, right in front of his own. Not like his though, not twin-like like. Just brother. Not twin. Never ever more would he look into the face of his twin, his other half, his best friend but more, always more. They were one, almost, and now he was holey and half.
This was Ron, he now bothered to notice. A little taller than himself, hair a bit longer, though the exact same shade of orange-red. Pale though, almost as pale as he had seen himself in the mirror, almost. Almost the same pained expression also, almost, looking into George's broken figure, looking into his brother's leaking eyes. George saw that his eyes too, were shining wet.
He waited for Ron to say something. Anything, really, to give him an excuse to snap and shout and throw him out. Ron said nothing though. He just stood there, seemingly waiting as well. They looked into each other's eyes, and it was blinding how it was almost his own grief shining back at him.
He looked away and couldn't help but give a small sniffle.
Then, unexpectedly, he had arms around him, a body pressed to him, hugging. In surprise, he looked up to see nothing but Ron's hair, as he had leaned his face on his brother's shoulder. George hesitated a moment, than decided to give into it, to do the same. He let go of the small strength holding him standing, leaning into his brother, letting him be a support. And then he cried like he had never cried before, into Ron's shoulder, shaking both their bodies with silent sobs. He also felt something wet stain his own back, and knew that he wasn't the only one keeping them shaking.
How long it lasted, he had no idea. He just knew that suddenly they broke apart, Ron helping him to carefully sit down instead of falling helplessly as he had now lost all possible energy left in him.
So he sat underneath the sinks, glad he could not see the mirrors anymore. He closed his eyes for a moment, and then Ron wasn't alone, Harry and Hermione had come back. They looked nervous, Hermione fidgeting and Harry bowing his head, as though they were intruding. They seemed to wait for him to yell at them, tell them to leave. When he didn't, they sat down instead, all three to his right, respecting the empty space at his left, they too feeling the very present absence of Fred. He almost wished they hadn't, that someone had sat there, replacing, even though he knew it was impossible ever to be done.
They sat in silence, until Harry spoke, burst out, as though he had waited long.
"I'm sorry, this is all my fault."
Ron and Hermione widened their eyes at him, even George looked surprised.
"Don't say that, Harry," hurried Hermione, her voice shaky, "you know you couldn't have done anything."
But Harry didn't seem to be listening to her. He got up and started pacing in front of them. His gaze was set on George when he started speaking again, almost mumbling, weakly.
"If I'd just… turned myself in right away… this would never… none of you would have…"
This time it was Ron that interrupted him, sounding worried.
"But… you couldn't have! We had to get the diadem, and then we had to get out… By then it was already too late, and even then, you had to see the memory first, Snape's memory, otherwise you wouldn't have given yourself to him!"
"I should have! He was right, telling me I was a coward, letting everyone else die for me. I should have went straight away, someone else could've done the tiara, Neville did the snake, right?" he said, with speed, with anxiety, not looking at them anymore.
"But Harry," Hermione tried, sounding on the verge of tears, "you couldn't have just walked in there and let yourself die. It wouldn't have helped anyone. Not only would it have devastated a lot of people to see you dead, also, no one would have finished him. We probably all would have died, sooner or later, trying to fight him. It had to be you, you know it did. You saved us all by not dying, Harry. You had to wait, it was by knowing it all first you could come back and finish him!"
But Harry didn't look at her, he looked into the silent George, pain shooting through his eyes, begging for forgiveness. George hesitated a moment. Sure, someone to blame might have felt nice. But, no, it wasn't Harry's fault, he knew it. Harry had saved them all. Harry had walked into what he thought would be death to save them all, and then he had made it all stop. Still, the words took a while to form in his now very slow brain. Seemingly most sentence-building ability had run out with the tears.
"It wasn't your fault, Harry," he finally spoke, his voice oddly hollow. "We knew what we risked, coming here. He… knew."
"But still…" Harry tried to interrupt, but George's gaze silenced him.
"If you hadn't waited til the right moment, you would have died, right?"
Hermione and Ron nodded fiercely, and after a few seconds, Harry gave one short nod too, keeping his head down.
"Then all of the people who died tonight and before, to fight Voldemort, would have died in vain. By surviving and finishing him, you made it worth it."
Harry opened his mouth to protest, but George didn't let him. He looked into the guilt of Harry and knew he needed to make it stop, because it hurt him even worse and he couldn't deal with that, it was already way way too much to handle.
"For them, Harry, they would have said so. They knew what they were doing. And now, finally, he is gone. And that, is your accomplishment. You dying, would have made it all worthless, all our sacrifices. I mean, my ear here? To protect you, to defeat Voldemort. It was all the same, okay? Plus, I'm pretty glad you're alive and I'm sure the rest of us agree. Seeing you, lying there, in Hagrid's arms, wasn't exactly… it was almost…"
His voice broke, unexpectedly to himself, his mind suddenly flooding with images of Harry there, his spectacles hanging off his lifeless face. He shuddered. Ron next to him seemed to do the same.
Hermione burst into tears.
"It was awful," she continued his sentence, sobbing into Ron's offered shoulder. "Harry, you couldn't have died, we couldn't have… Looking at you like that, it was the worst… I've always been so scared… so worried… but seeing it… was something… something…" she broke down, unable to speak anymore.
"It was so much worse than we ever could imagine, Harry. You have no idea, mate, no idea…" Ron said, sounding weirdly broken too.
"Just sit down, Harry, mate," pleaded George now. "I don't really have a lot more energy left to persuade you. It wasn't your fault, just accept it."
Hesitantly, Harry sat down, still keeping his head bowed. Hermione, who sat next to him, leaning against Ron, stretched out her fingers to rub his arm a little.
"I can't believe he's gone," muttered Ron, more to himself than anyone.
George couldn't bring himself to answer. The pain of it shot through his chest yet again, a feeling he knew he was probably going to have to get used to now. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall, wanting so badly to erase this night, to change it, at least be with Fred then, at his last moments, hear his last laugh… And maybe he could've helped, done something. Maybe he could've offered himself instead, thrown himself in front of Fred – he would've! If he had just been given the chance, he'd much rather be the dead than the surviving, left alone.
Then he remembered Fred's screwed-up voice asking what was wrong with him, he saw the wide eyes staring down at him. He hated it. He couldn't have done that either. He didn't want to leave Fred instead, it was selfish. This way, Fred probably had it better off somewhere else. Still, he never got to see them winning… never got to see Voldemort die. Wasn't much to miss though, the whole joyful experience was sort of lost with Fred absent, gone, lost, dead.
"Maybe we should be getting back," suggested Ron, the silence becoming too much for him.
George shook his head.
"You guys can go. I can't…" he said, his voice trembling. "I can't face it without…"
"We'll stay," said Hermione firmly, glaring at Ron for the suggestion. "Unless you want us to go, of course," she hurried, insecurely, putting her hair behind her ear.
"I don't mind," he whispered.
The truth was he didn't really want to be left alone with his thoughts again. It scared him, not knowing what black pools of emptiness he still had left to find inside of him.
He swallowed hardly, feeling Hermione stretch out an arm to rub his knee, the only part she could reach.