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Chapter 3: to grieve
ii. to grieve
The Burrow is a mess when we get back. Death Eaters or Snatchers or whoever had broken in and blasted apart the place out of pure spite I suppose, and the floor is littered with our things –furniture, photo frames, mirrors, crockery – all shattered, turned inside out, missing chunks. We troop into the kitchen in silence and Mum loses it; she spins round and orders us out, says there’s a lot to be done and she won’t have us all in here, clogging up space and obstructing her. She gets to work at once. There’s a strange look of relief on her face as she pins up her hair and fixes her mouth into a grim dash and begins picking up the scraps of our house and sticking them together as best as they’ll fit. The Burrow is the family shell.
The others get round to setting up a temporary place in the front yard for Fred’s body. I don’t help them. They’ll have a casket for Fred. (Fred-in-a-box). Percy or Bill might Charm the ground so blue and white and yellow but mostly white flowers push up and soak their scent into the air. I don’t go in there.
But it doesn’t make a difference. I don’t stop seeing Fred. It's hard because I've got his face and he has my stare and our eyes are going all over the place tracking the hint of each other. We try to avoid glass a lot. It's where he skims along like a glance, like a glint - pure light and no human shape but I know it's him, it's us.
Once, I passed a window and something moved on the surface and before I knew it I’d got my wand out and popped the glass. It was an accident. I Transfigured all the shards into a pile of dead leaves. No one saw me. I’d gone for a walk after that. I walked until my feet broke through the ground and I found myself on the marshy banks of the stream, mud sucking my shoes in. There was nothing in my head.
On the morning of Fred’s funeral I wake in my old bedroom, suspended in a sort of horror. I don’t quite remember falling asleep or even going to bed. There’s something about the room – the two beds, the two small desks, the two sets of shelves – the two-ness of everything.
When Fred and I were still living here we never took boundaries seriously. I threw all my things on Fred’s shelf and bed and he dumped his rubbish on mine. Many nights I fell asleep on his mud-spattered quidditch robes, his soggy towels, his dog-eared books. In the mornings we’d grab whatever things nearest to us and go. It got to a point where we couldn’t tell our toothbrushes apart. We lived in a state of overlap – our room a bloody mess, a blotch of things, mismatched pairs, strewn over the place. The only times we were marked apart was when we wore our Christmas jumpers with our initials embroidered on them. But those we swapped so many times over that nothing made a difference anyway.
Now the place is tidy. Mum cleaned it out when we left and all the sharp lines and edges of the room are visible. The furniture in their conspicuousness look like stiff bones of themselves. I think I need to get the hell out, but downstairs – everyone else is downstairs. They’ll be preparing for the thing, the occasion. Mum will have cooked up a massive breakfast. She’ll be trying to shove half of it down my throat. It’s quiet – god, it’s so quiet. I can hear my heart. I can feel it beating thickly; it feels like a stone sitting on top of my ribcage.
I push open the window. God. They’re arranging chairs into shabby ranks, all the mismatched seats of the house and others borrowed from the neighbours – armchairs, sofas, three-legged stools, even a deckchair. They’ll be putting up a sort of platform next, maybe with a podium. The casket with him in it will be brought out. We might get down to burying it later. It's all a joke.
“Oi!” I say, “Stop.”
Down below Harry looks up from the battered chaise longue he’s been lugging across the lawn. “What?” he says. His voice is vague.
I slam the window shut. What am I doing? My pulse has now gone up to my head; it is slow, deliberate. Shut up, shut up. There is a wardrobe in the corner of the bedroom. There might be something there, yes, yes. I fling open its doors, pull out the stacks of old laundered robes, mumble an incantation and the bottom falls through to reveal a hidden compartment with a stash of joke-product ingredients and supplies. Fred and I kept reserves here for whenever we came to visit the Burrow (ideas pop into place all the time).
Among the things are several parcels of brown paper with labels, a portable cauldron, vials of liverwort juice and animal venoms, a pound of Doxy eggs, the sandpapered thighbone of a Scrumpion, small flasks of various long-keeping potions – Polyjuice, Mild Sleeping Draughts, Wart-Growers and Boil-Blowers – and there, near the bottom, a tiny foil package. The label on it reads Foliage of Grimblethistle – Crushed and Dried.
Grimbly, Fred called it. Let’s hit up the grimbly. We'd started sourcing for this particular ingredient for one of the newer products we'd been working on - Weasleys' Sickly Sweet Sentimentality Syrup (A Shot of Schmaltz for your Spirits!).
It might help. It might stop the beating in my head, at least for a little while. I reach for an empty vial and shake in the dried grimblethistle, which has been crushed so thoroughly that the leaves have become powdery. Fred and I did this occasionally in our flat at nights after work, and for hours we'd lie on bed or on the floor or wherever we happened to be, flaccid-jawed and spread-eagled and sometimes he'd spray one of our Starsquirt Cylinders (one blast to fill your room with permanent floating sparks!) and scraps of blue and gold light would fizz and spit in the air, but mostly in the dark side of our eyeballs.
I tap my wand at the rim of the vial and a tiny flame appears inside, burning the leaves. Pushing on the stopper I wait for a minute before uncapping it again. A tendril of algae-green smoke unfurls from the vial and I put my nose to the rim and take it all in.
Instantly, thick clouds fill my head, mushrooming in my eyes, vision becoming a dull smudge before clearing a little. My head a bubble, about to detach and rise off my shoulders. And the smells - the smells of - of everything winding and colliding and tangling in my nose. The ingredients on the floor and on my lap - sharp, acrid odours mingling with the syrupy scent of pineberry and the frogwort extract and the sawdusty whiff of the Scrumpion bone - I can smell the sheets on the bed. The film of dust on the window ledge and downstairs the smell of food is overwhelming. I think I can smell colours as well. The scent of red - warm and silky. The light yellow of the walls, like butter.
But there’s something else - a different scent. An old human residue. Familiarity. I pull myself up - my limbs have become bags of water attached to my torso – onto Fred’s old bed. He hasn't slept in it for ages yet his scent is all of a sudden everywhere. I nose through his sheets like some sort of fucking animal. His pillow - and under it, there is something neatly folded. A jumper - red, plain except for the large letter F on the front of it. F. F. F. F for Fred. F for filibuster. Funeral. F for fuck. F for –
It’s an old jumper, more than three Christmases old. Running my fingers over the wool, something dislodges from the loose threads. It’s a hair, lying across my palm, a thin orange scratch.
I don’t know what made me do it – it must’ve been that damned grimbly – but the next moment I’m rifling through the supplies again and reaching for that mini flask containing the aged Polyjuice Potion. I drop the hair into the sludge and the mixture loosens and becomes brick-coloured. Then I drink.
It is funny! I am going to my own funeral. I am not dead. Fred will be – no I am proud of me!
I put on his jumper. He’d grown out of it a long time ago and now it wraps round my chest in a tight but comforting band, pressing under my arms. The F is there and that is all that matters. Over the jumper I wear my formal robes and then I collect myself and go downstairs. I don’t have to look into a mirror.
Mum has left some breakfast on the table. I nearly go mental with the whole perplexity of aromas. My head’s a fog of colours. Everyone’s outside or somewhere. I drink a glass of water. The water slips down my throat, pure and silver. I drink another glass and another. And then I start on the food. The flavours explode on my tongue – the sticky runny yolk, the salty meat, the tomatoes prickling the insides of my mouth with their mild acid. The toast crackles and splinters between my teeth, the crumbs as sharp as grains of crystal.
The door opens and Mum comes in. She stops short when she sees me. “George!”
“Am starving, sorry,” I say, full-mouthed. Bits of egg spray out.
Mum starts crying. She comes and hugs me from behind so suddenly that the back of my head bangs against her chest.
“Mmmph,” is all I manage.
“We’re going to get through this, George," she says, sobbing into my hair. Her voice wobbles with relief. She lets go and reaches for a dish and slaps four more slices of bacon onto my plate. The smell of grease is intoxicating. “Now, you eat up. It’s getting late. We’re going to be starting soon. You don't have to do anything. Just – eat."
I’ve lost control of my facial muscles, and my mouth is hanging in a floppy line so it looks like I’m grinning. Mum wipes away her tears. She seems happier. But all I’m thinking about is the bacon.
During the service I keep tuning out. Time seems to go on forever but nobody notices. They’re all sitting awkwardly on our ragtag chair collection, dabbing their eyes, fiddling at the hems of their robes and looking sombre. The sunlight is brilliant – I can see the particles of dust suspended in the air. Nobody moves their heads. It’s as though they’re all frozen.
“We are here to grieve – ”
Now there’s some bloke giving his best funeral voice. For a few minutes I listen to his every word and yet after he says each word I forget what they are. The scents of grass fill my nose. I want to feel the grass. I slide my foot out of my shoe and rub my sole against the ground; the blades of grass prick my skin and my toes curl and uncurl in a kind of senseless joy.
“ – our brother Fred – ”
That’s Charlie’s voice. He’s hunched over the podium, unsmiling. I was supposed to have a turn and get up in front of everyone and recite some tear-jerking lines and maybe be in-character and crack a joke – at least that was what Dad suggested last night. I meant to say no but I couldn’t even get my voice out. I just shook my head and when Dad pressed me a little I bit down on my lip and shook again stupidly. So I won’t be talking. My tongue has swelled in my mouth; I run it between my teeth and it feels like a roll of rubber. I need a drink. At the same time I have this uncomfortable need to go to the loo. I’d drunk too much water earlier on. I keep shifting in my chair.
Next to me, Percy says, “What’s the matter with you?”
Some of the dust in the air gets in my nose. I don’t bother keeping the sneeze in, or softening it in any way. There’s a kind of boom to that sneeze; it came all the way down from my lungs which are still vaguely rattling from the effort. People crane their necks to look at me.
“This isn’t funny, George,” Percy hisses again. “And wipe that smirk off your face.”
But I can’t. My face is still all slack even though I try to scowl a little. And the feeling of grass on my sole is so marvellous I don’t think I want to even try to look grim. There’s a light flavour of salt in the air and for one delirious moment I think I’m tasting everyone’s tears.
In front of us all is the casket, closed. He’s going to be buried a little distance from the house, round the back. There’s a wide green space with trees and a stream and all.
Earlier, before the service started I’d remarked rather fuzzily to Dad, “It’s a swell place, actually. We should all be buried here. It could be our own family cemetery. You should suggest this to Muriel.”
Ginny had smiled at least. But Percy said as usual, “This isn’t funny.”
This isn’t funny.
So wipe that smirk off your face.
God, my bladder is going to be fucking smithereens any minute now. This isn’t funny. I need to take a piss. And then that’s all I can think of. Pisspissspiss. Need to.
“ – and he’d always make us laugh, always. All the time. And, well, I suppose I’ll miss that. We all will – ”
Ron’s voice distracts me a little. I look up and force myself to listen and make sense of his words. He talks, stumbling on and on about pranks and holes and missing people and laughing people and something about a teddy bear becoming a spider…
That is one bloody awful speech.
Instantly, there’s silence. Ron stops talking, his mouth open, staring at me. So is everyone else. I think I must’ve said that aloud.
“What are you doing?”
I don’t know. But I’ve already got up from my chair and I’m shambling up to the podium, elbowing Ron out of the way. My jaw won’t click shut so I’m still grinning moronically.
“Hello,” I say and my voice sounds slurry. Every single person’s eyes are on me. So this is attention. This is how it feels. Every eye on me – they sparkle like wet stones, their hard scrutinising angles turning over every inch of my skin.
I say, “Actually there is no need for any of this.”
I keep talking. “You know Fred. He’s here right now. I’ll show you.”
And I lean forward and push the hair out of my face behind my ears – both my ears – I show them both my ears – grinning all the while. I loosen the front of my robes and they fall open and the red jumper shows. F for –
– but nobody finds it funny. Percy hisses, “Get. Him. Off.” And immediately Ron, still at my side, grabs my arm and starts to haul me off the stage and Charlie jumps up from his seat and latches onto my other arm.
“C’mon, mate,” Charlie says quietly, “This isn’t good for you. Let’s get you back inside.”
“I’m fine, I’m fine.”
But still they pull me into the house and into the kitchen and they force me to sit on the table because all the chairs have been moved out. The door bursts open behind us and Mum, Dad, Ginny, Lee, Harry and Hermione fall in.
“What’s wrong with George?” Mum says, and there’s a flutter in her voice. She grabs my face and angles it upward to meet her gaze. “His eyes are all bloodshot.”
“He’s lost it,” Ron says. “He’s gone mental.”
“Maybe he’s had a few drinks in secret,” Lee says.
“What about everyone outside?” Charlie says.
“Bill and Percy will handle it,” Dad says. “I don’t think he’s drunk. I’m not sure – ”
“I have a bottle of Snap-out-of-it Sobriety Serum,” Mum cuts in. “Right there in the cupboard above your head, Ginny. It should help restore him to his normal senses.”
All their voices drift in my head, a cloudy chorus. It sounds pleasant. Mum, tipping a bottle of green liquid (it fizzles!) into a glass which she shoves under my nose, saying, “Drink it all up.”
But it smells of plaster dust and the scent is so thick it jams up my airways and my eyes start to water.
“Charlie, Ron,” Mum says and the two of them hold me still and force my head backwards and she pours the glass of serum into my mouth that won’t shut and down my throat. The insides of my skull flare and tears start dripping down my cheeks. All the clouds in my head disperse and a wave of nausea climbs up from the pit of my stomach bringing with it my half-digested breakfast. Everyone jumps back from me. My robes are rank with vomit.
“Gross,” Ginny says. “You feeling better now?”
“Water,” I say and someone else chants, “Aguamenti” and pushes a glass into my hand. I drink and nearly spit everything out. The water feels starch-thick, oozing down my throat, vomit-tinged at the edges.
But I’m back to my old self. The pounding in my head starts up again. Everyone is gathered around me in an uneasy knot, their faces wrinkled from the smell.
Mum is near tears again. “Oh George, oh George,” she repeats. I can't look at her. I am a fucking idiot. I say I’m sorry. They won’t let me go back out.
“I’ll stay with George,” Lee says. “The rest of you better go back. We’ll be OK.”
And they do. When they’re gone Lee says, “You’ll be right, mate. We can go back after if you like.”
I say no and leave him. I pull off my robes and the jumper and my shirt and run them under a hot tap until steam rises in clouds up to the ceiling, fogging up the bathroom mirror. I can’t see myself but my hand goes up to the left side of my head, feeling for the cavity, that small dark curve in the flesh.
The grave is set in the shadow of a large tree by the stream, not too far from the house. The surface of it is covered with flowers; not the neat blue and white arrangements conjured up by Percy, but lurid orange flower-heads with pink spots, maroon lilies with peeling petals and thick brushes of stamens, engorged sunflowers. Ginny’s handiwork.
"It's very Fred-like," she said.
There was a procession, Ginny told me, from where the service had been conducted to the grave. The casket, floating in the air and behind, a black trail of people, their wands held up. The earth that dug itself, the casket descending on its own.
But they’re all gone now and Fred’s been buried and I wasn’t there to see. The headstone is a rigid tumour poking out of the ground, glistening in the late evening light. Words have been embossed onto its surface.
in loving memory
It’s too dull, too understandable. Kneeling at the foot of the grave, I flick my wand. Pinpricks of light rise from the depths of the stone’s black shine. They glint almost fiercely. They look like they’re blooming and winking out into nothing and blooming again. They look like stars. They look like tiny frosty fireworks.
There are more words – his name, a set of dates, and near the bottom, in a slanting carved script:
the last laugh is yours
I wave my wand and all the words and numbers disappear except for his name. The specks of light remain.
In the air, I trace letters, and they appear on the surface of the stone, cut in roughly, skewed.
jokes on you mate
I wipe them out and try again.
i mis –
(mis – what? misplace? mishear?)
Again I scratch that out. The third time, I dig the words in deep, right under his name. Now the stone looks much better. Now it says
you owe me
I go right up to the headstone, crushing the flowers, and crouch before it. If Fred is indeed dead and buried here then I’m pretty much trampling on his grave, and my knees are now over his face. The thought cheers me up a little.
I bring my forehead down onto the top of the headstone and feel its cool edge press a line into my skin. All sensation drifts away from my body; the stone is the only thing that feels real and for a moment I can’t help thinking my skull has become part of it, hardened into granite or obsidian or whatever it is. Something moves in my chest but I ignore it. If there is a way.
If there is.
A/N: Sorry for this chapter! I know I haven't made it easy to read :( I couldn't think of any other way to write it. This was incredibly difficult to write. I'm fairly incompetent I suppose. There are a lot of thick paragraphs and sentence fragments and sadly, they're all deliberate. I went through it over and over and kept deleting things. Just in case you're confused: yes, George has taken some sort of wizarding mind-altering substance. Also, I took large tracts of my proper, grammatically correct and well-punctuated sentences and stuffed them into some kind of grinder and now they're all chopped up and fragmented and yeah, well.
Thanks for reading anyway :)