Chapter 1 : Lest We Forget
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* Acknowledgment: The title comes from a line of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Recessional.”
Author’s Note: I swore up one side and down the other that I’d never do this, never accept it. Famous last words…
Molly Weasley crested the second set of stairs and stopped to rest on the landing, wondering exactly whose great idea a house with five floors had been anyway. There were a great many things she enjoyed about growing older – a horde of grandchildren being top of her list – but bad knees were not among them. She’d have to send Arthur out for more Anti-Arthritis Potion later, but for now she’d just have to carry on slowly. She had too much to do to wait.
She’d spent the week deep in her annual spring cleaning – a task that just a few years ago had taken her a mere two days instead of a week – and she only had the unused bedrooms to finish today. The early morning sunlight streamed through the windows she’d scoured yesterday, reminding her exactly why this time of day had always been her favorite. If she hurried, she could be done with the cursory cleaning the now seldom-used rooms required in a couple of hours, leaving her the rest of the day to prepare.
And she’d need that time. It was George’s birthday today, and with most of the youngsters of the clan off at Hogwarts now, the adults were gathering at the Burrow later that night for a magnificent birthday bash. Harry and Ginny had planned it, swearing her to secrecy, and she knew it promised to be a night to remember.
Which meant she’d better get busy then, if she wanted to get everything done. With a small sigh, she started up the next set of stairs when something down the hall caught her eye. Puzzled, she stopped and went to investigate. The door to George’s old room was slightly ajar. Quietly, she moved closer and peered inside.
The room had changed since the days when her children were small. The two beds had each been replaced with a set of bunk-beds – more space to accommodate visiting grandchildren in the summers. The scorch marks had been mostly cleaned away, the smell of gun-powder had faded, and George was no longer using it as extra storage. She’d left the desk under the window just as it had been, though, and glancing inside she could see the back of one very red head sitting at it. She moved slightly, allowing for a better view.
George had the old chair he was sitting in tipped back on two legs, his own long legs stretched casually out on the desktop, ankles crossed. In his lap he held the worn photo album that Molly always kept in the room; she firmly believed her grandkids needed to know what their parents were like when they were younger.
Crossing her arms, she leaned in the doorway and just watched him for a while as he sat there thumbing through the well-worn pages, lost in thought. The morning light bathed his face and hair, emphasizing once again how much her little boy had grown up. He’d stopped being “little” quite a long time ago, actually. He’d crossed the threshold into middle age several years back, but of all her children he’d hung onto his boyish charm the most. Perhaps it was his chosen profession; selling jokes and tricks and sweets to make people laugh had to keep one young. He looked peaceful and calm now, if slightly solemn, and she didn’t have to stretch her imagination far to have a good idea of where his thoughts were. Her own had been running to the same point since she woke up.
She stood there gazing at him for quite some time, letting her mind drift back to the days when this house had been full to the brim with noisy, rambunctious, wonderful children. It was all she’d ever wanted – a house full of children to mother and the best wizard in the world at her side. It was nice to know that sometimes your dreams did come true.
George shifted in the chair, and she took the opportunity to make her presence known.
“Haven’t I told you at least a thousand times not to lean back on my chairs?” she scolded with a smile as she pushed away from the doorframe and walked into the room. George looked up, slightly surprised, even as his own face broke out into that radiant grin Molly was sure was one of his secret salesman weapons.
“I never listened before; a little old to start now,” he quipped. “Hi, Mum.”
“Hello, son. Happy Birthday,” she said coming to stand beside him at the window.
“Forty-two years of mischief and mayhem and you’re still willing to claim me?” asked George, eyes twinkling slightly.
“Always,” she answered with another smile, placing her hands on his cheeks and leaning down to give him a peck on the forehead. She brushed her thumb lightly across his chin and shook her head.
“Did you forget the shaving charms your father taught you?” she teased, using her wand to conjure a rocking chair out of the air.
“Naw, I’m going rugged,” said George, stroking the mustache and goatee he’d taken to sporting in the last few months. “What do you think?” he asked as she settled into the chair beside him.
“That you look devilishly handsome,” she answered honestly, giving him a little wink.
“Why thank you, Mum! I’d say my wife agrees with you,” replied George with a lazy grin.
Silence fell for a moment and so Molly held out her hand, gesturing for the photo album. George handed it to her without comment. “Is this the reason you’re sitting in your old bedroom at six in the morning on your forty-second birthday?” she asked gently as she flipped through the fraying pages, the faces of her children staring out at her from them, echoes of days long past.
George was silent for a long time, the mirth and teasing of moments before suddenly gone. Finally, he spoke, but his gaze was not at her but out the window, toward the paddock where he had played Quidditch with his brothers all those years ago. “Twenty-two years next month, Mum. And I’ve now lived longer without him than I ever did with him.”
The ever-present ache in Molly’s heart flared a little at his words. Time had dulled the pain, made it bearable, but it was still always with her. She gazed at her grown son as he stared out the window, but she didn’t speak. He had more he needed to say.
“I’ve always thought of us as a pair – always told stories of us doing things together, worked the shop as if it were still collectively ours – but I woke up today and it dawned on me that the majority of my life has now been spent without him.”
He sighed deeply and pulled his long legs off the desk, the chair legs thumping to the ground as he turned to face her. “When we were growing up I couldn’t fathom life without him, and now…” He paused and for the first time Molly saw his eyes were bright with the glint of unshed tears. “Now, I’m not sure I remember what life was like with him.”
He stopped again and Molly reached out and took his hand, squeezing gently as he looked back out the window and off into the distance. “It’s like I’m not a twin anymore, Mum. It’s been years since I looked at my reflection in the mirror and thought it was someone else, or waited for someone to finish my sentences. I used to hear his response in my mind every time I asked a question, but now I’m not even sure I remember what his voice sounded like. Sometimes…sometimes I realize it’s been several days and I haven’t even thought of him.” There was real anguish in his voice and Molly couldn’t stay silent any longer.
“George, of course you’re still a twin! Just because you’ve moved on with your life and made something of it doesn’t mean that the past leaves you! Fred is a part of who you are and always will be! He’d be proud of what you’ve become!”
“That’s just it, though, Mum. What I’ve become, not what we became. I used to know exactly what Fred was thinking. I knew what he wanted to do – not just that day but weeks, months, years down the road. But it’s been so long… I have no idea what Fred would be like now if he were still here. Would we still look alike? Would we still be working together, or would we have drifted off to different interests? I don’t know, and somehow that really hurts.”
“Those are questions you are never going to answer, George,” she said gently, gripping his hand tighter. “You can guess, and I’d bet your guesses would be closer than anyone’s, but sometimes life doesn’t let you have all the answers you want.”
He sighed. “I know, Mum, I know,” he said, gaining control of his emotions again. “It’s just…it’s like I’m two people. There’s who I used to be, George the twin, part of a pair. And there’s who I am today, just George. I never gave thought to the time when the second would outdistance the first. We had twenty years together, but what’s twenty years compared to a lifetime? What if, in twenty more, I’ve forgotten even more?”
“You know you’ll never forget him, George, none of us will,” Molly reminded him. “Even the grandkids know Uncle Fred; we’ve made sure of it.”
“But we do, Mum. We don’t mean to, but life goes on and we do. Take today, for example. How many years has it been since it was Fred and George’s Birthday instead of just mine? And this room? It’s George’s old room, not the twins’. We say George’s shop, and George’s old mates. He’s not just fading in my memory but from our vocabulary as well!”
That gave Molly pause. He had a point. They spoke of Fred often, at family gatherings, holidays, during comfortable evenings around the fire. When the drinks and laughter and memories were flowing he was there all the time, but did they speak of him in casual conversation anymore? Had he really slipped that much out of their day-to-day lives?
She supposed that was natural, in a way. You couldn’t dwell constantly in the past and still have the strength and courage to face the future. Fred would probably understand that better than anyone. But it did hurt, did cause you to suck in your breath and pull up short, when you realized just how much life had passed without him there.
“I reckon,” she started slowly, “that some of that happened because we were worried for you. For a while there, right after he died, we weren’t sure we weren’t going to lose you as well, dear. We figured it might be easier if you weren’t constantly reminded of who you were missing, who we all were missing. And then, it just became habit.”
George nodded. “Yeah, I know.”
“Habits can be changed, though, Georgie,” she said. “And memories can be strengthened, renewed, encouraged. I can’t think of a better day to start than today.”
George’s smile suddenly broke through the sadness that had settled in the room. “Please, let’s do. That’s my birthday wish.” He sat up, pulling his hand from her grasp and looking around his boyhood room. “We lived so much, Mum, in those twenty years. Maybe somehow we always knew we wouldn’t have much time. Maybe that’s why we were so crazy – we knew we had to make the most of it. It hurts like heck to think about it sometimes, but I don’t want to forget either! I don’t want to wake up in twenty more years and realize I’ve lost him, not just from life but from my memory as well.”
“Deal,” she warmly, handing him back the photo album. “Operation Reintroduce Fred starts today. But Georgie, I really don’t reckon you need to worry too much. You know if you ever really forgot him, or stopped thinking about him, he’d haunt you with a skill that would put Peeves to shame.”
George threw back his head and laughed – a warm, hearty sound that filled the whole room. “Abso-bloody-lutly! And Fred, bro,” he said glancing up at the ceiling as he put a hand over his heart, “for the sake of my sanity and nerves may that day never come!”
Molly joined in his laughter. She really couldn’t help it. Laughter from the twins had always been contagious and they knew it; it had gotten them out of many a scrape that should have left their little bottoms ringing. “And now my handsome, young, strong son, how about helping your poor old mum with the last of the cleaning? After all, I am getting ready for your birthday party.” She flicked her wand and a frilly, flowered apron appeared out of thin air. She held it out to him, her eyebrows raised.
“Will you make me breakfast when we’re done? Pancakes with chocolate chips in them?” he pleaded.
A chortle escaped Molly before she could hold it back. “Are you turning forty-two or four?”
“A man never out-grows chocolate chip pancakes made for him by his mum,” said George solemnly.
“Oh, all right, you. Help me with the cleaning and I’ll make you pancakes. But don’t you dare tell your siblings about this or I’ll have Ron and Charlie showing up at my house every other morning. Harry, too, probably.”
“Thanks, Mum!” he cried happily, stooping to plant a kiss on her wrinkled cheek before pulling the apron from her hand and tying it on with a flourish. He struck dashing pose, which set Molly laughing again, then frowned.
“This color is so horrid with my complexion,” he whined in a nasal falsetto. He waved his wand at the apron and the flowers tuned into gaudy purple and orange stripes that clashed splendidly with his hair. “There, now I believe I’m ready to go. Put me to work, Mother Dearest. I am at your service.” He gave her a sweeping bow.
“Oh, George,” said Molly through gasps of laughter as she clutched at her heart. “What are you going to tell your father if I keel over dead from laughing at you?”
“That Fred made me do it.”
“You really are incorrigible.”
“Come on then,” said Molly, leading the way out of the room. “You can have the top floors and I’ll take the lower ones. And remember, I want real cleaning, not just whisking the dirt under the rug with your wand and blasting the sheets with one of your fragrance spells.”
“I’m hurt you would even think it, Mum!” cried George.
“Well, just remember I will be inspecting when you’re done. There are chocolate chip pancakes hanging in the balance…”
“They will be cleaner than they have ever been, I swear,” he made a crossing motion over his heart and then bounded up the stairs after giving her another lopsided grin.
For a few moments after he’d vanished, Molly stayed in the doorway of the old bedroom. George had left the photo album open on the desk, and she could barely make out the image of the twins in their Quidditch robes, arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders, grinning madly as they each waved with their free hand at the camera.
“Keeping an eye on him, aren’t you,” she addressed the photo quietly. “Good, he needs it.” She glanced one last time around the room, recalling again those blessed memories. “Happy Birthday, Fred,” she finally said warmly, the ache in her heart somehow not as painful as usual. “I love you, son,” she added then pulled the door closed. This room, she decided, didn’t need cleaning. It was perfect just as it was.
“What is once loved, you will find, is always yours from that day.
Take it home, in your mind, and nothing ever can take it away.”
- Elizabeth Coatsworth