The Burrow had the air of a graveyard at midnight, dark, silent and ominous, when Arthur finally gave up on trying to sleep. The silver light from the moon pooled through the window and onto the floor, lighting his way down to the kitchen. His slippers made a soft scritch, scritch sound on the wood floorboards, the same sound they had made for the past twenty years he had worn them. Arthur could still remember walking up and down the stairs in vain attempts to sooth a colicky Fred—Molly had always been so exhausted after a day spent running after their wild boys that he insisted he could care for the simpler tasks at night while she slept, or at the very least, (for he doubted she slept while her children cried) lay in bed without moving.
Arthur closed his eyes and just listened to the noises of his home—the familiar squeaks of the gnome language, the groans of old bed springs as bodies turned over in sleep, the creaks as the Burrow shifted in the wind, and just above it all, the murmur of voices coming from downstairs.
He continued down the stairs, consciously softening his footsteps. He’d thought that everyone else had left to their homes or gone upstairs to their rooms. He’d thought that Molly and him had been the last to fall into bed, having stayed up late to wash the dishes and talk over a cup of tea.
Tea. How many times had he told Fred not to spill the tea on the table or, as he’d grown older and sneakier, not to change his siblings’ tea for a much more disgusting liquid? He sighed. When would he be able to enjoy the memories he had of Fred without the pain haunting him? When would visions of Fred stop appearing in his daily life—the sound of explosions from their abandoned bedroom, a mischievous smile reflecting in the mirror, his jovial laugh coming from the garden?
“Stop it! Stop it! He wouldn’t want you to waste your life like this!” The female’s tone was panicked, her voice high pitched.
Arthur had intended to just glance into the room as he passed, perhaps offer his help or advice if he felt he could be of use, but the scene he saw was intimate, deserving of privacy and freedom from curious eyes. It was his son, however, who was in that room, so he stayed, hidden in the shadows of the hallway.
Ron was slumped in front of the fireplace, beads of sweat running down his face and a bottle of firewhisky loosely held in his hand. As he watched, the bottle made a loose arch towards his mouth. A careless swish of liquid and the opening was once again dangling dangerously close to Molly’s mother’s hand-knitted carpet. Arthur wanted to go in there and scold his son, to rescue the rug and snatch the alcohol, but he was too weary.
So he watched with tired eyes as Ron dumped his head back and crossed his eyes at Hermione.
“How would you know? You be-bear-barely knew him!” His voice was heated, angry. Hermione took a step backwards, hitting the arm of the couch, and Ron’s eyes seemed to take a nasty glint. “He enjoyed a good drink now and then. He would have been in here with me, daring me to drink another! So don’t give me any of your dung-crap-waste-of-breath about my bad behaviour. And don’t you d-dare say that you knew him better than me.”
Hermione straightened and made to grab the bottle from Ron, who lurched backwards quickly, his hand landing dangerously close to the flames. The bottle of firewhisky was swung around his body as Ron tried to protect it from Hermione’s claws and smacked his other arm.
The crackle of the wood as the alcohol dripped on it distracted them from their childish game of keep-away and as Ron’s eyes widened in horror Hermione snatched the nearly-empty bottle from his grasp. She quickly backed away, her face betraying no signs of victory. Instead it was wary, determined, preparing for the battle ahead.
“What the hell was that for?” Ron roared, watching the fire spark dangerously.
“You’re behaving inappropriately. You’re going to wreck your health, drinking day and night as you do. You can’t even talk properly, Ron. ”
“You know nothing! Nothing, nothing. ” Ron’s voice cracked and his hand played just beyond the range of a flame, as if he could rescue his lost drink.
“Ron, I know this loss is hurting you but you’re only making it worse by doing this. You’re hurting your family-” his shoulders jerked as she said that “-and you’re ruining your life. Harry and I will be going back to Hogwarts soon and we want you to come with us.”
“Is this just one big pity party? Is that why you’re here? Poor, poor, poor Ron. ‘His brother died so go easy on him. We wouldn’t want him to off himself.’ Well I don’t need your help! Don’t need any of your help! So you can just leave me alone and go get schooled with Harry.” His tone was poisonous. “Maybe you’ll marry Harry. Ride off into the sunset on a white horse! Leave me alone! I hope you’re happy together.” He spat the word happy as though it was the worst possible fate he could wish upon them. Hermione reached for his shoulder and turned him to face her. When she spoke, her voice was firm and passionate, though her eyes were wet with tears.
“Ron, I don’t want him. He’s my best friend. I want you. Do you hear me? I love you. Not him.”
“Whatever. Love doesn’t make the cats play.” He shook her hands off his shoulders and turned away. The flickers of the fire cast long shadows on his face, making his cheeks look hollow and his face gaunt. The flames danced in his eyes and from his side it looked as though he had crimson eyes.
Hermione stood and held her hands stiffly by her side, trying to look anywhere other than the red haired man in front of her. Her eyes were brilliant, burning, and quiet tears traced paths down her cheeks. Her hand clenched the neck of the bottle as if she was trying to strangle it. Arthur turned quietly in the hall and padded down towards the kitchen and the midnight cup of tea he had originally come down for.
He would talk to his son later.
Arthur used to love going to work, for it meant that he was paid to examine muggle artifacts, learn their inner-workings and interact with muggles. However, as the war progressed and he was placed with a much more serious task—that of preventing people from taking advantage of others through the sale of false protection objects—he began to dread the moment the clock struck nine and he was supposed to be behind his desk. It might as well have been a cell for all the love and joy he felt sitting in his uncomfortable chair. At home there was the perpetual state of fear and distress, the worry that the next floo call or owl tapping on the window would bring news of an attack or a death. They needed to be alert and ready if the Order should need them.
Arthur hated the fact that war took over your life and didn’t let you go until years after the last spell had been cast. He longed to sip his tea in the evening without noticing the silence where there used to be explosion.
Even now there was still muggle-hating, though it was less overt than before. Even now the Ministry was still corrupt, though that was what had allowed Voldemort to so easily penetrate its ranks before.
Arthur wanted to make a difference, but just going to work each day was like slogging through a swamp: everywhere he looked it was on giant stinking mess.
And then there were the pitying glances, the way no one asked about his home life anymore. Real life was too personal, too tragic to ask about now. Almost everyone had lost someone and so it was safer to avoid the topic all together. But Arthur wanted them to speak about Fred. He wanted to hear stories about toys bought from Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes, he wanted to hear complaints about outrageous pranks. He wanted to know that people outside his family still remembered Fred.
It was painful to talk about, but he wanted that pain. He welcomed it. Fred was gone and he wasn’t coming back. Arthur couldn’t, he wouldn’t forget him.
He only wished his co-workers knew that without him asking.
George refused to stay at the Burrow, so each day on his way back from work Arthur trailed through the store full of gag-gifts gathering dust, up the staircase cluttered with half done paperwork and into what used to be Fred and George’s living quarters. Molly could never stand to enter it, for they had forbade her from cleaning the dishes piled high in the sink or picking up the various potion ingredients and little notes on spellwork from the floor. She might “damage their work”, “ruining it beyond repair”.
It was now filled with gunk-encrusted cauldrons, with the remnants of past failures splattered freely on the stained walls and scattered containers from various take-out places on the floor and tables. Arthur had resolved to never mention the mess to Molly, because she would have apparated over here without a second to spare to scold George and clean his flat.
George was healing at his own pace and Molly shouldn’t force him beyond his comfort zone.
His visits were usually short, for neither of them was interested in talking. Instead they sat in silence, George watching the rise and fall of the shadows on the wall and Arthur watching George, until it was time for dinner at the Burrow.
Today, however, George was waiting for him down in the shop. Arthur could see him as he approached through the glass in the window; he was wandering around his store, occasionally stopping to read the print on a package. Arthur walked through the door at the same moment George dropped a bag of Instant Darkness powder, and a black cloud filled the store.
“George? George, are you alright?” he called, coughing as some of the powder swirled into his mouth. He had his wand out, but nothing he could think of to wave or say had an effect. “Where are you George?”
He stumbled blindly forward, ready to help if needed, and banged his shin on a hard wooden surface.
“Just wait for it to fade,” George called out from somewhere to his left.
It did slowly disappear and George’s face soon became visible. He was so pale compared to the darkness still floating in the air that it was as if Death had visited him as well and George was only here to say goodbye.
A lump appeared in Arthur’s throat after that and he wished for the powder to disappear faster, so that he could assure himself that George was still alright.
George looked wistfully around the shop as the last of the powder faded away, as if he was still hoping for there to be a pocket of darkness somewhere.
“Fred found that,” he said, and Arthur was startled. This was the first time they had spoken of Fred during his visits.
“We used to make this business into a competition: who could create the wackiest potion, find the weirdest animal, make the flashiest spell. He never won, of course. I was the better twin.” He sounded as though he was just echoing what he had said in the past, when Fred had been there to banter back and forth with him, as though it hurt him to say it now. “I’m not a twin anymore, am I?”
Arthur didn’t know what to say and it seemed wisest to just let George speak.
“I keep thinking he’ll be the next to walk through that door. Each flash of red, each person calling ‘Hey George!’, each slap on the back makes me think that’s he’s still here. That’s he’s not cold and dead and buried.” His voice broke. “You- you guys just d-don’t understand. You laugh when I tell a joke, you yell when I pull a prank. That’s your reaction and you haven’t been doing that lately. I know forced laughter when I hear it. I know I haven’t been myself.
“But it’s so hard, you know? We used to compete, see who could pull of the biggest prank, have the funniest idea. It’s so hard when I can’t bounce ideas off him and I don’t want to laugh anymore. I just want to sit here and do nothing. And I know he would hate me sitting here by myself in this room- he’d say, ‘Hey George? What’re you doing in here when it’s a bright sunny day out there ripe for the pranking?’”
Arthur smiled, though it was wistful and slight. “I know we can’t fill the gap he left, George, but we can try.”
“I don’t want you to. I don’t want you to have to.” George looked away, stuffing his hands into his robes. Arthur watched him, saw the sharp curve of his nose and the hair that fell in clumps around his face. He didn’t look so much like Fred, not exactly. There had always been differences between the two, differences that had never been more apparent than when one of them was gone forever.
“You’re still a twin, George. You’ll be a twin for as long as you want to be.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever want to stop.”
There was silence in the shop after that, and Arthur soon left for supper at the Burrow. George didn’t follow.