The early morning sun showered rays over the small patch of flowers. Dew clung to the blades of grass and caused them to glitter with the light, creating a surreal scene, like it had just been pulled from a story book.
Only, in a story book there wouldn’t be an ebony colored headstone nestled under a large willow.
They had thought about burying him alongside the other fallen heroes, but something about it didn’t feel right. Possibly because Scotland was so far away from the Burrow, so far away from his home. And one thing that the entire Weasley clan could agree on was that Fred would have wanted to be as close to home as possible.
Now all anyone had to do if they wanted to visit Fred was simply walk the few minutes up the large hill outside of the Burrow. And Bill Weasley did that often. It was mainly in the peace of morning that he popped over to his parents’ home, coming here first before joining them for breakfast. Fleur would usually meet him shortly after he finished talking to his brother, she knew that he couldn’t do this in front of her. He needed solitude to keep himself from breaking apart as he sat next to the final resting place of Fred Weasley.
On this particular morning he had grabbed a cup of tea from the kitchen before coming out. It was only a week from June, but the early hours were still coated with a small chill.
He pulled out his wand and flicked it at the stump across from the grave, causing it to mold and bend into the shape of a small chair. He’d gotten into the habit of coming out here most mornings for at least an hour or so, and that hour of leaning forward, balancing himself, reminded him that his back wasn’t as young as it used to be. Or maybe he just liked the idea of sitting across from his brother, imaging they were drinking their tea together. He lowered himself into the transfigured chair and set his mug on the dirt beside him.
Son. Brother. Hero
“Morning, Fred. Sorry I didn’t come talk to you yesterday. We’ve all been helping out at Hogwarts to get it ready for September, and I got wrapped up trying to undo a few nasty curses around Hogsmeade.” Bill reached down and cupped his large hand over the cracked mug. His calloused fingers warmed against the steaming liquid; he wished he could force the same warmth to seep into his heart.
“That place, it’s… I don’t know. It’s scary, because Hogwarts has never been dangerous. Now it is. I’ve been making my way through the castle room by room with seven other Curse Breakers and there are some spells in those walls that I’ve never even come across. Some of them grow stronger as time goes by, like the Dark Magic makes itself even darker. But we’re making progress.” Bill listened to the wings of a bird as it passed over head before landing on a branch of the willow.
“Mum wants us to talk to a therapist. It doesn’t make sense to me. Why do we need to talk to someone? Isn’t there enough people around here to talk to with a family of nine?” Bill’s hands began to shake. He took in breath to steady himself. “A family of eight, I mean. God dammit.” Bill’s whisper was barely audible to his own ears.
He promised himself he wouldn’t do this every time. He would try to make them happy visits. He had to. He placed his cup back on the moist earth and rubbed his hands over his eyes.
He stood up and stepped closer so that his fingers were able to trace the letters of his brother’s name against the cold stone.
“I guess I’ll see if I can put it off for as long as possible. I don’t need to talk to anyone. I just need to talk to you.” Bill let his knees rest on the ground, staring into the dates that signaled his brother’s life.
“Do you blame me, Fred? For not being able to stop it? Because you can. I do. I’m the oldest.” He stood up, his knees shaking as he slumped back into the chair.
“I’m Bill Weasley. I can get anything I want. I was the only one out of hundreds who got the position in Egypt. I married a fucking Triwzard Tournament competitor who just happens to be part Veela. I can get anything I want, Fred.” Bill’s strength broke at his words. He quickly reached up to wipe the thick tears from his eyes. His entire life, when he wanted something he went after it. “I’ve always found a way to get anything I want, but now all I want is to have you back.”
“This is bullshit. It’s fucked up and nothing anyone says is going to change that.” Charlie paced back and forth over the soft grass. His worn jeans were covered in dirt, patches of them singed from the years of working with his dragons.
“It’s all just fucked up,” he said again in a softer tone while kneeling down by the headstone. That was the only explanation he could think of. The only reason why his younger brother was never going to laugh again. The only reason that Tonks, his first best friend, his first lover, the first everything he’d ever had, and Remus were both going to be just stories to their little boy. Every piece of it was fucked up.
“And I never did any of the things I said I would,” Charlie said standing up again and continuing his pacing. “I told you I’d take you to one of the sites and let you watch me work for a day. I told you we’d all spend weeks sloshed in Romania together to make up for how much I’m away at work. I told you so many things Fred, and I just never made the time to do it. And now, now—”
His steps halted as he crumpled to the ground. He let his head fall and he clutched onto the sides of the stone so severely that he could feel the muscles in his fingers start to cramp. He just wanted to rip it from the ground and smash it, because if the stone wasn’t there then Fred couldn’t be gone.
“And now I can’t do any of it. I promised you so many things and I can’t do any of them.”
He leaned back and rested against the stump, trying furiously to wipe away the tears covering his face. The stubble that scratched over his hand reminded him it’d been days since he shaved.
“I wanted to go back there right away. To Romania. I wanted to feel the adrenaline you get when you’re pinned up with a dragon. But I couldn’t. Because every time I go to pack, I realize that when I’m in Romania I can’t walk up the hill and talk to you. Maybe I can be fine staying there for months, for years, but when I come back you’ll still be dead. Goddammit Fred, it isn’t fair.”
The rest of Charlie’s strength disintegrated in the June heat. He felt the pain choke through him and suffocate the air our of his lungs. It wasn’t fair.
“It should have been me.” The light of the full moon concealed the majority of the large, dark circles surrounding Percy’s eyes. He probably hadn’t slept more than a few hours a night for the last two months.
“It shouldn’t be you buried. It should have been me. And I know no one would ever tell me that, but sometimes when I see George glance over at me, it’s clear as day that we both know it should have been me.”
He placed his glasses carefully on the stump before letting the heels of his hands massage over his eyes. He’d spent more hours out here in the dead of night than he could count, even when he had nothing left to stay he still came. What if Fred was watching down and waiting for him, and he didn’t show? What if he thought that Percy deserted him again like he had for so many years already?
“I’ve been talking to a woman that specializes in this kind of grief. Mum has us all talking to her. She’s great. She seems young, but she's really intelligent. Audrey, that’s the grief counselor, keeps telling me that I couldn’t have stopped it, that it wasn’t my fault. And she should know, right? She’s the expert. But I just can’t convince myself to believe her.”
Percy became suddenly aware of the weight of his own body. His arms felt like lead, dangling there at his sides. He let himself fall beside the stump, holding back the temptation to pick his glasses up and snap them in half.
“It was my fault, Fred. I know it. But that doesn’t even matter now, because I won’t make you come back. I didn’t even get the time I could have had with you, years of your life I missed because I was so caught up in myself.”
It shouldn’t have been Fred.
“It should have been me,” Percy mumbled through choked tears.
George thought about his first day at the shop. It had been terrible and amazing all at once. Mum had been the one that suggest reopening it July 7th, he wasn’t sure why, but it felt like a good date. But then the entire day all he wanted was for it to be closing time, so he could sit here like he was doing now and lean against his brother’s carved name. He didn’t talk much when he came. Usually he just thought. But Fred would know he was thinking, he always had.
The people. They’d all stared at him. He’d barely gotten used to being just George, and two months had passed. So he supposed people that hadn’t seen him since before the battle needed time to adjust, as well. But it didn’t make it easier. It didn’t make it better knowing that they were trying to hold back their sympathy, asking him how he was. He’d had half of himself ripped away. He was never getting that part of him back. How the hell did they think he was?
If Ron and Harry hadn’t been there all day… if Ginny hadn’t been constantly reminding him of happy memories to drown out the sad that washed over… if Hermione hadn’t fallen right into their prank and opened the tampered Shakespeare book, which immediately sucked her fingers and hands into the pages… he wouldn't have made it through. He would have curled up in the back room and fought against the pieces of his soul being slashed back open. He would have imagined Fred’s pale face, no smile. This was the longest Fred would ever go without smiling. They should have tilted his lips up before they buried him, because Fred had to smile.
Fred always smiled.
George curled around the stone like a child trying to hold on tightly to a memory. He’d gotten through the day, he’d even laughed here and there, but it was as much as he could do. He couldn’t get through anymore, not tonight. Tonight he just wanted to lay next to his brother.
“I didn’t mean for it to be so long,” Ron said as he sat on the stump and took a bite of pastry. “You know how September is in the shop though. Everyone cleaned us out before they started Hogwarts, so we had to get to work on building our stock back up. Guess who we got to test out a few products? Angelina.” Ron smiled at the memory before continuing.
“You know how we used to joke about those two at practice? Well, I mean it isn’t anything yet, but I think it’s headed that way. George wouldn’t even let her try a few of the more.. er… dangerous items out. Angelina said she’d been out here to see you a few days ago, too.
“I know I’m not great with feelings and relationships and stuff. Just today I mentioned something to Hermione about her eating almost all the pudding mum made, and she stomped off. All I was trying to do was get myself a decent sized portion! But she seems to think I called her fat.
“Anyway, I think George might talk to Angelina about you. Which is huge, because he doesn’t like talking about you to anyone. But he needs to, and I can tell that she knows that.”
“Well, that was exceptionally profound of you, Ron,” Hermione said as she walked up behind Ron on the hill. “Hi Fred,” she added with a smile as she sat on the ground next to Ron, lacing his fingers with hers.
“Fred, did you know that Ron’s been guaranteed a position at the Auror office? It’s being held for him, so he’s free to start whenever he wants.” Hermione squeezed her hand tighter around Ron’s, glancing up at him so her dark brown eyes met his soft gaze.
“I was just getting around to telling him that,” Ron said, his ears turning red. “I’m excited about it, really I am. But I want to spend at least a few more months with George in the shop. He’s never had to be alone,” Ron finished, a single tear slipping over the freckles of his face.
“I think I’m finally making progress on the wedding plans.” Ginny ran her fingers through her thick curtain of red hair as she spoke, settling comfortably beside the grave. “Mum is so stuck on it being a big wedding. I’m surprised I haven’t lost my mind yet, honestly.”
She leaned her head against the cold stone for a moment, trying to figure out where she wanted to start.
“You know, sometimes it’s hard to believe that it’s been two years since the battle. But it has, it really has. And we’re okay. I didn’t think we’d ever be. And it’ll never be the same; we’ll always be different. But now we can talk about you sometimes, and it isn’t too much. We can remember some of the things without it ending in all of us crying.
“But right now, planning the wedding and all that, it’s harder. I don’t know why. Maybe because whenever I imagined of my wedding day it always ended with you and George playing some elaborate joke on us all. ‘Oi, how’s the cake everyone? Good, good, because you’ll all be turning into Hippogriffs shortly!’ Something like that.”
She was silent for a few minutes, letting the pain that had lodged into her slowly pass. “I’ve yet to sign a contract. I don’t want to choose the wrong team. If you were here you’d have already forced me to pick one.”
She felt the sense of heaviness build around her heart once again, but it would always be there when she thought of her brother. She was learning to handle it.
“I was so mad everyone right after, did you know that? I was even mad at Harry. But it was more than just anger. The first few nights, part of me, this really dark part of me, wished he’d never come into our lives. Why us? Because we used to be whole. Seven of us kids, it’d always been seven, it was always supposed to be seven. I didn’t feel like that for very long, because I know we’d probably all be dead if it wasn’t for him. There were just those times that part of me didn’t understand why it had to be our family.
“I love him, of course, more than anything. I even broke down and told him that I blamed him. You know I’ve never been the best at hiding my emotions.” Ginny’s lips turned into a sad smile at the memory of Harry spinning off on one of his self loathing rants. He just wanted to be alone, it was his fault, and on and on. Ginny had been through hell that day, and she couldn’t handle comforting him. So she finally snapped and told him that for a while there she thought it was all his fault, too.
The night ended in a broken plate that Ginny had been holding, and the two of them eating ice cream on the sofa straight from the carton.
She leaned back to glance at the whims of clouds passing through the sky. No, she hadn’t blamed Harry for more than a minute each time the thought came across, but it had been there.
“George is going to ask Angelina soon. He hasn’t said anything, but we can all feel it. She saved him, Fred. She saved him. He wasn’t going to make it without you, she’s the reason he did.”
For the first time in months Ginny felt a tears travel down her cheek. So much changed, was changing, would always be changing. Fred was the same. Fred was the perfect twenty year old, frozen in time. And when Ginny let herself feel it, it broke her heart.
“I’m going to be a father, Fred. A dad.” Harry was still spinning from the Healers appointment. He’d need to head back down the Burrow before anyone missed him, but there were so many people celebrating that he was sure he had a few minutes.
“Ginny’s already ten weeks along, too. She seems to have missed the… signs.. because she was training so hard. But you know what that means, right? Six and a half months until it’s born. And then Ginny won’t just be pregnant, but we’ll have an actual baby.”
Harry finally gave in to his exhausted legs and relaxed on the stump. He was excited. And maybe he didn’t feel as happy as Ginny yet, but he would, soon.
“I think I just need some time,” he said, glancing around to make sure the words weren’t heard by anyone but Fred.
“I’m afraid I won’t have as much time to spend with Teddy. And I don’t want that, because he needs me, we need each other. But this baby, it’ll be mine, ours.”
Harry heard a loud bang from down the hill and turned around just in time to see a firework going off.
“Looks like the celebration is kicking into high gear.” He glanced back at the headstone and stared at the engraved words. Son. Brother. Hero.
“I’m going to be a good father, Fred. I am. I’m going to take good care of this kid. He’ll never have to go through the things that happened to us. Maybe I don’t deserve to be this happy, but I want to be. I’m going to let myself be, because I know you’d want that, too.”
Harry stood up, his dark hair mussed from the wind.
“I’ll bring him, or her, out here and make sure they know that Uncle Fred saved daddy’s arse more than once.” Harry thought of the twins flying out of Hogwarts on their broom, leaving an adoring school and pissed off High Inquisitor behind.
“You know what the worst part is? When it counted, when you really needed me, I couldn’t save yours.”
“Twelve years.” The words were soft as they left Molly Weasley’s lips. Her red hair was twirled up in a clip to keep it off her neck. June was vengeful that year, hotter than she could ever remember it. There were bits of gray sprinkled throughout the red, but her face, that was timeless. The wear of a family showed, as it should. But the light in her eyes, the love in her smile, it was as young as it had been the day she gave birth to Bill, forty years ago.
She sunk into the large wooden swing that Arthur had put up at least five years ago, and reached for her husband’s hand.
“Twelve years, it’s hard to believe, isn’t it?”
Arthur kissed her temple and leaned his head back, waiting for his wife to begin filling their son in.
“We had Lily’s second birthday last weekend, and Hugo’s second will come just a month from now. Rose’s forth was two months ago. You should see those two together, Fred. Rose and Lily. They’re so much like you and George, it’s a bit terrifying really. Lily’s still in diapers and she’s already knicking Harry’s wand from his robes. Rose barely just learned to put together her full sentences but she managed to lie to Ron about how Crookshanks got his dessert. Seventeen years and Ron still pretends to hate that cat," Molly added with a laugh. "They’re going to be causing mayhem when their Hogwarts time comes, you mark my words. It’ll be even worse than you and George, because they have a two year gap. That leaves a lot of room for mixing others up in their mischief.”
Molly took a deep breath as the thoughts of all her grandchildren played through her mind.
“And Teddy, he starts his first year at Hogwarts shorty. He’s a great boy, you know. Andromeda did right by him, gave him enough love to make up for what he lost so early. Harry too, of course. Teddy is as good as one of the Potters sometimes. Now let’s see.. Victoire’s French is coming along lovely. Only nine and she’s bilingual. You don’t know how often I find myself surprised with what a great mother Fleur is.
“Then Dominique will be turning seven soon, she’s a fireball. Tougher than some of the worst dragons Charlie’s worked with.” Arthur laughed at Molly’s words before nestling his head into her neck.
“Louis is terribly smart for his age. It’s charming, to have my six year old grandson come up to me and start telling me about the research — that’s what he calls it, research — he’s doing on muggle vehicles. He’ll corner Hermione and Harry to ask them all about anything with an engine. Then he spends hours taking notes about what they tell him.
“And Lucy is barely a week older than him. She and Molly will turn Percy’s hair grey before he knows it. He’s lucky Audrey has…” Molly stalled, unsure of what words she wanted to use.
“He’s lucky she has enough sense of humor to make up for the one Percy never seemed to find,” Arthur said with a chuckle. Getting to tease his grown children was one of the greatest pleasures old age had brought him.
“Arthur!” Molly lectured, though she couldn’t quite hide the smile on her lips.
“And Fred, your brother’s Fred, well you’d be proud. Barely nine and he can already best his dad. George tries to play a trick on him, and Freddie is already figured out the trick and found a way to make it rebound on George. Roxanne’s more subtle,” Molly said with a twinkle in her eye. “She’s more like you were. Waiting until just the right moment to unleash whatever it was she spent weeks brewing up.
“Harry and Ginny don’t know what they’ve gotten themselves into with Albus and James, now that’s the truth.” Molly felt Arthur smile beside her. She was sure they were both thinking of the same thing.
Earlier that day Ginny had stopped by to drop the boys off while she ran to deliver something off at the Ministry. In that short hour James and Albus had worn Molly and Arthur completely out. Arthur had got into an animated Quidditch debate with the five year old, who really seemed more like a ten year old half the time, and Molly had to explain to Ginny that she really had no idea how Albus managed to cut off such a large potion of his hair. Four year olds… if they want something they’ll find a way.
She closed her eyes and let the rays of sun dance over her cheeks. Arthur shifted his weight to allow Molly to cuddle into his neck. Telling Fred about all the happenings with the families was almost exhausting as the incidents themselves.
She wiggled around to get comfortable on the cushion of the swing and took in a deep breath. This had become one of her and Arthur’s favorite places just to relax, to spend some time together with their son.
“We miss you, son,” Arthur said as he kissed his wife on the forehead. “It got easier, of course. Time does that to everything. But we never stop missing you.”
AN: As it says in the summary, this story was written for Athene Goodstrength (Sarah). Sarah and I review swapped months and months ago, and then we just clicked. She's been such a huge encouragement for Before They Fall, and an amazing friend. I hope you enjoyed this little one shot!
Thank you so much to the always amazing Dan (CambAngst) for beta reading this. I don't know what I'd do without him half (or most) of the time!
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