A/N: Wow. It's been a while. As John Lennon said, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans". I had a really rough go last semester, but now my summer has truly arrived and I am finishing this story, damnit. I owe Fred and George quite a lot and this is the least I can do. So... please review and let me know if I've still got my mojo going for this story- this chapter feels a bit odd to me.

Chapter 5: Getting Ready to Say Goodbye

Fred sat with George for a few moments, trying to find the strength to touch his twin reassuringly. James Potter stood by, sentry to the proceedings, until George got to his feet, wiped at his face with the heel of his hand, and walked to the bathroom. Fred got up and followed, but James remained leaning against the doorway to the kitchen.

George stared into the mirror, eyes dripping with pain and his breath labored. He stared at his own reflection, unblinking for several heartbeats before looking down at his hands, no emotion apparent on his features. He began to wash his hands in the sink and Fred noticed that they were still healing from the Battle of Hogwarts- his fingers were covered with small cuts and bruises, though, Fred reasoned... those could have been a result of the rather thorough thrashing George had given their flat. George dried his hands on a towel and continued to stare into the mirror.

Suddenly, he bent at the middle and wretched into the sink. He vomited twice more before straightening up and wiping at his mouth with the towel he had used to dry his hands. Fred watched, unable to provide the comfort he so desperately wanted to give as well as receive. As George struggled to stop shaking, Fred sobbed tearlessly and tried to lay a hand on his brother's shoulder. George looked back into the mirror and pushed back his hair to gaze at his missing ear. He sniffled and let his hair, which was just long enough to mask his new deformity, topple back into place.

George took a step back, unknowingly stepping right into Fred, and swallowed. With a pop, he Apparated to The Burrow.

James grasped Fred's shoulder and together they returned to The Burrow. They appeared right next to George.

George was outside of the kitchen door, next to his mother's azaleas and staring at the doorknob like he had stared at the door to his and Fred's room. He looked as though he were not real, not there, not feeling. He had no emotion on his face and he was unbearably still. The Weasley garden whispered softly in a warm breeze, flowers and leaves rustling as they danced slowly. The crowd of the funeral was beyond the cluster of foliage that protected the kitchen door, and the leaves drown them out, their voices carried away on the wind. No birds were singing, Fred noticed- all but the rustle of leaves... and... A soft sound of crying bled through from the other side of the door. Just as Fred moved forward to try and grab him again, George reached out, twisted the knob and pushed the door open.

The crying immediately ceased.

"George, darling," came Mrs. Weasley's downtrodden voice from within. "I was just about to come and see if… if you were alright."

"Fine, mum," George rasped in reply. "Can I… help…?" He swallowed and could not finish his question in full.

Molly, wearing pitch-black robes and the golden necklace that Fred and George had given her, looked perfectly awful. Her face was blotchy and it was clear that she had stopped crying only for George's sake. Her hair was twisted up into an elegant knot, though a few whisps escaped near her face. Fred remembered that knot very well- she wore it every year at Christmas, and he had always told her it looked wonderful. Yet, somehow, it seemed more undone than it had in the past. Her hands shook as she took George's cloak and slung it over Fred's chair near the dining table. She quaked as she hugged her living son, and despite her best intentions to remain strong, a few tears escaped on George's front.

Fred watched the exchange silently. George stared over his mother's head, not hugging her back, with tears in his eyes and a stony expression as he stared at his cloak on Fred's empty, unmoved chair. He released a shaky breath and sniffed when Molly moved away from him. She reached up and ran a thumb over his cheek.

"I love you, George."

George swallowed and a tear fell. "Love you too, mum."

Molly let a few more drops fall silently before turning to the task at hand. "Um, well, I suppose you could help me with—"

But the swinging door that led to the living room was squeaking on its hinges and George was gone.

James could tell when he was neither wanted nor needed, and took the opportunity to sit at the Weasley kitchen table. Later, when he was questioned about what kind of lunatic would allow Fred Weasley to be unattended at his own funeral, James would reply that it had simply been the right thing to do. Also, Molly had been listening to the Wizarding Wireless very quietly, and he enjoyed her humming ever so much, even when she struggled through songs that she could remember her son bobbing his head to as he washed dishes by hand as punishment for his latest mischief.

Fred followed George up the stairs and past their bedroom. He knew why George was not in the yard, not near the coffin, not talking to anyone. George, aside from being the one most affected by Fred's loss, was a walking clone of the man in the coffin. With his hair grown out, there was no way to tell him from his twin. George did not wish to be swarmed, to be comforted, to be… seen. Fred understood this.

George paused near Ginny's door, where Fred heard a faint crying and someone gently comforting. Ginny and Harry, Fred thought.

Ginny.

It occurred to Fred that perhaps he was being a bit… selfish.

He listened to his sister cry, whisper to Harry that she didn't want to go out and face a world without Fred's laughter in it, and blow her nose. He thought of his baby sister, a beautiful girl with a bit of spice. He recalled a small girl sitting at the breakfast table years ago, sprinkling cinnamon on her toast and asking Fred and George what they were going to do that day. He remembered spending lazy afternoons beneath the willow tree that now shaded his coffin, watching the gnomes in the garden wrestle while Ginny tried to get Fred and George to braid her hair. He remembered a dark night of fear, one of not knowing if he would ever see his sister again or if she would truly be lost in the Chamber forever. He could all but feel her fingers wrapped around his elbow at the Quidditch World Cup as he and George fled the camp with Ginny in tow on their father's orders. He remembered each day after those awful ordeals, and how he had watched her grow into a strong young woman- and one of the few who could ever get the upper hand with either Fred or George.

He remembered that he was her brother, too.

Yes, it had been he who died, and George's pain was immense… but… as Fred heard his sister cry for him he realized that he had left so much more than George and his mum behind. He had left more than his twin and his body. He had left his entire family, his friends… his life. George was not the only one who needed to get through this day, and Fred… he steeled himself on the landing of the staircase and realized that no matter how much he whined to James, no matter how much he pleaded with Bernard, no matter how hard he wished to be alive again, he was dead and would remain so forever.

But Ginny, sobbing on Harry Potter's shoulder, was alive and in pain. She wanted her brother- her brother who told her awful jokes to make her feel better, who helped her pass her first few levels of Potions, who always saved her from the thunder storms, and whose laugh made her feel like warm sunshine inside. She missed him, and mornings spent building houses out of toast. Fred could feel her longing for all of these things, even through the door. It was though being an angel had lent him a sixth sense he had only ever experienced with George- knowing his thoughts. Now he could feel Ginny, hear her remembering these things (races down the stairs to dinner, jumping the banister to get ahead), and feel her sorrow seep right down into his toes. He leaned heavily against the wall, feeling as though he would have fell down if it hadn't been there. Ginny sorrow and pain were filling him, making him yearn for even the simplest things. Fights for the bathroom. Bat bogey hexes. Finding her hairties on the staircase. Letters asking if she could come stay at the shop for a day or two, just to get away from the intensity of life at the Burrow while Ron and Hermione waited for Harry to arrive.

God damnit, why couldn't he cry?

The door opened and Harry stepped out, closing the door gently behind him. He stood toe-to-toe with Fred and moved his glasses to wipe away a tear. He brushed at the front of his robes and headed down the stairs and into the lavatory. Fred looked around him and noticed that George had continued on without him. He was torn for a moment between his twin and his sister, but Ginny's quiet sobs beckoned him through the door and into her world.

Molly had gone overboard when she had learned she would finally be having a little girl. The walls were a lurid pink and there were numerous dolls strewn around, but a certain cluster of them caught Fred's eye. It was no secret that Molly Weasley liked to make things for her children. Each of them had numerous scarves, socks, sweaters, and sweets to prove that. When Ginny had been very little, Molly had tried her hand at doll-making. The fruits of her efforts were not exactly spectacular, but they were something to be proud of nonetheless. Dolls modeled after Ginny's immediate family were clustered together on a shelf near her bed in descending order. Dad, mum, Bill, Charlie, Percy, Fred, George, and Ron were lined along the shelf. Or, that was how they had sat for a very long time.

Fred was now clutched in his sister's grip as she laid on her side, sobbing.

Fred sniffled and sat on the edge of her bed, a thousand memories tumbling through his head. Aside from George, Ginny had been the sibling he had always felt closest to. He had been strangely happy to finally have a sister- at least, after the initial jealousy stage-, and had loved to watch over her. She was precious, he thought, and the fact that she was more like he and George than the others had made her infinitely endearing. She was mischievous like them, and she was smart. If there was one thing about death that Fred liked so far, it was that Ginny was not enduring it beside him.

He looked down at the doll clutched in her arms and sighed.

"I miss you too, Gin," he whispered, moving to brush hair out of her eyes but not succeeding. He looked away from her and caught a glimpse of a book he had not seen in years. "You still have that?"

The covers were battered beyond recognition to the untrained eye. Fred had been the previous owner of the volume, and had given it to Ginny one stormy night to comfort her. Fred had been about to go off to Hogwarts, and Ginny, who had climbed into his bed to seek shelter from the scary booms overhead, was crying because she did not want he and George to go. He had given her his favorite childhood book, which he had been planning to take to Hogwarts as a sort of security blanket, for her to clutch to and read during nights like those. He had figured that he had George as a security blanket.

"Once upon a time," he whispered, "there was a brave young witch named Ginevra."

He knew this story by heart. Dad had read it to him what must have been hundreds of times, and Fred had read it to Ginny just as often. Like his father, Fred had substituted the hero's name for the person being read to. Ginny liked when the witch was called Ginevra, because it was like a secret—she was Ginny, but really she was Ginevra.

He looked back at his sister. "She was brave because she had faced many sorrows in her days, even though she was very young. She had… she had lost someone she loved when she was a little girl, and it tore her to pieces inside.

"But Ginevra was so brave that Gryffindor himself would have been proud. She climbed the highest trees without magic… she… she went into the Chamber of Secrets and returned to her family. She watched the one she loved fight for all that was good and pure, knowing that she could not do more than watch. She had grown up with six older brothers, and perhaps that was why she was so brave.

"Because she had to protect them."

Fred reached toward Ginny once more, transparent hand shaking as he watched her shiver. He wished he could let her know that he was there, that she needn't be sad for him. He wanted to tell her he loved her and that he would always be there when she needed him, even if she couldn't see him. She coughed lightly and dabbed at her eyes with her pillow case.

Ginny shifted and moved to sit on the edge of her bed. The doll version of Fred was still clutched in her arms and she looked down at it, tears drifting down her cheeks. "I can't get through without you," she whispered, and tucked the doll inside of her cloak.

She wiped at her eyes again and got to her feet. Silently, Ginny walked across the room and left through her bedroom door.

Fred sat on her bed for a few moments after, staring around the room and realizing how wrong he had been… how selfish.

He had to let them go.

He had to say goodbye.

**

By the time Fred finally found George again, George was standing at the kitchen door, staring at the doorknob as he had before. He was working up the nerve to walk into the garden and be seen and drown in a wave of condolensces. Slowly, his fingers twitched.

James was sitting at the kitchen table, watching the scene unfold with a grim look in his eyes. He made no move to join the Weasley boys, nor did he offer any words of encouragement or disapproval to Fred. This was, he thought, the pinnacle of "family time", and it was best that he left them to it, so long as Fred didn't get too out of control or go over his time limit.

"Go on," Fred whispered to George, trying to coax his twin out of the kitchen. "You can do it, mate."

A snapping realization popped into Fred's mind. He knew what Bernard had meant when Fred had begged him to allow Fred to stay. He had said that George had been left behind to make sure those who remained were not rent apart by their grief- it would take time, but George would learn to laugh again. That meant… that somehow Fred had to say his goodbyes… and get George to find his way back.

Opening this door was the first step.

Fred whirled to look at James for a second, tears that refused to fall glistening in his eyes. "That's what I'm here for," he said quietly. "Even if I did want to go to Heaven… I couldn't. This is my unfinished business. I have to let them go… and I have to bring George home."

James nodded silently, the tiniest of approving smiles gracing his lips. The smile vanished as soon as Harry walked past the kitchen door, on his way up the stairs to check on Ginny again. Fred could see the desire in James' eyes to follow his son, to get a glimpse of what he himself had lost all those years ago. Yes, James had been lucky enough to converse with his son twice after James' death, but it was not the same to tell someone how brave they were as it was to simply watch them live. Fred felt a weight of sorrow fall into his stomach as he watched James' internal struggle- follow his son, or stay and perform the duty he had promised Bernard.

"Go," Fred commanded gently. "Go find Harry. I get it. It's like if I were in your shoes and I couldn't go see George. I promise to behave."

For once, Fred meant it.

"Just a few moments," James said, smiling like a madman, and then vanished up the stairs after his son.

George had stood silent and still throughout the conversation. Fred looked back at him, felt his nonexistent stomach drop to his feet as he watched his twin shake. George repeatedly reached for the doorknob and retracted, then seemed to decide what he really needed was a drink of tea first. Fred watched as George opened the cupboard to the left of the sink and pulled out a chipped mug that was one of dad's favorites. George seemed to either forget he was a wizard or had decided to forego using magic at that moment, as he manually lit the stove and set the tea kettle on top of the flame. He blew out the match and watched the smoke swirl in the air for a moment before tossing it in the bin.

George sighed and leaned against the sink, eyeing the chairs at the kitchen table. Fred could all but hear his twin's thoughts as George stared at one chair in particular- a chair, Fred noticed, that hadn't moved at all since the last time he and George had been over for dinner. It was just a little too far away from the table to be called "pushed in", as if Fred had just ran upstairs to grab something before breakfast. George seemed to think looking at the chair was too much to take, and as a single tear ran down his cheek, he turned away to look out the window and into the garden.

Fred stepped up next to George and looked out the window with him. The people in the garden were milling around still, expressing their grief to any Weasley they could find. Fred spied Ginny and Harry now occupying the bench in the garden that Angelina had been sitting on earlier. Angelina, he saw, was weeping heavily and threw her arms around Mrs. Weasley. Various professors and ex-students clustered together, speaking in hushed tones of sorrow. Hermione was leading Ron away from a knot of redheaded cousins, tugging his hand gently.

Fred was compelled to go and listen to the two talk, but knew it was best to stay with George. However, it was then that he discovered something rather incredible about being an angel- simply looking at two people as they spoke was like having a pair of extendable ears. He could hear everything Hermione and Ron were saying, just from watching their lips, as if he were standing right next to them.

"Are you doing alright, Ron? You've barely said a word," Hermione said gently, rubbing her new boyfriend's shoulder.

"I know," Ron snapped a little more harshly than he intended. "I'm sorry. I just… it's so s-s-strange…" He paused and tried to steady himself as his voice cracked. "It's strange, not having him here. He's just always… always been here. He always made funerals seem… like… they were more like parties than…" He stopped again, trying to steel himself, but unable to accomplish it.

"Oh," Hermione whispered, trying to keep her own tears at a distance, and she pulled Ron into a gentle embrace. "Shh… I know, I know. He was always… so high-spirited. But think of it, Ron… would he want us to be crying? Wouldn't he want us to be telling good stories about him and laughing?"

Ron pulled back from her slightly and bent so that their foreheads touched. "I know. That is what he'd want," he said with a sniffle, "but I don't think I can do that until, you know… George…"

Hermione nodded, tears dripped down her cheeks silently. "I understand that. But, sweetheart," she stalled for a second, still fumbling with the newfound ability to call Ron such things without anyone but herself or Ron thinking twice, "if you need to talk, you can. You can cry or talk, or do whatever you need, alright? I am always here for you."

A small grin broke over Ron's features. "I know," he said quietly, "and I'm lucky for it." He swooped in and gave her a kiss on the cheek before straightening up. "I don't think I could even get out of bed today if you weren't here."

She smiled sweetly at him for a moment and then squeezed his hand. "Do you feel up to going back, or do you want to sit for a moment? I don't think the services start for a little while. George still hasn't come out of the house," she said, looking briefly toward the kitchen window.

"Should I go…?" Ron began, but Hermione silenced him with a saddened look.

"I don't think there's anything you could say, Ron. He's got to come out on his own. He will… but in his own time."

"Alright," Ron said, nodding, as he too glanced at George in the window. "Then let's sit a moment."

Fred turned his attention back to George, who only moved now because the kettle was whistling. George poured himself a mug of scalding hot tea and stared at it for a second before throwing the whole thing back. Fred waited for the "Oh, shit!" that always fell out of George's mouth after he burnt his tongue, but the swear never came. Instead, George washed out the mug and did something he and Fred had not done since they were sixteen.

George peered around the kitchen, even went and looked in the living room, and saw there was nobody around. Harry and Ginny, Fred knew, were now in the garden with everyone else, as he could almost sense their… auras, or something… as they had dashed out the front door and taken the long way around in order to not disturb George. George had also known as much, since he'd heard Harry step on the squeaky floorboard all the Weasley children knew to step over when doing their sneaking. Confirming that he was indeed alone, George pulled Arthur's chair away from the table and slid it over by the kitchen sink. He climbed atop it and put his hand into the dark between the tops of the cabinets and the ceiling.

He pulled it back with a bottle of Firewhiskey in tow. He sighed, his shoulders sagging slightly. Had it been any other situation, Fred would have chuckled and told George to get two glasses. As it was, he did not.

"Don't think less of me. Just need it to get through the… the next bit. Cheers, mate," George said, looking to the ceiling and tipping the bottle as if to clink it against another imaginary one. He opened the bottle and took three large gulps before screwing the lid back on and replacing the bottle that their dad had always thought the kids had never found.

George replaced the chair and breathed in deeply. Again, he flexed his fingers at the sight of the doorknob, and he stopped short of opening it.

What had Bernard said? It was Fred's will and desire that allowed him to touch George back in the Great Hall. Fred threw himself into concentration, thinking that if George needed encouragement at any time in their lives, it was now.

This was it. The first step in saying goodbye.

The thought wrapped itself around Fred's neck and squeezed. He hated this. Loathed this. He wanted to breathe, to run, to pull George behind him as they ran out to the lake near the house- where they had always went when the pressure mum laid on them to be more like their older brothers got to be too much. He wanted to feel his heart beating and his lungs working for air. He wanted, more than anything in the world, to throw his arms around his family and friends, to tell them this was some sort of awfully misguided joke, and to cry warm salty tears of happiness, even as his mother swatted him with a spatula until he bruised.

But he couldn't.

As he stood there, staring at George, Fred knew what he had to do.

There was no way he would enter Heaven without his twin. He would sit in front of those pearly gates forever if he had to. But in the moments he had shared with others in the family that day- , mum, Ginny, Ron… it became quite clear to him that all anyone really needed during their grief was somebody to lean on. George had nobody- at least, not like everyone else had. Every other Weasley had a lover, a wife, a husband… hell, even Percy had a girl out there leaning on his shoulder.

Every other Weasley wasn't going to be stared at like George would be. Every other Weasley didn't feel like their soul had been ripped right out of their body.

George was the loneliest in a sea of sorrow. He would drown unless there was somebody there for him.

And so, with a heavy feeling in his heart, Fred reached forward, knowing it was he alone who could get George to open the door and start down a long, dreary road, where, perhaps, there would one day be an opening into sunshine again. He laid his hand, which felt so cumbersome all of a sudden, on George's shoulder, and gave him a reassuring squeeze.

"You can do this," Fred whispered, his breath rippling in the curtains of the kitchen as a soft breeze. "Go on, George. I'm here."

Whether it was the Firewhiskey, a desire to believe that he had indeed heard his brother's voice, or his own volition, George eyed the curtains briefly, shook his head as if he were trying to get rid of an annoying fly, and opened the door into the yard.