I know it has been more or less forever since I updated this, and I apologise. I just could not get anyone to do as I wanted, so I decided to ignore the lot of them for a while and see if that helped. I hope you will forgive me and still read and review!
This story was only intended to be 20 or so chapters long, and got severely out of hand. In an ideal world, with inifinite time at my disposal, I would go back and edit it drastically, and probably make at least two spearate stories of it. Realistically, that ain't gonna happen, so I hope you will bear with it as it is...
If, if, if, my calculations are right, there should be two or three more chapters and an epilogue. I really hope you won't have to wait so long for the next update.
1st April 1999 Fred and George Weasley's birthday. George Weasley is 21.
Arthur surveyed the noisy group in the yard, looking around for his children. Adult they might be, but he needed to know that they were all alright – or as alright as they could be on such a day. Bill was in the corner by the back door, his arm around Fleur, who was talking animatedly to Andromeda Tonks, and laughing at Teddy. The baby was resisting his grandmother's attempts to stop him pulling Fleur's hair. Teddy's own hair was lightening by the minute, and was nearly as silvery fair as Fleur's own. Arthur could see that Bill was not paying much attention to the two women's conversation. He was smiling and nodding occasionally, but his father could see a faraway look in his eyes.
Percy was on the far side of the yard, talking to Oliver Wood. Penny was there too, and Oliver's girlfriend (Arthur could not remember her name, although he knew that she had been on the Gryffindor Quidditch team with the twins, and he had heard them mention it often enough). He heaved a small sigh of relief at the sight of his third son; Percy looked happier than he had done for days. Perhaps he had got the worst of his grief for Fred out of his system with his early morning disappearance – at least for the time being.
George, Ron and Ginny were all part of a group of noisy young people around the food table. Harry and Hermione were there too. George was laughing at something that Lee had said, and if there was a slightly too determined note to his laughter, at least he was managing it. He was coping with today better than Arthur had expected – at least so far. Ginny too seemed happy enough – and there was a glint in her eye which reminded her father of Fred when he was planning something.
Ron was a different matter. He was on the edge of the group with Hermione, who was talking earnestly to him. He looked deeply unhappy, and there was a stormy look in his eyes which Arthur knew boded ill. He sighed, and looked around for Molly. She had just come out of the back door with a plate of food, and although she was saying something to Andromeda, her eyes were fixed on Ron. Arthur could see that she was worried too.
Suddenly, there was a disturbance amongst the young people by the table. George was separating himself from the others there, and heading over to the gate, where Charlie had just appeared, looking slightly sheepish. Eleri was behind him. In no time at all, it seemed, Charlie was surrounded by a small crowd of people, all apparently delighted to see him. It did not escape Arthur's notice, even as he followed Molly over to where Charlie was standing himself, that neither Bill nor Ron seemed to be in any hurry to greet their brother. Bill was frowning, and shaking his head at something Fleur was saying to him. Ron was positively scowling. Neither of them made any move to approach Charlie.
Molly and Arthur had worried slightly about what would happen once the informal lunch part of the party was over, but it seemed that George and his friends had made plans for this. Once the last of the plates were cleared, broomsticks were pulled out from under the tables, from the corner by the gate and from the shed. It appeared that Quidditch was the order of the day. Lee looked round with a grin.
"You realise we've got four Gryffindor Quidditch captains here?" he inquired.
Harry whispered something to Angelina, who laughed and nodded.
"Angelina and I are deferring to our elders," Harry said. "Oliver and Charlie can pick sides."
"Elders and betters?" asked Charlie with a grin, but Angelina glared at him.
"Watch it, Weasley – he never said that!"
With much laughter, and no little argument, sides were sorted out, and they headed for the paddock. Bill, whose arm was still bandaged, although he had rid himself of his sling at last, was told he was refereeing despite his protests. Those who were not playing ranged themselves around the edge of the paddock to watch, and the game began. It was good-natured and noisy, with no little cheating from both sides. Oliver's team was beating Charlie's by twelve goals to eight, and half of Charlie's team were still arguing about the last disputed goal with Bill, who was refusing to disallow it, when Ron, wielding a Beater's bat with more enthusiasm than skill, sent a Bludger straight at Charlie's face. There was no doubt from Ron's expression that it was deliberate, and he was too close for Charlie to dodge in time. Fortunately, George, also with a bat in hand, was close enough to intercept the Bludger and send it spinning away, before turning on his brother furiously.
"What the hell are you playing at, Ron?"
Ron muttered something incomprehensible, dropped his bat and landed, leaving his broomstick where it fell and walking off beyond the line of trees at the edge of the paddock. There was a minute or two of silence while the players digested what had happened, and Arthur, who had been sitting with Molly at one end of the paddock, pulled himself to his feet and went after Ron. The others looked at each other and then there was a general shrugging of shoulders and an unspoken decision to pretend the incident had never happened and continue the game. But a lot of the fun had gone out of it, and it soon ended, Oliver's team coming out victorious fourteen goals to nine.
Arthur, meanwhile, had caught up with Ron in a corner of the orchard. He was leaning against a tree, looking both furious and unhappy.
"What was that all about, son?" Arthur asked mildly.
Ron turned away from him, and for a full two minutes ignored both the question and his father's presence. Arthur was just drawing breath to try again, when Ron muttered, "Charlie."
"I rather gathered that much," Arthur said. "Why?"
Ron shook his head, and kicked moodily at a tuft of grass. "He's mucked everyone about so much," he complained. "Saying he wasn't coming. Upsetting Mum, and – and everyone. Then he turns up, and everyone is so pleased to see him, and no one seems to remember the people who…" His voice trailed off uncertainly, but his father had realised what he meant.
"The people who are here all the time?" he asked quietly, walking forward, and risking putting a hand on Ron's shoulder. "Ron, we know…" His voice cracked, and he swallowed and carried on. "We know how hard this last year has been for you. But your mother and me, we're so proud of what you've done, how you've been there for George, put your own plans on hold for him. Perhaps we should have said more about it. I'm sorry if you think we've taken you for granted, Ron."
Ron's face was scarlet now, and he shook his head. "It's not that, it…" He kicked at the tuft of grass again. "I don't know!" He turned to face his father for the first time. "Is it always going to be this hard, Dad?"
Arthur pulled him into a brief hug. "I don't know, son," he said. "I don't know. I hope not, I really do."
The two of them walked in silence to the yard at the back of the house where everyone else was gathered. Molly had been looking out for them, and Arthur gave her a reassuring smile, and went over to her. Ron joined Harry and Hermione, who both gave him searching looks, but said nothing.
Molly had just brought a large cake, decorated in Weasley's Wizard Wheezes magenta and gold, out and placed it on the table by the back door. People were gathering around, and there was an atmosphere of forced gaiety that seemed unavoidable. George had been at the back of the throng with Percy and Oliver, but was pushing his way to the front at their insistence, a strained smile fixed on his face. No one really wanted to do this, but somehow it had to be got through.
George had decided that the only was not to look at anyone at all. A quick glance at his mother's face was enough to confirm this idea. She was smiling, but her eyes were sad, and George knew it would not take much to send her over the edge into tears. He bit his own lip hard. Just so long as no one forgot and sang "Fred and George"…
There was a pause when everyone seemed to be looking at George, and no one was quite sure what they were waiting for. Then Ginny realised, and flicked her wand to light the twenty-one candles on the cake. It was she who began the singing, though the others joined in enthusiastically enough. There was a beat before the "George" where Fred's name should have gone, but no one slipped up and sang it. George heaved an inward sigh of relief as the song finished and bent over to blow out the candles. He had never done it alone before, and he failed miserably to get them all in one go. There was a sort of strangled cheer as he blew the last few out and straightened up, looking at his friends and family. That was a mistake. He saw Angelina and Katie, both with tears on their faces; Lee hiding his face in his hands; Percy looking stricken, and Charlie pushing his way through the crowd to escape with Bill close behind him. George felt his own self-control slipping.
Ginny had seen. She came over from where she had been standing with her mother, and put her arms round him. George returned the hug gratefully, hiding his face and his sudden tears in her hair.