Author's Note: Because I am a twin.
The first time he looks in a mirror it's as if it never happened.
That whole first week is a blur, staying at Shell Cottage, sitting in chairs and on beds but never lying down, never closing his eyes. Fleur is kinder than he thought she could be, gentle, putting plates in front of him and coaxing him to eat. Her voice doesn't seem real, soft and lilting and somehow other, and he spoons the food into his mouth and lets her steer him from chair to bed to toilet and back. It's after that first week that she looks into his eyes and gently tells him it's time to clean up, and since it's that same voice, he gets up and walks to the bathroom and closes the door.
He hasn't bathed since the battle, hasn't done anything since then, and he feels it, suddenly, a thin layer of grime like a shell over his body. There's blood, he's sure, somewhere, and it makes him feel ill, nauseous, and so he gets into the shower quickly, not looking at himself. The water is warm, and that's when he realizes how cold he's been. He'd thought he'd never get warm again. He looks up into the shower head, blinking, like a man in the desert looking into rainfall, and it's like the tears that are like stones behind his eyes, so many they can't come out, and he lets his head fall back and the water fall over him and he thinks that maybe, maybe he'll feel clean and warm again.
It's a long time he spends under the stream, but the water never gets cold. He fastens his arms over his chest and lets his head stay back, eyes closed, and the water soothes him and makes everything seem less real. Fleur put little bars of soap, pink and light green and yellow, all shaped like shells, and he used up all of them and didn't let himself feel guilty, not when his skin tingles and he feels almost alive again.
He gets out and Fleur laid out some of Bill's things for him, an old Weasley sweater, a pair of pyjama trousers. He puts them on and is about to leave the bathroom when a flash of red catches his eye, so familiar it takes his breath away and he stays perfectly still for a second, hoping with all his heart it won't go away. He turns slowly, like it's an animal, like it'll run if he frightens it, and when he sees him it makes his eyes well up and his lip tremble.
"Fred," he says softly. "I thought you'd never come." His voice cracks on that and he wonders why his face feels so wet, when he's not in the shower anymore, when he realizes it's tears. But why should he cry?
It's him, Fred, and he looks like he's been through hell. Of course he has been—that's why it's taken him so long to come back. His skin is pale, the freckles sticking out like someone drew them on, dark circles under his eyes. He's crying, too, and that must be why George is, because as twins they feel everything together. His hair is damp, curling a little at the edges, Weasley hair.
But he only has one ear. George opens his mouth to make a joke, about how he just had to make them a matched set, but when he opens his mouth Fred does too and he stops, waits, because he's missed his brother and he can talk first. But Fred closes his mouth, like he's thinking the same thing, which is what they do, sometimes. George is too happy, though, too relieved that it has all been a dream, that the words don't seem so important and he reaches out, Fred reaching at the same time, reaches out to feel the brother he thought was gone.
But all he feels is cool, smooth glass, not the warm hand of his brother, and suddenly Fred's face in the mirror turns into this anguished, terrible mask, and he knows it isn't him. It isn't Fred.
Fleur comes running from the kitchen, Bill thunders down the stairs, when they hear the sound of glass shattering. He's standing there, in front of where the mirror was, and his hands are in front of him, covered in little cuts and dripping with blood. Fluer runs his hands under warm water in the tap, tapping her wand every so often to make sure there's no glass left in, no infection, and Bill holds his chest like he's a little child, leans his head against his, and George closes his eyes and lets the tears come.
"It's not Fred," he says quietly, and he doesn't notice that the cheek touching his is wet, that the water cleaning his hands has some of Fleur's tears in it. "I'm not Fred."
She bandages him up and hugs him, holds him tight, then they sit at the table, silent, as she doles out the stew she made and they let the silence weigh on them as they remember.
It happens every time. You'd think he'd get used to it, think he'd know, but every time George passes a mirror, the red of his hair makes him hope a little, and a little part of him dies every time it isn't him. For years, this is true, until his wife just humors him and makes sure all the mirrors have doors, that they have hangings and covers and no one ever knows, when they visit, why there are so many curtains, except Bill and Fleur who have sad eyes whenever it comes up.
It's the day that his baby is born that he looks into a mirror and knows who he is. It was a long labor, a difficult one, and he had held his wife's hand and wondered if his life was so cursed, that he would lose everything. There's a moment where she lets her head fall back, where her grip in his lessens, and he almost throws his head back and howls, but then he sees her and she's crying, but smiling at the same time, and instead of his howl he hears another one, a higher one, filling the room.
That one is joined by a second one, and he starts.
"Congratulations, Mr. Weasley," the Healer says, red-faced but smiling. "You've got some new members of the family to meet."
Twins. He'd never thought he would have twins. The diagnostic would have said, but they had wanted to be surprised. She looks up from her happy tears.
"Twins?" she says, and he nods. He feels his own tears gathering in his eyes and he knows the last time he was that happy, Fred was alive. "Twins," she says softly, and she starts to cry harder, but her smile is even wider.
They're beautiful. A boy and a girl, both with downy red hair and wide, howling mouths. Their little fists wave in the air, and as the healer hands them over, their hands link together for a second, catch on each other, and George breaks down and lets himself cry, sitting there in an uncomfortable chair, his head in his hands, crying and crying until it all melted away.
The girl is named Margaret Katherine Weasley, but when they introduce her to his mother they use Molly. She cries almost as hard as George, cradling her little namesake in her arms as the tears fall down her face, cooing to the little girl "It's all right—it's all right—Granny Molly is so happy to see you—"
There's never really any question to the rest of the family what his sons name will be. When he brings him out, after they've announced Molly, everyone looks a little sad, a little expectant, a little unfinished. Like one of their party has just stepped out of the room for a moment and they should wait for him to start.
George has waited too long.
"And this," he says, pulling the baby close to him, feeling his soft, fine hair, "This is little Flynn Fabian Weasley."
He has spent too long catching that glimpse in the mirror, that hope that every time he turns a corner, there will be Fred. It's gone on too long. Fred is dead.
He can feel the silence coming, and he cradles his son in his hands.
"It means 'heir to the redheaded'," his wife chimes in.
Still that silence. Then, her face still wet with tears, his mother jumps in with the right thing to say.
"Oh—let me hold him—" Molly is passed to Katie, who holds her gently and bounces her a bit, watching the rest of the family's reaction. His mother scoops up her latest grandson and the tears come fresh.
"Oh—hello, Flynn. Hello, baby." She's dripping on him and he starts to wail in objection. "We've been waiting for you for so long."
After that, the babies make the usual rounds, his brothers proclaiming how strong Flynn is and Ginny and the wives cooing over how gorgeous Molly is. The new generation of Weasley's run around their parents feet, eager to see the babies and touch them and remark on them. The older girls—Victoire is eight, Charlotte is seven, Anouk is four, and Percy's youngest, Periboea, nicknamed Perry, six—demand to hold them, and they carefully perch in chairs, the babies on their laps and looks of awe and pride on their faces as though they had given birth to them.
Harry and Ginny are the last to leave, as always, with James watching the babies in their cribs and begging once more to hold them. Ginny is rounding him up and saying goodbye to Katie when Harry wanders over and shakes his hand.
"Congratulations, George. Really." George nods and smiles—it feels wider than he's smiled for years.
"Were they upset? About the name?"
"Not upset, no. Surprised, I suppose. They always—that's why Charlie held off with Artie, you know. He thought you would want to name your son that. That's why everyone held off, I expect."
"Yeah." George ran his and through his hair. "My mum, though, she wasn't upset?"
"Did you see her? She's so thrilled about Molly, she wouldn't care if you named the other Cardboard." They share a brief laugh, and they hear James start to sleepily protest he doesn't want to go. Harry turns to them, then turns back.
"Why didn't you, George?"
From anyone else it would have felt like an accusation, but from Harry it just sounds curious and respectful, a weird combination. George looks out in front of him and, in the corner of his eye, sees where the curtains have been pulled away from the mirrors, sees his hair and his eyes and his face, and they're his. Not Fred's.
He doesn't have to answer. He wonders if Harry knows, if, even though he doesn't see them every time he looks in the mirror, the dead follow him too, refuse to leave, if he refused to let them go. He would ask, but he feels like there are question that don't have answers you can say. These are them.
Harry claps him on the shoulder and congratulates him again, while sleepy James gives him the obligatory hug and Ginny squeezes him so tight he can barely breathe. They leave, and he and Katie go to sleep, and the next morning while he's shaving he meets his own eyes and looks up at the ceiling, but past the ceiling, up somewhere where Fred's looking down, and he raises his razor and toasts, for a moment.
Then he finishes shaving and goes. He's got a life to live.