Disclaimer: "Harry Potter" is the property of J.K. Rowling.
Learning About Uncle Fred
George Weasley glanced over his shoulder to see his small son framed in the doorway to his workshop, clutching something in his chubby fingers. "Yeah, Freddie?"
The boy teetered on the threshold for a moment, remembering, no doubt, his mother's dire warnings that if he went into The Workshop he could come out green, furry, invisible, or any other number of undesirable things. And there was the perpetual puzzle of George's missing ear, which, despite his protestations that their son was going to be psychologically damaged -- or worse, serious -- his wife had maintained was the result of experimentation gone wrong.
"Come on in, kiddo, nothing will happen while I'm in here." Which wasn't strictly true, but he could set aside the exploding quills he was working on.
The boy hesitantly stepped inside and trundled to his father. Once there, he held something out to George, asking, "Why are there two of you?"
George found himself looking at a picture of himself and his twin brother taken on their twentieth birthday. For a moment he wondered how his son had recognised him, then he realised that freckly, one-eared red-heads weren't exactly swarming all over Britain.
Kneeling beside his son and pointing at the photo, he replied, "That, my boy, is your Uncle Fred." Smiling against the hollow feeling in his chest, he added, "Your mum and I named you after him."
"But why does he look like you? And where is he?"
George considered the best answers to these questions for a moment. "He looks like me because he's my twin brother." Fourteen years hadn't been enough to make him state that fact in the past tense. "Without going into the biology of that, it means we're identical and were born at the same time. D'you know what identical means?"
Fred shook his head. "Nope."
"It means exactly the same."
Nodding and looking back to his namesake, Fred asked, "You were born exactly at the same time?"
George smiled a little. "Well, nearly. I'm seven minutes older."
"Where's Uncle Fred now?"
For a moment, George watched his younger self and his brother, laughing and unaware that in a month everything would be irrevocably different, that for a time, life would seem unlivable, that stretching out from one horrible instant, one of them would be a twinless twin.
This wasn't a conversation he'd wanted to have so soon. He didn't know the right words to use, or even if he should be telling his son about this. Surely he wasn't ready to hear these things? Angelina, now she would probably know the right way to break these concepts to a four-year-old, but she was at practice. Maybe honesty was best. "He died, Freddie."
Fred's mouth formed a silent 'o.' "Like Aunt Hermione's kitty?"
"Yes. Exactly," George said, grateful that this wasn't a completely foreign idea. He made a mental note to pay his respects to Crookshanks soon. Hermione would appreciate it too; she'd been inconsolable for weeks. "Well, not exactly; it happened a bit differently."
"How'd it happen?"
"Oh. Um." He wasquite certain Angelina didn't want him recounting the rise and fall of You-Know-Who to their son at this tender age. "It's a long story, Freddie." This was clearly not sufficient for his son, as Fred continued to look at him expectantly. "There was...a bad man." Man didn't seem the right word, but oh well. "Everyone -- all your aunts and uncles, and Grandmum and Granddad, we all had to fight to stop him taking control of everything."
"You and Mummy too?"
"Me and Mum too. Side by side, actually." For a second, he was back at the Battle, next to Angelina with all the suddenness inherent in the chaos of fighting, who had only grinned at him through the fray, confident in a reunion later with everyone more or less healthy and whole. "At this fight...well, some people got hurt, and some people died, and it was all to save Britain so all of us could go back to doing normal things, like going to work and school and making trick wands. Your Uncle Fred died there."
Fred stared at the picture for a long time. Then, he asked slowly, "Do you miss him?"
The perceptiveness of children never ceased to amaze George. "Yes," he answered, impressed with his vocal cords for not hitching. "I do. Very much."
Fred met his father's eyes and patted his hand. "It's okay, Daddy."
George couldn't help smiling at his son's seriousness and conviction, and he wrapped an arm around the boy's shoulders, hugging him tightly. "I know."
"Uncle Fred's taking care of Crookshanks."
"Yeah? How do you know that?"
"Uncle Harry says Crookshanks is in Heaven and that's where he went when he died, and he needs someone to take care of him now since Aunt Hermione can't go to Heaven right now."
Ruffling his hair, George said, "I wager Fred's enjoying that." He glanced at the doorway and saw that his wife had come to lean against it, unbeknownst to both father and son. One corner of her mouth was tilted upwards as she watched the two of them. Looking back to Fred, George said, "Uncle Harry's got a lot of good things to say -- you keep listening to him."
"Okay," Fred agreed solemnly.
George regarded Fred steadily. "Questions answered?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"For now, at least." George grinned. "Let's have lunch, shall we?"
As they left the room, Fred noticed his mother and bounded up to her, brandishing the picture. "Mummy, I was learning about Uncle Fred! Did you know him too?"
Angelina's eyes flicked to George's, and he just gave her a tiny shrug. "Yeah, we were mates. What else did you do this morning, Freddie?"
He happily launched into a detailed description of his busy morning, which carried the family all the way through lunch. Later, in the evening, when Fred and heard his favourite bedtime stories (including a second rendition of 'Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump') and finally fallen asleep, Angelina put away the book she'd been struggling through (a gift from Percy, which George had more than once offered to use as kindling, as it was far too boring to actuallyread) and leaned against George in their bed.
"Well done today," she said, smiling and playing with the hair falling over his forehead.
George put an arm around her waist and pulled her closer. "I kept wishing you were there. You would've explained it better, I'm sure."
She shook her head. "I'd've told him we needed to talk to you if he'd come to me about it. What could I say?"
This was probably true, George had to admit to himself. "Well, the next Important Conversation is yours. I'll handle teaching him how to construct and execute a respectable prank."
With a quirked eyebrow, Angelina asked, "Is that so?"
Flicking his wrist to switch off the light, George remarked, "Unless you want to coach him on pranking in addition to your other parenting duties. Though, no offense, Ange, you were never exactly brilliant at practical jokes."
She snorted with laughter as he kissed her and pulled the blankets over them. After several minutes, she said softly, "George?"
"I know things didn't work out exactly...right. I mean the way everyone thought they would. But...well, I love you."
George smiled, knowing that even in the dark she'd sense it. "You know I don't worry that I'm just a replacement to you."
"Just a bit of extra reinforcement for both of us."
"That's thoughtful of you."
"And you know I love you."
She brushed her fingers across his chest. "There was never any doubt in my mind."
"Still, a little extra reinforcement wouldn't hurt."
With a low laugh, Angelina said, "No."
For a moment, George propped himself up on his elbow to gaze down at his wife. "Our son's very wise, did you know that?"
She gave him a surprised smile. "What particularly did he say?"
"That it's okay."
Angelina's smile grew softer and she pulled him close to her. Even though some wounds never healed and some memories would always be tinged by the shade of loss, it was true. The line had blurred between mourning and healing in George's own life, but somewhere, sometime, he had put the darkness of his loss behind him and allowed everything, at last, to be okay.