The Last To Know
Charlie Weasley leaned low on his broom, desperately urging it forwards. He was terrified of what he would find when he finally reached the castle, and at the same time he needed to know, needed to see, to make sure everyone was still alive...
It seemed impossible that it was actually over. That it was really Voldemort sprawled lifeless on the floor. That little Harry Potter – who, Charlie realised, wasn't as little as he remembered – had killed him and saved the world.
And yet it was all real. It had all happened. They were safe.
He found Ginny first, in the crowd. She had been one of the first to reach Harry, and she now stood back, letting others get to him, speak to him, hug him. There was a faint, tired smile on her face, but something in her eyes...something haunted and miserable and lost.
She caught sight of him as he started towards her, and ran at him, hugging him tightly. He lifted her off her feet, like he used to when she was little. His sister had grown, he realised. He hadn't seen her in far too long, and she'd grown and changed so much.
"Are you OK?" He asked her, still hugging her. "Did you get hurt – do you need seeing to at all?"
"I'm fine." She said shakily, drawing back. "Charlie, there's something you need to know..." Before she could speak the words she seemed to be struggling with, Charlie heard someone yell his name; turning, he saw his parents hurrying towards him. His mother hugged him; she was sobbing. His father opened his mouth, his face serious and his eyes bearing the same look Ginny's had; but then he closed his mouth again, as though the words had left him. Molly drew back, tears still tracking down her face.
He was about to express his pride in her, in her defeat of Bellatrix, but never managed it; Bill had seen them, approached them, and clapped him on the back. Percy, George, Ron, and Hermione had pushed their way through the crowd to reach them, too, and Charlie swiftly hugged his younger brothers, so glad to find them alive. He'd been so terrified. He released them and turned, expecting to see Fred, stood grinning.
But he wasn't. Charlie looked around his family once more, ascertaining that Fred wasn't there. And George had made no joke about Charlie missing most of the battle; and his whole family had misery and grief in their eyes.
"Where's Fred?" He asked, his voice sounding strained and unlike his, even to his own ears. All the signs were there, but it couldn't be – Fred couldn't be...
His mother choked out another sob. His father swallowed, obviously trying to choose his words. George avoided his gaze, wearing a bleak expression; Ron looked hard at the floor, as though fighting tears, and Hermione wrapped her arm around Ron's back in support. Percy met his eyes, then put an arm around Ginny, as though desperate to do something, anything, that may be of help.
It was Bill who spoke the words, the words Charlie was, by now, expecting and dreading. He clasped his shoulder almost painfully, met his eyes and said four devastating words.
"He didn't make it."
Something inside him broke. He almost heard it tear, felt a ripping, burning sensation. He opened his mouth without thought.
"No. He – he can't -" He stammered. Bill fingers tightened on his shoulder; Fleur burst into tears. "It's a mistake." Charlie whispered, looking at his older brother. "It's just a mistake..."
"He's gone." It was George who spoke; George with empty eyes and a pained voice. "He's gone."
Only George's confirmation could make him really believe. For George to proclaim his twin as dead, it had to be true.
Fred. Fred was gone.
He would have sank to his knees if his father's arm hadn't reached out and steadied him, gripping his elbow. Bill was still clutching his shoulder; Charlie now realised it was as much for his elder brother's benefit as his own.
"When?" He whispered. "How?"
"Ear-earlier." Percy choked. "On the seventh floor...there was an explosion, ha-half the corridor caved in, and he – he must have been hit with something..."
"We were there." Ron said, in a hollow voice. "Percy and Hermione and Harry and me. We were all there. But he was the only one – it was just him..."
George put an arm over Ron's shoulders, Charlie saw, but barely registered.
If he'd been here, maybe he could have...if he hadn't been so far away, it wouldn't have taken so long...if he'd come home more often, then Fred would have at least known how much he meant to him...
"I want to – to see him." Charlie said, his voice shaking.
"I'll take you." His father said softly. "If you're sure you want to see..."
His father led him to a chamber off the hall, where the dead had been gathered. For safety, he realised. The living had known the battle wasn't over, and that their dead were not safe in the hall.
The dead were beyond caring about the battle. Beyond caring if their bodies were safe.
His father led him over to a wall, so sure of his steps that Charlie wondered if it had been him that had stowed Fred's body here.
And there he lay. His eyes were closed, thankfully, and yet Charlie thought they may not have been that way when he'd first died. Someone had closed his eyes, made him look as though he was just sleeping, in the midst of a faintly amusing dream.
Charlie sank to his knees slowly, looking at his younger brother's face. He'd missed his last birthday. Twenty, now, Fred was, but Charlie still remembered the day they were born. They. Twins, always together. Never did get one without the other.
But now George was alone, and Fred was...
He felt tears prick his eyes and leak out. He hadn't cried in months. But how could he not cry, here, faced with his little brother's body?
"I should have been here." He mumbled. "I'm sorry..."
"No. No, there was nothing you could have done to stop this." Arthur said softly. "And – and it was a comfort to your mother, and to me, to know that you, at least, were safe."
Charlie didn't reply. He sat there for a while – it could have been minutes, could have been hours, time seemed irrelevant now. And then it occurred to him that he was sat in a room full of bodies; death lurked everywhere, misery dancing in the corners. And suddenly he couldn't be here. He stood, looked at his father, who seemed to understand, and together they walked from the room, leaving Fred behind.
He should have been there, he thought again. He may not have been able to stop it, but at least he wouldn't have the doubts if he'd been here. At least he wouldn't have been the last to know, the last to see.
He hesitated, took one last glance at the chamber they'd just exited. "Goodbye, Fred." He whispered, so quietly he doubted even his father beside him had heard.
He was the last to arrive, the last to know, the last to say goodbye. And that, he thought, would haunt him forever.