"It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness. Nothing more." Dumbledore
"Harry, this is my family we're talking about!" Ron was angry as he hadn't been in years, in a decade, angry like he'd been as a teenager, constantly pushed aside so that Harry could have the limelight. And perhaps he'd never really grown out of that feeling: inadequacy was common when your best mate was the Boy Who Lived, but he'd learned to live with it, learned, even, to feel good for Harry, proud for Harry.
Because he'd been there the whole time. Since the Sorcerer's Stone, since the Chamber of Secrets. He'd seen Harry grow from a gangly kid who knew nothing of wizards to the most powerful one in the world. He even liked to think that he and his family had facilitated in that.
But he also knew Harry, knew him past the Wonder Boy, the Boy Who Lived, the Boy Who Defeated Voldemort, the Chosen One. He knew Harry was impetuous, reckless, careless, that he made mistakes, that, sometimes, the people he loved the most died.
And Ron had recognized that early, had been okay with that…with dying. He'd been prepared, and when he hadn't died, when, in fact, it had been Fred (Fred, who with George had kept the family together, Fred, who, with George, had looked after him in that haphazard way through Hogwarts, Fred, who was supposed to be with George), he'd felt his heart break literally in two. Worse than when he'd left Harry and Hermione. Worse than fifth year, waking from his strange euphoria to find Hermione unconscious, hovering, in pain. Worse…
The worst part was that people, in that time of Horcruxes and Hallows and danger, had gotten used to following Harry. Harry knows best. Harry knows what to do. And usually he did. Usually Ron could trust his best friend on faith alone, because that was enough for him. He was a Weasley, loyal to a fault, loyal…
But not like this. Everyone was following Harry blindly into this plan, even George, without batting an eyelash. It made a sort of weird sense: the war was ten years over, the Ring could be dangerous along the road. There was no one left to say goodbye to, not now, and perhaps it was cheating using the Ring, perhaps they should be giving it back.
But not like this. Not using Fred as a liason to the other world, the dead world. Ron wasn't an idiot, wasn't blind. He'd been working in the twins' shop for ten years, had looked up to the two since childhood. He knew that Fred was happy with his life, happy with his brothers and his Godson and abundant nieces and nephews. And he knew that Fred was in incredible pain almost constantly, a pain that he kept so secret few remembered it.
"I'm not banishing Fred, Ron." Harry said patiently, rolling the Ring over in his fingers. Somehow, it had seemed like this was the plan from the beginning. Keep the Ring long enough to give it to his godson, his Teddy, keep it long enough so that the child could know his father, and then find a way to get rid of it, because its job was done. "He's my brother, too."
That was a fair statement, more than fair. Harry was as much a Weasley brother as Percy, who'd played Turncoat for those terrible war years. More, even, because even without the Weasley hair he was looked after affectionately by the older ones, especially Fred and George, who'd treated Harry as a brother from the beginning.
"But we need to get rid of the Ring, Ron, before we lose it. It's a Hallow. It's use can be twisted…" he didn't expand, didn't think he had to. The Elder Wand was gone, unused, untouched, hopefully unfound for all of time. The Invisibility Cloak was kept in Harry's Auror office. The safest place for the last Hallow would be in a place where it could never be reunited with its fellows, in the Beyond.
Ron looked pained, shaken. "But Fred?" It didn't seem fair, since Fred had beaten so many odds just to continue his pseudo-existence next to his brother. None of the others had ever tried to send an obviously pained Fred back, not even mentioned it, because they all thought of George, in those terrible months after the battle when Ron would be next to him every night, afraid his laughing, happy brother would desperately go to his twin in the night. One just couldn't exist without the other.
They were going in circles, and it was pointless, anyway. Ever since Harry had brought up this tentative plan there had been people on both sides, but it was Fred who was the deciding factor. A few days after Harry proposed it, Fred had visited him in his office and said, quietly, that he would go Back. Then, with a burst of very Weasley stubbornness, he swore he'd return to the land of the living.
"I hope you do." Harry had said, feeling very much the villain in his unasked for role. He didn't want to send Fred away because he thought of the twins as some of his best friends, some of the few people who knew him best. He knew that his request for the Ring to go back would be misconstrued by some as Harry falling into the thinking of Dumbledore, that Things Had to Remain the Way they Were. But that wasn't true at all. He didn't want the Hallows reunited. Giving the Ring that could bring back the dead to the dead would ensure that there would never be a war of the old proportions again.
Ron couldn't agree, though. Couldn't, because he was next to the twins every day. Because they had become close in the past decade, extremely close. Because he would be the one left to pick up the pieces. "This is my family." He said again, quietly. It always came back to family, to love. Didn't Dumbledore used to say that? That their greatest weapon, their greatest gift was love?
Sometimes, it felt more like a burden.
Harry looked Ron, deep green eyes meeting honest blues. "They're my family, too." In every sense of the word. They were his family by marriage, but it went deeper than that. Even when he'd been staying with the Dursley's every summer, he would long for the Burrow, for the sense of…camaraderie , fellowship, love, that was so palpable in the structure's somewhat unsteady walls. "They're my family, too."
Eyes locked, staring candidly, unblinkingly. And Ron nodded. He trusted Harry.
They had a going away party.
It was at the Leaky Cauldron, of course. Ben served drinks to the thirty or so guests with the easy grace of someone used to a somewhat overwhelming number of people demanding his attention at the same time. Luna, Seamus, and Dean were sitting at the counter, all three sporting Irish accents and the flush of proud parents as Luna's daughter rolled contentedly in her mother's arms.
Dennis and Neville were propping up Hagrid, who had taken over a table in the corner and was telling stories of the twins more embarrassing antics to anyone who would listen.
Children were everywhere. Fred clung to his father's legs, in a deep conversation with the person he was named for. James happily dogged Teddy's every step, happy that his favored playmate had gotten time off school to participate in his uncle's send off. Victoir and Dominique were braiding and un-braiding Rose's and Lily's hair as if they were dolls. Albus, quiet as always, had slipped off to a table with his father and uncles, sipping at a ginger ale and feeling very grown up.
The Weasleys were louder than ever, all trying not to think of what would happen the next day, the day after that, when Fred wasn't able to get back from beyond the veil. Despite Fred's many assurances, no one really believed that the twin would be able to cheat death another time.
Bill was uneasy, kept running a hand over his face with agitation. This wasn't right. They were basically condemning Fred to death. He knew, as everyone present knew, that Fred had been living on borrowed time, that the time would eventually come where he would have to repay his debt. He just never wanted that time to come.
Hallows and Horcruxes. He thought to himself. Somehow, when asking Harry for an explanation, it always seemed to come back to that. Hallows and Horcruxes.
It was impossible to keep Fred, George, and Lee under control. Where before the three would show some restraint in public they were now in shambles. Fireworks bounced off the walls and Lee was busy teaching Teddy how to produce a patronus (easy in the relaxed, party-like atmosphere), and was somewhat unsurprised to find that the silvery being was a wolf. George had slipped Neville a Canary Cream twice and got uproarious, drunken laughter both times.
It was Ben who asked the question that put the whole thing, finally, into motion. The whole evening, all its forced joviality and partying, was delaying the inevitable send off. He was in no mood to rush it. He, like everyone else in the Wizarding World, couldn't help but like the twins for their easy charm and quick wit, even if they'd never quite taken to him as the other brothers had.
"Are you scared, Fred?" Ben asked, balancing Albus on his knee. Albus and Ben always seemed to be drawn to each other, probably because they had quiet, introspective personalities, because they were both the type of person who liked to talk less and hear more.
"Of what?" Fred was drunk, there was no denying it. Everyone had slipped him a flask of Fire whiskey until his frame was overflowing with the drink. "I've already been dead, Benny." He hiccupped, then looked suddenly very, eerily sober. "I've always been dead."
There was no words between the two for a moment, though the bar was nowhere near silent. Neville had taken over distributing drinks and was doing a poor job of keeping up with the orders, much to Seamus and Dean's endless amusement.
"I'll miss you." Ben said suddenly, and in that instant realized that it was true. He would miss Fred. Would miss the twins coming in suddenly to the Leaky Cauldron at one in the afternoon, when business was slowest, just to show off their latest product. He would miss the subtle gestures that showed that, even if they weren't okay with Ben being Draco Malfoy, they were okay with Ben marrying their older brother. He would miss their confidence and their ability to brighten a room with a single well-timed joke.
And he sensed instinctively what the others knew, what Angelina, sitting sober and sad next to George, knew. If Fred left, George would leave. They were a matched set.
Fred gave Ben a long, steady look. "I'm not dead yet." He said, taking up the Ring from the bottom of his portrait and staring for a long moment at the people arranged in front of him, the people that mattered most in the world.
"Tell them…" Fred paused, staring at Ben with a strange intensity. "Tell them…it's been a heck of a ride." Then he strode out, without looking back.
"Bye, uncle Fred." Albus said quietly.
Ben could barely open his mouth, so surprised was he at the quick exit. Didn't the twins love the spotlight? Wasn't this the perfect time for attention? But he managed a response, not even as eloquent as the child's on his lap. "Yeah. Bye, Fred."
It was five minutes before George noticed. Five and a half minutes, and everyone was staring at the empty portrait, as if sheer will could bring the person back.
Harry really and truly didn't think Fred would die. He didn't.
Bill bowed his head low, feeling the scars under his fingers, suddenly exhausted, sad.
George let out a strangled sound that was almost a whimper and hugged Fred Jr. so hard the little boy's face turned blue.
And Lee, the man who made a living from talking on the radio, found he had no words to describe the pain he felt in his heart. He remembered an old cartoon from his childhood. That's all, folks. How much more can be said? Could anything be said? Words couldn't describe this feeling. Words…
For a solid minute, there was no talking, not even among the children too young to really know what was going on. Hagrid blew his nose with a loud honk, Dennis broke a glass in his fist (because how could this happen? It wasn't supposed to end like this). Dean felt the sudden urge to wrap his arms around Luna and Seamus, to assure himself that they, at least, were still around.
"Hey," said an achingly familiar voice from the bar's entrance. "I guess I can date again."
The story ends with a red-head walking into a bar. He pushes it open with two real hands (hands that weren't painted on) that aren't holding any freakin' Ring, thank you very much, but was still grasping that leather book mighty tight.
The story ends with a family, staring in wonder at a boy back from the dead. Again.
And, in the end, the story ends with love.
This is the longest story we've ever written. It was immensely satisfying, because we felt like the characters deserved their own individual happy endings. Harry Potter is too good to leave things unraveled. We're so sad to see this story go: we've delayed posting this chapter for the longest time. Tomorrow there will be a new HP story up, but it will never be this, ya'll know?
So, for the last time, please review.