I probably should stop with the Fred's-dead stories now, but here's yet another one.
May 3rd, 1998
Never, before this moment, did Charlie Weasley understand how the atmosphere in a room could be described as "thick". Now, he does, because he almost chokes on it as he enters the living room at the Burrow. The room – which had, during all the years he lived here, seemed far too small – seems to be massive, despite the entire family being present.
Almost the entire family. Which, Charlie knows, in some part of his mind that he refuses to make conscious, is why the room seems too big. Fred wouldn't have taken up much space in the room. But his absence is painfully obvious.
He stands in the doorway, and just watches them all. Ron is at one end of one of the old, beat up sofas. The sofa has been here longer than Ron has, Charlie remembers with some sentiment. (It's strange, but suddenly everything about his childhood home causes floods of memories and emotions.) Next to Ron, murmuring to him in an obvious attempt to keep him from his own thoughts, is Hermione. Beside her, Harry sits, silent and staring at the floor. Evidently Hermione can only focus on one boy at a time, and she's either decided Ron's need is currently greater, or put her boyfriend – or Charlie assumes that they're finally together, from the way they act around each other – above her friend. In any case, Harry doesn't look like he'd be very responsive at the moment anyway, Ron, it appears, is trying to be distracted by Hermione, or at least pretending to.
His parents are on the other, smaller sofa. This one is different to the other, both in style and colour. Charlie knows – because he remembers when they first got it, when Ginny was just one – that it had previously belonged to one of his dad's brothers. They're not speaking, and his mother's eyes are closed, but she isn't asleep. She is, Charlie knows, trying to prevent herself from crying. She's been doing it several times in the last few days, and everyone's pretending they don't know.
But they do, and it's heartbreaking to watch.
Bill and Fleur are in the big, soft arm-chair. It was always Bill's favourite seat, and he'd had, on many occasions, hit one of his brother's to make them move out of it. Except for Ron, who'd been young enough to avoid the childhood punches and had simply been lifted up and dropped on the floor. No hard feelings, Charlie remembers. The Weasley boys had often solved things with fists as children, a habit they'd – thankfully – grown out of. They're talking, in quiet tones. Percy and George are on the floor, side by side. They, too, are talking, though the sentences seem short and far between. Not exactly a conversation, but progress, Charlie thinks, as George has been silent all too often lately.
And Ginny. At first, even though he knew they were all here, Charlie can't see her. On a second glance of the room, he finds her, curled up in the only remaining seat. The smallest arm chair, pushed into a corner by the window. She looks very small, very fragile, and very damaged. There are bruises marking her pale skin – when he asked about them yesterday, she said something about falling down stairs "that night". He knows she means the battle, and the fact that he was miles away while his baby sister was falling down flights of stairs, collecting bruises as jinxes went over her head, causes even more guilt. Her eyes are wide open and staring, apparently fixed on her jean-clad knees. He can tell by the look in her eyes what she's thinking of, and what she's really seeing instead of denim.
The same thing he sees when he closes his eyes. Their brother's empty body. For a moment, the briefest moment, he wishes to be in Romania again, with his dragons, with an atmosphere that lets him breathe easy. He pushes the thought away, horrified at himself.
Without a word, Charlie moves into the room and sits beside Percy on the floor. And forces himself to breathe in the thick atmosphere, instead of the cool, fresh air he wants.
For a long, long time, the Weasleys – and the extra two they already consider family – sit in near silence.
May 2nd, 1999
She thought she was over it. Well, not over it, but, you know. Not thinking about it constantly, not seeing his body every time she closed her eyes. She was acting normal again. After that first, hellish fortnight, she'd started talking properly again. She'd started accepting and giving comfort, rather than trying to block out the rest of the family, the rest of the world. After a few months, it had eased a little. Not a lot, but a little.
This time last month (and she'd refused to let herself think, then, that it was only a month away from being a year since that night, only a month away from the first anniversary of her brother's death) she wasn't dwelling on Fred. She'd learned to adapt, to deal with it. She'd even, practically, forgiven him for dying like that. (Or so she tells herself. Some small, dark part of her mind knows she'll always hate Fred just a little bit for dying.)
But today...Well, today, the last year might not have happened. She might be the sixteen year old who'd curled up on that chair, lost and angry at the world, not knowing how to deal with any of it, how to comfort her family or let them comfort her. She might as well be tormented with the image of his body burning into her eyes.
She shivers, and forces herself to stop thinking about it. She glances around the room, notices with a painful sense of irony that they're all in pretty much the same position as they'd spent those weeks last year. When they'd gather in this room, and sit in silence, or nearly in silence, day after day.
She remembers each one clearly, though they were all the same. She remembers because she bitterly wanted to leave the room, to go outside and just breathe. It had been only family loyalty that had kept her curled in the chair – or, on only two occasions, on the sofa with Hermione, Ron and Harry, forcing herself to join in their conversation.
Harry's hand presses on her back, as though he's trying to hold her up. The gesture would've annoyed her if she hadn't felt like she might just need him to catch her.
She hated to need anyone. (She'd needed her brother, and look how that ended.)
She took a seat on her chair. They've left it open for her, and that scares her a little. Are they going to spend the day sat quietly, staring into space? She doesn't want to do that again, can't go through that again...
Charlie clears his throat, twice, and catches his family's attention. He looks nervous, Ginny thinks. And then, no, not nervous. Terrified. And she knows.
He's surprised them all by sticking around this long. Staying here, at the Burrow. The surprises, it seems, are going to stop.
"I need to talk to you. All of you." He says awkwardly. She can tell by the tone of his voice he's rehearsed this – probably night after night, for weeks. "I – I've been offered my job back. They'd just filled it temporarily, and they want to know if I want it back or if they need to hire someone long-term. I won't go unless it's OK with all of you."
He looks around them, so obvious guilty that she almost wants to tell him sure, go, it's fine. Only it's not fine. Ginny can't tell how well her parents are holding up, and even though she understands Charlie belongs with his dragons, needs his dragons, this feels all too much like an abandonment.
And she's not sure if she can handle another one.
"Do you want to go back?" Bill asks. His voice is careful devoid of any emotion. Charlie shoots their mother a guilty look before nodding. "Then it's OK." Bill nods, smiles, and all Ginny can think is traitor!
"George?" Charlie asks. George, the discarded twin, Ginny thinks darkly. George, who's struggling to get his business back up and running. Not because of a lack of customers, but because some days he just can't face going down into the shop and facing the people.
"It's fine." George says sincerely. "It's something you've got to do. Like the joke shop was for me." The and Fred is silent, but no less present on the end of the sentence.
Percy and Ron also give their blessing. She tries to sink deeper into the unyielding chair, hoping he won't ask her.
"Mum?" Charlie says, in something close to a whisper.
"Of course it's OK." Molly says, though her voice shakes just a little.
"We understand, son." Arthur nods. Charlie seems to breathe easier – it's obvious his parents' approval was the most important. When he turns to Ginny, asks, "What about you, sis?" she thinks angrily that he doesn't care what she wants.
He didn't last time, either. He just left.
"Go." She says, her voice level, even managing to force a small smile onto her lips. Really, inside, she's raging, screaming. He's leaving them – just like Fred did – walking away without a backward glance. Looking relieved and happy, he assures them all he'll make more time to come home, get back for Christmas, for as much of the summer as he can. That he'll always be there when he's needed.
She manages ten minutes, curled in the chair. And then she unfolds herself and walks out of the room, out of the house. In the back garden, she stands, her arms wrapped around herself, and breathes, in, out, in, out, until the breaths are steady and she can let go of most of her anger.
May 2nd, 2000
Not today. God, no, not today. How could he manage that? How could the two events tie together, forever linked in his mind?
"No." He says foolishly, his mind blank.
"I'm sorry." Fleur tells him, her eyes filled with tears. She understands, but there's no way she can stop this.
"Don't just stand there, Bill!" His mother snaps. "Ron – move off of that sofa, let Fleur lay down."
"She's not going to have it there?" Ron asked incredulously.
"She'll have hours yet." Hermione told him, a hint of irritation in her voice. "And that's your niece you're talking about, Ron, not an "it"."
Niece. Ron's niece. And his daughter. Bill snaps out of the shock, dashes to Fleur's side. "Now – today?"
"Maybe not." Fleur tells him. "It can take days, Bill. Remember – the books we read..."
He nods, but it's only eleven-thirty in the morning, and Bill somehow can't see the baby holding on until tomorrow. Or the next day. No, his daughter – the little girl he hasn't stopped thinking about since they learned the sex – is arriving now. Today.
On the anniversary of his brother's death.
Charlie grips his shoulder briefly. Charlie, who took three weeks off work so he could be here for this day, and for this birth.
No one expected them to coincide.
Today, of all days. Why? Why couldn't his daughter wait just a few more days? Weeks? Months, would be better. As far away from this as possible.
"You know," George says, very quietly beside him, "Fred would find this hilarious. Couldn't have planned it better himself."
The thought that this is his brother's idea of a joke from beyond the grave sends a shiver down his back. But he doesn't even look at George, never mind answer him, though he knows George will be using this whole drama as a distraction. Instead, he focuses on Fleur.
As an hour passes, his throat feels tighter, and he moves to open the window, lingering by it to breathe in the cool air. Then his wife screams his name – anger evident in her voice – and he rushes back. They move her, to his old bed, when his mother anxiously tells him it won't be long, after all. He finds himself bitterly thinking that St. Mungo's should do a maternity thing for everyone, rather than just when problems are detected.
Half an hour later, a small, screaming bundle is placed in his arms. He can't breathe, due to the massive lump in his throat.
And – though he'll never admit it – a tear slips down his face.
(For Victoire. And for Fred, who isn't here to meet her.)
May 2nd, 2001
The guilt has faded by now. Three years, and Percy has forgiven himself. Three years, and he can't forget. Charlie almost didn't make it back that year. He'd wrote a few weeks ago, warned his parents he was having difficulty getting the time off. It had been their father who'd written back, and Percy presumes he'd simply reminded Charlie of his vow to still come home when the family needed him.
On this day, the family needs each other.
He doesn't really know what to do with himself. His niece – who is, thankfully, too young to understand why her birthday party was yesterday, rather than on her actual birthday – grew bored with him a few minutes ago and crawled over to Ron. His youngest brother has finally bypassed the awkwardness he used to have around Victoire, and has swung her up into the air.
Life moves on. And yet they've gathered here, again. They aren't as quiet as they have been the last couple of years. A child would do that, he supposes. Even his mother seems happier, her eyes brighter. Victoire, despite the day of her birth, is a blessing.
Percy never really thought much about children before, but now he knows that one day, he'll have his own, if only to make his mother smile like that, and ease the ache in his own heart.
He walks slowly out of the room, to the back door. Two years ago, Ginny had done the same. He'd watched her, seen the anger and hurt on her face, but hadn't known how to comfort her.
And so he'd done nothing. Failed her, he thought now. Like he'd failed his family all those years ago – feels like a lifetime, now – when he'd walked out on them.
Fred had forgiven him before he'd died. Percy clings to that, now, as he has done in the past few years. Percy clings to that, and refuses to wonder how he'd survive without it.
He stands there for a while, just breathing.
May 2nd, 2002
Four years. He's twenty-two now. And engaged. The thought brings both a smile and a thrill of fear to him. He loves Hermione, he really does – when he's drunk and sentimental, he thinks maybe he always has – but the idea of marriage worries him a bit. Not because it means forever – well, maybe just a little – or even because he feels too young – after everything that's happened, everything he's done, he'll never feel too young for anything – but because he's scared he won't be a good enough husband.
Fred would've laughed himself stupid, Ron thinks. Just like George did. And it wouldn't just have been George's teasing voice that cried, "Ickle Ronniekins, getting married!" but Fred's as well. Somehow, the idea of that, of the both of them mocking him makes him smile.
He misses that, most of all. Fred's laughter, his jokes and insults. The Burrow, when they're all together like this, seems so much quieter with only George. And today, the anniversary – and he hates that word, just because it applies here – George is even quieter than normal. More brooding.
And that, Ron despises.
Fleur's just found out she's pregnant again. Ron thinks they should be celebrating that, rather than having this stupid death-day thing. He hates it. Always had done, and if it wasn't for the fact his mother would kill him, he wouldn't be here.
He doesn't forget, the rest of the year. Can't forget. Even now, the image of Fred's dead body – his eyes open and empty – flits into his dreams sometimes. When he's especially tired, he finds himself dwelling on the moment that snatched his brother's life away. Wondering if he could have done something...if it should have been him that died instead...
No, he doesn't forget. But he handles it, puts it away and gets on with life – because Fred would hate it if none of them moved on, none of them ever laughed again, none of them lived. It doesn't hurt anymore. The absence isn't a constant ache.
But today...No matter how many years have passed, today might as well be the day after the death. The pain, misery, bewilderment, are almost as strong today as they were then. And he doesn't know how to deal with it. He manages to force smiles, of course. He's learned, over the last few years, to hide his feelings. So he smiles at little Victoire and tugs on her hair to make her giggle. He hugs his sister-in-law and congratulates her on her pregnancy. He asks Charlie how things are going in Romania with the dragons, and acts interested in the reply. He answers Percy's questions about the shop, and mutters his thanks when George steps in to change the subject. He listens, nodding respectfully, to his mother when she tells him, yet again, how pleased she is he's finally getting married, even though she thinks they should have married before they moved in together.
Then he leans against a wall, and wishes to be anywhere else.
"Hey." Ginny says, quietly as she walks towards him.
"Hi. How you holding up?" He asks her, more out of habit than to hear the answer. She simply nods briefly.
"Go outside for a few minutes, Ron. Go outside and breathe." She tells him. He's about to refuse, to do what he's come to regard as his duties, and deal with him family. But he finds himself nodding.
"Just for a minute." He murmurs, then slips out of the room.
In the garden, he closes his eyes.
May 2nd, 2003
It doesn't get easier. Not for him. George doesn't know how much his siblings dread this day, or how hard it is for them. And, at this moment, he doesn't care. It's noon – the day is, technically, halfway over.
"Are you OK?" Angelina asks him, for possibly the hundredth time. Because anger is the emotion he chooses to go with on this date – some part of him thinks it makes him less vulnerable, less pitiable – he gives a curt nod and turns away. She doesn't know what to do, he knows. This is the first time she's faced this day with him – on previous years, she was just a friend, albeit one he'd leaned on, cried on. This time, though, she's his girlfriend, and has been for almost a year. So she warrants an invitation to this, the pathetic gathering of his family.
A part of him knows his bitter thoughts aren't deserved. But he can't help it. It feels like he's suffocating in their emotions, drowning in them. But, by some unspoken agreement, the family gather here, year after year.
He'd rather have spent the day in bed. Slept it away. This evening, they'll all go off to Hogwarts for the memorial service. Memorial service – as if there's any point in that. Do Fred, Remus, Tonks, or any of the others, do they care if they're remembered or not? Does it matter to them if someone says a few nice words, if people cry or bow their heads?
No, he thinks bitterly. It damn well doesn't.
He isn't suicidal. People expected it, even believed it, in the early weeks. But he just isn't the type to contemplate suicide. (Even if sometimes, late at night during that first year, he'd wish for death to take him, too.) And he is, mostly, back to his old self. His birthday is always difficult –year before last, he slept most of it away, waking at eleven, two, and five, and forcing himself back to sleep – but the rest of the time, he's normal.
"George, talk to me." Angelina murmurs. "I can't help if you won't talk."
"I don't need your help." He replies coolly. Not coldly. He won't let this day turn him cold.
"I'm going for some air." He tells her, in that same cool, impersonal tone. Because she's smothering him with her love. His mother's doing the same with her concern. He hates the way his brothers, sister, in-laws and Harry are making a point of talking to him, searching him for signs of distress. Hates the way Ginny, who's talked of her impending wedding for months with a bright light in her eyes, is curled on one end of a sofa, looking lost and young, just like she did four years ago. He still doesn't know what to do for her. How to fix her.
And, right now, he can't find the energy to try. He loves his family, dotes on them even, but today they're on their own.
Today, George Weasley won't let himself care.
He goes right to the end of the garden, and thinks, briefly, of jumping over the fence and walking home. Instead, he stares at the fence. They re-painted that, just before Christmas. Him and Bill and Percy and Ron and Harry. They did it properly, without magic, because that's how they'd done it when they were younger and under-age. It brought back memories for him.
Except it was Harry holding the brush that should have been Fred's.
He can't face going back inside yet, though in a few minutes someone will come out to him – because this is the anniversary of his twin's death, and the family are always aware of where he is and what he's doing on this day. Of whether he appears to be coping or not.
He's coping. And will continue to. But this day...It's never going to get easier for him, and he knows it.
So he stands in the garden, breathes, and refuses to break.
Early morning, on the second of May, 2004, Molly Weasley wakes up with tears on her face, and for the briefest moment doesn't know why.