"You weren't supposed to leave me," George said quietly to himself, blindly stumbling around the small room. Everything was painstakingly different; the twin bed that was pushed against the wall on the other side of the room was already made. Not a bed sheet was out of place. A wand was not haphazardly placed on the small bureau next to it; a jumper emblazoned with a tattered F wasn't being thrown across the room.
And this was only a footstep of pain compared to the meters George would have to face.
After all that had happened, it seemed only fitting that the various families that had brutally lost someone in the War would come to mourn together. The church graveyard in Godric's Hollow already had a neat, large plot with the hard earth pushed aside; Fred's coffin would rest in it for an eternity and more. Only a few paces away were the resting places of James and Lily Potter. Remus Lupin would lie next to them; Tonks beside her husband as she should be.
Dying was something he was painfully familiar with; it was a deed that coursed through the Weasley Family Tree as consistently as red hair. But the obituaries and the old ones always lied. Death was only a baby step in a series of miles. It was this aggravating, niggling thought in the back of his mind that reminded him of what once was and would never be. Only this time, it wasn't an oddly-shaped stone eroded away in a well-worn path, or a childhood Broomstick reduced to chips of useless wood.
It was Fred.
Was Fred; this gave him the most sinking feeling of all. The fact that Fred was no longer an is, no longer in the present. He was a faded photograph and an old song; an outdated Sickle that was met with curious glances and the letter that never quite made it to the Owlery. His twin was in another dimension entirely, where he was no doubt experiencing something so surreal and possibly even marvelous. But he was alone (as was George, in the same, bitter remnants of what once was his world) and it wasn't supposed to be this way.
They were invincible and young.Successful and fully supportive of themselves at the ripe age of twenty; girls fawning over them left and right. It was effortless and it was the good life, and it was supposed to last forever. Death was, in hindsight, light years away. It was a merciful, cloaked friend, giving the kiss of another permanent deed only when it was absolutely appropriate and completely expected. It was supposed to approach the deathbed hesitantly, dodging grieving family members while tugging on the last breath of life before it all unraveled to pieces.
George should have known better. In a world where heroism was measured on a grand scale and fighting against the oppressors was the only option, there was nothing sentimental. No bliss deathbed, no family members sent into a shell of a room one by one to say their farewells. There was only the unexpected, and it tended to show itself at the most wretched possible moment.
And right now, George felt as if the world couldn't possibly contort into something viler than it already was.
Bill looked into the mirror balanced precariously upon the bureau, nimble fingers knotting a tie. His hair had been combed into its traditional ponytail, while his fang earring remained for old time's sake. Behind him, he could see Fleur pacing around the room as she slipped a cardigan over her simple dress. Mornings like these usually left him breathless as he grew more accustomed to her graceful figure and overwhelming beauty, but today was different. All he could see was a blurred reel of his brother's life, ending in a polished coffin.
"Bill?" Fleur's timid voice rang out in the utter quiet of the room. "I theenk ze time to go to ze graveyard 'as come, oui?"
He turned around slowly, anchored back to reality by the sound of her voice. Bill nodded stiffly, grasping at her hand for control as his mind processed the word 'graveyard.' It was time to face the worst to come, but that didn't mean he was ready.
Percy sat at the kitchen table, tracing circles onto the scarred wood. The Ministry functions he had attended while shadowing Barty Crouch Sr. obediently didn't have tables like these, where the grain of the dense wood held every possible childhood memory. Then again, Percy thought with a snort, he wasn't called Weatherby at home, either.
The table was littered with flower arrangements for a change, rather than the usual, delightful meals prepared by Molly. Bouquets of heliotrope, marigolds, agrimonies, aloe, and snowdrops lined the antique table; flowers chosen specifically for their meanings. Neville had prepared them for the family at a moment's notice, arranging them so wholeheartedly that it moved Molly to tears, though Percy knew better.
Even a woman as unpredictably emotional as his mother wouldn't cry over some damn flowers.
Arthur glanced down unsurely at his and Molly's intertwined fingers. Her knuckles were chalk white; her grip tightened exceedingly as the ceremony progressed. Despite the blatant pain, Arthur didn't bother to wince. The subtle signs only confirmed what he had first learned many years earlier, on the day of the funeral of Gideon and Fabian Prewett. Molly was a weightless ribbon, a volatile balloon; even one indication of release could send her teetering off into a spiral of grief in a place as public as a graveyard. For the sake of the children and those who had come to pay their respects, he could not let that happen.
Wards had been placed around the lot. Any Muggle that ventured near the funeral procession would remember an urgent task and turn away immediately. Various photographers from The Daily Prophet and Witch Weekly that were only interested in capturing a few, priceless shots of the Boy Who Lived Twice grieving were forbidden from crossing the boundaries placed. Naturally, in the process of keeping two minorities out, it was rather difficult getting in.
A makeshift podium had been set up towards the front of a lot, underneath a beautiful, temporary arch. Kingsley Shacklebolt stood behind the podium as expected, reciting a speech by heart. Behind him was the Order of the Phoenix, sans the Weasley family who silently opted to gather around Fred's grave, instead. Arthur noted that the devoted group crowding beneath the arch seemed remarkably small in numbers without them.
The brim of Minerva McGonagall's trademark hat held a worn veil that effectively hid her downcast eyes. Hestia Jones stood in a typical Auror stance; legs slightly apart, hands balled into loose fits at her sides defiantly. Under that iron mask, she was silently coaching herself not to cry. Dedalus Diggle appeared as if in a trance, eyes wavering over several graves as if the entire ceremony was only a cruel joke. Elphias Doge was aware that nobody was doubting Dumbledore's credibility, but that didn't do anything to ease the steady beat of hammering against his chest. Arabella Figg felt empty inside, knowing that it had something to do with a lone figure effortlessly conjuring a wreath of flowers with a slender wand towards a corner of the lot. Even a curtain of grief could not smother her Squib status; something she duly noted. Mundugus Fletcher stood awkwardly towards the very end of the line of members beside Sturgis Podmore, not wanting to cross paths with Arabella or Minerva. To his credit, he wasn't swindling pewter cauldrons; although with of the substantial people present, the thought had crossed his mind...
Arthur anxiously eyed the expectant coffin at his feet, willing for the speech formalities to be over. The only thing harder than burying your own child was keeping your composure for everyone else. He would cry at home.
Molly stood as still as a statue, head cocked in thought. Oddly enough, at a time and place like this, she couldn't help but think about Christmas.
It was a tumultuous year for them all. Ginny had turned two years old months earlier and Bill was going away to Hogwarts for the first time. If possible, money became even more of a scarce commodity; so much that even Molly was wryly awaiting for Great Auntie Muriel to kick the bucket so they could finally have a few handfuls of Galleons to work with. Between knitting jumpers, hemming school trousers, making mince pies, and tending to a positively vivacious little girl, Molly often crowded around the front door along with her children, anxiously waiting for Gideon and Fabian to take them off her hands so she could take a much needed kip.
Fred was a whirlwind of mischief; a bundle of fireworks that could explode without as much as a mere warning for innocent passerby. She could easily recall him asking her if she needed any help in the kitchen one day, eagerly agreeing to topping off a layer of pastry with mincemeat while she rolled out the edible lids for the pies. She was grateful for the helping hand (albeit it was Fred); besides, the preparation process easily took half the time. Just as she had stowed away the mince pies into the kitchen oven, a distraught-looking Percy had run into the room, clutching at her worn pinny as he earnestly began to cry. Through his muffled sobs, she could make out 'having a bath' and 'lost specs', sighing in a manner only a mother could. Out of curiosity, Molly glanced at Fred as she poured Percy a glass of pumpkin juice and retrieved a few ginger biscuits from the cupboard. A glimmer in his eyes and several, quick looks towards the stove told her what she already knew.
After pulling the baking tray out of the oven with the speed of a mad woman and unearthing the pies with equal ardor, Molly breathed a sigh of relief as she handed Percy his glasses (afterpicking the mince meat from the lenses and placing a Cooling Charm on them, of course.) Fred was sent to the second step on the stairs, of course, to mull over his actions for a good half hour. Molly set to work replacing the ruined pies and remained livid for the better part of the day.
At least the glass didn't shatter, Molly mused. And now that she began to think about it more, she realized that twenty minutes on the second step surely would have sufficed.
Charlie tugged at the uncomfortable, stiff fabric of his suit, longing for his dragon-hide gloves and the warm summers of Romania. Home was no longer a safe haven. It was a gnarled childhood memory, burned around the edges with the reality of death and destruction. Staring down at the tombstone with heavy lids only further proved his point; the fresh-looking numbers signaling the end of his brother's painfully short life was almost mocking.
With much difficulty, he averted his eyes away from the stone, only to glance at another one. Worn and weathered away, the etched text clearly had sunken itself into the hard rock over time, so much that it was hard to read without squinting. It was a simple stone; not at all like the elaborate ones littering the graveyard with the floral arrangements Neville had painstakingly created. Charlie could not make out the name, no matter how hard he mentally rearranged the puzzle of letters. The single sentence beneath it, however, was crystal clear to the naked eye.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
For a steady moment, all he could do was stare; conjuring a mental image of England and Romania on a matter-of-fact map. And if only, if only, he could add that other realm of where his brother now inhabited to this hasty globe, just for the sake of knowing. He wondered if the obvious distance would compress and shrink, even in the slightest amount if he could locate Fred exactly. The sheer enormity of that well-worn line sunk in rather unpredictably, almost catching him off guard. Charlie stood there, uncomfortable clothing forgotten. Instead, he tried to pinpoint the exact moment in which absence turned to hopelessness and the heart became an abyss.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione stood side by side, linked in all ways possible. Harry on the right, with an arm slung around Ron's slumped shoulder. Hermione on the left, finding the courage to intertwine their tired fingers. He remained in the middle, looking impassive because he wasn't sure if it was possible to feel anything anymore.
It was the cruelest of all ironies; to conquer something so evil and still lose. Ron was supposed to be the one that didn't face the burden of murder. It was the Muggle-born in Bristol caught defenseless; the distinguished Order member that lay in pieces at the scene of the crime. And yet, the fear had been drilled into him several times over the years. The dangerous escapades he was willing to participate in, standing by Harry's side, because that was what friends did. Hell, best friends.
Because that was the way it was supposed to be. Eleven year olds with all of the naivety in the world; teenagers blossoming awkwardly. Now it was a strange transition, an identity crisis. They couldn't call themselves teenagers anymore. Teenagers worried about balls and blemishes; trivial things in Ron's eyes, at least now. And yet, he felt too tired to be an adult.
Fred's death shook him to his very core, like an epicenter gradually widening until it swallowed him completely. Too exhausted to summon the anger that was going to bubble up the surface eventually, he glanced down at his fingers, looped with Hermione's. It was that infinitesimal anchor that kept him in place - the shred of hope he was somewhat frightened to hold onto.
The wound was still fresh, and it stung.
Ginny crossed her arms unsurely, watching the large procession of people dazedly leaving the graveyard. Rather than following her family towards the rickety gate that enclosed the lot, she addressed her father with a single nod and jerked her head towards a fresh-looking headstone. He nodded emphatically in response before steering Molly away with a steady, gentle hand.
She lingered in a corner of the lot, tugging at the sleeve of her coat in hopes of alleviating the goosebumps dotting her right arm. The entire day had been so very surreal - and Ginny knew that no haven in the world could block the bitterness of reality. Her feet unconsciously carried her to the bright, gleaming stone of Fred's. It's relative newness stung like a slap to the face and she crouched down at the base of it, running her fingers along the rough shape. At that moment, the urge to fall apart became more and more pronounced.
She took a deep breath and ignored the stinging in her eyes. Digging her nails into the flesh of her arm, she bent her head and gritted her teeth like the heroines in her storybooks did.
A small, salty tear managed to escape and fell in a perfectly straight line down the subtle curve of her face. Defeat.
"Ginny..." Neville's voice wavered uncomfortably, as if he was unsure if it was in his place to interrupt such a moment. With a sigh, he kneeled in the same position as his comrade, eyeing her with concern.
She shook her head vigorously and swallowed the lump in her throat. "I'm fine. Don't worry."
Her reassurance rang false in his ears. Neville wasn't sure how to proceed with this – after all, it wasn't often that he was sought for solace. He racked his brain for something, anything, that could momentarily pull Ginny from her grief. His eyes fell upon the grand wreath of flowers that rested upon the tomb. Gently, he reached forward and lifted it away from the marble, cradling it in his hands like a newborn.
She glanced at him with curiosity as he marveled at his creation, tucking away an unruly leaf here and there. He sensed her stare and looked up at her with a warm smile. "These all mean something."
"They're flowers," Ginny said, almost pointedly.
"Flowers mean something, though," Nevile responded swiftly. "Haven't you heard of the language of flowers?"
Ginny shook her head dubiously. "I can't say I have."
"Well..." Neville trailed off, carefully separating a marigold from its cradle of leaves. "This marigold means grief. In some cultures, it's even considered the flower of the dead."
Ginny eyed the bright orange petals warily, and instinctively scooted away. "And that one?" She gestured towards a small, white flower, shaped like a star.
"Heliotrope." Neville smiled fondly at the small cluster of white petals dotting the large wreath. "Devotion, according to the language of flowers."
Ginny's face perked up considerably, compared to the grimace she wore moments earlier. "It's beautiful."
"These yellow ones here," Neville began, "are agrimonies. More common in America, according to Luna. They mean thankfulness." He fondled a droopy, white flower with his left hand. "This one is a snowdrop. It was actually easy to find locally," he remarked. "Translate to hope."
Ginny nodded solemnly as she observed the wreath closely. The swirl of colors was almost mesmerizing. She noticed a small speck of pink nestled between a few agrimonies, looking at it bemusedly. "What's the pink one?"
"An eglantine rose," Neville answered. "I decided to add it to the bunch at the very last minute – that's why there are only a few of them."
"What does it mean?" Ginny asked, examing the small bud with interest. It wasn't like any other rose she had ever seen. It didn't have an immaculate curvature of leaves, but soft, silky petals that looked almost tired and worn.
Neville looked into her inquisitive eyes. "A wound to heal."
She nodded dazedly, unwilling to let go of the flower. "May I?"
He nodded, watching her. After some consideration, she tucked the trimmed stem behind her ear so that the merry, pink bud settled itself upon her head. It clashed slightly with her ginger locks, but she was hardly fazed by it. Instead, she smiled faintly as she thought of the promising rose.
Standing up, she brushed away some of the gravel from her knees and motioned for Neville to follow her. Grateful at her evident change of mood, he carefully returned the wreath to the marble stone. It stood out brilliantly against the pristine white of the stone. He was proud of his handiwork, and when Ginny gratefully placed her hand on his shoulder, he knew that she was as well.
Together, they walked side by side out of the graveyard.
A/N: This was inspired by a drawing on DeviantArt called 'This Is How I Mourn'. The storyline strays from the original picture but it got me thinking of how all of the Weasley's would mourn in the aftermath of Fred's death.