George's life was speeding by.
He and Angelina had a serious talk, and she realized she was letting her parents talk her into doing something she didn't want to do. She stayed with the shop, and together, they opened the branch in Hogsmeade and appointed Ron as the Manager.
The holidays flew by, George's twenty-third birthday came and went, and they celebrated the anniversary of the battle and Victoire's first birthday. Then it was Percy and Audrey's wedding, and before they knew it, summer was gone and they were prepping the shops for the inevitable rush of Hogwarts students before the start of term.
After that, it was a continuous cycle of work and laughter and growth. Percy and Audrey very quickly announced that they were expecting, and the family teased them mercilessly, but nothing could diminish their smiles. When Fleur announced that she was also pregnant, the family began to bet on which baby would arrive first. Molly was already overwhelmed and doting entirely on Victoire, but the news that she would have two new grandchildren was enough to send her into hysterics. She began to prepare with new intensity, and the Burrow filled with baby things from toys to clothes to nappies. Arthur joked that she was knitting an entire army of baby sweaters and onesies and that yarn was falling out of his ears.
In February of 2002, the call came that Audrey was in labor, and the family met and watched as Percy and Audrey became the parents of a beautiful, red-haired daughter they named Molly. When Percy handed their mum the grandchild he had named for her, she began weeping more than usual, and the entire family felt their hearts breaking as Percy wept with her and embraced her. The family engulfed them and they all remembered how far they had come and how much they had grown.
After Bill and Fleur welcomed another daughter, Dominique, in the summer, it was like a competition between the couples. The family started betting again on who would be the next to have a baby. As it turned out, Percy and Audrey wanted their daughter to grow up with a sibling close in age, so it was little Molly that got to have a playmate in the form of a sister named Lucy. She was followed closely by the family's first nephew and grandson, Bill and Fleur's son, Louis.
With all the new babies in the family, everyone felt themselves growing up rather quickly. Now whenever George visited the Burrow, he always expected to play with one of his nieces or nephews, or even Teddy, now a precocious six year old who loved to teach his younger friends. The young Lupin was particularly fond of four year old Victoire, and the pair could be seen spending lots of time playing together. Whenever the family heard a crash, it was always Teddy and Victoire that came first to the family's mind, and it was enough to start a private joke that the two would someday grow up and get married.
The babies also made them all start considering more serious matters. Harry and Ginny, who had moved into a flat together, were the first to announce their engagement that year. They also told everyone their intentions of fixing up Harry's inheritance, Grimmauld Place, so it would be hospitable for their future family. That summer was spent painstakingly helping them clean the dark house, and without Kreacher, it would've taken ages, but by the time their wedding happened in the fall, the house was ready.
Hermione and Ron had also by then moved into their own flat, and when they finally announced their engagement, the family was overjoyed, though none more so than Harry and Ginny. The couple bent over backwards to help their friends and siblings plan their dream wedding, making sure they had their perfect day to shine on their own as a separate joyous occasion from the recent news of Ginny's first pregnancy. The wedding took place in June on a perfect summer day, and both blushing bride and bumbling husband had never looked so happy, that is, until Harry gave them their wedding present: a huge down payment for their own home, taken from Harry's own vault in Gringotts. Even when Hermione and Ron protested the sum, he refused to back down, and they were forced to accept the enormous gift. There was a lot of joyful crying that day, but George couldn't tease anyone, not when the trio deserved all of it and more.
Harry and Ginny, wasting no time, welcomed another boy to the family in early August. James, somehow already a mischief-maker, took the strongest interest in his foster brother Teddy and vice versa, causing Victoire to get jealous when her co-conspirator devoted more of his attentions to teaching James the "proper" way to do things.
Needless to say, the babies were growing up and becoming right handfuls for their parents, and George wasn't helping, since he sent all his nieces and nephews complimentary products from the shop (once they were at the appropriate age, of course – he wasn't that mad). Though that often meant angry letters or words (especially from Percy, who was appalled that Molly loved scaring her sister and giving her parents heart attacks with Headless Hats), George refused to stop, and instead, worked even harder to develop new products with Angelina and Ron. The two had become indispensable in his business, and it was absolutely flourishing, demanding that they spend all sorts of hours cleaning and planning and thinking of expanding. They hired new employees to give them a break, as they did want to spend at least some of their time with their loved ones.
With Ron married off, George started to get a nagging feeling that he had to follow. Though no one expected him to, he knew they all secretly wished it, and if he was honest with himself, he knew there wasn't going to be anyone else for him. Angelina was the one, if they married or not. And really, there wasn't too much pressure. After all, Charlie hadn't gotten married, and no one was really upset about that. In fact, they were happy, since their brother had finally come out to them and was instead in a healthy relationship with his Romanian mate, Stefan.
With all of them paired up and many of them with children, the Burrow was extremely full when they had their weekly family dinners. It was boisterous and loud and happy, and the kids made sure there was never a dull moment. But if they thought it was too full, it was too bad for them, because in the next year, Hermione and Ron had their first child, a smiling girl named Rose, and Harry and Ginny had another son, Albus. George liked to joke, when he saw all the kids together, that some of them didn't look like they fit, as Bill and Fleur's children were blond, and baby Albus had his father's jet-black hair, whereas the rest were varying shades of Weasley red.
Even though George joked, he started to find himself wondering what his and Angelina's child would look like. With those thoughts came the realization that he really was imagining his future with her, and that included envisioning her as his wife. They had spoken about marriage years before, but neither of them had wanted to rush into things like it seemed everyone else was doing (including their own friends), and although she had said she was fine with waiting, it abruptly occurred to George that he didn't want to wait anymore. So, one morning as they were about to open the shop, he brought Angelina outside to inspect the sign hanging over the front door.
"Does something seem wrong with the sign?" he asked.
Angelina squinted and cocked her head. "Erm…no. I don't see anything…"
"What exactly am I looking for?"
"Well, you see how it says 'Weasleys'?"
"Yeah, but—?" And when she turned to face George, he was down on one knee. She raised her eyebrows in shock.
"I think we should make that 'Weasleys' part really official," George said, opening a box to reveal the ring.
Angelina's mouth parted. "What?" she breathed. "This isn't…a prank?" George gave her a look that read 'go ahead and see,' and Angelina cautiously grabbed the ring and put it on her finger, her expression clearly amazed. George hoped that she was less astonished that it wasn't a new product, and more that George was actually proposing to her.
"Well?" he asked, standing up.
Angelina was just frozen. She blinked. "Wait, so…you're being serious?"
Her lips finally quirked into a grin. "So you're expecting me to change my last name?"
Now it was George's turn to blink. "Are you saying yes?"
"Uh, yes!" Angelina said mockingly, grinning widely. She threw herself into George's arms and they snogged until they had to breathe. "And I guess I can change my last name," she added with a smirk.
Their wedding wasn't a grand affair, and that was perfectly fine with George. Though most of his days had been good, he did have his few bad ones, and he feared that the night before his wedding would be disastrous. Fortunately, they had been together so long and already survived so many things, that marrying Angelina felt like the natural next step. Having kids was something else entirely, and though George wasn't sure he'd ever be ready for that, he had plenty of nieces and nephews to play with so it didn't seem to matter much.
More years passed. Little Hugo and Lily were added to the already bursting family, but they easily fit into spaces no one knew were available. The family was warm and loud and happy. George was the crazy uncle that all the kids adored because he gave them presents and let them pull pranks on their parents. And while George loved his role in the family, he began to notice some changes within himself. He started watching his brothers interacting with their children in a way that, as an uncle, he never could. That question of what his and Angelina's children would look like once again burned in his mind, but this time, it stuck. Did that mean he was ready for his own kids? The thought terrified yet simultaneously exhilarated him.
When he finally brought it up to Angelina, she just smiled and said she had been considering similar things. Then, with a coy look, she raised her eyebrows.
"Well, should we start trying?"
It was several months before they were successful, and when George found out, he almost set off their entire stock of Wildfire Whiz-bangs before Angelina gently reminded him that the products were already being considered banned by the Ministry (due to their unstoppable nature), and that he would need to save them for when the baby was actually born.
Even though George was happy, bad days and dark moods still crept up on him every once in a while. Sometimes, they originated from dreams or nightmares of Fred and his death. Sometimes they started with a terrible feeling of wrongness, that something was missing, and nothing he did could make the yawning emptiness disappear. Other times it was triggered by memories that always made him wonder if Fred would approve of what he had done with the shop. Was this really what Fred would've wanted?
Perhaps the worst of his dark days came when he was lying awake one night. He was in the flat above the shop, though it had changed significantly since he first returned there as a bachelor. He and Angelina had expanded upward, creating more rooms and extending areas to create space for a living room and a work room. There were also two extra bedrooms now, and the kitchen was full-sized with a dining table.
Lying in bed next to Angelina in their refurbished master bedroom, hearing her breathing peacefully and feeling the extra bulge of her stomach pressing into him, George had a sudden, crashing realization of what this meant, bringing a child into the world. He didn't know how to be a dad. He barely knew how to be an uncle. Some days were really awful, and while Angelina was able to give him space, his child wouldn't be able to. What if he treated his kid badly when these unshakable moods consumed him? What if he unintentionally yelled, or worse, lashed out? What if he made his own child hate him because of the way he acted? What if his child grew up thinking he was an angry, bitter man who had never really gotten over his twin's death? Would his kid ever understand him, or forgive him?
George blinked back tears as he slid his legs over the side of the bed and drew his hands down his face. He tried to make himself stop crying by pinching his arms, but the tears overflowed. Now he couldn't stop thinking about Fred, and how his own twin would never know George's children or any of his other nieces and nephews. Fred would never have his own kids, and it was so bloody unfair that he had had to die so young. Why was his brother not allowed to have a future, when George was? What made George so special? It was only because he had Angelina and his family as anchors that he was even able to stay sane, let alone succeed. And now he was going to be a dad, and he was so excited and happy but it just seemed so unfair.
Warmth cascaded over him in the form of Angelina's arms as she draped herself against his back and over his shoulders. She gently kissed him and clasped his hands as his shoulders shook. He turned to embrace her, unable to stop crying, and they just held each other until he stopped.
"I'm sorry. I don't…know why…" he started.
"It's okay," she said. "It's going to be alright."
And it was alright. At least he made sure he was alright most of the time. When he had time alone, he let the dark thoughts loose. He took out some of his frustrations on his brother's grave, where he and Fred got into infamous cussing matches until a Hogwarts professor heard about them from a student and approached George to tell him, not unkindly, that he needed to express 'his kind' of grief elsewhere as there were children in the nearby vicinity.
That of course made George realize question just how mature he was and if it was right for him to even be having a kid. The doubts tore at him again until he forced himself to visit with his brothers. Bill, Percy, and Ron all knew what George was going through, and told him to stop being an arse and that it would all work out. It helped that they went out to the pub and got completely sloshed – a night to vaguely remember, as they had all drunk too much and had never really gone out before in such a strange, mixed group. George woke up the morning after with a raging hangover, but an inner calm that let him sleep again and not worry so much. Part of it was his brothers' reassurances, and a lot of it was what they had reminded him of – that it would be hard sometimes, painful other times, and absolutely bloody terrifying all the time, but that, despite everything, none of them could ever regret having kids since it brought a whole new level of joy to their lives.
Nearing Angelina's due date, George worked extra hard to make up for the time he would inevitably lose caring for the baby. He was completely expecting the worst for the first few weeks, like the sleepless nights and endless crying and nappy changing, but if he was honest, he couldn't wait to meet his child. He and Angelina had kept the baby's gender a secret, and George was dying to know if he would have a daughter or a son, and what he would name them and how they would grow up being pranksters like their parents and late uncle. Not only that, but he wanted to see how his child would fit in with the rest of the family, and he knew his friends would finally get off his back about organizing play dates. After all, they were all hitched and official parents themselves, even Lee! It was about time George and Angelina joined the club!
George was grinning to himself thinking of their future plans one day at the shop. It was mid-summer, and a busy day so George didn't have long to stare off into space. He swooped into action as customers bombarded him, asking his opinions about what would be the best gift, or answering questions about when a certain product would wear off, or how his customers could best force Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes's products into the lives of their annoying relatives. George was bouncing around, trying to talk to everyone, and was forced to give his wife an apologetic expression when she tried to get his attention but failed to pry him away. The next time she tried to alert him she grabbed for his sleeve, but George was pulled in another direction by a young girl adamant on learning all the effects of the Love Potions.
By the time George had a spare moment to talk to Angelina, she pulled him into the storeroom.
"George. I've been in labor for a few hours, and it's getting closer. What do you think about closing early?"
George could only blink at this news and the flat way Angelina said it, but then she grinned and the spell broke.
"Really? HOLY MERLIN!"
Running to the front of the store, George pressed his wand into his throat and said, "Sonorus!" before continuing, his voice booming, "Ladies and gentlemen, we strongly appreciate your business, but I regret to inform you that we must be closing the shop early for today, on account of my wife giving birth to my child. We are sort of not really sorry for the inconvenience."
The store laughed at the last bit, and then everyone broke out into cheers as Angelina emerged from the storeroom, grinning and patting her protruding stomach. George ushered people to the door, thanking them when they congratulated him, and as he shooed out the last customer and one of his new employees, who they really didn't want to leave alone, he hurried up to their flat, grabbed their already packed bags, and made for a birthing clinic near Angelina's home.
George gave Angelina ample time to get settled, and then they braced themselves for the inevitable barrage as they alerted the families. Unlike previous births, the whole family couldn't afford to come, and definitely not immediately, as many of them had younger, fussier children who wouldn't appreciate the wait involved. So, factoring in the amount of time to acquire babysitters or to have their spouses volunteer to watch the kids while they were gone, it took roughly an hour for everyone to show up. George was touched that all the Weasleys were there, especially his brothers who huddled around him and cheered him up. He hadn't realized how anxious he was until they were all there, attempting to calm him down, and George found it oddly comforting, despite all the noise and shoving hands.
It was the longest night of his life. Her labor went on for several more hours into early evening, and George couldn't believe how slow time was passing. But when the moment arrived, it was so fast and mind-blowing that all George could do was stare in amazement at his wife and their new baby girl. He hugged and kissed Angelina and they snuggled together with the baby between them, and George didn't know when he started crying, but he didn't stop till hours later, when his eyes were red and his face puffy and his cheeks tired from smiling.
It was, without a doubt, the greatest night of his life.
"I still remember every detail of Roxy's birth. It was…everything. I'm surprised that even an old man like me can remember so clearly," George said.
"You mean old geezer," Fred's portrait replied.
George's lips pulled into a grin as he grunted and creakingly stood up. His knees cracked, and he had to use his brother's grave as a support, but when he finally stood tall, his back was straight and his eyes were clear. He turned slowly and viewed Hogwarts, which had changed in the last few decades, but still somehow retained enough familiarity to bring memories to his mind. He smiled faintly.
"It's really been fifty years. Fifty years since you died," he said quietly.
"Yeah, well…look at how time flies," was Fred's reply. Over the years, George had tried different spells to alter Fred's portrait's personality so he could at least have a conversation with his twin instead of being insulted. At some point, the spells had finally started to take effect, and though Fred would never really mature, he was a lot less obnoxious and could actually carry conversations and remember details from previous visits. "How're the grandkids?"
George smiled again. "Good, good. Some of them are getting ready to go to Hogwarts."
"Yes, can you believe it?"
"Are they properly stocked?" Fred's portrait asked.
"Oh, I'm sure my Freddie's made sure of that." Thinking of his son's new products and how his grandchildren were planning to use them, George began to laugh. But it wasn't long before he started wheezing, and he clutched his chest.
George didn't answer his brother as he grimaced and coughed.
Was he alright?
To be honest, he had been feeling a bit dodgy for the past few days. Visiting Fred's grave usually helped him feel better, as it reminded him of being young. It especially helped that Fred's grave had become somewhat of a shrine to all the defunct Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes products. Not only that, but current students were still using the grave as a hiding place, where they stowed all their illegal products since each successive Hogwarts Headmaster had made it their express first duty to ban them. George didn't know why they bothered, as forbidding something only made it more tempting, and the students nowadays were even cleverer at concealing them or finding ways to smuggle them in. If only the Headmasters knew that the hub of this illicit trading and stashing was right under their noses…but George would never be the one to reveal the secret. That ensured that Fred would have constant visitors, and for the students, it allowed them a special place to make friends and work on their magic, as George had found left-behind products that had been modified, and even some outdated ones that very intelligent witches and wizards had repaired using their own crafted spells.
George couldn't have been prouder of his and Fred's legacy, though he supposed now it was also Angelina's and Roxy's and Freddie's legacy, too, despite his and Angelina's recent retirement, and Roxy's decision to pursue a different career. Speaking of Roxanne, her birthday was soon…
Ah, that's why he had been remembering Roxy's birth. Bloody hell, that had changed everything for him. He recalled how tiny she had been, fitting into the crook of his arm, and how beautiful she still was, with her mother's coloring but slightly lighter hair, including a few auburn streaks to properly designate her a Weasley. She had been his precious little girl, and like her mum, she had saved him in her own way. Whenever George had gotten into one of his moods and been depressed and trying to hide it, Roxy had always found him. Even when she could barely walk, he remembered her tiny feet pattering on the floor as she toddled over to him and put her hands on his face to wipe away his tears. She would squeeze him tight and his heart would feel like it was breaking, but it was really mending as he pulled her to him and breathed into her hair and felt how small and warm she was. When she got older and was able to talk, she would tell him it was okay and that he should not be so sad and that she loved him and everything would be alright. He would stroke her hair and say that he knew that, and that he loved her so much and that she always made him better.
Freddie was a different story, though he tried to take after his older sister whenever George needed comforting. When Roxy's way didn't work for him, Freddie was brilliant at coming up with effective (and absolutely aggravating) distractions. It didn't help that they lived above a joke shop, and from the moment he was born, Freddie had been in love with the store and the products and had gotten his hands on anything he could once he started moving on his own. Angelina and George had jokingly described their son as a tornado, unpredictable and always wreaking havoc. But George knew that, even though he couldn't be as sensitive as his sister, this was just Freddie's way of making things better, and happier.
And George had never been happier than after his children were born. Sure, there were times when he was frustrated to no end, and sure, he got angry sometimes and yelled and stormed off. And sure, he still got sad thinking about Fred, but life was suddenly so much busier and fuller than it had been, and George didn't have time to dwell on anything in particular because everything just moved so fast. In one instant, his children were babies, and the next, they were getting married and having their own kids. Merlin, George was a granddad now, and a great uncle several times over. It made him feel old but also extremely fulfilled and content.
"George? Hello, George, are you there?"
George startled out of his thoughts and turned back to his brother's grave.
"What? Sorry, I was thinking."
"Oh were you? It kind of looked like you were staring at nothing. You weren't even blinking."
"I was blinking! And I was just…thinking about how strange life is, you know?"
"Erm…" Fred's portrait started. "No, I wouldn't know. The real me is dead, and I'm a talking gravestone. It kind of makes it hard to be philosophical."
George snorted and then tried to laugh, though his chest felt tight again. This time, he couldn't seem to draw in a breath, and as he struggled, his knees buckled and suddenly the sky was above him, and he could hear Fred's voice calling to him but he didn't know what he was saying. The world was spinning strangely and his chest still felt tight and his lungs didn't seem to be working. A creeping darkness began to slide over his vision, and as the light faded, he felt something strange.
A warm hand on his own.
Percy and Audrey were entertaining their grandchildren when the call came that George had collapsed at Fred's grave. Two Hogwarts Third Years had found him and raised the alarm, and he was now at the hospital where Percy's middle-aged niece, Roxanne, worked as Head Mediwitch. After making arrangements, Percy and Audrey rushed over to the hospital.
Outside George's room, they found Angelina and Roxanne arguing.
"Why didn't you tell anyone he was feeling ill?" Roxanne demanded, her brows creased in worry.
"Because he said it was nothing! You know how your father is!"
"Yes, I do, and you should've let me know something was off!" Roxanne said before biting her lip and squeezing her eyes shut. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean for it to sound so harsh…" She allowed herself to be pulled into Angelina's sagging yet strong embrace, and mother and daughter held each other tightly as Percy approached.
"How is he?"
The women slowly pulled apart, and by the devastated look in their eyes, Percy felt his heart constrict.
"I examined him," Roxanne said, hugging herself. "And…I don't think he's going to last the night." This last part was cut off by a stifled cry, and beside him, Percy heard Audrey gasp as Angelina closed her eyes.
"But surely there's something you can do… Some kind of magic or spell… We're wizards, aren't we?" Percy said, knowing he was being rude and far too critical, but he couldn't help it. "Do you know what caused his collapse?"
"I've run all kinds of tests and diagnoses, but nothing is conclusive," Roxanne continued, her whole body slumping. "We don't know what's wrong. These kinds of things happen when wizards get to this age. And Dad…Dad's had a lot of trauma in his life—"
"But he was happy!" Percy interrupted, before calming himself when Audrey lightly touched his arm. "He was happy."
Roxanne smiled tearfully. "I know he was. But sometimes it just happens that…it's their time and there's nothing we can do about it."
Percy wanted to say more, but the rest of the family started trickling in, with Freddie and his wife in the lead.
"What's wrong with Dad?" he demanded, and as Roxanne was forced to repeat her story again and again to each new relative that showed up, Percy moved forward to have a private word with Angelina.
"Are you alright?" he asked gently, wincing when he realized it was the worst question to ask.
Angelina smiled faintly at him, the corners of her eyes crinkling. "It's strange, but…I think…I always knew it would be…like this…" Her shoulders started to shake as tears welled in her eyes. Percy drew her small, shuddering form into a hug, and when they finally pulled apart, he spoke.
"Do you mind…if I have a moment with him? Alone?"
Angelina sniffed and shook her head. "No, go ahead. You might not get another chance." She swallowed heavily and Percy put his own wrinkled hand on hers before crossing into George's hospital room.
George's face looked strained as Percy groaningly sank into a chair beside his bed. He could hear George's breaths, and they were shallow, scraping and wheezing from deep within his chest. Percy inhaled slowly, his own heart again tightening as he realized he would have to say goodbye to another of his brothers.
After Fred had been Charlie, about fifteen years before. He had died doing what he loved, but that was not enough of a comfort for their aging mum, who had been devastated to bury another child before herself. When she started to wane physically and emotionally, the family realized that Charlie had been her breaking point, and it wasn't long after that that she passed peacefully in her sleep. Arthur, who had been mirroring his wife's rapid decline, had looked completely drained when he told the family. When he abruptly passed a week later, the family understood that he had held on to let Molly pass before him so she wouldn't have to grieve over anyone else.
Now…now it was George's turn. Percy gripped his brother's hand and felt his eyes sting with tears. How could this have happened? Why was he always allowed to outlive his younger siblings?
But that train of thought didn't bring him far. He had grown stronger and healthier over these last few decades, and as painful as it was saying goodbye, he no longer resented himself enough to wish he were the one dying instead. After all, he had his family to care about and look after, and he wanted to see his grandchildren succeed and have their own families. It wasn't fair that he should live when George couldn't, but that was the way life was, and what Roxanne had said about George's trauma…Percy knew what Angelina meant when she said this was how she had envisioned their future. George had survived his twin by fifty years, fifty glorious, happy years, and that was enough. It was time for him to go.
Percy's breath hitched and then sputtered when George suddenly spoke up.
"Perce? Is that…you?" George said with obvious difficulty as he tried to sit up.
"Lie down. Yes, it's me," Percy said, gently pushing his brother back into his bed.
George's eyes were foggy and he blinked as if he couldn't see. Percy grabbed his hand and squeezed to reassure him that he was still there.
"Were you…there? The…the warm…hand?" George managed.
"What?" Percy said, frowning. "I'm sorry, I don't know what you're talking about."
George grimaced in momentary pain before relaxing and dragging in a breath. "It must be…it must be…"
"Percy…where…who is…are they…?" George said, abruptly frantic. Percy rushed to calm him.
"You collapsed at Fred's grave. You're in the hospital, and the family's outside. Do you think…you can stay awake long enough to see everyone?"
George glanced around desperately. "Where are…they? Where…? I can't…see…!"
"Calm down, George, I'm going to get Roxanne. She'll give you a potion to help you calm down, alright?"
Swallowing heavily, Percy patted George's arm and headed out into the hall to get Roxanne.
That night, the family crowded into George's room to wait for the inevitable. They had all spent the day utterly dazed and numb, unable to believe that this was happening. Roxanne had performed more tests, but they only confirmed her fears, and George's immediate family, his wife and children, all came together to share their grief. Thankfully, George had stayed conscious long enough to say proper farewells to them all, even if he had been a bit confused about where he was and who he was speaking to. After that, he had fallen unconscious and nothing they did had been able to revive him. They had instead grabbed some food and set up around him, sharing their favorite memories and stories of George's past. The room sweltered with so many people crammed into it, but Percy wouldn't have had it any other way. As they laughed and ate, the hours grew longer and darker, and some of them drifted off in their seats. Percy stubbornly remained awake, and spent the time watching everyone interacting with their families.
Despite the cloying sadness, there was a fierce feeling of love and warmth in the room that made Percy want to weep. This was family, this was surviving the ups and downs and celebrating and mourning and fighting and joking. A long time ago, he thought he had abandoned this future. He thought he had been stronger, choosing the right side. But he had been weak, and afraid, and too arrogant to see that this is what family was. It wasn't perfect by any means. It just…was. It was knowing someone would always be there to pick you up, or hold your hand. Or point a wand at their head to stop you from making the worst mistake you could ever make, preventing that easy escape but allowing for a future full of life. Percy stared at George and then at the rest of the family, all gathered in units, some popping in and out to attend to their children in the hallway. All somber but patient, waiting, waiting…
Snuggling into Audrey, clasping Lucy's and Molly's hands, Percy finally closed his eyes.
There was that warmth again. George felt it at the end of the bed, and though his eyes were closed, it was a light so blinding he could sense it through his eyelids. He inhaled a gasping breath and shuddered. Another breath rasped and he opened his eyes and smiled.
The family was surrounding him, Weasleys and Potters, old men and women, children and sleeping babies. They were all there, and George felt their love like a pulse, making it easier to breathe as he at last regarded the light. He had to squint to see it, but then it was obvious and George laughed.
"You've always been here, haven't you?" he whispered, and the shining form of Fred just rolled his eyes and nodded. George remembered carrying his children…ah, Freddie and Roxy, they were seated next to him with Angelina. His eyes swept over them and he felt love kindling deep in his chest, completely consuming the ache that had once been there. Merlin, how he loved them! And he remembered hoisting Freddie and Roxy into his arms, and they would wave over his shoulder at something he couldn't see, and when he turned around, there wasn't anything there.
"I was an idiot," George said, and at his words, some of the family finally realized he was awake and speaking. They stirred but George felt their eyes leave him and fixate on Fred, whose glow was lighting up the entire room.
"Fred," came Ginny's whisper, and George heard Percy gasp somewhere near him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw hands clench each other tightly, and parents pull their children to their chests, and his siblings weeping. But that wasn't what he was focused on.
Fred's face swam into his vision, every detail exact. His eyes crinkling as he laughed but made no sound. The dimples and the freckles and the way he held his body…it was all as George remembered. He felt it, like a tug on his body, and he wanted to touch his twin and make sure he was real, that this memory of his brother, his twenty year old brother, wouldn't just fade away.
But he couldn't sit up. Fred stopped laughing and he and George met each other's eyes. George made no move, but Fred leaned forward, holding out his hand, and George's heart sputtered erratically and he couldn't breathe, but his brother had found his hand. George clutched it, felt it, and when he looked down, he saw that his own hand was glowing. He sat up and realized his entire body was illuminated, and he felt young and weightless. He was twenty years old again!
George heard a sigh and glanced down to watch his seventy year old sink back into the bed, lifeless. A pang ripped through him, but he was still holding Fred's hand. Looking up at his twin, George felt tears in his eyes. He wanted to speak, but he didn't know what to say.
"It's about time," Fred said, grinning, and George grinned back at him, his chest exploding with light and joy. He allowed Fred to pull him off the bed and onto his feet, and as Fred turned to guide him away, George found his voice.
"Wait," he said, and he turned back to the family that were staring in awe, or shaking with tears. George instantly locked on Angelina's trembling form, and breaking out of Fred's grasp, he somehow floated and walked over to her. She gazed at him and reached up to stroke his face as she had done so much in life, but her hand passed through him and George instead felt her touch rippling inside him. She withdrew her hand, shocked, and Roxanne pressed into her mother's side to support her.
"Angelina," George said. "I'm sorry to leave you like this. I didn't…" he trailed off and looked back at Fred. "Can they hear me?"
"But they can—?"
"See you? Yes."
George smiled at Fred and turned back to his wife. He leaned forward and pressed his lips to her forehead as best he could, and then reaching out, he patted his son's and daughter's hands. Letting his eyes roam, he met the gazes of each person, even the babies, who were staring silently, dazzled by the light. Making sure they were all looking, George stood up straight.
"Everyone, I love you. I'm sorry, and…goodbye."
George found Fred's hand, and the last thing he heard before the light eliminated all thought was Fred's voice.
"C'mon, Georgie. There's some people we really need to meet."
A week later, an old man was standing in the cemetery of Hogwarts, staring at the graves of his twin brothers, which were side by side and matching in portraits that joked and visited each other and constantly conspired to come up with the best pranks. The man was alone, and as the wind blew his robes, he reached inside and withdrew a piece of paper. He picked up a stone, gently laid it on top of the paper, and whispered a spell so it wouldn't blow away. He stood there for another moment, and then, pulling up his robes against the wind, he turned and walked away.
The paper flapped and fluttered, but even under the first rainfall, it did not tear, and the stone was not removed, and the words did not disappear. They remained clear.
Two columns. Ten numbered points.
All checked off.
A/N: Well, that's it, folks! I'm not sure how those last scenes pair up with the heartbreaking visions in my head, but I hope you enjoyed them and don't hate me too much!
I also hope you guys didn't mind the change in writing style and the whole fast-forward that was this epilogue! This story was about George and Percy's recovery, not their whole lives, so I apologize if that's what you were expecting. I really wanted to focus on their journey back to happiness using the Checklist, and I always envisioned this scene at the end, so it was just a matter of getting there.
Though I've probably not been completely in character with everyone, this IS how I envision their lives post DH, and you're free to fantasize or read other fics about their parenting years like I do all the time! :)
In any case, THANK YOU for reading! I have so sincerely appreciated every review, and I can only hope that I left you FEELING something, since that's the greatest satisfaction I will ever receive - just knowing that my writing moved someone.
Again, thank you to all who read this, especially my reviewers! You made my day so many times and have all helped me become a better writer. I LOVE YOU ALL!
thesecondshelf (I'm so glad I found your work, and really appreciate your feedback!)
brilliant incandescence (Thank you for all your loyal reviews!)
Guest X 2!
CrimsonRed40 (I'm sorry it was too sad for you, hope you do/did continue reading!)
okay so (Terribly sorry that you hate me! ;p)
Owl Warrior 3528
ArtemisKey (Thank you for your fangirling wonderfulness!)
whispers in the morning
Only a few words away (Thank you so much for providing constructive feedback! I needed that reality check, and I appreciate it SO MUCH!)
Bard of Chaos
hydraspit (I bow to the amazing beta of Moonsign's fics!)
of cabbages and kings
ReallyUhSharp (I'm humbled by your kind words!)
Dream Killing Keith
Jester's Pet Oriole (Thanks for helping me fix a mistake!)
lost in my design
And to: L'Arya Shadeslayer, Reno of the Troika, Shaneey, and tofu-melon who are the staff of the community this fic was added to. I'm honored! :)
I don't know when my next foray into fanfiction will be...or if I will have another one. Hopefully my next major writing project will be a published novel of my original stories and ideas, inspired by the experience I gained from this site and the constructive criticism and feedback I received from amazing reviewers. I can't thank you guys enough!
Only time will tell... Until then, keep reading, keep writing, keep loving, and know that, no matter how bad it gets, it's going to be okay.
With all my love and kindest well-wishes,