Ginny Weasley had thought that last Christmas would be the worst of her life; with just her and her parents in the house, her mother cradling the damn clock to her chest and desperately trying to go through the motions – charming the tree in the kitchen to glitter with fake snow and trying to erect ginger bread houses with tiny marshmallows and copious amounts of icing. They'd received a few empty letters and Christmas cards but some were conspicuous in their absence: no note from Luna, nothing from Ron, or Hermione or Harry.
The house had been so quiet it was impossible not to think of the absentees and to let her thoughts wonder into the unknown territories of ifs. At Hogwarts it had been easier to convince herself that everything would be okay; at Hogwarts she could embrace herself in doing something – helping out the first years who couldn't defend themselves, landing herself in trouble and reaping the consequences. It had given her something to do, at any rate, and to be transported away from the constant fight and land herself in a much too big too empty house had been impossible. Two weeks she'd spent trying to dodge confronting the way her mother would stop in the middle of something – cooking the turkey, unwrapping the few presents they had, decorating the tree – exclaim 'oh' as if she'd just been winded, sit down and have to sob silently into her father's shoulder.
Ginny hadn't been able to deal with the continual shows of emotion, her mother's long suffocating hugs and the long hours of day she'd had to fill alone. She remembered confessing to Neville, back on the Hogwarts express, that part of her had been glad to escape the Christmas holidays – just because at Hogwarts the reminders of everything that was missing was just that little bit less.
She hadn't appreciated then the card from Fred and George; she hadn't kept it, read the words over and over or cut out his signature and committed it to memory. She could hardly remember how he signed things and she couldn't ever remember seeing his signature alone: it was Fred and George, written in unnaturally large hand writing as if their enthusiasm for life had exploded from the pen.
She thought, perhaps, that George might have signed for both of them – it seemed like something he would do, but more than anything she wanted to see Fred's name dancing from the bottom of a Christmas card, a gift tag or scrawled across a large parcel. Anything, really, she just wanted to see his name.
She had only ever seen the burrow so full once before, at Bill's wedding, and even then the place hadn't felt so crowded: she supposed that it was because she was feeling the desire to be alone more than she had done then – when she would have be glad to snatch any chance she could get with Hermione, Ron or Harry – now she wanted to escape everyone and have time to think. Her bed had been pushed to the very edge of her room to allow room for a camp bed for Hermione and even sitting alone in her room she didn't really feel like she had enough space.
Everyone had come home for Christmas this year.
Her mother, who was only ever happy if there were plenty of bodies to feed and keep her busy, seemed to be flitting between being in her element and letting her thoughts get carried away from her – reminding her that not quite all of her children could come home any more.
It was stupid, but the week running up to Christmas had been the worst week since May. Christmas without Fred seemed to make everything so much more final – the end of the year was coming and still he hadn't returned from wherever he was hiding and... Christmas just wasn't Christmas without Fred Weasley.
Ginny had always gotten on relatively well with her brothers. It was more out of necessity than anything else – it was hard to be the only girl in such a large household – but she had always been especially close to the twins. Ron seemed to be a little too close to her in age for them to get on really well; there were too many years of competing for attention, competing for toys and competing for the best hand me downs . When she was little Charlie and Bill only decided to spend time with her when they felt like indulging what they'd considered to be her 'childishness.' And Percy, well, Percy had never been any fun. No, it was the twins who she usually found herself with in the summer holidays.
Of course, sometimes they shunned her to do twin-things, but mostly they allowed her to perch on the edge of their bed as they plotted and schemed; she thought maybe they always had the most belief in her, out of all of them. They were the ones who allowed her to feel most like a person rather than just the girl (another reason why her and Ron had never been especially close: she thought that perhaps Ron thought, as the older, he was more entitled to the twins time).
Still, it was Christmas when she remembered them really coming to life. It was a day when they could do whatever they wanted without their mother getting too mad (except that one year), a day when they'd fight for family unity – even forcing Percy into a Weasley Jumper although Ginny considered that may have been more for their amusement for anything else. They'd batter back Ron's complaints about maroon jumpers, congratulate their mother on another meal excellently cooked, politely question Percy on what books he'd received and always, always, come up with some muggle present that would delight their father for hours. The Twins lit up Christmas and always, Fred was the first down the stairs, the first to throw a snowball at the back of Percy's head and the first to let the chickens loose in the house.
How could it be Christmas without Fred Weasley?
The Wesleys were to eat outside on Christmas Eve because their kitchen could not accommodate such a large quantity of people: Ginny helped her brothers set up the table, laughing at something Charlie said and mimicking Fleur's accent in George's ear whenever Bill was out of earshot. Hermione floated around in the background, feigning disapproval with a slight smile ('she is part of your family now Ginny').Ron hung around not doing very much, Harry was trying to be as helpful as possible and Percy was talking to their father about something not very interesting – it was almost as though nothing had changed.
Ginny thought about Fred a lot during in dinner, particularly when George kicked her under the table and nodded to where Percy had been right before he'd promptly turned into a canary ('I can't help it Gin, he never learns – an irresistible target if ever I saw one) and wondered exactly how things would be different. On the outside, maybe things would look similar: Bill and Fleur would be sat at one end of the table with Charlie; her parents and Percy were near the other end of the table, where Andromea sat holding Teddy on her lap with an indefinable expression on her face not talking to anyone very much and her, George, Hermione, Harry and Ron sat in a little cluster in the middle.
It was easy to fit Fred into the scene, right next to George, and everything would seem that little bit louder and that little bit more alive.
Maybe if things had been different Remus and Tonks would be there too; Tonks would change her nose between mouthfuls of roast potatoes and she would hear Teddy babbling away about 'mama' and 'dada.' Or perhaps they would be at home – taking the unflappable Andromeda with them.
She felt a familiar pang in the pit of her stomach, something she'd become accustomed to in the past year – although the twang of grief had not yet stopped being painful – and swallowed it down with another gulp of pumpkin juice. She caught Bill's eyes for a second and he smiled at her, she returned the smile before turning to Hermione and continuing the ongoing chatter.
In a family as big as the Weasley's it was easy to get lost in the multitude of conversations – but someone would always notice your silence. Ginny did not want George to catch on to what she was thinking about, not least because she knew she had no right to miss Fred so much, not when George had lost so much more.
Ginny could not sleep that night. She could remember years of not being able to sleep on Christmas eve: in the pre-Hogwarts years she would have crept across to Bill and Charlie's room and informed them both of this – sometimes they would have stayed up with her, played silly games until she was so exhausted she dropped to sleep on the foot of one of their beds and other times they'd tell her to get out and bother someone else. This Christmas Bill and Fleur shared the room opposite her and Charlie slept above her in Percy's room – the only room that didn't have two people in it was the room that by all rights should have.
She thought about creeping into George's room but she was scared about what she would find there. She headed for the toilet instead, pausing on the stairs to look at their bedroom for a long moment before continuing upwards.
A creak on the stairs made her glance upwards and she smiled when she saw Harry descending from the stairs that led to Ron's room. Harry always looked particularly adorable when he had just woken up –mostly due to his hair and the way you could always tell he'd just put on his glasses and was still a little confused, but Ginny still found it difficult to look at Harry and not have a glimpse of his body lying crumpled in Hagrid's arms. Still, it only took a blink before the image disappeared and a few moments longer for her to catch hold of her thoughts again.
"Couldn't sleep." Harry said softly, stepping down the last couple of stairs and onto the third floor landing. There was a lingering silence for a few seconds.
"It's strange, isn't it?" Ginny said, "how much can change in a year."
It was difficult to know what Harry was thinking sometimes: she wondered whether he was thinking about Christmas without Fred, or whether it was Christmas without Remus and Tonks, Sirius, Dumbledore, his parents... Or maybe he wasn't thinking about that at all: maybe all his losses were too big a thing to consider and so he simply didn't. She had always wanted to ask whether grief became diluted after a point – but she'd never found the exact right words for the question.
They'd talked about Fred. Not very much, because Harry seemed to think he was intruding on their grief whenever the subject was approached – but one day she'd get him to talk about it, just as one day (and she imagined it would be soon) she'd get him to talk properly about everything that had gone before.
"Are... are you okay?" Harry asked carefully.
"Yeah." Ginny returned. She was okay: she wasn't dying, she wasn't really struggling – she was simply getting by. In reality that's what they were all doing. There was nobody to tell you how to rebuild your life after it has been pulled from under your feet, how to live after war and how to continue when so many things have just stopped. It wasn't the happy ending she had expected.
Maybe they simply hadn't reached the happy ending yet, but she found it difficult to understand how it could be a truly happy ending when every Christmas would be a Christmas without Fred.
She considered that perhaps she had to be brutally honest with Harry before she could get the truth out of him, but now was hardly the time – they were both alive, safe and well. They had all the time in the world.
"We don't want the others to catch us out here, they'll think we've planned it," Ginny said with a smile. He took her hand for a moment, "merry Christmas Harry." She smiled, squeezing his hand.
Ginny padded down the stairs as quietly as she could with the intention of getting herself something to drink before going to bed, more to fill up the time than anything else. There was a dim glow coming from the sitting room and Ginny pushed the door ajar and glanced in – wondering whether someone had left one of oil lamps burning again, but stopping short when she saw her mother sat on the sagging arm chair with her knitting needles.
"Mum?" Ginny asked, pushing the door open fully and stepping into the room. Ginny had never considered herself to be the mummy's girl she'd always known she'd been intended to be – she'd spent too much time surrounded by boys to be able to fall into an easy pattern of being truly girly. Sometimes she felt like that, after so many generations of waiting for a girl to come along, she was a bit of a disappointment on those stakes.
Bill, Charlie and her Dad were always a little better at making her mother feel better than she was.
"Oh," Her Mum said, placing down her knitting needles for a second.
"I couldn't sleep." Ginny said quietly, shutting the door behind her.
"I hadn't finished the jumpers." her mother said helplessly, continuing to furiously knit.
Ginny closed her eyes for a second. They could both see the jumper her mother was knitting was embellished with a bright red 'F' and the pile of knitwear at her side bore witness to the fact that she had already knitted a large number of jumpers. Ginny half wanted to convince herself that the 'F' was for Fleur, but she knew that her mother had been working on a much more delicate light blue jumper for the latest addition to the family.
"Do you want me to wrap them?" Ginny asked softly, crossing the room without waiting for her mother to answer and taking a seat near the foot of the armchair.
"Thank you, dear." her mother said.
Ron's remained, as always, a reluctant maroon. It suited Ron though, as Ginny had always considered him to be the most reluctant Weasley – the most determined to prove himself and the most likely to resent certain things that came along with the package. She tied a purple ribbon round his package with a smile. Yet again she'd used the snitch emblem to represent Harry – Ginny remembered the year he'd been given a dragon jumper and entertained herself for a few minutes with other fantastical possibilities – the sword of Gryffindor or the diadem of Ravenclaw. Although, as far as she knew, her mother knew very little about a great deal of what had happened – she hadn't cared, in the end, because they were safe and at that time it was all that mattered. She was sure that one day her mother would ask and that she didn't want to be around when she was delivered an answer.
One thing was for certain: her mother would certainly not have knitted him a snitch jumper if she had known about the resurrection stone.
"That one's for Hermione." Ginny's mother said when Ginny picked up a dark blue jumper with a stack of book upon the front. Ginny ran her hands over the wool: anything woollen always made her think of Christmas, always, and she would never be able to escape the association.
They were silent for a few more minutes.
"I couldn't not knit him one," Ginny's mother said softly, "I couldn't."
"Mum can I keep it?" Ginny asked before she'd even intended to let the words leave her lips.
She looked up her daughter for a moment and assessed her quietly, "of course you can," she said softly, "I lost my brothers, Ginny." she added after a few seconds of silence.
Ginny had never even considered that. Sometimes it was easy for her to forget that her parents had had lives long before they were her parents: that her parents had been living through a war before she was even born, and that her mother had lost people before she was even an idea.
"Gideon and Fabian," Ginny said, "Sirius told me about them." she added. She wanted her mother to know that she was interested, even if she could hardly remember Sirius's words – they seemed to be from a different time altogether when none of this had felt so real. He'd been making some comment or other about her mother's tendency to be overbearing, it had made them all laugh – about how her brothers had been such good fun... she'd never thought at the time how it must have felt to lose a sibling.
"Here you go," Ginny's mother said, finishing the last line on Fred's jumper. She swallowed and seemed to breathe in the little bit of Fred that lingered around the jumper – then she smiled and handed it over to her daughter.
"Night Mum." Ginny said softly, holding the jumper up to her face as she disappeared back upstairs. She threw herself into her bed feeling as though she'd just run a very long distance and put her arms through the sleeves of Fred's jumper.
Ginny remembered once when the cat, fed up of being used as a guinea pig for their new Christmas presents and the twin's various experiments, had attacked her Christmas jumper. Given she'd been wearing it at the time she'd been terrified of the cat for the next few hours before she'd faced up to her fears and told the cat exactly what she thought, but the result had been that so many lines of knitting had been ripped through that her jumper had ended up in two pieces.
She'd been distraught, and had wept all the way through Christmas dinner until Fred had taken George's jumper and given it to her; "see," he'd said, "it still has a G on it – you've still got a jumper,"
"Fred and I don't need two," George had added, "we're used to sharing."
Ginny pressed the jumper to her chin, felt hot tears running down her cheeks and, eventually, fell asleep.
Christmas was very different to last year.
For a start, when she woke up Hermione was already awake standing up and peering out of the window in her dressing gown.
"I know it's stupid," Hermione said when she noticed Ginny was awake, "but I really was hoping for a white Christmas."
Ginny stuffed Fred's jumper under her pillow and pulled herself out of bed.
"Mum says we're opening all our presents downstairs together this year," Ron's voice said from outside the door, tapping it with his knuckles, "so hurry up." he added at the end. Ginny smiled, a warm glow of nostalgia settling over her.
"Shall we go?" Hermione asked, pulling on her slippers.
Ginny nodded, pulling on her own dressing gown and grabbing her pile of presents from the floor.
Out in the corridor she could hear Percy complaining about being woken up and the general clatter of a lot of people all heading down the stairs. She waited for Harry to reach the top of her staircase before falling into step with him easily.
"Morning," she grinned, "good haul?"
"Better than last year." Ron said, appearing from George's Room and yawning widely as he headed back up the stairs.
Harry smiled at her.
Yes, Christmas was very different to last year.
Ginny had wrongfully assumed that George hadn't been working on as many new products recently, he'd only moved back into his flat a few months ago and before that she'd noticed none of the familiar tell tale signs that accompanied inventing – but he'd still managed to surprise her by wrapping up some brand new produce that she suspected no one had ever seen before.
"Hasn't been tested either, mind," George added, sending her a half hearted smile – he had all the airs of someone that was trying a little bit too hard and the smile made Ginny's stomach turn over slightly, "but you're pretty tough."
"Reckon I can handle it?" Ginny asked in return, throwing George her own present.
"Just about." George grinned, and that sounded about right. Ginny could just about handle it.
She wound up sat next to Harry over Christmas dinner and chattered with him excitedly about the new broom that Percy, Charlie, Fleur and Bill had clubbed together to buy her – she teased him about her new shiny broom and listed the firebolt's faults in between bites of stuffing and cranberry sauce.
The crackers were donated by Fred and George; each one exploded with enough force for the winner to lose their eyebrows ('don't worry – you'll all be hairy again soon enough'), several strange surprises (Ron had been unfortunate to win one that jinxed his ears to make them twice the size and twice as sensitive), hats and traditional corny jokes – each written on a little piece of paper and signed off 'Fred and George.'
Ginny eventually got her time alone after dinner when Bill and Fleur headed home to accommodate Fleur's family visiting from France, Ron had gone upstairs complaining of a rotten headache and everyone else seemed to have dispersed around the house. Ginny stood outside and fed the chickens slowly, letting her mind wander back to all the Christmases that had come before this one and wondering whether there would ever be a point when Christmas without Fred might feel like Christmas again.
She leant against the edge of the chicken coop and tugged on the edges of her Christmas jumper until Harry stepped outside, looking for her. He wanted to talk.
When Ginny went to bed when Christmas day was drawing to a close she removed Fred's jumper from where it was wedged between her bed and the wall and pulled it over her head: when she buried her face in the rough feel of the wool she could almost imagine that she could smell the lingering scent of gun powder, burnt hair and Christmas.
I most definitely don't normally right about characters so close to cannon, so this was a wild card I wrote round about Christmas. But, yeah, I got to a million posted words of HP fanfiction on HPFF so now I'm celebrating by editing and uploading a bunch of things on here.