No one could identify the what exactly caused the explosion. Perhaps it had been a combination of several spells at once, or a hex the Death Eaters knew that they had never heard of. Maybe the wall had been weakening for hours with all of the spells that had been ricocheting off of it and it just took a simple charm to make it blow up all at once. Maybe Harry's Stupefy had hurled that huge Death Eater into the wall with too much force, and that was what caused it. Whatever happened, they all knew that the damage was extensive. They could feel bruises forming, blood leaking from fresh wounds.
As the dust was settling, it was impossible to see much of what was going on. All that was visible were two shocks of red hair on the floor, the rest of their bodies covered with pieces of the wall. Neither of them were moving. Ron and Harry rushed to roll one of them over, checking for any signs of life, anything to prove he wasn't gone.
When Hermione's eyes had cleared, she saw a glint of something shiny amidst the rubble. She knew at once that it was her necklace, the one Fred was still wearing, and that the blast had been strong enough to blow it off from around his neck. He had a gash on his head, with drops of blood spilling down onto his face and the floor, but showed no other signs of injury. Still, he wasn't moving. It must have been something internal, harder to mend. More difficult to locate in the first place. She dropped to her knees next to his motionless form, shaking his shoulders and beginning to cry. "No, no, no!" she screamed, though it was useless. "No, Fred, no!"
He couldn't be dead. He was only twenty, too young to die. They were going to get married! He was supposed to have decades ahead of him, years they could've spent together. This wasn't fair!
"Hermione," said Harry quietly. "We have to get going."
"No! We can't—we can't just leave him here!" she argued, turning to Ron for support. This was his brother! Surely he'd lend a hand. But Ron just shook his head. "Percy!" she cried helplessly, glancing around and looking for the only sensible one left. "Help me move him? Someone? Please," she begged.
But nobody answered.
It wasn't supposed to happen.
Hadn't the Weasleys suffered enough? Ginny had been possessed, Arthur had nearly been killed by a snake, Bill had been mauled by one of the most notorious werewolves, and George had had his ear cut off. They had been through hell; the youngest son had been out in the world fighting Death Eaters and helping Harry Potter in his quest to defeat Voldemort at the age of seventeen, and had been facing various evils since age eleven. The Weasleys had been through more than any family should ever have to.
And now one of them was dead.
Molly was openly weeping, while Arthur sat beside her, face stony. He still wasn't sure how to feel about any of it, still in a state of shock from everything they had been dealing with. He was sure that in the next few weeks, it would all finally sink in. But for now, he was stony and numb. It had been a tough few days for them, having to attend so many funerals for friends: Tonks and Lupin, for instance. And now here they were, burying their son.
Bill was on the other side of his mother, patting her back gently, trying to comfort her while keeping his own emotions in check. This was his brother. As the eldest, he'd always felt a duty to protect his siblings, and he hadn't even been nearby when he died. Fleur took his hand in hers, sensing that he needed it, and he held on like she was his life raft. On Fleur's other side sat Charlie and then George, who both stared straight ahead, jaws set.
The next row had Ginny at the end, grasping Harry's hand for dear life as tears dripped down her cheeks. Ron was next to Harry, and though he focused on what Kingsley was saying, he kept eyeing his sister and Harry with slight suspicion. Hermione was on Ron's other side, shoulders shaking from time to time in a silent sob.
Fingers laced tightly with Hermione's, the last person in their row was Fred Weasley.
"Percy will be missed not just by those in attendance today, but by the entire wizarding world," Kingsley finished in his deep, soothing voice. "I invite anyone else who has something to say to come forward now."
Fred yanked his hand free from Hermione's, startling her, and sprang to the front where Kingsley had been seconds earlier. "Percy was a prat," he began. Ron and George chuckled. His mother glared at him. His father gave him a please don't kind of look. "He was. We all know it. I'm sure he even knew it! I spent almost three years hating him, planning out very vivid and elaborate death scenes for him. In fact, just a few weeks ago, I dreamed up one involving goblins and—" He caught sight of his mother's face and hastily cleared his throat. "Er, but I guess maybe this isn't the proper time. Bugger. Well, see me afterwards if you'd like to hear about it."
After another sharp glance from his mum, he cleared his throat and continued. "Anyway, Percy... Well, there's a lot of negative things we can say about him. I could fill a few books about his negative qualities. But here's the thing, despite all of his faults, he came around in the end. Even though he got in too deep for a while, and I didn't think he'd ever return to us, he knew where he really belonged. He saved my life, pushed me out of the way of the worst of the blast so that it hit him instead. His final act was to ensure that I lived, knocking me out in the process and giving me perhaps the worst concussion a wizard has ever gotten, but his heart was in the right place. He willingly died in place of me, even though we were on non-speaking terms for years. Before he died, Percy made sure everyone knew which side he was on, and that is what he will be remembered for." With a slight nod at George, he walked back to his seat to a smattering of applause.
George very subtly waved his wand under his chair, and fireworks started to go off. Everyone began to smile. It was a happy funeral; Percy had died fighting. It wasn't a time to mourn his death, but to celebrate his life. Fred's speech and George's fireworks were attempts to lighten the mood, and both were successful.
Hermione turned to her boyfriend—wait, no, her fiancé. She was still getting used to being engaged. "You," she said slowly, "are not writing your own vows for our wedding."
He raised an eyebrow. "What?"
"You started your speech at your own brother's funeral with 'Percy is a prat.' What would your vows be? 'Hermione is a know-it-all with the occasional bitchy tendencies, but I promise to cherish her forever anyway?'"
Fred laughed loudly and kissed the top of her head. "You, Hermione, are one of a kind. And while you definitely are a bit of a know-it-all, you're not a bitch. Also, I think I will write my own vows. You can write yours, too. It'll be perfect!" His tone was joking, but he meant it. They hadn't really talked about any of the details of their wedding yet—not that there had been time in the last week or so, with him just barely escaping death and having to spend two nights in the Hospital Wing and all of the funerals they'd had to attend and the interviews for the Quibbler that Luna insisted they all participate in—so he thought this would be a nice place to start.
She could tell he was serious, but before she could decide whether it was the best idea, Ginny leaped up. "Before you all leave," she said, her voice carrying over the crowd that was slowly beginning to disperse. "I'd like to invite you all back to the Burrow for a party!"
Everyone stared at her. "Not—not a funeral party. Merlin, no! It's an engagement party!" She noticed that they were all now glancing at her left hand, looking for a ring, then appearing even more perplexed when there was no ring in sight. "Not for me! It's for— Oh!" She shot a mildly frightened look at her friend. "You haven't told anyone else yet, have you? Damn. Er, well, this is uncomfortable. Ah, a certain lucky couple is engaged and we're celebrating it at our house, so..." Face as red as her hair, she grabbed Harry's arm and they Disapparated.
"Damn it," Hermione muttered. They'd been trying to keep it a secret until everything had died down. The only people that knew were Harry, Ron, Ginny, George, and Percy. George knew because Fred had gone to him seeking advice. Percy had known because Fred had been forced to tell him. Harry and Ron knew because when they all thought Fred was dead—in their defense, his pulse had been really faint and he hadn't seemed to be breathing and they were all reeling from the explosion—and she had refused to leave his body, Ron had spotted her engagement ring. Ginny knew because Harry apparently didn't understand the words don't tell anybody, not even Ginny and had told her three days later.
The engagement party, now, that was more of a surprise to Hermione and Fred than the actual engagement was to everyone else. Or so they thought.
Molly whirled around to look at Fred, then at Hermione's hand. Her eyes widened when she saw the ring on Hermione's finger. She nudged her husband and pointed. As they were gawking, Fleur turned and beamed at them. Bill gave Fred a thumbs up. Hagrid let out a sob and congratulated them. One by one, everyone was smiling and congratulating them, including several people neither of them recognized.
"Well," sighed Fred. "I s'pose the secret's out."
Time for kind of a lengthy author's note. (Well, more lengthy than I usually do, but it's the last chapter!) Firstly, this was supposed to be the alternate ending. I had actually planned to kill Fred, but changed my mind at the last second because I just couldn't do it, god damn it. BUT if you want to read his death scene (which isn't really a death scene, but it's the other ending, the one I'd originally planned on using, and yes, he does die in it), I just put it up as a one-shot called The World.
Secondly, I hope you're all happy with how this turned out! I know several of you were very concerned about Fred, so please let me know what you think! (Surely... surely nobody was hoping I would kill him off, right?!)
Enormous thanks to AgentBrenna, nsheldonb, Lunarox67, RinChan0159, and hprbdfan for reviewing!
On that note, thank you all so much for reviewing this and favoriting it and following it and reading it!Seriously, you're all amazing, and it makes my day when I see that someone else has followed/favorited the story, or when I read through the reviews. This was a just-for-fun project I decided to do while I've still got time to write before I go skipping off to college. (I move on Saturday! I've been putting off packing so I could finish writing this thing.) And when people actually liked it, well, I have to admit I was a bit shocked. So anyways, thank you so much for reading this story. It was fun to write, and I hope it was fun to read.
I wish you all a long and happy life.
(Yes, I stole that from The Lovely Bones. Shh.)