One hand held a handkerchief; the other held a picture. The handkerchief was to wipe up the tears, and the picture was to create them.
But, no, it was not the picture. It was the fact that the face within – the one that smiled and laughed and made bunny ears behind his twin's head – was no longer the face that smiled at her, not from inside the frame, but from across the table.
A sob came from Molly Weasley's mouth. It was the sort of agonizing sob that could only come from a heart that had a missing piece, a heart that now felt as empty as a Dementor's soul. The cry broke through the silence, harsh and heart shattering, and she quickly pressed the handkerchief against her mouth, muffling the cry that threatened to follow the first. She did not want to wake up Arthur or any of the others. They didn't need to be worried, and she didn't need them fussing over her and her tears. More than that, Molly did not want them seeing her as anything other than the strong woman that she appeared to be, the mother who bravely faced her loss with stoic determination. She had to be strong for them.
Even if it drove her to do just as she was doing now: to mourn in the night, when it was no one but her, the picture, and the thick, embracing darkness.
Even if as she went on, day by day, pretending everything was fine, she was really dying inside.
Living life, when at every family gathering there was one less redhead and when her lucky number seven was now six, was nearly impossible. Every time she counted heads and came up one short, every time she saw the empty chair where he used to sit when he was little boy learning to shoot peas and fling food and tell an inappropriate joke at the right moment so he could make her spray her milk everywhere, it would make her heart cry out within her, moaning, wailing, and forming one single sound.
She took in the picture once again. The two teenage boys were so identical it was confusing, especially now that there was no one to mistake George for.
Yet, at times, she would catch herself looking at George as he walked into the door, and she would be so sure it was Fred, coming back to her. She'd count the freckles – the same number of freckles. She'd notice the cowlick which lay in the exact annoying angle that she'd always been unable to fix, no matter the effort she'd thrown into it. It was always the same shoulder, the same way of walking, the same identical image. Each time she would look at him and be about to call him by name, when she would stop herself just sort of forming the 'F'. Her eyes would have just found it, the difference between the two of them: the missing ear. The reminder that this was George and that Fred was long gone would come back with such painful speed, it would leave her breathless and fighting not to let her children see her tears.
This had happened time and time again, until finally Molly had learned her lesson: it was simply better not to look at all.
Molly swiped her cheeks, telling herself that she need to stop crying, lest someone hear her. The precaution worked. The tears stopped, but they didn't disappear. No, she could feel them pressing against the back of her eyes. She was determined to withhold them, though. So slowly, she set the picture down, forcing herself to leave it on the table, to rise from the chair, and to cross to the window above the sink.
She stared out into the darkness that fell across the expansive back yard of the Burrow, and she could remember how many years she had stood there at the sink, staring out into the yard. She could imagine that it was this place, more than any other, where she had watched her children grow. It was where Bill and Charlie had learned the delights of worms and mud. It was where Percy had always been curled up on the grass, staring up at the sky and plotting his first ambitious dream. It was where Ron had formed an annoying habit of eating grasshoppers when he was only three. It was where Ginny had toddled after her brothers, pleading to be allowed entrance into their Quidditch games. It was where Fred had always been up to some mischief or another.
The last thought had crept up unbidden, breaking through the barriers of her mind and bringing back the tears. She fought against them, blinking furiously, knowing that if she started to cry again, she wouldn't stop. To keep the tears and such hazardous thoughts at bay, she seized the nearest rag and put her entire mind into vigorously scrubbing the sink.
Of course, she had no way of knowing if the sink really did need a good scrubbing – it was too dark to tell. But she needed to do something, to put her hands into something so that her mind wouldn't have free range. So she pressed down, working on the sink with such force that she was sure she would shred the sponge, but she didn't care. Just as long as it kept at bay the thoughts, the feelings, and the agony that came with them.
Still, the thoughts continued to knead at her, whispering at the back of her mind, asking questions she didn't want to hear. Each time a thought would grow louder, she'd mentally scream at it to shut up, to go away, and to please just leave her alone.
Yet, she knew all along that it was only a matter of time before it slipped through, and finally, it did.
Why did he have to die?
Oh, she knew the reasons. She'd had the cause memorized down long ago, when she had first joined the Order and dragged her entire family along with her. They were supposed to fight against Voldemort, to keep him from taking over, lest they lost everything dear to them. For peace. For prosperity. Just to fight for what was right. She knew the reasons, just like he'd known them. She had known the risk, and Fred had loved them. But now that the worst had come to pass and their goal met, Molly was not so sure if it had been worth it.
Not if it had meant that Fred would never be able to taste the victory he'd so bravely fought for. Not if it meant that he would never be able to see the rest of his brothers married or be able to dance with his sister on her wedding day. Not if he himself would never know the joy of finding the one that completed him and begin to raise a family with her. Not if it meant that he was gone.
She was no longer scrubbing. Molly couldn't remember when she'd stopped or what she'd done with the rag, but she was no longer holding it. Instead, her hands were wrapped around the edge of the sink as she fought to keep breathing. Her throat was closing up and her knees felt as though they could no longer support her, making her cling to the counter tighter, almost desperately. But she couldn't stop her mind; she just couldn't! No matter how much she fought the thoughts just kept coming, one after another.
She'd always been so harsh with him, had always ridiculed him for his jokes and his pranks and his bad grades. She lost count of the times when she'd asked him why she couldn't be more like his older brothers, when she should have told him that it was fine just to be him. She hadn't supported him when it came to his dream, his shop. Even in the booming success, she had always told him that it would only be a matter of time before it crumbled to pieces in their fingers. She'd never stopped to see how amazing the business actually was and how intelligent they had to be to make such inventions. Not until now, when it was much too late.
And now she didn't know...
Molly let out another sob, pressing her hand to her mouth as her body shuddered.
Now she didn't even know if he had truly known how much she loved him.
Pain was turning to anger, but maybe not turning. Pain was often accompanied by anger, so maybe pain was anger and anger, pain. Because if pain came from unfairness, than that left so much to be angry about.
Why did it have to happen? Why did Fred have to die? Why had she never said goodbye? Why couldn't it have all ended up differently? And why didn't she get to say goodbye? Why, why, why?
Molly did the only thing she could. Without thinking, without caring about the consequences, she seized the book that Hermione had left lying beside the sink, threw it up, seized the top of the page, and pulled downward. The sound and feel of the page ripping away from the spine didn't help her, but it didn't hurt; it only gave action to her anger, the anger the poured through her, burning her deep and pulsing steadily. She continued on, destroying out page after page, and flinging pages to the floor by the handful. All the while, she didn't notice the tears spilling down her cheeks in hot streams, as she grunted and moaned, half angry, half in pain. She was destroying the book, ripping it into two, just like someone had done to her.
Finally, when nearly half the pages of the book lay crumbled on the ground and on her feet, useless and pathetic, did she stop her tirade. She clasped the spine of the book, prepared to hall it against the shelves on the wall in an action that would surely cause enough noise to wake the entire family.
“Blimey, Mum, what did that book do to tick you off?”
The book landed with a kerplunk, not against the wall, but onto the floor as it slicked from fingers slacked with shock and disbelief. Quickly she spun around and was suddenly quite sure that she had truly gone mad.
But she hadn't been hearing things, because he was standing there, as stout and strong and as redheaded as he always was. And the smile—the glittering, mischievous, and devilish smile—was there, spreading so wide that she was sure it reached all the way to his hairline.
Molly told herself to calm down; it was only George. She didn't believe it for longer than a second. George hadn't smiled like that since that night when he'd lost apart of himself. But Fred was dead, and as much as Molly wished things could be different, she was not stupid. She knew that magic couldn't bring people back from the dead. He couldn't be here; it just couldn't be him.
As though reading her mind, Fred's smile turned encouraging. “It's all right, Mum,” he insisted gently, firmly. “It's me. Fred.” She shook her head, unable to believe. Still, he pressed on. “See.” He laid a hand on the side of his head. “I've got both ears.”
He did. Both of his ears sat on his skull, a bit too large and a little crooked, but they were both there. She couldn't grasp how it was possible. It simply didn't make sense. She had to be dreaming. She closed her eyes, ordering herself to wake up. When she opened her eyes again, she expected to find herself staring up at the ceiling with Arthur snoring in her ear. Yet, she was still standing there, in the kitchen detail, with every detail feeling much too vivid for any dream. She could still feel the torn papers on her slippered feet, still hear herself breathing and the hoot of an owl somewhere outside of the house; she could even still smell the baked bread scent that always ran through the kitchen.
No, it couldn't be a dream. This was real, which left one option. “I've gone mad, haven't I?” she asked the hallucination, her voice quiet and frightened. What would Arthur and the others do without her? How would she survive living in St. Mungo's with only visits of her family on Christmas and her birthday to break the monotony of staring into space?
The hallucination Fred shook his head, scoffing as though she had something ridiculous. “Come on, Mum. When was the last time you met a crazy person, who actually knew they were mental? Besides, let's face it. If seven children haven't driven you to insanity, nothing could.”
She blinked at him, wondering if maybe, just maybe, he had a point. Hope began to bloom and than hope changed to joy. Because whether she was dreaming or even if she might be a tad insane, Fred was here. Her son had come home!
She flung herself at him, burying her face in his neck and allowing the sobs to come. This time, they weren't tears of grief, but of joy. For long moments, she simply clung to him, her fingers getting lost in his clothing. For the first time and a long time, she could feel him filling that empty piece of her heart that he had left vacant.
“Easy, Mum,” he whispered, awkwardly patting her on her back as though unsure how to calm the hysterical woman. In response, she only tightened her grip on him and he let out an 'oof'. “E-easy.”
Only then did she realize that she was clinging much too tightly. Oh, what a sight she must be making, sobbing uncontrollably like this. She let go of him and drew back. “Oh look at me,” she said as she fondly straightened the clothes that she had wrinkled in her attack. “I practically smothered you.”
“It's all right, Mum. It's not like you can suffocate me,” Fred assured her, then let out a laugh. “I'm already dead!”
He had said that much too cheerfully, and she stared at him, wondering how he could say such a thing. Surely if he was standing here, so wholesome, he had to be alive; he had to have come back. So how was it that he was still dead?
“I don't understand, Fred,” she asked softly, her confusion and distress showing through her voice. “I saw you die...and you're back. How can you be back?”
“I guess you can call me a temporary ghost,” he explained, rubbing the back of his neck as though nervous. His smile, too, had turned uneasy, and he stared at her, as though waiting for her to decipher some message.
Ghost? He couldn't be a ghost. She'd hugged him; she'd felt him. She studied him again. He looked normal, not like a translucent ghost or spirit. Every particle of him looked the same as the last day he'd been alive, except that if she looked really, really hard, she could glimpse that his skin seemed somewhat brighter, as though some sort of unearthly light brewed somewhere beneath his flesh. Then she blinked and there was nothing there, leaving her to believe that she had only been seeing things.
But his appearance and the word ghost didn't concern her, not compared to the other word that he had slipped in with it, one she now repeated. “Temporary?” Her voice was a bit harsh, because didn't like the direction that this was going. “What do you mean temporary?”
His games were up; there was no use pretending now, and Fred's smile fled from his face. He stared at her for a moment. She knew that look, the guilty one that he always gave when he was about to admit something that he knew she wouldn't like. She liked the look no more now than she had before.
“That's the thing, Mum,” he said hesitantly, sadly. “I'm not here to stay. It's one of the rules; I only have one night.”
One night? Never had that time frame seemed shorter than it did at that very moment, and it pressed upon her with great urgency. Her son had been returned to her, but not to stay. For just one last visit. She wanted to protest, wanted to demand how it could be so unfair for him to come back only to find he was leaving again, but she didn't have the time. They had one night; she had to make the best of it.
Her mind went into overtime, as she planned briskly, trying to figure out what she was supposed to do next. It came to her, the obvious thing. “I have to wake the others.” They deserved to see their brother, too. They had to have this chance to be with him. She'd have to send an owl to Bill too, or send one of the boys to fetch him. He needed to be there as well. There was so much too do, and so little time to do it.
She started forward, toward the door of the kitchen, determined to walk up the stars, but a hand stopped her, firm and restricting. She looked back at Fred and watched as he slowly shook his head, another note of sadness in his eyes. “No, Mum, I'm sorry, but that's the other rule. One night, one person. Just you, no one else.”
Molly felt torn between two sides of her, two thoughts that assaulted her all at once. One part of her wanted to throw her hands up in exasperation. The one time he wanted to choose not to break the rules, and it was the stupidest rule ever! Of course he had to see the family, and no idiotic restriction was going to keep her from waking them. The other side of her, the one that was more thoughtful and, perhaps, wise, was curious. If it was true, if he could only visit one person, then why had he chosen her? The sides fought as she stood there looking at him. Seeing the uncertain and sad look in his eyes, the side that only wished to fight with him lost to the other side, the side that desperately needed to ask the question.
“Why me? Why not George?”
The look in his eyes went from sad to heart-wrenching, his eyes appearing distant and almost empty, a look that she had seen in George's eyes right after Fred had died. It was a look that twisted her in two, because it held so much pain that it was unbearable. She looked away, unable to bear the sight any longer, because it was that gaze was the look of a soul that was no longer whole.
Softly, Fred answered, “George entered my mind...at first.” He paused, and she thought he heard him swallow hard as he fought emotion. “But one night never would have been enough—for either of us. And you—” She looked up at her, and the sadness was gone as he smiled at her sweetly. “You needed me.”
She didn't know how he'd known that, but she knew it was true. She had known it the countless nights when she had stayed awake, sobbing in the darkness of nights; she needed her lucky number seven. She felt the tears coming again. This time she wasn't sure whether they were sadness or happiness, because she felt both as she was so impossibly gratefully to Fred for giving up a few moments with his beloved twin in order to give her the chance that she so desperately needed. The chance to say goodbye.
She didn't know how to thank him. She didn't know how to begin this conversation, their last conversation. But she knew that she didn't want to cry. She opened her mouth, ordering herself to say something, to keep the emotions at bay, but as much as she tried, she couldn't force herself back to being that busy-body, brisk woman that she had always been. The woman who would have scolded Fred for his wrinkled clothes and the fact that his hair still wasn't laying straight; it was much easy to be that woman. But she couldn't be, because at that moment she was the woman who was about to face the last few hours she'd ever have to be with her son.
So, she did the only thing she could think of to do. Shuffling forward, she wrapped her arms around him, but not in a suffocating embrace like before. This hold was far more tender, one that spoke of love and sadness and a heart full of longing. She held him so tightly that it seemed that she might not ever let go, and Fred didn't seem to mind. Instead he wrapped her arms around her, sliding her closer to him, and whispering, “It's all right, Mum. It's all right.”
She didn't know how long they stood there, simply having their arms wrapped around the other. It could have been minutes, it could have been hours. She wouldn't have cared one way or another. They didn't talk, and she didn't mind. But eventually, she could feel Fred getting restless, shifting his weight slightly. Only then did she become aware how much time was slipping away.
She pulled herself away, wiping at the eyes that were moments away from being wet. When she had control, she gestured to the chairs surrounding the kitchen table. “Have a seat?” she offered, and he accepted, promptly propping his feet on the table. The dirt on his shoes was blatantly obvious, and she just couldn't help herself.
“Fred Weasley!” she snapped. “Get your filthy feet off of my table. People have to eat on that!”
He did as he was told, but a smile was on his face as he was clearly unabashed. “That's better!” he proclaimed, his smiling twisting with the joy of a plan well accomplished.
Molly froze, startled. Then, after a moment, she understood what he meant, because it was the first time since he'd arrived that she had truly acted like herself since he had arrived. The sense of normalcy felt it good, and she felt comfortable for the first time since he'd come. She lowered herself in the chair across the table from him.
“So...” She wondered how to find a way to start the conversation. If this was a normal situation, she would ask how work was, but this wasn't a normal situation. So she said the closest thing she could come to it, the first thing her flabbergasted mind could come up with, “How's heaven?” As soon as she had realized what she said, any sense of comfort she had felt fled from her and was replace with awkwardness.
But Fred didn't even flinch. Instead, he laced his fingers behind his head and leaned back, his face as animated as it had always been when he talked about Quidditch or his shop or something that he loved more than anything. “It's brilliant! There are people I know there, too. Like Remus and Tonks, Harry's parents, and Sirius.” He continued the list, mentioning people they'd known and cared about, people he'd known at school, Alastor Moody and Molly's brothers, occasionally bringing up a name that would cause Molly to wince, as she remembered just how much they'd lost in the war. Finally he reached the end of this list. “Even Snape's there. I guess he wasn't as big of a git as we all thought he was.
“Everyone is earnestly happy and friendly with each other. And there's this peace that you just can't explain, like you don't have to worry anymore, because pain doesn't really exist there. There are no tears or any real grief. And sometimes it feels like...like it's not really death I'm in. It's just more life.”
He grinned proudly, and she could understand. It sounded wonderful. After all, Harry had once told her that Dumbledore had said that death was the next great adventure, and by what Fred was describing, maybe he was right.
“Oh, and I'm still pulling pranks.” His eyes glittered mischievously and Molly sent him a stern look, but he continued before she could scold him. “I've got a plan to prank the angels. I've gotten Sirius and James in on it. It's bound to be brilliant!”
Molly opened her mouth, about to give him a lecture about how pranks and mischief only led to more trouble, especially when directed to angels, but she stopped herself. She'd spent years giving him that lecture, and it was something she now regretted, as she was sure that it had led him to feel unloved. She didn't want to waste these precious moments doing the same thing. So she pressed her lips closed and gave him the greatest gift she could. She said nothing.
He was silent for a moment, as though searching through his mind for something more to say. As though he'd remembered what he forgotten, he dropped his hand from behind his head and his eyes turned a bit serious, but his smile remained; only now it was a different kind of smile. Not mischievous or excited, but kind and deep. “But do you know what I love most about heaven?”
Molly shook her head.
“There're these windows in heaven.” He put up his thumb and index finger and spread them apart, framing a box, before anchoring his elbows to his knees. “Everyone has one of their own, and through them, we can see the ones we love and watch them as they continue to go about their lives.”
Molly swallowed as thick emotion threatened to clog her throat. She'd never thought about that, that maybe Fred was somewhere up in heaven watching all of them, as though he had never left and was still apart of their daily lives. She watched Fred intently, clinging to every word as he went on.
“And I have this window, and I watch all of you.” He stopped, his smile gone, and emotion feeling his eyes and voice as he finished, “And I miss all of you, just like you're missing me.”
Molly blinked rapidly and stretched a comforting hand to touch her son. At times, she had felt as though the ones who had lost a loved one were the only one who ached, but Fred was the one who was utterly alone, secluded from his family. She wrapped her hand around his palm, squeezing it encouragingly. She was with him now, for at least a few more hours.
Fred looked up and the sadness disappeared quickly—as it always seemed to with him. “But I only feel like that for a while. Because I remember that it's only a matter of time before all of us are together again, and then in heaven, we'll have the greatest family get-together of all!” He grinned proudly, excitedly, as though he was already planning what streamers he was going to decorate the sky with.
Molly smiled, wondering how suddenly dying wasn't quite so frightening anymore.
They moved on to other topics, talking quietly about this and that and nothing of great importance. Molly began every topic she could think of and Fred eagerly gave his imput, but mainly, Molly just listened, drawing in his voice, laughing at his many jokes (to which Fred was mightily confused, for she had never really laughed so much at his jokes, but she had to). At the back of her mind, she knew that these moments of hearing his voice would have to be enough to sustain her for the rest of her lifetime.
All the while as they talked, they cast glances toward the kitchen window, Molly hoping furtively that darkness would still be there. Yet, as much as she wished it to be night forever, the dawn came, poking up tender rays beyond the horizon and turning half of the sky a delightful violet.
She stared at it, praying that it would go away, but she could feel Fred looking at it, too. She looked at him, and she saw finality in his eyes. She knew it was time, and by the firm, but guilty look, she knew that he knew it too. She opened her mouth, knowing the question that she was supposed to ask, but for a full minute, she couldn't bear to speak it, couldn't force it from her mouth. But then, after reminding herself that there was no mistake, the time that she had been dreading was here, she forced herself to be strong. “You have to leave now, don't you?”
Slowly, Fred nodded. “It's time.” He looked down at his lap, his uncertainty in his eyes. Fred had never been good at this serious stuff, had always hated it to his very core, which was probably why he always had to spoil a serious moment with a mischievous prank or random joke. But now, he seemed to have to discuss something much too important to let his feeling of awkwardness stop him. “Will you tell George something for me?”
Molly nodded. She would have gone to the moon and back if it was Fred's last request.
“Tell him, I want him to live on.” Molly frowned at him, wondering what he was talking about. But he continued, “Tell him that I want him to laugh and prank. Tell him that just because I'm dead, doesn't mean that he has to stop living.”
Only then did Molly comprehend fully what Fred had observed from his window in heaven, and the realization landed liked a fist in her diaphragm. Had she truly been so blind? Was her son really so miserable? Yes, she knew he would be, but she had just never seen it. She choked, reaching a hand to press it against her mouth. She'd known he'd been struggling, but never to that point that Fred described, not that deep of a depression. How could she, his mother, have missed that? “I never thought...I never saw...”
“Of course not, Mum. You hardly look at him anymore.”
The truth of it laid thick guilt on her heart. She'd been blinded so much by her own grief that she'd neglected her son who was hurting so badly. She could hardly meet Fred's eye, not even when he smiled at her and said something encouraging that was supposed to make her laugh. She heard Fred sigh, and then go back to what he was originally saying.
“Just tell him, he's got to live for both of us now.”
Molly didn't know how to reply, so she met his eyes and nodded numbly.
They stared at each other for a long time, Fred rubbing the back of his neck nervously, and Molly clutching her hands together nervously. Both wondered what was the next step, how they could possibly begin their final goodbyes. Then, as though by some wordless decision, they rose from their chairs, and Molly pulled him in her arms once again. This hold was tight and loving, as much as it had been before, but this time Molly was burying her face in his chest. She didn't cry, only breathed in his scent, wanting to memorize the way he smelled and the way he fit into her arms.
Then, when at last she knew it was time to pull away, she held for a moment longer and whispered, “I love you, Fred. I always have.”
The words washed over her, and she absorbed them, feeling a weight be lifted from her. He knew, and that was what she had always wanted. But still, she knew that it was time. She drew back, tears pooling in his eyes and blurring her vision. She dabbed at the corners of her eyes, trying to clear them so she could see his face, but they only filled up again.
“Will you do me one more favor?” Fred asked, hopefully.
She nodded again. “Anything.”
“Don't cry for me, Mum.”
She looked at him and saw the earnestness, the delight, the love, all in his eyes. He smiled, a smile that was as mischievous, as joyful, as contagious as his smile always had been. He laughed, but when he spoke, what he said wasn't a joke. Far from it. “Because I'm not really gone.”
For the first time, she believed it. He wouldn't be leaving, not completely, because his heart and his thoughts would be thinking about them while this family thought about him, and in the moment, their minds, their hearts would be connected. That moment, they would be together, and that would be enough. At least, for this lifetime.
Fred took a few steps backward, and she didn't stop him. Instead, she watched him, her eyes no longer clouded with tears. She had promised not to cry, and she was determined to do just that. A smile was set on Fred's face.
“I'll be watching you,” Fred said, referring to his window, but then he frowned thoughtfully, paused in walking backwards, and his face soured—but only for a moment. Then he shook his head playfully. “You know, that came out a lot creepier than I thought it would.”
She didn't laugh, because she was much too afraid that if she did, by the time she went quiet, he would have disappeared. She didn't want that. She didn't want that moment to pass, having failed to say goodbye, again.
“Fred,” she called out, for he had once again started backwards, distancing them.
He stopped. “Yeah?”
“Goodbye.” There was no other way to let him go, no other way than a simple goodbye.
Fred smiled, his eyes dancing the way it did when he knew something she didn't. “Not goodbye...”
Whatever it was he was going to say, he stopped as he rotated his head toward the doorway. Molly saw what he was looking at immediately. In the doorway to the kitchen stood George. His eyes were wide with surprise, as though he could not believe what he was seeing, and he leaned against the door frame, utterly frozen in shock. Fred gazed back, his grin turning sad. The moment that they stared at one another seemed to last an eternity, so many questions, thoughts, emotions passing between them in those simple seconds. Then Fred's smile slowly turned warm, and he finished what he was going to say.
“See you later.”
Molly blinked, and just like that, he was gone.
George shook his head as though jerking himself away from a captivating dream. “Was that...” he began, pointing in shock at the place where Fred had stood. “How...Did you...?”
Then he gave up, hung his head in a dismal show of pain, and simply stood there. She saw his tears, making glistening streams down his cheeks, and her heart ached within her. She had lost one of her twins, but it didn't mean she had lost both of them. Why had she been unable to see that before now?
Molly would soon answer his question; she would give him the message that Fred had charged her to relate. First, though, there was something she desperately needed to do, something she should have done long ago.
She walked over to George and wrapped her arms around of them, and together, they cried.
The next day was beautiful. Birds twittered and fluttered in the tree outside, and the grass shone in the lushness that only summer could bring. The sun shown brighter than it had in weeks, or maybe that was just the way that it seemed.
A small smile was on Molly's face as she turned away from window where she had been watching Ron, Harry, Bill, and Ginny play Quidditch. She lowered herself in a chair by the table, a warm cup to tea cradled between her hands. She contentedly sipped at it, letting her mind wander. It touched on Ron and Hermione's relationship—she swore there were no two more made for each other. Well, besides her and Arthur. Ginny's last year was coming up so quickly, her last child to graduate from Hogwarts. The family was growing up so hastily.
Even if a piece of it was still missing.
Molly paused thoughtfully, her mind drifting back to the night before. The events now seemed little more than a dream. Besides, she hadn't told anyone other than George, nor did she intend to, knowing they would think her mad. It was real, though; she could feel it in her heart – in the way that it didn't hurt nearly so bad.
Molly jerked herself from her thoughts as she heard someone enter the kitchen. She looked up at George, and her smile faded. The grief was still deep in his eyes; she could see it. Fred's words had brought him comfort, but how could words end the agony sown deep inside him.
“George,” she whispered as he lowered herself into the chair next to him. She slid her arms around him and held him tight. After a long moment, she pulled away. “Are you all right?” They both knew what she was truly asking. She wasn't just questioning physically, but deep down, where the real damage was.
George hesitated a moment, looking down at the tabletop. Then: “No,” he said slowly, heartbreakingly. He looked back at her, and she nearly gasped at what she saw in his eyes. There was pain yes, but for the first time since that horrible night, there was life and hope. “But I will be, Mum,” he said determinedly. “I will be. He was right, you know. I have to live for both of us now.”
Then George smiled.
Molly laughed excitedly, knowing what this meant, and she embraced him again, with such exuberance that George gasped for air. “Easy, Mum. I need those ribs.”
Molly took his face in her hands and planted kisses on his forehead. “You're joking, George! You're actually joking!”
George chuckled. “Well, don't be so mad about it.”
Molly pulled away, a large grin still on her face and happy tears starting to fall from her eyes. She swiped at them vigorously.
George grew serious, his smile fading away. “And what about you, Mum? Are you all right?”
She paused, thinking over the question carefully. It didn't take her long. “I'm fine,” she breathed, and she meant it.
Yes, it would be a long time before she stopped missing Fred; in fact, she wasn't sure she ever would. She would always hate that she no longer had her lucky number seven, but now she knew what she hadn't before. She would see her son again, and until then, he wasn't truly gone. She would never let any of the family forget it either. For Fred was up in heaven, looking down from his window and thinking about them, just as they were thinking about him. That was enough, for this lifetime, anyway.
“I'm fine,” she repeated, patting George's hand.
“Good.” He stood, heading for the kitchen door.
“Where are you going?”
“To the shop. I reckon it's been closed long enough.”
Molly smiled as he disappeared out the door, swiping at more joyous tears. Reopening the shop wasn't going to be easy for George. The memories within it would surely hurt him, and he knew it. Yet he was trying to move on, and one day, she knew he would. Her son was just that brave.
Molly rose from her chair to take her now-cold cup of tea to the sink and paused as she looked out the window in time to see Harry score a brilliant shot. She, however, looked behind him into the dazzlingly blue sky. She wondered if, perhaps, right at this moment, Fred was looking down from heaven, meeting her eyes. She hoped he was, because there was one last thing she wanted to tell him.
“You prank those angels good, Fred Weasley. You prank them good.”
This story may or may not turn out to be a collection of short stories along these lines. It depends on whether or not I ever get around to writing the stories that are buzzing around in my head.
Also, Lindsey and Fresca are two of the most brilliant betas that the Beta Guild has to offer, and I was so thankful that I got both of them to work on this. If you're wondering why this doesn't have a thousand different typos, you can thank them. I certainly do.
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