A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes chapter 3 verse 4
For sheffers81 in memory of Megan Wyman
The sky overhead was as clear and as blue as one could wish for on a May Bank Holiday weekend. Along the coast and in the nearby town of Ottery St Mary, thousands of Muggle holiday makers would already be crowding the roads, trying to make the best of a rare sunny public holiday. However, many would decide that any routes that included passing through the small village of Ottery St Catchpole were too long-winded and needed to be changed. Any visits to its quaint Saxon church and its fascinating round tower could wait for another day. Even the one hundred or so Muggles who lived in the village would, for today at least, find staying indoors preferable to enjoying the sunshine.
For Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley, the cornflower blue sky did not promise a day spent secreted in the meadow adjoining the Weasleys' orchard or even one dangling their feet in the cool waters of the River Otter. The normal delights of a summer's day at The Burrow couldn't have been further from their minds as they sat silent and stony faced across from each other at the breakfast table.
The sombre mood extended to all in the kitchen as the Weasleys, red-eyed from lack of sleep and fresh tears, prepared to say goodbye to Fred.
Slowly, the breakfast table emptied and, in couples, they departed for the church. First Molly and Arthur, closely followed by Bill and Fleur. Next, after checking that Harry and Ginny would follow on soon, Ron and Hermione headed for the door, clasping each other's hands tightly. Harry slipped his arm around Ginny's waist as they emerged into the yard.
In the open space between the house and the garden proper, Charlie was overseeing the erection of the marquees and tables that would accommodate the mourners when they returned.
"Tell Dad I won't be long," he called as they stood and watched him.
Harry nodded in reply and, arm still wrapped round his girlfriend's waist, he led her away from the house, towards the lane that led into the village. The hedgerows that boarded the single track road were covered in white hawthorn blossom and the avian inhabitants chirped and sang, ignorant of the solemnity of the day. As they approached the church, his arm slipped from her waist and found her hand. Despite the warmth of the day, it was cold and he placed his other hand over it to warm it.
As they approached the lychgate, they were joined by a red-faced Charlie, who had obviously run to catch them up. The other brothers and their father were congregated under the small roof awaiting the arrival of the coffin. Harry nodded a brief greeting before carrying on to the church with Ginny.
Harry squeezed Ginny's hand reassuringly as they entered the church. Since his arrival at The Burrow early that morning, he had been at her side, offering comfort and strength to her. Despite the great sense of loss that had accompanied him since the final battle, it had been nothing compared to the complete devastation felt by the Weasley family. Not only were they struggling to cope with the loss of Fred, but also the George whom they knew and loved appeared to have died with him.
Despite Harry's reassurance, Ginny hesitated on the worn stone steps that led down from the doorway. It was as if, by the act of entering the church, she was confirming that her brother was finally gone. She turned to her boyfriend, her uncertainty confirmed by her expression. Her eyes were red and puffy, and even now he could see that she was struggling to stop herself weeping. He smiled at her, putting as much reassurance into his expression as he could muster. Neither of them spoke, lest they succumb to the emotions that threatened to overwhelm them. That would wait until tonight, he hoped, after the wake, when the last of the mourners has departed and they could be alone together.
He pulled her gently towards him, wrapping his arms around her, and whispered encouragement in her ear. As her arms snaked around his back, he heard a muffled sniffle as she pressed her face into his chest. After a few moments she gave him a final squeeze before stepping back and offering him a weak smile.
He returned her smile before taking her hand once more and turning to continue their journey down the aisle. Their footsteps sounded inordinately loud in the whispered silence, and Harry couldn't help but feel that the atmosphere was unnecessarily subdued, given whom they were here to say goodbye to.
On reaching the front of the church, they were greeted by a tearful Molly, supported by an equally mournful Fleur and Hermione. After a few brief words, he left the four women to comfort one another whilst he sought out the Weasley men.
Harry had never been to a family funeral so he wasn't sure quite what to expect from today. And truth be told, neither did anyone else. To everyone's surprise, George and Percy had taken it upon themselves to organise the day; a more unlikely pairing Harry couldn't imagine. Percy had been fighting at Fred's side when his brother had died and Ginny was convinced that he blamed himself for their brother's death.
"I was there," Harry had told her, "and Fred wasn't even fighting at the time. In fact, Percy had just made Fred laugh, and then the whole place exploded. It could have been anyone, even me."
As they talked, Harry had become aware that it was more than Percy's guilt that they were discussing. Ginny, too, felt guilty.
"I know it sounds terrible, Harry, and I know that Ron was there, Hermione too, but…"
Harry knew without even asking what was going through her mind. It wasn't that she was making a choice between him and Fred, or Ron or Hermione, it was just… It was a question that they both knew the answer to, but neither of them could articulate.
He walked slowly back up the church, nodding silently to those he recognised. It was good to see that so many of Fred's friends from Hogwarts had been invited, rather than a lot of second-cousins twice-removed who hardly knew him. Molly and Arthur had chosen to have their son buried in the local churchyard, declining the offer made by the Ministry that all who perished in the conflict could be buried in the grounds of Hogwarts alongside Dumbledore's white tomb. This had presented problems in terms of the sheer numbers who wanted to attend, given the size of St Martha's. In the end, the funeral itself was reserved for those who knew him best: those who had laughed with him and fought with him.
Ginny's brothers were congregated on the yellow gravel path that ran down the hill from the church to the gate at the side of the road. Like their sister, they were tight-lipped as they struggled to keep a check on their emotions. Harry glanced over at Ron, his friend's pale face contrasting greatly with his deep-plum-coloured robes. None of the mourners wore the traditional black. George and Percy had asked everyone to wear their brightest colours, but no one seemed able to bring themselves to do so. Instead, they had compromised by choosing dark, sombre colours that were as close to black as they could manage without actually being so.
The sound of the horses' hooves rang out clearly on the tarmac as the hearse made its way up the lane. For a moment, Harry wondered whether the carriage was being drawn by Thestrals, but as it came into view, he could see that it was being drawn by a team of horses as normal. But that was where normality ended. He had expected the predominate colour of the hearse to be black, and it therefore came as a shock to see that every colour of the rainbow – except black – was represented both in the robes worn by the undertakers and hearse itself.
Harry and the other brothers turned to Percy and George, looking for answers.
"I know everyone's going to spend today crying," said George, "but we're here to celebrate who he was. There's a time to cry, but there's a time to laugh as well."
Confused, Harry turned to look at Arthur, who nodded briefly.
"George is right, Harry. There is a time to cry, but Fred lived life to the full and today we're going to celebrate that fact."
As the hearse drew to a halt, Percy drew his wand and, with a quick flick, the brothers' robes became brighter – some would say garish – versions of their original colours. Ron's robes had been transformed into a bright purple and the dark blue of Harry's had become an electric blue that fizzed and crackled as he moved.
From inside the church, he heard gasps of astonishment and shrieks of panic, followed by a few scattered laughs, as the mourners' clothing underwent a similar metamorphosis.
Arthur, Bill, Charlie, Ron and Harry hugged George and Percy in turn and then turned to receive their final instructions from the funeral director.
"Gentlemen. Today will be the hardest day of your lives thus far. I know that you are as ready to mourn as those assembled inside, but I would ask you to hold yourselves together for a few more minutes, until we get the coffin in position."
He paused, as if checking that his message had been understood and then continued.
"So, if you are ready, gentlemen, my colleagues will assist you in setting the coffin on your shoulders."
It took a few minutes to get everyone in place, and Harry for one was pleased to feel the load on his shoulders. The fact that it dug in a bit provided a welcome distraction from the real pain he was feeling.
"Let's go, gentlemen," said the funeral director and led them back through the dog-toothed arch and into the church.
Harry and the five Weasleys walked slowly forward, Fred's coffin on their shoulders, and entered the church. The short walk down the aisle was the longest of Harry's life and, try as he might, his self-control went and he couldn't stop the tears from flowing. The church was filled with the sound of Fred's favourite music, all of which would have been inappropriate at anyone else's funeral except for his. Most of the tracks were new to him, but he recognised a few from Quidditch victory parties.
Aside from the normal service, which the vicar led from the worn green service books, members of the family and Fred's friends took it in turns to share their memories of him. Harry was not amongst those asked to speak, for which he was grateful. It wasn't that he didn't have any memories he wanted to share, it was just that he didn't want his profile to be any higher than it had to be. Ginny, however, was going to speak and she was shifting uncomfortably next to him as she awaited her turn.
"The thing about Fred," began Bill, "and for that matter, George, was that you never knew when they were joking and when they were not. Not that there was a difference between the two; normality for them was, well… far from normal."
Harry couldn't help but notice how people found it hard to refer to Fred without including George, and reflected that, for most, the twins had always been one person.
"I remember the first time I managed to persuade a Muggle girl in the village to go out with me. I set off, pleased as punch, looking forward to seeing if what they said about Muggle girls was true."
Harry glanced instinctively at Hermione as Bill spoke, but her face remained taut with emotion.
"I have to say that I didn't get to find out. Not because I lacked the charm and good looks, but because my brothers had stolen Dad's wand and every time I went to kiss her, strange noises came from my trousers. I managed to laugh it off for a while but when a voice yelled, 'Let me out! Let the dog see the rabbit!', she ran off and I never saw her again."
There were a few chuckles from around the room, and Harry reflected on how brave Bill had been to be the first to try and inject some humour into proceedings.
Charlie, Percy – now sporting his Big Head Boy badge – and Ron all shared their stories and gradually the congregation started to laugh out loud as Fred would have wanted. Ginny, however, didn't try and make people laugh, but rather shared something that both shocked and pleased Harry.
"Fred never tried the 'older brother' approach with me, never commented on my previous boyfriends, but trusted me to make my own decisions. The one exception was when I started going out with Harry."
Harry kept his eyes firmly on Ginny as a gentle hubbub told him that, with the exception to his close friends, most of those present were craning their necks to gauge his reaction.
Despite his feeling uncomfortable at being the centre of attention and having no idea what she was gong to say, he nonetheless gave her a barely perceptible nod of encouragement, hoping she would continue.
"It was no secret in our family that I had grown up always wanting to hear stories about him and that I did have a crush on him." She blushed at this confession but continued regardless.
"So when I kissed Harry in front of the whole Gryffindor common room, Fred offered some words of advice to me."
Harry suddenly found his shoelace more interesting than watching Ginny, but his embarrassment didn't dissuade her.
"I know you're thinking that he tried to warn me to be careful, not to get my heart broken, or let Harry take any liberties with me, but he didn't."
Harry looked up. Ginny's voice was beginning to waver and he wondered for how much longer she would be able to continue.
"His advice was very simple; 'now you've got him Gin, don't let him go'."
As soon as the words had left her lips, her composure began to dissolve. Across the few yards that separated the front pew from altar rail, they managed to exchange smiles. The contradictory emotions of joy and sorrow threatened to overwhelm him as he realised that he and Ginny had Fred's blessing.
The service continued with friends from Hogwarts sharing their memories of Fred. As the tales mounted, more and more of the congregation were turning to each other and sharing their own memories.
Lee Jordan recalled Fred charming his giant tarantula to tap dance.
"There I was trying to scare everyone, and the next thing I know it's doing the soft shoe shuffle across the common room."
Alicia Spinnet made George blush with tales of how the twins had tried to swap dates mid-evening and been found out.
"I can't remember what Angelina was planning, but I do know that Fred certainly missed out on a glorious end to the evening."
As everyone filed out for the committal, Harry was pleased to see that smiles and tears were present in equal number. People had managed to mourn Fred's passing by remembering the joker, the close friend and son and brother who was fiercely loyal but wouldn't think twice about slipping something into your pumpkin juice.
The Burrow was full of noise and colour just as Fred would have wanted it. There was plenty of food being eaten and plenty of alcohol being drunk. Of course, you couldn't trust the food or the drink not to turn you into something strange, but as long as you didn't mind being turned into an animal or having blue hair or talking gibberish for a few minutes, everything was fine.
The highlight of the proceeding was watching two chimps, previously known as Percy and Hermione, charge around the garden in a raucous dispute about bananas.
Harry and Ginny wandered from table to table, stopping at a few to listen to the stories people were telling, moving on before they could become the centre of attention. There were many who wanted to talk to them, but it was Fred's day and they didn't want to distract from that.
As they drew close to the table where George and Percy were sat, they found the brothers in a heated but amicable discussion.
"George," declared Percy with a surety that made his brother roll his eyes, "the way around the Ministry's embargos on banned items is very straightforward. It's of little use forging documents, because that is the very thing that they're looking for. The solution is to give the Ministry officials what they needed to complete their forms but don't tell the whole truth."
"Perce, far be it from me to tell you how the Ministry runs, but…"
"Take it from me, George, some of the people we take on to do that sort of thing wouldn't spot a dragon in a paper bag unless it bit off their nuts and roasted them."
For once in his life, George Weasley was speechless.
It was nearly six o'clock when the last of the guests left and, as the clear up began, Ginny and Harry took refuge on one of the sofas in the living room. Although the sofa was large, Ginny squished up close to Harry, who accepted her head onto his lap and began to play with her hair.
"Do you think Fred would have approved?" asked Ginny, trying to stifle a yawn. The day had begun very early and the emotion she had expended had obviously left her weary.
"I'm sure he would have approved," Harry replied, beginning to plait a few strands of hair together. "I can't believe what Percy said to George this afternoon, can you?"
Ginny twisted her head so that she could see him, causing the plait to fall apart.
"Do you think Percy is going to join up with George? I know Ron is going to help, Lee Jordan too, but it would be good if Percy did, as well."
"I'm not sure. I think Percy plans on tracking down his old girlfriend first."
In truth, Harry couldn't see Percy leaving the Ministry, however much assistance he gave George. And he knew that Kingsley needed all the help he could get. Ginny yawned again and they were silent for a while, content just to be together, reflecting on what the day had brought and on Fred in particular.
Normally at this time they would be at Grimmauld Place together, enjoying the meal that Kreacher had cooked for them and looking forward to an intimate evening by the fire. And that's where he wanted to be now. He wanted to be somewhere private, where they could share their thoughts and comfort each other without fear of interruption. He wondered whether Ginny felt the same way, or would it be best to let her rejoin her family. Familiar feelings of guilt resurfaced. Since the demise of Voldemort, he and Ginny had been contending with an increasingly physical relationship whilst trying to deal with their feelings of loss.
"Did Fred really tell you not to let me go?" Harry asked eventually.
They lapsed into silence again as he contemplated the earlier revelation, his hands moving from Ginny's hair to her face.
"Did he say anything else?" Harry continued, feeling sure there was more to the conversation than Ginny had let on.
There was a pause as she moved slightly so that his fingers could more easily play with the side of her face.
"He told me that he thought that you were the only person good enough for me but I had to watch out for your nobility streak."
He wasn't quite sure how to respond, and so he went for the obvious.
"So did he warn you that I would push you away so I could go off to fight Voldemort?"
"He didn't need. I knew that you would try something like that."
Ginny's reply left him feeling confused, a feeling that increased when she sat up and turned to face him.
"So what did he tell you?"
She placed her hand on his thigh, her eyes locked on his.
"He told me," she said matter-of-factly, "that when boys like you said things like, 'are you sure?' or 'don't you think we should slow down?', what you really meant was 'for Merlin's sake, don't stop!'"
"Oh." Harry was stunned, for she had repeated back to him several phrases that were writ large on some of the well-worn pages of the Harry Potter Guide to Sexual Etiquette.
"And what," he finally managed to respond, "did he advise you to do?"
She pulled his head down towards hers and as their lips met, all other feelings disappeared. He was sure that this wasn't appropriate behaviour for a day of mourning, but he didn't care. And from what Ginny had told him, neither did Fred.