He was playing with his younger siblings; they always loved to play with him, specifically “Dragon King.” Even Percy liked the game, though the twins liked it best. Charlie thought Ron and Ginny might when they were older, though by then he’d be at Hogwarts most of the year. Bill was a year Charlie’s senior and already there. So this mostly left the twins.
Charlie took the twins out to the treehouse, where the Dragon King lived. But something was different; this time, they absolutely had to get to the tree, because there was a snake on the ground.
“The dragon will save us, if we hurry!” Charlie declared. The twins giggled, because they thought it was part of the game. Why did they think it was part of the game?
Charlie grabbed onto the straw ladder, and instructed them to follow him up. Rain was pouring now, and there was a loud hissing noise from the bushes nearby. As he was climbing, he heard George scream: “FREDDIE!”
Charlie looked down. Fred was nowhere to be seen.
Charlie always woke up from these dreams the same way — upright in bed, panting for dear life. He relaxed a bit when he realized it was just a dream.
But only a bit — because really, it wasn’t.
Charlie was tired of wakes and funerals, but in a way he was glad this one was last, because it was one of the most painful. The only other funeral that was this painful was Remus and Tonks’s — Tonks was one of his best friends.
Is, Charlie thought, Tonks is still my best friend. Fred is still my brother. I will not relegate them to past tense because of a medical technicality.
Still, they had all been grim and miserable, and Charlie was glad it was almost over. Except he also realized, now, that this was what he’d been dreading the most.
He went into the kitchen, unable to fall back to sleep. Harry and Ginny were already there, but they weren’t talking; they actually looked rather stony, and while Harry was stroking Ginny’s hand, Ginny didn’t seem to notice.
“So, are we ready for tomorrow, pretty much?” Ginny asked.
“Yeah… did you make sure George is?”
“He’s… well, he’s not ready for anything,” Ginny said. “I don’t think he’s really… you know.”
“But what would be more fitting? It’s the prank of all pranks.”
“What is?” Charlie asked, sitting down.
Ginny smiled, though Charlie could see she was holding back tears. “Well, it wouldn’t be a surprise if you knew what it was, would it?”
“Do Mum and Dad know?”
“No,” Harry said. “Ginny, Ron, George and I agreed to take care of things and we have.”
“Besides, they’d consider it improper,” Ginny added. “But they’ll be touched when they see it in action. And anyway… it’s not really as though Fred would’ve wanted—”
Her voice broke, but rather than cry, Ginny glared at the table as though trying to bore holes through it.
Almost everyone joined them for breakfast; the only one missing was George. And Percy, but Charlie didn’t know if he would come. He wasn’t even sure Percy would make the wake, and he knew it was his fault. And Ginny’s. They’d all been rather hard on him, really, and said things they didn’t really mean. Charlie had been glad to see Percy, but enraged at the same time, and couldn't hold it in. Now he was being family? Now he was showing his face, after he’d just left for so long? How dare he. Percy had stayed, taking the blows from his siblings in silence. No one had heard from him since.
“Should we check on him?” Molly asked Arthur. The skin around her eyes was blotchy.
“I think he wants to be left alone,” Ron said.
Hermione shook her head. “Honestly, Ron, of course he said that he wanted to be left alone. It can’t be what he really wants.”
“Why can’t it? Has it occurred to any of you that maybe he’s hurting right now?”
“We all hurt right now,” Bill pointed out. “He was our brother, too.”
“Yeah, but you weren’t born with him, were you? Didn’t share a cot with him? Didn’t learn to walk and talk with him?”
Charlie looked at Ron in surprise. When did his innocent, slightly awkward brother become so damn smart?
“So if he wants to be left alone,” Ron continued, “let the poor bloke be alone.”
Molly looked as though she might object, but Arthur put his hand on her shoulder. Her face relaxed, and she began to eat. Charlie didn’t think he’d seen her eat all week.
“Flitwick’s kept the pond they magicked in that corridor, you know,” Harry said.
Everyone laughed despite themselves.
“I still remember Umbridge’s face,” Ginny giggled.
“And Hermione’s,” Ron added. Hermione swatted him playfully.
“I admired it, actually,” she admitted. Her expression grew more serious. “I wish I'd told them.”
“They… know,” Charlie assured her. Not knew. Know.
Hermione smiled, and Charlie smiled back.
The cemetery they used was ancient, so ancient it was hard to know who was family and who was simply adjoined with them. Graves dated back to the 12th century, magically restored in all their glory.
Artur LeWeslyn 1156-1269
Ignatius Weasley 1790-1851
Margaret Ginevra Catchpole 1340-1460
They then passed people Charlie knew, or knew of, at least. His grandparents… Uncle Fabian… Uncle Gideon, Charlie had always liked him, he’d got him interested in dragons…
They reached the church, built in medieval times. When Charlie had been very young, his parents had taken their children there. However, they’d already stopped going as often, and by the time Charlie left for Romania, they hadn’t been in years except for occasions such as these.
Charlie took his place just inside the church; he would be doing the greeting today, along with Fleur.
To Charlie’s surprise, Fleur looked at the cross in front of her, and uttered a prayer.
“I didn’t know you were religious,” he told her.
Charlie hesitated. “I don’t know. What kind of God would let a monster like You-Know-Who take over? Take so many people from us?”
“‘ere’s ‘ow I look at it,” Fleur began softly, and to Charlie’s surprise she put her hand on his shoulder. “If zere’s nothing… what is all zis suffering for?”
Charlie had no answers, other than that Bill was lucky to have her.
Charlie still couldn’t go near the casket.
It was closed, of course, but still — Fred was in there. It made it more real, and Charlie couldn’t bear to look at it any longer, so he turned away.
He was their Dragon King. He should have been there to protect them…
But he hadn’t been, so instead of dwelling, Charlie continued to greet everyone who came. He hugged Hestia Jones, who looked as though she had been crying all day, but still asked how he was holding up. Charlie shook hands with Lee Jordan, the twins’ closest friend, who looked very lost, and with McGonagall, who told him Fred had been one of her brightest pupils, even if — or perhaps because — he’d used it for “unconventional means.” Charlie eventually found himself huddled with his siblings and their significant others.
“Listen,” Bill said, the last to join them, “I just went by George’s flat… he’s not there.”
Charlie didn’t like the sound of this. “Were his things there?”
“Yeah — well, not his coat. There were no signs of struggle, though… it’s like he just went for a walk.”
“I knew we should’ve checked,” Ginny said at once.
Sure enough, the door had opened, and George was walking in with Percy, headed towards the group of siblings. No one spoke.
“Hi,” Percy said. His eyes were red, though his face still had more colour than George’s.
“This is where I’ve been,” George explained. “I know you’ve wondered.”
“Look,” Percy began, “I know you don’t really want me here—”
“—is it true you made him laugh?” Ginny interrupted.
After a moment of surprise, Percy nodded.
Ginny threw her arms around him, and for the first time since the battle, Charlie watched her cry.
Aunt Muriel had a knack of being insufferable the best of times, much less the worst. So when she invited them to her place for dinner, Charlie was hesitant.
“But of course we must go,” Molly had insisted when he expressed his doubt. “She’s doing this for us… she’s done so much for us.”
Charlie knew she was right, so he dropped his point. But he wasn’t surprised when, within ten minutes, she was — albeit with the best of intentions, Charlie was sure — picking at wounds.
“I know how you feel, you know,” Muriel told George.
Everyone held their breath. George raised his eyebrows.
“Your mum’s grandmother was my twin… when she died, it was like losing a part of myself.”
“No, it wasn’t,” George said.
“You two weren’t even that close, according to Mum. You weren’t close with the family at all until everyone died and you felt sorry for yourself.”
“That’s enough!” Molly snapped. Charlie was shaking his head wildly at George. What was he thinking?
“No, it’s not enough. Not until people stop telling me they know how I feel. No one knows how I feel.”
George slammed his Firewhisky down so hard, it spilled all over the table. Before Charlie had even registered he was leaving, the door slammed shut.
“He didn’t mean it,” Molly told Muriel.
Muriel looked shaken. “I know, but he’s right.”
Nobody could argue with that.
“Oh, it’s you,” George said when he opened the door to see Charlie. He ushered him inside, and Charlie, who had expected a mess, was surprised to see that everything was relatively tidy and orderly.
“I just wanted to make sure… well, after dinner…”
George sighed. “You want the truth? I don’t know who I am anymore, let alone how I should be reacting.”
“Would it help if I stayed here tonight?” Charlie asked.
“Honestly? I’d like that,” George admitted.
Charlie slept on the sofa. They wanted to leave Fred’s room untouched.
Always the same dream.
The mourners made their way to the cemetery. The part Charlie had dreaded the most.
“I have a surprise,” George said with a grin, but it was plastered on.
“Yeah, Harry and Ginny hinted. Are you sure you can do this?”
“No, but it’s what he would’ve…” George trailed off. “I have to do this.”
Charlie squeezed George’s shoulder, and watched him disappear somewhere with Ron, Harry and Ginny. Charlie sat next to his father.
“How was he last night?” Arthur asked.
Charlie shrugged. “Not as bad as I thought he’d be, after his outburst. I might stay there tonight, too.”
Lee Jordan stood on the platform, holding a microphone. “Good morning, everyone. In honour of Fred’s… passing, we wanted to give him a spectacular send-off. He once told me this was his idea of a perfect funeral, and I have to agree.”
Music began to play, music commonly played before Quidditch matches. Hoops started to rise out of the ground.
A Quidditch funeral procession… of course.
Sure enough, Ginny and Ron were flying through the hoops together. They separated after the last one, and stood on either side of the line, holding their brooms in front of them.
Sombre music replaced the happier music, and Charlie drew in a breath as a group of people began to fly out with the coffin. They were all in uniform.
In front was a burly man, whom Charlie thought he recognized as Oliver Wood. He was holding a bat. On opposite sides of the coffin, there were two people each — Harry and Angelina Johnson on the right, two other young women on the left. (Charlie thought they might have been Katie and Alicia.) They all looked grim, Angelina in particular.
In the rear was George, somehow remaining very calm, though Charlie knew he was probably shaking. He drew out his wand, and a dragon bonfire burst out, looking fiery.
“Give them hell from us, Fred,” George said loudly, his voice breaking.
It was exactly what Fred would have wanted.
At the reception, Charlie found himself sitting next to Percy, who was absently eating a cucumber sandwich.
“Hi,” Charlie said.
“Oh… hello, Charles.”
“I believe we’re on nickname basis,” Charlie said with a laugh. He hadn’t realized he still could laugh. “Look, about the things I said—”
“—they were true. I’ve been a prat. I believed Fudge, then I was too ashamed to come home, then I was trying to lay low for everyone’s safety… in short, I left, and I didn’t come back until it was quite literally too late.”
“You’re not the only one who left,” Charlie told him. “I didn’t exactly come running home the moment the war began. I mean, I had Order duties in Romania, but I’m not sure I really had to be there. Before that, I wasn’t home at all. I left without looking back.”
“To work with dragons, though.”
“There’s a Dragon Reserve in Wales. I just wanted to get away, and by the time I got back, it was — well, like you said. Too late.”
“I reckon you were meant to go away,” Percy said. “We all admired your job from afar.”
“I guess,” Charlie said. “Point is, when I said all those things to you…”
“You were projecting your own guilt.”
“Well, you shouldn’t blame yourself.”
Charlie knew he was right, but he still wished he’d come home sooner, or more often beforehand. There were so many things he’d never be able to do or say again.
“In the end, what’s done is done,” Percy was saying. “Perhaps it was all meant to be. Especially for you. You were always the Dragon King.”
“You remember that?”
“How could I forget?”
“You’re okay sometimes, you know,” Charlie said. Percy smiled wryly.
Charlie knew he was right, of course. He’d done what made him happy — and it wasn’t as though he never wrote, it wasn’t as though he hadn’t helped Ron and his friends smuggle a dragon across Europe, it wasn’t as though he hadn’t fought in his own right. It would just take some time for him to get past what had been lost.
But looking at Percy, who had yet to leave his side, he also knew some things had been regained.
Everyone had left; it was just them now. Their core family. George had stayed behind for a change; he said it was to pick up some things, but no one bought that.
Molly and Arthur lay on the couch, Molly’s eyes closing. Ron and Bill played wizard chess by the window. Percy and Hermione were discussing something historical, which didn’t surprise Charlie at all. Fleur, Ginny and George were playing Exploding Snap.
Charlie knew he could join, but he enjoyed watching. Perhaps that was why he had left. Bill had left because he wanted adventure, and Charlie had as well, but there was also something about watching from a distance that he enjoyed.
Harry walked from the kitchen to Ginny, handing her a drink. Ginny thanked him, a faint but present sparkle in her eyes. They were older now, Charlie remembered. Ginny would be legally an adult in a few months’ time, and Harry was already there. Everyone was getting older, of course — that’s how it was, how it had to be.
“Charlie, play with us!” George said suddenly, and Charlie was reminded of a very small boy. He instantly climbed in between them, eager to play along.
For a while, things were almost normal.
The dream was different this time.
Fred and George were climbing to the treehouse, but Charlie was watching from below, hoping they’d make it in time. He realized they were older now, no longer little boys.
The dragon swooped lower and lower, until Fred got on. George made to follow, but Fred shook his head.
“I need to journey on my own,” he said. “You have so much yet to do.”
With that, the dragon took Fred far away, until he was a dot, until he wasn’t visible at all.
George waited, frozen at the top of the ladder.
“Come on,” Charlie called. “We need to go in for dinner.”
The two brothers headed back towards the house, sadder but wiser.
A/N: I originally wrote this about a year and a half ago for LiveJournal's Charlie Ficathon.