Title: A Thousand Words
Disclaimer: The Harry Potter universe and all its recognizeable characters, settings, etc., belong to JK Rowling and her publishers, not to me. I own nothing, I'm making no profits, please don't sue.
Summary/Warnings: Molly Weasley’s thoughts on the birth of her granddaughter - pure angst, with repeated reference to several character deaths, and it’s not terribly kind to Ron, either. This is a Mirrorverse ficlet (which series contains ‘Mirror’, ‘An Eye for an Eye’, and ‘Quickening’, before this story). Pairings for this series include Draco/Ginny, Fred/Angelina, Viktor/Hermione and Percy/Penelope, with reference to Bill/Fleur.
The baby in the picture cannot be more than a few hours old; Molly Weasley has seen enough hours-old babies to know the look. Her skin is a mottled pink-purple that she knows will turn pale in a few days. It will blush easily, and in the child’s first summer it will freckle. The vaguely peachy down that adorns the newborn’s head – a little smushed-looking, like all newborns’ heads after a natural delivery – will likely bleach out white, but there is a hint of red there. Just the faintest hint.
A woman Molly doesn’t know is holding the child, a woman with tanned skin and shining black hair wearing a shapeless blue uniform. She thinks of a birth in a Muggle hospital – someone told her once that Muggles almost always give birth in hospitals now, a concept she finds frightening. Hospitals, to her, are places to go when things go wrong, and so it seems to her as if the Muggles see every birth as an impending disaster, a potential catastrophe. She gave birth to Fred and George in a hospital, and hated it – she’d been in labor twelve hours before Arthur could convince her to go, and it hadn’t really been Arthur who’d done it – it had been Bill, seven years old and desperately frightened.
Molly’s sister had kept him out of the room, tried to hush him, but Molly had heard him, wailing as only a frightened child can, demanding his mother, and so she’d relented. She’d brought her middle sons, her twins, her most magical children, into a world of sterile walls and impersonal faces. It had worried her, in the overwrought and emotional days that follow any birth – it had seemed an ill omen. The years had all but erased that fear, the nagging guilt that she had somehow short-changed them by allowing strangers to be the first to hold them, but now this too-still Muggle picture brings those doubts rushing back.
Her twins are a world away now, gone out of her reach – gone into a whole world of stillness and strangers and impending catastrophes. Their older brother does not need his mother any more; needs nothing anymore, cannot be comforted or warmed. The day of Bill’s funeral had been cold, the dead of winter, and she’d been unable to stop thinking of how the ground was frozen – how it had cracked away in great icy chunks, and echoed like metal against the lid of his coffin. They hadn’t let her see him, and this bothers her too – Percy insisted she didn’t want to, wouldn’t want to remember him like that, and part of her resents his protectiveness almost to the point of hatred. She had needed to see. She had needed to know. Perhaps if she could have seen a mangled body – Explosion at Gringotts Kills Dozens, Sends Economy Into Turmoil
, read the blinking headline – she could have known it wasn’t her boy. That he wasn’t cold, there in the frozen ground.
The child’s name is scrawled on the back of the picture, and Molly recognizes the handwriting – Angelina, who still sometimes writes to her in brief unrevealing snippets, hoping for a reconciliation. Three months before this there was a picture of another child, a boy, with skin like toffee and hair like bright new bronze.
Molly didn’t know if skin like that would freckle, or if hair like that would bleach in the sun, and the realization that she might never find out brought back the echoes of frozen earth on coffins, of breaths drawn thin and fragile as spider silk, spider webbing in the corners of once-sterile hospital rooms, full of overworked nurses and healers who came to change bedpans on their hours off, who never went home, who never slept, who had no time to sweep away cobwebs. For all their frantic efforts, she had still been alone in the room when her Charlie had died. Arthur hadn’t been there, Percy hadn’t been there, and Ron had been in the next bed over, hovering in uncertain, impenetrable sleep. They hadn’t known if he’d ever wake up. Part of her had been glad to be alone with her son, if he had to be in that soulless place – part of her had been jealously possessive of his last moments.
The little boy who looks so little like his father is named William. He has an older sister, whose skin is a little paler but whose hair hangs in dark chocolate ringlets, and her name is Charlotte. She exists in Molly’s mind as two pictures; one newborn, one carefully holding her newborn brother. The picture had focused in on the children, and of the adult who cradled them both she saw only a pair of pale, freckled hands.
They hadn’t looked thin, or worn, those hands – she had seen no new scars. The nails had been neatly trimmed, the wedding band neatly polished, and the edges of shirt-sleeves seemed to have been of a finely-woven material. Evidence of prosperity, health, a good life.
Her daughter had given her not even that much – she couldn’t be sure her Ginevra even knew the picture had been taken, or sent. Perhaps Angelina had interfered –perhaps conspired with the Muggle nurse, told her of a family separated, whispered that what the mother didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her.
Ginny’s daughter was born on June 21st, the summer solstice, and they’d named her Claire. It was a new name, in a generation of tributes – different from Charlotte and William, from Bill and Fleur’s little Alba, a white-haired angel who’s mother had taken her back to France, to be with family. Penelope had confided in her, just weeks ago, that she and Percy had settled on Charles for a boy, Minerva for a girl.
Molly had almost said that Charlie already had a namesake, a little changeling child with milk-and-tea skin and the faintest smattering of freckles, barely discernable across the bridge of her nose, almost lost in the coarse grain of Muggle film. She hadn’t realized she’d never shown Percy the pictures; Percy didn’t know his brother’s children even existed. The pictures were all Molly had, and she was shocked to realize she’d been hoarding them, clutching them, as if there was not enough there to share.
She had told Penny in a choked voice that she’d always thought Charles was a magnificent name, and though she’d meant to find some appropriate time to broach the subject with her oldest living son, the time had yet to appear. And if it was a boy-child Penny bore, it wouldn’t be altogether awful – it wouldn’t be precisely the same name. They could have a Charlotte and a Charles. She imagines Christmases that will never come to pass, good-natured confusion over two children called Charlie, who would be opposites of one another in appearance, and likely in temperament, too, judging by their parentage.
Viktor and Hermione would be there as well, with their Harriet – a disturbing creature of gangly limbs and untamable raven hair. Ron told her that Hermione discovered her pregnancy when a battlefield mediwitch had matter-of-factly suggested an abortion; Cruciatus can have unpredictable effects on neural development. Harriet stares out at a silent world through enormous dark eyes that always seem accusing to Molly; Hermione apparently told the mediwitch to go straight to hell, and her letters to Ron are full of the latest advances in charms to recover lost hearing. Harriet’s hearing isn’t lost, though, it never existed – a fact that seems fundamental to Molly, but then, what does she know of healing charms?
She hasn’t seen the child in over a year; the Krums went back to Bulgaria, to be closer to Viktor’s family, to sisters and cousins in abundance producing a multitude of dark-haired, wide-eyed children. Part of her was glad at first, thinking that now perhaps her Ron might look elsewhere – perhaps if she was gone out of sight, it would be easier for him to think of her as an old school chum, a childhood friend, and most importantly, a fellow soldier’s wife.
The letters continue, though, and Molly reads them and knows them to be nothing but proper – Viktor writes too, though less often. They fill a drawer in Ron’s bedside table, and she worries that he reads things in them that she knows aren’t there – worse yet, it seems sometimes that he’s given up entirely, that he looks in on the Krums’ marriage from afar and has no desire to draw closer. That he does not hope for their eventual separation, that he does not yearn after another’s wife at all – that he does not yearn, does not hope, does not see home and family as things he could possibly attain for himself.
She wonders, back in the darkest and most secret corner of her mind, if he really did wake up – if her Ron, her baby boy, really came back to her at all. No one told her what happened at the Ministry the day that Draco Malfoy escaped, and Ginny disappeared – but Arthur aged that day, as if ten years went by in ten hours. Percy wouldn’t look at her, Arthur wouldn’t look at Ron, and Ron .. it is difficult to remember. He’d said, "Someone has to be willing to get their hands dirty." And Percy had responded, saying, "No one’s accusing you. We’ve all had a trying day -" and then Ron again, "The hell you’re not accusing! You were there too, you -" and then Arthur. Be quiet. Just be quiet. Go to bed and forget it, it never happened.
Don’t tell me it never happened, don’t you bloody well dare, as if you had no part –
- it *never happened!*
It happened! It fucking happened, okay! It all fucking happened!
Ronald! You will not swear at your father!
It had been all she could think of – you mustn’t swear at your father. As if that mattered. As if a dreadful picture hadn’t grown up between the words they hadn’t said, the things they didn’t tell her because she didn’t need to know, she didn’t want to know .. because they wouldn’t want her to remember them like that. There had been something dark under Ron’s fingernails, Ron who was always careless like that – Percy’s hands had been red from scrubbing.
He and Penny had moved out shortly after that; only weeks, she thinks, though the memory is reluctant, indistinct. He resigned his post at the Ministry and went to work for Penny’s father, doing something to do with cauldrons – she’d overheard Arthur and Percy talking, and her son saying how it was the best thing for him, for his career, that he’d been waylaid by his involvement in the war, that his interest had never been in law enforcement . . and Arthur had readily agreed. What Molly remembers most clearly of those weeks is Penny slipping about the house like a ghost, red-eyed and too quiet, and easily startled.
Easily startled when Ron was about. Ron who had something dark under his fingernails that day. It happened! It fucking happened, okay! It all fucking happened!
She runs a finger over the photograph, not quite touching, above the baby’s face – tries to remember the softness of newborn skin, the little frown that might crease that purple brow at the unfamiliar sensation. Claire. She remembers the name means something to do with light, something like ‘bright one’.
Molly tries to remember, to think back through generations of siblings and aunts and cousins far removed, and she’s nearly positive – they’ve never had a Claire before.