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how many times can one man shatter (and still get up again)?

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George didn't think it would happen like this.

The thing is, he's known they were at war.

It's why when Fred said he wanted to start an underground radio programme, George replied with, how can I help?

He believes in what they're doing.

But despite everything, he doesn't think the war will really touch them.

Not at first.

Sure, Cedric died. But that was because of the Triwizard Tournament.

And sure, Sirius died. But he was actively fighting Death Eaters.

And sure, Dumbledore died. But that was Dumbledore. Everyone knew Voldemort wanted him dead.

Since Dumbledore's death, things have been quieter. Rumours of disappearances run rampant, but that's all they are — rumours. Nothing tangible. Nothing that can be proven.

And then they start registering Muggleborns. And then they start snapping their wands.

And things feel real but they're still happening to other people. They aren't happening to him.

But then all of that ends.

...

May 2, 1998

He was so naive.

People around him are dying. His friends are dying. He thought them untouchable, and he was wrong.

And then Voldemort is speaking and George is helping move the body of a young Hufflepuff into the Great Hall and he is looking around and his heart is breaking because that's Fred.

That's Fred on the table, and his eyes are closed and someone is screaming.

Someone is screaming. It might be him.

The world is spinning and it shouldn't be and none of this feels real.

It can't be.

But then Harry is dead and Voldemort is telling them to kneel and then Voldemort's snake is dead and then Neville is dead and everything explodes.

He watches his mother try to kill Bellatrix and another Death Eater turn and kill his mother and George can't do this.

Everyone is screaming and the bloodbath is just beginning and George is looking at Angelina who is fierce and fighting and he cannot lose her too. She's the only one he can find in the mess.

He slips through the crowd and sends stunning spells left and right, making his way to her.

"Do you trust me?" he asks.

"Of course."

He takes her hand, pulling her with him, dodging an explosion of gold sparks. They make their way outside the wards, where George grips her hand tightly and Apparates them both away.

He can't ask, because he can't let her call him a coward.

Even if it might be true.

Because he's running away.

….

He knows better than to go home. He takes them to a beach his parents brought them to once when they were kids.

"George?" Angelina asks softly.

George falls to his knees in the sand. He tries to inhale but it turns into a sob and then he is crying, heaving sobs, unable to forget the image of his mother being hit with a green bolt of light and falling to her knees. Unable to forget the chill of Fred's hands, stiff and unyielding.

Angelina's arms are warm around his shoulders but he can barely feel them.

"I'm sorry," he gasps out between breaths. "I'm so sorry. I just. I couldn't lose you, too."

Her arms stiffen, and George thinks she's probably angry, but then they soften.

"Georgie. This is how it ends."

"Exactly. It's going to end. And I can't see you go down with it."

She sighs. "I understand."

He can tell she's disappointed. He can tell she wants to fight, wants to go down fighting if she must.

But she loves him enough to stay.

In any other circumstance, he wouldn't ask her to. In any other circumstance, he would be right there, trying to fight beside her. But he is watching his mother fall over and over and over again, and his hands are cold from Fred's skin and it's all starting to hit him and he's sitting on the beach shivering, Angelina's arms around him, the sand cold on his knees.

"We can't stay here," Angelina points out, and he knows she's right. He lets her haul him to his feet and Apparate them away.

He waits for the Prophet to come the next morning.

Except that it doesn't.

They sit in the secret forest cabin that George has been using for Potterwatch. He was hoping Lee might show up. He can't decide if it's a good or a bad sign that he doesn't.

But the Prophet doesn't come.

George braces himself. "Expecto Patronum!" he says, hoping for a way to communicate.

Except that nothing happens. His coyote will not come.

The air in the room is strangling him. His usual memory for his Patronus has him gasping to breathe, unable to stop thinking of Fred, still and silent.

Angelina is at his side, kneeling in front of the couch he's sitting on, one hand on his cheek.

"Breathe, George."

He sucks in a gasping breath.

He wonders if he dares send an owl. Owls are so easy to intercept.

But he needs to know. He needs to know if anyone is still alive.

Angelina understands. She pulls out her wand, casting the Patronus charm with determination.

Her signature leopard bursts forth from the end of the wand.

"Who first?" she asks.

George hesitates, and then says, "My father."

"Arthur Weasley," Angelina tells the leopard. "Message: George and I are safe. Are you?"

This is the moment where her Patronus is supposed to dart off into the distance, but instead it prowls the air between them and then sits on its haunches in from on Angelina.

"No," George whispers. "No."

Angelina takes in a shaky breath. "Bill Weasley. Message: George and I are safe. Are you?"

The leopard doesn't move.

George is crying again, silent tears running down his face, silencing his sobs so that he can hear as Angelina works her way through every member of his immediate family and her leopard does not move.

She says her mum's name, and the leopard bolts off through the wall of the cabin.

Angelina takes a shaky breath. Her mum wasn't at the battle, but George knows she still worried.

George is shaking. He didn't notice.

He sinks into a period of depression. He won't eat. He's not sleeping. He knows he's worrying Angelina and he knows he's the only thing she has right now but it's not enough. He can't move.

He can't get out of bed in the morning even though he hasn't slept.

He's glad the cabin is isolated.

After a week, the Daily Prophet starts coming again.

George doesn't read it.

Angelina does.

He doesn't ask what it says.

He doesn't ask anything at all.

Angelina lets this go on for three weeks before she is done.

"I know you're grieving, okay, and that's fine, that's fucking allowed because I know what you've lost. But you can grieve while we do things. You can grieve while we figure out who's still alive. Who can fight. And we build a rebellion, because that's who we are. We are not people who can let this stand."

She isn't wrong, is the thing.

It doesn't make it easy. It doesn't make it simple. It still takes him all the energy he has to get out of bed, some days. But he does it, because Angelina is at his side. They send out Patronuses to everyone they can think of — or, Angelina does. George still can't cast one.

Some of them bolt off but never return. George is afraid of what that might mean.

He wonders if they're being held somewhere. Wands taken, freedoms restricted.

He wonders if that's the best he can hope for.

Oliver Wood is still alive. He sends his silvery hawk back. "I'm alive. I've got some people with me. Will explain in person."

Three days, a number of owls and a few Patronuses later, Oliver shows up on their doorstep, trailed by two boys George thinks look vaguely familiar. One is pale and tall and dark haired, with high cheekbones. He smiles softly, warily. The other is even taller, towering over George. He has dark skin and his hair is shorn. He doesn't smile. He looks… skittish. Sceptical.

"This is Blaise," Oliver says, pointing to the taller of the two. "And this is Theo. They saved my life. In exchange, I'm trying to save theirs."

And George remembers that he knows what they look like in Slytherin green.

But he looks at the way Blaise shifts protectively in front of Theo and he looks at the way Theo is twisting his hands together in concern.

He turns to Angelina. She smiles at him softly, and then nods.

"Well," George says. "Come in, then."

Within a month, they're joined by Pomona Sprout, Anthony Goldstein, and Andromeda Tonks, clutching a young, orphaned Teddy Lupin in her arms.

Blaise and Theo, it turns out, are fleeing Theo's father, who is not best pleased about Theo's boyfriend or the fact that Theo refuses to torture anyone.

When Theo mentions that they're dating, Blaise looks George as if daring him to say something. George just shrugs. He's pretty sure he's bisexual, anyway. He's not going to judge.

Some of the tension Blaise has been holding melts away at that shrug.

Professor Sprout insists they call her Pomona and George marks that down as just another thing that's changed because of this war.

They are small, but they are fierce.

Angelina is the fiercest of them all, and George loves her.

She pushes them. She tells them that she cannot remain silent in the face of this.

She goes out and she gathers information and she comes back and lets George cling to her, always ever so grateful that she is alive.

Every time she comes back he fucks her gently, pressing his hands into her hips and reminding himself that she is still alive. He has not lost her.

And then, in December, she comes to him and she says, "George. I'm pregnant."

And George doesn't know what to say.

How can they bring a child into this?

How can they bring a child into the world when there are days when he wonders what Teddy's going to grow up like, having this as a childhood?

But.

A child. A baby, a being that is part of him and part of Angelina. Something that will remain after they are gone. Something to give them hope.

Hope is something they so desperately need.

He doesn't know what his face is doing. He wonders if it's showing the full gamut of emotions that he is experiencing.

Angelina smiles softly, steps forward and kisses his cheek.

"If its a boy," she says, "I think we should name him Fred."

George cries, but he also hopes. The fire in his chest, so long extinguished, comes back as embers. Small, but present.

Except then Angelina goes out and she does not come back.

Theo sits up with him at the kitchen table, not asking him for words, just granting him company.

The clock hits midnight, four hours after Angelina had said she'd come back, and George says, "I thought I'd hit rock bottom, but apparently rock bottom has a basement."

Theo sighs.

"I thought I'd lost Blaise," he says eventually. "At the Battle of Hogwarts. I couldn't find him, and then there he was but he was on the ground and he was so still and I thought he was gone. And I can still remember what it felt like. It wasn't heart break. It was like… my heart was gone from my chest. Without him, I didn't know myself." Theo looks at him. George meets his eyes.

"Finding out he was breathing was like learning I could breathe again. That's when we decided to leave. Except on our way out my father tried to cast a killing curse at Oliver and I couldn't watch it happen. So we took him with us."

Theo sighs. "I guess what I'm trying to say is. Whatever help you need? Whatever I can do to help you get her back? I'll do it. Because she'd do it for us. You'd do it for us."

Theo, George thinks, is a very odd Slytherin. His sense of self preservation is strong, but it's also all mixed in with his notions of loyalty. He is loyal to the people he knows it could hurt him to lose.

George respects him for it.

"Thank you," George says eventually.

Angelina left meticulous notes, making it easy to find the spot where she disappeared.

That doesn't mean it's easy to mount a rescue.

She was observing one of the pure blood Manor houses this time — the Lestranges, Theo informs him. Originally one of the Black family properties, it was a gift for Bellatrix and her husband.

George thinks of Angelina, beautiful, fierce, pregnant Angelina in the hands of Bellatrix Lestrange and he wants to cry.

Bellatrix is capable of anything.

Their first attempt at a rescue goes horribly wrong.

Every plan Oliver suggests involves brooms, which is impractical given they don't actually have any, although it is refreshing to see some things never change. In the end, they decide to take things as they come.

They break in when they think the coast is clear. Pomona goes first, taking point and leading the way through dark corridors.

Except then there are spells flying every direction and Pomona is screaming at them to run and they are bolting and Apparating back to their agreed upon location and George is doing a head count and he can't find Pomona.

She's not appearing.

And George is taking a shaky breath and thinking this is his fault, thinking he shouldn't've insisted on this rescue mission and then Theo is there, at his shoulder, saying, "We don't leave a man behind." Saying, without George having to even announce his thoughts, "This isn't your fault. We all would've done the same. Angelina is one of ours."

Theo is fierce about people he considers his. Most of the time he's a marshmallow, but threaten on of his, and he will bring out the fangs, and his bite is venom.

So they regroup. And Blaise is there asking how they're going to do better next time and Anthony is sketching out a figure of the parts of the house they saw so that they know better what's going on and Andromeda and Oliver and Theo are discussing where it went wrong, Oliver bouncing Teddy easily on his hip.

And George loves these people, this tiny, makeshift family that he and Angelina have acquired.

He aches for all that he has lost, but he recognizes all that he has gained, too.

They try again. They do better reconnaissance, as much as it kills George to wait even longer when he knows that they have Angelina and his child in there.

They take shifts and they make sure they know the schedule and they recognize that after their failed attempt, the Death Eaters probably know they are coming. They shore up their shield charms and they practice their offensive spells and they make sure that they are ready.

"Are we sure?" George asks them all. "Are we sure that we want to risk everything for this?"

"George," Oliver says. "We would risk anything for any one of us. And they've got three. We're doing this. We're doing this because if we don't, then I don't even know who we are. Because we are not the kind of people who let them hold one of our own."

"Just… When I die, will you please tell everyone to wear brighter colours to my funeral?" Theo adds with a grin.

"Who the hell do you think is coming to your funeral?" Blaise asks him. Theo shrugs. "I mean, I like to think you might. If you're free that day."

"Eh, you're not going to die," Oliver puts in. "There's no way this could go wrong."

Blaise looks at him wryly. "Is that wishful thinking, or idiocy?"

"Can't it be both?"

Oliver's laugh breaks the tension, just enough.

And George loves them more than he thought he could love again.

They make their way inside, casting silencing spells and silent stunners and making sure that every Death Eater they come across cannot sound the alarm.

And this time, they make it to the basement. They make it to the cells.

George sees her, but he almost doesn't recognize her. Then he stops. Then he stares.

There are skeletal wings emerging from her back, all bare muscle and sinew — with holes still remaining from where the feathers have been plucked free. Angelina is wild-eyed, panicked, and it doesn't look like she recognizes George at all.

She curls her hands protectively around her swollen belly.

George aches.

He's already failing at being a father.

But he's going to make damn sure they escape this hellhole.

He sends a small blasting spell at the lock — contained blasting spells are kind of a specialty of his — and steps forward, taking care not to startle her with his movements.

"Angie?"

Her head swings but her eyes don't meet his. She whimpers.

"Angie, it's me," he says quietly. "It's George."

Her face is suddenly a mask of fury.

"You're getting better at faking his voice," she says. "But I don't believe you. It doesn't matter how many times you try to pretend."

George feels his heart break as he realizes what she means. And it breaks even further as he realizes why she isn't meeting his eyes — her gaze isn't fixing on anything. She can't see.

He moves forward, kneeling down beside her. "It's really me, Ang. We're here to get you out."

"If it's really you, then who's we?"

And he knows, in that moment, that Angelina is the strongest woman he will ever have the privilege of loving. Because even under… whatever the hell they did to her, he knows she never once gave up the names of their tiny band of would-be rebels.

"Blaise is standing watch at the end of the tunnel," he says carefully. He hears her gasp. "Theo's checking other cells. Oliver is our upstairs guard, and Andi is outside, hoping like hell we don't need her."

Suddenly, Angelina is crying, throwing herself at him. "George," she sobs. "George. George."

He scoops her up in his arms. She's too light, despite the added limbs. He tries not to put pressure on them, but it's hard to hold her without compressing her folded wings. Wings. She has wings. Ruined ones.

He steps out of the cell and looks in the other cells. Blaise is talking to Pomona, and Theo is coaxing a boy out of the cell beside Angelina's.

The boy has hair that may have once been blonde, darkened with grease and what might be blood. His skin is a splash of freckles.

He looks familiar in the way that younger students always do to George — seen but never focused on.

"What's your name?"

The boy looks up at him, but he doesn't say a word. His eyes, though… his eyes speak volumes.

"His name's Seamus," Theo says. "He was in our year. Gryffindor. Don't know how he wound up here. Don't care. He's coming with us."

"Of course he is," George agrees easily, turning away from those haunted eyes. "Let's move out."

And they slip out of the Manor and into the night.

George leaves Angelina her privacy to clean up, hoping that that's the right decision.

Theo is helping Seamus and Andromeda is helping Pomona, so he finds Oliver on the couch, bouncing Teddy on his lap and talking to Blaise.

"You look terrible," Blaise says.

"Me? Never," George says back, but it doesn't quite hit the tone of sarcasm he's aiming for, instead coming out flat.

"How is she?" Oliver asks. George just shakes his head.

"We'd need a Healer to really tell."

And then Seamus is there, sticking a Muggle notebook under his nose.

"I– what is this?"

Theo, from behind him, says, "Seamus can't talk so he's going to write to us. Just read it."

I'm a Healer, it says, scrawled across the paper in messy handwriting. George looks up.

The boy can't be older than nineteen, which means he was fifteen when Voldemort rose and eighteen when it all went to shit. There's no way he's a trained Healer.

Besides that, George has finally take a good look at him and he looks wretched. His borrowed clothes hang off his limbs like cascading waterfalls, too much fabric making him look even gaunter than he actually is. His brown eyes are dark, full of horrors George cannot even fathom. Even the skin on his face is pulled tight with malnutrition. His fingers are short, thin, and look so fragile, so easily broken. George does not want to ask more of him.

Seamus must see the skepticism in George's eyes, because he takes the notebook back, scribbles something else, and then shows it to George again.

Not formally trained, but Madam Pomfrey was training me under the radar during seventh year, and I've been learning what I can since. Please, let me help.

And George looks at him, this kid, and he's thinking about how this shouldn't be their lives, but it is their lives and there's not a damn thing they can do about it. He's thinking about how he would feel, after being held captive, and how much it would improve his mood to be able to help in a tangible way.

This is not where he expected to be at age twenty-two.

Eventually, he nods. "Come with me, then. And… thank you."

George walks into the bedroom to find Angelina curled up, back to the corner, wings wrapped around her, hands cradling her stomach.

She's rocking back and forth slightly.

"Angie?" George asks her. Her head whips up to face his direction so fast that for a second he thinks she's going to crack her head on the wall.

"George?" Her voice is frail and thin and it makes George want to wrap her up in his arms and never, ever let her go.

"It's me, love," he says.

"George," she says, and it's not a question this time, yet her voice is soft and still achingly thin.

He takes a step toward her, but her wings flare up and out, defensively, and he stumbles back.

"I'm sorry," she whimpers. "I'm sorry. I can't control them."

"It's okay. It's okay. I'm sorry I startled you. Can… can Seamus take a look at you?"

She nods, and Seamus moves forward, a deft surety to his movements that surprises George. Her wings flutter, but they don't flare out, which George thinks is a good sign.

Except then Seamus pulls out the notebook, jots something down, and hands it to George.

Can I borrow your wand? They kind of… snapped mine.

"Oh." George hadn't even thought of that. They probably snapped Angelina's, too. He wonders if she could still see then, if they made her watch.

He wonders exactly what they did to her. He wonders if he wants to know.

"Of course," he finally answers, pulling out his wand. He hesitates slightly before passing it to Seamus — it's more trust than he's put in anyone new since he welcomed Blaise and Theo, which was over a year ago now.

But she needs a Healer, and Seamus is familiar, and Merlin help him if Death Eaters are now clever enough to put their own in their dungeons as spies on the off chance of a successful rescue. Besides that, it's clear that Angelina knows Seamus, which means they were probably together for a while in those cells.

Seamus takes his wand and waves it in delicate, intricate patterns over Angelina.

George blinks at him. He hadn't realized — but obviously Seamus hasn't spoken. Doesn't seem to be able to. Which means he has to do all of this wordless.

Wordless magic is taught, but few ever really get the hang of it to cast everything wordless, let alone deeply involved healing and diagnostic spells.

It's not a small thing.

Seamus keeps casting for what feels like ages, and then he sits back on his heels, looking fatigued. George realizes that he, too, has just been rescued from captivity. He's probably exhausted.

"You both probably want some sleep," he says.

Except then Angelina is crying out and clutching her stomach and George doesn't understand what's happening and his breath is coming in shallow gasps because is he losing her right now?

He can't lose her. He can't bear losing anyone else.

Seamus is casting rapidly and he has a hand on her shoulder, grounding her with his presence and telling her where he is and George wishes he could move forward and take her hand but he's half afraid of putting her on the defensive again and half stuck in place by shock.

Suddenly, Seamus' borrowed wand is slashing through the air, spelling out the words BABY COMING.

And that can't be right, it can't be, because it's only June and Angelina has only been pregnant for six and a half months and can the baby even survive this?

He doesn't realize he's hyperventilating until Seamus is standing in front of him and slapping him across the face. His wand carves out the word BREATHE before Seamus is back at Angelina's side.

Her breathing is evening out, the pain clearly fading.

ASK CAN MOVE HER TO BED, Seamus writes, clearly frustrated with the slow method of communication.

George translates this to Angelina, who is taking deep, even breaths. She nods.

Together, Seamus and George help her up and over to the bed.

WHEN START?

It takes George a minute to parse that. "When did they start, Ange?"

Angelina shrugs, and then mumbles, "On our way out of the manor. I… there was a rescue underway. It didn't seem like the time to mention it."

Which makes sense, but at least they could've gotten her attention after. There's no way George would've left her alone if he had known.

It takes hours. Much longer than George had thought it would.

At first, things move very slowly, but then it feels like everything is happening very rapidly. Angelina is screaming and George is reminding her to breath as he's been instructed and Seamus is holding his wand very carefully and then Seamus is telling him to tell Angelina to push and there is a lot more screaming and George thinks his hand might be broken and then a frail new cry rends the air.

And there, in Seamus' arms, covered with blood and other fluids, is George's son. He's so small. He's so small and so fragile and George cannot believe that in so much darkness there can be something so light.

"Freddie," Angelina rasps. "We'll call him Freddie."

George is crying. He's crying and he's staring at his son and he can't believe that such ugly circumstances can allow for something so beautiful.

Seamus is cleaning the baby — Fred, Freddie — off when suddenly he turns the boy over and freezes.

George doesn't understand why. Not until he steps closer.

At first, he thinks there's just something wrong with Fred's shoulder blades. They're more prominent than George was expecting, especially on a child so small.

But then he realizes that they aren't shoulder blades. Instead, they're two small protrusions, something under his skin crying to get out.

"What the hell is that?" George says without thinking.

"What?" Angelina says immediately. "What is what? Is he okay?"

Seamus is casting diagnostic spells frantically.

"I'm sure he's fine," George says shakily.

"George Weasley, tell me what is wrong." Angelina's voice brooks no argument.

"It's just… there's some bumps on his back. They're like…" he looks at her, and then trails off, because he's realizing something. "They're right where your wings are."

Fuck. That can't be possible, can it?

But then, he doesn't have any idea what the hell they did to her to give her wings. And nobody casts spells on pregnant people for a reason. They don't know how spells react with a baby's fledgling magic. It depends on the child, so no one ever dares risk it.

The Death Eaters clearly didn't care.

EXTRA SHOULDER BLADE, Seamus writes. He looks at George, hesitates, and then keeps writing in the air. COULD BE WING. COULD STAY LIKE THIS.

George takes in a shuddering breath and relays this to Angelina as Seamus finishes cleaning up Fred, and then he's placing their child in Angelina's arms and George doesn't care.

He doesn't care if his kid grows wings or extra toes or fucking fangs. That's his son. That's his child, right there.

For one deep, aching moment, he wishes his family were here to see this.

He can't wallow in it. He doesn't dare go down that road, because he knows what it took him to get functional again the first time.

He's not sure he could be saved from himself twice. And now he has a kid that needs him.

Freddie.

Wing nubbins or no, Freddie is perfect. And in that moment, George vows that he will do everything he can to make sure that this is not the world Freddie grows up in.

"How did you know how to do that?" George asks Seamus, later.

Seamus shrugs, grins a bright grin that almost reaches his eyes, and writes in his notebook, I didn't.

For the first time in a long, long time, George laughs.

And for a moment, just a moment, it seems like everything is going to be okay. Freddie is healthy, and the nubs on his back don't seem to be hurting him in any way, yet. Angelina is still skeletal-thin with useless, mangled wings and eyes that see nothing, but she smiles at their son like the whole world is going to be okay.

For just a moment, George believes it might be.

But then Angelina is gasping for breath through the pain and Seamus is pushing past him and borrowing his wand without asking and casting spell after spell and something is wrong and Seamus' face is growing more and more panicked and George can't breathe. Andromeda is there, taking Freddie from his arms and pushing him forward and George is holding Angelina's hand tightly in his and her face is pale and Seamus' panic doesn't fade.

George grips her hand and he can see that she is bleeding and he is crying but he buries his face into her shoulder so she can't see it and says, "It's going to be okay," when he's never believed those words less.

And time is slipping through his fingers and then Angelina's eyes are slipping closed and the world is spinning and George can't breathe because this can't be right: it was over. It was done. She was done.

She can't be dead.

She can't be.

She can't be, because without her, George is nothing. He cannot raise Fred without her because he cannot breathe without her and she cannot be gone.

But she's not moving and he can't find a pulse in her wrist and Seamus is sat back on his heels, silent tears running down his face. His lips are moving, and after a moment George realizes he's just mouthing "I'm sorry" over and over again.

George wants to tell him that it isn't his fault, but the words stick in his throat.

He's not sure it matters. Guilt isn't logical.

His lungs don't work. They won't expand. His throat feels raw and jagged and he wonders if he's dying, right here, right alongside Angelina.

But he can't do that to Freddie.

He can't.

So he pulls in a shallow, painful breath, holds it for a moment, and then lets it out.

And then another.

And then another.

It takes a few minutes, but eventually his lungs are expanding once more, and he's hauling himself off the floor.

He takes a deep, bracing breath, and he turns to Seamus, who is crying silently, face torn and thin and showing nothing but guilt and grief, and to Andromeda, who is holding Freddie easily, looking at him, her soft eyes empathetic.

He doesn't know how to do this. Last time he let himself sink into his grief, Angelina was the one to pull him out.

And now Angelina is gone.

He looks at his son, his beautiful, dark-skinned son with his tiny hands and his tiny eyelashes, brushing his cheeks.

He's going to need to pull it together, for his son. But first, he needs… he needs to do something.

"Andi, can you take him for a bit?"

Andromeda looks at him with worried eyes, but she nods. "Of course."

"I'll be back," George says. He turns to leave, but Seamus catches his arm.

WHERE GO? he spells out with George's wand.

George bites his lip. The truth is, he's not sure. But he needs to express his grief, and he needs some sort of release. He needs to be active, because if he stays still, he will sink into the quicksand of his grief and he will drown. He shakes his head.

He looks down, and Seamus is handing him his wand back and there is a plan growing in George's mind.

He takes his wand, and Seamus puts his hand on George's shoulder.

'Come back alive, okay? We all need you,' Seamus mouths. George is grateful for his ability to read lips — honed from stealth-pranks with Fred.

He looks at his son, held carefully sleeping in Andromeda's arms, and he nods, before walking out of the cabin door.

He Apparates to the outside of Hogsmeade, which has been Death Eater occupied since the Battle of Hogwarts. He finds Rabastan and Rodolphus Lestrange walking the streets, moving toward the Hog's Head.

He bites his lip.

But his mind is made up.

Seamus needs a wand. So does Pomona. And he can't exactly walk into Ollivander's, not since the man was kidnapped and his shop controlled by Death Eaters.

And he needs this.

For Angelina.

"Diffindo," he whispers, sending a rapid cutting curse, followed by another and another.

Rabastan screams. Rodolphus looks furious.

"Who's there?" Rodolphus asks.

George sends a silencing spell at Rabastan, followed by one at Rodolphus.

Now they know how Seamus feels.

He summons their wands before they can figure out where he is, tucking both of them into his robe pocket.

He grits his teeth, thinking of Angelina. Thinking of her cool hands, her closed eyes, her last, gasping breaths.

He wants to see them suffer the way she suffered. He thinks of Rodolphus, who undoubtedly knew what was happening in his basement.

Rodolphus must have known that in his basement, Angelina was being experimented upon. Must have known about the wings forced to project from her back, the feathers that were torn from her skin.

Must have known what they did to her to cause his son's stretched skeleton, the swells on his back.

His rage swells, fire roaring underneath his skin.

He bites his lip, and he casts and he casts and he casts.

When he is done, Rodolphus and Rabastan lie dead in the street, George clutching their wands tightly, and someone is emerging from a nearby shop. He darts out of the warding and disappears.

He stalks back into the cabin and tosses the wands at Seamus. "One of those should work for you, though you may need to disarm me for it."

He doesn't give Seamus a chance to reply. He stalks into his bedroom, peeling off his robes, which are dotted with blood at the sleeves. He tosses them into the corner, pulling off his clothes as well and stepping into the shower.

He sinks into the corner of the tiles, takes a deep breath, and starts sobbing.

He didn't know it was possible to feel so lonely, even when surrounded by people.

There was the loneliness that was losing his family, but this is different.

This is the loss of the best, the only thing he had left.

He doesn't know how to come back from this.

He has long since lost his faith in their ability to win this. It isn't a novel, and it isn't a Muggle movie. Good doesn't always win out in the end, not in real life.

In real life, people die and they don't come back.

In real life, there is pain and loss and tragedy that does not go away. There are wounds that do not heal. There is grief that consumes him and there are injustices that cannot be righted and there are people who lose everything.

Real life sucks.

He pulls on a pair of boxers and falls into bed and sleeps for fifteen hours.

He wakes up to find Seamus standing over him, Fred cradled in one arm, other hand on his hip. His face is stern and brooks no argument.

"Erm," George mumbles.

Seamus just stares at him sternly. He says no words, and somehow George still feels guilty.

"What?" he says.

Seamus stares.

"Am I not allowed to grieve?"

Seamus' face somehow softens and yet doesn't, at the same time. George can see that he has sympathy, but he he's not going to accept that as an excuse.

George blinks. He's impressed by how expressive Seamus' face is.

And then it occurs to him that Seamus has only been out of captivity for about a day and a half and he is still skeleton-thin and his hands are covered in scars that will probably never heal, scars that make George wonder what the rest of him must look like. Make him wonder if Seamus has even taken the time to heal his own wounds. He hopes that someone else had the sense to loan Seamus a wand for it before George got him his own, because George suspects that Seamus wouldn't ask.

Seamus holds out Freddie. And George looks at him, this man who has also probably lost his entire world, who made friends with Angelina in a dungeon where they were probably alone together and has now lost her too, who is terrifyingly thin and somehow still moving forward — this man who got up this morning to care for George's newborn son when George couldn't.

And George is ashamed.

George looks at his son, and he knows that Seamus is right. He needs to get up. He needs to take care of his son, who is less than 24 hours old and who needs his father.

It feels impossible.

But it has to happen.

He takes a deep, bracing breath.

He hauls himself upright, and he takes Freddie from Seamus, cradling his sleeping son carefully to his bare chest.

Freddie is warm, and his dark skin is a sharp contrast to George's own. He's wrapped in a green blanket, probably conjured by Andromeda or Seamus.

He smacks his tiny lips together and yawns, opening his eyes. They're deep brown, the same shade as Angelina's.

And he knows. He knows that she is dead and gone and he cannot get her back, but this child is a part of her. Freddie is Angelina's legacy, the only thing he has left of her. The best of both of them.

He's beautiful. He's everything. George feels his lips curl up into a faint smile as he looks at this kid, this beautiful kid that he and Angelina created.

He doesn't know how to do this without her, but he doesn't have a choice.

So for Freddie, he will do what he can. And he will remember that he is not alone, no matter how lonely he feels.

He has Andromeda and Teddy and Anthony and Pomona and Oliver and Blaise and Theo and Seamus. And Freddie.

They are a small group, and they are nothing compared to the Death Eaters who control their government, who rule their world, who rule those who could not or would not protest.

But they are together, and they have each other.

It is not easy, but he didn't expect it to be. He has to haul himself out of bed in the middle of the night when Freddie cries and he has to bottle feed him because he doesn't have another choice.

Sometimes Freddie cries and George can't figure out why and he feels like a failure because he can't even understand his own son.

Sometimes George tries to soothe Freddie and nothing works and then Seamus takes Fred into his arms and Fred stops crying immediately and it makes George want to cry instead.

Seamus is good with him, though. It's fascinating, because for George, the easiest way to soothe his son is with his voice, murmuring nonsense words or reading him bedtime stories or telling stories of Freddie's namesake and the pranks they pulled.

Seamus doesn't have that option.

Instead, Seamus talks to Freddie using the bastardized form of sign language that is mostly Seamus' invention, because there was no one around to teach him real sign.

Freddie is fascinated by the way Seamus' hands move. Seamus makes faces at him and traces gentle patterns on Freddie's skin and Freddie smiles like the sun.

And as much as Seamus helps Freddie, George can tell that Freddie is helping Seamus.

When they first pulled Seamus out of Lestrange Manor, Seamus was withdrawn. Quiet.

Now, even though he cannot speak, he is still loud. His face and his body are more expressive than most people George has ever seen.

He takes up so much space. He gestures with his whole body and smiles so brightly it lights up the whole room.

Sometimes he withdraws, but when he starts to get sad, he usually leaves Freddie with George and retreats to his own room, dealing with his grief on his own. George isn't going to begrudge him that.

A week after Fred is born, George asks Seamus to teach him sign.

Seamus cocks his head at him in question, and George shrugs.

Seamus pulls out his stolen wand — Rabastan's, as it had suited him well — and spells out, WHY?

George looks at him, looks at his genuine confusion, and his conviction grows.

"Because. It's your way of communicating. I know Angie must've learned it while you were both in the cells, before they took her sight, and I know that helped, being able to communicate without all… this." He gestures to the glowing letters. "I… I feel like I should be meeting you halfway. Besides, at this rate, Freddie's going to be learning it, and…" He shrugs again, unsure of his words but certain of his decision. While it's true that Fred is a part of it, he's a small part. In reality, Seamus deserves to have someone meet him on his level. He deserves to be able to communicate just as easily as the rest of them — not in shakily spelled out words that take forever, resulting in parsed down phrases instead of what he really wants to say. He uses paper when he can, because it's faster, but it's still not fast enough for all the thoughts racing through his head; George can tell.

Seamus looks at him, carefully thoughtful, but eventually, he nods.

So George learns sign language.

Not real sign language. Not the kind that will help him communicate with anyone who learned proper sign language. But Seamus' form.

And then one day Oliver walks in on them signing in the kitchen and sits down at the table and says, "I'd like to learn."

And then Theo does, dragging Blaise along behind. And then Anthony, who studies Seamus' hands with a fierce concentration and picks it up faster than any of them.

Before he knows it, the whole house is learning bastardized sign language and using it with Seamus and with Freddie and even with each other, for practice. George watches Seamus, watches the way he smiles everytime someone signs, even when it's shaky and wrong, and he knows that this is right.

It isn't easy, but it is right.

A month after Freddie's birth, Freddie starts crying in the middle of the night, and nothing George can do will stop it. He tries a bottle, he tries bouncing Freddie around the room, he tries signing with him, he tries humming and singing and soothing words but Freddie just wails and wails.

Eventually, Seamus comes in, rubbing sleep from his eyes.

What is it? he signs.

George sighs. "Fuck if I know. He just woke up screaming."

Seamus holds out his hands, and George is tired enough that he doesn't even feel guilty handing him over.

Except that nothing Seamus tries will stop the screaming, either. George is wincing, knowing that at some point the whole house will wake — except for Anthony, who despite the war and the trauma and everything else, still sleeps like the dead.

But then Seamus runs a hand over Freddie's back, carefully and slowly, and then Seamus freezes.

"What is it?" George asks.

Seamus shakes his head, and then makes the same motion again. Freddie screams, and it is honestly the most agonizing sound George has ever heard in his life.

"What are you doing to him?"

It's stupid. He knows Seamus would never hurt Freddie, not on purpose, but Freddie's scream was pure agony and it cut George to his core. He trusts Seamus, but Freddie is his son.

Seamus steps forward and places Freddie on George's bed, on his stomach, and then carefully unwraps the blanket.

The protrusions on Freddie's back have grown. His skin is stretched, distended in a way that looks unnatural and painful.

God, no wonder he was crying.

"What the hell?" The words come out in a hoarse whisper.

Seamus looks back at him, eyes wide.

And George hates them.

He hates that the Death Eaters took Angelina and held her for five months and did Merlin-knows-what to her while he stood helpless. He hates that they experimented on the woman he loved. He hates that he lost her and every damn day he wonders if she'd not been kidnapped, if she still would've died. He knows they made her weaker, they gave her wings and then the tore them apart, they stripped her of her strength and gave her nothing in return.

If they'd never touched her, would she be alive right now? Would she know her son? Would Freddie know his mother?

But he doesn't dare go down that road of what-ifs because he knows it could kill him.

Right now, in this moment, though, he hates them anew.

He hates them for what they've done to his son.

Freddie is beautiful and perfect and the best thing George has ever been a part of.

And they are hurting him still.

They cannot touch him anymore, but they can still hurt him.

George hates.

Fred does not stop screaming.

He cries himself to sleep and George is in agony. Seamus tries painkilling spells, but he can only use gentle ones that he knows are safe for infants, and they don't really help. He can't find the ingredients for a proper pain potion, so instead Freddie just suffers and it's killing George.

His skin stretches and his bones grow faster than human bones are meant to grow and it's terrifying and George can only hope that it has an end, because otherwise he's afraid it might be killing Freddie. He grows thin and lean as his body shoves all the energy it can into his growing limbs. He eats as much as George can feed him when he isn't crying.

It seems to go on forever.

It seems that it will never end.

The skin stretches and swells and over the course of two weeks Freddie has wings that look like Angelina's did — skeletal, bones clear beneath the skin, without feathers. And at first, George thinks they're going to stay that way.

They're grotesque, but also kind of beautiful, dark and sleek and folded up behind Freddie. They flare out when he gets angry and curl around him when he gets scared, but mostly he keeps them tucked behind himself, or he wraps one around his body and sucks on the joint where two bones meet.

But then the feathers start to come in. They're sleek and pure white at the top and the whole first downy layer is white, but then as the bottom layer comes in — the primaries and secondaries — it comes in black as the night sky.

They're beautiful. They make him look like an angel, maybe a cupid. When he stretches them out in their entirety, they're almost three feet wide — twice his height, easily.

It's terrifying.

His son has wings.

His son has wings.

Fully fledged wings that look capable of flight.

His son is three months old and he has wings.

George doesn't know how to deal with this. He doesn't know how to be a single parent, let alone be a single parent to a kid who could literally fly away at any given moment.

Seriously, how is this his life?

It could be worse, Seamus signs. I mean, we don't even know what kind of spells they were casting. It could be so much worse.

He and George are sitting on a couch in the living room, relishing a moment of silence as everyone else, including Freddie, are in bed.

I know, he signs back. But it still can be. How do we know this is where it ends?

We don't. Well, that's encouraging. But Seamus must see that on his face, because he keeps signing. We never know. But that's true whether your kid has been the subject of Death Eater experimentation or not. Parenting is supposed to be terrifying and unknown.

George sighs. Maybe I've got enough of the terrifying unknown in my life already. He sighs again, tipping his head back against the back of the couch.

"God, isn't it enough that I'm constantly worried about Death Eaters finding this place, taking everyone I have left? Can you imagine what they'd do to Freddie? Isn't that enough? But no, I have to deal with a kid who could have any sort of random mutation pop up at any given time because some assholes experimented on the love of my life while she was pregnant!"

He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.

Sorry, he signs. Sorry. I'm just… I feel like I'm always angry.

He looks back at Seamus.

You're allowed to be, Seamus signs. It's objective truth that the world has fucked you over. It's fucked us all over. This wasn't how it was supposed to go. But here we are. I'm angry, too. Fuck, I'm so angry. Some days I still fucking forget and I open my mouth to talk and then I remember Bellatrix fucking Lestrange severed my fucking vocal cords and then burned them to shit so I could never repair them. She found out I could still whisper when I started dreaming and ripped apart the rest of my throat, took everything I had left. And I'm so angry, because it's not fucking fair. I want to talk. I want to be heard. But that's never going to happen again. Seamus takes a shuddering breath, and George realizes that this is the first time Seamus has ever really told anyone what happened to him in that Manor.

They took me, Seamus signs, right from the Battle of Hogwarts. I had no sense of time passing. I didn't even realize it had been a year until you got me out.

Seamus sighs, looking down at his hands. It's not fair. It's not fair at all, and it makes me furious… but it is what it is. We cannot change the past. We can only change the future.

And George doesn't understand how Seamus can come out of a year of that kind of torture and remain so bright, so optimistic. He cares so easily and George doesn't understand.

It's been three months since they pulled a frail, dark eyed boy out of a dungeon and while he may be angry, George has never once seen him cower. He stands straight and tall and he faces what the world throws at him and George doesn't understand how.

How are you so okay with this? George eventually signs.

Okay? I'm not okay. I'm a fucking mess. I have nightmares every night. I barely sleep. I can't ever forget what it looked like to see my best friend fall and not get up. I can't ever forget the glee in Bellatrix's eyes every time she got me to scream, and her euphoria when she told me I'd never scream again, but that was all right because she could see the scream in every line of my body anyway. I can still feel the way it felt to have her gaze on me, like something was creeping along my skin and I could never get it to leave. I'm a disaster. But I can't stop moving. I can't stop moving, or I'll give in to it. So… Freddie helps. You help. Theo helps, because he never stops chattering at me and doesn't care that I can't talk back. Blaise listens, when I want to talk. Anthony follows every movement of my hands with a fixed gaze like everything I say is worthwhile and that helps too. Oliver is always ready with a smile. Andi will let me hold Teddy when I feel like I'm falling apart. Pomona has a near-psychic ability to know when I just need a fucking cup of tea. Every single one of you is holding me together.

George blinks. Because honestly, he feels a bit bad that he hadn't noticed any of that, and how self absorbed does that even make him? Of course Seamus is suffering — just because he looks like he's holding it together coherently doesn't mean that he is.

They all hold their trauma in different ways. George's stops him in his tracks. Apparently Seamus' keeps him running.

What can I do? George finally asks.

Seamus smiles, softly and sadly in that way that doesn't reach his eyes. Just keep being you. And letting me hold your adorable, weirdo kid.

George smiles back. I can do that.

So Freddie has wings.

Huge, fully formed, expressive wings.

In the end, George isn't sure how much it matters.

Because he still has Angelina's eyes. He still has skin that's somewhere in between George's and hers. He still smiles like the sun dawning after the darkest night.

The first time he laughs, George cries, because no matter how much darkness is in this world, there is beauty, too.

Wings or no, he's still George's son.

Freddie is lighter than Pomona says that most kids are at his age. He grows like a weed but he's slim, without much baby fat to speak of.

But it's something else.

It takes them until October, when Freddie is four months old, to figure out that it's his bones.

His bones are hollow — not the dense thickness of human bones, but light, like a bird's.

"Do you think he's going to be able to fly?" George asks Seamus. They're sitting at the dining room table, watching Freddie play with conjured blocks.

Seamus turns to face him. George takes a deep breath. Seamus inspects his face.

Would it be a bad thing if he did?

George's eyes are fixed on his son, watching him flail around with a block in his hand.

"I guess not." He's not going to be normal either way, but the world they live in isn't really normal anymore either. At least this way, it's something good.

Freddie is lying on his stomach, because Andi had said that it was important for his beginning to crawl, which could be soon. She's been invaluable as a resource, both because she raised Nymphadora and because she currently has Teddy, who is just over a year and a half now.

His wings are spread out behind him, lazily flapping up and down. The living room is filled with gentle air currents.

Freddie sticks the block in his mouth and gums at it, looking pleased. George smiles at him fondly.

Maybe his son won't ever need a broom to fly. But George will make sure he has the freedom to fly, somehow.

..

In October, George finds a pure white feather on the floor of the living room. He's halfway to a panic attack thinking of Angelina's tattered, broken, skelton wings when Anthony wanders in and says, "Ah, I'd wondered if Fred was going to moult."

George stares at him in shock, and Anthony shrugs. "I like birds, okay."

And so Anthony tells him about birds, about how they shed their feathers at least once a year to make room for new growth, about how it may itch but it won't hurt — it's not like what they did to Angelina at all.

Anthony teaches him about birds and Andromeda teaches him about children and Freddie himself is the only one to teach him about winged children, because they're making their own way through this terrible, broken world.

In January, Seamus falls asleep on the couch for the first time and George doesn't want to wake him.

He tucks a blanket around the man, noting that he is still too thin but so much less gaunt than he was when they first found him. It's been seven months since Seamus was rescued from that dungeon.

It feels like progress.

George puts Freddie to bed and comes out to the kitchen for a glass of water when he hears the rustle.

The sound is small and stifled, but George knows it's coming from Seamus.

He sets the glass down, moving toward the couch.

Seamus's face is twisted up, the pain clear. His leg is writhing, sliding against the fabric of the couch, making the sound George heard.

George hates it. Seamus, when he's awake, is so strong, so naturally cheerful. His hands fly when he talks, almost too fast for George to decipher the meaning. His eyes are so haunted but they still have so much room for happiness.

Seeing him like this is a reminder of the agony he's been through. The agony he should never have had to experience.

It's a reminder that no matter how good he is at showing his optimism, he has still seen the darkest parts the world has to offer.

Honestly, the fact that he can still smile, can still laugh — it's amazing.

But it doesn't mean he's okay.

George considers letting him sleep, but then Seamus' mouth opens in a silent scream, and George can't watch him in pain any longer.

"Seamus," he says quietly, hoping not to disturb the rest of the house.

Seamus writhes.

George thinks if he could make noise, he would be whimpering.

"Seamus," he says again, a little louder.

That doesn't work either.

He reaches out, carefully and delicately touches the back of Seamus' hand. Faster than George can even see, Seamus twists and his hand snaps out, grabbing George's wrist, hard. His eyes snap open and he looks straight at George. His eyes are harder than they have ever been, full of rage and pain.

It takes Seamus some time to realize who he's looking at, but when he does, his eyes soften.

George? he mouths.

George smiles, soft but sad.

Seamus' grip eases off, but he doesn't let go. His face is still torn apart with grief.

What did you dream about? George signs with his free hand. Do you want to talk?

Seamus sighs, and lets go, hauling himself up to a sitting position. He pats the couch beside him, and George sits without hesitation.

Dean, Seamus signs, spelling the name out slowly. Dean, George has gleaned, was Seamus' best friend. Seamus never talks about him. He only knows the name from Theo.

Seamus sits still and quiet for a moment, and George thinks he's not going to say anything more, but then his hands start moving.

I saw him die. He digs his teeth into his lip. He was my best friend for seven years and I watched him run from the Death Eaters and I watched him stand and fight and I watched him fall. He sighs, dragging his teeth over his lip and letting it go. Sometimes I dream about watching him die. Sometimes I dream about him there in that dungeon with me. He swallows. Sometimes I dream about him torturing me. The memories get all mixed up and everything hurts and I don't know how to deal with this.

Seamus takes a deep, shuddering breath. Tears are sliding down his cheeks.

George moves closer, letting the warmth of their thighs press together but not pushing any further. He suspects Seamus could use the human contact.

The fact that Seamus sinks into his side, letting his head rest on George's shoulder confirms that.

George can feel the rhythm of his breathing.

It's weird, he thinks. He hasn't sat like this with anyone since…

Well. Since Angelina.

It hurts to remember her.

But it hurts less than it did seven months ago. It's no longer a raw, burning agony. Now it's an ache, like a broken arm that's just begun to heal. It still throbs painfully, but now it's something he can think around, instead of something that consumes him.

Seamus sniffs deeply, and then lifts his head. Thanks for letting me cry on you, he signs.

George shrugs. It's fine, he signs back.

Seamus looks at him carefully, reading something on George's face.

Do you miss her? he asks.

Sometimes, I miss her so much I can hardly stand it. But sometimes, I forget to miss her, and then I remember and it hurts worse because then I feel guilty about forgetting, because she's dead and there's nothing I can do about it.

Seamus nods, and George knows in that moment that he understands.

...

It's pride and hubris that are their downfall, in the end.

They grow complacent. George is busy with Freddie and they are so small that they don't know what they can achieve and so suddenly it's March and Freddie is nine months old and crawling along, using his wings for balance and Teddy is almost two and starting to string words together and it feels so soft and warm inside the cabin that they forget there's a world in crisis outside.

Until the world comes to them.

It was inevitable, really. The capture and rescue of Angelina and Pomona told them that there were still people out there — enough to mount a rescue. And the cabin is well warded, which is why they've been safe for as long as they have.

But the warding isn't perfect, as it turns out.

It's the middle of the night and George wakes up to massive crash that sounds like cannon-fire.

He bolts upright immediately, grabbing his wand off the nightstand and checking the crib. Freddie is still sleeping, lying on his back, wings tucked behind him. They're growing even faster than he is, and even folded up behind him the primaries dip past his feet.

George debates for a second, but in the end he doesn't dare leave Freddie alone when he doesn't know what's happening.

He scoops Freddie up, casting a silencing spell around him in case he cries out, and then creeps on socked feet toward the sound.

He lingers in the doorway to his bedroom, frozen with horror. Death Eaters are pouring into the house, front door broken off its hinges.

Oliver, who has always been the easiest to wake in the house, is standing in the middle of the living room, barely holding his own.

"Fuck," George swears.

He takes a moment to think, slipping back into his room and trying not to draw attention. He has to get Freddie out of here. He cannot let them take his son.

They talked about this, back when it was all starting. About what they would do if anyone ever found this cabin.

He takes a deep breath, drops the wards, summons the bag he's had packed under his bed since the very beginning — the bag he added to when Freddie was born, and as he'd grown.

He loops the bag over his shoulder, grips Freddie tightly, sends up a prayer for Oliver and everyone else in the house, and disapparates with a crack.

..

He reappears in the wild forests behind the place where the Burrow used to be. Freddie is silently screaming, displeased by the feeling of Apparition. George casts a spell that tells him no humans are around, and then removes the silencing spell.

Freddie wails, wings flaring out and flapping so hard that George staggers to keep his balance.

"Hey, hey, buddy. You're okay."

Freddie just screams. George tips his head back, drags a hand over his face. His muscles are shaky, and he can't get the image of Oliver fighting at least ten Death Eaters out of his head. Freddie is screaming and he is alone and they shouldn't have forgotten that they were vulnerable.

His voice trembles when he says, "We're okay, bud. We're okay."

He sinks down to sit on the forest floor, running his hand gently along Freddie's back, just to the outside of his wing joint, narrowly avoiding flailing feathers.

"We're okay," he whispers, swallowing, his throat feeling tight. "We're okay."

..

He waits until the raid has to be over, holding Freddie tightly, gently swaying, soothing him to sleep.

He has to send a Patronus.

He knows that if anyone was captured, the Patronus will tell the Death Eaters he is alive. Will tell them that someone is still out there.

But he can't be traced from a Patronus and he needs to know.

He closes his eyes tightly, holding tightly to the memory of Angelina smiling at him from her broom, flying beside him at practice.

"Expecto patronum!"

He opens his eyes.

There's a stream of silver mist coming from his wand. It is immediately clear that it has no corporeal form.

He shakes. He needs to know. He needs to know if they're okay.

He closes his eyes again, thinking of the first time he held his son. Thinking of the warmth of his tiny frame, of the way Angelina smiled at them both and Seamus looked on. Thinking of the way it felt like he could conquer the whole world for his son, no matter how dark the world got.

"Expecto patronum."

He breathes in deeply, opening his eyes.

It's not his familiar coyote.

Instead, it's a silvery dove, wings gracefully holding it aloft.

It's beautiful, and it reminds him of Freddie — innocent, graceful, winged.

It's the first time he's cast a Patronus since Fred died. It feels like it should be monumental, but among so many other things that are monumental in other ways, he can't dwell on it.

"Seamus Finnegan. Message: tell me you're alive."

He's not proud of the way his voice shakes as he says it.

For a moment, he thinks the dove isn't going to move, and he feels like he's going to shake apart.

But then it takes flight and he breathes in again, deep and shuddery.

Seamus is alive.

He's not alone in this world, with only Freddie and so much to mourn.

He's not alone.

He waits with tense anticipation for a response until his tense muscles wake Freddie and his son starts wailing in the darkness of the forest.

He runs a hand along the outside of Freddie's wing joint, keeping his breathing deep and steady.

Freddie's wails have tapered into soft sobs when a small, silvery gox darts into the clearing. The Patronus doesn't say anything, for obvious reasons, but it darts closer and noses at Freddie's cheek.

Freddie looks at the Patronus and then giggles, high and bright, making a small vocalization and waving a fist at the fox. The fox moves closer, curls its body around Freddie, and then disappears into mist.

Seamus is alive, and he got out.

The knowledge unknots something that's been twisted up in his chest since he apparated out of the cabin hours ago. He thinks about it, the thought of losing Seamus.

It shatters something inside of him where he didn't know there was anything left to be shattered.

Soon after Seamus' Patronus follows a graceful swan, which speaks with Andromeda's voice. "T and I are with him. Are you secure? Move to the meeting point in three days."

Of course. He's not surprised that Seamus' instincts were to get Andromeda and Teddy out alive, in the same way George's instincts were for Freddie. Seamus has been easy with Teddy and Fred from the very beginning. They both adore him, and he seems to adore them in return.

George takes a small moment of relief, holding Freddie close. His sobs have stopped since the arrival of Seamus' retriever, but he looks vaguely bored and has begun softly gnawing on George's arm. George wonders how he missed that.

He pulls some crackers out of his packed bag and starts feeding them to Freddie. As he does, he sends Patronuses to the rest of them, confirming that everyone is alive.

Pomona's darts off and gets an immediate reply, saying she's safe but alone.

The one to Anthony darts off, but nothing comes back. George desperately hopes he's just sleeping, not taken.

Theo and Blaise send one message back with both of their voices, assuring him that they are alive and well and will meet up at the prearranged point in three days.

But when he tries to send a Patronus to Oliver, his dove will not move.

He bites into his lip and tries not to shake apart.

Oliver was the biggest piece of his life before the war that was left. His Quidditch Captain, his friend.

Oliver was meant to make first string for Puddlemere, play every game, show the world what he was capable of.

He wasn't meant to die holding off Death Eaters so the rest of them could escape.

It wasn't supposed to be like this.

George's cheeks are wet, his arms shaking slightly around his son.

He feels like he's failed Oliver.

There must've been something he could've done. Something.

Logically, he knows better. Logically, he knows that Oliver knew he was buying everyone in that cabin enough time to get out. It was a conscious choice Oliver made, most likely, and blaming himself for Oliver's death takes away the dignity and bravery of that choice.

Logic doesn't matter.

His trembling hands pull out a blanket, set down his son, and then rake across his face.

He lets himself sob.

For three days, he and Freddie live in every forest he can remember, eating crackers from the bag and fruit from trees and hoping everyone else is doing okay.

On the third day, he apparates them both to an alleyway in Muggle London that Seamus had known — had described to them all in great enough detail to apparate to, should cause ever arise.

Seamus and Andromeda and Teddy are already there, tucked into the shadows, huddled close.

George embraces Seamus tightly, Freddie squashed between them and giggling madly. "I'm glad you're okay," he says, and Seamus is nodding like a madman and George knows it means me too.

He moves on to hug Andromeda and Teddy as well — Teddy is balanced easily on Andromeda's hip, chattering about something George doesn't have the energy to decipher.

Pomona shows up next, hugging them all, looking shaky but otherwise fine.

Blaise and Theo are last, popping in hand and hand.

"Right," George says. "Let's move out. We're not exactly inconspicuous here."

"What about Oliver? And Anthony?" Theo asks.

George breathes in deeply, looks at each of them. He figured they'd be smart enough not to each send a Patronus to everyone — they don't want to tell the captors of anyone captured exactly how many of them there are — but he forgot that that would mean they don't know.

"Oliver's dead," he says, shakier than he'd like. "Anthony is missing." Pomona puts a hand over her mouth.

"You're right," Andromeda says after a moment of silence. "We need to move out."

He's grateful to her — she's always been the best of them at shelving her grief for a more convenient time.

He finds a rock on the ground, scoops it up, and taps it, saying "Portus."

Technically, unlogged portkeys are very illegal.

But the government is currently run by a psychopath's evil minions, so George really does not care. And there's too many of them to Apparate.

"Where are we?" Pomona asks when they land, the sun beating down heavily on them.

"Egypt," George says.

It's a place he remembers from their trip to visit Bill.

It feels like a lifetime ago.

"Are we running away?" Theo asks.

"Not forever," George says simply, leading the way to a pyramid that he knows was cleared and abandoned by curse breakers.

He looks around at them, faces wandlit in the dark pyramid, surrounded by relics of a civilization long dead, and he knows they need time.

They need to mourn Oliver, to process Anthony's absence.

It's time they probably shouldn't take. They need to start planning. They need to figure out what they do next, because their complacency has led to Oliver's death.

He won't let it lead to anyone else's.

He's sitting on the stone floor, pondering this, when Seamus walks up and scoops Freddie out of his arms, easily and fluidly. He tucks his lit wand into his holster, letting it illuminate the space and wiggling his fingers at Freddie. Freddie grins.

It's enough to jar George out of his thoughts.

You look serious, Seamus points out.

George shrugs. "Just thinking," he says.

Seamus looks at him carefully, contemplative. You know this isn't on you, right?

George smiles, but even he knows it's weak, strained.

I'm serious, Seamus insists. I know you feel responsible for us, but you aren't.

Seamus sits beside him, bouncing Freddie on his knee. Freddie giggles, wings spread wide. Both hands are occupied by the child, so Seamus just smiles at him and slides a little closer, letting George feel his warmth. Reminding him that he isn't alone.

It helps.

In the end it's only two days after they land in Egypt when Theo comes to him and says, "We're rescuing Anthony, right? And then whoever else we can?"

George doesn't hesitate. "Of course we are."

Because that's not a question. He didn't rescue Angelina just because he loved her. He rescued her because she was one of them. They are small, but they will not be silenced.

They are ready to fight back.

Theo offers to go back to Britain, to track down Anthony. George doesn't want to know why he knows how to do that. He just accepts.

With Theo gone and not much for the rest of them to do, Blaise mopes, George paces, Seamus cares for Teddy and Fred, and Andromeda and Pomona speak in hushed tones.

There's a sense of anticipation hanging over them that wasn't present before. Like they know this is the beginning of the end.

What end? He cannot say.

But he will not sit here any longer. He will not let his son grow up in the shadows, afraid of the light.

But he can't put it all on the line, because he has to be here to make sure Freddie sees the dawn come.

It's a fine line to walk.

He's ready to walk it.

He ropes Blaise into dueling practice because the man honestly mopes worse than Freddie. Seamus is holding Freddie at a safe distance, but George can see Freddie flapping his wings in excitement. He smiles, and then shoots a spell.

From there, it's a rapid fire parry and George remembers the exhilaration of the fight. He's good at this. He always has been.

That's how Theo comes back to find them on the floor, Blaise nursing a black eye and grinning like a maniac, George covered in boils.

"Do I want to know?"

"Probably not," Blaise says dryly, holding still so that Seamus can heal his black eye.

"What'd you find?" George asks, ignoring the boils. Andromeda and Pomfrey wander over as well.

"He's being held in Malfoy Manor. He's not alone. I couldn't tell how many, but… more than we have here."

George feels a flare of hope — the first in a long time.

"But it's well guarded. Much more secure than Lestrange Manor."

The flicker-flame of hope dies.

"I've got an idea, though," Theo adds. "You… you might not like it, but. Well. I think I can get Draco on our side."

"That… is a horrible idea," George says flatly.

Theo scowls. "Hear me out."

"I don't have to. Draco Malfoy? That's your plan?"

"You don't know him like I do!"

"It's been nearly a year and a half — you don't know him either!"

"Can you accept that maybe I know him better than you do?"

"No," George says. "No. We're not risking you like that, Theo. No."

"You're not the boss of me," Theo says. "And it's not as much of a risk as you think. Even if Draco really does believe in this… he cares about me. He always has. Sometimes he hates that he does, but he does. I don't believe he'd hurt me."

"No, but he might tell people who would!"

And then Blaise breaks in, reminding George that there are people besides him and Theo listening.

"Theo is right," he says softly. "I've never understood it, but Draco does have a soft spot for him."

George stares at him.

He knows, beyond the faintest shadow of a doubt, that Blaise would never risk Theo. Blaise would risk a lot, but not Theo. Never Theo.

It shakes his conviction, and that's when Seamus steps forward.

Let him do this, he tells George. It could make the difference between a victory and the loss of all that remains, and you have to trust that Theo knows what he's doing.

George sighs.

In the end, he can't disagree. This may be their best chance. They can't let it slip away.

George has never understood how he ended up the de facto leader of this weird little group of renegades.

In the beginning, he thinks it had a lot to do with Angelina, because Angelina was a born leader. And Andromeda had Teddy and Pomona never wanted to be a leader, so the actual adults weren't really options.

But then Angelina had died, and it hadn't changed.

They still look to him first. They still want his answers.

He doesn't have any to give.

All he knows is this: they will fight. Maybe, by some miracle, they will win. Maybe they won't.

At least they'll have fought.

So Theo disappears again, and Blaise sulks and George paces.

He paces, and he plans, inasmuch as he can without any knowledge of the destination or what kind of help they're going to get.

And he wonders how they're going to do this.

There are eight of them. He and Seamus, Blaise and Theo, Pomona and Andromeda. And Teddy and Fred.

He's been thinking of them as small but mighty, but the truth is that they're just small. And they have two children under two years of age with them.

They can't take Teddy and Fred into a fight. They can't.

But neither can they really afford to spare he and Andromeda.

He doesn't know how to win this, because he knows that no matter what Draco says, this is going to be an impossible fight. If not this one, then one in the future.

There is going to be a fight that they don't all come back from.

He doesn't want to orphan his son because he was too proud to turn down a fight. But he can't let his son grow up in this world.

He doesn't know what the right decision is. He wouldn't mind risking his own life, but risking the last parent Freddie has? That carries more weight. That's harder to justify.

Because what happens if they all go out and fight and there's no one left to come home?

Even if someone stays with them… it is a hell George cannot imagine. Any one of them trying to raise two children in this hellscape alone? It seems impossible.

But he doesn't know what the alternative is. Because they can't afford to not fight. Not anymore.

Theo comes back alone.

George isn't sure whether this is a good sign or a bad one.

On the plus side, there isn't an army following him.

On the minus side, Draco isn't with him either.

But as Theo gets closer, George can see his eyes are bright.

Blaise lunges at him, embracing him tightly, and Theo is grinning widely, and George wonders if it's okay to hope.

When Blaise lets him go, Theo casts his gaze around the room and says, "Draco's going to help us. He thinks he can get us in and out."

"Why?" George says.

It's not that he wants to question this opportunity. It's just that the last two years have given him a lot of reason to be sceptical.

Theo meets his eyes, steady and serious.

"Because he never wanted this. I know it's hard for you to accept that, because he showed you the worst of himself, but… deep down, he's a good man. It took him a long time to find that, but it's always been there."

George looks at him, and he knows that Theo has absolutely no doubt in what he is saying.

And George… George trusts Theo with his life. More than that, George trusts him with Freddie's life.

He's going to have to trust his judgement, too.

In the end, the plan is simple. They will sneak in during the dead of night, Draco opening the wards to let them through. They will find the dungeon, release everyone they can, and sneak back out.

George wonders if it's optimistic or just stupid to hope that it will go as planned.

But he still doesn't know what to do with Freddie and Teddy.

So he goes to Seamus.

Seamus is the newest member of their merry little band of rebels, and yet he so easily became the one George was most comfortable with in the wake of Angelina's death. He's got an easy air with Freddie, and he listens well and his hands are animated in reply.

More than that, though, George feels comfortable with him in a way he can't define. He feels… safe. Calm. Like the storm can rage around them but they'll be able to ride it out.

Seamus has never shied away from Freddie's wings, either. He treats him just the same as he treats Teddy, always grinning and laughing silently with them both.

Seeing Seamus with Freddie never fails to make him smile, to make him feel a burst of warmth deep inside. It's a familiar warmth, but something he can't quite place.

It doesn't matter. Not right now. All that matters is that he needs advice, so he goes to Seamus.

He finds him sitting in a corner, staring at the place where the sarcophagus once was.

"Hey."

Seamus startles and then looks up, wiggling his fingers in a hello.

"Can I sit?"

Seamus gestures widely with his arm, and George takes a seat beside him, sighing.

What's on your mind? Seamus signs.

George grins at him, somewhat bittersweet and wry. He wonders if he's that easy to read, or if Seamus just knows him that well by now.

Probably both, if he's honest with himself.

"I don't know what to do about the kids," he says.

Seamus frowns, looking contemplative.

"We can't take them," George points out. "But we… can't really afford to leave someone, and even if we do… what happens if it all goes to shit? We leave one person with two kids and no goddamn hope in this world?"

What are you suggesting?

"I don't know. I just… they can't have him, Seamus. I'd… god. I'd rather he was dead than in the hands of the Death Eaters."

Seamus looks at him, eyes wide, and George knows how that sounds but it's the goddamn truth.

He knows all too well what they'd do to his son. He can't bear the thought of it.

If anything, Seamus knows even better.

George thinks of Angelina, wings plucked to the bone, thin and skeletal and scared of his voice, and he feels the truth of it in his bones.

He would rather Freddie were dead.

Maybe that's terrible.

Maybe it makes him a terrible father.

But George has seen too much suffering in this world.

He's only twenty-one. Sometimes that seems impossible, but it's the truth. He's twenty-one and he knows what pain is all too well and he cannot bear for his son to know the same.

What are you suggesting? Seamus asks again, but this time the movements are shakier, more desperate.

"I don't know," he says, voice cracking on the last word. He looks down.

But then Seamus is right in his face, forcing George to look up, to watch his signs and his face. His blue eyes are fierce, luminescent.

You don't get to do this. His movements are fierce, jerky, and George knows that he could speak his voice would be full of barely reigned in fury.

You don't get to expect the worst. Not now. Do you understand how much this group looks up to you? You need to believe that this is going to work, or it doesn't have a goddamn chance in hell. You don't get to make contingency plans like this. No vials of poison hidden in teeth or fucking Draught of Living Death or whatever the hell you're planning. That's not who we are.

"Then what, Seamus? What am I supposed to do here? Tell me, please, since apparently you know what I'm supposed to do better than I do!"

His gaze is unyielding. You find someone who will stay with them. Pomona, probably. You let her stay, you plan without her, then we go out there and we win and we come home. Because there are no other options.

Seamus is breathing hard, movements emphatic. He's impossible to say no to.

So George doesn't.

"I'm not a fighter," Pomona says when he asks. "I never have been. I will defend them with my life if I must, but it's not in my nature to seek out a fight, even in circumstances this dire. I'll stay."

And so that decides that.

Their entrance to Malfoy Manor goes smoothly — frankly, more smoothly than he'd anticipated.

Draco meets them at the distant edge of the wards, lifting the spells just enough to let them slip through. He nods hello, but doesn't say anything. Instead, he just turns and makes his way on sure and silent feet toward the Manor.

George takes a deep breath and follows him, silencing spell already in place around himself.

As they approach the Manor, Draco holds up a hand for them to wait and then strides up and opens the front door and disappears within. For a moment, George wonders if this is all an elaborate trap.

A moment later, Draco comes back, beckoning them forward.

As the five of them file into the front hall, George notices the man, presumably a guard, stunned in the middle of the floor.

This is fairly convincing evidence that Draco is on their side.

Draco notices where his eyes are fixed and smirks wryly.

George just cocks an eyebrow in return, and so Draco turns and leads the way through the halls.

They don't encounter anyone else until a single guard in front of the dungeons, whom Draco silences and stuns easily and without hesitation.

Draco nicks the guard's wand as they pass by, using it to unlock the spells. George wonders if they're keyed to the wand, or if this is just Draco's way of covering his tracks, letting the blame fall on the guard.

As soon as he steps into the dungeon, he forgets to wonder.

This isn't like the Lestranges, where it was a single hallway, holding three people when they arrived but with only a capacity of around ten.

This is instead a network of cells, a true dungeon. It looks like it's been expanded upon — recently, if George had to guess.

Every cell that George can see is filled.

He puts a hand to his mouth, taking it in, subconsciously stifling a noise that's silenced by this spell anyway.

Then Seamus is elbowing him, signing, Freedom now, shock later, and moving forward.

Do we need to unlock the cells in a special way?

George drops his silencing spell and whispers the question at Draco, who is staring at Seamus' hands moving with an expression George can't decipher.

"Here," Draco murmurs, voice pitched low, handing over the guard's wand. "They're only keyed to a few wands, so we're going to have to work quickly. Simple unlocking spell, but don't use your own wand — that will just set off an alarm."

George nods, taking the wand and moving forward, opening the cells and letting the rest of his group guide the prisoners out, make sure they're mobile, muffle the sounds of their feet on the stone.

Some of them he recognizes — Katie Bell, a Hufflepuff girl who was a few years below him, a few boys he thinks were Ravenclaws.

Many he doesn't. A lot of them are older than him, people he wouldn't have crossed paths with at Hogwarts.

Every one of them is gaunt, skin pulled tight over bone, and pale. They don't seem to know how to process the rescue. Many of them, he thinks, are in shock.

Near the end of the line, he finds Anthony, less pale than the rest but paler than he once was.

"I knew you'd come," he whispers, and his voice is so full of conviction that George knows, without a shadow of doubt, that he couldn't have made any other choice.

They don't leave their own behind.

He loses track around the thirty-fifth cell he unlocks.

It's both beautiful and terrible. Terrible to imagine the suffering that has happening in this dungeon. But so, so beautiful and full of hope.

No longer will they be a small band of six adults and two children.

Now, they will be a rebellion.

On their way out, Draco re-stuns and obliviates the guard to the dungeons, and then again with the one by the door.

George can feel tension in every line of his body as they try to silently and quickly move a group of fifty people out of enemy territory. There is a rock in his stomach. He is convinced something is going to go wrong.

But then they are at the ward borders and he's staring at Draco trying to puzzle out something and Draco is looking back, calm and steady, and before he can think it through he's saying, "Should you come with us? They're going to be furious."

A corner of Draco's mouth twists into something that isn't a smile.

"They won't know it was me."

"They'll know it was an inside job, though."

George doesn't know why he's pushing this, except… he believes, now, that Draco is on their side.

And he doesn't want to leave anyone to the mercy of angry Death Eaters.

"Wouldn't you rather keep your inside man?"

"Not if it means you getting caught," George says, and the ferocity in his voice surprises even him.

In the end, though, Draco shakes his head. "I don't think they'll suspect me, unless I disappear from my bed. That's as good as a declaration, and I think it's for the best that I don't make that declaration yet.

George swallows, nods, and steps outside of the wards, creating several portkeys and sending the newly-freed prisoners off in batches.

As he places his hand on the last portkey, he almost thinks he sees Draco wave.

George wants to capitalize on their momentum, move quickly, bring the fight to them.

But he has to acknowledge that that's not going to be possible.

Seamus is their only healer, and he's suddenly found himself with fifty new patients and no way to ask them what they need. His old notebook comes back out — long since disappeared with the progression of the rest of them in learning sign.

So Seamus heals, and George plans.

Anthony comes to him with what knowledge he has, though he was only held for a week. Still, he's a good planner, and George welcomes his insight.

When she's been healed, Katie Bell joins them as well.

Her features are drawn but fierce.

"I was in that dungeon for six months," she says. "What can I do to help?"

So he talks to Katie, and he talks to Anthony, and he knows that they need to know where Voldemort himself is.

If they can take down Voldemort, they can topple the whole tower.

Because George understand human nature, and he knows that a lot of people are following Voldemort now because of fear. Fear keeps them from fighting. But without Voldemort to lead his own — they won't resist the return to pre-war means of operating.

And the Death Eaters showed their true colours last time Voldemort fell. When he fell, they abandoned him. They will do so again.

At least, he hopes they will.

He hates having to trust in Draco again, but… the alternative is taking so much time and so many risks, to try to keep an eye on Voldemort and figure out where he's going to be.

He won't risk his people when he doesn't need to.

A sleek, silvery ferret darts into the pyramid six days after the rescue, stopping next to Theo.

George blinks at it, tempted to laugh despite the circumstances.

It opens its mouth and speaks in Draco's voice. "He'll be at diagon alley in two hours. I think it's an opportunity."

The ferret disappears into mist. George takes a breath.

And from there, it all moves very quickly.

Seamus deems two people need to stay with Andromeda, unfit to fight. One is an elderly man, and the other a teenage girl.

When George takes a headcount, there are fifty-seven people ready to fight.

Fifty-seven survivors.

He doesn't dare wonder how many will be still be surviving come morning.

He makes portkeys, laying them out in a line, and then he turns to face them.

Fifty-six faces stares back at him.

"You do not have to come with us," he says, because he will not force anyone to fight. "But this is… we ask for your help. We ask for your help in taking back our world. Because we have been ruled by an iron fist for too long. We have seen Muggleborns shunted aside, we have seen Muggles and Muggleborns tortured for fun. We have lived in his prison and we have hidden from him, but we will hide no longer." He swallows. "I know what we've lost. I know that each of us have lost so much that it should be unfathomable. But instead it's our reality. We may yet lose more. But we will not let that stop us from fighting. Because it's time for us to take it back." He grins, fierce and determined, all teeth. "Good luck."

And then they're grabbing portkeys and they're finding Voldemort in the middle of the streets and Death Eaters are turning on them and George is casting an anti-apparition ward so that he can't just disappear. And spells are flying and Voldemort is surrounded by a crowd of Death Eaters protecting him and Seamus is at his side, signing, I'll distract Bellatrix. You break through. And… if I go down, I need to say — well. I love you. And then Seamus is kissing him and then Seamus is pulling away.

And before George can protest Seamus is disappearing and drawing attention to himself and George has to take the opportunity while it's given but he just wants to make sure Seamus is okay. He just wants time to process what just happens.

He slips through the gap Seamus creates and breathes in deep, collecting all the rage that he has been gathering over the last few years.

He thinks about what they did to Angelina, to Freddie. He thinks about how emaciated Seamus looked when they first found him. He thinks about finding fifty-four people in a dungeon, every single one with some tale of torture.

He lets the rage consume him.

"Avada Kedavra."

Voldemort turns just as George casts.

His face freezes in shock.

He drops to the pavement. Behind George, Bellatrix screams, and he whirls around to find Seamus unmoving in the street and Bellatrix looking at him, her features cast in rage.

He's stuck, staring at the way Seamus isn't moving, thinking that Bellatrix aims to kill.

He can't believe it.

He can't believe that Seamus is gone.

He can't believe that he was so stupid, because the way his heart constricts at the thought of losing him is so familiar.

When he lost Angelina, he wasn't sure he'd ever love again.

He hadn't planned on Seamus, who'd snuck his way into George's heart while George was busy with a rebellion and a baby — so busy that he hadn't even noticed, apparently.

"No," he says in a whisper, and that's when Bellatrix lunges and then falls, a red stunner hitting her in the back. Anthony grins viciously.

And George unfreezes, moving forward toward Seamus, even as the Death Eaters around him notice that their leader and his lieutenant have fallen. Death Eaters begin to slip outside the wards and disappear.

George doesn't care. Not now.

He falls to his knees.

He wonders how many times he can lose everything and still be expected to get up and keep going. He thinks about returning to Freddie without Seamus, thinks about trying to raise his son in a world trying so desperately to return to normal without Seamus, who loves Freddie so fiercely that George has never questioned whether he would still help after the war was over.

He thinks about trying to make Freddie understand that Seamus is gone and he can't, he can't do thisWhy does the world keep asking of him impossible things?

He reaches out a hand.

Seamus' hands are still warm. He's so newly fallen that his hands are still warm.

And George never got to kiss him back. And George never got to tell him that he was wounded and broken and willing to give love one more chance for him.

His breathing is shuddery, ragged. He wonders how many times he can feel his whole world crack apart, fracture at the seams.

And then Seamus breathes in.

Seamus breathes in.

And George is crying but it's relief, now and he doesn't understand but he doesn't care, because he's hugging Seamus and Seamus is hugging him back and they're both alive and Freddie won't grow up alone and they're free.

April, 2005

Freddie is nearly six years old when he takes a running leap off the roof of their house, gives both his fathers heart attacks, and flies.

His muscles strain, but he's always been light and the years haven't changed that. There's a moment where George thinks he's going to fall, but then his muscles pull and twist and he is rising and holy shit Freddie is flying.

Oh my god, Seamus signs from beside him. And then, more emphatic, Oh my god.

George can't stop smiling, despite his worry.

"He's going to be an impossible teenager, isn't he?" George asks wryly.

Yes, Seamus signs. I suspect we're going to have to make grounding a little more literal than most parents.

Up in the sky, Freddie whoops, doing a loop the loop and looking like he was born for the clouds.

George wraps an arm around Seamus' shoulders, pulling him close.

"I wouldn't have it any other way," he says softly.

Because they went through hell, but in the end, they came out the other side with scars, and with love, and with their very own angel to watch over them.

He couldn't ask for anything else.