“Come off it! Don’t tell me you’re actually afraid.” An impish grin spread from the corners of George’s mouth, his eyebrow raising with the intent to goad. “What kind of Weasley are you, anyway? Never pegged you for a Percy.”
“And what if I am a little bit nervous?” Fred replied testily. “This has got to be the worst week of my life. You could show a little more support. All that besides, Percy’s hair would look awful on my perfect face. We both know that. Even considering our fusing mutation is just really too ugly for words, George.”
George disregarded the subtle change in topic. “Support isn’t what you need right now, mate. Trust me. You need a good kick.”
“I’d like to kick you. I’m a man on a ledge, I am. Could be uttering my final speeches here, but you keep on poking me with taunts about the Devil’s Duel when it’s the last thing in the whole bloody universe I want to think about.”
“So what? Suck it up! Round Five’s coming whether you’d like it to or not.”
“Oh, it’s all fine and well for you to act that way, you’re not the one sticking his neck out!” Fred told his brother, stuffing his hands into his pockets so that he couldn’t be tempted to punch things at random. “Need I remind you of the stakes? I only have two possible futures and they’re such extremes – you either win and you get a glimpse of everything you want, or you lose and…that’s it…”
“Are you barking?” George laughed. “It’s Colin Creevey we’re talking about. Remember how he used to go round Hogwarts hiding behind statues so that he could jump out at Harry, begging for pictures and autographs? A strong wind’s likely to do him in. You’ve got your work cut out for you, really. Don’t see what you’re complaining about.”
Fred’s lips thinned. He didn’t like this, not seeing eye to eye with his twin. He resented the time they’d spent away from each other, because it was now layered between them in a wide berth, all fifty-four days they’d not seen each other glaringly emphasized. Fred spoke louder as if that would permeate the deepening space.
“But I don’t want to do him in.”
“I don’t understand.” And from the look on George’s face, he really didn’t. They both stared at each other, frustrated. It was new and unpleasant, this being out of sync. It grated against their voices. “I thought you wanted to win? Isn’t that the point of you entering the races in the first place?”
“I do want to win, I’m not a complete nutter. Or at least, I don’t want to lose. But I don’t want Colin to lose, either.” There was a stagnant pause. He was terrified of losing, horrified that he might win. In a quieter voice, he said, “Colin’s a good kid.”
George nodded absently, not looking at him. “Yeah, I’m sure he is…”
Both seemed to be thinking about Fred’s lapse in conviction for some time before George ventured, “Reconstruction of the school’s going on, you know.”
“Oh, is it?” Fred felt a prick of homesickness, imagining the castle not in shambles but as it once was – magnificent, indestructible. An extension of his home.
“Yeah.” George scratched at a nonexistent itch on his nose. “Naming the seventh floor corridor after you, actually.” He said this very casually, but Fred could tell that his brother was working quite hard to quash the emotion rising up in his thin, high tone. “They’re doing that with a lot of corridors and courtyards – there’s even going to be a room named after that little Ravenclaw who kept trying to nick all our Puking Pastilles in seventh year. Evidently he got a leg cursed off when he jumped onto Dolohov’s back.”
George clapped his hands together with a stab at enthusiasm. “A whole corridor, though, eh? Don’t see them naming so much as a toilet after me, but hell, what’s an ear lost…”
“Only the seventh floor corridor, then?” Fred returned with the hint of a smile. “I would have thought I deserved the whole Great Hall.”
“Yeah.” George looked uncomfortable all of a sudden. “Well, you didn’t die in the Great Hall, did you? It happened up on the seventh floor, so I suppose that’s more fitting…” He fidgeted with the sleeves of his robes, mouth grim. “Going to be a trophy or plaque of some sort in a little suit-of-armor niche where Harry and Perce propped you up.”
Fred blinked, his lungs shrinking a bit when he forgot to breathe. For some reason, he’d never devoted much thought to how the immediate aftereffects of his death might have played out – at that time, he was already swimming in the sea, head bursting to the surface in full view of the depot.
What had he looked like without his soul? What would they have said, the bystanders who saw it all happen? Would they have tried to revive him? Fred frowned without realizing it, trying to remember who all had been present at the time of the explosion. Ron was there, he remembered his voice…
There was a ripping noise, with vibrant light smearing across his vision as the walls cracked behind him, stone by stone, all of them giving way into the world beyond. The seventh floor corridor blew up from all around, inside him and out, his body shielding Percy from a chunk of wall that would’ve collided with his brother’s head.
If he could have chosen anyone to die for, it still would have been Percy. This way, Percy would never, ever turn his back on his family again. That guilt would calcify into a sense of what was owed, what he should always be grateful for. He would be a better son, a better brother, a better Percy than he had ever been or would ever be were it not for Fred’s death.
Fred sat up straight in bed, the particles of dust illuminated in a strip of moonlight floating away from him as he sighed. There, on the bedside table, was a newspaper folded in half, with the exposed print detailing the reconstruction of Hogwarts. All of the things that George had just pretended to say had actually come from the DailyDeparted, listing parts of Hogwarts that were to be named after both fallen heroes and survivors alike – from the Lupin Library to Longbottom Bridge to the Fred Weasley Corridor. It was all just a dream, but that didn’t make parts of it untrue.
Hogwarts was durable, permanent. It would live on. They would make it even more wonderful than before, but Fred would not see it. Fred smiled softly to himself as he imagined generations of students running down the corridor displaying his namesake. George’s grandchildren would undoubtedly one day defile it with graffiti.
It was a funny thing, his relationship with George.
He did not resent his brother for living, nor did he envy him. He didn’t even miss him as much as everyone else he came into contact with expected him to. Despite the populace’s flabbergasted response at this, Fred honestly missed the rest of his siblings more than he did George. He missed his parents more. This was because Fred could feel the empty holes where Charlie should be, where Ginny should be. He didn’t have that sense of loss with George because he could still feel George.
There was an ever-present, everlasting, and undying bond that connected Fred and George with each other – one in life and one in death – and this was not something that could be severed. It was more than magic, more than love or the usual link between twins. Therefore, Fred did not feel the need to dwell on the fact that he could no longer speak to his best friend. He rarely felt the urge to mope or pity himself.
It was quite a difficult concept to explain to others. In his memories, his blood and being, the essence of Bill was stone cold. Arthur was vague and faraway, and the image of Ron’s goofy, lopsided grin brought an excruciating ache to Fred’s gut. But with George, there wasn’t any of this. Whereas Percy and Molly and Charlie were very much gone, George had never left.
Fred stood to his feet, stretching on the tips of his toes with his fingers brushing the ceiling, yawning. As if unavoidable, Fred’s gaze dipped over to a corner of the room where a trunk waited patiently, hoping to be packed with his scant possessions. It had been given to him by his own uncles, Gideon and Fabian Prewett, with the reminder that while he was the only Weasley in the boardinghouse, he still had family elsewhere in Cliodna’s Clock.
But he could not accept houseroom with them until he knew for sure that he was going to be alive next week. And so the trunk waited, gathering dust, until the upcoming Tuesday passed into Wednesday and Fred’s fate was decided.
Six days. He could feel every second between now and then. Even when he’d marched into the Battle of Hogwarts, he had not felt like this, so very close to the edge. George had been there to remind him that they were invincible, that they would come, destroy, and conquer.
Fred swallowed, cold terror stealing up his spine again. He tried to shove it back down, unwilling to think about the death of himself or Colin. He’d gotten this far in the tournament without going mad, and was determined to stay sane for a little while longer.
His mortality stretched into a thin wire, near to breaking point, but with that rush of fear came the reminder that everyone would prefer his wire to snap rather than Colin’s – sweet, innocent Colin, whose double death would be a tragic event. Fred had noticed the collective anticlimax when he emerged victorious out of the Pensieve in Round Four, and the somber, disappointed expression on Remus Lupin’s face because he was already enduring Tonks’s agony at having lost.
Why should Fred, a young man who’d never seemed to take anything seriously when he was alive, get to further his chances of winning when Tonks had a child waiting for her? Surely Tonks was more deserving of the prize.
No one, in truth, was rooting for him to win. Perhaps they wouldn’t have minded if it had all boiled down to him and Vincent, the Death Eater’s son, in the end, but with Colin there instead it was unbearable. It would be blasphemous to defeat Colin. Fred would be crucified for even trying to defend himself.
There was little desire to support the well-adjusted and strong, the adaptable. Fred was all of those things, which didn’t recommend him to anyone picking him apart in search of darkness or depression. He’d heard their whispers, their boggled conversations: He hasn’t even cried yet. Have you ever seen him cry?
But what was there to cry about? Fred straightened up in the darkness, indignant. He was alive, at least in one way, which was a miracle in itself. George was safe – another miracle. The rest of his family was safe, Voldemort was gone forever, and the only member of his very large family that had been lost in the Battle was Fred himself, who wasn’t really lost at all. Even Auntie Muriel had outlived him. But existence – whether it be here or there or somewhere else, Fred thought, was not something to turn up your nose at. Existence was a beautiful thing.
He strode over to the window and lifted the sash high over his head. A gust of four-in-the-morning breeze blew his copy of the Daily Departed off the bedside table: An article about Colin versus Fred and the lack of success reporters had met when they vied for interviews with the two remaining contenders stared pointedly back at him.
As Fred looked away again, the article’s letters rearranged, transforming into a tense section about Barty Crouch Jr.’s recent escape from the Grotta and his subsequent attack on his father, Barty Crouch Sr., in Cliodna’s Clock. The suspect had been escorted back to the Grotta and his father was all right but obviously shaken, and was rumored to have installed extra locks on his doors.
His eyes fell once again on the empty luggage, unable to keep his mind off it. It continued to draw his attention, reminding him that his life was tilting precariously on the tip of a sword, doomed to fall down either one way or the other. Fifty-fifty.
“If you win, you’re welcome to come live with us,” Fabian had told him earnestly. At least Fred had managed to capture the sympathies of his uncles. Everyone else who looked at Fred was hoping under thinly-veiled smiles that he would lose so as to spare Colin’s life. Colin was younger, child-like. He grinned at everyone he passed and had even less of an idea about death than Fred.
At the time of Fabian and Gideon’s offer, the former had been suffering a head cold, so his complexion was quite pink. Coupled with his enlarged pores, his nose looked rather like a strawberry. “You look out of sorts,” Fred had remarked. “Don’t they have Pepperup Potion here?”
“Oh, they do,” Fabian had assured him. With a quick glance at Gideon, he said, “But there’s more important things to be thinking about right now than my own health.”
It was in that brief moment, that snap-second, that Fred realized exactly how close he was to not existing at all. It took the perspective of someone else to make it real, the knowledge that others were even more scared for him than he was for himself; and ever since, Fred had been able to think of nothing else. He was going spare, counting the hours and minutes until all that remained of him might be only a memory.
What would George think when he someday died and came to Cliodna’s Clock? He would be so thrilled to see all of his deceased loved ones, would perhaps look forward to reuniting with Fred above anyone else. And if he discovered that Fred had stupidly snuffed it after only two months of living in the afterlife…Fred couldn’t stand to think of it. Every time a loved one came to Cliodna’s Clock and heard of Fred’s demise, it would be like Fred had died all over again.
And it was all his own damned fault.
He leaned against the windowsill, the warm night swelling with his breath, beating against a pulse that refused to calm. How many more nights would he see? What would his last words be? Would he be granted the opportunity to say goodbye to everyone or was death instantaneous? And along that vein, how would he die? Would it be painful? Would he simply…disappear?
Cease to exist, as if he’d never been there to begin with?
He wondered what sort of stories would circulate after his death. There would be an obligatory atmosphere of melancholy, of course, but lying beneath that there would be roaring congratulations for Colin. Fred understood it. He was sort of rooting for Colin himself. There was something irresistible about the underdog triumphing when no one believed they ever had a chance.
The only downside was that this meant Fred’s failure.
The shame and embarrassment his family would feel when they eventually found out about how their beloved Fred sailed into death with a loud, dysfunctional ‘bang’ would be thick in the village. How could anyone be brainless enough to sign up for a wonky tournament like this? Especially when they’d never witnessed one before and had no idea what to expect? Fred could perfectly envision Bill shaking his head in disapproval, and Molly’s horror-struck surprise.
Fred let his forehead bang against the sill, releasing a low groan. Out of all the stupid, senseless things he’d ever done, this had to make the top of the list.
His future never looked more brilliant, more bright, than it did right when he might be about to lose it.