Fred shot back as if a brand had been taken and forced against his naked skin. Without Fredís tight clutch, Ron slouched against the wall Fred had so brutally shoved him against.
"No, just a hallucination," Fred whispered, mostly to himself as a reassurance that he wasnít going mad. Not even in the magical world could someone return from the dead. Fred tried to say more but only managed to open and close his mouth noiselessly, like a dummy without his ventriloquist. Ron shuffled his feet against the moist cobblestone street awkwardly, uncertain of what to do now that his cover was blown.
There was more than the width of the alleyway separating these two brothers. Five long years loomed over them and for once, Fred was at a loss for words.
Footsteps echoed down the alley causing both brothers to twist their heads around to see an old hag scurrying down the alley to Knockturn. The woman turned her beady black eyes onto the men, she let out an annoyed curse and pushed past them, they watched as her robes swished out of sight.
The interruption seemed to jolt Fred from the initial shock of seeing his brother. Ruffling his copper hair, Fred leaned casually against the opposite wall. Crossing his arms, one over the other, he let out a low whistle.
"Bloody hell," Fred said his eyes brightening. "So where have you been? Iíve always told mum you went to the Caribbean to get some sun on that pasty face of yours. For some reason she didnít seem to believe me." Fred stopped as if to ponder the injustice of his own Mum not deeming his explanation reasonable. "But mate, I think you failed in your attempt, you look," Fred peered at Ron more closely. "Possibly more ashen then ever before. Well, thatís where I would put my vote if this was a democracy." Ron went a deep shade of red. Fred smirked in satisfaction at seeing his brother squirm.
But Ron didnít answer the questions posed, instead he rubbed the back of his neck to loosen his muscles. His slow, deliberate movements showed that he had aged faster then he shouldíve. If Fred looked closer, he wouldíve seen the large bags under Ronís eyes, eyes that seemed to be haunted, revealing the turmoil that ran through his veins like a drug. Fred didnít notice though, or if he did, he simply opted to ignore it.
"You have no idea-" Ron started, his voice rough and grave. Fred snorted.
"Oh no, of course I donít," Fred agreed amiably. "Havenít seen you in over five years now, I wouldnít know anything. But I guess you could tell me,"
"Shut up Fred!" Ron said angrily.
"Itís actually been a jolly old time without you. We havenít had to put up with your constant whining these years, to tell you the truth, itís kind of a shame that youíre back. Thanks for asking, by the way." Fred went on ignoring Ronís comment. Ron glared at Fred, but Fred simply continued leaning against the wall as if he didnít have a care in the world.
"Fred," Ron warned, his voice dangerously low.
"What? Am I hitting a nerve little brother?" Fred replied, his voice finally showing the animosity he felt towards his brother. Unfolding his arms, Fred smirked at Ron. He wasnít really all that mad at Ron; well he was, but not really, if that was at all understandable. He was mostly annoyed at what he had done, or what it seemed he had done, that was more like it. Like he didnít know what his disappearance would do to his family. It had killed them, and they had only just started putting the pieces of their life back together again. How were the rest going to take it? That was what Fred worried about the most.
"I was protecting her!" Ron burst out cutting off any snide remark Fred had left.
"Oh and faking that youíre dead is always the way to go about that then? Iíll be sure to remember that for next time I need to protect someone." Fred replied sarcastically stuffing an aggravated hand deep into the pocket of his robes.
"Donít you understand Fred?" Ron shot back with annoyance. "If they knew I was still alive something-" Ron paused, trying to find the right words to say. "Something worse might have happened to her."
"What are you talking about?" Fred burst out. "You speak as if you know her." Ron looked shocked at his pronouncement.
"Surely Fred youíre not so dense that you donít know," Ron said in disbelief. "Never mind. Can we just go and get a drink? Iíll explain," Ron said ruffling up his hair nervously. "Iíll explain everything."†
"They donít exist," Kingsley said. The rest of the Order looked at him in shock.
"Well then, who were they?" McGonagall asked. Concern was written across her wrinkled face. One question kept zooming through her brain. How could they not exist? Their life was written clearly across those cells.
"I donít know Minerva, I ran them through our database and well, as I said, they donít exist. I even took them to the Muggle Prime Minister to see if maybe they were muggles in the cells. But it appears thatís a dead end as well." There was silence in the room. Every corner they seemed to come to, they were unable to turn it.
"I think this is all going to come down to one thing," Lupin said with a sigh. He placed his face into his hands. It seemed impossible though. "We need her memory." No one asked the question that hovered over their heads as a mosquito does in the middle of the night -what if she never gets it back? Soon after, the meeting adjourned, leaving Lupin and Tonks alone in the house. Lupin stood up slowly and rubbed the small of his back. Tonks smiled and came up behind him.
"I guess we have the house to ourselves tonight," she whispered into his ear huskily. Lupin turned around, his eyes roaming over Tonksí body hungrily. Tonks smiled as Lupin leaned down and captured her lips with his. Taking his hand, Tonks led him upstairs with a quirky smile on her face.
The Leaky Cauldron was quiet that night, Tom was idly washing some cups behind the bar and a few other witches and wizards were scattered around the room. All of them though, were too wrapped up in their own problems to notice the brothers in the corner. Ron was silent as he sipped his butterbeer. Maybe he was trying to find the words to say, or simply trying to avoid the conversation that was bound to happen. Fred watched Ron intently, barely touching his own drink.
Ron finally looked up to meet his brotherís level eyes. His own eyes fixed.
"Well you see, it started on a bright August morning," Ron began.
Ron lay in his bed, staring up at his obnoxiously bright orange ceiling. It seemed to look down and mock him as if saying "hey, look at me Iím orange and happy, look at yourself you mopey slug!" Ron continued glaring at his roof hoping that maybe the ghoul would crash down from the attic and obliterate the ceiling.
As he was concentrating so much about the ceilingís demise, he barely heard his door open nor did he hear whoever shuffle across his floor and settle on his desk.
"Such gloom is very unbecoming you know," Ron was startled to hear the voice, even more startled to see his light turned on. Turning to his brother, Ron glared at him for disrupting his deep thoughts. What right did he have coming in here unannounced? Ron turned away and decided to ignore him; he was only going to make some wisecrack or something stupid like that.
"You canít stay in here forever. If you do, you might starve yourself, not that Iíd mind, but Mumís a totally different question."
"So what if I do? Itís not as if it really matters anymore," Ron spat out bitterly. If Ron had been looking at Fred he would have seen the flash of anger cross his brotherís face, anger that was rarely shown.
"Sheís not dead!" Fred said with an annoyed clip to his tone.
"She might as well be," Fred frowned at his brotherís pessimism. Ron though, ignored Fredís annoyance.
"Ron, you canít do anything about it now. The Order is trying to track her down and we both know thatís probably as good as itíll get, theyíre the best!" Ron glared at Fred. Deep down he knew Fred was only trying to help, but his words fell short. He should be out there with the Order. Wasnít he part of it too? She was the most important thing to him, couldnít anyone understand that?
"What do you know? All you worry about is your shop and the next time youíre going to get laid," Fred looked as if he had gotten slapped in the face at his brotherís spiteful words. Shrugging his shoulders, he stood up from the desk.
"For all we know sheíll be on the other side of the country in some death eater encampment, nothing anyone can do about it." Fred said as he walked out of Ronís room. Ron glared at the door as it slammed after Fred. He had never seen Fred angry before even though he was irate at his words, he had never been so shocked.
For the rest of the day, Ron stayed his room and refused to come down for dinner, even after his motherís insistence. Loneliness coursed through his bones. One of the last times he had seen her alone, he had told her he loved her. The way her eyes lit up told him she felt the same way, though she never got the chance to say so as Harry had walked into the tent right then. He had never been so angry with Harry before.
Fred coughed into his almost empty drink. Ron looked up at Fred questioningly. Wiping his lips messily, Fred motioned for Ron to continue. Ron started talking again but Fredís head was reeling. If she was the same girl that was in St Mungoís Hospital right now, that meant, well that meant that they were in love with the same girl. But as soon as the thought clouded Fredís brain he pushed it away. He didnít love her; he couldnít love her, he didnít even know her name. Though by now that was becoming unmistakably clear.
By the time Fred could focus on Ronís words he was already talking about Frimley.
The cafť was busy that night. It seemed as if everyone had the same idea and piled into the small place. Ron was sitting in the far corner, just staring out the window sipping on the strong tea. He had let the tealeaves sit for too long, accidentally of course. He had been too caught up in his own thoughts to register that his tea was darkening with every second.
The weather that day had been very unsettled and there was a light drizzle that splattered across the cafť windows. If Ron hadnít been so wrapped up in his memories, he might have seen a man with long black robes across the street. As it were, Ron didnít figure what was going on until a bright red light flashed by him. It was so close he was surprised it didnít hit him. Jumping up, he clutched his wand at his side. Another jet of light flashed into the cafť, Ron dodged it as he rolled across the floor. The muggles around him started screaming and hurried to exit the building.
Following the crowd, Ron found his way outside and was shocked at what he seen. Houses were already up in flames and the screams of muggles around him were deafening. Ron closed his eyes and images of the final battle replayed themselves in his mind, the screams, the people lost. Shaking his head trying to get the horror out of his mind, he shot a stunning spell to a hooded figure. As the figure fell, Ron saw as a group of at least a half a dozen Death Eaters bursting out of a burning store across the street. Knowing that he was no match for the six of them, he quickly cast a few protecting spells on most of the villagers and buildings.
Fumbling inside his robes his felt his hands touch against a cold metal object. Ron pulled out the small phoenix ornament. It was a way to get a hold of the Order, it had been his fatherís but Ron had taken it before he left the Burrow, no one else was going to use it. Once he relayed the position of the attack he apparated out, leaving the trinket on the ground in hope that someone would see and think him dead.
Ron stopped relaying his story for a moment as Tom came and filled up their butterbeers.
"Thanks Tom," Ron muttered and handed him a couple sickles. "And it worked," Ron said. "Moody found it, didnít he? And you told him I took it with me before I left." Ron half smiled that his plan had actually worked.
"What about the Death Eaters? Didnít they see you apparate away?" Fred asked. He knew that the Death Eaters werenít stupid enough to assume heís dead after the Order put out the reports that Ron had died in Frimley, especially if they seen him dissaparate. Ron looked down to his hands; a pained expression crossed his face. He obviously had hoped not to tell Fred.
"I had a decoy," Ron muttered almost inaudibly. Fred had to strain to hear the words.
"A decoy?" Fred asked, astounded. "Someone was willing to die for you? Not that itís a surprise or anything." Fred sniggered. Ron turned red.
"No," Ron started. "He had already been killed by the Death Eaters. I luckily still had some polyjuice potion with me I changed him into me. Iím guessing the Death Eaters took the body to make sure I was actually dead or blasted the body till no returns. It's†jammy though that they werenít around him when†he changed back to the real person." Ron didnít meet Fredís eyes. "That man he probably had a wife and kids, theyíll never know what happened to him."
"He would have been lost to them anyway, he had been killed," Fred said, though a little awkwardly.
"At least then they would have known!" Ron replied angrily. "I feel like I stole his identity, and he has no way of claiming it back, to the world he never existed."
The wheels of the cart squeaked loudly as they rolled down the hallway of the hospital. The sound echoed down the quiet corridor, but it didnít even startle the mice. Everyone should be asleep by now, well, all save one. Thatís who this healer was going to go check on. Recently she had started refusing to sleep, saying that her dreams terrified her, they had to give her the dreamless sleep potion every night to let her have a restful sleep. The witch hummed softly to herself as she pushed the rusty cart down the corridor, she noted sheíd have to fix the squeak later, the noise was starting to aggravate her.
Reaching the door, she knocked softly before opening it. As expected, the patient was sitting up in her bed and was reading a book the healer herself had provided. Upon hearing the entrance of another, the woman put down her book.
"You think you can sleep without this?" Luna asked as she withdrew the potion. "You might want to try, weíve been doing this for a week." Missy bit her lower lip; she knew that if she stopped, everything would come back. It terrified her, every new memory scared her half to death. Sometimes sheíd try fooling herself that they werenít memories, but deep inside her, she knew. Part of her wanted to know everything, but the images that rose up in her mind like a horror film were enough for her to try and block it all out.
"I donít think so," Missy said. Lunaís face fell.
"I really think you should try Missy, you canít constantly try and fight them from coming. I wouldnít even be doing this if I wasnít so worried about you getting sick from the lack of sleep." Missy sighed; she knew Luna was doing her a huge favour. Luna smiled seeing as she won. "If you need anything, just give a shout okay?"
† She heard screaming. Though that wasnít anything out of the ordinary. It happened everyday in the back room. She didnít know what went on behind that metal door and she never wanted to find out. The fear and pain in the eyes of the ones that came out was enough to squelch her curiosity. Looking around her living quarters, she noticed the others were trembling in the corners. Everyone was scared when those screams came, maybe not for the person in there, but for themselves. They could be next. It was really only a matter of time before theyíd come and use every one of them. It wasnít like they could hide being in these clammy cells.
She felt sorry for the person though, she felt like she should help them, but seeing the bars that held her encaged, she knew there was no way out. Slowly resting her chin on her knees, she leaned against the wall. Her shoulders shook from the chill of the stone wall behind her. She felt the wetness of the rock slowly seep into her clothes and soak through her skin. Though she paid no heed to her discomfort, it would only be minutes now before that door would be pushed open and the next chosen.
"Hestia?" A snivel came from across the cell. "Hestia, I donít want to go there!" There was another ear splitting scream. All across the room you could hear a sharp intake of breath.
"They wouldnít choose you Susan if their life depended on it! Whatever they want, they need someone who isnít a wimp," A spiteful voice cut in.
"Helen, weíre all in here together, the least you could do is try to be nice," the girl called Hestia said angrily. "Susan, they havenít taken anyone from this cell yet, hopefully itíll stay that way."
"Oh Hestia, I hope youíre right!" Hestia smiled weakly though she knew Susan couldnít see it. She hoped with all her heart that theyíd leave this cell alone as well, especially Susan. Susan had been a wreck since coming here, and that metal door would only make it worse.
An eerie silence hung across the room. The screaming had stopped. Before anyone expected it, the metal door slammed open and a string of curses followed. Obviously whatever they had been looking for hadnít been found. One of the men lit the end of his wand and the light illuminated the whole room. Hestia saw the almost limp boy being pulled from the room. She watched as the men with black robes marched across the room with scowls on their faces.
"The Dark Lord is not going to be happy," one of the men, stated. The other grunted in response. Hestia felt her body give an involuntary shudder at the sight of the second man.
"Put him back in his cell, we need someone with the same blood type as his, maybe it wonít be completely useless." After the boy had been thrown back into one of the furthest cells the men walked along the rows and peered in each cell looking for their candidate.
"What about her?" The first man said pointing at Hestia his cold grey eyes glittering happily. "She has spunk." Hestia held her ground and didnít blink or quiver away in fear. That would only make his job more delightful.
"No," Hestia could hardly hold back her surprise. She wasnít the only on surprised, the man with grey eyes glared at the man. Black, hellish eyes met the stormy grey with defiance.
"Sheís perfect," the first persisted and took out his wand to unlock the cell. But before he could even withdraw it from his robes, the other man pushed him harshly against the bars. His wand was drawn and pressed against the nape of the manís neck.
"I said no, she wouldnít do. What else do I have to say to make that any more clear to you? Other than go to the Dark Lord and trust me I have to qualms with that." The man threatened. He obviously held more authority over the first for the first winced and nodded.
"Take the one beside her."
"No!" Susan screamed as the grey-eyed man took hold of her. "No!" Her screams rose into a panicky sound. Hestia watched uneasily as they started dragging Susan out, she couldnít let this happen. Not to Susan.
"Leave her alone!" Hestia screamed, standing up. The men stopped and stared at her, so did the rest of the captives in the room. No one had ever stood up to them for fear that it would be them instead. Hestia felt her legs quiver; she didnít really know what she was doing.
"What did you say?" Hestia swallowed and tried to regain her confidence.
"I said, leave her alone,"
"And what makes you think weíll do that?" The man scoffed.
"Take me instead," she spat, before she really knew what had come out. His grey eyes, danced with mirth and he let out a hollow laugh.
"Thereís a hero among mudbloods," he cackled in amusement as he dropped Susan and grabbed strongly onto Hestiaís arm instead. Hestia heard Susan cry in relief as she passed her. Hestia felt the other manís dark eyes bore into her back as she also walked past him.
"Donít touch me," Hestia spat and yanked her arm out of the manís hold. The man merely smiled but he didnít try and take hold of her again. Bravely Hestia walked to the metal door, though inside she was screaming out. What had she been thinking?
"Ladies first," he said mockingly and bowed her into the room. Hestia walked in and before she was ready, the door slammed shut.†
Screaming filled the air, but as her wild eyes searched the room she couldnít find the source of the noise. Kicking of the blanket that covered her forcefully, she felt panic raise up inside her. Why was the person screaming? Shooting off the bed, she swiftly ran to the door only to find it locked. Her legs started to shake, she had to help them, couldnít anyone hear her? Searching the room for a way out, her eyes fell upon four white walls. Enclosing her into it. The screaming got louder; jumping back onto the bed she covered her ears with her hands to cut off the screams. Why didnít they stop screaming, the sound was starting to hurt. Couldnít anyone else hear it?
Before she knew it she felt a pair of hands on her and a soothing voice filled her head.
"No!" her voice rose, why were they here? Why didnít they go help the person who was screaming, they obviously needed it.
"Shh-" She looked up at them incredulously. Why were they shushing her? She wasnít the one causing all the noise! Her wild eyes peered at the people crowding in her room. They all wore long white coats and one had this long blonde hair, she was the only one that seemed to dare get close to her. "Here, drink this," The lady with the blonde hair said. "Itíll be all right."
Pushing the drink away angrily, she wanted to yell at them. To tell them that they had the wrong person! Someone else was screaming, someone else needed their help, but it was not her.
"Go away!" She heard herself shriek deafeningly. The woman sighed and motioned toward the others. What were they doing? She watched as they came closer, her body started to shake and for some strange reason they still hadnít done anything about the other screaming person. If it was possible to screaming had started to get even shriller.
Feeling their arms and hands pressing her down, then the weirdly textured liquid trickled down her throat. Tears sprang to her eyes.
"Fred!" She whimpered out. "Whereís Fred?" She looked into the faces desperately. But they ignored her question. Where was he? He was always there.
"Go to sleep now, itíll be okay," Feeling her lip quiver, she just nodded her head. The screaming had mysteriously ceased and the panic inside her was subsiding slowly. The last thing she saw before she fell back asleep was the blonde smiling gently down on her.
Leaning back in his chair lazily, Fred looked casually around the bar. They were one of the few left. Only a couple older looking women were leaning heavily on the table with a few glasses of wine surrounding them. Ron had lapsed into silence a few minutes before, the truth of the past finally revealed, had finally caught up with him, the weight of it silenced him for a time.
"There were so many times I thought of going home and just forgetting. Forgetting everything I felt and simply giving up. I never really understood quite why I never did, maybe it was the shame. I couldnít face coming back empty-handed, especially after leaving as I had. I was afraid of what everyone would say or if you guys would even want me back. Stupid reasoning, I know.
ďFor years I simply wandered aimlessly around, I think at some point I even forgot what I was really doing anymore. I skipped from bar to bar and my goal became even more unfocused. Honestly, after all those years, what were the chances of her survival? But thatís the only thing that kept me going. It was her, my guiding light. The Ďwhat ifí in my life that kept me trudging through the darkness. Knowing that if she was still alive, however small that chance was, and I never tried, I wouldnít be able to forgive myself."
Throughout his speech, Ron had not looked up from the depths of his drink. If he had only once chanced a glance at Fred, he might have noticed the conflicting emotions crossing his older brotherís face like an open book. Fred was sitting rigidly in his chair and his hands were clasped together so tight that the whites of his knuckles were showing. Though it was not from anger, but something more, something closer to the heart.
Finally Ron looked over at his brother, though he didnít notice Fredís deportment, he was searching, or maybe expecting Fred to say something, anything. But Fred didnít meet Ronís eyes. Instead he gazed out of the window watching as the rain hit the pane with a forceful splat. The splatter of the single droplet reminded him of how one small thing can have so many different consequence, maybe smaller, but by no means any less significant. Like how she had found her way inside him, and now Ron was back and the equal consequence was occurring.
"Excuse me boys, but Iím afraid that Iím closing for the night," Tom said as he melodically cleaned a cup with a dirty looking rag. Ron looked awkwardly at Fred for a moment, maybe he was surprised at how much he shared, or may just stunned that all he needed was someone to listen.
"Where you staying?" Fred asked, breaking the silence.
"In a motel in London." Fred again glanced out the window, as if he was contemplating asking Ron something else.
"Are you going to tell Mum? Or do I have the honour in saying that the lost sheep has been found."
"Iíll tell her," Ron sighed looking like he didnít look forward to it. "And everyone else."
"Right, well Iíll see you later little bro." Fred stood up from the table quickly. His head had started to pound again and all he wanted was to go home and sleep. Though he doubted sleep would find him tonight.
With a quick handshake the brothers parted ways, Fred headed back to Diagon Alley, and only one face clouded his thoughts, and not even the rain could wash his slate clean.