Chapter 10 : March 1997
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“In fact,” Professor Burbage went on, “witches are twice as likely to marry Muggle men than wizards are likely to marry Muggle women. Polls indicate that wizards prefer a mate who can clean and cook and care for the house using spells, and witches have more patience for mates who can’t contribute to the household with magic. I advise you to put this in your notes – we’ll be covering this for N.E.W.T.s.”
I wasn't fussed about my Muggle Studies N.E.W.T.s – the only subject I could be bothered to pay proper attention in was Care of Magical Creatures. As I had no intentions of snapping my wand in half and living as a Muggle, I decided to continue gazing out the window, tuning out Burbage’s voice.
The weather was dark and dreary, more like night than afternoon. Rain sloshed down the glass windows, distorting the view outside. I tapped my blank parchment with a quill, wondering how I would even be able to see well enough to write. Wind whistled through cracks in the wall, blowing roughly across the tarnished candelabra on Burbage’s desk and making the flames flicker sideways. I doubted Burbage noticed – she was every bit as oblivious as Binns – and if the candles blew out, she would plow right through with her lecture as usual, talking to the darkness.
Normally on a day like this, I would have fallen asleep just like Orchid (who was sitting directly in front of me) and the majority of my seventh year classmates. Today, however, I couldn’t focus on anything except for a dull ache that persisted somewhere behind every thought, every action of my day-to-day life. It was very much an emotional ache, and lately it had gotten steadily worse since the end of the previous schoolyear.
“Just write whenever you miss me.”
“I’m not going to miss you.”
He laughed. “Of course you will. I’m too charismatic to not be missed. Don’t worry – I’ll be able to tell whenever you’re missing me, anyway.” He tapped his temple, smiling. “I have a sense for these things.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Oh, really? From Diagon Alley, or wherever it is that you’re going, you’re going to be able to sense when I supposedly miss you?”
He looked at me for a moment, ignoring Umbridge’s wild screeches from the Great Hall. He tossed an unlit firework up in the air and caught it, threw it up and caught it again. My arms were crossed tightly over my chest, my teeth clamped tightly together. He knew that I was a lot more disappointed than I was letting on, I could tell by the way the mischievous glint had gone out of his eyes.
“Expulsion!” Umbridge was hollering. “Expulsion for every single Weasley in this school!”
Fred glanced over his shoulder and turned back, clutching his broom handle. Quick as a flash, he leaned in and kissed me on the cheek. “Write,” was all he said, looking uncharacteristically serious. And then he hopped onto his broom and spiraled through the Entrance Hall doors, shooting straight above the treetops next to his brother. I watched a gigantic ‘W’ blaze in the blue sky, listening to the cheers rippling across the Great Lawn. Fred and George tore through the haze of fading fireworks, igniting more applause. He paused just long enough to say something to Peeves, but I couldn’t hear it over the din. I pushed through the crowd, desperate for a closer look, but he was already gone.
I touched my cheek, swallowing. My quill tapped the blank parchment again – the quill he had given me last year – and I was already writing the words in my mind. So, you were right… Here I am, throwing in the towel nearly a year later and admitting that you really are too charismatic to forget. Merlin, you are going to get such a massive kick out of this… I could already picture him smirking, turning to his brother in delight and remarking that he had finally succeeded in turning Hollis Wright into a sappy pile of sentimental mush. I narrowed my eyes.
I stared at the blank parchment, envisioning the pathetic words I might have written, and my pride began to flare. I shouldn’t give him the satisfaction. I was still miffed that he had left Hogwarts early. And these days he was so busy with his joke shop; he’d probably forgotten all about me. What if he had forgotten all about me? If he received a letter from me out of the blue, he might just throw it away without reading it. Or maybe George would tease him about it and they would treat it like a grand joke, amusing themselves over how pitiable I seemed.
I could see his face in my mind, those light brown eyes, that infectious smile…
My quill had already scrawled it. I held my breath, staring at his name. This was absolutely ridiculous.
I shoved the parchment away from me, folding my arms, my hands pinched into fists so that I couldn’t be tempted to write more. “There are many theories that tell us that witches like the feeling of caring for a man, of being more powerful than him,” Burbage droned on. “This may very well be why Muggle men more so appeal to witches than the appeal of Muggle women to wizards. It is similar to the way Healers sometimes fall in love with their patients. They enjoy the nursing, the coddling. They like to be depended on and appreciated. Muggle men are somewhat helpless next to their witch wives, needing them if they ever need magic done.
“Muggle women do not like that helpless feeling – of having to rely on their wizard husbands. I’m sure that Muggle men don’t enjoy it much, either, but witches seem to adore being needed. They enjoy being able to do things for their husbands that their husbands cannot do for themselves…” A bolt of lightning illuminated the black sky, flashing eerily over Burbage’s profile.
I rolled my eyes, allowing my attention to wander. I stared at a kink in Orchid’s curls, inwardly sniggering because of the way her tongue lolled out of her mouth while she slept.
My eyelids drooped, growing heavy. The soft candlelight bathed the lower half of my right arm in shimmering orange, which had somehow slid off of my desk and was hanging over the side. It felt pleasantly warm, despite the cold draft flowing steadily from the left side of the classroom.
Tap, tap, tap.
My head flew up, alert. I slowly opened my eyes, searching for the noise. Had I fallen asleep? Perhaps I had imagined the tapping sound. I yawned and shook my head rapidly from side to side, trying to wake up. Professor Burbage was shuffling through her notes, clearing her throat as she struggled to find something interesting to say.
Tap, tap, tap!
I turned to the window, squinting through the rain. A large shadow beat insistently against the windowpanes. Even through the gloomy storm, I recognized wings on the creature and the outline of something hanging from its leg. My eyebrows shot up in bewilderment, glancing from my Muggle Studies professor – who was still talking in her usual tone despite the howls of the wind and the rumbling thunder – to the falcon waiting for me to open the window.
As speedily as possible, I crept to the window and unlatched it, allowing the bird entrance. He flew straight to my desk and rested, his leg still tied to a heavy, square parcel decorated in Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes green and orange wrapping paper. The bird preened its wet feathers, dripping all over my parchment; I slid into my chair, caring little about whether or not Burbage noticed the falcon in her classroom. I positioned my arm so that the bird’s sharp talons wouldn’t be in any danger of scratching it, and unfastened the parcel from its leg.
Leisurely, and with a wary happiness bubbling up inside me, I peeled back the wrappings to reveal a white box and an enclosed note.
I heard that you missed me. Maybe this will help.
P.S. How do you like the falcon? Her name is Silloh.
The most ostentatious bird you could manage, I thought to myself with a small smile. I lifted the flap on the white box and opened it, peering inside. I found myself somewhat surprised by what I found. For obvious reasons, I had expected something to explode – smoke, a loud bang, maybe a cracker that shouted obscenities when you tugged on the end of it. I did not anticipate a familiar purple ball.
The oddest part was that the incantation, Lucem Somno, was already floating right-side up in the ball, not invisible until shaken as I had remembered. Not wanting to waste more time that was already ticking away on the Patented Daydream Charm, I rapped it with my wand and uttered the words written in Fred’s handwriting – more rushed and slanted than normal, as if he’d been in a hurry while he was making it.
Ahead of me, Orchid Strauss’s hair glimmered for a few wavering seconds, and then I inevitably slipped away into a scene entirely different from the dark classroom.
I was on the Quidditch pitch, strolling aimlessly alongside a section of stands that was usually inhabited by Ravenclaws during matches. It was nighttime, and the air was frigid, and overhead the sky was dotted with stars as bright as diamonds. Even though I knew he would be there, my heart did a somersault when Fred materialized in the dream directly in front of me. He popped into thin air, not missing a step as he walked, as though appearing here was the most natural thing in the world.
I followed behind, and it was a scene so dissimilar from what I had unconsciously anticipated that I involuntarily slowed down. “No pirates?” I remarked aloud. Frosty puffs of air escaped my lips, floating up into the night like a fog.
Fred turned around, observing me with a grin. His hair was shorter than it was when I had last seen him, and his hands were (of course) shoved inside his pockets. “Were you hoping for some? Maybe Montague blowing you kisses from the crow’s nest?”
“Ha, ha,” I responded dryly. “I’d hoped you’d forgotten about the Montague bit by now.”
He shook his head. “Not a chance. There's a reason why George and I stuffed him into that Vanishing Cabinet, you know.”
We stood there awkwardly, me swinging my arms and staring determinedly at the moon. “So.” I gestured around the pitch. “Why here?”
He watched me for several quiet seconds, deliberating something in his head. “Don’t you remember?” He scratched his jaw. “Or maybe you wouldn’t…”
“There’s something familiar about it,” I admitted.
Fred gestured to a row of seats farther down from us. “You were there.” His hand spun like a sundial and he pointed at the entrance to the pitch. “I was there.” He glanced back at me. “Any sparks of recollection here or am I completely making a fool out of myself?”
My hand flew to my mouth. “So you did know we were hiding up there!”
He laughed. “Of course I did. Hornby was practically falling out of the stands, desperate for a better look at The Chosen One.” He clucked his tongue. “She gave you away.”
I huffed, unsure of what to say. “Well.”
“Well.” The responding voice was soft, nervous.
In the split-second frame of time between voicing the incantation and being swallowed up by a dream, it had settled in my mind that this daydream was going to be something meant to amuse me. Something absurd or laughable – maybe even cheeky. The sweetness of it all took me very much by surprise. I studied him and he exhaled deeply, his brown gaze straying to the ground as he took a casual step in my direction.
“Are you real?” I inquired, starting to hope in spite of my better judgment. I knew it couldn’t be possible. I was sitting at my desk in Muggle Studies, not wandering around a Quidditch pitch. And yet, it all felt so lucid. Unlike my last experience with a Daydream Charm, I knew exactly what was going on. I knew that I was dreaming, and he looked so very real, so very lifelike; I wanted to reach out and touch his hand, to see whether or not he would vanish…
“You see me walking, don’t you?” He adopted an earnest expression and took several deliberate paces forward.
“Well yes, but –”
“You hear me talking, don’t you?” He raised his arms, spreading them out. “You tell me, Hollis. Is this real?”
I sighed wistfully. “It can’t be. I know that you’re imaginary.”
“The loveliest things always are.”
We walked next to each other as we circled the pitch, me mostly watching my feet and attempting to ignore the plunging temperature while he tried to catch my eye. “So,” I said after awhile, finally daring to meet his gaze. “How is business going, imaginary Fred?”
His eyes lit up. “Incredible. We’re thinking about expanding to Hogsmeade – perhaps as soon as next year. We’ve pretty much got the next two years mapped out, actually. We’ve got loads of products in the beta stages now, and they’ll be out in time for the winter holidays.”
“Shrinking Christmas Trees. Yule logs that scream when you try to burn them. Trick sweets that stick to the inside of your mouth and can’t be swallowed for hours…”
“Sounds lovely. Percy must be so proud.”
A very ugly look crossed his face. “Still?” I asked, horrified. “You’ve got to be joking.”
He shook his head curtly. “No. I’m not fussed, really, but my mum’s having a rough go of it.”
We were quiet again, and I sincerely regretted bringing Percy up. I decided to try to salvage the conversation by changing the subject. “So if this is only a dream,” I said to him, “then I can say whatever I want? And the real you will never know?”
Fred grinned widely, and I noticed that his hands weren’t in his pockets anymore. His left arm was mere inches from brushing my right one. I felt a pleasant shiver shoot down my spine. “You can take that chance,” he replied, his undertones layered with insinuations.
My eyes were wide. “Are you saying that there is a possibility that the real Fred Weasley will somehow know what goes on in this dream?”
He waggled his eyebrows. “Who knows? I’m pretty brilliant. And I wouldn’t put it past myself to spy. I did invent the Extendable Ears, you know. Curiosity is sort of my thing.” When I only continued to gape at him, he laughed. “I’m only joking, Hollis. Nah, he hasn’t got a clue. But I’ll bet he’s just dying to know what’s going on inside that head of yours right now.”
I looked at him sideways. “This is all just a hallucination, isn’t it?”
His expression was sober. “You know I’m not real, Hollis. I’m a projection of your memories, and your brain’s best guess as to what I would realistically say and do. But that doesn’t make what I’m saying to you any less real.”
“What do you mean?”
We resumed walking, and the tips of his fingers trickled along the back of my hand, much too close to be coincidental. “What would you say if I told you that he designed everything about this daydream? Everything except for you yourself, of course. The Quidditch pitch, the stars, and how we’ve been walking in circles for ages and we’re not the least bit tired. My outfit, the types of things I’m saying – all of it, designed on purpose.”
“I would say that you’re a bloody genius.”
Fred squared his shoulders, lifting his jaw imperiously. “Well,” he drawled in his best Percy voice, “I am ‘the next big thing in business’, according to Transfiguration Today. George, too, of course, but my name is always written first because I’m the better-looking one.” He gave me a playful nudge. "Right?"
“Fishing for compliments?”
“If I have to. It’s as easy as feeding flobberworms here to get you to look at me.”
I emphasized his statement by continuing to stare resolutely at a goalpost. A smile twitched at my lips. “If I look at you now, it will only make me miss you more when I wake up.”
He let out a triumphant laugh. “A-ha! And so she admits it!” I nodded along, rolling my eyes, and he continued his self-congratulations with gusto. “I don’t blame you – I’m always in my own thoughts, as well. Luckily I’ve got a twin, so I get to look at myself all day long.” He drifted off, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. “I should have written to you more often this year. Most of the time I was just waiting around for you to write instead, and then it became this awkward thing and whenever you did write a letter, I worried that returning it instantly would make me seem eager.”
“It’s been an odd year,” I agreed.
“Yes it has. Very out of sync, aren’t we? Communication is a two-way street and both of us are just sitting on the pavement, reluctant to be the first to admit…”
My eyes darted nervously to his. “Admit what?”
“Admit that it’s dead depressing to have you shut up in Hogwarts for months at a time while I’m off in London. Admit that we’re both waiting for you to be finished with your seventh year so that maybe we can have a shot at…whatever this is.” He waved at the space between us, frowning slightly. “I know that I didn’t imagine you looking at me when I still went to school here. I can clearly recall you sitting at the Hufflepuff table at dinner and looking over at me every so often. I was watching you, too, of course, which is how I know this.”
I stopped walking, shoving my hands into my pockets and kicking sourly at a rock wedged in the dirt. “Stop telling me this. It’s just my subconscious making things up, and putting ideas in my head’s not going to do me any favors. I’ve still got months to bear until I’m out of here, and I’d like to be at least semi-sane by the end of it.”
My skin began to tingle. I raised my hands and flexed my fingers, puzzled. “Oh, that means the dream is ending,” he told me, looking disappointed. “This will all disappear in a few seconds, then.”
I finally met his eyes – those beautiful eyes that I saw everywhere I went – and opened my mouth. I wanted to say something important, something meaningful; something to convey how much I had missed him at Hogwarts and how boring school was when he wasn’t around to fill up the corridors with laughter.
Fred’s lips twisted into a sly smile, his figure growing blurry and indistinct. “Was it better than the pirates?”
I opened my eyes. Professor Burbage’s voice spilled through the air, punctuated by Orchid’s nasally snores. Lifting my head off of my desk, I turned to see that nothing had changed in the classroom during my period of unconsciousness. It was as if time had ceased to tick while I walked along the frozen grass with Fred. I gazed out the window now, my heart sinking when I saw the empty Quidditch pitch. Rain lashed against the path where we had just been walking, streaking the windows and dotting the ground with brown puddles.
Fred’s falcon was perched on a cabinet in one corner, evidently asleep. I wondered how I would manage to transport him back to my dormitory, since I couldn’t force him back into the rain. The poor thing, delivering packages for Fred in this downpour.
I began to slip the Daydream Charm back into its white box when I saw the incantation – Lucem Somno – still bobbing under the glass peephole, and the gaseous substance inside had not been replaced with black liquid. Another note I had not previously noticed was tucked into a corner inside the box. I lifted it to my face and peered hard, trying to decipher the script in such horribly dim lighting.
This one has a permanent charm on it. It lasts forever so that you can look at my glorious face over and over again for twenty minutes at a time. Feel free to send a letter back describing how dreamy I looked.
I picked up my quill, poised to pen him a tale about Montague feeding me grapes at our summer house in Venice, just to rile him up. My fingers stiffened around the instrument before I realized why; I dropped the quill, staring incredulously at the harmless blue feather while a revelation began to spin the cogs of my sluggish mind. A stupefied smile drifted across my face.
So. He charmed his own name with this quill to inform him every time I wrote it, did he?
I thought back to the day he had handed me that quill. I was naturally suspicious, of course, but Delphine was eternally pilfering my own stock of quills and I was nervous about going down to Potions without one. After making him swear that it did not spit water or turn into a rubber chicken, I became too attached to the lovely blue feather to consider any other shady qualities. This explained how he knew I was thinking about him… I shook my head fiercely, stunned that Fred Weasley was still capable of shocking me.
“Don’t worry – I’ll be able to tell.” He tapped his temple, smiling. “I have a sense for these things.”
Oh, you devious thing, you.
I leaned over my parchment, eyes shifting toward the traitorous blue quill. Somewhere out there right now, Fred Weasley was about to stop everything he was doing, heart beating like a drum as he became aware of the quill’s signal. My eyes were alight with glee and the quill scratched four letters onto parchment.
Let’s see how you interpret this, you sneaky, spying little snake. I began to write, repeating the same word over and over; I wasn’t going to stop until the entire page was filled up and I had sufficiently confused Fred Weasley.
Fred Fred Fred Fred Fred Fred…..
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