Chapter 18 : April 1996
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I know they don’t sound the way I planned them to be
But if you wait around a while I’ll make you fall for me, I promise, I promise you I will
- The Promise, When in Rome
“What are you writing?” He hovered behind my shoulder, trying to see what I was doing with my quill. Hunched over an open textbook, legs crossed with my hair pulled back into a sloppy knot, I had been trying to cram in the last seven inches of an essay for History of Magic before I was unceremoniously interrupted. Alice and Orchid were being a fine pair of idiots down in our Hufflepuff dormitory, celebrating the former’s success with weaseling some nasty gossip about Matilda out of Matilda’s blithering friend Pippa; meanwhile, the common room was too loud and busy for concentration.
“Your presence is rather counterproductive, do you know that?” I mentioned, trying my best to be irritable.
“Of all the places to do homework,” Fred said to himself, stretching out in the grass and folding his arms behind his head, “you’re doing it on the Great Lawn at eleven o’ clock at night.” He made tut-tut noises of mock disapproval. “It’s past curfew.”
My mouth twisted into a smile, and I aimed my wand closer to the textbook so that the light spiraling from its tip would shine upon the pages better. “What’s the matter, Fred? Scared of Umbridge finding out?”
He snorted. “Hardly. I was more so commenting on your mental state. Which is truly mental. Even Hermione doesn’t do schoolwork outside in the dark.”
“Hermione is a foul little pockmark,” I grumbled. His eyes widened with astonishment, and I sighed wearily, massaging my forehead and temples with my hands. “Sorry. That’s the Delphine talking.” I tapped my parchment meaningfully. “This is due tomorrow.”
He studied me, a grin forming on his face. “And how long have you just been sitting on it?”
I chewed on the inside of my cheek, unwilling to answer that, and he yanked the textbook and roll of parchment away from me with a laugh. “You can work on the rest during breakfast tomorrow. In fact, I’ll hold Delphine’s toast hostage until she agrees to write it for you – she’s fantastic with pulling streams of nonsense out of her –”
“Oi,” I argued, trying to rescue my essay from him. He held it high over his head, just out of my reach, and loose bookmarks that had been marking pages for me fell out all over the place. “Give that back!”
“Hold on a moment,” he murmured good-naturedly, ripping off a small bit of my parchment at the very end of the roll. He held one arm against it while he tore the paper, carefully so as to keep the edges neat and straight.
I trained my wand on his busy hands. “What’re you doing?”
He smiled knowingly, glancing up to meet my eyes for the barest of seconds. “Always so suspicious.”
“I would be a fool not to be.” I watched him tear off another section of parchment. He handed one of them to me, but kept my quill and the other bit of parchment for himself. Bending close to it and squinting through the darkness, he scribbled something I couldn’t quite decipher and then proceeded to fold one of its corners down.
“It’s a secret communication method I invented,” he explained quietly, absorbed in the craft of folding its corners over and over with a well-practiced air. “There’s a charm George and I came up with and we like to use them on these. All you have to do is say the charm that animates them and they’ll soar around the world for months.”
“Months?” I repeated.
“If you like. They’re always meant to deliver the message written on them, but in the meantime they’ll wait for as long as you want them to. Whenever the person who wrote on it makes the conscious decision to let the receiver read it, this will fly back to the person it was written for.” His head was tilted slightly to the side, holding up the molded parchment for me to see. It had become a swan.
“That’s brilliant,” I remarked, scooting closer to him. “What are they used for, exactly?”
“Oh, anything at all. George and I use them as signals of sorts so that we can always get the timing right. Like if I have an idea about a project I think we could use for our business, but I don’t want to get caught passing notes during class, I’ll think to myself, ‘It can only be delivered when McGonagall’s back is going to be turned for at least twenty seconds straight’.” His eyes gleamed with some kind of memory. “And so I just set it aside and then as soon as McGonagall turns her back for that required amount of time, the charm somehow knows it, and it zooms off voluntarily.”
I raised my eyebrows. “I’m surprised George doesn’t mind that you’re sharing this secret with me. Usually he’s so tight-lipped about any Weasley tricks that don’t have a price tag on them yet.”
“Yeah, well, I had to use bribery. Told him I would name my first son George.” He smiled, eyes crinkling. “Worth it, though, and I probably would have done it anyway…” I was going to ask what he meant by that – if he would’ve named his son after his brother anyway, or if he would have told me about the swan messages anyway. Knowing Fred, it was probably both.
He gave it a gentle tap with his wand. “Victus Nuntius.” It sprang instantly to life, stretching out its neck and wings and wriggling wildly.
“That’s amazing magic.” I gazed at the little swan, now trapped between three of his fingers. Its wings fluttered, struggling to free itself from him. “What did you write inside it?”
He winked. “Never mind that. What are you going to write?”
“Hmm. Good question.” I swooped over to retrieve my quill, but he held it away from me.
“Here.” He pulled another quill out of the pocket of his robes and handed it to me. I didn’t trust the innocent glint in his eyes, and that unreadable expression I knew he was working hard to keep in place. “Use this.”
I eyed the quill beadily. The feather was beautiful – a phenomenal shade of bright blue. “What’s wrong with it?”
He stared past me, grinning and shaking his head incredulously. “Blimey, Hollis, cut me a break. Maybe I just wanted to give you something pretty.”
I bit my lip and snatched it up, evaluating the seemingly harmless writing utensil with a skeptical eye. “Is this going to spit water on me? Turn into a rubber chicken?” I pierced him with a sharp look. “Shoot ink all over my hands again?”
“Of course not,” he replied genially, lying down in the grass to relax once more. He twirled a few blades with his fingers, wrapping a dandelion stem around and around. “Have I ever lied to you before?”
My mouth flew open immediately, on the defense. “When I was in second year you told me that there were giant lizards with rhinoceros horns hidden in the Forbidden Forest; I was out there searching for them for hours and Delphine got pummeled by a wood nymph disguising itself as a thorn bush –”
“All right, all right,” he protested, holding out his palms in surrender. “Well, my scheming days are over. I swear on all that is yellow, black, and covered with badgers that you can trust me.”
I straightened out my parchment, tapping the pretty quill rhythmically. “What should I write, then?”
He looked at me for a long time, thoughtful. “Whatever you like. Is there anything specific you want to tell me?”
I raised my eyebrows, cottoning on at last. “Ahh. So this message is for you, then. Mmm.” I nodded sagely. “I see now. I was wondering where this would become self-serving on your end.”
He rolled his eyes. “Well, who else are you going to write to? I’m the most interesting person you know.” He deftly removed the quill from my grasp and dipped it into the inkpot. Holding it out to me, he added, “Write a message to someone you love. Someone – anyone – and they’ll receive it whenever you want them to, whether that’s in ten minutes or ten weeks or what have you.”
I blew a loose strand of hair out of my face and bent over the parchment, mulling over this for another good minute and a half before finally scrawling something out. When I was about halfway finished, I looked up at Fred through my eyelashes just in time to catch a smug smile unfurling at his mouth; he was apparently very satisfied with himself about something. Choosing not to ask any questions, I flipped the parchment over and placed it before him. “Here you go. And don’t you dare look at it. I’m not sending it for at least two years.”
“Two years?” He looked taken aback. “You’ll have forgotten all about this by then.”
“Oh, I will not. Just get on with it. And no peeking.”
He grasped my hand and lifted it up, briefly meeting my gaze, and softly kissed the back of it – so soft that it felt like something lightweight had merely landed on my skin, like a butterfly. Then he arranged my hand over his face so that it was covering his eyes. “I can do this without looking. Be prepared to be even more impressed with me than we both know you already are.”
A smile tugged at my mouth, but I was still feeling too dazed from the butterfly kiss to explore more sarcastic replies. “Show-off,” I finally muttered, but I couldn’t force much venom into it.
He only grinned, swiftly shaping the parchment into a paper swan identical to his own. I removed my hand when he was finished and took it from him, marveling at the man-made creature. “Magic,” I said softly.
He twirled his own swan, the wonder of our world’s abilities far from lost on him. “Magic,” Fred echoed. He tapped my secret words wrapped up in twists and turns of parchment. “Victus Nuntius.”
I handed the quill back to him, but he pushed it away. “Keep it, it’s yours.”
I would have objected, but I was down to my last quill; Delphine was always stealing mine and it was wise to keep an extra around in Potions class, since I had a ridiculous track record of letting my quills roll off desks into cauldrons of bubbling potion. “Now what?” I inquired.
He opened his palm slowly, blowing the swan toward me like a kiss. It arced over my head and shot straight up into the sky, eager to sail across the universe for an indefinite period of time. “And now we wait for them to find us someday.”
I let mine go as well, watching it rush to join the other paper bird; together, they swam across the swollen moon with miniature flapping wings. Iridescent clouds like powdered crystal were strung across the moon in wisps as thin as smoke, the edges glowing cerulean. We were peaceful for a moment, not a single word stirring in the night to cripple the beauty of it all.
And then he had to go and ruin the moment by twisting all about with rigid limbs bent at the elbow, doing the Muggle robot dance. I groaned, but this melted rapidly into laughter. “Where did you learn that? That’s a Muggle thing.”
He shrugged, his movements so jerky that I suspected he had no idea what a robot actually was. “I saw someone doing it once and I thought it looked like fun.” Fred then hopped to his feet and mimed sweeping off a top hat, doubling over in an exaggerated bow. “Miss Wright, could I entice you with my charm just long enough for a real dance?”
I allowed him to pull me upright, and I slid my hands into his. The Great Lawn was alive with shadows and the projection of light from high windows in every tower, glittering like topaz. We listened to the rush of the Black Lake’s tide against the shore, and the snapping and groaning of tree branches that seemed to encircle us from all around. I rested my cheek against his chest, reveling in his warmth and steady heartbeat. Our paper swans had already blended into the stars, streaking along the sky toward Hogsmeade.
“Fred, I’ve been waiting ages for you to entice me with your charm. Take forever if you want to.”
Thank you so very much, everyone, for reading. I cannot believe the responses this story has garnered and I am just so, so pleased with all of the positive feedback. Thank you to everyone who has favorited or reviewed or read. THANK YOU! I appreciate it more than I can ever tell you. I especially want to thank Jordan, Melissa, Celeste, and Rachel for their support behind the scenes. If it wasn’t for Growing Up Weasley and Leaping Obstacles, both written by Rachel (TenthWeasley), this story would not exist. She’s a very inspirational writer and I’m lucky to call her my friend.
I’d like to plug a story called “With All Things” by the talented author WitnesstoitAll, about George and Angelina. It’s a beautiful mixture of fluff, romance, drama, and everything in between, told from George and Angelina’s alternating point of views. I highly recommend it! And if you look hard enough, you just might catch a subtle mention of Hollis Wright somewhere in there. ;)
And last but not least, if you'd like to see what sort of adventures await Fred in the afterlife, click over to my completed novel "Run". He fights for the prize of 24 hours on earth but has to be the last one standing in the Devil's Duel to get it.