Chapter 2 : fred
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If you knew what happened –
No. Scratch that.
Something has happened.
What happened was –
Now how do I tell you this. How do I tell you that
(I am here)
(I am still here)
(I am here in brackets)
But what do I know.
How about this.
Let me collect for you everything that I do know.
(It will all come back to me eventually)
George and I never really talked about death. We didn’t have to. We weren’t too keen to have an early one. But sometimes there’d be moments when we’d be skating along that line, trying not to cross over, hanging on to the underhanded edge of lightness. We’d laugh. We would blow over death like a breeze. Death and the Ministry could go suck each other’s faces for all we cared.
We wanted to live – we wanted to live for as long as we could. We meant to grow into tottering old men with long waist-length beards like Dumbledore’s, which we’d loop and knot round our robes like sashes. We would’ve pretended to be deaf and used our wands to dig out earwax (“Yeah, we’ll probably fry our brains by mistake,” George said) while prodding a couple of Dungbombs under someone’s (probably Percy’s) chair. And of course when it came to the actual matter of death we’d have to do it together.
At least that was how our discussion (if you can call it that) went shortly after the time Toadface Umbridge confiscated our broomsticks and banned us from the Gryffindor Quidditch team. George and I were mad for awhile (banned for life!) – we were pacing the school corridors letting loose as many spells as we could, channelling all our displeasure into chaos.
Mostly, we were jinxing suits of armour into swinging about their swords and axes, hacking at each other’s breastplates and lopping off helms. There was quite a lot of clanging; it was as though church bells had taken to the school passageways. Soon enough, the sounds of Filch’s howling and Mrs. Norris’s shrilling rose from the floor below.
(During our time in Hogwarts we had a seven-year action plan called the ‘Aggravate Argus Filch Arrangement’.)
“PEEVES!” Filch yelled. When there was no answer, no sing-song smartarse reply from the poltergeist, he howled again (you could almost hear the froth simmering in his throat as he spat our surname out of his mouth), “BLOODY WEASLEY TWINS!”
“Fuck it, let’s go,” I said and we strode off, mischief partly managed. A scowl-y Slytherin fourth year crossed our paths and refused to make way so I hexed him. Black tentacles burst out of the kid’s mouth and ears growing longer and thicker and lumpier, wrapping around his chest and waist and legs until his whole body resembled a boy-sized writhing knot. Some of the lumps swelled, splitting into charred, flesh-textured flowers dribbling an ink-coloured sludge from their centres.
OK, I admit I can go overboard sometimes. That was one of the many spells George and I had made up; this one was inspired by Professor Sprout’s Venomous Tentacula. A crowd of students had begun to gather.
“Better no one try to burn it off Foxblott – that gunk is flammable,” George said as we hurried off.
“C’mon,” I said. “Let’s go for a ride.”
“Umbridge has our brooms,” he reminded me.
A couple of third years – I think their names were Selvin Marshdale and Trixie Buckle – rounded the corner and walked straight into us. I grasped Marshdale’s shoulders, steadying him. “Just the people we need,” I said.
George caught onto me fast, like he always does. “Give us your brooms,” he said to Trixie.
The pair of them looked uncertain.
“We’ll give them back tomorrow,” I said. “Plus complimentary Weasley joke products for the rest of the year.”
They fetched their broomsticks for us fast enough.
We snuck out the Entrance Hall – it wasn’t too close to bedtime but Her Honour the Hogwarts High Inquisitor, Dolores Trollface-Under-the-Bridge, had set up a new curfew – no students out of the castle after seven, all students in their dorms by eight, lights out by nine-thirty.
“Disobedience will be met with discipline,” Umbridge had announced sweetly one day over dinner as though her words were suds of pink lipstick, floating down the length of the Great Hall. “A month’s detention with me as well as a five hundred House-point demerit for any student who breaks the curfew.”
But you know me and George. Restrictions meant jack shit to us.
Outside, the night was quilt-thick. In the sky, a sickle-slice of moon looking as though it had swung off its axis, its two points like staples aimed down toward the Astronomy Tower. There was something in the air that felt like a challenge. Something that made the hairs at the back of my neck and on my arms and calves bristle with a livid static. My veins rising to the surface, the dark blood skimming against the skin, an inch away from the cold heavy night air. George could feel it too – I could tell by the way his strides morphed into almost ferocious bounds, taking him far ahead of me.
We made straight for the dark pitch, stopping at the shed where Madam Hooch kept all the quidditch practice gear to retrieve a pair of beater bats and as many bludgers as we could carry.
We released all the bludgers and they shot up into the sky before doubling back – all fourteen of them – and pelting down to where we stood, probably to clobber us one by one in a lethal hail.
I threw a leg over my broomstick (yet another listless Cleansweep) and kicked off, just missing one of the bludgers slamming the ground where I’d been in an explosion of dirt and grass. Behind me, George whooped.
“Perfect night for flying,” he said. The wind shaved his voice to a whistle. I waved my bat about madly, scooping up the rushing air and pretending to throw it behind at George, who was being trailed by nearly the whole band of deathballs.
One of the bludgers came hurtling for my right ear. I screwed my back around, angled my arm and smashed it towards him.
“Another one for you, slowbones,” I called back. He snorted and dodged, and whacked a different one straight at me.
I hit it right back. “This is like that crazy Muggle game Dad tried to teach us and Ron and Ginny when we were kids. Y’know, that one with those things called racquets or whatever.”
“Tennis? Squash? Dad taught us a whole syllabus of rubbish.”
“Well, s’ppose it can be either,” I said, pulling the broom handle upward, trying to rise higher together with this thermal I’d ridden straight into. “Except Muggle sport is blimmin’ slow. Suited for slugs like you, though.”
He roared. “You asked for it!” and slammed three bludgers in lightning succession toward me.
I should’ve been able to handle them – but I’d ridden out of the warm column of air that had been gently lifting me up, and my broom dipped a little. The sudden movement, together with the jerk of my body as I rolled round to meet those deathballs threw me off balance. There was a wobble. I flung my arm out.
The bludger whacked my face in. Right at the bullseye of my nose. It hurt like you fucking won’t believe it. As if that wasn’t enough, another bludger caught me in the shoulder, and the third one – the last one George hit at me – jammed into my solar plexus.
I was off my broom. Spiralling downward. The rest of the world spun with me, like me, spun me. Shit.
“Oi! Oi!” George was yelling as he dove after me. Behind him, a wheezing train of deathballs.
He sped past me and ten metres before I hit the earth, pulled his broom right under my plummeting body – which of course meant that I broke my fall on him. He groaned. Swore. But his arm snagged my waist, moored me to him so I hung like a broken doll at his side. The broom didn’t hold us both. We tumbled to the ground, a snarl of limbs. The side of my wrecked face stamped its imprint in the dirt.
I remember thinking, I don’t really have to fade to black or anything since it’s already night. And are those real stars in the sky or are they simply of the kind that whirl inside your skull after you hit your head?
George disentangled himself from me. “Oh, fuck.”
The bloody cannonballs were still coming at us. I lay there useless. He drew his wand and swished it in a broad arc. The balls exploded in brilliant flashes of orange – fragments drifted down, still glowing like sparks. George knelt beside me.
A cloud blew over the moon. Pitch dark. “Lumos,” he said. Light burst from his wand and he shone it down on my face.
I blinked – but even that hurt. My eyelashes were heavy with moisture. “Ow – turn it off!”
“Jesus. Your face is a nice piece of artwork.”
“Thanks, mate,” I rasped. “All your doing.”
“Hey, I didn’t know you’d use it as a bat.” He raised his wand, pointed it at me. I grimaced and shut my eyes. “Episkey.”
My bones jogged to life, began to migrate under my skin, reconfiguring the shattered structure of my face, ribs, dislocated shoulder. Skin sewed itself up. My nose jumped back into its old rigid shape. I sat up, a rawness in my body.
George grinned. “How you feeling now?”
“Perfect night for flying my arse,” I said. “More like dying.”
Something felt funny about the word. It seemed – apt. The word, the memory of the syllable hung in the air, refusing to disperse. Its weight settling on my chest. There weren’t any stars after all. It felt like such an appropriate time for people to disappear and never be heard of again.
George stuck his wand handle-first into the ground, a ghostly band of light still shining from the tip. His head dropped onto my newly-healed shoulder. He sounded casual. “I guess that’s a problem we avoided dealing with today.”
“You kidding,” I said mockingly, ruffling his hair (already tousled from the flying, the cut of it falling down the sides of his face, scratchy – now that I think of it). “I couldn’t die without you. Death wouldn’t be the same without my Georgie.”
“Piss off,” he slapped the back of my head. “Sounds like we’ll have to make it a double act then.”
“Yeah and there’s got to be a blaze,” I said.
“Our specialty fireworks are in the making.”
“And a little something extra – ,”
“Portable Menagerie. It’s a shade more upbeat than our Swamp...”
“Perfect. Don’t forget we’ve got a responsibility to the wizarding world –”
“To leave behind a legacy of laughs –”
“We should stage this at the Ministry of Magic, fireworks and all. Seems chockfull of idiots these days,” he said.
“Now that will be a statement.”
I suppose we thought death as interchangeable with retirement for us. A double act, the last of the Wisecracking Weasley twins. And then we’d head off somewhere – George and I – alone. Or maybe we’d just hang around with the rest of the aging Weasley clan. Or whatever, y’know. We thought we could agree on things as we went along.
There we were, messing around, blowing bubbles of talk into the air, chewing bits of old gum we’d found in Georgie’s robes. We were being what we thought were ‘our good old selves’. But we weren’t laughing. It didn’t feel easy, that long moment that wouldn’t stop, the darkness, time swaying unbroken in the gaps between us. It sort of unnerved me.
Of course we were stupid and idealistic. You can’t really plan for death if you don’t plan to die. That is why I’m here now, speaking to you, when I should have shut up long ago – full of unexpelled thoughts, wedged between consciousness and non-existence. None of our half-drafts of ideas ever materialised.
Instead, this is what really happened.
Hogwarts, May the 2nd, 1998. Evening. George and I, duelling a Death Eater. I forget who – it might’ve been Thorfin Rowle, may Wrackspurts crawl out his arse for the rest of his life. We were winning, obviously. Further down the hallway Perce had taken on Pius Thicknesse. I thought of going and helping him – after all Prodigal Perce had just come back to us, and I’d missed out on years of teasing him. George must’ve sensed my feelings, because he said, “Go on. I can handle this one on my own.”
“You make sure you catch up,” I told him and ran forward.
I shot a hex at Thicknesse, one that would’ve turned all his hair into a nest of biting worms rooted to his scalp, if only I hadn’t missed. “Hello, Perce!”
“Evening, Fred,” Perce said with equal nonchalance. He hit Thicknesse with a particularly nasty curse. “Minister, did I mention I’m resigning?”
I laughed, then. Now I can tell you what was in that laugh. I have all the time in the world to look back at that moment, to cut it gently out of its context and strip off its layers, to understand everything that had built up to that laugh. There was elation. Excitement. Relief maybe. A sense that something had been resolved. The Weasleys have been put back together, y’know? And Percy had made a joke, of course (a bad one).
But then there was that noise – that crack and the ceiling and the walls started coming off in chunks. I’m faster than a bunch of falling rocks but something else hit me. Green. A terrific blow to the chest
(nothing was holding me up)
and there was light.
I was filling up with light and it was rupturing out of me. That split second it took for me to die was the longest – the slow detaching of consciousness from flesh, thoughts and memories (which were which?) unhooking one at a time and wafting away
my eyes going brighter and brighter – I had long stopped seeing – and at last all the sounds of the war and the world went out of my ear as well.
George, I thought.
I died in a laugh. Cackling like I’d made a joke but I hadn’t, really. An idiot’s death, ignorant, unexpected. I died in a fucking punchline.
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