Rumors of the new ghost started with the house elves and slowly trickled their way up from the kitchens through the students. A little boy, they said, rarely seen, roaming the castle as if searching for something newly lost.
Two students claimed to have found him in one of the hidden passages leading out of the school, sitting huddled on the stone floor, crying.
“I can’t go!” he had wailed at them. “I can’t go without him!”
Professor McGonagall did not see the ghost until more than a year after his first appearance. She stopped dead in her tracks and stared, horrified, as he came drifting past.
“It can’t be,” she whispered, voice low and rough with grief and disbelief.
The ghost looked up at her, pushing a lock of shimmering once red hair out of his dark eyes.
“I’m waiting for the rest of me,” he said simply, and continued on his short and aimless way.
Their first night at school, Fred climbed out of his own plush four-poster and sought refuge under the covers with George. One short train ride could not break eleven years of habit; that would take time. So they fell asleep, foreheads pressed together, and dreamed of mischief to come.
The night before their great escape, George crept quietly over to his twin’s bed. Foreheads pressed together, they talked softly of the future, of plans conceived in childhood now at the cusp of becoming flesh. So they fell asleep, hands clasped, and readied themselves for flight.
The night after Voldemort’s defeat, the Order members slept on cots in the Great Hall, collapsing exhausted from the battle and its aftermath, still fearful of abandoning the safety of numbers. Curled silently between his brothers, George pressed his forehead to the pillow and closed his eyes. He slept, dreamless, future-less, and ached all through the night, alone.
He avoided it for weeks, stepping around piles of new products half-finished, experiments half-run, sketches and plans, piles of laundry that could have belonged to either of them. Both beds remained unmade, and two tea cups still sat on the kitchen table, the dregs now thick and tepid.
Then, one day, he closed the shop for the night and set upon the task with a vengeance once reserved for Death Eaters and garden gnomes. Dirty clothes went into the hamper, indiscriminate of ownership, except the ones marked with a single, clear F, which he folded and placed in a neat pile by the door. The dishes were done by hand and put carefully away with the exception of a large ceramic mug, also bearing the initial, which went to rest atop the sweaters and scarves. Its mate, emblazoned with a bright orange G, he set in the cupboard with the other cups.
Papers and plans were sorted into piles designated “Brilliant”, “Almost Perfect”, and “Harebrained”. A note, written in a sharply slanted scrawl, read “This one’s good! Must’ve been my idea.” He choked, hands shaking, and set it aside.
He separated the bits of machinery and potions according to their corresponding projects and tossed the remainder into a box for spares or into the bin, depending on the degree of Not Working. Papers filed under “Harebrained” went into another box, already overflowing with aborted plans, marked with the same label. The rest he would return to later.
Books were shelved, pages marked. A few recent owls were answered. Old Prophets, and Quibblers, and other such rubbish were thrown away, assorted clippings cut out and tacked to the walls at random. One short article, carefully removed, he laid flat on the table, letting his eyes skim across words long since memorized. This one, he had decided, would be framed and accorded a place of honour in the shop alongside the three other obituaries already hanging there.
With the flat in order, he turned at last to face the two narrow beds, both dishevelled as though recently surrendering their occupants. One bed had been slept in only hours before. The other had been untouched for months.
Fists clenched to keep from trembling, he approached the rightmost bed and pulled back the crumpled coverlet, intending to fold it. But the motion stirred dust, and with it drifted the scent of chocolate and spent fireworks floating in a haze of orange flavoring. His eyes stung as if from smoke, and the blanket dropped from his hands as he sank onto the bed.
A pair of old trainers peeked out from beneath the trailing sheet, and he stared at them as though he might suddenly discover them filled, kicking about, worn by his twin as he cackled over this most magnificent joke. But the shoes remained still, stuffed with nothing more than a pair of acid green socks, which he made a mental note to throw them out since he knew one of them had a gaping hole in the heel.
Shivering and exhausted, he pulled the coverlet around his shoulders and lay down, drawing his knees close to his chest. Deeply, he breathed in the smell of the bedclothes, drawing it in to make it a part of himself, a part that could not be taken or broken or killed in a blast, something to fill the chasm that seemed to widen every day.
He did not realize he was crying until he tasted salt on his lips and felt the pillow damp against his skin.
After the deafening boom, there was silence and white light. Mist drifted softly around him as he lay still on the featureless floor. He thought over the events of the last few seconds and came to a rather startling conclusion.
“Bloody hell,” he muttered. “I’m dead.”
“That you are, son,” growled a familiar voice.
Still on the ground, he twisted his head around to see Alastor Moody, with two good eyes, two whole legs, and considerably fewer scars, sitting against the wall a few metres away.
“Huh,” Fred grunted, pulling himself upright. “Doesn’t hurt as much as I expected.”
Moody snorted and shook his head. “Shoulda known you’d be alright.”
Fred gave him an odd look. “Didn’t think ‘alright’ and ‘dead’ really went along together.”
“You’ll get used to it,” Moody rumbled. “Where are we, anyway?”
Fred looked around and realized that he knew. “It’s one of the secret passages leading out of the school.”
Moody gave another short laugh. “Figures.”
But Fred wasn’t listening, he was staring off down the tunnel, still filled with mist and light. He felt drawn onward, as though the promise of peace and home and safety lay at the end of the passageway. Without turning, he asked “What happens if I follow it?”
“You’ll move on, won’t you,” Moody replied gruffly, as if the answer were perfectly obvious. Of course, Fred supposed, it was.
“Why’re you still here, then?” he asked. “Haven’t you… moved on?”
“Had to wait for you, didn’t I. Had to make sure you had all your silly answers.” Fred took some small consolation in knowing that the old auror was just as ill-tempered in death as he had been in life.
“So if you’re satisfied,” Moody continued, climbing to his feet. “I’ll be gettin’ on to my everlasting reward, or whatever the hell it is.”
He was just; about to leave when Fred thought of something else and spun round. “What about George?”
Moody looked exasperated. “What about him?”
“Is he…. Where is he?”
“I expect he’ll be along in his own time,” Moody replied. “Last I could see, though, he’d just given a very large spider and very good reason to become a vegetarian.”
Fred grinned, a swelling of pride in his twin. “Can I wait for him?”
Moody gave him a hard, searching look, no less intimidating in the absence of his magical eye. “Could be waiting a while,” he said at last. “Whole lifetime, maybe.”
“That’s alright,” Fred said. “I can keep myself entertained.”
A flicker of a smile crossed Moody’s face, then disappeared. “Suit yourself, then. Just go on along when you’re ready.” He turned to go, then paused, looking back at Fred. “You did well, son.”
Fred smiled, blinked, and Moody was gone.
With a sigh, he sat back against the tunnel wall, settling in for what, he hoped, would be a very long wait.