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The Ghost of His Last Laugh

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Fred blearily opened his eyes, his whole body white hot and aching where a solid thump had burned a bruising chasm in his chest. His face fell out of his customary jaunty smile and he raised a bloody hand to scruff through matted hair.

 

“Oi!” A gruff shout echoed through the room, well, wherever they were. But Fred couldn’t quite focus his thoughts into solidity. The sounds reverberated back and forth between his ears, though his left ear sounded a little fainter. He supposed that was how George always fel- GEORGE!

 

He scrambled.

 

He struggled.

 

Everything came swimming back to him in horrific, sickening technicolor. Fred gasped for air, the bottom of his stomach sinking lower than the giant squid in the lake.

 

“I’ve got him!” That same throaty voice was getting closer. Fred had mistaken the pounding of his heart for the heavy footfalls of a man sprinting at full pelt towards him. He couldn’t make out the features.

 

Dark hair and dark clothes absorbed the warm glow of golden streetlights. A firm hand took a tight grip on his shoulder, and shaggy hair brushed against his body as the man leaned over him. Fred instinctively struggled, trying to bite out curses, but he fumbled for his wand and couldn’t seem to get a grip on it.

 

“Fred, Fred.” The man was insistent, trying to get him to sit up, “We’ve got you mate, you’re safe now.”

 

He raised his voice again, “Oi!” Louder this time, but still short and sharp. His companion’s footfalls soon joined the steady thumping of Fred’s heart and his eyes widened as he recognised the grim face in front of him.

 

“Sirius? Where-“ Fred’s voice was weak, but surely if he were dead, there would be... something different, or... just something.

 

“Shhh.” Sirius hushed him. “Tonight was the big night, then?” He confirmed, tugging the edges of his coarse grey muggle long-coat tighter together in the chill wind.

 

Fred nodded curtly, the motion making his head spin.

 

Another man skidded to a stop on the cobble stones next to him, but Fred craned around the familiar face for another shock of red hair. What if they ended up in different places? Well no matter, Fred was sure he’d find his twin. He had no idea what transportation hex that Death Eater had hurled at him or why Sirius would fake his death right when Harry needed him most, but there was going to be a reasonable explanation.

 

“Fred.” Remus’s voice was bitter, regret evident.

 

Fred had no idea why they were all dilly-dallying about, there were Death Eaters to catch.

 

“Come on, man!” Fred urged, “We have to get out of here, they’ll probably be right behind me.”

 

Remus sighed and exchanged a look with his best friend.

 

What happened. How are we going to face Molly. . . Where’s the other one.

 

“They will.” Remus agreed, “But they won’t arrive here. There is a strong memory anchor for Order of the Phoenix members in particular, but we haven’t worked out where Death Eaters are... landing.”

 

Fred started to look around. On one side was a kissing gate, walled with leafy memorials. On the other, the worn cobbles led into an inviting swirl of small shops and cottages. He could just make out the peaks of a statue that his mother used to go on about when he was a child. It was a very famous statue of young couple, and the most well-known stark-raving mad idiot he ever had the pleasure of fighting beside.

 

“Godric’s Hollow?”

 

“Your mother will have my head.” Remus promised gravely, not even a hint of a joke in the usually comedic phrase.

 

“I’m dead.” His words were gaunt and hollow.

 

Sirius grimaced and waved his hand in a so-so manner, “Eternally youthful.” He argued.

 

Fred managed a small chuckle, “Thanks. Now gerroff. George will be around somewhere.”

 

Sirius dutifully moved back, and Fred tried to crouch up. Pain lanced through him again, and he fell back. The two older men immediately leaned forward to brace him, but he waved them away with an urgent “George.”

 

They fanned out, and Fred managed to join them, making himself familiar with his new home. For however long being dead lasted. Did you live out the rest of your normal years before moving on? Was there every evil wizard ever to be executed? The original inventor of Zonko’s! Fred would be able to meet his hero. Was there magic?

 

Both Sirius and Remus had their wands out, a huge silver grey bear-dog bounded around Sirius’ feet, while a wispy silver mist trailed from Remus’s wand, flowing over the floor like silky treacle. Why didn't his Patronous take a form? Where was his wife?

 

Minutes ticked by. Fred shoved the gate open and started patrolling the cemetery. As if that was where you wanted to wake up. Fifteen minutes. Thirty.

 

“Fred,” Remus was gentle, this time.

 

“He was right next to me.” Fred replied steadfastly.

 

They kept searching.

 

***

 

“Lily said something must be wrong.”

 

Fred did a double take, for one moment thinking that the entire thing was over if Harry was dead... If Harry was dead, he’d rather not live in a world controlled by Snake-Face.

 

But it wasn’t Harry.

 

Remus turned and clapped his friend on the shoulder, a smile working its way into tired eyes. “It’s going to take some time to get over that. I got so used to looking at Harry.”

 

James grinned eagerly back, but the camaraderie quickly cut off as James realised that there had been another landing. He felt guilty for feeling so eager to finally see another of his friends, and those who had fought with his son. “Not –“

 

“No.” Remus said shortly. “We left him fighting.”

 

Fred had sat down on a smooth wooden bench as the horrible truth began to seep into bones that felt like they were made of china. George wasn’t coming. His twin. His best friend. The other half of a whole.  On one hand, George still had his chance at life. On the other... it would always be  a half life, for both of them.

 

 

James turned towards him. Well that was a Weasley, no doubt. The dead couldn’t always look down on the living, but the Bridge Fountain in the square had given him a pretty good idea of the lives of his friends, and his son’s friends over the past years.

 

He loped up to the Weasley twin like a large cat on soft paws, not quite knowing what to expect from the deer-in-headlights before him.

 

He knows what it felt like to lose your other self. Even if he only lost Lily for a few minutes.

 

“Hey, mate.” James looked into wide blue eyes, “We need a fourth – you’re just in time.”

 

Fred took the outstretched hand.

 

***

 

He was reluctant to leave – the battle must still be in full swing and Fred was caught between not knowing if he wished his brother life or death. Sirius’s “I’ll wait here.” Reassured him a little.

 

Enough to walk beside James and Remus as they took him home. He felt drained and out of character. George would be disgraced if he found out that Fred didn’t have one joke to hand as he met the pranksters that were Harry’s idols. Little did he know that they were his idols, too.

 

James led them down the weaving streets into a small den of cottages, up to a small white house with a trailing ivy archway over the gate.

 

The door opened before they even reached it, and a beautiful young woman about his own age peered out. Her face bore the marks of recent shock, but she still welcomed him with a smile. “Come in.” She stepped back, her eyes switching between Remus and Fred like she was trying to fix their faces in her memory.

 

This could only be one woman with long hair a stronger shade darker than his. Fred felt a small twinge of envy as he realised she got one of her friends back tonight. Little did either of them know that her best friend was on his way. This time when a tall, pale man ran up these same steps to embrace her, she would be able to hug him back. Say thank you for his bravery.

 

They worked their way into a kitchen, where another familiar face was staring blankly into a tea cup that had gone cold. Her hair was mousey brown, with pink tips at the end. Even though Lily had gone through the same pain herself, there really was not much she could do to comfort a young mother who had just been parted from her son. Confined to a life of reliance on friends, and watching through rippled water as he grew into a man.

 

Not that Nymphadora believed any of her comrades would let Teddy starve.

 

Lily quickly elongated the table, and the room seemed to swell a little before settling into an extended curve. Large window-doors than opened into a rose garden glittered, before stretching to accommodate the larger walls. It looked like the Potters would be needing some more space around the house after all.

 

“Now it’s my turn to have you in my kitchen.” She smiled at him, as she pushed him into a chair next to his friend. “Welcome home, we’ll wait for your brother here.” Lily had seen Mrs Weasley's boggart all those years ago - not even in her wildest nightmares were those mirthful twins boys apart in death.

 

Fred’s head jolted up as Lily pitched forward to fall on the kitchen bench.

 

“What is it?” He managed gravelly, rising to his feet to help her.

 

“It’s okay. It’s... it’s Harry. He’s calling us.” When her son needed her, she usually felt a cold pull, and usually returned that cry with gathering all the warmth and love she ever knew and haphazardly threw it all down that tenuous spindly life line to her boy in the hope that one drop would reach him for him to feel how much she cared.

 

This pull was different. Wrong. Strong magic. Pulled into a vortex where time had no meaning, Lily skittered around, desperately trying to find her feet. Find solid ground.

 

Her form shimmered silvery and misted over. Lily blinked and found herself looking at a dark canopy of trees. Seeing her son so courageous and strong. So close. Pride enveloped her warmly as her son drank her vision in.

 

He was going to sacrifice himself. He had been so brave, but some selfish part of her wanted him for herself. But he still had so much life to live. Was there any way she could send him back to revel in his triumph?

 

***

 

Lily landed back in her body with a thump, suddenly encased by both Fred and Tonks as they anchored her back. Lily grasped at the fading connection with the Battelfield. To see Hogwarts again! To walk that forest with James. To see the youthful glee on Remus’s sad eyes. She was torn between living, and her life now.

 

She sent a silent prayer inwards winging all her thoughts and strength towards this young man’s mother. She felt a rush inside her. Something important was definitely happening tonight – it was never this easy to establish connection with the Living.

 

Her fingers felt numb as a freezing wind wrapped her blood into an icy river, and her ears echoed. Through the ringing clatter, Lily, Fred and Tonks could just make out some crackling words.

 

“What will happen to your children when I’ve killed you?” taunted a screeching crow, “When Mummy’s gone the same way as Freddie?”

 

The young Weasley boy stood up with a roar, feeling helpless, once lethargic energy now abound and searching for a channel. Even though they were gone, they still fought past death and beyond. It wasn't over. Not yet.

 

 

Molly,

 

Your son is safe with me, now. I faithfully promise you, I will look after Fred, just as you have looked after our Harry all these years.

 

My eternal thanks,

 

Lily

 

 

***

 

In the grim monochrome of the Living that was filled with pain and terror, bright strength suddenly cut through the dank air, bubbling away inside the heart and soul of Molly Weasley. As she stepped in front of her only daughter, Molly reached inside the very depths of her tired body. Where there was emptiness before, she was surprised to find brilliant strong heat, and she grasped with both hands at the flowing strength.

 

Welding the molten lava into cold iron she drew upon every reserve she had and thrust her wand forward to shove a chilling spear of ice straight into the hollow chest cavity of Bellatrix Lestrange.

 

Sometimes, it did feel like someone was looking out for her.

 

“Protego!” Harry shielded McGonagall, Kingsley and Slughorn. Voldemort slowly advanced.

 

“Harry! Harry!” More echoes. “HE’S ALIVE!”

 

***

 

Lily gently left the kitchen for some air. This had been the most eventful night since That Night. Even the unmasked delight when James found out that his best friend was returned to him could not compare to the burst of her heart now. Her son was alive.

 

Seeing him was the best and worst experience she had ever been dragged through. She wished she had more time. To talk to him, tell him how much she loved him.

 

As if on cue, a white bundle feathered its way towards her, snowy wings fluttering into rest. She reached out and stroked the smooth softness. Her son’s owl seemed to have taken a liking to sitting on a large wooden sign that held illegible scrawl marks that just would not come into sight.

 

It was strange. Every now and then, some significant aspect of the Living world managed to merge until it was almost in sight. That statue in the town centre filled her with both pride and worry, but sometimes she could almost make out small touches on her body where Wizards and Witches appeared to thank the three figures that stood there as a permanent reminder that they were once a happy family.

 

“Lily?” A broken man limped apprehensively up her garden.

 

Her eyes alighted on the worn down figure and it was if the years just fell away with every step he took towards her. Bleak eyes that had been dull for so many years began to shine again, fill with threatening tears.

 

“I – I – minutes, just minutes.” He tried to explain what had happened that terrible evening when his world collapsed. He was too late, then. Words failed him and she ran towards her best friend.

 

“I know, I know.” She shushed him, “I saw.”

 

Severus had no idea how he had managed to find his way to this heaven as her long gone (but not forgotten) floral scent assaulted his overwhelmed senses.

 

She clutched him to her, and his strengthening grip was bruising. “Always.”

 

***

 

Fred searched for hours. Days. Months.

 

He knew he had to wait for years, and a part of his unfinished soul was so stupidly, blindingly grateful for that pain. His brother would just have to live for both of them.

 

Death really was the best joke out there. He was now everything he’d ever dreamed of being.

 

A Marauder. How he laughed when they told him, a deep bellowing chuckle that chimed big bronze bells through the village. They made him a new map – Messrs. Moony, Rapier, Padfoot, and Prongs.

 

***

 

Lily’s eyes looked out of James’s face as a father told his son that he would be proud, even if he was sorted in to Slytherin. Especially if he was sorted into Slytherin.

 

“The bravest man I ever knew.”