The Sugar Quill
Author: shewhoguards  Story: End of the Line  Chapter: 2. Mischief Managed
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YOU KNOW, YOU COULD GET THIS TRAIN IF YOU WANTED. HE WOULD CATCH YOU UP EASILY ENOUGH.

“No.” Fred shook his head. “I’ll wait. He’ll come.”

Well, there was no arguing with that. SOONER OR LATER, EVERYBODY DOES.

It was hard to tell how long they had been waiting. Time didn’t seem to work the same way here. Fred had drunk more cups of disgustingly orange vending machine tea than he could count, had seen group after group wait to pile onto the trains.

They were always, without exception, late. He couldn’t understand that once he’d figured out where he was, couldn’t work out why trains here should get delayed. He’d tried to get an explanation from the Guard, and got a long steady stare for his trouble. The Guard was good at those.

THERE ARE LEAVES ON THE LINE.

“What line? I’m not sure there’s even a line that exists to come here!”

THEY ARE TRAINS, the Guard explained patiently and deliberately. AND SO THEY ARE LATE DUE TO LEAVES ON THE LINE.

“And so if they weren’t late?”

The Guard shrugged. THEY WOULD NOT BE TRAINS. TRAINS DO NOT WORK LIKE THAT.

If George were here, the conversation would have ended differently. He would have had a question, some sort of teasing query for the Guard, and by the time the Guard had answered, Fred would have thought of another, and they could have bounced from one to the other until the Guard grew tired of the both of them.

But George wasn’t here, and without him, Fred ran out of words. He hesitated, and it took a moment for him to realise that that was why he was hesitating, waiting for his twin to fill the gap in conversation.

By the time he remembered that that wasn’t going to happen, the Guard had gone.

“I’m Fred, not George. Honestly, mother, you’d think by now…”

It was a joke that they’d repeated a million times, almost since they’d been old enough to talk. Only when the room fell silent, and he looked up to see every face turned to him, expressions anxious and pitying, did George remember why it wasn’t funny any more.

He saw that expression a lot over the months that followed, when he dropped something because the person he was passing it to wasn’t there, when he turned to make a comment only to find the space beside him empty, even when he did nothing at all. Sorrowful looks, looks that saw a broken half when they looked at him, not a full person at all.

He had to learn to remember – it was almost a case of self-defence. He had to do something to stop people looking at him like that. Especially when he looked in the mirror.

Time passed, and slowly people began to know him as George, rather than one half of Fred-and-George. He’d never had that before, and had to learn to introduce himself all over again, without automatically introducing his brother. The younger ones – Ron and Ginny’s kids – knew Fred as nothing more than a story, a heroic uncle who’d died in the war.

Fred would have laughed at that picture.

He didn’t tell them, any of them, that he talked to his brother still, alone in the workshop, away where no one could hear. He didn’t tell them about the conversations he had, laughingly recounting the day’s events as he pieced pranks together, talking as though he’d never lost Fred at all.

Sometimes he wondered if the ear he’d lost was listening to the brother he’d lost talking back.

***

There were other people waiting here. Fred hadn’t been the only one left behind when the whistle blew. Mostly they didn’t seem to notice each other much, but the twins had always been in the habit of watching people, in case they did something interesting. It was a hard habit for Fred to fall out of.

It wasn’t, he decided after watching for a while, that they were invisible. It was simply that they behaved so ordinarily, so quietly, that they faded into the background. It is not in human nature to take much notice of people who quietly get on with their own business.

The Guard was the one who seemed to attract the most attention. He moved quietly through the station’s passengers, talking to those waiting, urging them onto trains where needed, delivering help here and there.

Once Fred saw him carrying something – he couldn’t have named what it was. No-one else seemed to notice as the shrieking naked thing was carried amongst them. Fred stared for a moment before curiosity kicked in and he chased after the Guard, dodging through people who barely seemed to know that he was there.

By the time Fred reached him, the thing was gone, and the Guard was talking earnestly to a woman with wild black hair. They looked up as he approached, and Fred stared, trying to recall where he had seen her before. She returned his gaze with a sneer, before turning to stalk away.

The Guard turned his attention to Fred. CAN I HELP YOU?

Yes. Yes, he could. Fred was full of questions, and he had to take a moment to catch his breath, raking red hair back with his hand. “What was that thing?”

IT HAD NO TICKET. The Guard answered the question with a calm shrug of his shoulders, as though that should settle everything.

It took a moment for Fred to realise that he had again been waiting for George to continue the conversation, and he spoke quickly, anxious that the Guard should not simply walk away again. “These people – that woman – what was she asking for?”

THE DESTINATION OF THE NEXT TRAIN. The Guard glanced away to the bench the woman had settled, apparently engrossed in a timetable, IT IS DUE IN FIVE MINUTES, IF YOU WISH TO BOARD. BUT IT WILL BE LATE.

The destination? Remembering in time that he would have to ask himself this time, Fred opened his mouth, but the Guard was already speaking.

EVERY TRAIN THAT COMES SHE ASKS, AND EVERY TIME I TELL HER. THE TRAIN ONLY GOES TO TWO DESTINATIONS, AND ONE OF THOSE IS HOGWARTS. SHE WILL NOT BOARD WITHOUT KNOWING THE OTHER, AND SO SHE STAYS. The Guard sighed, and looked back at Fred. BUT YOU… YOU WILL BOARD THE TRAIN, YES?

Slowly, Fred shook his head, “No, I have to wait for my brother.” He managed a smile, the ghost of his usual grin. “Daft git’d probably get the wrong train without me.”

The Guard’s stare was implacable. THE TRAIN ONLY HAS TWO DESTINATIONS.

***

The shop was always busy. That never changed, and perhaps it never would. It didn’t matter which generation it was serving, there was always some child begging for a minor curse or prank that would keep them out of class, annoy a classmate, or just add disruption to a formerly orderly world.

Sometimes there were siblings, and they could make George’s heart hurt with their closeness. The sight of an older brother, puffed up with self-importance as he showed younger siblings around the shop, or a pair with their heads bent close together, marvelling over the mischief a trick might help them bring, and sometimes he would have to hurry into the back and ask an assistant to take over.

No-one had ever questioned it, and at least now he could blame old age and tiredness for those moments.

That tiredness had been more genuine of late. It was a little shocking - he had never thought once that he would complain of the noise and exuberance of youth being too much! But they could be overwhelming, and so George slipped away from the shop, back to his rooms, to rest. The assistants could handle it – they always did, although sometimes they looked at him a little pityingly now, as though wondering why an old man should devote himself so thoroughly to making something as inconsequential as children’s tricks.

They would never understood that sometimes when he perfected a trick for the first time, or a tale came back from the school of teachers exasperated by a particularly masterful usage of one, George fancied he could hear Fred laughing right along with him.

But for now… it was time to rest.

Alone in his rooms, George closed his eyes and slipped softly into the final sleep. Mischief managed.

***

The last batch of people had boarded their train, and Fred had slumped back onto his bench, staring after them. It wasn’t a comfortable bench – he had asked once why they were so cursedly uncomfortable, and received an answer much like the one about the leaves. It seemed that in this station, the epitome of all stations, trains were always late, tea was always orange, and benches were always uncomfortable. That was just the way things were.

YOU COULD CATCH THE NEXT TRAIN, the Guard suggested again, just as he had every time one had pulled away. THERE ARE NOT SO MANY PEOPLE ARRIVING NOW. THERE WILL BE PLENTY OF SEATS.

Fed shook his head, just as he had every other time. “I’ll wait. It’s not going to the right place anyway.”

THERE ARE ONLY TWO PLA- The Guard began, but Fred interrupted.

“No. If George isn’t there, it isn’t the right place.”

“If I’m not where?” The voice came from the station entrance, and Fred whirled towards it, eyes widening. “Honestly, you’re not very good at missing people, are you? The amount of time I’ve been standing here, you might at least have noticed.”

The face, the freckles, the hair were the same, all a perfect echo of Fred’s own. George leaned against the entrance, privately delighting in a body without aches and pains, a body that hadn’t felt so good for decades. Even both ears were intact.

Fred stared at him, as though not quite believing his eyes. “Really?”

“Nah.” George broke into a grin, striding towards him. “Only appeared a moment ago. Just yanking your wand.”

The hug was brief, and when they broke apart, neither seemed to quite know what to say for a moment. They stared at each other awkwardly for a second. “I missed you” was too obvious, “I love you” too girly, and it wasn’t as though either of them didn’t know both of those things already.

“You had to leave me in the awkward position, didn’t you?” George managed finally, accusingly.

“Awkward?” Fred stared at him for a moment, as though unsure how to react.

“Yeah well, people kept asking you how you were. Didn’t they? And it seemed a bit cruel to just tell them “Oh, he’s dead”, and I kept thinking “Well, maybe I should just work up to it, like – tell them you’d got yourself injured, and then add that it was quite badly injured, and then just say “Well, actually, he’s dead” so it wasn’t so much of a shock…”

Fred snorted with laughter. “What, inside ten minutes like that?”

“Yeah, and you just try laughing at that thought, and see how loony they think you.” But George was grinning, because really it didn’t matter now, did it?

The Guard had kept his distance for a moment or so, allowing a tactful amount of time before he approached. THE TRAIN-

“Yeah, I know, we need to get the next train that comes.” Fred didn’t wait for him to finish, but addressed his twin, “Honestly, George, he’s been on at me for hours trying to stuff me onto every train that passes. You might have hurried it up a bit!”

He didn’t catch the look of shock on his twin’s face for a moment, and George opened his mouth to correct him, tell him that the time could be better measured in years rather than hours, and stopped himself. What did it matter, as long as they were both here now?

ACTUALLY, I WAS GOING TO TELL YOU THAT YOU WILL BOTH HAVE TO WAIT A WHILE. The Guard explained, without a hint of irony. THE TRAIN HAS BEEN DELAYED. LEAVES ON THE LINE.

//
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