The Sugar Quill
Author: rocky (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Journey to Reality  Chapter: Chapter One: The Facade
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Chapter 1:

The Facade

 The scarlet train billowed smoke, emitting a loud whistle. A sensation of excitement hung about the air. People were talking animatedly, running down the train’s corridors to their various compartments. The smell of summer hung in the air. Everything seemed perfect. A young man standing in the shadows took one last draw on his cigarette as he boarded the train.

"What a facade," he muttered.

Fred Weasley boarded the train just in time. With one last blast of a whistle, the train was off, leaving a trail of steam behind it. Fred meandered down the now empty corridor, passing several compartments before entering one on his left.

"’Lo, Fred."

Fred smiled at the speaker. "All right there, Ron?"

Ron shrugged. "As good as could be expected," he said with a wry smile. There were several other people in the compartment as well, but at the moment Fred couldn’t tell who they were, seeing as they were all pulling their robes off over their heads.

One of the figures succeeded in pulling off his robe and smiled at Fred, his green eyes strangely languid. "Hi, Fred. See you made it on."

Fred let out a dry laugh. "Lucky me."

"Oh, Fred," came a muffled voice. "It’s better than being stuck…well, there, isn’t it?" The third person emerged from the tangle of robes. Hermione’s hair flew out at odd angles from the robe being shoved over it. "I mean," she continued, folding her robe neatly. "Who knows what happens there, afterwards I mean."

Fred shrugged. "Perhaps you’re right. But—" he was interrupted by the compartment door sliding open. The mirror image of Fred stepped through the door. He nodded at Fred. "Better get your robes off, Fred. They’ll be coming in a couple minutes."

Fred shook his head. "Yes, I know George," he muttered, quickly pulling his robes over his head.

From the end of the corridor a loud commotion started. George quickly stepped inside the compartment, closing the door. "Just in time," he muttered, glancing at his twin.

The commotion grew louder as it came nearer to them. Deep masculine voices kept shouting out commands. Sometimes these were followed by quieter protests, but these sounds were always quickly stifled. Hermione quickly wiped her eyes at the sound of some girls screaming. George put a comforting arm around her shoulders.

Suddenly their compartment door flew open. A burly man stood in the doorway, with another heavy man standing behind them holding a large bag. The first man looked somewhat like a squirrel on steroids, and Fred could have sworn the second was some sort of gorilla-man hybrid.

"Well?" shouted Squirrel-man. "Where are they?"

Harry silently threw the man the cluster of robes. Gorilla Hybrid grunted and tossed them unceremoniously into his bag. Squirrel-man sneered at them. "What, no objections from you lot?" The man’s taunt didn’t get the reaction he had hoped for. Ron’s jaw clenched together a little tighter, and Fred’s nails dug into the compartment seat. Squirrel-man laughed. "Fine by me. Hyde, get their numbers. And remember," he added, turning to the people sitting in the compartment, "I don’t want to see any of you wandering around. Or you’ll be sorry." He marched off to the next compartment, leaving Gorilla Hybrid standing there with a notebook and pen. He glared at them, pen poised over the paper. "Well?" he grunted.

"One, two, three, thirty-two, and thirty-three" came Fred’s monotone reply.

Gorilla Hybrid grunted once again (it seemed the only noise he was capable of making) and slammed the compartment door shut. The friends sat in silence for a moment, before Gorilla Hybrid once again opened the door and threw in five small packages. He gave them one last grunt before closing and locking the door.

Hermione bent down and picked up the package labeled ‘3’. "Well," she said, opening the package, "maybe they’ll have mended my pants this year." She pulled out a pair of very frayed khakis. "Maybe not."

Fred sighed and picked up package thirty-two. Same thing every year. Three pairs of socks, three pairs of boxers, one pair of jeans, one white shirt, one blue sweater, one tan overcoat, and one tan fedora. Of course, each and every item embroidered with ‘32’. He glanced over at his friends’ items. There was little variety between them. Everyone got the socks, the underwear, one pair of pants, two shirts, one coat, and one hat. It was the same every year. Fred supposed it would never change. He sighed and looked out the window at the country flying by.

How many years had it been? Since She had first created them, molded them, gave them life. For that, he was grateful to Her. After all, if it wasn’t for Her, he wouldn’t exist. But sometimes he thought it would be better not to exist. Better than living in this land of fiction.

She had no idea what happened to Her Characters when the books ended. But then, did any of the Authors know? Did any of them realize that when they wrote, they created real people who had to live whatever lives were written for them? Well, for a short while at least. After the story was written, they were herded like cattle back to the Corporation, where they waited for Her to write the next saga in their lives.

Fred glanced over at his two brothers, dozing fitfully. Brothers? Well, not in the literal sense. He loved them like family, of course he did. But after all, they weren’t truly his brothers. They had not been born into the family, they had been written into the family. He tried not to think about it. It just made him angry and confused whenever he did.

It was almost pleasant in Her stories. There at least he had some semblance of a real life. It was so easy to forget who you were, just go along with the flow of it all. In Her world, he was Fred Weasley, twin of George Weasley, son of Arthur and Molly Weasley. Eighteen years old, just finished his sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Loved Quidditch, wanted to open a joke shop with his brother. It was all so simple, yet all so phony.

Fred sighed, watching the rain pelting the window outside. It had been four years according to the books. Four years in the life of Harry Potter. To the Characters, it had been much longer. At least eight years. Fred glanced over at Harry, napping next to the window. Fourteen? He had to be at least eighteen by now. No longer a naïve eleven year old. He had grown up outside of the books. But then, they all had. Fred laughed to himself at the thought of being eighteen. Eighteen? Oh, how he wished he were eighteen again.

Each time, it was the same thing. After the story ended they were taken back to the Corporation. They stayed there until they were herded back to take part in the next book. Fred couldn’t remember once in his life when he had decided what to do, what to wear, what to eat. It wasn’t a real life.

Fred stopped his musings. The train was slowing down. They were almost there. He turned to George and shook him, none too gently. "Get up," he said. "We’re here."

George muttered something and wiped the sleep out of his eyes. Fred tossed package 33 to him. "Come on. We’d better get these on. Wake the others." If there was one thing the Guards couldn’t stand, it was a Character not wearing their appointed clothing. Fred could never understand why. He supposed it was just one of their little pet peeves.

Ten minutes later, Fred, George, Harry, Ron, and Hermione were slowly walking towards a large gray building, surrounded by mud and barbed wire fences. The rain pelted down on the mass of huddled Characters, all slowly trudging towards the Corporation. Fred glanced around at the crowd. He could see Lee Jordan helping Ginny Weasley along the trodden path. Neville Longbotton and Parvarti Patil deep in conversation. Severus Snape covered in mud. Apparently he had fallen somewhere along the way.

As they approached the barbed wire fences, two Guards opened them. They were marched through into the compound, where they divided off into groups, each Character trying to find their barrack, the barrack they would live in until She wrote Her next story.

Fred walked slowly through the cramped hallways with George until they found a door with the numbers thirty-two and thirty-three on it, along with some other numbers. "Well," said George. "Here we are." He pushed open the door and entered the room.

It was a tiny wooden room. The only items in it were five bunk beds, a lamp, and a water basin. A small window showed the rain outside. The room was freezing. Fred pulled his overcoat tighter around him.

"Wonderful. I get to share my room with you two," came a cold voice from a bed. Turning around, Fred and George saw Draco Malfoy sitting on the edge of a bottom bunk. Fred nodded to him. "Draco."

Draco’s eyes turned to slits. "Listen, Weasley, just because—" he was interrupted by the opening of the door. Fred glanced over his shoulder to see Harry, Ron, and Hermione enter the room.

"Oh, we’re sharing a room, are we?" Ron looked quite pleased. "Excellent!" George pointed to the figure on the bed. Ron’s face fell. "Oh."

Hermione looked at the bunk beds. "Ten beds. Who else is coming, do you think?"

"I, for one." Hermione turned to see a gorgeous woman standing in the doorway. Her silky blonde hair flowed down her back, shimmering even in the low light of the room. However, Fred thought she would have been much more attractive had there been any sort of sparkle in her inanimate blue eyes. But then, he supposed, not many people had gleams in their eyes here.

"Hello, Fleur," Hermione said kindly to the newcomer. "You must be number 107?" Fleur nodded. Ron watched her hair bouncing with an awestruck look on his face.

Fred sighed inwardly. Fleur was a good person, much nicer than She made her out to be. But she was a bit of an airhead, and she was definitely too pretty for her own good, or for the good of any testosterone driven person within a five mile radius of her.

Fleur plopped down on a bed. "So, we are waiting for three more, eh? I wonder ‘oo zey will be…"

They didn’t have to wait long. Not more than five minutes later three tall men walked into the room. "Everyone here?" one of them said. "The Guards should be here any minute."

Harry gave his first genuine smile of the day. "You three are the last, Sirius. Hello, Remus, Oliver." Remus gave a wane smile and threw his small package on one of the bunk beds, while Oliver Wood walked over to shake Harry’s hand.

The door to their room burst open with a loud crunching sound. Everyone spun around to face the now open doorway. Three Guards stood there, one with a pencil and a checklist.

"Number One!" he shouted.

"Here," came Harry’s bleak reply.

"Two?" "Yes," Ron said.

"Three?" "Present." Fred almost laughed. Even at this place, Hermione tried to be polite.

"Eleven!" "Here," Malfoy replied in a low voice.

"Thirty-two?" Fred made a sound, as did George when they called out thirty-three.

"Forty-eight?" Wood raised his hand.

"Sixty-five and seventy-eight?" Sirius and Remus indicated their presence.

"And one hundred seven…" "’Ere," came Fleur’s melodious voice.

The Guard turned away. "Good. All here. Get some sleep, you lot! I don’t want to hear a peep out of you."

***

Fred listened to the rain pounding against the window. He tried to get a glimpse of the stars. He had always loved the night skies. They presented an escape from his world. The way the window was positioned, however, it was difficult to see anything. He sighed, trying to ignore the sounds of the other’s snores. He could never sleep in this place. Never.

Fred heard a snort from the bed across from his. Looking over, he saw George staring at him. "Fred," he whispered. "What are you doing up?"

Fred shrugged. "Couldn’t sleep."

George let out a small sigh. "Like always." They sat in silence for a moment, listening to the rain.

"George," Fred said suddenly. "Remember that story Mum used to tell us? That one about a land called Reality?"

George frowned. "Yeah. What about it?"

A small light began to grow in Fred’s eyes. "What if it wasn’t just a story. What if it was real?"

George chuckled quietly. "It’d be nice, wouldn’t it? Being able to live our own lives, get away from this awful place…" He looked over at Fred. "Why do you ask?"

Fred stared at the window for moment before answering. When he spoke again, his voice was so quiet George could barely hear him. "I’m going to find a way out, George. I can’t take it here any longer. And I’m taking people with me. At least, everyone in this room." He looked over at his brother. "I’m going to find Reality."

George gave his twin a patronizing look. "Fred, you’re obviously very tired. You don’t know where it is, hell, you don’t even know if it exists! Listen, just get some sleep—"

"Can’t sleep now," Fred murmured. "I have it all planned out. We’ll travel west. We’re never allowed to go that way, the Guards won’t let us. So there must be something there. And whatever it is, it has to be better than this place." He looked his brother in the eye. "Are you with me, George? Please, I need your help!"

George saw the look of desperation in his brother’s eyes and sighed. "All right, Fred. I’ll help. When do we go?"

Fred gave a small smile. "Tomorrow night."

//
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