A/N: Beta Read by the wonders that are BloodRayne and StringofPearls, and devised with the aid of Caith. Seriously, thank you both so much for all your help!
This story is heavily based on folklore and fairytales (which is particularly evident in this chappy). Please visit Olafpriol on Deviantart! Her Fred & George fanart always inspires me to write and any fan of the twins will love her stuff, so get your butts over there ...Er, well after you've read the fic...
EDIT: Check my profile page for fanart, movie trailers and gift art related to the story. : )
'There came a wind out o' the north
A sharp wind and a snell
A dead sleep it came o'er me
And frae my horse I fell
And the Queen o' the Faeries she took me
In yon green hill to dwell.'
- Tam Lin
Twin Vice Paranormal Detectives
Stick, Stock, Stone Dead
"From The Tales of Beedle the Bard," he read, peeling back the yellowed page with a sullen look. Then he began.
'There is a tale as old as the moon and dark as the night, a story from a bare and barren land in the North. Above all, it is a story of how fear conquers the fearful. But it is just a story and it begins with the Winter Queen and ends, as all stories must, with Death.'
'There are many tales of the Winter Queen, but only one of them is true. It is true when they say her hair is white as snow, her eyes dark as coals, her face pale as death. It is also true when they say her face is blank and empty but for the slit where her mouth should be, like a slash in a bag of flower. It is true that she is as old as the mountains and young as a rose; that she has as many names as the stars have and no name at all, and how a cloak of white rabbits falls over her shoulder, though she wears no clothes at all.'
'But it is absolutely true what they speak of her serpent mirror, Ouroboros, the never-ending silver chain. Mirrors never lie, but neither can they be trusted, for mirrors are the trickiest of all magical objects.'
'That mirror was forged by the skilled fingers of Nogg the Nefarious, a foul Goblin who hated Muggles with a passion, and spent his hours devising new and wicked charms in which he could spill their blood. Amongst these charms was the sword Blackabar, who, in the midst of battle, would grow so heavy that his owner could no longer hold its weight and therefore perish in the fight; the silver bell Isil, whose sweet notes caused the listener to hear the death cries of loved ones who had suffered terrible fates; the ring Storge, whose wearer was turned pale with rage and envy, and saw only treachery and deceit in the actions of those around them.'
'But Nogg's greatest treasure was the Ouroboros, whose silver frame was coiled to form the world serpent devouring its own tail. Ouroboros was said to have so many spells cast upon it that even Nogg did not know its full wicked power, for he was a foolish creature who played with fire.'
'There are children in Her mirror; those who strayed too far from the forest path and found the white haired Queen with her empty eyes and slit mouth sitting lonely beside that glass; those who stepped through the mirror chasing dreams and flickering lights, dancing all the way. And behind the glass they remain, their hearts and names, and souls stolen away in a jar for the Winter Queen and her mirror to consume. That is how she survives the tick-tick-ticking of the clock, for a child's soul is much stronger than a grown-up's.'
'Once, they say, she bore two children of her own: Sol and Salazar, one bright as the sun, the other pitch as night. They amused her for a time, but the winter mists drew close on that heart and she gave the sun to the night to carve up under a bloody moon.'
'So when you look in a mirror, dear ones, remember Salazar's betrayal of brave Sol and the poor ones forgotten behind the glass, belonging to none but the dark and the Winter Queen in her cloak of white rabbits. And when you go deep into the heart of the woods in winter, you will find what became of those children. Where their blood once soaked into the earth, tall above the grass they now stand; flowers with the faces of sleeping children.'
'For the woods feel the loss of a child. But the Winter Queen does not.'
Percy Weasley closed the worn copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard and looked into the faces of his audience, smiling proudly. The twins were gawking at him, open-mouthed and unimpressed.
"Hang on a minute, Perce..."
"That's your tale?"
The twins folded their arms in one synchronized movement and snorted, scornfully.
"That was crap!" said Fred and George nodded his agreement.
"A troll with a boulder in its gob could tell a better tale than that."
Percy huffed impatiently and dropped the picture book with its moving illustrations onto his lap. "I don't see what you two are griping about. I've read this to Ginny plenty of times and I never hear her complaining."
"Yeah, but Ginny's a girl, isn't she?"
"Do you see pigtails on our heads, Perce?"
"We like battles -"
"- and giants -"
"- and werewolves -"
"- and Dark Wizards!"
"Well, the Winter Queen was a Dark Wizard," Percy retorted with annoyance, but the twins were ignoring him in favour of jumping enthusiastically up and down on their beds.
"Give us a decent story, Perce!"
"Give us one of Puck Hufflepuff's ballads!"
"The Fox's trick!"
"The Vampire Cat of York!"
"The Hand of Glory!"
"You've had your story, you ungrateful wretches!" Percy snapped, leaping to his feet. "Now stop jumping on your beds and be done with it, otherwise I'll send Mother up and she can put you to sleep!" Without another word, Percy snatched up his book and stormed towards the door in a terrible sulk, flicking the light switch off on his way out the room.
The twins sat cross-legged on their beds, facing each other in the dark.
"Merlin, Percy is such a stick in the mud," said Fred sullenly. "We should take it upon ourselves to teach him how to loosen up a bit, right, George?"
"Absolutely, Fred. I reckon a couple of garden gnomes in his pants will do the trick."
"Won't they bite?"
"That's the point."
Grinning wickedly, they each slid under their bed covers and closed their eyes. But it wasn't long before the cold night and the snow falling outside on the window ledge began to fill George's highly imaginative mind with ghastly images of the spindly Winter Queen and her terrible mirror. A shadow passed close to the door and he let out a little cry of fright.
"…George? That you squeaking like a little girl?" asked Fred in a tone of amusement.
"Sod off, gitface," George muttered ruefully, but nonetheless he crawled out of bed and over to his twin's, creeping underneath the covers.
"So you think all that's true, Fred?" George asked once they were both settled in Fred's bed and staring at the ceiling.
"What's true? Percy being a total and utter prat?"
"No, we know that's true," said George. "I mean about the Winter Queen."
"Don't know. Probably not." Fred shrugged. "There's loads of stories about her flying around, mind. Suppose they've got to come from somewhere, haven't they?"
"Charlie told me that she rides a chariot pulled by seven white stags."
Fred scoffed. "That's just stupid. You're getting mixed up with Father Christmas."
"No, it's true!" George said adamantly. "And she nicks little kids from their beds, too. Probably feeds them to that mirror of hers. How do you..." He paused, then continued quietly, "How do you think the mirror eats them?"
"Dunno." Fred turned this question over, pondering carefully. "Maybe its got like big glass teeth that snap you up and tear you to shreds if you get too close."
"You're havin' a laugh," said George, though he shivered a bit at the image his brother's idea provoked. The darkness of their shared bedroom suddenly seemed impenetrable. He pulled the covers closer around his neck and squeezed his eyes shut against the hauntingly quiet snow drifting outside the window.
"Oi, you're not scared are you, Forge?" asked Fred, mockingly.
"Fat chance!" George snapped, but he didn't sound at all convincing. After a moment he turned around to face his twin. Fred's arms were crossed behind his head and he was staring out the window at the softly falling snow. His brow was slightly furrowed and he looked deep in thought. Fred rarely looked so intense as this, but George found him fascinating to watch when he did and wondered if anyone else in the world had ever been lucky enough to glimpse that marvellous look on his brother's face.
"I'd give her hell if she tried to nick you, you know," said Fred abruptly.
George looked at his twin in amazement then, slowly, the corner of his mouth twitched into a smile. "Good." George grinned toothily. "Otherwise, you know, I'd have to come back and haunt you until you'd grown old, and bearded, and stinking of mothballs and old people like Auntie Muriel."
"Well that'd be better than nothing at all, right?" said Fred seriously. "I mean it's not like I can be without you, is it? Us being twins and stuff..."
George thought about it for a moment, but the idea of being one twin, and not two, left an unpleasant taste in his mouth (rather like the time he'd fallen face first into a pile of gnome dung in the garden), so he decided to push the thought, along with the story of the Winter Queen and her mirror, far out of his mind. He'd leave those kinds of thoughts for another time and place, years and years in the future when they were both bearded and wrinkled like prunes, and smelling of mothballs and old people like Auntie Muriel.
And then George said, because he felt it was suddenly necessary to say out loud, "Ahluvyoo Fred."
There was a pause, then a small chuckle, and George could sense Fred rolling his eyes, before he replied.
Bodies lay recumbent in the main hall. Fifty or more gazing blankly at the bewitched ceiling, indifferent to the weather. Outside in the dark grounds the grass was still flattened where fallen warriors had lain - children, dead in their pajamas.
If ever you've walked in an old graveyard where the outer walls are crumbling and ravens sit on tombstones covered in ivy, the skull and crossbones motif and epitaph barely legible, you will notice how distant death seems in comparison to the sleek new cemetery down the road, where each gravestone shines black or slate grey in the watery sunlight and the earth is freshly turned.
Here, like the new cemetery, death hung thick in the air like a shroud of acrid smoke over the castle, permeating the very walls of Hogwarts. And George Weasley knotted his fingers in his brother's hair, each red strand identical to his own, and tried in vain to pull him away from the rhythm of that timeless dance. But off he'd gone, with no path for him to follow.
And yet, in every way that counted, George too was dead.
On the surface, he would shrug and grin, and comfort, and joke, because you had to, didn't you? You can't lose yourself to the grave, even if inside you're screaming and weeping and howling like an animal. La Danse Macabre goes on, indifferent to whom it picks up in the rhythm, but often it will take a piece of your heart first before it takes the whole package.
And sometimes it buries your smile before your flesh.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood,
For nothing now can ever come to any good...
W. H. Auden
A/N: Next chapter is much longer, and thankfully less emo, and takes place five years in the future. Again, don't miss out on Olafpriol's HP fanart on Deviantart. It'll cheer you up immensely!