Thanks to Christopher for the (sort of) inspiration, and to Suzanne for pre-reading this.
This is set in the summer at the beginning of Order of the Phoenix, shortly after the Weasleys move into Grimmauld Place, and before Harry gets there.
A hand reached out and grabbed Fred's shoulder, slamming him hard against the wall.
"What the fuck's that for?" But Fred's look of wounded innocence was fooling no one, least of all his eldest brother.
"You know bloody well what it's for!" Bill growled. "One more remark about 'French tarts' in front of Mum and Dad – in front of anyone – and I'll hex you to kingdom come. Clear?"
Fred would have liked to argue, but it was obvious from the look in Bill's eyes that he meant exactly what he said. He shook off Bill's hold and muttered. "Okay, okay, it was only a joke," before slouching off upstairs, glowering. Bill turned an exasperated look on George, who had been watching, but who had, for once, restrained himself from intervening on his twin's behalf.
"What the hell's got into him lately?" Bill asked.
George could only shrug. He wished to goodness that he knew himself.
"He's not back yet." Ron was gazing out of the window with a worried frown on his face.
"It's only been four days, dear." Molly's tone was bracing. "Romania's a very long way for a little owl like Pigwidgeon to carry a package that size."
"That's the point, Mum!" Ron shouted. "And there wasn't even anything in the bloody package – just a stone to make it heavy. I suppose Fredthinks it's funny, but I don't. Pig's mine – one thing that's mine that wasn't Bill's or Charlie's or Percy's or the twins' first. And he has to go and do this to him. It's not fair."
"You sound like you're six years old, Ronald," his mother admonished him. "It's only an owl after all. It's not the end of the world if it doesn't come back."
All the same, she was frowning to herself as she moved over to the stove to start the tea. It wasn't like Fred to be unkind just for the sake of it. She didn't know what had got into him lately.
Charlie woke with a groan to find himself on the settee in Bill's flat. He started to sit up, but the room spun around him so violently that he subsided back onto the settee quickly. Bill emerged from the tiny kitchen, two steaming mugs in one hand and a glass full of a vile-looking green potion in the other. He held this out to his brother, half-smiling, but with a sympathetic look in his eyes.
"Drink," he ordered. "Before you throw up all over my floor."
Charlie sat up gingerly and choked down the potion, grimacing at the taste. Bill passed him one of the mugs of coffee, and perched on the arm of the settee.
"Better?" he queried.
"Mm, thanks," Charlie answered. "Godric, that stuff tastes foul. What time is it anyway?"
"Half past eleven."
Charlie gasped and slopped half his coffee all over himself, swearing violently. "What? Bill, I was supposed to be back at work at ten!"
"Calm down, Char. It's sorted. I owled your friend Idris and told him you were sick – which was true, more or less. He said he'd cover for you."
"Thanks," Charlie grunted, setting his coffee mug carefully on the floor and running a hand through his hair. He looked at Bill in a puzzled way. "I really don't remember having that much to drink last night…"
Bill frowned darkly, staring into his own mug and avoiding his brother's eyes.
"You didn't. Fred was spiking your drinks. That Russian stuff that takes a while to get into your system. By the time George noticed, it was too late to do anything about it."
"Damn! I'll fucking kill him!" The look in Charlie's eyes made it look as if he really might. "Hang on – you said Fred did it, and George noticed? You mean they weren't both in on it?"
Bill shook his head. "No. Just Fred. If we hadn't realised, and you'd tried to go back last night you could've ended up anywhere."
Or worse… Neither of them said it, but they both knew it. Using a Portkey when drunk was a hazardous business. Fred's "joke" could have been fatal.
Charlie shook his head, looking at his brother worriedly. "What the hell's got into him?" he asked.
Bill shook his head too. "I wish I knew," he said. "I really do."
"Fred you bastard, what the hell are you playing at?"
"You were snoring. You woke me up."
George glared at his twin from the tangle of bedclothes on the floor, where Fred's jinx had unceremoniously dumped him. "Like you never snore," he muttered angrily. "I don't know what's got into you lately."
Fred's frown was even darker than George's. "Don't you?" he demanded fiercely, ramming his wand into his pocket. "I thought you'd understand if no one else did."
George was left gaping as Fred slammed the bedroom door behind him.
After what seemed an age, Ginny finally heard footsteps on the landing outside her room.
"Who's there?" Her voice was slightly tremulous, despite her best efforts to sound normal.
"George. What's up, Gin?"
There was a snort that was halfway to a sob from his sister. "You know bloody well what's up, you git. Just get in here and get me free!"
"Wha'?" The confusion in George's voice was obvious, but he opened the door to Ginny's room and looked over to where she was standing by the big old-fashioned wardrobe. Her attitude was strangely stiff and unnatural, her right hand on the handle of the wardrobe door, her left flat against the side of it. In addition, she was wearing nothing but her underwear, and she was visibly shivering with cold. (It might be August but this house was perpetually freezing.)
"Ginny, what the hell?" He asked, stopping short at the sight of her. "What the hell are you doing?"
Ginny lost her temper at that. "What the hell do you think I'm doing, you total bastard?" she demanded hotly. "I was trying to get out something to wear, but my darling brothers seem to have put a sticking charm on the wardrobe. Don't pretend you know nothing about it, George!"
George pulled out his wand and approached her warily. Ginny in a temper was scarily like their mother.
"Ginny, honestly," he said. "It's nothing to do with me. Fred must have…" He pulled himself up. Giving his twin away was not part of his code.
"On his own?" Ginny asked sceptically. "You expect me to buy that?"
"Really, Gin, I don't know anything about this," George told her.
His tone was so earnest, that Ginny was beginning to believe him. And suddenly she realised she didn't care for the moment who was responsible as long as someone released her. Her hands were hurting badly, and she was getting colder by the minute.
"Just get me free, will you?" she said.
But it was easier said than done. Whatever charm Fred had used was not an easy one to break, and after ten minutes trying, George had to admit defeat, and go downstairs in search of Bill.
A few minutes later, Ginny was sitting on her bed in her dressing gown, nursing her reddened and sore hands, and with Bill's arm round her shoulders.
"This has gone far enough, George," Bill said, looking up at his brother, who was still standing by the wardrobe.
"Why're you looking at me?" George demanded indignantly. "I've already told you I had nothing to do with it."
"Fair enough. But someone needs to get to the bottom of what's got into Fred lately," Bill said remorselessly.
"And that has to be me, does it?" George asked hotly.
Bill merely looked at him. "Don't be a git, George," he said quietly. "You know it does."
There was no answer, but George heard his brother's bedsprings creaking, and knew that he was awake.
"Fred, what's the matter?"
"Oh, for Godric's sake, just shut up and let me go to sleep."
It was very tempting. George really did not want to have this conversation with Fred. But he remembered the cold jolt of fear he felt when he realised that Fred was spiking Charlie's drinks and that Charlie was supposed to be Portkeying back to Romania in just an hour. He remembered Fred needling Bill about his new girlfriend until even their usually easy-going eldest brother lost his temper. The hurt look in Ron's eyes when Fred laughingly told him what he'd done to Pigwidgeon. Ginny blinking back tears of fury and pain as Bill freed her from Fred's sticking charm.
Bill was right. He had to get to the bottom of this.
He got out of his bed and padded across the room to sit on Fred's.
George could feel Fred reaching out to his bedside table for his wand, and wondered if he was going to jinx him again. He grabbed his brother's arm.
"Fred, just tell me what the matter is."
"Nothing. Why should anything be the matter? Just because you seem to have lost your sense of humour lately…"
"Don't be a git, Fred. What you did to Charlie wasn't funny. Or Ron – that was just mean. And you're bloody lucky Bill only threatened you for how you were going on about Fleur in front of Mum and Dad. And you made Ginny cry today."
He heard Fred's sharp intake of breath.
"It was a joke." But Fred's tone was less assured than it had been.
"It wasn't funny, Fred. What's the matter?"
There was a muffled sound from his twin that sounded suspiciously like a sob. What the hell was going on? Fred didn't cry…
"I thought you'd understand." Fred's voice was muffled in his pillow.
George put a hand gingerly on his brother's shoulder, and for a wonder, it was not shaken off. "I'm sorry, but I don't," he said quietly. "A joke's one thing, Fred, but you seem to be enjoying hurting people lately. What's going on?"
The only sound for a few minutes was Fred's uneven breathing. By the time he spoke, George was beginning to think that he was never going to get an answer.
Eventually, however, Fred began to speak. "A fortnight ago… when we first got here…"
"Mm? What about it?"
"Bill and Tonks and Kingsley went off on that mission. Bill got hurt…"
George frowned. This still made no sense to him. "Yeah, but not badly. Mum sorted him out in half an hour."
"I know, but… George, you weren't there when they got back. He was covered in blood. I thought – I thought… George this is real. People are getting hurt. People could get killed. Our friends, our family…"
Suddenly George understood. Fred was scared.
The thought scared him. Nothing scared Fred Weasley.
Sighing, he pulled his brother into a hug.
"Fred, you idiot… Is that what this is all about?"
He felt Fred nod against his shoulder. "I thought – I thought… Oh, I dunno what I thought. It just seemed to make it easier somehow, take my mind off it. I'm – I'm frightened, George. I'm sorry."
He began to cry properly now, snuffling into George's pyjama'd shoulder. George just held him, saying nothing until Fred was quiet again.
When he was, George pulled himself free from Fred's hold, going over to his own bed and extracting a bar of chocolate from his bedside table. Dividing it scrupulously in half, he handed Fred his share, and sat down beside him on his bed.
"We'll be okay, you know," he said seriously. "Whatever happens, however bad it gets, we'll be okay."
"You don't know that." Fred's tone was mutinous. "People are going to die, George."
George sighed. "I know that. I'm not a complete idiot. But… Fred, we will be okay. Not okay nothing will happen to us okay. But okay we'll get through this okay. Because we'll stick together, look after each other. Not just us. The whole family. We'll get through this somehow."
Fred took a bite of chocolate, and managed a faint smile. "I've been a git, haven't I?" he asked.
George smiled too. "Just a bit," he conceded.
Fred half-laughed and made a grab for George's chocolate. George laughed out loud as he evaded him. Things were back to normal.