The textured glass tickled the tips of his fingers. They felt cool and slightly painful when he pressed his fingers just a bit too hard against the jar. He had just sold all the Peruvian powder that the shop had to Draco Malfoy. Just as he had done a year ago. Fred wasn't stupid; he knew full well why Malfoy had needed it. He knew that it had something to do with the Death Eaters.
The pang stung him again, echoing inside the empty shell of his chest.
It had been nearly two years since Barty had been found out. Being Fred Weasley, Fred tried to move on – show off to the world how they needed to be happy and how he and his fantastic twin could help them do that. In these dark times, what everyone needed was a laugh.
It was pathetic that he had not laughed in over two years. Of course, a chortle or snort, sure. Because it wasn't as though things were no longer humorous without Barty, they were. Fred still found George's jokes to be funny and Ron's antics to be pathetically hilarious. Percy was still an easy target and poking fun at Harry was always a plus. But a true, genuine laugh – now, that was just something Fred couldn't muster.
"Just got a wedding invitation, Freddie," George walked into his twin's room, throwing an open envelope at Fred's feet. "Bill's getting married to that French girl. You know, the one," George did a mock curtsy and bat his eyelashes girlishly.
"Oh, yes," Fred sat up, putting the jar on his nightstand. "That one." He flipped the envelope open and looked at the invitation. "Looks like it's going to be nice. S'back home! Just what Bill wanted."
George took the paper from Fred and sat on his bed. "You alright, Freddie?" He crossed his legs and stared at his twin. "And don't say you are, because lying to me is pointless."
Fred picked up the jar and started tossing it between his fingertips. "Tired," he mumbled, carefully watching the jar. "Bad night's sleep."
George watched the jar his twin was tossing. "Wanna talk about it?"
Without looking up from the jar, Fred shrugged. "Not really. It's stupid, really. I don't even know what the dream is, but I wake up and my chest hurts and I feel scared." He shrugged again, shaking his head. "But I never remember what scares me."
Trying to lighten the mood, George reached over and tried to knock the jar on to the mattress. "Bollo-" the glass hitting the floor interrupted his word as the room was swallowed in darkness.
"Get out," Fred ordered angrily, his fists held tight in the blackness.
"Freddie, I'm sorry," George started. "I-"
Stumbling in the dark, George made his way to the side of the room with the door. Fred heard the door close as George went back into their living room. Swinging his legs behind him, Fred leaned over the edge of his bed and tried to find the larger shards of glass. His fingers fumbled on to a piece of glass, half sticking out of the remaining powder. He cupped it in his hand carefully and set in on his nightstand. Leaning back over, Fred picked up several other pieces of glass. On his third trip down, however, Fred felt a piece of paper in the midst of the pile of powder. Pulling himself back up, Fred grabbed the slip of paper between his fingers and felt around in the darkness until he reached the door. Opening the door wide, Fred headed down to the shop and locked himself in the laboratory. His fingers slightly itching and stinging from the glass, Fred shakily opened the piece of paper.
I knew what I was doing. I know you will never forgive me for it, but I apologize anyway. Whether you found this because you used all the powder or because it broke, I'm glad you found it. I wanted to thank you for everything. You taught me everything that twelve OWLs couldn't. You taught me how to trust, how to be a friend and, above all else, you taught me to love.
I wasn't able to tell you that because, if I had, you would have only complicated the plan I had devised to keep you safe.
You liked to play that silly choosing game. Now, I will ask you my own.
Choose: Keeping our secret. Or keeping yourself alive.
I asked myself that question and I chose to keep our secret and keep you alive. I'm sorry, Fredrick, but this time, Azkaban was the only option.
I love you, Fredrick Gideon Weasley. Not loved; I love you. I love you as I write this letter, and I love you as you read it. And I hope it shows.
Shaking, Fred fell on to a pile of boxes and tried to catch his breath. After all this time, after every nightmare, after every joking "I love you, Fred!" – Fred felt the hot stab of love right in his heart. He felt the valves in his heart shut and the blood ran warm through his body. He shook, still clutching the note in his hand, and smiled. After all this time and after everything he had worried about, Fred felt as though he was back in that office. Back there with him. Laughing and joking and touching and kissing and scheming and everything. He smelled the books and he smelled the carpet and he could feel the draft from the window and everything was just as it should have been.
He opened his eyes in the middle of his laboratory, surrounded by boxes of candies and fireworks and their highest selling product to date – U-No-Poo.
Bolting up from his seat, Fred swung the door open and called up to George. "We're going to destroy that wedding aren't we?"
"Some might say that. I would say we are helping it," George called from the upstairs kitchen.
"Fantastic," Fred beamed.
The air exploded.
In that moment between laughing in the face of danger and fearing for his life, Fred Weasley's mind raced. People always said that their lives would flash before their eyes just before they died, and Fred had sometimes wondered what he would see.
Fred beamed. "Now, Ron, you just have to vow to me, Fred, that you will, for the rest of your life, be my personal slave and do as I say always or face the consequences-"
"Consequences?" Ron cried. "Like what?"
The door flew open and a very angry Arthur Weasley stormed in.
"Georgie, on a scale from one to ten, ten being the most trouble we've ever been in, how much trouble would we get in for stealing this weird map thing?"
"I don't know," George looked into Filch's filing drawer. "About a seven?"
"Worth it," he said, grabbing the map hastily and shoving it in his robes.
The Firewhiskey burned in Fred's mouth. "You want to know a secret, Georgie?"
Taking a long swig himself, George nodded enthusiastically. "Of course."
"I'm in love."
George fell out of his chair, giggling like mad. "Good one, Freddie."
"My name, Fredrick, is Barty Crouch Jr."
Fred froze, still leaning in, feeling the soft panting against his skin, "Why did you tell me that?"
"Well, Fredrick, it's simple," Barty said whispering softly, "now you can't tell anyone what's happened and if you do, I'll know it was you." He let go of Fred's tie, allowing the twin to straighten up and stumble to his feet.
"Couldn't you have just obliviated me?"
"No," Barty said, half-grin spread upon his face, "where would the fun be in that?"
"Now, now, Fredrick," the voice whispered softly. "Did you really think you could break curfew and not suffer some sort of consequence?" He pulled him to his side, "Now, I know you're not doing anything right now," he lead Fred past the Gryffindor portrait. "Ten points from Gyffindor and detention."
"Detention?" Fred croaked out as he passed the portrait. "What sort of detention?"
"You ask too many questions," he grumbled in response. "You should seek answers, not ask for them."
"The Marauders," Barty sighed. "Went to school with them, you know."
Fred's jaw dropped, "Did not."
"I did so, Fredrick," Barty started walking down the hall. "They were quite the team, those Marauders," he turned around and grinned at Fred. "But, if you'd rather not hear about my lowly Hogwarts days, I suggest you get to sleep, Fredrick. You've had quite the night."
Fred dragged his tired frame to catch up with Barty, "I suppose someone's got to make sure you don't get caught."
"Did you only pick on me today because of what happened yesterday?" he whispered into his hands as he rubbed his face.
Barty tilted Fred's chin up and shook his head slowly, "No."
Kicking his feet against the solid oak desk, Fred shrugged, "I think you need someone to talk to."
"I have plenty of people I can talk to," Barty huffed.
"Then a friend," Fred said slowly. "I think you need a friend."
"Word travels quickly here."
"Yes, I heard you died saving the school from a pack of Death Eaters and Salazar Slytherin back from beyond the grave." Barty wiggled his fingers in sarcastic little waves of fear. "How brave of you, Fredrick."
"I should go sort that out and tell them what really happened," Fred laughed lightly. "The lie is probably more believable than the truth."
"Always is, Fredrick. You'll learn that soon enough."
Fred's hand found the back of Barty's head again, his fingers twirling his weathered hair. He laughed lightly, the air barely passing his lips. "This is-"
"Wrong?" Barty's arm wrapped around Fred's waist and pulled him closer.
"And you should leave-"
"And this could only end poorly-"
"So, if you know this, why are we-"
"I don't know, I just-"
"Fredrick?" Barty whispered, their foreheads leaning against each other.
Fred smiled, his ears burning hot. "Yes, Barty?"
And in that moment, he realized; Barty had the ability to consume the entire Wizarding world into absolute darkness for years. With Voldemort rising and Barty having completed his task, Barty would have been the one responsible for the downfall of Harry Potter and whoever else would fall in Voldemort's way. The only thing that seemed to be stalling any of it was, in fact, him.
Whether he did it for the greater good or whether he did it because he had wanted to for ages, Fred rested his chin on Barty's shoulder and kissed his cheek. "I love you, Barty."
Fred's eyes closed before the impact, his small laugh escaping his lips just as he felt the breath forced out of him. He felt his hair in the air as he fell to the ground.
Falling, falling, falling – but never reaching the end.
Secrets are funny little things. You can keep anything secret, absolutely anything. A favourite food, a favourite song, a guilty pleasure, a name, a face, a place – all secrets. But, with every secret comes a price. Do you save your skin or someone else's? In the end, we are all equal. Pure blood, half blood, Muggle born, Squib, Muggle – all the same. One heart, one mind and a choice. A choice we all have to make at some point in our lives. To become a Death Eater or to fight with the Order? To use reason or an Unforgivable Curse? To fall in love or to stay cold?
Fred Weasley learned his lesson – the choices we make are not what define who we are; they are simply what defines us to everyone else.