Ron and Hermione watched as Harry made his way to Gryffindor tower. He looked terrible–slumped shoulders, ashen skin, matted hair–he was singed around the edges and stiff with dried blood.
"He died tonight, Ron," said Hermione quietly, unable to take her eyes off of Harry's weary body, as if she were afraid that he would disappear. She made to follow him, but Ron's gentle hand on her shoulder stopped her.
"He'll be fine. Let him get some sleep."
Hermione looked at him with sad eyes. "But–"
"It's over Hermione," he said, and the relief in his voice was warring for dominance with the grief. "It's finally over. Voldemort's gone. Harry's safe now."
Hermione took a deep breath. "He's safe." They were words that had never been true. Not for Harry. To be able to say it now seemed almost a dream. "No more visions," she said.
"No more scar pains," added Ron as he grabbed Hermione's hand and began leading her back to the Great Hall.
"No more death defying stunts," she sighed.
"No more nightm–" but Ron stopped there and frowned.
"I think we're all going to have nightmares, Ron."
Ron nodded and cast a nervous glance over his shoulder, back in the direction they had left Harry. "Maybe we should–"
"There you are, Ron! Hermione! I've been looking for you everywhere!" It was Neville, with Luna by his side.
Ron took one look at their faces and his stomach dropped. "Has something happened?"
"Oh yes," said Luna vaguely, "I would say so."
Ron shot her a look before switching his gaze desperately to Neville.
"I–I can't really explain it, nobody can. We don't know why–"
"Spit it out, Neville!"
"Ron!" reprimanded Hermione, but Ron could not bring himself to care. If something had happened... If someone else had been hurt...
"It's Fred," said Neville, who oddly looked to be fighting a grin.
Ron felt like he had been punched.
His dead brother.
"What about him?" asked Ron hoarsely.
"He's not quite... I mean, he's not really... He's not truly all the way dead," said Neville.
Ron just stared.
"Oh, he seemed relatively alive when I spoke to him," said Luna. "But maybe that's just me."
"Alive?" said Ron in disbelief, not daring to hope because it was surely impossible.
But it could hardly be a joke. Neville and Luna weren't cruel. They wouldn't lie about something like this.
His feet began moving on their own. He hated himself–he hated that he was allowing himself to doubt what he'd seen–Fred was dead. He knew that. He'd seen it. So why was he running?
"Ron!" his mother called as he burst into the Hall. Everyone else in the room went silent and watched as Ron approached the rest of the Weasleys. His mother had a tear streaked face, but the smile on it was undeniable. Ron had thought it would be months until he saw his mother smile again.
Ron marched right up to the two red heads who looked remarkably similar, minus the fact that one was missing an ear. He tore his wand out and pointed it at his dead brother's face.
"Shut it, George!" snapped Ron. "I saw you," he snarled at the look-alike-Fred, "I saw you die."
Not-Fred grimaced. "I didn't die, Ronnie, I–"
"Yes, you did!" said Ron, his throat tight. "I saw you! I saw you."
Not-Fred sighed. "Look. I know what you saw. I don't know what that spell did, but it sure scared the bloody hell outta me. I was cold. I couldn't move and I couldn't hear... It was like I was drowning."
"You stopped breathing!" said Ron, his wand shaking in his trembling hand.
He held his hands up in defeat. "Look, I don't know what happened, all right? I was isolated from all of my senses one second, and then I was free the next." He shivered. "I'm just glad it's over."
Ron tightened the grip he had on his wand. "Prove it. Prove to me you're Fred."
"I need to be sure," he said shakily. "Prove to me you're Fred. Please."
"I'm not Fred," he said resignedly. Ron tried to ignore the stinging in his eyes and the ache in his throat. "I'm George," he said before pointing at the real George. "That's Fred. Honestly, you'd think you'd be able to tell us apart by now–"
Ron tackled his brother in a hug. "Nice try, Forge," Ron mumbled into his brother's shoulder. "But he lost an ear, you dolt."
Fred returned the hug with a smile on his face before looking at Hermione. "Oh good, you're alive," he said pleasantly before his eyes scanned the area around him. "Where's Harry?"
The Hall stilled and a heavy silence laid over them like a woolen blanket.
Ron took in a trembling breath before running a hand through his hair. "Déjà vu," he muttered weakly.
Ginny's breath caught in her throat. She had been the one to say those very words, not so long ago, only to find that he had turned himself over to Voldemort. The effect had been much the same as now. Everyone had stopped what they were doing as the question echoed in their heads.
Ginny whipped her head around. "Oh, Merlin," she muttered as she searched the sea of heads for that matt of hair she knew so well. "This can't be happening. Not again."
Ron grabbed his sister's shoulders and looked into her eyes. "Harry is fine. Ginny, do you hear me? He's fine. He's alive. He just went upstairs to rest."
She sniffed and turned away, wiping her eyes.
Fred looked ghostly. "Does anybody feel like they want to explain what the bloody hell that was all about?"
"Harry died," answered George quietly, his face stricken, as if he too was remembering seeing Harry dead at Voldemort's feet.
Fred's face lost the remainder of its color. People died during war. He knew that. He'd known that the probability that Harry would survive had been small, him being such an integral player in the war, but somehow Fred had always expected him to pull through. Because Harry couldn't die. He had survived the impossible time and time again. Fred had worried and dwelled on it, just as much as everyone else, but he had never truly believed it would happen. It could, but he had been nearly certain that it never would.
Because Harry couldn't die. Because Harry was Harry. And Harry tended to bring out the weaknesses in everybody.
"Harry... he's... He's dead?" asked Fred. He had already learned of Remus and Tonks' deaths, but to add Harry on top of that was just too much.
"No," said George quickly, correcting his mistake.
"But you just said–"
"Oh, it's all quite understandable, really," said Luna airily. "Harry died but he's not dead."
Fred just stared a moment before closing his eyes. "I've gone nutters, haven't I? Completely barmy. That spell must have addled my brain."
"Harry was hit with the killing curse," said Hermione while fighting to keep her own emotions at bay. "But he survived."
"Again?" Fred asked.
She nodded. "Again."
Fred's lips finally broke into a smile. "Brilliant." Fred had long ago accepted that he would never understand the enigma that was Harry Potter, so this completely inadequate explanation was more than satisfactory for him. "Now I can annoy him by calling him the Boy-Who-Lived-Twice." He frowned again. "You all still haven't answered my question. Where's Harry?"
"Don't say that," said Ginny as the entire Hall seemed to shudder as one. "Don't say that ever again." Her voice was so very small.
"Well, what do you want me to say?" he asked, perplexed. "There are only so many ways I can ask where someone is." But when Ginny only looked sad, he sighed. "Fine, fine," he said with his hands up in defeat. "Can anyone tell me where the Boy-Who-Lived-Twice currently resides?"
"Stop it," snapped Ron.
"That face," said Ron. "Stop smirking. You don't understand what it was like. Ginny asked where Harry was, and I didn't know. Some friend I am. I hadn't even noticed that he'd gone. Of course we all knew what he'd done. And then Voldemort came out saying that Harry was dead, and Harry was lying there at his feet..." There was a distant look in Ron's eyes, and he'd grown oddly pale.
"Harry's okay, Ron," Hermione comforted, quietly. "We just saw him, remember?"
All this talk of Harry's supposed death was beginning to really scare Fred. He was debating on going to go check on Harry himself, to make sure that he really was alive, but there was one rather large problem. "I still don't know where he is," growled Fred in irritation, but no one was listening.
Ron was struggling with Hermione in a quiet argument as she restrained him from sprinting out of the Great Hall. "Maybe I should go check on him, just to be sure–"
"He just went to sleep," said Hermione. "We should leave him be."
"Yeah, but what if he has a nightmare? What if he wakes up and doesn't remember where he is? What if he–" but he stopped abruptly and looked at Hermione in horror. "I know what he's doing! He's brooding! Wallowing in his own guilt, that's what! He's blaming himself for Tonks, Lupin and– and Fred! He doesn't know that Fred's alive! We have to tell him, Hermione! Come on!"
But suddenly a voice broke over the castle, magically magnified. This was all too much. The feeling of Déjà vu was stronger than ever, and all those who were close to Harry momentarily forgot how to breathe. The message this time wasn't that Harry was dead, but for all the fear and horror it caused, it might as well have been.
"You people are really dim, you know that? You'd think you'd be more cautious mere hours after my master was killed. Letting the Boy-Who-Lived make his way through the castle on his own? Really, I thought you all had more sense than that."
Ron was ashen. "No," he muttered in horror. "Please, no."
"Poor Harry looked exhausted," said the Death Eater. "It wasn't hard to take him down. He was practically dead on his feet."
Ron's face morphed into one of fury.
"Don't worry. Your dear Chosen One is still alive. Hey, Potter, anything you want to say to your friends?" There was silence. "What a stubborn savior you all have. I asked you a question, Potter!" There was a thud and a hiss of pain.
A noise that was all too familiar to those who had heard Harry in pain before.
"That bastard," Ron growled. They had won. Voldemort was dead. Harry was supposed to be safe. It was supposed to be over.
There was a low chuckle as the Death Eater began speaking again. "I guess I shouldn't have expected any different. Coherent thought is a bit difficult after the Cruciatus."
Hermione's hand shot to her mouth with a sharp intake of breath.
Ron sank to the floor. He never should have left Harry alone. He never should have let him go to the Gryffindor Tower on his own. He never should have left his side so soon.
"I'd tell you not to bother looking for us, but I know it would be pointless. Happy searching!"
The silence lasted for about a second before the tumult broke around them.