Disclaimer: Thanks to J.K.Rowling for creating Harry Potter and his world and letting people play in it. And thanks to Gabriella Du Sult for inspiring me with George/Padma and to St Margarets for Jack Jordan and other next generation inspiration.
Ben searched for the key to his flat, hardly knowing why he bothered. The TV was on and he could hear the unmistakable sound of his brother’s laughter inside.
‘Hi.’ He leaned against the doorway into the sitting room, surveying the chaos of empty cans and takeaway cartons. Bert had evidently been making himself feel at home. ‘Anything good on?’
Bert passed him a can of lager and pushed a pile of newspapers onto the floor so Ben could sit down. ‘Nah. Just some old film.’
Ben opened his beer and took a long swig. ‘Mum know you’re okay?
Bert rolled his eyes. ‘Left a message at the shop. I’ll go and see her tomorrow.’
They watched the flickering screen in silence for a while. Ben found some cold chow mein and pulled out a crusty pair of chopsticks from the mess.
Eventually he asked, ‘Are you going to tell me what happened?’
‘Git,’ replied Ben mildly.
Bert turned his head against the sofa and eyed his brother mockingly. ‘Don’t tell me you were worried.’
There was a moment’s silence then twin fell on twin, wrestling each other to the floor in a great release of tension and affection. At times like this it didn’t matter that they were wizard and Squib, Auror and accountant, rebel and reactionary. They were only Bert and Ben, friends and rivals, brothers, just as they had always been.
Bert landed on top of his brother. Ben struggled, twisting his shoulder up into Bert’s chest and shoving hard.
‘Ow!’ Bert winced and pulled away, breathing hard.
Ben looked at him in some concern. ‘You all right there?’
Bert gave him a withering look. ‘Just fine.’
‘Let me see.’
‘It’s fine,’ snapped Bert. ‘Just leave it, all right.’ Ben gave him a measuring look but merely extended a hand to help his brother to his feet.
‘I have some painkillers in the bathroom if you want.’
Bert slumped in the sofa and gave the smallest shake of the head.
‘Be like that then. Here.’ Ben threw a blanket across the room. ‘Sleep well.’
There was the unmistakable smell of bacon frying when Ben woke the next morning. Bacon and coffee: the two wonders of the morning world. He padded into the kitchen to find his mirror image clad in T-shirt and boxers and grinning hideously.
‘Feeling better, then?’ grunted Ben. He watched as Bert, quite at home in the tiny kitchen, found plates, bread and tomato sauce.
‘Here.’ He handed Ben a huge mug of steaming coffee.
‘So what’s up?’
Ben emerged from his caffeine fix. ‘Sorry?’
Bert flipped the bacon expertly. ‘Something’s up, isn’t it?’
‘Apart from thinking you were lying somewhere in a ditch for the last week, you mean?’ replied Ben, acidly.
Bert ignored him. ‘Is it a girl?’
Sometimes Ben hated being a twin. ‘No.’
‘Who is she?’
‘I said no.’
‘Doesn’t she like you?’ Bert waggled his eyebrows, looking uncannily like his father.
‘Don’t you ever take a hint?’
‘Have you asked her?’
Ben let out a long sigh. ‘It’s not that simple, okay?’
Bert pulled out a chair and tucked it under him so he could lean his chin on the back and grin at his brother. ‘Tell me all about it then.’
Ben looked into the face that was more familiar than his own and knew that he couldn’t do it. Not just because it would hurt his brother but because he couldn’t bear to lose this. Them. The bond. He smiled unconsciously.
‘What are you up to today?’
Bert raised his eyebrows. ‘What did you have in mind?’
‘Take me flying.’
The world flew underneath them. First the familiar landscapes of the Scottish countryside around Hogsmeade. Then they headed further north, carefully avoiding any built up areas. It was cold, up on the broom, but Ben flung his head back in the strong wind and let it blow everything out of his head.
‘Wooowww!’ he yelled, loving that no-one could hear him.
Bert shouted something too, but Ben couldn’t make it out.
Suddenly they dived. Ben hung on tight and let his stomach catch up. His eyes followed where Bert was pointing out in the sea. A dark, shiny triangle emerging from the steely grey waves. Then a bump of a body, sleek and elegant. Then there were two of them… three… Ben counted five in all. Orcas. Killer whales, hunting for seal cubs on the shores of the North Sea.
They dawdled for a while, watching the sea birds circling and diving, before heading back inland.
‘Hungry?’ shouted Bert.
‘Yes!’ called Ben, realising that he was ravenous.
‘I’ll look for somewhere to land.’
He spotted a small, clear stream bubbling next to a vivid green sward and expertly brought the broom down to ground.
Ben rolled onto his back and looked up at the sky. ‘We should do this more often.’
Bert threw him the pack of sandwiches they’d cadged off their mother in exchange for promises that they’d be home for dinner. ‘I get to do enough in my day job.’ He went to drink from the brook.
‘Laura missed you last week.’
‘Huh?’ They’d flown a few miles south and were now skimming stones across a shimmering loch. ‘Seven,’ counted Bert smugly.
‘Bet I can do ten.’ Ben started looking for the perfect missile.
‘What about Laura?’
‘It was her birthday,’ said Ben. ‘She wanted you to be at her party.’
‘Obviously. Here.’ Ben pulled back his arm and expertly flicked his wrist. ‘Nine. Oh, well.’
‘Couldn’t have got back even if I had remembered. I’ll pick up something for her in Diagon Alley next week.’
‘Don’t get her a book,’ advised Ben, ruefully remembering the stunned reception his gift had received.
‘A book? For Laura? What would she do with a book?’ Bert regarded his brother in scornful amazement. ‘You really are dim sometimes. How was the party?’
‘Fine.’ Ben started to walk back to where they’d left the broom and their jackets.
‘She was there, wasn’t she?’
‘The girl. Is she a witch? Is that what you’re worried about?’
Ben turned, his eyes flashing with uncharacteristic rage. ‘Will you just LEAVE IT ALONE?’ he yelled.
Bert nodded slowly, wondering what on earth this girl had said or done to make his usually calm and placid twin so furious. Whatever it was, he was determined to find out. He’d do anything for Ben. It was the unspoken rule in the family that everyone looked after Ben. It always had been, ever since his parents found out. Even now, as adults, Bert couldn’t bear to see his brother hurt and do nothing.
They flew back in silence, each concerned with the secrets they were hiding and the secrets that were being hidden from them. It was a new sensation. They’d always casually assumed that they were entitled to know each other’s lives as well as they knew their own. Even when Bert had gone to Hogwarts and Ben had gone to stay with the Grangers so he could go to Muggle school, they’d never lost the habit of telling each other stuff. Ben wrote Bert long letters, telling him everything about his new Muggle life. If he took the trouble to think about it, Bert could have named every one of Ben’s teachers, his lessons, his friends. He even knew the rules of football and cricket, having sat through Ben’s enthusiastic and detailed explanations year after year.
Bert wasn’t such a good correspondent, but Ben was expert in decoding the brief missives his twin sent. Besides, he already knew what Hogwarts was like. Amy and Annette chattered freely about their school lives and if there was anything else Ben wanted to know, Professor McGonagall would tell him.
It was Aunt Minerva who’d confirmed that Ben was a Squib. The others had all shown magical abilities whilst they were still toddlers. Padma and George thought he might be just a late developer, but they were concerned enough to ask his godmother to see if they could be certain either way.
She’d come round one afternoon when Bert had been dispatched to Granny’s house. Ben wasn’t too pleased about this arrangement. Granny Weasley had promised to let them help make a cake next time they went and now Bert would have all the scraping of the bowl to himself. Still, Mum and Dad had insisted, so he was playing sulkily with his toy broomstick, complaining that it was no fun on his own, when Aunt Minerva arrived.
Secretly, Ben was a little afraid of his godmother, but she often brought interesting presents and sometimes she told him things that adults normally didn’t. Today she’d brought a special thing for him to see.
‘Not a present,’ she said firmly. ‘I’m taking it home with me. You can play with it now.’
It didn’t look very special, thought Ben. Just a glass ball.
‘Be careful,’ warned Mum. ‘Don’t break Aunt Minerva’s special ball.’
Ben didn’t think much of toys you had to be careful with but Dad was giving him that look that said be polite, so he said ‘Thank you very much.’ and took the ball from Aunt Minerva.
It was heavier than he’d expected and he nearly dropped it when she handed it to him. He could see right through the ball but everything looked tiny and… Ben laughed… it was upside down. Dad looked like he was stuck to the ceiling and his head was all stretched and funny. There was Mum with her mouth open and her teeth bigger than her head. He turned to look at Aunt Minerva. Her pointy hat was like a knife, all thin and sharp. Ben put the ball down. All the grown ups were looking at him. Mum was doing that thing with her hands but then Dad reached over and put his hand on top of them, holding them still.
Aunt Minerva asked him what he’d seen in the ball. Ben tried to tell them, but they didn’t seem to think it was funny. Dad winked at him and told him to come and sit on his knee. Then Dad picked up the ball and held it carefully. He told Ben to watch what he did. Dad held the ball in one hand and looked at it hard. After a moment it began to shine with a blue light. That’s all you have to do, son. Hold it in your hands, carefully, like that. Now look at it hard and imagine it shining any colour you want. Can you imagine that? Ben imagined it bright red, like the balls Mum had put on their Christmas tree. After a few minutes Dad took the ball away again. He saw Aunt Minerva shake her head and Mum squeezed her eyes together like she was hurting.
Mum went to get some biscuits and tea for the grown ups and handed Ben a cup of milk. She kissed him and he squirmed. He liked Mum to kiss him really, but he also liked to be tickled and sometimes if he squirmed then she would tickle him too. This time she didn’t. Ben drank his milk and wondered what would happen next. Nobody seemed to be talking and none of them were smiling except Dad who came to sit on the floor beside him and tweaked his nose. Then Aunt Minerva stood up and picked up her ball. She said ‘Goodbye,’ to Ben who, mindful of his father’s gaze, stood up and said ‘Thank you for coming and letting me see your special ball.’ Aunt Minerva gave him a funny look and went away.
Then Dad gave him a big hug and pretended to be a big lion, roaring over him and pinning him to the floor. Ben liked this game and struggled, giggling, so that he could get out and climb onto his father’s back.
‘Charge!’ he shouted and his mount surged forward, attacking Mum who’d just come back into the room. She was satisfactorily caught and Ben and the lion fell on her ferociously.
It was a good game. At the end of it, Mum suddenly reached out and pulled him into a big hug. Then Dad put his arms round both of them and said, ‘It’s going to be just fine. We’re going to be fine.’
Ben didn’t understand why he said that until much later. Aunt Minerva started coming round every week after that. She explained to him over the next few months that he was different from his brothers and sisters. That he’d never be able to do magic. Ben didn’t really understand what that meant. Everyone could do magic. That was how you did things. That was why children had to have parents to do things for them, because they couldn’t do magic yet. But Aunt Minerva said no. Some people couldn’t ever do magic. Lots of people, in fact. They were called Muggles and they lived all over the world and did all sorts of amazing things without magic. Aunt Minerva brought him pictures of some of the things Muggles had done and later, when he’d learned to read, she brought him books which explained what it was like being a Muggle.
When Ben read these books, Bert always wanted to read them too. He’d ask Ben questions about being a Muggle. Sometimes Ben remembered what Aunt Minerva had said but mostly he didn’t know the answers. Occasionally he tried making something up but Bert could always tell straight away. Then they’d both try to imagine what Muggle life was like.
‘I reckon they never go out much,’ said Bert. ‘They can’t Apparate, can they? Or Floo?’
‘But what about those car things in that book?’ said Ben. ‘How far do you reckon they go?’
‘What do you think makes them work?’ asked Bert.
‘Dunno,’ said Ben, ‘but one day I’ll find out.’
One time, Ben had asked his godmother what it was like being a Muggle at Hogwarts.
Aunt Minerva looked a bit sad but said with her normal voice, ‘There aren’t any Muggles at Hogwarts, Ben. It’s only a school for witches and wizards.’
Ben stared at her.
Aunt Minerva carried on. ‘When you’re eleven you’re going to go to a Muggle school. It’ll be fun. You’ll learn all sorts of wonderful things that no-one else in your family knows about. You’ll be able to tell them all about your special life.’
‘But what about Bert?’ thought Ben. He couldn’t imagine not sharing a room with Bert and if Bert was at Hogwarts… couldn’t he just sleep at Hogwarts and go to lessons somewhere else?
Aunt Minerva shook her head when he suggested this. He would have to go to the Muggle school, she said in that voice that meant no arguments, and Bert would have to go to Hogwarts and they would have to be very grown up about it because it was for the best.
Some time after this, Aunt Hermione had come round. Aunt Hermione was the twins’ least favourite aunt because she only ever brought them books and thought that they should sit and read quietly instead of playing properly. This time, Aunt Hermione brought two people with her. She told Ben that they were her parents and that they were called Derek and Janet.
‘They’re Muggles, Ben,’ she said.
Ben had never met any other Muggles so he looked at them curiously.
‘That’s right,’ they said. ‘We’re Muggles but our daughter is a witch, just like your parents are magical but you’re not.’
Aunt Hermione said that her parents would like Ben to stay with them while he went to Muggle school.
‘You can come home at weekends if you like,’ said Janet.
‘Would you like to see where we live?’ asked Derek. ‘We could show you the school and you could see what it’s going to be like.’
Mum said that would be a good idea and she took Ben to the Grangers’ house the following week.
It was very clean and quiet. There were no toys anywhere and there were books in every room. The garden was very small; you couldn’t play Quidditch in it. Ben looked at the room he would have to sleep in. It was painted some boring pale yellowy colour and there was only one bed in it. Janet said that when he came to stay he could choose what colour he’d like the walls to be painted and they could put pictures and things up to make it look more like Ben’s room.
They went to the school. The headmaster was a jolly man who smiled at Ben’s Mum and shook Derek’s and Janet’s hands. He winked at Ben and asked what things he liked doing. Mum looked worried but Ben remembered what Aunt Minerva had said about not telling Muggles about wizard things. Football, he said. And sums.
‘Jolly good,’ said the headmaster. ‘You can do lots of sums and football here and all sorts of other things I’m sure you’ll enjoy.’
Ben nodded politely and surreptitiously took hold of his mother’s hand.
Mum cried when Ben left to go the Grangers’ house. She’d cried when Amy and Annette first went to Hogwarts so Ben wasn’t too worried. Bert didn’t cry but for about a week before he’d hardly said anything at all. He just followed Ben around and looked cross. When Ben said goodbye, Bert nodded and then turned and ran back into the house. Ben knew exactly how he was feeling.
‘You’ll be back before you know it,’ said Dad, trying to sound cheerful.
‘Yes,’ said Ben. Every weekend. Not like Bert.
Ben knew when Bert had his first kiss. He knew when, nearly a year later, he had his first girlfriend. When he was made Quidditch captain. And when he let in the goal that gave Ravenclaw the cup. Ben knew that Bert was upset that their cousin Jamie was made prefect instead of him. He knew that Professor Snape gave him unfair detentions but Bert did them because he didn’t want Professor McGonagall to look like she was favouring him by letting him off.
Ben was the only one who knew when Bert decided he wanted to become an Auror. Bert’s grades weren’t really good enough so he’d had to work extra hard all through his seventh year. Aunt Minerva had given him extra tuition in the holidays. Ben knew exactly how Bert felt about all this and how he felt when he was accepted into the training programme: elated and apprehensive and sorry that Mum was so worried and proud to be able to do something that really mattered even if there wasn’t a war on any more.
Yet for all that, he still didn’t know what had kept his twin away for the last ten days. He hadn’t found out what had caused that wound across Bert’s chest that was still giving him grief. Worst of all, he couldn’t tell Bert that he’d fallen in love with his girlfriend.
‘Damn,’ he said softly.
‘What?’ Bert called back.
‘Nothing,’ Ben lied. Since when had he fallen in love with Zoe? She annoyed him, irritated him, made him laugh despite himself, but surely he didn’t love her. She was pretty damn gorgeous with those expressive brown eyes and curling dark hair and those lips would be heaven to kiss. Get a grip, Weasley. Those lips are reserved for your brother. Start thinking about something else.
‘Mum say what she was making for dinner?’
‘Smells like shepherds pie,’ pronounced Bert, bringing the broom down in the back garden.
‘I’m starving,’ said Ben, hitting his twin on the shoulder in thanks for the ride.