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Chapter 1: Better Than Any Joke
“Jo! You have to come right now, it’s priceless!” I glance up from my Potions text to see the beaming face of Fred Weasley, my best friend in the whole world. “Come on Jo!” He adds, grabbing my arm and tugging not-so-gently.
“I’m studying Fred,” I say calmly, waving my free arm across the mess of books, parchment and quills in front of me. “You might want to give it a go sometime.”
“Oh don’t be silly, you can study anytime. This is the opportunity of a lifetime!” I sigh at Fred and shake my head. This is not an unusual occurrence; I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been dragged away from homework for a prank or joke of some kind. Not that I mind, really. After all, Fred and I are best friends for a reason, and it’s not just because I make sure he passes every class. “Do it for me?” He adds in a softer voice, the one he knows will get me every time.
“You owe me,” I grumble as I let him pull me to my feet. “If I fail Potions –”
“Oh don’t be daft, I wouldn’t let you fail a class,” Fred smirks. “If you fail, then who’s going to write my essays for me?”
“It would serve you right to have to get through school work on your own,” I retort. It’s a common argument between us, but despite all my threats to leave him to his own academic devices, Fred knows that I would never let him fail, especially not when there’s only half of our seventh year left to go.
He doesn’t let go of my arm until we’re in the corridor outside the Gryffindor common room. He pulls out a piece of folded parchment I recognise all too well. He taps it with his wand, muttering the familiar words,
“I solemnly swear I am up to no good.”
“You stole the map from James again?” I ask. “Fred, he is going to kill you when he finds out, you know how he gets when people touch his things.”
“Like I’m scared of my titchy little fifth-year cousin,” Fred snorts. “Anyway, this time he gave it to me of his own accord.”
“Yeah right,” I laugh incredulously as Fred turns and begins making his way down the corridor. “And why would he do that?”
“It’s for a good cause,” Fred says over his shoulder as I hurry to catch up with him. “I appealed to his better nature.”
“Sure you did,” I mutter, though I can’t hide the amusement in my voice. Fred obviously hears it too because he looks down at me when I draw level and gives me one of his trademark cheeky smiles. “It’s getting late,” I observe as we turn a corner and continue moving down the dark corridor. Fred’s wand tip is lit, even though there are still a few lit candles in the brackets along the walls.
“Glad to see you finally mastered telling the time,” Fred teases and I punch him in the arm for good measure. He doesn’t even flinch, Stupid beater’s muscles. “I’m aware that it’s late genius, hence the map.”
“Well can you at least tell me where we’re going or what we’re doing?” I ask.
“You’ll see,” Fred replies glibly, glancing down at the map and ignoring the grumpy huff I give him in response. “Hold it!” His voice comes out in a whisper and his arm flies across my path, pushing me back against the wall in one rapid and fluid move.
My body turns to stone and I barely breathe; this is not the first time I’ve been out of the common room after hours and I know how to get around without getting caught. Most of it I learnt from Fred, his father and uncle are legendary around Hogwarts for being the best pranksters the school had seen in many years. My parents still talk about the day the Weasley twins departed the school in a blaze of fireworks, a portable swamp left in their wake.
That being said, I like to think my own instincts do me credit in situations like this; after all, I certainly wasn’t a stranger to practical jokes when I met Fred in our first year. Though she’d never admit it for fear of hurting me, I think Mum was quite glad to send me off to Hogwarts because it meant I wouldn’t be playing jokes on my younger siblings and destroying the playroom or her kitchen anymore.
Fred carefully holds the map up and I can see our corridor straight away, two little dots with the names Fred Weasley and Josephine McPhee side by side. Further along, I can see where our corridor meets another and moving down that hallway is another dot, the name Argus Filch trailing along behind it.
“Nox,” Fred whispers and the light of his wand goes out. We wait in silence, backs against the wall, Fred’s arm still pressed against my torso. There’s nowhere to hide; if Filch turns down our corridor, he’ll spot us straight away. There’s still enough light that I can make out the outline of Fred’s body next to mine, so there will be more than enough light for us to be spotted. Not that it would be our first time to be busted by the ancient caretaker – Fred and I became friends in detention after all – but I know how much Fred hates to lose a pranking opportunity. And if truth be told, I’m kind of excited about whatever he has planned now; I might be the ‘sensible one’, but I am just as much of a daredevil as the tall boy next to me.
Fred lets out a breath and I look down at the map where I can just see that Filch’s dot has passed our corridor. We wait another moment to make sure the coast is clear, and then Fred grabs my hand and the two of us are off; running, darting through the shadows as we try to hold in our laughter. This is why we’re best friends, why we make such a great team; the adrenaline addiction, the sense of adventure, the need to laugh at everything because the entire world is so ridiculous.
If my parents had hoped that going away to school would mellow me out a bit, they were sorely disappointed, because when I had discovered Fred, it was like I’d found the other half of myself. Even at eleven years old I realised how brilliant it was to find someone who understands the way my mind works, who was just as sneaky and daring as I was and would do anything for the chance at a good laugh.
It helps that Fred’s dad owns a joke shop and we have pretty direct access to almost anything we need, but my strength in Charms and Fred’s talent for Transfiguration spells took our mischief-making from a slight annoyance to a school-wide phenomenon. Even Peeves listens to us! Well ok, he listens to Fred – sometimes, but we both know enough now to get him off our backs if he ever becomes too much of an annoyance. Not to mention the fact that Peeves loves chaos so he never snitches on us.
“The astronomy tower?” I ask curiously as Fred pulls me up a rather steep, spiral staircase.
“Yup,” Fred sounds positively gleeful as we climb higher and I am reminded why I dropped astronomy after fifth year.
“You going to tell me what this is about?” I gasp, feeling slightly out of breath now. Fred often forgets how unfit I am, unlike him I am not at all athletic and I’m a good five inches shorter than he is too so my short legs always have to work extra-hard to keep up with him.
“All will be revealed very soon,” He looks over his shoulder and smiles at me, the moonlight cast through a nearby window crossing his face and making his deep brown eyes sparkle for a moment. I can’t help but grin back, although I wish he would tell me what’s going on and what sort of perfect pranking opportunity there could possibly be at 10pm on a Thursday night in the Astronomy tower.
We finally reach the top of the stairs and Fred drags me through the doorway to the small tower classroom, closing and locking the door quietly behind us. He might be completely mad, but Fred is a master at not getting caught. Before I can say anything else, he leads me out to the open space around the top of the tower, where we used to stand with our telescopes on freezing nights and chart the stars during Astronomy lessons. Those stars are the first thing I notice when we step out into the cool night air, although I don’t remember them being quite so bright before.
“It’s beautiful,” I murmur to myself, before remembering my curiosity. I turn to Fred, who has dropped my hand so he can tuck his wand and the map into his pocket. “So what are we doing here?” I ask. “What did you have planned?” Fred looks down at me and for a brief second I think he almost looks nervous, but that can’t be right. I’ve never seen Fred nervous; well, except when he wants to ask a girl out.
“This,” he says and steps towards me. I watch him curiously and then, suddenly, he places a hand against my cheek, lowers his head and presses his lips against mine.
It takes me a few seconds to register what’s happening but when I do, I gasp and step back in surprise. Fred’s hand falls back to his side.
“What the hell was that?” I exclaim. My heart is racing and my mind is frantically trying to work out what sort of prank would involve Fred kissing me.
“Well I know you haven’t had that many boyfriends Josephine, but I would have thought you’d recognise a kiss when a boy gives you one,” Fred sounds as though he’s trying very hard to keep the usual light, joking tone in his voice, but there’s a tenseness there that I can’t miss.
“I realise what you were trying to do Frederick,” I say. “What I don’t understand is why you were doing it.”
“Well that’s even easier,” Fred smirks at me and I suddenly feel a bit nervous about the way he’s looking at me, I don’t like it when I’m not in on the joke. “Why does a guy usually kiss a girl?”
I stare at him as though he’s just asked me the trickiest brain teaser in human knowledge. I know the obvious answer, of course, but that couldn’t be why he’d dragged me up here – could it?
“I…I don’t understand,” I finally admit, annoyance now joining the nerves that reside inside me. I usually don’t mind being the butt of one of Fred’s jokes, but then again they’re usually harmless and I can see them coming. I feel like any second a bucket of bubotuber puss is going to fall on my head or I’m going to slip and land face first in a pile of mooncalf dung, and I don’t like that feeling at all.
“And you’re supposed to be the smart one,” Fred laughs, although he stops when he realises I’m not joining in. “Think about it Jo,” He says, stepping towards me. I am about to step back and keep the distance between us, but I realise that may be just what he wants. That pile of mooncalf dung could be right behind me. “Why does a guy usually kiss a girl?”
Once again, the obvious answer comes to me, the conclusion Fred is expecting me to draw. I narrow my eyes suspiciously at him and plant my hands on my hips.
“Sure Fred,” I say. “You fancy me do you? Thought the starlight might put me in the mood?” The annoyance is dominating my emotions now. “What are you planning, huh?”
“Jo…I…” Fred looks surprised at my question; feigns surprise, more like it.
“Oh come off it Weasley. You said it yourself, I’m the ‘smart one’. Frankly I’m a little offended that you’re trying to prank me. I’m not good enough now, you’re teaming up with James are you?” I’m downright grumpy now at the thought of him just dumping me, his best friend and pranking partner of nearly seven years, for his brat of a cousin.
“Merlin you’re dense,” Fred shakes his head at me, the small smile creeping back on to his face. “You think I’m trying to prank you?”
“Well why else would you drag me up here and try to kiss me?” I retort.
“Oh I don’t know, maybe because I fancy you!” Fred’s words leave me speechless and my hands drop limply back to my sides. Sure, that’s what he wanted me to think, but I didn’t actually believe he’d go so far as saying those words, just to play a joke on me.
“No you don’t,” I reply, although I can hear the tone of confusion seeping into my voice.
“Yeah, I do,” Fred takes another step closer and now there are only inches between us. I have to look up to meet his eyes and I try not to get distracted by the reflection of the stars in them or the perfect shade of his caramel coloured skin or his mess of dark brown hair that he’s always too busy to comb. I shake my head to expel these thoughts. What is wrong with me? This is Fred Weasley, my best mate, not some cute boy I’m on a date with!
“But…we’re just friends,” I hear myself say.
“Exactly,” Fred replies, and he’s close enough that I can feel his breath on my forehead. “Best friends, in fact. Who else was I going to fall for?”
“Fall for…?” My brain is starting to feel a little bit fuzzy now, Fred is too close and my heart is beating too quickly.
“You know me better than anyone Jo,” He says, lifting a hand to my face. My skin tingles as he runs his fingers along my cheekbone. My heart is hammering in my chest now and I can’t tear my eyes from his face. “You understand me like no-one else can, you know what I’m thinking before I even think it.”
I try to take a deep breath; I can barely comprehend what Fred is saying let alone understand what I’m feeling myself. I suddenly find myself wondering what it would feel like if he kissed me again.
“You never question me when I come up with some stupid idea, in fact you’re the one next to me chucking dung bombs at first years or booby-trapping the suits of armour on the fourth floor,” Fred smiles and I can’t help but let out a small, nervous giggle at the memory. What is he saying? Could Fred be serious, does he really fancy me?
All of the other things he’s saying are true. We’ve been best friends forever; two halves of a whole, two peas in a pod, twins born to different mothers. He’s the person in whom I confide everything, the one I send owls to every second day in the summer holidays and the one friend who always makes me laugh. He sneaks me chocolate when I’m sad and distracts Madam Pomfrey when I need to sneak an overdue book back on to the library shelves without getting caught.
Fred’s hand is still raised, and he catches a piece of my blonde hair between his fingers, twisting it gently. His focus drops to the strands for a moment and he smiles.
“I’ve always loved your hair, it’s so bloody blonde! The first time I saw you I thought you were going to be this prissy little princess who couldn’t recognise a joke if it cartwheeled naked down the great hall shooting fireworks out of it’s you-know-what!”
I laugh again at this is and his eyes flick back to mine, the serious expression once more on his face.
“Boy was I wrong,” He says, his voice quiet but confident. He tangles his hand into the rest of my hair, resting it against the back of my neck. “James gave me the map because I told him I wanted to bring you up here and tell you how I feel,” He whispers.
My breath is shallow as he lowers his head until our foreheads are almost touching. We’ve been this close before; we’ve hidden in many a tiny space: cupboards, under beds – once even in my school trunk – all in the name of a good joke; but it has never felt like this before. My skin is burning where it meets his and my legs are beginning to shake.
I try to speak, but words don’t come; I simply open and close my mouth like a demented goldfish. Fred gives me another smile and my stomach seems to drop down to my knees, my breath catching in my throat. I’m terrified and excited at the same time and all I can think is that I hadn’t thought anything would give me more of an adrenaline rush than the Valentine’s Day we’d broken in to the Slytherin common room and changed the colours of the entire place to neon pink, red and white. We’d been caught by a Slytherin prefect and I’d been sure I was going to get hexed to kingdom come until Fred dropped a heart-shaped chandelier on the boy’s head and we’d run all the way to the seventh floor without stopping.
That day I’d thought my heart was going to explode out of my chest from the excitement and terror of the near-miss, but it didn’t come close to what I was feeling right now.
“Ok,” I hear myself whisper, and Fred’s eyes widen in surprise and then delight before he begins to close the tiny gap between our faces. “If this is a joke I am going to destroy you,” I add and Fred chuckles.
“Oh believe me, this is better than any joke,” He says and then he kisses me, softly yet urgently, as though he’s been waiting to do this his whole life. And as I kiss him back, my arms wrapping around him and pulling him closer, I realise that Fred was right.
This is much better than any joke.
AN: Hello! I'm not usually one to write one-shots, I prefer to terrorise my readers with novels that I take forever to finish :P However, this little gem popped in to my head this afternoon (I actually have plans to write Fred II/OC novel one day) and I just had to write it down. It's completely fluffy and silly but it was a bit of fun :) I hoped you like it, and I'd love to hear your thoughts since I'm not very confident at one-shots, so please review!