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Chapter 2 : Promises, Promises
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“Jooooooosephine,” Fred whines my name, pleading his case for the thousandth time. “This is absolutely ridiculous.”
He wants me to crack. He wants me to give in and tell him he’s right and that I will finally comply with his request.
But I will not, and he knows this.
I let out a soft sigh, understanding that he is right: this is ridiculous. I am ridiculous. But I also know that I will never be persuaded. (I don’t like to be made a fool of.)
“Jo,” he begins again with humour in his voice, brushing aside my silence, “I know I’ve said this a thousand times before, but... I’m worried about you. I mean, it’s just not healthy harbouring all these feelings for me…” He grins.
I quirk an eyebrow in his direction, my best excuse me? face displayed across my features. He chuckles in low vibrations at the expression, which he’s learned to read so well.
“Kidding, kidding! Put the daggers away,” he chides. “I’ve got to tell you, though, I still don’t understand... Why him when you’ve got all of this in front of you, eh?” Fred asks, gesturing with a flourish to his body and throwing me a cheeky wink; the devil’s grin on his lips. “I mean, I am obviously the better looking twin.”
I give a quiet laugh. Git.
“Must be because I’m taken, yeah? Is Angelina what’s getting in the way? Or perhaps you’re simply bonkers... You know, I probably shouldn’t cross that option off the list just ye- Oi!” he cries out, not quite escaping a Canary Cream to the head.
I meet his glare with doe eyes; the absolute embodiment of innocence.
“You’re so full of it, Jo!” he shakes his head and lets out my favourite laugh in a single booming ‘Ha!’, rubbing the area of impact before tossing the dessert back at me. I dodge it expertly. “You know, what I really don’t understand is how you can be so beyond bloody obsessed with George and only want to be chummy with me! Most people can’t tell us apart when we’re wearing our bleedin’ nametags, but the way you look at us… Blimey, you’d think he was a Witch Weekly model and I was a ruddy house elf! Ha! Perhaps I really should alert St. Mungo’s of you; let them know you’ll be cracking any day now…”
We talk this way; Fred speaking in long run-on sentences that turn into monologues, asking questions that he’ll only end up answering himself. Because he knows that I will not, and yet refuses to deny me the conversation and inclusion. And it strikes me still as funny, even to this day, how we ever got to here; how we found a way to work; how we didn’t even have to try.
We could be our own comic.
Join the ever-sonorous Fred Weasley and his ever-reticent side-kick Jo,
as they take on Love, Laughter, and Social Anxiety.
I smile at the thought until the new tone in Fred’s voice pulls me back.
“Hey Jo,” he says, all playfulness gone, “In all seriousness, I really am worried for you.”
My eyes drop to escape Fred’s surprisingly powerful gaze, choosing instead to linger on my restless hands, which fiddle uselessly with an Extendable Ear. I do my best to maintain a neutral expression.
I don’t have to see his face to know which look he’s giving me now. Brotherly is how it is best described: That brotherly look which makes me feel cared about; that brotherly look that makes me feel like this single person left in my life is enough; that brotherly look that tells me I do still have a family, and it’s in him.
I sigh because I already know he is worried for me. He tells me all the time. I want him not to be; I want him to understand that unrequited love is bearable -- if only just. I want him to accept that as much as I love his twin, I don’t ever want him finding out. I harbour no fairytale hope that one day I will be more than just an employee to George Weasley. Instead, I will continue to love him from afar and be grateful for the opportunity.
But this is the single thing Fred does not understand about me, that I am honestly okay with simply loving George from afar. And so Fred worries.
“So I’ve been thinking…”
I waste no time in deciding that Fred Weasley thinking is never a good sign, and my eyes narrow, returning to his own with scepticism.
“Hey, don’t give me that look; I’m allowed to have a proper think now and again, thank you!” he quips in retort at my uneasy expression, a playful glint returning to his eyes. The corners of my mouth twitch and I can’t suppress the grin that breaks through, no matter how wary of the approaching conversation I am. “So about this thinking of mine… I’ve kept your promises, Josephine.”
As soon as the words are dropped I feel all humour leave me.
This is about George.
“I’m certain you recall a little... agreement we struck back when I first hired you, yeah?” Fred speaks in his most business-like manner, nose upturned as he paces back and forth. “Let’s see if I can remember all of the bullet points, yeah? First, I promised to never say a word to George about your ridiculous obsession with him -- the one exception, of course, being that if he were to flat out ask me if you love him, I would not lie outright to him and be forced instead to answer truthfully.” He ticks each point off on his fingers and ignores my rolling eyes at the word ‘obsession’. “Second, I promised never to instigate a conversation about you, never to bring you up in a conversation, and to pretty much ignore our friendship altogether whenever George is around. And third, I promised that if George ever brought you up himself, I would do my best to steer the conversation away from you and replace it with a new, entirely Jo-free topic. All of that so I could hire you and laugh as you ogle my brother freely each day at work, yeah?”
My eyes narrow. I do not ‘ogle’ him... He’s just very pretty.
Fred looks at me for confirmation on whether his words have summed up our deal to its full extent, and is satisfied with the reluctant nod of my head.
“I don’t enjoy deceiving my brother, Josephine. And while I never lied to him, I have withheld some truths on your account, and that’s not something I take to lightly when it comes to George. I’ve never said a word about your feelings, I’ve never instigated a conversation about you to him, and I always steer the conversation away if he brings you up. So,” he continues, tone lightening significantly, “I think it’s about time you return the favour.”
He gives a small laugh at my new expression, seeming to enjoy the evidence of fear now etched upon my face.
“You see, my love,” he nearly shouts, his boyish charm back in full force, “the New Year approaches and, alas, I have come up with the perfect resolution for you!”
Since when did my resolution fall under his jurisdiction?
“It’s very simple, really. I want you to talk.”
I’m confused. I do talk...
“I do talk…” I say in a small voice that is quick to betray me with a throaty crack. Damn him.
Fred gives me his widest Cheshire grin.
My eyes narrow. Git.
“I want you to talk more, Jo, and to other people than just me… and to George. It’s way past time to make it happen. Okay?”
I take a deep breath and exhale slowly, knowing that Fred is right, though the idea of talking - to George especially - terrifies me. But he is right. My family would be sad to see me so alone without them… So I nod. Yes, fine, you win.
I am surprised when he doesn’t smile wide at me for my acceptance without argument and instead gives me a hopeful look that I know cannot be leading anywhere good. “Great! But, erm, I’ve just got one more small, itsy-bitsy, teeny-tiny little resolution for you…”
“I want you to tell George how you feel before next New Years.”
“Josephine, don’t look so terrified!”
A strangled noise that vaguely resembles that of a drowning cat reaches my ears and I am only half-aware that it is I who created the strange, gurgling sound. I probably would have found the whole ordeal quite comical if it weren't so terribly mortifying.
Fred approaches me slowly, his features rearranging with unknown purpose until the moment they all come together and suddenly - ah! - he’s thrown down the gauntlet by pulling the world’s most unfair card into play... Puppy-Dog Eyes. His hands land on either of my shoulders, wide-set blue eyes looking straight into my own with that dopey expression, his lower lip jutting out in an ever-so-slight pout before whispering, “Please?”
No. No. No, no, no. Say it, Josephine! Say no! No!
Gah! I’m sorry, Fred, but… just...
“No,” I finally manage, resolutely, shaking my head.
“Fine,” he replies shortly, all traces of innocence dissipating with the word. “Well then, I guess it comes down to blackmail.”
My face falls.
“If you don’t tell him, I will. And I know I promised not to say anything, so put your eyes back in your head before they end up on the floor. My dearest Josephine! I will not break my promise to you. I promise to keep that promise -- recognising, of course, the fact that said promise was ‘I will not say anything to George’. But! I never said I wouldn’t... I don’t know… write him your feelings?”
My chest tightens.
“I’m doing this for your own good, Jo! Now, you can either leave it up to me, and I swear that I will not hesitate to do it today if I can help it, to out you for the stalker you are, or…” he says slowly, a stupid smirk on his stupid face on his stupid head, “you can take the next year, plan out how you want to tell him about all the naughty things you want to do to him, and do it on your own terms and in your own time. Provided that that time is before next New Year, of course.”
I should have known he’d do this. Too smart for his own good, that one. (Well, for my own good, at least.)
Caught somewhere between a laugh and a cry, I - once again, and much more reluctantly - give in. If George is going to find out anyway I would much prefer it to be on my terms than on Fred’s, and not dealt with until next year, rather than today. So I nod. Yes, fine, you win again.
Fred lets out a loud whoop! of excitement before throwing his arm around my shoulder and laughing at his successful extortion. I want to punch him.
He turns to look at me, grinning like a fool: “So you promise then?”
I sigh heavily and try to be optimistic at my new circumstance before nodding again and whispering, “Promise.” His grin widens and I suddenly want nothing more than to deflate his stupid big head. I know that if I didn’t love George so much, then Fred’s victory wouldn’t be quite so huge, and he wouldn’t be quite so unbearably smug. So, very quietly, and while trying to convince myself as much as him, I say “Maybe I’ll stop loving him in a year.”
Ha… Who am I kidding?
“Ha! Who are you kidding?”
Fred laughs before mussing up my hair with the hand that isn’t slung over my shoulders. I try to scowl at him, but the corners of my mouth betray me by lifting upward. Why can I never stay upset with him? “You, my dear Josephine, will never stop loving him. Us Weasley twins, well, we’re unforgettable, irreplaceable, and not-stop-loving-able… or something.”
Bloody good-for-nothing git.
His smile remains wide on his face, blue eyes dancing with excitement at the thrill of having backhandedly won. “Just think, Jo: this time next year, it could be me with Angelina, and you with George.”
I quickly find myself daydreaming, lost in that thought, and can’t help but to imagine how incredible that would be. But then the door to the back room of the shop swings open.
I should go.
I cannot stop my eyes from connecting with his, feeling them widen in the frightful manner they always seem to when he’s around. Fred once told me that every time George comes by I look like a frightened dementor caught in Patronus light. I assume the description is accurate enough, though neither of us has ever actually seen a dementor’s face. I can only imagine it mustn’t be a pretty picture; of me or of a dementor.
Far too late and all too soon I break my gaze. Shrugging off Fred’s arm from around my shoulders, I walk quickly from the room without a word. After all, my promised resolution doesn’t start for another thirteen days.
May 8, 1998
I hate this.
Memories of Fred replay continuously through my mind. This particular one is most persistent. I realise now, hiding behind this tree, waiting for the crowd to disperse, with Fred lying in a box only some feet away, that it’s because of the guilt.
I was supposed to talk more, to more than just him; to George. I’d promised... I promised Fred to try and I didn't. I haven't. Not with a stranger, or an acquaintance, or an old roommate, and most certainly not with George…
Was I a bad friend, Fred? I never meant to be. I'm sorry.
Fred Weasley is lying in a box. How’s that for irony? The over-the-top, life-of-the-party, vivacious, prankster-in-chief, loud, hilarious, bordering on obnoxious, rule-breaking, explosive, larger-than-life-itself Fred Weasley… is lying in a small, confined, wooden box.
It doesn’t make any sense.
How could such a big head fit in such a small box?
I almost laugh at the thought, knowing Fred would have appreciated the attempt at some humour -- even at his own expense. But it's a short-lived high.
The longer I remain hidden, the further my thoughts spiral down, until my brain is utterly spinning from searching for logic in this scenario. Eventually I stop trying at all. Finding justifiable reasoning would still leave me without my friend.
My thoughts turn to this tree I’m so artfully stashed behind; how it lacks both emotional and physical comfort. Thankfully it’s not much longer before there are no more voices, no more sobs, nothing but silence.
I can go to Fred now.
My steps are slow and unsure. The heels of my shoes click and clack on the stone path leading to his body, sounding off like tiny bullets in the contrasting quiet. Small voices from within the funeral home grow louder the closer I come to Fred. They are the only other noise to be heard in this place, and I understand that the Weasley’s - or what remains of them - have retired inside for the time being.
And then I arrive at the dark cherry wood coffin. It sends a shiver down my spine; I force myself to breathe. Resting atop it, beside roses and various bouquets, stand three pictures sealed in obsidian frames.
The first photo from the left is of Fred by himself: a picture meant to represent just who it is that rests lifelessly inside the casket. He’s smiling, his eyes alive with laughter and freedom as he puts on a show for the camera, occasionally winking cheekily. I give a small, surprising smile before moving on to the second photo.
This picture shows his family, many of whom I recognise from Hogwarts, though I doubt any of them would remember me. I know each of his sibling’s names and faces, though his family is so large that it’s difficult to distinguish who’s whom among the redheaded collage of relatives. I can recognise his mother and father too, having seen them around the platform during the beginning and end of each school year, and at Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes a few times as well. They seem like lovely parents to have. There are other relatives in the picture that I am unfamiliar with, however: grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and in-laws, I assume. I feel ashamed that a small amount of envy races through my veins at such a large, loving family, when Fred will never experience that again, either. I suppose we have that in common now, too.
I see the third, and final, photo and my heart skips a beat – or perhaps a thousand – as my eyes take in Fred standing next to the person who brought us together in the first place, the reason we bonded and became so close, the one who we both loved above all others: his twin brother and the unrequited love of my life, George Weasley.
It’s almost an involuntary reaction when my hand reaches toward the third picture of the two twins. My fingers lightly trace the frame on the side as if it were so delicate it might shatter with the pressure. I feel the wetness building in my eyes again. I can’t help but stare at the two of them, happy just to be in each other’s presence, tugging on the other’s tie, mussing up one another’s hair, being brothers, twins, and best friends with such ease.
A tear spills from each of my eyes. I cry for both of them. It must not be easy being the one who’s gone, but it cannot be any easier being the one who’s left behind.
My hand finally moves from the frame to rest gently on the casket.
I should say something. But what?
Fred always talked to me. Almost everything he learned of me, of my life, was by his asking questions I could simply nod or shake my head to, as opposed to me speaking of myself, explaining to him who I was. I think he enjoyed figuring me out for himself. He would tell me that I was a mystery to him, caged in by silence, but brought to life by it, too. I never understood why he ever found me interesting,-- I’m too simple to be exciting to someone as full of life as Fred is.
I should say something. But where do I begin?
“Hello, Fred…” I say in a low whisper. An appropriate way to begin, but where to now? I never was any good with words.
“I never was any good with words, Fred. But I’ll try.”
I inhale slowly once more before deciding what I want him to hear -- to know.
“Fred… You kept every promise. You never made me talk. You always let me listen. You were my best friend, and not just because you were my only friend. You loved me… Thank you for that.”
A tear spills over and gravity pulls it to the dirt in a silent splash. I swallow hard before forcing the next words out.
“I love you,” I whisper, and suddenly another wave of intense guilt passes as I realise I should have said that more. “I-I should have said that more, Fred.”
A strangled sob escapes me as fresh tears fall, and the world narrows to a point. It feels stripped of all its joy, of all its wonder, all its colour, and just leaves me here to rot in the remaining black, white, and grey existence. It is only the creaking of the funeral home door that pulls me back to actuality.
I abruptly cut off my sobs with a sharp inhale and turn my head with a snap when I see that it is him.
Hello again, George.
Immediately he spots me, alone with his brother, a hand curled around their photo, tears covering my face, eyes wet and wide and connected with his own.
We are caught in this moment. His expression heart-breakingly miserable, body tense, hands resting in the pockets of his finest black dress robes, eyes tired and heavy with dark circles beneath them -- big and blue and looking less alive than his brothers’.
He is beautiful.
I want to hold him. I want to run away. I want anything but to see him so… broken, helpless, alone.
And suddenly his expression falters. His eyes lighten, his body relaxes, and the look on his face is no longer without hope. It's as if he has breathed in, and in that breath found reason, hope, life.
Perhaps it’s because he sees me and realises that he is not the only person who lost their best friend. Somehow, that thought is comforting to me as well. Until he takes a step forward.
My heart stops, eyes widen, breath hitches. Please don’t. Please stop. He doesn’t understand that if he crosses to me I will no longer be able to breathe, and my lungs already burn enough from Fred.
And then I am saved.
The door swings open again, this time for a shaking Mrs. Weasley.
“George…” she whispers in a strangled voice, which causes George to immediately turn at the desperation the single word holds. And without hesitation, I run.
I could have Apparated back to my house - I could have Apparated anywhere, honestly - but instead I run back to my tree, my refuge.
As soon as I am hidden behind the trunk of the giant oak, I peek my head around just enough so that I can watch George with his mum. They embrace tightly as one of Mrs. Weasley’s hand rubs soothing circles on George’s back, the other stroking his hair. The moment is so bittersweet, and once again I find myself envious. Envious watching a broken child be held in the way only a mother can -- in a way that I have never been.
When did I become so selfish?
This isn’t about you, Josephine. You need to accept that. Fred is gone. This is about anyone who ever knew him. This is not about you.
I continue to watch the tender moment from afar. The two bodies shake slightly, and I know their tears have returned once more. George is crying. Now I am crying. We are all crying.
It isn’t long before they break apart. George gently places an arm over Mrs. Weasley’s shoulders and they turn once again towards Fred. And George looks confused.
As they begin their walk, his eyes trace the now deserted area, and I duck my head back behind the tree as they make their way toward my hiding place. It's only then that I understand it is me who he is searching for.
My heart flutters.
He remembers me.
Soon the sound of footsteps changes from slapping of pavement to swishing of grass as the two make their way toward Fred. And when the sound of soft feet ceases, it's replaced by a fresh sob from Mrs. Weasley.
"Oh, Fred…" she whispers.
George is silent. I am silent. We are silent together.
The refuge I had previously found in this tree has shifted. I am trapped by it now instead. It has betrayed me, forcing me to listen to the sounds of a mother mourning. This was supposed to be my freedom, so how I did I become its prisoner? I don't want to hear this; I don’t want to hear the heartbroken sounds of a mother crying for her child - crying for her child the way a mother never cried for me.
I sound so selfish... What is wrong with me?
This isn't about you, Josephine!
Let her cry.
You are not the only one who lost him…
I… I know.
I look down in shame, but try to block out the sounds of suffering anyway, until the time finally comes for George and his mother to leave once more.
I really must escape now, but there is one last thing to be done.
Quicker than before I approach the casket; just me and my friend again. With one hand back on the coffin, I fix my eyes on the portrait of Fred.
“I miss you, Fred. Everybody misses you. You are missed.”
My voice surprises me with its steady confidence, and before Apparating away, I speak a final time.
“I will keep my promise.”
Author's Note: Thank you for reading. I sincerely hope you're enjoying the story so far. ^.^
A huge thank you has to go out to my brother Nick for helping me with the giant editing overhaul I've been meaning to do with this chapter since about the beginning of time, as well as to 1917farmgirl, who is always there to be an extra set of eyes and to calm the voices in my head that tell me 'it's not good enough -- must keep editing!' She's a huge part of the reason this story ever gets new chapters.
Special thanks as well to theelderwand1 and xtinjsc for pushing me to write this original chapter way back in the day and helping me in moments of desperatation!
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