Chapter 2 : Promises, Promises
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December 18, 1997
“Joooosephine,” 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. You see, 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. It’s just not healthy harbouring all of 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 my 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 there’s me?” Fred says, gesturing with a flourish to his body and throwing me a cheeky wink; the devils grin on his lips. “I mean, I am obviously the better looking twin.”
I give a silent laugh. Git.
“Must be because I’m taken, eh? Is Angelina what’s getting in the way? Or perhaps you’re simply bonkers... You know, I probably shouldn’t cross that option off just ye- Oi!” he cries out, not quite escaping a Canary Cream to the head.
I meet his glare with doe eyes; the very epitome of false 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 sore spot 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 obsessed with George and only want to be chummy with me! I mean most people can’t tell us apart when we’re wearing our bloody nametags, but you’ve put the Wall of China between us… 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 speaks in long run-on sentences that form into monologues, asking questions that he in turn answers for himself, simply so that I can listen and be entertained; not so I am forced to respond. He knows me well enough by now to know that I rarely do. I smile at the knowledge that I finally have a friend who loves and understands me so completely, despite my conversational flaws.
A small silence greets us, but I find that for the first time it is not comfortable, like the ones that tend to take place as a friendship develops. This silence carries with it an undercurrent of meaning, purspose, tension. This silence is loud.
His eyes search my own and I worry what will soon follow.
“Hey Jo,” he repeats, but this time all playfulness has left his tone. “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 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 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 to find 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 to 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, with an upturned nose as he paces back and forth. “Let’s see if I can remember all of the bullet points! Firstly, I promised to never say a word to George about your ridiculous obsession with him, the one exception, of course, being that if he flat out asked if you loved 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 all together 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 topic, entirely Jo-free. All of that so I could hire you and laugh as you ogle my brother freely each day at work, yeah?”
I do not ogle him... he’s just very pretty to look at.
He looks at me for confirmation on whether his words have summed up our deal to its full extent. He is satisfied with the reluctant nod of my head.
Fred takes a step towards me, his expression changing from the goofy businessman to one meant to be taken seriously. He stops when only inches separate us, bending at the knee to meet me at eye level, his blue eyes blazing into my own; and when he speaks again it is slow and deliberate. “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,” his tone lightens significantly as he straightens to his full height once more, “I think it’s about time you return the favour.”
He gives a small laugh at my new expression. My eyes are wide and imploring, my lips dry and parted, my eyebrows raised, and the fear of what he might ask next is evident on 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 does 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, encouraging further the idea that I do indeed speak too rarely. Damn him.
Fred gives me his widest Cheshire grin at the break in my voice.
My eyes narrow. Git.
His smile fades again, slowly this time, and his eyes carry a new weight. “I want you to talk more, Jo, and to other people than just me… and to George. It’s 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 I weren’t so mortified.
Fred approaches me again, his eye’s wide and innocent before pulling the worlds most unfair card to play: puppy dog eyes. His hands land on either of my shoulders, blue eyes looking straight into my own with that dopey-dog expression, his lower lip jutting out in an ever-so-slight pout before whispering “Please?”
I’m sorry Fred. “No.”
“Fine,” he replies shortly, his face losing the innocent pout it had previously acquired and turning into a mischievous smirk instead. Never a good sign. “Well then, I guess it comes down to blackmail, eh?”
“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…”
Leave it to Fred to twist my words to get his way. I could die of horror.
“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, to out you for the stalker that you are, or…” he says slowly, that 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 would have done this. Too smart for his own good… well, for my own good, at least.
I want to cry, but instead I, very reluctantly, give in. If George is going to find out anyway I would much rather it be on my terms than on Fred’s and not dealt with until next year, not today. So, again, I nod. Yes, fine, you win.
Fred lets out a loud ‘Whoop’ of excitement as he throws his arm around my shoulder and laughs at his successful trickery. I want to punch him.
He turns to look at me, grinning like a fool: like a fool I really want to punch. “So you promise then?”
I sigh heavily and try to be optimistic at my new circumstance before I nod again and whisper “Promise.” He grins again and I want nothing more than to deflate his stupid big head. If I didn’t love George so much then Fred’s win wouldn’t be quite so huge and he wouldn’t be quite so smug. So, very quietly, while trying to convince myself as much as him, I say “Maybe I will 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. I resent my inability to stay upset with him. “You, my dearest 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, his blue eyes dancing with excitement at the thrill of having backhandedly won. “Just think Jo, this time next year, it could be you, me, Angelina and George.”
I can’t help but think that that does sound nice, assuming I survive the confession.
The door to the back room of the shop swings open.
I should go.
I cannot help my eyes connecting with his own, widening in the frightful manner they always seem to do when he is around. Fred once told me that every time George comes by I look like a frightened Dementor caught in Patronus light. I imagine he is accurate, though neither of us has ever actually seen a Dementor’s face, I imagine that 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 simultaneously, and 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 and I 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.
I haven't with a stranger, 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 an oxymoron?
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, contained, wooden box.
It doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t even seem quite possible that such a huge personality could fit into such a small rectangular block of wood, only to be buried beneath the earth and never seen again. There is no sense in that.
My brain is spinning from searching for logic in this scenario, so I stop trying to find any at all. Besides, finding justifiable reasoning would still leave me without my friend.
I refocus my thoughts onto how this tree I’m so artfully stashed behind 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, unsure, and my black heels make noise on the stone path that leads to the deserted coffin. I can hear voices from within the funeral home and understand that his family has retired inside for the time being.
I finally reach the box, his body’s home forever more. Resting on top of it, beside roses and various bouquets of flowers, are three pictures concealed in black frames.
The first photo is one of just Fred: a picture meant to represent just who it is that lies lifeless beneath the frame of the tomb. He’s smiling, his eyes are alive with laughter and freedom as he puts on a show for the camera, occasionally winking cheekily. I give a small smile, despite my overwhelming sadness, before moving on to the second photo.
This picture is of his family, many of whom I recognise from Hogwarts, though I doubt any of them would remember me. I was always rather forgettable. I know each of his sibling’s names and faces, though his family is so large that it is difficult to distinguish who’s who amongst the redheaded mirage 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, and I make the assumption that they are his extended family: grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. I feel ashamed that a small amount of jealousy 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.
Lastly, I bring my attention to the third and final photo and my heart involuntarily skips a beat – or perhaps a thousand beats – as my eyes take in Fred standing next to the person who brought us together in the first place, the reason we ever bonded and became so close, the one man 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 is so delicate it would shatter with any more pressure. I feel the wetness behind my eyes again. I can’t help but look at the two of them, happy just to be in each others 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 can I say?
Fred always talked to me. Almost everything he learned about me, about my life, was by his asking questions I could simply nod or shake my head to, as opposed to me simply speaking of myself, explaining to him who I was. I think he enjoyed figuring me out for himself. He always told me that I was a mystery to him, caged in by my own silence, but that I intrigued him further than most anyone. I never understood why he ever found me interesting, for I am too simple to be exciting to someone as full of life as Fred is… was.
I should say something. But how to start?
“Hello, Fred…” I say in a whisper so low that the light breeze may have carried it away before it even reaches Fred’s ears. Somehow, though, I know he has heard me. Those words seemed an appropriate way to begin, but where to now? I never was any good with words.
I take a steadying breath as another rush of emotion passes through me, disabling me from speaking further.
I fight back the sick feeling in my stomach and swallow the dry lump in my throat, forcing myself to continue. I want to talk to Fred, I want to use my words, I want him to know that he is worth my struggling to speak aloud.
“I-I never was any good with words. But Fred... I’ll try.”
I inhale slowly once more before deciding on the words I want him to hear.
“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 ground in a silent splash.
There is one more thing I must say and I pray for the strength to speak it out loud.
“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-”
A strangled sob escapes my lips as fresh tears fall so heavily it's as if the entire world has been stripped of its colour and I am left to live in the remaining black, white and grey existence. But as quickly as the sobbing begins, I force it to end when I hear the creaking of a door from the funeral home.
I inhale sharply and quickly turn my head, not bothering to rub my face free of its wetness, when I see that it is him.
Hello again, George.
He has come out alone. Immediately he spots me, friendless with his lifeless brother’s box, a gloved hand resting on the tomb, tears covering my veiled face, eyes wide and connected with his own.
I cannot breathe.
We are caught in this moment, his expression so heart-breakingly miserable, his body tense, though his hands are resting in the pockets of his black dress robes, his eyes are tired and heavy with dark circles beneath them, his blue irises looking about as alive as his brothers.
He is beautiful.
I want to hold him. I want to run away. I want anything but to see him so… helpless.
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, my eyes widen, my breath hitches. He's coming over to me. 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 breaths are already painful enough from Fred. How could I ever survive with them both so near?
And then I am saved.
The door swings open again, this time breached by a shaking Mrs. Weasley.
“George…” she whispers in a strangled voice, which causes George to turn without hesitation 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.
George’s mother is broken in his arms and he is shattered in her own so that neither notices my escape.
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 and his mother. They are hugging each other so tightly, his mother rubbing soothing circles on George’s beautiful back, the other stroking his hair. The moment is so bittersweet and I once again find myself envious as I watch a broken child being hugged in the way that only a mother can, in a way that I never have been.
When did I become so selfish?
This isn’t about me. I need to accept that.
Fred is gone. This is about anyone who ever knew him. This is not about me.
I continue to watch the tender moment from afar. The two bodies seem to be shaking slightly and I know that 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, this time without me there.
George looks confused.
He trails his eyes around the now deserted area and I duck my head back behind the tree as his eyes make their way to my location. It's only then that I understand that it is me who he is searching for.
My heart flutters. He remembers me.
How surreal that in this moment, at my best friends funeral and the darkest week of my life, I suddenly feel light as air.
George remembers me.
Thankfully he doesn’t see me behind this tree… but now what?
I hear the sound of footsteps changing from the slapping on pavement to the swishing of grass as the mother and son make their way to Fred. And when the sound of soft feet cease, it's replaced by a fresh sob from Mrs. Weasley.
"F-F-Fred…" It's barely a whisper, and yet the hauntingly empty cry still seems to pierce my ears, as if screamed directly into my soul. She sounds so hopeless, so helpless, so… sad.
George is silent. I am silent. We are silent together.
The refuge I had previously found in this tree has shifted. I am now trapped by it instead. It has betrayed me. This was supposed to be my freedom, and now I am walled in, unable to move, unable to leave. 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 stop watching, knowing how unhealthy it is to stare longingly at things that will never be mine. I simply wait. I wait as time slowly ticks by, until both George and his mother very painfully walk away once more.
I’m ready to go home now, but there is one more thing I must do.
Quicker than before I approach the casket, alone with Fred again. With one hand on the tomb I fix my eyes on the portrait of Fred.
“I will keep my promise.”
My voice surprises me with its steady confidence, and before Apparating away, I speak one last time.
“I miss you, Fred. We all miss you.”
Don't be shy! Please review! :-)
*special thanks to 1917farmgirl, theelderwand1 and xtinjsc for pushing me to write this chapter and helping me in moments of desperatation! And also to everyone who pointed out that it's 'doe eyes', not 'dough eyes'! *dies a million times* ^.^
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