Chapter 3 : Nice to Meet You
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It is vaguely stalkerish what I am doing here, although perhaps not quite so... vaguely.
I could still leave if I wanted; disappear out the front door, unseen by either, before my name is inevitably called. They would move on swiftly enough in my absence.
Do I want that?
My fingers fiddle nervously with the worn scrap of torn newspaper in my hand; an article featured in the Daily Prophet just over a week ago, now. Casting my eyes downward in indecision, I turn the clip over in my hand and, in a desperate search for guidance, reread it for the hundredth time.
I close my eyes in defeat.
Is it really possible that I have become so dependent upon the idea of George Weasley living in the periphery of my life that I have truly convinced myself that I might somehow fit in here? That I could somehow miraculously pull this off? To the very core of my being, I am nothing less than a laughably unsuitable match for a joke shop.
I should go. I would go, except... it has been so long.
Over two months have gone by since I last saw them; since I last saw him. They had left so abruptly from school back in April, with the dramatic flourish capable only by the two of them, that I had not had any time at all to prepare for their departure. So much of me had been wrapped up in George Weasley for so long that when they left without warning, it was as if an immeasurable part of who I was had been ripped away, without any hope of returning. I couldn't concentrate on anything but the loss, irrationally consumed by it. My already poor grades fell further, my imagination grew restless and dull, and my heart grew far heavier than it had been in years; since I had first begun this charade. As hopelessly pathetic as it all was, watching him from afar had been my favourite past time, and without him... It had been so lonely.
It has been so lonely.
And so here I am. Caught in between the chance to implement myself once again into the background of his life, or make the decision to walk away and remain in a world far too separate from his own.
I sigh softer than a whisper, slowly opening my eyes. Of course I know the answer, however weary the attempt to attain it may be.
Before I can once again go over my plan for the day, however, a voice cuts suddenly through my thoughts.
"Josephine Adaire?" it asks.
My name rings out with so much enthusiasm that I almost do not recognize it. Startled by his sudden appearance, I can't help but wonder how someone as wholly loud as Fred Weasley could have crept back into the waiting room so perfectly undetected.
Of course, it's not something that should matter at this particular moment, as he waits expectantly across the room of interviewees, looking for someone to acknowledge themselves as the person attached to the aforementioned name.
I stand after briefly checking the surrounding area for any accidentally misplaced odds and ends, careful not to leave anything behind and be caught even more unprepared once inside his office. As I cross the waiting room, I glance up to look Fred in the eye and smile politely at him. My stomach does the smallest of flips as I take in his appearance. So many days have gone by since last seeing either twin that I am rusty at my ability to quickly tell them apart; the small differences no longer perfectly defined as they were back when I saw them every day. However, while my eyes may have been ever so slightly fooled, my heart knows for certain that this is Fred, and so I say to him, "Hello."
Too quiet, Josephine.
I scold myself internally before trying again, this time with a bit more confidence. "Hello."
"Hello there, Josephine!" he practically yells. I flinch slightly at the sheer volume he produces before shaking the hand he has now extended towards me. He gives me a smile that I consider to be a cross between comforting and devilish. "Right this way!" he continues, still far louder than is necessary, throwing an arm around my shoulders and guiding me into his office.
Once we are both inside, he removes the weight of his arm to point instead at a lone chair sitting opposite his desk. "Go ahead and have a seat right there!"
Nodding accordingly, I make my way to the designated spot as Fred closes the door behind us. Tucking a few loose strands of hair behind my ear, I sit down obediently. That is until something mortifying happens.
Cutting through the air with the subtlety of a foghorn through a peaceful night's sleep, the chair beneath me lets out a terrible, resounding noise that has far too accurately emulated a thunderous fart; the sound horrifyingly unmistakable.
I jump abruptly from the offending furniture, determined to put a bit of space between us before turning to face Fred, carelessly releasing and scattering my folder of papers in the process.
"Merlin's beard, woman..." is all he can say.
My eyes are huge as my mouth tries desperately to find the words in which to explain that I had not been the one to make the sound, but the chair! The chair is to blame! Of course, rather than simply explaining this like a normal functioning human being, I find myself instead doing a rather accurate impression of a fish. Unable to form a thought clearly, I simply point weakly at the appalling object, bringing my other hand up to cover my growing embarrassment.
And then I hear the laughter. Quiet and contained at first, but quickly picking up pace and volume as control is lost. Peeking out from between my fingers, my eyes once again find Fred and I watch as he loses his composure, one hand on his labouring stomach and the other holding tightly to the door frame, propping him up.
I lower my hand as the pieces slowly come together.
Really I should have known, should have expected it the moment I decided to be interviewed a week ago. I can't help the resigned sigh that escapes my lips.
Fred's laughter subsides a bit and is replaced by his own entertained thoughts. "That was by far my favourite reaction of the day; only the second one to drop something, but the first to be completely shocked into silence! The facial expression is what takes the cake, though. Bloody brilliant!" he laughs, wiping a tear of joy from beneath his eye.
I give him a strained smile, not quite over my humiliation yet, before kneeling down to gather up my strewn-about papers. With just a few strides, Fred closes the distance between us and joins me on the floor, still chuckling lightly. As I reach for the final dropped item - the newspaper clipping - he only just beats me to it.
"Thank you," I reply quietly, reaching for the snippet.
Suddenly I am overwhelmed with the sense of déjà vu as a distant memory stirs.
"Do I know you?" he asks without releasing the scrap, despite my newly acquired grip of it. "You look familiar."
Does he remember it, too?
I am taken back to a day long ago, the day it all began, but never would I have expected him to recall the event as well. I look him in the eye and try to find the words, but he grows restless before I am able to.
"Hmm, maybe not. Must just have one of those faces, eh?"
He lets go of his end of the newspaper before standing up and crossing to his own chair, explaining to me that I can take my seat again. Weary though I am to do so, I lower myself much more gently onto the soft fabric so that this time it lets out no more than a small puff of air. "Those are our newest creation, by the way!" he says, referring to the farting chair with boyish enthusiasm. "Sort of a spin on the Muggle whoopee cushion. It comes with a variety of different flatulence-inspired sound effects - I won't tell you how we acquired such noises other than by mentioning that a handful of truly sinister ingredients were digested in turn between myself and George - and it refills itself automatically! Plus, other than the flatulence, it's a perfectly functioning piece of furniture. Five Galleons each: a steal!"
I nod and smile politely.
"Soooooo, Josephine Adaire," he says, scooching his chair forward until he can comfortably rest both elbows on the desk. "Did you bring a resume?"
Leafing quickly through my folder, I hand him the rather unimpressive document. He scans it quickly enough, letting out a few 'tut's and 'mhmm's as he does so, before looking back to me. "It says here you graduated Hogwarts this year?" he asks, surprised.
I confirm the statements validity with another nod and smile. He looks at me more closely now, as if trying to place me. If he does figure it out, however, he doesn't mention it, and goes back instead to looking at the paper in his hand. I don't believe he has, though.
"So it looks as though if we hired you, this would be your first job? Nothing wrong with that; we like'em fresh out of Hogwarts! Before we go any further, though, I would like to ask you just a few rather basic questions. Standard things; nothing too difficult, I promise. Ready?" he asks before taking a barely-there pause, continuing onto his first inquiry before I have consented. I nod anyway.
"First question!" he calls out, and I steel myself for a standard query along the lines of 'What are your three worst qualities?' Do I name actually poor qualities about myself? Or do I make up a fault-that-isn't-really-a-fault, like perfectionism? And what if he asks what my greatest strength is? One look at my Hogwarts report would tell him that I haven't many.
As my mind shoots off in a million different directions, I am stopped in my tracks when Fred asks this:
"If you were a fruit, what kind would you be?"
If I were... a fruit? The look he gives me is entirely dead-pan and so I cannot tell if I have truly heard correctly. I open my mouth, close it, open it again and say, "Sorry?"
"Sorry?" he asks with a puzzled look on his face. "That's not a fruit." Before I can even attempt an explanation he cuts me off with, "But interesting answer. I myself am a mango. Next question!" he shouts.
I am lost. Why is it that when his oddness and humour is used on others I can follow along as if I am inside of his head, but as soon as the tables are turned in my direction I feel lost in a maze of confusion and self-doubt?
"Which Quidditch team do you support?" he inquires. His quill is poised in anticipation over a bit of parchment that I assume holds the list of bizarre questions. Unfortunately, having grown up Muggle, Quidditch teams outside of the Hogwarts Houses is not something I'm particularly familiar with. However, I can just recall a former roommate of mine in the Hufflepuff dorms who was a fervent supporter of... Oh, what is their name?
"Erm... the Montrose Magpies?" I ask rather than answer.
"Wrong!" he shouts, immediately shutting down my answer; something I did not think he would be able to do given the nature of the question. "The correct answer is the Falmouth Falcons. Aaaaand moving swiftly along: Question three! On a scale of one to ten - one being the lowest, ten being the highest - how attractive am I?"
Do not blush, Josephine.
While I may have been without a clue on the first two, I am at least smart enough to understand what answer he is looking for now. "Ten?" I ask, scolding myself for not having said it with a bit more assuredness.
"Hmm... I was looking for a firm eleven, not a sceptical ten... but I'll allow it." Fred marks it down on his parchment as I fervently hope that the list of questions is almost through.
"Last question," he announces, setting his quill and scroll down onto the desk and giving me a rather intense look. Thankful as I am to be down to the final inquiry, I can't help but feel as though his concluding question will leave me even more hopeless than the others. But, to my surprise, he asks what I have been preparing for all week:
"What position were you hoping for, Josephine Adaire?" he asks, taking his time to lean back casually in his chair.
I feel a pang of envy at his level of comfort and can't help but wish that his continuously carefree attitude would have rubbed off on me after all this time of observation. Especially now, knowing that this is going to be the hardest part. Because truthfully, I am not actually applying for any of the positions listed in their advertisement. And that requires explanation; explanation of course, not being my strong suit, as it depends upon a lengthy number of words in order to be understood.
Luckily (and with good reason) I have rehearsed the speech for this particular question many times since first deciding to apply; thoroughly practicing its delivery, carefully memorizing the words, meticulously studying every detail until it became almost second-nature to me.
All I can do now is hope to remember it.
"Actually," I begin slowly, eyes averted in anxious timidity, "I was hoping to help with the finances." I pause to gauge his reaction, glancing at his now much more curious look. Beneath the unsure expression, however, he seems to say 'go on.' Choosing my words carefully, I continue: "My father used to run a shop as well, and he was very good at it. It was a Muggle store, but he taught me well about how to properly structure a successful business, and a lot of the same principals still apply for your shop. I've drawn up a business model for you here," I tell him, taking a few more pages from my folder and passing them to Fred, who takes them, seemingly intrigued. "I did some research and found that the company you're using right now as a supplier is actually costing you more than these other options would." I gesture modestly to the packet in his hands before continuing. "There's a graph on the last page that represents how I think your income would increase while your expenditures would decrease if you were to make these changes. I believe that if you hired me to run your finances, I could earn you, on average, a ten to twelve percent savings quarterly."
I breathe out heavily, grateful to have made it securely to the end of my speech; and I am only partially concerned about how rehearsed the words may have sounded while being spoken.
Fred looks taken aback, a surprised grin on his face. He rifles through the papers again in what I hope to be a positive way. The waiting for his response is truly nerve-racking and I do my best to channel my anxiety through the twisting of my fingers, until finally he speaks.
"Right-o! Well, this is all quite impressive, I must admit," he begins and I feel the relief flood through me; that is until his initial statement is followed by the word "But..." Oh, 'but' is never good. "Look, I'm just going to ask, because I have to know: Why are you really applying here?"
I look to him in complete shock. Am I really that transparent? How do I even begin to answer that seemingly simple, though endlessly complicated question? Certainly not with the truth!
As I try to gather my thoughts and keep the worry off my face, Fred continues of his own accord, with a rather goofy and light-hearted expression.
"Maybe I've gone bonkers, but... I mean, you seem nice enough, it's just... Blimey, you don't exactly seem at all the type to want to work here! For starters, you haven't laughed at a single bloody joke or gag I've done; which is clearly ridiculous! I might even take it offensively if I wasn't so sure that everything I did was actually funny!" He smiles and even laughs a bit, but somehow I suddenly feel very guilty; the fact that he doesn't seem bothered in the slightest by my non-existent laughter and a potential ulterior motive hardly puts my mind at ease. "Sooooo, Josephine Adaire... Why do you really want to work here?"
I contemplate the truth. I contemplate a lie. I contemplate another lie that is sadly even worse than the first lie. I have just begun to consider simply walking out of the room when suddenly I am both saved and in further need of rescue with the same unanticipated event of the door abruptly swinging open.
"Oi!" Fred calls out, gesturing wildly with both arms, "I'm in the middle of an interview here!"
"Yeah, sorry; only be a tick!" George says, his voice as deep and melodious as I remember it to be. I can't help but to stare at first, breathing in every detail that I have so sorely missed over the past two months. Whatever small part of myself from earlier today had blurred the lines between Fred and George has all at once become a sharpened focus, a precise detector of every minuscule distinction. His flaming red hair appears slightly tousled as his eyes dance with the enthusiasm of someone on a mission; his slightly more elongated face holds the expression of a kind but excited person, smiling as though he has a secret that others would die to know; tall and broad and with a perfectly placed beauty mark resting on his neck.
Fred is nice, but he is no George.
I am frozen.
He shuts the door behind him, walking in long strides until he reaches a quaint little cupboard behind Fred, who spins around in his chair to face his twin, and I am thankful that on his journey over George has chosen not to look my direction.
"What're you doing in here, then, Georgie?"
"Oh, you'll be pleased to know," he responds enthusiastically, his back remaining turned to both Fred and I as he vigorously searches through the remnants of the cabinet. "I've found two potential In-Store Demonstrators and have decided to pin them against each other in a sales duel! I'm giving them each three products to demonstrate with. The last one is going to be these faulty buggers here," he explains, extracting two odd looking contraptions that I am completely unable to identify or even begin to understand. He turns to face in our direction, though he keeps his eyes on the objects he's holding, examining them closely. "Neither works properly and, as you're well aware of, these bloody things smell absolutely rotten when used incorrectly, so it should be both interesting and hilariously entertaining to see how each of them handles it. And, erm, don't go spreading this around or nothing, but I already know I'm hiring them both; just want to have a bit of fun before I tell'em," he grins deviously at his twin before sparing a glance up at me.
'Run!' is the first thought that irrationally pops into my head, but the small part of my brain that has managed to continue functioning logically is still in pursuit of a job here. And so 'Run!' quickly turns into 'Hide!'
Hide I can do.
In an act of sheer desperation, I make an almost involuntary movement forward in which I pretend to put the folder in my now outstretched hand on the desk in front of me, but instead miss the mark by a mile, allowing the file to teeter off its axis and fall instead to the floor. I immediately follow its descent, crouching down as low as can be managed behind the desk; and I am profoundly thankful that my extraction from the farting chair has been an inaudible one.
I will not move from this spot.
I hear the scuffling of feet and the movement of Fred's chair sliding slightly on the carpet before there is a small, pregnant pause of complete silence.
"Erm..." one of them remarks soon after; George, I think. He follows the confused admission by quietly whispering, "I think I've frightened your interviewee."
"Would'ya look at that..." Fred muses just as softly, so it's a struggle for me to hear. "What exactly did you do?"
"I don't know, just looked at her, I thought..."
"Bizarre. Any of your interviews go something like this?"
"Worst I've had was a kid looking to work Check-Out who thought three plus five was eleven. Perhaps we shouldn't have been quite so lenient in our article. I mean, we did more or less say that the ability to read was our only requirement."
"Actually, this girl here did present something rather intriguing- You know what, I'll tell you later, I think you're gonna have to leave if there's any hope of her resurfacing."
"Yeah, all right, we'll catch up later," George concludes, clearly trying to suppress a chuckle. I hear as his footsteps hurriedly make their way back to the door, which quickly opens and shuts behind him with a small click.
Except it isn't really, because now I have no choice but to face Fred. I have no idea what he's thinking, I have no idea what he'll say, and I have no idea what I will say either. And so, without even the slightest hint of hope, I gather up my folder of papers and slowly force myself to stand.
At first I cannot look at Fred and simply stand humiliated before him, but when his silence becomes too much, I spare him an anxious glance only to immediately regret the decision. Head resting heavily on his hand, mouth agape in a goofy smile, and eyes dancing with barely contained glee, he is the very image of a man doing his best not to laugh in the face of a person already embarrassed beyond their limits. However, I have to wonder if perhaps the laughter would be less painful than the gaping stare.
The silence continues to stretch. In my upright discomfort, I forget what has happened earlier in the day and, gripping tightly to my folder as if it is a lifeline, I sit hard on the chair behind me, which greets my presence with the booming explosion of another fart sound.
And that's the end of it for Fred, who can no longer contain his laughter, and it bursts from him with the force of a cackling hyena holding a megaphone. He is beside himself, immediately keeling over with one hand gripping tightly to his stomach as the other continuously slams down heavily on the desk; heaving breaths of air are inhaled and exhaled so quickly that I am certain he will soon hyperventilate. No longer able to watch him, I bring a hand up to cover my mortified expression and can feel how very warm to the touch my face is; presumably a brilliant shade of red, as well. All I can do now is to sit and wait for Fred's overwhelming laughter to subside, to slowly die down into a tapered chuckle, which eventually it does. Or at least it calms enough so that he can force a few choice thoughts out.
"Wh- Wh- Wha- Oh, blimey - What the h-h-hell w-was that?" He struggles through his giggling to complete the question, which I hope is meant to be rhetorical seeing as I have no intention of answering it. Still, it only deepens my humiliation and I bring my other hand up to my face as well, leaving the folder to rest precariously on my lap.
Fred's laughter continues to die out slowly, every once in a while joined by the odd word or two; "You h-hid! Ahaha G-George! Ohoooohoho hahaha The faaaaaart! Ha! So f-f-funny! Eeehehe Ohohaha W-why did you hide-" He cuts himself off suddenly, sobering immediately. I peek through my fingertips to see what has stopped him in the middle of his seemingly euphoric fit only to find a curious expression on his face. He looks to the door in concentration, then back at me, then to my resume, to me again, the door, and then:
"Oh. My. God."
Slowly he turns his now baffled expression on me, his jaw hangs slack as he gapes in clear shock. "Oh my God," he says again, eyes still stuck on me. I am starting to really worry now, especially when he tells me, "I've just figured it out!" I keep my hands in place over my eyes, the cracks of my fingers growing narrower as if acting the part of a shield, preparing for what is to come.
Fred leans forward in his chair, painfully slow in his movements, surely milking his new-found knowledge; knowledge that I hope with all of me is not what I think it may be. But alas...
"Well, drape me in purple velvet and call me Dumbledore: You have a thing for George!"
My hands drop heavily back into my lap. I stare at him horrified for only the briefest of seconds before grasping my folder with both hands and standing back up abruptly.
It is over. I have lost. I never really had a chance, but now it is official.
This time I do run. Without another word, I make a break for the door.
"Merlin's pants, I'm so right!" I hear Fred shout over the scraping sounds of his chair; his voice full of unadulterated joy; his heavy footsteps now headed in my direction. "Wait! No, no, don't go! Hold on, would you? I'm seriously considering hiring you now! Don't run off!" He is right on my heels and, just before I reach the door, his long arms stretch out to hold it shut in the same second that I roughly tuck my folder up beneath my arm and my own hands reach for the handle. And though he is obviously much stronger than I am, it does not keep me from wrestling fiercely with the doorknob.
He lets out a single booming 'Ha!' before continuing on with his revelation. "See, I knew - I bloody knew it from the second you popped in here that there was something going on! 'Cause there was no way you were ever applying here simply because it was your heart's true desire to help out in a joke shop! This is so absolutely about George, you sly, clever, devious little minx, you!" He smiles down at me with an expression that is almost proud. "Perhaps you're a bit more fit to work here than I first gave you credit for, coming up with a scheme like that! This is too brilliant!"
My head feels close to exploding as my hands continue their hopeless efforts for freedom via the doorknob, until Fred says, "Oi! Would you quit messing about with the handle? People are going to think I'm keeping you captive in here!" I give him a look that says, 'Well, aren't you?' and he is quick to reply with, "Which is exactly what I'm not doing."
I do reluctantly concede, understanding that my efforts are futile. I untuck the folder from beneath my arm and hug it to my body, head hanging low in defeat.
"So, I have to know: What exactly was your plan?" he asks with a chuckle. When I don't answer, he decides instead to begin a guessing game. “I mean, he was in here for just a tick, barely glances at you, and you literally felt the need to hide behind a desk! How were planning to work with him? What, were you just gonna hide all the time in the back rooms? Maybe live permanently under a Disillusionment Charm? Were you hoping to just watch him? Do your bit of accounting now and again and spend the rest of your time ogling him from behind the shelves like a complete loon?"
I swear I keep my face neutral, but am obviously incorrect because Fred gains some sort of truth from me. "Wow, that's... You must really, really like him. It's actually kind of sweet. But mostly stalkerish." And though he laughs with good-natured amusement, the remark is a bit too accurate for my already extremely worn down comfort level, and I feel again that desperation to flee.
I yank again at the doorknob, but Fred continues to block the exit, and so my revisited struggle with the handle proves to be just as ineffective as the last.
"Would you stop trying to escape, already? Cause, look, since first walking in here, you really have quite grown on me! It's like my favourite chest hair - which also happens to be my only chest hair: At first it was sort of laughably embarrassing, but now I'm quite fond of it! I like you! I mean, you're a bit off your rocker, but I genuinely am enjoying this all way too much to just let you wander off, never to be seen again! So come on, you nutter; let me hire you!"
Is he crazy?
"Are you crazy?" I practically hiss, looking to him in disbelief, honestly certain that screaming the thought with my eyes alone would not have done it justice.
"Well, depends on who you ask, I reckon. But Jo - can I call you Jo? I'm gonna call you Jo - Jo, if I can set aside my pride for a moment here, I can admit that perhaps George and I are not the most... responsible people on the planet, and I do quite believe that we'd actually benefit greatly from you with your business model alone! Not to mention that if I hired you, I assume situations like what happened earlier will be inevitable, like, daily, yeah? I mean, blimey, I'd be entertained for... ever, really. Forever!"
I cannot work here with him knowing. Fred knowing means it is inevitable that George too would find out - and sooner rather than later if I know Fred Weasley; which of course I do. While I have stopped the fruitless pulling and tugging at the door, my hand remains perched on the handle, and I know that he knows that I have not changed my mind.
I am sorry, Fred, but I cannot stay.
"Right-o, flattery will clearly get me nowhere with you," he announces and I scrunch my eyebrows sceptically. What flattery? "What? I'm fairly sure there was a compliment in there somewhere. Didn't I call you a nutter? I love nutters!" He winks deviously at me. I bring my chin down to my chest, closing my eyes in emotional exhaustion. He pauses for a moment and I wonder if it is because he feels badly now for the distress he is causing me, or if he is simply having a think. Naturally, it is the latter.
"You know, I think I've figured it out. Let me give this a go, here, if I may. The facts are this: Firstly, you like George. Obvious, I know, but bear with me, young doubter! Secondly," he continues, ticking off each point made on his fingers. "You like him enough that you'd rather face your somewhat, erm... crippling fear of being 'round him rather than not having him about at all, yeah? And thirdly, when you came in here to be interviewed earlier today, you had every intention of taking a job if we were to hire you. So with all of that in mind, my question is this: What exactly happened between then and now that made you change your mind?" He takes a brief dramatic pause, a teasing grin on his face as we lock eyes. "And the answer to that, Jo, is quite simple," he says in a low voice, his eyes dancing with eager excitement as he slowly moves closer to me, expertly milking the moment. And even though I already know what he is going to say, he is so good at creating anticipatory tension that I am almost forced to break away from his intense gaze. But finally he speaks. "Me. I'm what happened."
I have to admit that I am impressed by his deduction skills, though I am even more surprised by how easily he is able to understand me and my thoughts without so much as a word.
"Oho, I know that look. You're impressed, aren't you?" he teases. "I know, it's hard to believe: smashing good looks, brilliant sense of humour, and top notch intelligence? Can one man truly be so gifted? It's okay to feel overwhelmed in my presence, for I am quite impressive. Thank you for noticing," he winks cheekily.
I roll my eyes.
"Oi, watch it!" he warns playfully. "Moving forward with what we know! The only problem here seems to be that you're afraid I will tell George that you're harbouring less than decent night-time thoughts about him, yes?" I can feel my face grow hot with embarrassed blushing, so I bring a hand up for coverage. "So what if I simply swore to you not to tell? Honestly, if it's the only thing stopping you from working here, I can keep my mouth shut! Granted, you're not exactly subtle and he will probably figure it out for himself, but I can promise to not be the one to tell him!"
It would almost sound like a good deal to make if the other participant were not Fred Weasley. I know too well of his ability to work around the system, to find a loophole, and to seize opportunity backhandedly. I cannot let him do that to me.
I am sorry, Fred. No.
"You are clever, aren't you? Fine. What if I also swear not to bring you up in conversation? For example, I won't run off to find George after we finish our interview here and retell the story of this truly bizarre experience; and I won't say to him in the middle of a slow day at work 'Hey, look over there at that large-eyed bird stalking you like you're prey!' And so on. I'll promise not to draw any attention to you at all, okay?" He looks at me hopefully. "How's that?"
I am still uncertain.
"Gah!" Fred exclaims, running his hand through his hair restlessly; his expression a combination of someone who is both immensely frustrated and delightfully challenged. "All right, okay, all right!" he yells out, preparing for what I assume to be his final case. "What if on top of all of that, I can even go so far as to actively change the subject when you are brought up? Okay? Are you pleased yet? I will not out your secret, I won't talk about you ever, and if George brings you up, I'll steer the conversation in a different direction completely, and more or less just ignore your existence entirely while he's around! Is that what you need? Because fine! I will do all of that, okay? Are you happy now? You mad, needy woman!" He looks half-crazed and half-amused, and he lets out some laughter at the insanity of it all.
And damn it all... he's got me.
I am certain I've hardly reacted at all, and yet somehow Fred understands me immediately. "YES!" he shouts, pointing at my face in triumphant celebration. "All right! That's how it's done!" He laughs freely and I can't help but to smile along with him. "I knew I'd get you eventually! Blimey, you're a tough sell! But listen, can I ask for one, small favour in return?" I am sceptical, but know that he at least deserves the benefit of the doubt. "Okay, so clearly you have an appalling sense of humour, and if you're going to work in a joke shop under my watch, I really must insist that we expand your funny bone! So here's the deal: I promise all that stuff we just agreed upon and you, in return, well... Look, basically, if you're going to work here, Miss Adaire, I refuse to accept more reactions like the ones I saw today! So, the bottom line is that no matter how ill-construed or poorly received they are, yoooooou... have to laugh at my jokes."
I really can't help the look I give him, the expression forming before I can even attempt to stop it; a wide-eyed, high eyebrow'd stare which more or less quite simply says, 'Seriously?'
"Really?" he counters immediately. "That's an unreasonable request? I'm straddling so many promises on your behalf that I've about torn myself a new one, and you can't so much as fake a chuckle now and again? Well then, I'm not so sure anymore that I believe you're quite altruistic enough to even deserve the fantasy of George! Humph!" he exclaims, crossing his arms and turning his nose up at me, all with the dramatic flair of a temperamental diva.
Truthfully, I am being quite selfish. I want what I want and do not want to bend on it, it seems; but that is not the type of person I wish to be. Not even at all. However, just as I am about to comply with Fred's request, he beats me to the punch.
"Okay, scratch that! Never mind it! Keep your fake laughter for all I care, because there's something else I've just thought of! I want something different from you instead, Josephine Adaire."
I suddenly feel as though I should have taken the first deal when I had the chance.
"Before I tell you what it is, however, I have to ask you..." He trails off and takes a moment's pause, giving me an alarmingly serious look. His eyes scan my own as if looking for a secret buried even deeper than the one he has already uncovered. "Jo..." he begins slowly, softly, intensely. "Do you like George, or... do you love him?"
Surely my heart has stopped.
It is one thing to harbour a school-girl crush and to have it known by others as simply that, but... love is so much deeper, is so much greater, and is so very much more terrifyingly real. And the way I feel for George Weasley is more terrifying than anything else could ever dare to be.
Of course I love him. And Fred can tell.
"Okay," he says softly. He looks at me with eyes as kind as I've ever seen them, and I cannot tell if the expression on his face is one of hope or one of pity. "Now that I know, I just have one request; and this one cannot be bent and it cannot be overlooked." I shut my eyes for the briefest of moments, and he waits for mine to recapture his own before he can continue, making certain that I understand how very much he means what he is about to say. "Part of me doesn't quite understand why exactly I'm doing this, agreeing to keep truths from George for a girl I've only just come to know. But for some inexplicable reason, it just feels like the right thing to do, and so I'm going with my gut. I'm willing to participate in these lies of omission. However, Josephine," he pauses to take a deep breath, slowing his speech down now so that every word is perfectly enunciated and perfectly heard. "I cannot and will not ever lie to George directly. I know my way around skirting truths better than anyone you will ever meet, but there is one single question that if he were to ask me, I would have to answer truthfully. So, Jo... if George ever asks me outright if you love him, I will without exception tell him that yes, yes you absolutely do."
I exhale slowly, steadily.
After everything that has happened today, after all the things I have hoped for all week, after every lonely moment I have experienced over the past two months, can I truly walk away now because of that?
No. I cannot. And Fred can tell.
I look up at him and almost defeatedly shrug my shoulders; the trace of a smile breaking through on my face. Fred needs no explanation, smiling back at me knowingly, but he requires a formal confirmation regardless.
"So, Josephine Adaire... Do we have a deal?" He sticks a hand out for me to shake, a challenging glint back in his eyes and a smug smile on his lips. I stare apprehensively at his offered extension, feeling as if by accepting I am making a dangerous deal with the devil himself. And as terrifying as it all is, I know that there is an exciting adventure being offered here as well. And so, with a slow and steady progression, I raise my arm and close the distance between our hands, locking them firmly with more confidence than I truly do possess, and subsequently sealing my fate.
His complacent smirk grows into a wicked smile before he chuckles lightly and says, "Oh, Jo. Jo, Joey, Jo Jo Jo... This is going to be fun."
I release his hand and sigh heavily, giving him a look that I hope reads as 'You're enjoying this way too much.' But however he takes my expression, it is followed with more of the same low laughter; at the expense of my dignity, I might add. And possibly my sanity. And yet, for whatever odd and inexplicable reason, I can't help but laugh lightly myself, his unsuppressed glee surprisingly contagious.
Finally stepping out of the way, Fred takes hold of the doorknob and pulls, removing himself as gate-keeper and holding the door open for me now instead, allowing my departure. And as I exit the office, moving swiftly towards the top of the staircase, he calls out to me a final time:
"See you Monday, Josephine."
June 10, 1998
Everything has changed.
I remember well the first time I ever stepped foot inside Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. A mere 24 hours ago I may even have called that first experience my worst hour spent in the shop. The embarrassment, the discomfort, the desperation, the painful extraction of my closest-kept secret; all of it stays with me in a very human way in which I am unable to let go of such a deeply humiliating incident. I seem to have an almost masochistic inability to keep it from resurfacing, to keep myself from reliving it; a glutton for punishment is so very much who I am.
And then a day like today happens, and I can only cling tightly to the memory from almost two years ago and wish longingly that life were only so simple now.
Weasley's Wizard Wheezes had not been officially open to the public in many months, since both Fred and George Weasley were forced to abandon the shop and go into hiding. Their entire family were too well-known as blood-traitors and were all being actively sought out by those supporting the Dark Lord. Those affiliated with the shop became endangered by extension, and so the windows and doors had been boarded up and the brightest light in Diagon Alley had been extinguished.
Not that any of that ever stopped Fred and George, of course.
Never the type to back down from a challenge, the twins had still run business via mail-order. They worked as best as was possible while being consistently separated from the store and had even been lucky enough to receive help from a few loyal employees, myself included, who gambled with their own safety every so often to sneak back into the shop. Measures had of course been taken to prevent unwanted company from entering the seemingly abandoned building as well, but at the height of war, most anything was considered risky, regardless of anticipated precautions. But despite it all, the joke shop continued to thrive, refusing to accept defeat. It seemed as though no matter how bad things got, no matter how fiercely the harrowing war raged on, the twins never lost their spirit or their unshakable belief that laughter was and always would be the best medicine.
But that was before we lost Fred. That was before he was laid to rest in a box.
Fred died. George stopped. Business closed. And then it stayed closed.
That is until today.
No advertisements announcing the shop's reopening had been posted, no flyers were distributed, and other than the small, plain sign on the door that read "Grand Reopening", no one who was not walking by the building itself would have known of its restoration. Foolishly, we had all assumed that because of our minimal display the day would be calm, the customer traffic would be light, and we would all be given the opportunity to ease back into work and adjust to the emptiness that was Fred's absence.
But that is not what happened.
Today has gone by in a blurred whirlwind of madness, though I fear it is not quite over yet...
Author's Note: I cannot even begin to apologize enough for how long this chapter took to post, but I worked on Lying Josephine as my NaNo project and I have SO much of the final chapters written that the rest of the story should begin coming out a lot faster now! A huge thank you to anyone who has come back to read this story after having been away for so long! And I hope there are a few new viewers joining in as well!
Reviews are food for the soul. Feed me! Please? ^.^
Fun Fact: Oliver Phelps, who played George Weasley, really does have a slightly longer face and a distinguishing mole on his neck that his brother James (Fred) does not.
*Special thanks to 1917farmgirl for being a constant source of support for this story and for reading through the chapter and assuring me that it isn't the worst thing ever written!
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