Hogsmeade in the snow was beautiful. Everything was white, and there was something about seeing roofs and gardens and pavement all covered in snow that made a place seem magical and peaceful at the same time. Even the shabbiest cottage could look welcoming.
They weren't supposed to be there. It wasn't a Hogsmeade weekend, and really, they should have been back in the castle trying to finish a Charms essay. But Fred always managed to convince her. You can do it later, was one of his favourite lines. Lee's gone and got himself a date, don't leave us in the lurch here, was another.
The only difference was that this time there was no George. Just her and Fred. Her and Fred, giggling as they sneaked out of Hogwarts and into a secret passageway, and out onto the streets of Hogsmeade. The villagers gave them some looks as they walked down the streets. They probably looked like students.
But it didn't matter. They were alone and it was beautiful. The danger of being found out and given detention made it all the better. Angelina turned to Fred when they stopped walking. She could see his face in minute detail. There were those blue eyes that danced whenever he was up to mischief, that nose that crinkled when he wasn't pleased, a mouth that could betray with a twitch just what he was thinking, and a sprinkling of freckles that, along with his red hair, made him a Weasley.
Fred crouched down as Angelina sat on a bench. She knew what was coming next, knew she should not just be sitting calmly as Fred slowly packed a snowball together, but she did. Maybe it was a game. If she stayed like that, watching him, maybe he wouldn't throw it at her.
He turned his face up so he could look at her, and she saw a small smile playing on his lips.
It hit her full on the face, cold and wet, melted snow trickling down her neck and into her sweater. With a shriek, she grabbed snow off the bench and threw it at Fred, and he was laughing. Somehow he got hold of her wrist, and he managed to pull her off the bench. She tumbled on top of him, and he grinned.
"You've got snow in your hair."
Before she could reply, he rolled over so that she was lying in the snow. His face was just above her, and she could feel his hand behind her back. With his other hand, he brushed aside the remnants of his snowball. "Much better," he murmured, and he kissed her.
And she awoke, sunlight streaming in through the window, her covers bunched around her and the pillow wet. A ragged breath escaped, and as she breathed in shakily and touched her face, she realised that she'd been crying. Oh. That was why the pillow was wet. Angelina reached for a glass of water and sipped, trying to force herself to calm down.
The feel of Fred's lips against hers still lingered in her mind. It wasn't fair. She shouldn't have to dream of him. She shouldn't have to wake up feeling like her heart had been torn from her chest, shouldn't have a longing so intense she couldn't breathe sometimes. She hadn't wanted to admit it to herself for many months, but now at least she could think those words: Fred was gone.
Glass shattered. She jumped and cursed, then reached for her wand. Too late. Her bedroom door opened and Alicia Spinnet stuck her head in.
"Wha – oh, Angie..." She was by her in seconds, enveloping her in a hug.
They stayed that way for several minutes, and then Angelina pulled away. "I wasn't – it was a dream...I just woke and – you can't control dreams, they just –"
"Yeah, I know." Alicia pointed her wand at the shattered glass and muttered, "Reparo."
Angelina tried a smile. "I'm okay, you know."
"You'll be better if you come out with me today. Come on. Fresh air. We'll go to Quality Quidditch Supplies, they have a new broom in from Slovakia."
"I don't know..."
"It'll be good for you. We'll have tea in the little cafe and gossip about how the witch across the street should've worn green instead of red because it clashes with her shoes, or whether the bloke behind the counter should shave that horrendous beard off...it'll be fun!"
Angelina sighed. Diagon Alley. Number 93, Diagon Alley, to be precise. She'd been to Hogsmeade, even though most places reminded her of Fred. She'd plucked up the courage a few months after it'd happened. She'd even been to the Leaky Cauldron. But Diagon Alley had always been too much. She didn't think she could walk past the shop front that had a big neon sign saying 'Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes'. But she couldn't avoid it forever... and today was as good a day as any to walk past that shop.
"Okay. I'll come with you to Diagon Alley."
"Good." Alicia got up. "You'll love the new broom," she promised. "I mean, Harry's Firebolt was up there but this is legendary compared to that old thing."
Angelina smiled. "Legendary? Oh, come on, nothing could be that legendary compared to a Firebolt."
"You'll see!" She bounded out of the room, leaving Angelina wondering about the new broom as she got out of bed. Absent-mindedly throwing open her cupboard and flicking through different dresses and robes, she picked a dress she probably wouldn't have worn if her mind wasn't on brooms. She'd bought it with Fred, who had insisted it was hideous. But considering that Fred's idea of good taste consisted of horrible magenta robes as his uniform for Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, she thought ignoring his opinion on the matter had been a wise decision.
She realised exactly which dress she had chosen only half an hour later, when she was standing in front of a full-length mirror deciding which shoes to wear. There was that familiar, aching pang...and she stood there for several minutes, undecided. Screw it, she thought. I'm going to Diagon Alley today. Might as well take another leap, too.
If Alicia knew the story behind the dress, she said nothing as they put on their coats and prepared to Apparate. Diagon Alley, when they emerged onto it, was back to its usual bustling mayhem. For some reason this soothed Angelina; it was normal. The Christmas decorations were still up (looking slightly battered now it was the middle of January), the little market stalls were back, and there were no Muggleborns begging in the streets. They decided to go to Quality Quidditch Supplies first. Angelina was eager to see the new broom, unwilling to believe that it was that good, but trusting Alicia's knowledge of brooms enough to be intrigued.
There was a crowd in front of the shop, similar to the one that had gathered when the new Firebolt was displayed in the front window. Alicia nudged Angelina and grinned, as if to say, See? Angelina just smiled and shook her head. She scanned the crowd automatically for familiar heads. There was a redhead just a few feet away and her heart leapt to her throat. Same shade of red. Same haircut, even the same height...but he couldn't be, he wasn't there, he was –
Alicia sounded surprised. Incredibly, the redhead turned at her exclamation: her voice had carried through the excited babble of the crowd. It was George. George, with his freckles and the same blue eyes as his brother, George who looked thinner than the last time Angelina had seen him, and who looked just a bit older than he should have. When he saw them, his face registered surprise, then pleasure, and then he'd pushed through the crowd and was hugging them both.
"It's great to see you, George," Alicia said, and Angelina echoed the sentiment.
"It's good to see you two, too," George said. "It's been a while."
"Yeah..." Angelina didn't mention that the last time she'd seen him was at a funeral, and that he'd been so pale, and so quiet, that even though he'd looked like George, he hadn't looked like George.
"Should've known we'd find you gawking at the new broom." Alicia grinned.
"Alicia seems to think it's better than Harry's Firebolt," Angelina said.
"Well, it does sound pretty good. According to 'Which Broomstick?', it accelerates faster, has smoother braking, has unbreakable tail twigs, has the best handling of any broom ever –"
"Okay, okay, it sounds pretty good." Angelina put up her hands. "What are we waiting for then? Let's take a look at this thing!"
They didn't go past Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes in the end. Perhaps it was because it didn't happen to be on the way to any of the shops they went to. Perhaps, with George there, it was an unspoken agreement that they didn't go. Angelina wasn't sure. They'd just all ended up in a cafe called 'The Tea Cosy', where George's brother Charlie almost immediately began chatting up one of the waitresses.
Angelina studied George as they sipped their tea and talked about how Alicia should quit her job if it was making her so miserable, and whether she would ever admit to having had a crush on Oliver Wood in her earlier years at Hogwarts. George looked... tired. He never looked tired. When Fred was around, it didn't matter that they'd stayed up all night and been tearing around the grounds all day, he had always been as full of energy as if he'd had ten solid hours of sleep.
He'd lost some of his sparkle, just a bit of his spirit... she saw it in the laughs that weren't quite there, in the way he was reserved in his jokes. He'd start teasing Alicia, and then lose interest halfway, or seem to be waiting for someone else to continue the tease. He and Fred had always worked as a team. George would start, and Fred would finish it. They'd share a mischievous look and somehow be able to decide, in that moment, which of them was going to throw the Dungbomb, or empty a pot of soil on top of someone's head.
It didn't matter that she'd seen George by himself before. It didn't matter that over the years the twins had fought and made their friends see them separately. Sitting in the cafe that day, he looked forlorn, alone, like he'd lost a part of himself. Like he wasn't fully George.
She liked to think they were doing him some good, though. She liked to think this was doing her some good. At the funeral she hadn't been able to see George without seeing Fred, too, and that had torn her apart in some grossly unfair way. After all, George was her friend. She hadn't known if she'd ever be able to be in his presence again. She could still see instances of Fred here and there, oh yes, but it wasn't killing her. She could be George's friend again.
She made sure she saw him every couple of weeks. They hung out, played Quidditch. Alicia made sure she didn't shy away from meetings with the old gang, so she made sure he didn't, either. It might have been slight guilt that drove her to see him so often, made her force it to be alright, and that seeing him on bad days didn't remind her of Fred so much that she wanted to die.
Then, on the last day of March, the day after Alicia had left for a visit to her parents', George turned up on her doorstep, looking almost as bad as he had at the funeral.
"I can't stay at the Burrow," he choked out.
She'd been having a bad day. She'd dreamed of Fred the night before, and woken up to the realisation that tomorrow it would be April the first. Fred and George's birthday.
She didn't think she could handle George right now. Oh, Merlin, that sounded horrible. Was George just her friend when it was convenient? Someone she pushed away on bad days, and kept on good ones, as if he were something without feelings?
He'd come to her. She couldn't leave him and lock him out, even though just looking at him was reminding her of the one person she couldn't ever be with again –
"Come in." Her voice was quivering. Damn you, Angelina, just be strong. Just for today. Just for a few hours. He needs you.
George took a step back. "I shouldn't have come. I'm stupid. Of course you don't want to see me. I don't want to see me."
"No!" She closed her fingers around his wrist. "A-Alicia isn't here. I – I don't want to be alone."
George bit his lip, unsure.
He came in, and put his coat on the same hook that Fred used to use. Angelina shut the door behind her. "Tea?"
George followed her into the kitchen. She couldn't bring herself to look him in the eye as she reached past him for the cups. He was wearing the same aftershave. She'd never noticed that before. It seemed to take ages for the tea to brew, and all the time they were waiting they didn't say a word.
"Are they...celebrating tomorrow?" she finally said, when the tea was done and she passed George his cup.
He blew on it and led the way to the sofa before answering, staring into his cup as he spoke. "Yeah. But no one wants to. They're just doing it because they think they should. I don't know which is worse. Pretending it's ok, or just accepting that it never will be."
"Don't say that."
He looked up at her. "No? Every time they celebrate our birthday, they're going to remember who isn't here."
Angelina looked down and sipped her tea. She couldn't think of anything to say to that. One sip. Two. She couldn't avoid looking at George forever. Bringing her eyes up to meet his, she glanced into the blue eyes and had to take another sip of her tea.
"You look at me just like everybody else does." His voice broke. "I shouldn't have come."
She was by his side in seconds, arms around his shoulders in a hug. "I'm sorry," she gasped. "Oh, George, I'm sorry." She looked him in the eye, and those blue eyes were killing her, but she looked. "I see you, George. Just you." A white lie couldn't hurt. George's shoulders trembled and she hugged him tighter.
She felt tears on her neck. "I can't do it, Angie. I can't – I thought Christmas would kill me. I can't do a birthday. I can't do it without Fred."
"Yes, you can." She bit her lip. It was the only thing she could say to the one person she was afraid would never recover.
"God, Angie, I've never not had a birthday without him. It's too hard. How am I supposed to do this?" he gasped. "I can't walk into that party. I can't see them." George lifted his head, tears running down his face. "He's supposed to be here. He said he'd come back. When he left with Percy, he said he'd see me later. He promised."
She was crying now, too. "I know."
"I miss him so much." He buried his head in her neck. "I think about him and there's this ache in my chest, and I just...I just want it to go away. I don't want to hurt and I don't know how to get rid of it."
He was shaking. She held him close and put her hand on his back, rubbing it soothingly. "It's supposed to get easier," she whispered.
"I try and pretend it does," he said softly. "I pretend it's ok. And the pain comes back and it's ten times worse. Do you know what the pathetic thing is? I even try and pretend he's still here. I close my eyes and pretend he's going to come up and shout in my ear. I even wait for it. I wait for him to shout. And he never does."
George looked back at her, and they were both shaking, both crying, their tears mingling together. The only thing they could do was find comfort in each other's arms.
She didn't know how it happened. They looked at each other, and they'd been talking and hugging and crying, and the feel of his arms around her was so comforting, and so Fred... it'd been so long since she'd kissed him...
Their lips met. It was salty and wet from their tears, but it was also familiar. Warm and soft, tender and magical. Her heart beat just that little bit faster, and the world began to fall away. Angelina moved her hand to the nape of his neck and rested it on her favourite spot. She shifted on the sofa. It felt so good to be in someone's arms, to feel safe again.
She kissed him harder and he responded, his hand in her hair, kissing her like she remembered, and it was wonderful. She found his neck and smelt his aftershave, running her hands through his hair. His lips found hers again and they lost themselves in the moment, in the feel of their bodies so close to each other. She began to seek other parts of his face, lightly kissing his forehead, nose, cheek, gradually moving towards his ear.
She reached it just as he sighed and said, "Angie –" – and she froze. There was no ear. Of course there wasn't. It had been cursed off. This was George. George, who called her Angie, not Angel, because only Fred called her Angel.
This wasn't Fred. It was George. He kissed like Fred, and he felt like Fred, but he wasn't Fred. He wasn't the boy who had shouted across the common room to ask if she wanted to go to the Yule Ball with him. He wasn't the young man who had surprised her with a bouquet of flowers that didn't actually do anything. It wasn't him.
The realisation tore through her like a whirlwind, and that familiar voice seemed so far away as it asked, "Angie? What's wrong?"
She pushed him away, throat tight, tears gathering in her eyes. The look of confusion and hurt that met her almost made her wince. "I'm sorry," she choked out. "I'm so sorry, George. I can't – I think you should leave."
"Why? What's wrong? I thought –" He reached for her hand and she pulled away, shaking her head, tears falling now.
Slowly, comprehension replaced the confusion on his face. George got off the sofa.
"You closed your eyes and pretended. You pretended he was there. You pretended I was him." His voice caught on the last word.
"George –" She reached for him, but this time it was he who pulled away.
"We're not interchangeable."
"I know –"
"Do you know why I came here tonight? To my twin brother's girlfriend? Because he loved you so much, and you knew him so well, that I thought you'd be able to look at me and see me. I thought that maybe, for a few hours, I could be with someone and not feel as though I'm a constant reminder that he's gone."
When the door shut behind him, Angelina buried her face in a pillow and cried, for letting herself believe just for a moment that Fred was back, and for George, who had only needed a friend, and had got her instead.
- END -
A/N: All reviews and concrit welcome! I found this quite hard to write, I'm not sure how well it works.