Disclaimer and author's note: Harry Potter is the property of JK Rowling. In reality 1 April 1990 was not a Saturday…forgive my fudging of the dates. And yes, technically the day that George had lived longer without Fred than with him would be sometime in mid-April, but where's the symbolism in that?
The First of April
The seconds ticked down to midnight while George Weasley sat at the kitchen table, a cup of cold tea in front of him, his eyes fixed on the clock. And then, with a click of sobering finality, there it was. Elsewhere in the house, another clock chimed the hour and he exhaled a loud breath that he'd not realised he was holding, picked up the cup absently, and then put it down. It was the first of April, 2018, and he was forty years old, and now he'd lived more of his life without his twin brother than with him.
Echoes of the twelfth chime reverberated in his ears and he felt a sick wrench somewhere in the region of his liver. Or stomach. Or probably heart. For the last twenty years he'd still thought of it as their life, his and Fred's. It was just, Fred was...gone. But now, now, he was forty, and how could it still be Fred's life if Fred was only around for a fraction of it? George glared at the tea. How many people had he met in the past twenty years, and how many people would he meet in his life still to come, that would never know he was one half of a set of twins? It had felt unnatural at first, that unawareness, but then it had happened, over and over, for two decades now, and become just one of the consequences of being the survivor of the set. Any other time he could shrug it off, but tonight he'd allow himself the crash of…wrongness.
At least – he supposed the appropriate phrase was 'at least' – his pain had receded over the last two decades from a constant source of agony to something like an old wound that twinged sometimes and stabbed at others when conditions were right. Wrong. Whatever. He didn't know, sometimes, if he should be glad that most of the time he was happy, or if he should feel guilty for going on with his life.
No, he knew. He'd known from the moment Fred's coffin had been lowered into the ground in the little Ottery-St-Catchpole graveyard that Fred wouldn't want him to feel guilty. Fred would want him to get a grip, get a life, and get a girl, not necessarily in that order. Still, it'd never stopped George from wallowing. He'd wallowed a lot at first. But there had been the shop, and his friends, and his family (especially his family, once they'd all started breeding), and then there had been Angelina, beautiful Angelina Johnson who'd accepted his proposal and become Angelina Weasley, and bit by bit, little by little, it had stopped hurting quite so much. Oh, he'd never be whole. But he was close.
But it hurt now.
A quiet scuffling on the stairs reached his ears and he peered into the darkness, picking out a dark form crouched below the banister, unmoving, but with its head clearly turned towards the kitchen. George's smile was reflexive. "What are you doing up, Roxy?"
The dark form remained frozen for a second, but then it unfolded into a girl who'd shot up three inches in the last five months, making her self-conscious enough about her lankiness that she'd taken to slouching everywhere she went. She came reluctantly into the light of the kitchen and answered, "April Fool's Day." As if that explained everything.
Well, actually, it did. This was his daughter, after all, and April Fool's Day had been her and her brother's favourite holiday since they'd been mobile enough to compose a prank and knew enough words to bellow, 'April Fool!' "Breakfast's up there," George informed her, flicking his wand so that a high cabinet opened up and a package of chocolate pastries floated down to the table.
"Excellent," Roxanne said, pulling several sweets out of her pocket and deftly beginning to hide them inside the pastries. "Dad, you can't look at which one doesn't get the Canary Cream. That'll ruin it."
George duly shut his eyes. The chocolate pastries were their traditional April Fool's Day/Dad's birthday breakfast, despite the fact that every year, without fail, Fred and Roxanne had tucked Canary Creams into the filling. They were always hidden to 'prevent' this – that was part of the challenge – but normally not so inaccessibly. George rather thought that Angelina'd been hoping, now Fred was off at Hogwarts, that she'd not have to transform into a canary midway through breakfast.
"Okay, you can look." She was sitting at the table, the very picture of innocence, though her elbow was propped on the surface and she was holding up her head, a somewhat troubled look on her face.
George glanced at the tea one more time, and then pushed it aside. "Something bothering you?"
She shrugged. "Not really." When he raised an eyebrow at her, she sighed and said, "Maybe."
"What?" He was incredibly glad that one of his children was filling the first several minutes of this next-twenty-years. On the list of things-that-had-made-his-life-actually-pretty-bloody-brilliant, they were pretty high up there.
"You'll think it's stupid."
Smiling reassuringly at his daughter, he said, "I won't. I promise."
"You will, you'd never have to worry about something like this."
With a snort, he said, "I worry about loads of things, Rox, but one of the benefits of being a kid is that you don't have to hear about them."
Roxanne twisted a strand of her unruly ginger hair around a finger, one eyebrow raised in a way that reminded him very much of Angelina, but finally said reluctantly, as though she were still afraid that her father would laugh, "What if Fred does all our good jokes at Hogwarts this year? What if there's none left for me by the time I get there?"
She looked so earnestly concerned that he had to try not to smile. It was a battle worth winning – Roxy'd been sullen and unhappy for most of the past seven months, only cheering up when Fred had come home for the Christmas holidays. The two of them were less than a year apart in age, and George couldn't help but be forcefully reminded of himself and his twin brother – his son's namesake – when he watched them together. "Well," he said, "I've always found that the best jokes bear repeating, anyway."
"Dad, you're not helping," she said morosely.
George plunked his elbows on the table in imitation of her. "You know he can't possibly do all your jokes, Rox. I pride myself on the fact that even at your tender ages, you two are quite accomplished pranksters." Her gloomy look didn't lift, and George clamped down on his smile again. Together, Fred and Roxanne were easygoing and outrageous. Alone, they both had a tendency to let seriousness get in the way. Not unlike him, really – it was just that he and his brother had never been apart. "Have I ever told you about my first April Fool's Day with Uncle Fred at Hogwarts?"
Roxanne perked up immediately. "I don't think so."
The clock chimed again and George glanced at it, surprised to see that fifteen minutes had already passed since he'd turned forty. "Your grandmother sent us a Howler for it when she found out."
"Dad, tell me," she said.
He looked at her very seriously, though he thought the mischievous glimmer in his eyes was probably obvious. "Mum would want me to exact a solemn promise from you that you won't go doing this next year." When Roxanne stayed silent, George chuckled and said, "But I won't. Let's see, the morning of our twelfth birthday happened to be a Saturday. Your Uncle Charlie was the Gryffindor Quidditch captain, and Uncle Fred and I were still sore that he hadn't let us on the team."
"I thought first-years couldn't be on the team," Roxanne said, no doubt remembering her brother's (not to mention several of her cousins') loud complaining on this point.
"They can't," George grinned, "but it didn't stop us from whinging about it. So, on this particular first of April, luck had it that there was a Quidditch match. Fred and I sneaked down to the changing room and charmed all the Quidditch robes to keep flying up into the team's faces. And we were hoping to expose some of the girls' pants, but they all wore jeans anyway."
Giggling, Roxanne said, "They must not have played very well."
"Luckily for them it wore off after awhile – in time for them to win, at least. But the real coup de grâce was what we did to Charlie." He paused for effect and Roxanne leant forward eagerly. "We happened to know that Charlie was a particularly sound sleeper, so we sneaked into his dormitory and nicked his jeans and his belt. We stretched the waists on all the jeans out a couple sizes and then we broke the belt and put a Sticking Charm on it, so it'd hold together until the moment that we so chose." George couldn't help the devilish grin spreading across his face. "So on the pitch, the Gryffindor team's flying about like a load of prats, their robes in their faces and Ravenclaw killing them, and as Uncle Charlie goes by us in the stands once—" He pointed his wand demonstratively. "—belt broke, jeans fell off, and he was close enough to the stands that most of the school got a smashing view of his dragon knickers."
A fit of laughter overtook Roxanne and she nearly fell off her chair. "And Grandmum sent you a Howler?"
With a nod, George said, "Yep. First of many." For a second, he savoured the memory, recalling how upon the Howler's conclusion, the Great Hall had erupted into cheers and catcalls, and he and Fred had got up on the table to take several ostentatious bows before Charlie had chucked his goblet of pumpkin juice at them. McGongall had kept them after in Transfiguration later that day to tell them in no uncertain terms that they had better not do anything to sabotage the team in the upcoming match versus Slytherin, or they'd be in detentions from then until the end of the Summer term in June.
How had it been almost thirty years ago? And then – that wrench somewhere in his abdomen again – how could he never have dreamt that his brother would be gone eight years later? But that was stupid, of course he wouldn't've guessed. What kid thinks about that sort of rubbish? Death and living life to the fullest so you'd no regrets – kids didn't think about that, and anyway, it was what he and Fred had done without thinking. What his own kids did – well, so long as they weren't moping about there being no pranks left to play next year.
He ruffled his daughter's tightly-curled, flyaway hair. "I guess what I'm saying, kiddo, is the only way you'll run out of pranks is if you stop thinking of them." He paused. "And if that's the case, you always know where to come."
Without a word, Roxanne slid off her chair and hugged him. He put his arms around her shoulders and she finally said, "Thanks, Dad. I can't wait to go to Hogwarts."
He knew the feeling – oh, the agony of watching one's siblings go off every year, returning each holiday with more and more fantastic knowledge – but he didn't say anything. "Five more months," he replied instead, and she nodded vigorously. "Well, it's—" he checked the clock "—almost one in the morning, and you need to go to bed."
As if her body had just been waiting for the word, she yawned widely and then obediently started towards the stairs. George followed her, flicking off the lights in the kitchen with his wand as he went. Then, on the lowest step, she paused and turned round to give him a puzzled look. "Why were you up, anyway?"
George looked down at her. "Just fancied a cup of tea."
She shrugged, satisfied, and continued up to her bedroom, where she climbed into bed and pulled the blankets up to her chin. George stood in the doorway, a hand on the doorknob, until she was settled. "See you tomorrow, Roxy. Later today, I suppose."
"G'night," she yawned. Then, sleepily, she added, "Happy birthday, Dad."
He just smiled and pulled the door so that it was half-shut. When he turned around, Angelina was standing in the doorway to their bedroom, her arms crossed over her chest as she leant against the frame. "Which one won't turn me into a canary?" she asked quietly.
George gave her a horrified look, glanced over his shoulder to check that Roxanne's eyes were closed, and put a hand to his heart. "Ange, you know I can't tell you that."
She yawned and one of the straps of her nightie slipped off her shoulder. For a second he considered replacing it, but he did like that uninterrupted line of her neck, through to her bare shoulder, down to her arm. "Then I won't tell you what I caught her doing to the toothpaste."
"Moved on to the toothpaste this year, has she?"
"Only because I walked into the bathroom and caught her putting Stinksap in all the shampoo bottles."
George guffawed. "Didn't—"
"—Fred do that to me once? Yes." She quirked an eyebrow. "And before you say it, yeah, I know, it's hard to keep track sometimes."
Taking a step towards her, he pulled her into his arms and said unconvincingly, "I told him not to do it."
She kissed him softly, murmuring, "You and I both know very well that you didn't," before he deepened the kiss.
Suddenly, a voice groaned, "Ewwww, why can't I have normal parents who aren't snogging all the time?"
Angelina snorted with laughter and pulled away to look over George's shoulder into their daughter's bedroom. "April Fool," she tried.
George just shook his head at this severe lack of understanding for the noble day while Roxy said, "How is it an April Fool, you're always doing it."
"It's our job as parents to embarrass you, Roxy," George informed her. "Consider yourself lucky that you've got this trial period to accustom yourself to our mortifying behaviour in private, because soon you'll have friends round and then it'll be really bad."
She made a disgusted noise and George met Angelina's eyes for a fleeting second before they both had to look away to keep from bursting into laughter. "Come on," Angelina said, tugging him into their bedroom. Then, in a louder tone, she added, "We need to spare our long-suffering daughter our antics."
With the door closed, and in bed, George really saw no need to replace the strap of Angelina's nightie, and he kissed her lingeringly, running a hand down her back and curling it around her waist. She was as beautiful as the day he'd realised that he was completely mad about her, in those long-ago years of their twenties when everything had hurt so much more and she'd made everything so much better.
"George," she murmured as she linked her fingers with his, "happy birthday." He opened his eyes and found hers were locked on his. There was a gentle acuity there and she put her other hand in his hair, running her fingers through it. "He's not going anywhere, no matter how much time passes."
He smiled faintly, not really surprised that she'd guessed why he'd been up. "How did you know?"
She smoothed his hair. "Because I'm your wife and I understand you better than you think."
Catching her hand and kissing it, he said, "Not better than I think. I know you're the most marvelously perceptive woman in the Wizarding world."
Giving him a crooked smile, she said, "And you're the biggest flatterer." She looped her arms around his neck and slid a hand into the neck of his t-shirt, resting it between his shoulder blades. "You don't really need me to tell you that, though," she said, and he knew she meant what she'd said about Fred – though he didn't need to be told he was a shameless flatterer either; he was well aware.
"It doesn't seem like it's been twenty years," he finally said. "If you'd've asked me then I'd've said I'd never make it to forty." His eyes fell on the photo of his family on Angelina's side of the bed – Freddie in his new school robes, Roxy doffing and donning a Headless Hat, and him and Angelina, looking…happy. The kind of happy that he'd never thought he'd have again twenty years ago. He swallowed hard. "And now here I am." She was looking at him steadily, and he almost, almost said 'I couldn't have done it without you' – but that wasn't the way the two of them spoke to each other; that kind of sentimentality was best left to others. Anyway, it went unsaid. It was so fundamentally true that there was no point saying it.
"George Weasley," Angelina said softly, with a small smile to match, "today's no different from yesterday and Fred's no less a part of your life than he's been. But," she said pointedly, "more importantly, if Fred knew that you were harbouring some idea that the length of time he's been gone decreases his significance, he'd have some choice words."
At that, George couldn't help but grin. "Choice words? He'd have some choice pranks. Like sneaking that half-finished Fever Fudge into dinner."
"Yes," Angelina said drily. "How lucky for you that the boils left scars in a place that only your wife's likely to see."
"Who says only my wife saw them?" She swatted at him lightly and his grin got a little crooked. "Though I'll admit the missing ear got me loads more girls than the self-testing inflicted scars on my—"
She put a hand over his mouth and he obediently dropped the subject of his scars. "Leaving your ill-advised product testing aside," she said, "he's never really gone, is he?"
When she removed her hand, he took the opportunity to pull her closer and kiss her. "No," he said, feeling the wrench again, though it was less painful this time. "Those magnificent kids of ours prove that. He'd've loved being their uncle."
The clock downstairs struck one and the chime was less painful than George had anticipated it being. Maybe because the truth of Angelina's words rang truer than any clock marking the passage of time separating him from his once-living twin.
Before he turned out the lights, he glanced one more time at the photo of his happy little family, and this time the wrench he felt in his chest was a twist of contrary joy, of disbelief that he could come from that horrible moment on the second of May to this one, here and now, and say that he was a lucky man; that maybe life had taken Fred from him and left a huge gaping hole, but just look at what it had given him, as well.
A door creaked outside their bedroom and light footsteps padded down the stairs. Angelina sighed, though there was a twitch of a smile on her face. George just snorted and turned the lights out, letting his daughter prepare whatever prank she had in mind for them without parental interference. It was, after all, the first of April, and he was George Weasley, never one to stand in the way of a good practical joke. Fred wouldn't have had it any other way.