by Jasmine Edwards
Born to a book lover and professor, my twin sister and I were bound to become voracious readers at an early age. And we did, listening to children’s books read by our mom every night and flipping through those same pages on our own in the daytime. Amid all the fantastic fairytales and anthropomorphic animals, however, there was always something missing. I couldn’t figure it out, but I knew I felt my unhappiness ease when there was at least a dynamic sibling duo or trio featured. It wasn’t until I read J.K. Rowling’s The Sorcerer’s Stone that I realized what I had been missing in my life: the sibling relationship I was living. Not only did Fred and George Weasley change books for me—they changed how I thought about myself in the world. This piece attempts to convey the immense gratitude I feel toward Rowling for creating perhaps the most famous literary twins of all time, and for letting me and my twin share in the magic she gave them.
I was eight years old when I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1998). By then, the first few films had been released, though I had not seem them yet. There was an unspoken ‘book first’ rule in our house—and besides, my mother was afraid the movies might scare me. Thus I journeyed first through printed pages with Harry from Privet Drive to Diagon Alley to King’s Cross Station. There, in chapter 6, I was amazed at what I read:
“I’m not Fred, I’m George,” said the boy. “Honestly, woman, you call yourself our mother? Can’t you tell I’m George?”
“Sorry, George, dear.”
“I’m only joking, I am Fred,” said the boy, and off he went.” His twin called after him to hurry up… (p. 92)
I burst out laughing and looked for my sister. Cody was reading a different book at the time, but I jumped up and shared the passage with her immediately. There we finally are, I wanted to say. The mysteries of twinhood had long since alluded my friends and even family members, so a mainstream pair was an obvious bridge to that gap.
It was a joke I’d played on my mother many times at their age. Although we look wildly different now, my twin and I were the same height and build when we were eleven, with the same shade of blonde hair and blue eyes. Being twins was vital to our identity, which had us dressing in the exact same clothes for years, though this trend was also encouraged by our grandmother, who was under the impression that that was what all twins ‘should do.’ People stared when we went out. There weren’t enough identical twins in our small town to stop the questions or out-loud recognition of our eerily similar appearance. No one actually understood.
I do not write this lightly, considering how representation often falls into a land of caricatures or vilification. Rowling never fell into this trap. Sure, her twins were funny, because a lot of people find near-clones funny. That’s not all they were, though. Lovable rogues, fiery redheads, bickering brothers; they were dynamic, inspiring, and real. She wrote a twin bond in the way I don’t think any other authors have so perfectly been able to capture, because so often they refer to some ‘unbreakable intimacy’ or ‘magical bond’ or wax poetic about never leaving each other’s side, missing the point entirely. Fred and George were never insulted like that.
Fred and George Weasley are the Harry Potter books’ pranksters. As mentioned before, their introduction uses an adorable joke. Their dialogue neatly introduced their relationship and personalities (the plural is significant here, considering the alleged truth that identical twins are basically the same person). Older than Harry’s best friend and their brother, Ron Weasley, they become mentors when they reveal Hogwarts’ secrets in books two and three: secret passages that let our golden trio roam the castle unseen. Not the best role models, Fred and George enjoy the sneakier joys in life and don’t mind roping Ron, Harry, Hermione, and other underclassmen into insubordinate actions. School bores them. They are never written as slackers, however; their brilliance is simply channeled into other fields of magic. The street-smart bunch, Fred and George excel most at showy spells such as fireworks, trick candies, and marauding maps.
As background characters, the Weasley twins’ careful treatment by Rowling may have gone unnoticed to you. Rowling accomplished an amazing task, though. She showed us twin love rather than plopping generic words about them onto the page and expecting the reader to fill in the rest. If you thought it was quirky to hear them speak in unison (I tried to count how many times Rowling wrote “said together” for them and I lost count), it’s not! That actually happens frequently with me and my sister and, I’m sure, countless other twins. We’ll answer a question with the same words and inflection, completely unplanned. My particular favorite moment of this is in book seven, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows (2007). Harry’s friends all take the polyjuice potion, which turns them all into exact replicas of Harry Potter, an experience that causes the twins to exclaim, “‘Wow- we’re identical!’” (p. 51). Rowling wrote this so organically that it still warms my heart today, even after reading the books about thirteen times each.
These characters are rarely seen apart? Not a trope. If I read a page with only Fred but not George, I’d wonder where he went and how Fred was holding up. Twins understand one another better than anyone else can. We’re like hand-made best friends. Any distance between Fred and George would have been unnatural. Also not a trope is the ‘mind-reading’ conversations. I know what Cody is saying from across the room by just meeting her eyes; Fred and George have whole conversations, not pre-planned, where they follow each other’s train of thought without hesitation. They know what the other brother wants or needs because the feelings are mutual. Rowling put those connected minds to great use in developing their ‘ditch-school-and-get-rich’ plan. Inventors and innovators, Fred and George Weasley created the prank shop Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes right before the series’ darkest, saddest storyline unfolded. It could only run with the two of them there. That illustrates an unwavering love for each other as well as the author’s attention to abilities they share.
I only have one qualm with Rowling’s Weasley twin plot, but she’s apologized for it, and I understand why she did it. Killing Fred was far too much for me. I cried for days after. I actually had to sit The Deathly Hallows and come back to it in a few hours before I could move past it. The death of one twin while the other survives is so unfathomably cruel that I think most authors find it necessary in their books. To me, it comes across as more shock value for shock’s sake. It hurts actual twins so much, yet authors use it for a pathos grab. Rowling didn’t. She had to impact every single character with a death, and she had to push her child readers into the same fast adulthood into which Harry himself was forced. Do I believe Fred’s murder could have been avoided in her storyline? No. Still, that doesn’t break my heart any less.
When I finally watched the movies and saw James and Oliver Phelps in the frame together, so brilliantly identical, I had the same bubbling, overjoyed feeling that I did reading their introduction. Fred and George are part of me today; cinematic or literary versions, I adore them. Rowling practically gift-wrapped their whole storyline (minus Fred’s ending) for twins everywhere.
In 2016, I had the privilege of meeting James and Oliver Phelps with my twin. We gushed over how much their portrayal meant to us, but of course they already knew. A year later, Cody and I got our first and only tattoo—a matching one, of course. On my right shoulder, in the movie’s chosen font, I have Mischief and the map footprints, which run over to her left shoulder, reading Managed. J.K. Rowling’s story had such an indelible impact on me and my twin that we wanted their famous quote permanently inked onto our skin. Fred and George’s legacy lives on in those small decisions, in every kid’s laughter, in my heart, on my bookshelf, and on the days when Cody and I dress alike to confuse our friends.
Mischief managed, indeed.