(Fair warning: this is a very long review, for which I'm sorry. I'd rather have sent it as a PM but I don't know if they allow those here.)
I didn't want to read this story. I didn't want to have anything to do with it because I knew how it would end. Of the many, many deaths I read about in the books, Fred Weasley's was the one that hit me hardest. For everyone else, there was some reason that they had to go: Dumbledore, Snape, Moody, Sirius, even Lupin and Tonks... But Fred. I never could understand why Fred went, and I will never, ever forgive Rowling for that.
And then you, with this story... I had to watch it all over again.
At its most powerful, fanfiction is more than just taking cues from the original and giving a life to them somewhere else- it becomes a self-reflexive exercise, reshaping the source itself. This is what your story does, and this is why it represents, for me, the very best that fanfiction can be. Because of course all of this happened. It couldn't have not happened.
Your Fred is my Fred, the one I know from the books. There's nothing out-of-character about him, nothing unbelievable about his relationship. I can see him laugh as he zooms off on his broomstick, blush lightly as he is perched on the bar stool, tease confidently in the Owlery, stare through blank, unbelieving eyes in his shop in Diagon Alley, speak bravely (but with a quiver in his voice) on Potterwatch. He can be all of these things at once, and still be Fred. And it's not just him- your George, always there, always knowing. I have never loved him more than when he turned around to look at Hollis during Molly's speech. It was an astonishingly beautiful thought, so simple, so natural- and my favourite moment in your story.
I don't know how I managed to get through Molly's speech. For a review as long as this, here's a silent thank you, said like a prayer.
But I don't want to fixate on the sadness because the sadness wouldn't have been poignant in the least had you not set up the rest of it so well. It was cruel and sneaky of you to draw us in with the rest of the chapters- but how wonderful they were. Light, fleeting, and laugh-out-loud funny. And Delphine! I loved that mad woman to bits! I roared in laughter at her satisfaction with the paltry gain of a biscuit at the end of their Gryffindor excursion, as an understanding Hollis sighs "Oh, Delphine".
And Hollis: so lovely, so lively, and familiar as anyone else. She seamlessly fits in with the world of the book because you've given her her own life (her independent association with Hagrid, for instance); her character isn't a prop that serves to highlight Fred's story. And you are the only person I've read who has made Hufflepuffs huffle and puffle believably and yet with so much majesty. They may play pranks, but will be ever so contained about it; they may go off on their own for 'adventuring', but they'll hide and watch when they do it. They may quarrel angrily, but ooh, look, a biscuit! I'm so grateful that you were committed enough to strike that balance.
And I'm so grateful that you wrote this story that I loved so much, so completely- every line, character, thought, moment. It's spectacular, and you are a spectacular author.
But I won't read it again, you know. I can't. I tried to, a few hours after the first time, but I couldn't. I don't want to think of whether Fred had ever got his swan, if it came to him just as he was dying, if he ever read it, or if he never will...
Author's Response: I'm sorry that it's taken me a while to respond to your review. I must have read it at least five times so far. I really can't express how grateful I am for your lovely review, and for reading a story that's been finished for a while and therefore usually doesn't get much traffic. Your feedback on all of the characters, on Hufflepuffs and Molly's speech and the relationships between everyone, brings a smile to my face. It makes me miss these characters and this story.
I'm sorry for the brevity of this response, but your review honestly kind of makes my brain mush, and it's difficult to articulate my appreciation. But thank you, thank you, THANK YOU.