"On a scale of one to ten," Ginny said, plopping down next to me on the Burrow's couch with Hazel in her arms, "how obsessed do you think everyone is with your baby?"
"Ten being the most?" I asked, looking over at her before glancing back over at Fleur, who I'd been talking to before Ginny came over.
"Yes, ten is the most," Ginny said, absentmindedly stroking Hazel's fur.
"Not including you, a ten," I said. "Including you, a one hundred and ten."
Ginny laughed. "True," she said.
It was Christmas Eve. Three months and one day ago, on September 23rd, I'd given birth to a healthy baby girl.
Months before that, once we'd broken then news to my brother about making George godfather, he'd pretended to be dramatically offended and jokingly said that we should at least name the baby after him to compensate. I had laughed and rolled my eyes, but later Fred had pulled me aside and whispered, "I don't mind. If you want to name the baby after your brother. Just so you know." I had looked at him in surprise before grinning and kissing him.
But the thing was that we hadn't asked to know the gender beforehand. So on the day I gave birth and the nurse announced we had a baby girl, I was prepared to tell her the girl's name that Fred and I had agreed upon. But before I could say anything, Fred looked at me and smiled. "I know we didn't actually discuss this, but...what do you think of the name Juliana?"
I had blinked in surprise a few times before grinning and nodding my head happily. So Juliana it was.
She was only three months old, but still new enough to be a big hit with the family. Victioire, Bill and Fleur's daughter, was just as much of a show stealer, though. She was nineteen months old, funny, intelligent and adorable to boot. She loved Hazel to pieces, but I wasn't sure Hazel felt the same way about her considering Victoire had a habit of throwing herself on top of the poor cat whenever she was sleeping on the floor in front of the fire.
"Hug!" Victoire would yell happily as Hazel yowled and ran away, hiding herself at the top of the bookshelf.
Now, I looked over my shoulder to see my brother standing across the room, holding Julianna in his arms as he talked to Percy. I watched as he suddenly wrinkled his nose in the middle of the conversation and looked down in horror at the innocent looking baby in his arms.
"Uh-oh," I muttered with a smile.
"What?" Ginny asked, turning to follow my gaze. When she saw my brother's face, she laughed. "He looks disgusted. How much do you want to bet he tries to pass the baby back to you?"
"I'd bet all my money," I said instantly.
We watched as Julian excused himself from talking to Percy and made his way over to me.
"Yes?" I asked innocently, pretending I didn't know what he was about to tell me.
"J Two has a dirty diaper," he announced, using the nickname he'd invented himself (and that he insisted was insanely clever).
"You want to have a go at changing her?" I asked. "You've yet to attempt." I raised my eyebrows in amusement.
"No, no, I've been hogging her enough this evening. Don't you want some quality time with your daughter on Christmas Eve, Lilah?"
I sighed and rolled my eyes as I fought back a smile. Just as I was reaching out for the baby, Fred came out of nowhere. "I've got it," he whispered, giving my shoulder a squeeze before taking Julianna from my brother. "You just enjoy yourself."
"You sure?" I asked.
"Yeah," Fred nodded. "You deserve a break. This is the closest you've gotten to a night out in three months, so enjoy it."
"But the same goes for you."
"Which is why the next diaper change is all yours," Fred teased with a wink as he headed for the stairs.
"I'm sorry," Julian said, sitting down beside me. "I didn't think."
"About what?" I asked in surprise.
"About how you haven't been able to get out much since you had the baby. You must've just wanted one night to yourself where you didn't have to worry about her and then here I come, handing her back to you at the first sign of a dirty diaper."
"Nah, I'm always thinking about her no matter what," I said. "There's no escaping babies. They're little, but powerful."
Julian smiled and nodded. "She's already charmed the whole family. Although, the smell of that diaper wasn't charming in the least." He wrinkled his nose.
"Fred gagged and nearly vomited the first time he changed one of her nastier diapers," I said with a giggle. "That was pretty entertaining."
"You think he's okay up there now?" Julian asked, glancing towards the stairs.
I nodded. "He's becoming quite the diaper changing pro."
Julian was quiet for a moment before he leaned back into the couch and rested his arms across the back of it as he studied me.
"What?" I asked.
"Nothing," he answered casually. "It's just...you seem really happy."
"I am," I said earnestly. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"No, that's the point," Julian said. "Everything's going your way for once. Everything worked out. You have Fred, you got married, and you're starting a wonderful family of your own. I'm really happy for you. You got everything you ever wanted and I'm glad. You deserve it."
I looked at him with a soft smile. "Thanks, Jules. That means a lot." I looked at him for a moment before glancing towards the other side of the room, where Kat was talking with Hermione. "How are things with Kat?"
"Fine," he said. "I mean, I get pretty busy with all the hours at St. Mungo's-I'm sure you can imagine. But she's really good about it and I always make a point to still spend as much time with her as I can."
"Do you think you'll be joining the married people club any time soon?" I asked with a smile. "One by one people are pairing off you, know. Not too long ago, Harry and Ginny got engaged and I'm pretty sure Ron will be asking Hermione soon. Just as soon as he can get up the courage, or she can get impatient and be the one to ask him. Whatever comes first."
"Oh, please," Julian said. "I don't need to be jumping on the wedding bandwagon just because everyone else is. But no, things are too busy right now and besides, three weddings to plan at once would be a bit much, don't you think? I think it's best if we let the others have their time and I can always wait until things calm down. It works better for me anyway, because like I said, things are really busy."
"Uh-huh," I said studying his face.
"What?" he asked with a laugh.
"Ask her when you want," I said. "Whenever you think is right. To hell with everyone else and being busy." I tilted my head. "You've thought of asking her, though?"
Julian nodded as a slow smile spread over his face. "Yeah, I have."
I grinned. "Good. I like her. I'd love to have her be a part of the family."
Julian smiled, but before he could answer, Fred returned, Julianna in his arms, her head nuzzled into his chest as she reached for his shirt buttons.
"That was one nasty diaper," he said, passing the baby to me before sitting down beside me and looking down at her. "Also, I'm surprised the party hasn't tired her out yet. Being passed to so many people all night would tire anyone out."
"She's clearly a party animal just like you," I said.
"At least that's one thing we have in common," Fred sighed dramatically.
"Oh, come on," I said. "She has your beautiful blue eyes. And already a few freckles. She has almost your whole face, really. She just has brown hair. You can't be mad about the lack of red hair forever."
"It's a tradition for Weasleys to have red hair," Fred insisted. "It's just going to take some getting used to."
"Victoire is blonde like Fleur," I said, "and you don't see Bill complaining."
"No, but that's because he's always been perfect like that," Fred scoffed as I rolled my eyes. After a minute, he smiled and leaned forward to kiss my cheek. "She's perfect, with or without red hair," he murmured. "You know I don't really care about the hair color, don't you?"
I nodded. "I do. Thank goodness I'm aware of your tendency to make jokes and also know when you're making one and not being serious."
"I love that you know me so well," Fred said quietly, kissing a line from my cheek to my neck.
"Stop," I giggled. "How much firewhiskey have you had?"
"Practically none," Fred insisted. "Come on, I'm sure you can tell. You also know me well enough to know when I'm drunk." He pulled away and looked at me with a lopsided grin. "Can't I just have a little fun on Christmas Eve?"
"Not in front of our entire family," I giggled. "And there's also no mistletoe, so sorry, I can't be caught kissing you." I grinned to show I was teasing.
"Ah, but see, you're wrong on that second bit," Fred said, reaching behind his back and pulling out a sprig of mistletoe. He dangled it over our heads and I stared up at it for a moment with a slight smile.
"Fine," I answered, looking back at him. "You win." And then I leaned in and kissed him.
"Are you sure the two of them can handle this?" I asked Fred nervously, looking at him through the bedroom mirror as I finished putting on my earrings. Fred glanced up at me from buttoning his shirt and rolled his eyes.
"Positive," he said. "I mean, Julian at the very least is responsible. George could potentially start panicking every time Julianna does something as simple as sneeze. But Julian can knock some sense into him. That's why it's good to have them babysit together."
"Two grown adults to watch one four and a half month old baby do nothing but sleep for most of the night." I shook my head and smiled.
"I don't personally care how many family members are watching her," Fred said, coming up behind me and resting his chin on my shoulder as he wrapped his arms around my waist. "Just as long as she's being taken care of and we get to actually enjoy a night out alone for the first time in months."
"You're the one who was in such a hurry to have children at first, remember?" I teased. "I wanted to wait."
"But we didn't end up waiting. Not long anyway."
"Only because I wasn't thinking straight after Lee's party," I answered. "I didn't intend on getting pregnant then. But I don't regret it and I wouldn't change it for the world."
"Neither would I," Fred whispered, kissing my cheek. He pulled away from me and held out his hand, giving me a once over as I slipped my hand into his. "I officially have the world's most beautiful Valentine."
I grinned before leaning up to kiss his cheek. "Come on," I said, tugging on his hand to lead him from the room. "George and Julian will be here soon."
"They better be on time," Fred said, glancing at his watch. "If they get too held up with their own Valentine's Day dates, we're going to be late for ours."
"Oh, come on," I said as we reached the bottom of the stairs, "it was nice of them to shift their plans to an earlier time so that we could go out. They volunteered to do this. They volunteered to come here and rearrange their plans. We didn't even have to ask."
"True," Fred said, leaning down to kiss me. "I'm just anxious to be alone with my extremely beautiful wife." He grinned before kissing me again.
In the middle of the kiss, the doorbell rang. I turned my head towards the door, but Fred wouldn't let go of my waist. He instead laughed and pulled me closer as he kissed my neck.
I laughed. "You have to let me go so I can answer the door! The sooner I let them in the sooner we can get a move on!"
"You have a point," he murmured, pressing one last kiss to my collarbone before letting me go. But I had only managed to take two steps towards the door before he grabbed me from behind again and started kissing my shoulder with a laugh.
"Fred," I squealed, trying to push him off. "Julian and George are waiting outside!"
Just then, I heard George's voice through the door. "You're going to have to make me godfather of your next child too at this rate!"
"No, that's already going to be me," Julian argued. "They promised and it's only fair!"
"You got to have this baby named after you!" George argued back. "It's only fair to do something to honor me next time."
"They can name the next baby after you if they make me godfather," Julian said.
George was quiet for a moment before he pounded on the door. "Hey, Fred, how do you feel about the names George-or Georgina-for your next baby?"
"What do you think?" I asked Fred with a giggle.
"I hate them," he answered with a laugh of his own.
"Me too," I answered.
Fred chuckled before turning and swinging open the door. "Those are horrid names," he announced to his twin as I practically doubled over with laughter from behind him.
"I'm offended," George gasped. "Maybe I don't want to babysit anymore."
"Get inside, you big baby," Julian said with a roll of his eyes as he dragged George inside. "From the looks of it, I'm going to have to watch two children tonight."
"Good luck," Fred told him, giving him a pat on the shoulder. He looked at me. "Let's give them the whole speech on what they need to do for the night and get going. Quickly, before George gets too bored and starts whining or tuning out."
I snorted as George rolled his eyes. Five minutes later, Fred and I had left Julianna in the complete care of two people who were not us, and were heading out to dinner.
"You think they'll be okay?" I asked with a nervous glance back at the house.
Fred reached out and gently turned me to face him before giving me a gentle kiss. "They'll be fine. Now let's go before I change my mind." He smiled and took my hand as we Apparated away.
Six and a half months later
"Let's try it again on our own this time, yeah?"
I laughed at Fred's excitement as I watched him grab Julianna and carry her back across the room from where I was sitting cross legged on the floor. We had been trying to get her to take her first steps on her own for a few days now. She was so close to doing it. She could stand on her own, but not walk without one of us holding her hands. Or, rather, her hands gripping our fingers for dear life. And if we ever slid our fingers from her grasp, she'd stand frozen in place for a bit before falling to the ground and crawling.
Fred reached the other side of the living room and squatted down, placing Julianna on her feet in front of him. He slowly let go of her sides and she stood in place, looking at me.
"Come on...come here!" I urged, holding out my arms for her. Julianna grinned at me, showing off a grand total of four teeth. She wobbled a bit before inching one leg forward and wobbling some more.
"Go, go, go," Fred chanted happily from behind her.
Slowly and unsteadily, Julianna took two more steps before stopping and wobbling again. Fred crawled forward and steadied her from behind before letting go again.
"Go to Mummy!" he said, resting back on his knees as Julian wobbled forward a few more steps before stopping again. I stayed where I was, urging her forward energetically.
She took three more shaky steps before falling to her knees and letting out a whine as she looked over at me.
I sighed as I looked at her affectionately.
"Dramatics again," Fred said with a laugh. "Not a single tear in her eye?"
"Nope," I said, shaking my head. "She's perfectly fine."
Fred let out an amused sigh of his own before crawling forward and scooping Julianna into his arms, kissing her cheek as he did so. "You're fine," he told her with a laugh as he kissed her cheek again. "You fall down, you get up," he said, setting her on her feet again. There was a pause before Julianna hesitantly began walking towards me again. I looked up and met Fred's eyes over the top of her head. I smiled.
"And life goes on," I said quietly as Fred grinned back.
And then Julianna finally made her way over to me and crashed into my lap, now giggling and smiling-the total opposite of her mood a moment ago. Fred joined us and leaned in to give me a gentle kiss.
"And life goes on," he repeated before leaning in to kiss me again.
I know this chapter is being posted earlier than usual, but I managed to get it done and it's also the last chapter of the story! We made it! I can't thank everyone enough for reading and reviewing and sticking with me through this story. I never expected it to end up as long as it did or to be writing it for as long as I have, but it's been quite a ride! Again, thank you to everyone who's been favoriting, reading and reviewing. It means so much!
I am working on another story and hopefully I'll be ready to start posting it soon! But until then, Mischief Managed! :)