March 31, 2017
Author's Note: I think this story sounded better in my head, lol. I know zilch about babies and pregnancies and giving birth, so thanks SO MUCH to Weasleymama for answering some questions about all that for me. :) Hope you enjoy this sappy little thing. Reviews appreciated!
Happy Birthday, Freddy
As soon as the last customer scurried out of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes with an armful of goodies, the door slammed closed and the 'Welcome' sign flipped over to 'Go Away.'
George heaved his largest sigh of the year and collapsed onto the stool behind the register with an exhausted laugh.
"We survived," Verity said from the floor, playing the part of, George could only assume, a Graphorn-skin rug.
"Made it through another April Fool's Day sale with all limbs attached. Are your limbs attached?"
Verity laughed. "I'm too tired to check, but they all seem to be present and accounted for." Then she groaned. "We still have to restock the shelves and empty the register and clean up…."
George surged to his aching feet, a whining sound involuntarily escaping his throat. "No, I insist you go home and rest up at once."
"What! George, no. There's so much to do, and you can't do it alone!"
He bent over, several spots along his spine cracking in quick succession, and grabbed Verity's arm, tugging on it to motivate her to get up. "I can and I will. What I can't do is pull you up from the floor because my body will break in half if I try. So why don't you help me out by standing on your own and going home?"
"You do this to me every year. Maybe I want to help with the post-sale closing duties. Did you ever think of that, George? Did you?"
A smile stretched across his face as he straightened. "Considered it. Decided I like those duties too much to ever share them with anyone. Go home."
"You're the worst boss ever," she replied without heat.
It was an old argument and a favorite of theirs, practically a tradition at this point. Every year, Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes held a sale on March 31st, drawing in customers interested in April Fool's Day joke products. Every year, the store was bombarded with people from the moment they opened at ten in the morning until the extended shopping hours ended at ten that night. Every year, George sent Verity home as soon as the shop closed and took care of the tasks involved with closing himself. It wasn't Verity's fault, after all, that George had had the bright idea for the sale. Maybe she had encouraged the initial idea with enthusiasm until the sale's launch, but still. No need for her to suffer for the sake of George's greed.
Both of them groaned dramatically as they shuffled around the store, Verity removing her work robes and collecting her things to leave while George cashed out and swept the floor. After she'd gone, he sat down on the stool again, sighing—again.
"Well, Freddy," he said to the vacant room, "another year has come and gone."
He paused as if waiting for a response, or maybe inventing one.
"Yep, in another—" he looked down at his watch "—forty-three minutes we'll be twenty-six years old. Can you believe that?"
His gaze scanned the display tables that had been filled to brimming with precarious piles of joke products that morning, now picked over and empty. The shelves looked lonesome with their holes of missing goods where customers had chosen their selections from the middle rather than the top of the stacks.
One hand lifted to the side of his head, reaching for a vital appendage that he had lost over six years ago. More often than he liked to admit, he could still feel a tickle or an itch on the ear that wasn't there, and more often than anyone knew, he still imagined Fred's voice and laughter right beside him.
George frowned. "Hmph. Not very talkative today, are you? I guess I do need to finish stocking."
He went through the motions of pulling boxes out of the storage room and replacing items on the shelves and tables. It was thoughtless work, which gave his mind plenty of opportunity to wander.
Over the years, George had become quite skilled at feigning excitement for his birthday. He'd seen on that first birthday after the war, the first one without Fred, how much his mum had needed a celebration on that day instead of a memorial, so he'd acted for her. He'd done it so well, he'd almost had himself convinced of his own excitement.
Now it was just something his family did. A party, just like for everyone else, with a cake, half-strawberry (George's favorite) and half-chocolate (Fred's favorite). There were balloons and streamers, and George always brought enough Headless Hats for everyone ("I've already lost an ear, might as well lose my whole head!") and Wildfire Whizz-bangs for the after-dinner entertainment.
Maybe that was why George had started having the April Fool's Day sale. If he kept himself preoccupied by preparing for his busiest day of the year, then he couldn't think about his looming birthday and the party and the act he would have to play for his family.
He finished arranging a stack of Patented Daydream Charms and then stopped, looking around the shop again as if searching for something, waiting for something. There was a pressure in his chest that no deep breath he'd attempted so far could relieve.
"Maybe I'll finish up in the morning," he said into the quiet.
The quiet answered him with a whoosh and a cried out, "George!"
Ginny's discordant voice emanated from the Floo in the office, her eyes wild among the green flames. George propped himself up against the doorframe, his exhaustion intensifying the longer he stayed awake.
"Ginny! We missed you today. Could have used the extra support."
"I know, sorry I couldn't make it. I'll make time to help out with the back to school rush at the end of the summer, okay?"
"Pish, I say! I know as well as you do that that is when you're busiest gearing up for the new season. But I'll accept your good intentions and wrangle you for our Christmas sale, how about that? What are you doing up this late? Don't you have a match in the morning?"
"Forget Quidditch. Angelina's water broke!"
George rolled his eyes. "Oh, ha ha. Didn't we teach you anything, Ginbug? You can't prank a prankster."
"No, George, I'm serious. Angelina's water broke. We're all at St. Mungo's now. Me, Mum, Dad, Ron and Hermione, Harry. Even Percy's here. Angelina, too, of course."
It finally sank in that Ginny was in earnest, and George sprang away from the doorframe, frantically zooming around the shop to find and don his cloak.
"Why didn't anyone tell me?" he shouted as he tripped over a box sitting on the floor. A curse followed his question, but he continued to hop on one foot from the register back to the office to deposit the day's earnings in the safe. Coins clinked together in the money bag in a staccato rhythm with each jump.
"I'm telling you right now!" Ginny yelled back. "I'll keep the connection open. Just come through when you're ready!"
Her head disappeared from the flames, which continued to crackle with a green light.
George double-checked the register, the safe, and the wards on the door before he stepped through the fireplace, directly into the Floo room at St. Mungo's. Three walls in the room sported four fireplaces each. Two walls were dedicated to incoming and outgoing patients and visitors while the third wall housed fireplaces that could be used to make Floo calls. Ginny stood next to the fireplace George had just used, a smile spreading across her face in excitement.
George couldn't muster up any emotion except fear. "She's three weeks early, Gin. What happened? Is she all right? Has a Healer seen her?"
"Relax! She's fine. Mum's with her. She hadn't been seen by a Healer yet when I left her. Come on."
He followed her through a waiting room and up the stairs to the Maternity Ward, a floor George remembered from the birth of Bill and Fleur's first child, Victoire, four years ago. The walls were the same lilac color and enchanted with the same paintings of mobile infants in fat diapers. They crawled from wall to wall, stopping to peer over a visitor's shoulder as they waited in the lobby, crying silently when another infant tugged a toy out of their grabby hands, or sleeping in a nest of watercolor blankets.
The Weasley clan dominated the waiting area, Angelina in a wheelchair in the midst of the bunch. She grinned as soon as she spotted George, but George continued to scan as much as he could see of her, searching for an injury or defect that had not been there when he'd left her at home that morning.
He fell to his knees in front of her, running his fingers lightly over her belly before grasping her hands in his. "Is the baby okay? Are you? Are you hurt?"
Angelina rolled her eyes and looked at Molly. "I told you he'd be a wreck, didn't I?"
Molly smiled. "George, dear, she's fine. Everything's fine. It's not unnatural for babies to be early."
"This early?" he asked, turning his wide eyes to his mother for comfort, as he always had in his childhood.
Percy and Hermione both began to spout ominous statistics, but Harry, blessed Harry, shushed them until the grew silent again.
Angelina squeezed his hand and gave him a reassuring smile. "Sit next to me and tell me how the sale went."
George collapsed into a chair beside Ron, and Molly wheeled Angelina closer so she wouldn't have to let go of her husband. "How can I talk about money at a time like this? I'm about to be a father!"
Sensing his growing unease, Angelina took over the conversation, telling him about her day and the events that led up to their arrival at St. Mungo's. By the end of her tale, George had calmed down, and a room had become available.
George went with her as she was admitted to a room and changed into a hospital gown. He had to help her up into the bed, and both of them sighed in relief once she became settled. The Healer swept in and took a peek between Angelina's legs (George hovering protectively over the Healer's shoulder to observe). Words were exchanged, and though he tried to concentrate, George couldn't make sense of any of them. He watched, as if standing behind soundproof glass, as the Healer rifled through pages of parchment attached to a clipboard and Angelina nodded, her brow creased in concentration or growing concern.
He blinked and came back to himself when Angelina dug her fingernails into his palm. "Sorry, what was that?"
With a knowing glint in her eye and a kind smile, the Healer said, "I hope you've got a name picked out because you'll be parents very soon."
"A name. Oh, yes, we have some ideas," George said distractedly.
"I'll be back in a little bit to check on you again. If you need anything, press that button on the wall next to the bed and someone will be right with you."
Angelina thanked her and George nodded as the Healer left, a crushing silence descending upon them.
"Are you okay?" she asked softly, trying to meet George's distant, brown gaze.
"You're asking me if I'm okay? You're the one about to push a human being out of your body!"
"Well, there's no need to ask myself if I'm okay. I already know, don't I?"
Her reply had the desired effect of making George laugh, and he kissed her forehead, grateful for her, grateful that she knew just what to say.
"Are you scared?" he asked her.
"A little. Excited mostly. You?"
Silence descended as George wrestled with his feelings. He'd thought he had three more weeks to get used to the idea of becoming a father. They hadn't even finished decorating the nursery. The project had, unfortunately, taken less precedence in the wake of the preparations for the April Fool's Day sale at the shop. He regretted the extra time he'd spent away from home now. He should have finished the nursery weeks ago.
He looked down at his fingers entwined with Angelina's. His freckled knuckles. Her ebony skin. He'd always loved the way they looked together, and the thought of having a child with her, an Angelina-George hybrid, sent a flutter through his stomach and up into his throat. Soon they would know for sure what kind of child they'd make. Soon they would find out what kind of parents they'd be.
"I keep thinking about him," he said, his voice low. He kept his gaze on their interlocked hands, but he saw her tilt her head as she waited for him to continue. "Fred. He never got the chance to know this feeling, this excitement and dread and terror. He'll never have children of his own. We'll never sit around the Burrow arguing over who has the cuter baby. When I gave any thought to having a family, I always imagined we'd have children at the same time. Cousins who'd grow up close as siblings."
He looked up then and saw Angelina's lips trembling, her eyes full of tears, but she smiled, and George knew—knew with the same certainty he'd always known Fred's thoughts—that his twin had not been far from her mind, either.
"He'll be with us in spirit," she said. "For the rest of our lives."
George's brow furrowed. Would he? George couldn't hear him anymore. All day long Fred had been absent when he was usually there in George's mind, making jokes and commenting on the day to day minutiae of living, everything from what George ate for breakfast to how he ran Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes in Fred's absence. What if he was finally gone? Truly absent from George's life?
Angelina tugged on his hand, pulling him to her until their foreheads met. They breathed together until George began to feel a bit lighter, less panicked, and then her lips brushed against his. His worries melted away a bit after that.
The Healer said they would be parents soon, but it was hours later when Angelina began pushing, and it felt like hours more before an infant wail pierced the delivery room, drowning out Angelina's exhausted mid-push shout and the Healer's instructions to her assistants.
"A boy!" the Healer said as she placed baby Weasley, fresh out of the womb, against Angelina's bare chest.
George couldn't stop kissing Angelina's forehead or placing his hand gently on his son's back, his whole body buzzing with a frenetic energy that he didn't know how to use or dispel. He wanted to laugh, he wanted to jump in the air, he wanted to hug every person in the room and then accost every person in the waiting room when he was done.
The next hour was a flurry of activity as the umbilical cord was cut and another Healer came in to show Angelina how to breastfeed, which the baby seemed eager to do. After he'd been fed, Healers came in to weigh, measure, and clean him up, and then, suddenly, a tiny baby, a fragile, complicated little infant, was deposited into George's arms.
He froze, eyes widening in horror as he carefully held his son to his chest, making sure his head was properly supported, that his blanket was tucked around him tight.
Angelina, eyes drooping and head lolling, released a tired laugh. "George, you act like you've never held a baby before. You've held Victoire hundreds of times."
"Yes, but this one is mine. If I drop him, I can't just hand him back to his parents." His voice lowered to an awed whisper. "I am his parents."
"You're not going to drop him."
He returned to the chair next to the bed and sat down, his eyes glued to the baby's face. His baby's face. Dear Merlin, George was a father! What business did he have with a baby? George was always blowing things up and Puking Pastilles and Ton-Tongue Toffees were always scattered around the house. He would need to baby-proof the house. He needed a workshop so he could keep his baby from accidentally exploding….
Why hadn't he ever thought of these things before? What kind of father would he be if he was only just considering his child's safety now?
"George, breathe," Angelina said, her voice firm.
He breathed. And then his attention returned to the bundle in his arms because, whether he was ready or not, this baby was real. His skin was the same color as George's broomstick handle, though much, much softer, so soft George didn't think he would ever stop touching it, and his hair—were newborns supposed to have that much hair?—sat like a wild, cottony cloud on top of his head. He blinked up at George with brown—
Brown eyes, just like George. Except, when George looked at those eyes, he didn't see his own. He saw Fred's. The pressure that George had been feeling in his chest all day long suddenly eased, and now he knew why he couldn't hear Fred's voice anymore.
Their Healer came in to check on them and smiled at the sight of George with his son. "Have you decided on a name for him yet?"
George looked at Angelina, his eyes wide and damp, and she nodded at him, knowing exactly what he was thinking because they were often of one mind.
He gave the Healer his son's name, and after she left the room, he lifted the baby higher, until they were nearly nose to nose. A gurgle indicated the baby's pleasure, even as his expression contorted with various emotions while he learned to use the muscles of his face.
Angelina had been right. Fred would always be with them. George grinned at his son, and he imagined his twin grinning back at him.
"Happy birthday, Freddy."