She was in labour and he was trying not to panic. It was too early: if not for the baby, then definitely for him. He hadn't got round to reading that chapter of the pregnancy book yet. All he could think to do was ask, "Have you packed a bag to take to the birthing centre?"
He thought she'd say yes and tell him where to find it. George didn't expect Alicia to start crying.
"Oh gods, I've been so afraid this would happen," she said. "I kept hoping if I did everything right, if I willed hard enough—" She covered her face with her hands. "I'm so sorry."
George was at a loss. His mother had never acted like this. She'd briskly ordered her husband to fetch her labour bag, her boys to mind their Auntie Muriel, and lit a communication fire to contact the Wizarding Ambulance Service. He said, "It isn't your fault the baby's early."
Alicia cried harder.
In his mind, he heard a snort. You're doing a less-than-stellar job of comforting.
George put his arms around Alicia. "Shhh...it's okay."
"No, it isn't." She took a shuddering breath and looked at him. Her eyelashes were spiky with tears. "The baby's not premature."
"What does that mean?"
She stiffened as her body went into another contraction. George could feel her abdomen harden and then relax.
"I didn't remember the exact date of my last menstrual period," she said. "After the last scrying—" Her face contorted in misery. "I couldn't tell you the midwitch adjusted the due date to May twenty-fifth. I couldn't." Her gaze implored. "As many babies born are born after the due date as before, especially in a first pregnancy. Why not ours?"
"I don't know," he said, unable to get his head around the fact that she'd concealed the true date for weeks.
An inner voice cut through his daze. Oi! Your wife's having a baby, here! Sort out relationship stuff later.
"Right," George said. He had to focus. "Four days isn't that early compared to—where's the bag?"
"Under my side of the bed."
George used an Accio and called, "Caper!"
The house-elf instantly appeared. "Is it time for Mistress to go to the centre?"
"Yes. Will you Apparate us there? I don't trust the ambulance service." George remembered his mum screeching at the emergency mediwizard for strapping her down too tightly. He wasn't giving a green-robed sadist the chance to do that to his wife.
Caper's eyes glowed with zeal. "At once!"
"Alicia Weasley, having a baby, right this bloody minute!" George yelled the moment they arrived in the alley beside the centre. He turned to Caper. "Spread the word and then come back, all right? Don't go home. Wait with the others."
Caper shook his head. "Elves is not—"
"Sure they are." When a mediwitch opened the door that magically appeared in the brick wall, George said, "This is my friend Caper. You have no problem with him waiting with the others, do you?"
The woman appeared startled by the question. "N—no."
Alicia was still holding onto Caper's arm. "Please come back," she said. "It would mean a lot to us."
Caper patted her hand before pulling away. "I will return." He Disapparated.
Mediwitch Cross—by her nametag— was a brisk, motherly sort. "Come in," she said. "How far apart are the contractions, dear?"
"Five minutes," George said. "They last sixty seconds."
"Ah," said the mediwitch, sounding amused for some bizarre reason.
She was asking Alicia, not you, loony.
That would explain it.
"My water hasn't broken," Alicia said. "Is that a problem?"
"No, and some would call it a blessing. Babies born 'in the caul,' have the gift of Sight."
George grimaced. The last thing he wanted to face one day was a Trelawney-like teenager shouting from her room that Seers were always persecuted. "I'd rather the water broke."
"It likely will."
At the door separating the birthing suites from the reception and waiting areas, Mediwitch Cross performed the sanitising charm routine and led them to a room that looked like a normal bedroom, with polished wood furniture and watercolour landscapes hung on pale blue walls.
Once she finished a series of diagnostic spells, George asked, "Where are we at in labour? It's not the pushing part, is it, and where's the midwitch?"
"She'll be here shortly, and it takes an average of three to eight hours to go from four centimetres to full dilation, so there will be no need to push for quite some time."
He put his arm around Alicia, who was breathing through another contraction. "Eight hours! That's too long. She'll be in pain. Can't we hurry things up?"
The mediwitch replied kindly, "No, Mr. Weasley, although we have spells to ease discomfort when the time comes." She left to continue her rounds.
George helped Alicia out of her clothes and bent to speak directly to her abdomen. "You're not an average baby, fearing the unknown," he said. "You're a Gryffindor. Adventure awaits—so hurry the process up, will you?" He kissed her belly and then buttoned Alicia into a short nightdress. "What happens now?"
"I'd prefer to walk around if you don't mind me leaning on you when the contractions come."
"If I don't mind? You're my wife. I want you to lean on me. When you don't, it makes me feel like you don't trust me to be there for you."
Alicia grabbed his arm to steady herself while she breathed through a new contraction.
He pushed back a strand of hair from her face. "Why didn't you tell me?"
She didn't pretend not to know what he was talking about. "When I told you about the baby you said the date had to be June. I didn't want to cause you any more hurt and worry—" Alicia bit her lip, visibly fighting back tears.
I couldn't tell you the midwitch adjusted the due date to May twenty-fifth. I couldn't!
George looked into her eyes and faced the truth. She'd worried so he wouldn't have to, cried over the thought of causing him pain, and loved him more than he deserved.
It was a humbling realisation.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I don't feel that way anymore. I'm not afraid Fred will be forgotten."
"He won't be," she said on a gasp.
George put his hand on her abdomen. It was rock hard. "I know, and—hey—the contraction's lasting over a minute."
"I'm aware of that. Rub my back, not my stomach, please."
He immediately shifted position.
She moaned. "Harder."
"Like this?" He rotated his fist against her back, pressing firmly.
"Yes! Don't stop...don't stop. Ooohhhhh...."
"Good thing no one's listening," George said. "They might get the wrong idea."
Alicia gave a tired-sounding giggle. "Is everything connected to sex for men?"
He imagined Fred smirking. No, but it is fun to think about.
George said, "I love you. Sexual thoughts come with it."
"I'm glad." She stood on tiptoes to brush a kiss across his lips. "About everything. I love you so much—" Alicia inhaled sharply.
"Another contraction? It hasn't been five minutes." He stood behind her and began to rub her lower back.
"Eventually...they'll feel like...they never completely disappear," she said.
"You'll have pain relief spells by then."
"I don't have them now."
"Tell me what you need," George said. "Is this hard enough?"
He used his knuckles.
She moaned. "Lower. Deeper. Right there—oh gods, yes!"
When the contraction faded, she looked over her shoulder at him. "Was it good for you, too?"
They were laughing softly together when Midwitch Leach entered the room, Mediwitch Cross in tow.
"Laughter is the best medicine," said the midwitch, dark eyes twinkling, "but I'll wager, Mrs. Weasley, that you're at the point of labour where a spell of pain relief would be highly appreciated."
The midwitch waved her wand in a rapid, complex pattern. "There," she said. "Better?"
Alicia's smile lit up her face. "Yes, thank you. I still feel the contraction building, but it's a dull pain, not sharp anymore."
"Excellent," Midwitch Leach said. "Let's see how you've progressed."
George followed his wife to the bed and reached for a sheet to protect modesty.
Alicia pushed it away. "It's too hot. I'm sweating."
"I'll fetch a damp flannel," he said, moving toward the washbasin.
"Make sure it's cold," Alicia called after him.
There was a pitcher of ice water on the marble top of the basin unit. George used a cup to scoop out water to soak the cloth.
He hurried back to Alicia. "Here."
"Mmm," she said, holding the flannel to her brow. "Thank you."
Midwitch Leach had finished her examination. "Are you sure you marked the chart correctly?" she asked the mediwitch in a hushed voice.
Mediwitch Cross' expression reminded George of Professor McGonagall. "Absolutely."
He decided to join the conversation. "Alicia was four centimetres before," he said. "How far is she dilated now?"
Alicia said, "Please say it isn't less."
Midwitch Leach approached the side of the bed. "It's more—three centimetres, in fact. I've never encountered such rapid dilation."
George's eyes flew to Alicia.
She was looking at him with something close to awe. "You told the baby to hurry and he did."
"She did," George corrected absently, before asking the midwitch, "What's that mean, seven centimetres?"
"Your wife is in transition."
He nodded as though he knew what that meant. "And after this comes...?"
In the back of his mind, Fred sniggered. You really should have read that pregnancy book.
"Tell me about it," George muttered.
The midwitch thought he was talking to her. She said, "This is the shortest yet most difficult stage of labour. Continue to see to your wife's comfort, and when it's time, you'll be her coach and encourage her to push."
"I can do that," George said.
You sound as confident as when you told Mr. Fairlie we could design fireworks to explode into the shape of a red heart.
They had never done such a thing before, but George never doubted that they could. The twins built their company by believing, then achieving.
Alicia asked, "May I change positions?"
"Of course," Midwitch Leach said soothingly. "Lie on your side, kneel on the bed, lean against your partner—whatever works for you."
"And should I pant or blow...if I get the urge to push...when it isn't time?" Alicia was panting.
George looked at the midwitch. "How long does transition last?"
Midwitch Leach and Mediwitch Cross exchanged an unreadable glance. The mediwitch bustled across the room to fiddle with some equipment on a side table while the midwitch examined Alicia again.
"Fully dilated." She smiled. "This baby is impatient to be born."
"Well, she is a Weasley," George said. He helped Alicia over to the birthing stool and sat behind her in a chair.
She rested her arms on his legs and leaned back against him between contractions. "What if we have a boy?"
George was shamed that she still felt anxiety. "Boy or girl, I'll love our baby." He kissed her brow. "The name Frederique's out if she's a he, though."
The midwitch cut through Alicia's giggle. "I'll rupture the sac to avoid a splash in the face if there's no objection."
"None at all," George said. He'd prefer not to have a child with Sight who peered at his tea leaves and said, "Dear, dear, Daddy, this is not a happy cup."
The procedure took only a moment. Afterwards, Midwitch Leach told Alicia, "Close your eyes and focus on the birth." Her glance at George added without external distractions. Minutes later, she said, "The baby's head is crowning. I see flame coloured hair."
George imagined a beautiful little red-haired girl. The vision shifted and became his brother. Fred winked.
How about a mini-Fred? Devastatingly handsome, talented, loved by all...
A few months ago, the idea had hurt too much to consider. Now, George finally understood why his mum gave her children names that reminded her of the brothers she'd lost. It was more than honouring a memory. It was a tribute to love that would never die.
The tears in his eyes spilled over when Alicia's elated cry was followed by the cries of their newborn son.
He was beautiful. Trembling, crying, little fists clenched tight: her son was the most perfect thing she had ever seen.
George's lips brushed her hair. "Thank you," he said huskily.
She glanced back and saw he was smiling through tears the same way she was. "We did this together."
Alicia held onto George's hand while Mediwitch Cross deftly dried the baby with a towel and the midwitch cast spells to promote healing, minimise discomfort, and clear away the afterbirth.
Once she was finished tending to Alicia, Midwitch Leach clamped the umbilical cord. She asked, "Would you like to cut the cord, Mr. Weasley?"
George stood, but didn't take the scissors. "Where do I cut to give him an innie?" He glanced at Alicia and made a face. "Percy got an outie and he's held a grudge against Dad ever since."
Alicia imagined six redheaded boys comparing bellybuttons and smiled, although she felt a twinge of sympathy for Percy being the odd one out—literally.
Midwitch Leach said, "It's how the scar heals not where you cut it that determines a bellybutton, Mr. Weasley."
"Will you put that in writing?" George took the scissors and cut the cord. He seemed surprised at how much effort it took.
Impatient to hold the baby, Alicia held onto George's arm to rise and settle onto the bed.
"All ready for Mum." Mediwitch Cross placed the baby on Alicia's chest and covered him with a warm towel.
Tummy to tummy, breast to cheek, Alicia cradled her son, overwhelmed by tenderness. All those nights she'd wrapped her arms around her middle, longing to hold her baby—and here he was. "Hullo," she whispered. Alicia marvelled at his quiet alertness, and the way dark blue eyes focused on hers. She bent to kiss the baby's forehead. His pink skin was incredibly soft.
Her heart turned over when George stroked downy hair sticking out from the cotton knit cap. "Is the baby warm enough?" he asked Midwitch Leach.
"A mother's body is as good as the Warming Charm on a bassinet," she said reassuringly. "And babies are most content when they smell their mother and hear her voice."
"He's smacking his lips—should I nurse him?" Alicia was amazed to feel the baby push with his legs.
Seated beside her, George began unbuttoning her nightdress. "You feed a baby when he's hungry, even I know that." He chuckled. "He's latched on right away. A bold Gryffindor."
The baby paused sucking, looked at the face bent close to his, and then continued to nurse.
Alicia barely noticed the women leave to allow them "bonding time." The interaction between father and son entranced her.
"He's got your dimples," George said. "I saw them when he was crying." He rubbed the baby's cheek with a fingertip.
It was time broach a sensitive subject. "Don't you think we should decide on a proper name?" Alicia had to remind herself to breathe as she waited for an answer.
George smiled a little as he slipped a hand beneath the towel to rub the baby's back. "Fred Thomas Weasley is a good name."
Named in honour of his uncle and grandfather—she couldn't speak. Her heart was so full Alicia was afraid she'd bawl and upset the two she loved most in the world. To express her joy, she reached for George's hand and brought it to her lips.
The gentle suction at Alicia's breast ceased. The baby stared up at her.
Alicia swallowed hard and whispered, "Are you ready to switch sides, Fred Thomas?"
She knew it was a reflex, but when tiny lips curved and dimples flashed in baby cheeks, Alicia couldn't help but sigh and look forward to receiving a "real" smile.
Beside her, George said, "He likes his name."
Alicia shifted little Fred. "It's a wonderful name, given by the most wonderful father."
"I don't know about that."
"I do," she said.
Her certainty brought a hint of smugness to George's face. "Well, I am a Weasley."
Her husband made conceit cute. She kissed his cheek. A few minutes later, she said, "Fred's stopped nursing. Do you want to hold him?"
George shook his head. "He looks happy where he is."
"I'm not; I need to use the toilet." Alicia ignored daddy jitters and transferred the baby to George.
She slowly made her way to the en suite bathroom. As she washed her hands, Alicia grimaced at her reflection in the mirror. Purple shadows under her eyes, sweat-damp hair, and shiny nose: she looked a fright.
Two Complexion Charms and a Styling Spell later, she entered the birthing suite to hear George talking to their son. "And if for some reason you end up with an outie," he said, "I'll make sure you know that if you play with your bellybutton, it won't unfasten and fly around the room like an untied balloon." He gave a huff of amusement. "It won't unscrew and make your legs fall off, either."
Alicia said, "Let me guess—those are things you told Percy?"
"Bill and Charlie did." George grinned. "Fred and I said if Percy's bellybutton came undone he'd lose his skin and be a walking skeleton."
She returned to the bed and snuggled close to her husband. "Poor Percy."
"Percy ran to mum and we were sent to our rooms without dinner," George said. "Pity us instead."
"I do." Alicia laid her head on his shoulder and watched the baby's eyes slowly close. She said, "Our Fred will never go to sleep hungry."
"We—uh—didn't exactly go hungry," George said. "Someone delivered a plate of sandwiches and glasses of lemonade to our door." Beneath her cheek, his shoulder shook. "We knew it was Mum. She cut the sandwiches into triangles and arranged them like a pinwheel."
"How you suffered," Alicia said around a yawn.
"We did. There was nothing for afters."
While George described how the smell of chocolate chip biscuits had wafted upstairs, cruelly tantalising, she closed her eyes for a moment's rest.
Some time later, Alicia awoke with a start. "Where's Fred?"
George looked up from rummaging through the suitcase lying open on the bed. "Mediwitch Cross took him to get bathed and weighed and such. They'll be back soon." He held up two nightdresses. "These both have those nursing flap things, right?"
She reached for the lilac-coloured nightie. "Yes, dear."
He kissed the side of her throat while helping her dress. "We've got a lot of people waiting to see the baby. I want you to be able to nurse him without—you know."
He laughed. "Yeah."
Mediwitch Cross soon returned pushing a portable bassinet. Fred lay on his back, swaddled and sleeping. "My shift is almost over," she said, "but I'll leave you in capable hands. I trained Mediwitch Richie myself." She smiled to hear their words of appreciation and told them the details of Fred's bath and exam.
"Fred's bigger than Louis was," George said once the mediwitch departed.
His expression made it easy to imagine the glee of a little brother gaining an advantage over an older one. Alicia didn't remind him that Louis had been premature. She let George enjoy his moment.
Once he left the room to share the news and bring the grandparents to visit, Alicia leaned down over the bassinet and kissed the tip of Fred's adorable nose. She whispered, "However tall you grow to be will be the perfect height, love."
Alicia had put on a dressing gown and was debating whether to get in a cuddle or let the baby have a few more seconds of peaceful slumber when Molly burst into the room. "Let me see him, let me see our darling Freddie!"
She rushed over to hug her daughter in law and peer into the bassinet. "May I?" she asked, touching his cap. At Alicia's nod, she pulled it back and gave a deep sigh. "Such beautiful hair. It brings back memories." Molly sniffed.
"Would you like to hold him?"
Molly's wistful expression immediately became mischievous. "I didn't outrun Arthur and Anne for exercise," she said, before cooing to the baby, "Come to Granny, precious."
Alicia's mum was the next grandparent to arrive. She embraced her daughter and promptly steered her to the bed. "You should be resting."
"Yes, Nanny," Alicia murmured.
Her mum tucked Alicia into bed and plumped the pillows. "Nanny Spinnet. I like the sound of that."
"I prefer Granny Molly to Granny Weasley, but either will do," Molly said as she transferred Fred to his nanny's arms. She bustled over to the pitcher of water next to the washbasin and poured Alicia a glass. "Women expend a lot of energy, giving birth," she said. "I was thirsty as a troll and hungry as a Hippogriff after every delivery." She asked Arthur, who had come into the room with George, "Didn't I eat four sausages after the twins were born?"
"With mash and onion gravy," Arthur said, eyes twinkling.
George sidestepped the trio gathered around their grandson to ask Alicia, "Are you hungry? I could ask Ca—"
"No!" She waited for George to sit beside her to say in a low voice, "If you say his name he'll hear and pop in to be of service."
"And you don't want the staff worrying about security when he counters the Anti-Apparation wards. Gotcha—we can always ask him to conjure us a snack when he stops in."
After the grandparents, Bill and Fleur visited.
Fleur's eyes were snapping in irritation. "Mon chou is not a sibling, so ze mediwitch would not allow 'im to come wiz us." She kissed Alicia on both cheeks and deftly plucked Fred out of George's arms. "Your cousin Louis will visit you at 'ome, mon lapin."
"Are you saying my son has big ears?" George punctuated the question with an arched brow.
"Non. Zey are parfait. To call ze bébé zat is a term d'affection, n'est-ce pas?"
George said, "I s'ppose Fred will be used to it by the time he figures out his godmother calls him her bunny." He grinned when Fleur gave an excited shriek and began talking to the baby in rapid-fire French.
Alicia looked at Bill.
He winked. "She's listing all the ways a fairy godmother is nothing compared to a French godmother."
George asked, "You'll be a godfather to Fred, won't you?"
Bill's lifted his eyebrow in the exact manner George had earlier. "A godfather? How many are you planning to have?"
Bill's crooked smile managed to tease and show understanding all at once. "You think your son's going to manage that much mischief?"
"A father can dream."
Alicia watched the brothers chuckle and hoped that Fred would have a brother or sister to be close to one day.
Fleur walked over. "Mon lapin is rooting for somezing I must save for Louis, tu comprens?"
"Mais oui," Alicia said, taking Fred. She tried to undo a nursing flap with one hand.
"Allow me. Zey take practice." Fleur assisted her and fetched a light blanket to cover the baby.
Alicia felt her eyes grow misty. "Have I told you how glad I am you're my sister?"
Fleur sat on the edge of the bed. "I feel ze same way, ma belle-soeur." She smiled and then abruptly jumped to her feet, her head tilted at an angle of listening.
"What is it?" Alicia asked.
"We must go."
Bill said, "I think she hears Louis cry before he makes a sound."
"I am ze maman," Fleur said regally. "I know when Louis is hungry." She blew Fred a kiss. "À bientôt!"
Only when Bill opened the door for Fleur did the faint sound of crying enter the room.
Fred immediately stopped nursing. Alicia lowered the blanket to see his little mouth turn down. He gave a fretful cry.
"Oh, he's sensitive, maybe he does have the Sight," Alicia said.
The instant the door closed, Fred latched on again.
George stretched out beside her on the bed. "He doesn't have the Sight; he was annoyed. No one wants to hear a crying baby when they're trying to enjoy dinner—not even other babies."
She didn't argue. Only time would tell whether Fred had the Gift or not. Alicia was content to rest with her husband and child.
They had just finished changing their first wet nappy when the door cracked open. Ron's voice carried inside. "Is it...all clear...for us to come in?"
George wasn't the only one who didn't want to view a "breastfeeding demonstration" it seemed. "Yes," Alicia called.
Ginny, Ron and Percy spilled into the room.
"Oh, he's so cute!" Ginny held out her arms. "May I hold him?"
George shook his head. "Percy is the eldest," he said, a tiny smirk curving his mouth. "He should have the honour." He ignored Ron's snort to wave his brother to a chair. "Have a seat and say hullo to your nephew, Uncle Percy."
If he thought his brother would balk at handling a newborn, George was disappointed. Percy handled the baby with ease. "Hullo, Fred. I'm the uncle to come to when you want sound advice."
Ron pretended to cough. "Boring advice."
"Don't listen to him," Percy said. "Rules are rules for a reason."
Ginny, who had taken a seat on the side of the bed, said to Alicia, "Mum used to tell us that, and when one of us would ask why, she'd say—"
"Because I said so!" Four Weasleys cried in unison.
Alicia waited until the laughter subsided down to ask, "Are Hermione, Harry, and Penelope here, too? If they'd like to see the baby someone could—"
Ron was out the door before she could finish the sentence.
"Penelope isn't—I didn't..." Percy trailed off, shrugging. "Want to hold the baby?" he asked Ginny.
Ginny rolled her eyes. "No, I want to admire him from afar." She reached for the baby. "Come to Auntie, precious."
"You sound just like your mother," Alicia said, amused.
Ginny kissed Fred's brow. "Tell mummy not to say that in front of Harry," she baby-talked. "We can't have her scaring him off, now can we?"
"If Voldemort couldn't manage it I don't see how Mum could," Percy said.
George and Ginny sniggered.
Percy's lips twitched.
Ron ushered Harry and Hermione into the room. He elbowed Harry. "See? He's got Weasley hair. Future Gryffindor, for sure."
"I see." Harry shook George's hand and congratulated Alicia.
Hermione came over to sit beside Ginny. "Fred Thomas is a lovely name," she said. "The origin of Fred is Old German and means peaceful ruler, while Thomas is Aramaic, and means twin." Her cheeks turned pink. "Ronald is Old Norse; it means mighty."
George said, "As in one who works a mighty lot of hours? Excellent!"
"I'm ready," Ron said. "I can handle it."
After the group left, Alicia put Fred in his bassinet and slid her arms around George's waist. "I never considered the meaning of names. My dad wasn't a twin, his parents named him after a grandfather."
George pulled her closer. "We're carrying on a tradition, then, as well as honouring those we love."
She rested her head on his shoulder. "What if we'd had a girl?"
"Thank the stars we didn't. Frederique Thomasina is a name out of Holidays with Hags."
"How do you know?"
"Mum has a copy autographed by Lockhart."
Alicia was giggling when Caper edged into the room.
"Congratulations Madam, Mister." He glanced toward the bassinet with shining eyes. "Today is a day of much happiness."
Alicia was surprised to hear the baby coo. "I thought he was asleep." She went to the bassinet. "Darling, I want you meet someone very special." She sat in a chair so Caper could look down into the baby's face.
"Greetings, young mister." Caper touched the back of Fred's hand.
Fred's tiny fingers curled around the elf's fingertip and held on.
"Look at that grip!" George said. "Give him a bat and he'll inspire fear on the Quidditch pitch one day."
"I fear for all things breakable in the flat," Alicia said. She smiled at Caper. "You'll have to teach me your variations of Reparo."
The elf gently pulled against Fred's grip. "Young mister is very strong."
"And bound to be strong willed," George said.
Alicia took her cue. "He'll need loads of guidance—two godfathers instead of one."
Caper's eyes widened. "Two?"
"Bill's already agreed," George said. He put a hand on Caper's shoulder. "We want you to be Fred's other godfather."
If Caper's eyes had widened before, they now seemed ready to pop. "House-elves is not godfathers to wizards!" He stepped away from the baby.
Fred startled and began to cry.
"Shhh," Alicia said, cradling the baby against her chest. She rocked back and forth but he continued to fuss.
George exhaled deeply. "Fred's sensitive," he said. "Comes from being born in the caul, I expect." He shot Alicia a well-he-would-have-been look before turning a sombre face to Caper and heaving another sigh.
Caper sidled closer to the baby. "Destined for greatness. Is you saving the caul?"
"No. Should we have?" Alicia asked.
"Cauls is powerful charms against drowning." Caper reached out to pat Fred on the back. "Young mister is not needing charms. I is honoured to be his godfather."
"Thank you," Alicia said, envisioning a future in which her son brought home a picture of a house-elf holding a human baby with "My Godfather" written beneath it—and received only praise. While George shook Caper's hand and began talking shop, she looked down at Fred.
He had fallen asleep.
After visiting hours were over, the reality of parenthood sank in. Fred went two hours between feedings, but that didn't mean Alicia got an hour and a half of sleep at a stretch. The baby's slightest sound awakened her.
During the next two days, except for the few times he left to check on the shop, George stayed at her side, helping care for Fred. He brought the baby to the bed to nurse and carried him back to the bassinet when he fell asleep. In the middle of the night, when Fred decided to stay awake and take a long look at his new world, George held him and carried on a one-sided father and son chat that made Alicia wish wizarding photographs preserved sound as well as movement.
On the third morning, they said goodbye to the centre staff and situated the baby's carry handle seat in the back of the Ministry car Arthur had appropriated for the ride home.
From the front seat, Molly said brightly, "Anne and I hoped you would choose the Cheeky Monkey sleepsuit for Freddie. Yellow goes so well with red hair."
George rubbed a strand of Alicia's hair between his fingers. "So does brown."
Arthur dropped them off with the promise to stop by after work.
Molly stared after the car with a look of fond exasperation. "He's been organising the shed, placing batteries on high shelves so the babies won't try to lick them. Merlin knows where he got the daft idea children would do such a thing." She adjusted her hat. "Ah, well, I'm off to do the marketing. Charlie will be here at the weekend."
Alicia waited until Molly hustled off to ask, "So who licked the battery?"
"Ronnikins. There's one called a nine-volt Fred and I got him to 'test' with his tongue. It only tingled, but Dad wasn't pleased."
"Maybe he expected there to be more of a shock."
George bent to kiss her. "Stars, I love you," he said.
"I love you, too."
Fred gave a short, low-pitched cry.
"Has it been two hours already?" Alicia asked.
George looked at his watch—his twin's watch. "Yes." He lifted the seat by its handle. "It's okay, son, we're almost home."
Fred's next cry sounded choppy.
"Uh oh, he's upset. Better hurry." George strode briskly down the alley.
Once they reached the flat, Alicia said, "Here. I'll nurse Fred in the bedroom." She unfastened the straps holding the baby and lifted him into her arms.
She noticed instantly that the cot was gone. A rocker crib and a nursing chair stood in its place. Alicia turned to see George in the doorway.
"You're probably wondering what happened to the cot," he said.
Fred was trying to nurse through her top. Alicia sat in the chair and undid the discreet hooks with trembling fingers. "What happened?"
He walked across the room. "I moved it."
Her heart was racing. She felt almost dizzy. "Where?"
"The nursery." George knelt down beside the chair. He touched the dimple in Fred's cheek and then cupped Alicia's face with his hand. "I didn't do it on my own. I tried, but I couldn't," he said. "I had to ask for help."
She turned her face to kiss his palm. "Those who love you want to help, and believe me—it meant the world that you asked." It means everything to me.
Alicia burped Fred and switched him to the other side. "So those times you left to check on the shop you were fixing up the nursery?"
"Supervising, mostly," he said wryly. "The Cheeky Monkey Jungle theme included a spell-it-yourself mural, but I'm not the best painter. Ginny said my male lion looks preggers." When Alicia raised Fred to burp him, George kissed the back of his head. "You'll avenge your dad's honour." He chortled. "No Pee-Pee Tents for Auntie Ginny."
She felt warmth that didn't come from within. "Speaking of pee pee," she said. "Fred needs a nappy change."
George eyed his son warily. "Is it that sticky black stuff?"
"No." Alicia saw the relief on his face and hid her amusement. George thought meconium was nature's way of making dads look forward to normal dirty nappies.
"The changing mat's in the other room," he said.
Alicia slowly rose from the chair.
George took the baby, cradling him against his chest. Father and son looked at each other intently. After a few moments, George said huskily, "C'mon, Fred, it's time."
With a smile that made Alicia's heart turn over, her husband led the way to the nursery.
Kharga Oasis, Egypt
April 1, 2000
Within the black tent shaded by date palms, George sprawled against red and indigo cushions, enjoying the slight breeze from a cooling charm and the view of his "dancing girl" lying on her side. A headband and arm cuffs were all she wore after a seductive performance. The black and gold bra and sleek skirt of her Egyptian costume had been long discarded.
I still can't believe Alicia took belly dancing lessons. Fred's voice was admiring. She was sweet to do that for me.
George frowned. "She did it for me, not you."
"Did what?" Alicia asked around a yawn. She stretched in a way that tempted George to ask her to dance again—this time without the costume.
"Learned to belly dance."
She sat up, wrapping herself in a black veil.
Alicia's determined expression made George nervous. He tried to joke, "If that's for modesty, I can see right through it."
Her lips curved, but her eyes were serious. "I don't mind. I have nothing to hide."
Meaning she thinks you do.
"Obviously," George muttered. He froze. "Did I say that aloud?"
Alicia nodded. "You do that a lot."
He tried to gauge her reaction. "Do you think I'm a head case for talking to myself?"
"No." She took a deep breath and said in a rush, "I think you talk to Fred the way I do with my dad when I know just what he'd say." Her smile was lopsided. "It doesn't happen for me very often, but when it does, I feel close to him, like he's still with me."
The question left hanging was, is Fred still with you?
George blamed the draft from the cooling charm for making his eyes water. He rubbed a hand over his face and said, "You know how there's a voice in the back of your mind, running commentary like Lee at Quidditch match?"
"Ever since..." He swallowed around the lump in his throat. "Ever since the battle the voice I hear is Fred's and—and I don't think it will ever go away."
"It doesn't have to." Alicia wrapped her arms around him, holding him tight.
George was expressing his love and gratitude with a deep kiss when a voice on the other side of the tent wall said, "Mister and Madam needs to be leaving if they is wishing to toast the sunset."
"We'll be right out!" George said. He kissed Alicia again. "Thank you for my birthday present."
Her eyes sparkled. "It was my fantasy, too."
It didn't take long to dress and help Caper shrink the enchanted tent and place it in the pouch to return to their captain, Wa-el. The elf then Apparated them from the western desert to the Nile and a boat anchored at Luxor.
A traditional two mast sailing vessel, the Sandal once carried stones and now had cabins to accommodate small groups of passengers. George and Alicia joined the family gathered on the upper deck, where white curtains shaded low tables and chairs.
On the deck in front of their grandparents' chairs, two toddlers sat side by side, each absorbed in taking colourful fabric blocks out of separate buckets. George's eyes were drawn to the boy with wavy red hair, who tossed his blocks in every direction instead of placing them tidily on the deck. A wave of love and pride swept over him.
His son looked up and cried, "Dada!"
Next to Fred, Louis smiled before continuing to empty his bucket. While Fleur took Bill's hand to manoeuvre her heavily pregnant belly out of a chair to hug Alicia and ask about the oasis, George watched Fred crawl over to a table and pull himself to his feet.
"Up!" Fred lifted his arms, his dimpled fingers making grasping motions.
George held out his hands. "Come to Daddy."
Fred took a wobbly step and then halted. "Up!"
He takes things a step at a time, like you.
George scooped up his child and looked into guileless brown eyes. "Are you going get into as much trouble as I did?"
Fred's grin displayed four teeth.
Alicia rushed over. "He took his first step!"
"Mama!" Fred launched himself into her welcoming arms.
The rest of the family gathered round, exchanging stories of when they had learned to walk.
Caper materialised at George's side. He had a green bottle in his hand. "The sun is beginning to set."
George took the bottle. It was Stella, Fred's favourite Egyptian beer: sold everywhere and cheap. He lifted it in a toast. "Happy birthday, Fred."
Happy Birthday, George.
The silence that fell made George aware that he'd accidentally spoken aloud.
Maybe it wasn't an accident, Fred's voice whispered. Maybe you wanted them to hear.
"Happy birthday, Fred," Alicia echoed.
Fleur held up a bottle of mineral water. "Joyeux anniversaire beau-frère."
As his family toasted Fred, George admitted that he had wanted them to hear and join him in celebrating Fred's life.
Thanks, brother—now celebrate your own.
I am. George felt a wet, open-mouthed kiss against his cheek and turned to smile at his laughing son.
A/N: The...End. I finished, sweetheart. You wanna celebrate? So do I.
I'm such a Joan Wilder from Romancing the Stone, crying over a happy ending. I had to use the quote. Special Thanks to MollyCoddles for being a beta who not only catches errors and but gives encouragement, feedback on plot, and even created an icon of Dobby/Caper wearing a fez! I was tempted to use another Romancing quote in the email when I sent her ch 40—read it and weep. I always do—but somehow resisted. (Must have got distracted looking for tissues. :D )
It took a wicked long time to finish the last chapter, but there was a lot to write (as the 6600+ word count proves, heh) and I tried my best to make the wait worth it. I used the Trelawney "Seers are persecuted" and "Dear, dear, this is not a happy cup" from the books. All the other bits, from cauls being portents of psychic ability and protection against drowning to Egyptian belly dancer costumes and private cruises down the Nile I got from googling whenever inspiration struck.
Another quote that came to mind is when the reader finishes a good novel, he sighs, says, "That was good, but I wish there was a little more of it" and regretfully closes the book. I hope everyone who reads this story feels that way.
The readers who let me know how they felt about the last chapter, and whose reviews I'll miss responding to, were...40/16, adrienne.hope, Alex the Anachronistic, alix33, BandonBanshee, Blue Leah, BobbieJo1, btyrhtout, Calenmarwen, Carnivalgirl, Cassandra's Cross, cinroc, Creative Touch, Dangling.Radishes, Dannie 7, Diana42, ElspethBates, Falln4DarkAngel, Fibinaci, GraceRichie, hermioneron, HPFanFictionFan, Hungarian Witch22, I'myoursweetestgoodbye, infinity, Kates Master, Kylani, Lady Adrienne Faery, Lady Clark-Weasley of Books, LunaLiving9, Lysimarchos, MBP, mischief-maker1, MollyCoddles, Moontime, Mrs.Hermione Jane Weasley, obliviate, PhoenixDreamer55, Robyn Hawkes, Rose of the West, Sivaroobini Lupin-Black, Slipknot-3113, Snuffles7, SOphia.weasley, sophia666, Squealing Lit. Fan, sunny9847, tambrathegreat, The-Unknown Halliwell, tiffyrose, Tina101, Twinsmom, vintagejgc, WeasleyWeakness, xxxxxxxxOOOOOOOO, xXChristinaXx, x.o.gossipgirl.x.o, and xoxphoenix.