"Mum, that was fantastic!" Ron exclaimed, leaning back in his chair hand giving his stomach a satisfied pat. "Haven't had a meal like that in ages."
Glaring, Hermione gave him a gentle slap on the arm, interrupting his moment of indulgent bliss. "What are you trying to say, Ronald? My cooking has improved dramatically over the years…I thought you said you loved my casserole last week."
"I did…that's not what I meant…I just…" Ron stuttered, trying to avoid a further scolding from his wife. "But mum's cooking…"
Everyone else laughed, amused by the youngest Weasley brother's attempt to reword his statement and appease his wife.
Hugo snorted and shook his head. "Nice going dad…" he muttered, taking another generous forkful of creamy mashed potatoes.
"It's alright Ron." Fleur cut in. "We understand what you meant. Even when I make ze finest French cuisine, Bill still claims zat nothing can beat his muzzers Yorkshire puddings." She paused and placed a loving hand on her husbands shoulder. "Nothing is better zen the comforts of your childhood 'ome."
"Exactly!" Ron agreed, thankful for his sister-in-laws input. "That's all I meant. I'm not trying to insult your cooking Hermione…"
His wife chuckled and shook her head. "You are forgiven." She said, giving him a playful peck on the cheek. "And I really must agree- the meal was fantastic Molly. Thank you so much."
Words could not describe the joy he had felt as he took his first bite of his mother's homemade bread that evening…not to mention her infamous roast beef and her unbeatable onion gravy. Memories of so many happy evenings spent around the Burrows kitchen table had come flooding back, and for the hundredth time that day, George wondered how he had ever left.
"Don't mention it dear." Molly said, smiling at the sight of her reunited family. "This is a very special day, and it deserves a very special meal."
She paused and turned to look over a Freddie who, at her insistence, had been given the seat of honour at the head of the table. "Speaking of special," she continued. "I think it is time for the birthday boy to start opening his presents."
The other guests indicated their agreement and, after taking a few final bites, all eyes turned to the newest eleven year old at the table.
Freddie's ears turned the characteristic Weasley shade of red as he shifted uncomfortably under everyone's gaze.
"Er…I guess…sure…" he mumbled, not sure how to proceed. For all he knew, opening birthday presents at a wizarding party was different from the way it was done by muggles. Unsure, he glanced at his dad, who nodded and pointed at the pile of gifts, indicating that he should go ahead and start unwrapping them just as he would have at any regular party.
Drawing a deep breath, Freddie got up from his seat and picked up the nearest package- it was large, heavy and wrapped in glittering blue paper.
"Ah, that's from us." Uncle Percy piped in from the other end of the table. He and Aunt Penelope smiled warmly as they watched the boy begin to unwrap the parcel.
"A cauldron!" Freddie exclaimed as he looked down into the open box in awe. It looked like something right out of a story book…he never, in a million years, would have imagined getting such an object for his birthday.
"Indeed." Percy said with a nod. "Best one on the market- I once did a report on cauldron thickness, and concluded that the Potions Master 500 is superior when it comes to all around durability and effectiveness. It should serve you well at Hogwarts."
Freddie exchanged a look with his dad, who was clearly amused by his brother's characteristic over analysis, and smiled. "Thanks Uncle Percy and Aunt Penelope- it's great!"
"Open this one next!" Lily exclaimed, jumping up from her seat and running over to hand Freddie a long red package.
Complying, Freddie set to work unwrapping the next item and could not help but gasp in awe as he opened the package to reveal a brand new broom with the words Firebolt 350 engraved on the side. He didn't know much about wizarding brooms, but he could tell by the well polished handle and sleek design that this probably one of the best models out there. The reaction of the other guest seemed to affirm that assumption.
"Wow- Harry, Ginny- you shouldn't have." George remarked, his eyes locked on the item in his sons hands. "Those things don't come cheep."
Harry and Ginny smiled, and Lily gave a similarly wide grin. "Don't worry about it George." Harry said, placing an arm around his wife shoulders. "It makes up for nine years of missed birthdays."
George nodded in appreciation, and grinned as he watched his son admire the broom in awe.
"It's brilliant! Thanks so much!" Freddie exclaimed, looking over at his aunt, uncle and cousin. "I can't wait to learn how to use it. I hope I'm not too horrible at it…"
Several of his family members chuckled. "I wouldn't worry about that." Uncle Ron replied. "You come from a family of notorious Quidditch fanatics – I'm sure you'll be a natural."
Freddie grinned and gingerly placed the broom beside him on the grass, suddenly wishing that he could save the rest of the presents for later and give it a go right now. But, he realized, it would be rude of him to ignore everyone else's generous gifts.
He carefully unwrapped the next box, and was intrigued to find an ornate gold chest inside.
"It's enchanted to only open for you." Uncle Bill explained. "It will keep anything safe and secure- it's almost like having your very own Gringotts vault."
Freddie was tempted to ask what exactly Gringotts was, but he decided that he could talk to his dad about that later. Instead, he simply thanked his aunt and uncle, and soon found another large parcel being placed in his hands.
This time, it was a large red ball (a quaffle, Hugo explained) from Uncle Charlie- along with a small dragon figurine which was enchanted to move around and shoot (thankfully) fake fire out of its mouth.
"Picked that up at the reserve tourist shop." Uncle Charlie said as the box held the object in his hand, watching it thrash its tail and flap its shimming wings. "Thought you might enjoy it."
"It's wicked." Freddie agreed, before adding. "What reserve?"
"The dragon reserve I work at." Charlie explained, chuckling as his nephews eyes widened in shock. "I used to work on one in Romania, but I've been stationed at the one in Wales for the past several years- its much closer to home, thankfully. I can take you by for a tour sometime, if your dad doesn't mind."
Freddie looked over at his dad, his heart beating excitedly at the thought of seeing real live dragons…
"Sure, that's fine with me." George answered, nodding at his second oldest brother. "Thanks Charlie."
"Anytime." The man replied.
"Now," Uncle Ron interjected, snapping the boy's attention back to the task at hand. "I know you got part of our present already" he said, referring to the book and generous pile of candy Freddie had received the previous evening. "But we got you a little something extra."
Uncle Ron nodded at Hugo, who then got up to pass Freddie a lumpy orange package.
Still smiling, Freddie unwrapped it to reveal a copy of Quidditch through the ages, and a bright orange t-shirt with a large image of a speeding ball and two large C's.
"Hugo and I picked them out." Uncle Ron said proudly, ignoring his wife's exasperated sigh.
"The Chudley Cannons are the best Quidditch team." Hugo said enthusiastically, pointing down at the shirt. "They haven't won the cup in ages of course…but their time will come. I'm sure of it."
"Don't listen to them Freddie." George cut in with a smirk. "Puddlemore United is far superior…actually, every team is far superior."
Ron snorted. "Rubbish. You won't be saying that when the Cannons take home the cup this year- just you wait."
"Boys!" Molly exclaimed, glancing between her two youngest sons. "Is this really the time for this?"
"Sorry mum." The two men muttered, sounding more like embarrassed five year olds then full grown adults.
Molly nodded, and turned to give her grandson a warm smile. "It's just our presents left now." She said, picking up the two remaining boxes and handing them to Freddie. "I do hope you like them."
"I'm sure I will." The boy replied as he began unwrapping the first one.
"Not too exciting, I suppose." Arthur noted as the boy held up the brand new pair of black robes the box had contained. "But we figured you'd be needing them for school."
"It's great." Freddie said, genuinely pleased that he would have some non-muggle clothes to wear when he went shopping for school supplies. "Thanks."
His grandparents smiled, pleased by his positive response.
"Now, the last one is a bit out of season." His Grandmother said as the boy picked up the final present. "I usually save them for Christmas, but considering…well, I thought it would be alright to give it to you now."
Freddie tore back the paper, curious to find out what it contained. As he opened the box, he could see that whatever it was a blue and woolly- and as he held it up, he saw that it was, in fact, a large jumper with a golden letter 'F' incorporated into the front.
As he looked up to thank his grandmother, he was surprised to see that her eyes were now moist with tears- and that everyone else, most especially his father, had wistfully sad expressions of their faces.
"Its great, mum." George whispered, his voice thick with emotion. "It's been so long since I've seen…"
"I know." Molly replied, giving Freddie a watery smile as he looked back and forth between the jumper and his family in confusion. "It was hard to knit one like that after all of these years- but I wanted it to be special."
Noticing the boys confusion, Hermione leaned forward and began to explain why the gift had suddenly made the entire family so subdued.
"That's a Weasley jumper." She explained gently. "Your Grandmother makes one for every member of the family each Christmas. Everyone has their own colour and their initial on the front and that…" she trailed off and drew a deep breath. "That is what your Uncle Fred's jumper used to look like."
Freddie's eyes widened as realization struck. His grandmother hadn't made a jumper like this since his uncle had died- and it obviously meant something to those who remembered him to see the design remade after all of these years.
"Thanks Grandma, I love it." Freddie said quietly before pulling the jumper over his robes.
It fit perfectly.
He could see that there were now silent tears streaming down his Grandmothers face- getting up from his spot, he walked over and gave her a warm, reassuring hug. Rather then stopping her tears, however, this gesture seemed to make the sobs even worse- but, Freddie could tell, there was just as much happiness in her eyes as there was sorrow.
"It's wonderful to have you back, Fred." She said tearfully as she returned his embrace. "Don't ever leave us again."
The boy smiled, and nodded into her shoulder.
"I won't." he replied. "I'm finally home…"
Half an hour later, once the remains of dinner had been swept away and the birthday cake had been eaten, the full and satisfied members of the Weasley family sat talking in the back yard- reminiscing about old times, and catching up on the latest events.
"So, did you have all of the regular muggle gadgets?" Bill asked curiously, looking over at George. "I mean like a toaster, and light bulbs, and one of those fellyvision things."
George laughed at his brother's pronunciation. "It's called a television. And yes, we had all of that stuff."
"He managed to make it look like a real muggle house." Ron added with a nod. "I thought I was in the wrong place when I first arrived- I never would have thought that George- the man who used to apparate everywhere and couldn't go more then five minutes without using a spell- would ever be able to pull it off. You should see the elecktrick kettle he has- brilliant!"
The second youngest brother shook his head. "Thanks Ron." He began sarcastically. "It's nice to know that you have so much faith in my muggle intelligence. I can read you know- I picked up a few books and learnt fairly quickly."
"I'm sure you did, George." Hermione agreed, shooting an exasperated look at her husband. "Muggle-born witches and wizards get used to the wizarding world quickly- there is no reason why it shouldn't work the other way around."
Missing his wife's glance, Ron continued. "Yeah, but this George we're talking about. He used to apparate down for breakfast for Merlin's sake- I can't picture him living any other way."
Ginny and Bill nodded in agreement- obviously agreeing with Ron's observation.
"Well, believe it." George said smugly. "It wasn't easy at first, but I pulled it off. None of my neighbours came by and tried to burn me at the stake, so I was obviously doing something right."
"So how do felly…err, I mean, televisions work then." Bill asked, perplexed. "I've always wondered."
Hermione rolled her eyes again, but the three Weasley siblings present all turned to George, awaiting an explanation.
"Err, I don't really know." George confessed. "Most muggles don't know how their technology works- you have to be really good at muggle science to understand most of the time. It has something to do with cable wires and electricity. I do know how to work it though. You just turn it on, and use a remote to change the channels. It's kind of like the wizarding wireless, but with pictures."
"Neat." Ginny said, her tone suggesting that she still didn't really understand.
George smiled; strangely satisfied by the fact that he now knew more then any of his siblings about the complexities of muggle life. Sure, Hermione was probably still more of an expert then he was- but for a member of an old pureblood family, he now knew quite a bit.
"I'm sure dad will want to hear all about it." Bill chuckled, glancing over to the garden bench where their parents now sat chatting with Harry, Fleur and Charlie.
George chuckled too. "Undoubtedly." He paused before remembering a question he had been meaning to ask. "In all of the excitement, I almost forgot," he began. "What happened to the shop after I left? Did you sell it?"
The other four exchanged glances.
"Sell the shop?" Ron repeated, shocked by such a thought. "We could never sell it!"
Bill nodded in agreement. "The idea never even crossed out minds." He noted, smiling at George. "It reminded us so much of you…and Fred…that we couldn't even conceive of letting it go."
George felt a grin tugging at the side of his mouth. Despite the painful memories it sometimes evoked, knowing that it was still there- and this his family had cared enough to keep it going- filled him with an immense feeling of happiness.
"So, who runs it then?" He asked, looking over at his siblings.
They exchanged another look before Bill continued to speak. "Percy, mostly." He replied, amused by the look of shock on his brothers face. "At first we all pitched in equally, and Ron quit his job for a bit to work there full time- but then Percy finally got fed up with the ministry and decided to take up most of the shop work himself instead. He's good at paperwork, as you well know- so he's kept track of the finances magnificently well."
Ginny nodded in agreement. "And he has even- quite shockingly- come up with a few new, and very successful products. Although he claims they are not really his ideas- and that he was inspired by all of the pranks you and Fred used to play on him…but still…"
George stared at Ginny, his mouth still open in shock. He didn't know what to say- of all the possible answers he had been expecting; this had certainly not been it.
Serious, rule following, by-the-book Percy…running the joke shop!?
He never would have guessed…
"That's…that's…amazing!" George stuttered, glancing around the yard and hoping to catch sight of the man in question. "I'm shocked."
"We were too." Hermione agreed. "But I suppose it sort of makes sense- he was the target of most of your pranks- so who better to recreate them for the shop?"
George nodded, feeling a strange combination of joy and guilt building up inside of him.
A moment later, he spotted Percy coming out of the kitchen, and he quickly excused himself from the group- anxious to confront his brother about this new revelation.
"Perce!" he called out as he jogged across the yard. "Perce, wait, we need to talk!"
Surprised, Percy turned around, smiling warmly at his younger brother.
"What is it?" he asked, perplexed.
Instead of answering, George drew his brother into a tight hug, too overcome with confusion and emotion to verbally express his gratitude. After a few moments and several deep breaths, George drew back and beamed up at the taller wizard.
"I don't know how I'll ever be able to thank you." He whispered, grinning from ear to ear. "And I am so sorry for everything Fred and I ever did to you- we never should have…"
Percy shook his head and smiled, finally beginning to realize that this was about. "Don't worry George." He replied. "We were kids- and, let's face it- I was a git a lot of the time. I should be thanking you for bringing me down a few notches and making me remember who I was."
"No," George began again. "You're the one that deserves the thanks. You kept the shop running…" he paused, trying to ignore the lump that was building in his throat. "And you kept Fred's memory alive. After all that we did to you, I never would have expected…"
Smiling, Percy clapped his brother on the shoulder. "I refused to let anything happen to it." he said with a sad smile. "After I failed to…to…save Fred…I felt that it was the least I could do."
George looked down at the grass, trying not to let his emotions get the better of him. He knew that Percy had felt guilty ever since the night of the battle- he had been next to Fred when it had happened, and he had always felt that he could have done more…or taken the blast instead. George had, admittedly, entrained similar thoughts during his darkest hours…but he knew that it was all absurd. No one could have stopped such a horrible tragedy, and he had never blamed Percy for what had occurred.
"It wasn't your fault, Perce. Please don't blame yourself…" George whispered, his voice shaking with emotion. "And…I know I was never good at expressing it, but you've always meant a lot to me- and to Fred. You were our big brother, and you looked out for us. We never should have teased you the way we did…I'm sorry- and I'm sure if Fred was here, he would be sorry too. Despite what our actions may have suggested, we always loved you."
Percy gave him a watery smile. "Thanks George, it's good to hear that." He replied quietly. "The shop is just how you left it- with a few minor additions, of course. You're welcome to start running it again, whenever you're ready. Just let me know."
"We'll run it- together." George stated, grinning more genuinely then he had in years. "It's a family venture, after all, and two Weasley's are better then one."
Percy grinned back, clearly thrilled at the prospect of co-management with his brother. The two had never really seen eye to eye on everything- but life had changed them, and the both knew that- somehow- this new arrangement would work.
"Thanks, George." Percy replied. "I can't wait to show you some of the new products…I can take you and Freddie by tomorrow, if you want."
"That would be great." George agreed, taking a glance around the dimly lit yard. "Speaking of- have you seen Freddie recently? He and Hugo left after they finished their cake, and I've just realized that I haven't seen them since."
Percy shook his head. "I'm afraid I haven't, maybe…"
But before he could finish his sentence, a loud BANG echoed through the garden, and both instantly knew what Freddie had been up too…
A few minutes earlier…
Hugo glanced nervously around the corner, before gesturing for Freddie to follow him into the living room.
"They're all still outside." He whispered, glancing back at his cousin and the large box of Wild-Fire Wiz-Bangs.
The two had snuck back into the house after eating generous servings of cake, discussed the details of their plan, and were currently trying to make a quick, undetected exit to the side garden.
"Should we go out the front door?" Freddie asked nervously, worried that one of the many adults would catch them before they managed to set off the enchanted firecrackers.
Hugo nodded, and the two crept down the hallway and outside as quickly and quietly as possible.
Aside from a stray garden gnome, no one seemed to be in the front yard and the boys managed to make a stealthy trek to their desired location. Once hidden behind a large and unkempt bush, Freddie and Hugo began to pull the Wiz-Bangs out of the box, and line them up several meters away from the side of the house.
Silently, Freddie worked on clearing away any branches that obstructed their path, and Hugo wove a long piece of flammable string around the line of firecrackers.
Once they had finished their work, the boy's exchanged an excited glance, both eager (and slightly worried) to see how the others would enjoy their little show.
"Ready?" Hugo whispered and he began to walk down the cleared path towards the back yard, the string trailing behind him.
Freddie nodded in confirmation, and watched as Hugo pulled out the wand they had swiped from a shelf in the living room earlier that evening and attempted to set the string on fire, thus igniting the hidden Wiz-Bangs. Much to their frustration, however, Hugo had no success.
"Do you think Grandma and Grandpa have matches in their house?" Freddie asked. "Or maybe a lighter?"
"I'm pretty sure they don't." Hugo whispered back. "Magical households don't tend to have muggle supplies. They use their wands to light fires."
Freddie sighed and looked dejectedly down at the wand in his cousin's hand. "Well…then why don't I give the wand a try?" he asked. "As long as you're sure we can't get kicked out of Hogwarts for it…"
Hugo shook his head and handed over the wand. "I'm sure- the underage magic regulations only kick in once you start school. Before that, any display of magic is assumed to be accidental." He paused for moment before adding. "Point it at the string and try to picture fire coming out of it. It should work…although not all wands work for all wizards, so that may be our problem. If this fails, we can try to nick my Dads wand- it always works for me."
Freddie drew a deep breath and tried to follow his cousin's instructions.
For several moments, nothing happened, and he was about to give up when a bright flash issued from the tip of the wand, lighting the end of the string.
Grinning, the two boys stayed in their spot for another second to ensure that the flame did, in fact, begin to make its way towards the Wiz-Bangs before bolting off into the backyard, their cheeks flushed with excitement and their eyes sparking with mischief.
"What are you boys up to?" Their grandmother asked upon seeing their sudden entrance. "I do hope…"
But before she could finish, a loud BANG rang out across the yard and all present turned to see the first of the Wiz-Bangs soaring up into the air.
The red, glittering flash climbed higher and higher until it finally burst into a thousand smaller lights and reformed into the shape of a magnificent, glowing dragon. Freddie watched in awe as the creature opened its jaws and let out a triumphant roar…
It was just as he had expected- these were unlike any muggle fireworks he had ever seen.
The red dragon was soon joined by a yellow one, and then a blue…and the three laced through the air, putting on an impressive show for the stunned observers.
Freddie and Hugo exchanged a wide grin, both impressed by their ability to pull off their scheme without detection. It certainly seemed like they would have a long and prosperous career ahead of them.
"Hugo Weasley!" A voice exclaimed, loud enough to be heard over the loud bangs of the firecrackers bursting above them. "Explain yourself this instant!"
Hugo cringed, and Freddie glanced back to see Aunt Hermione marching towards them. He would have been tempted to run had Uncle Ron not reached out and restrained her. He couldn't tell what Ron had said, but whatever it was seemed to subdue her- at least temporarily.
Looking to his other side, he could see that his father and Uncle Percy were watching the display with amusement, and he was fairly certain that he would not be faced with a stern lecture when this was over.
After all, his dad had said not to do anything he wouldn't do…and Freddie had certainly followed those instructions. His dad couldn't blame him for doing something he himself had done (and invented…) in his youth.
Freddie smiled again as he watched a giant red lion soar through the air, pouncing on a glittering green snake before the two dissolved in one final glorious flash of light. The sky was bright with a rainbow of colours, and as he looked back down at those around them, he could see their content faces illuminated by the magical display.
He jumped slightly as someone approached from behind and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder- but he was relieved to see that it was only his dad.
"So," George began, grinning down at his son. "I see you found some of our old firecrackers."
Freddie nodded, somewhat sheepishly. "Yeah…I hope you don't mind…we thought…"
"I don't mind at all." George replied, still smiling. "It's great to see some of the old products at work again. Reminds me of old times…"
The boy chuckled, glancing back at the sky for a moment as a giant yellow 'W' formed in the air. "I heard about how you and Uncle Fred left school." He said, his eyes sparkling in the reflection of the lights.
George laughed and ruffled his sons flaming red hair. "Well… don't go getting any ideas." He began, trying- unsuccessfully- to sound stern. "I'm hardly a good role model."
The boy shook his head and looked up at his father. "That's not true, dad." He said with a wide grin. "You're a great role model - the best."
George laughed again and knelt down on the grass next to his son- looking the boy straight in the eye. "I'm glad you think so." He began, placing a gentle hand on the boys shoulder. "And I have to say, if you and your cousins do get up to some good old fashioned Weasley pranks while you're away, it would be rather hypocritical of me to scold you too much." He paused and gave a brief glance behind him. "Just make sure you don't hurt yourself- and those you care about."
Freddie nodded, and was about to reply when he noticed his that his dad was now staring down at the wand he had used to set off the Wiz-Bangs. For a moment, he worried that he was going to get in trouble for stealing the object from the case on the living room bookshelf…but the even wider smile on his father face soon told him otherwise.
"Did you use that wand to set this off?" George asked, gesturing up at the bright fireworks that were still glittering and dancing in the sky.
"Yeah." Freddie began reluctantly. "Hugo and I found it on the bookshelf. When he tried to do it, it didn't work- but then I tired and it did." He paused before adding. "I guess I really am a Wizard, eh?"
"Undoubtedly." George replied, reaching out to brush his fingers against the familiar old wand.
"Whose wand is it?" Freddie asked, curious to find out why his father was suddenly so mesmerised by it. "We weren't sure, and I'm sorry if we…"
"It was Fred's." George cut in, looking back up to meet his son's eyes.
The boy's mouth opened in surprise.
That had not been the answer he was expecting.
"It's identical to mine." George continued, beaming with pride. "And, it seems, it has chosen you as its next owner."
"Me?" Freddie squeaked, now looking at the wand in an entirely different light. He felt honoured to be able to use an object that had once belonged to his Uncle…his father's twin. "How do you know?"
"The wand chooses the wizard." George replied with a nod. "And if it worked for you- without ay training- then it must be yours." He paused and drew his son into a tight embrace. "Use it well, Freddie." He whispered before finally pulling back. "Make me and Fred proud."
"I…I'll try." The boy replied, wondering if he could ever live up to such a reputation…
But, he reminded himself, he was finally home- surrounded by the people who loved him most- and he knew that whatever he did in life, and where ever he chose to go, he would always have the support of those around him.
"You will." George replied with a warm smile. "You already have."
And with that, father and son looked back up into the night sky and watched as the final Wiz-Bang exploded in a dramatic display of lights.
The glittering red sparks danced around the inky blackness until finally falling into formation and displaying a familiar message for all to see…
A/N Wow, my first ever completed multi-chapter story! I'm so proud :) Please tell me what you thought. I would consider doing a sequel- I had so much fun with this.
Thank you all for your reviews! I appreciate the response. You're all fantastic!