His breath hung in the frosty night air and the snow had begun to seep through his shoes, but still he stood in the garden staring into the night sky. Christmas Eve. He used to love this holiday more than any other, with the exception of April Fool’s Day. Now, it was just another reminder that he was the one left behind. George found it difficult to be merry when he felt so empty. Not that Angelina wasn’t a wonderful wife, but no one could ever fill the spot left vacant with Fred’s death. At least Angie got that.
After dumping a foot of snow that afternoon the clouds had finally blown over, leaving a black velvet sky full of cold, sharp diamonds. He wondered if Fred was up there somewhere, looking down on him now. It felt so far away. There were moments, like this one, when he would give anything for that distance to be erased and to hear that laugh once more. Even if it meant dying for it to happen.
Behind him, the door opened and clicked shut softly. The shuffle of feet approached, and Angelina’s arms wrapped around his waist from behind. She smelled of gingerbread and sugar, and he melted into her warmth, wishing it was enough to soothe the ache in his soul. They stood there in the frigid air, Angelina clinging to him as if trying to hold him there on earth with her. She felt the longing in him; saw the distance in his eyes.
There had been a time when Christmas filled George with glee. Although his family didn’t have much, there always seemed to be enough to get a few presents for the holiday. Beyond the yearly jumper from their mother, the twins had received their first joke items and charms kits under the Weasley family tree. It had been a Christmas gift that started the entire idea for Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. George remembered it so clearly, it might have happened yesterday.
“Georgie, you think Father Christmas is real?” Fred whispered as they crept down the stairs, trying desperately not to wake their mother.
“Well, who else would give us those things? Mum isn’t too keen on noisy toys, you know. I don’t think she’d have got us those Tweaking Tulips from Zonko’s, either.”
Remembering the previous year’s gift dangling from Percy’s nose, Fred snorted. That had been pretty funny, regardless of what their uptight brother thought.
“I guess you’re right,” Fred admitted. Silently, they snuck down to the tree where the presents lay in a pile. Pulling their wands from the pockets sewn into their pajama pants, they cast a spell to check for wards placed on the gifts. Sure enough, the soft glow announced the fact their parents did not trust them.
The ten-year-old boys grinned and nodded to each other, waved their wands in the pattern they’d seen in Percy’s school book, and broke the protective spells without a hitch. If all magic was this easy, Hogwarts would be a breeze next year.
“What’ve you got, Freddie? I think these are Mum’s jumpers,” George asked, tossing two soft, lumpy packages over to the side as he searched for his name.
“Ah, this is what we’re looking for!” Fred announced, holding two boxes up triumphantly. Another quick spell from the books, and the paper lay neatly opened, ready to be resealed when the peeking was through.
Pulling the Magic Ears from their cartons, the boys put them on and listened, sure they’d hear everything in the house from the ticking of their mother’s clock to Percy’s whistling snore three floors above them. Instead, they heard…nothing. Identical frowns marred their faces.
“They’re junk!” Fred groused. “I knew it! Why can’t anyone invent a decent eavesdropping device?”
George took off the offending item and replaced it in the box. “It can’t be that hard, can it? We could probably do a better job than this rubbish.”
At that moment, they looked at each other with fiery eyes. Without a word, they knew the other was thinking the exact same thing. The rewrapped the gifts, placed them back under the tree, and recast the wards over them. The next morning they feigned surprise and elation, and then disappeared to their room with their haul. Over the next few months, the Magic Ears were studied and adapted. Their first product had been invented. Extendable Ears. There was no turning back.
Now, a few hundred inventions and a lifetime later, George found himself facing the prospect of running the business on his own. The thought created a lump that burned in his throat. Without Fred, he felt adrift, untethered to the world. It would be so easy to just step off the surface and float away.
As if feeling him falling away from her, Angelina pulled him a little tighter against her body. Placing a kiss on the side of his neck, she sighed and stared up at the alien stars.
“I love you, you know.”
George watched a star shoot across the night sky, streaking toward the opposite horizon.
Pressing her cheek against his back, Angelina listened to her husband’s breathing. She felt like she was losing him to an enemy she couldn’t fight. His grief seemed to coil around him tighter each day, suffocating the boy she once knew. She thought of her gift for him this Christmas, and wondered if it would be enough to bring him back.
“George?” she whispered, almost as if she weren’t sure he was still with her.
“Hmmm?” he replied, still lost among the stars.
Taking a deep breath, Angelina closed her eyes. If this didn’t wake him up and help him see how much life was left for them to live, there was nothing else to do. That knowledge scared her. Feeling her courage wavering, she plunged ahead before she lost it.
“I have a Christmas gift for you.”
Turning around to face her, George forced a smile to his face. It fooled no one, but she loved him all the more for the effort.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for it, though. It won’t be ready for a while yet. Probably not until mid-June.”
Raising an eyebrow, George searched her face. “What in Merlin’s name could you have gotten me that takes that long to…” he trailed off as realization dawned on him.
“Are you? Really?” he stammered, glancing from her wary expression to her hands folded protectively over her flat belly.
With the positive nod of her head, George felt as if a firm hand had reached out and grabbed hold of him. No longer slipping away from the world, he found himself tangibly bound to it through one simple sentence.
“George, you’re going to be a daddy.”
Suddenly, the dark night sky filled with silver streaks as shooting stars trailed their tails across the heavens. In his heart, George had no doubt that Fred sent his congratulations. Taking Angelina in his arms, he pressed his lips to hers, tasting her tears as his own began to fall.
“Merry Christmas, Angie.”
“Merry Christmas, George.”
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