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Chapter 4: A Day No Gnomes Would Fly
There wasn’t really much of anything about the start of that day to suggest the events that were yet to come. If Fred, at the very tender and rather naïve age of four, had been prone to reflection, he might have thought that it had started at breakfast. Breakfast at the Weasley household was always a chaotic and interesting affair, with Mr. Weasley trying to get to work without changing his robes more than three times, and Mrs. Weasley trying to make sure the house remained in one piece. On this particular morning, Fred and his twin brother George were sitting side by side, their backs to the window and their fingers buried rather deeply in a pot of marmalade, originally intended for the toast.
“Has anyone seen my other shoe?” Mr. Weasley was bellowing from somewhere up the stairs, and from the sound of things was hopping about while he searched. Percy looked up from the Daily Prophet he’d been reading – he didn’t even just skip to the funnies, either, which Fred found both impressive and boring.
“Charlie, dear, go and help your father,” said Mrs. Weasley from the direction of the stove, waving the spatula over her shoulder. She was trying to fry eggs and soothe baby Ginny, who was eternally fussy, at the same time. Charlie, the oldest brother left at home since Bill had gone away to school, blinked sleepily at his mother. He was always the last down to breakfast, and never properly woke up until noon.
“Do I have to?” he said thickly, stifling a yawn with a piece of toast. Mrs. Weasley glared at him from across the room, and even from that distance it was clear that she meant it. He heaved such a large sigh that, across the table, Ron’s hair was ruffled from where he sat in his high chair; the toddler looked a bit bemused, but he was fiddling with Mr. Stuffing, his teddy bear, and didn’t seem bothered. Charlie stomped up the steps to help Mr. Weasley look for his elusive shoe.
Fred twirled the marmalade with his finger, watching some of it slide down the outside of the pitcher and onto the table. George was watching him, apparently thinking as hard as Fred was about the sticky potential of that marmalade. The twins’ sole pleasure in life so far was playing their little jokes and pranks on people; the marmalade heralded a world of possibilities.
“Hey, George,” Fred whispered, low so that their mother wouldn’t catch wind of what he was about to do. “Look at this.” Keeping his ears open for Charlie’s step on the stairs, he scooped a hefty handful of marmalade from the pitcher and spread it thickly on the seat their older brother had just vacated. Percy was still hidden behind the paper, and Ron was now reprimanding Mr. Stuffing, who apparently had been eating like a wild hippogriff; their scheme had gone unnoticed. George smothered a laugh behind his hand.
Presently two pairs of feet were heard trampling down the steps, and both Charlie and Mr. Weasley appeared, the latter looking ruffled but with both feet adequately covered in his work shoes. He trotted into the kitchen, absentmindedly running his hands through his thinning red hair, and glanced at the clock on the wall – the one that actually told the time.
“Wouldn’t mind giving us an egg on toast, Molly? I’ll barely make it to the office as it is,” he said, scooting around a pair of roller skates that were halfheartedly rolling back and forth, anxious to be used. Molly gave her husband the breakfast and, with a quick kiss on her cheek, he departed. Fred’s eyes weren’t fastened on his parents, though; he was straining to look innocent while watching Charlie from the corner of his eye.
And, true to form, Charlie’s eyes had already half-closed once more – the marmalade on his chair went quite unnoticed. With another mighty yawn, he sat right back down at his seat at the table. The resulting squelch was marvelous – Fred had outdone himself this time. Not a person in the room could have closed their ears to such a sound. As though they were one person, seven heads, including Ginny’s, swiveled in the direction of the seat upon which Charlie had just sat.
Tentatively, Charlie half-rose, and the marmalade strung out beautifully between the wooden chair and the faded stripes on his pajama bottoms. Fred couldn’t hold back any longer, and let out a loud roar of laughter, tears welling in his eyes and spilling over his freckled cheeks without abandon. George quickly followed suit; Ron merely stared from brother to brother, as though he didn’t quite believe what had just happened.
“Fred!” Charlie yelled, screwing up his face, which had become as red as a tomato. He made a lunge for his little brother, but although Fred was four to Charlie’s ten years old, he wasn’t stupid. He quickly ducked the swinging arms and crouched under the table, clinging to the plank that supported its center, still howling with mirth and gasping for breath. A scuffle from above told Fred he was still being pursued hotly.
“Charlie Weasley!” Mrs. Weasley snapped, fighting to be heard over Ginny’s shrieks and the thumping of Charlie trying to squeeze under the table. “Stop that right now – a fine example you’re setting for your brothers!”
“I’m – gonna – kill – him -!” Charlie grunted, trying to swipe at Fred. “Marmalade – on – my – pants -!”
“Enough!” The shriek was loud enough and uncommon enough to freeze each of Mrs. Weasley’s sons right where they sat; the only sound in the kitchen now came from George, who let out a hiccup or two as he tried to smother his laughter further. Peeping from between chair legs, Fred could see that his mother meant business; however, he knew better than to emerge quite yet. Some things, like kissing Auntie Muriel, were better to put off as long as possible, and this was definitely one of them.
“Boys,” said their mother at last, in the slow and careful voice that was ten times scarier than her shouts. “You have just earned yourselves a morning of de-gnoming the garden. All four of you.” Her stern eyes traveled from Charlie to the twins to Percy. His jaw dropped, and the newspaper slipped from his hands onto the table.
“Yes, Percy, you too,” she said, a rather menacing light twinkling from the inner depths of her eye. “Goodness knows whatever part you’ve had in this little ruse.” He opened his mouth hotly to protest, but was silenced from a raised hand from Mrs. Weasley. Still balancing Ginny on her hip, she motioned for Ron to follow her from the room before waving her wand over her shoulder. The breakfast dishes immediately zoomed over to the sink and began scrubbing themselves.
“And I want those gnomes gone, do you hear me? You boys had better de-gnome those bushes as if Merlin himself was going to be poking his head in to inspect them!" The final sentence pronounced, she whisked away, her shoes tapping angrily on the floor.
Fred now ventured to peek out from beneath the table, wondering if all the smoke had yet cleared. Some of the fire had gone out from under Charlie, and he stood at the kitchen table, trying to twist around to inspect the damage to his pajama trousers. Percy was still staring after his mother in slight shock, as though hoping she’d reappear and tell him she was joking. George let out one final hiccup – the last remnant of his laughing fit – and fell silent.
“Thanks a lot, Fred,” Percy said finally, glowering darkly at him and crunching a corner of the paper in his fist. Fred beamed at him.
“Any time, Perce,” he said in his best adorable-four-year-old voice. He crawled out fully now and stood up, brushing dirt and dust from the knees of his pajamas. George followed suit, choosing to crawl under the table as well in case Charlie was prepared to make another swing for one of his brothers.
“Shall we get started then?” Fred ventured, looking from Percy to Charlie and back again. Both wore nearly identical scowls, but there was nothing they could do about the chore their mother had set them to that morning. All four boys tramped upstairs – Fred and George rather jovially, Percy and Charlie with less enthusiasm – to get dressed for the de-gnoming.
Their sour moods had not changed half an hour later, when the brothers were grouped around a clump of rather overgrown bushes in the Weasley garden. Fred could already hear very faint mutters that seemed to be coming from right underneath their feet, and knew that these were the gnomes. Secretly, he’d always liked the little potato-headed creatures, and felt bad that they had to be kicked out of the bushes time and time again. He rather wished they could stay.
“All right, let’s get this over with,” Charlie grumped, folding his thin arms across his chest moodily. “Just get them far away so we won’t have to do this next week, all right?” Fred saw his brother’s eye rove over six-year-old Percy and four-year-old Fred and George; true, they probably weren’t the most optimal companions for the task, but his gaze was still, in Fred’s opinion, a bit demeaning. He tried to stand a bit taller.
“This isn’t fair,” said Percy sulkily, pushing his tiny horn-rimmed spectacles up further on his nose with a little sniff. “I’m only guilty by association, you know. Mother had no right to send me –“
“All right, keep your hair on, Percy,” Fred interrupted, and George looked at him with something like admiration. Fred had heard that expression on a late-night radio programme; he’d been searching for an opportunity to use it, and found that it was rather fun to say. Percy looked surprised, and opened his mouth to issue a comeback. But Charlie had already buried his head inside the bush and now emerged with the first gnome. Twirling it by its ankles, he lobbed it far over the garden fence.
Something staggered into Fred’s ankle, and he looked down to see that one of the gnomes, having come up from its home, had walked right into him. Bending down, he picked it up by its head, causing the creature to squeal in slight discomfort.
An idea had blossomed suddenly into the four-year-old’s head, a wonderfully brilliant idea that would, he was sure, benefit all involved. He glanced at his brothers, but all three of them were busy chucking gnomes, and didn’t give him a second glance. Carefully, making sure he didn’t look too suspicious, Fred slipped the little gnome into his pocket.
For a moment it struggled, beating against the fabric and grumbling unintelligibly from within. It was an odd sensation, Fred thought absently, to have a gnome kicking about inside one’s pocket. He clamped a hand over it, silently willing it to shut up. And presently it stopped fidgeting, and fell still. He was ecstatic – now the gnome wouldn’t have to leave, so it would be happy, and then he wouldn’t have to see it go, so he was happy, as well. It all worked out rather nicely! So nicely, in fact, that he stooped and picked up another gnome, this one a bit smaller, and thrust it into the same pocket.
By the end of the morning, when the last few gnomes had been sent hurtling across the fence and were shuffling away in crooked lines, Fred had managed to secure three gnomes, and his pockets were oddly lumpy. Mrs. Weasley had finally given the chore her stamp of approval. “And I hope you lot have learned your lesson,” she had added sternly, looking hard at each of them in turn. Fred had nodded, merely wanting to get upstairs to find a place to stow the gnomes until he could give them a proper house.
Now he sprinted upstairs, ahead of George, and hurtled into his room, the gnomes squealing slightly as they banged about in his pockets. What should he do with them, and where should he hide them so his mother wouldn’t find them, getting him into even deeper trouble? His eyes alighted on the wardrobe, shoved back in the corner and overflowing with the twins’ clothes. It would do.
Hastily, but silently, so as not to attract unwanted attention, Fred stole over to the wardrobe and opened the door just a crack. He withdrew the gnomes from his pockets and deposited them in the nest of shirts that needed washing. They glared up at him sourly, kicking the folds of the clothing with their little horned feet.
“Fred! Come on, we’re going to the orchard, Charlie’s got Bill’s old broom!” George’s voice called up from below, somewhere on one of the stair landings. Quickly, as though he’d been caught doing something, Fred shut the door of the wardrobe, leaving it open just a crack. At the last moment, he reached over and snatched a piece of toast from the top of his chest of drawers. It was several days old, and very stale by this time, but he didn’t think the gnomes would mind it until he returned.
“Be back in a bit,” he whispered, just in case the little creatures understood manners and courtesy, and then thundered down the stairs and followed his brother out into the sunshine.
Unfortunately for Fred, his attention span was very small, and by mid-afternoon any thoughts he may have had about his little gnome guests had vanished completely from his mind. Considerably more freckled than when they had started out, the three boys climbed the hill to return home, Charlie still looking angry that George had jumped aboard the broom when he wasn’t looking.
“Mum would have killed you,” he was saying darkly. “You know you’re not old enough –“
“I am so!” said George, the slight squeak in his voice disproving his argument. He was looking, if anything, as angry as his older brother; more than anyone, George hated being called little or young. He kicked a clump of grass, which unfortunately came right back up to meet him.
“You just wait until I tell her,” Charlie threatened.
“You wouldn’t do it.”
“Well, Percy wouldn’t have any objections. And then –“
Charlie and George stopped short, their conversation quickly ended. Fred, who had been walking slightly behind them and had become mesmerized in his own feet, ran straight into them. He looked at them, and then shifted his eyes to see what had stopped them. Mrs. Weasley was standing just outside the back door, and, if possible, she looked even angrier than she had after the morning’s marmalade incident.
And, as luck would have it, Fred remembered rather clearly about his gnomes.
“Fred Weasley!” she shouted, confirming his fears. He cringed and made his best attempts to conceal himself, although it would have done no good. “Would you care to explain to me why there are gnomes swimming in my dishwater wrapped in one of your old shirts?”
Charlie and George turned to Fred in one motion, each with a nearly identical look of surprise. He became rather interested once more in the tops of his trainers. It was bad enough that his mother had caught onto what he was sure was a brilliant idea; being humiliated about it in front of his brothers was just icing on the cake. Glancing back up, he saw his mother hadn’t backed down, as he’d vainly hoped.
“Erm… no, thank you,” he said pleasantly, thinking that perhaps he might be able to relieve a bit of the tension. But she wasn’t buying it. Wordlessly she pointed a rather demanding finger in the general direction of his room, and Fred understood at once. His feet dragging slowly through the dirt, he entered through the back door and slowly mounted the steps to his room. He was sure that it would be a very familiar place before his mother allowed him to leave it.
Mrs. Weasley reentered the kitchen, sighing loudly and running a hand through her hair. Her eyes instantly fell on the kitchen sink, where three gnomes were still swimming about, looking almost pleased with the little bath they’d made for themselves. It didn’t seem to matter to them that bits of the morning’s breakfast were still bobbing about in suds.
It had been rather hard to send Fred to his room without laughing outright, for although it baffled her why anyone would willingly keep gnomes around, she had to admit that even from Fred or George she hadn’t seen this coming. Those boys kept her on her toes, and then some, and she never quite knew what shock or surprise she’d find lurking in some corner the next day.
But that only meant she’d never be idle a day in her life, and for this she was grateful. Besides, she didn’t think life ever get boring with a boy like Fred around.
A/N: There is nothing that cheers me up quite like writing the antics of the Weasleys when they were little. They are just so fun! If you're curious, I've decided that each child is going to get their own feature, and then there will be an epilogue of sorts. So that makes this story halfway finished! Thank you to all the reads and reviews so far.
Many, many, many thanks to Sarah, one of my very dearest friends, who inspires Fred every time I write him, and gave me so many ideas for this story and collection as a whole.