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Chapter 5: The Birthday Surprise
Autumn at the Burrow was one of the more pleasant seasons to behold, as all the leaves in the surrounding hills and fields turned bright reds and coppers and yellows, and the grass always crunched pleasantly underfoot. For the five Weasley children left still at home, awaiting their turn to go to Hogwarts, it was the sort of time that should be spent playing outside in the orchard or by the mossy green pond, before the nastier winter weather gusted in. But on a particular day towards the very end of the month of October, they were all inside, cooped up for some mysterious reason in Percy Weasley’s bedroom.
“As we all know, today is a very important day,” Percy was saying, marching up and down the line of his assembled siblings. He had his hands on his hips, which produced a comical effect, and looked rather proud of his self-induced authority. Fred and George, the next-youngest Weasley children, looked less than thrilled about this, however. They rather thought Percy resembled the supercilious old rooster the Weasleys still had in the chicken coop.
“It’s the day before Halloween!” piped up Ron, the smallest boy, who was five and still very excited about the yearly dosage of sweets that Halloween provided. George cracked a wicked grin and leaned over to Ginny, who had just turned four, and made a bizarre face that was supposed to resemble a troll. She stuck her tongue out, but nevertheless scooted a bit further away from him.
Percy sighed, looking cross. Why was it always so hard to get his brothers and sister to listen to him? He was their older brother, and thereby perpetually in charge. “No,” he said snappishly. “And stop doing that,” he added to George, who scowled but resumed his seat on the floor of Percy’s bedroom.
“As I was saying,” the nine-year-old boy said, drawing himself up importantly and feeling rather pleased that he had been able to organize this, “it’s a very significant and exciting day.” He paused for the effect, rather proud of himself for using such a big word, but only managed to catch Fred crossing his eyes, which put him in a worse mood.
“It’s Mum’s birthday,” he said, as though revealing a great surprise. Only Ginny seemed excited by this; she loved any excuse for a celebration. The other three boys, however, just gave their older brother rather blank and bored stares.
“Is the part that gets exciting coming up next?” asked George innocently. Ginny choked back a giggle, as she respected Percy perhaps more than her brothers did, but Ron didn’t even try to hide the undignified snort that rocketed out of his mouth. Percy tried to ignore this as best he could.
“So, while Dad’s away at work, we’re going to surprise her,” he said firmly. “She’s going to be doing laundry all day, but someone needs to keep her away from the house until we’re ready. Ginny, I’ve already made that your job.”
“That’s not fair!” cried Ginny in a slightly squeaky voice, a shadow crossing over her violently freckled face. She looked very put-out at having to sit out on the birthday preparations, and for a moment Percy felt bad, because she was by far the most excited about the prospect of a surprise party. But she was the girl, and the baby, and he knew his mum was more than likely to be distracted most by her than by any of her sons. It was the only way they could be almost guaranteed to surprise Mum.
“Fred, George, you need to decorate the living room,” said Percy, turning away from his sister, who looked about ready to shout some nasty things. “Only no Halloween decorations,” he added sternly, correctly reading the rather excited gleam both twins received simultaneously in their eyes.
“And Ron…” Percy trailed off. He hadn’t actually had a job in mind for Ron, but the youngest Weasley boy looked rather eager to help. He couldn’t believe the words that came out of his mouth next. “You can wrap Mum’s present.”
Their father had purchased a rather peculiar gift for their mother – a clock with each member of the family’s names engraved on a golden hand, which pointed to where each was at a certain time, such as work or school. The children were enthralled by it, and their father had had to put it in his wardrobe so they wouldn’t spoil the surprise for Molly. It was stashed next to Ron's old teddy bear, Mr. Stuffing, whom Ron hadn't touched since the dreadful spider instance one Christmas. He wouldn't even let Ginny have him - apparently he was unable to look at him without thinking of spiders.
“Why can’t I wrap the present?” Ginny squawked in anguish, but she was promptly ignored. Percy stood up, if possible, even straighter and clasped his hands behind his back, looking not unlike a very small military officer. He surveyed his siblings with a beady and overbearing eye, and sighed again. Granted, he didn’t have much in the way of choosing people to help plan his mother’s birthday, but Percy wondered about the sanity of letting a five-year-old wrap presents, and two seven-year-olds decorate the family room. Well, no matter – he’d have to cross whatever bridges he’d just built when he came to them.
“And what are you doing, then?” Fred piped up from the floor. Percy smiled smugly, as he had been half-hoping that someone would ask that question.
“I’m baking a cake,” he said proudly, switching his hands around and clasping them smartly in front of him. George guffawed loudly, and Percy turned a cold glare on him.
“You can’t bake,” said his younger brother scathingly. “You can barely pour sugar on your porridge in the morning. Mum has to do it for you more than half of the time.” A rather wicked grin appeared on Fred’s face at remembering this tidbit of news. Percy turned a nasty shade of puce and, once again, decided ignoring was the best course of action.
“Ginny, go and distract Mum,” he said, and the girl got to her feet, stumbling slightly and looking mutinous. He listened for her footsteps on the stairs - rather angry-sounding, he thought, but that was to be expected - before turning back to the other three, who all looked mildly bored. For a minute, Percy worried. He wanted everything for his mum's birthday to go right, and he hoped that they wouldn't fail him.
"Fred, George, go show Ron where Dad hid the clock, and then you can get started on the living room," said Percy. "Only, please… please don't destroy anything.” Remembering as he did the first - and last - time the twins had been allowed to try and help out with the family, and the fire that had nearly burned the living room down as a result, he was suddenly apprehensive about his decision to make them decorators. But it was too late now. With confidence waning, he listened as Fred, George, and Ron followed Ginny down the stairs, and then began to follow after them in turn, hoping beyond hope that Mum and Ginny were already outside.
He needn't have worried, however. From his view through the tiny window above the kitchen sink, he could see that Ginny had succeeded in dumping a pile of freshly laundered sheets all over the rough dirt near the chicken coop. Excellent – that would buy him plenty of time to make the cake. He hoped. It was true that he’d never baked anything before, but he’d watched his mum do it several times, and it didn’t look that hard. Never mind the fact that she had a magic wand, either. Small details, he was sure.
He carefully pulled a chair away from the large, scrubbed wooden table where the Weasley family ate their meals and dragged it in front of one of the large kitchen cabinets framing the stove and oven. After a bit of searching, he unearthed a large flour sack and a bin of sugar, but to his dismay they were too heavy for him to move, as they were nearly completely full. But never mind that – he would just scoop them in directly. He brought over a cereal bowl that had been left on the counter and, after carefully picking out the soggy cornflake remnants, cupped his hands and put a bit of both into it – it would surely be more or less the right amount, he thought, eyeballing the contents with a careful eye. Only a little bit spilled on the ground; he would clean that up later.
He took the pitcher of milk from the breakfast table where it was still sitting and poured a bit of that in, as well. Glancing about, he noticed a basket of eggs sitting on the counter, apparently already having been gathered by Mrs. Weasley. Percy was glad of this – it might have looked suspicious if he’d had to make a dash for the chicken coop in the middle of the morning. He grabbed one and whacked it on the edge of the bowl.
Shell and egg went everywhere, and a bit of yolk caught him square in the face. He spluttered in surprise and looked down at his hands, which were covered in yellow goo and flecks of white eggshell. That had never happened when his mother cracked eggs – they always split neatly, and she never got so much as a drop on her. He peeped into the bowl, and saw a substantial amount of egg had made it into the rather lumpy-looking dough. Well, it was good enough.
A pattering of little footsteps on the stair above caught his ear, and was followed almost instantly by a small thud and Fred and George guffawing loudly. Not wanting to see exactly what had transpired, but knowing it was his duty as head of the operation, Percy walked briskly into the family room, still clutching the bowl that held what was looking less and less like cake batter.
Ron was lying sprawled at the bottom of the crooked staircase, his little arms still wrapped around the clock. A ribbon was looped around it messily, and in the top corner, a small piece of the wooden frame had broken off. He was staring at the broken corner in horror.
“What do you think, George, marks nine out of ten?” said Fred then, who was looking at their brother and trying to act as though he was deep in thought.
“I’d give him an eight, that landing didn’t do anything for him,” George chuckled, swinging his legs back and forth from where he was perched on the arm of the sofa.
“It’s not funny,” Percy snapped, running over and helping his little brother off the ground roughly. “Couldn’t you have been a bit more careful?” he added, directing this question at Ron brusquely. Ron’s lower lip protruded slightly, and tears formed in his rather large blue eyes.
“It’s no use crying now, you’ve gone and ruined it,” he said crossly, thrusting the clock back in Ron’s arms. He turned his attention back to his twin brothers, who had gotten tired of watching Percy talk Ron’s ear off and had gone back to decorating. “And what are you doing?” he cried.
Fred squeezed a rubber spider, and it let out a rather pathetic sort of squeak. “Muggle Halloween toys, Dad got them for us a few years back,” he said happily, looping a bit of yarn round the spider’s middle and securing it under a rather ugly vase on the fireplace mantel. George was licking the backs of Muggle stamps decorated with their ideas of witches and goblins, and was sticking them artfully about the room.
“You don’t think it’s a bit much?” he asked, seeing Percy staring at him. Percy felt as though he was about to explode, and indeed, he had gone rather red about the neck and ears.
Ginny skipped happily through the back door at that precise moment, trailing one of the sheets she had successfully dumped on the ground. “I think –“ she began, coming to a halt beside Percy, but he cut her off before she could bring him any more dreadful news.
“Not now, Ginny,” he moaned, dropping his head and gripping his temples with the tips of his fingers; the pose made him look old well before his time. “Can’t you see everything’s gone wrong?”
Ginny looked at Ron, who was desperately trying to jam the broken clock corner back in place, to the twins, who were now running about with orange and black crepe streamers, and finally to Percy, who looked as though he were about to shout and cry and fall asleep all at once.
“I just thought you might –“ she started again, but was again interrupted by the sound of the back door opening. Five heads swiveled in its direction as Mrs. Weasley backed through, carrying the basket of dirty laundry in her arms and looking cross.
“Mum’s coming,” Ginny said cheerfully, and, stepping carefully over Ron, skipped up the stairs to her room.
Mrs. Weasley had stopped stock-still in the middle of the room, her mouth hanging open slightly as she looked from one thing to the next. The only thing that moved was the crepe paper, which was fluttering slightly from the breeze carried in through the still-open door.
“What…?” she asked, trailing off and slowly setting the laundry basket down on the floor. Her gaze roamed idly over her sons and the various states of mishap that they seemed to be dealing with. Her eyes rested last on Percy, who was still clutching the absurd-looking bowl of batter.
“Happy birthday,” he said, a bit weakly, offering her the bowl. She looked at it for a long moment, and then her head dropped into her hands, not unlike Percy’s had a few moments before. No one spoke; all eyes were on Molly.
And suddenly she gave a loud shout of laughter, and couldn’t seem to be able to stop. Tears were running down her freckled cheeks, and the more she tried to wipe them away, the faster they came. Fred and George joined in, and then Ron, and finally even Percy allowed himself to see the humor in the bizarre predicament he’d gotten himself into.
And from the day forth, there was always a small crack in the corner of the infamous Weasley clock from the small piece that had been broken off it. Mrs. Weasley could have fixed it seamlessly, but she always said she never wanted to forget that birthday.
A/N: Poor Percy -- I'm not sure why, but he's always been one of my favorite Weasleys. And I feel he's a bit underwritten in fan fiction, too, although that may just be me being selfish! Writing about the Weasleys is great, though, getting into their little heads and having them cause all sorts of mischief. It's a nice outlet after writing my other stories, which tend to be a bit more serious. And on that note, I take my leave -- thank you guys for all the reads and reviews and favourites!
September 6: I made a huge error in the events of these stories, and thanks to one particularly astute reviewer for finding them! Chapter 3 has now undergone edits to make it and this one pieces of the same canon. Thanks for the patience, and many apologies for the slip!