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Chapter 6: The Knight
Night had long since fallen outside the small square windows of the Burrow, and the sky outside was peppered with stars, as though a giant hand had scattered them there at random. It was a mild night, but through the window panes a fire could still be seen to be crackling in the grate of the Weasley’s living room, warm and cozy and peaceful. Three-year-old George Weasley was sitting on a loveseat furthest from the blaze, half-dozing against his father, who was engrossed in that night’s edition of the Evening Prophet. Through sleepy eyes he watched Bill and Charlie, who were engaged in a game of chess near the hearth. Bill seemed to be losing, a fact that was apparently bothersome judging from the red patches on his freckled cheeks.
Across from George on the other sofa sat Mrs. Weasley, who was overseeing a pair of knitting needles as they worked to form a small pair of baby shoes. She was heavily pregnant with her seventh (and, she swore, the last) child, and she tired more and more quickly as the date of the baby’s arrival drew closer. Squeezed next to her was Percy, his nose only inches from the pages of a wizarding genealogy, and Fred, whose tongue was lolling out of his mouth in sleep. The only Weasley missing from the scene was one-year-old Ron, who was upstairs in his crib, presumably lost somewhere amid dreams.
From somewhere else in the house, a distant clock suddenly sang out nine low, rolling chimes, and the sound started Fred awake as George watched him. He quickly snapped his mouth closed and blinked a bit confusedly. He met George’s gaze and looked a bit embarrassed, scowling quickly to cover it.
“Well, that’s game, then,” piped up Bill from the floor as the last bells of the clock died out. He immediately swept his hand across his side of the board, pushing all the white pieces he had left off their squares. They let out small cries of protest at not being allowed to finish the game.
“You only did that because you were losing!” Charlie cried angrily, looking just as put-out as the chess pieces sounded. Bill looked stonily down at the board, and finally Charlie began clearing his own side of the board, muttering angry things under his breath and dumping the pieces on the threadbare rug. George’s eyelids drooped again, and he slumped a bit more against his father’s shoulder.
“It’s bedtime anyway,” came Percy’s voice from beside his mother, finally reappearing over the edge of the book. He looked to Mrs. Weasley for confirmation of this, and she nodded, picking up her wand from the end table and pointing it at the needles; they stopped clicking at once and fell still.
This was the moment George had been waiting for all night. Before his mother could get to her feet, he scooted off the loveseat and pattered hopefully over to her, resting his hands on her knees. “Mum?” he said hopefully. “Can I have a story?”
The soft look that had crossed Molly’s face at her son’s sudden appearance fell slightly, and was replaced with a guilt-torn expression. “Oh, Georgie,” she said. “I know I told you that tonight you could have a story, but-“ She looked up at Arthur with tired eyes. He immediately cleared his throat and set down his paper with a pleasant rustle.
“As it happens, son,” he said, swooping swiftly into the conversation, “I’ll be telling you and Fred a story tonight.” A little crease formed in George’s brow – it was always Mum who told him bedtime stories – but the point wasn’t worth arguing. Out of all the Weasley boys, he had always loved stories best, and wasn’t about to argue over where they were coming from.
Mrs. Weasley smiled down at George and placed a warm hand on his hair. “There you are, dear,” she said. “Dad will take you and Fred up to your room and tell you a nice… story.” The pause between her words was only barely discernible. Arthur knew only a handful of stories, as far as she knew, and none of them were appropriate for their three-year-old twin sons. Moreover, he was never very good at telling them – he had habits of skipping large portions and only telling minimal details. But her ankles were very sore and swollen, and the thought of climbing up and down stairs only tired her out all the more.
“Right!” Arthur stood up, crossed the room, and swooped George up into his arms, planting a noisy kiss on his cheek. “Come along, you too,” he added, picking Fred up in the other arm with slight difficulty. Now thoroughly burdened, he began the laborious process of climbing the winding staircase to the landing where the twins’ bedroom was located.
Once over the threshold, George immediately wriggled to be let go. He wanted to waste no time in order to hear the full extent of whatever bedtime story his father had in store for him. He leaped into bed, wriggling down under the cool sheets and drawing the blankets right up to his chin. Fred was a bit slower, and George mentally urged him to hurry.
“Now,” began Mr. Weasley at last, sitting down on the end of George’s bed and patting the little feet he found there. “I’m going to tell you boys a story a bit different than the ones your mum usually tells you.”
“Is it about muffins?” Fred said at once, smothering a great yawn.
“Erm, no. It’s not about any sort of baked good,” said Arthur, momentarily perplexed. “It’s about a knight, but not like our knights. He was a Muggle knight, who fell in love with a princess –“ He paused, seeing equally baffled looks from both boys. “A princess is… a really beautiful lady,” he added, feeling that the explanation would do for the time being.
“This knight wore a suit of metal and had a long sword, and a horse. And he loved this princess, but a bad man had locked her away in a high tower –“
“Why was the man bad?” said George, feeling that there was something missing from this story and trying to seek out exactly what it was.
“He didn’t listen to his dad while he was being told stories,” said Mr. Weasley with mock severity, looking pointedly at his son over the tops of his spectacles. George smiled a shy sort of smile and snuggled down further into his bed, determined not to interrupt again lest he should someday become a bad man.
“So this knight went to the bad man’s castle to try and, erm, get the key to where the princess was,” their father continued. “But the bad man didn’t want to give him the key and so he took out his own sword –“
“Did he have a horse too?” Fred asked, trying to look disinterested but not being able to help from making comments now and again anyway.
“No, he had a dragon,” their father said now, again distracted from his story. “So he took out his sword and he and the brave knight began to fight. And the brave knight won and got the key and rode to the tower and got the princess.” He sat back with an air of finality, but now George definitely knew that something was wrong with this story.
“That’s it?” he said. Barely five minutes had passed since he and his brother had gone upstairs for bed; his mother’s stories always took longer than this, much longer. Arthur looked slightly uncomfortable, and shifted a bit on the end of the bed.
“It’s… a short story,” he said, lamely. “And now you, my son, need your sleep.” He patted George’s blanket-covered feet again and rose. George looked at him balefully, his mind still buzzing with unanswered questions. Who was the knight, and why did he want to save the pretty lady? But the ceiling light had already gone dim, and Mr. Weasley was kissing Fred good-night.
“See you in the morning, boys,” he said softly, and with that George’s story came to a close. He turned over, trying to find a cool spot on the pillow and drawing his small legs up to his chest, for that was how he liked to sleep best. And then he began to do what he always did before bed – he began to imagine.
The entire night, George dreamed of men in metal robes like the ones his father wore to work and a large castle. He didn’t really understand his father’s story – and it had really been much too short, anyway – but the image of being a brave knight was planted firmly in his small three-year-old head. He sprang from the bed and, briefly noting that Fred was still fast asleep and breathing loudly through his nose, tripped down the stairs and into the kitchen. His mother was sitting at the kitchen table, sipping a mug of tea. Ron was at her feet, gnawing on the ear of his ragged old bear, Mr. Stuffing.
“Good morning, George,” she said brightly upon seeing him enter the kitchen. She set her mug down with a clink and beamed fondly down at him, offering him a piece of toast which he took happily.
“Mum, could I have a spoon?” he said, seemingly from nowhere. Mrs. Weasley looked thoroughly nonplussed by the request.
“A spoon?” she asked, as though making sure she’d heard correctly. George nodded staunchly, and then the corners of his mouth turned up into an endearing little-boy smile. Although still young, he’d already learned the best ways of pulling at his parents’ heartstrings. Mrs. Weasley, although still a bit unsure as to why her son was asking for a spoon, handed him the one sitting beside her tea. With a quick thank-you and a brief hug around her legs, George hurried off.
Somehow the notion had gotten into his head that he was going to be a knight that day, and the spoon would serve as his trusty sword. He looked down at it and wondered if swords usually had tea stains, but no matter. Now all he needed was a bad man and a pretty lady to save.
Stepping onto the back porch and holding his spoon – er, sword – protectively to his chest, George encountered Percy, who appeared to have been awake for a while. He was engaged in drawing something in the dirt, and looked fully intent on what he was doing. So, naturally, George wandered over and stuck his face down at Percy’s level.
“Will you be a bad man?” he asked, without preamble, and Percy jumped back a bit and scowled at him.
“You’ve gone and messed up my runes,” he said hotly, pointing at the dirt where George’s feet were. George looked down but all he saw were a bunch of half-erased scratches; he thought he probably could have drawn better pictures than that.
“Will you?” George persisted.
“What are you talking about?” Percy said grumpily, trying to fix the runes around where George’s feet still were.
“A bad man,” he said. “So I can fight you.” There was a long and very heavy silence, and finally Percy prodded his foot sharply with the stick, apparently having had enough of the conversation. George let out a high-pitched yelp and jumped away, eyes watering in pain.
“Go away,” said Percy firmly, and resumed drawing in the dirt. Assuming correctly that he would not find a playmate in his five-year-old brother, George wandered off again, thinking sourly that that was a shame. In that mood, Percy would have made an excellent bad man.
He went back inside the house, experimentally jabbing at things with his spoon and trying to imagine how it would feel to have to walk around in robes made of metal. No one else seemed to be stirring apart from his mother and Percy, and he was feeling a bit down at not being able to practice his knight skills – whatever those skills might entail, as he still wasn’t totally sure.
As he was crossing the threshold back into the kitchen, however, lost in thought as he was, he forgot to look down and, as such, tripped over the cat. He crashed to the floor in a tangled heap of elbows and knees, amid a rather raucous feline screech. His spoon clattered across the floor.
The cat scrambled to its feet, looking at him balefully, and George didn’t know exactly why that look in particular made him think of it – it certainly wasn’t a happy one, but before he really had to time to think on it he seized the cat around the middle and hoisted it up with only a slight difficulty.
“Come on,” he grunted, the slight bruising pain of his fall already forgotten. “I’m going to save you, kitty.” The cat thrashed about, apparently not too keen on the idea of playing the pretty lady Knight George had to save, but unfortunately for it Knight George didn’t really care what it wanted.
The family room looked rather dull now that the sun was shining again and there wasn’t a fire to give it a cheerful sort of air, but it would suit George’s play-acting purposes. He deposited the cat on the loveseat and fenced it in with all the pillows he could grab, reinforcing these with Percy’s genealogies, still sitting on the coffee table. The cat mewed pitifully from inside its little fluffy prison.
George looked at it, pleased and already beginning to feel his knightly instincts beginning to stir. The problem was, he still didn’t have a bad man to fight in order to save the pretty lady. He cast about, wondering if maybe the laundry basket by the stairs would suit his purposes, but fortune arrived once again, this time in the form of one-year-old Ron. He had just stumbled a bit unsteadily out of the kitchen, Mr. Stuffing’s ear still in his mouth and now looking quite soaked from the drool.
“Hark!” said George, not quite remembering where he’d gotten the word from – he thought maybe it was in an old song Mum had sung, or possibly something Bill or Charlie had said – but it seemed fitting for the occasion. Ron looked up and gave his older brother a wide, toothy smile, staggering a bit towards him on unsteady feet. George ran over and positioned himself so that he was behind Ron now, imagining that his brother stood between him and the beautiful lady still meowing loudly from behind the pillows.
“Awiho,” said Ron, stretching out his hands and gesturing with the spittle-ridden bear. George grimaced a bit, trying not to let it touch him; he didn’t really see Ron’s attachment to it, as it had once been Bill’s and therefore was rather ragged by this time. But he supposed Ron didn’t know the difference. He had no idea what he was trying to say, either, but it wasn’t hard to come up with things bad men might say. And he’d had lots of practice before.
“Go away!” said George, gesturing with the tea-stained spoon. Ron burbled something else incoherent and made a grab for it, Mr. Stuffing falling with a little whump onto the rug. He giggled in a fashion that didn’t resemble a villain in the slightest, and George let out a sigh that spoke of world-weariness, despite his young age.
“If you’re going to play, you have to play properly,” he said stoutly, holding the spoon out of his little brother’s reach as Ron made another swipe for the object. “You have to be mean. Like this.” He made a horrendous face at him, but that only set him giggling again. He then promptly inserted Mr. Stuffing’s wet ear back in his mouth, chewing with what little teeth he currently had. George grimaced again, but he saw no other way to have a villain in his brave and heroic knight’s tale.
“Now look,” he said. “When I poke you with this” – he gestured at the spoon in his right hand –“you’ve got to fall over backwards.” Ron blinked at him.
“Yeah,” said George. Taking a stance, he gave Ron a sharp poke in the shoulder with the spoon. Ron looked at it and giggled for a third time, grabbing the round part in his surprisingly strong fist and giving a strong yank. The object slipped out of George’s grasp and it clattered across the floor in the direction of the kitchen.
“That’s not -!” George began shrilly, but a noise from behind him made the problem of the loss of a sword quite another issue. Fred, who was now apparently awake, was currently lifting the angry cat from its fortress of cushions. The twins’ eyes locked for a moment, and Fred set to dashing up the stairs, clutching the yowling animal as he went.
“Give – it – back!” George screamed, thundering up after his brother, clutching the railing along the wall as though it was the only thing that stood between life and death. At three, he wasn’t exactly the most steady on the stairs, and Fred was a bit taller and had the advantage of slightly longer legs.
A door slammed on a landing above, the rattling mixing with Ron’s delighted screeches – clearly he had not anticipated such excitement so early in the morning. The door to Fred and George’s room was shut fast, and from the way it refused to budge George suspected Fred was leaning on it from inside.
“That’s mine!” he hollered screechily, thundering on the door with his little fists. “You can’t steal my beautiful lady, Fred, that’s cheating!” The sound of laughter from behind the door only enraged him further, and he swung his leg back, aiming for a good kick.
But at that precise moment, strong arms seized him around his chest and hauled him backward. George’s oldest brother Bill stood there, apparently having been woken by the ruckus; he was still half-asleep, and his hair was sticking up in a funny way from where it had been lying against the pillow. “What are you doing?” he said thickly, keeping a tight restraint on the toddler.
“Fred stole the cat!” George said, pointing an accusing finger at the door that concealed their brother. “And I was going to rescue it from a castle –“
“What’s going on?” Another sleepy voice joined the chorus as Charlie, who had been just as deep in sleep as Bill had been, joined the group, rubbing his eyes. “Who stole the cat?”
“Fred!” George bawled, still fighting against Bill’s firm grip around his upper torso, angry tears leaking out from his eyes. This explanation didn’t make sense to Charlie; he glanced at Bill, who shrugged. The movement caused George’s feet to momentarily lift off the floor.
And, in one moment, the gathering on the landing was completed by the sight of Mrs. Weasley, climbing laboriously up the stairs and looking thoroughly angry, followed closely by Percy wearing a very haughty expression for a five-year-old.
“For Merlin’s sake, boys!” she said hotly, coming to a stop on the landing and towering above them all, looking even more intimidating than normal in pregnancy. “It’s barely nine in the morning! Must we have a shouting match every week in this house?” Her stern eye roved from face to face, coming to rest last on George, who had finally escaped from Bill’s clutches. “What's this about the cat?” she added.
“Ask Fred!” he said angrily, posing to take another kick at the door. He was still immensely angry with his twin for ruining his knighthood. Mrs. Weasley stepped toward the door and knocked on it sharply with a tightly-curled fist.
“Frederic Weasley, you open this door right now!” she yelled. There was a pause, and then the door opened the barest of cracks, through which a sliver of Fred’s eye could be seen.
“Yes, Mummy?” he said, in a muffled sort of voice.
“Bring the bloody cat out of your room this instant,” she said through gritted teeth. There was another pause, and the door swung open a bit more, just enough to allow the cat to squeeze through. It ran past at a breakneck speed, barely setting its paws on the landing before sprinting off down the stairs, probably to cower under furniture for the rest of its natural life.
“And now you,” Mrs. Weasley said, when Fred gave no indication of emerging himself. “Out of there, if you please.”
“No, thank you,” said Fred’s tiny voice, the voice he used when he knew he was in trouble, still slightly muffled. After it became clear that Molly was not going to back down, however, he relented. The door creaked open at a painfully slow rate, and finally Fred emerged onto the landing. George stuck his tongue out at him in a sudden fit of anger.
“Now, George,” said Mrs. Weasley in a voice of forced calm, as it was clear she still did not understand the full situation, “kindly tell me exactly what you were doing with the cat that made Fred steal it.” Bill and Charlie, apparently uninterested in whatever logic their little brother would spew out, gradually started back for their respective bedrooms, both yawning.
“I was being a knight,” said George simply. “And I was going to rescue the cat from the pillows after Ron the bad man put it there. But Fred stole the cat.” He did not understand the slightly helpless look his mother wore – the explanation made perfect sense to him. “I’m being Dad’s bedtime story,” he added helpfully.
A world-weary sigh, not unlike the one George had issued earlier, passed through his mum’s lips. She placed her forehead against the tips of her fingers for such a long time that George wondered if perhaps she hadn’t gone to sleep. He tapped on her knee, but she didn’t look up for a long time. When she finally did, her lips were pursed.
“Fred, no more stealing from your brother,” she said tersely. “And George – honey, I like it when you play, but let’s pick a story that doesn’t involve the cat.” His spirits fell a bit, but he nodded, feeling that at this moment that was probably the best course of action. He couldn’t help but feel that, somewhere along the way during last night’s story, he’d missed a crucial bit of the plot.
A sudden thought occurred to him. “In case you were wondering, Mum,” he said brightly, “Ronnie’s got your spoon.” The last look he saw before he turned to return trippingly down the stairs was yet another motion of the head passing into the hands, his mother looking utterly defeated.
A/N: Oh, poor George. All he wants is a bit of adventure, and being a knight is certainly a heroic job. There are so many times in writing these stories when I'd like to reach through my screen and give lots and lots of hugs. Although this time that feeling seemed to extend toward the cat -- maybe I should be saying 'poor kitty' instead.
Thank you to everyone who nominated this story for a Dobby, while I'm at it. It meant so, so much to me, much more than I can express. And thank you to all the readers and reviewers I've had! Two more chapters, guys!