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Growing Up Weasley by TenthWeasley

Format: Short story collection
Chapters: 8
Word Count: 22,348
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 12+
Warnings: Mild violence

Genres: Fluff, General, Humor
Characters: Ron, Arthur, Bill, Charlie, Molly, Percy, Fred, George, Ginny
Pairings: Arthur/Molly

First Published: 03/24/2011
Last Chapter: 12/13/2011
Last Updated: 03/14/2012

Summary:



2011 Dobby WINNER: Best Canon | 2011 TGS WINNER: Best Within Gifted
 
Inside every person is the child they used to be.

A series of one-shots based around the Weasley children and snapshots from their childhood. Jaw-dropping NEW banner by kaileena_sands @ TDA!


Chapter 1: A Very Hairy Christmas
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For Sarah, without whom this story collection would not have even existed.

Three-year-old Ron Weasley opened his eyes very suddenly, blinking about him in confusion and wondering what might have possibly awoken him. As far as he knew, he had been sleeping soundly up until that moment, and no loud noises indicated what had jolted him out of that slumber. He sat up in his little bed, rubbing his eyes with his balled-up fists, his teddy bear clutched in the crook of his arm. As he looked around, his sights lighted upon the tiny window of his attic bedroom, through which he could see new snow falling. And suddenly, he remembered - today was Christmas!

Ron fairly leapt out of bed and pattered over to his door, delirious with excitement. Of all the holidays that his family celebrated - and, having eight separate birthdays under their roof alone, they celebrated quite a few - he always had loved Christmas best. His mum would bake sticky buns for them all, and his dad would always lead them in a lot of carols, which Fred and George had a rather funny habit of screaming in Percy's ears. They liked annoying Percy, because he was always quick to anger, and he always gave them the funniest reactions.

Still clutching his teddy bear - a ratty old thing he'd had since he was born, and had christened Mr. Stuffing - tightly to him, Ron opened the door of his room quietly, poking his little head past the frame. All seemed sleepy and still beyond the landing, and for a moment he wondered if he had mistaken the date. Usually Bill or Charlie would have roused them all by now, thundering up and down the steps until each member of the Weasley family was awake. Ron tiptoed hesitantly outside and shut the door noiselessly behind him, poking a thumb in his mouth unconsciously while he pondered whether or not to go downstairs and see if his mum was awake.

Ears perked, he suddenly managed to catch the slight creak of steps below, and hurried down to see who was there. The further he descended, the stronger a smell of cinnamon tickled his nose, and he wrinkled it happily - perhaps someone had already baked him a sticky bun?

He rounded the last corner, and a rather peculiar sight met his eyes. His five brothers were all crowded close to the stair rail, arranged in a line from oldest to youngest; Bill was nearly in the living room, while George was only a few steps away from Ron himself. As they heard him, all five heads swiveled in his direction, and Charlie placed a solemn finger to his lips. Being careful not to trip over his trailing pajama bottoms (they had once been Percy's), Ron carefully set Mr. Stuffing on the step behind George and crouched down next to his brother.

"What's going on?" he asked in a whisper that was rather louder than intended; Percy shushed him bossily, and Ron scowled.

"Mum doesn't know we're awake yet," Fred hissed up the stairs, turning back to the railings and peeking out at the living room below him with a hungry expression. Ron's section of the railing only looked to the stairwell wall, however, and he couldn't see whatever it was that was so fascinating to his brothers. He tried squeezing next to George for a peek.

"Get - off - me-" George grunted, shoving Ron away. He fell with a thump right on his bottom, nearly squishing Mr. Stuffing in the process. Before he could cry as he wanted to do, however, Charlie had tiptoed up to him, hands raised as though in preparation for the tears. He picked up his brother rather awkwardly and sort of shuffled down the stairs with him, plunking him on the stair between Bill and Percy.

Ron's eyes widened slightly as he surveyed the scene that met his eyes. He had only seen a handful of Christmases before, and was still young enough to be awed by the tree and the rather brightly wrapped presents beneath it. His rather plump little hands clenched the railing as he leaned forward, watching the candles glint off the gold baubles and shiny red bows. The smell of cinnamon seemed even stronger just then, and his stomach growled as, once again, his mind turned to sticky buns.

Just then, a rather deep voice behind them cleared its throat, and all six boys jumped, as though they were one. They turned guiltily to look up the stairs as Arthur Weasley, clutching a rather sleepy-looking two-year-old Ginny, surveyed the sight before him with poorly concealed amusement; he rather thought his sons looked like little ducks in a row.

"I thought your mum told you to stay in bed until she called you this morning," he said with mock severity, hitching Ginny up a little higher on his hip. One by one, the Weasley boys turned to look at Bill and Charlie, the masterminds behind this particular operation, and the two eldest boys flushed pink. Mr. Weasley shook his head and said, "Well, the damage has been done, I suppose. Run on down, now."

Ron leaped up and followed Bill to the bottom, but suddenly remembered Mr. Stuffing, still sitting on the stair where he had left him. He pushed back through his brothers and bent down to scoop up his bear. He frowned as he did so - the right side of the bear's face looked oddly squashed. His father must have trodden on him. Cuddling Mr. Stuffing as though to comfort him after this traumatic incident, Ron followed his family into the kitchen.

Mrs. Weasley was listening to her husband as she stood next to the oven, a pan of hot rolls, covered rather stickily in some caramel-like sauce, steaming pleasantly on the range. Ron licked his lips, but knew that he would have to wait for his coveted bun; breakfast always came after the presents, for otherwise Fred and George would get into them and unwrap everyone else's before they had a chance to.

"All right, you lot, into the parlour, then," Mrs. Weasley called, and the boys didn't need to be told twice. Ron tried to keep up, but as always, the good chairs were taken before he arrived there. Feeling a little grumpy already, but determined not to ruin Christmas for himself, he plunked down on the hearth and crossed his little legs under him. Besides, here he could set Mr. Stuffing up next to him rather nicely. He leaned him up against the fireplace tools, patted the bear's head, and then turned his attention to the Christmas presents. There were two packages for each Weasley - one always held a hand-knitted jumper, but the other package varied from year to year, although Percy usually seemed to recieve a book of some kind.

Nothing rather momentous happened, however, until it was time for Fred and George to receive their presents. Ron didn't much care about Bill's new robes, or Percy's new biography on Bertie Bott, and so was rather excited to see what was in the long thin boxes, for Fred and George always got the most fun presents. He sat up on his little knees, leaning forward, and watched as Fred reached the parcel first and lifted the lid.

It was magnificent - a tiny, working toy broom, an exact replica of the bigger ones Ron had seen in the pictures in Charlie's book on Quidditch. (He didn't yet know how to read the words next to the pictures, but that was all right - the moving Quidditch players were exciting enough.) George had an identical broom in his package, and the twins held them up, grinning wildly from ear to ear. Ron felt a small stab of jealousy shoot through him as, glancing over beneath the tree, he saw his own package was not long and thin. He wanted a toy broom, too.

"Ron, dear, you're next," said Mrs. Weasley, leaning around Percy to hand her youngest son the little square box wrapped in maroon paper. Ron lifted the lid, wrinkling his nose slightly at the color, but wondering if maybe his own broom might be in there, and was just smaller than his brothers'. But no - instead he withdrew a small maroon jumper, hand-knitted by his mother. He looked up in puzzlement, wondering if she had possibly been mistaken. Had he opened the wrong present? He surveyed the jumper again; even if this was meant for him, it would be much too small.

"For Mr. Stuffing!" explained Mrs. Weasley happily as Ron looked at her and his dad once more. "I thought you two could match this year." He muttered a little thank you, and so as not to appear ungrateful, jammed the wooly thing over his bear's head, all the while thinking bitterly that Mr. Stuffing was already quite warm enough in his fur without an extra layer. But he had to admit, it was a rather nice fit. His mum certainly did know how to knit, he'd give her that.

After Ginny opened her present (a new picture book), Mrs. Weasley announced that it was finally time for sticky buns, and Ron leaped to his feet. At last! Although he hadn't recieved a toy broom, a bun was almost as good - wasn't it? And they certainly tasted better than a broom. Yes, a bun would do him just fine.

But something stopped him from following behind as the rest of his family traipsed happily back into the kitchen, Percy now engrossed in the rather boring-looking book. He half-glanced back beneath the tree, where the broom parcels were still lying open. Maybe, if he could just touch one...

Glancing into the kitchen and making sure Fred and George were too wrapped up in their sticky buns to notice him, he crept silently back across the room and knelt by one of the packages. To Fred, with love from Mummy and Daddy. Fred surely wouldn't notice if Ron just held the broom, just for a little bit.

And oh, how wonderful it felt in his small hands! Light but firm, perhaps a bit too big for someone as small as he was. But that was all right - he'd just hop on and hop right back off. It couldn't be too hard, for Charlie and Bill flew on old brooms in the orchard all the time. They made it look easy. Ron was sure he could do it - if only he could remember the proper way to mount a broom.

Cradling Mr. Stuffing gently under the crook of his right elbow, he tentatively placed his left foot on the broom handle. Was this the way it worked? He gripped the end of the broom in both hands and held it at an angle to the floor. Any time now, it should fly... He could already picture the jealous looks on everyone's faces as he zoomed about, a true natural on a broomstick. And then his parents would let him have the broom... Fred could have the old maroon sweater...

"Where's Ron?" came a sudden voice from the kitchen - his mother! Panicking, Ron put his full weight on the broom without thinking. The resulting snap was unmistakable in the sudden silence. There was a pause, and then a great scraping of chairs as everyone leapt up from the table and rushed to the living room. And there stood Ron, an expression of utter shock on his face, Fred's new toy broom now in two neat pieces in the little boy's hands.

For the briefest of moments, no one spoke. And then Fred, whose face had gone rather scarlet, fairly exploded. "My broom!" he roared, running forward and pushing Ron roughly in the shoulders, knocking him to the ground. Angry tears were now streaming down his cheeks as he turned to his father pathetically, holding out the pieces to him. "Fix it!" he said, giving the pieces a little shake.

His father gulped and knelt down so he was on Fred's eye level. "Son, I... I don't think I can. The magic that makes these brooms fly... Well, it's too difficult to repair." He looked weary, and ran a hand through his thin hair, giving a tremendous sigh.

Ron felt tears in his own eyes as he watched this exchange, holding Mr. Stuffing to him and feeling rather sick. Fred whirled back around, his entire head now looking as though it was on fire. "I hate you, Ron!" he screamed, going completely mad with his rage. "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!"

And then it happened.

No one afterward was ever quite sure how Fred had done it, but one moment Ron was clutching Mr. Stuffing to him like a life preserver - and the next moment, the bear had been replaced with a very large, very real spider, waving its eight hairy legs about feebly. Ron looked at it for a moment before giving a scream of pure terror and flinging it away from him. The spider hit the wall opposite with a dull thud, but he didn't look to see what happened next; he had already bolted for the steps and was flying up the stairs. He didn't stop running until he reached his attic bedroom, and he dove under the covers, still screaming.

Angry voices could be heard from the floors below, although Ron couldn't make out what they were saying through his tears. Eventually, he heard footsteps pounding upward before they stopped outside his room. The door creaked open, but Ron didn't want to see who it was. He felt the weight of someone sitting down on the end of his bed.

"Ron?" his father asked gently, placing a large hand on the boy's small head. "Ron, look at me." Sniffling, his nose running something awful, Ron peeked an eye out from beneath his covers. His father was smiling kindly down at him, holding a plate in one hand with a sticky bun sitting on it. Ron poked his hand shyly out and grabbed the bun, then retreated back under the covers.

"Ron, we all know you didn't mean to break Fred's broom," Mr. Weasley said comfortingly. "Just as Fred didn't mean to turn - ah, Mr. Stuffing, is it? Well, yes, he didn't mean to turn your bear into a spider." At the mention of the spider, however, Ron gave a great shudder and a very loud hiccup.

"I've fixed him up for you," said Mr. Weasley now, and Ron poked another curious eye out. His father was clutching Mr. Stuffing now, but for the moment all the little boy could see was the great hairy spider he had been only a few moments ago.

"No! Get him out! Out!" Ron screamed, bursting into fresh tears and diving back beneath the covers of his bed. He continued to sob until he heard his father sigh, and felt his weight lift from the foot of the bed, and then he left the room. The door clicked shut behind him, and Ron heard his footsteps retreating down the stairs.

He sniffled, sucking a bit of the caramel from the sticky bun off his thumb. He was sorry he had gone poking into Fred's parcel, of course, but Fred hadn't any right to turn Mr. Stuffing into a spider - even if it was an accident. Ron burrowed down further in his covers, shutting his eyes tightly against the image of clicking pincers and hairy legs.

He would never, ever look at a spider the same way again.

A/N: I do believe that this is the first one-shot I've ever written that wasn't for a challenge! Well, second - but the other was a Cedric/Cho, and that is never seeing the light of day. I actually wrote this for my sister, because she loves Ron and wanted a story about him as her welcome-home present. And now it's sparked what's going to eventually be just a collection of one-shots about the Weasley children as... well, children. Hope you'll keep on reading about them!


Chapter 2: The Budgy Battle
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Charlie hung upside down from the bed in the small room that he usually shared with his older brother Bill, studying the floral-patterned wallpaper and trying to see if it looked any more interesting from this perspective. A stifling heat crept through the open window next to him, and there was no breeze to stir the limp curtains and provide respite - although it was early September, summer still seemed to be hanging on doggedly. It was only late morning, and already Charlie was sweating.

What was more, he was bored out of his mind.

Ever since Bill had gone away to Hogwarts last year, Charlie had been counting down the days until he himself would climb aboard the scarlet train with his brother and begin his education in magic. He only had a year to go, but Bill was gone for his second year now, and the wait just seemed more torturous than ever.

He thumped his shoes experimentally on the window ledge, squinting his eyes and tilting his head slightly to the right, concentrating on a particularly garish pink rose. It was in this position that his mother, on the pretense of depositing a basket of laundry in the wardrobe, found her son. A look of perplexed amusement appeared at once on her face.

"Charlie, dear, what are you doing?" Molly Weasley asked, setting the wicker basket of clothes down and sitting next to Charlie on the bed. He sat up quickly, his face red and splotchy from where the blood had rushed to it, and tried to look as though surveying wallpaper upside down was a perfectly normal pastime for a boy who was ten-and-three-quarters.

“Nothing,” he said quickly, flopping back on the bed with a small sigh that didn’t escape his mother’s notice. She reached down and began tying the laces on one of Charlie’s trainers, which had inexplicably become untied. Molly was used to this – in a house of six boys, shoelaces were always coming undone with no reason.

“Why don’t you help me out around the house?” she asked finally. “You could watch Ron for me while I finish up the laundry.” Charlie turned a withering stare on his mother, strains of adolescent emotions already making an appearance, and she held up her hands in mock surrender.

“All right, all right. Why don’t you go and feed the chickens, then? Your father would really appreciate it, he wouldn’t have to do it after he came home from work,” Molly said encouragingly, patting Charlie’s leg in a bracing sort of way. She suppressed a smile when her second-oldest son heaved another great sigh, as though she was taking him away from some vitally important task. Nevertheless, Charlie was nothing if not willing to help, and slowly climbed off his bed and shuffled through the door to his room. His mother shook her head in wonderment, rising from the bed and crossing again to the basket of laundry atop the dresser.

Although it was a chore, and thereby disliked by definition, Charlie didn’t mind feeding the chickens nearly as much as he made out. He liked animals, after all, and aside from some of the nastier chickens who enjoyed pecking the Weasley family, they were rather fun to chase. He jumped the last set of stairs into the living room, enjoying the loud bang that the old floorboards provided, and nearly skidded right into his youngest brother. Ron was sitting by the staircase, babbling away as he made his rather ragged and filthy teddy bear, Mr. Stuffing, waddle across the floor. When Charlie landed near him, he looked up, smiling toothily.

“What you doing?” Ron asked, using the stair railings to bring himself to his feet, and promptly sticking a thumb in his mouth. Charlie ruffled his brother’s hair affectionately - the age difference between the two didn't ever matter to Charlie, who liked having someone to sort of look out for, although he never would have admitted it out loud.

“Mum asked me to go and feed the chickens. Want to help?” he asked. Charlie and Ron had formed a sort of special bond since the latter had been born. Now Ron nodded happily and followed Charlie out the front door onto the Burrow’s porch, dragging Mr. Stuffing behind him.

Percy was curled up in the corner on his favorite blanket, reading through a dog-eared copy of More Tales of Beedle the Bard. He looked up as his brothers exited the house, frowning slightly into the sun behind them, before burying his nose once more in the little book.

The large bin that contained the seed that the Weasley family used to feed the chickens was flush with the side of the porch, a metal bucket sitting next to it. Trying to keep an eye on his little brother, Charlie lifted the lid with a satisfyingly loud bang, causing Percy to glare disapprovingly at them once more. He filled the bucket high with the grainy, slightly slick feed and turned to Ron, who was watching with interest, still with thumb in mouth.

“Ready to go?” Charlie asked, and Ron nodded, crinkling up his nose in a happy smile. The chicken coop sat in the garden, near the gnome bushes, and Charlie led the way around the crooked little house, staggering only slightly under the weight of the feed. Ron tottered along behind, dragging his teddy bear through the dirt – Mrs. Weasley never could keep up with washing the bear, for his face was always being dragged through one puddle or another.

The chickens were pecking idly at the hard dirt around their slightly rundown coop, all the grass long since removed by their strutting feet and sharp little beaks. As far as chickens went, they were rather arrogant, and so all but ignored the two red-haired boys who approached them from the far side of the garden. All except one, that is – a mean-eyed rooster for some reason named Budgy, who raised his bald head at the sound of coming footsteps and stared challengingly at Charlie. Budgy had been a fixture at the Burrow for as long as Charlie had, and for some reason each had taken an intense disliking to the other.

Charlie stared back evenly now, Ron oblivious to the confrontation as he halfway hummed a tune Mrs. Weasley used to put her sons to bed when they were little. Budgy opened his beak slightly and then turned and strutted around to the back of the coop. Charlie would have sworn his tiny head was held high in a gesture of arrogance. But by now, the rest of the flock had been alerted to the shiny metal bucket in Charlie’s hands, and he was soon swarmed by ruffling brown and white feathers.

“Come here, Ronnie,” Charlie called, and his little brother tottered over, making a path through the chickens surrounding the older boy. Charlie dug a hand in the feed and sifted it through his fingers a bit, and with a quick movement flung the seed from him. It hung briefly in the air before falling back onto the packed dirt, catching a few of the hens squarely on their heads. Indignant squawking and scrabbling for food followed; Ron giggled, watching as though it were a rather entertaining show.

“I can try?” he asked, pointing at the bucket in Charlie’s hand. The latter grinned and knelt by Ron, holding out the feed. Ron dropped Mr. Stuffing to the ground and reached his small, pudgy hands into the container. He grasped a few kernels and threw them at the chickens; one gave a loud cackle as a piece hit it in the eye.

“Careful!” Charlie said, laughing as the chicken beat a hasty retreat, flapping its wings pointlessly. But his younger brother was having too much fun, obviously not fully grasping the concept of feeding versus throwing, and he simply flung more kernels at the slightly-panicky birds.

It was at this moment, however, when both Weasley boys were sufficiently distracted, that Budgy made his move.

In looking back on it, it was a rather brilliant maneuver, all things considered. The proud old rooster, having made a rather dramatic exit not two minutes earlier, had snuck back around the clapboard sides of the coop, making his way stealthily over to the brothers while they had their backs turned. Just as Charlie had turned to scoop up more feed, his eyes fell upon Budgy just in time to see him snatch Mr. Stuffing by a tattered ear and take off at full speed toward the safety of the hutch. Unfortunately, it was at this point that Ron turned around, too.

For a brief moment, there was only silence broken by small noises from the other chickens. Charlie and Ron could only stare at the spot where Budgy had vanished, quite unable to comprehend exactly what had happened. And then Ron opened his mouth and let out a wail of despair that was so pitiful Charlie had to clap his hands over his ears.

“Ron, shh – look, I’ll get – Ron – Ron!” Charlie finally screamed, clamping a hand over his brother’s mouth. Ron stopped crying from the shock of being screamed at, and looked up at Charlie with puffy red eyes, making a little whimpering sound. All the chickens seemed to be watching the events unfold, and Charlie found himself absently wishing they would just eat the darn food and leave him to figuring out how he was going to get Ron’s bear back – running and asking his mother for help inexplicably didn’t occur to him.

His eyes lighted on a rather large stick a few yards away, lying beneath a wizened and twisted old willow tree near where their garden met open and untamed field. A plan began to form slowly in the ten-year-old boy’s mind, although it wasn’t very innovative. Sometimes the simplest plans turned out to be the most effective.

Eyes trained on the coop where Budgy was concealed – he wasn’t about to take his eyes off that rooster again – Charlie sidestepped over to the stick and picked it up gingerly. It was rather long, and therefore rather heavy for a boy as skinny as he was, but he hefted it as though it was a sword and crossed back to Ron. The latter was watching curiously, thoughts of crying for his lost bear having fled his mind for the time being.

Budgy poked his head around the little door cut into the front of the hutch, and opened his beak again – Charlie was sure he was laughing in triumph. Stupid git of a rooster. Arms held aloft, he crept toward the coop, and as he did so Budgy closed his beak quickly, a steely glint forming in one of his gold eyes. He raised a bony leg and stepped out of the coop to defend his territory, descending the small ramp that connected the ground and the door to the inside. Charlie saw his opportunity and struck: Yelling like a madman and swinging the stick as much as he could, he charged at the rooster. Budgy gave a terrified squawk and flapped away toward the hens, who were still watching as though the whole thing was a performance.

With a leap, Charlie flung the stick aside and dove headfirst into the coop. Right away, he knew that was a mistake – it smelled awful in there, and his eyes watered with the stench. He scanned around for any sign of Mr. Stuffing, and saw him perched haphazardly in a corner on his head, looking rather forlorn indeed. He made a wild grasp and, amazingly enough, his fingers collided with sticky fur. Charlie wrapped his fingers around the bloody toy’s neck and scrambled backward on his hands and knees just as fast as he could.

Budgy had had time to regain some semblance of his dignity, and was now stalking slowly back toward Charlie, beak extended, eyes narrowed in a menacing stare. Ron was watching from across the yard, his mouth slightly open, soggy thumb forgotten at his side. Charlie made a tentative step to the left, wincing as his trainer cracked over a twig. He stepped again, then again.

On the fourth step, Budgy charged.

Hand still clenched tightly around the neck of Ron’s bear, Charlie leaped in his younger brother’s direction and yanked the small boy by the upper arm, heading back in the direction of the safety of the Burrow. His legs pounded the dirt, a mixture of terror and adrenaline coursing through his veins, praying that his legs reached the porch before Budgy’s beak reached his legs, or Ron’s. He half-dragged his little brother behind him until, finally, he scrambled onto the porch, where Percy was still sitting, engrossed in his book of fairy tales. He looked up with an expression of slight annoyance.

Ron grabbed Mr. Stuffing from Charlie’s hands then and hugged him tightly, apparently uncaring about the smell of chicken that was strong on the bear’s fur. His thumb popped back into his mouth, and he regarded Charlie silently.

“For the love of Merlin, Ron,” Charlie panted, bent double, hands on his knees, “do not throw food at the chickens again.” Ron merely flashed his older brother a toothy smile and tottered into the house, searching for his mother and a biscuit.

“I’m trying to read, you know,” said Percy with as much scorn and pomp as he could muster into his seven-year-old voice. Charlie rolled his eyes, still trying to catch his breath from running from Budgy’s wild rampage. Standing up and taking a few experimental deep breaths, he ascertained that he would live another day, and followed his brother into the house.

Of two things Charlie Weasley was absolutely certain. One was that he and Budgy would never, under any circumstances, coexist peacefully at the Burrow. The second was that, whatever else he was, he definitely was not bored any longer.

A/N: Charlie has, for some reason, always been one of my favorite Weasleys - I think this is because we know so little about him in comparison to the rest of the family, and this provides for more creative allowance. In planning future snippets of Weasley life, this was one of the first ideas that popped in my head, drawing partly from Charlie's obvious love for animals. One thing I'm really enjoying is that this collection is just so fun - Mr. Stuffing, little Ron, and now Budgy. I hope you all are enjoying so far - please don't forget to leave a review!


Chapter 3: A Yellow Blanket
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Compared to the rest of his brothers, Bill Weasley was rather tame, all things considered. He didn’t run around trying to trip people (like Fred and George) or telling people what to do (like Percy) or bringing home all manner of wild animals (like Charlie). But there were some occasions where he just felt that everything within reach deserved a firm and solid kick, and he was most definitely in one of those moods right now.

He didn’t need a new baby brother; he had four already, thank you very much. No one had even bothered to consult him - and this was, in Bill’s ten-year-old mind, nearly unthinkable. His mother was at St. Mungo’s at this moment, preparing to bring home the new baby, and everyone else was already clustered downstairs excitedly. Even Aunt Muriel, who had been baby-sitting the boys while their father went to the hospital, was trying to look like she cared. But Bill was still up in his room, trying not to feel too bitter. He was failing miserably.

It was an especially warm day for March, and the windows to his room were thrown wide, letting in a slight breeze that ruffled the pages of the comic book on his desk. He leaned his arms on the sill and placed his head heavily on top of them, blowing air harshly through his lips. Dad had come home briefly last night to tell them about the new baby. They’d named him Ronald Bilius, apparently, and even though Bill was resentful, he had to feel a bit sorry for his brother with a name like that.

“William!” Aunt Muriel’s screechy and ear-splitting voice reached him from the sitting room, and he started, hitting his head on the window sill. “William, are you coming down?”

“In a minute, Aunt Muriel, I promise,” he called back, rubbing the sore spot on his forehead vigorously. He bent down and reached under his bed for his trainers, taking as much time as possible to put them on his feet. He slowly untwisted one of the laces, wondering how long he could keep this up. Maybe he could stay here lacing his shoes until Mum came home with Ronald.

“William!”

No such luck. He heaved himself to his feet, a twisting feeling growing ever stronger in the pit of his stomach, and slowly walked downstairs, feeling that each step was a step further from normalcy.

All of his brothers were in the sitting room with their aunt – Muriel was sitting placidly on the loveseat, trying to ignore Fred and George, who were climbing all over the rest of it. Charlie was bobbing excitedly on his feet, checking the tiny watch on his wrist every five seconds. Percy was reading one of the fairy tale books he’d been given for his last birthday, as always.

“It’s about time you got down here,” said Bill’s aunt grumpily, looking up from the socks she was knitting and giving a mighty sniff through her rather pinched nose. “What would your mother and father have thought, had you not been here to welcome your new brother?”

Bill really didn’t see what the big deal was – he’d welcomed four siblings before this one, it was old now – but he didn’t want to argue with his great-aunt at the moment. He looked around at Charlie instead, who had a large grin plastered across his extremely freckled face.

“What’re you on about?” Bill muttered, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his jeans. Charlie looked confused.

“Our new brother! Or haven’t you heard?” He sniggered, snorting a little bit as he did so. At eight years old, Charlie had reached the point in his life where he found himself utterly hilarious, and hardly anyone else ever did. He glanced at his watch again, and gave an almighty screech. Bill clapped his hands to his ears instinctively.

"Merlin! What was that for?" he said, scowling at his brother.

"Another minute ticked by!" Charlie said, gesturing at his watch. Bill rolled his eyes as far back as they would go. Sometimes Charlie acted like he was two; it was extremely annoying to listen to.

A few seconds later, all the people clustered in the room froze, for two sets of footsteps could be heard outside, moving about on the well-packed dirt that surrounded the front door. A pregnant pause hung thick in the air as its five occupants waited for the next move to be made. The sound of the latch clicking on the front door met their ears, and four pairs of feet went thudding into the hall; only Bill and Aunt Muriel stayed behind.

“Hello boys – careful there, mind your mum, Charlie,” said the voice of Arthur Weasley, sounding extremely pleased nonetheless to see his sons. “Come back into the sitting room, then – George, watch your step, please – and Mum will show you baby Ronald. Come on, now, back you go.”

His voice was getting louder as he neared the room; Bill wanted to go back up to his room until all the fuss calmed down. He stayed stiffly by the fireplace as his family reentered: first the twins, then Percy, then Charlie, clinging to Dad, and finally Mum, carrying something small wrapped in a ragged yellow blanket. It was the same blanket Bill had been brought home in; an inexplicable surge of jealousy welled within him.

“This is Ronald,” said their mum gently, kneeling and peeling back a bit of the blanket so each boy could get a better look at their brother’s face. She moved to her oldest son last, a look he’d never seen before flitting briefly across her face.

“Would you like to hold him?” she asked gently, and he had to keep from raising his eyebrows in surprise. Never before had he been offered to hold one of his siblings when they were so young. His eyes darted around to Charlie, Percy, Fred, and George. And then he frowned – so many brothers. Now he had five.

“No, thanks,” he said coolly, and that look passed across his mother’s face once more; he idly wondered what it meant. His aunt gave another great sniff from across the room, but he ignored her. “Can I go back up to my room, then?” Bill said, wanting nothing more than to be alone at that particular moment.

“Sure, dear,” Mrs. Weasley said, tilting her head slightly as she examined him. He didn’t stop to analyze the look or the tone she used – he turned right around and climbed the stairs straight back up, closing his door firmly and falling straight onto his bed, face in his pillow.

He felt terrible for being such a grouch. He wasn’t usually so unpleasant – and after all, he’d known for nine months now that he would have a new brother or sister in the house. But knowing something is coming, and actually having that thing happen, were two very different things. He was worried, in some small part, that his parents might forget him in the crush of children. He’d been around the longest, after all – they were used to him by now.

A sudden knock on his bedroom door made Bill lean upright on his elbows, his heart thumping rather unpleasantly. “It’s open,” he said, a bit more harshly than he meant to. The door creaked open and Bill’s father poked his head around the frame of the door; he was wearing a very similar expression to the one that had crossed Mrs. Weasley’s face downstairs. Bill turned his face away on the pillow, choosing instead to stare at the wall – for some reason that expression filled him with an odd and regrettable sense of guilt.

“Bill?” Arthur Weasley shut the door gently behind him and crossed to the bed, seating himself upon it. Bill continued to remain stolidly silent, distracting himself by trying to see pictures in the paneling. He somehow knew that if he looked at his father, whatever sort of bitter resolve he’d set against this new Weasley would melt.

“Are you all right?” his father continued, now placing a warm and slightly comforting hand on his son’s knee. “If there’s something bothering you, you only have to tell your mother or me. We always want to hear whatever’s on your mind.”

“I’m fine,” he said, again a bit too unkindly, and scooted a fraction of an inch further from his father. He didn’t want to talk about it – of that he was certain.

“Is this about Ron?”

Bill turned his head again, back towards his father; he was looking at Bill with a somber and rather morose expression. “Why did you have to go and get a new baby?” he blurted out, quite without meaning to. Now he’d started, though, he found it hard to stop, words pouring from his mouth before he could think about them properly.

“I already have a lot of brothers,” he said, feeling selfish but not really caring at the moment. “And they cry all the time, and they smell, and I – well, if you get enough kids then you and Mum are going to forget about me.” He said this last in a rush, wanting to get it out before he lost the nerve. Having finished, he stared at his shoes, waiting for his father to speak.

It was a long time before Arthur made a noise, however. Bill braced himself for yelling – he knew that what he’d said was beyond nasty – but to his surprise, it didn’t come. Instead his father merely cleared his throat and laid a hand on Bill’s head.

“Why haven’t you talked to your mother or me about this before now?” he asked softly, and Bill shrugged. He was already feeling the shame of what he’d said; his neck burned as heat crept up into it. He chanced a look at his father’s face, and was surprised that no anger lived there, only a slight confusion.

“No matter what you do, Mum and I could never, ever stop loving you,” Mr. Weasley said, pulling Bill into a hug. He didn’t fight it. “You are our first-born son, and we love you for who you are, just as we love Charlie and Percy and Fred and George,” he continued. “No new baby could ever change that.”

Bill sniffed, a bit ashamed now of his outburst. He could see that clearly now, and was sorry that he’d been such a grump the whole day. He sat with his arms around his father’s waist for a long time, and the two said nothing, merely enjoying being in one another’s company. Finally, Arthur drew back, smiling fondly upon his son.

“Shall we go downstairs so you can give Ron a proper greeting, then?” he asked, only teasing a little bit. Bill sniffed again and nodded, grinning a bit sheepishly back. Taking his father’s hand, enjoying feeling a bit like a little boy again, they descended the stairs. The rest of Bill’s brothers had been sent to play out in the garden – Mrs. Weasley had apparently wanted to save Bill a little embarrassment, of which he was grateful – and Aunt Muriel was nowhere to be seen.

“I’m sorry, Mum,” Bill said in a quiet voice, crossing to her and snuggling up next to her on the worn couch by the fireplace. She dropped a kiss on his head and then once more pulled back the corner of the little yellow blanket. A tiny pink face – his brother Ron – was sleeping soundly there.

“Do you want to hold him now?” Molly asked gently, and Bill nodded, his throat suddenly oddly tight. The bundle was nestled gently in his arms, and he was surprised by how light it felt. He looked for a moment upon his baby brother, and then an idea struck him – a way, perhaps, for him to make all of this right.

“Take him back,” he said, and his mother lifted the little baby from her oldest son’s arms, frowning slightly.

“Is something wrong?” she asked, but Bill was already halfway out of the room. He mounted the steps two at a time, landing with a large thump on the landing and bursting into his room. He crossed immediately to his old toy box, still sitting in the corner, and began to rummage through it.

He finally found what he was looking for, and slammed the lid closed with a bang. He thundered back down the steps and, panting slightly, skidded back into the family room. His mum and dad were still there, looking utterly befuddled by Bill’s behavior. Wordlessly, he held out the teddy bear in his hands.

Molly’s mouth dropped open. “Bill, is that – is that your teddy bear?” she said. "What was it you named him?"

"Mr. Stuffing," said Bill, a bit embarrassed - it hadn't been one of his more shining moments of intelligence as a child. His mother continued to look at him a bit oddly, as though unsure as to why Bill had suddenly taken to carrying around his old stuffed animals once more.

Arthur, however, seemed to understand. He rose from where he’d taken a seat on the couch and knelt in front of Bill, a kindly smile etched on his face.

“I think Ron will be very pleased to have your bear, Bill,” he said, ruffling his son’s hair. Together they crossed to where Molly was waiting, and Bill carefully laid the stuffed animal next to the baby in his mother’s arms. As though sensing it was there, Ron stirred and clasped a tiny fist around the bear’s paw.

“He likes it!” Bill exclaimed in surprise, not able to keep a wide grin from splitting his face. He gazed upon his baby brother with new eyes, watching as the tiny fingers toyed with the ragged fur on Mr. Stuffing.

Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, having another brother.

A/N: Well it's about time I updated this story! A lot of things - most of them induced by laziness - have prevented me writing and completing another one-shot until now, but I'm rather pleased with how this one turned out, all things considered. I've always sort of felt that at least one of the Weasleys might be a bit resentful to the growing number of kids in the family. I hope you've enjoyed the update, and please keep reading, for there are at least four more stories to come!

September 6: To make chapter 5 correlate with this chapter, Bill's story has undergone a few minor edits. Sorry for the slip-up!


Chapter 4: A Day No Gnomes Would Fly
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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.


Chapter 5: The Birthday Surprise
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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!


Chapter 6: The Knight
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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.

“Fah?”

“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!


Chapter 7: Flights of Fancy
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Crunching through snow or sloshing through puddles were both satisfying activities, but as far as sounds went Ginny Weasley found nothing more satisfying than scooting through large piles of fallen leaves. They scratched her ankles a bit and only a handful made that satisfying sort of crunching noise, but autumn was absolutely the best time for outdoor noisemaking. She bent her head, focusing on the brown and red and gold leaves, stepping carefully on the crispest-looking ones.

Scuff.

Scuff scuff.

Scuffscuffscuffscuff

“Ginny, stop it,” Fred groaned irritably, shouldering his broom and shooting his little sister a look that could have Stunned a troll. “If you’re coming to watch us play Quidditch, then you’ve got to learn to not be such a pain in the neck now and again.”

“Watch?” she suddenly squawked indignantly, head shooting up so fast that her entire head momentarily seemed on fire from the quick blur of her long orange hair. “You told Mum I could play with you!” She stopped dead in the middle of the lawn, hands planted indignantly on her hips.

This always seemed to happen to her. Being the only girl in a family of seven children, and the youngest to boot, Ginny was constantly overlooked, ignored, teased, taunted, and bemoaned by her older brothers, especially where Quidditch was concerned. It didn’t matter that she’d read just as many books and periodicals on the sport as the rest of them – she’d never been allowed into an orchard game. Fred, George, and Ron would rotate one-on-one before letting her in, and often did.

“I want to play,” Ginny continued staunchly, narrowing her eyes and causing the freckles on her nose to wrinkle. “You told Mum I could –“

“Yeah, well, we wanted to go out,” said Ron, trying to put his broom on his shoulder like Fred and coming very close to whacking George in the face with it. “And we knew that she wouldn’t have let us unless we agreed to take you.”

“Besides,” George added, having successfully ducked the tail end of the broom, “we only have three brooms. Fred’s, and mine, and Charlie’s old one. When Fred and I go off to Hogwarts next year, you can fly as much as you like.” Fred looked relieved that this point had been made, but Ginny wasn’t satisfied.

“I want to play now,” she repeated, but her brothers had already resumed walking in the direction of the distant pasture fence. She ran to catch up, taking hold of the end of Fred’s broom and giving it a mighty tug. He stumbled and slipped, face-planting on the grass, and she couldn’t help but giggle; next to her, Ron joined in.

“Go – home – now,” Fred said through gritted teeth, picking himself up and trying to maintain a shred of dignity. “Or I’ll tell Mum that it was you who ate that loaf of pumpkin bread she was saving for Luna’s mum,” he added as an afterthought.

“But that wasn’t me! You gave it to the cat!” she screeched, now making swipes at George’s broom; he held it high over her head out of reach.

“You’re too little,” Ron said firmly, which she found to be quite rude, as he was only a year older than she was. She stuck out her tongue at him, and watched angrily as the boys walked off. It was true – there wasn’t a broom for her – but still, they could have taken turns.

“I’ll show them,” she muttered under her breath, eyes still narrowed against the bright, pale blue of the autumn afternoon sky. “I’m going to be just as good as them.” Plunking down on the leaves, she could just see the three small figures, who had now reached the pasture and were preparing to kick off into the sky.

Ginny watched as the smallest – it had to be Ron – fell off his broom while it was still only a few feet above the ground. “And I’ll be better than him,” she added internally.

*

Mrs. Weasley looked surprised to see her daughter entering through the back door into the kitchen. “I thought you had gone to play Quidditch with your brothers?” she asked, looking up from winding the old Weasley family clock. Ginny gave a sort of morose shrug and sat down at the table.

“Not enough brooms,” she muttered, dropping her chin into her hand. “Mum, do you think I’d be any good at Quidditch?”

Molly seemed to consider the question, stepping carefully off her chair and dusting her hands on the apron tied around her waist. “You read enough books on it,” she smiled, sitting down across from her. “What’s your team again?”

“The Harpies!” Ginny piped, perking up at once. “An all-girl Quidditch team,” she added, although she knew her mother was aware of that. “Because girls are just as good at Quidditch as boys are.” She didn’t understand why her mother laughed; she was very serious about that. A picture of Gwenog Jones was the first picture that had ever gone up on the wall of her bedroom.

“Well, I think that anyone can do almost anything when they put their mind to it,” Mrs. Weasley said, getting up and pointing her wand at the sink, where a pot instantly filled with water and soap. “If you want to play Quidditch, Ginny, then go on and play Quidditch.”

Ginny didn’t suppose that her mother knew exactly in what context her words would be taken – she couldn’t know that Fred and George and Ron had tried to literally stop her from playing Quidditch, as Ginny wasn’t going to snitch about it – but that was as good as a legal contract to her seven-year-old mind. She hopped up from the chair and pattered upstairs at once.

George’s old toy broomstick – nearly seven years old at this point, and falling apart almost to the point of disuse – was still stuffed under his bed, collecting dust. Ginny entered the twins’ room cautiously, although she knew they were still outside. She still couldn’t get used to having only three brothers at home, and not having to worry about being caught by Bill or Charlie or Percy, as would have happened during the summer.

She got down on her stomach and, by reaching, was able to grasp the broom’s handle and tug it out. It was a lot smaller than she’d remembered it being the last time she saw it, but that had been several years back. Luckily she was small herself, and the broom would support her weight. Now all she needed was a Quaffle to practice with, and she’d be set at showing the boys just how good she’d be on a broom. She’d only flown a handful of times before, but that didn’t matter too much to her.

But where was she going to get something to use as a Quaffle? Her mother might not take too kindly to her using balls of yarn for practice – she hadn’t liked that too much the last time Ginny had tried playing with them, she’d been picking burrs out of the yellow wool for weeks – and anyway, they weren’t quite heavy enough for the task. She frowned, momentarily deterred, still sitting on the twins’ floor clutching the toy broomstick. The answer came to her almost at once, and she hopped up and ran to her parents' bedroom.

There was a comforting sort of smell in her parent's room – it was much too clean, but there was a pleasant combination of smells. She recognized her mother's favorite lavender soap, mingling with her father's aftershave. But, not allowing herself to be distracted by this, Ginny forged on, heading for the wardrobe tucked in the corner. She wrenched open the doors and saw, sitting on the top shelf in a dejected sort of state, Ron’s old teddy bear, Mr. Stuffing.

According to Fred and George – who liked to recount the story every Christmas as a sort of tradition, especially if Percy was within earshot – Ron hadn’t touched the bear since Fred had accidentally turned it into a spider, many years earlier, and Mr. Weasley had been forced to place it here in the hopes he'd one day forget about the incident. Ginny had been too little to remember, which she was a bit sad about; it was something she would have liked to have seen. He was now sitting with his nose pointing at the general area of the slightly discolored white fur on his stomach, and one of his ears seemed to be hanging slightly lopsided, as though some of the threads had come loose somewhere through the years, and simply hadn’t been repaired. He was a bit sorry-looking, but appearances weren’t really the issue here.

Ginny seized the stuffed animal around its middle, hefting its weight in her hands and thinking. It would probably do, just for today’s purposes of tossing around something while riding a broom. Nothing official. And after they’d seen how great she was playing with a teddy bear, Fred and George and Ron would let her play with the apples they used from the ground in the old Weasley orchard. She tucked him snugly under the arm opposite from where she still clutched George’s toy broom, glanced around to make sure that she’d left the room exactly as it had been when she’d entered, and tiptoed back out onto the stairwell.

She peeked out the window looking out onto the garden, watching to see if the boys were still gallivanting about the orchard on their brooms. No one was in sight, which she took to be a good thing; their games usually lasted a long time, which would give her plenty of time to hone her skills. She crunched outside into a pile of the golden-brown leaves and wrinkled her nose again, this time in happiness, at the musty sort of smell they emitted.

Right. The first thing to do, she decided, was to figure out how to get on the broom. It was a toy broom, and she wasn’t sure if they worked in the same way. Tossing Mr. Stuffing under a nearby tree and only feeling slightly bad that the bear landed on his head, she swung one leg over the handle and waited.

Ginny frowned, giving a weird sort of hop and hoping the broom might catch a little bit of a draft and go lifting up into the air. But again, her feet remained rather firmly on the ground, solid as it had ever been. She gave an impatient sort of huff that momentarily lifted her fringe away from her forehead.

Clearly, she wasn’t doing something right. Ginny wondered if it was the fact that it was only a toy broomstick that was the issue, and gave it an experimental sort of shake, but it just stayed put where it was, immobile as ever. She sighed heavily again and cast her eyes about, sweeping the garden for something that might assist her.

Her eyes fell on the long stretch of ground leading away from her, heading in the direction of the pond; it was one of the best places for foot races, which the Weasleys had a lot in the summer. It was one of the benefits of having so many brothers; they always had enough people to play just about any game they wanted. Now Ginny looked back down at the broom in her right hand, wondering if it wouldn’t be right to serve her current purposes… Maybe she just needed a running start…

Well, it was as good a plan as any. She hurried over to the tree where Mr. Stuffing lay discarded, his feet having fallen over his head now. She tucked the teddy bear securely under her left arm as she has seen Gwenog Jones, captain of the Holyhead Harpies, do in all the Daily Prophet photos and Quidditch magazines covers.

She took a deep breath, narrowing her eyes and trying to gauge how far she’d have to run. Then, having no other course of action in front of her and not wanting to wait any longer to get into the air, Ginny took off at a full sprint down the grassy lane, bear under her left arm and broom between her legs, ready to carry her once it began to rise in the air. The yellowing grass, speckled with autumn leaves, became blurred on either side of her. Her brow lowered in concentration – she was nearly there – the pond was getting closer –

And at that exact moment, her foot caught a rock that was protruding out of the hard ground. Totally unprepared for it, and momentum quickly catching up with her, Ginny went soaring through the air, broomstick left behind and Mr. Stuffing still somehow in her arms. The ground replaced the sky, and then righted itself again, as she tumbled head over heels, over and over, until –

Splash!

With a tremendous noise, Ginny landed smack in the Weasley garden pond, and promptly remembered why she hated it; besides being muddy in general, it was profusely covered in some sort of lime-green algae, and smelled absolutely foul. And now the disgusting water was everywhere, leaking out of her ears and filling her nostrils and dripping from her long red hair.

Ginny struggled to get up and found that she’d become momentarily stuck on the thick, squelchy mud on the pond’s bottom. Her clothes were stained beyond recognition, and she smelled absolutely horrendous. And now it occurred to her than she’d never seen a Quidditch player take a running start to get on a broom.

Of course she remembered that now.

Thunderous footsteps could be heard coming in two directions at that moment, and Mrs. Weasley’s face appeared just as Fred, George, and Ron came hurtling towards her from the other direction. The same expression of shock and confusion was on each violently freckled face as they came upon the sight of the youngest Weasley, still sitting in the pond.

“What are you doing, Ginny?” Molly asked, a bit hesitantly, hurrying over and extending her arms toward her daughter with a slight grimace. Ginny grasped her mother’s forearms and struggled to her feet, the mud suctioning the bottoms of her shoes, the stinking water dripping off of her in little streams.

“Is that my toy broomstick?” George blurted out in an incredulous voice, running over and picking it up from where it had come to rest a little ways away, still lying by the rock Ginny had tripped over. He picked it up and looked at her – he didn’t seem mad, but just puzzled as to what it was doing there.

“I was trying to show you guys I could fly,” she admitted sullenly, wringing out her hair and coughing at the smell it emitted. “Since you wouldn’t let me play with you.” Mrs. Weasley’s nostrils flared at hearing this accusation from her daughter’s mouth.

“I told you lot to include your little sister!” she snapped, removing her wand from the pocket of the apron she still wore and running it over Ginny’s hair, drying it instantly, although the smell didn’t disappear so easily. “Was something unclear about that? Fred?” She looked sternly at the boy in question, whose mouth dropped open.

“It wasn’t just me –“

“All of you,” their mother said firmly, “will include Ginny the next time you play Quidditch. Understand?” Ginny smirked as her brothers nodded mutely, in sync, completely submissive to the imperious gaze Mrs. Weasley was currently bestowing them.

“Serves you right,” she said haughtily, and Ron stuck his tongue out at her.

“I guess, if you were trying that hard… it’s okay,” he said grudgingly, picking at a stray thread on the sleeve of his T-shirt. From Ron, this was as good as extending a hand of friendship, and so Ginny patted his arm in what she thought was a kind gesture. Her brother merely looked bemused, however.

Mrs. Weasley came over to her children now, clutching something soggy and brown, her eyebrows raised in perplexity, although there was a mixed expression on her face; it was a cross between exasperation and tenderness. “Ginny, would you care to tell me why Ron’s old teddy bear found his way into the pond with you?” Ron whipped his head around so fast his neck popped and he let out a shuddery gasp; unconsciously he moved to stand behind George, whimpering slightly. This amused the twins greatly.

“He was the Quaffle,” Ginny said simply, clasping her hands behind her back and beaming up at her mother. Molly looked as though she might have tried to get to the bottom of that rationale at one point in time, but that moment was not now. She merely sighed and placed the sodden bear in her apron pocket.

“Now you, my dear, need to march straight up to the bathtub and scrub yourself good with strong soap,” she said, pointing a stern finger back in the direction of the Burrow. Ginny complied at once, feeling rather happy despite the foul smell radiating from her clothes and skin.

Getting to play Quidditch was worth smelling like pond water any day.

A/N: I cannot believe there is only one chapter left of this to write -- that's a bit surreal! The eighth and final chapter will be an epilogue of sorts, told from Molly's point of view. I'm really excited to write it, and I think you guys will like it. And I hoped you liked this chapter, too! Ginny was a challenge for me to write, but once I knew where I was going, she came out on the page so easily -- there's a lot of spunk and sass here, and it was a lot more fun to write than I'd anticipated.

As always, reviews are very much appreciated. Thank you for reading, and hope to see you back for the next (and final) chapter!


Chapter 8: Epilogue
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The pile of boxes in the sitting room of the Burrow was now stacked so high that it had long since passed the stage where Molly Weasley could have seen over it, even standing on her tiptoes. She poked her tongue out pensively from between her lips and opened the flap of the last remaining cardboard box sitting on the hearth rug with a quick motion from her wand. A flurry of dust rose into the sun-speckled room immediately, heading straight for her nostrils, and she sneezed violently at the surprise attack.

It had been several years since Molly had packed up her children’s things, and of course it was only now that Ron remembered he might have had some old toys that he might have wanted to give to Hugo, his one-year-old son. It was a bit exasperating, especially since most of the boxes she’d already gone through had contained things he hadn’t wanted to take away, but she couldn’t be too annoyed – memories were strong, and sometimes she needed to indulge selfishly in them for an hour or two.

“Are you all right, dear?” came a voice from the kitchen, and her husband poked his concerned head around the door frame, brows creasing his forehead – which was saying something, as the added years had turned the once-smooth skin into something that now perhaps more closely resembled sheets that were long overdue for an ironing. As a result of this advancement into age, he had become increasingly health conscious, which explained the slight overreaction to the sneeze.

“Just fine,” she called back, and the seemingly disembodied head disappeared once more. Arthur was probably making tea, Molly thought, another endearing eccentricity of late. Tucking a strand of her graying red hair back behind her ear, from where it had come loose, she peeled back one of the flaps on the box, and promptly sneezed again.

It had been several years since anyone besides Molly and Arthur had lived in the Burrow, the rest of the family scattered all across the country in various veins and occupations, and even further, in Charlie’s case, still residing in Romania as he was. All of her children were now married, as well, or at least close, and Molly had a mother’s intuition that George would propose to Angelina any day now. She was extremely proud of each one of her children, knowing where they had gone, what they had done, and what they had become.

But there would always be a piece of the puzzle forever missing, and as she peered into the box’s dark contents, Molly’s heart gave a painful twinge as she drew out a small striped shirt that had once been Fred’s, its blue and white stripes long since faded. It had been so long since his death, but she knew that not a day would ever go by that she wouldn’t think of him and wonder where he was, what he was doing, and where he might have been today. Somehow, looking at that small shirt that she never brought herself to throw away, it made it seem as though he weren’t so far. She held it to her chest instinctively.

“Molly, dear?” Her eyes flew open as her husband’s voice broke through her reverie; he was clutching a mug of tea in each hand and looked a bit nonplussed, as though unsure whether to leave or comfort her. Molly realized embarrassedly that her cheeks were a bit wet, and figured she had been crying. She wiped her cheeks and managed a sort of watery, wavering smile. Arthur smiled back and, with effort, sat down on the floor next to her, handing her a mug of tea. His eyes fell on the shirt in his wife’s lap.

“That was Fred’s shirt,” he said a bit needlessly, gesturing with his own cup. A soft smile of remembrance creased his face suddenly at a thought. “Do you remember when you found the gnomes wrapped up in it?”

“Swimming around in my dishes,” Molly laughed, only just remembering the incident, and patted the shirt fondly. “It took ages to get the smell out of it, too.” She had never known that gnomes had had a smell until Fred had insisted wearing this shirt before it had properly been washed; he’d smelled of something vaguely mouldy for quite a while.

She laid the shirt aside tenderly on the hearth rug she knelt on, and then turned to the Weasley clock, where it still hung on the small stretch of wall between the kitchen and living room. Ron’s hand was still on ‘home’ – like the good clock it was, it instinctually knew that Ron’s home was no longer at the Burrow – and had not yet switched to ‘traveling’. He was due back any time now, though, to inspect the box’s last contents and make a final decision about bringing things back for Hugo.

As she looked at the clock, her eyes traveled to its corner, and to the almost imperceptible crack that adorned its upper right corner – invisible to the casual eye, but perfectly plain to hers. It was a mark that had been there ever since she’d gotten the clock, when Percy had so desperately tried to organize a proper birthday for her, and – bless him – had failed miserably. The crack had been made to be invisible for a few years during the war, she now recalled, as she hadn’t been able to see it without thinking of Percy, and how he had resolved to withdraw from the family. More than nearly anything in the world, she was so grateful he had broken that promise.

Perhaps it was the boxes and all the memories they carried with them, but Molly felt especially nostalgic today, looking first at the shirt and then the clock. Her family was all here, in bits and pieces, dusty and stored away but never thrown out or forgotten. Arthur looked on as old crayon drawings, crumbling and faded, emerged to be set next to George’s long-broken toy broomstick, which had once careened, along with Ginny, right into the smelly and mossy pond in the garden.

“You’ve saved a lot,” her husband murmured now, looking as the contents of the box piled higher and higher; her Undetectable Extension Charms tended to conceal a lot more of these old items than she ever remembered putting in the box, although she ruminated that the elderly were supposed to forget things now and again – not that she was old, of course.

“I couldn’t bring myself to throw any of it away,” Molly murmured a bit sheepishly, fishing out a collar that once belonged to the cat. The poor thing had been traumatized its entire life at the Burrow – on one rather memorable occasion, she remembered now, George had blocked it in with pillows in trying to recreate one of her husband’s old horrendous bedtime stories. And, if memory also served, Ginny was rather fond of trying to dress it up in her clothes, as well.

Her children – her seven children, so wonderfully different and funny and unique and special. Here were old corn kernels that were forever in Charlie’s pockets after feeding Budgy; there was the old yellow blanket that had wrapped around each child when he or she was brought home from St. Mungo’s, which had been taken out and used for James and Rose and Albus and Hugo. Old sneakers, broken bits of chalk, books with pages missing and covers torn off. It was all here, in these boxes, their entire childhood. How could she ever throw any of it out?

Molly gave a great sniff, trying to hide it in her mug of tea, and Arthur patted her gently, at a seeming loss for words. “We’ve done a good job,” she said thickly, and her husband laughed aloud at the sentiment. His joints creaking only slightly, he shuffled over and laid an arm around his wife’s shoulder.

“We have,” he said solemnly.

At that moment, sudden footsteps could be heard on the steps outside the front door, followed almost immediately by a fist knocking upon it. Through slightly blurred eyes, Molly glanced at the clock and saw that Ron’s hand had pointed to ‘traveling’; she had completely missed the switch. Still sniffling slightly, she climbed to her feet and went to answer the door.

“Hello, Mum,” Ron said happily, giving his mother a long and warm hug. The years had inevitably changed him, although he was still as tall and gangly as he would ever be. His voice was deeper, his eyes a bit softer, his step more measured, but he was still Ron, still her son.

“Have you been crying?” he asked incredulously, having pulled away and been treated to a glimpse of his mother’s red and swollen eyes. “What’s wrong?”

“I just missed you,” she said in a watery sort of voice, and Ron’s brows creased; he evidently did not understand at all where this might have come from.

“I visited you last week,” he said in a hesitant sort of voice, but nevertheless followed his mother through the front hall and into the sitting room, where Arthur still sat stiffly cross-legged, clutching his mug of tea. He too rose to his feet and clapped his son on the back with his free hand, a smile wrinkling the corners of his eyes.

“I was going through the last box,” Molly began again, trying to explain what she hadn’t been able to at the door. “No toys in here yet, I’m afraid – did Hugo like your old wooden hippogriff?”

“He hasn’t stopped gnawing on its head since I brought it home,” Ron grinned ruefully, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “He loves it. Hermione and I were thinking of bringing him and Rose around next week, if that’s all right.”

Molly beamed, no words necessary to convey the happiness she felt at the prospect of seeing two of her grandchildren. Ron’s eyes dropped down to the box at his feet, and, stooping, he withdrew something extremely ragged, covered in brown fur.

Mr. Stuffing had endured more than his fair share of love during his years at the Burrow – countless days of being chewed on, or drooled over, or sat upon, or kicked about, first by Bill, and then by Ron, and then by whomever he happened to serve best at a given moment. He had been taken hostage by a pesky old rooster, and used as a Quaffle, and – perhaps most memorably – turned into a spider. This last fact was why it was so incredible to see her youngest son holding him now, most traces of animosity absent from his freckled face.

“Your old bear,” said Mrs. Weasley gently, petting Mr. Stuffing’s ear, which was now only partially attached to his head. “Poor old thing, he never has been quite the same since your sister took him into the pond with her. Smells a bit odd, I imagine.”

Ron smiled with only the barest trace of apprehension, clearing a speck of dust from the still-glassy black eye that looked complacently up at him. “D’you mind if I bring him to Hugo?” he asked suddenly, and perhaps a bit unexpectedly. Molly glanced instinctively at her husband, standing to her left, and saw reflected there the same surprise and pleasure she felt too.

“Of course, dear,” she said with as much warmth as she could possibly muster. Ron clutched the teddy bear to him only slightly, but it did not pass under his mother’s scrupulous notice. Her heart constricted again, this time with an inexplicable and completely gratifying warmth that only a mother could feel in such circumstances.

“Rose was having a tantrum, so I’ve got to get back,” said Ron, a bit regretfully, his pale eyes scanning the room around him fondly. “I’d just promised to stop off quickly, but we’ll see you next week?” He posed this last as a question, as though he were a bit unsure of its answer, but received confirmation in his mother’s firm nod.

“Next week,” Molly repeated, both she and Arthur following Ron back to the front door. With kisses and farewells, he set off back down the path, walking tall and proud with Mr. Stuffing clamped firmly under his left arm. Beyond the gate, he waved once, turned on the spot, and vanished with a distinctly audible pop.

Molly remained on the threshold, still looking out in the direction where her son had disappeared. A light breeze toyed with the white blossoms on the distant apple trees, not unlike those the Weasleys themselves had in the orchard out back. Scattered bits of grass blew over the hard dirt where the chicken coop sat, abandoned for several years. She closed her eyes a bit as it finally reached her, playing with the frail wisps of hair that framed her face.

“Molly? Should we pack up that last box, then, and take it back to Ron’s room?” Arthur’s voice spoke from behind her, and she opened her eyes. Everything looked exactly the same as it had for so many years.

“Yes, let’s do that,” she said. She turned away from the scene, and closed the door.

A/N: I wrote the very first chapter of this story in March of 2011 -- nine months, almost to the day, of my posting this. I hate writing notes on the last chapters of stories, because I feel a bit like I'm standing on a proverbial soapbox, but this story if any needs a good and proper one. This story is largely dedicated to Sarah (whose name has cropped up here and there, you'll have found; I couldn't do without her); to my sister, whose request for a Ron story began this entire endeavor; to anyone and everyone who might have voted to get this story its Dobby or its Snitch; to every single person who has read, reviewed, and favorited; and to that group of puffins, who know who they are -- some of the best friends a girl could ask for.

And I know some of you have seen by now that I'm starting a new project! I won't keep you waiting any longer -- very soon, before Christmas or perhaps only a little after, keep your eyes peeled for a new story collection. You asked and I answered -- a series of one-shots (I have no idea how many) about all the non-Weasley canon characters as children. So watch out for Growing Up Magical, and I hope to see you there soon! Thank you guys so much!


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