Arthur stood in the living room and surveyed the mayhem; the bookshelf had been ransacked by thirteen year-old bookworm Percy, young Charlie had just whipped the red blanket from the sofa, scattering pillows - he sheepishly admitted that it 'smells like home' - and the two little ones were seemingly staging a protest at not yet being allowed to go to Hogwarts, unlike Fred and George who were leaving home the next day.
Getting onto all fours and wincing as his knees creaked ominously, Arthur poked his head into the den Ron and Ginny had built from bed sheets and the two armchairs.
'Can I come in?' he asked hopefully.
The children surveyed him for a moment, and then bent their tousled red heads together in whispered conference.
'What's the password?' Ginny demanded.
'Um... Is it 'we love Daddy'?'
'No, Dad,' giggled Ron. ‘And it's a password, not passwords.'
'And you got it wrong, so you can't come in,' added Ginny, with a touch of petulance.
'Ah.' Arthur pushed his glasses over the bridge of his nose and looked at his children with serious expression. 'Well I suppose I'll just have to sit out here and eat these Chocolate Frogs by myself.'
The two heads bent together again instantly and there was a very brief murmured conversation.
'We've decided you're allowed in, this time,' said Ginny, looking up at her father.
'But just you,' Ron added, as his father crawled into the makeshift tent and sat cross-legged, his head bowed beneath the canopy. 'Charlie and Percy and the twins are strictly outlawed.'
'What about Mum?' Arthur asked, fishing the Chocolate Frogs from the pocket of his cardigan and handing them to his kids. 'Is she allowed in?'
'No, but she's allowed to bring us dinner.'
Arthur had to stifle his laughter in the face of this serious statement.
'Yeah, Ginny's the only girl allowed in here,' Ron added as he tore into chocolate wrapper and looked at the card. 'Ooh, I've got Dumbledore! I've only had one of these before.'
'I've got Merlin again,' sighed Ginny. 'What about you, Daddy?'
Arthur unwrapped his Chocolate Frog and looked at the card. A man with a square jaw and tousled hair grinned up at him, his Quidditch robes blowing in an everlasting breeze. 'Dai Llewelyn, not bad!' Arthur grinned.
Ginny shuffled up to her father and placed a little hand on his knee as she craned to see the card. 'Wow, Dad! Can I swap?'
'No way,' Ron interjected. 'I'm the collector, I should get to swap.'
'I asked first! Daaaaddy!'
Arthur could see his two youngest children beginning to square up to one another like a pair of little tiger cubs; teeth were being bared and tails were flicking back and forth... And he was stuck in an enclosed space with them.
'Ginny did ask first, Ron,' he said calmly. 'Don't you have Llewelyn already?'
'No, Ginny tore it!'
'That was an accident,' Ginny squeaked, 'I told you! Dad, tell him! It's mine!'
Ron made a grab for the card; Ginny dived at the same time, and Arthur leaned out of the way, leaving the two children to meet in the middle, in a grapple of shrieks and pleas for their father to judge who should get the card. Turning quickly to one side, he whipped his wand from his pocket, pointed it at the card and whispered ‘replicaro’. An exact copy of the card popped into existence next to it; it was a charm with a short half-life, and the replica would last only a couple of days, but by that time the children would have forgotten their quarrel. Arthur turned to the squabbling siblings and held out the cards.
‘Look, kids; I just remembered I found a Dai Llewelyn the other day, it was here in my pocket!’
Ginny and Ron paused mid-tussle and looked in surprise at the cards. Ginny’s brown eyes, so like those of her mother, narrowed in suspicion, but Ron grinned and took a card.
‘Wow, thanks Dad!’
Ginny paused for only a second before taking her card and stuffing it in her pocket.
‘Thank you, Daddy.’
The three of them sat in their little shelter, making plans for their last summer weekend before home-schooling started again. Most of these plans seemed to include fighting over who got to fly the broom Bill had left behind when he’d moved to London, and Arthur was in the middle of promising to take them each for a flight around the orchard when a pair of slippered feet appeared next to the folds of the makeshift tent.
‘I know I’m not allowed in, but can I borrow Daddy for a minute?’ came Molly’s voice through the sheets.
Arthur looked at the two children, who nodded. He began to crawl out of the den, but Ron suddenly hung his arms around Arthur’s neck and whispered, ‘When you want to come back in, the password is ‘bogeys’!’
The two children collapsed with laughter at their joke, and let their father go back to the business of being a grown-up.
Arthur followed Molly out of the living room and into the kitchen, where Percy was solicitously checking off the to-do list he’d created in order to ‘optimize the efficiency of trunk-packing and, naturally, unpacking at the other end’. Arthur ruffled the boy’s hair as he passed him, and smiled slightly to himself as Percy instantly smoothed it back down again. The other kids were hard on him, and pretended he was the odd one out, but Percy had become so very like Arthur’s own meticulous, somewhat pompous, father that Arthur had a special fondness for him.
Molly beckoned to Arthur to follow her into the larder, and Percy shook his head as his parents disappeared into the small room together.
‘I think we should do it now,’ said Molly, rounding on Arthur.
Arthur raised his eyebrows. ‘Here, Mollywobbles?’ he asked, wrapping his arms around his wife. ‘Well, I’m up for it if you are -’
Molly laughed as she slapped his hands away. ‘You naughty man! You know what I mean; we need to talk to Fred and George before they go, and we won’t have time tomorrow.’
‘Ah. Yes.’ Arthur removed his glasses and began to polish them on the hem of his cardigan. ‘Do you really think it’s necessary? I mean, they might not -’
‘Get themselves into trouble? Cause havoc?’ Molly sighed, and put her hands on her hips. ‘Arthur, has anything you’ve experienced in the past eleven years suggested that they might not devote their first time away from home to coming up with increasingly ingenious ways of breaking the rules?’
Arthur put his glasses back on. ‘No. You’re right. Although I am quite interested to see what they come up with...’
‘Arthur! Do I need to remind you of what my poor mother went through when my brothers started at Hogwarts? Owls every week, meetings with Dumbledore... Fabian was banned from staying at school over the holidays!’
‘Okay, okay... you’re right. How are we going to tackle them?’
‘I think separating them is our best bet,’ said Molly thoughtfully. ‘You take one, I’ll take the other; that way they can’t play off each other and they’ll have to listen.’
Arthur nodded. ‘Okay. We’ll give them a strict warning, and let them know what we expect of them, and they’ll go right ahead and ignore it...’
Molly was beginning to look slightly tearful. ‘We have to try! They’re good boys really!’
Arthur was instantly contrite, and he gathered Molly into his arms, kissing her forehead lightly. ‘I know, dear,’ he murmured softly. ‘They’re brilliant kids. We’re lucky to have them.’
‘Mum? Oh!’ Charlie’s face appeared around the archway of the pantry and instantly turned red. Arthur released Molly from his embrace and smiled at the sixteen year-old, sheepishly.
‘Do you need something, dear?’ asked Molly who, despite the innocence of the situation, was blushing deeply. She patted her hair in its flyaway bun nervously.
‘Sorry for interrupting,’ said Charlie sarcastically, crossing his arms. ‘But I can’t find my prefect’s badge. Have you seen it?’
‘Oh, Charlie!’ Molly sighed, edging past Arthur to chivvy her son into the kitchen. She paused and whispered to her husband. ‘I bagsie George. You get Fred.’
Arthur started to protest, but Molly ignored him and hurried after Charlie, looking under newspapers and in the fruit bowl for the missing badge. Percy looked up from his parchment owlishly. ‘If I were a prefect, I’d take good care of my badge; it’s a privilege to get one.’
Charlie snatched Percy’s neat list from the table to check beneath it for the badge. ‘Yeah, well you don’t have one, do you?’ he mumbled.
Percy reached up and patiently took the parchment back from his brother, smoothing it carefully. ‘Neither do you, it seems.’
Charlie scowled and thumped away, past the twins who were sitting on the landing upstairs, their legs dangling from the railings. Arthur happened to have followed Charlie into the hallway, and looked up just as Fred and George winked at each other. He had a good idea where he would find Charlie’s prefect badge.
‘George, Mum wants you in the kitchen,’ Arthur called up the stairs. The boys both got to their feet and started to clatter down the stairs together; Arthur quickly laid a hand on Fred’s shoulder as he reached the bottom step. ‘Not so fast, Fred. You’re coming with me.’
The twins gave each other a quick look of alarm as Arthur hurried Fred up two flights of stairs to the room the boys shared. The bedroom was surprisingly tidy, and two battered school trunks - one of which had once belonged to Arthur, the other emblazoned with the name, ‘Gideon Prewett’ - sat neatly at the end of the two small beds.
‘What’s up, Dad?’ asked Fred, sitting on the trunk marked with the name of his deceased uncle. Arthur took a seat on the other trunk.
‘We need to have a little word before you go tomorrow. You’re not in trouble,’ he added quickly, seeing Fred’s eyes dart briefly towards the open door. ‘Just a little chat.’
‘Is that where George is with Mum?’ asked Fred.
Arthur smiled; this kid never missed a trick. Bill and Percy may have been academically brilliant, but Fred was perhaps the most quick-witted of Arthur’s pack of little weasels.
‘Yep. And don’t worry, he’s not in trouble, either.’
‘Good, because we haven’t done anything,’ said Fred quickly, who glanced at his father’s patient face and then corrected himself. ‘Well, nothing too bad.’
Arthur clasped his hands together, and leaned forward. ‘You know how proud your mother and I are of you both,’ he began, and saw Fred’s face redden slightly as he nodded. ‘You’re bright, and inventive, and I know you’re going to have a great time at Hogwarts.’
Fred’s face filled with excitement as he looked up at his dad, his fingers drumming a faint tattoo against the school trunk. ‘I can’t wait! Me and George want to see the Giant Squid, and find out what the Sorting’s like, and Charlie says that we’re a cert for the Quidditch team when we’re old enough...’
Arthur held up a hand to halt the flow of enthusiasm that had been bubbling at The Burrow all summer. ‘Exactly - you’ll have a wonderful time. Just... I don’t want you getting yourself into too much trouble. Your jokes and pranks... well, there’s a time and place for them, okay?’
Fred nodded, his face all innocence.
‘I mean it, Fred,’ Arthur continued seriously. ‘Mum’s going to be missing you all anyway, so don’t make her worry about you too much. And it’s not fair on Charlie either, if you get yourself in lots of trouble.’
‘Da-ad,’ whined Fred. ‘We’re not that bad!’
Arthur gave his son a long look over his glasses. ‘And don’t annoy Percy too much.’
‘Well... I can’t promise anything,’ Fred replied impishly. ‘He annoys us, too.’
‘And one more thing,’ said Arthur. ‘Don’t get George into too much trouble. Take care of each other.’
Fred tilted his head to one side and gave his father one of his rare serious looks. ‘We always do.’
Arthur smiled proudly. ‘Good. Well, that’s that.’ He mimicked his son and drummed his hands lightly on his old school trunk; he didn’t want to let Fred go in case Molly wasn’t done with George yet, and he had a feeling she might be slightly more thorough in her task than he had been. He looked around at the strangely tidy room. ‘You’ve even packed without Mum’s help,’ he observed.
Fred stretched languidly. ‘Well, we didn’t want to bother her.’
Arthur’s eyes narrowed slightly behind his glasses as he took in his son’s casual demeanour.
‘Really? Well done.’ He rose from his seat and knelt by his old trunk, his hand on the padlock. ‘Can I have a look?’ he asked innocently, and saw Fred’s eyes widen momentarily.
‘Uh...’ Fred ran a hand through his spiky red hair. ‘You could, but I don’t want you to mess up all of George’s neat folding.’
‘You’re quite right,’ Arthur nodded. ‘Up you jump, I’ll have a look at all of your ‘neat folding’. I’ll be careful, don’t worry.’
Fred grimaced as he got to his feet and stood to one side. Arthur pointed his wand at the lock and it clunked open. He lifted the lid of the trunk being, indeed, very careful - who knew what the boys had packed? Arthur braced himself, fully expecting something to spring out at him, or to bang loudly, but when he looked down, he found... ‘These clothes are neatly folded.’
Robes and t-shirts were stacked neatly next to bundles of paired socks and scuffed schoolbooks. Arthur brushed a hand across a crisp white shirt, his surprise clear on his face.
‘See, Dad? You really should trust us - it’s quite hurtful, you know...’ Fred trailed off as Arthur lifted the edge of a folded set of school robes and uncovered a box of Stink Pellets. Arthur looked at Fred, his eyebrows raised. Fred shifted uncomfortably, a nervous grin on his face. ‘Oops! Aha... How did that get in there?’
Arthur carefully lifted the first layer of clothes from the trunk and laid it on the end of Fred’s bed. In the trunk lay a small arsenal of Dungbombs, Stink Pellets, Goo Grenades, Itching Powder, and a forceful looking slingshot.
‘Fred!’ Arthur exclaimed, before letting out a low whistle. ‘How did you afford all this stuff?’
Fred shuffled his feet slightly. ‘We’ve been saving up our pocket money and collecting for over a year.’
Arthur shook his head. ‘You boys... I mean...’ he was oddly impressed, but gathered himself. He picked up the slingshot and waved it at Fred. ‘You can’t take this, it’s too dangerous. I presume George has one too?’
Fred nodded sadly. Arthur opened George’s trunk, and found more neatly organised clothes and books. He lifted the first layer to find, once again, a veritable armoury of pranks. His hand hovered for a moment over a Dungbomb as he fondly recalled releasing a batch of them in old Apollyon Pringle’s office. The old caning scars on the backs of his legs tingled slightly. Served the old bastard right...
Arthur picked up the second slingshot and looked meaningfully down at his son.
‘If I say you can keep the rest, will you solemnly swear to use them sparingly? And never, ever in Professor McGonagall’s class?’ His son beamed and agreed immediately. Arthur knelt in front of Fred, and put his hands on the boy’s shoulders. ‘You must never tell Mum I’ve seen this.’
Fred grinned. ‘I like you too much to do that, Dad.’
Arthur ruffled Fred’s hair affectionately; unlike Percy, the younger boy grinned and almost nuzzled his head beneath his father’s hand.
A shout came up the stairs. ‘Dad!’ Charlie yelled. ‘Have you seen Scabbers?’
Arthur looked at Fred expectantly. The eleven year-old looked back at him, wide-eyed with innocence. ‘Don’t ask me!’
‘Maybe Ron and Ginny have him in their stupid den.’
‘Fred, your pocket is wriggling,’ said Arthur patiently, holding out a hand.
Fred blushed and reached into his pocket, pulling out a fat little rat and handing him to Arthur, who surveyed it with laughter twitching at his mouth. ‘Now, Fred. This is an example of what we were talking about...’
‘We just wanted to get him ready for school. We were being helpful,’ said Fred, glee dancing in his eyes as he noticed the amusement his father was fighting to hide.
Arthur looked down at Scabbers. The twins had cut little holes in a red and yellow striped sock, and the creature was wearing it like a knitted pullover. Pinned proudly to it was Charlie’s lost prefects badge.
‘Can I go now?’ asked Fred, dancing from foot to foot as he became restless to reunite with George. The two of them just didn’t know how to be apart; even as babies, Arthur would often find them holding hands in their sleep. They blushed and punched each other on the arm now, if that sweet memory was ever brought up in their presence.
Arthur sighed as he tried to assess the possibility that he and Molly would make it to the end of the first week of term without an owl arriving from Hogwarts to inform them of some sort of detention. He looked at Fred, so similar to his twin and yet so different - and it was too easy for people to think of Fred and George as one entity. For Arthur, aside from occasionally muddling up their faces, there was no confusing their souls. So similar, and yet so different. George had a gentle, permeating glow; Fred burned brightly, simultaneously astonishing and warming everyone around him.
Arthur’s little flame was nearly hopping up and down on the spot now; Arthur handed him the rat and gave a nod.
‘Off you go,’ he said. ‘Give Scabbers back to Charlie right now.’
‘Cheers Dad,’ grinned Fred, before turning and clattering quickly down the stairs.
Arthur stood still for a moment in Fred’s wake, looking down at the open trunks. Molly would no doubt join him soon, for a post-match analysis of their conversations with the boys... wincing at the familiar creak of his knees once again, Arthur knelt and began to carefully place the folded robes and books over the boxes of tricks.
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