Chapter 1 : Aunt Muriel's Last Stand
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Smoke puffed merrily out of the chimney atop the Burrow, curling up into the fresh winter air and disappearing on the breeze. In the winter chill, the gnomes had buried deep underground, contemplating hibernation for the season, and the garden was still and peaceful, unusually tidy for this time of year. The view of the house, even with its topsy-turvy structure, was a portrait of serenity.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said for its interior. The cluttered house was filled with even more people and noise than usual, something which wasn’t helping Molly concentrate as she flapped around the kitchen, checking on the enormous turkey roasting in the oven and trying to cut the stuffing with a pastry brush.
“Boys!” she cried as a pair of impish redheads raced into the room for the seventh time in the last five minutes. “Will you stop it, please, I’m trying to cook dinner! Bill, come here!”
Fred and George looked dismayed. They’d been having a lot of fun daring each other to get as close to a snoring Aunt Muriel as possible without waking her up. Soon they’d have been able to poke her, although that might have woken her up, and they weren’t sure that was a good idea. She was much nicer when she was asleep, even if her snoring did fill the room with a sound like a herd of elephants trumpeting together.
Bill, a tall and lanky teenager, entered the kitchen, looking curiously at his younger brothers.
“Will you take your brothers outside to play, dear? I’ve got to cook the Christmas dinner, and it won’t get done at all if these two persist on getting in my way.”
“Can we play Quidditch?” he asked, tilting his head to one side.
“Well… yes, I suppose so, if it gets you out of my hair. Only be careful and wrap up warm. Oh, where is your father?!”
Molly, her hair flying loose from the bun on top of her head, turned her attention back to the stuffing, huffing at the uselessness of her husband. Every single year he seemed to leave her to manage everything herself – he claimed to be entertaining their elderly relatives, but she knew full well that they fell asleep as soon as they got near the fire and instead he spent time toying with the Muggle presents that his sons had bought him for Christmas. She would put her foot down next year, she decided. That model aeroplane that Bill had found for him would do nothing for her attempts to distract him from the crazy machines.
The house seemed to grow strangely quiet as Bill herded his younger siblings out of the door. Molly paused a moment to check that they were sufficiently wrapped up – all of them were wearing their lovingly-knitted Weasley jumpers, and little Ginny was bundled up so much that her tiny form was scarcely recognisable hidden underneath a thick coat and woollen scarves, hats and gloves. Their mother watched them happily, then remembering that she was meant to be cooking Christmas dinner for eleven people, she turned back to the kitchen and trusted in Bill’s ability to look after his brothers and sisters.
Outside, things were going even more smoothly than Molly had hoped. Bill had managed to coordinate the others into two Quidditch teams; Charlie, Fred and Ron were on one, while Bill, Percy and George were on the other. They zoomed around the orchard on their brooms, each of them taking on every possible Quidditch position – though with varying degrees of success. Bill, his arms around Ginny, who had insisted on playing, regretted his choice of teams slightly; with him encumbered by their younger sister and Percy generally useless as far as Quidditch was concerned, the others were beating them by an amount that he didn’t want to count.
Just as the score line was about to set a new family record – even as far as Percy’s teams were concerned – the door opened and Molly’s voice called out cheerily.
“Dinner’s ready, kids!”
Percy was so eager for food – and, the others suspected, to avoid being further humiliated – that he almost crashed his broom in his attempt to get back to the ground. They raced inside together, scattering their broomsticks on the icy lawn without a care for their condition afterwards. The thought – and delicious smell – of the food that was waiting for them drove everything else from their minds.
Aunt Muriel was, unfortunately, awake when the children stormed in, and looked extremely disapproving of their behaviour from her seat next to Molly’s empty chair. Uncle Bilius, sat on Arthur’s left hand side, was decidedly happier, patting the younger children on the head as they filed into the room to take their seats.
“Everyone sit down!” Molly called from the kitchen, where she was preparing to levitate the biggest turkey that any of them had ever seen. They did as they were told, but she couldn’t stop the clamour of voices that constantly interrupted each other.
“Extravagance,” Aunt Muriel was complaining to nobody in particular, although Percy did his best to set his younger siblings a good example and pay attention to her. “Sheer extravagance. In my day, nobody would dream of having a bird so big, even if there were fifty people to feed. Don’t buy what you can’t afford, that’s my motto.”
At the opposite end of the table, Uncle Bilius was telling Fred and George a story about one of his Christmases, which Arthur knew he should have put a stop to but didn’t, because he was laughing too much himself.
“And then we put a gnome on top of the tree and my mother never noticed all the time it was on the top. My older brother just kept stunning it. And you know what we did then?
Ginny and Ron were arguing about Quidditch teams.
“The Holyhead Harpies are stupid. Their team is full of girls. That’s why they won’t ever win.”
“Yes they will. They’re more good than the Chubby Cannons.”
“Chudley Cannons!” Ron exclaimed incredulously, his eyebrows shooting up his forehead.
“I don’t care,” replied Ginny, imitating the habit she’d picked up from Bill. “Harpies are best. I’m going to play for them one day.”
Ron burst out laughing. “No you won’t, you’re a girl! Girls can’t play Quidditch.”
“They can too.”
While their argument continued, Bill and Charlie were discussing Gryffindor’s chances in the Quidditch Cup that year.
“So if Ravenclaw beat Slytherin and –”
“Ravenclaw won’t beat Slytherin, their Chasers are too good. But if they beat Hufflepuff and –”
“Pigs in blankets?” Aunt Muriel was now grumbling, as she surveyed the heaving spread of food that Molly had somehow manoeuvred, unaided, onto the table specially extended for the day. “I don’t know about all these fancy fads nowadays. And Yorkshire puddings? Honestly, you young folk are determined to forget tradition for all your ridiculous new whims.”
Shaking her head wearily, Molly turned to her husband at the other end of the table, calling his attention from Uncle Bilius’s storytelling, which had now moved on to his escapades at Hogwarts. The sooner those stories ended the better, as far as Molly was concerned. Fred and George were bad enough already; she didn’t need them getting more ideas before they even started school. Heaven knows what sort of mischief they could get up to.
“Arthur dear, do you want to carve the turkey?”
Arthur looked up and nodded warily in response. Molly had made him practise carving meat continually over the last year, because there had been several occasions beforehand when Christmas Day had gone horribly wrong due to Arthur’s lack of experience. As Muriel had drily remarked, the turkey wasn’t meant to fly when it was cooked.
The carving of the turkey passed without incident, which every member of the family thanked their lucky stars for, and soon they were happily munching away at overflowing plates. Ginny’s food was almost piled higher than her head.
When they were finally stuffed so full that they couldn’t eat anything else, not even the flaming Christmas pudding that Molly had levitated into the room, there was a lull in the conversation.
“Well, that was acceptable, I suppose. But you’re all pitiful – not one of you has finished your dinner. You should be ashamed of yourselves.” Muriel, of course, was the only one who had managed to clean her plate. “That wouldn’t have been allowed when I was young. No wonder your children are running riot, Molly. No discipline, that’s your problem.”
Molly’s face was turning steadily redder, and Arthur was frowning and clutching his glass tightly.
“Now, Muriel,” Bilius put in, the glass of elf-made wine he was swirling in his hand taking the sting out of her insults. “That’s not fair. We can’t all have such big mouths and stomachs as you.”
Unaware of the reaction his suggestion had caused, Bilius’s head nodded slightly as he fought sleep. Muriel, on the other hand, had fire in her eyes, and with shaking hands she began to push herself up from the table to confront her in-law.
“Crackers!” shouted Bill desperately, realising how much a perfect Christmas meant to his parents, who were watching it slip away from them with equal measures of annoyance and sadness.
The others turned to him with a range of expressions, but Arthur followed his suggestion by picking up his own golden cracker and waving it madly in the air.
“Yes, I think crackers would be a good idea, don’t you Molly?”
Nodding, his wife picked her red cracker up and offered it, almost reluctantly, to her po-faced aunt. The room was soon full of explosions as they pulled on their crackers, and the sight of live mice scuttling across the table helped to dispel the tension in the room, particularly when Ginny erupted in laughter at Ron’s screams. The jokes came next, and charades; Arthur managed to re-enact the Tale of the Three Brothers with aplomb, but it took them ten whole minutes to guess Charlie’s charade of Babbity Rabbity and her Cackling Stump.
“I’ve got a joke,” George piped up, waving his piece of paper. Fred was already laughing at his side and Molly had the foreboding sense that this would not turn out well, but this was Christmas, and she had no proof, so she reluctantly let him read it out.
“What do you get if you cross a bat with a Babbling Curse?”
Molly’s heart sank and she realised that the children had overheard her conversations again, but before she could say anything, Fred piped up with the answer.
The children collapsed into giggles, as did Uncle Bilius; even Arthur was on the verge of laughter, but clearly thought better of it after receiving one of Molly’s trademark glares.
“Aunt Muriel, he –”
“What’s the joke?” Muriel barked, looking around sternly at the laughing family. “What’s so funny, boy?”
Molly couldn’t help it; her mouth dropped open in surprise. Somehow Muriel had actually not heard Fred and George’s poorly veiled insult – it was a miracle! Her breath whooshed out as she exhaled in relief. Perhaps Christmas Day wasn’t ruined, after all!
With a warning look at the twins, Molly turned back to her aunt.
“Oh, it’s nothing, just some childish silliness.”
“Hmph! Of course it is. It doesn’t surprise me that old Bilius is laughing at it too. Typical Weasley.”
Bilius, half-asleep, was oblivious to the jibe, but Molly thought it best to move things along before anything else could go wrong.
“Arthur dear, would you help me take the plates into the kitchen?”
A blue paper hat jammed on his head, Arthur nodded and got up, stacking half of the plates together and following Molly into the kitchen, where they discussed different ideas for preventing further disaster. They’d tried so hard to make this Christmas special and perfect for their children that they couldn’t bear to see it go wrong now.
As their parents busied themselves finding chocolates and more bottles of the specific – and very expensive – sherry that Muriel drank like water, their hopes were crumbling in the dining room. Fred and George, after a hushed and hurried conversation, wore matching grins that their brothers recognised; they were up to something. Ron and Ginny were engaged in a poke war, and Bill and Charlie were laughing at the eleven year old Percy’s pompous attempts to keep an adult conversation going with Aunt Muriel.
“Heavens, boy!” she exclaimed after a couple of minutes. “Stop rambling like that twit Cornelius Fudge, it’s insufferable! It makes you look like a talking carrot!”
Percy’s mouth snapped shut, his face turning so red that he resembled a tomato more than a carrot. Bill and Charlie, who normally would be laughing at Percy’s discomfort, had both taken offence at the redheaded comment and their mouths formed thin lines of disapproval.
Fred, on the other hand, roared with laughter. “That’s a good one, Aunt Muriel! A talking carrot! That’s exactly what Percy is. Maybe you’ve got a sense of humour, after all!”
To the twins, having a sense of humour was the way they judged someone’s character. So far, Aunt Muriel had severely disappointed them, and they could only console themselves with the remembrance that she wasn’t a Weasley – or even a Prewett, really, since she had married into the family.
Aunt Muriel, however, looked affronted at the idea. “A sense of humour? Insolent boy! In my day, children wouldn’t have spoken to their elders like that! I’d have been smacked for even daring to speak in front of company when I wasn’t asked to.”
Her chest heaving, she opened her mouth to continue her admonishment, but a soft ‘pop’ interrupted her. Looking around for the source of the noise, she didn’t notice George re-emerging from underneath the table, where he had disappeared to ‘pick up his serviette’ half a minute ago.
Muriel didn’t have long to wait before she discovered the cause of the sound. Molly and Arthur, smiling and rosy cheeked, entered the room bearing chocolates and bottles of wine and sherry, only to encounter their children scrambling away from the table and a terrible smell coming from Muriel’s direction.
“Aunt Muriel – Aunt Muriel –” gasped Ron, but he couldn’t get any further than her name.
“Enough!” Muriel shrieked, finally at the end of her tether. Springing up with surprising agility for her age – which she continually claimed to be over one hundred – she spied the remnants of a dungbomb underneath her chair, and, with her hair frizzing and her colour rising, she raised an accusatory finger at Fred and George, who had almost fallen over with laughter.
“You… you… rapscallions! I won’t take this anymore. Molly, I’ve come for Christmas dinner for years, but I can assure you I won’t be coming again! I warned you when you married this Weasley, but your children are completely out of control! I won’t be here after an insult like that again!”
Picking up her bag and wand, she turned and disapparated, just as Bilius woke himself with a snore and asked where the smell was coming from.
It was a more subdued Weasley family that moved into the living room after dinner, listening to Celestina Warbeck on the wireless and playing with the presents that they had received earlier. By ten o’ clock, the children were all in bed (Ginny had woken them all at five that morning) and Charlie was sharing a room with Bill because they couldn’t get Uncle Bilius to move any further than the first floor.
In the twinkling glow of the Christmas tree lights, the living room finally seemed to be as serene and calm as the morning Burrow scene had promised. Molly sighed wearily as she watched Arthur toy with, and break – thankfully – his model aeroplane. After trying and failing to mend it, he joined her on the sofa and she snuggled under his arm.
“Do you think Christmas was ruined, Arthur?” asked Molly, worriedly.
Arthur shook his head. “Not at all, dear. I know that Muriel’s your aunt, but don’t you think the children had more fun once she’d left? Didn’t you see their little faces this afternoon when we played those games?”
The glowing smiles belonging to all seven of her children floated into Molly’s mind, and the corners of her lips twitched upwards.
“They did enjoy them, didn’t they?” she smiled happily. “Although I’ll have to write a letter to Aunt Muriel tomorrow.”
“Yes, but you don’t have to think about that today, my love.” Arthur rested his head gently on top of Molly’s. “It might not have been perfect, but we’ve had a very Merry Christmas.”
Molly turned her head to peck Arthur on the cheek. “You’re right, dear. We’ve got seven happy, healthy children, and all of them are loved. We’ve had a very Merry Christmas indeed.”
Merry Christmas everybody! I've wanted to write this unashamedly fluffy story for a while, and the Christmas Challenge was the perfect opportunity for it! This is also a Christmas present for Kiana, Lauren, and Nadia, who are all brilliant friends and wonderful people. Happy Christmas!
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