Anyone who'd spent any time at all at Number 12 Grimmauld Place in the past weeks would not have been surprised to see an identical pair of ginger heads creeping down a creaky staircase at ten minutes past one o'clock on a July morning.
Fred and George Weasley were intrepid explorers of the dusty mansion they currently occupied, having thoroughly scoured the premises for anything that could alleviate the boredom of being stuck in a safe house with their parents, younger brother, and sister—not to mention a former convict, a sickly werewolf, and a tetchy ex-Auror.
Tonight, though, they had a different mission. It was, in fact, a professional excursion, designed to test a handy little item they'd concocted right under their mother's annoyingly watchful eye using bits of string and some very clever (if they said so themselves) charms.
They planned to run their experiment in the narrow hallway outside the kitchen, where they knew Sirius and Remus would be talking and sharing their habitual nightcap after everyone else was safely abed.
The teenaged entrepreneurs were heading down the stairs, treading slowly and carefully to avoid detection.
A cracking sound pierced the heavy silence, halting the pair in their tracks.
"Shhh!" hissed George (or was it Fred?)
"I can't help it if the step creaks," whispered the other one.
They stayed as still as if they'd been Petrified, listening for the squeak of their parents' bedroom door opening, dreading their mother's triumphant shriek of discovery.
When neither came to pass, they heaved a tandem sigh of relief and continued their journey.
As they were about to descend the next flight of stairs, a sound came from behind a door next to them, and they froze again, certain they were about to be caught this time, brought down by the constant vigilance of the man whose room it was.
But the door didn't fly open, and the muffled noise inside the room continued. As if in mute agreement, they crept closer and put their ears to the door.
A pair of voices murmured inside.
The boys looked at one another, eyebrows raised.
Fred pointed at the pocket of his brother's dressing gown.
George shook his head and pointed back at his brother.
"I don't have—" Fred started to whisper, but George clamped a hand over his mouth, glaring at him and gesturing insistently at the door.
Fred glared back at George and reached over into George's pocket.
He pulled out a long, flesh-coloured bit of string. He looked pointedly at George.
George rolled his eyes and nodded.
Gingerly, Fred fed the end of the string under the crack beneath the door. The boys leant over the other end.
They were rewarded with the sound of a familiar voice, now clear enough to make out the words.
". . . have a wash-up."
There was the creak of a light tread, then the squeak of a door closing.
The brothers made a silent and simultaneous fist-pump.
It works! Fred mouthed, his eyes bright with excitement.
They leant down again, trying to hear more.
There was only a frustrating silence, punctuated by the painfully loud sound of someone clearing their throat.
Then, sweet success!
The interior door creaked again, and the first voice said, "What on earth did you do to me? My knees are still weak."
"I like me witches with weak knees."
"Lucky thing, then," said the woman. "Budge over."
There was the brief, high-pitched protest of a bedspring.
The thin shaft of light under the door winked out.
The eavesdroppers looked at one another, identical grins spreading across their faces.
They waited another minute, huddled over the string, then George shrugged, withdrew it, and put it back in his pocket. He pointed to the ceiling, and they headed back up the stairs to their room, the echoes of victory and discovery ringing sweetly in their ears.
"I win the bet. Hand it over, little brother." George stuck out his hand.
"I was born first," Fred protested, "how can I be your little brother?"
"I was referring to your willy."
George wiggled his fingers. "Hand it over."
The door opened just as Fred stuck a gold Galleon into his brother's outstretched palm.
"I'll take one of those, if you're handing them out," Ron said, flopping down on Fred's bed.
"What are you doing in here?" Fred asked.
"Why aren't you with your little girlfriend?" George asked.
Ron flushed. "She's not my girlfriend."
"Why aren't you with your not-your-girlfriend?" the twins said together.
"She's reading," Ron said, a look of disgust demonstrating exactly what he thought of that activity. "Wants to get a head start on O.W.L.s, she says."
"Wants to get away from you, more like," said Fred.
"Oh, really funny," Ron said. "Seriously," he said, cocking his chin at the hand that still held the Galleon, "what's that for?"
"The proceeds of a little wager," George said. "I won and Fred lost."
He gave his twin a wide smile.
"What'd you bet on?"
"I bet that Mad-Eye and McGonagall were doing the old rumpy-pumpy, and that loser over there bet they weren't."
Ron laughed. "Come off it. What'd you really bet on?"
"That was it," Fred said. "Mad-Eye and Minnie." He made an obscene motion with his hips.
"Pull the other one," Ron said.
"We got the proof last night," George said. He pulled the Extendable Ear—as they'd decided to name the item—from his pocket. "This little beauty worked like a charm."
Ron's face slackened with shock. "McGonagall and Moody? You heard them? Together?"
"Yep," the twins said in unison.
Ron's eyes widened in horror.
"We didn't listen to them shagging,"Fred said. "I mean, we aren't pervs."
"Not pervs," echoed George. "But they were talking about it. Sounds like old Mad-Eye is quite the stud."
Ron still couldn't quite get his mind around what he'd just heard. "Mad-Eye and Professor McGonagall? You heard Mad-Eye and McGonagall talking about . . ."
Fred frowned. "Forget about that bit. You should be on your knees thanking Merlin that your brothers are geniuses. Now we can find out what goes on in all those Order meetings."
"That is just massively disgusting," Ron said. He was still trying to chase the picture of his prim Head of House making the sign of the humpbacked Hippogriff with the scarred, scary Alastor Moody from his brain.
"I dunno," said George. "McG's sort of hot, in a 'Thank-you-Professor-may-I-have-another' sort of way."
Ron stared at him in utter bewilderment. "But she's old. And he's . . . he's only got the one leg."
"What's that got to do with anything?" Fred asked.
"I wouldn't have thought he could . . . you know."
"Well, he's crippled, isn't he?" Ron said. "It's bound to throw things off a bit."
"Not unless it's the third leg he's had off. Besides, he's Mad-Eye, not some scrawny, specky git," George said, nodding at Ron meaningfully.
"Yeah, he's got super-powers, according to Minnie," Fred added, and George joined him in a salacious laugh.
Ron looked from one brother to the other, shaking his head.
"You'll be lucky to get one of your two legs over before you're Mad-Eye's age," Fred said.
Ron sneered at him and turned to George. "So, what did they say? Did they—"
George held up his hand. "Stop right there, ickle Ronniekins. There are some things you just don't need to know."
The following week's Order meeting was a great disappointment to the wily eavesdroppers. While the Extendable Ears worked exactly as they'd hoped, the meeting was largely taken up with discussions of surveillance schedules, and the only marginally interesting thing the boys heard was Snape and Sirius nearly coming to blows over a remark about Remus's "time of the month".
Later that night, the twins made another foray to the landing outside Mad-Eye's bedroom door—just to test some refinements to the Extendable Ears, mind you—and discovered that Mad-Eye's health was more robust than one might have expected, and that Professor McGonagall's vocabulary was much more extensive than they had ever imagined.
Fred and George both came away blushing furiously, and each had trouble meeting the other's eye as they went up to their room. Nevertheless, they agreed that the opportunity to embarrass their notoriously unflappable Head of House was far too good to pass up.
Anyone who'd spent any time at all at Number 12 Grimmauld Place in the past weeks would have been very surprised indeed to see Fred and George Weasley sitting at the kitchen table sipping from steaming mugs of tea at six o'clock on a summer morning.
Fortunately, Minerva McGonagall was accustomed to the sort of surprises that could be delivered by a pair of ginger-haired miscreants intent, it often seemed to her, on making her life that much more annoying.
"Good morning, Professor," the boys said, identical smirks on their faces.
McGonagall went to the kettle to fix herself a cuppa. She waited until she'd had a sip of strong Darjeeling before she responded.
"Good morning, Messrs Weasley. What gets you up before noon? Mischief to be managed?"
Weird, both boys thought.
Here they'd got up at a positively indecent hour to catch their prim, proper Head of House doing the Walk of Shame, yet she didn't look at all perturbed. She just drank her tea as if she were at the high table at Hogwarts.
This would not do at all.
Glancing at Fred for moral support and receiving it in the form of a nod, George said, "I think there's been plenty of mischief managed here already, eh, Professor?"
His courage failed him at the last moment, and he turned his grin to his brother rather than his teacher.
"Mmm," she said.
George looked at Fred.
George asked, "Er . . . sleep well, Professor?"
Still not so much as a single signature raised eyebrow.
Fred nudged his brother, who frowned and shook his head, mouthing, "Your turn."
George scratched his nose and thought a moment. Then he went for broke.
"And how are the old knees this morning, Min?"
There was a silence, uncomfortable only to the boys, as Professor McGonagall sipped her tea.
She set the cup down, and Fred and George prepared for the sweet explosion of Minerva McGonagall's notorious temper.
"Very well, thank you," she said at last.
She stood, took the teacup and saucer to the sink, rinsed them, and moved to the door of the kitchen, saying, "Enjoy your day, gentlemen."
"Uh, you too, Professor," Fred said.
"I shall," she said. "Rather better than you, I expect."
The kitchen door shut behind her.
"What was she on about?" Fred asked his brother.
Before George could answer, the door flew open again to reveal a horrifying sight.
Molly Weasley, face red, hands on her generous hips, stood there scowling. In her hands she held . . .
No. It couldn't be.
But it was.
Their entire collection of Extendable Ears.
She marched to the cooker, lit a burner, and held them over it.
The twins watched, horrified, as three weeks' worth of work blackened and curled, and finally turned to ash.
Mrs Weasley brushed her hands together to rid them of the residue.
She turned to her sons.
"You'll be cleaning all the bathrooms today. And making all the beds."
"Oh, Mum—" the boys said.
"What'd we do?" George asked, forgetting that his mother was better at sniffing out wrongdoing than any Legilimens.
"You know exactly what you did," she said. "And I'll have no arguments."
She pulled her wand out of her dressing gown pocket. Both boys cringed, sure she was going to hex them at long last, but she only Conjured a pail and some scrub brushes.
When they trudged up the staircase to the next floor, Mad-Eye Moody was standing in the bedroom doorway, beckoning them inside.
"Hear you're makin' beds," he said. "Better strip this one. Sheets need an extra-good washing this morning."
The grin that spread across Moody's scar-creased face haunted Fred and George's dreams for weeks.
This work of fiction is based on characters and settings created by J. K. Rowling. All recognisable characters, settings, and plot elements are copyright © J. K. Rowling.
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All original characters, settings, and plot elements are copyright © 2020 Squibstress.
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