Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by J.K. Rowling; various publishers including, but not limited to, Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books; and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
A/N: Thanks again to everyone. Just a reminder - I'm looking for possible band names for the boys. I'd appreciate them in the next week or so, so I can make a decision and replace the '(insert band name)' places in my year four book.
Chapter Thirteen: Yule at the Ranch
"Wow, mate, this place is pretty amazing," Ron said in wonder as the Weasleys' tour of the house and grounds drew to a close.
Harry grinned, "Thanks, Ron. I think so, too." Winter had transformed the Brewer property into a snow-covered landscape of quiet wilderness and soft beauty. Harry grinned a little and scooped up a handful of snow. He motioned for Ron to be quiet as he packed the snowball, took careful aim, and threw. It hit the back of Percy's robes and the older boy whirled around. Harry, wide-eyed in feigned innocence, pointed to Ron, "He did it!"
"What!" Ron protested, but didn't get very far.
Percy, rather than get angry as he would have at Hogwarts or the Burrow – his promise to Harry very much in mind – just shook off his cloak and walked over to the two first-years. The twins, who were watching the entire encounter, laughed, "He's in for it now."
"Too true, brother of mine."
"Percy's not getting mad…"
"…which means ickle Harrikins is about to get a tongue-lashing…"
"…to rival one of Mum's when she's on a tear."
When Percy reached where Harry and Ron were standing, he stood there, looking vaguely exasperated and disapproving. Then, suddenly, Percy tackled Harry into the snow. That seemed to be the signal for a free-for-all snow war, during which they all got thoroughly soaked and chilled. It was doubly fun, though, because no one was the 'winner.' Everyone got some good hits in, particularly after Harry reminded everyone that there were no underage magic laws in the US by levitating a massive snowball to hover over George's head. Jim and Dave, who were watching from the stable, even managed to land a couple of carefully placed snowballs.
Breathless, the five boys tumbled into the kitchen. "Anyone want any hot chocolate?" Harry asked. He received a round of affirmatives and started milk heating in a saucepan on the stove, while the others stripped out of their sodden cloaks, hanging them on pegs by the back door to dry. Not long after the Weasleys had taken seats around the breakfast table, Sirius and Remus apparated into the kitchen, startling everyone.
"Don't do that!" Harry shouted, picking up the spoon he'd dropped on the floor and tossing it into the sink.
Remus smiled, "Sorry, Harry. We were helping your mom over at the store, but she sent us over to meet you when you arrived. I take it we're late?"
"Only by three hours or so," Harry replied, pouring a bag of chocolate chips into the pan of simmering milk. "Oh, guys? This is Remus Lupin and Sirius Black. Remus, Sirius, these are Ron, George, Fred, and Percy Weasley." As Percy was the only one of the visiting Weasleys that habitually read the morning paper, he was the only one who recognized Sirius' name.
"What're you making, Harry?" Remus asked, peering over Harry's shoulder and into the large saucepan on the stove.
"Hot chocolate," he replied.
"Need any help?"
"Sure," he replied, even though he really didn't. Before long, everyone had a mug of coco, topped with cinnamon and miniature marshmallows.
While Harry and Ron talked about the guitar, Remus asked Percy about his classes, and the twins began planning a prank against Oliver Wood in retaliation for the early-morning quidditch practices. Sirius insinuated himself into the discussion. "No, no, no… that won't work. It would be obvious that it was a wizard behind it – and from what Harry tells us, you two are the notorious pranksters of Hogwarts. He would know immediately that it was you." Sirius said when the twins had outlined a plan to charm Oliver bald and hide all his hats.
"Well…" Fred said.
"…What would you propose?" finished George, a little skeptically.
Sirius grinned, "Just how well do you get along with Peeves?"
The twins exchanged an uneasy glance, "We don't…"
"…Not really, anyway."
"In that case, you'll want to do something that would immediately be blamed on the poltergeist, since you can't actually get him to do it. You should always cover your tracks. Half the fun of any prank is seeing someone else take the blame!"
Remus chuckled and paused his discussion with Percy on arithmancy, "He is right, you know. How much fun could you possibly have if you're stuck in detention? It took me forever to teach Padfoot that."
The twins' eyes grew round. "Padfoot?" was said in identical tones of awe.
"As in, Moony, Wormtail…" George was looking at Sirius in wonder.
"…Padfoot, and Prongs?" Fred's identical expression was aimed at Remus.
"The Marauders?" Fred and George got up from the table and bowed deeply to both of the adult wizards. Even Ron and Harry had stopped their conversation to watch the reaction of the twins.
Sirius and Remus exchanged amused glances. "Just how do you know about the Marauders?" Remus asked.
"On the second night…"
"…of first year…"
"…We got dragged into Filch's office…"
"…for something we actually didn't do…"
"…but Dumbledore needed Filch for something…"
"…and we were left there…"
"…We knew Filch had to have confiscated something useful…"
"…So we started rummaging around…"
"…but we didn't get very far…"
"…as we heard Filch and Dumbledore returning…"
"…So George grabbed this big, blank parchment…"
"…and Fred hid it in his pocket…"
"…just before the door opened…"
"…It took us a full week…"
"…to realize just what it was we'd nicked from Filch…"
"…and to discover the greatest pranksters of all time…"
"…in the Marauders Map!" Though the tale had been bounced between the two, they finished simultaneously, and Harry had to wonder how they did that without weeks of rehearsal and practice.
Percy was looking decidedly upset about the whole story, but was forced to halt any plans to turn in the twins upon returning to Hogwarts by Sirius' laugh. "From what Harry's said about you two, I can't imagine anyone more deserving of that map, right Moony?"
"Well, we certainly don't need it anymore. It's best to keep it where it will do the most… er… good?"
"They've certainly proven themselves to be worthy of the status of 'Marauders-in-training,' don't you think?"
Remus nodded, "They were able to unlock the map, after all."
Percy took the pause in conversation to interject, "I really don't think that's at all appropriate."
Remus smiled at the prefect. "Percy, Percy, Percy…" he tutted in mock-sadness. "I'll have you know I learned more about the practical applications of arithmancy – not to mention experimental charms, potions, and transfigurations – in the execution of pranks than I did the whole of my seventh year. Effective pranking requires not only a good imagination, but unparalleled research capabilities and a native intelligence."
"But, as a prefect, I can't condone it…"
"Oh, posh," Remus waived his hand. "I was a prefect, too, you know. And another of our Marauder comrades ended up as Head Boy. Just because you're in a position of authority doesn't mean you can't have a little fun, so long as no one gets hurt. In fact, I found that the younger years respected me more than they otherwise would have simply because I knew when bending or breaking the rules was appropriate."
Sirius grinned, "And it helped that they also didn't know if – when you caught them doing something they shouldn't – it was Remus, the Prefect who caught them or Moony, the Marauder."
Remus nodded, "There was that." Percy's forehead wrinkled in thought as he stared into his half-finished mug of hot chocolate.
The remainder of the afternoon found everyone in the living room. The twins sat, taking notes, while Moony and Padfoot gave an impromptu lesson on the Arts of Pranking. Harry went over chords with Ron and Percy was supposedly working on his homework, but was more often seen watching the lesson Remus and Sirius were giving the twins. Harry was pretty sure the prefect took a couple of notes, as well.
At about five-thirty, Aurilia returned from the store. Harry sat his guitar to the side and hurried to the door. He took a slightly hyperactive Cyrus from her and lead his mom back to the living room, "Guys?" Everyone looked up from their respective activities. "This is my mom, Aurilia, and my little brother, Cyrus." He then pointed out all the Weasleys. Ron was last, and when he shook Aurilia's hand, his stomach growled. Harry laughed, "That is a good question. What's for dinner, Mom?"
"I figured we'd all go into Knoxville and eat out," she replied. "Celebration for completing your first semester and all that."
Though they were far from poor, the Brewers rarely ate out for a meal. Harry's interest perked up and he excitedly asked, "Really? Where?"
Aurilia smiled. "It's a surprise, luz, but you should all see about getting cleaned up. It's not fancy, so don't worry about dressing up, but you should change into some clean clothes."
"Speaking of clothes, Mrs. Brewer," Percy spoke up, "where will we be staying?"
"Oh, we've got something set up in the basement," she replied. Harry quirked an eyebrow at her. The last he knew, the basement was cement and cinderblocks, with an assortment of miscellaneous junk stored in the corner near the stairs and a cubby used as a tornado shelter. "Harry? Why don't you take your guests downstairs and get them settled? I'll go collect your dad and Dave. Why don't I give A.J. a call and see if she wants to come, too?"
"Oh-kay…" Harry wasn't sure what was going on, but knew the easiest way to find out would be to follow his mom's advice and see it for himself.
So, still carrying Cyrus, he led his friends – who had grabbed their trunks – through the doorway under the stairs to the second floor and into the basement. When he flicked on the light, he nearly dropped Cy in shock. "Damn…" he whistled. "Dad an' Dave musta got bored while I was gone."
What used to be a cement hole under the house was now a series of rooms. A dark green carpet had been laid down in the main area, the room in which the stairs emerged, and the cinderblocks were hidden by wooden paneling. A regulation-sized pool table stood to one side, and there were several comfortable brown armchairs and a matching sofa arranged to face a rather large television. On the shelves below the massive screen was the distinctive gray box of a Super Nintendo and a stack of games. There was a bright yellow sticky-note on the screen of the television. Harry wandered over and read it out loud, "Merry Yule, Harry. Mom and I thought you'd appreciate the changes, especially if you keep having friends over."
"You all right, Harry?" one of the twins asked. Since Harry wasn't looking, he wasn't sure if it was Fred or George.
Harry nodded, "Yeah… It's just that when I left for school, this used to be a lot different. Just cement and cinderblocks and a bunch of junk…"
"Well, let's see what's here, yeah?" Ron said, setting his trunk down and heading to the only visible door.
Harry nodded, "Yeah. I know it'll take an hour or two for Mom and Dad to get ready to go for dinner…"
They discovered that the basement – which was the same size as the first floor of the house – now sported, in addition to the game room, two more bathrooms and four more bedrooms. Harry wondered where all the junk had been moved to when one of the twins pointed out the almost-hidden door at the end of the hall. It led to a storage room that was still cement and cinderblocks, and encompassed one whole side of the house, though it was only six feet or so wide. Harry saw that everything had been organized, too. He spotted the boxes of Yule decorations and suddenly realized what their project for the next day was going to be.
The bedrooms were arranged so that two shared a bathroom. The twins claimed the room that had a bunk-bed, while Percy took one that had a desk. Ron decided to take the room that would share its bathroom with Percy, rather than the one with the twins. It is…heh… safer that way, Harry thought and helped everyone get their things settled. About an hour after Aurilia had made her enigmatical statement to Harry, her voice sounded from the top of the stairs, "You boys about ready?"
"Yeah," several replies echoed back to her. Harry had, of course, gone to his own room to change. Everyone emerged from their respective stairways and into the hallway at roughly the same time. All the Weasleys were wearing thick sweaters and either jeans or corduroys. Harry was wearing a sweatshirt in Braves colors and jeans, too. Since there were so many of them – twelve in total, once A.J. was added to the mix – they had to take both the van and the pickup truck. The van could seat seven – two in the front, two in the middle, and three across the back – and the pickup could seat five – it had a narrow bench seat behind the main seats. Jim drove the van, and Percy, Cyrus, Aurilia, Ron, and Harry piled in, saving a seat for when they picked up A.J. Dave drove the truck, and Remus, Sirius, and the twins rode with him – Harry had no doubt as to the conversation within the truck, even Dave was something of a prankster.
When A.J. joined them, she immediately began a lengthy discussion with Harry on the good and bad points of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Though he knew Harry read almost as much as that Hermione girl, Percy found that he had severely underestimated Harry's intelligence. He'd read the book the previous summer, and even he had some difficulty following the discussion. When the discussion turned to magical theory, he was even more surprised. The twenty-minute ride into Knoxville was eye-opening, to say the least. Dinner was at a restaurant called 'Tasos,' it specialized in steak, but also had a wonderful selection of Greek food. Almost everyone fell asleep on the ride back to the ranch.
Harry's assumptions about their second day of vacation proved to be correct. After taking care of the animals, Jim lead an expedition into the forest after a tree. While Jim cut it down and Dave, with the help of the twins, tied it up for the journey back to the house, Harry explained how they would plant a replacement tree not too far from the stump on May first. The rest of the day was spent in hanging lights, stringing popcorn and dried cranberries, laying out holly and mistletoe, and decorating the tree.
A couple of days later, Harry decided that it was time to introduce the Weasleys to the sledding hill on the back half of the brewer property. The name of the hill had come with the property, and Harry felt it was aptly named. The sledding run was about three hundred yards from start to finish, and lay at roughly a thirty-five-degree vertical angle. There were three short flat spots, one about twenty yards down from the top, the second at about fifty yards down, and the third precisely halfway down. At the end of the run was a thicket of raspberry and wild rose bushes, beyond the thorny copse was a small cliff that dropped fifteen feet straight down into a marshy bog of cattails and bull-thistle. The name of the run was 'Suicide Hill.' Every year, Harry's family had to run kids off the property – kids whose parents had sledded there as children and in turn told their own children of the massive run.
Everyone – Percy included – had a lot of fun, once they learned that the trick to the hill was to lay completely flat on the sled and roll off as soon as it landed from jumping the third flat spot. Of course, they couldn't always stay on long enough to get that far, and they were all sporting bruises and scrapes when they headed back to the house for hot chocolate, but Harry felt that Fred had it right when he mentioned, "This is almost more fun – and definitely more dangerous – than quidditch!" They even managed to recruit Missy into helping them drag the sleds to the top after Harry said the run was even more worth it if they had to hike all the way to the top without magic to help them.
That night, Percy went back out to the hill while everyone was asleep. There was a tall black walnut tree that marked the beginning of the run, and one of the branches had been hit by lightning. Percy used his wand to finish severing the branch from the tree and selected a section of it, cutting away the extraneous branches. He spent the better part of an hour rolling it back to the house. He had seen several tools he would need in the workshop adjacent to the stable. He just hoped that he could keep this a secret from the Brewers. He worked on it every night, from midnight until two or sometimes even four o'clock in the morning. It helped that his brothers knew he never really enjoyed breakfast, and so was allowed to sleep in a bit more than everyone else.
On December twentieth – the day before Yule – Aurilia announced that she was heading into Knoxville to finish up her gift-shopping. Harry pulled his mom aside and told her what to pick up for Percy. Dave joined her on her trip.
On Yule, the Brewers threw their traditional party, making sure to warn their magical guests not to discuss or use magic until the party was over with. There were dozens of people who arrived, including the Penbrokes and the Simpsons. Much to Aurilia's embarrassment, she was talked into singing a traditional Wiccan Yule carol – Hail the Holly King. Though she hated being the center of attention, she did have a rather pleasant contralto, and since Harry knew the song, he accompanied her on the piano. That lead to a round of playing for Jim, Dave, Harry, and Sarah. When they finished a particularly tricky round-style song, Ron looked a little dispirited. Harry had to reassure him that he would eventually be able to play that fast, and went on to describe how it sounded more difficult than it was. By the time the party drew to a close, everyone was ready for bed, though Aurilia and Harry disappeared into her magick workroom for a couple of hours after the last person left.
On Christmas Eve, Percy was just about to head out to put the final touches on the gift he was making for the Brewer household, when he heard voices coming from the twins' room. "No, if we add more hellebore, it'll neutralize too much of the acromantula venom," Percy thought it might have been George, but couldn't tell for sure.
"Not if we make sure to halve the simmer-time. And if we add the bezoar powder exactly three seconds after the augury feather, we won't have to worry about finding a nonreactive gel to suspend it in, it'll gel on its own."
"I know that, but I still say adding more hellebore is a bad decision. This is Veritaserum, after all, not just some silly cure for boils. We can't afford to make mistakes, it has to be exact."
"Come on, let's go over the arithmancy again."
Percy blinked. Neither of the twins were taking Arithmancy. Likewise, they were discussing altering the recipe for a NEWT-level potion as though they knew what they were doing. Either they've been throwing their grades, or they've figured out I head out at this time and are pranking me… The real hell of it for Percy was that either option was as probable as the other. He decided to hold off judgment until he had a chance to sneak into their room and take a look at the notes they obviously had stashed somewhere, and continued out to the workshop to finish his gift.
Christmas morning dawned grey and listless. There was a heavy scent of snow in the air. Percy hadn't even bothered going to sleep – he'd not finished the last of the charms until it was nearing the time that the Brewers began getting up, anyway. Besides, he was a little old to be believing in Father Christmas. If his brothers were surprised to find him already awake when they entered his room, they didn't show it. He was laughingly bundled into his jumper from the previous Christmas by the twins and joined everyone in the formal dining room for breakfast, though he only had coffee and some toast. He helped clear up the dishes while Jim, Dave, and Harry tended the animals in record time.
When all the chores were taken care of, everyone gathered in the living room to unwrap gifts. Molly had flooed the Weasley's gifts over before they left for Romania, so everyone had a pile of presents. A.J. had even gotten everyone something – all her presents turned out to be long, crocheted scarves. Harry's was sky blue, and Cyrus received an identical one of an appropriate size for the toddler. Even the Weasley boys received a scarf each. Fred got a red one with yellow fringe and George's was yellow with red fringe – they also had a note that said 'Maybe now people can start to tell you apart!' Percy's was black and white, and Ron's was orange – during one of the afternoons where A.J. had come over, she'd learned of his obsession with the Chudley Cannons. Harry snickered when Ron put it on; the bright orange lying on the dark maroon of his sweater made it look as though his friend was about to start blinking.
Harry received, among other things, a broomstick maintenance kit from Hermione, an ivory guitar pick from Neville, an emerald green sweater from Molly Weasley, and an invisibility cloak from Albus with a note that told him it used to belong to his father. When he opened it, Harry reflected that he needed to go through the objects vault at Gringotts again. He had nothing that belonged to his mother. From Sirius, he received an English version of the Latin volume in his trunk on the animagus transformation. Remus gave almost the same gift to Harry as Harry had gotten for him – a stationary set. Aurilia just laughed when they opened each others' presents and said, "Great minds think alike."
When everyone else was done, Dave unobtrusively asked Percy to step into the hallway with him. "What do you need, sir?"
Dave chuckled, "Just Dave, please. I noticed you workin' on somethin' in the workshop over the last week. Dunno if I was s'posed ta see it, but I did. You've got real skill, you know that? Anyway, I 'member what it was like ta be fifteen, so I thought you might wanna open this one away from your brothers." He grinned a little and handed over a shoddily-wrapped gift. It was heavier than it looked; Percy nearly dropped it. He stripped off the paper to reveal a leather bundle. He unrolled it to reveal a complete set of woodworking chisels and knives.
"Wow…" he was stunned. That a man who seemed so… ignorant… could pick such a perfect gift rendered him nearly speechless. "Th-thank you."
Dave shrugged, "Don't mention it. You shoulda lemme know what you were up to – I still don't know what it was you were workin' on, I only saw it the once, an' you were barely started – but you shouldn't hafta work with inferior tools. I saw ya had 'borrowed' a pairing knife from the kitchen. Don't let Aurilia know 'bout that, by the way. She'd like ta spit nails."
Percy smiled back and re-rolled the tool pouch and tucked it into his pocket. When he re-entered the living room, he saw that everyone was beginning to clean up the paper. He stepped over to the tree and reached behind it to retrieve the gift he'd worked so hard on. "Um… I didn't know, when I did my Christmas shopping before the hols, that I'd be coming here for the holidays. So… I hope you don't mind, but I used some wood I found out on the sledding hill and the tools in the stable to make a present for the whole house." He handed it to Aurilia.
Aurilia lifted the lid off the box and caught her breath. She lifted it carefully out of the box and everyone got to see it. It was an intricately-carved clock. The face was carved, not with numbers for telling time, but with things like 'shopping,' 'traveling,' 'at home,' 'lost,' 'mortal peril,' and 'at school.' There were five hands, each of which had a round, blank area and a name engraved on the stem – one for each of the present Brewers. Along the upper rim of the clock, there was a carving of the stable, complete with three horses standing outside of it – one was grazing, one rearing on its hind legs, and the last lying on the ground. Closer inspection found that a fourth was curled up next to her, a foal. "To activate it, you'll each need to donate a hair, so the clock will recognize you."
Fred, Ron, and George all exchanged astonished looks. Though they knew that Percy had crafted the clock at the Burrow – for extra credit in his charms class the previous year – they had all heard him swear that he would never make another one because it was 'too much work for something that has little practical purpose, and whose remaining purpose boarders on being slightly illegal in breaching privacy.' Aurilia couldn't speak, so she just reached up and plucked a hair from her scalp with a slight wince. Percy charmed her hand on the clock, her picture appeared in the blank round area, and it spun to 'at home.' The process was repeated for each of the Brewers. When the clock was activated, Aurilia handed it carefully to Jim and headed to the fireplace. A normal clock ticked away, set on a post in the mortar of the stones. She removed the old clock and laid it on the back of the piano. Jim got the hint and hung the new clock in its place. When it was hung, Percy said in a voice barely above a whisper, "If Dave gets married or when you have more children, let me know, and I'll make more hands for it."
The roomful of people was totally silent, and had been since Percy pulled out the box containing his present. The silence was then broken by Remus, "Good show, Percy. Bloody good show."
The remaining days of the holiday passed quickly. When the storm that had threatened all Christmas day broke, Harry taught the boys how to play video games. When it cleared the next morning, they cleared the snow off the pond and went skating, Sirius transfiguring skates for everyone. When the hols finally drew to a close, everyone was a little sad to be leaving. The night before they were due back at Hogwarts, Percy went up to Harry's room after everyone else had gone to bed. There was a light on under the door, so Percy knocked. He heard a quiet "Come in."
"Hey Perce. Whacha need?" Harry asked, setting aside the book he was reading.
"I was wondering if I could talk with you?"
Harry shrugged, "Sure. Have a seat," he gestured at the chair by his desk. "What's on your mind?"
Percy took a deep breath, "I just wanted to… apologize, I guess. I was wrong about you." Harry opened his mouth to say something, but Percy waived him off. "I don't remember the last time I was that wrong about anything. After that first time I met you, back at King's Cross, I thought you were a dim-witted glory-hound who was relying solely on his fame, not only to keep out of trouble, but to even be at Hogwarts. I'm actually glad you talked me into coming, Harry. Though, I will admit that I had originally agreed to come to keep an eye on my brothers." He laughed a little ruefully. "You are right, friends are the family you choose, and I would be honored to count you as a brother."
Harry was more than a little stunned at the admission. "Wow, Perce. I don't know what to say…"
"Then don't say anything. I think I learned something from your family, Harry."
"Yeah… Things – people – aren't always what they seem. Did you know that Fred and George are adept enough at potion-brewing to tinker with NEWT-level potions?"
Harry shrugged, "No, I didn't, though if I'd thought about it – and knew what potions qualified as NEWT – I might've been able to figure it out."
Percy chuckled a little, "I suppose you might at that," he held out his hand. "Fresh start?"
Harry nodded and shook Percy's hand. "Fresh start."
Just before Percy was about to leave the room, he paused by the door. "Thanks for the pocket watch, by the way. It's nice knowing I won't have to worry about the twins pranking it." Harry had gotten him a small, steel wind-up watch on a length of chain as a gift – though Aurilia was the one to actually pick it out – and he'd had Remus put a charm on it that would make it tamper-proof and self-winding.
"You're welcome, Percy. Goodnight, an' sleep well."
"You, too, Harry."
A/N2: I worked on this chapter alone for just over three months - from September of '06 right up until the middle of December. There were nearly fifteen different permutations of it, but this was the version I was happiest with.