Written for the prompt "Feathers" at the Hogwarts Online Forum.

For Kara and Rita, with love.

Charlie, Children, Chickens and Charms

"Charlie, can you come outside?" One of the twins had appeared at the back door, his face unusually grave, although there was a spark of laughter in his eyes and a twist to the corner of his mouth that meant that things – from his point of view at least – were not as bad as all that.

It was the last day of the Easter holidays. Charlie looked up with a sigh from the Charms essay which he knew perfectly well he should have finished at least a week ago, and glared at his brother.

"What?" he demanded. "I'm busy, Fred."

"I'm not Fred, I'm George," said the boy at the door automatically, but Charlie cut him short with a wave of his hand.

"I know who you are, idiot. What's happened, Fred?"

Fred scowled at Charlie's perceptiveness and kicked at the doorstep. "Just come," he insisted. "It's easier than 'splaining." Then, seeing that Charlie was still unimpressed, he played his trump card. "Ginny's crying," he said.

Charlie knew when he was beaten. He put down his quill, blotting his essay disastrously in the process, and got to his feet. "What've you done?" he asked resignedly, as he followed Fred across the yard in the direction of the hen house. Fred's look of affronted innocence, and his, "Nothing. It wasn't us," failed to convince Charlie, who knew the twins far too well to believe that whatever disaster had happened was nothing to do with them. But he had no time to argue, because he rounded the corner and came upon a scene which was unexpected, to say the least.

George was standing by the hen house, the expression on his face an odd mixture of laughter and dismay, his arms round his little sister, who was crying hard, her face buried in his chest. Ron stood looking through the wire of the chicken run, his eyes and mouth fixed in O's of astonishment and horror. Ginny's ancient and ugly doll, Muriel, lay at his feet.

And inside the hen run – well, Charlie supposed they were the chickens, but really he had never seen anything quite like them in his life. Each and every one was totally bald. They were scrabbling round the run in apparent panic, cackling loudly, flapping their useless stubs of wings and pecking at any of their fellows that came within reach. Charlie was aware that his mouth had fallen open in shock, and closed it with a snap. He fixed the twins with his best Prefect-and-elder-brother glare.

"Don't you two ever remember that you're not supposed to do magic out of school?" he demanded.

Fred and George's protests were drowned by a howl from Ginny.

"It wasn't them, Charlie. It was m-me!" She detached herself from George, and turned to Charlie, her face streaked with tears. "It was me!" she repeated dramatically. "I did it!" Then she burst into a fresh storm of tears, and Charlie's irritation evaporated as he swung her up into his arms.

"Hush, Gin, hush," he soothed her. "Accidental magic, you mean?"

He felt her nod against his shoulder. "I didn't mean it, I didn't!" she sobbed.

Charlie set her down carefully on her feet, and crouched so that his face was level with hers. "I know you didn't mean it," he said. "Just tell me what happened, Ginny."

Ginny swallowed. "It was – it was Ron's fault, really," she began. Ron turned abruptly, his mouth open to protest, but Charlie silenced him with a wave of his hand and a glare.

"Ron took Muriel," Ginny said. "An' – an' I was mad, an' I chased him, but I couldn't catch him. Then he stopped by the chicken run, an' it just happened." She burst into tears again, and Charlie pulled her close, fighting the urge to laugh.

"Is that true, Ron?" he asked, trying to sound stern, and inwardly wondering why things like this had never happened when Bill was left in charge.

Ron hung his head, his ears colouring. "Yeah," he muttered. "I 'spect so."

Charlie glared at him. "Honestly, Ron, can't you be left alone for ten minutes without teasing Ginny? You're a pain in the neck, you know that? Well you can darn well confess to Mum when she gets back, and you know what that will mean."

Ron glowered, seeing the long-promised trip to Diagon Alley once Charlie, Percy and the twins were back at school, evaporating before his eyes. Still, he knew better than to argue with Charlie in this mood.

"What about you two?" demanded Charlie, turning his best Prefect gaze on the twins, whose faces were identical masks of wounded innocence.

"It wasn't us! We only…"

"…came when we heard Ginny crying…"

"…and Ron yelling…"

"Honestly, Charlie…"

"…it wasn't us!"

Charlie looked from Fred to George and back again searchingly. For once, he was inclined to believe that they were entirely blameless. "Okay," he said, shrugging. "I believe you. Thousands wouldn't."

With that, he turned his attention to the hens. He might be seventeen and fully entitled to do magic out of school now, but he wasn't entirely sure he was capable of the necessary Charm to return them to their normal state. Still, he didn't want to face his mother's reaction if she came home to find them still bald. He pulled out his wand and began.

It took him three attempts. The first resulted in a few pathetic feathers appearing in midair and fluttering down onto the disgruntled chickens. The second attempt restored their feathers well enough, but they were a lurid shade of purple. The twins guffawed, and even Ginny giggled. Only Ron, with the prospect of his mother's wrath to face, remained unmoved. A third flick of Charlie's wand restored the hens to their more usual colours, and he turned with relief to his brothers and sister.

"Now, will you please leave me in peace to finish this blasted essay?" he asked wearily. "Fred and George, go back to whatever you were doing, and for Godric's sake, behave yourselves. Ron, you can go up to your room and stay there till Mum gets back. Then you can tell her you nicked Ginny's doll again, but don't tell her about the hens or you'll have me to answer to. Ginny…" He picked up her forgotten doll and handed it back to her, taking her other hand and tugging her gently back towards the house. "I think there's a bit of chocolate cake left from yesterday. C'mon."

When Mrs Weasley and Percy returned from their trip to Diagon Alley, the house was quiet. Fred and George were following their own pursuits in the orchard, Ron was sulking in his room, and Ginny was playing on the hearthrug with Charlie's cat, Crackle. Charlie himself added the last sentence to his mistreated essay as his mother came through the Floo after Percy.

"All quiet?" she asked, somewhat apprehensively.

"Yes, Mum, all quiet," Charlie assured her, giving her the most innocent of grins.