“It’s not funny,” said Ron, fiercely. “If you must know, when I was three, Fred turned my—my teddy bear into a great big filthy spider because I broke his toy broomstick… You wouldn’t like them either if you’d been holding your bear and suddenly it had too many legs…” (CoS Am ed. pg. 155)
Snakes, and Snails, and Puppy Dogs’ Tails
“Fred! Fred, can I have a go? Please, Fred?” Ron Weasley begged, bouncing on the ground of the Weasley family’s enclosed orchard. He looked imploringly up at his five-year-old twin brothers, Fred and George, who were hovering gently on their identical new toy broomsticks and wearing identical looks of impatience.
“You heard Mum,” Fred reminded him. “You’re not allowed unless she or Dad is here. Catch, George.” He tossed a shiny new red Quaffle (they weren’t allowed to touch any of the other balls yet) to his twin, who caught it and zoomed off. “Sorry,” Fred added insincerely, and zipped after George.
Ron flopped on the ground, picking at the hole in the worn knee of his jeans disconsolately. He watched enviously as the twins practiced Quidditch moves, drifting as high above the ground as they could before the ten-foot limit on the broomsticks kicked in.
It wasn’t fair. Fred and George were only two years older than he was, and he got into far less trouble than they did anyway. And wasn’t Mum always saying that the first thing you had to learn in a big family was how to share? It seemed to Ron that Fred and George weren’t being very good sharers at the moment. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t been fair—he’d let them play with the broomsticks on their own for two whole days before he’d started asking for a turn, and that was practically forever when a new toy entered the Weasley household.
Ron exhaled in frustration and lay back on the soft ground, looking up at the branches of the apple trees above him (and occasionally, Fred or George). He wondered if there had ever been a time when he hadn’t had to share something, or get one of his older brother’s old hand-me-downs. Probably not. Even his face was hand-me-down—it was the image of his brother Bill’s in every childhood photo he’d seen. Ron rolled over onto his stomach, drawing idly in the dirt with his already grimy finger. His baby sister had it so good, the only girl in the whole family. She might not have gotten all new things, but they hadn’t been her brothers’ before they were hers. Mum had called up all her friends with older daughters to ask for girls’ clothing and girls’ toys. They might still be hand-me-downs, but they weren’t hand-me-downs that everyone in your house had had before you.
He looked up as he heard a sharp crackling from the branches around him. His seven-year-old brother Percy shouldered through the leaves, leading baby Ginny by the hand.
“Mum says it’s time for dinner,” he told Ron, pushing at his glasses with his free hand. “Fred! George! Mum says come in for dinner!” he bellowed up into the trees. He leapt out of the way with a yelp as the Quaffle Fred had been holding whistled through the air and landed on the ground with a thump where he had been a moment ago.
“And I’m telling her you did that!” Percy called as he retreated to the house, dragging Ginny along behind him.
Ron stood up and dusted off the front of his itchy maroon sweater (the only thing he owned that was truly his, and it had to be maroon?), wanting to get back to the house before his mother’s irritation at Fred and George reached its peak. The twins swooped gracefully to the ground beside him and pulled on their identical monogrammed sweaters (which they’d shed as soon as they’d left the yard of the Burrow).
“Wow, I’m starved,” George said, rubbing his stomach.
“Me too. Flying really works up an appetite, doesn’t it, Ron?” Fred asked, and then snickered. “Oh, never mind, I forgot. You’re too little to fly by yourself.”
He and George walked past him out of the orchard, although their laughing drifted back to Ron’s ears long after they’d gotten out of his sight.
Ron kicked angrily at a clump of dirt, but his only reward was his toe connecting painfully with the rock buried underneath it. He hopped in a circle, holding his sore foot protectively and trying not to think what Fred and George would have said if they’d seen what had happened.
“Awww, ickle Ronniekins, did you get a boo-boo?”
“Should we kiss it for you and make it all better?”
“Boo hoo hoo, he stubbed his ickle toesie…”
Even when they weren’t there, their teasing could make his ears go hot.
When the pain had subsided to a dull throbbing, Ron wiped the tears off his cheeks and headed back to the Burrow, desperately trying to think up an excuse for his tardiness that wouldn’t elicit any mockery. He pushed open the back door gingerly, expecting his rebuke to be swift and fierce. Instead he was met with the sight of a table with not just one empty seat, but two.
“Mum, where’s Dad?” he asked, forgetting he was supposed to be in trouble.
“Your father had to work late again,” his mother replied absently, spooning carrots onto his empty plate. “Wash your hands and sit down, dear. Ginny, eat your dinner. No—no—it’s not nice to throw your food, Ginny. Look, you’ve gotten potatoes in Percy’s hair.”
Ron let the warm water run over his hands and squished some soap between them, then sat down between Fred (who was very quietly feeding his broccoli to Errol, the family owl) and George.
“What’s keeping Dad at work?” Ron asked, spearing a carrot with his fork and twirling it broodingly.
“More raids,” his mother answered, helping Percy to clean his glasses of the turnips Ginny had flung. “You Know Who may be gone, but there are still Dark Wizards with illegal goods filling their cellars.”
“But that’s not Dad’s department,” Percy protested. “Dark Wizardry products aren’t the business of the Misuse of Muggle Arfitacts people, right?”
“Artifacts, dear.” Mrs. Weasley sighed. “They need all the help they can get. Eat your broccoli, Ron, you haven’t touched it.”
Ron was about to protest that he’d eaten exactly three pieces already, when he looked at his plate and noticed that he had double the broccoli he’d started with. He glared accusingly at George, who conveniently ignored the lack of broccoli on his plate and looked back at him with innocent eyes.
“Mum, George put his broccoli on my plate!” Ron whined, and stuck his tongue out at his older brother.
“Did not!” George objected immediately.
“He didn’t, Mum,” Fred said supportively. “I saw George eat it.”
“They’re lying!” Ron cried, scandalized.
“Boys,” Mrs. Weasley said firmly, closing her eyes and clenching her jaw. “That is quite enough. George, take that broccoli back this instant, because I saw you put it on Ron’s plate, and Fred, take some more for yourself, because if Errol starts throwing up broccoli again tonight it’ll be on your head.”
The twins gave Ron identical glares and sullenly followed their mother’s orders.
“Ha,” Ron said under his breath, and immediately regretted it when he found his plate in his lap and food all over the floor.
“Mum, Ron spilled on himself again,” Fred said in a singsong voice, munching on a roll.
* * *
An hour later, Ron was still trying to scrape potatoes off the floor while Fred and George were upstairs playing in their room.
“Ron, are you almost finished?” his mother asked from the living room, where she was discussing Ministry raids with her husband.
“This—potato—won’t—come—off,” Ron informed her, scrubbing at it with all his might.
“Oh, never mind, dear,” Mrs. Weasley said, and waved her wand in his general direction. “Scourgify.” Frothy bubbles shimmied in a circle on top of the potato in question, and when they disappeared the floor was spotless. “Take the rest of that garbage out, would you, Ron?” she added, referring to the garbage bag he’d filled with food scraps from the floor.
Ron sighed and dragged the bag out the back door and around to the shed where the dustbins were. As he was placing the bag into the bin (which was difficult, as the bin’s opening was several inches above his head), he noticed two small, identical brooms leaning against the shed next to the big one his father rode sometimes.
They’d never even know it if he just took one of the brooms out for a minute. He’d have it back in its place and be back in the house before anybody even missed him. Besides, he hadn’t gotten a turn before.
So with these mental justifications, Ron grabbed one of the brooms (he supposed it must be Fred’s, since it had an F engraved on the handle) and tiptoed out into the orchard. It was deadly silent now, a knowing silence, as though the trees too were well aware he was doing something he shouldn’t. His heart beating with anticipation, Ron swung one leg over the broom, bent his knees, and pushed off the way he’d seen his brothers do.
The little broom shot into the air, leaving Ron’s stomach on the ground behind it. The cool night air flew threw his hair, tossing it around his ears and making it tickle his forehead. He turned in midair and circled around the trees, ducking under branches and completely forgetting he’d never been on a broomstick in his life. It was only when he stopped to hover ten feet above the ground that he noticed exactly how high up and exactly how alone he really was.
He blanched, his freckles standing out starkly against his skin in the moonlight. His hands shook on the broom handle, and the whole broom started to vibrate and pitch dangerously. Ron gulped and attempted to compose himself. He tipped the broom handle down ever so slightly—his sweaty hands slipped on the polished wood, the handle jerked downward swiftly, and he plummeted earthward.
Abandoning all pretenses of being quiet, Ron screamed at the top of his lungs and tried to regain control of the broom. The only thing he succeeded in doing, however, was jerking himself to the side, causing the broomstick to graze a tree and veer off course. He and Fred’s broom spiraled crazily to the ground, hitting with a dull thud, which was punctuated by two sharp cracks. Ignoring the searing pain in his arm, Ron gazed in horror at the two pieces of broomstick in front of him—the handle had split jaggedly in the middle under his weight.
“Fred’s going to kill me,” he whispered, and sweat broke out afresh on his forehead.
In his panic, he hadn’t heard the sound of several pairs of frantic footsteps coming towards him, or the frenzied snapping of branches and bushes as those several people came crashing through the trees of the orchard.
“Ron!” his mother shrieked, throwing herself to her knees beside him. “What on earth is going on? Oh…dear Lord…Arthur…” She gestured wordlessly to her son’s arm, which was hanging at his side at an abnormal angle. Ron looked where she was pointing and, upon seeing his arm, broke out into fresh tears as the pain he’d ignored before found its way through his terror.
“It’s all right, Molly, he’ll be fine,” Arthur said soothingly, scooping his young son up and performing a swift quieting charm. “We’ll just call in a Healer, and everything will be perfectly fine, don’t worry.”
“I’ll take Fred’s broom, Mum,” George piped up from his mother’s side, glancing uneasily at Ron’s broken arm.
“Yes…yes, dear, that’d be very good of you,” his mother replied distractedly, bobbing anxiously at her husband’s side as they made a beeline for the house.
* * *
The next day, Ron was happily sitting in his bed surrounded by pillows, his arm in a sling. This was the most attention solely devoted to him since…ever. And he wasn’t taking it for granted.
“Yes, Ron?” his mother panted a moment later, winded from clattering up the flights of stairs to Ron’s bedroom.
“Can I have a glass of milk, Mum?” he asked, shifting his arm and wincing plaintively.
“Of course, dear,” she replied, and whisked right out and downstairs again.
As soon as her head disappeared from the doorway, Ron abandoned his feigned grimace and settled back against the cushions contentedly. And who said breaking your arm was a bad thing? Sure, it had hurt, but he barely remembered that part now. And it definitely had its perks.
“Will one of you see what’s the matter with Ron?” he heard his mother’s voice call, and a moment later there was a clatter on the stairs.
“Oi, Ron, what is it now?” Fred asked, leaning against Ron’s doorframe impatiently. “You’ve been ringing your bell all day. You’re such a faker.”
“Ah ah ah,” Ron warned superciliously. “Mum says you have to be nice to me because I’m hurt. You can’t make fun of me or tease me or anything. So there.”
Fred glared at him, his eyes flashing menacingly. “You took my broom out when you weren’t supposed to,” he hissed maliciously, “and all that happens to you is that you can’t go to the orchard for a week. It’s not fair! Just because you’re such a good little boy most of the time. If it had been George or me, Mum wouldn’t have let us have sweets for a month!”
“Well, you wouldn’t let me ride the broom in the first place,” Ron pointed out crossly.
“It’s my broom,” Fred growled.
“Serves you right your stupid broom’s broken then,” Ron said airily. “Since you wouldn’t share.”
Fred’s mouth settled into a thin line, and he glared at his little brother in that icy way the twins had that gave meaning to the phrase “don’t get mad, get even.” Ron pointedly ignored the nervous feeling in the pit of his stomach that told him this wouldn’t be the end of his fight with Fred.
* * *
Ron was having lovely dreams…he was floating on a cloud…high above the orchard…but it wasn’t a cloud—it was a broomstick. And he wasn’t floating—he was falling. He lashed out in fear, scared of finishing the fall, scared of the sickening noise his connection with the ground would make—
He fell out of bed with a thump and bumped his injured arm on the edge of the bed.
“Owww,” he moaned quietly, cradling the arm. Although the Healer had set his bones expertly and given him magical painkillers, it didn’t last forever. He hadn’t taken any since dinner, and it must have worn off while he was asleep.
Ron crawled back into bed, hugging his teddy bear tightly with his good arm. It was nights like these that made him wish he were back in his crib in his parents’ bedroom, where his slightest whimper had been heard and detected by his mother. But ever since Ginny had been born, his mother had been otherwise occupied. As the pain failed to subside, Ron squeezed his teddy bear tighter, relishing the feel of the soft fur against his cheek. He couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t had this teddy bear, his eternal source of comfort in all matters. Although he didn’t remember it having a rough spot just—there. It was scratchy against his cheek. Bristly, almost. And against his arm, too. And had his teddy always been quite so bulky? It didn’t seem to be possible for teddy bears to grow fatter with age, but it happened to people, so who knew?
He shifted the teddy bear in his arms. It was slippery now, as though it didn’t want to be held. But that was silly. Teddy bears couldn’t—his teddy bear was moving. Ron dropped the bear and promptly let out a bloodcurdling shriek. His bear was sprouting eight long, black, bristly legs from what was quickly becoming a low-slung black body. A cluster of tiny eyes blinked at him beadily from above a set of evil-looking pincers.
“Mum!!!!!” Ron screeched, leaping out of bed and sprinting downstairs to his parents’ bedroom, not caring who he woke up along the way. “Mum, there’s a giant spider in my bedroom!”
“Don’t be silly, Ron,” Mrs. Weasley muttered groggily. “You just had a nightmare. Go back to bed, dear.”
“No, Mum, p-please,” Ron implored, shaking his mother by the shoulder. “Make it go away.” His voice was shaking and he kept glancing behind him, as though he thought the spider had followed him downstairs (and judging by the size of it, it very well could have).
“Nnng.” Mrs. Weasley swung herself out of bed, grabbed her wand off the bedside table, and dutifully followed her young son upstairs. “Lumos,” she said as she got to the door. “See, Ron, there’s nothing there,” she continued in a comforting tone that barely masked the tired irritation in her voice. And then the narrow beam of light from her wand fell on the two-foot tall hairy tarantula sitting placidly on the bed.
“Arthur!” she shrieked. “There’s a spider up here!”
A moment later, Mr. Weasley appeared in the doorway, holding Fred by the neck of his pajamas. “I found this one having a good laugh outside in the hallway,” he said grimly. “Seems he thought it’d be funny to turn Ron’s teddy bear into a spider and give him a good fright. Stole my wand off the bedside table, he did. And found the spell in one of Bill’s schoolbooks. Isn’t that right, Fred?”
“Yes,” Fred admitted sulkily, scuffing at the floor with his toe.
“Finite incantatem,” Mrs. Weasley snapped, and a teddy bear lay innocently where the spider had been. “And now it’s back to bed with you, young man. You won’t see the outside of this house for at least a week! The very idea, turning your baby brother’s teddy bear into a spider! How dare you, and him being injured too!…” Her voice retreated down the stairs after Fred as Mr. Weasley tucked Ron back into bed.
“Don’t worry, Ron,” he said, covering him up snugly. “It’s all fine, now. See? Just your teddy bear.” He placed the bear gently on the pillow next to Ron’s head. “Good night.” He extinguished the light with his wand and headed back downstairs.
As soon as he couldn’t hear his father’s footsteps any longer, Ron, flung the bear across the room and into the back of his closet. It still looked vaguely sinister.