DISCLAIMER: J.K.Rowling owns the characters of this story, and I'm not making any money on it.
"Red One, this is Red Two. Come in. Over." Nothing. "Red One, are you in position yet? Over."
Silence reigned undisturbed for a few seconds, then a thud could be heard over the connection, followed by a short, sharp noise. Finally, a thoroughly aggravated voice came through.
"Bloody hell, almost broke my ankle. Bloody, buggering Dugbog!"
"You OK, Red One? Over."
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine." Red One sounded more annoyed by the second. "Why do we have to keep saying 'over,' anyway? - Over." This in an accusing sort of tone, as if that one word was solely responsible for the Dugbog mishap.
Red Two sighed and ran a hand through his mop of shaggy hair that was already thinning at the temples. It came out full of red clumps, which he regarded grimly, before shaking them into the wind. All men in his family were going bald before they reached their forties. It was just one of those stupidly unfair legacies.
"We're saying 'over' because that's what Muggles say when they finish talking into one of these things," he replied irritably. "Over."
"And if the Muggles jump off a bridge, we must jump off one, too?"
"What?! Why would a Muggle jump off a bridge? Over."
An irritated huff hissed over the connection. "Honestly, sometimes you're as thick as a cauldron bottom. The point is, we're magical, and there's a simple Communication Charm to use in these situations... Stop rolling your eyes, Red Two!"
"What? How did you..."
"Idiot," came back the mutter.
"Oh, yeah? If you're going to insult me, then I'm not talking to you anymore."
"Fine. And you forgot to say 'over.'"
They sulked in silence for a while, but eventually, Red One's voice came back on line; just as Red Two knew it would.
"Hey, Red?" A bit tentative now - which was the closest to an apology that Red Two could ever expect to get. "Where did you get these... err... honky-tonkies?" Silence. "Red Two, you still there? - Oh, sorry, I meant oh-verrr."
Red Two snorted and admitted defeat. He had never been able to hold a grudge against Red One.
"Honky-tonkies, honestly! They're called okey-dokeys. And I bought them in Muggle London. There's an eckeltronics store really close to the Leaky Cauldron, and they have everything - tell-visions, and tey... tey... teyprachorders, and all sorts of things that work with plugs, and..."
"Now I know why you're Dad's favorite. I thought you were only being nice to him, spending time in his shed and listening to his ramblings. Turns out, you're as nutters as him."
"And this from someone who thinks monsters are a bunch of fluffy, misunderstood cuties."
"Mackie is not a monster," Red One hissed. "How many times do I have to tell you? He's a descendant of one of the oldest wizarding clans in Scotland, who were Transfigured into animals by their enemies."
"Or so the legend says."
"It's not just a legend!" Red One was getting miffed again. "And anyway, all legends start from a true story. Just look at all the things that the Office of Misinformation has been feeding Muggles: they made them believe that Unicorns are a legend, that Yeti are a legend... heck, Muggles got to the point where they call any tall tale a 'fairytale'."
"Yeah, except I'm talking about what our textbook says, not the Office of Misinformation. And you know what else it says? I cite, The Quintaped is a highly dangerous carnivorous beast. Funny you missed that part, it was right at the beginning!"
"It also says that the Ministry have tried to capture a Quintaped for years, but couldn't. Yet Hagrid simply went to the Island of Drear and came back with Mackie, didn't he?"
There was nothing Red Two could reply to this, except to wonder, "How on Earth has Hagrid managed it, anyway?"
"Because he's brilliant," Red One said fervently. "And he doesn't care about any of the horse dung that that Scamander wrote. Impossible, indeed." Snort. "Just think of the dragon reservation in Romania! Until a few years ago, everyone said that dragons cannot be bred in captivity, that they can't be studied up close, that they can't be domesticated blah blah blah. Proved them wrong, those Romanians!"
"You're thinking about going there, aren't you? You want to study dragons, once we're done with school."
There was a long pause, and then the voice came back defiantly. "And what's wrong with that?"
"I thought you wanted to stay here, in England - the two of us, together." His tone was thickening with dull anger. His temper very rarely flared up, but when it did, it could build into a roaring blaze. And the thought of his best friend in the world moving a continent away was cutting like a blade into a festering wound. He'd suspected it for some time, but still, he hadn't been able to believe it. It would be like living without half of himself.
The connection crackled and hissed, but Red One didn't say anything more. It was almost fifteen minutes later when
Red Two broke the uncomfortable silence.
"Better get ready. The wards will become visible in about ten minutes. Let's just hope the moon doesn't disappear behind a cloud - that will make it a lot trickier."
"Hope you know what you're doing," Red One said a bit shakily.
"Don't worry, I won't put you in danger. Wish I could say the same about that Quintaped."
"His name's Mackie," Red One snapped back automatically, but there was no heat behind it. "Hey, Red? How can you be so sure about disabling the wards, anyway? That's got to be well beyond NEWT level, especially since it was Dumbledore who put them up."
"'Cause I studied the runes around the area. The wards aren't all that difficult to breech, but he combined them with a Muggle idea. It's really brilliant! Most of us would be right confused by this, but I happened to see a similar alarm system in a Muggle flim."
"A what? You mean a flimflam?"
"No, just flim... I think. It's a moving picture - really brilliant! See, they have this..."
A loud groan came over the connection. "Don't you dare start on it! I get enough of this from Dad."
"But they're really..."
"Say 'brilliant' and I'll hex you!"
"Nundus are amazing! Acromantulas are amazing! Muggles are boring. I can't understand what you find so interesting about them."
"It's the way they manage without magic. The things they invent are quite difficult to figure out. You have to take them apart, study them, put them back together - just like a puzzle!"
Another disdainful snort. "You and your puzzles. You think Ancient Runes are like a puzzle, and if that's not the most boring subject on earth, I don't know what is!"
"Came in handy tonight, didn't it?" Red Two was beginning to feel really peeved.
"Yeah, well, it won't get you a job next year. No one pays you to solve puzzles or play chess. I just don't understand how you can waste such an amazing brain on games. If only you had a bit of ambition, you could easily land a position in the Ministry."
"Don't you worry about my future - there's plenty I can do outside our precious Ministry." His career plans were an old bone of contention between them, and his tone raised to match his ire. "Maybe I'll - I'll become a Curse Breaker for Gringotts and travel to all sorts of exotic places." It was the first time he'd voiced his secret dream aloud, and his heart constricted with both dread and elation. He'd never really let himself think about this - it would mean being apart from the other half of himself. But he hadn't been the first to say he was going away. Bile rose in his throat. "What do you care, anyway? You'll be all the way in Romania."
"I'll still want the best for you, Number Two."
There was hurt in that answer, and it made him feel unaccountably guilty and righteously angry all at once: he wasn't the one leaving! "Why do I always have to be Number Two, anyway?" he snapped, saying the first stupid thing that came to mind. And wanting to slap himself silly a second later.
"Because I'm older than you by more than three m..."
"So? That's nothing in the great scheme of things. I want to be Number One," he sulked, seemingly unable to stop spouting idiocies.
"Fine! You're the number one baby! And we're going to miss the right moment if you don't concentrate on the task at hand."
Red Two gritted his teeth, but refrained from pointing out that it hadn't been him who had started yakking about the future. This was the type of argument he knew he could never win. Besides, he really did need to focus on disabling the wards. If they missed their opportunity, he'd never hear the end of it. With a deep sigh of resignation, he murmured, "Aparecio," and watched as a web of spidery threads and translucent shapes glittered in the moonlight. After a week of studying them, he knew the design by heart. It had taken him long hours of concentration to figure out the right sequence in which to take them down, but he was confident he finally had it. A small smile flitted across his lips as he touched his wand to the first silver form and gently nudged it to the right and up. There was no doubt that the pattern had been Professor McGonagall's idea. He'd realized almost immediately that it was modeled after a chess game, and he'd recognized her playing strategy. But he'd needed far longer than that to come up with a way to defeat it.
"Checkmate, Professor - again," he murmured with satisfaction, several long minutes later. The alarm tripping spellwork was down. "Hey, Red, ready to take out the wards? Over."
"Make sure you aim your wand at the outermost Rune, and that you wipe them all out in one move. If they're not erased all at once..."
"I know! You've already told me this a hundred times. Let's do it already! On my three: one, two, three. Deletrius!"
Red Two barely had time to yell Deletrius, making a large swiping move with his wand. The wards had to be brought down simultaneously from two opposite corners, and he'd intended to take his time to get into position. But as always, Red One had been too impatient with his deliberate way of doing things. He looked up in time to see a red blur barreling towards him at breakneck speed on a rickety school broom.
"Let's go," was all he heard, before the broom did a sharp turn in mid-air, its rider almost toppling over with the motion. Red Two shook his head and sent up a silent prayer that they would both live through the night - preferably in one piece.
By the time he reached the clearing where the monster - Mackie! - was tethered, the hair on his arms was standing up, and he was shivering all over.
"Dia duit, An tUasal MacBoon," a low voice reached him from beyond the last ring of trees. Oh, no!
But oh yes, there Red One was, stretching a hand in greeting to the Quintaped.
"Stop! Have you completely lost your mind? You said you wanted to see it, not... not pet it!"
"Hush! Don't scare him."
"Scare him? Scare him? He's a man-eating beast!"
"He is not! And you are being very rude to him. Gabhaim pardún agat." The last was said to the monster, in a soft, apologetic voice.
"What are you doing?" Red Two asked in disbelief.
"Apologizing for your behavior."
"Huh? These monsters don't understand human language - people have tried to communicate with them for centuries."
"People talked to them in English - of course they couldn't understand. If those idiots from the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures had used their brain, they would have realized..."
"What're the two of yeh doin' here?" The deep voice booming from behind them made them jump at the same time.
"Oh, H-Hagrid," Red One squeaked. "You scared us."
"I shoulda known yeh'll come ter visit Mackie. Can't keep no secrets from the pair of yeh," Hagrid grunted with a strange undertone of satisfaction. "Not that yeh should break school rules, mind," he added as an afterthought. "But, seein' as how yeh're already here, how do you like Mackie?"
"I was just talking to him..." Red One started.
"Yeah, in Quintapedish," Red Two rolled his eyes, earning a glare that could have evaporated ice.
"In Gaelic," Red One snapped. "Like I was saying, why should he understand English when he comes from..."
"Stay back, stay back," another voice suddenly exploded in the clearing, and a wildly looking wizard stomped into view, balancing awkwardly on one wooden leg.
"Professor!" the two redheads exclaimed in unison. They exchanged a quick worried glance, but a second later their expressions changed into identical images of innocence.
"Professor, we were just taking a walk - "
"- after working all evening on the essay you assigned us - "
"- fascinating subject, by the way," Red One added with dramatic flair. "Mr. Scamander's books are such a fountain of knowledge. And - "
" - we were talking about the essay, and didn't watch where we were going - "
" - and we got lost. But Hagrid - "
"- he found us, sir, and he was about to take us back to the castle. Weren't you Hagrid? So -"
"- could we p-please go now, sir? W-w-we had such a s-s-scare."
Red Two rolled his eyes, thinking that perhaps Red One was laying it a bit thick. Though he had to admit, the wide, innocent gaze and the slightly trembling lower lip were perfectly done. Even he had trouble connecting this image with the red blur of energy who had flown into the clearing scarce minutes earlier. And not for the first time, he found himself envying those natural dissembling skills. Sure, he could hold his own when it came to fooling the more gullible of the species, but that was the result of long hours of practice. Red One, by contrast, had been born with a surplus of such talent - probably by stealing the share of every magical baby who was waiting to be born at the time. Which, obviously, included Red Two.
...And speaking of the gullible of the species, their professor was currently petting Red One's head in a soothing manner and tutting compassionately.
"Of course you were scared. Those wards are enough to frighten the daylights out of grown wizards."
The wards! Red Two panicked. A late-night stroll could hardly explain how they'd gotten past Dumbledore's precautions. Even their professor wasn't that stupid - he was going to see right through it.
"... told Dumbledore it was not a good idea, but... I take it they didn't work," he was saying meantime with hardly disguised glee. "He should have let me cast them. After all, I have done this innumerable times during my travels all over the world. Still," he added in reflection, "at least a small part of the wards must have functioned, over by the west corner. Lucky for you I was in the area, and the flare of magic alerted me that someone needed rescuing."
Red Two threw a very ugly glance towards his partner in crime. The west corner had been the responsibility of Red One - who had clearly not erased the Runes completely.
"Anyway, you children stand back, and I shall take care of this monster once and for all."
"No, sir," Red One yelled in panic, as the professor started brandishing his wand.
"Professor, yeh shouldn't," Hagrid rumbled almost simultaneously, trying to catch his hand. "Mackie doesn't like the sight of wands - yeh'll provoke him."
"I shall do more than provoke this beast, Hagrid. I shall slay it. I told Dumbledore a monster had no place in the forest. Just imagine what would have happened to these innocent children if I hadn't come in time." Unfortunately, the last declaration was accompanied by a very dramatic opening of his arms and an uncontrolled shower of sparks from his wand. The Quintaped's eyes suddenly narrowed into small beads, and a malevolent, slightly crazed expression entered them. With a mighty lurch of his shackled legs, Mackie snapped the professor's wrist out of the air and clenched his powerful jaws around the offending piece of wood. A gut-wrenching scream echoed around the trees.
"Ná," Red One lurched forward, oblivious to the danger. "Ná, le do thoil!" But when the plea didn't seem to engender any reaction from the monster, it was followed by a thunderous bellow that overpowered even the professor's yells. Hands on hips and eyes flashing, Red One let loose a torrent of strangely sounding words and advanced on the Quintaped. Mackie's head jerked up and his gaze fixed unblinkingly on this new adversary. Then, to Red Two's utter shock, the monster let go of the professor's bleeding stump and retreated two steps. He folded his hairy legs and set down, looking for all the world like a sulking child who'd just been scolded by his mother.
Hagrid's breath whooshed out like the steam of a train engine, and he quickly bent down and scooped the injured body in his arms. They made their way out of the clearing on shaking legs, the only noises the professor's whimpers, and Mackie's crunching jaws, as he sat there munching on the unfortunate man's torn arm.
"Wasn't their fault, Professor," Hagrid protested loudly. "Nothin' would've happened if Professor Kettleburn hadn't provoked Mackie with his wand."
"Hagrid, stay out of this. Nothing would have happened if these two had been in bed, where they were supposed to be - if these two hadn't dismantled the wards!"
The two redheads winced as Professor McGonagall's voice rose shrilly, and her wand came snapping down on the desk. They had never, ever seen their head of house in such a state. Not that they hadn't faced her wrath before - many times before, in fact. But with a sinking feeling, they were beginning to realize that this might just be one time too many. With her hair straggling out of hair curlers, and the high neck of her nightgown peaking out from underneath a hastily buttoned tartan robe, the Transfiguration teacher made a most incongruously looking judge. There was no doubt in their minds, however, that the sword of justice was indeed about to fall on their heads.
"You have exactly one minute to explain your actions tonight, before being expelled!"
They glanced at each other out of the corner of their eyes, but didn't raise their heads. There was no explanation that could possibly save them now.
"Nothing?" Professor McGonagall's voice was dripping with sarcasm, and with something else they didn't want to identify. Something that sounded very much like bitter disappointment. "No wringing hands and trembling lips? Well of fake tears suddenly dried out?" she continued harshly, staring pointedly at Red One. Their head of house was one of the few people who had never been taken in by the act. "Don't think I don't know whose idea this escapade was! - Not that you aren't both equally responsible for it." More silence met her last statement. Sighing heavily, Professor McGonagall lowered herself on the chair at her desk. "Well, I hope you're happy. Because of you, Professor Kettleburn lost another limb. At the rate he's going, he'll soon run out of them," she added almost to herself.
A snort escaped Red Two's lips, quickly stifled with his fist. He shuffled his feet in shame and muttered, "We'll go pack our trunks, then."
"We'll be ready to leave in the morning," Red One whispered.
"Let's not be so hasty," Professor Dumbledore suddenly spoke from the window, turning to survey the two students over the top of his glasses. He had maintained a most uncharacteristic silence so far, staring out into the night as if he had nothing to say to them. That, and his rigid posture, had been more unnerving than McGonagall's yelling. "What you have done is most irresponsible. However, Professor Kettleburn is not entirely innocent of the disastrous outcome of tonight, and you did, very likely, save his life." His voice warmed slightly as he added, "That was quite remarkable, talking to a Quintaped in old Gaelic. It seems obvious in retrospect, as brilliant ideas always do, yet no one ever thought about it before. Yes, very ingenious, Miss..."
A loud clearing of the throat interrupted him. Professor McGonagall was glaring daggers at the headmaster. With a slight twitch of his beard, Dumbledore continued, "But that in no way excuses your behavior tonight. Your recklessness has resulted in grave injury to someone else. I expect you to think long and hard about the consequences of your actions. However," he sighed, "I am the one most to blame for what happened. Allowing a Quintaped on school grounds was a dangerous decision on my part, no matter how many precautions we took." A moan of despair escaped Hagrid and Red One's lips simultaneously. "Yes, I'm afraid Mackie will have to go back to his island. It appears no alarms or wards are unbreakable... not where certain people are concerned."
A slight flush tinged Red Two's face, but he didn't raise his eyes, and missed Professor McGonagall's quick glance of admiration, which she immediately disguised with a frown.
"Minerva, I shall leave their punishment up to you. They will be held responsible for breaking curfew, dismantling wards, and going into the Forbidden Forest without supervision."
Red Two's head jerked up. Dared he hope? Dumbledore had left out "grievous injury to a professor" from their list of sins. Were the rest of them enough to warrant expulsion?
"Very well. You shall both serve detention every night until the end of the year. You'll be working with Mr. Pringle any time he needs help - " Red One moaned, and McGonagall's eyes flashed, "- without magic! And whenever Mr. Pringle doesn't need you, you will be studying in my office. All Hogsmeade privileges are canceled. I hope you realize how lucky you are to get off so easily."
As if spending virtually every night in the company of that sadist Pringle was a walk in the park! The Hogwarts caretaker already hated their guts. At least she hadn't canceled Quidditch privileges, as well. The team would lose their standing for sure without their star Chaser and Seeker. But they didn't voice any of these thoughts, instead nodding contritely and keeping their eyes glued to the floor.
"I will send owls to both of your families tonight. Any punishment they may wish to enforce will be in addition to what I have just told you." For a long while, she said nothing more, and the silence stretched heavy and accusing over their bowed heads. Finally, they raised tortured faces to meet their professor's tight lipped stare. "Young lady," McGonagall glared at Red One, "your wild behavior is entirely inappropriate for a girl. Running around in the middle of the night with a boy! Endangering both your lives! Getting him in trouble!" Each phrase was punctuated by the crack of her wand against the desk. "He never had as much as a detention until you two became friends. Some friend you are! Apparently stealing the title of Worst Troublemaker in the history of Hogwarts from your two brothers is the only goal you're willing to work for with diligence."
Two clear tears rolled down Red One's cheeks, and she hastily dashed them away with the back of her hand. This time, Red Two didn't think they were fake.
"And you, young man!" McGonagall snapped her wand again. "Instead of keeping her safe, you take down all the protection we put in place, and let her throw herself in front of a Quintaped! That monster could have ripped her to pieces - and you let her! Helped her! She never would have gotten that far without you. Some friend you are!" She took a deep breath as Red Two started shaking. "You are one of the most gifted students I have ever taught," she added in a suddenly weary voice. "For someone so smart, you can be incredibly stupid. You're both dismissed."
As the door closed quietly behind two very subdued redheads and a loudly sniffling Hagrid, Minerva let her head drop in her hands, tiredly massaging her temples. "And I thought the twins were bad," she mumbled, valiantly trying to keep her headache at bay. "I swear, that girl is far worse than her brothers. And ever since she teamed up with him..." Her hands dropped heavily on the desk. "One more year. One more year, and then they'll be out of here, and I'll be done with the whole lot of them!"
"Until the next generation comes along," Dumbledore said quietly, a hint of laughter in his voice.
"What next generation?" Minerva spun around so quickly, the headache threatened to cleave her skull in two. "What are you talking about, Albus? They're not... she's not..."
"Oh, I do hope not. Contrary to your opinion, I believe they are capable of exercising restraint, at least in some areas of their lives."
"Then there's no danger," she breathed in relief.
"Come now, Minerva," Dumbledore's eyes twinkled, "how long do you think it will take them to produce a red-haired little devil, once they're out of school?"
"They're not getting married," McGonagall said desperately. "She's going away to Romania to work on the dragon reservation."
"I suppose we shall see," Dumbledore replied lightly, but his eyes were virtually dancing with mirth. "It's not easy saying goodbye. Our young gentleman might turn out more persuasive than you give him credit for. And so will her father. Sometimes I think he loves the boy more than his own. He'll fight tooth and nail to get him for a son-in-law."
Minerva McGonagall gave a very un-lady-like snort. "That man always was a fool. It's his mad obsession with Muggles," she added darkly. "He'd marry his daughter to the first idiot who's willing to listen to him rambling about eckeltricity."
"An idiot?! Didn't you call him one of your most gifted students just now?" Dumbledore asked merrily, clearly enjoying himself. Minerva threw him a thunderous glare, making him raise his palms in a peace offering gesture. "Well, even if there is a next generation of redheads, no one says they have to be sorted in Gryffindor. I do believe Filius and Pomona are past due for some headaches."
"Yeah, right," Minerva snorted again. "With those two for parents, how could a child be anything but a Gryffindor?"
Dumbledore appeared to consider it for a moment, smoothing his hand over his beard. "Well, he might not be a troublemaker, then."
"With those two for parents?" she repeated, beginning to sound slightly hysterical. "I swear, Albus, I am going to quit if I ever have to supervise any child of theirs."
"Now, now, Minerva, look at it this way. You would only have to deal with such a child on occasion, and you would also have the entire staff to help you keep an eye on him. They, on the other hand, would have to manage it all by themselves, and for the first eleven years, they'd have to do it on a daily basis. Think about it: a little devil with his brain and her wildness. Wouldn't you say payback will be sweet?"
McGonagall stared at him for a long moment, turning the words in her mind. The headache appeared to be lessening. "Hmm," she finally mused aloud, "the way those two are carrying on, they might even have more than one child. Two or three, especially if they're close in age... Oh yes," she said with a mad gleam in her eyes, "I'd like to see them cope with that. Even if I do get them in my house afterwards, it will be worth it!"
Years later, she was to remember that fateful phrase, and wonder how on earth she could have been quite so out of her mind.
A gloomy pair of redheads sat down at the Gryffindor table the following morning, filling their plates with lethargic movements and seemingly not noticing that they were building a mountain of sprouts in front of them. Nor were they noticing their classmates' curious stares, as everyone wondered what could have possibly turned them off their food. The two students were generally acknowledged as some of the biggest gourmands in Gryffindor - a reason of never ending consternation for anyone who tried to understand where all that food went on Red One's petite frame, or Red Two's long, lanky body.
The mystery for their lack of appetite, however, did not last long. As soon as the owls swooped into the Great Hall, sharp intakes of breaths could be heard up and down the Gryffindor table. Two blood-red envelopes had landed in front of the pair, and by the size of them, they were all in for at least ten minutes of ear-splitting parental rage. Howlers: every student's worst nightmare. Red Two seemed to shrink into himself as he watched the envelopes begin to smoke, but Red One thrust her chin in the air and briskly slit her message-of-doom open. A second later, she opened Red One's Howler, as well. The Great Hall started to shake under the double assault of overlapping voices.
"MOLLY EUPHROSINA PREWETT - "
"ARTHUR CONAN WEASLEY - "
"OF ALL THE IRRESPONSIBLE, IDIOTIC, IMBECILIC THINGS YOU'VE EVER DONE - "
" - NO SENSE WHATSOEVER - "
" - TAKES THE CAKE - "
" - INJURING A PROFESSOR, ENDANGERING YOUR LIVES - "
" - DRAGGING THAT SWEET BOY AFTER YOU AND GETTING HIM IN TROUBLE - YOU COULD HAVE GOTTEN BOTH OF YOU KILLED - YOU COULD HAVE GOTTEN HIM EXPELLED! - "
" - TALKING THAT INNOCENT GIRL INTO SHARING YOUR HAIR-BRAINED SCHEME - ALONE, AT NIGHT, IN THE FOREST - NO THOUGHT ABOUT RUINING HER REPUTATION - "
As one, all eyes went to Red One's face, and the murmurs broke out in waves. Well, well, well, so they weren't just best friends, as they'd always claimed? They'd been caught alone after hours before... why, just last month, Mr. Pringle... and we all believed them when they said they were out to get Malfoy... a likely story... scarlet woman... they did get Malfoy... only a cover-up... Avid gazes searched the two redheads' faces. Knowing smirks bloomed. Red Two put his head in his hands and moaned. Red One merely lifted her chin higher, a dangerous glint in her eyes. And all around them, plates continued to crash off the tables as the Howlers thundered on.
"- YOU AND YOUR OBSESSION WITH PUZZLES - TAKING DOWN PROFESSOR DUMBLEDORE'S WARDS, I ASK YOU - "
"- YOU AND YOUR OBSESSION WITH MONSTERS - TALKING TO A QUINTAPED, I ASK YOU -"
"- YOUNG MAN, THANK YOUR HEADMASTER ON BENT KNEE HE HASN'T SENT YOU HOME FOR THIS - "
"- SHOULD HAVE BEEN EXPELLED, YOUNG LADY - DUMBLEDORE WAS TOO LENIENT - BUT HAVE NO FEAR - "
The voices suddenly merged into one mighty bellow.
"- YOU'RE GROUNDED FOR THE SUMMER! "
As the Howlers burst into flame, the murmurs became sniggers. In the middle of the pandemonium, the two redheads remained quiet, refusing to answer any questions. Finally, Red Two's face came up from behind his hands. It was redder than his hair.
"Molly, I'm so sorry about my Mum's Howler. I... I'll tell everyone we never..."
Red One silenced him imperiously. "They won't believe you anyway. Let them gossip, if they have nothing better to do. Besides, my Mum's Howler was just as bad. I... I'm sorry, Arthur - for everything."
Red Two blinked. She almost never called him Arthur. The soft, tender look in her eyes made his breath hitch. He was about to blurt out something stupid when her expression went stony. "A mother should encourage her children to explore, to go on adventures, to discover new things - not - not embarrass them in front of the school. I swear, Arthur, when I have my own children, I will never ever for as long as I live send them a Howler!"
Minerva McGonagall surveyed the Gryffindor table over her glasses, frowning at the two identical red heads deep in conversation with each other. She had no doubt they were plotting some new sort of mischief. They seemed to have an inexhaustible fountain of ideas, one more outrageous than the other. Her lips twitched, and she quickly pursed them into a thin line, calling the next name on her parchment. A blonde, mousy looking boy rushed eagerly to the stool and crammed the Sorting Hat down his head.
Her gaze moved to the middle of the table, where another red head was currently preening about, gesturing imperiously to a few younger students. Minerva sighed. Of all the Weasleys, Percy was the only one who had never set a toe out of line, never caused her a moment's worry. And yet... She massaged her temple in annoyance. Somehow, even thinking of him tended to give her a headache. She often wondered how little spitfire Molly managed to put up with the long-winded tirades of her third son. Payback time, Dumbledore had called it, all those years ago. But he had failed to mention that it would come back to bite her, too. Six boys, dear Merlin! Not two, not three, six - though she was tempted to count Fred and George thrice! And all of them in her house! Oh, she hoped they'd given their mother some white hair, because they had definitely peppered hers. Gritting her teeth, she barked out the next name.
Her eyes shifted to the bushy haired girl seated next to Percy, who was clearly not listening to his speech. Miss Granger kept darting worried gazes to the door, and then staring forlornly at the two empty seats on her left. Minerva sighed again. They had received word just before the ceremony that Harry Potter and Ron Weasley had been spotted flying Arthur's illegal car, and no doubt everyone was already bracing themselves for the Howler that was sure to arrive on the morrow. Halfway through the twins' first year at Hogwarts, she had been forced to owl Molly and request that she abstain from sending any more Howlers to her sons, except for the direst of crimes. The faculty simply couldn't take them anymore. There was no doubt, however, that what Ron had done was most serious. And she'd had such high hopes for the youngest Weasley! He had seemed shy at first, clearly intimidated by the classes, the castle, his brothers! For once, she had been sure she'd get a well behaved and quiet Weasley. Instead, he'd gone and almost gotten himself killed at the end of his first year. Well, they did say that quiet waters ran deep...
Calling the next name on her scroll, Minerva looked again at the two empty seats, the tiniest light entering her eyes. After Arthur had graduated, she'd had to wait a long time before finding another worthy adversary at chess. Bill Weasley had been as brilliant as his father, but unfortunately, he'd soon proven himself more interested in breaking rules and chatting up girls. However, young Ron looked very promising. There were some benefits, she had to admit, to having all those Weasleys in her house. The light in her eyes shone brighter as she recalled Charlie's recklessly beautiful flying. True, she'd been summoned more times to the Hospital Wing during Charlie's tenure than in all the previous ones combined - but it had been worth it. Gryffindor had never lost a match, and Severus had been livid!
Smiling smugly, she called the last name on the parchment.
"Ginevra Molly Weasley."
... What? It couldn't be. Weasleys never had daughters, only sons! Yet there was no mistaking the girl's hair, nor the loud cheers coming from the twins. Well! Apparently Molly had been more stubborn than even the Weasley curse.
"GRYFFINDOR!" the Sorting Hat shouted.
Of course. She should have Transfigured that troublesome hat into bunny slippers, the way she'd threatened to do after it had put Fred and George into her house. Still, Minerva mused, while studying her newest student with narrowed eyes, it shouldn't be too bad. Miss Weasley looked rather sweet and guileless. And after all, how much trouble could one freckled little girl possibly get into?
A/N: I feel that my take on Molly's character as a young girl might raise a few eyebrows, so I'd like to take a second and defend my choice. First of all, it has been my observation that parents are among the biggest hypocrites on earth. They'll always criticize most in their children the mistakes they themselves made at their age. With the best of intentions, of course! :-) Thus, I fear that Molly's fiery temper may have exploded in the occasional curse word while in school. And I know for a fact that she broke her share of rules. You may recall she told Hermione and Ginny, in PoA, about brewing an illegal Love Potion. She also told Bill and Harry, in GoF, that she got a terrible tongue lashing from the Fat Lady for being out with Arthur until 4am! (Arthur was caught and whipped by Pringle). Quite the scarlet woman, Miss Prewett was! :-)
Second, in order to reconstruct Molly and Arthur's persona's when they were teenagers, I decided to extrapolate from their children's characters. True, it's usually the other way around, and I'm afraid I went a bit overboard assigning so many of their kids' interests to them. Know, however, that I have done it quite deliberately, for the only purpose of fooling you, the reader, for as long as possible. If you leave a review, please let me know by what point in the story you figured out the redheads' identities. And don't fib! :-)
The few phrases in Gaelic - I have painstainkingly tried to translate using an online English-Irish dictionary. My apologies to any of you native speakers for most likely murdering your language.
If you're wondering how Arthur's walkie-talkies worked at Hogwarts, he used a Communication Charm to enchant them. :-)
Finally, this piece has been somewhat inspired by Dumbledore's announcement in PoA that Professor Kettleburn had retired so that he might spend time with his remaining limbs. I thought Molly Prewett could have had something to do with it. I assume, years later, so did Charlie Weasley, but that is another story.