A/N: All the characters and background of this story belong to Jo Rowling, and the plot is mostly OHenry's--with a little tweaking from Yours Truly. (A marriage made in heaven, in my not-so-humble opinion.)
When Fred Weasley got to his door that night, he found the house uncharacteristically dark. Usually Angelina was home by this time, unless she had a game, and he knew her schedule by heart. This was an off night, he was sure so, maybe she was kept late at the shop. At this time of year with all the Yuletide parties going on, there were plenty of last-minute requests by important clients to be fit into the appointment book, and sometimes the boss had to help out in the trenches, painting hair, faces, and fingers, with an occasional Thigh-, Bum-, or Foot-Shrink. He knew how that was: he and George had thought they'd got all their orders for holiday fireworks out weeks ago, but just yesterday, there was a desperate call from the Ministry. Could they please have a special order of Whizzlers, Floating Snakes, and Catherine Wheels for their Christmas luncheon?
Thank heavens George was still single. He'd taken care of that one so Fred could watch Angie's team clobber Chudley. He felt sorry for brother Ron, who was a big fan of the Cannons, but only a little. Angie got to play the whole game and she was spectacular. Fred showed her just how spectacular in lots of ways later that night. Poor George, he thought. He makes jokes about married life, but he doesn't know what he's missing.
Once inside, Fred realized the house was occupied. There was light flickering in the dining room and a tantalizing aroma of cilantro and curry coming from the kitchen beyond--and the decor had changed--drastically. Gone were the high-backed chairs and trestle table they used for state occasions and Exploding-Snap tournaments. In their place a polished low table rested on a Persian rug of the type his father frequently confiscated in Ministry raids of flying-carpet smugglers. Instead of chairs, there were great cushions of satin and velvet all around. Scented votive candles in stained-glass cups hovered near the ceiling, scattering rainbows of light about the walls and perfuming the room with anise, vanilla, and frankincense. His senses were overloading--deliciously.
Oops, he thought, in a sudden male panic: had he forgotten something? He fought down the romantic oblivion triggered by the colors, the smells, the thoughts. Must stay alert. The last time he'd missed an important romantic milestone, he'd had to endure a burnt breakfast and a day of cold shoulders. While he was frantically thumbing through his datebook, trying to find out if it was serious enough to warrant conjuring a bouquet of flowers or a nice bit of jewelry, a voice started humming in the kitchen. Who could mistake that husky contralto? Now she was singing a Weird Sisters' oldie: Conjure-Man. He thought he had it now. That was the song they'd first danced to at the Yule Ball their fifth year at Hogwarts. But the ball had been on Christmas night, which was almost two weeks away. So it couldn't be--
Just then out of the kitchen waltzed his wife, his stately, sexy wife, bearing a tray loaded with his favorite dishes, wearing the robe she'd worn the night of the ball. It was a little snug now around the chest area, he noticed, but that was just fine with him. She waved the tray to the low table.
"Happy anniversary-of-the-first-time-you-got-up-the-courage-to-ask-me-out, my husband," she murmured into his ear with studied Caribbean formality. "I have prepared for you a culinary feast, and I shall be happy to feed it to you--my--own--self." She drew him down with her onto the nearest cushion. All his favorite exotic foods were ranged about the table: jerk chicken, blackened catfish, soursop pudding, mango chutney, jambalaya, souse, pickled pigs' feet, and the piece de resistance, seated beside him, pouring drinks. "To magic," she drawled throatily, touching his glass to hers. He lifted it to his lips, a heady brew, probably Cruzan dark beer. She took a piece of the chicken and placed it delicately between his teeth, and sucked her fingers clean of the hot sauce. He wanted to tell her she had got a little of it on her cheek, right there by her mouth, but the words for some reason wouldn't come. Instead he decided it would be a good idea, just to...lick it off for her...
Suddenly there was a banging and hallooing out front. Fred and Angelina remained locked in place for about ten seconds, the first few pleasurable, the last excruciating, hoping whoever it was would go away. But, no, the noise only got louder, more insistent, as if the number of supplicants was multiplying, until it seemed that they would presently break the door down. Then Fred had what can only be described as a heart attack--but not in the Muggle sense. Rather, his heart started beating very fast, and he grabbed his wand and leaped up, possessed of an implacable compulsion to attack whoever it was on the other side of his front door.
Yes, he thought savagely, as he raced through the parlor, first I'll hit them with a Crucio! Then that stupid curse of Ginny's--what's it called?--flying bat bogeys all over your face. Then a couple of Levitations with sudden drops onto the asphalt, like a frigging--white--ferret. Next, Engorgio--ah, that one brings back memories. Then a Skinning Charm, like mom uses on potatoes--oh, I'll peel you like a grape! Gits! Buggers!--, then finally-- Avada Kedavra...
Mad-Eye Moody always said it took a deal of hatred to make the Death Curse work, but right now George felt he would have no trouble, no trouble at all mustering the necessary level of bile. He reached the door, wand at the ready, and yanked it open. There stood his brother George with a look of such sadness on his face, that all of Fred's anger just suddenly leaked out of him. Angelina, who had crept up behind, cried out, "What is it, George, what's wrong?"
But George for once was speechless and allowed himself to be pulled inside.
"Don't tell me the store burned down!" cried Fred. George shook his head.
"Your mum and dad, are they all right?" asked Angelina. He nodded.
"Voldie hasn't somehow come back, has he?" Another shake.
"Your brothers?... Ginny?... Hermione?" Shakes in each pause.
"Then what the blazes is it?" shouted Fred.
Angelina ran and got a tumblerful of Firewhiskey. George took a great gulp and found his voice. "Our brother--our baby brother is going to--pawn Dad's wedding gift!"
Fred sat stunned for about one second. Then he felt a sudden urge to do to George all the awful things he had been planning earlier. His twin had interrupted perhaps the most glorious evening since his wedding night--for this?!!
Angelina must have read his mind because she crooned in a conciliatory tone, "Let's have some dinner and discuss this, guys. Come on now." She coaxed her husband back into the dining room and gently, but firmly seated him on his cushion. Yes, this evening was ruined, but there would be lots of other nights--a lifetime of nights. George came wandering in, still dazed, but as he took in the scene, the lighting level, the smells, it slowly dawned on him just what it was he had interrupted.
"Oops, "he said in a small voice, "Guess I owe you one, Bro."
"A big one--Bro!" snapped Fred. Angelina took this opportunity to jam another piece of chicken into Fred's mouth. Then she led George to the table and sat between the brothers, filling all their plates and cups repeatedly until she was sure at least their stomachs were satisfied. No one spoke for quite a while.
"Gosh, Angelina, you sure can cook," said George finally. " Or is this take-out?"
"Of course not, you ninny," retorted Fred. "Angelina's mother's from Barbados. All the family meals are like this."
"Wow, you got yourself a gold mine here, guys. Hey, what about adding a Caribbean restaurant onto the side of The Wheeze, Fred? The apothecary is moving to bigger quarters next mon--"
"Shut up, will you? And tell us what's all this about Ron and Dad's watch."
George took a deep breath and related all he had heard in the Leaky Cauldron that morning, as well as his foray into Diagon Alley.
"I got my biggest lead in Knockturn Alley," he said. "There's an old hag down there, has a pawn shop. Says Ron came in and showed her Dad's watch, but she wouldn't offer him enough for it, so he lit out."
"What's he need that much money for? The watch must be worth at least fifty galleons, with all the spells Dad put on it."
"But that's just the point, don't you see? The spells--on a Muggle watch--" George's mouth still hadn't caught up to his brain, and he paused, searching for the right words.
Angelina picked up the thread of his thought. "If Ron sells it to someone unscrupulous, they could use it to blackmail your father because in a way, by making the watch, he was breaking the laws against charming Muggle artifacts."
"Laws he set up in the first place," said Fred. "Ironic, isn't it? Well, hell, it isn't like it hasn't happened before." He thought a minute. "Say, Ron brought me that old comic collection to sell in the shop. I thought he just finally grew out of the things and wanted to make space in the flat, so I took them on consignment, but I still don't get what he needs the money for."
Angelina replied," I think I know," and she related what she'd heard from Hermione that morning.
"So they're a little short," said Fred, "and Hermione wants to sell her hair and buy him a watch chain. Why does Ron need to sell the watch, which, as I hope we've all noticed, would be counterproductive in the extreme."
George seemed to come out of his stupor. "Because he wants to buy her something."
"What?" said Fred and Angelina.
"He was pricing that hair pomade you use, Ange. What's it called? Sleakeazy? And hair ornaments--combs--in some other stores in the Alley. Believe me, I covered them all."
"What's that all about?" said Fred, "I can see spending it on clothes or food, or even that candy that Ron's always going on about, but hair ornaments?"
"I think I get it," said Angelina. "That's what Hermione wore the night of the Yule Ball--McGonagall's Spanish combs, and I used Sleakeazy to smooth her hair. You remember how good she looked."
"Smashing," said George.
"Sexy," said Fred.
"Definitely not her usual poker-up-the-arse self," said George.
"George!" said Angelina.
"Sorry," said George, "So you think Ron wants to recapture the glamorous Hermione, the girl he fell for. Is that it?"
"And to make her feel good about herself," returned Angelina. "She's awfully down, you know. I think she's got a bun in the oven."
" She's pregnant. You know, she's going to have a--"
"I know what that means…but, Ange, how do you know?"
"Well, for one, she's nauseated in the morning, her jeans are tight, and she cries at the drop of a hat."
"Oh that's definitely a sign of something--" put in Fred. "the end of the world maybe. So what do we do about it? Obviously we can't let Ron go and sell that watch."
"And we can't let Hermione cut her hair," said Angelina, and she explained about the problem Muggle-borns had with Hair Growth Spells and potions.
"I have an idea," said George, "Here's what."
Euphemia Fudge straightened in her chair. Angelina herself was finger-waving her gold-frosted locks, with the same expertise she used to thread her broomstick between defenders on the Quidditch pitch.
"How is the team doing, my dear?" Madam Fudge asked in her trademark queenly baritone. Euphemia wasn't particularly interested in Quidditch. All that head-turning tended to mess with her coiffure, and it had given her whiplash more than once. However, it paid to act interested in the constituents' little hobbies: it made her seem more generous and down-to-earth. Saved on tips too.
Angelina flashed her a dazzling smile,"Tied for first as of Thursday night, Miz E. We're in the thick of it now. I told you--soon as Oliver Wood got off the injured reserves we'd be all right."
A squat blonde shampoo girl next to her chimed in," And it didn't hurt that you were dead-on in all your throws, Ma'am. Three scores and ten assists. That's got to be your best showing yet."
"Yeh, that and a trick wand'll get me a cuppa coffee," returned Angelina, skeptically. "The coach still isn't convinced I can give him a full game, so when Pucey gets off probation for turning that ref into a bat, I'll be back on the bench. But it'll give me more time to keep your hair up to par, won't it, Miz E.?"
Euphemia chuckled indulgently. Angelina was a lovely girl, smarter than most, and ambitious. She'd go far. Shame she'd married that noxious Weasley boy. One of the twins, she'd heard. Fudge had been most perturbed by their machinations in their last year at Hogwarts. Oh well, Angelina Johnson was still the best stylist around, and as long as she was, 'Miz E.' would burn no bridges that led to her shop, whatever her husband thought.
Now she shifted her heavy body under the magi-dryer, stretching to pick up a copy of Witch Weekly from the table in front of her. Lately she was feeling the tiniest prickings of the boredom that often plagues the indolent wives of important men, and bland rags like Witch Weekly and Speller's Digest were an outlet for her conscience. Often she'd find a worthy cause highlighted in one of those magazines that was crying out for an influential sponsor or spokeswitch. She was on more Boards of Trustees than she could name and her donations made for positive publicity. Heaven knew they needed it after that scandal over You-Know-Who's return. And the demotion! Well, Fudge didn't always have the best political judgment--look at the way he let himself get caught out at that party! Euphemia forgave him of course; he just didn't know it yet. There were still a few perks to be squeezed out of her embarrassed and contrite husband.
She focused on her magazine. This copy happened to be open to an article about the plight of werewolves. She'd never thought of them as needing help--such fierce, dangerous beasts and all-- but the slant of the story intrigued her. Halfway through it, she sighed uneasily. This writer made a great case, but really--werewolves! She read the byline: Hermione Granger-Weasley. What? Another Weasley? She wondered aloud if Angelina knew her. Angelina, who had appeared out of nowhere to check the temperature of Euphemia's coiffure under the dryer, nodded vigorously. Hermione was the top mage in her year at Hogwarts. More OWLs and NEWTs even than Percy. Madam Fudge knew Percy Weasley, didn't she? Ah yes, her husband's former assistant, an upstanding young man (though a tad ambitious for his caste.)
"Are they cousins?" Euphemia queried.
“Oh no," said Angelina. "Hermione married into the family, and since school, she's thrown all her energies into working for the down-trodden."
Madam Fudge sighed again, sympathetically this time, and it was here that Angelina saw her opening.
Professional Quidditch players must have a sixth-sense for making the right moves to score a goal and Angelina's was working overtime today. She moved right in to feed her client facts about Hermione's many projects. She steered Euphemia's thoughts away from the controversial topic of Lycanthrope rehabilitation to more obviously noble, cuddly, and pathetic subjects like Centaurs forced into quarantine, Puffskeins used as "the jack" in lawn bowling, and displaced House Elves driven to drink and dissipation. Then she blocked doubts concerning Hermione's inexperience and threw in an opinion that Hermione saved Fudge's department money every year, managing her caseload with energy, passion, and thrift. She dodged the issue of Ron's faux pas, and tackled the question of fair remuneration for outsourcing in general, all the while noting Madam Fudge's reactions like a Chaser reads a Keeper's eyes as she closes in for a shot on goal.
After work, she ticked Madam Fudge off her list of to-dos and headed for home. She had dodged, feinted, and chucked the ball, quite neatly she thought, with only a few minor fouls along the way; she could only hope for a score.
She wondered how the twins were making out with their part of George's plan.
Novellist Robert Raglan surveyed his gleaming new offices, befitting his hard-won celebrity status. He was early to work, he knew, but he just had to get out of the house and bask in his new-found legitimacy. After all, cartoonists were barely tolerated by other artists and writers. Even in the Muggle world, they won no Pulitzers, appeared on no talk shows, held no signings for queues of devoted followers. Now he had the lot--well not the Pulitzer, or its wizarding equivalent, the Pittiman, but he wasn't greedy. He'd settle for fame, wealth, adulation. "Take that, Gilderoy Lockhart," he crowed, "wherever you are."
There was only one small snag. His publishing agent, Madam Plage, had mentioned to him the other day that there was actually someone out there accusing him of stealing their material. Madam Plage had assured him that there'd be no trouble. These kinds of things were de rigueur in the publishing world. A new talent burst on the scene, and everyone and his hippogriff wanted in on the success story. She had installed a new secretary--dear, pretty Charlata--in his outer office with explicit orders to blast this particular fellow with a memory-wipe the moment he entered--if he was foolish enough to try such a thing. Robert bowed to her superior wisdom. Madam Plage had reams of experience in such matters.
Here in his citadel in a disused electrical plant overlooking the Thames, he could relax, untouchable. He made some small adjustments to his desk furnishings. He gently fiddled with his wand which stood upright for all to see in a fancy bud-vase. The large gold-framed photo of his wife was a tad off-center. He angled it so that visitors would notice as they entered the office. Gladys had a sweet face and large, liquid eyes that belied her iron-fisted business savvy. She was a stunner--a real knock-out. He paid a pretty sickle to keep her that way, but she was worth it. After all, it was she who'd kept them going--building up her own small business-- after he quit cartooning to try his hand at a novel. A whole year it had taken him to find the right themes, the right words, but it had paid off--oh how it had paid off!
These thoughts touched off a small twinge of nostalgia for the old days when he was first struggling to make a name for himself as a cartoonist, bent night after night over his sketchbook in their little basement flat in Clapham Common. He'd always been good at drawing, and more than one teacher, exasperated at his inattention, had still grudgingly wished him luck with his talent even as they Banished his sketch pad into the classroom fireplace. His family was appalled--he seemed to be following in the degraded footsteps of his older brother Rapscoll--but Gladys supported him staunchly, working days to support them in a little dress shop in town. At night, soft and warm next to him on the loveseat, having made them both coffee, she played secretary, writing his letters, editing his dialog, and later, when he'd "made it," reading his fan mail and putting out a newsletter for Miggs-addicts. Later on, as he grew popular, and demand for his Mad Muggle series moved it to the status of a weekly event, he sometimes found himself at a loss for plotlines. Even there Gladys was able to help out. She often gave him ideas, good ones, that jump-started him into a frenzy of composition.
There was a sound in the outer office. Was it his secretary already? Maybe a fan or two looking for autographs? Or a journalist inquiring into his work-in-progress. He adjusted his collar, pulled at his cuffs. Through the door walked two men, comfortably-built like himself, dressed stylishly in suits of dragon hide. The greenish scales glinted in the early morning light. One of the men stood by the door staring at him with great concentration. The fellow probably never met a celebrity before. The other one, obviously more confident, approached him with a buoyant stride.
"Master Raglan, is it? We were so hoping to see you--my brother and I--before the morning rush. We know you're a busy man, but--"
Robert could see now the two were obviously related, even though the one shaking his hand sported a Van Dyke and the other, a full auburn-colored beard. Red-Beard chimed in from the doorway, "Yes, sir, we're very interested in your work, and we wondered if we might impose on your generosity."
"Well, all solicitations go through my secretary, Miss Swyndle, and if you want me to speak for your club or what-not, I'm sorry to say I'm booked solid at the moment."
"Oh, nosir, we're not with any charity," said Van-Dyke, "we just hoped you might autograph one of your earlier works for our brother who's--ah--indisposed. He's a great fan, you know. Has all your stuff in the original." He held out a much-thumbed comic book. It was a copy of the first cartoon Barton had ever published: A Mad Muggle Meets Magic.
This took him by surprise. "Well, all right," he said getting out his quill, the nostalgia welling up once more. "What's the name?"
Robert smiled. He recognized the name. A boyhood fan who had written him a time or two.
"There you go," he signed it with a flourish, "To my friend and admirer, Ronald, Hope this finds you well, with sincerest regards, etc., etc. That okay?"
"Thank you ever so. May we also express our unabashed admiration of your latest coup--ah, your book--"
"Oh, have you read my book? What did you think of it?"
"We were intrigued--"
"What was that?"
"Oh, did I say horrified? So sorry. I meant: angry, disgusted, sickened, bitter, resentful, repulsed, revolted, nauseated, and contemptuous--did I cover everything, George?"
"You forgot 'vengeful,' Fred."
"Oh yes--vengeful!" The fellow named Fred licked his lips and grinned in a rather dragonish way, his teeth glinting like the scales of his jacket.
"But I don't understand--"
"Surely you do. You took our brother Ron's ideas--stole them, and built your paltry, nasty, slimy excuse for good literature around them for your own selfish gain."
"Uh--there must be some error--" Robert slowly backed towards his desk. "I'm afraid I'll be tied up all day--I can hear my secretary--she's coming now--" If he could only reach his wand. "Erm--Lots of dictation--you'll have to speak to my solicitors--" But the one called George moved in quickly and blocked his way.
"Oh no, Master Raglan, we'll speak to--you--or--nobody!" He punctuated each word with a prod of his own wand into Barton's chest. During this exchange, the other fellow sneaked up behind him wheeling the desk chair into the back of his legs and gave a great shove. Needless to say, Barton sat down--abruptly. Bushy-beard--George--waved his wand about the office. "Now we'll have some privacy," There was a predatory gleam in his eye.
"A locking spell--how dare you?"
"And even better--a Mass Apparition charm. We're going for a little ride." The room gave a sudden lurch, and several items on the desk slid off it. "We're not in London anymore, chum. We're hovering over the Channel about a thousand feet up. Well, we're either there or the North Sea. I was never good with coordinates. Anyway, you'll know in a minute--if your bum freezes to that chair--"
"What do you want?"
The other brother spoke: "Compensation for Ronald Weasley's contribution to your noble work--a minor cut--say five percent--"
"For what? Being a loyal subscriber? Sending me adoring fan mail? Anyway, I only get five--"
"Well, then five percent of your five. With the books going for three galleons a pop, a hundred-thousand-plus copies sold--that comes to about--seven hundred and fifty Gs."
"This is preposterous! You've no claim--no claim whatsoever. My publisher--my wife--"
"This the Missus?" George had picked the portrait of Gladys off the floor. "You got good taste, Robbie old man. Say what? Robbie--Rob--perfect name for a damned plagiarist!"
But Robert Raglan would not be drawn. Talk about his wife stiffened his backbone. He'd face a hundred burly thugs rather than expose her to humiliation.
"I'm sorry. Do with me what you will. Without proof that will convince my publisher and my solicitors--and myself--your brother's not getting a Sickle out of me." He crossed his arms and legs and stared straight ahead in tight-lipped determination.
"What if we provide the proof?" said Fred, "For instance, we have the copy Ron made before he sent you the original stories. Right here." He brandished some parchment in front of Robert's face, and meant to pull it away, but was not quite quick enough. Robert snatched and scanned the page. It seemed to have been much overwritten. He could only make out a few words.
"This is rubbish," he said, tossing it back, "It'll never stand up in the Wizengamot." Raglan's mouth snapped shut. He had the satisfaction seeing a hint of uncertainty in Fred's eyes.
"And,"whispered George in his ear. "Did you know that you can do a Priori Incantato charm on a quill, the same as you can with a wand? All you need to do is to touch it to another quill from the same bird and you can get the first quill to regurgitate every word it's ever written. We have Ron's quill, Master Raglan, the one he used to write those stories."
"What about the other one?"
"The other quill. From the same eagle. I demand to see it. In fact, I demand a demonstration, here and now!"
"Well, it's only a matter of time before we find one."
"But you don't have one yet, do you?"
He could see the dismay in their eyes. This obviously wasn't going at all the way they'd planned.
"You're right, Master Raglan," blurted Fred, "We don't have any proof yet, but it's out there, and we'll get it eventually. You know that, don't you? And you fear it. You've been getting letters from Ron ever since he was just a little kid, pouring out his heart, giving you his ideas. I daresay they weren't much when he was little, but lately his stuff's been getting better and better. You took advantage of his naivety--lifted his plots right off the page and into your dung heap of a book--while he's stuck in a nasty little bed-sit, with mountains of bills, and a wife who's got a--ah--a scone in the fire and..."
While Fred ranted, Robert could see the other brother, George, out of the corner of his eye, pacing about, looking at a square of paper he had in his hand, which looked a bit like a photograph. He was shaking his head and muttering. Suddenly, he rushed forward and stuck his bushy beard right into Robert's face. Robert thought the fellow might punch him, but he just shook his head again and said, "C'mon, Fred, this bugger's a real cold fish. We'll just have to get our proof and take him to court." He waved his wand again. Moments later, they were walking out the door. Robert Raglan breathed a sigh of relief, then ran over and locked the door behind them. It was then that he noticed that one of the brothers--Fred he guessed-- had dropped the comic book on the floor. He picked it up. It was much thumbed and written over. He'd have to show it to Gladys. She'd get akick out of the childish scrawl--young Ronald's earnest attempt at improving on the text. He was sure it would bring back memories for her too. He wouldn't say anything about his two awful brothers.