CHAPTER 5: A Weasley Visit

In which the Weasleys come to tea, and Fred confirms her gender.

“All right… nine, ten… stand still, Lydia! Ten. Did I say ten? I think I said ten.”

“You’ve counted Charlene twice, Dad.”

“Have I? Oh, bother…”

Just as Holly was preparing to break into the cupboard under the stairs at Number Four, the Weasleys were standing outside Number Seven, trying to make certain that everyone was present.

The Weasley coven, at the moment, counted eighteen members. There was of course coven patriarch Arthur Weasley, and his five wives, Molly, Francine, Alice, Amanda and Flora… and of course, their twelve daughters, from sixteen-year-old Will to four-year-old Lydia.

“…eleven, twelve, and six adults make eighteen!” said Arthur, relieved. “Everyone present and accounted for!”

“Why doesn’t this Albus Dumbledore just get a Floo connection?” said Flora. She was the youngest of Arthur’s wives and her American accent stood out in the mix of Devon and Estuary accents spoken by the rest of the family, almost as much as her bright green hair stood out in a sea of redheads and blondes… and her rounded belly hinted that it wouldn’t be long before a thirteenth child joined the family. “You can’t tell me it wouldn’t be more convenient than having everyone arrive on foot. Less chance of wandering children too.”

“I said I was sorry,” Ronnie muttered.

 “It’s okay, Ronnie.” Ten-year-old Fred patted her on the arm. “We had fun while you were gone.”

Fred’s twin sister, Georgina (or “George” as she preferred to be called) nodded. “Especially when that Muggle lady told Flora-Mum her hair looked like…”

“Yes, thank you, George!” said Amanda.

“…And then Mandy-Mum went all…”

“I said thank you! Since we’re all here, maybe someone can finally ring the doorbell and inform the people we’re here?”

“Let me!” said Arthur eagerly. “Muggle doorbells are so fascinating!” He looked about as excited as the youngest girls, as he gathered his robes around himself and walked up to the door. “Let’s see if I remember this… you just put your finger on the button like so…” He looked delighted at the sound of a chiming bell.

Seconds later, the door opened, and the doorframe was filled by the exceptionally large form of Hagrid.

“Hagrid!” a couple of the youngest girls cried happily. While children who didn’t know Hagrid were sometimes intimidated by how impossibly large he was, it seldom took long before they learned that he was much gentler and kinder than his appearance suggested. The Weasleys had got to know Hagrid quite well over the last couple of years, and now four-year-old Lydia and five-year-old Marlyssa stormed up to him to hug him; each girl grabbing onto one of his sides even though he was much too wide for either of them to reach around him.

Hagrid’s bushy black beard split into a grin. “Hello there!” he boomed, gently ruffling the hair of Lydia and Marlyssa. “There yeh are! Was startin’ ter wonder if yeh’d got lost or summat!”

“Yes, hello….” Arthur had the decency to look sheepish. “Sorry we’re late, Hagrid. It’s a little difficult to keep track of twelve children sometimes.”

“And a husband who spends five minutes looking for a parking meter even though his very Muggle-born wife keeps insisting that there won’t be one,” said Amanda dryly.

“Ah, well, you know, better safe than sorry…”

Hagrid guffawed. “No worries,” he said. “Don’ jus’ stand there, come in! Tea’s ready!”

 A few of the Weasleys looked at each other. “Tea?” said Alice. “You mean the, the potion, surely?”

“Yeah, that too! C’mon in!” Hagrid stepped aside (Lydia and Marlyssa squealing in delight as he effortlessly lifted them up and carried them along) to let the flock of adults and children past.

They stepped in through the door and into the hallway. Most of them had never been here before, and the children looked around the unfamiliar room, which had colourful patterned rugs on the floor and magnificent-looking landscape paintings on the walls, so realistic that the many potted plants that were placed somewhat willy-nilly along the walls almost seemed like they were part of the landscapes.

Despite his vast bulk, and despite currently carrying two little girls, Hagrid was surprisingly light on his feet. He led the Weasleys up the staircase that led to the first floor, and none of the steps so much as creaked a protest under his weight.

The Weasleys were almost orderly and well-behaved as they followed. Of course Nella tripped on the first step and had to be picked up and put back on her feet, and Persephone was sighing about how you couldn’t take children anywhere, which again caused Ronnie to suggest that Persephone go and boil her cabbage head… but all in all there weren’t any incidents.

The twins, usually the loudest and most exuberant of the Weasley daughters, were unusually quiet as they walked hand in hand up the stairs.

Fred and George were not identical twins. While they were more alike than different —the same long red hair, the same mischievous brown eyes, and the same freckled noses, and the same colourful dresses — when they were next to each other like this it was easy to see that Fred was slightly taller and skinnier than George. There was another difference too, but that was one the family had spent the last year or so preparing to erase.

“Nervous?” George whispered, clutching her twin’s hand.

“Nervous, me?” Fred’s laughter wasn’t quite sincere. “I’ve never been nervous in my life! What’s that word mean, again?”

George giggled. “That’s it, you’re getting a dictionary for Christmas.”

When they reached the first floor, none of them were particularly surprised to find that it was much larger than the ground floor; really it was much larger than the outside of the house allowed for. The hall they now entered was enormous; there would easily have been room for a hundred people here… or perhaps fifty, if they were all the size of Hagrid.

Here, the décor was wilder and more exciting, to the point of being impossible; here the paintings were grander and livelier; a ship on the sea was moving back and forth, with seagulls flying about, and a stately-looking wizard on the portrait opposite the ship turned to look at the flock of people as they passed, waving and winking to a couple of the girls. There were doors of all shapes and sizes on the walls; some small and wooden, others big and made of iron, and one of them looked like it had just been drawn on the wall with chalk.

And perhaps most fascinating of all: While most of the floor was polished marble, over at the very end of the hall it seemed to fade into dirt and grass, to fit very nicely with the small grove of sturdy oak trees that somehow grew and thrived there and looked perfect for climbing in. Between the trees hung an unusually large hammock, with a patchwork quilt almost the size of a tent draped over it, and on one of the branches, a large scarlet bird was unconcernedly preening itself.

It was the sort of place that just begged to be explored by a group of curious girls, but Hagrid just led them over to the chalk door.

“Everything’s ready here in the study,” he said. He touched the chalk drawing, which slid aside to reveal a new large room.

This room was large and circular, with a domed class ceiling, its walls filled with shelves containing myriads of leather-bound books and strangely glowing devices. The few patches of wall that were not occupied by shelves, had mysterious-looking star-charts, chalkboards filled with strange equations, and — interestingly — a photograph of the Beatles in their heyday, bearing the signatures of all four members of the band. A work-bench opposite the entrance gave part of the study the feel of a mad scientist’s laboratory with its assortment of test tubes, beakers, burettes, Bunsen burners, and flasks with liquid in various colours… but the large table in the centre of the room had a white crotchet tablecloth and a brown clay pot where yellow dandelions were blooming cheerfully, as well as tea cups, classes, a large teapot and several places of cakes and biscuits.

By this table sat Albus Dumbledore, now dressed in a yellow poncho over a smart blue business suit, together with a short plump woman with long, straw-coloured hair, dressed in a scarlet velvet jacket over an embroidered trouser suit that seemed just a little too tight around her belly.

“Weasleys are here, Albus,” said Hagrid, setting Lydia and Marlyssa carefully down onto the floor.

“Welcome to all of you!” Albus raised himself and motioned to the woman, who was just swallowing  a large gulp of tea. “I do believe this is the first time I have had your entire family under my roof at the same time!”

“Well, it was easy to get all the children,” said Arthur, shaking Albus’s hand. “Summer holidays are here and they’re all home from school. Harder to get all the adults, really… work schedules and all that.”

“I’m very happy that you managed, at any rate,” said Albus. “A number of you will no doubt remember Hortense — but for those of you who do not: This is Hortense Slughorn, the mastermind behind the Mulierarius potion.”

“Of course we remember,” said Molly. “How do you do, Professor!”

“Oh, no no no!” said the woman with a shake of her head. “It’s not ‘Professor’ these days, my dear Molly! I haven’t been ‘Professor’ since I made the best decision of my life and opted for early retirement!”

“Sorry. How do you do, Hortense.”

“That’s much better,” said Hortense Slughorn. “Pleasure to see you again, of course! And Arthur! And, let me see… I remember Amanda, Francine and Alice from the old classes, but I don’t seem to remember this pretty young thing. Interesting hair colour… you don’t see many green-haired witches these days.”

“I’m Flora,” said Flora, obviously pleased at being called pretty. “And it’s not my real hair.”

“Well, you never know,” said Hortense. “Dyed? Charmed?”

“It’s a wig.” Flora smiled sweetly. “I’m bald as a cue ball.”

“Bald as a — my goodness!”

“And no wonder you don’t remember me, I didn’t go to Hogwarts.”

“Good heavens, why ever not?” Hortense tried to collect herself. “Oh, wait, no, of course… your accent. Ilvermorny girl, are you?”

“Kansas girl, really… but yes, I did go to Ilvermorny.”

“Fancy that! And now you’re here in jolly old England, and married to the Weasleys… And expecting, I see!” Hortense indicated Flora’s round belly. “I do believe congratulations are in order! This will be your first, will it?”

“Actually, yes,” Flora blinked in surprise as her hand almost absentmindedly stroked her belly. “How did you know?”

“Oh, when you’ve lived a life like mine… I could tell you stories…” Hortense looked at the gathered children. “But perhaps not just now.”

“Indeed not,” said Albus Dumbledore. “Since you have met four-fifth of the adults here, Hortense, let me just introduce the young ones — this is Wilhelmina, Charlene, Anna, Persephone, Winifred —”

“It’s Frederica!”

“Ah, my apologies. Frederica. And Georgina, Elaine, Veronica, Nella, Ginevra, Marlyssa and Lydia,” Albus finished. “Please, everyone, sit! I have tea for those who want, and lemonade for those who want that.”

Under normal circumstances the Weasley children probably would have dearly wanted to explore all the interesting things in the study, but the prospect of lemonade and chocolate biscuits at least temporarily convinced them to take their seats at the table and behave. As they sat down, the teapot stood up on four legs and walked over to each of the Weasleys in turn, pouring hot tea into mugs and cold lemonade into glasses.

There was room for them all around the table, even if Hagrid took up a fairly substantial portion of it.

The adults thanked the teapot, and Albus, politely, but Amanda looked a little sceptical. “We didn’t really come here to have tea,” she began.

“Oh, pish-tosh,” said Hortense, accepting the refill. “I rather insisted on the tea. All for the sake of the patient, of course. When you’re about to have the Mulierarius, it’s always better to have a nice cup of tea inside you first.”

“A truth that applies to more situations than just taking the Mulierarius potion,” said Albus. “Chocolate biscuit, Amanda? Or perhaps you would prefer a ginger snap?”

For a few minutes, talk ceased as everyone got a biscuit.

“So,” said Hortense after she had eaten half her ginger snap. “Take this as a compliment, or an insult, however you choose… but which one of you children will be taking the Mulierarius?”

Everyone looked at Fred, who seemed rather pleased as she raised her hand. “Me.”

Hortense nodded as she looked Fred up and down. “Well, now,” she said. “You do rather look like a girl already, don’t you?”

Several of her sisters winced as Fred frowned. “I am a girl,” she said, in a tone that didn’t accept any counterarguments.

“Of course, of course,” Hortense hurried to say. “My apologies, young lady! I just have to make certain, you know, just have to ask… You aren’t currently under the effect of any other potion or charm, are you?”

Mollified, Fred shook her head. “Molly-Mum said you’d told her I shouldn’t be under any other type of magic when I came here.”

“Quite right!” Hortense nodded. “Mixing magics sometimes leads to unwanted results. But you have been under the effects of temporary potions and charms, am I right?”

“Well, yeah,” said Fred. “But not since yesterday!”

“That should suffice,” Hortense agreed. “And you are sure that this is what you want? The Mulierarius treatment isn’t like those temporary potions or charms. Once you’ve started the treatment, you can’t change your mind.”

Fred looked straight at her. “I’ve tried to be a boy. I hated every minute of it, but I really did try. And I’m absolutely sure I never want to do it again! I don’t care if boys are supposed to be so very special and get all sorts of special treatment. I am a girl.”

Arthur cleared his throat. “We’ve had long discussions about this,” he said. “The entire coven supports Fred’s decision. We know that it won’t make us popular among certain families, but…” He looked around at his five wives, who all nodded. “Our daughter’s happiness is more important.”

“And she’s a much better twin sister than she was a twin brother,” George shot in. “She’s a lot more fun now!”

A few of the other sisters nodded enthusiastically. Molly, who was sitting next to Fred, ruffled her hair lovingly. “A much bigger handful too,” she said. “But it’s a small price to pay, really. We’re far better off with a happy daughter than with a miserable son, even if she misbehaves a little more.”

“You mean I haven’t been the perfect little angel, Molly-Mum?” Fred tried to look innocent and failed spectacularly.

“No, you’ve been rotten to the core, just like me!” said George cheerfully.

Fred giggled. “That’s tough, but fair.”

“Of course, I’m always right!” said George. “Comes with having a vagina, as you’ll soon find out!”

“Who do you think you’re talking to, sister?” said Fred, and pretended to be insulted. “Some kind of novice vagina-haver? I’ve had a vagina dozens of times by now!”

“Temporary vaginas don’t count, sister!” George answered. 

A couple of the other sisters laughed at the twins’ conversation; Ginny laughed loudest.

“All right, girls, that’s enough,” said Molly firmly. She gave Albus, Hortense and Hagrid an apologetic look. “I’m really sorry about this. They don’t mean to be impertinent. They’re just excited.”

Albus, however, had chuckled along with the children, and Hagrid seemed quite unconcerned.

If Hortense disapproved of the conversation topic, she didn’t show it.  She just took another large sip of tea and then turned to speak to the adults.  “So, what sort of charms and potions have you been using?”

“Started out with simple Sex-Change Charms,” said Francine in a business-like manner. “Just to see whether she would take to it. The problem with those charms, of course, is that they are so temporary. Polyjuice Potion gave the most complete results, of course, but…”

“Polyjuice Potion is temporary as well,” Hortense agreed. “Yes. Even I haven’t ever been able to brew a Polyjuice that lasted for more than twelve, thirteen hours, and most batches don’t last for half as long. A couple of hours is the most you can hope for. Much too inconvenient to have to remember to keep drinking the potion, especially for a young lady who is soon off to Hogwarts for the first time.”

“Not to mention expensive,” sighed Alice. “Some of those ingredients aren’t cheap.”

Hortense nodded. “And of course, there’s this pesky limitation that it can only give you a copy of someone else’s body… though I suppose that might be less of a problem if we’re dealing with twins.”

“It was fun being identical twins for a while, wasn’t it?” said Fred to George. “Switching places, confusing everyone…”

“We should be identical more often,” agreed George. She looked up at Hortense. “Can you make Fred look permanently like me?”

“Yeah, can you?” said Fred eagerly.

“NO!” The cry came from Will, Anna and Persephone all at the same time. The three older girls looked at each other, somewhat sheepishly.

Ginny laughed.

“I’m certain you would prefer having your very own feminine body, Frederica,” said Albus. “I would imagine having to live as someone else for the rest of your life would be a strain… even if that someone else is your twin sister.”

“I think I could manage,” said Fred.

“My dear child, I’m afraid the Mulierarius doesn’t quite work like that,” said Hortense. “Whereas the Polyjuice Potion gives you an exact copy of someone else’s body, the Mulierarius Potion simply aims to give you the body you would have had, had you been born female. I can’t say with any certainty what that body would look like.”

Fred pondered for a moment. “Whatever it looks like, it’s got to be better than this one,” she finally said.

“Very well,” said Hortense. “Once we’ve finished our tea, we can start your treatment.”

Fred punched the air. “Yes!”

The adult Weasleys exchanged glances, smiling but not completely without a gleam of concern in their eyes.

They all knew that while there was no actual law against what they were about to do, the witching world in general would not approve. Of course it wasn’t uncommon for witches and wizards to experiment with being the opposite sex for a bit; there were plenty of potions and spells that could temporarily give you the experience of being a different sex, and few people ever batted an eye at this… it was only natural to be curious, after all. Sometimes it could be good to experience life from the other side of the fence, as it were. Not to mention, consenting adults could have quite a lot of fun with a temporary Sex Change Charm.  But a permanent transformation of a wizard to a witch? That would not be met with a lot of understanding.

Still, as Arthur had said, that was a small price to pay for a child’s happiness. If Fred, or Frederica as she was going to call herself, was happy, then who cared what conservative covens like the Malfoys thought?

Yes, when the twins had been born ten years ago, they had been delighted to have a son. With how rare it was for magical children to be male, it was by no means a given for any coven to be blessed with a boy.  

But it turned out that, at least if young Fred Weasley had a say in it, the Weasleys had not been blessed with a boy either. From a very early age, he had preferred wearing the exact same clothes as his twin sister, and refused to have his hair cut shorter than hers. Three times, Molly had tried giving him a short and boyish haircut like the sons in the Diggory and Lovegood covens had, but every time Fred’s hair would grow back again in a matter of hours and be just as long as Georgina’s again. 

At first, the adults hadn’t been too concerned. After all, Fred was the only boy in the household, and it was possible he just didn’t like to be treated differently. Children often had their own very blatant opinions about fairness, after all, and it wasn’t completely unheard of for little boys to grumble and complain because they weren’t allowed to do all the things their sisters were allowed to do. So, thinking that perhaps Fred just needed to see that there were other boys around and that he wasn’t alone, they’d arranged for him to spend some time with other wizard boys.

Luckily, the two covens who lived closest, the Diggorys and the Lovegoods, both had sons close to Fred’s age, and both covens had been more than happy to have the then-five-year-old Fred over to play with said sons.

Things hadn’t really worked out the way the Weasleys had hoped.

The visit to the Diggory coven had been the worst. Fred had not hit it off with little Cedric, who was only a few months older than him, and had spent the entire visit playing with Cedric’s sisters instead.

The visit to the Lovegoods had gone somewhat better, but had led to a rather startling revelation. The Lovegood coven was in the almost unheard-of situation that they had two sons, Lorcan and Lysander, and Fred had been a lot friendlier with them than he’d been with Cedric — but it turned out that this had been mainly because the Lovegoods had immediately accepted him as a girl and consistently referred to him as a “her.”

By the time Fred was seven, it was clear to everyone that this “wanting to be a girl” thing wasn’t just a passing fancy. So after some long and serious talks between the adults, some of which included Fred and some if which did not, it was decided that they would do what they could to help their only son become one of their daughters.

And so, Fred Weasley had been allowed to try out life as a girl for a while, to see if she really liked it.  The family had researched sex-change magics, acquired temporary potions, and (since Fred liked her name better than her sex) spent ages arguing over whether “Winifred” or “Frederica” was a better name for a girl Fred.

The idea of talking to Albus Dumbledore had in fact come from his sister, the Headmistress of Hogwarts. Albus might be an unorthodox wizard, and certainly not a name welcome in the “finer” parts of the witching world, but he had helped out a lot of people over the years, and had several friends and connections among witches and Muggles alike.

Luckily, one of these friends was Hortense Slughorn, the old Potions Mistress at Hogwarts and one of the most renowned potioneers of the century… and, as it turned out, the inventor of the exact potion they needed.

“We really don’t know how to thank you for this, Hortense,” said Arthur as he looked over at said renowned potioneer.

Hortense had chosen a chocolate biscuit, and now she held it in her hand as she looked at Arthur. “The best way to thank me, my dear fellow, is to not tell anyone who you got the Mulierarius potion from. Believe me, I’m happy to do my old friend Albus a favour… but I have no wish to become known as someone who invents and provides potions to permanently turn wizards into witches. My reputation would be quite ruined.”

“I, however,” said Albus cheerfully, “have never had a reputation to ruin, except among the outcasts of witching society. And I feel certain that they would quite approve, or at least understand. So feel free to put the blame on me.”

“Same goes fer me,” Hagrid rumbled between two enormous bites of cake, “Well, ‘cept nobody’d ever believe I’d invented a potion. I can barely make a decent cuppa tea.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, Hagrid,” said Albus, his eyes twinkling. “Your tea is quite adequate.” Then, he turned to look at the collected Weasleys. “Mind you… if you really want to express your gratitude, there might be something…”

“Yes?” said Arthur.

“You all know the story of Holly Potter.” It wasn’t a question, but a statement. Everyone in the witching world knew the story of Holly Potter.

“I met Holly Potter!” said Ronnie, in the middle of her third biscuit.

“You never did!” said Elaine, who was sitting next to her.

“I did!” Ronnie swallowed. “Just today, while I was… er… while I was looking for you lot! She showed me the way here!”

Ginny looked utterly betrayed. “And you didn’t tell us about it straight away?!”

Ronnie blushed a little. “I just…” she murmured, without really having any way of continuing that sentence.

Albus, however, nodded thoughtfully. “You’ve already met her, then,” he said. “Forgive me for asking a personal question, Veronica, but what did you think of her?”

“Well…” Ronnie began, a little awkwardly. “I don’t know. I liked her. She was nice. Not, you know, stuck-up or anything.”

Albus nodded again, this time with a smile. “I’m glad to hear that. I will have to talk to her about it, of course, but I might ask your family to do her a favour sometime in the future…”

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