This is for my roommate, who eats fruit loops and drinks fish water and falls asleep in my sleeves and makes the clicky noise an awful lot. You are a very, very good rat, Mulcie.
What Do You Need Toes For Anyway?
“I have something for you, Perce.”
Percy pushed his glasses up on his nose and peered up at his oldest brother, whose hair wasn’t quite long enough for the attempted ponytail and was sticking out in odd tufts.
“I know you wanted a pet for your first year,” Bill continued, but was interrupted when Charlie rushed into the kitchen.
“Sorry,” he panted, grinning, “twigs askew, broom disaster, you haven’t given it to him yet have you?”
“No,” Bill rolled his eyes, “ I was just getting to that. So anyway, we went together, and we couldn’t manage an owl…”
“We bought you a rat!” Charlie burst out, to Bill’s frustration.
“A rat?” Percy asked, as Bill extracted a lump of gray fur from his pocket and set him on the table in front of Percy.
The rat huddled on the table, looking miserable and scared. Percy leaned closer, and the rat sneezed in his face.
“We bought him from Mundungus Fletcher!” Charlie announced proudly.
“Sweet Merlin, don’t tell him that!” Bill said with alarm, leaning out the kitchen doorway to make sure their mother wasn’t listening.
“Why not?” Charlie asked. “S’true. Mundungus picked him up with a bunch of other rats in Knockturn Alley for…well, he didn’t actually say what for, probably better anyway…he said this was the smartest rat he’s ever seen, nearly escaped three times before he spelled him quiet.”
“Don’t tell Mum any of this,” Bill pleaded.
Percy squinted at the rat as he cleaned the rat-sneeze off his glasses. It didn’t look smart, didn’t look anything but half-starved and jumpy. Charlie’s booming comments in particular made the rat twitch spastically.
“What do you think?” Charlie asked.
Percy slid his glasses back onto his face and looked up at his brothers, who were waiting for his verdict expectantly.
“He’s very nice,” Percy said politely. “I’m sure I’ll like him.”
“That’s the spirit!” Charlie slapped Percy’s back so hard his glasses slipped to the end of his nose, and the rat convulsed again. “Sorry to rush off, but I’ve nearly got this broom thing under control, see you later, Perce…”
Percy stared after Charlie’s retreating form for a moment, trying to gather his wits. He looked back down at the shivering rat, and beady black eyes stared right back before the rat gave another miserable sneeze.
Bill sat down next to Percy.
“I know he isn’t exactly what you imagined,” Bill said quietly.
“No, he’s great,” Percy lied.
Bill stared at him.
“All right, he’s not so great,” Percy admitted.
“Rats really are smart,” Bill coaxed. “You can teach them tricks. And they aren’t like mice either, they like people.”
“It’s not that I don’t like rats in general,” Percy said quickly, “it’s just that this rat in particular is a little…well…”
The rat sneezed again.
The rat lifted a paw to wipe its nose.
“…and he’s missing some toes,” Percy finished glumly.
“Only the one,” Bill assured. “What do you need toes for anyway?”
The rat shook himself suddenly, and dirt drifted off his fur on to the table in flakes.
“I admit, he could use a little work,” Bill said. “But that’s good, right? Means he’s a survivor. Like you.”
Bill reached over to ruffle Percy’s hair, and Percy shrugged his hand off after a moment because he was getting too old for that.
“If he’s so good at escaping,” Percy asked, “why is he just sitting there like that?”
“We’ve got him charmed so he can’t get more than a few feet away from me,” Bill explained. “He was trying all morning, he’s still pretty shagged out from it. I’ll switch the charm over to you. If you want him, that is.”
Percy looked back down at the rat. It was shivering, dirty tail curled in around its front paws. Its fur was matted and patchy, and its spine was sticking out prominently. It stared back up at Percy with its watery eyes before giving another pathetic sneeze.
“Bill!” Mrs. Weasley’s voice rang out behind them, making Percy, Bill, and the rat jump straight into the air. “What is that horrible, dirty thing doing on the table near your brother? Percy, get away from it, remember your asthma!”
“It’s my rat, Mum!” Percy protested before he thought about it, then blinked as he realized what he’d said. Bill beamed.
“What do you mean,” Mrs. Weasley demanded, “it’s your rat?”
“Bill and Charlie bought it for me,” Percy explained quickly. “They bought it from…” Bill mouthed ‘No, don’t!’, “…they bought it for me because I couldn’t have an owl.” Bill slumped in his chair with relief.
Mrs. Weasley looked as though she was about to yell some more, but swallowed it at the last second. She looked from Bill to Percy to the rat and back to Bill.
“You bought your brother that…” Mrs. Weasley groped for a word, “…that?”
“It was all we could manage,” Bill said, looking piteous. The rat sneezed helpfully.
“It’ll have to be cleaned,” Mrs. Weasley said at last, drawing her wand. The rat let out a squawk as she pointed her wand at it.
“No, you’ll scare him!” Percy leapt up between the rat and his mother. “I’ll wash him.”
Mrs. Weasley looked dubious, but as she was opening her mouth to say something else, there was a crash from the living room, followed by a cheerful “Fred’s fault!”
“Oh, those twins!” Mrs. Weasley threw her hands in the air before dashing out of the room, rat forgotten.
“You really want him?” Bill looked so relieved, Percy wouldn’t have said no even if he didn’t. He nodded, remembering that he had read somewhere that you could teach rats tricks, and that they really were good pets.
“I’ll switch the distance charm to you then,” Bill said, standing up. “We’ll give him some food to distract him, looks like the poor bugger could use it.”
“It’s a him?” Percy asked.
“Yes indeed,” Bill nodded, as he opened a cabinet and began rummaging around for something rat-worthy. He came up with a box of sugared cereal that Charlie had transfigured into a box of shredded wheat to hide from their mother. “Aha, this will do fine.”
“What do rats eat?” Percy asked, eyeing the brightly colored O’s that Bill was pouring out into his hand.
“Anything you’ll eat and some stuff besides,” Bill shrugged. “We’ll get you some proper rat food later, hold out your hand, you should feed him, get him used to you.”
Percy cupped a hand for Bill to pour the cereal into, then picked out one piece to offer to the rat. The rat continued to stare up at him, not moving. After a few seconds, Percy put the cereal bit down on the table and withdrew his hand. The rat waited a long moment before leaning forward just enough to sniff the cereal, then picked it up in a three-fingered paw and nibbled it cautiously.
Percy laid down a second piece near him as he was finishing the first, and the rat picked it a little more quickly and took a bite without hesitating. Percy set the next few bits closer and closer, and the rat began snatching them up as soon as he’d put them down, devouring them in a few bites each. Neither Percy nor the rat noticed Bill pulling out his wand and quietly casting Finite Incantatum, then recasting the charm for Percy.
When he was down to the last few cereal pieces, Percy just laid his hand on the table with the cereal lying on his palm. The rat hesitated for a moment before laying one paw on Percy’s hand and picking up another piece, rocking back to actually eat it. Percy held very still, even though the rat’s whiskers tickled every time he reached for another piece.
While he was nibbling on the last piece of cereal, Percy reached out one tentative forefinger to pet the rat’s head. The rat flattened against the table at the first touch, but then relaxed enough to finish eating his cereal as Percy continued to stroke behind the rat’s ears slowly.
“All finished,” Bill announced, and Percy blinked, having almost forgotten he was there. “He won’t be able to go more than about two yards from you now. We can make the distance longer when he gets used to you a bit, but best to keep him on a short leash for now.”
The rat began to groom himself twitchily, but all it really served to do was to smear the dirt in his fur around, and he gave up after a minute and sneezed forlornly.
“Thank you, Bill,” Percy said, meaning it this time. Bill ruffled his hair again and left him to get to know his new pet.
Percy and the rat eyed each other.
“We haven’t been formally introduced,” Percy said. “I’m Percy. And you’re my rat.”
The rat cocked his head to one side, then reached up with a back paw to itch his side.
“I’m going to have to give you a bath,” Percy told him. “So I’m going to have to pick you up.”
The rat tried to scrunch up smaller as Percy reached out for it, then scramble away as Percy’s hand closed around his middle, but his scrabbling claws found no purchase on the smooth table, and he went rigid when Percy lifted him into the air.
Percy cradled the rat against his chest, feeling the animal’s heart pounding against his palm.
“Don’t be scared,” Percy said. “I won’t hurt you.”
The rat sneezed again but loosened up a tiny bit, and Percy took it for a good sign.
The rat took the bath with good grace, all things considered. He wasn’t thrilled about all the water certainly, or the fact that Percy was using his mother’s floral scented shampoo.
“Sorry,” Percy apologized when the rat let out another squawk. “It’s the only thing I could find. At least it’s only just the once for you, I’ve had to use it all summer.”
The rat quieted down once Percy pointed out that thrashing about would only get soap in his eyes. Some scrubbing revealed a pink nose and ears, and white socks on the rat’s paws. Percy tried to clean some of the wounds on his tail, and the rat squealed a few times, but remained mostly still. He licked at the scratches while Percy rubbed his fur dry with a hand towel, and didn’t flinch away when Percy stroked his head this time.
A much cleaner rat was presented to Mrs. Weasley before dinner, and she said she supposed Percy might keep him, but he was not to be at the table. Percy made a whispered deal with the rat that he would pass him food if he sat quietly in Percy’s lap, and true to his word the rat perched on Percy’s knee under the table and nibbled on the bits of bread and carrots Percy slipped him.
Percy was still trying to think of a suitable name for the rat when Fred and George discovered him and named him Scabbers because of the tail. The rat wisely refused to be held by either of them, but would submit to petting if Percy held him. Scabbers even endured a clumsy pat from Ginny, although Ron ran crying to Mrs. Weasley when Percy offered him a look.
Scabbers seemed fascinated by Percy’s pillow and turned around in little circles on it while Percy put on his pajamas. He perched on the edge of the sink while Percy brushed his teeth, then tried to wipe off his tongue with his paws after nibbling on the open toothpaste tube.
Percy crawled into bed and set the rat down beside him, letting Scabbers figure out where he wanted to sleep while he turned his light off and settled under the sheets. Scabbers crawled back onto the pillow and curled up, wrapping his tail around his whole body.
Percy reached up and stroked the rat’s spine, and was startled when the rat made an odd clicky noise in his throat. He squinted in the dark and without his glasses, but the Scabbers’ eyes were half-closed and he looked comfortable, so Percy assumed the clicky noise was good.
Percy let his hand drop when it grew tired, let it settle on the pillow between his face and Scabbers.
“I’m glad you’re going to be my pet,” he told Scabbers sleepily. “You’re a very good rat.”
Percy felt a soft lick on the back of his hand as he drifted off to sleep.