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2012 Writer's Duel: A Fresh Spin by HPFF United
Format: Short story collection
Chapter 1: In One Safe Piece by Toujours Padfoot
“What are we going to tell my parents?” Molly could hear the familiar whisper in the hall, now croaky from crying all evening. “What are we going to tell your parents?”
For a few seconds, Molly’s stomach twisted nervously; she felt like she was going to be sick. He came home? He travelled all that way at this time of night? The gravity of the matter was just short of sinking in, with her eyes wide and two fingers pressed against her mouth as she crept beyond her bedroom door. One glimpse into the living room smoothed some of her anxiety away: the only part of Percy Weasley in the house was his head, smoldering with Floo powder in the fireplace.
“I don’t know,” he responded tiredly. “Have you – I’ve never – are you absolutely sure?”
“Yes.” Audrey’s voice was dark. “I rang Martin and asked him to come over, and he confirmed it.” Molly shrank back into the shadows, remembering the uncharacteristically stern expression on her uncle’s face as he opened up his kit, eyebrows furrowed, and asked her to expel breath into a small bottle. He corked it when she was finished and tapped it with his wand. The smoky substance within began to burgeon with glowing blood-red cells; exposing Audrey, with her eyes like open windows, to Molly’s future.
Positive for pregnancy.
But how can this be possible? These things couldn’t happen at Hogwarts. Molly had seated herself in her father’s armchair, dangling feet still not touching the ground, and watched her mum pace the length of the room. She occasionally came to a pause at the mantle, raising the back of her hand to wipe at perspiration on her forehead; but it was seconds before she plowed on, chatting incessantly to herself as though Molly wasn’t in the room at all.
How did she manage to carry on with that behavior…how did she get away with it? No boys allowed in the girls’ dormitories…ghosts and professors and prefects at every turn…She racked her memory, trying to figure out how Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry had failed her, had prevented her daughter from getting around the rules. I’m owling the headmaster first thing in the morning, and the whole board, as well. Obviously someone else needs to be in charge of the school…letting children run wild, doing whatever they want when they’re not old enough to know better…
Her anger and frustration with the school very swiftly changed course to Molly, however, and it wasn’t more than two hours before Audrey started banging cabinets in the kitchen, throwing remarks over her shoulder into the living room where Molly still sat, small and scared as ever, in the overstuffed armchair. “Well, I hope you realize that you’re not ever going back to school. I hope you realize that your education is over, your friendships are over, everything your father and I have ever worked to give you is all in the toilet where you put it when you were busy pretending to be a grown-up who can afford to…do things…that produce families.”
It took six minutes for Audrey to dwell on this statement, slopping around a pot of tea without offering any of it to Molly, before she said, “As a matter of fact, you are returning to school. I’ll send you right back tomorrow so that you can’t hide out here for the next nine months. This is what you wanted, right? The attention. Oh, will you get it! You’ll get it all day long from students of every House, during every meal, in every class. If you think you’re uncomfortable now, you have no idea what you have coming.”
She was quiet for another short while, and went on, in a much more sullen tone, “Maybe we’ll ship you off to Beauxbatons so that at least you’ll be able to prepare yourself for next year’s N.E.W.T.s. without too much damage to your reputation.”
Molly had been quiet, not trusting her lips to release. She’d never been more terrified of her mother in her entire life.
It felt so strange to be standing there a few hours later, right next to the framed pictures of herself and her sister Lucy on the wall, while Lucy slept soundly in Hogwarts. Molly had only managed to scrawl a few words for her best friend Catherine to discover on her bedside table in the morning – I might be gone for a couple of weeks, I don’t really know. I think they’re taking me to St. Mungo’s.
To Molly’s intense horror, she hadn’t been taken to the hospital at all. She was delivered to her own porch in Sunderland, where her mother was waiting on the other side of the glass door, face white as a sheet. “What have you done?” she moaned, and Molly found that she couldn’t answer her. She could only stare up at the woman’s blanched complexion, brain drawing a blank.
Bare conversation was exchanged in low tones, as if someone had just died. It took Molly at least a week of tiptoeing around the house, trying not to be seen, to figure out that the object of mourning was herself.
Everyone discussed what they should do, everyone wanted to chip in with conflicting advice. Aunt Ginny came and went, never staying long enough to chat with Molly, and the latter knew that Ginny must be thanking Merlin over and over that it wasn’t Lily who had turned up in the middle of the night after very quietly trying to ask Madam Pomfrey to be discreet about something that was apparently much more serious than she’d fathomed. Please don’t tell anyone, but I haven’t gotten my – I mean, I’m late with my – I might be pregnant. I think. Please don’t tell my parents.
For the next two months, phrases like “the baby” and “pregnancy” were taboo, a bad omen. If it was said, it became real and unwelcomed and earned the speaker a long, prickly silence. Molly made the mistake of complaining about her bouts of sickness, which lasted all day rather than just in the morning. This instance happened to fall on a rainy Wednesday afternoon when Percy, an envoy stationed in Yemen’s Ministry of Magic for eight months out of the year, was home for a two-week period. Audrey predictably shot her a dark look, citing that it was Molly’s fault and she was reaping the consequences of acting careless; it was her father’s reaction, however, that caught her especially.
He said nothing at all.
Instead, Percy gazed fuzzily out the window, entirely forgetting about the breakfast on the stove he had been cooking for his wife, and then turned on his heel and sauntered into the living room. This was where he sat, never once opening his mouth to speak, for the next four hours on the sofa while staring vacantly at the television screen Lucy once bought at a yard sale. During those four hours, the screen remained black and empty.
Heartburn persisted as a fire in Molly’s throat, waking her up at night. Her porcelain skin that she prized and gloated over as often as possible to acne-prone Lucy became oilier and caused her to break out in miniscule pimples on her chin. She couldn’t feel the baby kicking yet, which elongated her mood of indifference to its existence. Without a wailing infant she could see and touch, reality pushed further and further into someone else’s nightmare until she could ignore it altogether. Only Audrey’s puffy eyes and Percy’s melancholic expression as he waited patiently for his two-week holiday to expire barred Molly from fancying it all an illness, and to content herself with delusions of a bout of spattergroit.
One morning during Molly’s second trimester, she slid down the stairs with one hand trailing the banister, eyes narrowed cautiously on a soft rustling sound emanating from the kitchen. She’d taken to waking up earlier than her mother so that she could nip down for some breakfast and disappear upstairs, effectively avoiding any questions about revision and homework from Professor Paisley’s Every-Age Homeschooling Program.
Audrey faced the kitchen sink, holding up a fleece quilt. She buried her nose in it, eyes closed, and breathed deeply. The airy fragrance of lilac soap found its way across the room, assaulting Molly’s heightened senses, and she wrinkled up her nose. She knew that to everyone else, that scent would be a pleasant one; but it made Molly’s stomach churn. It probably wouldn’t be long before any pastries she scraped up from under Audrey’s watchful nose would soon be deposited right back in the toilet or rubbish bin – or on the stairs, which had happened a week ago. She could still smell the bleach her mother had used to try to scrub out the odor of it.
Audrey, who was not aware of the footsteps behind her, neatly folded the quilt on the counter and performed a drying charm on it. And although she could have washed everything with magic in just seconds, she chose to submerge a miniature pair of baby socks into the soapy water. They floated along the bubbly surface before sinking, looking impossibly tiny as they drifted to the bottom. Something about the vulnerability of the drowned socks, all alone in the tub of water, brought hot tears to Audrey’s eyes.
She sniffed, lifting her bleary eyes to the window, and passively examined her reflection in the glass. Any moment now, she expected new crow’s feet to spring up from out of nowhere, or for gray to tinge the flyaway strands that would never quite tuck back into her bun. She was consistently shocked to see the same woman – albeit a bit more tired, a bit more red-eyed – staring back at her, and not some rapidly-aged stranger. A small part of her hoped each time that she would look fifty instead of thirty-seven. How many people would she someday have to explain to that no, she was not the baby’s mother, that she was the grandmother? How would this reflect on her husband? And more importantly, what would become of her firstborn daughter’s future?
Molly was quite certain at this point that the boy who fathered her child (Audrey was loath to repeat his name, whether aloud or inside her head) would marry her, was desperately in love with her. He’d written a few times, mostly to say that he didn’t write much because his penmanship was bad and Quidditch practice and school detained him. No matter how short these letters happened to be, Molly read them over and over as she hunched her shoulders in the corner kitchen chair, sweeping for signs of affection she might have accidentally skipped over the last twenty times. He always signed it with love, but he never asked her about the baby he’d helped create.
He offered her no support for what she was going through, only: Ravenclaw smashed Hufflepuff by seventy-six points in the last match, which means that all we need to do to get in the running for the Cup is to make sure Hufflepuff loses to Slytherin. Did you hear about Calvin almost getting expelled?
“Which Calvin?” Molly had murmured, frustrated. “Calvin Hankison or Calvin Retner?” She pursed her lips, skimming the rest of it.
Can’t wait to see you again! When are you coming back? I’ve got to go now, Scott’s just come into the common room and we’re all going down to see the new Glumbumbles Professor Hagrid got this morning. I’ll try to describe what they look like later if I remember –
“Glumbumbles?” Molly repeated, and instantly flew to her room to retrieve a Care of Magical Creatures textbook, impatiently leafing through the pages. “I can’t find them in here. Merlin, I’m missing everything.”
The letters ended abruptly, always with one excuse or another, told from the point of view of an inane sixteen-year-old boy, which Audrey fully expected. Whoever this person was, he certainly wasn’t the man Molly imagined him to be in her daydreams. He had not presented her with a diamond ring, ready to sweep her off her feet.
Instead, he was lovingly polishing the handle of his broomstick far away in his dormitory while Molly, stubborn girl that she was, scanned for hidden promises of devotion, fidelity, and a relationship that would last forever between brief sentences depicting spilled cauldrons in Potions and half-baked, envious ramblings about Orville Tiege’s position as Keeper. Nowadays, letters came twice a month if Molly was lucky, and it took longer to slit the envelopes open than to read their contents.
Audrey knew it would be a relief for it to be over and done with, as the boy would inevitably end things with her daughter and it was a business preferably short-lived rather than drawn out as it had been. But just as she thought this, something incensed and menacing rose from the pit of her stomach, brightening her eyes with more tears. It was the fierce protection of a mother for her child, of wanting to keep her daughter’s heart in one safe piece.
Audrey moved around the room, abandoning the soaking laundry in favor of steering a broom. It always helped her, keeping her hands busy at all times. It was either her hands or her mouth, and the second option usually resulted in an argument with her daughter. She was just thinking to herself that she was too exhausted to argue ever again when she caught sight of a misshapen figure in her peripheral vision. Something about the sight of the brown-haired, freckled girl with gangling limbs and a hot-pink jumper swelled across her otherwise-little-girlish abdomen stung Audrey’s senses. A switch went off in her brain, and before she could blink, they were already at it again.
“You think babies are like pets, don’t you? Fun and cuddly, someone to love you. You’re wrong, Molly. They take your love – they take it and they take your energy and your time and your compassion. And your child will suffer because of the choices you made, because you won’t be there while he or she is a baby, to give it all those things it needs. I will have to be the one to do all of this. I’ll have to take all next year off of work to raise your child, because you have to finish your education.”
She shook out dirt she’d been sweeping into a dust pan into the bin, trembling so much that she missed the rim and dumped it all back onto the floor. “Good luck on your first day back to school. This happened to a Muggle neighbor of mine when I was young and I’ll tell you right now, her friends turned on her in a heartbeat. Quit school and now she works nights at a petrol station – three kids and no husband. She used to really be something when she smiled, too. Had her whole life ahead of her.”
“I’m not that girl,” Molly snapped, finally feeling brave enough to speak up. “She didn’t have help and she was probably poor –”
Audrey cut her off with a bitter laugh. “And you’re not?” Molly simply stared at her, confused. “How much money do you have?” the shrill voice demanded. “A handful of Sickles, maybe? After you spent it all on sweets on the train ride? I’ve got news for you, sweetheart. You’re as poor as dirt. All the money you have – that’s my money. That’s your father’s money. You didn’t make that. You don’t have a job and there isn’t a single thing you own that someone else hasn’t worked to pay for.”
“Fine, then,” Molly spat. “I’ll go get a job. And I’ll move out so that you don’t have to ‘raise my child’.”
“Oh, really? And what about your schooling?”
“I don’t care about school, a baby is more important –”
“You.” Audrey shook her head furiously, nostrils flaring. “You think you know everything. You don’t care about school? That screams volumes about your maturity, Molly Ruth, absolute volumes.” She pinched her fingers to her temples, throbbing with a migraine. “I cannot believe this is happening to me.”
“To you?” Molly shouted, their tempers finally matching. “What about me? What about my boyfriend?”
“Don’t you dare mention him in this household. I won’t permit it. I cannot believe you allowed him to persuade you to…to…” She clamped her teeth together, a new wave of fury washing over her. “How could you be so foolish?”
“He didn’t persuade me,” Molly defended. “I wanted to. We love each other.”
“If he loved you he wouldn’t have done it. If he loved you, he wouldn’t have put you in that situation, wouldn’t have let it happen. He can’t love you, Molly, because he doesn’t know what love is. He’s just like you, young and immature and with no earthly idea what you’ve just done. This is a lifetime commitment, and one you’re not ready for. Certainly not one he’s ready for. Where is he, Molly? Where is he?” Molly began to talk, but she steamrollered on. “That’s right, he’s at Hogwarts. He’s not going to be carrying a baby. For him, the only thing that’s changed about life is that he’ll probably get a new girlfriend soon.”
“Don’t say that,” Molly hollered, twisting around to head up to her bedroom. “You don’t know him, you don’t know anything about him.”
“And whose fault is that?”
“Yours!” she roared. “It’s your fault. Maybe if I wasn’t so worried about getting into trouble for having one, I would have told you about him over the summer. It’s your stupid rules about not being allowed to date before the results of my N.E.W.T.s exams, even though all the other girls are allowed to date, that made me not want to tell you. It’s not fair at all.”
“I’ll tell you what’s not fair,” Audrey began, glaring angrily at the retreating girl. “Having an ungrateful daughter who can’t see how much she’s shamed her father. You made a complete fool out of him; he’s already the black sheep of the family and now all this bad press has made it even worse. We had the whole world at your feet and just look at what you’ve done with it – and don’t stomp on my stairs! Someday when you can afford your own house, you can stomp on them. These are mine and I’ll thank you to walk like a girl and not an elephant.”
Molly said nothing, scowling and seeing red. With as much weight as she had gained in her face, hips, and stomach, an elephant wasn’t too far off the mark.
She stomped even harder up the stairs, making each thud its own individual earthquake, and slammed the door to her bedroom. The rain fell, pitter, patter, pitter, patter, upon the rooftop and she flopped on her back on the bed. She gazed down at her toes, which she couldn’t see over the rising arc of her stomach. She winced as the door to Audrey’s bedroom slammed as well, and soon there was nothing but silence and disappointment, the sour flavor of regret permeating the lonely air. I’ll bet she’s glad she has Lucy, she thought sullenly. So that all the broken eggs aren’t in one basket.
She gazed at a stuffed bunny in the cot pushed up against one wall. It was the only thing prepared to greet her baby in a faraway world, in someone else’s life, when the baby arrived. There was no shopping with the baby’s father after brunch with his parents, ducking in and out of shops for prams and nappies and wearing cute maternity dresses. She’d received no flowers or cards in the post overflowing with happy wishes.
Instead, Molly got purple stretch marks sprawling across her stomach that looked like an animal had clawed her, a tiny foot lodged in her ribs, a father in Yemen who probably dreaded coming back, a best friend having the time of her life watching Quidditch matches at Hogwarts, a mother who resented her, a sister who certainly would soon, and a single stuffed animal to welcome her child when it emerged in the world – the only thing she could give to it. Alone, she could not afford this lapse in judgment, and would never have been able to provide what the baby deserved.
She was scared to death of ever seeing her friends again, wondering about the rumors and what they thought of her now. She felt isolated from the universe and tried to fill the lonesome void reading baby books at night after schoolwork but kept getting distracted by the sad, yellowing, torn-eared bunny sitting in the cot. Congratulations were few and far between, and given with airs of strained politeness. She was surrounded with hushed murmuring instead, more sympathy for her parents than for herself.
There was forced conversation at the dinner table and she wished Lucy was home so that there would be more distraction; so that it wasn’t just her, Molly, screwing up everyone’s lives. Now Lucy would be the prodigy, the one hope. Every expectation her parents ever harbored would be taken and piled on top of Lucy, and Lucy would feel the pressure to succeed, to be better than the broken sibling. She would resent her sister for it. And Lucy would come home for the summer holidays and feel obligated to hold the baby, forcing a smile as she posed for a picture with it.
Lucy was the responsible one, even though she was younger. Lucy would never have done something this unspeakable, she would never find herself being shuffled out of the castle in the night while the remaining daughter at Hogwarts had to research spattergroit and perpetuate the lie that no one was likely to believe.
Night after night, there was static in the kitchen as Molly picked at the food on her plate. “Finish your Transfiguration?” her mother would inquire briskly, not taking her eyes off her mound of peas. She moved them around with a fork, not looking up.
A pause, and then – “Eat your eggplant.”
Molly, before she could stop herself, would fall into the awful routine, rolling her eyes. “I don’t like eggplant.”
Audrey was anticipating it, waiting for it. “Stop acting like you’re four years old. You need the vitamins, you don’t eat anything healthy. All you ever want are crisps and sweets. You’re not on holiday – you’re here because you have to be, and while you’re home you’ll eat what I cook for you.”
And then, inevitably – “I think I’m old enough to decide what to eat.”
After this, Audrey would throw her fork down and stand up so quickly that her chair fell back and scraped the wall. She would clomp halfway up the stairs before stalking back, shaking a pointing finger with tears staining her cheeks. “Your baby needs the vitamins. Maybe you don’t care, but I’m the one that’s going to be taking care of it after you go back to school, and I want it to be healthy.”
After this, Audrey would curl up in the big lonely bed next to a framed picture of her and her husband, missing him so terribly that it hurt and wishing that she could just leave and Apparate to him. She wished he would know somehow that she needed him, so that he could Apparate to her instead. She closed her eyes, willing him to feel it.
Molly wished she was strong enough to see how she wouldn’t regret this someday.
She sighed, fingering the last letter sent to her by someone she was sure she loved, its lines absorbed hundreds of times since its delivery a little over a month ago. “I’m all alone,” she said softly. The baby kicked, strong and indignant.
But you’re not. You’ll never, ever be alone again.