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What It's Worth by momotwins

Format: Novel
Chapters: 15
Word Count: 63,866
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Contains profanity, Mild violence, Scenes of a mild sexual nature

Genres: General, Humor, Romance
Characters: Arthur, Molly, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Arthur/Molly, OC/OC

First Published: 04/07/2009
Last Chapter: 04/19/2010
Last Updated: 09/11/2010

Summary:
Beautiful banner by brushstroke @ TDA!




Molly Prewett is now in her seventh year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and throws herself into her final school year before real life begins. The war outside is brewing, but inside the walls of Hogwarts, there's still one last year of childhood peace, of Quidditch, N.E.W.T.s, friends and love.

Sequel to "The Unsinkable Molly Prewett'


Chapter 1: Here We Go Again
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Disclaimer: Molly, Arthur, and all the other characters you recognize from the books, and the wizarding world and its history, it all belongs to JK Rowling. Original characters and the story belong to me.















August 1967


“Cecilia!” Molly Prewett waved at her friend, reaching as high as she could to be seen over the crowd in Diagon Alley.

She could just make out Cecilia Fletcher's glossy dark hair, and suddenly Cecilia's hand went up, waving back to her, and the dark head began weaving through the crowd, coming toward her. As Cecilia drew nearer, Molly could make out another familiar face walking next to her.

Siobhan Fitzgibbon was wincing slightly as she made her way through the street, following her best friend. Siobhan's rusty curls were tied up into a knot on top of her head, tendrils sliding down to float around her shoulders. Her freckles stood out prominently on her pale skin. Cecilia was back to her full beauty after getting a little grubby the previous year. She was tanned and pink-cheeked, her hair glossy, and she looked very happy.

“Hello, dear,” Cecilia said breathlessly as she reached Molly, hugging her. “How was your summer?”

“Perfectly lovely. How was yours?”

Cecilia beamed. “I went to France with my parents, to the Riviera.”

Molly thought that rather explained Cecilia's tan. She often spent her summers in the south of France with her parents. Molly envied her friend the spoiled life of an only child of wealthy parents. She'd never been on a decent vacation in her life, she thought, feeling a little disgruntled.

Siobhan didn't bother to comment on her summer, but her face went taut as Molly reached out to hug her. Siobhan had never hugged her back, but that didn't stop Molly. She knew her friend just wasn't demonstrative with her feelings, and determined to make up for it by showing Siobhan that she cared for her.

“What's the matter, dear?” Molly asked as Siobhan winced again.

Siobhan and Cecilia exchanged a glance.

“Oh, go on, tell her,” Cecilia said, looking amused.

“All right, but promise not to breathe a word of this to Cecilia's parents,” Siobhan said warningly, shaking a finger at Molly.

“I swear, I won't.” She wasn't sure she'd ever said more than hello to Mr. and Mrs. Fletcher anyway, and now she was burning with curiosity about what they'd been up to.

“We were in Knockturn Alley-”

“Siobhan!” Molly gasped, then turned to frown severely at her other friend. “Cecilia, you're a prefect! I would have thought you'd be a better influence.”

Cecilia was grinning mischievously, however. “It was better than letting her get a Muggle one.”

“What did you get?” Molly asked, still curious in spite of her disapproval.

Siobhan rolled her eyes. “I was trying to tell you, but you interrupted me. Here, come in here.” She ducked into a small alley behind a secondhand robe shop and pushed aside the sleeve of her Muggle shirt as she presented her back to her friend.

Molly peered at the mark on Siobhan's shoulderblade, feeling rather shocked. “You got a tattoo?” she asked in hushed tones. “What does it say?” The elegant black letters that were etched into Siobhan's back on her shoulderblade were meaningless to Molly.

“It says 'witch' in Gaelic,” Siobhan said, and the letters flickered on her skin, as if they were on a banner that was waving in a light breeze, then settled back into their original position as Siobhan hiked her sleeve back into place and turned around.

“How did you even know there was a wizard tattoo shop in Knockturn Alley?” Molly demanded, giving Cecilia a glare. Siobhan was Muggleborn and would have no idea that wizard tattoos even existed, so it surely must have been Cecilia who told her about it.

“My dad's cousin Mundungus got one at that shop,” Cecilia explained. “He showed it to me last Christmas. He's a right old idiot, but it was a neat tattoo.”

“I've been wanting one for ages, and Cecilia told me about wizard tattoos last night, and offered to pay for one as an early birthday gift,” Siobhan said, looking very pleased with herself. “It ripples whenever someone says 'witch'. Isn't it fantastic?”

“I suppose,” Molly said, trying to keep the disapproval out of her voice. Siobhan rarely looked happy, and the tattoo seemed to have pleased her greatly. She supposed she could conceal her dislike, for her friend's sake.

Cecilia smiled at her as if she knew what Molly was thinking, and said, “Just wait until word gets around school about it. I don't think anyone else has a tattoo. The boys will be queuing up to have a look.”

Siobhan laughed, and Molly rolled her eyes. “Really, Cecilia, don't encourage her.”

Cecilia was laughing too now, her eyes sparkling. Molly decided to let both of them have their fun. Cecilia had spent the bulk of the previous year in a foul temper, and Molly much preferred her friend laughing and happy. She decided not to encourage either of them, however, and changed the subject. “Shall we have some lunch, then? Have you both already gotten your school things?”

“We still have to buy books,” Cecilia said, still smiling mischievously. “Siobhan just picked up her scholarship money, and we were off to Flourish & Blotts when we heard you calling.”

Molly decided to accompany her friends to the bookstore, and waited patiently while they purchased their texts for the year. She'd already bought hers earlier that day with her parents and brothers, and had left her mother in Madam Primpernelle's, getting her hair done, while her father and brothers sneaked off to the Leaky Cauldron for drinks. Molly could only hope that her father would restrict the twins to butterbeers.

“Can you believe this is the last time we'll be buying schoolbooks?” Molly asked wistfully as they left Flourish & Blotts a short while later.

“Thank God for it, too,” Siobhan said dryly. “I'll be glad to be done with homework.”

“Cecilia, did you...” Molly paused, trying to think how to phrase her next question so that it would not offend Cecilia. If the answer was no, Cecilia was sure to be angry about it, and if the answer was yes, Cecilia might be annoyed that Molly had doubted it for a moment. She decided to just have out with it. “Are you Head Girl?”

Cecilia's face darkened with anger. “No, I'm bloody well not.”

“Language,” Siobhan said cheerfully.

“Shut it, you.” Cecilia looked disgruntled.

Molly had rather wondered whether Cecilia would receive the badge, since she had been made a prefect for their year, but last year's incidents with Reid Akins must have counted against her. Professor McGonagall surely wouldn't have been pleased with Gryffindor's bottom-of-the-race standing in the House Cup, and that had been in large part thanks to all the points Cecilia had taken from Reid. Their Quidditch team's failures on the pitch hadn't helped them in the House Cup, either. Molly was vaguely hopeful that Gryffindor would perform better this year, though she didn't much care for Quidditch.

“I'm sorry, then,” she said cautiously. “Have you heard who is Head Boy and Girl?”

“No,” Cecilia said bad-temperedly. “I suppose we'll find out on the train tomorrow.”

“Maybe it's Petula,” said Siobhan, attempting to look innocent.

“You really should be nicer to Petula,” Molly told her severely while Cecilia smiled.

“It's all in good fun. Lighten up, Molly.” Siobhan scratched her shoulder lightly. “It's itchy now, is that normal?”

“How the devil should I know?” Cecilia said. “Read the parchment they gave you about the healing process, why don't you.”

Molly sighed, shaking her head at her friend while Siobhan rummaged in her shoulder bag for the scrap of parchment from the tattoo shop. “Someone's bad language has been rubbing off on you.”

“I blame it on Reid,” Siobhan said sanctimoniously, her eyes twinkling.

*

Molly abandoned her parents at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters as quickly as possible on the morning of September first. Her mother was so busy lecturing her younger brothers, Gideon and Fabian, that she didn't even notice Molly was leaving. Molly's father did, however, and pulled her aside for a moment while behind them, her mother was telling her brothers that they might never see the light of day again if she had to send them any Howlers this year. They looked suitably cowed, but Molly was sure that was an act.

“You behave this year as well,” Hippolytus Prewett told his daughter, ignoring his wife in the background.

“I always behave, Dad,” Molly said lightly, and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.

“My regards to Arthur,” he said, grinning at her.

Molly waved as she set off into the crowd, pushing her trunk on a trolley in front of her and scanning the crowd for a familiar ginger head.

She ran into her friend Petula Cordingley almost immediately. Petula looked quite cheerful as she greeted Molly, her blonde ponytail swinging as she came to an abrupt stop.

“Hi Molly! How was your summer?”

“Brilliant. Yours?”

“Utterly miserable,” Petula said, though she was still smiling. “So glad to be going back to school so I can fail my N.E.W.T.s and get lectured by McGonagall. Where's Arthur?”

Molly laughed. “I'm still looking for him.”

“I'll tag along. I want to see if Thomas is here yet.”

“Thomas?” Molly echoed questioningly as they made their way through the crowd. The first-years looked younger than ever, and Molly wondered if she had looked so tiny and wide-eyed when she'd first come to Hogwarts. It all seemed so old-hat now.

“Thomas Ockham. You remember, I told you about him, I saw him a few times over the summer. I think he fancies me.”

“Oh yes.” No wonder Petula was smiling despite her determination that she was going to fail all her classes this year. Petula didn't like being without a boyfriend, and had spent their entire sixth year without one, complaining endlessly about that, along with everything else. That was just Petula's little way, though, and Molly didn't take most of Petula's complaints seriously.

“There's Roddy, I wonder if he's looking for Siobhan?” Petula said, pointing to a dark-haired young man in the crowd. Molly craned her neck to catch a glimpse of him; Petula was taller than she was and had a clearer view.

“Is Arthur with him?”

“No, I'm not,” said a deep voice behind her.

Molly whirled around and threw her arms around Arthur Weasley, abandoning her trolley, which bumped into Petula's and spilled her owl to the ground. Petula grumbled as she scooped up the cage and righted it. Her owl hooted angrily as it flapped around in the cage.

Arthur was laughing at them a bit, but he hugged Molly back. He didn't have his school things with him, so Molly assumed he'd already gotten a compartment on the train. He had grown a bit taller over the summer, and it seemed more obvious when she hadn't been with him every day as she was at school. His ginger hair shone in the morning sun on the platform, and his gold-rimmed glasses caught a glint of light. She knew she wasn't objective, but she thought he was incredibly handsome. No one else seemed to agree with her, but Molly didn't care.

“Hi Arthur,” Petula said as she set her owl back down on her trunk. “How was your summer?”

“Fine.”

“Fine? Molly said hers was brilliant,” Petula said slyly, and Arthur's ears turned a bit red.

“Would you like some help getting your things on the train?” he asked.

Molly smiled at him in amusement for changing the subject, but she only said, “That would be lovely, thank you.”

Petula declined boarding just yet, and went back into the crowd to look for Thomas Ockham. Once Arthur had hefted Molly's trunk aboard the train, she followed him through a few carriages until he stopped outside a compartment.

A slightly plump girl with soft brown curls was sitting in the compartment, adjusting her pink hat in a mirror floating in mid-air in front of her. She looked up when they entered.

“Oh good, you found her. Hello, Molly!”

“Hi, Hattie.” Molly sat down next to her best friend, beaming at her. Henrietta Habbershaw snatched the mirror out of the air and stowed it in her pink leather handbag.

“It's lovely to see you, dear,” Hattie said, smiling fondly at Molly.

They chatted amiably for a while as students filed past their compartment, looking for an empty place to sit. Cosmo Graham arrived, and he and Arthur began to talk Quidditch until Petula arrived with Siobhan in tow. Petula only stayed long enough to tell everyone she was going to go sit with Thomas Ockham and his Hufflepuff friends. Reid Akins turned up just as the train was pulling out of the station, with Dunstan Birtwhistle on his heels.

“There you all are,” Reid said, flopping into the seat next to Hattie. “I've been all up and down the train looking for you.”

“No you haven't,” Siobhan said unconcernedly. “I saw you snogging Cecilia at the back of the train ten minutes ago.”

Reid grinned. “All right, so I came straight here after she abandoned me to go to the prefects' carriage. That doesn't sound nearly as friendly though.” He pulled a pack of cards out of his pocket. “Exploding Snap, anyone?”

The train ride to Hogwarts passed peacefully for a time, as Reid played cards with Cosmo, Arthur, and Molly, and Hattie attempted to corral Siobhan's mane of rusty brown curls into a braid. Dunstan was reading Invasion of the Body Snatchers in a corner by the window, Petula having sent him the book over the summer. The tea trolley passed, and Reid treated everyone to Chocolate Frogs while Hattie unpacked a picnic lunch she'd brought along, with sandwiches for everyone.

Molly looked around fondly at her friends as she ate a cheese sandwich, feeling quite pleased with the group. Arthur's friends had merged fairly seamlessly with hers last year after they'd started dating. It did feel a bit strange without Petula, though, and she found herself wondering what Thomas Ockham was like and if he'd fit in with their group as well. She hoped he wouldn't feel odd being the only one who wasn't in Gryffindor if he spent time with them.

Cecilia stormed into the compartment half an hour after lunch, slamming the door so hard that the glass broke. Molly repaired it with a silent charm, and watched her friend warily. Reid put an arm around Cecilia, who sat down poker-straight on the bench next to him, her face flushed.

“What's the matter?” Hattie asked in concern.

“Someone she doesn't like is Head Girl, I'll wager,” Siobhan said slyly. “Who is it? Take a breath and tell us.”

Cecilia seemed to be struggling to regain her powers of speech. “It-it's-”

Reid slapped her between the shoulderblades, and she drew in her breath sharply and blurted out, “It's Sophronia bloody Lefeuvre, that's who.”

“What, that Slytherin girl who called Arthur a blood traitor?” Molly demanded, outraged.

“That was ages ago,” Arthur said, looking unconcerned. Molly noted that he had crossed his arms in front of his chest, though. She sighed at his unconsciously defensive body language and slipped a hand into the crook of his arm. His hand found hers and squeezed gently, and when he smiled at her, she could see some of the tension slip out of his eyes.

“They probably just needed a token Slytherin,” Reid was saying consolingly, rubbing Cecilia's shoulder. “They haven't had a Head Boy or Girl from Slytherin in ages, that's all. Status quo, you know. Trying to make sure their slimy little feelings aren't hurt.”

Cecilia scowled at him, but allowed him to pull her close and kiss her forehead.

“Besides,” Reid went on, “you'll have more time for me this way. If you'd been Head Girl, you'd never have any free time.”

You don't have any free time, you're taking eleven N.E.W.T.s,” Cecilia pointed out, though she looked quite a bit more relaxed now.

“Yes, how are you doing that, by the way?” Hattie asked, intrigued. “I happen to know for a fact that Arithmancy was at the same time as Care of Magical Creatures half the time last year, and Siobhan says you don't skive off from Magical Creatures, but I haven't seen you missing in Arithmancy either-”

“I have superpowers,” Reid said seriously. “Ask Cecilia. I used them on her this summer.”

Cecilia rolled her eyes. “Super idiot powers, maybe. Hattie, do you have a mirror? My hair's been acting odd today. I can't get it to lie properly flat.”

“Eldritch powers, even. Strange and powerful and eldritch. Want to see?” Reid brandished his wand.

Hattie was rummaging in her small beaded purse for her mirror and was no longer paying him any attention. Siobhan patted Reid's hand.

“Put it away, Reid,” she said, and he pretended to be crestfallen as he stowed his wand back in his pocket.

“And who's Head Boy?” Arthur asked.

“Virgil Kemp,” Cecilia said.

“I'll bet the Hufflepuffs are pleased, then,” Hattie said cheerfully, handing her mirror to Cecilia.

“Probably. That reminds me, I saw Petula sitting in a compartment with a bunch of Hufflepuffs. What's she doing with them?” Cecilia set the mirror in the air in front of her and pulled her hair out of its ponytail, staring into the hovering mirror as she combed her hair with her fingers.

“She fancies that boy, Thomas Ockham, and he's a Hufflepuff,” Hattie said. “Didn't she owl you about him this summer?”

“Oh, yes, him.” Cecilia scooped the mirror out of the air and handed it back to Hattie. Reid's hand inched up from where it was resting on her back to play with a strand of Cecilia's glossy dark hair, and Molly smiled at them. It was still a little strange to see Reid and Cecilia together, since she'd hated him most of last year.

“Let's not talk about who fancies whom, shall we?” Cosmo said, looking bored. “Did anyone read the paper this morning? There was another Muggle killed, outside Bristol. They said there were signs of Dark magic in the house.”

Molly felt the smile fade from her face, and everyone was suddenly quiet. Molly's thoughts were centred now on the horrible images and stories that had been appearing in the Daily Prophet of Muggles and wizards alike being murdered. It seemed to be happening more and more often, and everyone was attributing it to the mysterious Dark wizard who seemed to have come out of nowhere. She hated the talk of supremacy of blood purity that always accompanied the stories of deaths, but it seemed to be everywhere since You-Know-Who had appeared. As if it mattered - Siobhan was better at spellwork than Petula, and had less magical blood in her. The entire topic made Molly feel angry.

“Poor Muggles,” Arthur murmured. “It's all that Lord Voldemort, isn't it? He's stirring up all this anti-Muggle sentiment in the wizarding community. My dad says a lot of people agree with him that purebloods ought to be in power, can you believe that?”

“Don't say his name,” Hattie said, looking frightened.

“It's just a name,” Arthur said, but Molly gave him a nudge, and he added, “Sorry, Hattie. I won't say it again.”

Hattie nodded, looking appeased, and Molly scooted closer to Arthur to whisper a thank you to him.

“My mum is afraid for what will happen to me when I leave school,” Cosmo said. “She's a Muggle, you know, and she's getting to be afraid of wizards now, with all this. She thinks school is safe, but nowhere else is.”

“You can cast protective charms over your house, can't you?” Dunstan said. His book lay forgotten on his lap.

“I'm not seventeen yet,” Cosmo reminded him. “My birthday is next week.”

“Well, cast them when you get home for Christmas,” Cecilia said. “My father's got lots of security on our house now. He cast a few charms on our Muggle neighbours, as well.”

“We don't have any Muggle neighbours,” Arthur said, looking slightly crestfallen.

“Arthur, you're such a pureblood,” said Reid, grinning at him.

“Well, so are you,” Arthur retorted, looking slightly offended.

“My grandmother was Muggleborn, actually,” Reid said airily, engendering an envious look from Arthur, whose family was pureblooded back as far as the eye could see. Molly felt rather guilty that she hadn't any Muggleborn family members of her own, Arthur would have loved that.

Hattie, who was pureblooded as well, remarked, “My mother's dating a Muggle.”

Arthur was diverted by this. “Really? What's he like?”

“He seems nice enough,” Hattie said, rather stiffly. “He doesn't know yet that she's a witch. He thinks I go to some sort of Muggle boarding school.”

Molly slid a sidelong glance at her best friend, wondering if it was the fact that he was a Muggle that made her disapprove of her mother's boyfriend. Hattie had never before expressed any prejudices against Muggles, but the topic hadn't ever really come up between them, now that Molly thought about it. On the other hand, it might just be that Hattie didn't want her mother getting remarried at all. Hattie and her mother were extremely close, since it had been just the two of them since Mr. Habbershaw had passed away during Hattie's second year at Hogwarts. Maybe Hattie didn't want her father being replaced.

Siobhan, who had looked bored during the discussion of blood purity and Muggle neighbours, probably because she was Muggleborn herself, opened her Chocolate Frog then and clapped one hand over it to keep it from hopping away.

Dunstan waved to her and said, “Watch this. Siobhan, aim it my way.”

She held her hand up pointing toward Dunstan, and released the frog. It made a leap for freedom, and Dunstan caught it in his mouth. Molly rolled her eyes at him while Cosmo and Reid applauded.

*

Ever since Molly's first year, when she herself was Sorted, the Sorting had seemed to take an inordinate amount of time, delaying the welcoming feast just when she was starved after a long day on the train. This year, however, since she was aware of it being the last Sorting she would see, it seemed to go very quickly. The Sorting Hat's song seemed quite short this year, and the small queue of first-years seemed sparse. Hadn't there been more of them last year? The Sorting had seemed endless last year.

She applauded enthusiastically for the new Gryffindors as the Hat sorted the children. It was over before she knew it.

“Lord, they look tiny,” Reid said as Zipf, Angela was made a Ravenclaw. “Have the firsties always been so tiny?”

“Hush,” Cecilia murmured. Her attention was focused on Sophronia Lefeuvre on the other side of the hall. Sophronia's Head Girl badge was shining brightly on her chest. Cecilia's eyes narrowed as Sophronia laughed at something Edwina Crouch was saying.

Molly rolled her eyes. She hoped Cecilia wasn't going to dwell on her defeat for the Head Girl badge for the rest of the year. It would get tedious quickly.

“Finally,” Dunstan exclaimed as the food appeared on the table a moment later. The boys dug in with almost indecent haste, and Molly calmly scooped mashed sweet potatoes and fried chicken onto her plate.

Hattie leaned over to the girls. “Tonight, Gryffindor Girls Council,” she said in a low voice, surveying her friends with her brows raised.

“I can't, I'm seeing Reid tonight,” Cecilia said briskly.

Hattie gave her a reproving look. “Your friends are more important.”

Cecilia frowned. “But I hardly saw him all summer!”

“Molly's never missed a Council for Arthur,” Hattie pointed out.

Molly smiled smugly at Cecilia, who looked disgruntled.

“I suppose that's true. All right, I'll see him another night.”

“You'll see him every day anyway,” Molly said helpfully. “And he's in all your classes.”

Siobhan rolled her eyes. “Shall I get some food from the kitchens, then?”

“Something chocolate,” Hattie said firmly, and that was the end of that.

*

Molly arranged her blankets over her legs, seated on the floor in the middle of her dormitory. The blankets and pillows were arranged on the floor on top of the squashy pink sleeping bags that Hattie had conjured for them. The Gryffindor Girls Council, as Hattie had named their little slumber parties, had been meeting several times a year since their first year. The girls camped out on the floor, talked late into the night, and ate far too much fattening food that Siobhan sneaked from the kitchens. Molly greatly enjoyed these nights with her friends, when they all made sure they had time to focus on each other and shared what was going on in their lives. They were particularly fun after the summer, when everyone hadn't seen one another for a month or two, and they could reconnect.

“Well,” Molly said briskly, looking around at her friends. “How was everyone's summer?”

A small chorus of “fine” met her question, from everyone except Siobhan, who only rolled her eyes. They all looked at each other for a moment, and then all of them burst into giggles, again except Siobhan, who smiled tolerantly at her friends.

“All right, how were your summers really?” Molly asked, the laughter still on her face.

“Lovely,” Hattie said, smiling. “I went to New York City with my mother. We saw a play, about King Arthur and Guinevere. It was so romantic, and the music was beautiful.”

Molly smiled at her best friend. She'd already known about the play. Hattie had been to Molly's house shortly after her birthday, testing out her new Apparition license, and they'd stayed up until the wee hours of the morning talking.

“That sounds brilliant,” Petula said enviously. “I wish I could go to a play. What did you wear?”

“Nevermind that,” Cecilia said. “Molly, did you and Arthur get engaged?”

She turned bright red. “Not officially, no...”

“What do you mean, not officially?” Cecilia demanded.

“Well, he's been saying he wants to marry me all year-”

“That counts,” Siobhan said, grinning over at Cecilia. “Pay up.”

Cecilia grumbled under her breath as she reached for her bookbag, fished around for a moment and then pulled out a Galleon.

“You placed a bet on me?” Molly exclaimed, outraged.

“It was all Cecilia's idea,” Siobhan said. She was still grinning widely.

Cecilia's eyes widened. “You bloody snitch! Is that how you want this to go?” She looked around at their friends and said loudly, “Siobhan got a tattoo!”

Hattie's mouth dropped open, and Petula leaned forward.

“Where?” she asked eagerly. “Let's see it, then.”

Siobhan rolled her eyes, and then turned around and pulled up her nightshirt, showing off her back for a moment. “It says 'witch' in Gaelic,” she explained as she dropped her shirt down and turned back around. “I got it done while Cecilia and I were in London right before term started.”

“You got 'witch' tattooed on your back?” Petula said, frowning in bewilderment.

Siobhan nodded, grinning. “I certainly did.”

“I think it's brilliant,” Cecilia said bracingly.

Hattie gave a little sniff, but she didn't say anything.

“I was going to say how horrible all my sisters were all summer, but it doesn't sound nearly so interesting now,” Petula said bad-temperedly. “I want a tattoo as well.”

“Copycat,” said Siobhan.

“All right,” Hattie said, “I went to New York, Molly didn't get officially engaged, Siobhan has a tattoo, and Petula's sisters are awful. What about you, Cecilia?”

“I went to France with my parents,” she said smugly. “I did some shopping with my mum in Paris and we did a bit of sailing along the Riviera.”

“I wish I had your life,” Petula sighed.

“Well, I'm glad we went, because since we've been home, my father's been extremely busy,” Cecilia said, sobering. “All this business with – well – You-Know-Who, it's been keeping his office absolutely swamped. I've hardly even seen him for the past week.”

Hattie murmured condolences. Molly made an appropriate noise, thinking of the conversation on the train. Petula had missed that conversation, but she didn't look too eager to join in.

Cecilia picked at the chocolate on an éclair. “My dad says You-Know-Who is getting more powerful, a lot of people are listening to him-”

“He frightens the life out of me,” Petula interrupted, her eyes wide. “Let's not talk about him any more, shall we? I'll have nightmares.”

“That's probably best,” Hattie said soothingly. “Petula, how is Thomas?”

Petula's expression changed to a happy smile as if by magic, and she chattered happily about Thomas Ockham for a while.

Molly noticed Cecilia give Siobhan a look, and Siobhan reached out to pat her best friend's hand. Cecilia was more worried about her father than she'd let on.

Molly sighed and turned her attention back to the conversation, allowing herself to be distracted by Petula's budding romance with Thomas.












A/N: Sorry if this seemed a slow chapter - just getting the story started :) I expect this to go 15 chapters, probably half the length of Unsinkable. This story will NOT include Molly and Arthur's elopement, but don't fret, because I've already started writing that and will start posting it once this is complete, as promised. So, I hope you enjoy, and welcome back to the little version of the Potterverse's history that exists in my head :)


Chapter 2: If You Know
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“Ah, another year at dear old Hogwarts,” Thaddeus Peabody said expansively, throwing his arms wide as he burst into the dorm room.

“Shut up, Thad,” Reid said, burrowing under his blanket.

Arthur grinned at both of them, sitting up in bed. He put his glasses on and the world came into focus. Thad was already dressed in his robes, his prefect's badge shiny and polished on his chest. Dunstan was sitting at the foot of his bed, tying his shoelaces, and Roddy Feltham sat yawning and stretching on his bed.

“The sun is shining, breakfast will be on the table at any moment, and Cressida will be waiting for me. You lot ought to get up now, or you'll all be late for the first day of class. Reid, Cecilia's already down in the common room, you'd better get up.” Thad waved to them and went back downstairs, his duty as their year's male prefect apparently completed.

Arthur yawned and wondered, as he got dressed, if Cecilia dragged the girls out of bed as well. Maybe it was just a prefect thing. Thad was inordinately cheerful every morning, though. It was quite annoying to Reid, who was a night owl.

“Damn him,” Reid muttered, emerging from the blankets. He squinted at the bright sunlight streaming in through the window. “What time is it?”

“Six thirty,” Dunstan told him, grabbing his robes and pulling them on over his head.

“Dear God,” Reid said, and slid back under his blankets.

“Cecilia's waiting,” Dunstan reminded him.

“Damn her as well,” came Reid's voice from under the blanket.

“I'm going to tell her you said that,” Dunstan called back as he left the dormitory.

Reid mumbled a few more swear words and threw back the covers, revealing the horrible green pyjamas, printed with small cartoon puffskeins, that he had acquired over the summer. Arthur rolled his eyes at him and headed down the stairs, where Dunstan was just tattling on Reid to Cecilia, who looked as if she might march up the stairs and hit Reid over the head with the disturbingly thick Ancient Runes textbook she was holding.

Thad was still in the common room, talking in a low voice to Francine Allen and Atalanta Weekes, two sixth-year girls who had been on the Gryffindor Quidditch team last year. He looked up and saw Arthur, and waved him over.

“Good morning,” Arthur said cheerfully to the three of them.

“Hi Arthur,” Francine said, smiling at him. “Have a good holiday?”

Thad interrupted before Arthur could answer her. “Arthur, old boy, I'm Quidditch captain this year.”

Arthur nodded. He had rather been expecting that. Thad was now the most senior player on the team, since Icarus Teague and Andrew Bishop had finished school last year. Icarus had been the captain last year, and had been signed to Puddlemere United as reserve Keeper after leaving Hogwarts. He wasn't a terribly good captain, but he'd been a damn good Keeper. Thad had been playing for Gryffindor since his fourth year, and was generally agreed by their House's fans to be a very good Beater.

“We'll be holding try-outs in two weeks,” Thad said then. “Are you going to try for Chaser again this year?”

Francine nodded encouragingly. “You nearly made the team last year, Arthur, you should try.”

Arthur puffed out his chest a little, feeling very pleased. They wanted him on the team. “Are you keeping the old team?”

“Everyone that's still here and wants to play,” Thad said, nodding. “Francine is back, of course, and I already talked to Njemile and Julian, and Atalanta says she'll play Seeker again, so we'll be looking for a new Keeper and Chaser. We'll still try out every position though,” Thad added, giving Francine a stern look. She rolled her eyes at him.

Atalanta looked rather sour, but then she usually did. Arthur didn't know the girl very well, but he knew she was a pureblood who mostly kept to herself, and people often said she ought to have been a Slytherin. It had come as rather a surprise last year when she'd tried out for the team and turned out to be a fairly good Seeker. She was fast and light, and she'd been quite popular with the Gryffindor fans even though she'd only caught the Snitch twice last year – at least, she'd been popular with the male fans. Atalanta was very pretty.

“It would be such fun if you were on the team as well, Arthur,” Francine said warmly. She wasn't very pretty, but she was very nice and funny, and a good friend of Cosmo's. Arthur was quite fond of Francine, who was Muggle-born and didn't mind answering questions about Muggles, even when Arthur could tell she was laughing at him a bit about it.

“All right, I'll try out,” he told them, still feeling quite pleased at being asked specifically.

“Right then,” said Thad. “I'll post an announcement on the notice board this afternoon. Make sure you practice, Arthur.”

“I played quite a lot of one-on-one this summer,” he said. "My brother still doesn't have a job."

“Well done. I'm off to breakfast. See you later,” Thad said to the girls, and Arthur fell into step beside him as they headed down to the Great Hall for breakfast.

“How's Molly? I didn't get a chance to say hello to her yesterday,” Thad said.

“She's well. And Cressida?”

Thad had been dating Cressida Titherington of Ravenclaw since last fall, since Molly had, in a way, set them up together. He shook his head, looking a little dejected. “I didn't get to see much of her this summer, she went on holiday to America. Apparently she's got cousins at the Salem Witches Academy.”

“Sorry, mate.”

Thad clapped him on the back. “Tell Molly I said hello,” he said as he split off toward the Ravenclaw table.

Arthur made his way to the front of the Gryffindor table, where Molly was sitting with Hattie. She looked up and smiled at him when she saw him.

He was very happy to be back at school again, where he could see her every day without having to worry about being caught by their parents. He hadn't seen nearly as much of her this summer as he would have liked, though they'd been at each other's houses at least twice a week. It just wasn't the same as spending all day, every day together as they did at school. He didn't want to think about this being their final year, and he wouldn't be able to see her every day any more.

Unless he convinced her to marry him as soon as school was over.

He sat down next to Molly and kissed her cheek quickly, aware that they were quite close to the staff table. Professor McGonagall wasn't looking their way, fortunately.

“Morning, Arthur,” Hattie said, smiling at him.

Molly was in a businesslike mood that morning, and gave Arthur a brief smile before saying briskly, “I've got your schedule from Professor McGonagall and copied it into your homework planner. You've got Muggle Studies first thing this morning, so you'd better eat quickly.”

Arthur smiled at her bossiness and grabbed a piece of bacon. It was good to be back at Hogwarts.

Molly informed him later that morning in Charms that they would be going to the library that evening for a start of term revising session. Arthur was against any sort of actual work the first week of school, on principle, but Molly was a force of nature and he found himself in the library after dinner that evening with a stack of books on preparing for N.E.W.T.s.

“Hattie will be here shortly, she wants to discuss N.E.W.T. practice exams,” Molly told him, looking more excited about additional schoolwork than Arthur thought was healthy. He wondered if she'd been like this O.W.L. year.

“Practice exams?” he echoed. “Isn't it a little early for that?”

She gave him a look of disbelief. “These are the most important exams we'll ever take! Our entire future is dependent on this year!”

Arthur could feel his heartrate accelerating as panic set in over that pronouncement, and decided he wasn't going to think about any of that just yet. He tuned her out for the next couple of minutes, pretending to look at one of the books while she lectured him about the importance of practice exams, and instead mentally replayed a few tactical manoeuvres he'd seen at professional Quidditch matches. He thought he and Bilius had figured out the Hawkshead Attacking Formation, though with only two of them to try it, he wasn't sure they'd got it right, but it ought to impress Thad that he knew that one...

“Are you listening to me, Arthur?”

He gave a start, and looked up at her guiltily. “What?”

She was giving him a stern look. “What were you thinking about?”

“Quidditch,” he admitted, caught. “I ran into Thad earlier, he's captain this year.”

“How lovely for him,” Molly said, smiling now. “I'm sure he's very pleased about that.”

“Yes. He's scheduled tryouts in two weeks,” Arthur said nonchalantly, waiting to gauge her reaction.

“That's nice,” she said, picking up one of the practice books. “Here's the Muggle Studies book, you and Petula can both use it to study for your N.E.W.T.s.”

Arthur took the book from her and set it down in front of him, leafing through it without really seeing the pages. This wasn't going the way he'd hoped. He'd had fantasies all through Muggle Studies of Molly in the stands, cheering him on as he played Chaser for their House team, but those images in his mind's eye had imploded in the face of her disinterest. He'd always known she didn't give a hoot about Quidditch, but somehow he'd still hoped she would encourage him. He was rather disappointed that she wasn't playing along with her half of the Quidditch-star fantasy he'd concocted.

“You're not really going to try out this year, are you?” Molly said then.

Arthur eyed her askance. Her face was stern again, as if she were sure he would back down. He wasn't sure why she disapproved, so he said cautiously, “I might do, yes. I nearly made the team last year.”

Molly frowned. “But this is N.E.W.T. year. You'll have more homework and revising than ever, how will you have time for it if you're playing Quidditch?”

“I'm just thinking about it right now, I haven't figured everything out yet,” Arthur said, feeling rather uncomfortable.

“You have a very busy schedule this year,” Molly said in a brisk tone, sorting through the stacks of N.E.W.T. books. “You haven't time for Quidditch. Blast, I didn't get the one with the practice quizzes in Arithmancy. I'll be right back,” she said, patting his shoulder as she stood.

Arthur propped his chin up on his hand as he watched her go.

He didn't want to lie to Molly, which was difficult to do in the best of circumstances, but... he really did want to play Quidditch. He decided to try out and not tell her about it unless he made the team, then he'd tell her the truth. He felt better after giving himself an avenue for honesty, and when Molly returned, he gave her a kiss on the cheek for worrying about his grades. She smiled at him invitingly, and they spent a few happy moments in their private corner of the stacks, until Hattie turned up and brought them back to reality with a cough and a knowing grin.

*

“Arthur!” Gideon Prewett, one of Molly's little brothers, was waving at him as he and his twin brother Fabian jogged down the corridor toward Arthur as he was leaving the Muggle Studies classroom later that week. Arthur wondered why they weren't in class, but decided that, as with most things related to the Prewett brothers, he preferred not to know.

Arthur slowed down so they could catch up, and the twins fell into step beside him.

“Heard you were trying out for Quidditch this year,” Gideon said eagerly.

“From whom?” Arthur asked warily.

“Njemile Kamara. So you're going to try out for Chaser? Are you any good?” Fabian asked.

Arthur shrugged. “I tried out last year and didn't make the team,” he said self-consciously, feeling his ears get hot.

“We'll help you train,” Gideon said. “We can help you practice before the tryouts.”

Arthur gave them a surprised look. “Why should you do that?”

“So you'll keep Molly off our backs- oof.” Gideon's breath came out in a whoosh, cutting off his sentence, as his brother's elbow shot into his side.

“Do I want to know what you're up to this year?” Arthur asked suspiciously.

“Nothing, nothing at all,” Fabian said airily. “So, when do you want to go down to the pitch for some practice?”

Arthur felt rather uncomfortable at that. He appreciated the offer and thought the help would be useful – it was difficult to really play Quidditch by one's self – but he wanted to keep his involvement in the tryouts as quiet as possible, so certain people didn't find out. Somehow it didn't seem right to ask her own brothers to lie to her. “Look, Molly didn't think I ought to play Quidditch this year, with N.E.W.T.s and all, so...”

“Don't worry, we won't tell her a thing,” Gideon assured him. “If you can keep it from Molly, then she'll never know.”

He should have known better than to worry about the twins lying to their sister. They did it every day, he thought ruefully. “Are you sure you can keep it from her?” Arthur asked sceptically.

“We've had years of experience lying to Molly, and hiding stuff from her,” Fabian said cheerfully. “You'll get used to it eventually, mate.”

Arthur would have liked to say he didn't have to get used to it, but he rather felt he'd lost his moral high ground when he decided to try out for Quidditch behind her back. Instead he said, “Well then, thanks boys. How about Saturday morning?”

*

Arthur had noticed, since he'd begun spending a great deal of time in Molly's company almost a year ago, that it was often necessary to present her with a fait accompli. She was inclined to argue and lecture for days on end if warned prior to an event of which she was sure to disapprove, but if told of it afterwards, the result might reasonably be expected to be a bit of shouting, followed by a pronouncement of “Well, on your own head be it, then.”

If he had informed her a fortnight ago that he was in fact going to try out for Quidditch, he would have been lectured at on a daily basis until she had secured a promise from him not to try out for the team. By simply trying out and postponing the possibility of even needing to tell her until he found out whether or not he'd made the team, he was really saving both of them a great deal of bother and unpleasant arguing.

Really, he was doing her a favour.

Guilty conscience assuaged, and feeling rather cheerful at the thought that his girlfriend would just wash her hands of the entire subject and possibly not shout at him, Arthur set off for the Quidditch tryouts in high spirits.

Thad was on the centre of the pitch, with Njemile Kamara and Julian Kirkpatrick at his side, gesticulating in a manner that indicated he was explaining some new techniques to them. Julian, whose father had played for the Kenmare Kestrels, looked rather bored. A small crowd of Gryffindor hopefuls was milling about nearby, brooms in hand and mostly looking quite nervous.

Arthur joined their little crowd and was unsurprised to see Dunstan among them. Dunstan had tried out for the team every year since first year and never made it, but a bullheaded determination kept him coming out every year, just in case he had mysteriously gained some talent over the summer. He usually hadn't.

Dunstan nodded at Arthur, and he went over to stand next to him. Dunstan was tossing his broomstick lightly from hand to hand, a nervous habit that Arthur had seen before. He was staring at Thad as if he were trying to force Thad to accept him onto the team by the strength of his thoughts.

“All right there, Arthur?” Dunstan said, not looking at him.

“Good morning. Feeling confident this morning?” Arthur asked, eyeing Dunstan's broomstick as it swished back and forth.

“I suppose.” The broomstick sped up a bit in its path from hand to hand. Dunstan didn't look very confident.

Arthur, on the other hand, was not nervous this time. He'd managed to get out to the pitch twice with the Prewett brothers, and they'd pronounced his Chaser abilities to be above-average, which he felt was quite a compliment from them, and he'd been feeling very cheerful about his Quidditch abilities in the knowledge that Gideon and Fabian, at least, were on his side.

He hadn't been brave enough to try out until fifth year, but had missed out on the team, to the eternal delight of his brother Bilius. Sixth year he had felt he'd done rather better, but still hadn't made the team. He hadn't been dumb enough to tell his brother that time, so he'd been fortunate enough to miss out on Bilius's glee at his not making the team.

This year, he had a good feeling about the team. He'd played Quidditch a few times over the summer with Reid, and the usual one-on-one games with his brother, and now he'd had several hours of serious practice under his belt on the school's pitch with the Prewett brothers, he felt quite confident that he would do better this year than he had last.

Atalanta Weekes turned up then with Francine Allen, and Thad blew his whistle to get everyone's attention. Arthur followed the small crowd as it gathered around him, and he and Dunstan stood at the back. Much of the crowd seemed to be third and fourth years, and Arthur felt very tall and old next to them.

“Thanks for coming out, everyone,” Thad called out, his broomstick tucked under one arm. “We're going to start with the Keeper tryouts, so everyone else go and sit down for a bit.”

After half an hour of watching Njemile and Francine fly around and throw Quaffles at the goalposts, Thad declared a fourth-year boy named Grant Swyndlehurst as the new Keeper. Arthur was favourably impressed by Grant, though he wasn't as good as Icarus Teague had been.

Thad sent up the Chasers then, and as Arthur kicked off from the ground, he felt a thrill of nerves. The position of Chaser seemed to be the most popular one, as the crowd of hopefuls was largest. Francine gave him an encouraging smile from across the pitch, and he took a deep breath and took off.

Thad had released a single Bludger to see how the prospective Chasers were at avoiding it, and Julian Kirkpatrick was flying around with a Beater's bat to prevent any bad injuries. Two second-year girls squealed as the Bludger came near them, and took refuge on the ground. Arthur rolled his eyes at them and ducked as the Bludger flew over his head.

He caught the Quaffle easily when Njemile passed it to him, and felt quite exhilarated as he threw it through the goal post. No one was guarding them, but he was sure he could have made the shot even with a Keeper on duty. He put on an extra burst of speed and caught a tricky reverse pass from Francine, who grinned at him as he then tossed it over to Njemile, allowing her to score easily.

Finally Thad blew his whistle, and Arthur made it to the ground first. Dunstan landed right behind him.

“Right,” said Thad, surveying them.

Arthur eyed a couple of fourth-years, who were watching Thad eagerly. Dunstan didn't look particularly optimistic, and Arthur guessed his friend must know he hadn't performed well. Dunstan hadn't managed to catch a single pass and had nearly been knocked out by the Bludger because he hadn't been paying it any attention.

“Arthur, you're in. Francine, Njemile, welcome back to the team.”

Arthur grinned widely, feeling a burst of pride. Dunstan didn't look terribly surprised, and gave Arthur a clap on the shoulder before heading to go sit in the stands and watch the rest of the tryouts.

Atalanta once again proved that she was the best Seeker in their House, and as the only person to turn up to play Beater aside from Thad and Julian was a weedy little third-year boy, there seemed to be no question of who would play that position for Gryffindor. Julian was only a fifth year and already nearly as tall as Thad and just as broad-chested, and had grown up watching his father play professionally. The tryouts ended quite amicably once the third-year had been told, very kindly, that he ought to try again next year.

Thad informed everyone that practices would begin on Tuesday, and the newly formed Gryffindor team headed for the castle to celebrate. Gideon and Fabian were in the stands, and called congratulations to Arthur as he left the pitch, and as he waved to them in thanks, a thought occurred to him that cut through a bit of his jubilation at his own victory.

He was going to have to tell Molly now.

Chapter 3: Only A Moment
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“Petula, put that away and pay attention,” Molly said severely, frowning at her friend.

Petula didn't look concerned. “He's not watching. Don't worry so much.”

“That's really funny, coming from you,” Siobhan said.

Petula stuck out her tongue and went back to her book. She had charmed a spoon to stir her potion, which was not at all the shade of green that it ought to be, and was ignoring it and reading a Muggle horror novel under the desk.

Professor Slughorn had dozed off at his desk, his bushy moustache quivering with each breath and hands folded over his large belly, allowing the seventh-years to brew their potions – a Scintillating Solution – unsupervised. No one seemed concerned about this, as Slughorn had taught the potion briefly last year as well. Molly never minded when Professor Slughorn took one of his 'wee catnaps', as it gave her an opportunity for a morning chat with her friends. All five of the Gryffindor seventh-year girls were in N.E.W.T.-level Potions.

“I think I'm turning into my mum,” Cecilia said as she dropped a handful of hellebore into her cauldron. “Only this morning I told a first-year if she didn't stop making rude faces, her face would stick that way, and yesterday I said 'drat'. Any day now I'm probably going to say 'Don't make me turn this broom around!'”

“My mum says we all just become watered-down versions of our parents,” Petula said airily, not looking up from her book.

Molly felt a squirm of discomfort at that statement. She had no intention of turning into her mother, and liked to think they weren't at all alike. “That's... not true.”

“Oh really?” Siobhan said, arching an eyebrow. “I've met your mum.”

“She's got a point,” Hattie murmured, and Molly shot her a glare.

“Well, I wouldn't mind being like my father,” Reid drawled. He had joined their group that year, helping Cecilia to scoot two tables together so all six of them could brew their potions near each other. Slughorn hadn't seemed to mind the irregular classroom formation; Cecilia and Reid were two of his favourite students. “He's quite talented, and very groovy. You know he works for the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad.”

“You are very much like him,” Cecilia told him.

“You didn't really just say 'groovy', did you?” Siobhan asked, gazing askance at Reid. “That's a Muggle word. Where did you even learn that?”

“From Cosmo,” Reid said. “I quite like it. It's very evocative, isn't it? Groovy. I like saying it. Groovy.”

“It amazes me sometimes what an idiot you are,” Cecilia said, smiling fondly at him.

“Groovy,” he said again, grinning at her.

Molly shook her head at them. Siobhan rolled her eyes.

“I heard you got a detention last night,” Reid said then, turning to Petula, who finally put her book away, heaving a sigh.

“Yes, I did.”

“Why?” Molly asked in surprise. Despite Petula's poor marks, she'd never been in serious trouble at school.

“Oh, Acacia Bushby-Ferris caught me with Thomas out after curfew,” Petula said, blushing slightly, though she looked rather proud.

“Well done,” Siobhan said.

“Don't encourage her,” Hattie said severely.

“That stupid cow,” Cecilia muttered. Reid gave her a kiss on the cheek, glancing over his shoulder afterwards to make certain Slughorn was still asleep.

Cecilia had, for some time now, disliked Acacia Bushby-Ferris, who was a year below them and a prefect as well. Acacia had a low tolerance for what she considered 'lewd behaviour' and had taken points from Siobhan last year after catching her in a compromising position with the boy she'd been seeing at the time, causing a row with Cecilia, who'd considered the punishment unjust.

“Sorry you got a detention,” Hattie said sympathetically.

“I got the feeling Acacia really enjoyed giving me a detention,” Petula said. “Honestly, I think she's got it in for me.”

No one looked particularly concerned by this.

“Yes, but you think everyone has it in for you,” Molly said.

“I'm only saying, you lot ought to watch out, because she'll put you in detention as well if she catches you out. She doesn't like any of us,” Petula said, eyeing Siobhan.

When class was over, and Slughorn had been woken gently by Cecilia, Petula split off from the group to go to Muggle Studies, and Reid and Siobhan headed for Care of Magical Creatures. Cecilia declined an invitation for some fresh air with Molly and Hattie and went to the library.

Molly found a spot in the courtyard with a view of the lake, sitting on the low stone wall that separated the open courtyard from the surrounding covered corridors. Hattie said next to her, crossing her ankles and making sure her skirts were smoothed down.

“How are things with you and Silvester?” Molly asked.

“Fine,” said Hattie, but she looked a little distracted.

“How are things with your mother and her new boyfriend?” Molly asked then, and Hattie seemed to deflate a bit.

She looked furtively over her shoulder, for what Molly wasn't certain, and then turned to Molly. “I wasn't going to say anything, but I just have to. Please don't think I'm awful.”

“I would never think that,” Molly assured her, her curiosity piqued.

“I tried to talk to my mother about it this summer, but she simply didn't want to listen to me,” Hattie said. “Molly, I think she wants to marry him!”

“You don't want her to get married again?”

“I want her to be happy,” Hattie said firmly. “He's quite nice. It's just... He's a Muggle.”

Molly frowned sympathetically. “I know.”

“And she's so smart, why would she want to marry a Muggle?” Hattie asked, looking bewildered.

“Plenty of witches marry Muggles,” Molly said, though no one in her family ever had. “I don't think being smart has anything to do with love. Does he know she's a witch?”

“No. He has no idea. She can't tell him she's a witch unless she marries him, otherwise it's breaking the Statute of Secrecy.”

“Isn't that awful,” Molly murmured. “Has he asked her to marry him?”

“I'm sure she would have told me,” Hattie said helplessly. “She's always told me everything. It's been just her and me, since Dad died, you know.”

Molly nodded. “Do you think she would say yes, if he did ask?”

“I hope not,” Hattie whispered wretchedly.

Molly didn't know what to say to that. Hattie looked quite miserable. She thought perhaps Hattie had never even realized she had prejudices against Muggles, until they had been brought out this summer at the introduction of her mother's Muggle boyfriend.

Molly had never actually met a Muggle before. She'd seen them a few times while her family was out and about in London, but she'd never spoken to one. Her family lived in a small village that was all-wizard, and rarely left the village. She knew her cousin who was a Squib had been sent to live with the Muggles, but no one in the family ever talked about him. It was as if he had ceased to exist when his magic never came. She couldn't imagine wanting to date one, much less marry them. It would be like being around one of the alien species in Petula's books.

Was she prejudiced as well? She had never thought about it before.

“You know, I've always thought that rule in the Statute was very silly,” she said abruptly. “How horrible to have to lie to the person you love, about something so important, too, until after it's too late for them to say they don't want to be part of both worlds. What if they hated you for being magical?”

“I suppose you have to choose very carefully what sort of person you marry,” Hattie said.

“You should do that anyway,” Molly said sternly.

“Yes, but you know what I mean.”

They sat looking at the lake for a time in silence, then Hattie said, “Do you ever worry about marrying Arthur?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, because his family has such a reputation, you know...”

Molly stared, unseeing, at the lake. She hated when someone insulted Arthur's family. They were such good people. But the Weasleys had always been known as blood traitors. Did it bother her?

“I don't like when others say those horrible things about him,” she said. “But I don't mind any of that about him and his family.”

“You're braver than I am. I don't want my mother to marry a Muggle,” Hattie said, her voice low and embarrassed, as if confessing a dark sin. “Not because of him, he's nice and all, but because of what people will say. I hate to think I'll be gossiped about. And... I don't want him to take my mother away from me. I'm an awful person, aren't I. How did I ever get to be a Gryffindor?”

Molly put her arm around Hattie's shoulders. “You're not awful or cowardly at all, you're only worried for your mum's well-being, like any good daughter. Muggle-borns are being killed all the time lately, after all. Your mother could be endangering her life by marrying a Muggle.”

“She's a pureblood. She thinks she won't be in any danger.” Hattie closed her eyes, her eyebrows knitted together. “I never thought this would bother me so much. Why does this bother me so much?”

Molly had no answer to that, and could only pat her best friend's hand as the two girls sat in silence, staring at the dark water of the lake.

*

Arthur was waiting for her in the common room when they returned some time late. Hattie darted past him up to the girls' dormitory with only a brief smile, her face wan.

“What's the matter with Hattie?” he asked after she was out of earshot.

“She's just having some difficulty with the idea of her mother getting remarried,” Molly said in a low voice, sitting down on the sofa next to him.

He frowned. “Why is she upset? Because her mother's seeing a Muggle?”

“Yes, and it's exactly the wrong time for a witch to want to marry a Muggle.” Molly sighed and leaned her head on his shoulder.

“There's never a wrong time for tolerance,” Arthur said in a voice that indicated he was quoting someone. Molly suspected it was one of his father's platitudes.

“Yes, well,” she retorted, feeling rather snappish suddenly. “Hattie doesn't need to hear that right now. Give her some time. She's a good person, she just never had to think about this sort of thing before, and she is a pureblood, you know.”

“So am I, but I wouldn't have a problem with-”

“Arthur,” she said warningly, and he subsided.

“All right, I won't say anything to her. How was class this morning?”

She was in the middle of telling him about the morning's Potions lesson when Cosmo Graham came through the portrait hole with his fellow sixth-year, Levi Pascal, on his heels. He made a beeline for Arthur when he caught sight of him.

“Congratulations, Arthur!” Cosmo said, clapping him on the back. “I just heard.”

“Yeah, well done,” said Levi, grinning at him. “Chaser! This year we're going to win it, I can feel it!”

“All the best of last year's team and new talent as well,” Cosmo said happily. “I heard the new Keeper's very good.”

“Thanks,” Arthur said, grinning at them, a little embarrassedly.

“Got to run, but well done, mate. See you later. Hi Molly,” Cosmo added, seeming to notice her for the first time.

The two sixth-years went off toward their dormitory, and Molly stared at Arthur, whose ears had turned very red. He ducked away from her gaze, but after a moment he looked back up at her, squaring his shoulders.

“I thought you weren't going to try out for Quidditch this year,” she said coldly.

“I decided I would,” he said, sounding a little nervous. “I didn't want you to worry about it unless I made the team.”

“So you lied to me.”

Arthur's cheeks were flushed now too. “I'm sorry, Molly, but you were being unreasonable.”

Her mouth dropped open. She could not believe he had gone behind her back like this, lied to her and then gone and tried out for Quidditch anyway, and now he was defending what he'd done. She got to her feet, leaving her Charms book forgotten on the sofa, and paced in front of the fire, her arms crossed over her chest. How could he keep things from her? He knew she'd be upset, and he'd deliberately hidden it from her!

“You didn't want me to worry about it?”

“You could be pleased that I made the team,” he said, smiling gamely. He looked as if he thought she might shout at him. She rather thought she might, too.

“What about your studies? What about N.E.W.T.s?” she demanded. “How are you going to do well on your N.E.W.T.s if you're wasting time on Quidditch? You could destroy your entire future over a silly game!”

“You just don't understand Quidditch,” he said, and she wanted to scream. There were a handful of fifth and sixth year students in the common room, and she was determined not to shout at him in front of them.

“How will you have time for everything? Do you intend to fail all your N.E.W.T.s?”

Arthur frowned. “You're overreacting, Molly. Thad plays Quidditch, and he's a prefect, and he still manages to have time for everything,” he pointed out, going over to stand in her path, stopping her from pacing. “He's not failing any of his classes.”

“Yes, but he takes one less class than you do,” Molly said, feeling tears rising. She knew she was being silly and selfish; why shouldn't he play Quidditch if he wanted to? He would make the free time for it. It was just that she knew where that free time would have to come from. She wouldn't let him cut back on his studies, so it would have to come from their time together. She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself so he wouldn't see how upset she was about this. The anger was abruptly gone, replaced by an overpowering urge to cry.

She ought to have known better. As usual, Arthur immediately saw to the real reason she was upset, and pulled her close, whispering, “Thad still manages to have time for Cressida, as well. If he can do it, so can I.”

Molly rested her cheek against his chest and tried to blink back the tears. “I'm sorry, Arthur.”

“You can come watch our practices,” he said, sounding excited, as if he'd just solved the problem. “You could come to all of them, and watch me fly. It'll be fun.”

Molly kept her head down, leaning against him, so he wouldn't see her face.

She really didn't like Quidditch. It was so boring. She tried to convince herself that it would be different watching Arthur play it, but somehow that argument wasn't holding any water. This year was going to be awful: less time with Arthur, and more time spent watching stupid Quidditch, not to mention horribly important exams looming the entire time. She decided that mentioning that to him would not be wise.

“It won't be the same,” she sniffed instead. “And I really don't understand Quidditch, you know.”

Arthur chuckled. She could feel it rumbling through his chest, vibrating against her cheek. “Your brothers will be happy to explain it to you.”

Molly let out a groan, and Arthur laughed harder.

*

Arthur had Quidditch practice that Friday, and Molly promised to come down to the pitch to watch. She really didn't want to go, however, so she dawdled a bit in her dormitory after changing out of her school robes into a knitted skirt and jumper. She gathered up her current knitting project so she'd have something to do while she pretended to watch Quidditch practice. Once she felt she could no longer reasonably justify further delay, she set off for the pitch at a leisurely pace. She didn't know how long Quidditch practices normally lasted. Maybe they would have a short practice and would be done by the time she got there, and she would have missed the entire thing.

Cheered by this thought, she was humming to herself as she headed down the staircase, when a pair of figures ducked out from behind a tapestry on the second floor, splitting apart and heading in opposite directions.

Molly stopped on the landing and the figure headed her way looked up. Molly wasn't at all surprised to see who it was.

“Hi Molly,” Siobhan said, obviously trying to brazen out whatever she'd been up to behind the tapestry.

Molly was craning her neck to get a look at who Siobhan had been with, but the boy in question had quickened his pace. As he turned a corner and disappeared from sight, Molly looked back at her friend. “Was that Roddy Feltham?”

Siobhan frowned at her, crossing her arms tightly. “I don't want to talk about it.”

“I hope you let him down gently this time,” Molly told her severely, taking Siobhan's statement as confirmation that she had in fact been with Roddy. “You broke his heart last year.”

“Mind your own business, Molly,” Siobhan said, pushing past her to head up the stairs toward Gryffindor tower.

Molly watched her go with a frown. What was going on between Siobhan and Roddy? They'd gone out last year, though it had been brief, as all Siobhan's relationships were, and Roddy had spent the rest of the year looking at Siobhan somewhat longingly. Molly had felt rather sorry for him; he was quite a nice boy. Now they were already a few weeks into the school year and Siobhan had yet to turn up with a new boyfriend. Was she going back to Roddy?

Sighing, Molly continued on out of the castle and onto the grounds. She could see small figures flying in the air over the pitch as she approached it, looking tiny in the distance. As she drew closer, she began to make out details.

Thad was flying around in a looping pattern, crossing paths with Julian Kirkpatrick, the other Beater on the team. A boy she didn't know hovered in front of the hoops at one end of the field. She could see Atalanta Weekes up high above the others, though Atalanta didn't seem to be doing anything. In fact – Molly squinted for a better look – Atalanta had her ankles crossed under her broom to steady herself as she sat upright, and was picking at her nail varnish, ignoring the rest of the practice. Molly grinned then. Thad would kill Atalanta when he noticed what she was doing.

The Chasers were flying up and down the pitch, tossing the Quaffle back and forth. Molly assumed this was some sort of drill, but her Quidditch knowledge was limited. It looked very tricky. She watched then as Francine Allen's sturdy little form suddenly shot forward, the Quaffle tucked under one arm, headed straight for the hoops.

The boy defending them missed the shot as it came through the centre hoop, and Thad blew his whistle. Molly set off for the stands as the team returned to the ground and Thad started lecturing the new Keeper.

She made a mental note to ask Arthur what the new boy's name was. If she didn't know what was going on in the game, she could at least know who his teammates were. She was determined to be supportive. After all, she loved Arthur, and if this was how he wanted to waste his time, then she would just have to be one of those Quidditch girlfriends she'd seen in the sport magazines her brothers read.

Arthur had landed next to Francine, who whispered something to him behind her hand, and he grinned at her. Francine said something else and then nudged him in the side with her elbow, both of them laughing. Molly stopped abruptly, staring at them. They looked so... friendly.

An odd feeling crept over her as she watched them laughing together, and she stood frozen for a moment more, her knitting fallen from her nerveless fingers, forgotten.

He talked to Francine a lot, now that Molly thought about it. She'd seen him chatting with Francine any number of times, and had never thought anything of it before. Francine was Muggle-born, and Arthur loved Muggles. She'd thought it was no more than that. She was just being silly, thinking Francine was flirting with him, and he was flirting back. Of course not. She was sure it wasn't anything.

Arthur wouldn't do that.

Anger burst into flame in her chest. She turned on her heel and set off back to the castle, feeling as if her entire body was burning.

Chapter 4: Reach Out in the Darkness
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Thad had everyone up at the crack of dawn the following Saturday to practice again. Arthur stumbled out of bed when Thad shook him awake, pulled on his robes, and was halfway down the staircase before realizing he'd forgotten his glasses.

“I gave you all a rest this week, but from now on, we're going to take our training programme seriously,” Thad told them as the team gathered, bleary-eyed, and shuffled into their uniforms in the changing room.

“What are you talking about, Thad?” Julian said around a yawn.

“Last year we lost heavily, even though we had decent players. It was the training schedule. Teague didn't work us hard enough,” Thad said aggressively. “This year we're going to train harder, and we're going to train more often.”

“Great,” Julian muttered, strapping on some of his padding. “Sounds bloody marvelous.”

Arthur hadn't been on the team last year and thus had no idea how Icarus Teague's training had been, but he had watched the team lose last year, so he was game to try Thad's methods. If it helped them win, it would be worth it. Still, it was very early in the morning.

Thad was pacing across the locker room while everyone else dragged their feet getting ready. Atalanta was trying to put her hair in a ponytail but seemed to still be half-asleep, and Njemile and Francine both looked puffy-eyed. The new Keeper, Grant Swyndlehurst, was sitting on a bench, staring up at a corner of the ceiling. Arthur heard the boy's stomach rumble, and thought he might suggest to Thad that if he was going to have the whole team up this early every weekend, he ought to get the house-elves to bring some breakfast for everyone. Arthur wouldn't mind some tea right about now. He wished he'd gone to bed earlier last night.

Thad spent the next twenty minutes lecturing everyone on how to keep themselves in shape, mentally and physically, for the year's Quidditch programme. Arthur was amazed when Thad passed around copies of the training schedule and saw he had them down for at least three days a week, every week until their first game, which wasn't until November.

“He's really serious about this, isn't he?” he muttered to Francine, who grimaced.

Julian stared at his schedule in disgust. “I never should have told him how often my dad made the Kestrels practice.”

“Thad, you do know we've all still got homework, don't you?” Francine said loudly, interrupting a monologue from Thad about the previous year's failures. “You and Arthur have N.E.W.T.s this year, and Njemile and Julian have O.W.L.s. You're going to need loads of study time.”

Thad waved that aside. “It's only until the first game. Once we've beaten Slytherin, we can ease up a little. Maybe only twice a week. There'll be plenty of time for studying.”

“This isn't a professional-level team,” Julian protested, but they were all overridden by Thad.

“He's out of his mind,” murmured Francine as Thad sent them out to the pitch to start flying drills.

Arthur chuckled, his broom slung over his shoulders.

Molly didn't turn up at practice that morning, for which he could hardly blame her, as it was ridiculously early, though he thought she might have come out to catch the end of it after breakfast. Now that he'd seen the training schedule, he knew she wasn't going to attend every practice anyway. She took her studies seriously. In fact, she was likely to shout at him, or possibly Thad, for the amount of training that the Gryffindor team was planning to do.

They finished practice in time to catch the end of breakfast. The Great Hall was nearly empty, and neither Molly nor any of her friends were at the table, so Arthur ate quickly and then returned to Gryffindor tower.

Molly was sitting on the sofa in front of the fire, flanked by Hattie and Cecilia, all three of them with their Arithmancy textbooks open, passing sheets of parchment between them. They seemed to be comparing notes. Siobhan was stretched out on the floor at their feet, scribbling at a lengthy essay next to a pile of books about dragons, and Petula sat sideways on a chair next to the fire, her legs dangling over one arm of the chair, her Muggle Studies book open on her lap.

“Good morning, Molly,” he said, and they all looked up at him. It was rather intimidating being the focus of so many female gazes.

“Oh hello,” she said, her voice strangely airy. “How was practice?”

“It was all right. I thought you said you were coming?”

“I'm sorry, Arthur, I was just too busy,” she said, though she didn't sound particularly sorry.

Hattie got a rather shifty look at these words, and Cecilia glanced at Molly askance before returning to her notes. Petula was watching Arthur with a small frown, as if waiting for him to do something of which she would disapprove. Siobhan rolled her eyes at him and went back to her essay.

Arthur wondered what was going on. “Well, I'll go... get cleaned up, then...” he said, hoping she'd tell him to stay.

“That's a good idea,” Molly said, shuffling through her notes again.

Arthur stood there for a moment longer while they all went back to their work, not looking at him, then he retreated to his dormitory, still wondering what he'd missed.

*

Three weeks in to Thad's gruelling Quidditch training schedule, Arthur found himself completely overwhelmed. He'd gotten his first Poor of the year, on a Transfiguration essay that he had done while eating breakfast. While the mark wasn't entirely surprising because of this, the extra homework Professor McGonagall had given him did not help his already overloaded schedule. It had the added unpleasant effect of making Molly get rather huffy.

“Is that because you spend all your time on Quidditch and aren't studying enough?” she asked accusingly, pointing at the red P on his essay as he tried to hide it in his knapsack.

“No,” he assured her, though it probably was.

Molly wasn't appeased by this, and as the end of October approached, she started acting very snippy whenever she caught sight of one of the Gryffindor Quidditch players. Her behaviour did not go unnoticed by the team. Thad, who had always got on quite well with Molly, did not seem to understand why she wouldn't talk to him now, though most of her ire seemed focused on the team's other two Chasers, Njemile and Francine.

“I think Molly hates me,” Francine told Arthur at the next practice.

“Don't be silly, of course she doesn't.” Arthur actually couldn't think of Molly ever mentioning Francine one way or the other, but he couldn't imagine why anyone would hate the girl. She'd made him feel quite welcome as a new addition to the team.

Five of the players on the team had been together last year, and Arthur felt rather as though he was the last to arrive at a really good party, where everyone already had in-jokes and reminisced about things he hadn't been present for. Grant must be feeling something similar, but Arthur had not spoken much to him. Grant didn't seem to speak much to anyone, and turned rather red when anyone tried to speak to him.

Francine was the one Arthur knew best on the team, aside from Thad. Thad was in full captaining mode and might as well not have been his friend at all for all the good his presence did, so Arthur found himself gravitating toward Francine as he struggled to find his place on the team. He had never had a little sister before, and was starting to think of Francine as one. She rather reminded him of his brother Bilius, but he'd been around Molly and her friends long enough now to know that this was not an observation he ought to share with Francine, even though he meant it in a good way. Francine's commentary during and after practices was hilarious. She had a very dry sense of humour and always made Arthur laugh with her gentle mockery of the team's performance.

“At least we're better than last year,” she would say at the end of every practice, making him laugh again.

Atalanta wasn't friendly to Arthur, but then, she wasn't particularly friendly to anyone. Njemile was rather shy, and Arthur thought he had embarrassed her with his quizzing about her Muggle family members. Njemile was from Sierra Leone originally, and it was a whole other world from the British Muggles he'd learned about in Muggle Studies. Sometimes Njemile wore a cloth headwrap over her short, tight curls while she was flying, and Arthur had to make himself stop staring at it. He could not figure out how she got the brightly-coloured fabric to stay in a knot at the nape of her neck the way she did. She didn't even use magic to do it.

Grant was still very quiet even after a month of playing together, and Arthur had not decided whether the boy was shy or simply too thick to string a sentence together. He was a damn good Keeper, though, nearly as good as Icarus had been. Julian didn't talk to Arthur very often. He was cocky and self-absorbed, and rather reminded Arthur of Reid Akins. Arthur thought it must be because Julian's father was a professional Quidditch player.

They spent the next practice working on various drills of Thad's devising, until Arthur thought his fingers were going numb from the cold and the repeated thudding of the Quaffle against them as he caught the ball. He gratefully hovered in midair as Njemile took the Quaffle and soared toward the goalposts, wiping his brow as he watched Grant block Njemile's shot.

Thad released the Snitch to give Atalanta a workout, and she made a particularly spectacular catch, hanging upside down on her broom with one leg wrapped around the polished handle, her long blonde ponytail hanging straight down as she reached one-handed for the Snitch.

There was a ragged cheer from the stands, whether for the catch or for how pretty Atalanta looked making it, and Arthur turned quickly, scanning their small audience for Molly. There was no red hair among the spectators.

“I see the usual armchair crew is back this year.” Thad was hovering nearby on his Cleansweep, looking down at the stands. “At least this year they're cheering instead of booing.” He took off again toward the goalposts.

“Is that Roddy Feltham?” Francine asked, pulling her broom alongside Arthur's.

Arthur squinted a bit into the bright morning sunlight. “Yes, that's him. He came all last year too, I remember Cecilia Fletcher shouting at him for insulting Icarus's goalkeeping ability.”

“You're friends with him, aren't you?” There was an odd note in Francine's voice.

“Yeah, I am.”

Francine looked a little pink, but before she could comment further, Thad blew his whistle and they went back to practice.

*

Molly's birthday was the following week, so they had planned a small celebration for the preceding Hogsmeade weekend. Arthur felt rather guilty that he couldn't put on a big party for her, as he had last year, but he simply didn't have time. He really ought to be back in the common room writing an essay for History of Magic as it was, but he wanted to spend the day with Molly.

She didn't seem terribly happy to be turning eighteen, or to be going to Hogsmeade, but her fingers entwined firmly with his as they set off into the village. Arthur thought this was a positive sign.

The day was dreary, with an overcast sky and a cold wind that smelled of snow. The clouds hung low in the sky, and Arthur thought it might rain before the afternoon was over. He led the way straight to the pub, where it was warm and cosy.

They got butterbeers in the Three Broomsticks and sat at a table in the corner, talking about the week's classes. Arthur carefully avoided mentioning Quidditch to her, since it had been making her so prickly lately, but shortly after they sat down, Njemile passed them and waved to Arthur. He waved back, and Molly's expression tightened a bit.

The Prewett twins came into the pub, glanced around, caught sight of their sister and, pointing to her and speaking to each other in whispers, quickly left the pub. Molly frowned at this, and Arthur tried to distract her. Whatever the twins were doing, it was probably best if neither he nor Molly knew anything about it. He cast about for a topic to get her mind off her brothers.

“Is Hattie still upset about her mother?”

He wanted to kick himself after he said it, since his remarks on this subject the last time it had come up had not gotten him in Molly's good books.

She was picking at the label of her butterbeer. “Yes. She really misses her mum,  they haven't been writing each other as much as they normally do. So I think she'll get past it. I don't know that they'll be as close as they were, but I think that would have happened no matter whom her mother was with.”

“Yes,” Arthur agreed, feeling that that was probably a safe thing to say.

Molly didn't say anything more, and Arthur sat next to her in silence, wondering what was wrong with the day. It was almost as if he was in a dark room, feeling his way toward the door. Surely there was an exit from whatever had Molly in such a funk lately. He'd never seen her bottle up her feelings this way and was sure something terrible was going to happen if she kept it up. Normally when something had upset her, she shouted about it. The fit of sullens she'd been having was very odd.

Francine came in, and Arthur saw her go to the bar for a butterbeer. Molly looked up and followed his glance, and immediately scooted closer to him. As Francine approached them, Molly put her hand on his knee.

Feeling rather nonplussed, Arthur waved to Francine a little vaguely.

“All right there, Arthur?” Francine said, then gave Molly a tentative smile. “Hello, Molly.”

“Hello,” Molly said in a brittle voice, her hand still on Arthur's knee.

Francine looked a little frightened, and left with another wave. Molly's warm hand resting on his knee was starting to distract Arthur, and he forgot to wave back to Francine. He leaned in toward Molly, hoping she would let him kiss her but not really expecting it.

To his surprise, she kissed him back with vigour. He nearly forgot where they were, but after a moment she pulled away and went back to picking at her butterbeer label.

Completely lost now as to what was going on, Arthur downed the last of his butterbeer and decided to give up on the clearly unsuccessful Hogsmeade trip. “Shall we go back to the common room?”

“I suppose.” Molly left her half-finished bottle on the table and followed him out of the pub.

He held his cloak around her as they walked back to the castle, keeping the wind off her, and she put her arm around his waist. He had to shorten his steps to keep pace with her, but at least she was close to him. She wasn't saying anything, however, and was staring at the ground as they walked.

They turned down a corridor to head toward the main staircases, and Arthur caught a snatch of someone's conversation as they passed a trick wall, a voice drawling, “Yes, well, my father says Muggles are just a sort of animal, really...”

Arthur felt a jolt of rage at that, but Molly did not appear to have heard it, and he had to force himself to keep walking with her and not tear through the trick wall and shake some sense into whomever had said that. That was exactly the sort of nonsense that had caused wizards like the Black family to try to pass laws that legalized hunting Muggles. It was disgusting.

He dwelt unpleasantly on Muggle prejudices as they climbed the stairs behind a small girl who must have been a first-year, she was so small, and spent a few moments wondering how he could convince Hattie that it was all right – no, good – for her mother to be romantically involved with a Muggle. Hattie wasn't a bad person, so he decided she just didn't know enough about Muggles to understand them. Maybe after she'd spent more time around them, Hattie would change her mind.

The first-year in front of them suddenly tripped, one foot gone straight through the marble staircase. Molly's face darkened, and she rushed forward to help the girl pull her foot out of the damaged stair.

Last year, he'd helped the Prewett brothers set off some fireworks that had caused apparently irreparable damage to this particular step, and though prefects had been warning the new students about the 'trick step', there had still been quite a few who forgot and got stuck. Arthur carefully avoided mentioning any of this to Molly, who had been absolutely enraged by the incident at the time, but it was clearly on her mind as they continued to the common room. She did not take his hand again as they walked, and Arthur sighed.

The day was not going well.

Molly still looked annoyed by the time they reached the common room, and went to her room to get her knitting. He wasn't sure what had put her in this foul mood to begin with, but clearly something had done so. Whatever it was, he hoped she would get past it soon, or shout at someone to relieve her feelings so she could stop being angry.

She sat down on the sofa with the ball of yarn in her lap, and the next thing Arthur knew the needles were clacking away of their own accord while Molly watched them, staring intently at the flashing wooden needles.

“What are you making?” he asked, watching as the needles started making a pattern of complicated cables.

“A scarf,” she said shortly.

“Oh.” He wondered if it was for him. The yarn was a very nice dark red, a Gryffindor sort of red. Molly didn't normally wear that colour, so he didn't think she was knitting it for herself. Most of what she made was given away, to her friends, her brothers and to him. “You're very good at that,” he added, hoping to cheer her up.

“Thank you,” she said, though somewhat bad-temperedly. “At least I can do something that pleases you.”

He'd been feeling the same way about her lately, but he'd no idea what she was talking about. Her tone of voice was giving him a very bad feeling though. “What do you mean?” he asked warily. “You do plenty of things very well, what are you on about?”

“I know some of your friends are very sporty,” she said with a fierce scowl, staring at the knitting needles. “I've never claimed to be interested in sports, I've never cared for Quidditch-”

“I know that,” he said, and his interruption seemed to set her off, because she threw her knitting aside, letting it land in a heap, the ball of yarn rolling across the room unheeded. The needles gave a half-hearted twitch and then fell unmoving to the floor.

“Oh you know that! He knows that! Pardon me for telling you something you already know-”

Arthur just gaped at her as her voice went up an octave and a few decibels. People were starting to look over at them, wondering what was going on.

“Just because I don't know anything about Quidditch!” Molly shouted.

“You could learn,” he suggested, feeling completely lost in the new course of the conversation.

This seemed only to incense her further. “Why the bloody hell should I? I came out to watch you play because I love you, you idiot, I don't need to learn what the devil you're doing as well! You ought to love me as I am and not try to make me into someone else-”

She went on in this vein for some time while Arthur stared at her, perplexed, and other students shot furtive glances at them. He did not understand how they had gone from a compliment about her knitting to being shouted at about not loving her properly. And she'd never sworn in front of him before, either; she must be really upset. For the life of him, he had no idea why. Sometimes he knew just what she was thinking, and other times she mystified him with the train of thought she was following.

She was still shouting, and he snapped back to attention, suddenly realizing what she was saying.

“And another thing, Arthur Weasley, if your marks don't improve, I won't be coming to any more bloody practices, either, or your matches!” She bent down and snatched up her knitting needles, then waved them threateningly under his nose without seeming to notice what she was doing. “You're going to fail all your N.E.W.T.s if you keep up like this, and then what will become of us, tell me that! You never think ahead!”

And with this, she stomped up to her dormitory, leaving Arthur utterly flabbergasted in her wake. A few students were tittering softly in the sudden silence. Gideon and Fabian Prewett seemed to appear out of the woodwork, and sat down on either side of him on the sofa.

Gideon clapped a hand to his shoulder. Arthur glanced at each of them, completely speechless and hoping for one of the twins' occasional brilliant insights into their sister's psyche.

“Women, eh?” Fabian said wisely.

Arthur sighed.






A/N: Sorry for the delay, I just couldn't seem to get this chapter finished. Still not sure I'm completely happy with it.


Chapter 5: Blue Is My World
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“Would you look at this?” Cecilia said, her lip curled in disgust as she tossed the Daily Prophet onto the small table in front of the sofa.

Molly leaned forward and grabbed the paper. Hattie read it over her shoulder, and Molly could see the sick feeling in her stomach reflected on Hattie's face. The headline splashed across the front page was 'MUGGLEBORN FAMILY MURDERED IN YORKSHIRE'. A witch and wizard, both Muggleborn, and their two children had been found dead in their home by neighbours. A large green skull with a snake protruding from its yawning jaws had been set over the house. A photo of the floating, ethereal skull was just under the headline. Molly felt a shiver go down her spine at the sight of it. Whatever it meant, it was chilling.

“They're killing Muggleborns now, not just Muggles,” Cecilia said angrily. “Someone's got to stop them! It's only a hop skip and a jump from killing Muggleborns to killing half-bloods, then to purebloods, and then we're all dead.”

“What a cheery conversation. It's worse than you all discussing dementors at the dinner table.”

Molly glanced over her shoulder. Siobhan was standing behind the sofa with Petula, shaking her head at them. Petula had her head cocked to one side and was reading the headlines. Her eyes widened.

“Oh God,” she breathed. “In Yorkshire?”

Molly abruptly remembered that Petula was from Yorkshire. The murdered family had not been named in the article, but they were probably someone Petula knew personally.

“I'm sorry, Petula,” Hattie murmured.

“What's wrong?” asked Siobhan, who had evidently forgotten where Petula was from.

“I have to go write my parents,” Petula said, and bolted for their dormitory.

“D'you think they were friends of hers?” Molly asked.

“Petula hasn't any friends but us,” Cecilia said.

“That's rather harsh,” Molly said severely.

Hattie sighed. “It was certainly someone she knew. A neighbour, perhaps. There aren't that many wizarding families in Yorkshire.”

“What is this skull about, then?” Molly asked, tapping the front page. “I've never seen anything like it before.”

Cecilia glanced around as if making sure no one was eavesdropping on their conversation. Siobhan sat down in the chair across from them to listen better as Cecilia leaned in and said in a low voice, “My father says they're calling it the Dark Mark in the Auror department. It's his sign.”

“Voldemort?” Molly whispered.

“Yes. My father says they've found it set over another Muggleborn murder as well, but they didn't want it in the paper. I suppose the press sent someone down with a camera this time and they couldn't stop them publishing it.”

Siobhan's face was very still. She had the least wizarding blood out of any of Molly's friends. Petula was half-blood, but Siobhan's parents were both Muggles. Molly felt a sudden thrill of fear for her friend. They were killing Muggleborns. She could not bear to think of anything happening to any of her friends.

“We're safe at school,” Hattie murmured, still staring at the photograph of the Dark Mark. “Dumbledore defeated Grindelwald, surely he can defeat this V-Voldemort.”

Molly gave her best friend a pat. Siobhan sat back in her chair suddenly and affected a look of unconcern.

“I'm sure the Aurors will track him down,” she said. “And if not, Dumbledore will stop him.”

Molly wasn't so sure. It had taken several years for Dumbledore to be convinced to go after Grindelwald, and that was over twenty years ago. He wasn't getting any younger. He might not go after Dark wizards as readily as he had in his younger days.

Arthur came in from yet another Quidditch practice then, and Molly was so distracted by the newspaper that she forgot she was angry with him. She waved him over, and he looked rather surprised but came over to sit next to her. She felt a bit safer with him by her side, and took his hand gratefully when he put his hand on her knee. Arthur's face was a bit pinched with exhaustion, but he smiled at her. She tried to tell herself again that she was overreacting, that there was nothing to be jealous over. No reason to mistrust him. It was just that she didn't know if she could trust Francine.

“Did you see the paper?” Cecilia demanded immediately.

He nodded. “Horrible, isn't it?”

“We think they're neighbours of Petula's,” Hattie said quietly.

Arthur rubbed his forehead tiredly. “Let's just hope none of our neighbours are next.”

“You all worry too much,” Siobhan said. “You should be worrying about that test McGonagall's giving us tomorrow. You know she's always deadly with those exam questions.”

“Don't joke, Siobhan,” Molly said with a frown. “This is serious.”

Siobhan rolled her eyes and left. Cecilia watched her go with a brooding expression.

“She doesn't want to think about it,” she said. “I think it frightens her, too. She's Muggleborn herself, after all.”

The next morning, a new notice appeared on the Gryffindor board. Molly pushed past a small second-year boy to get a better look at the bright yellow sign, with Cecilia and Siobhan on her heels, Hattie trailing behind them. Petula had not come down yet; she was running late as usual. The small crowd parted for the seventh-years, and Molly read the notice. Professor Flitwick was supervising the formation and instruction of a duelling club.

It seemed likely that this was in response to the attacks on Muggleborn witches and wizards, and the thought that the staff was willing to teach the students to defend themselves cheered her up quite a bit. The professors wouldn't just ignore a Dark wizard, and surely that meant Dumbledore wouldn't either.

“Brilliant,” Cecilia said when she saw the notice.

“A duelling club...” Molly breathed. It sounded wonderful. Defence Against the Dark Arts was one of her best classes, and she'd never found a club at Hogwarts that had appealed to her before. Duelling sounded perfect. “Shall we go to the meeting?”

“Oh, I'm joining,” Cecilia said confidently. “Be sure of that. Siobhan?”

Siobhan looked interested. She was reading the notice over Molly's shoulder. “Count me in.”

Hattie shook her head. “I'm not going. You girls have fun, though.”

“You don't want to learn to duel?” Cecilia asked in surprise.

“Not really.” Hattie shrugged. “I don't want to hex people.”

“It would be good self-defence,” Molly said.

“I've got enough Defence to be going on,” Hattie said. She had gotten an O.W.L. in Defence Against the Dark Arts and had promptly dropped the class. Hattie preferred Herbology and Arithmancy.

“I've got to tell Reid about this,” Cecilia exclaimed. “He'll love it. I'll meet you all in the Great Hall.” She dashed off, and Molly raised an eyebrow as Cecilia ran up the stairs to the boys' dormitory. A shout a moment later indicated she had probably surprised the seventh-year boys. Dunstan stomped down the stairs a few minutes later and rolled his eyes when he saw the girls.

“Your friend is barking mad, I hope you realize that,” he said, and went out the portrait hole.

Petula came downstairs then and hurried over to them.

“Want to join the duelling club with us, Petula?” Molly asked.

Petula glanced at the new notice and blanched. “I don't even want to take the class, much less add on extra work.”

*

Molly spent the next few evenings in the library, doing homework with Hattie and avoiding Arthur. He still seemed far too friendly with Francine Allen for Molly's comfort, and she didn't know how to go about addressing it. After a few weeks' stewing on the subject and one blow-out row (was it a row if only she was doing the shouting?), Molly could honestly say that she didn't believe Arthur was interested in Francine as anything but a friend. In fact, he didn't even seem to see that as a possibility, and she could tell that he didn't understand why she was angry.

She couldn't read Francine quite so well, however, and was certain that the girl was trying to poach Arthur away from her. The jealousy was still burning a hole in her heart, and she felt another wash of rage whenever she caught sight of Francine. She didn't feel that she could shout at Francine, however, since she barely knew her. She wasn't sure how long she could hold it in, though, as Francine was on her mind a lot these days.

So when she overheard Francine's name in the library one evening, she didn't feel at all guilty about listening in on the conversation happening on the other side of the shelves.

“Francine is a sixth year, it's not that strange that she should go out with him. If she were a fourth year going out with a seventh year, that would be odd.”

“I still say it's an odd match. He's so much better-looking than her, what does he see in her?”

The voices were moving toward the end of the stacks. Molly crept along the shelves, following them.

“Well, she is good at Quidditch. And he likes Quidditch.”

“Yes, but Francine Allen and Roddy Feltham? She's hardly in his league, is she?”

Molly tripped a bit and knocked a few books off the shelf. The conversation on the other side immediately ceased, and Molly grimaced.

A curly blonde head poked around the edge of the row of shelves. Molly recognized her as a fifth-year Slytherin, but she couldn't think of the girl's name.

“Were you listening in on our conversation?” the girl demanded.

“Not on purpose,” Molly said haughtily. “You were being so loud I could hardly help it, though, could I?”

The Slytherin girl had her arms crossed in front of her now. Her friend had come around the corner of the stacks. She had long brown hair and Slytherin robes, but Molly didn't recognize her.

“Is Francine really going out with Roddy?” Molly demanded without thinking.

“What's it to you?” the blonde girl retorted. “Shouldn't you know? You're a Gryffindor like them."

The dark-haired girl gave her friend's sleeve a tug. “Come on, Rita, let's go.”

The blonde girl gave Molly a sneer and followed her friend down the corridor between the stacks. Molly didn't even notice their leaving. She was suddenly overwhelmed by relief, and let out a small laugh. Francine hadn't been after Arthur. She was going out with Roddy. And just behind the relief came a wave of remorse.

Francine had not deserved the ire Molly had been directing at her for the past month. Molly packed up her books and went back to Gryffindor tower, resolved to apologize to Francine at the first opportunity.

As luck would have it, Francine was sitting on the sofa in front of the common room fireplace with Cosmo Graham, chatting amiably. Francine was still in her Quidditch robes, though the rest of the Gryffindor team did not seem to be around. She looked up at Molly with a tentative smile as she approached.

“Hi Francine,” Molly said.

Francine broke into a relieved grin. “Hi Molly.”

Cosmo gave Francine a pat on the shoulder and took off for his dormitory, and Molly took his place on the sofa next to Francine.

“I heard about you and Roddy Feltham. Congratulations.”

“Thanks,” Francine said, her cheeks a little pink.

“I didn't realize you fancied him,” Molly said then, and Francine let out a little laugh.

“Yes, I'd been trying to drop hints about that to Thad for ages,” she confided in a whisper. “He never did catch on. I was so glad when Arthur joined the team, I thought between the two of them, I ought to get someone to set me up with Roddy. I couldn't seem to catch his eye on my own.”

“Oh my,” Molly said, smiling. She decided to be honest with Francine, and leaned in closer to her. “I thought, when you kept wanting to speak to Arthur, and you seemed to be flirting with him-”

“With Arthur?” Francine looked very surprised, and a little flustered. “Oh no, I wasn't trying to- Molly, everyone knows he's in love with you! Don't be silly, he would never even look at another girl. Certainly not me. I'm sorry that you thought-”

“Oh, it's all right,” Molly interrupted. “I don't know what came over me.” She gave Francine a reassuring smile, relief and happiness bubbling up inside her, and patted Francine's hand. “I would have helped you, if you'd asked me. I got Thad and Cressida together, you know.”

“I thought about asking you,” Francine agreed ruefully. “I didn't think you knew Roddy very well, though.”

“Oh, pish-tosh,” Molly said, waving that aside. “That wouldn't have stopped me.”

“I can play Quidditch, but I'm sort of hopeless with boys,” Francine admitted. “They always act like I'm a boy, they never notice me. I'm not pretty like Atalanta. The only person who's ever asked me out before Roddy is Cosmo Graham, and I think that was only because he felt sorry for me. But we've been friends ever since.”

“Did you go out with Cosmo, or did you turn him down?”

“Only once, to Hogsmeade during fourth year,” Francine said, waving the date aside as if it were unimportant.

“I'm sorry I've treated you unkindly,” Molly said then, feeling a blush crawl up her cheeks. “I was so jealous I could hardly see straight. I thought you fancied Arthur.”

Francine's cheeks were red as well. “Everyone likes Arthur, but – I didn't – well, I couldn't seem to catch Roddy's attention on my own, so I thought I'd try to get closer to his friends so I could spend more time around Roddy, and when Thad said Arthur might want to try for Chaser, it seemed the perfect opportunity. Obviously Arthur's quite good as Chaser, and he's a very nice boy, it's just...” Francine trailed off, turning even redder.

“You really hoped to have a chance with Roddy as well,” Molly said sympathetically. She was thinking of the time when she'd fancied Thad so much she'd been willing to do most anything to make him fancy her in return. She could completely understand Francine's desire for any kind of leverage she could get.

Arthur came in then with Thad Peabody, both still in their Quidditch robes as well, and a very strange look came over his face when he saw Molly sitting with Francine. Thad didn't seem to notice anything, and continued on toward the boys' dormitory while Arthur stopped at the sofa in front of the fireplace.

“Hello,” he said, rather nervously.

Francine beamed at him, and Molly smiled invitingly and scooted over to make room for him to sit next to her. She snuggled back against him and he draped an arm around her shoulders. He still smelled a little sweaty from Quidditch practice, but she didn't care. The universe seemed to have righted itself, and she just wanted to be close to him again. Francine smiled at the two of them and excused herself.

“I was just talking to Francine about Roddy Feltham,” Molly said, and Arthur grinned.

“I set the two of them up, you know,” he said in a low voice, sounding rather proud of himself. “She mentioned that she'd fancied him for quite a while, and so I mentioned it to Roddy, and there you are.”

“It's very sweet of you to do that for her,” she said fondly.

“I thought you didn't care for Francine,” he said then.

“No, I like her just fine.” Molly decided he didn't need to know about her spate of jealousy.

Arthur still looked a little confused. She kissed his cheek and laughed, feeling very free for the first time since Quidditch had started.

*

The first meeting of the duelling club was held in the Charms classroom. Professor Flitwick was already there when Molly arrived with Cecilia, Reid, and Siobhan. Reid waved at someone across the room as they came in, and Molly caught sight of Cosmo Graham waving back. He was sitting next to Acacia Bushby-Ferris. Cecilia had also noticed them, and scowled heavily at Reid.

“Oh, for the love. Why are you waving at her?” she demanded.

“I'm waving at Cosmo. I don't give a rat's fart about Bushby-Ferris. Don't get your wand in a knot.”

“Shut up, Reid.”

“Shrew,” he said.

“Moron,” Cecilia retorted.

“Ah, love,” said Siobhan brightly.

Molly repressed a laugh, and they sat down in the back of the classroom. Cecilia had always preferred to sit in the front row in every class, and dragged her friends there with her, but this was apparently one of the things she'd conceded to Reid in their relationship. He invariably sat at the back of every class, the better to slide in unnoticed when he was tardy. Molly had noticed his tardiness quite a bit more this year now that he was sitting with her friend. She did not understand why he couldn't seem to make it to class on time, but she assumed Cecilia would knock that behaviour out of him very quickly, and decided not to concern herself about it.

Most of the students who'd come for the duelling club were Gryffindors and Ravenclaws. There were a handful of Hufflepuffs in clumps around the room, and a small knot of upper-year Slytherins sitting by themselves in the opposite corner. There were a few younger students, but the majority seemed to be fourth years and above. Molly thought this was best, as the idea of hexing a first-year did not appeal to her. It hardly seemed fair. She hoped Professor Flitwick would let them pair up with their friends to spar with.

Professor Flitwick spent a quarter hour telling them in his squeaky voice about his past as a duelling champion, and another quarter hour about the general structure of a wizarding duel. There were a lot of rules involved, in how to stand, how to hold one's wand, and where one could legally hex one's opponent.

“Seems unlikely that this is how they duel in the real world, isn't it? Awful lot of rules,” Siobhan murmured, her eyebrows raised.

“Of course not,” Cecilia said. “This is tournament-style duelling. It's a complete free-for-all if you're really fighting. There's no illegal targets. That's just the stupid rules men make up when they're playing war games so they don't get hurt below the belt.”

Reid grinned. “Are you saying you'd hex a man below the belt, Cilia?”

“Don't be ridiculous, of course I would.”

Molly started giggling at that, and once she'd started, she suddenly couldn't stop. Cecilia and Siobhan were shushing her, but that only made it worse. She tried to hide her grin behind her hand, but she was laughing so hard she could hardly breathe.

Professor Flitwick gave her a curious glance, and a few other students had turned to stare at her. Molly jumped suddenly at a sharp pain on her forearm.

“Ouch!”

Siobhan had pinched her. The pain helped her get control of her laughter again, and she let out one more giggle before subsiding.

Flitwick climbed on top of his desk and cleared the students' desks from the room so the floor was open for them to spar. Two of the sixth-year Ravenclaws were pulling out stacks of pillows from a cabinet at the back of the room. Charms classes often needed something soft to land on and the pillows were always on hand.

Molly paired up with Siobhan, and to her delight, Siobhan was unable to get a single hex past her Shield Charm.

“You're too good at this,” Siobhan said, frowning. “How are you doing that?”

Molly shrugged. “I don't really think about it.”

“All right, my turn. Try to jinx me.” Siobhan held her wand at the ready, and Molly shot a Stunner at her. Siobhan blocked it, and Molly sent a second hex behind it that Siobhan missed. Her wand hand turned bright blue.

Siobhan looked down at her hand and muttered a curse. “How do you reverse that spell?”

“Erm...” Molly wasn't actually sure. She'd never had to remove a colour-changing spell from a person before. She could feel her cheeks turned red. She'd turned her friend's hand blue and had no idea how to turn it back.

“Oh, nevermind,” Siobhan said, and went over to Professor Flitwick.

Molly turned and watched Reid and Cecilia for a moment while she waited for Siobhan. They duelled as if they were really battling each other. It was very strange. She couldn't imagine hexing Arthur, and knew he couldn't bear to hex her. Reid and Cecilia clearly did not have a problem with it. Cecilia broke through Reid's Shield Charm with a Jelly-Fingers Jinx, and his wand clattered to the floor. Cecilia rushed over to cast the counter-jinx, gave him a quick kiss while Flitwick's back was turned, then rushed back to her spot to duel again.

Siobhan returned with her hand back to normal, and Molly shot a few more half-hearted jinxes at her before Flitwick dismissed them all.

“That was pretty good,” Cecilia said as they walked down the corridor.

Reid was rubbing his elbow. “I think that last jinx you hit me with knocked my funny bone. My arm feels odd.”

“I'm sure you're fine,” said Siobhan, rolling her eyes.

Cecilia took a look at Reid's elbow, pushing his sleeve back for a better view. There were no marks on him, but Cecilia clucked over him anyway, and Reid seemed to be enjoying the attention.

A group of Slytherins passed them as they stopped along the side of the corridor while Cecilia examined Reid's arm.

“Did you hear her giggling over there like an idiot while Flitwick was talking?” one of them said, rolling his eyes. “Stupid blood traitor cow.”

It was as though a bucket of cold water had been poured over Molly's head. They were talking about her. Blood traitor, and they meant her.

She suddenly felt tears welling up, and excused herself in a mutter, fleeing to the bathrooms down the corridor. She locked herself into a cubicle, leaning against the wall, and wrapped her arms around herself.

No one had ever called her a blood traitor before, and it hurt more than she could have imagined. The tears were running freely now, and she fought to stay silent. She could hear someone else in the bathroom, and quite suddenly a ghost poked her head through the cubicle wall.

Oh dear. She'd forgotten which bathroom this was.

The ghost that was known throughout the female population of the school as Moaning Myrtle gave her a myopic stare. “Why are you crying?”

“Go away, Myrtle,” Molly said crossly.

Myrtle's eyes were welling up already. “Everyone's always mean to me, just because I'm dead!” she cried, and disappeared back through the cubicle wall. Molly could hear the ghost's sobs coming from the other end of the bathroom, and her annoyance with Myrtle helped her brush off her own tears. She took a deep, ragged breath, wiping the tears furiously from her cheeks.

Footsteps sounded on the tile floor, and someone knocked on the door to Molly's cubicle.

“All right there, Molly?” Cecilia's voice asked cautiously.

She opened the door and let Cecilia in, locking the door again behind her. Cecilia leaned against the wall opposite Molly.

“I heard what they called you,” she said baldly. “You can't let it get to you.”

“No one's ever called me that before,” Molly whispered. "They're only saying it because I'm going out with Arthur."

“What does it matter why? Would you stop going out with him because of what idiots like them call you?"

Molly sniffed. Cecilia had a point. "No, of course not."

"You've seen the papers,” Cecilia said. “Blood status is on everyone's minds these days. It was only a matter of time before the school divided into those who believe purity of blood matters and those who don't.”

“That doesn't make me feel any better,” Molly said quietly.

“It should. It means you're on the side of the angels in all this. Why don't you talk to Arthur about it? He's been called blood traitor dozens of times.”

Molly felt a thrill of fear mixed with embarrassment. Arthur stood up to being called a blood traitor with courage and grace, never complaining, and never wavering in his convictions. It was one of the things she admired most about him. She didn't want him to know she'd cried over the epithet. “Don't tell him, please. I'm just being silly about all this. It doesn't matter.”

Cecilia looked sceptical, but she nodded her agreement. “I won't tell him if you don't want me to.”

Molly wiped her cheeks again, brushing away the last of her tears, and unlocked the cubicle door. “I'll be all right. We'd better catch up to Siobhan, she'll be wondering where we went.”

“She'll be hexing Reid for being annoying,” Cecilia said, and Molly chuckled.

Chapter 6: Reach the Sky
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Arthur threaded his way through the students in the Great Hall, with Molly following him, holding tightly to his hand, making their way to their friends at the head of the Gryffindor table. His nerves were already getting the better of him about tomorrow's match, the first of the season, and he'd been awake for nearly an hour by the time Molly came down to the common room. She'd managed to distract him nicely behind a suit of armour down the Charms corridor, and he thought he might actually be able to eat something now. He didn't want to think about tomorrow.

Most of Molly's friends were already at the table, except Siobhan, who was nowhere to be seen. Cecilia was feeding bits of bacon to Reid, both of them ignoring everyone else at the table and giggling to each other. Petula was smearing ketchup on her sausages, and eyeing the two of them with a small frown. Hattie looked up from the newspaper she'd been reading and smiled at Arthur and Molly as they took their seats.

“Good morning.”

Arthur loaded up his plate while Molly and Hattie chatted, feeling much hungrier now he could smell the food. He could see Thad sitting down the table with Roddy Feltham and Julian Kirkpatrick, and squashed the tremor of nerves that hit him. Tomorrow they played Slytherin, and the entire school would watch him flying for the first time. He looked down at the food on his plate, then up at Molly, who was pouring herself a glass of pumpkin juice now.

“You're going to come cheer for me at the match tomorrow, aren't you?” he asked in a low voice.

She gave him a dazzling smile. “Of course I will. Don't worry, Arthur, you're going to be brilliant.”

He grabbed a piece of bacon just as the mail owls arrived. Hattie covered her plate with the newspaper, looking up at the birds suspiciously.

“There must be a better way to bring everyone's mail,” she said. “I had owl droppings in my tea yesterday.”

Petula let out a yelp as her family owl landed in front of her, and tore open the letter it had brought. Her breakfast sat forgotten in front of her as she read, chewing on her thumbnail nervously. Her eyes were slowly filling with tears.

“Is everything all right, Petula?” Hattie asked cautiously.

“That family that was killed – the Muggleborns in Yorkshire, you know – they were my neighbours.” Petula brushed a tear from her cheek. “I babysat for them over holidays. Their kids were really...” She didn't seem able to finish.

Molly put her hand on Petula's shoulder, looking stricken. “Oh, Petula...”

Hattie reached a hand across the table to grasp Petula's wrist, her face full of sympathy for her friend. Cecilia pulled a handkerchief out of her bag and passed it over to Petula.

Arthur didn't know what to say to Petula. He never quite knew what to do with crying girls. Should he pat her on the arm? Say something? He didn't know. Reid looked just as uncomfortable at Petula's distress, and was leaning away from the table slightly as if to distance himself. He must be even less accustomed to tears, being with Cecilia. Arthur couldn't think of a single occasion when he'd seen Cecilia cry, even when Reid had set fire to her.

He settled for a mumbled, “Sorry, Petula,” and Molly gave him a look that told him that had been a good thing to say.

Petula was looking back down at her letter, her eyes slightly unfocused, clutching the crumpled handkerchief against her cheek. “My mum's really scared,” she said. “She's Muggleborn too, you know. My dad says they might be able to fake some papers for her to say she's pure-blood like him, but then we won't be able to contact her family until this is all over.”

“That's awful,” Molly said, her cheeks flushed with anger. “People shouldn't have to do that. What does it matter if you're pure-blood or not?”

Arthur smiled proudly at her. Molly was a much better person than she gave herself credit for. He thought again about asking her to marry him. He'd started to, once, just before the summer holidays, but they'd been interrupted, and he hadn't quite found the right moment over the summer. He was reasonably certain that she would say yes. She wrote his mother more often than he did, and had already met all his family. She even managed to like his brother Bilius. She was bound to say yes, surely.

He broke out of this train of thought abruptly, feeling a bit guilty. Here Petula was, crying over her murdered neighbours, and he was worrying about whether or not Molly would marry him. He looked away from her, feeling like a complete berk and suddenly feeling quite uncomfortable in an almost indefinable way about his age. He was still in school. He didn't want to have to think about murders and Dark Lords. It was strange to worry about a war when he felt that he only ought to be thinking about homework, his girlfriend, and tomorrow's Quidditch match.

They were playing Slytherin, the first match of the year. He was trying not to be too nervous about it, but he couldn't seem to stop the squirming in his stomach, as if a school of fish had settled in days ago and were swimming around constantly. He pushed his plate away, unable to finish eating.

Petula had her mother's letter crushed in one hand and was apparently trying to calm herself. Molly was patting her shoulder as she took a deep, ragged breath and wiped the tears from her cheeks again. Arthur watched her silently. He'd never seen Petula like this before. She blew every small setback that happened to her so completely out of proportion that he'd rather expected a complete breakdown from her in the face of true tragedy and danger, but instead she was visibly pulling herself together. It wasn't the reaction he'd expected from her, and it made him feel rather off-balance.

“I'm going to go splash some water on my face before class,” Petula said with a sniff. “See you in Potions.”

The rest of the group watched her go in subdued silence, then Molly let out a sigh and grabbed a pumpkin pasty from the golden tray in the middle of the table.

“Is this what our future will be like?” she asked, picking at the crust and looking both angry and upset. “Death and tears and... war.”

No one seemed to want to answer. Reid shook his head and stood up, slinging his bookbag over his shoulder. He didn't say anything, but held out a hand to Cecilia, who stood and then followed him out of the Great Hall, hand in hand. Hattie was staring down at her food, pushing it around on her plate, and Arthur decided he couldn't stand it any more.

He leaned in and whispered to Molly, his lips next to her ear, “It won't be for us. I promise. I'll make sure there's more than war and death for you.”

She turned her face toward him so that their cheeks touched, and whispered, “I love you.”

*

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear, the sunlight reflecting on the layer of frost that coated the grassy hills of Hogwarts and made the Quidditch pitch sparkle like diamonds. Arthur set off for the changing rooms early, wanting a few moments alone before the rest of the team got there. He pulled on his Quidditch robes quickly, propped his broom against the lockers, and paced across the floor in front of the wooden benches, trying to work off some of his nervous energy.

He had just decided he probably wasn't going to throw up when Thad turned up with Francine and Njemile in tow.

“Glad to see you're here already, old chap,” Thad said approvingly. “Ready to play some Quidditch?”

Arthur nodded. He didn't trust himself to open his mouth just yet.

Francine plopped down on the floor with her broom across her lap, and Njemile sat behind her on the bench and started braiding her hair into two complicated-looking plaits. Arthur kept up his pacing, though he was starting to think it was pointless. He felt more nervous now that the team was here. Neither Francine nor Njemile seemed anxious, and he wondered if they were simply used to playing in front of the entire school or if nerves of steel came naturally to them.

Atalanta turned up with Julian ten minutes later. Julian looked quite at ease, smiling pleasantly at everyone as he came in, his broom slung over one shoulder and a beater's bat tied to his belt. Atalanta was aloof as ever, but her hands shook slightly as she laced up her boots.

Thad started to pace at twenty minutes to game time, and Arthur sat down so as not to be run over by the burlier young man. Francine smiled up at him reassuringly, still sitting on the floor.

“You'll get used to it. I was nervous before my first game too,” she told him, and Arthur smiled gratefully.

“Anyone see Swyndlehurst today?” Thad demanded as he paced.

“He was at breakfast this morning, but I haven't seen him since,” Njemile said.

Thad's face darkened, and he resumed pacing. At five minutes to the start of the match, Grant Swyndlehurst turned up in the doorway of the changing room, his face far too pale. Thad didn't seem to notice Grant's pallor and clapped him on the shoulder as he headed out the door.

“Brilliant day, isn't it?” Thad said happily as they walked down to the pitch. “The frost is nearly melted, we shouldn't have too much glare off it. Everyone ready?”

Arthur turned at the sound of retching behind him and saw Grant doubled over, his broom propped in the cold grass next to him. He seemed to be hanging onto it for support. He wiped his mouth and looked up at the rest of the team.

Atalanta's lip was curled back in disgust, and Francine seemed to be repressing laughter. Njemile was shaking her head as if she could not believe what had just happened. Arthur was just glad it hadn't been him who threw up.

“Feel better?” Julian asked with a grin.

“Best to get it out of your system now,” Thad said, not looking at all concerned that his Keeper had just vomited. “Nothing worse than getting sick while you're fifty feet in the air.”

The stands were crowded with students, and Arthur tried for a moment to pick out Molly amongst the Gryffindors. He thought he caught a flash of red hair in the stands under a 'Go Gryffindor!' banner that looked to be the handiwork of Cosmo Graham, but he couldn't make out faces from the bottom of the pitch.

The roar of the crowd seemed to grow muffled as he refocused his attention on the Quaffle, standing ready with his broom for the whistle. The world seemed to have slowed down, and he took in the faces of the Slytherin Chasers across from him, wondering if he was faster than them, better than them, wondering if they were thinking the same thing.

Then the whistle sounded, shrill and piercing in the afternoon air, and the world abruptly snapped back into full speed as he kicked off from the ground.

He'd thought the team played fast during practises, but it was nothing compared to their speed when the match was on. Njemile snatched the Quaffle before the Slytherins could get it and took off toward their goal posts. Arthur followed her, and he could see Atalanta in front of him, flying straight upward to the high vantage point the Seekers favoured, her long blonde ponytail streaming behind her, and then she was out of his sight and a Bludger whizzed past, the noise of its passing disrupting the air next to his ear like a cannonball.

He stayed on Njemile's tail as she headed for the hoops, trying to block the Slytherins from getting near her, and Julian Kirkpatrick shot across the field in front of him, swinging his bat at a Bludger and then ducking out of Arthur's path.

He could only hear snatches of what the commentator was saying, his attention focused on the game. He could hardly even hear the crowd. The rest of the world had faded out of existence, melted away until nothing was left but the rush of air past his ears, the solid thunk of a beater's bat making connection with a Bludger, and the fluttering robes of the other Chasers, speeding around the pitch in formation. It felt wonderful to forget everything else, to have nothing but the wind and his broom.

Njemile scored, and the Quaffle came back into play in Slytherin possession. The Slytherin Chaser Jarvis had the ball, and one of their other Chasers, Dorny, was flying behind him, speeding toward the Gryffindor hoops and a nervous-looking Grant, and suddenly Arthur knew what they were going to do. He put on a burst of speed as the Slytherins attempted a reverse pass and snatched the Quaffle out of the air as he passed over them. He tucked it under his arm and rolled his broom over as he made a sharp turn, coming back upright as he headed back down the field toward the Slytherin goals.

Suddenly he could hear the cheers from the stands, as if someone had switched on the sound on a wireless, and he ducked another Bludger as he came to the hoops, angling his shoulders to the left hoop for a moment, so that the Slytherin Keeper's attention darted to that ring just long enough for him to pitch the Quaffle at the right hoop with all his strength.

It shot through before the Keeper could block it, and Arthur grinned wildly as he flew back into the centre of the pitch.

The Slytherins managed to make three goals in a row after that, and Arthur was sure he heard Thad cursing Grant Swyndlehurst as they passed each other. Grant's reactions were just a hair too slow, and Arthur was sweating as the Gryffindor Chasers struggled to make up the difference, trading goal for goal with the Slytherins.

The game seemed to drag on, and the ache in his legs told him he was holding too much tension to maintain his grip on his broom, but he ignored it as best he could, ignored the ache in his fingertips from the cold, ignored the Slytherin taunts from the stands.

Find the damn Snitch, he thought, glancing briefly up at the sky. He couldn't see Atalanta, but she was out there somewhere, and he hoped she saw the bloody thing before he fell off his broom or froze his fingers off.

After what felt like days of playing, Gryffindor was ahead two goals by Arthur's count when he suddenly saw Atalanta in what appeared to be a free-fall, heading down in an almost vertical line, and he had to brake hard so as not to hit her. There was a flash of gold near the grass of the pitch. The Slytherin Seeker was shooting down at an angle, heading for the same spot as Atalanta, and Arthur's exhausted body screamed for Atalanta to reach it first.

She braked at the last minute and hit the ground with a dull thud, flying sideways off her broom and rolling across the grass a ways. The Slytherin Seeker, a fifth-year whose name Arthur thought might be Cromartie, skidded past her but managed to stay on his broom. He didn't have the Snitch, Arthur saw with relief.

Francine pulled up next to him, her face sweaty. “Did she get it?” she gasped.

Atalanta came to a stop, and staggered to her feet. Arthur could see the wings of the Snitch between her fingers, beating feebly against her grasp.

The crowd had seen it too, and he could hear the muted roar from the Gryffindor stands turn to screams of joy.

“Gryffindor wins, two hundred and sixty to ninety!” yelled the commentator over the din.

Francine was already landing her broom, and Arthur followed her down, landing on the grass a little harder than he usually did. His legs felt like jelly, and suddenly he felt glad for Thad's ridiculous training programme. At least he hadn't fallen off his broom, thanks to the hours they'd put in on the field.

The rest of the team was gathered around Atalanta, who was still holding the Snitch. She looked a little dazed from the impact of hitting the ground and her spin across the floor of the pitch. There were bits of dirt in her blonde hair and streaked across one cheek.

“I got it,” she said as Julian joined the group.

“Took you long enough,” he said, though he was grinning as he pulled a blade of grass from her hair. “We've been playing for nearly three hours. I thought my arm was going to fall off.”

Grant landed then and walked shakily over to the team. He looked almost as dazed as Atalanta, and looked at Thad. “Did I do all right?”

“You let in nine goals,” Njemile exclaimed, and the boy looked crestfallen.

Arthur gave him a clap on the shoulder. “You'll do better next time.”

“We'll just make sure Swyndlehurst gets some extra training in from the rest of you,” Thad said bracingly as they headed back to the changing room. “We'll cut back to only one training session a week until after Christmas. We don't play Hufflepuff until March.”

Francine let out a little cheer, and Arthur grinned in relief.

The common room was jumping by the time the team returned to the castle. The Gryffindors seemed rowdier than ever, probably because there had been little to celebrate last year in the way of Quidditch. Gryffindor had been beaten by nearly everyone and finished at the bottom of the House Cup as well, so an early Quidditch victory was being taken as heralding a good year for their house.

Arthur made his way through the crowd, looking for Molly. Dunstan was standing on top of the low table in front of the fire with his face painted in red and gold, dancing and cheering with Petula, who had a large gold 'G' painted on one cheek and was wearing red head to toe. Arthur grinned at them as they both catcalled to him. They'd gone on a rather disastrous date last year, had a flaming row afterwards in front of the entire house, spent some time angry with each other, and wound up becoming fast friends.

Francine was wrapped in Roddy Feltham's arms next to a window, and they started kissing as Arthur passed them. He turned away quickly, and almost knocked Molly down.

“There you are,” she said, smiling widely. “I've been looking for you.”

He bent down to kiss her, and then asked, “What did you think of the game?”

“It was very long, wasn't it?”

He laughed, and she added hurriedly, “You were brilliant, of course. I knew you would be.”

Arthur pulled her into his arms with a grin, knowing she was just saying that because she loved him. Molly wouldn't know brilliant Quidditch playing if it did aerial acrobatics in front of her. Still, he appreciated the sentiment.

They stayed up far too late, drinking smuggled butterbeers and dancing to the wireless that had turned up partway through the night. He caught a glimpse of Reid and Cecilia in a corner next to a dark window, simply standing there snuggled together. Reid looked rather grey, with dark circles under his eyes, but his face was relaxed as he held Cecilia. Roddy and Francine spent most of the night snogging. Molly smiled when she saw them, and Arthur wondered again what had gone on between Molly and Francine. It had seemed like one moment Molly hated her, then suddenly they were smiling at each other in the corridors or having a chat in the common room. Girls were very strange sometimes.

He finally tore himself away from her at two in the morning, and headed upstairs to pull off his Quidditch robes and collapse into bed. Thad was already sound asleep on top of his blankets, face-down and snoring. Arthur set his glasses on the bedside table and then stretched out on his bed, feeling quite content with the day, and fell asleep almost instantly.

*

The reduction in Quidditch practices suddenly left Arthur with what felt like a great deal of free time. He'd gotten quite efficient at his homework while Thad was overloading them with scheduled practice times, and now that they only had Friday evenings to train, it seemed his evenings were longer than usual.

Molly had joined the duelling club, and had been telling him all about their first three meetings quite excitedly.

“You should come to the next one,” she told him one evening after waxing rhapsodic about Professor Flitwick's lessons for twenty minutes and telling Arthur how Flitwick had complimented her wandwork effusively at their last meeting. “You would love it.”

“All right.” That sounded like a good idea to him, especially since it meant an evening in Molly's company. He'd missed spending time with her during the gruelling Quidditch schedule, and now that he had more evenings free he was determined to make up for it.

So he found himself in the Charms classroom Wednesday evening, sitting with Molly, Siobhan, Reid and Cecilia, listening to Professor Flitwick teaching them a new counter-jinx. He noticed a familiar pair of identical faces across the room and wondered why Molly hadn't mentioned her brothers were in the club as well. He hadn't seen much of them this year, though he'd heard a few of the things they'd been up to: they'd already received three Howlers since school began. They were sitting with their friend Frank Longbottom, but they weren't joking or laughing or setting off small fireworks as they generally did. Both of them were uncharacteristically attentive, hanging on Flitwick's words. Frank was listening quietly as well, but he was far less of a troublemaker than his two friends, and usually avoided acting as an accomplice to them.

Flitwick cleared the desks so the students could spar, and Arthur turned to Reid to partner up as they often did in Defence Against the Dark Arts, but Reid already had an arm slung around Cecilia's shoulders, their foreheads touching as they stared into each other's eyes. Arthur rolled his eyes at them and turned around again to find Fabian Prewett grinning at him. Gideon and Frank were standing a pace behind him.

“Want to spar?” Fabian asked.

Molly was staring at her brothers with an expression as if she'd just drank curdled milk.

“What are you doing here?” she hissed at Gideon.

“Thought it sounded fun,” he said. “Frank here wants to be an Auror someday, and he told us about the club, so we thought we'd come along. Didn't make the last couple of meetings, but here we are. Come on, Frank.” Gideon found a clear spot and he and Frank spaced themselves apart to duel.

Arthur backed up a few paces from Fabian while Molly turned to Siobhan, still looking angry.

Fabian turned out to have a much better grasp on hexes and jinxes than he did on defensive magic. Arthur broke through his Shield Charm on the second try, and didn't expect to have trouble against him, but Fabian was fast. He managed to hit Arthur with a Trip Jinx that knocked him to the ground before Arthur could raise his wand to deflect it.

Toward the end of the meeting, Fabian took a break to watch his brother for a moment, and Arthur watched Molly break through Siobhan's defences easily as Gideon sent Frank flying onto a cushion, and realized all three of the Prewetts had a natural talent at this. They all seemed to defend instinctively, and their attacks were strong and well-placed. They had a rhythm to their duelling that was relentless, defeating their opponent without any obvious effort. Arthur had never noticed the resemblance between Molly and her brothers quite so strongly as he did tonight. All three wore the same expression of concentration as they duelled.

Professor Flitwick appeared to have noticed the Prewett talent as well, because he pointed out Gideon's wandwork to the rest of the club in an excited squeak after Gideon sent Frank flying halfway across the room again.

“Well done, Mr. Prewett! I'd say you've got the makings of a duelling champion yourself.”

Molly's cheeks flushed at that, and she scowled at Flitwick's back as he returned to his desk. She turned back to Siobhan, nostrils flaring angrily and eyes wide.

“I'm not duelling you when you look like that,” Siobhan said, eyeing her. “Go hex your brother if you're upset with him.” And Siobhan sat down on one of the cushions on the floor, watching Reid knock down Cecilia's Shield Charm.

Molly stomped in silence back up to Gryffindor Tower after the club let out. Arthur walked next to her, while ahead of them her brothers laughed with their friend Frank. He was glad the twins hadn't tried to talk to their sister after the meeting: he had a feeling that wouldn't have gone well.

The three boys went up to their dormitory, and Molly flung herself onto the sofa in front of the fire with her arms crossed tightly. Arthur sat next to her and wondered if he ought to try to hold her at all.

Before he could decide, she burst out, “Why did they have to join the duelling club? It's my club! They knew this was something I was doing and they just had to copy me. They ruin everything. I never get to have anything that's just my own, they always have to be involved. Makings of a duelling champion,” she added scathingly. “They're only little boys!”

Arthur eyed her sidelong. He wasn't sure if he ought to point out that she was jealous of her brothers. She didn't appear to realize it herself. He didn't want to risk making her angry with him again. She had quite suddenly stopped acting strangely whenever she saw the Quidditch team, and Arthur had been very grateful that her prickly temper seemed to have settled down for whatever reason. She'd blown up at him after the last Hogsmeade weekend and he still had no idea why.

Molly suddenly turned her head into his shoulder, curling an arm around his neck. Arthur wrapped his arms around her without thinking, pulling her closer.

“It isn't fair,” she mumbled.

“Sorry, Molly. You're talented too, you know. I think it must be in your blood, you've all got the makings of champions.”

He could feel her lips curve into a smile against his neck. “You're only saying that to make me feel better.”

“No, I'm not.”

She looked up at him with those bright brown eyes, and he could feel her fingers toying with the hair at the nape of his neck, and quite suddenly the room seemed to have gone airless as she reached up to his glasses with her other hand, pulling them slowly off. He always knew when she removed his glasses that she really intended to kiss him.

He pulled her legs across his lap, and she settled back into the corner of the sofa, letting the weight of his body press her into the cushions.

“I love you, Molly,” he said against her lips, and she smiled and kissed him again.

Chapter 7: A Lifetime Looking
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When Molly came down to breakfast the morning of the Ravenclaw-Hufflepuff Quidditch game, Cecilia was sitting with Reid and Siobhan, glowering darkly as she stabbed at a piece of ham with her fork. Molly took in Cecilia's scowl as she sat down, and shot a questioning glance at Siobhan, who was calmly eating her eggs.

“Look at Cosmo,” Siobhan said.

Molly glanced down at the other end of the table. Cosmo Graham was sitting very close to Acacia Bushby-Ferris, and as Molly watched, he leaned in and kissed Acacia on the cheek.

“Oh my,” she said. “When did they start going out?”

“Dunno,” said Reid cheerfully. He seemed amused at his girlfriend's anger. “They seem quite friendly, though, don't they?”

“Bloody Acacia,” Cecilia muttered, stabbing at her plate. Reid chuckled, and she shot him a dirty look.

“No wonder we haven't seen much of Cosmo lately,” he said. “He's been busy. Why is it my friends disappear when they get a girlfriend, but yours are still around when they have boyfriends?”

“Obviously women are superior,” said Siobhan. “We can have friends and keep a man around. Men can only think of one thing at a time.”

“Seems a bit harsh,” Reid observed, though he didn't look upset.

“It's what Cecilia says,” Molly said neutrally. Reid grinned at her.

“What does he see in her?” Cecilia asked, still staring at Cosmo and Acacia and clearly not having heard anything that was said.

Molly looked down the table at Cosmo and Acacia. Acacia Bushby-Ferris might have a harsh outlook on students behaving in manners she considered inappropriate, but she was quite pretty, with long dark hair and wide brown eyes. She actually bore a surface resemblance to Cecilia, in both appearance and personality. Molly decided on the spot that this was not an observation that she would ever share with Cecilia.

Petula was heading down the table toward them with Dunstan at her side and Arthur behind him. Petula looked cheered up a bit after spending a few days in quiet sadness after the deaths of her neighbours and her parents had made the decision to cut ties with their Muggle relatives. Mr. Cordingley had sent a letter to Petula telling her not to mention her mother's family again, even to her friends, or contact them 'until this is all over'. The entire situation made Molly feel very sad and very tired. She didn't like the idea of families having to split up simply to stay safe. Safety and strength should lie in being together, not being apart. It went against the grain for her.

Dunstan immediately started making himself egg and bacon sandwiches when he sat down. Petula began doing the same, and Molly gave them a questioning look.

“Quidditch today,” Dunstan told her, wrapping up several sandwiches in a napkin. “We want to get a good seat.”

“I'd nearly forgotten about that,” Reid said, and Dunstan and Petula both rolled their eyes at him. “Who's playing?”

“Ravenclaw's favourite to win,” Petula said. She was tying up a large napkin into a bag to hold her sandwiches. “Hufflepuff lost most of their best players last year, and Ravenclaw's got an excellent new Seeker.”

“Are we going to the game today?” Reid asked, turning to Cecilia. She finally tore her attention from Cosmo and Acacia and glanced at her boyfriend.

“I suppose so, if you like.”

Siobhan pushed her plate away as Petula and Dunstan stood. “I'll come along.”

Arthur had loaded up a plate with food and started into it as the rest of their friends left the hall. Molly didn't care about the match, so she sat and waited for him. Cosmo waved to them as he left with Acacia a bit later, and Arthur glanced around at them in surprise.

“When did they start going out?”

Molly sighed.

The Great Hall was almost empty by the time they set off for the Quidditch pitch. Most of the school was already down in the stands, bundled up against the cold. Molly strolled through the corridors with her hand in Arthur's and wondered if she could talk him out of watching the game and simply taking a long walk alone with her instead. She reckoned that wouldn't go over well with Thad, who wanted the Gryffindor team to see the other Houses play so they could get a feel for their strategy.

She was about to ask Arthur anyway as they crossed the snow-dusted courtyard when he slowed down, and she suddenly became aware of a voice coming from behind one of the pillars.

“I don't know why the Ministry even allows Mudbloods a wand – they ought to be like house-elves and not be allowed to have one-”

Molly didn't catch the rest of the sentence. Arthur had dropped her hand and was storming toward the source of the voice, his face flushed with anger. She hurried after him, a feeling of dread weighing on her stomach.

She rounded the corner and saw a third-year boy with pale blonde hair holding forth to a small knot of students – mostly Slytherins – under the open-air corridor surrounding the courtyard. He seemed to be enjoying the attention.

Arthur had his arms crossed in front of his chest, glaring at the boy. “What is going on over here?”

“I've just been having a chat with some friends,” drawled the pale boy smugly. He looked Arthur up and down as if he were something scraped off the bottom of a shoe. “Who are you?”

“Arthur Weasley.”

The boy didn't look at all surprised by Arthur's surname, and sneered at him. “Well, I'm Lucius Malfoy. This was a private conversation, I'll have you know.”

“I'm sure you think it was, but you were spouting off your bigotry so loudly anyone could hear you. Why are you telling these people that sort of thing? What's the matter with you, don't you have any morals?” Arthur demanded.

“My father says Mudbloods are no different than Muggles,” drawled Malfoy. “Not like real witches and wizards. All they have is a weak imitation of our magic, sullied by their dirty blood. They shouldn't be allowed wands any more than a house-elf is. If you had any proper wizarding pride, you'd know that.”

The crowd around them was dispersing, people continuing on toward the Quidditch pitch, looking warily at them. Molly sympathized with their desire to avoid the scene unfolding in the corridor. She wished Malfoy would just go away and stop saying such horrible things.

“Your father's obviously deluded, just like you,” Arthur said furiously.

“Arthur, he's only a third year,” Molly pleaded.

Arthur wasn't listening to her, however, and he was red in the face as he retorted, “Muggleborns have just as much magic as any other witch or wizard, and just as much right to a wand, they're no different from pure-bloods.”

Malfoy's lip curled back in disgust. “I might have expected that coming from you. Everyone knows the Weasleys are a bunch of Mudblood-lovers. You're just a blood traitor from a family of blood traitors.”

Molly forgot about stopping Arthur from arguing with the boy, and turned on Lucius Malfoy, drawing her wand. Arthur grabbed her arm, and Molly tried to wrench out of his grasp. Malfoy seemed to finally realize the danger in provoking two seventh years and made his escape, sneering at Arthur again over his shoulder.

“Let me go,” Molly said hotly, still trying to free her wand arm. She might be able to catch him up, the little worm.

“Molly, no, you can't hex him-”

“Oh, so only you can get into it with him?” she cried.

“I was only having words with him, I didn't try to hex him. He's just a little boy.” He finally let her go. Malfoy was long gone now.

“You looked as if you were about to hit him.” Molly stowed her want in her pocket again, still burning with anger. “He called you a blood traitor!”

“He's not the first, and he won't be the last. I know it bothers you, but Molly, I think you're going to have to get used to it.”

“Why should I?” she cried angrily, and Arthur's expression went wooden. She realized how he must have taken her words, and stepped closer to him, putting a hand on his arm. “I only meant-”

“It's all right,” he said mechanically.

“Obviously not.” She moved her hand to his cheek, forcing him to look into her eyes. “I meant that I shouldn't have to get used to insults to be with you, not that I don't want to be with you. You don't deserve to be insulted, and neither do I.”

Arthur didn't say anything, but he seemed to have relaxed somewhat.

“You should have let me hex him for calling you that,” Molly added, feeling rather disgruntled.

He smiled, and she could feel the rest of the tension leave him. “I'll deal with Malfoy, Molly.”

She didn't want to let it go so easily. “Are you sure?”

“Don't worry about me,” he said, kissing her on the top of her head. “Come on, we're going to be late for the match.”

Molly couldn't concentrate on Quidditch after that. She spent the match dwelling on what Malfoy had said, wishing she'd been able to hex him, and feeling bad because Arthur was right: Malfoy was only a third-year and it wasn't right to hex someone several years younger than her, no matter how repellent he was. She didn't even notice as Ravenclaw flattened Hufflepuff, clapping half-heartedly when the game ended.

She discussed the incident with Malfoy with her friends the next afternoon, standing in the snowy courtyard while some second-years had a snowball fight near them. Cecilia put up a charm around them so the snowballs simply flew away whenever they got near the girls. Her friends didn't seem quite as concerned about the incident as she was.

“Well, I don't know why you're so buggered about it, Molly,” Siobhan said briskly after Molly had told them what had happened. “Who cares what people say?”

“Language,” Hattie said half-heartedly.

“I just don't want him getting in a row with a third-year, it's ridiculous,” Molly said uneasily. “And the Malfoys are a powerful family, my dad's always said.”

“Arthur can deal with Little Lucius Malfoy,” Siobhan said.

“That's what he said, but it isn't the point.”

“I can tell him to leave Malfoy alone,” Cecilia offered. “You know, as a prefect?”

“I'm not sure that will help,” Molly said, smiling weakly.

“I'm freezing, can we go inside and finish this conversation?” Petula asked, hugging herself tightly under her thick wool cloak.

The other girls nodded, and Molly stood, but Hattie said, “Just one moment,” and stretched out full-length in the snow on her back, waving her arms and legs.

“What on earth are you doing?” Cecilia asked in bewilderment.

“Didn't you ever make snow angels as a child?” Petula said in surprise as Hattie got to her feet again and began brushing the snow off her clothes.

“No.” Cecilia was staring at the impression Hattie had made in the snow. “That was very odd, you know.”

“All right, I've had my moment of whimsy, now we can go in,” Hattie said cheerfully. She led the way back inside, and they all paused to stomp the snow from their feet just inside the castle.

“You know,” Petula said suddenly as they set off for Gryffindor tower, “perhaps we ought to ask Reid to say something to Arthur.”

“Don't be ridiculous,” Siobhan said. “Reid will only egg him on.”

“Thad then?”

“I could bully him into it,” Cecilia said, looking thoughtful at this idea.

“No, I'll take care of it myself if I catch them fighting again,” Molly said with finality.

*

Fortunately there was no more time for fighting with Malfoy, as the Christmas holiday was upon them shortly after that. Molly took the Knight Bus home with her brothers, wishing she could simply Apparate from Hogsmeade as Arthur had done, now that he was of age. She had to keep an eye on her brothers, though. They were remarkably calm as they travelled home, and it occurred to Molly that neither of them had received a Howler for over a month. Surely that meant they were up to something big.

Molly left the worrying about Gideon and Fabian to her mother, however, as she found herself at the Weasleys' almost every day of the holiday. It was far louder than being at home, as various Weasley relatives kept popping over for tea or a good gossip, and far more fun. Arthur's sister-in-law Glynis was always there whenever Molly came by, with baby Basil, who was now crawling and had an adorable crop of ginger curls.

It was hard to think of a reason why the Weasley family wouldn't be well-liked among the wizard world when spending time around them. It was easy to fit right in: everyone was so friendly that she felt she was already one of them. Many of the older Weasley children brought their friends round as often as not, and Molly had met one of Cressida Titherington's younger sisters who came by with the child of one of Arthur's second cousins.

Christmas seemed to come far more quickly than usual that year. She had arranged to spend Christmas afternoon at the Weasleys' and the evening at her parents' with Arthur, something her mother hadn't really approved of but had agreed to anyway.

Constantine and Glynis were already there when Molly arrived, in the sitting room with Arthur. Basil was crawling around in a red and green romper with Christmas baubles on his bib and a bit of brightly coloured paper clutched in one fat little fist. Bilius sat on the floor waving another scrap of paper at the baby.

Arthur leapt to his feet when Molly stepped out of the fireplace, hurrying over to her. She siphoned the soot off her clothes with her wand before hugging him, thinking how good it was to be of age and not have to use a clothesbrush.

It was still very early, and the delicious smell of sausages wafted in from the kitchen. She had arrived early enough to breakfast with the Weasleys.

“Good morning, Molly,” Glynis called out, smiling at her.

Molly smiled back as she sat down on the floor next to Basil, scooping him into her lap and tickling him.

“He said his first word the other day,” Constantine told her proudly. “He said dad. Isn't he brilliant?”

“Of course he is,” Molly said, half-directing her comment at the baby. Basil smiled at her serenely and made a grab for her necklace. She tucked it inside her robes, not wanting him to break the little heart Arthur had once given her, and diverted him with more tickling.

Glynis scooted over so she was sitting next to Molly and gave her son a playful little poke in his rounded belly, then said under her breath to Molly, “I'm fairly sure it was only a belch, but look how happy Constantine is.”

Molly had to duck her head to hide her giggle behind Basil's curls.

Mrs. Weasley stuck her head into the room. “Oh good, Molly, you've arrived. Everyone's here now, shall we eat?”

Molly had never had such a loud breakfast. The Weasleys were playing host that Christmas to several relatives, and the table was crowded with laughter and family. Molly sat next to Arthur and slid her feet out of her shoes under the table. She knocked the slipper off Arthur's foot so their feet could entwine, and he slid her a wink.

Mr. Weasley took out his pipe as breakfast was winding down, but his wife shot him a look and a meaningful glance at the baby sitting on Constantine's lap. Arthur's father rolled his eyes and went out the back door to smoke. This seemed to be the cue for everyone to disperse, and Molly followed Arthur into the sitting room, where several of his cousins were stretching and rubbing their stomachs. Constantine came in with Basil in his arms. The baby's face was covered with egg from the toast soldiers he'd eaten.

“I may never eat again,” Bilius groaned. Basil let out a belch, and Bilius grinned at him. “Well done there, my lad,” he told the baby. “You make Uncle Bilius proud.”

“Anyone up for a game of Quidditch?” asked Hoban, one of the Weasley cousins, with a hopeful expression.

“I'm too full,” Arthur said, still rubbing his stomach. “I might be too heavy for my broom after all that.”

“Oh, don't you want to show off for us?” Bilius asked, grinning at his brother. “New star of the Gryffindor Quidditch team?”

“Shut it, Bilius,” Arthur said, rolling his eyes.

“I forgot you were on the team this year, Arthur,” Hoban said. “Are you any good?”

“He's a right little professional,” Constantine said. He gave Arthur a nudge with his elbow. “Maybe you'll play for Tutshill when you leave school, eh?”

“Maybe you'll play for Pride of Portree,” put in Hoban.

“Portree?” Bilius scoffed. “If my brother's going to play for anyone, it'll be the Chudley Cannons.”

There was a chorus of groans.

“You're not still on about them, are you?” drawled Nestor, another of Arthur's myriad cousins. “Have they ever won a game?”

“They probably won't this year,” Bilius admitted, “But when you're a Cannons fan, you're a Cannons fan for life.”

“My brother's a little mad,” Constantine said to Molly in a loud whisper. “The rest of the Weasleys are quite sane, don't worry.”

“Shut it, Constantine,” Bilius said, though he didn't look upset. He seemed to be accustomed to being teased over his team.

Mrs. Weasley bustled past with Glynis on her heels, and Molly excused herself from the Quidditch conversation and followed them to the kitchen.

“Molly, dear,” Mrs. Weasley said when she caught sight of her. “Would you mind helping out a bit?”

Molly took care of the washing-up while Glynis cleaned the rest of the kitchen with Mrs. Weasley, humming to herself as she supervised the enchanted dishes scrubbing themselves.

The Weasleys had a small pile of gifts waiting for her under the tree. She felt very pleased to be included in the family even though she wasn't yet a part of it. There seemed little doubt among any of them as to her right to be there. She wondered again what Arthur told them about her when she wasn't around. Had he said he'd asked her to marry him? Well, had told her he wanted to marry her, anyway, not actually asked her as such. It was the same thing to her. They would marry, and have lovely little red-haired children, and -

She had let her attention waver, and a dish crashed to the floor. Flushing scarlet red, she hurried to repair it and kept her attention on her task.

Once the kitchen was spotless again, Mrs. Weasley insisted on Molly opening her presents. The extra Weasleys that always seemed to be running about the place had gone home, or to the houses of other Weasleys, so there was only Arthur's immediate family left. It seemed very quiet compared to the normal noise level, even with the loud conversation Bilius and Constantine were carrying on about the Chudley Cannons.

Arthur sat next to her on the floor, his back next to the sofa where his mother sat, her embroidery on her lap. Mrs. Weasley watched them all with a tolerant smile as she sewed, the bobbin of thread floating in the air next to her, following the needle. Molly opened a leather-bound diary from Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, a book about Quidditch from Bilius, and a knitting loom from Glynis and Constantine (though she knew Constantine had no doubt not been involved in choosing it).

“Here's one from you,” Molly said, smiling widely at Arthur as she pulled the next box closer.

Arthur glanced at the box, looking a little confused. “What? But I-”

She had already torn open the ribbon and opened the box. She could see pink satin, but couldn't tell what it was until she pulled it out of the box. It was a very short, very revealing negligee.

“Oh my,” said Glynis, her eyes round as saucers.

Molly dropped the flimsy piece of satin as if it were boiling. She slammed the lid back on the box, clapping a hand over her mouth.

Mrs. Weasley let out a loud gasp and reached over to smack Arthur on the back of the head with her embroidery.

Arthur's eyes were huge, his ears and cheeks bright red as he stared at the box. “It wasn't me, Mum! It wasn't me,” he repeated, staring at Molly. He looked as if he were in the midst of a panic attack.

She believed him. This wasn't reassuring, however, as it meant someone else had given her the negligee. She had a fleeting thought of her brothers, but dismissed it instantly. They would have given it to her at home, where they could see her reaction. She doubted they'd think of it anyway. It must have been one of Arthur's relatives. Her cheeks were so hot they felt as if they would burst into flame.

Arthur seemed to have had an epiphany while she was dying of mortification, and he turned to stare suspiciously at his brother.

Bilius wiped the grin off his face quickly and assumed a horrified expression, but Molly wasn't fooled. She leapt to her feet, the box still in her hand, and rushed over to hit Bilius hard across the head with the box a couple of times. He put his arms up protectively around his head, but he was grinning again.

Molly flounced back to her spot on the carpet, wishing the earth would open up and swallow her. Glynis reached over and patted her on the shoulder.

“Good girl,” she whispered.

“Bilius!” Mrs. Weasley hissed, glaring daggers at her middle son. “Go to your room at once! We'll discuss this later.”

“It was worth it,” he said, and left the room.

Arthur had an ugly look on his face, as if he might follow his brother and thrash him within an inch of his life. Molly had never seen him look quite so angry, and she knew he was jealous. Her heart leaped a bit at the thought.

“I'm going to kill him,” Arthur said darkly.

“It's Christmas,” said Mrs. Weasley. “Christmas is a time for family love. You may kill him tomorrow.”

This seemed to put an end to the present-opening, and Glynis quickly began clearing up the brightly coloured wrappings. Arthur still looked angry, and Molly was wishing she could hex Bilius into next week.

“I'd better get home,” she said, staring down at the leather-bound book. Her name was engraved on it in gold, and her surname seemed to stand out strongly, setting her apart from the Weasleys. What would it be like to see Molly Weasley engraved there instead of Molly Prewett? To truly be one of them – and everything that would bring? Lucius Malfoy's sneering face flashed across her mind. Blood traitor.

“All right, my dear,” Mrs. Weasley said reluctantly, bringing Molly out of her brief reverie. “I suppose we have to give you back to your parents eventually. Arthur, are you going over to the Prewetts'?”

“Yes,” he said, his face clearing a bit. “I'll be back after dinner, Mum.”

“Give my regards to your parents, Miss Prewett,” Mr. Weasley said from the other end of the sofa. He hadn't commented on Bilius's antics, but from the look on his face, Molly rather thought Bilius was going to be hearing his father's opinions on his behaviour as soon as Molly was gone.

They went outside to the front yard to Apparate to Molly's house, her gifts parcelled up in a piece of cloth and tucked under Arthur's arm.

“I'm sorry about my brother,” Arthur said as they walked through the gate. “He's a complete ass.”

“It's not your fault,” she said. “I knew it wasn't from you as soon as I saw it.”

Arthur looked relieved, but there was something underlying that, something she couldn't quite read. “What made you believe that?”

“You wouldn't have given me pink,” she said, and he laughed and pulled her a bit closer.

“Are you going to keep it?” he whispered against her cheek.

“Maybe. If I can change it to another colour. Is that all right?”

He was silent for a moment, and Molly wondered if he was following the same train of thought she had regarding the negligee: It had come from his brother as a rather rude joke, but the idea of wearing something like that in front of Arthur made her feel tingly and warm all over.

“I'd rather you got rid of it,” he said finally, and Molly was surprised at her disappointment, but then he added in a low voice, “I'll buy you one myself.”

She stood on tiptoe to kiss him, but broke away before they got too distracted. She didn't feel comfortable kissing him in front of his parents' house after the gift from his brother. “We'd better get going, we're due at my parents'.”

Arthur took her hand again and turned over his left shoulder, and she let him pull her into the suffocating blackness of Apparition.

They spent a quiet evening with her family. Her little brothers seemed distracted, for which she was thankful after the too-eventful afternoon with the Weasleys. She wasn't up to more of the same from her brothers, so when they immediately retreated to their room after dinner, she didn't even wonder what they were up to now. So long as it didn't involve her or lingerie, she did not care.

Arthur went home after an hour of sitting in the drawing room and chatting, and Molly wandered to the laundry room, where her mother stood sorting a basket of socks.

Her mother looked up when she saw Molly. “Did Arthur go home?”

“Yes.”

“He wasn't here long, was he? You were at his family's for most of the day. You spend more time over there than you do here,” her mother said waspishly.

Molly watched her mother attempt to fix a hole in a sock belonging to one of her brothers. Whatever had caused the hole seemed to be resistant to magical repair.

“Mum,” Molly said eventually, watching her mother toss the sock into a waste bin. “Does it bother you that I'm going out with Arthur?”

“What do you mean, dear?”

“Well, the Weasleys are sort of known as...”

“Blood traitors?” her mother supplied calmly.

The now-familiar thread of anger went through her at those words. “Yes, exactly. But the Prewetts have always been respectable. Don't you worry that our family will be tarnished by association?” She wanted her mother to say no, was desperate for her mother to say no. She had never realized how much she needed her mother's approval until that moment. She suddenly had a strong feeling of sympathy for Hattie' agony over her mother's remarriage.

“Don't be ridiculous,” said Antonia Prewett, and her daughter breathed a silent sigh of relief. “If I cared about that, I would have put a stop to your relationship with the Weasley boy a year ago.”

“And Daddy?” Molly asked, already knowing the answer. Her father had never threatened to tear Arthur limb from limb – well, not seriously, anyway – so she knew he liked Arthur. She didn't bother to argue her mother's assertion that she could have stopped Molly from seeing Arthur.

“Your father only cares about his Auror novels and that horrible bloody chair,” her mother said. “He wouldn't let me throw it out, you know. I told him if he bought a new one, I'd charm it to the same colour-”

“Would you really?”

Her mother looked a little shifty. “I might have done. But he says it has to be that chair. It's thirty years old! I've already had to do repairing charms on it dozens of times! It needs to be replaced. Just last week I told him...”

Molly stopped listening as her mother continued to rant about the chair, which had been a bone of contention between her parents as long as she could remember. She was so relieved that her parents didn't mind the gossip about the Weasley family's reputation, she felt a bit weak. Of course they didn't care, her parents had never cared a whit about such things.

She told herself she didn't care either, and tried very hard to believe it.

Chapter 8: Deep in the Valley
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It was all his brother's fault.

Arthur loved Christmas. He loved any time he didn't have to go to school, spent the day with Molly, and played Quidditch with his cousins, and ate far too much holiday food. Getting presents made it even better. But this Christmas, Arthur had spent all of Boxing Day in his room stewing. In fact, he'd spent the remainder of the Christmas holiday stewing as well.

Bloody Bilius and his bloody jokes. Not much of a joke, either. He'd been the only one laughing, the big prat. Arthur had never been so embarrassed by his family before. He would gladly trade Bilius in for anyone else as a brother. Even Reid.

Bloody Bilius.

All in all, getting back to school was a relief, although he was nervous that Molly would tell her friends what Bilius had done, and he did not want to have to listen to them talk about it.

They all seemed quite as usual, however, when he saw them in the common room, and he thought he could finally just pretend the whole thing had never happened and hope to forget about it. Unfortunately, it was all he could think about.

The image flashed into his mind again, the bit of satin Bilius had given her for Christmas, and a wash of anger went through him. Bilius had apparently thought it was a great joke. For the first time in his life, Arthur had truly wanted to do his brother a serious injury. The jealousy that had come over him, dark and savage, when he saw the negligee and knew another man had given it to her, had surprised him. He'd been jealous before, before they'd started going out and he'd known about her fancy for Thad Peabody, but it was nothing compared to this. Knowing it had come from his brother only made it worse. He wanted to rip Bilius limb from limb.

He didn't think Bilius understood exactly what Molly meant to him, or he would never have played such a joke on her – and on Arthur, since he knew the negligee had been intended for his embarrassment as much as Molly's.

Perhaps Bilius did understand, but had still thought it a good joke. His brother was completely clueless sometimes, and an unmitigated ass. And he had a twisted sense of humour. Constantine had remarked before going home with his wife and son, “Well, we always knew Bilius was an idiot. Remember what he did with the flowers at Hector's wedding?”

All Arthur knew was that the next time Molly received such a gift, it would come from him. And he would kill his brother if he played such a trick on her again. The look on her face...

He shook off these thoughts and went down to breakfast. Reid and Cecilia were at the far end of the Gryffindor table, feeding each other toast soldiers and giggling obnoxiously, so he went down a ways and sat in a clear spot. Petula joined him shortly, blanching as she passed Reid and Cecilia.

“I think I've lost my appetite,” she said, nodding at them, but began filling her plate anyway.

Molly and Hattie were down next, and he could tell by Hattie's face that Molly had told her, at least. Why did girls have to talk about everything to their friends?

When the mail arrived, he recognized the family owl and his stomach clenched. It was the first day back from holiday. What could any of them possibly have to say to him?

He took the letter and shooed the owl away, noting the handwriting was exactly who he'd thought it would be, then went back to eating with a dark scowl. Molly and Hattie were both eyeing the letter.

“Aren't you going to read it?” Molly burst out a moment later, as if she could not contain herself.

Arthur finished his ham and set his fork down very deliberately, then opened the letter, knowing it wasn't going to be anything he wanted to read.

Arthur,

Just wanted to say I'm sorry you were upset at Christmas. It was only a joke. Have a sense of humour, why don't you. Mum said I had to apologize, so there you go. How's Quidditch?

Bilius

Arthur crumpled the letter up and carefully set it on his plate, then waved his wand at it. The ball of parchment burst into flames and was reduced to cinders in an instant.

Hattie looked wide-eyed at the remains of the letter. Molly's cheeks were bright red.

“Was it from...” Her voice trailed off into a whisper.

“Yes,” Arthur said shortly, and rose from the table. “I've got to go, I'll see you in class later.” He was out the door before he realized he hadn't given her a kiss. She was going to think he was angry with her.

He got another few feet when the next realization dawned on him. Bilius was probably going to send a letter of 'apology' to Molly next. He went over to the wall to bang his head against it, and stepped through a trick wall right into a corridor full of Slytherins.

Really, could this morning get any worse?

The Malfoy boy was among them, and he gave Arthur a scowl when he saw him.

“What are you doing here, Weasley? Come for another lesson about proper wizarding pride?”

The rage he'd felt earlier flashed through Arthur again, and he had to remind himself he was four years older than Malfoy, too mature to hex the stupid idiot.

“You'd be the last person I came to about proper wizarding behaviour,” he responded, aware that this was not the best retort. It was better than giving a third-year rat's ears, though.

“Shame you couldn't bring your family's name up out of the muck, isn't it? I suppose you think associating with Mudbloods is bloody marvellous too, just like your little girlfriend and her Mudblood-loving friends.”

Arthur drew his wand. “Don't ever talk about her. Ever.”

Malfoy drew his wand as well. “She's not here to defend you this time, is she? Do you always hide behind a woman's apron, Weasley?”

He shook his head, trying to clear the blood that was rushing to his brain, but his ability to reason had deserted him. “Just shut up, Malfoy!”

“What's going on back here?” a familiar voice asked.

It was as if someone had dashed cold water in his face. Arthur turned, stowing his wand again, and saw Gideon and Fabian Prewett standing behind him with identical frowns.

“Are you all right, Arthur?” Gideon asked.

“I supposed if you can't hide behind her skirts, you can hide behind theirs,” Malfoy said with a chuckle.

Fabian scowled at him. “Shove off, Malfoy.”

The twins grabbed Arthur's arms and hauled him back through the trick wall, which let them out on the sixth floor, though they'd gone through it on the first.

“Where the devil – bloody wall,” Fabian muttered, then shook his head. “Arthur, why were you arguing with Malfoy?”

“He said something about Molly,” Arthur muttered darkly.

“Lots of people say things about Molly,” Gideon said reasonably. “If you went around arguing with them all, you'd never get anything done. Just ignore him. You know the Malfoys have a reputation for bad blood.”

“I don't believe in that,” Arthur said sharply. “Bad blood, dirty blood, pure blood, it's all nonsense.”

The twins didn't seem to pay any attention to this. “Lucius Malfoy's an idiot. Just ignore him,” Gideon repeated.

They were right, and he knew it. Nothing he said would change Malfoy's mind, so arguing with him about it was only going to lead to trouble. He took a deep breath. “I'll try.” Arthur put his hand out then, and added as he shook hands with each of them, “Thanks.”

“Don't mention it,” Fabian said cheerfully. “Happy to help. Well, we're off, there's a couple of pretty Ravenclaws waiting to hear about our duelling prowess. See you later, Arthur.”

The twins split off from him at the next corridor, and Arthur continued on to the Gryffindor common room, reflecting on the twins.

They seemed to be behaving themselves better this year. They hadn't had a Howler for well over two months, which surely was a record. The duelling club was good for them, apparently; it kept them busy and out of trouble, and seemed to have given them a new purpose in life. How much of that purpose was now focused on attracting girls, Arthur wasn't sure, but he supposed that had been bound to happen eventually.

Still, they were really growing up, acting mature. It was nice to see.

He made his way down to the third floor. Molly was waiting for him outside the Charms classroom, looking rather anxious, and since the corridor was nearly empty, he swept her into his arms.

“Class is about to start,” she began, and he cut her off with a kiss.

Her arms twined around his neck, and when he let go of her a few moments later, she sighed bemusedly, “Oh, Arthur.” He had to take her hand and give it a tug before she seemed to snap back to attention and remembered about their class.

As he took his seat, watching Molly's face, her lips still pink from his kiss, he thought rather savagely that he would never let his brother near her again.

*

Arthur was buried deep in a Muggle spy novel late one evening when Thad banged into the dormitory, tossing his bookbag onto his bed.

“I heard a rumour about you today, old boy,” Thad said with a grin at Dunstan.

Dunstan looked at him warily. “What did you hear?”

“That you're going out with Gemma Folwell.”

At this, Reid's head poked out from behind the large tome he was balancing on his knees. Dunstan glanced over at him and then nodded at Thad.

“Yeah, I am.”

Reid grinned evilly. Arthur sighed and closed his book, tucking a scrap of parchment into it as a bookmark. This was probably not going to go well for Dunstan. Reid had dated Gemma and been unceremoniously chucked by her last year, so he was sure to tease Dunstan, who rarely managed to keep a girlfriend around.

“How long d'you reckon it'll take her to chuck you?” Reid said, then put a finger to his chin in mock thoughtfulness. “Let's see, she spent about two months with me -”

“I think it was rather less than that,” Arthur said dryly.

“Well then, surely she'll be chucking Dunstan inside a month.” Reid grinned at Dunstan, who was scowling.

“Shut up. Don't talk about Gemma.”

“Aw. Poor ickle Dunstan. Has Gemma got you locked down already? Maybe you and Arthur can compare notes.”

Arthur rolled his eyes and went back to his book. If they were going to re-argue being henpecked, he didn't want any part of it.

Dunstan gave Reid the evil eye. “You're just jealous that she's going out with me and not you.”

Reid laughed. “Oh yes, I'm ever so jealous. I've got Cecilia. I don't need to be chucked by Gemma again.”

“Gemma chucked you because you were in love with Cecilia, and she's not stupid,” Dunstan said hotly. “She won't be chucking me, because I'm only in love with Gemma.”

There was a round of silence at this declaration. Even Thad looked surprised.

“Really?” Arthur said. “You're really in love with her?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

Reid raised one eyebrow. “What about all that rot you told us all last year about women needing a man to tell them what to do? How does Gemma feel about that?”

Dunstan had the grace to look embarrassed. “Well... I haven't exactly mentioned any of that to her. Don't think she'd care to hear it, to be honest...”

“Starting to think your brothers might be wrong after all, are you?” Arthur asked, trying to keep the laughter out of his voice.

“I don't think I was here when you lot discussed this 'women needing a man to tell them what to do' bit,” Thad said, kicking off his shoes and sitting on the foot of his bed. “Not sure that would please Cressida, either. How did Molly feel about that one?”

Arthur grimaced in response. He had avoided mentioning any of that conversation to Molly.

Dunstan shrugged. “My brothers still say that. I think maybe I won't bring Gemma home yet. At least, not when they're around.”

“But you do plan to bring her home at some point,” Reid stated.

“Well... Yes, I do,” Dunstan said, looking a bit uncomfortable. “I'd like to introduce her to my parents, maybe.”

“Haven't you brought Cecilia home yet?” Thad asked, turning to Reid. “Cressida's been to my house a few times.”

Reid nodded. “Of course I have. She came over a bit this summer, and she and Siobhan stopped by over Christmas.”

“Molly comes over to my house all the time,” Arthur volunteered.

“Yes, yes, but everyone knows you're going to marry her,” Dunstan said, brushing Arthur's comment aside, still looking at Reid rather keenly. “What did your parents think when you introduced them to Cecilia? Did they just assume you must be serious about her, or did they ask you a load of annoying questions?”

Reid shrugged. “Dunno what they thought. I just said, 'this is Cecilia', and that was that.”

Arthur frowned at Dunstan. “Have you ever brought a girl home before?”

“No.”

“Then they're going to assume you're serious about Gemma when you bring her home.”

“Or that you're a big prat who's never managed to get a girlfriend before,” Reid added.

Dunstan made an obscene hand gesture at Reid, who grinned.

“I've brought a girlfriend home before Cressida,” Thad said. “My parents didn't assume we were serious simply because I introduced her to them. At least I don't think they did,” he added, looking a bit worried.

Are you serious about her?” Arthur asked Dunstan. “You said you think you're in love with her.”

Dunstan stared at his feet for a moment, then looked up, his face resolute. “Yes.”

“Then, if you're honestly in love with her, you shouldn't worry about what anyone thinks. You can tell your brothers to go jump off a cliff,” Arthur said, then added in a mutter, “Wish I could tell mine that.”

“Why, what have your brothers done?” Reid asked, looking a bit surprised.

“Not Constantine, just Bilius. He...” Arthur suddenly wished he hadn't said anything. He did not want to describe the scene at Christmas to his friends, and he certainly wasn't going to tell them exactly what Bilius had given Molly. “Well, he gave Molly a rude present for Christmas. He thought it was funny.”

“I'll bet she took care of him,” Thad said with a grin.

Arthur couldn't help but smile a bit at the memory of Molly whacking his brother over the head with the gift box. That had been rather satisfying, though he'd still rather have thrashed his brother himself. “Yeah, she did. He had it coming, the bloody git.”

“At least you needn't worry about your brothers running Molly off,” Dunstan said, a little dejectedly. “I don't know if Gemma would stick around if one of them was rude to her. Maybe she wouldn't want to put up with me.”

“Maybe you should tell her you love her,” Reid said.

“Do you tell Cecilia you love her?” Dunstan asked aggressively, apparently stung by criticism on this score from Reid the Firecracker King.

“Yes,” Reid answered simply.

“Oh.” Dunstan considered this. “You don't think it's a big commitment to say it?”

“Of course it is, you idiot.” Reid rolled his eyes. “That's why she wants to hear it.”

Arthur was rather sympathetic to Reid's annoyance with Dunstan, who thought entirely too much about overstating commitment to a girl. “Do you love her or not, Dunstan? Just say it to her.”

“I will,” Dunstan mumbled, but he didn't look too sure of that.

“Well, please yourself.” Arthur picked up his book again and realized he had forgotten his bookmark in all the uproar over Dunstan being in love. “Damn, you made me lose my page.”

*

Arthur had hoped to spend Friday night alone with Molly, since most of Saturday would be gone on Quidditch practice, but unfortunately his plans were derailed when Professor Flitwick set them a massive essay in Charms. Molly and Hattie arranged a study session for that evening during lunch, and Arthur reluctantly gave up hope of spending the evening curled up with Molly in front of the fire. He missed the summer, when they had only to hide from their parents. Now they had school, friends, and sports pulling them away with obligations. Only a few more months until N.E.W.T.s, then it's all over, he reflected happily, and then immediately felt a little sick at the thought of sitting the exams. Maybe studying wasn't such a bad idea after all.

Cecilia and Reid bowed out of the study group, and though Molly eyed them suspiciously, she let them go. Siobhan, Petula, and Dunstan met them in the library after dinner and Molly supervised everyone pooling their notes while glancing over her shoulder repeatedly for Hattie to arrive.

Hattie finally turned up a quarter hour late, her eyes a bit red. Arthur thought she must have been crying, and wondered awkwardly if he ought to say something. He didn't have to, though.

“What's the matter, dear?” Molly asked, her brows knitted with concern.

“I broke up with Silvester,” Hattie sniffed.

Arthur and Dunstan exchanged a glance. Petula gave Hattie a sympathetic pat, and Siobhan stared at her notes as if she were pretending she weren't there. This didn't entirely surprise Arthur, as Siobhan avoided emotional scenes like the plague.

“I'm so sorry,” Molly was saying. “I know you cared for him.”

This was something Arthur had never understood. Why would she break up with Silvester if she cared for him?

“It just wasn't meant to be,” Hattie said, dabbing at her eyes with a pink handkerchief. “He's a nice boy though, I hope he can find someone to make him happy.”

Really, girls were very strange. He thought it best not to get involved, and ducked his head over his notes for the essay.

“I'm sorry I'm late,” Hattie added. “Have we already started?”

Molly nodded. “Yes, Siobhan had some rather good ideas for the essay...”

They tried to return to Flitwick's essay, but Hattie was still sniffling, and Arthur found it very distracting. Apparently Siobhan and Dunstan did too, because they kept looking over at Hattie. Even Molly seemed unable to focus.

“Oh, I can't concentrate,” Hattie finally sighed. “Can we reschedule for tomorrow?”

Everyone looked rather relieved at this.

“I'm going to go see if Gemma's free tonight,” Dunstan said immediately, making his escape.

Petula began gathering up the notes and books strewn about the table, and Siobhan leaned back in her chair with a sigh, glancing over at the door. Arthur had no idea who she was going out with at the moment, but he had no doubt someone was waiting for her somewhere in the deep shadows of the castle.

He gave Molly a hopeful glance. Shadows sounded pretty good to him as well.

“Hattie needs me right now,” she told him in a low voice, looking regretful. “Maybe later?”

His heart sank a bit, and then he felt guilty for wanting Molly to come snog him when her best friend was so clearly distraught.

Molly and Hattie left for a long chat in the girls' lavatory – another thing he did not understand about girls – and Petula headed back to Gryffindor Tower with everyone's notes. Arthur hoped she didn't lose them. He found himself walking next to Siobhan, who didn't object to his company, so he rather thought he'd been wrong about someone waiting for her.

They chatted about Quidditch as they walked, but familiar voices stopped them as they passed the trophy room.

“I don't know why you won't just admit that I'm always right, Reid...”

Siobhan grinned and went inside. Arthur followed her in. He had not been inside the trophy room since his first year, when he'd come to see all the past Quidditch cup winners. The name 'Weasley' had appeared on many of the old teams, something he'd taken great familial pride in.

Reid and Cecilia were examining an award for special services to the school over in a corner.

“What are you two on about?” Siobhan asked, and Cecilia glanced over her shoulder at them.

“I told him Professor Ampara had been given one of these, but he wouldn't believe me.”

“How do you even know about this rot?” Reid asked, throwing up his hands. “Do you sneak in here and polish the trophies when I'm asleep?”

“She mentioned it in class once. If you'd been paying attention instead of annoying me, you would have known it as well.”

Arthur glanced at the late Professor Ampara's name on the award, and the date. 1945. There were several other Special Awards dated from the 1940s nearby. He read off the names: Aminta Ampara, Anthony Kemp, Tom Riddle. He wondered why so many had been given out during that time, when he hadn't seen anyone receive an award for special services during his seven years at Hogwarts. He supposed the Grindelwald era had afforded more opportunities for heroic actions on behalf of the school.

Professor Ampara had been their Defence Against the Dark Arts professor the previous year, but had been killed at the end of the year. It gave Arthur a small jolt to see her name on the award. She'd been a damn good teacher. Their new teacher, Professor Lloyd-Howell, was not nearly as good, and had a very taciturn nature. Arthur had a hard time liking the man. Though he was capable enough in defensive magic, he didn't seem to like any of his students or enjoy teaching. It was widely rumoured that he'd already tendered his resignation, effective the end of the school year.

“I heard about your Easter plans,” Reid said then, breaking into Arthur's reverie. “Can I come along?”

Siobhan raised an eyebrow at him. “I suppose so. If you don't act like an ass while we're there.”

“What Easter plans are these?” Arthur asked, glancing back and forth between Siobhan and Reid.

“Siobhan's getting a new tattoo,” Cecilia told him.

“Oh.” He didn't know quite what to say to that. He didn't care for tattoos, had never really seen the point of them. He hadn't been aware Siobhan had any. “How many, er, do you have?”

“Two.” Siobhan didn't elaborate.

“They're wizard tattoos, not Muggle tattoos,” Reid added. “Nothing of interest to you.”

“Muggles get tattoos as well?” Arthur asked, diverted.

“Yes, but it's not the same,” Siobhan said. “I want wizard tattoos. They're more interesting.”

“Well,” Arthur said, feeling torn between his interest in all things Muggle and his disapproval of tattoos in general. “Suppose later you don't like it, though? What if you change your mind and wish you hadn't gotten it? It's permanent, there's no spell to erase a tattoo, you know.”

Siobhan rolled her eyes. “God, you and Molly. I might have known you'd agree with her.”

“I'm not agreeing with her, we just happen to feel the same way about tattoos, I suppose.” He glanced over his shoulder, feeling rather as if Molly might turn up at any moment if he expressed an interest in something she disapproved of, then said, “So how do Muggle tattoos work?”

“Well, they're not done with a spell, of course,” Siobhan said. “They put them on using a needle.”

“A needle?” Arthur tried to picture how that would even work, and drew a blank. “Like sewing? Into your skin? Doesn't that hurt? Doesn't it bleed a lot?”

“It doesn't really bleed. Just a bit, and they wipe it off as they go. It's not that bad,” Siobhan said, raising an eyebrow at his expression. “I went with my dad a few years ago when he got a new one. He didn't even flinch, and it took hours.”

As usual with Muggle things, Arthur found himself fascinated by the alienness of their ways. Using needles to sew ink into one's skin, over a period of hours, sounded absolutely barbaric to him, but he couldn't help wishing he could see how the process was accomplished. He wondered if batteries were involved, or if it worked with eckeltricity.

“Does your dad have a lot of Muggle tattoos?” He'd never heard her mention this about her father before. Come to think of it, Siobhan rarely mentioned her father at all. He couldn't recall anything she'd said about her father beyond the fact that he was a sailor of some sort.

She shrugged. “Most of his torso is tattooed. He has a portrait of Michael Collins tattooed across his back.”

They couldn't hurt that badly, then, if Muggles kept going back and getting more. It was amazing, the things Muggles got up to. “Who's Michael Collins?”

Siobhan frowned at him. “Bloody British."

“Oh, for the love,” Cecilia exclaimed. “Aren't you two supposed to be studying?”

“It got cancelled,” Siobhan told her. “Hattie broke up with Silvester.”

“What, that Ravenclaw prefect?” Reid asked.

“Yes, him. They've been going out since last year. D'you think we ought to go see if she's all right?” Cecilia asked.

Siobhan shrugged. “Molly's got her.”

“Oh. Good. Well then.” Cecilia paused for a moment, regrouping, then said authoritatively, “Clear off, you two. This was a nicely deserted room before you came along.”

Siobhan rolled her eyes, and Arthur followed her out of the room, shaking his head at them. Siobhan split off from him at the next corridor, waving good-bye, and he thought about Malfoy's remarks about Molly's friends as he made his way back to Gryffindor Tower. As if being Muggleborn mattered. Siobhan was a talented witch, and if Malfoy couldn't see that her blood made no difference whatsoever, he really was an idiot.

Arthur smiled then. Molly and her friends didn't see blood status when they looked at people. It was one of the many wonderful things about Molly.

Chapter 9: Clouds Passing Overhead
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The corridor was abuzz with gossiping students when Molly left Potions one day as January drew to a chilly close. Small groups of girls were conferring with each other in whispers. Molly frowned as she looked around. Something big was going on.

“What on earth...?” Hattie asked, looking around.

A hush fell over the corridor then as Cecilia and Siobhan left the Potions dungeon. They didn't appear to notice anything, walking off together toward the main staircase, and the whispering redoubled after they disappeared around the corner.

Petula frowned, looking around. “What was that all about?”

Molly caught sight of a few of the Gryffindor sixth-years, and went over to them, Hattie and Petula trailing behind her. Maribel McQuillen looked a bit nervous at her approach, but she smiled gamely. Acacia Bushby-Ferris, standing next to her, merely looked at the seventh-year girls with her face set.

“What's going on?” Molly demanded.

“Didn't you hear?” Maribel asked in surprise. “She's your friend, I thought you would know.”

“Know what?” Petula asked impatiently. “No one ever tells me anything.”

Hattie sighed. “What did Cecilia do now?”

“Not Cecilia,” Maribel said. “Siobhan.”

“What's going on?” Molly repeated. Siobhan had been the same as ever in Potions; she had not noticed any changes in her friend. Siobhan always mentioned when she got a detention, but she'd been getting those for years. It shouldn't be causing comment from the other students like this.

“Well, I wasn't at all surprised by it,” Acacia said, in a tone Molly found rather offensive.

“Roddy Feltham chucked Francine at breakfast,” Maribel told them. “He's going out with Siobhan now.”

“What?” Molly said in shock. “But...”

“Obviously Siobhan broke them up because she wanted Roddy back once he was with someone else,” Acacia said rather nastily. Acacia had long disliked Siobhan, regarding her as something of a scarlet woman.

“We don't know what happened, Acacia,” Maribel said fairly, then added in a sombre tone, “Francine won't talk about it. She spent all morning shut up in the Quidditch changing room, crying. Missed all her classes.”

“Oh dear,” Hattie murmured.

Molly didn't know what to say. Siobhan had gone out with Roddy last year, and though he'd clearly liked her very much, Molly hadn't thought Siobhan felt anything for him. Siobhan generally didn't feel anything about any of her boyfriends, not that she mentioned anyway. She was very dismissive of them.

But she had never gone out with the same boy twice. Once she chucked them, they ceased to exist to her. Now she was going out with Roddy again?

And poor Francine! She'd fancied Roddy very much and had been so happy when he'd asked her out. Crying in the changing room all morning, Molly thought sadly.

Acacia shot a nasty glare down the corridor where Cecilia and Siobhan had gone. “It's no more than I expected, really. I suppose it was only a matter of time before she began stealing boyfriends. Loose girls are-”

“Don't talk about Siobhan,” Molly snapped. Loose she may be, but she was still Molly's friend. She glared at Acacia, but Maribel grabbed Acacia's arm and pulled her away.

“We'd better go,” Hattie said, tugging on Molly's arm. Petula followed them, her books clutched to her chest and a frown creasing her blonde brows.

They didn't say anything until they were back in the common room. Arthur was sitting on the sofa in front of the fire, surrounded by books and piles of parchment. He smiled at her and began clearing a spot. Hattie collapsed heavily onto an overstuffed armchair with a loud sigh, and Petula sat cross-legged on the rug, still frowning. Molly understood how her friends felt. She had a distinctly uncomfortable and worried feeling herself right now, as if she ought to be doing something but didn't know quite what. She sat next to Arthur, and it suddenly hit her that Roddy and Arthur were roommates.

“Did you know about this?” she demanded.

Arthur looked a little wary, and perhaps just a bit guilty. “Did I know about what?”

“Roddy and Siobhan.”

His expression changed to confusion, and she knew he didn't know what she was talking about. “What do you mean, Roddy and Siobhan?”

“Roddy is going out with Siobhan,” Molly told him.

Arthur's jaw dropped. “He's what? But Francine-”

“He chucked her this morning.”

“Good Lord,” Arthur said, astonished.

“Should we say something to her?” Hattie asked, and Molly knew immediately she meant Siobhan. “Or to Cecilia? She's the only one who has any control over Siobhan.”

“I think we should talk to her. Hear her side. Maybe it isn't the way Acacia makes it sound.” Molly sighed.

“What does Acacia have to do with it?” Arthur asked.

“Who's going to do the talking to Siobhan?” Petula asked worriedly. "She's not going to tell me anything, no one ever does."

“I think it's time for a council,” Hattie said.

Molly nodded. “I believe you're right. I'll let the others know. I know Cecilia's not patrolling tonight, so it's a good night for it.”

“A council?” Arthur asked.

It occurred to Molly that she'd never explained the Gryffindor Girls' Council to him. She opened her mouth to tell him about it, but wasn't sure where to start, and closed her mouth again. She'd have to think of a way to explain it without it sounding silly. Maybe there wasn't one, and they were just a bunch of silly girls, but she still loved their councils.

“I'm glad we're having another council,” Petula said, picking up one of her books and opening it. “I have a few things to talk about anyway. Christmas break was just... Well, we'll talk about it tonight. Arthur, do you have your notes from yesterday's Muggle Studies?”

Arthur still looked rather confused, but began digging through the large stack of parchment he'd set on the floor at his feet.

*

Siobhan looked a little suspicious of them when she finally turned up, but Molly had a plan. She and Hattie had decided the best approach was an oblique one. Petula had things to discuss, which fitted nicely with their plan. They would open with everyone else's problems – Hattie had agreed to discuss her breakup with Silvester, and they could address whatever Petula had in mind, and Cecilia was sure to have something that annoyed her that she wanted to rant about – and then, Hattie would bring up Roddy Feltham in a non-confrontational manner and they would draw the story out of Siobhan.

Molly wasn't feeling terribly confident about this plan, but at least it was a plan.

Siobhan gave Molly a long stare as she sat down, one eyebrow quirking ever so slightly. Molly smiled brightly at her, determined to brazen it out. Siobhan had never dated the same person twice, and Molly wanted to know what was going on with her friend.

Her certainty that Cecilia would unconsciously help out with her plan to lull Siobhan into quiescence was immediately confirmed.

Cecilia picked up an éclair and announced loudly, “Sophronia Lefeuvre is the worst Head Girl in the history of Head Girls,” and then took a rather vicious bite.

Hattie gave her a wary glance. “What happened?”

“She switched up our patrol schedules again, so now no one has any idea where they're supposed to be. I spent an hour patrolling the dungeons and then it turned out some fifth-year Hufflepuff was doing the same thing, and she was supposed to be up on the seventh floor!” Cecilia gestured wildly with the half-eaten éclair. “And last week Thad didn't patrol for an entire week because she forgot to schedule him! She's completely incompetent.”

“You're just still sore that you're not Head Girl,” Siobhan said, unconcerned.

Cecilia glared at her and took another bite of her éclair.

“You would've made a bloody good Head Girl,” Siobhan went on.

“Language,” Hattie murmured.

Siobhan ignored her. “But you're not. You're a prefect. If you were Head Girl, you'd never have time to see Reid. And I know you've found time to see him, so stop complaining.”

Cecilia stuck out her tongue. Siobhan imitated her, adding crossed eyes.

Molly was inclined to agree with Cecilia's assessment of Sophronia. “She's not a very nice person, is she? She called Arthur a blood traitor.”

“That was a long time ago,” Hattie said. “You have to stop letting this whole blood purity thing bother you.”

“You let it bother you when it's your mother involved,” Molly retorted, stung.

Hattie looked taken aback, and there was some hurt in her eyes. Molly immediately regretted saying anything. It was true, though. Cecilia looked pleased that Molly had backed her opinion, and handed her an éclair.

“Molly, how are things with you?” Hattie asked, clearly trying to get back to their script.

She wished she had something to talk about, but the only thing she could think of was Arthur's brother being an idiot over Christmas, and she didn't want to discuss that with everyone. She knew Arthur wouldn't want them all to know, and she'd already talked about it with Hattie and was ready to put it behind her. As much as she wanted to bring something to the table, she had nothing. “Everything's perfectly fine, actually. Arthur loves me, my brothers haven't had a Howler for months, I'm doing well in my classes...” She shrugged. “It's all lovely. I'm sort of waiting for something awful to happen, honestly.”

Cecilia laughed. “You should just feel lucky that things are going well. Maybe you've moved past all your rough patches.”

“There's no such thing as moving past all your rough patches,” Petula said dourly.

“What was it you wanted to talk about, Petula?” Hattie asked.

“Thomas's family doesn't like me,” Petula blurted out.

Molly blinked in surprise. For all Petula's flightiness and love of melodrama, she was really a nice person. She got along so well with Thomas, and they seemed serious. Molly hadn't expected something like this to crop up for them. Or maybe she hadn't thought of it because she got along so well with the Weasleys.

Hattie gave her a sympathetic pat on the hand. “What makes you think they don't like you, dear?”

“I went to visit him at Christmas and they weren't very friendly to me.” Petula looked truly unhappy. Molly wondered if the Ockhams really hadn't been warm to her or if Petula was simply blowing things out of proportion, as was her wont.

“You visited him at Christmas?” Cecilia said in surprise. “You really are getting serious, aren't you?”

“I think he's going to ask me to marry him,” Petula confided. “And I want to say yes if he does, but what if his family doesn't like me?”

“You ought never marry a man whose family doesn't like you,” Hattie said primly. “It'll only cause you problems later.”

“That's very practical,” Molly agreed, still thinking of how well she got on with her future in-laws, barring Bilius's idiotic behaviour.

“That's bollocks,” declared Cecilia, staring at them aghast. “If you love each other, then hang everyone else.”

Petula seemed to prefer this viewpoint, for she smiled at Cecilia before turning to Siobhan, who shook her head.

“Don't look at me, I don't do 'meeting the family'.”

“But if his family doesn't like you-” Hattie began.

“If you've got him sufficiently under your thumb, that won't matter,” Cecilia said dismissively. “Who needs in-laws? You've got your own family, you don't need his as well.”

Petula looked thoughtful, but Hattie said with disapproval, “You're awful, you've no romance in your soul.”

“I ooze romance,” Cecilia said, her nose in the air.

“You must've caught it from Siobhan,” Molly said.

“I agree with Cecilia,” Siobhan put in, after sticking her tongue out at Molly. “To hell with the lot of them if they don't like you, that's what I always say.”

“Language,” Hattie said helplessly.

Molly decided the conversation wasn't going to go anywhere but down from there, and attempted to get things back on track. “Hattie, what happened with you and Silvester?”

“Don't you already know?” Siobhan asked, a little snidely. “She's your best friend.”

Molly was sure then that Siobhan knew exactly what she was trying to do. They stared at each other as Hattie said lamely, “I thought it was only fair to him. I'd lost interest in the relationship...”

Her voice trailed off as it became clear no one was listening. Petula was nervously looking back and forth between Molly and Siobhan, their gazes still locked. Cecilia was very still, watching her best friend. The silence stretched out in the dormitory, and it seemed there was a ripple of heat in the air between the two girls.

“Go on,” Siobhan said quietly, her face defiant. “Ask. Don't think I don't know that's what this is all about.”

“What happened with you and Roddy?” Molly demanded.

“That's none of your bloody business,” Siobhan told her.

“We're your friends, you can tell us,” Hattie said plaintively.

Siobhan didn't spare her a glance. “I'm not going to talk about it, so you may as well give up.”

“You've never gone out with someone that you already went out with,” Molly persisted. “Why Roddy? What happened?”

Siobhan simply stared at her.

“What happened?” Molly repeated.

“Let it go, Molly,” Cecilia said in a tone Molly had never heard from her before. It was gentle, soft, the sort of tone she was used to from Hattie, not from Cecilia. It broke her concentration, and as she glanced over at Cecilia, some of the tension in the room seemed to dissipate. Siobhan jerked her gaze away, staring down at her lap.

“It's all over the school, you know,” Molly said, unable to let it rest just yet. “You'll have to talk about it eventually.”

Siobhan grabbed one of the purple blankets and settled down into her sleeping bag, pulling the blanket up so it covered all of her but the tips of her rusty curls.

“I think we should all go to bed,” Cecilia said quietly.

There were murmurs of 'good night' from Hattie and Petula, and Molly curled up in her sleeping bag, still watching Siobhan's curls sticking out from under the blanket. She thought she caught a noise like a muffled sob, but she had never once heard or seen Siobhan cry, and couldn't be sure.

*

By the weekend, it was clear that the rumours about Siobhan had gotten around the entire school. People whispered behind their hands as she passed them in the corridors, and none of the sixth-year Gryffindors were speaking to her. Francine had returned to her classes with her bright and friendly smile only a little dimmed, though her eyes were still red for a few days after her breakup. Molly could only hope the girl would be all right. She felt rather as if she ought not check on Francine because of her friendship with Siobhan, and could only watch her sadly when she caught sight of her in the common room or in the corridors.

Molly had been worried that Arthur would feel torn between loyalty to his teammate and his friendship with Siobhan, but apparently boys didn't think that way, as he behaved just the same toward both Francine and Siobhan as he had before whatever had happened between them and Roddy. None of the Gryffindor boys appeared to register anything different, with the exception of Cosmo Graham.

Cosmo had long been a regular fixture at mealtimes with their group, despite being the only one not in their year. His friendship with Arthur had assured him a place. He'd gone to sit with Acacia Bushby-Ferris a few times since they'd started going out, but mostly had kept to their own group. Dunstan, on the other hand, had completely abandoned them for Gemma Folwell, oddly enough. In all the excitement over Francine and Roddy and Siobhan, Molly hadn't realized Dunstan and Gemma were going out.

When Molly came to dinner Thursday evening a few days after the Siobhan and Roddy news had broken, Dunstan's empty seat at their spot on the Gryffindor table was occupied by none other than Acacia Bushby-Ferris.

Cosmo looked rather nervous, but was determinedly chatting about Quidditch with Arthur when Molly arrived. Acacia had chosen a seat on the fringe of their group, so she seemed apart from them but for the fact she was sitting next to Cosmo. Molly wasn't sure if the message was deliberate, but it was certainly very clear. Acacia did not consider herself a part of their circle of friends.

Hattie was already sitting next to Petula opposite Arthur and Cosmo, her face frozen into the polite smile she often adopted when frightened in a social situation. Hattie liked things to go smoothly, and to play hostess for their group. Molly had a bad feeling that no hostess was going to be able to save this meal. What had Cosmo been thinking?

He was thinking that he had a girlfriend whom he wanted to spend more time with his friends, she reminded herself sternly. Be charitable. Charity and kindness.

This was going to end badly, she just knew it.

Reid turned up next, and didn't blink an eye at Acacia's presence. He joined in the Quidditch conversation as if nothing were wrong. Arthur didn't seem to have a problem with Acacia's presence either, and Molly frowned slightly for a moment at him before remembering that he probably hadn't heard what Acacia had been saying about Siobhan. Arthur didn't listen to gossip, and had been completely absorbed by his Muggle novels lately.

When Cecilia and Siobhan arrived, Molly felt her heartrate accelerating. Siobhan simply ignored Acacia, but Cecilia stopped dead in her tracks when she saw her.

“What the devil is she doing here?” Cecilia demanded of the table at large.

Acacia scowled up at her, and Siobhan sat down, tugging Cecilia's sleeve.

“She's at perfect liberty to sit wherever she bloody well pleases,” Siobhan said.

“Language, both of you,” Hattie scolded them. “Siobhan, you're a terrible example-” Her eyes widened and she cut off her words, looking horrified. Molly knew she hadn't meant to criticise Siobhan in front of Acacia. Siobhan didn't seem to mind, however, and gave Hattie a smile.

Acacia's mouth twisted sourly, and Siobhan poured a glass of pumpkin juice, completely blasé. Molly was both impressed and a bit horrified by her coolness.

“She's been gossiping about you all over school,” Cecilia said, still standing, looking angrier by the second.

“I have not,” Acacia said haughtily. “It's not gossip to tell the truth.”

“I don't care what she says about me, Cecilia,” Siobhan said calmly, ignoring Acacia completely.

Cecilia's nostrils were flaring, her dark eyes wild, always a bad sign where her temper was related, but she sat down and contented herself with giving Acacia a dark glare.

“Well,” Hattie said bravely, looking around the table with wide eyes. “Who would like to come study with me after dinner for tomorrow's Potions quiz?”

Molly was having a hard time concentrating on the conversation. She couldn't stop staring at Cecilia. She hadn't seen quite that look on Cecilia's face since last year when Reid had been tormenting her constantly. She had a very bad feeling about this, and wished she'd stayed in her room instead of coming to dinner. Damn her appetite.

“I wouldn't mind studying,” Reid volunteered. “I'm getting rather behind in that class. Siobhan, are you in?”

“Homewrecking tart,” Acacia muttered under her breath.

Everyone heard her anyway. Hattie let out a gasp, Cosmo turned bright red, and Petula covered her mouth with both hands, looking horrified. Arthur was frozen, as if he didn't know what to do, and Reid put a hand on Cecilia's arm. She shook it off, and Molly realized suddenly that Cecilia had drawn her wand.

Cecilia shot to her feet, aiming her wand at Acacia, and yelled, “Furnunculus!

Acacia didn't dodge the curse fast enough, and it hit her square in the face.

Siobhan burst into laughter, shaking a bit with it as she tried to pull Cecilia back into her seat. Cecilia brushed off her best friend's hands, her face flushed with rage, and she was still on her feet in an attack position, her wand on Acacia, who had cried out in pain and put her hands to her cheeks as large, horrible boils breaking out all over her face.

Professor McGonagall was hurrying down from the staff table, her narrow face red and eyes wide. Molly shrank a bit in her seat as her Head of House approached.

“What is the meaning of this?” Professor McGonagall demanded as she reached their table.

Cecilia appeared to be so angry she had lost her capacity for speech, and Acacia was now crying as the boils spread to her arms, tears running down her cheeks. She covered her face with her hands. No one else seemed willing to volunteer an explanation.

“Miss Bushby-Ferris, go to the hospital wing at once,” Professor McGonagall said, and Acacia fled the table. McGonagall turned to Cecilia, who dropped her wand on the table and held up her hands in surrender. The wand landed in her goblet of pumpkin juice, and Hattie reached over to rescue it.

“Miss Fletcher, to my office,” Professor McGonagall said tightly, and Cecilia stormed out of the Great Hall ahead of her.

Siobhan was still chuckling, and bit into a chip. “That was bloody marvellous. Did you see Acacia's face?”

“Language, Siobhan,” Hattie murmured as she cleaned the juice off Cecilia's wand.

Cosmo didn't seem to think it was funny. His face was drawn into a frown. “I'm really sorry, Reid,” he said urgently.

Reid didn't look at all upset, however. He had his chin propped up on one hand and a wistful smile on his face, staring at the doors where the two girls had gone. “Do you think they'd wrestle in a mud pit next time? Without their robes on?”

Reid,” Hattie exclaimed, looking scandalised.

“Acacia doesn't mean anything by it,” Cosmo said.

“What?” Reid's brows snapped together. “Of course she meant something by it, don't be an idiot. Stand up for her if you like, but don't try to say she didn't do anything.”

“Don't call me an idiot,” Cosmo retorted, suddenly furious. “Cecilia needs to learn to control her temper-”

“Acacia needs to learn to control her bigotry,” Reid drawled, seemingly unconcerned, but Molly could see his mouth tightening and was sure he was actually very angry now as well.

Cosmo's hand went to his pocket, and Levi Pascal grabbed the back of his robes and yanked him away.

The sixth-year prefect was glaring at both of them. “Cosmo, go check on Acacia, she'll want you in the hospital wing with her. Reid, go wait for Cecilia outside of McGonagall's office, she's going to need someone to help calm her down.”

“I'll go too,” Siobhan said, still looking very amused by the whole thing. “Make sure Cecilia's all right, and keep these two apart.” She followed Reid out of the Great Hall, with Cosmo behind them shooting dark looks at Reid. Molly rather thought Reid had just solidified his position in Siobhan's eyes by siding with her and Cecilia against Acacia and Cosmo.

Levi sighed. “Am I the only responsible prefect in Gryffindor? Two prefects fighting, and Thad's down there pretending he didn't see anything.”

No one bothered to respond to this. Molly glanced down the table and saw Thad was hunched slightly over his plate, determinedly chatting with Julian Kirkpatrick. Roddy Feltham sat next to them, still staring down the table at where Cecilia had hexed Acacia as if he could not believe what he'd seen.

Molly tracked Cecilia and Siobhan down later that evening, outside in the courtyard. They were sitting on one of the low walls that enclosed the courtyard, and Reid stood near them, leaning against a stone column. They looked up at her approach, and Molly had a sudden sense of being apart from her friends, as if she didn't know them very well. They had always been closer to each other than to the other girls, but now it seemed Reid was part of that inner circle as well, and it gave Molly a very odd feeling.

“Are you all right?” Molly asked, wishing she knew what to say. “Did you get a detention?”

“I got about half a dozen detentions,” Cecilia said, rolling her eyes. “McGonagall wants me to apologise as well.”

“Are you going to?”

She already knew the answer to that, so she wasn't surprised when Cecilia said hotly, “Why the devil should I? Bloody Acacia, why couldn't she just shut her stupid mouth?”

“Obviously because she thinks she's better than homewrecking tarts like me,” Siobhan said, and Cecilia broke into a grin.

“Maybe that will be my next tattoo,” Siobhan added, and Reid laughed.

“I'll get one to match if you do,” he said. “Right across my chest. What do you think, Molly?”

She smiled at them, and looked at Cecilia again. Her face had lost some of its tension, and though Molly was sure her friend was still upset both about what Acacia had said and about her punishment, she thought now that Cecilia would get past it. Reid was surprisingly good for her, and he and Siobhan seemed to complement each other well as friends. They had a cosy little group, Molly thought, and the feeling returned of being outside looking in.

She wondered if they felt the same about her and Arthur; if Siobhan felt the same about Reid and Cecilia. She supposed everyone was a group apart from someone else, and tried not to let it bother her.

“It sounds perfectly lovely,” Molly said. “Do send a postcard when you have it done.”

Cecilia laughed. “You are not allowed to have that,” she told Siobhan, then turned to her boyfriend. “But on you, I think it's a marvellous idea.”

“Are you calling me a tart?” he demanded, feigning outrage.

She took his hand and drew him closer. “You're a damned tart, Reid Akins.”

“I think we'd better go,” Siobhan said playfully, rising gracefully to her feet and dusting the snow off her cloak.

“Yes, I think we better had,” Molly agreed, and she glanced over her shoulder as they walked away. Reid was bending down to give Cecilia a delicate kiss on the tip of her nose, and she was smiling at him with a soft expression Molly had not seen before.

“Shocking, isn't it?” Siobhan said, and Molly looked away quickly, turning to Siobhan as they entered the castle.

“What d'you mean?”

“She really does love that idiot.”

*

“Well,” Hattie said in Arithmancy the next morning. “That didn't really go as planned, did it?”

Molly smiled ruefully. “I suppose we might've known she'd refuse to talk about it.”

“It can't be just snogging, then. She would talk about it if it was just snogging.”

Molly considered this and decided it had the ring of truth about it. “I think you're right, dear.” She paused for a moment, not sure how to address her next concern. “Hattie...”

“Yes?”

Professor Arccos had arrived and was sketching some long strings of numbers on the chalkboard as the students took their seats. Molly decided she'd better just have out with it. “I'm sorry for what I said about your mum-”

“No, it's fine,” Hattie said in a small voice. “You were right. I did let it bother me, and I've been acting very selfish. I'm no better than Sophronia.”

“That's not true,” Molly said staunchly.

Hattie gave her a brief smile, then said determinedly, “I'm not going to let it bother me any more. I'll write him a letter and try to get to know him.”

Molly smiled proudly. “Your mum will be so pleased.”

Professor Arccos rapped his wand on the edge of his desk to draw the classes' attention then, and began lecturing in his thick Greek accent. Molly reached over to give her best friend a pat on the hand, and Hattie smiled at her as she began copying down the numbers on the chalkboard.

Chapter 10: A Thing About You
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Arthur sat happily in the back of the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, playing hangman with Molly and Petula while they waited for class to start. It was much more enjoyable than playing against Reid, who thought up fifteen-letter words that Arthur had never even heard of, but fortunately, Reid was late again for class and hadn't taken over the game with obscure vocabulary. Unusually, Cecilia was tardy as well.

Siobhan slid into the seat behind Arthur's just as Professor Lloyd-Howell rapped his wand on the blackboard to start class. Petula turned around and whispered, “Where's Cecilia? She's never late.”

Apparently he wasn't the only one who'd noticed. Siobhan leaned forward across her desk.

“Reid's in the hospital wing. Cecilia's with him. She wouldn't tell me what happened to him, though. I don't think she hexed him, but you never know.”

Arthur turned around in his seat to stare at her, but Molly grabbed his arm and jerked him back around to the front. Petula turned to face the teacher again as well, but by her expression, she wasn't paying him much attention.

Molly reached over and scrawled at the bottom of Arthur's notes in her loopy feminine handwriting, There's nothing you can do about it now, so you may as well pay attention.

Arthur sighed and did his best to concentrate.

After Defence was over, Molly split off with Petula and Siobhan to go to Potions, and Arthur set off for the hospital wing to check on Reid.

Cecilia was sitting in a chair next to Reid's bed, sorting through piles of parchment that seemed to be homework assignments for various classes. Reid still looked grey and pinched, and there was a strangely translucent quality about him that reminded Arthur of the little old witch who'd taught Apparition lessons last year. He was stretched out in the hospital bed, watching Cecilia with a tender expression that Arthur had never seen before, but his usual cocky look slid back into place when he looked up and saw Arthur.

“Hello there, old boy. Ridiculous, this, isn't it?”

“If you hadn't been using that damned thing so much, this wouldn't have happened,” Cecilia said waspishly. “If I find out you've been doing hours over to spend time with me, I'll put you back in the hospital wing myself.”

Reid looked completely unabashed. “It was worth it,” he said contentedly, stacking his hands behind his head.

Cecilia narrowed her eyes as she shuffled the sheets of parchment into a large stack.

“Doing hours over?” Arthur echoed. “What do you mean by that?”

“Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies,” Reid said airily.

“He's had a time-turner since third year,” Cecilia said briskly, not looking up from Reid's homework. “It's how he's been getting to all his classes all this time.”

“Oh,” Arthur said in surprise. He'd heard of time-turners briefly from his father, but had never actually seen one before.

“No one's supposed to know, Cilia,” Reid said, frowning at her. “How did you know I had one, anyway? I never told you about it.”

“Do I look stupid to you?” She raised an eyebrow at him. “I knew you must have one, you couldn't possibly be going to all those classes without one. When I took on my O.W.L. classes, I looked into getting one, but my mother thought I'd go mad. You've been overdoing it this year. Maybe I'll chuck you so you don't have to try to fit in extra hours and can concentrate better on your studies,” she added in a threatening tone.

“Don't tempt me, woman,” Reid said, then admitted, “If you chuck me, I won't be able to concentrate on anything.”

“Well then I'll just have to make sure you're staying on task,” Cecilia said, handing him the sheaf of homework papers. “Now they're in chronological order by due date and class period. It will be more efficient to complete them in this order.”

“Bloody hell,” Reid muttered, taking the papers. “Maybe I do want to split up with you.”

“Don't tempt me,” Cecilia said with a grin.

“This will take me all week to finish,” Reid complained. “Is it too late to drop a class?”

“Do you still want eleven N.E.W.T.s?”

“Yes,” he admitted.

“Then you can't drop a class.” Cecilia patted his hand. “We'll have plenty of time later to spend time together.”

Reid grumbled under his breath, and Arthur smiled at the two of them. They rather reminded him of Molly's parents, fighting constantly but with an underlying spark between them that was undeniable. Last year they'd fought over the spark as well, but they'd fallen into what seemed like a steady relationship now. It was a bit odd, but rather nice, too. Arthur was pleased that his friend was happy, particularly because butting heads regularly with Cecilia was tempering Reid's cockiness a bit.

He'd wondered in the past how Reid had been managing to take so many classes, but Reid had always been quite secretive about the whole thing, changing the subject and deflecting questions about his schedule. Arthur had given up on figuring it out ages ago, and finding out now was almost anticlimactic.

“Can I see the time-turner?” Arthur asked.

“No,” Reid said.

Cecilia picked up a small hourglass strung on a long chain from the small bedside table and handed it to Arthur.

“Am I not speaking English here?” Reid demanded, glaring at his girlfriend. “Stop telling him everything! It's supposed to be a secret.”

“Oh, go soak your head,” she told him, unconcerned. “Maybe if you have Arthur policing you as well, you won't abuse the privilege any longer.”

“But I like abusing the privilege,” Reid said forlornly. “It's the only privilege I get to abuse now my girlfriend's a prefect and won't let me have any fun.”

Arthur laughed. “I thought you looked terrible lately, I wondered why. Have you been sleeping at all?”

“A couple of hours, here and there.”

Cecilia let out a loud, disapproving sniff.

“I can make it through the end of the year,” Reid said to her, his expression turning serious. “It's only a few more months. I can do it. Then I'll sleep all summer, I promise.”

“All summer,” she said warily.

“I'll swear by any deity you prefer,” he said solemnly, then added, “I know some really good ones from ancient Egypt.”

Cecilia rolled her eyes at him and then stood, stretching. “Well, I can't sit here all day, some of us can't go back in time and attend the classes we missed. I'm going to need to catch up from Potions and Defence as it is.”

“Molly has notes,” Arthur volunteered. His own notes from today's Defence lesson were half-hearted at best. Besides, Molly took very good notes, and she didn't mind sharing them with him, so why not take advantage of her studiousness?

“But who's going to nurse me back to health if you leave?” Reid asked, attempting to look pathetic. With his wan, tired face, it was a pretty good attempt.

“The school pays someone to do that,” Cecilia told him. “Perhaps you've met her? They call her 'Madame Luscinia'.”

Arthur chuckled, and Reid made an obscene hand gesture at him. Cecilia leaned down to kiss him, and Arthur looked away. A moment later, Cecilia gave him a little push.

“Let's go, Arthur.”

“See you later, Reid,” he said, waving at his friend as he set off with Cecilia.

“Oh yes, abandon me! I can see now how much the two of you care!” Reid called after them, grinning. “Who's going to entertain me? I'm already bored!”

“Mr. Akins, quiet,” Madame Luscinia began severely, bustling down toward Reid's bed as Arthur and Cecilia left the hospital wing and started down the corridor.

Cecilia was smiling fondly to herself. “He's an idiot,” she said when she saw Arthur looking.

“I suppose so,” he said, smiling at her.

*

Quidditch practice that week was a rather subdued affair. Francine was still quiet and sad over her break-up, and reports of attacks on Muggle-borns had appeared in the Daily Prophet again, so the team weren't quite themselves.

The usual small knot of Gryffindor Quidditch supporters were in the stands. Arthur could see Cosmo sitting with Roddy and Dunstan. Reid was nowhere to be seen. He was out of hospital now, but he and Cosmo had been on the outs ever since Cecilia had hexed Acacia in the middle of the Great Hall. Neither Cecilia nor Siobhan had said a word about the incident, but Reid liked to bring it up regularly. He seemed quite taken with the idea of Cecilia in an actual magical fight. Cosmo, on the other hand, was still angry with Reid for taking the side of his girlfriend, whom Cosmo considered to be clearly in the wrong, rather than that of his friend. Arthur did not want to be involved in any of it, and spent most of his conversations with his two friends in silence, letting them rant and complain unobstructed.

Practice didn't go well. Arthur knew his own playing was choppy, and Swyndlehurst let in every shot thrown at him. Thad called things to a halt after a Bludger snapped his bat in two, and the team gratefully left the field.

Arthur sat on the bench in the changing room afterwards, clipping a few bent twigs from his broomstick and feeling out of sorts. Thad was re-wrapping the newly repaired handle of his Beater's bat next to Arthur, not saying a word. His mood seemed to parallel Arthur's.

Atalanta and Njemile had already left, but Francine was still in the changing room in her Quidditch robes. She was staring at her broom on her lap, and Arthur didn't know what to say to her.

Julian stole a glance over at Arthur and Thad, and then sat down next to Francine. Arthur tried not to overhear their conversation, but it wasn't a large room, and Julian didn't whisper nearly as quietly as he thought he did.

“I was wondering if you fancied a butterbeer?” Julian asked, then added awkwardly, “With me, I mean. In Hogsmeade. I know you don't have a boyfriend any more, so why don't we go out?”

Francine looked up at him in surprise. “You what?”

“D'you want to go out with me?” Julian's voice was a little impatient now.

She stared at him for a moment, then looked back down at her broom. “That's very kind of you. I'm sorry though, I-”

“Nevermind,” Julian interrupted her, his voice back at a normal speaking tone now, though his tone was rougher than usual. “Forget I asked. I'd better go.”

Francine sighed as Julian left the room, banging his way through the door.

“Idiot,” Thad muttered, giving his bat a trial swing.

Arthur grinned and shook his head. Julian wasn't exactly the master of tact.

Francine looked over at them, her cheeks stained pink. “He's only asking me out of pity. And because Atalanta won't go out with him.”

“I think more the latter than the former, actually,” Arthur said apologetically.

“I know.” Francine set her broomstick in the storage cupboard and then gave them a smile, a real smile, and Arthur couldn't help returning it. “Next practice will go more smoothly. At least we're still better than last year.”

Thad chuckled, and Francine waved to them as she left.

“Think she'll be all right?” Thad asked as Arthur brushed a few splinters off his lap and went over to lock his broom in the cupboard.

Arthur glanced over his shoulder at the door. “Yeah, she will.”

“Good. Last thing we need at this juncture is the team messed up.” Thad got to his feet. “Come on, better get back to the dormitory so we can start our homework. Did you see the essay topic McGonagall gave us? It'll take all night to write that.”

The other Gryffindor seventh-years were all in their dormitory when Arthur and Thad made it back to the tower. Reid still looked rather sickly, and there was a large stack of books at the foot of his bed. He was already in his pyjamas, so it didn't appear he was leaving his bed in the near future. Arthur grinned at his friend. Cecilia had probably confined Reid to his dormitory.

“Team's looking bloody awful,” Roddy said cheerfully. “I think you might want to go back to several practices a week, Thad.”

“No,” Arthur said immediately.

Thad frowned at Roddy. “It was a bad day. Everyone has them.”

“All at once?” Roddy asked.

“Shut it, Roddy,” Thad told him, and Roddy laughed.

“Someone's in a good mood now he's back together with Siobhan,” Arthur observed, raising an eyebrow at his friend.

“She really is amazing,” Roddy said with a smile.

“You certainly got together quickly after chucking Francine, that's for certain,” said Dunstan.

“It's no one's business what happened between me and Francine,” Roddy said calmly, though his cheeks reddened.

“Yeah right,” Dunstan said. “After what happened in the Great Hall with Cecilia, it's everyone's business. Everyone's been talking about it.”

“Then let's not, shall we?” Reid rolled his eyes. “I've already had to talk about it with Cecilia and Siobhan about a hundred times, I don't want to talk about it with you lot as well.”

“Are they still angry with Acacia?” Arthur asked.

“I'm sorry, I was under the impression you'd met Cecilia,” Reid said politely. “Remember how long she was angry with me just because I accidentally set her just a wee bit on fire? Acacia called her best friend a tart. She'll be angry for the next five hundred years."

“You know,” Roddy mused, leaning back against his headboard and stacking his hands behind his head, “Cecilia and Acacia are actually quite a lot alike.”

“Please don't repeat that where Cecilia can hear you,” Reid told him. “She'll hex you too.”

Roddy grinned. Arthur hadn't seen him in such a chipper mood in ages. He really was pleased to be back together with Siobhan. It was a shame for Francine, and Arthur felt rather an idiot for setting the two of them up only for Roddy to chuck her shortly afterwards, but he supposed there was nothing he could have done. He thought Siobhan was happy as well, but it was hard to tell with her.

“I just mean, they look rather alike, and they've both got a certain... intolerance about them, don't they?” Roddy went on. “They're both prefects too. And they like to be in charge. It's no wonder they don't get along.”

“Really, shut up now, Cecilia might be able to hear you,” Reid said, feigning terror. “She has strange and eldritch powers. I think she can hear through walls.”

Arthur chuckled, and Dunstan shook his head.

“It's amazing Cecilia manages to get along with Molly, they're very alike too,” Roddy said to Arthur.

“It's amazing she manages to get along with anyone,” Reid said, then winced. “Did I say that out loud?”

“It's through dint of much effort on Hattie's part over the past several years, I assure you,” Arthur told Roddy. “She makes sure everyone gets along.”

“Hattie's a good egg,” Reid said amiably. “She doesn't frighten me nearly as much as Molly and Cecilia do.”

“What about Cressida?” Thad asked, grinning at Reid. “Does she frighten you as well?”

“Not in the least,” Reid said airily. “She's a Ravenclaw, they're not known for being likely to take a Beater's bat to your skull because you said they shouldn't wear orange, are they?”

“Well, you'd better step up practices, anyway,” Roddy said to Thad, apparently done with discussing girls. “If you want to win your next game, that is. The performance today isn't going to scrape a win past the Hufflepuffs.”

Thad's grin had faded. “It's because of those damn articles in the Daily Prophet, isn't it?” he said irritably. “It's not the team's fault they were distracted. We'll do better next time. You chucking Francine didn't help any, either.”

“I just want for one day when I open the paper not to see any mention of any Dark wizards or horrible things happening,” Dunstan said with a sigh. “Just one, and I'd be happy. I don't think that's very much to ask.”

“Yes, well,” said Reid. “Seems unlikely to happen any time soon, does it? Besides, they've mostly been Muggle-baiting, and that isn't illegal. What are they going to arrest them for even if they managed to catch them? Being prats?”

“It's a lot more than being prats, and they're not just Muggle-baiting,” Arthur said hotly. “They've been attacking Muggleborns now too. Don't you remember Petula's neighbours?”

“Yeah, we do,” Reid said. His face was serious at the mention of the murdered family. “I'm just making a point, I'm not saying it's right or that I agree with the way things are, but it's a fact that there's no law against some of what they're doing.”

Arthur felt a flare of anger. There weren't enough laws to protect Muggles from magical abuse, something that had bothered him greatly for a long time. It was more of a gentleman's agreement that wizards would not harass Muggles, but there were no legal sanctions in place if they did. It was a completely unacceptable situation. “Well, I'll make sure I change that.”

“I hope you do,” Dunstan said quietly. “Gemma's parents are Muggleborn.”

“How are you going to change anything, Arthur Weasley?” Reid asked sceptically. “You haven't any power or influence. You're not even out of school.”

“When I'm out of school then,” Arthur said determinedly. “I don't care. Somehow.”

Reid gave him an assessing look. “I believe you,” he said eventually.

Arthur sat up a little straighter. Somehow the thought of Reid having confidence in his ambitions made him feel much better. Reid was bullheaded and sometimes oblivious, but he was also very smart and very cynical. If even Reid believed Arthur could do something, perhaps there was hope it could be done after all.

“You know, it doesn't even matter, so long as we beat Hufflepuff next month,” Thad said doggedly.

“All you care about is Quidditch,” Dunstan said. “There are more important things than Quidditch, you know.”

“Quidditch is important too,” Roddy retorted.

Arthur glanced at Roddy askance. It was quite rare for Arthur to be on the same side as Dunstan in an argument, but he had to agree with him this time. He loved Quidditch as much as anyone, but it paled in importance next to protecting Muggles who couldn't possibly protect themselves. Roddy suddenly seemed very young to Arthur, despite being three months older than him.

“Everyone shut up about Quidditch and girls now, all right?” Reid said loudly, picking up one of his books. “Some of us have a hundred N.E.W.T.s to take, you know.”

*

The next Hogsmeade weekend fell a few days after Arthur's eighteenth birthday, and Molly assured him she had something wonderful planned, so he'd been quite looking forward to it.

She finally came down to the common room after the older students had already left for the village. A few of the first and second years were sprawled out in the common room, taking advantage of the lack of older students hogging the best seats.

“Are you ready?” Molly asked brightly, adjusting the knitted beret on her red curls.

He'd been waiting for twenty minutes, but that seemed churlish to mention, so he simply took her hand and they set off.

Molly waited until they were outside school grounds, alone on the path to Hogsmeade, before she dragged him to a halt.

“We're not going to Hogsmeade today,” she said, smiling at him. There was a distinct twinkle in her eye that gave Arthur the sudden feeling of butterflies in his stomach.

“Erm,” he said, feeling his ears turn red. “We're not?”

“I have it all planned,” she assured him. “Hattie's going to cover for us if anyone notices we're missing from the school and Hogsmeade.”

Quite suddenly he wondered what exactly she had been planning. He didn't want to force her to ruin the surprise, but he felt rather as if he were being expected to go on the field to play a game whose rules he was not even aware of. He half-hoped his suspicion about her plans was correct, but it couldn't possibly be. Molly would never plan something like that.

Would she?

Molly took his hand again and he let her lead the way as they Disapparated, still wondering if she'd lost her mind completely and was taking him to do what he now really hoped she was taking him to do.

They reappeared in a deserted and quite dirty alley, and Arthur rather felt his hopes were dashed.

“Where are we, exactly?” he asked, glancing around.

“Not far from Hogsmeade, actually.” Molly gave his hand a tug and led him out of the alley and into the street.

The people on the street looked odd, as did the shopfronts, and he realized they were in a Muggle town. He looked around, trying to take everything in, but his mind was still haunted with images of what Molly might have in mind for an afternoon all alone, anonymous in a town away from the wizarding world, and he couldn't concentrate on the Muggle sights and sounds very much.

Molly came to a stop at a corner and waved her hand at the building across the street. “Here we are,” she announced, smiling widely at him. “Happy birthday, Arthur!”

He'd been picturing her saying those words to him in a much different scenario in his head, with far less clothes on, so it took his brain a moment to catch up with the situation. He stared at the building for a moment, uncomprehending, as the images in his mind's eye evaporated. His hormones had apparently been running away with him.

“It's called a diner,” she said proudly. “I thought we could have lunch here, just like Muggles do.”

“We're having lunch at a diner,” Arthur said, feeling the need to restate the situation for clarity.

“Yes,” Molly said, giving him a look as if she thought he was slow. “A Muggle diner, Arthur. You love Muggles. You'll get to have lunch with real Muggles.”

“Oh.”

“What did you think we were going to do?” Molly asked curiously, and he thought he heard a note of censure in her voice. Oh dear, he thought. He had probably offended her by not being properly appreciative of her plan.

“Nothing, nothing.” He gave her a kiss on the cheek. “I'm very surprised, that's all. This is wonderful. I've never eaten at a Muggle restaurant before.”

“Nor have I. I hope it's not too strange, I don't want to look a fool,” Molly admitted uncertainly.

He smiled at her. She was terribly cute, being willing to risk looking silly and embarrassing herself in front of the Muggles just for him.

The diner did sound very fun, but he was just a tiny bit disappointed that she hadn't had anything else in mind for this excursion. He really ought to have known better, of course. Molly, despite her love of what he'd discovered were actually quite graphic romance novels, would never plan something like that without being married first.

He supposed that gave him something to look forward to, anyway, since he'd all but proposed to her and she'd all but agreed. He really would rather have that whole thing resolved, however. It seemed settled that they would marry, but he still had a few worries that she would say no when offered an official proposal. He didn't think he'd sleep easy until there was a ring on her finger.

The diner wasn't crowded. There were only a handful of Muggles at the tables, eating quietly. It seemed to be a place where older people came for their lunch, as they were the only ones there who looked under fifty. Molly didn't seem bothered by this, and they found a table and sat down.

“Isn't this exciting?” she said in a low voice, looking around.

Arthur smiled. She looked more nervous than excited, but he appreciated the effort on his behalf. “It was a wonderful idea, Molly. Erm... How are we going to pay for this?”

“Petula gave me some Muggle money for Christmas,” Molly told him. “She won't be using it, they're going to avoid the Muggle world for a while.” She looked rather sad at that, and Arthur knew it was because she felt sorry for Petula. Molly had a very strong sense of family.

“It'll all turn out right in the end,” Arthur said, hoping this was true.

“I hope you're right,” Molly said sadly, as if echoing his thoughts.

The waitress came over and took their orders – Arthur ordered the House Special, fancying himself quite the Muggle for it – and they spent the rest of the meal discussing their plans for the Easter holiday, since they couldn't talk about school. He'd never realized how much magic permeated their lives until he'd tried to have a conversation without mentioning it.

“Did you get Basil a birthday gift?” asked Molly, forking up the last of her treacle tart.

“Erm, no.” It had never occurred to him that he would need to buy something for his nephew's first birthday. He wondered if that made him a bad uncle. Probably he should get something, but he had no idea what was appropriate for a one year old.

“I thought not,” Molly said briskly. “I'll send him a present from both of us. I saw a very sweet little toy dragon in Hogsmeade. Your mother says Basil loves dragons right now.”

Arthur took a sip of his soda pop – a very strange Muggle drink he'd had to conceal his eagerness to try. It was very strange, and he felt very Muggle, and a little American, drinking it. The fizziness made his tongue tingle. “That sounds all right. I'm sure he'll love it.” He was rather relieved not to have to bother with any of that. Having a girlfriend came in very handy sometimes.

“Shall we start back to school, then?” Molly asked, though from her tone this was a nicely phrased order rather than a suggestion.

“I suppose so.”

He did manage to talk her into a detour in the alley before they returned to Hogwarts, so while it wasn't a very happy birthday, it was still quite a good one.

Chapter 11: Heart on the Shelf
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Sunday morning breakfast was unusually quiet. None of the Gryffindor boys had made it down to the table by the time Molly had finished eating, and Siobhan and Cecilia were having a lie-in as well. Petula had spent the past half hour reviewing her Muggle Studies notes and Hattie was reading a long letter from her mother while making her way through a bowl of porridge, so Molly had what felt like the first moment of quiet reflection in ages. She hadn't expected seventh year would be quite this exhausting.

She still hadn't figured out what had been on Arthur's mind at his birthday a fortnight ago. He'd seemed rather odd about the Muggle diner. She'd thought it would go over very well with him, and it had once the idea had sunk in, but she'd been surprised it had taken him so long to remember his Muggle enthusiasm. She wondered what had distracted him so much that he'd forgotten to be excited about seeing Muggles.

Well, whatever it was, it had been a good trip after all. Her brothers had given him more batteries for what seemed to be a collection now, but she rather thought lunching with actual, real Muggles beat silly old batteries any day.

“What's in your letter, Hattie?” Petula asked, brushing toast crumbs off her jumper.

“My mother's boyfriend proposed to her,” Hattie said, folding the letter again neatly.

“That's wonderful!” Petula exclaimed, then frowned a bit when she took in Molly's expression. “Isn't it?” she added uncertainly.

Molly didn't know what to say, and looked over at her best friend for a cue to how she should react. Hattie had been trying hard to be happy for her mother for some time now. She'd even written to her mother's boyfriend via her mother, since she'd no idea how to send post the Muggle way, but Molly wasn't certain Hattie would be happy now her mother was finally engaged. She didn't like to think of the fallout with Arthur should Hattie continue being upset that her mother was dating a Muggle.

“Yes, it is,” Hattie said firmly, to Molly's relief. “She's very happy. I haven't seen her this happy since before my father passed away. It is wonderful.”

“Please pass my congratulations to your mother,” Molly said fondly.

“Yes, mine too. Well, what's he like?” Petula rolled up her Muggle Studies notes, her smile back in place.

“He's... Well, he's very nice, actually,” said Hattie, glancing over at Molly somewhat sheepishly. “He wrote me a letter and he was very kind and polite.”

Molly smiled. Hattie valued good manners very highly. Being kind and polite was going to take her future stepfather quite far in Hattie's estimation. Molly couldn't imagine Mrs. Habbershaw dating anyone with less than impeccable manners, for that matter.

“I'm glad you got to know him a bit better,” she told her best friend.

“What's his name?” Petula asked. “Are you going to use his surname?”

Hattie shook her head. “No. I'll always be a Habbershaw. His name is Ernest Newsome.” She paused for a moment, then said, “Mum asked me to be her bridesmaid.”

Molly couldn't hold in her squeal. “Oh, Hattie, how lovely!”

“It does sound like fun,” Hattie admitted, smiling.

“I want to be a bridesmaid,” Molly sighed.

“You're both going to be my bridesmaids when I marry Thomas,” Petula told them.

“Thank you,” Hattie said, looking flattered.

“Petula, you're so sweet,” Molly said, overcome with joy and regretting all the times she'd made rude remarks about Petula. “You'll all be my bridesmaids when I marry Arthur, too,” she added.

Hattie smiled, but Petula looked a bit confused. “Did he ask you to marry him, then?”

“No,” Molly told her cheerfully. “But he will.”

“Who will what?” Siobhan asked, sitting down next to her. “What are you lot talking about?”

“Weddings,” they said in unison.

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.” Siobhan scooted off the bench and moved to the next table down.

Petula snorted as Siobhan fled the conversation. “She must've stopped oozing romance.”

Molly had to hide her laugh behind her hand.

*

The next meeting of the Duelling Club fell that evening, the same as Quidditch practice. Thad had increased the number of practices the team had per week now their game with Hufflepuff was looming. Molly had to hold in her disapproval of this, though knowing it wouldn't last long made that a bit easier. Still, she rather thought two nights a week more than sufficed. Arthur had said that Thad wanted them to do four, and it was only through Francine Allen taking him aside to talk to him that Thad had agreed to three nights. Molly was starting to feel that she hardly got to spend any time with Arthur and was counting down the days until the next game and the less frequent practice schedule it would bring.

Molly was pacing up and down the corridor outside the Charms classroom just before Duelling Club was slated to begin, waiting for Arthur. Students streamed past her, headed to their clubs and common rooms. She paused in the middle of her route and stood on tiptoe to see above the heads of the other students.

“Where is he?” she demanded.

Siobhan was sitting on a wooden plinth in an armour niche, leaning against the suit of armour. “Probably practice is running late. Don't worry so much.”

“Yes but the club will start in five minutes! They never run this late. I told Thad we have a meeting tonight.”

“I'm sure he'll be here soon.” Siobhan didn't look terribly concerned. “Thad wouldn't dare disobey you and keep them late.”

“Oh, hush,” Molly said sternly, and Siobhan grinned.

Cecilia arrived with Reid in tow and took the two of them in at a glance. “Waiting for Arthur?”

Molly nodded.

“I saw Roddy in the halls a moment ago, they must be done by now,” Reid volunteered.

“Do you want us to wait with you, Molly?” Cecilia asked.

“Oh, don't be silly, you go on in. You don't need to wait with me, I'll be fine.” Molly shooed the three of them into the classroom.

She leaned back against the cold stone of the corridor. The castle was often freezing at this time of year, and resuming her pacing began to sound quite appealing, if only to warm up.

A few stragglers were still headed for the Charms classroom. A pair of fifth-year Ravenclaw girls whom Molly recognized from Duelling Club were approaching, and one curled her lip up as she caught sight of Molly.

“Look who it is,” she said to her friend in a low voice that was still quite carrying.

The other Ravenclaw girl shook her long dark hair aside, her nose in the air, and regarded Molly with a snobbish air. Molly was suddenly quite sure that they were purebloods, and did her best to ignore them. Half the school was snobby about blood purity these days. She took a slow breath through clenched teeth and tried not to let it bother her.

“Probably waiting for her blood traitor boyfriend,” the first girl stage-whispered to her friend as they walked past her. “She's turned into one too. Such a shame, she's from a good family, but she's practically a Weasley herself now.”

Hot rage boiled up in Molly, and she whipped around and aimed her wand at the girl, casting the first spell that came to mind.

Furnunculus!

The fifth-year let out a shriek as the spell hit her in the torso. Molly's vindication was immediately tempered with regret, but before she could do or say anything in the way of apology, a familiar figure stepped in front of her.

“What have you done?” Acacia Bushby-Ferris demanded.

The fifth-year girl left in a hurry, hustled along by her friend. Acacia looked torn for a moment whether to assist them or to make sure Molly was punished, and when she turned back to Molly with a frown, she knew Acacia had settled on her.

“She started it,” Molly said, aware that she sounded about ten years old, but it was true. “She said-”

“It doesn't matter what she said. You attacked her in the middle of the corridor,” Acacia said coldly, her arms folded across her chest. “I ought to have known to expect such behaviour from one of your lot, but I keep thinking a seventh-year surely must know better.”

“Shut up, Acacia,” Molly snapped. Her cheeks were flaming now, because she knew Acacia was partly correct.

Acacia's eyes flashed. “Twenty points from Gryffindor, Molly Prewett, and I hope it teaches you a lesson.”

“What's going on here?”

Molly turned around to see Arthur walking toward her, his face wary. He stopped at her side and took her hand, sparing Acacia a glance before asking, “Molly, are you all right?”

“I'm fine. Let's go in.” She gave Acacia the evil eye as she went into the classroom. Acacia stared stonily at her, standing tall in the corridor.

“What happened?” Arthur asked in a low voice.

She really didn't want to tell him any of it. “Nothing. Don't worry about it.”

Molly narrowed her eyes at her brothers as she and Arthur made their way to where Siobhan was sitting with Reid and Cecilia. Gideon and Fabian were sitting very close to Professor Flitwick, whom they greatly admired now it seemed, given his past as a duelling champion and their newly-discovered aspirations of becoming champions as well.

“Why don't they just go away?” she said irritably to Siobhan, who rolled her eyes.

Arthur sat down next to her and took her continued complaints about her brothers in stride, as he did with nearly everything. He picked up their entwined hands and pressed a kiss to her fingers. “Molly, you have to get over this. They're not bothering you-”

“Oh yes they are,” she grumbled.

“Molly,” he began seriously, but Professor Flitwick was calling them to attention, and Arthur had to subside.

Molly listened to Professor Flitwick's instruction with half an ear, stewing about the Ravenclaws in the corridor and her brothers. The entire school was gossiping about her being a blood traitor and the two of them were stealing the one thing she was good at. They always had to butt in, they could never just let her have something all to herself. Why did they have to be good at duelling too? It wasn't fair.

What was even less fair was that she could hear a voice in her head telling her she was being childish about the whole thing. Hexing fifth-years, losing House points, complaining about her little brothers, and she was fully aware that she was being silly, which somehow made it all worse. It was all just too much for one day. Her nerves were stretched to the breaking point.

The club was getting to their feet, and she moved over to a side wall with Arthur, and before she could force herself to relax enough to duel, her brothers appeared in front of them with annoying grins.

“How about a go with each of us, eh?” Gideon asked. He gave Arthur a nudge in the ribs, and Molly thought this might have been more effective if Gideon weren't so much shorter than Arthur. He practically had to stand on tiptoe to reach Arthur's ribs.

“Sounds like fun,” said Arthur, and Molly felt like kicking him.

She paired up with Fabian ill-temperedly, wishing she could just hex him into unconsciousness so he would stop showing off.

It took him ten spells to break through her Shield Charm. She was quite proud of that, especially since it seemed to frustrate her little brother. He managed to knock the breath out of her with his tenth spell, but it hadn't disarmed her. She glanced over at Arthur and Gideon as Fabian prepared his Shield Charm for her to attack, and her heart leaped into her throat.

“Arthur,” she gasped.

Gideon hit Arthur with some kind of curse, and there was blood pouring down his face from a gash in his forehead. Molly ran forward without thinking, deflecting the spell Gideon had sent immediately after the first one, too late to stop after he'd seen what the first had done. Her brother was knocked off his feet by the force of her spell.

Arthur was trying to staunch the blood, and she pointed her wand at him and cast a spell she'd seen her mother use dozens of times on the twins' minor injuries. “Episkey.”

“Molly, I'm fine-” Arthur tried to say, his glasses in one hand as he used his sleeve to mop the blood out of his eyes. She couldn't tell if he was still bleeding, and the room had become airless at the sight of Arthur's face covered in blood. She couldn't draw a breath, her chest constricted with fear that felt like a steel band around her lungs.

“Hey,” said Fabian, frowning at Molly. “That was between Arthur and Gideon. Jumping in is dirty pool.”

Gideon had regained his feet, and he and Fabian exchanged a glance, then simultaneously aimed their wands at Molly.

She had a Shield Charm up just as their combined spell came rocketing toward her. It ricocheted off the shield and hit the ceiling, smashing off a bit of stone, which crashed down to the floor, gaining the attention of the rest of the club. Professor Flitwick finally noticed what was going on, looking over at them in surprise.

“Perhaps we should stop,” he squeaked, but no one was listening.

“You little berks,” Molly exclaimed, waving her wand at the twins.

Fabian grabbed his brother's arm as they were bowled over, their legs knocked out from under them.

Professor Flitwick was waving his arms at them. “Now, let's all lower our wands and-”

“You cow – Tarantallegra!” Gideon yelled, scrambling to his feet.

Molly dodged Gideon's hex and shot another curse at her brothers, her heart pounding. She was consumed by a sudden rage at the two boys, feeling out-of-control and wild. Gideon had hurt Arthur. A tiny corner of her attention had noticed Cecilia cleaning the blood from Arthur's face and hair with her wand, but she was too focused on the duel with her brothers to really see them.

“I see where your priorities are,” Fabian said, looking a little angry. “You defend Arthur and have a go at us! We're your brothers!

Molly gasped. “I've been defending you your entire life, you ungrateful little-”

“Miss Prewett-” Flitwick tried again.

Fabian tried to hex Molly again and she deflected it, turning just in time to send a curse from Gideon flying across the room as well. It smashed an oil lamp out of its bracket on the wall, and Flitwick was distracted from their duel, waving his wand at the lamp just as it caught the tapestries on fire.

Molly aimed her wand at her brothers, and Arthur grabbed her wrist, plucking the wand from her hand and dragging her into his arms so she was crushed against his chest, shielded by his torso. He put up a Shield Charm just in time as Fabian cast another spell at them.

“That's enough, Molly,” Arthur said forcefully, then looked over at her brothers disapprovingly as he dropped the shield. “And you two as well.”

Professor Flitwick was spluttering slightly, eyes bulging, the tapestry wet and smoking behind him where he'd put the fire out. “Well – that was – good heavens, Miss Prewett, you-”

“It was just an accident. Apologize to each other,” Arthur said, putting his hands on her shoulders and turning her to face Gideon and Fabian.

Molly looked at her brothers warily, and she felt a sting of remorse at their dishevelled appearance. They were her little brothers, after all, and Arthur was right, it had no doubt been an accident. She'd been so frightened by the blood she hadn't thought. They liked Arthur and wouldn't deliberately injure him. She suddenly felt absolutely ridiculous. “I'm sorry.”

“Yeah, us too,” Gideon said, looking somewhat abashed.

“I'm sorry, Professor,” Molly said, turning to the tiny Charms teacher.

“Yes, well...” He still looked rather amazed. “Perhaps we should leave it here for tonight. Back to your common rooms, everyone.”

The other students shuffled out of the classroom, some shooting glances over at the Prewetts, gossiping quietly. Siobhan had a wide grin on her face, and was saying something to Cecilia and Reid that made them grin as well. Gideon and Fabian left with one last glance at their sister.

Professor Flitwick gave Molly a pat on the hand. “Wonderful duelling, Miss Prewett. You truly have a gift.”

Molly felt her cheeks heating up. “Thank you.”

“You need to control your temper better, of course,” Flitwick added sternly.

“Yes sir. I'm very sorry.”

“Yes,” Flitwick said, sympathy in his voice. “I've a brother as well. We'll say no more about it, then. Thank you, Mr. Weasley. Run along, now, both of you.”

Molly left the classroom as quickly as she could, holding Arthur's hand as they set off for Gryffindor Tower a ways behind the last of the Duelling Club students, thinking about what had just happened.

She made it to the end of the corridor, where she suddenly ducked behind a tapestry into one of the shortcuts that honeycombed the castle, dragging Arthur along with her. He seemed quite surprised as she took off his glasses and flung them aside, wrapping her arms around his neck, but he kissed her back fervently.

“I'm not sure what's got you so riled up today,” Arthur said a little while later, after they'd finally found his glasses again. “But I'm definitely not complaining.”

“I thought he'd hurt you,” Molly said in a low voice.

“Well, he did, but it wasn't on purpose.” Arthur's hand drifted to his hairline where the cut had been. There was only a fading pink line now. Cecilia had cleaned all the blood off him, but Molly could still see it in her mind's eye, and his shirtsleeve was stained a pale rusty colour where the spell hadn't fully removed the blood.

She stepped back into his arms and kissed him again, one hand on his cheek. “I was frightened. You were covered in blood.”

“Don't worry so much, I'm fine.”

“I have to worry about you, you never worry about yourself,” Molly said dryly, resting her head against his chest. He clasped his hands behind her back, holding her tight. He felt reassuringly solid.

Arthur sighed, resting his chin on top of her head. “I could say the same about you, you know. The way you just rushed in-”

“Of course I did, I love you. I couldn't let my stupid brother attack you.”

“It was a duel,” he reminded her. “He was supposed to attack me. One of his spells went funny, that's all, and I didn't block it fast enough. Not all of us can block spells the way you and your brothers can. You're all rather scary in there.”

Molly giggled at that and looked up at him, thinking he was teasing her, but he looked quite serious.

“I love you too, by the way,” he said, and kissed her again.

The twins were waiting outside the portrait of the Fat Lady when Molly and Arthur finally reached Gryffindor Tower.

“That was bloody brilliant,” Fabian said. “Where'd you learn to duel like that?”

“Will you teach us?” Gideon added eagerly.

Molly could feel her blush returning, but her spirits lifted. It was very flattering to have the twins ask her to teach them something.

“I suppose I can try,” she said.

“You can teach me as well,” Arthur put in. “Let's go inside, shall we? I'm exhausted trying to keep up with Quidditch and Molly.”

Gideon and Fabian grinned at that.

Arthur went upstairs to change his shirt, and Molly sat down on the sofa in front of the fire next to Siobhan, who had a stack of books for her Care of Magical Creatures class next to her.

“That was quite the duel,” Siobhan said knowingly, smiling at Molly in what she considered an annoying fashion. “The way Arthur just grabbed you close like that-”

“Shut up, Siobhan,” Molly said, feeling her cheeks heat up. It had been rather exciting, rather like the time they'd fought in the corridor over the badger incident. She'd been so angry up until she'd been pressed up against him, and the anger had quite suddenly turned into something else. She certainly didn't want to discuss it with Siobhan, though. Siobhan was sure to say something vulgar.

Siobhan was chuckling obnoxiously, but she didn't say anything else, much to Molly's relief.

*

Gideon and Fabian didn't stop pestering her about teaching them duelling tricks for the next fortnight, constantly turning up in the common room whenever she was trying to study or spend time with her friends. She hadn't spent quite so much time with her little brothers since the summer, and she'd somehow not noticed how much they'd grown up since then. She wasn't sure how she felt about being friends with them.

The rest of her friends seemed to be taking it in stride that Molly's brothers now greatly admired her, and no one seemed surprised when they turned up to the match against Hufflepuff and sat next to Molly and her friends. Dunstan even shook Gideon's hand as they passed him to sit on either side of their sister.

“Are you excited about the game, Molly?” Fabian asked. He was all but rubbing his hands together in glee. She thought it was a bit unnatural how eager her brothers were over a silly game. “It's going to be a good one. Everyone's been quite pleased with how Thad's team is shaping up, and Hufflepuff's got an excellent line-up this year as well. It'll be a close one.”

“You know I hate Quidditch,” she grumbled.

“You only say that because you don't understand it,” Gideon said excitedly.

“I have no intention of understanding it,” Molly said. “I'm just going to watch Arthur and cheer for him.”

“Ah, but you won't know when to cheer for him if you don't understand the game,” Fabian pointed out in superior tones.

“I'm sure I'll figure it out.”

She spent half the match peeking out from between her fingers, her face hidden behind her hands, as Bludgers shot inches past Arthur and the Hufflepuff Chasers nearly knocked him off his broom half a dozen times. They played less viciously than the Slytherins had, though, so Molly supposed she ought to be grateful about that. The twins kept up a running monologue about the game, which she didn't listen to a word of, only catching the occasional term like 'cobbing' or 'blagging', but she didn't know what they meant. The drone of the commentator, a Ravenclaw boy with a Welsh accent, became only a background hum to Molly, part of the roar of the crowds. She really had no idea what was going on, but her heart was still racing as she watched Arthur flying. She couldn't stand the thought of him being hurt, especially over a silly game.

Petula, sitting next to Gideon, did understand Quidditch and was discussing finer points of the Gryffindor strategy with Dunstan, who sat next to her with Cosmo Graham and Acacia Bushby-Ferris on his other side. They also apparently understood the game, because Acacia occasionally made a remark that was completely meaningless to Molly but would set Petula and Dunstan off on a new tangent. Cosmo was yelling loudly, urging the team on and booing the Hufflepuffs. Molly felt like the only teetotaller at the party.

Acacia had turned up on Cosmo's arm just before the match began, and Molly had expected to have to argue with the stupid girl and gathered herself to do just that, but Acacia was ignoring her. She was also ignoring Siobhan, who sat behind Molly with Roddy Feltham next to her. Siobhan didn't seem at all bothered by Acacia's presence, and Molly had come to the conclusion that if Siobhan could rise above it all after what Acacia had said about her, then she could do the same after Acacia had taken points from her.

The scoreboard showed Gryffindor was up seventy to forty when everyone in the stands quite suddenly stood up with the loudest roar yet. Petula and Dunstan were screaming and waving their arms, and Acacia leaped into Cosmo's arms, both of them grinning hugely.

“What happened?” Molly yelled to Petula, trying to see over the heads of two sixth-year boys in front of her. She couldn't see Arthur.

“Atalanta caught the Snitch! We've won!” Petula yelled back, jumping up and down.

“Oh.” That hadn't been nearly as long as the last game, thank goodness.

Her ears were ringing from the noise of the crowds, and as the pitch began to empty, she finally caught a glimpse of Arthur, who was in a tight knot with the rest of the team in the centre of the field, leaping about like a bunch of idiots with their brooms in the air. Atalanta Weekes, the pretty sixth-year girl who played Seeker, stood in the centre, grinning and still clutching the Snitch, being patted on the back by the team so roughly that occasionally she stumbled.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” Siobhan said from behind her, giving her shoulder a little shove. “Get down there and congratulate him!”

Molly grinned at her friend, and set off for the field as quickly as she could, pushing her way through the crowd. She ran out onto the pitch as the team was still celebrating, and Arthur dropped his broom and caught her up in his arms, spinning her around.

“Did you see me make those goals?” he asked excitedly as he set her back down, his hands still on her waist.

“You were wonderful, Arthur dear,” she said, and stood on tiptoe to kiss him soundly.

Arthur seemed to forget that the entire school was in the stands, probably still watching them, and kissed her back with a force that took her breath away and made her forget about everyone else as well.

Really, she could get used to being a Quidditch girlfriend.

*

Petula cornered her after the game while she was waiting for Arthur to return from the changing rooms. The common room was already gearing up for the celebratory party, and only needed the team to come to Gryffindor Tower before things got into full swing, but it was already quite loud and raucous. It was amazing how crowded the common room felt just after a Quidditch match.

“Can I talk to you about something?” Petula asked nervously.

Molly followed her warily to a corner that was slightly quieter than the rest of the common room and afforded some privacy, and they sat down on the window ledge. Petula looked very awkward as she began speaking in a low voice.

“I just need to know a few things about, well, after Thomas and I marry – and I can't ask my sisters, it's too embarrassing, and I just... I thought you could help.”

Molly glanced around to make sure they weren't overheard. No one seemed to be paying them any attention, so she said in a whisper, “Do you mean... sex?

Petula looked ready to die of mortification, and only nodded.

“Well...” Molly had to stop herself from squirming uncomfortably. “Perhaps you should ask Siobhan? I think she knows far more than I do about... that.”

“I already asked her,” Petula whispered, blushing furiously. “She wouldn't tell me anything. Haven't you and Arthur-”

“No, we haven't,” Molly said with finality, hoping Petula would go away and stop talking about this. It was more embarrassing than she could have imagined.

“Oh.” Petula looked a little disappointed, but unsurprised. “I suppose I ought to have known. You're waiting until marriage, aren't you?”

“Well, yes,” Molly said, and a new feeling crept up on her. “What do you mean, you ought to have known?”

“You're not the type to, well, you know, before you're married.”

Of course she wasn't that type, Molly thought. But she thought of Arthur, and suddenly a tiny wish sprung up in her mind that she was that type. What was wrong with her today?

“Petula, if you can't even say it, you shouldn't be doing it,” Siobhan's voice said behind them.

Petula turned even redder. “I just want to know a few things, that's all.”

“I'll tell you when you're older,” Siobhan said, rolling her eyes.

“I'm two months older than you,” Petula said haughtily.

Siobhan laughed, and Petula left in a huff, still blushing to the roots of her blonde hair. Siobhan sat down next to Molly, rolling her eyes again.

“Knowing Petula, she'd wind up pregnant the first time she tried anything.”

Molly frowned at her. “We really shouldn't be talking about this.”

Siobhan shook her head, smiling ruefully. “You and Hattie, I swear. It's 1968, not 1868. It's all right to talk about sex. Modern women have sex and don't feel they have to run off and get married because of it, you know.”

“Siobhan!” Molly could feel her cheeks turning red.

“Well, modern Muggle women anyway,” Siobhan amended. “Witches seem a little behind in the women's rights movement.”

“Can we change the subject, please?” Molly begged.

“I broke up with Roddy just now.”

Molly sat back and stared at her friend in silence for a moment. “But I thought you really liked him,” she said finally, astonished.

Siobhan was examining her fingernails, and shrugged as if it was unimportant, but she didn't meet Molly's eyes. “Things change.”

“Oh, Siobhan...” Molly reached a hand out to Siobhan, who shot to her feet quickly, escaping from the small physical contact.

“I'll see you later, Molly,” she said in her normal tone, though her brogue was a little heavier.

Molly watched her disappear into the crowd and wished there was something she could say to make things better for Siobhan, something anyone could say to convince her that loving Roddy was all right. Molly was suddenly immensely grateful that she had Arthur, and that despite her apparently old-fashioned embarrassment about sex, at least she had an easy time with love.

A roar went up in the common room, and she could see the team coming in through the portrait hole. Arthur scanned the crowd, and she waved to him. He made his way over to her, and she watched him, thinking how very handsome he was as he grinned at people who congratulated him.

“What a game, eh?” he said as he sat next to her, draping an arm around her shoulders.

“I love you, Arthur,” Molly said, unable to hold it in.

He grinned widely. “I love you too.”



Chapter 12: Lights Shining Through
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Arthur sat on the front stoop of his parents' house, charming a paving stone different colours to pass the time while he waited for Molly to arrive.

Easter had seemed to come very quickly this year. Normally he would have been quite pleased about that, but this was his final year at Hogwarts and the thing he'd been dreading seemed closer than ever: N.E.W.T.s were in only a few months, and he felt less and less prepared for them as the school year drew to a close. Every time he thought about the exams, his stomach felt like a ball of lead.

It didn't help that his mother had been talking about N.E.W.T.s non-stop since he'd gotten home. And now she was throwing an Easter party for the family, and the house was overrun with relatives asking him if he was ready for the exams.

All in all, Molly's visit was going to come as something of a relief. He could only hope that her presence would serve as a shield against all the questions of how many N.E.W.T.s he thought he'd manage and whether he was worried about failing altogether.

A popping sound drew his attention, and he scrambled to his feet as Molly appeared in the yard. She looked lovely as always, wrapped up in cabled knits against the March cold, a purple beret perched on her red curls. She smiled when she caught sight of him.

They met in the centre of the walkway, and he folded her gratefully in his arms.

“Thank God you're here, I've been going mad,” he said, kissing her.

Molly laughed. “I missed you too.”

She leaned her head against his arm, their hands entwined, as they walked up to the house. His uncle Octavian was passing the front door when they came in, and stopped to quiz Arthur about exams while Molly hung up her coat and hat and fixed her hair.

After Octavian had wandered off again, Molly quirked an eyebrow at Arthur and said, “I see what you mean.”

“They're driving me mad,” he agreed.

Molly headed straight for the kitchen, where the Weasley wives usually congregated during family gatherings, and Arthur stole a few mini-tarts while everyone hugged his girlfriend. His father, sitting at the table with a bottle of butterbeer next to Constantine, smiled at him. His little nephew Basil was sitting on Constantine's lap, gnawing on one of the tarts.

Arthur brushed the crumbs from his hands as his mother rounded on him.

“You stay away from those, Arthur,” she warned him, shaking a wooden spoon in his direction.

“Mum's in a bad mood today,” Constantine told Molly helpfully as Bilius came in and waved to her.

“I am not in a bad mood. It's just that your grandfather has brought that horrible ear trumpet again,” Cedrella said crossly. “I don't know why he won't just use a proper Hearing Charm the way the Healers at St. Mungo's showed him.”

“Dad says he doesn't trust newfangled charms when an enchanted ear trumpet was good enough for his father and his father's father before him,” said Arthur's father, sounding rather tired. “It's better than him sitting in a corner and shouting 'What?' every time someone says something.”

Arthur rolled his eyes. His grandfather had been slowly going deaf ever since he could remember, and at this point could only hear when you shouted into the admittedly horrible ear trumpet he carried with him. It was an enormous brass structure with runes carved into it and looked to be about two hundred years old, from the tarnish and grime.

“It gives me the collywobbles, that thing,” Bilius said with a shudder. “Don't touch it, Molly, it's got bundimuns in it.”

“It does not have bundimuns in it,” Septimus said sternly. “Now be nice to your grandfather, he may not be with us much longer.”

Constantine rolled his eyes at that, tucked his son under his arm like a Quaffle, and set off for the living room. Arthur took Molly's hand and they followed his brother.

“How old is your granddad?” Molly whispered.

“A hundred and two,” he said in a low voice. “He keeps saying he's only ninety-five. I don't know why he bothers, he's not fooling anyone.”

She giggled as they sat down on the floor next to Glynis and Constantine, who had handed the baby over to his wife. Arthur looked around, listening to the conversations in the room as his cousins and uncles mingled, and Molly chatted with his sister-in-law.

A few of his cousins were playing Exploding Snap in one corner, while a few more were crowded around them, watching. His uncle Vespasian had a bag of money in one hand and an eye on the cards, and as Arthur watched, Bilius joined the group. After a low-voiced exchange with Uncle Vespasian, Bilius handed over a handful of Sickels. Arthur grinned.

“So, do you think you two will have one of these soon?” he heard Constantine ask, and his attention snapped back to his immediate companions.

Molly glanced over at him with a blush, then back to Constantine. Little Basil had crawled into her lap and was tugging at her curls, and it was clear his brother was referring to the baby. “Well...”

“Constantine,” Glynis said reproachfully. “That's entirely too personal to ask.” Then she turned back to Molly. “When do you think you'll get married?”

“I...” Molly glanced at Arthur again, obviously looking for help.

He didn't want to make any pronouncements about their impending engagement, in case Molly got upset with whatever he said. He felt he undoubtedly ought to run it by her first before he gave his family any definite ideas, since their getting married someday was sort of a vague understanding at the moment. “We're not even out of school yet,” he said instead.

“It's nearly over,” Glynis said, seeming quite oblivious to the fact she was sending her brother-in-law into a panic. “It's only, what, two more months until N.E.W.T.s? And then you'll be done. Where are you going to work, Arthur?”

A job. He hadn't even thought about that yet. Once exams were over, he was going to have to start looking in earnest. Something at the Ministry, maybe. He'd need decent prospects in order to marry her. He tried to picture Mr. Prewett's face if Arthur asked Molly to marry him without a job. Oh, dear.

“Um,” was all he managed.

“Mum's not going to put up with you not having a job,” Constantine said sternly. “Not when Bilius still hasn't found one.”

Arthur glanced over at Bilius. This was very true. Their mother had not been pleased with his brother's continued unemployment. Bilius hadn't managed to keep a job longer than a week for some time now, but seemed quite content with his situation, despite their parents' lectures.

“Maybe you could work with Constantine in the Department of Magical Games and Sports,” Glynis suggested. “Or you could work for Gringott's. Nestor likes it there, and he does very well. Are you getting a N.E.W.T in Arithmancy?”

“No,” said Arthur, with a glance over at Molly, who did take Arithmancy. It had always seemed a beastly subject to him, but she seemed to like it.

“You'll need something you can make decent wages at, so you can support a family. You know Weasleys are very fertile, you're bound to have children straight away.” Glynis turned to Molly. “Did you plan to work after you're married?”

Molly appeared a little stunned at the direction the conversation was going. “Um,” she said.

Arthur looked at her. This was something they'd never discussed. Molly would have N.E.W.T.s in several difficult subjects when school was finished. She was very smart, no question. But she'd never expressed any plans for a career. He didn't know if she wanted one. Her mother did not work, like his own, and he rather thought Molly hadn't planned to, either. He didn't want her staying home because she felt she had to, though. If she wanted to work, that was fine with him. Really, to be perfectly honest, anything Molly wanted was fine with him, just so long as she did marry him.

Clearly there was a lot more to this marriage stuff than he'd thought, though. He was seized by a sudden mad wish to be ten years old again, running around barefoot in the backyard without a care in the world or a thought for the future. No N.E.W.T.s, no jobs, no bills to pay, no one depending on him for their health and happiness.

“I don't really know,” Molly said finally, glancing over at Arthur. “We haven't... talked about it...”

Constantine and his wife exchanged one of those world-weary looks that older people so often did when talking to teenagers. “Well, you have to think of these things when you're planning a future together,” Constantine said condescendingly.

They managed to escape before Constantine and Glynis brought up any more embarrassing and uncomfortable questions. Arthur didn't mind thinking about the future, but he didn't particularly want to make those sort of plans with Molly because his brother told him they ought to, and certainly not right in front of his brother. He wanted to make them alone with her, in that cozy little bubble that always seemed to form when no one was around and the world shrank to just him and Molly. They hadn't even left school. There was still all the time in the world to finalize the details.

They hid in the backyard, sitting in the swing under his mother's prized peach tree. It was really too cold to be outside, but it was quiet and private, unlike the overcrowded house. Molly cuddled close to his side, and he wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

“I think your family was trying to hint at something,” she said in a tone that was obviously meant to be light and playful, but had a brittle overtone to it that told him she was rattled.

He winced. “Sorry about that.”

“It's all right.”

He wanted to ask her if her family had been dropping broad hints about marriage and the future to her, as well. Maybe they weren't. Maybe they didn't want her to marry him. A small tremor of panic went through him. Was he supposed to ask her father's permission before he proposed to Molly? A lot of pureblood families were very traditional about things like that. What if he mucked it up entirely, or worse, what if Mr. Prewett said no? Would Molly still marry him without her parents' approval? He thought the Prewetts liked him well enough, but his family did have a reputation, after all.

Maybe he should just do it, just ask her. They were all alone. He tensed, wondering if this was his moment.

But then she reached up to pat his arm that was draped over her. “It'll be all right, Arthur. Everything will work out. Let's just worry about our N.E.W.T.s for now, shall we? The rest of it we can work out later. We've plenty of time.”

Maybe not. He made himself relax again, despite the sting of disappointment, gave her a kiss, and settled back into the swing, his head swirling with all the things he had to worry about after school was over.

*

Arthur met Molly outside the Potions classroom shortly after the Easter holiday ended. Neither of them had discussed his family's meddling since their return to school, and Arthur thought he rather preferred it that way. Exams and Quidditch were giving him grey hairs enough as it was without having to plan for his future responsibilities as the head of his own household as well. There would be time for that over the summer. They were both young, and as she was still around despite the rather horrifying debacle with his brother and sister-in-law at Easter, it seemed neither of them was going anywhere. The future could wait a bit longer.

The third-year Potions class met right after the seventh-year, and Arthur caught sight of Lucius Malfoy smirking at him as the students shuffled into the classroom. A flash of anger went through him at the boy's expression, but he didn't say anything, hoping Molly had not noticed anything.

But of course, she had. “You're not still arguing with him, are you?” she asked suspiciously, glancing over her shoulder as they set off down the corridor.

“Not lately.” Only because he hadn't seen the stupid boy for a few weeks. He knew it was futile to argue with the Malfoy boy, but he couldn't seem to stop himself when he saw him. Fortunately their paths did not often cross.

“Well, good. I don't want you provoking him and getting in trouble for hexing him.”

“I know better than to hex a third-year,” he told her, feeling rather irritable at her choice of words. If anyone had done the provoking, it had been Malfoy. “I'm very sensible, you know.”

Molly gave him an incredulous look. “Badger in the corridor?” she reminded him.

Arthur winced. That had not been one of his finer moments. “That wasn't my idea.”

“And yet you were the one holding the badger when I came along.”

“Now Molly,” he said with determined cheer.

“Don't 'now Molly' me, Arthur Weasley,” she said, shaking her finger at him. “You stay away from that boy. School is nearly over, you don't have time for getting in trouble now.”

“I can handle Lucius Malfoy,” he said. She didn't look as if she believed him.

“He's only a third year. You leave him alone. I don't want you duelling with a Malfoy.”

Arthur rolled his eyes. “I'm not an idiot, Molly. When have you ever seen me in a duel, anyway?” He remembered last year and swiftly added, “When I wasn't affected by a potion, that is.”

She turned bright red at the reminder of the love potions, and said tightly, “I only have your best interests at heart, you know. He comes from a very powerful family. His father is on the Board of Governors. I don't want anything to happen to you.”

He really, really did not want to hear any more on the subject. There was nothing he'd like better than to give Lucius Malfoy a sound thrashing, but he knew he could not, and hearing about it from Molly did not help matters any. They had reached Gryffindor Tower now, and Molly gave the password.

“You're far more likely to get in a duel than I am,” Arthur pointed out as they climbed through the portrait hole. “Need I remind you about what happened with your brothers?”

“Oh dear, is that Hattie calling me?” Molly said, cupping a hand to her ear in the direction of the girls' dormitory. “I'd better go.”

He watched her escape with a small grin. It was getting much easier to divert her before she built up a head of steam. He was starting to feel he really understood her. Suddenly the pressures of future responsibility seemed quite a lot lighter as he contemplated spending the rest of his life with Molly. It was difficult to worry about being responsible for her well-being when he remembered her flinging her brothers against the Charms classroom wall because one had accidentally drawn blood in a duel with him.

Arthur took the stairs to the boys' dormitory two at a time and flung his bookbag onto his bed. Dunstan was sitting on his bed with a Care of Magical Creatures book on his lap, scrawling notes into the margins, and glanced up at him.

“All right there, Arthur?”

“Hi, Dunstan,” he said, feeling quite cheerful.

“Bloody damned fiend of a harpy-” The door banged open again behind him, and Arthur turned to see Reid, apparently in a snit.

“Cecilia?” Dunstan asked, not looking up.

“No,” Reid said coolly. “Acacia.”

Arthur wasn't surprised. Acacia and Cecilia were still at odds. Neither one of them was willing to apologize to the other for their fight in the Great Hall, despite entreaties from both Hattie, who always tried to get people to make up to each other, and Professor McGonagall, who felt someone ought to be apologizing.

“And Cosmo abandoned us for that thrice-accursed female,” Reid added. “Can you believe him? Damned traitor. Who does that to his mates? Over a woman.”

“They broke up over Easter, actually,” Dunstan said, looking back down at his book.

“They did? Well.” Reid seemed to wobble for a moment but quickly found his axis again. “Good. Bloody good riddance to her. Bet Cosmo comes crawling back to us now.”

“It was only you who didn't talk to him while your girlfriends were fighting. I was still friends with him,” Dunstan said in the sort of airy voice that Petula often affected.

Arthur tried to smother a chuckle at that, but Reid heard him and scowled. “Shut it, you.”

There were footsteps on the stairs, and Arthur half-expected to see Cosmo himself pop his head into their dormitory as he sometimes did, but it was only Thad and Roddy.

Roddy had a morose look about him, worse even than he'd been wearing since being chucked by Siobhan. Arthur still didn't know exactly what had happened. Roddy hadn't talked much, Siobhan was close-lipped as always, and Molly wouldn't tell him a thing. He suspected she didn't truly know herself.

“What happened to you?” Dunstan asked bluntly.

“We saw Siobhan snogging Jasper Mussa outside the greenhouses,” Thad told him.

Roddy kicked his trunk. Arthur winced. Not that Siobhan snogging someone new immediately after chucking her previous boyfriend was at all unusual, but he'd thought she sincerely liked Roddy this time. Roddy had seemed to believe it as well, and had taken their second break-up much harder than their first. It seemed everyone was having women troubles today. Perhaps the planets were misaligned.

“Sorry about that, old boy,” Thad said, giving Roddy a piteous look.

Roddy heaved a sigh. “I know I shouldn't care any more. She chucked me for no reason. I can't keep doing this with her. If she can't be who she is around me, then she ought to keep looking to find someone she can be herself with. Whoever that is. I'm not sure I ever really knew her.”

“Sorry,” Arthur murmured, knowing it was inadequate, but he didn't know what else to say.

There was an awkward silence in the dormitory for a few minutes, then Dunstan asked, “So are you going out with Francine again, then?”

“No,” Roddy said dejectedly. “I asked her out, but she told me no.”

Arthur's opinion of Francine increased a few notches at that. Roddy had treated her quite badly by chucking her unceremoniously for someone else. He thought Roddy probably had it coming to him when Siobhan did the same thing to him, though Arthur still felt sorry for his friend.

“I mean, I never thought Siobhan and I would end up married, but I did think she felt something for me.” Roddy looked half disgruntled and half hurt that he'd misread Siobhan's affections.

Thad pulled an incredulous face. “Married? We're far too young for that.”

“Speak for yourself,” said Reid. “I'm going to ask Cecilia to run off with me just as soon as school is over.”

The others all looked surprised. Arthur had to admit he was a bit startled too. Not that Reid and Cecilia didn't seem to be in love, but somehow marriage had never seemed to be something either one of them would consider. He supposed one could interpret 'run off with' in a number of ways that did not include actual legal marriage, of course.

Reid affected a studiedly bored look at their reactions, and turned to Arthur. “I assume you'll marry Molly just as soon as she'll have you?”

“Well, yes,” he admitted. There were no surprised face at this. They'd all seemed to know a year ago that he wanted to marry Molly Prewett. Even before he'd begun dating her, he'd wanted to marry her someday. Evidently he hadn't kept that to himself very well.

“There you are, then,” Reid said, turning back to cock an eyebrow at Thad. “Not too young. Besides, there's a war starting, isn't there? All this Dark Lord business. We could all die tomorrow. I'm going to live while the living's good.”

Arthur agreed wholeheartedly with this view, and was quite surprised that Thad didn't want to run off with Cressida as well. “So you and Cressida-” he began, but Thad cut him off with a curt, “No.”

Arthur stared at his friend. Thad and Cressida had been going out as long as he and Molly had. It seemed rather unsporting that Thad had no intention of ever marrying the girl after nearly two solid years of dating. Arthur suddenly felt quite a lot more mature than his friend.

“I'm going to marry Gemma,” Dunstan volunteered. “Eventually. Maybe in a few years.”

“It's not that I don't care for her,” Thad said to Arthur, ignoring Dunstan. “It's just I don't want to get married until I'm in my thirties.”

There was silence in the dormitory at that as they all considered their thirties. It seemed very far away. Arthur couldn't imagine wanting to wait so long. But then, he'd already found the girl he wanted to be with. Maybe it was different if one wasn't sure.

“You can't date a girl for two years and not at least offer to marry her,” Roddy said. “Gentlemen don't do that, mate.”

Thad was beginning to look very uncomfortable. “Look, old boy, I can't marry someone for a reason like that. She's a nice girl, but... Well, I want to concentrate on Quidditch for a while. I won't have time for a wife.”

“You better chuck her before school's out, then,” Reid advised. “Let her get started finding a new boyfriend.”

“Seems a shame, she's right pretty,” Roddy said thoughtfully. “Mind if I ask her out?”

Thad gave him a very ugly look.

*

There was a huge uproar in the Gryffindor common room when Arthur came down the morning of the mid-April Hogsmeade weekend. A knot of upperclassmen were crowded around one of the study tables with the newspaper spread out, and more students were reading it everywhere he looked. There seemed to be rather more focus on the paper than normal, and his stomach knotted up at the thought of more murders.

“Arthur, come here!” Petula waved him over, and he relaxed a bit at her expression. She was smiling. No one had been killed.

Molly and Hattie were at the centre of the group around the table, sitting opposite Cecilia and Reid. Cecilia looked extremely pleased and proud, and Reid's tired face was relaxed and happy as he watched his girlfriend chatting with her friends. Arthur leaned over Molly, putting a hand on her shoulder, to get a look at the paper.

“Oh, Arthur, look, isn't it wonderful?” Molly flipped the paper back to the front page so he could read the headline.

ASMUND FLETCHER INTRODUCES NEW LEGISLATION TO PROTECT MUGGLES.

“Cecilia, isn't that your dad?” Arthur asked, delighted. That sort of law had been a long time in coming.

She nodded. “Yes. He's been working on that law for months.”

“It really is wonderful.” He skimmed the article over Molly's shoulder while Cecilia kept talking.

“It was scheduled to go before the Wizengamot this month, but some of the pureblooded factions in the Ministry had it delayed until the summer. It probably won't go up for a vote until July, but Dad says that gives him more time to get people on his side. Mostly it just prevents them being classified as animals or non-sentient beings for purposes of hunting them. There've been people trying to make that legal in the past,” she said, pulling a face. “It's not as comprehensive as he originally wanted, but he says it's the first step.”

Arthur turned back to the front page to examine the photo of Cecilia's father. He was standing in his office, smiling pleasantly. He had the same dark hair as his daughter, and she had clearly also inherited his eyes. He thought he saw something of Cecilia in the way Mr. Fletcher stood, as well.

Cecilia smiled fondly at her father's picture. “He did a wonderful job. I know it's going to make it into law, too.”

“I hope so,” Arthur agreed. “So much can be built onto that foundation.”

“Amazing work. Very well done there, Cecilia's dad,” Reid drawled, leaning back in his chair with a grin.

Cecilia smacked him on the back of the head, and he sat up quickly, adding, “No, I'm being sincere. It's bloody marvellous.”

“Language,” Hattie said.

“Your father will be in the history books if this passes,” Molly remarked, glancing at the newspaper over Arthur's arm.

“It will pass,” Cecilia said determinedly. “It has to.”

“It's really wonderful,” Petula said then, giving Cecilia's arm a pat. “I've got to go meet Thomas, but really, it's wonderful.”

Cecilia smiled as Petula bustled off. Her departure seemed to cue the rest of the group, and they began to disperse, murmuring congratulations to Cecilia as they went to get ready for the Hogsmeade trip. Reid mentioned grabbing some money from his trunk and disappeared up the stairs.

“Let me just go get my cloak and we'll go,” Molly said to Arthur, and she hurried off toward the girls' dormitory.

A moment later there was only Arthur and Cecilia at the table. He handed her the newspaper, and she hugged it to her chest.

“You must be really proud of your dad,” he said, smiling at her.

“Absolutely.” Cecilia glanced around to make sure no one was paying attention to them, and said in a low voice, “Keep this to yourself, but he's planning some new legislation to follow this one, clarifying the legal status of Muggleborn witches and wizards so they can't be considered unequal to purebloods or half-bloods, or be classified as Muggles. He says the next bylaw will essentially erase all consideration of blood status from the wizarding world. Legally, anyway.”

“Incredible. He's doing really important work. You should be proud.”

“I really am,” she agreed, and Arthur thought he'd never seen Cecilia look so happy. He quite understood, since he admired his father very much as well, and now rather thought he admired hers just as much.

Mr. Fletcher was doing the sort of work Arthur had always planned to do someday: helping Muggles and protecting them against harassment and abuse by the wizarding community. He wondered if he could work for Cecilia's dad after he left Hogwarts, if he would have the N.E.W.T.s for Mr. Fletcher to want to hire him.

Before he could bring this up to Cecilia, Molly had returned with her cloak, and Reid was hurrying up to Cecilia. Arthur didn't particularly want to discuss the possibility of working for Mr. Fletcher in front of Reid, in case Cecilia rejected the idea immediately, so he let them fall behind as he and Molly set off toward the village.

Francine Allen passed by them as they left the castle, with Maribel McQuillen at her side. Molly waved to the two girls as they walked past, hurrying off to the village.

“She's not going out with Roddy again, is she?” Molly asked in a low voice once Francine was out of earshot. “Now he's no longer with Siobhan, I mean.”

“He says she turned him down.”

Molly smiled proudly. “Good for her.”

“That's what I thought too,” Arthur agreed.

She smiled again, and Arthur walked alongside her in companionable silence, debating whether or not to mention his idea to Molly. Eventually they reached Hogsmeade Station, where he'd first told her he loved her, and it occurred to him if he could not talk to Molly about this, there wasn't anyone he could talk to.

He said hesitantly, “What would you think of me working for Cecilia's dad after school is over?”

Molly was silent for a moment, and he started second-guessing himself. She didn't approve of him taking on the Malfoy boy's opinions, how could she possibly approve of him doing essentially the same thing but on a far grander scale? He'd be fighting the bigotry of the entire wizarding world instead of a single stupid boy.

Just as he started to wish he hadn't brought it up, she said firmly, “I think that would be perfect. I always knew you'd do something important with your life, Arthur.”

He glanced at her sidelong. “You don't worry about me taking on powerful families?”

She made the connection immediately, as he'd known she would. “It isn't at all the same thing. You'd be out of school. No one could possibly expel you.”

“No, only kill me,” he said, intending it to be a joke, but she stopped in her tracks, and when he saw the fear in her eyes he added quickly, “I'm sure they won't. I'm a pureblood, remember?”

“Don't joke about that,” she said quietly. “Just because they haven't killed any purebloods yet doesn't mean they won't eventually. Besides, your family's reputation...”

“I know.” He pulled her into his arms, and she held tightly to him, her hands buried in the folds of his cloak. Eventually he said in a low voice, “It's important, Molly. Someone has to fight for-”

“The side of the angels,” she finished, to his surprise. “I know. And I'm proud that you want to help, I just worry about you.”

“Let's forget about this for now, then, all right?” He kissed her briefly, and added, “We'll go to the Three Broomsticks, have a butterbeer, and think about all this another time. There's still a few months of school left. Plenty of time for all this later, isn't that what you said?”

She sniffed, but nodded her agreement. “Yes. Plenty of time.”

Chapter 13: Lady Willpower
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Molly was once again subjected to a Quidditch match in the company of her brothers, as May brought both blissfully warm weather and the Gryffindor match against Ravenclaw. Gideon and Fabian lectured her quite a bit again at this match, and Molly didn't bother listening to most of it. School would be over soon, and Arthur would no longer be on the team, so surely that meant she wouldn't have to feign interest in the game any longer.

From what she gathered from her brothers, Ravenclaw was considered quite a good team and was running neck and neck with Gryffindor for the Quidditch Cup. Molly reckoned she was supposed to be concerned about this, or something along those lines, but she really did not give a toss who won the Cup.

Unfortunately, most of the rest of the school did, and she'd heard nothing but Quidditch all week.

Her only respite was talking to Hattie, who agreed to attend the game with her for a diversion. They had found seats in the second row of the bleachers next to the twins. Gideon and Fabian had their faces painted in red and gold, much as Petula often did for games. Molly glanced around and saw Petula sitting with Dunstan and Cosmo in the front row. They had a banner enchanted to float above them in midair, flashing Gryffindor in red and gold.

Molly exchanged a long-suffering look with Hattie. “Thank you for coming with me.”

“I don't mind.” Hattie had never cared about Quidditch either, so Molly knew her best friend was only there to support her, not the team.

The stands were nearly full, but the game had not quite begun yet. Molly hated this period of waiting before the game, her stomach knotted up in anticipation and fear. Quidditch seemed so dangerous: there were often injuries, Bludgers flying all over the place, and not nearly enough padding, in her view. Her brothers were discussing a fractured skull one of the Ravenclaw Chasers had sustained during a practice, and wondering how it would affect his playing. This did not help Molly's nerves.

“I started flat-hunting,” Hattie said, and Molly turned to her in surprise, forgetting about the match for a moment.

“You're not going to live with your mum after you leave school?”

“Well, she's a newlywed, isn't she? She doesn't need anyone underfoot. I'd just be in the way.”

Before Easter, Molly would have been concerned that Hattie was avoiding her Muggle stepfather, but she'd been to Mrs. Habbershaw's wedding – Mrs. Newsome now – and Hattie had seemed to get along quite well with Mr. Newsome. He'd seemed to dote on her, too. Molly got the impression he'd always wanted a daughter. Hattie's new stepbrother, Jack, was quite nice as well, and he'd been very polite to Molly, who had not been the best conversationalist when she met him. She had no idea how to talk to Muggles, and neither of them had been told yet, so Molly felt very uncertain about what to say to Hattie's new stepbrother.

Hattie said they'd been utterly fascinated by magic when her mother finally revealed her secret to her new husband and his son. Molly was relieved it had all turned out all right, though she still thought it was silly not to be able to tell one's future husband that one was a witch until after the ink had dried on the marriage license.

“Where are you looking?” Molly asked instead.

“Diagon Alley. Jack said he knew some good Muggle spots as well, but on the whole I think I'd rather live in a wizard sort of area. Besides, if I rent a flat in Diagon Alley, I'll be very close to a number of jobs. I'm applying for work at the apothecary, too.” Hattie looked very pleased with her plans.

“That sounds like a wonderful idea.”

“I'm going to Italy this autumn, as well. My mum promised me, as a gift for leaving school. You ought to come with me,” Hattie added in excitement. “We could tour Rome and Venice together. Oh, it would be such fun!”

It did sound like a lot of fun. “I would love to,” she agreed immediately.

Hattie seemed to remember something, and her face fell. “Oh, but Arthur-”

“We're not married yet,” Molly pointed out. “I can go to Italy with you. Even if we get engaged this summer, it will be a while before the actual wedding. I want a long engagement, and my mother will insist on one.”

Hattie looked a little relieved. “All right. I was a little nervous of going alone.”

“The game is starting, you know,” Gideon said loudly beside them.

Molly's attention snapped back to the pitch, the nervous ball of lead back in her stomach. They had just kicked off, and both teams were whizzing around the pitch in patterns that made no sense to Molly but seemed to make the students in the stands happy, from the sound of the cheers. Chatting with Hattie would be impossible now: it was simply too loud.

She spent most of the match clutching Hattie's arm in fear. It seemed to drag on forever, with the Bludgers and Quaffles whizzing around the field faster than she could really follow. Gideon didn't bother with a running commentary this time, and instead ignored Molly completely. Fabian occasionally made remarks about what was going on on the pitch, none of which Molly understood, and so she didn't bother listening to him. Hattie didn't seem bothered by Molly's tight grip on her, and Molly thought her best friend understood the game rather better than she did.

Ravenclaw's goals were far outstripping those of Gryffindor. Molly couldn't even count them all, but the tally on the scoreboard was ominous. Fabian had just started to explain that the only way they could win at this point was if Atalanta Weekes caught the snitch – and soon – when the entire crowd suddenly got to their feet, and the pitch seemed to grow oddly quiet as everyone held their breaths.

There seems to be some confusion over who caught the Snitch first. This will determine the House Cup...” the Quidditch commentator was saying, and Molly climbed onto the bench, craning her neck to see over the tall fifth-year boy standing in front of her.

Atalanta was on the ground in the sand directly under the Ravenclaw hoops, next to the Seeker for Ravenclaw. She had gone quite pale, and the Ravenclaw Seeker, a boy named Rought, looked equally disturbed. He had the Snitch in his hand. Molly could see the wizard who refereed the matches swooping down toward them on his broom.

“Did she get it or not?” asked Fabian urgently. “Did you see?”

No one answered him. The rest of the Ravenclaw and Gryffindor teams had drawn closer in mid-air, hovering on their brooms while they waited for the verdict of who had caught the Snitch.

Rought and Atalanta drew close to the referee, and Rought handed the Snitch over. The referee gave it a tap with his wand. It fluttered up into the air, its wings beating rather weakly, then moved quite determinedly toward Atalanta, who held out her hand. It alighted gently on her palm, its wings folding around it as it came to rest, and a roar went up from the Gryffindor stands.

Weekes was the first to catch the Snitch after all! Gryffindor wins, one hundred and ninety to one hundred and seventy!

“Oh my goodness,” Hattie said, sinking back down onto the bench.

Gideon and Fabian were jumping up and down, hugging each other. Molly stepped down from the bench but remained standing for a moment, watching the Gryffindor team down on the pitch as they all leaped around, bumping into each other and hugging randomly in their triumph.

“At least it's over now,” Molly remarked as she sat down next to Hattie. “That was the last Quidditch game I'm ever going to attend, mark my words.”

Hattie chuckled.

*

The celebratory party in Gryffindor Tower was louder and more raucous than ever before. Molly had never seen the House quite so mad with victory fever. Molly sat on the sofa next to Cecilia, watching their fellow students yelling and cheering as they darted about the common room.

“It was a good game,” Cecilia said eventually.

“I suppose so.” Molly wasn't sure how one could tell.

Francine Allen went past them with a butterbeer in hand and her friend Maribel McQuillen next to her, her face flushed with happiness, and waved at Molly.

“Francine seems better now,” Cecilia noted.

“Yes, she does. I think winning the Quidditch cup made her forget all her other troubles.”

“I'm glad,” said Cecilia, and Molly raised an eyebrow at her. Siobhan was, after all, Cecilia's best friend, and had been the root of Francine's troubles.

“Are you?”

Cecilia gave her a glare. “Of course I am. Siobhan didn't mean to hurt Francine's feelings. She was very torn about that part of it.”

“She told you all about what happened, didn't she?” Molly demanded, pouncing immediately on that admission of knowledge. “You two always tell each other everything. What happened, then?”

“I'm not going to tell you everything, but...” Cecilia glanced around, and Molly did the same, unconsciously echoing her friend. Siobhan was nowhere to be seen, so Cecilia said in a low voice, “She really did like him, quite a lot, and I think she couldn't stand feeling so exposed.”

“How do you mean, exposed?”

“Well, she'd never felt that way about someone before. If she'd been you, she'd have been wandering about babbling about being in love. But she's Siobhan, so she chucked him.”

“To stop feeling that way,” Molly whispered.

“Yes.”

Cecilia's face was sorrowful, and it hit Molly quite strongly then how very close Cecilia and Siobhan were. They were sisters, not by blood, but of the heart, and it clearly hurt Cecilia to think Siobhan would not allow herself to feel love for Roddy.

“Well,” Molly said, drawing herself together. “At least it's all over now. Maybe someday Siobhan and Roddy-”

“No,” Cecilia said firmly. “That was the end of it between them.”

“Between whom?” Thad had appeared next to the sofa, a huge grin on his face. Arthur was behind him, looking just as happy.

“Nevermind,” said Molly. “Congratulations, both of you. It was very well played today.”

Arthur gave her a knowing grin, and she blushed a little. He knew she had no idea whether the game had been played well or not. Thad looked pleased, though, and thanked her before moving on. Arthur sat down next to Molly and draped an arm around her shoulders.

“I'll just leave you to it, then.” Cecilia scooted off the sofa and disappeared into the crowd.

“It was a good game,” Molly said again, somewhat lamely.

Arthur gave her a kiss on the temple. “Thank you, Molly dear.”

“Well, my brothers said it was, anyway.”

Arthur laughed.

*

Molly began to notice a change over the next week in the attitude of the school. Where she'd been thinking all year that the school had been polarizing into two camps – those who believed in the importance of blood status and those who did not – it had never been more apparent since the publication of the article on Mr. Fletcher. Cecilia seemed to be taking the brunt of the dislike from the purebloods. She had always been quite popular, being a prefect and quite a pretty one at that, but her popularity was waning quickly. Half of Ravenclaw wasn't speaking to her, and the Slytherins had increased their gossiping and snide remarks.

Cecilia had seemed unaffected by her drop in popularity, ignoring the rude comments and whispers that met her everywhere. It had been almost two weeks since The Daily Prophet had published the article on her father's work in support of Muggles, and Cecilia hadn't confronted anyone, much to Molly's disquiet. Cecilia did not often repress her emotions, and Molly was sure an explosion was imminent.

She had just left Potions one afternoon, and was at the point of returning to Gryffindor tower, when she heard the sound of angry words from down the corridor. A girl in Slytherin robes whom she did not recognize was facing off with Cecilia. Molly couldn't make out what was being said, but as she watched, the girl spit at Cecilia and stormed away.

The other students seemed to freeze – Cecilia's temper, after hexing Acacia in the middle of the Great Hall, was more legendary than ever – but Cecilia only stood there and watched the small knot of Slytherins walk away from her.

Molly hurried up to her friend and drew her wand to clean the spittle from the front of Cecilia's robes. Cecilia seemed rooted to the spot, staring blankly at the wall as if Confunded. Molly took charge immediately.

“Come on,” she said, grabbing Cecilia's arm.

She led Cecilia to the nearest girls' lavatory and dragged her to a small bench at the back, behind the protective row of sinks.

“What did she say to you?” Molly demanded.

Cecilia was silent.

“How can you be so calm?” Molly asked, frustrated by Cecilia's lack of response.

“It doesn't matter what they say,” she murmured, obviously talking to herself, “because I know my father is a great man.”

Molly watched her friend's face for a moment. She had never seen Cecilia exercise such self-control. It was almost eerie. “Aren't you upset?”

Cecilia seemed to snap to attention. She turned to Molly and said quite matter-of-factly, “I have no intention of hexing the stupid girl, if that's what you're asking.”

Molly stared at her in disbelief. “You hexed a prefect – a prefect – in front of the entire school just for calling Siobhan a... well, you know. That girl spit on you, Cecilia, and you're not going to do anything?”

“This is far too important for silly school vendettas.” Cecilia's face was intense as she held Molly's gaze. “I won't have my father's work jeopardized because I attacked someone over it.”

That view of things had not occurred to Molly. She didn't know what to say. “Oh.”

“And yes,” Cecilia added brokenly. “I am upset.”

“The side of the angels, that's what you told me,” Molly reminded her quietly.

Cecilia reached out and took Molly's hand. “The side of the angels.” She drew a deep breath, released Molly's hand, and said, “I'm supposed to meet Reid in the library. I'll see you later, Molly.”

She watched Cecilia go and wondered briefly if people would spit on her for being Arthur's wife if he went to work for Mr. Fletcher. She didn't think she would control her temper quite as well as Cecilia had. In fact, she'd never seen Cecilia control her temper so well, and rather thought it showed both how important Mr. Fletcher's bylaw was to his daughter as well as a growing maturity in Cecilia. She was rather surprised, as she'd thought Reid's influence over the past year would have the opposite effect.

Molly supposed that it wouldn't be an issue for her, really. Arthur was likely to have already gotten his job and Mr. Fletcher's law would be passed by the time she married Arthur. They would be long out of school and there would be no one to hate her for being a blood traitor.

She tried to feel proud that Arthur would stand up for the Muggles the way Mr. Fletcher was, but all she could muster was a vague fear that it would all go wrong. Mr. Fletcher would not go unscathed, and she worried something would happen to Arthur if he got involved as well.

This was possibly not the wisest time to try to pass a law that favoured Muggles, or rather prevented their being unfavoured. Maybe it didn't matter. Maybe some things were more important than timing. Still, with mysterious Dark Lords murdering anyone whose blood was not pure and attacking Muggles solely for fun, it was brave almost to the point of foolishness.

Cecilia's parents had both been Gryffindors, just like her. Where dwell the brave at heart, Molly thought with a glance at the red and gold on her school robes. If Cecilia and Arthur could be brave, she could too. And she was proud of Arthur, really. He had a good and noble heart, and she loved him for it.

She couldn't quite shake the sense of wrongness, but told herself Mr. Fletcher was a fully-fledged wizard and could certainly take care of himself.

Besides, he was a pureblood, as was his wife. No one would dare attack their family.

*

The teachers seemed to be overloading the seventh-years with more work than ever now that the Quidditch season was over and N.E.W.T.s drew closer. Molly had secretly hoped that winning the Cup would put Professor McGonagall in such a good mood that she would let them have a bit of a rest, but unfortunately, nothing could deter their Head of House from making sure her Transfiguration students achieved good results on the exam.

Molly waited in the common room on Sunday afternoon. She was due in the library in five minutes for a revising session with Petula and Hattie, but Hattie was running late, finishing up her homework up in their dormitory. Molly glanced at her watch impatiently just as Hattie appeared.

“I'm sorry, I'm sorry,” Hattie said, out of breath as she hurried up to her friend. “Go on without me, Petula will be waiting. I'm nearly done with this Herbology essay. I thought I would have it complete, but, well, you just go on. I'll be there as soon as I can.”

Hattie rushed back upstairs, and Molly gathered up her bookbag and set out for the library.

She was deep in thought about the Transfiguration exam when a voice came from behind her. She nearly dropped her knapsack, startled.

“Well, well, well, if it isn't Weasley's little girlfriend.”

Molly turned and saw Lucius Malfoy smirking. She kept walking, and he fell into step behind her. “Are you following me?” she demanded, not looking back at him.

“Why would I follow you? I can walk down the corridor, too, you know. It's a free country.”

She glanced back at the Malfoy boy with contempt. Go away! she thought, but couldn't quite be that rude to his face. She decided to simply ignore him and hope he got the hint.

“I heard about your friend's mother,” Malfoy said. “Such a shame when a good pureblooded family goes down into the sewers for a marriage. It ought to be illegal to marry Muggles. Disgusting. At least your friend's mother is too old to breed any half-blooded brats.”

Molly felt her face flushing. How on earth did he know about Hattie's mother's marriage? All the pureblooded families gossiped about each other terribly, but still, Molly found herself a bit surprised. She couldn't have formed a response to his horrible comments if she'd wanted to. He talked about Muggles as if they were animals.

“I'm surprised your little boyfriend is dating you,” Malfoy went on. “He loves Muggles so much, I would think he'd want to marry one, just like your friend's mother. I suppose he wants to spread his blood traitor pollution through even more decent pureblooded families.”

Ignore him, ignore him, ignore him... She kept up the chant in her head, trying not to hear the words he was saying, but the horrible drawl seemed to be burrowing into her brain, stinging her conscience like little wasps. Just ignore him, he's only a third-year...

“Well, you're just a couple of Mudblood-lovers anyway, the both of you,” Malfoy finally finished. “I suppose you deserve each other.”

Molly's face flushed with hot-blooded rage, and she whipped around to face the boy, nearly knocking him over. She wasn't even aware of what hex she used on him, but she saw crusty grey scales spread across his face with satisfaction. She only wished she'd done worse to him. Malfoy cried out, touching his face, then turned on his heel and rushed off toward the main staircases.

“Molly?”

She could feel the anger receding now, and turned to see her brothers hurrying up to her, their faces concerned. Fabian had drawn his wand.

“Are you all right?” he asked. “We saw Malfoy-”

“Did you hex him?” Gideon asked in flat disbelief.

“What did he do to you?”

“He- Nothing, he just said some things-” Molly's face coloured again. “Awful things, about me and Arthur, and about Hattie's mum, and I just couldn't stand it any more and-”

“You three,” a voice rang out behind them.

“Oh dear,” Fabian said.

Professor McGonagall came to a halt in front of them and took in Molly's drawn wand. “I've just seen Mr. Malfoy. Miss Prewett, did you curse him?”

Molly opened her mouth, but no sound came out at first. He deserved it, her brain responded, but all she managed was a stuttered, “I... I-”

“That was us,” Gideon said, a thread of defiance in his voice.

Molly was stunned. She could not remember a single occasion when the twins had willingly taken the blame for something she had done. She started to speak up, to admit her own culpability, but Fabian gave her a look that she clearly understood to mean that she ought to keep her mouth shut.

“It was us,” Gideon said again. “Don't punish our sister for something we did. He deserved it, the git.”

“Well,” Professor McGonagall said severely. She did not look surprised by Gideon's announcement, though her face was still wary. “Mr. Prewett, you and your brother will serve a double detention for your behaviour today.”

“Yes, ma'am,” they both murmured.

Professor McGonagall looked at the three Prewetts again with pursed lips, and Molly held her breath, worried, but McGonagall only shook her head and continued down the hallway.

As soon as she had rounded the corner, Molly deflated somewhat with relief, and turned to her little brothers.

“Thank you,” she said fervently. “You shouldn't have done it, but thank you.”

“Don't be ridiculous, you're nearly out of school with a spotless record,” Fabian said, smiling cheerfully at her. “We've had so many detentions, they'll never notice one more. We'd have hexed him for what he said anyway if you hadn't gotten to him first.”

“Not quite spotless,” Molly admitted. “There was that one last year-” She cut herself off abruptly, remembering that her brothers hadn't found out about the love potion debacle.

“What did you do?” Gideon asked interestedly.

“Nevermind. Besides, my record's not entirely spotless just because I haven't had a detention. I've lost house points, you know.” She realized she sounded like she was bragging, and didn't know why. She didn't want to compete with her brothers in bad behaviour.

“Yes, we were ever so proud of you,” Gideon said. “But that's just a drop in the bucket next to our record.”

“We've had a hundred and ninety-seven detentions in the last four years,” said Fabian proudly.

“And about a hundred Howlers,” Molly put in dryly. “I'm aware.”

“We've been hoping to round out this year at an even two hundred,” Fabian continued. “But they've slowed down recently, so this will help us reach our goal.”

Molly shook her head. There was something wrong with the two of them, honestly, but she couldn't help laughing with them anyway.

The twins continued on their way, and Molly made her way to the library where Petula was waiting for her behind a stack of Potions books. She decided on the spot not to tell Petula what had happened in the corridor with Malfoy. She somehow didn't want to talk about it with anyone. She knew she could never say anything to Hattie about it.

Petula looked up when Molly arrived. “Where's Hattie? I thought you lot weren't going to turn up.”

“Hattie's running late, she'll be here soon.” Molly began unpacking her notes from her bookbag, and became aware that Petula was staring at her blankly. “What?” she asked cautiously.

“Nothing.” Petula sat up abruptly. “Actually... Do you remember my asking you about – erm...”

Molly caught on instantly. She could feel her cheeks heating up. “Yes, I remember.”

“I'm all right now. I just thought I'd mention it. Cecilia gave me some advice,” Petula confided.

“She did?” Molly asked in surprise. “So she and Reid are...”

Petula blushed. “Erm, yes, they are.”

“Oh.” Molly felt a twinge of jealousy at that. She wished, ever so briefly, that she were brave enough to make love to Arthur before they were married. It seemed everyone at Hogwarts was having sex except her and Arthur. Cecilia and Reid, Siobhan and several dozen boys, and now Petula was thinking about it as well...

But not Hattie! Hattie would never have sex before she was married. Hattie was a proper lady.

Knowing that someone else, at least, was staying celibate made Molly feel much more cheerful. If Hattie could be a lady, then so could she.

She gave Petula's hand a pat and said, “I'm glad she decided to help you out. Do you feel better now?”

“Immensely,” Petula said. “I still want to wait until after the wedding, but it does make me feel less frightened, d'you know?”

“I understand.”

“Don't tell Hattie,” Petula added. “She wouldn't approve.”

Molly smiled. Hattie wouldn't even approve of them talking about the subject, though oddly she had never objected to Molly's romantic reading material. Siobhan had once remarked that surely that meant there was hope for Hattie yet.

*

Needing a respite from exams and thoughts of the incident in the corridor with Malfoy, Molly got one of her favourite Fifi LaFolle novels as soon as she was done studying with her friends, and curled up in a private corner of the common room with her book. She escaped into the book, and soon forgot all about what had happened in the corridor, and the world dropped away as she read.

She was in the middle of a very interesting scene when she heard footsteps coming up. She could feel Arthur's presence without needing to look over her shoulder, and tried to hide her book under the cushions of the chair. Looking at him was almost jarring after being so absorbed in her novel.

“Do you know your brothers got a detention for cursing Lucius Malfoy?” Arthur asked cheerfully, perching on the windowsill next to her. “Oh, I'm glad if I couldn't do it, at least he still got what was coming to him. Double detentions, but well-earned, for once. I wish I'd been there to see it.”

Molly could feel her cheeks turning red. She almost wanted to let him go on thinking the twins had done it, but she knew that at least with him, she had to come clean about what she'd done. She glanced down at the novel, buried under the cushion, and wished she'd been able to stay buried in its story. “Erm...”

Arthur gave her a quizzical look. “Molly?”

“It was me,” she said in a low voice. “I did it, and my brothers took the blame.”

Arthur looked quite stunned. “You cursed Malfoy?”

“I had to!” she burst out, then went on somewhat incoherently, “He was saying awful things, and then my brothers and McGonagall- I tried to stop them, but they said they didn't want me to ruin my spotless record, and-”

“It's not spotless. You had a detention last year,” Arthur pointed out. “For the love potion.”

Molly frowned. “I know that,” she said, nettled. “But they don't.”

“What did he say to you? Why did you hex him?” Arthur demanded, looking rather angry now, though she knew it was on her behalf. She was quite glad she had hexed Malfoy, or Arthur surely would have gone out and done so to avenge her honour.

She did not want to repeat any of what Malfoy had said, however, especially to Arthur. It had been horrible enough to hear once. And she would never let some of those words cross her lips. “The usual. You know how he is.”

“Hmm.” Arthur was silent for a moment, but then he grinned quite suddenly. “And you were worried about me hexing him.”

She glared at him. “Arthur,” she said warningly.

“Well done, Molly.” He leaned forward and kissed her cheek.

Chapter 14: Written on the Wind
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The first morning of exams dawned bright and clear, but the lovely weather passed unnoticed by the seventh and fifth-year students. An air of feverish panic hung over the Great Hall at breakfast, while students tried to get in some last-minute revising over their breakfasts.

Arthur had Muggle Studies in the morning and Transfiguration in the afternoon, and had his notes for both classes spread all over the table as he tried to eat and read at the same time. His stomach felt like it was filled with flobberworms, writhing around.

“Shove over, old boy, you're hogging the table,” Reid said, shifting some of Arthur's notes aside to make room for his own huge stack of parchment. Reid had been up since dawn, and there were dark smudges under his eyes. He'd told Arthur that he had three exams to sit today in the same space of time that Arthur would be sitting two. The very thought of three N.E.W.T.s in one day – and eleven total over the week – made Arthur devoutly thankful he was only taking five classes.

Cecilia had been watching her boyfriend closely since she'd sat down, and finally burst out, apparently unable to hold it in, “Did you sleep at all last night?”

“An hour or two,” he said absently, shuffling some papers.

“You idiot.” Cecilia scowled at him.

“I tried to stay up all night preparing for the exams, but unfortunately, I actually do need to sleep now and then,” said Reid. “Unless I can sneak some chemical assistance, that is.”

Cecilia and Hattie both gave him a disapproving look at this remark.

“I had a source on some powdered dragon horn,” Reid went on, “but I didn't have the blunt to pay for it. You wouldn't have five Galleons you can spare, would you Arthur? Maybe I can still get some.”

“Sorry mate,” Arthur said, rolling his eyes. Even if he'd had the money, he wouldn't have given it to Reid. Any substances made from dragons could be very addicting, and the thought of Reid hooked on something was a little more than he thought he could stand.

“I would confiscate it from you anyway, you know, even if you got the gold,” Cecilia told Reid.

“Merlin's beard,” he muttered. “You would, you horrible woman. You never let me have any fun.”

Cecilia grinned smugly.

“I saw the examiners coming into the castle last night,” Molly said anxiously. She had barely touched her breakfast, and was clutching her best quill as if it were a good luck charm. “It's the same ones from when we did O.W.L.s, I think.”

“Some of them were quite friendly,” Hattie said, her voice quavering a bit, then added, “I could hardly sleep last night, I'm so nervous. I just want the exams to be over. It's so much worse this year than O.W.L.s, don't you think?”

“They're not joking about the 'Nastily Exhausting', are they?” Arthur agreed.

A scream rent the air, and a hush fell over the Great Hall as the students looked around to see where it was coming from. Half of the Ravenclaw table suddenly got up and ran toward the entrance hall, and students from the other House tables began to follow them. Arthur scrambled to his feet, rushing after them to see what was going on. Molly was right behind him, holding onto his arm with one hand.

Twyla Carpenter, a seventh-year Ravenclaw and one of their House's prefects, stood in the hall between Professor Dumbledore and Professor Flitwick. She was screaming and batting the teachers away, and the expression on her face was one Arthur had never seen before on anyone. It was far beyond a broken heart. It was as if someone had just destroyed her very soul. There was a man in severe black robes next to them who Arthur rather thought was a Ministry official.

“Oh my goodness,” Molly murmured, her hands covering her mouth. “What happened?”

“Poor Twyla,” said Hattie. She looked stricken.

Eventually Twyla's screams turned to broken-hearted sobbing, and a few Ravenclaws stepped forward from the crowd to go to her. People were starting to whisper now, the gossip growing a little louder, and Cecilia made her way over to them from the cluster of prefects she'd been talking to.

“Her parents were murdered. They were found dead in their home this morning, with that horrible green skull set over the house. Virgil Kemp overheard them telling her.”

The Dark Mark, Arthur thought with a jolt as Cecilia darted off to where Reid was standing a few yards away with Dunstan and Petula to pass the news on to them. Another violent death, chalked up to the followers of Voldemort.

“But Twyla's parents aren't Muggleborn, are they?” Hattie said in a whisper.

Professor Dumbledore gave them all a significant look, and the crowd in the entrance hall dispersed. Arthur followed the flow of the other students back into the Great Hall and pushed the food around on his plate, knowing he should eat but unable to do so, while the sounds of Twyla's anguish continued. There was a heavy silence around the table. No one else seemed able to finish eating. Molly was staring at her plate, chewing on her thumbnail, when Arthur looked over at her. He reached over to take her hand, and she scooted closer to him to rest her head against his shoulder.

Finally the sounds of sobbing faded, and Twyla was gone from the entrance hall when Arthur left the Great Hall with Molly and Hattie at his side. They took up a spot next to the staircase that led down to the kitchens, waiting for the examinations to begin.

“Poor Twyla,” Molly said sadly, dropping her bookbag at her feet. “Can you imagine?”

“What will happen to her?” Hattie's brows were knitted with concern. “Who will she live with?”

“Twyla's of age. She could live on her own.”

“I'm sure she has some family she can go to,” Arthur said, hoping this was true. He had never interacted much with Twyla, but she was nice enough, and no one deserved to have that happen to them. He shared several classes with Twyla, and she was in N.E.W.T.-level Charms and Transfiguration with him. He rather regretted not getting to know her better.

More students were joining the small crowd in the entrance hall, the fifth and seventh years who would sit their examinations that morning, while the rest of the school went off down the corridors toward their regular classes. Arthur rather envied them. He wished he were just going to sit through a boring History of Magic lecture rather than take his final exams as a student.

Cecilia was hurrying toward them, having just split off from the little knot of seventh-year Ravenclaws who were clustered in the middle of the hall. They had not rejoined the rest of the student body for breakfast after Twyla's breakdown, but had stayed in the hall. Arthur supposed they were taking what comfort they could from each other and didn't want to be around the rest of the school. He could understand that. He was a little surprised to see them being friendly with Cecilia, though. She hadn't gotten along well with most of the Ravenclaws since the article about her father had been in the newspaper. The murder of Twyla's parents must have hit home for them.

“She's not going to take the exams,” Cecilia said without preamble as she joined them.

“What?” Molly said, shocked. “She can't miss her N.E.W.T.s.”

“I doubt she cares about them right now,” Cecilia said, her dark eyes sad. “Dorothy Sharpe says Flitwick and Dumbledore are arranging for her to take them later, after she's had some time...”

“Why didn't they take her to the headmaster's office to break the news?” Hattie shook her head. “How awful to have everyone see your grief like that.”

“Dorothy said they tried, but she refused to go until they told her what was wrong. She knew it was something terrible, and with the Ministry here, well, she must have had an inkling.” Cecilia shrugged. “I think people watching her was the last thing on her mind.”

“Were her parents Muggleborn, do you know?” Molly asked in a low voice.

Cecilia's face turned very serious. “Her mother was, but her father was half-blood.”

Arthur started a bit with surprise, staring at Cecilia. So far, the only magical folk murdered had been Muggleborn. Twyla's father was the first half-blood killed that he had heard about. He could hear the three girls talking about Twyla still, but his brain was churning now.

The Carpenters hadn't been anyone well-known in the wizarding world. They weren't particularly famous or important, they were simply a family with a daughter at school. Arthur had never heard mention of Twyla's family before, in fact. He couldn't think what could possibly have gotten them killed. But then, all the murders had been of people who were not prominent wizards or witches, and seemed to be almost for sport. The utter randomness of it was horrible to Arthur. They were being killed merely because they were not purebloods. It was simply incomprehensible that anyone would do that.

He couldn't think on this for too long, however, because the exams were beginning. He was quite terror-stricken as he sat down at the desk for the first N.E.W.T. exam. Muggle Studies was a long series of questions, but once he started reading over them, he felt much more confident. It wasn't as bad as he'd thought it would be. He was quite familiar with the answers, and set about writing the short essays with a small grin.

Petula, next to him, was scratching away at her own exam, writing franticly. The other two Muggle Studies N.E.W.T. students, Jasper Mussa and Mary Nevard, were filling out their own exams, and Arthur wondered briefly if they would all pass. It was such a small class that they were all quite invested in each other's grades.

Finally the examiner announced the end of the exam, and Arthur set aside his quill. He wasn't sure he'd gotten an Outstanding, but he was reasonably confident he'd gotten at least an Exceeds Expectations.

He met up with the other seventh-years in the entrance hall. Many of them looked pale and shaky after their first exam. Molly had just done Arithmancy with the other Gryffindor girls and Reid, and all of them looked very relieved to have it over with.

Cecilia and Hattie were obsessively discussing their answers, and Molly immediately set on Arthur and Petula.

“How was Muggle Studies?”

“Horrible,” Petula said before Arthur could answer. He didn't want to disagree with her, so he just shrugged at Molly. “Was Arithmancy awful?” Petula asked.

“I don't want to talk about it,” said Molly, a little feebly. Arthur folded her into his arms and she hugged him back gratefully. He was sure she'd done better than she thought. Molly was often a pessimist about school, always putting in more work than he thought really needed to be done.

After Muggle Studies, he was feeling fairly chipper about the afternoon's exam, and was able to eat a decent lunch. McGonagall was so tough all year long that the idea of taking a Transfiguration N.E.W.T. exam seemed far less scary. Molly didn't seem to share this outlook, as she didn't even put a morsel on her plate, only reading her notes all through the lunch break.

Siobhan had joined them for lunch and was sitting next to Cecilia, reading Cecilia's Transfiguration notes over her shoulder while eating a bacon sandwich. Siobhan always took exams in stride. Arthur remembered during fifth year when everyone was panicking over their O.W.L.s, Siobhan had only strolled into the hall and sat her exams without batting an eyelash. She never did terribly well on them, but she passed, and that seemed good enough to her. Arthur supposed the lack of parental pressure took some of the terror out of exams. Siobhan's father was a Muggle, and paid little attention to her, so her performance on the tests didn't seem to matter to him. Arthur didn't have that kind of luck: Everyone in his family would find out what his grades were, and they would all have something to say about it. The ball of flobberworms was back in his stomach after that thought.

Transfiguration was about what he'd expected, from what he remembered of the O.W.L. exam in that subject. He hoped Professor McGonagall would be pleased with his results, or that she wouldn't hear about it if he failed. He hated to disappoint his Head of House.

The exam week seemed to fly past, hardly giving a moment to breathe or sleep or think of anything but N.E.W.T.s. He studied with Reid before History of Magic, and that seemed to help with the exam. Reid was far better organised than Arthur was in his note-taking and revising habits, which was probably part of why he'd always done better in the history class. In Charms and Defence Against the Dark Arts, Arthur felt he'd acquitted himself well enough.

By the time the week was over, Arthur was rather overwhelmed by a combination of exhaustion from the mentally taxing week, and exhilaration that it was now all over and he never had to take another exam again. The approaching end of school seemed quite a relief now.

The Gryffindor seventh-years gathered outside on the lawn near the lake the Saturday after N.E.W.T.s, enjoying the warm weather and recovering from the exams. Hattie had brought a hamper of food, procured from the friendly kitchen house-elves, and conjured up a large purple blanket for them all to sit on.

“Devil of a week,” Dunstan said as Hattie unpacked the food with Molly's assistance. “It's nice to have exams over, isn't it? I thought they'd do me in. Charms was horrible.”

“It was easy,” said Reid airily. He was stretched out on the blanket with his head in Cecilia's lap. “I didn't have any trouble at all on my exams. Flying colours, and all that rot.”

“No trouble?” Cecilia arched an eyebrow at him. “You were sick the night before your Ancient Runes exam.”

Reid gave her a dirty look, and Arthur coughed to cover his chuckles. Dunstan and Petula were grinning at Reid from their corner of the blanket, and Arthur could see Molly and Hattie trying not to smile, too. Siobhan was staring off over the lake as if she hadn't heard anything.

Reid apparently decided to pretend Cecilia hadn't just told everyone about his moment of weakness, and went on in his airy tones, “Anyway, it's all over now but the shouting, so quit your worrying, Dunstan. Rehashing the exams won't change whether or not you failed.”

“And on that cheerful note, let's not talk about N.E.W.T.s any more, shall we?” Arthur said determinedly, wanting to avoid an argument. “It's a beautiful day, isn't it?”

Molly began passing out pastries to everyone. Arthur took a strawberry tart and bit into it, closing his eyes as he chewed and listening to his friends chatting. It was almost easy to forget everything, sitting there on the soft blanket, feeling the sun's rays on his face. He would probably have a sunburn tomorrow on his nose, but he couldn't quite bring himself to care.

Dunstan brought up the recent match between the Caerphilly Catapults and the Wigtown Wanderers then, and the next half hour was filled with a dissection of the game, and of England's chances of making it to the World Cup. Molly and Hattie looked quite bored by the Quidditch talk, and Arthur wasn't surprised when Molly changed the subject.

“Petula, where's Thomas? Didn't you say he was coming to our picnic?”

“He said he would,” Petula answered, taking another éclair. “The Hufflepuffs are having a bit of a celebration in their common room today, but he did say he would come by. Then I'm supposed to go to their party with him.”

“So are you really going to marry him, then?” Reid asked.

“How do you not know about Petula's engagement by now?” Cecilia frowned down at him.

“I try to avoid being involved with anyone but myself.”

Petula was frowning at Reid as well. “Yes, I am going to marry him.” She held out her left hand and wiggled her fingers: There was a very small diamond on a gold band on her ring finger.

“Very nice,” Reid said approvingly, though from his glance up at Cecilia after he said it, Arthur didn't think he really meant it and was just trying to stay on her good side.

“The banns will be in the Prophet as soon as school is over. My mum says I have to have my sisters as bridesmaids,” Petula added, directing this at Molly and Hattie. “It isn't fair. They've never been nice to me, why should I have to have them in my wedding party?”

“Because they're your sisters,” Hattie said sternly. “Weren't you in both of their weddings?”

“Yes,” Petula admitted. She didn't look happy about it.

“Petula,” Dunstan said in long-suffering tones. “If I have to be subjected to any more wedding talk-”

“Reid started it,”she told him, giving a haughty sniff. “Besides, I listened to you going on and on about whether or not you ought to marry Gemma-”

“Shhh,” Dunstan hushed her, his eyes bugging slightly. “That was personal!”

“Oh please, we all know you're afraid of commitment,” Reid said, his eyes closed.

“It's a well-known fact,” Arthur agreed, just to get a rise out of Dunstan.

Reid adjusted his position on Cecilia's lap, drawling, “Yes. Dunstan won't commit, Arthur is obsessed with Muggles, I'm self-centered-”

“I believe the word you're looking for is egomaniacal,” Cecilia murmured.

“I'm an egomaniac,” Reid said magnanimously, nodding to acknowledge her, and then went on, “Roddy is crap with women, and Thad cares more about Quidditch than anything else. That's just how we all are. You should accept it. You'd be a much happier person if you embrace your own idiocy.”

Molly glanced uneasily over at Siobhan at the mention of Roddy, but when Arthur looked over at her, Siobhan's expression had not changed. Either she hadn't heard Reid's remark, or she was doing a very good job of faking it.

“Shut up, Reid.” Dunstan elbowed Petula in the ribs then. “There he is.”

Petula followed his gaze and perked up immediately. Thomas Ockham was jogging toward them, dressed in Muggle clothes, his hair a little rumpled. Petula waved to him as he approached, calling a greeting to them. Arthur waved back. He rather liked the fellow, from what he knew of him. Petula seemed happy with him, too.

Thomas dropped onto the blanket next to Petula and kissed her cheek, then picked up a pastry from the tray in the centre of the blanket.

“Sorry I'm late,” he said, smiling at them all. “I would've been here quite some time ago, but I ran into Dorothy Sharpe in the corridor, and we got to talking.”

“Dorothy's a terrible gossip,” said Molly sternly. She leaned forward. “What did she say?”

Thomas's expression sobered. “Twyla's left school already. She went to her grandmother's, she's going to be living with her for a while. Dorothy said Twyla's going to do her N.E.W.T.s at the end of the summer. She thinks she'll be feeling up to it by then.”

“Poor Twyla,” Petula murmured.

Hattie sighed, shaking her head. “I'm glad she has some family to go to. It must be so awful for her.”

“The Ravenclaws are all pretty shaken up,” Thomas said. “Half of them are afraid to go home now. Dorothy says the younger students are all sure they'll be killed over the summer. My House is scared too. The Owusu twins are moving back to Ghana after the leaving, and that sixth-year, Amos Diggory, he says his parents are talking about moving to an all-wizard village for safety. It seems like everyone who's been killed so far lived in a Muggle town.”

Arthur looked around at the other Gryffindors. Siobhan, the only Muggleborn there, had not reacted to anything Thomas had said. She was ignoring him, staring out at the lake again. Petula looked nervous; she'd been steadily pretending not to have Muggle relatives for months now, and Arthur wondered if they were even to be invited to her wedding. Since her father had forbidden her to contact them or even talk about them, he rather doubted it. Dunstan looked rather worried as well – he was a half-blood, but Gemma's parents were both Muggleborn.

Molly and Hattie looked upset, but the air of panic that had been over Hattie whenever anyone brought up blood status recently seemed to be gone. Arthur thought she must have come to terms with her mother's marriage, and smiled, feeling very fond of Hattie just then. She was a good egg, really, as Reid had said.

“Well, thank you for sharing your tea with me, but I promised to bring Petula back with me to the Hufflepuff party.” Thomas got to his feet and held out a hand to help Petula up.

“I'll come too,” Dunstan said, jumping up behind her.

They set off toward the castle, and Arthur watched them go, thinking about Twyla's parents and all the other murders of anyone with a bit of Muggle blood. It wasn't surprising that what had happened to the Carpenters had frightened all the Ravenclaws. It was the first big blow delivered to their House by the brewing war, and Twyla was very well-liked. The Hufflepuffs were scared now, too, he remembered. He supposed a lot of Gryffindors and Slytherins were as well, and that he ought to be. Mostly what he felt was anger, though.

It wasn't right that these things were happening. It wasn't right that Twyla had to bury her parents before she turned nineteen. It wasn't right that Petula couldn't even invite her relatives to her wedding. It was all so very wrong that all he could feel about it was anger. He wanted to put a stop to it. To do something to make things better.

“I'm off to meet Michael,” Siobhan said then, getting to her feet.

“Michael?” Hattie echoed in surprise. “Michael O'Toole, who went out with Petula?”

Siobhan waved her hand, dismissing this. “That was a long time ago. She said she didn't mind. I hope he's not too frightened to leave Ravenclaw Tower,” she added derisively as she walked away, rolling her eyes.

Molly and Hattie exchanged a disapproving look, and Cecilia said in a low voice, “Don't mind her, she says cruel things when she's scared.”

Arthur watched Siobhan walking up to the castle, her rusty curls glinting an almost Weasley-red in the sunlight, his thoughts still dwelling on murdered Muggleborns and half-bloods. Siobhan might very well be next, or someone else he knew well. It was a horrible thought.

“I suppose the picnic tea is over,” Hattie said with a sigh. “It wasn't very successful, was it?”

“We were all together for a little while,” said Molly loyally, patting her hand. “That's the important thing.”

“We may as well go back to Gryffindor Tower.” Hattie began packing up the food with Molly's assistance.

Cecilia pushed Reid's head off her lap and stood, adjusting her shirt, then reached down to pull Reid to his feet. Arthur got up as well, and as he watched Hattie Vanish the conjured blanket, he made a decision.

“Cecilia, could I have a quick word?”

She looked surprised, but agreed. Molly glanced from Arthur to Cecilia, seeming to realize what he wanted to ask her. She looped her arm through Hattie's, and they set off for the castle with Reid trailing along behind them, glancing over his shoulder at Arthur and Cecilia.

“What is it, Arthur?” Cecilia asked once the others were out of earshot.

“Do you think your dad would give me a job?” he asked in a rush, before he could lose his nerve. “All these things that are going on, I want to do something to help stop them, and your dad is doing, well, exactly what I've always wanted to do, and I really need a job once school is over-”

“Arthur,” she interrupted, smiling at him. “My father will hire you.”

“I know I don't have any particularly impressive N.E.W.T.s,” Arthur said, a little uncomfortably.

“But you're passionate about helping Muggles,” Cecilia said firmly. “Just like he is. I'm sure he would love to have you on his staff. I'll talk to him about it, but I know he'll give you a job.”

Arthur smiled in relief. “D'you really think so?”

“Of course. I'll go owl him right now and ask. I was going to owl him anyway, I want to tell him about Twyla's parents, and about the exams,” she added. “You'll probably have to interview with him, but he's already told me he's adding three people to his staff this summer. He's very busy right now, with the new laws he's writing. I'll tell him all about you, and he'll want to hire you straight away.”

Bolstered by her confidence, Arthur straightened his glasses, standing a bit taller. “Thanks, Cecilia.”

“He's already said he's going to hire me, so we'll be working together.” She started walking slowly toward the castle, and he fell into step beside her.

“That'll be brilliant.” He was glad she'd be there, a spot of familiarity in a very new environment. He'd not been in the Ministry much, and never in the Department of Magical Law. Her father was quite an important man, and working for him would be a huge leg up into the Ministry for Arthur. With this as his start, he could really make a difference.

The day seemed brighter, the sunshine more cheerful, and now the future seemed filled with exciting prospects. Not least of which was that having a job would allow him to propose to Molly.

Chapter 15: Too Much To Dream
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Molly stood outside the castle, waiting for the horseless carriages that would bring the students to Hogsmeade Station to catch the train home. All her things were packed neatly in her school trunk, stacked next to Hattie's and Siobhan's trunks (Siobhan's having been packed by Hattie the previous night, since Siobhan never did it herself).

Hattie was telling them all about her flat in Diagon Alley. Molly smiled as she listened to her best friend's raptures. Hattie was so pleased to be out on her own, though her mum was paying half her rent until Hattie got on her feet.

“I need a place of my own,” Siobhan said thoughtfully when Hattie finally paused for a breath. “I could do with some privacy.”

Molly rolled her eyes. She knew exactly what Siobhan wanted with her privacy. “Yes, I'm sure you could.”

“My great-aunt Adelaide has a room to let,” Hattie volunteered. “She lives in London, in an old wizard neighbourhood. It's not very big, but-”

“It sounds great,” Siobhan said firmly. “Can I see it tomorrow?”

“Don't you want to stay with Cecilia?” Molly asked.

Siobhan glanced over at Cecilia, who was approaching with Reid and Arthur beside her, all three of them laughing. Molly smiled at her boyfriend.

“No,” Siobhan said loudly, obviously for Cecilia's benefit. “I definitely don't want to stay with that crazy old harpy. Besides, I think she's got other plans.”

“You're not talking about me, are you?” Cecilia said happily, her laughter still on her face. Molly rather envied them their new jobs at the Ministry. Arthur had been officially hired by Mr. Fletcher just yesterday and was over the moon about it. He'd been practically inseparable from Cecilia since she'd delivered the news. She would be working for her father as well, and Molly felt a little left out.

“Of course we weren't,” Hattie said, shooting Siobhan a quelling glare. Siobhan only grinned.

Cecilia raised an eyebrow at Siobhan, and Molly guessed she knew perfectly well they'd been talking about her. Cecilia didn't seem upset, though. If anything, she was more cheerful than Molly had ever seen her.

“You three look very pleased with yourselves,” Hattie observed neutrally.

“We've all got jobs at the Ministry. When N.E.W.T. results are back, they'll probably give me a promotion,” Reid bragged.

“Yes, but you've only got that job because of your father,” Hattie pointed out. “And Arthur and Cecilia have only got their jobs because of her father.”

“I've only got the job because he's my father,” Cecilia said dryly. “Arthur got the job because he's Arthur. My father is half in love with him already just from a few owls. He says you're going to be his protégé,” she added, smiling at Arthur.

He grinned enthusiastically. “Mr. Fletcher is really brilliant.”

Molly smiled gamely at him, wishing she were involved in something grander than herself as well. She felt rather at loose ends now, taking the summer off and simply living at home. Everyone else had plans, jobs, futures. Everyone was moving on, out on their own, except her. Hattie said there was plenty of time for the future, but Molly didn't like the uncertainty.

“Well, to return the conversation to me, I won't start for another month or two,” Reid said airily. “After this year, I need a rest. My dad agreed it was best. As soon as I start at the Ministry though, I'm moving out. I've already signed a lease. I move in July first. Brilliant, yeah?”

Cecilia smirked a bit at this, but she didn't say anything, and Molly frowned suspiciously. Cecilia didn't normally hold her opinions back on anything Reid did, so Molly rather thought Cecilia had something in mind for Reid's new flat.

Molly turned over her shoulder at the sound of footsteps. Petula was hurrying toward them, looking out of breath, with Dunstan at her heels.

“Sorry,” Petula puffed, coming to an abrupt stop next to Hattie. “I meant to come by earlier, but I was busy with Thomas and-”

“Yes, yes, you and Dunstan are practically Hufflepuffs now, we know,” Reid said, waving her apology aside.

Petula's cheeks turned red, and Dunstan retorted, “It's all over, Reid. None of us are Hufflepuffs or Gryffindors or anything else now. Just witches and wizards.”

“Speak for yourself, Dunstan. I'll always be a Gryffindor,” Arthur said proudly. Molly smiled fondly at him.

“We're riding in Thomas's compartment,” Petula told them. “I didn't want to leave the school without a chat with you lot.”

Siobhan rolled her eyes. “I'm sure we'll see you on the train, Petula.”

“Don't be silly,” drawled Reid, slinging an arm around Dunstan's shoulders. “She's practically tied to Thomas's apron strings, just like Dunstan and Gemma. They'll be too busy for their old mates.”

Dunstan shoved him off, but he didn't look annoyed. Molly rather thought he must be accustomed to Reid's teasing by now.

“Speaking of our former classmates,” Reid said as a handful of Ravenclaw fifth-years walked past them, “Has anyone heard anything else about Twyla Carpenter?”

“Dorothy Sharpe says Twyla's grandmother is taking her to Germany,” Petula volunteered immediately. “Her grandmother grew up there, and she reckons it's safer than staying in England. At least until this... whatever it is, until it's all over.”

“They're calling it a war now, you know, in the Ministry,” said Cecilia. “My father says it doesn't quite fit the legal definition, but he believes it is a war nevertheless.”

“The Death Eaters are getting braver.” Hattie's brows were knitted in concern. “Look at what happened to Twyla's parents. We ought all be careful this summer. Don't let your guard down for a moment. Promise?”

Reid waved a hand and said breezily, “We'll be fine, Hattie. Besides, you'll be around to remind us.”

“You will still be around, won't you?” Petula asked anxiously, looking around at all of them. “We'll all still be friends now school is out?”

“Don't be ridiculous,” Cecilia said briskly. “Of course we'll all be friends after we leave school. I haven't put up with you lot for this long just to give up now.”

Hattie beamed. “We'll get to see each other loads of times, really. We'll have so much free time now we don't have to study any more.”

Petula let out a small sniff, looking up at the castle. “I don't want to leave school. I love it here.”

“You've done nothing but complain for seven years!” Siobhan said in disbelief.

Hattie gave Petula a consoling pat on the shoulder. “It'll be all right, Petula.”

“You're going to be getting married this fall, you'll have a lot to keep you busy. You won't even think about school,” Molly assured her. “All you'll think about is Thomas and the wedding. Don't worry, Petula.”

Reid had taken a step away from Petula when her tears had threatened, but now that there seemed no imminent danger of weeping, he edged closer to the group again.

Cecilia was gazing out across the lake. “I know what you mean, though, Petula. I'm going to miss this place.”

“You hated everyone,” Siobhan pointed out.

“I'm going to miss it, too,” Molly said quietly. She could feel her own throat closing with tears as well. She hadn't really thought of it, but she quite loved Hogwarts as well. She would miss her friends terribly, after living with them for the past seven years, it was going to be very lonely at home with only her brothers and parents for daily company. Suddenly leaving school didn't seem quite as marvellous. She leaned into Arthur and was glad to feel his arm around her, giving her waist a squeeze.

Hattie gave a loud sniff, fumbling in her handbag for a handkerchief, and Dunstan coughed and wiped his nose with the back of his hand.

Siobhan threw her hands up. “You're all bloody ridiculous.”

Reid grimaced, reaching out to give Hattie's shoulder a half-hearted pat. “Don't cry, old girl. You know I hate that.” He glanced at Cecilia askance. “You're not going to start crying too, are you?”

“Shut up, Reid,” Cecilia said. She was dry-eyed, though Molly thought her voice sounded rather more emotional than she normally did.

Reid looked relieved. “I thought I might have to throw you in the lake or something if you did.”

Cecilia gave him a look. Hattie finished mopping her eyes, and smiled tremulously at them all.

“Chop chop, you lot,” she said, shooing them toward the carriages. “We don't want to miss the train.”

Petula waved to them and rushed back over to where Thomas was waiting, and Dunstan gave Reid one of those odd punches to the shoulder that boys often did when they wanted to hug but couldn't bring themselves to burden their male pride with a show of emotion, then shook Arthur's hand vigorously and set off after Petula.

“Abandoning us for the Hufflepuffs,” Reid said, shaking his head in mock sorrow.

“Get in the carriage, Reid,” Cecilia commanded, stepping up into the nearest carriage.

“Bossy, bossy,” he said, but he climbed in behind her anyway.

Arthur gave Molly a hand up into the carriage they were sharing with Hattie. She made herself comfortable as he helped Hattie up as well, then smiled at him and took his hand as he sat down next to her.

“Here we go,” Hattie said, clutching her handbag tightly in her lap.

Molly twisted around in her seat as the carriage set off with a small jolt, and watched the castle until it disappeared around a bend in the road. Arthur squeezed her hand as she turned back around to face the road ahead.

She looked up at him, and he gave her a bright smile. He was so confident, so happy to be out of school. He had a purpose. She wondered what hers would be.

He seemed to realize she wasn't feeling quite herself, and pulled her close. “It'll all turn out all right, Molly,” he whispered, kissing her temple. “I love you.”

Hattie was looking away politely, pretending she didn't see them, so Molly turned her head and kissed him full on the lips. “I love you too, Arthur.”






Author's Note: Thank you to everyone who has stuck with this to the end. Never fear, the Unsinkable-verse isn't over yet. Check back on my author page for the next part of their story, coming very soon (as it's already written and only needs to be posted): “At The Hour”.


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