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Chapter 28 : Back in My Arms Again
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It's his love that makes me strong
Without him I can't go on
This time I'll live my life at ease
Being happy lovin' whom I please
The thought had occurred to Molly before, though she'd never voiced it aloud, that of all her friends, Cecilia Fletcher was the most likely to go Dark. She'd never known anyone to stay angry as long as Cecilia could, and though Siobhan had always thought it was an admirable quality in her friend, it worried Molly a little. Cecilia had been angry with Reid for a solid year now, and she seemed just as angry now as she had been standing in the corridor, covered in ash and soaking wet. It couldn't possibly be healthy for her.
Still, Cecilia had been her friend for six years, and though she thought it was best if Cecilia just forgave Reid, if only for the sake of her blood pressure, Molly did not want to incur Cecilia's wrath herself by mentioning this, so she simply looked the other way whenever Cecilia ranted about Reid.
Apparently Siobhan was no longer able to do this. She had done a Cecilia-worthy rant last night at dinner in front of everyone, giving both Cecilia and Reid a set-down. Molly had been expecting a horrible aftermath, because Cecilia and Siobhan never fought. Cecilia had been surprisingly thoughtful all evening, however. Petula had gone to bed early in hopes of escaping the huge row she was sure was imminent, but when Siobhan had returned to the common room late that evening with Andrew in tow, Cecilia had merely smiled at her and asked if Siobhan wanted to copy her Transfiguration homework. Siobhan did not seem at all surprised by this, and had been perfectly cordial when she said she did indeed want to copy it.
The entire situation was very odd. Molly had discussed it with Hattie, hiding in the bathroom from Cecilia and Siobhan, and they had agreed that it was probably best if both of them stayed out of it, as there was clearly something else going on of which they were not aware. Normally Cecilia would have thrown a wobbler if someone spoke to her like that, and instead she had become oddly introspective and much more pleasant.
“Perhaps she's been taken over by pod people, like that Muggle book Petula read,” Hattie said worriedly.
Pod people notwithstanding, Molly resolved to watch her friends more closely, in case Cecilia was only pretending to be calm and pleasant until she found just the right hex for revenge. This left her without the need to resolve any bad feelings between her two friends, and gave her time to consider her plans for Arthur's birthday. She'd had a brilliant idea for Arthur's birthday gift: she would knit him a jumper.
The problem with her brilliant idea was that there was only a week in which to get it completed. She would either have to give up valuable evening time with Arthur in order to knit, or lose out on a few hours of sleep every night. She rather thought she'd compromise, go to bed a bit early and then sit up a bit late knitting. The other problem was the size.
There were several options there. She could try to gauge his size by simply getting a little more hands-on when they were together, but she was sure she'd then get distracted and completely forget why she'd got started in the first place. Fortunately, her second option would be relatively easy to carry out, given her conveniently criminal little brothers.
She tracked down Gideon and Fabian outside the library, of all places, where they'd probably been stealing books from the restricted section or setting off dungbombs or something else she didn't want to know about.
They gazed at her somewhat warily when she called to them, hurrying to catch up to them as they walked down the corridor.
“We haven't done anything,” Gideon said quickly.
Molly rolled her eyes at him. “I'm not going to yell at you, I want to ask you a favour.”
“A favour? From us?” Gideon asked incredulously.
“Why should we do anything for you?” Fabian asked in the same tone.
“I didn't write to Mum about your stupid and dangerous duel with Bellatrix Black,” she pointed out.
“Technically,” Gideon said in innocent tones, “you were the one who duelled, not us. We were innocent victims. Bystanders, you might say.” Fabian was nodding agreement.
Molly glared at her brothers and had to take a deep breath to remind herself not to shout at them or they would refuse to help her outright. She inhaled deeply and then said, “Nevermind. I just want a little bit of help from you, that's all.”
“I dunno, Molly,” Gideon drawled annoyingly. “Like Fabian said, why should we do you any favours?”
“Can't you just help me because I'm your sister?” she asked, trying to keep the frustration out of her voice.
They looked at each other, grinning. Apparently annoying her had been sufficient fun for them, because they seemed to relent.
“All right,” Gideon said with a chuckle. “What do you need?”
“I, erm, need you to commit a bit of theft for me,” she said, feeling a little silly.
They stared at her in amazement. This had apparently been the last thing they'd been expecting her to say.
“Let me get this straight,” Gideon began slowly. “You want us to steal something? You do realise that's breaking school rules.”
She frowned at him. “It's not like that. I only need it for a short time, then you can put it back. And it's something of Arthur's, even if he caught you he's hardly likely to turn you in. You won't get in any trouble for this, I swear.”
They looked even more amazed now.
“You're stealing from Arthur?” Fabian asked.
“I never thought you had it in you,” Gideon said, shaking his head.
“What would Mum say?”
“Oh, blast. Look,” Molly said in exasperation, grabbing each of them by the arm and pulling them into one of Arthur's shortcuts, slipping behind a trick wall. “It's Arthur's birthday next week, I'm going to knit him a jumper, and I need you to steal one of his jumpers from his dormitory so I can get the size right. That's all.”
“It's his birthday?” Gideon echoed in surprise. “We've got to get him a gift.”
“We can steal a jumper for you, no problem,” Fabian assured her. “When do you need it?”
“Today, if possible.” Molly peeked around the corner of the wall to make sure no one was coming before looking back at her brothers, who seemed to be brimming with confidence as usual, but for once it did not annoy her. She was actually counting on their ability to get away with mischief.
Fabian was grinning widely. “Right. We'll sneak into his dormitory. If his roommates catch us, can we tell them what we're doing?”
Molly shook her head. “I don't think any of them could keep it secret.”
“No problem. We'll just have to be even stealthier than we normally are,” Gideon said cheerfully. “Can you keep Arthur busy after dinner so we can get up there?”
“I think I can manage that,” Molly said.
Keeping Arthur busy proved to be even easier than she'd expected. He was quite amenable to leaving the little common room study group to help her, as she'd told their friends, pick up a book from the library, with an appropriately lengthy detour behind a suit of armour. She knew they'd be teased when they returned, but it was all for a good cause, so she didn't mind.
She met her brothers the next morning before breakfast, when Gryffindor tower was nearly empty, and their grins told her they'd been successful. Gideon pulled the folded jumper out of his bookbag and proffered it to her as if it were a trophy of war.
“Oh, thank you,” Molly said happily, taking it from him. “That will work perfectly. Well done, boys.”
“No problem,” Fabian said.
“Listen, Molly, we've been thinking,” Gideon began, his eyebrows knitted slightly in a concerned frown.
“Yeah, are you sure this is a good idea?” Fabian asked. “Not everyone likes knitted junk as much as you do.”
Molly frowned at him. “You said you liked what I made for you for Christmas.”
“Of course I said that, Mum was listening. You haven't seen me wear it, have you?”
“Arthur wears the scarf I knitted him all the time,” she said triumphantly. “He loves it.”
“He loves it because you made it,” Gideon pointed out. “He'd love it if it were bright pink and said blood traitor on it, just because you made it. I don't know if you've noticed, but he's a bit of an idiot over you.”
“I can't imagine why,” Fabian added.
Molly scowled at them. “Don't call him an idiot. And how dare you, he's not a blood traitor and I would never say that.”
“I'm not saying he is, I'm just making the point-” Gideon began with an infuriating smile.
“Oh, shut up, both of you,” Molly interrupted him crossly, clutching the folded jumper to her chest. “I'm going to go hide this, and don't either of you breathe a word to Arthur about it, or I swear you'll live to regret it.”
“All right, all right. Bye then.” Gideon gave his brother's arm a tug and they both took off toward the portrait hole. Molly dashed up the stairs to her dormitory, where she spread the jumper out on her bed to check its size.
She examined it for a moment, checking the gauge of the stitches and brushing bits of lint and cat hair off it, wondering for a moment which one of the Gryffindor boys had a cat. After a moment, she looked around at the empty dormitory, and picked up the jumper, hugging it to herself and inhaling deeply. Under the faint scent of the laundry soap the house-elves used was Arthur's own warm and slightly spicy smell. She smiled and stroked one hand down the jumper, feeling the soft wool.
No one interrupted her moment of mawkishness, fortunately, and she folded the jumper neatly and hid it in her trunk until she needed to compare size again when she'd gotten a bit further in her knitting.
She thought she might just try it on at bedtime, too. Just for a moment.
Friday morning, a few days before Arthur's birthday, Molly was down at the greenhouses, wrapped in her cloak and wearing a purple knitted cap, waiting for Hattie to come out of Herbology. She really ought to be up in the library studying, but she hadn't been able to get a moment without Arthur around to search for a proper spot on the grounds. She thought the snow would look very lovely and romantic and was planning a birthday picnic just for the two of them. Hattie had promised to help her with this.
She waved to Reid as he darted out of the greenhouse, his face grey with exhaustion as he hurried to his next class. She had no idea how he was managing to keep up with everything.
She turned and smiled at Thaddeus Peabody, who had just come out of the greenhouse with Cressida Titherington.
“Hi Thad. Hi Cressida.”
Cressida smiled and waved at her. Thad was holding her hand, and carrying her bookbag for her, and she looked a little pink in the cold February air after the warmth of the greenhouses. Molly could smell fertilizer on them and tried not to wrinkle her nose as they passed.
Hattie came out of the greenhouse on the heels of Hufflepuff Mary Nevard, who smiled at Molly as she passed.
“Are you ready?” Hattie asked, adjusting the knitted pink hat Molly had given her for Christmas over her brown curls.
“Yes, let's go.”
They set off arm in arm into the grounds, cheerfully discussing Molly's plans for Arthur's birthday picnic. She'd already made arrangements with the house-elves in the kitchen, thanks to Siobhan's help, to have a picnic dinner ready for his birthday on Monday. They hadn't gone far when Molly felt a large hand clap on her shoulder.
Hattie let out a tiny squeak, and Molly whirled around, her heart thumping wildly, to see the gamekeeper, Rubeus Hagrid, dressed in a horribly ugly moleskin coat dusted with snow and grinning at them from behind a wild and woolly handlebar moustache. His thick sideburns had nearly reached the moustache, and Molly thought it wouldn't be long before the beard took over his entire face.
She had encountered him a few times over the years, out on the grounds of the school, and thought he was nice enough, if a little frightening in stature. Most of Molly's classmates were afraid of him and tended to ignore him. Out of all her friends, only Siobhan shared Molly's opinion of Hagrid, probably because she was the only one who took Care of Magical Creatures, and Hagrid liked to hang around the classes to help with the animals and was unlikely to mind Siobhan's swearing, so she got on well with him. Molly probably would not have met Hagrid as many times as she had if it weren't for the fact that Thaddeus Peabody also took Care of Magical Creatures, so she'd been down around the grounds quite often last year to meet Siobhan as the class let out.
“Hello, Hagrid,” Molly said, her heartrate slowly decelerating. “You startled me, I didn't hear you there.”
He chuckled. “Dunno how you could miss me. Lookin' fer a new picnic spot, girls?”
“Sort of. This is for a... private picnic.”
Hagrid nodded sagely. “Try over on the south side o' the lake.” He waved one of his huge hands as he walked away.
“He frightens the life out of me sometimes,” Hattie whispered as they headed for the lake. “I heard he was expelled from Hogwarts. My auntie Esme told me he did something horrible, something Dark, but she won't say what exactly it was.”
“He always seems so nice, I can't believe he'd be involved with any Dark magic,” Molly whispered back, glancing over her shoulder to see the groundskeeper heading into the Forbidden Forest. “He's just so big, people get scared and don't give him a chance. He must've drank an entire bottle of Skele-Gro as a child or something.”
“Wrong end of an Engorgement Charm, maybe. Poor thing.”
They found a likely spot on the south side of the lake, hidden under a small copse of trees where the snow was thin on the ground and the icy lake lapped nearby. The two girls stood discussing plans for a few more moments. Hattie agreed to help with the set-up, and to guard the picnic site while Molly went to the castle to fetch Arthur.
“D'you think this is going to work out?” Molly asked nervously as they headed back to the castle. “What if it snows?”
“Don't worry about snow, it's going to be brilliant,” Hattie said with a grin. “This is a much better plan than the love potion debacle.”
“Thanks, dear,” Molly said dryly.
The sixth of February dawned cloudy and cold, not the bright and clear she'd been hoping for, but snow did not seem imminent. Still, she had to just make the best of it, because her opportunity to do the picnic over the weekend had now passed, so she set out with Hattie after Transfiguration to set up for the evening.
She met Arthur back in the common room afterwards, and when she came through the portrait hole he was vigorously shaking the hand of her little brother Fabian, a wide grin on his face. Molly quickened her pace, but Fabian had escaped by the time she reached Arthur, who turned to her as she approached. He looked very happy.
“Look what your brothers gave me!” he said, pulling a pair of small metal cubes from his pocket and showing them eagerly to her. They had strange knobbly protrusions on one end, and were shaped slightly differently from each other. There were painted logos on the sides of them, though they looked a little worn. Molly had no idea what they were, but the fact that her brothers had chosen them for him was rather frightening.
“What,” she began ominously, imagining the worst, “are those?”
“They're batteries!” Arthur said ecstatically. “They're a Muggle power source, they use it to generate eckeltricity for certain things. I've read about them in Muggle Studies. I think this one might have belonged to a motorcycle!” He held up the larger one proudly and then pulled another strangely shaped object from his pocket. “And look at this, this is a plug! Isn't it wonderful?”
Molly looked across the common room and saw her brothers looking quite pleased with themselves that their gift had gone over so well with Arthur. Where they'd found Muggle nonsense was beyond her, but Arthur was so happy with it... She turned back to Arthur and smiled at him fondly.
“I'm sure it is,” she said. “Shall we take a walk before dinner?”
Arthur followed her out the portrait hole, and she led him leisurely through the corridors until they were walking out into the grounds. Arthur wrapped an arm around her so she was inside his cloak, and she put her arm around his waist as they walked.
Soon they had reached the lake, and Molly gently guided him to the spot she'd set up for the surprise picnic. She caught a glimpse of Hattie slipping away back to the castle, but Arthur didn't seem to notice her. When he saw the little fire flickering through the trees, he stopped in his tracks.
“Come on,” she said, stepping ahead of him and giving his hand a tug.
He followed her into the little clearing, and he stopped short again when they came to the picnic blanket. She waited for him to say something, but he was staring at the picnic blanket, the hamper of food, and the small fire. The box with the jumper in it was sitting on the blanket next to the food, and it was wrapped in the bright red and gold of Gryffindor. It wasn't as good as if Hattie had wrapped it, but Molly was quite pleased with how it turned out. And the jumper, also in red and gold, had turned out beautifully, if she did say so herself.
Molly began to feel a little anxious as his silence seemed to stretch on endlessly, though she was sure it had probably only been a few seconds. She glanced up at the cloudy sky and said nervously, “I'm sorry it's not bright and sunny today like it was yesterday. I'm sure it would have been better to do it over the weekend, but I wanted it to be on your actual birthday.”
He was still standing there silently, taking in the rather elaborate set-up. Hattie's handiwork on the candles was creating a truly beautiful effect: the thick white candles floated daintily in mid-air a few feet above the ground, and the picnic blanket looked invitingly soft and warm in the candlelight. Molly thought it all looked quite lovely and romantic, but his silence was making her nervous. Maybe boys didn't think this sort of thing was romantic. Maybe it was all a little too much.
“Is it all right? I'm sorry it's not a party like you threw for me, I wanted to do something different for you.”
He turned to her finally, and she still didn't understand the look on his face, but he said in a strange voice, “You did all this for me?”
“Well, yes.” She realized she was chewing her lip nervously and made herself stop. “Do you like it?”
“It's wonderful,” he said, sounding awed. “I can't believe you did all this just for me.”
She could feel her face heating up. “Shall we sit, then? I don't know how long the warming charm will last on the food.”
“Just a moment.” He took a step closer and wrapped his arms around her. By the time he was done kissing her, she had almost forgotten where they were, and felt a little startled to see the slowly darkening sky.
“Happy birthday, Arthur,” she said softly.
“I hate to sound greedy, but I'm dying to know what's in the box,” he said, still holding her close. “Mind if I dive into the gift before the food?”
She laughed. “Of course.”
He settled down cross-legged on the blanket, his cloak pooling around him, and Molly sat facing him, her back to the fire, which felt deliciously warm in the cold evening air. She watched with a little chagrin as he tore into the wrapping she'd spent close to half an hour perfecting, and pulled out the jumper.
He stared at it with eyes wide, then looked up at her. “Did you make this?”
“Yes. Do you like it?” she asked hopefully.
“Of course.” He ran one hand over the soft red wool. “I don't know how you found time. Thank you.”
She leaned forward to meet his kiss, thinking how sweet he was.
They spent an hour eating and talking and occasionally casting a spell at the fire to keep it burning. Half of the candles had guttered out, but they hardly noticed. Arthur stretched out on the blanket after the food was gone, his head in Molly's lap, and she stroked his hair as they talked. It wasn't until the sound of an animal howling in the Forbidden Forest broke through their warm little bubble that Molly realized how dark it had gotten.
“We'd better go in,” she said reluctantly, running her fingers through his hair one last time.
“I suppose so.” Arthur hauled himself to his feet and held out a hand to help Molly up. As she rose, he pulled her closer to she was standing inside his cloak again. “Thank you for a wonderful birthday dinner, Molly,” he said softly, giving her a little kiss.
“You're welcome. Happy birthday.” She glanced over her shoulder as he stooped to pick up the blanket and hamper. “Did that sound like a werewolf, do you think?”
“There aren't any werewolves in the Forbidden Forest,” he said, though he didn't sound as certain as she would have liked. “It's just a rumour.”
“All the same...” Molly drew her wand and extinguished the fire.
“Yes, let's go.” Arthur glanced at the forest over his shoulder as they started toward the castle.
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