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Chapter 32 : Love Makes A Woman
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Diamonds and pearls
Don't you know that I've had enough
But I feel so much better, yes I do
Dressed in love
Molly was pacing back and forth, feeling nervous and fluttery and hoping she didn't splinch herself today. The Apparition test would begin shortly, and the students who were already seventeen were milling about in the courtyard outside the castle, waiting for Professor McGonagall to take them down to Hogsmeade for the test. Molly had been one of the first there. Hattie and Petula were sitting on the low stone wall that enclosed the courtyard, playing cards. Hattie was steadily working her way through a stack of chocolate frogs piled next to her. She was too young to take the test, as she wouldn't be seventeen until summer, but she had come along to support her friends.
Cecilia, who had decided to come along for moral support as well, was stretched out on the wall next to Hattie and Petula, snoring lightly. She'd been up late the night before, coaching Petula on Apparition technique, although this activity had been seriously hindered by the fact that one couldn't actually Apparate inside the school grounds.
“You're wearing a hole in the floor,” Hattie noted calmly as Molly passed her for the fifth time.
Molly stopped abruptly and sat next to her best friend. “I'm nervous.”
“Are you? I couldn't tell,” Hattie said, straight-faced. Molly smiled in spite of the butterflies in her stomach.
Siobhan was walking toward them, looking a little wary.
“Are you ready for your examination, Siobhan?” Hattie asked when she caught sight of her.
“What?” Siobhan looked distracted. “Oh, yes. I'm sure it'll be fine.”
“I'm going to fail,” Petula said dourly.
“No you're not,” Hattie said loyally.
Molly privately thought Petula might have a point, despite the coaching from Cecilia, but she didn't say anything. Petula had only managed to Apparate once during the Ministry course, splinching herself on every other attempt.
Siobhan glanced over at her shoulder at the little knot of Ravenclaws she'd been talking to. “I heard something, and you're not going to like it.”
Molly's stomach knotted in fear, thinking of the Muggle killings in The Daily Prophet over Christmas. “What happened?”
“Well... Apparently Dunstan said that Petula was very boring on their date at Valentine's, and practically the whole school has heard about it.” Siobhan was eyeing Petula warily.
“Oh.” Molly looked over at Petula in surprise. She was a little relieved that it hadn't been anything truly bad, but Petula was going to completely lose her head. It certainly wasn't going to help her concentration for Apparition today.
Petula stared open-mouthed at Siobhan. Finally she closed her mouth and said sharply, “He said that, did he?”
Cecilia's snoring abruptly stopped and she looked over at them, roused by Petula's sudden loud voice. “What's going on?”
Before anyone could answer her, Professor McGonagall's voice rang out crisply over the courtyard. “All students who are of age may now follow me to Hogsmeade for the Apparition examination.”
Molly and Petula stood. Petula looked completely panic-stricken.
“Good luck,” Hattie said bracingly. “Break a wand!”
Cecilia waved to them as she sat up, still looking bleary-eyed. “Remember what we talked about last night, Petula,” she called.
The three girls set off, falling in with the little crowd of students trailing along behind Professor McGonagall. Arthur had been ahead of them, walking with Roddy Feltham and Dunstan, and fell back until he was in step with Molly. Petula threw him a dirty look and sped up to walk next to Gemma Folwell and Mary Nevard of Hufflepuff.
“What did I do?” Arthur asked, looking confused.
“Your friend Dunstan has been talking about Petula all over school,” Siobhan informed him. “Dorothy Sharpe told me that she heard he said he nearly fell asleep on their date because Petula was so boring.”
“What?” Arthur looked very surprised. “He wouldn't say that.” He appeared to think better of this. “Not to the Ravenclaws, anyway. Where did they hear that?”
Siobhan shrugged. “He must've said something to someone, or in front of someone, because it's all over the school.”
Molly sighed. She wanted to concentrate on Apparition and didn't think she could focus on Petula's problems until later. “There's nothing we can do about it now, so let's worry about it after the test is over, all right?”
After the test was finally over, the students gathered in the Three Broomsticks for celebratory butterbeers, or in some cases, to cheer themselves up after their failure. Molly was feeling very relieved that both she and Arthur had passed without difficulty. Siobhan, who had also passed easily, was sitting with them, on her fifth round of butterbeer, singing in Gaelic with heavy vibrato. She did not seem to be paying any attention to anyone or anything but the glass in front of her, so Molly was sitting as close to Arthur as she could, his arm around her and her head resting against his shoulder. He seemed to be enjoying listening to Siobhan.
Petula had spent ten minutes in the bathroom of the Three Broomsticks, crying heavily on Molly's shoulder, before heading back to the castle to sulk in her room and copy Cecilia's homework. Molly felt quite sorry for her friend for failing the examination, but she wanted to celebrate her own victory, so she'd stayed in Hogsmeade. She thought she would bring a bag of sweets back from Honeydukes to cheer Petula up.
They weren't allowed to linger long in Hogsmeade; Professor McGonagall led the students back to the castle. Molly and Hattie stopped in the bathrooms on the way up to Gryffindor tower, and they returned to their common room a bit later to find a crowd had gathered around someone having a blazing row.
“Oh no, it's Petula,” Molly said, wincing slightly.
Petula and Dunstan were facing off in front of the fireplace, both red in the face and shouting, and both seemed completely unaware of their audience. Arthur and Reid were sitting on the couch in front of the fireplace, directly behind Petula and Dunstan. Arthur was hunched down in his seat, obviously trying to pretend nothing was happening. Reid had not bothered with any pretence and was watching them with a wide grin as if they were putting on a show purely for his amusement.
“I only went with you because nobody better asked me!” Petula shouted.
“Oh, so I was just your last resort?” Dunstan retorted angrily. “Maybe I'm the best you can get, did you think of that?”
Petula looked as if she might slap him. “Oh, you think so?”
“I don't know why I ever thought I fancied you,” Dunstan said. “That was the worst date I've ever been on.”
“Should we stop them?” Hattie asked in a low voice, looking worried, as they sat down at a table with Cecilia.
“I don't think so,” Cecilia said. She was watching them in fascination, with her chin propped up on one hand. “Petula loves this sort of thing. It'll give her something to talk about for months. She'll be happy all summer, complaining about this.”
“If you never really fancied me, why did you wait around for two months for me to answer you when you asked me out?” Petula demanded.
“Obviously because I thought you were a much more interesting person than you actually are,” Dunstan said.
This time Petula did slap him, and Dunstan put a hand to his cheek, looking angry and a little surprised.
“Well, that ought to do it,” Cecilia said briskly, and got to her feet. She went over to Petula and Dunstan and stepped between them.
Molly watched as Cecilia took five points from Petula for slapping Dunstan, and five points from Dunstan for being a git. Molly thought this was probably an abuse of her power as a prefect, but it got a round of applause from the assembled Gryffindors, and even Acacia Bushby-Ferris seemed to approve of the way Cecilia had broken up the row, because she smiled at Cecilia as she went back to her homework. Petula flounced off up the stairs to their dormitory in a huff, and Dunstan cast himself into a chair near a window, looking bad-tempered. Cecilia came back over to Molly and Hattie as the crowd broke up, chatting about the row.
“That was entertaining,” Cecilia said, gathering up her books. “I'm off to find Icarus, he should be done with Quidditch practice by now. See you girls later.” She wiggled her fingers at them as she left.
Arthur plopped into the chair next to Molly, looking as if he were glad to get away from the fireplace scene. Reid joined him, chuckling under his breath.
“Glad that's over,” Arthur said in a low voice. “Cecilia couldn't have broken it up a bit sooner? Maybe before she slapped him?”
Molly gave him a kiss on the cheek. “I think she was enjoying it. I'm sure Petula enjoyed it as well.”
He shook his head, and she was sure he thought girls were mad. She smiled at him and ruffled his hair. Hattie smiled at them fondly.
“Where'd Cecilia go?” Reid asked, looking around.
“She went to find Icarus and have a snog,” Hattie told him.
He scowled immediately. “Maybe I should go break that up.”
Molly looked at him in surprise. That seemed contrary to what she'd been thinking of as 'the new Reid'. “I thought you were happy for Cecilia and Icarus.”
“Bugger all that for a lark,” Reid said. “I'm going to chivvy her until she agrees to go out with me.”
“That's so romantic,” Hattie said dryly, propping her chin up on the palm of her hand.
“She secretly loves me, you know,” Reid told her.
Molly came downstairs for breakfast Monday morning to find Dunstan sitting with the Gryffindor seventh-years. Arthur and Reid were glancing over at them a little warily. Petula was over at the Hufflepuff table with Akwetee Owusu. Cosmo Graham seemed to be the only one that morning who found the entire situation vastly amusing. He was watching the two of them alternately and sniggering into his Charms textbook.
“What's all that about?” Molly asked as she took a seat next to Arthur.
“Dunstan's chatting up Claudia Patterson,” Cosmo said, grinning widely. “And Petula's chatting up one of the Owusu twins. I don't think it's the same one Siobhan was snogging, but I can't be sure.”
“Claudia Patterson? Oh dear.” Molly looked over at the Hufflepuffs and then at the Gryffindor seventh-years. She decided this was something she did not want to deal with on an empty stomach and turned her attention to the bare serving dishes and plates on the table. “Did I miss breakfast?”
“No, it hasn't come yet.” Arthur was looking over her shoulder. Siobhan was headed down the table to them.
“You won't believe this,” she said, sitting down next to Molly. “I heard a badger got into the kitchens and caused a panic among the house-elves. Put them completely off their cooking. Isn't that mad? How do you suppose a badger got into the castle?”
Reid and Cosmo were looking at Arthur, grinning so widely Molly wouldn't have been surprised if the tops of their heads fell off. She gave her boyfriend a severe look, and Siobhan turned to Arthur in surprise. Molly had not yet told her friends about the badger incident, except for Hattie. Hattie had thought Molly's row with Arthur in the corridor sounded wonderfully like something out of a Fifi LaFolle novel, and she hadn't been at all surprised at Gideon and Fabian's idea of something funny.
“Guess it wasn't in Cornwall after all,” Reid said, sniggering.
“Arthur?” Siobhan raised an eyebrow at him questioningly.
The food appeared on the table then, and Arthur turned his attention to it in relief. Siobhan had noticed Petula over with the Owusu twins, and watched her for a moment, then turned back to the seventh-years to look at Dunstan.
“They're like a less interesting version of Reid and Cecilia, aren't they?” she remarked.
“Thanks,” Reid said around a piece of toast.
Petula was returning from the Hufflepuff table now, looking smug, and grabbed a piece of toast as she sat.
“Finally. I'm starv-” She broke off and stared down the table at Dunstan. “Is that Claudia Patterson?” she demanded, eyes bulging.
“Yes,” said Siobhan cheerfully.
“With Dunstan Birtwhistle?”
“Yes,” Siobhan said again. She was grinning widely now. “The same Claudia Patterson whom you admire so.”
“I don't admire her,” Petula said, contrary to much of her behaviour for the past five years. “It's just that he's such a prat.”
Molly sighed, feeling a little tired. “It was bad enough with Reid and Cecilia, don't tell me you two are going to start as well.”
“Thanks,” Reid said again.
“I haven't started anything,” Petula said haughtily, though she didn't carry it with quite the aplomb that Cecilia could.
Siobhan laughed and said, “Don't worry, Petula, Claudia isn't going to go out with him. She's had her eye on Dorian Raleigh all year.”
“How do you know?” Petula was trying to look over top of the crowd seated at the Gryffindor table for a better look at Claudia and Dunstan.
“I know these things.” Siobhan brushed some crumbs off her hands and rose, making her way down to Andrew Bishop and his friends.
“She does always know these things,” Hattie said to Petula.
Reid seemed to be enacting his plan to begin chasing Cecilia again that morning in Arithmancy. Small grasshoppers made of folded parchment were leaping onto Cecilia's desk whenever Professor Arccos's back was turned. They stopped moving as soon as they reached her, but Cecilia simply swept them to one side of her desk in a little pile and paid attention to the lesson as if nothing were happening. Molly found it very distracting, however, and wished Cecilia would either read one of the notes, as she was sure there was a message inside each origami grasshopper, or just squash one as it jumped onto her desk, which would surely put a damper on Reid's spirits. Molly threw a dirty look back at Reid, who was busily folding a scrap of parchment and did not see her.
At the end of class, Cecilia pointed her wand at the pile of paper grasshoppers and they were engulfed briefly in a tiny fireball, leaving a puff of black smoke rising from her desk. Cecilia swept past Reid on her way out the door, and he stared at the tiny pile of ash that was all that remained of the grasshoppers, then grinned widely.
Molly shook her head at them as she and Hattie left the classroom. Hattie was giggling.
Molly was out a few nights later, wandering the corridors hand-in-hand with Arthur. They took a shortcut to a corridor that was usually deserted, especially at this time of night, and ducked into a niche behind a suit of armour. Arthur drew her closer to him and she tilted her face up to meet his kiss, but he froze halfway.
“Someone's coming,” he said in a low voice.
“I hope it's not Cecilia,” Molly whispered with a grimace.
Arthur hushed her; footsteps were approaching down the corridor, but it was too late to try to hide somewhere else. They huddled further into the shadows of the niche, standing wrapped in each other's arms with their heads down. Molly could just see over a fold of Arthur's sleeve as a familiar figure passed their niche.
Professor Ampara stalked by, looking hunted. She did not appear to notice them, and was mumbling something to herself as she went past. Her face seemed to have aged a few more years just since the Christmas holiday. She was muttering something under her breath as she walked, her wand drawn and tapping against her leg as her robes swirled around her.
After her footsteps had faded, Molly stepped back from Arthur and looked up at him in surprise. He looked a little startled too.
“I think she's cracking up,” he said.
“That job is bad luck. You couldn't pay me enough to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts.” Molly shook her head. “Poor Professor Ampara. She's been my favourite of our Defence teachers, and I have a bad feeling she won't be here next year.”
“What do you suppose happened to her?” Arthur stuck his head out from the niche to peer down the corridor where Professor Ampara had disappeared.
“I don't know. She's been looking worse and worse since Christmas.” Molly paused for a moment, not sure she should voice this thought aloud. “Do you think it has anything to do with... You-Know-Who?”
Arthur looked back at her with surprise and fear on his face. “Why would he care about our Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher?”
Molly wished she hadn't said anything. She didn't want to talk about Dark wizards, but now she didn't want to snog any more either, after she'd brought up the topic. She couldn't quite articulate her reasoning on Professor Ampara, but she thought it had to do with the job. “I don't know. I just think something is going on with Professor Ampara, something bad.”
He could probably see she was scared too, because he pulled her into his arms and kissed the top of her head. “Molly, Professor Ampara knows what she's doing. It'll be all right. She knows how to defend herself from the Dark Arts. Besides, we've got Dumbledore.”
“Yes, I know.” Molly tightened her arms around him. She had much more comfort from Arthur's presence than she did from the thought of Professor Dumbledore. He was warm and solid and she knew he wouldn't let anything happen to her.
“Let's go back to the common room,” Arthur said, dropping another kiss into her hair. “I don't want to be out in the corridors tonight.”
“All right.” She took his hand as they set off, and was glad to have him by her side.
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