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Chapter 37 : In the Midnight Hour
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I'm gonna wait till the stars come out
And see that twinkle in your eyes
I'm gonna wait till the midnight hour
That when my love begins to shine
As the summer drew nearer, Molly's time with Arthur was restricted by the impending exams. They both had to spend most of their evenings studying, so the nights they spent together began to get later and later to make up for it. One night shortly before exams, they met up after curfew to sneak out into the castle for a midnight stroll. Arthur found a quiet, secluded spot on a sixth-floor corridor where they could look out a window at the stars but no one was likely to find them.
Molly conjured a fluffy purple blanket for them, and she leaned against Arthur while they discussed their classes, Professor Ampara, and Gryffindor's plummeting chances of winning the House Cup. They stayed for a few more hours, curled up together on the blanket, watching the stars and occasionally forgetting to talk altogether.
“It's a shame we can't sit in the courtyard and look up at the stars,” Molly said at one point. “You can't see much out the window.” A small sliver of moonlight fell across them, and though it was romantic, she couldn't help thinking it would be even more romantic if they were out on the grounds somewhere where they could see the entire sky.
“It was fun sitting under the stars in your parents' orchard,” Arthur said, stretching out his legs. Molly scooted closer to him, and he made room for her so she was sitting between his legs with his arms wrapped around her.
She settled back against Arthur's chest, feeling his warmth. “That was lovely, wasn't it? Maybe we can sneak out this summer as well.” She wondered if it was a bad idea to bring wine again.
“At least we won't have to sneak around forever,” Arthur said, resting his chin lightly on the top of her head.
“What do you mean?” She could feel Arthur's body tense up slightly, as if he was about to say something very important.
“Well, if we were married, we wouldn't have to sneak around, we could spend every night together.”
She turned her head a little to look up at him. His arms tightened around her. “Are you serious, Arthur?”
“Yes.” His voice was rough. “If we were married...” His voice trailed off, but she could see his eyes in the shadowed corridor, and they were filled with longing and something more intense.
She reached up to put her hand behind his head, pulling him down for a kiss, but just before his lips met hers, Arthur went completely still.
“Did you hear something?” he breathed. She felt a pang of disappointment as he pulled away.
Molly strained to hear, but there was nothing. “Maybe it was something out in the forest,” she said hesitantly, but there was something different on the night air now, and she felt a thrill of fear run through her. “What time is it?”
“Going on four in the morning, I should think,” Arthur said, glancing out the narrow window. The moon was low on the horizon now, falling into the dark forest; though the sky had not begun to lighten yet, the feeling of impending dawn hung over the night.
“Oh no, we're out far too late-” Molly cut off with a squeak as Arthur put his hand over her mouth. He put one finger to his lips to hush her, and this time she did hear something: footsteps were coming down the corridor toward them.
Molly started to gather up the blanket, but Arthur rose, taking her hand and pulling her to her feet.
“No time,” he whispered.
They took off at a run down the corridor, and Molly could hear Mr. Pringle's voice calling. He'd found the blanket and knew someone was there.
They rounded a corner and dashed through a shortcut, Arthur pulling her along by the hand, and she could feel her heart in her throat, her breath burning in her lungs. As they came around the next corner, Arthur suddenly pulled her sideways behind a tapestry that covered a small niche. She could hear the sound of the caretaker's grumbling about students out of bed and the sound of Peeves the poltergeist cackling.
Arthur leaned forward to peek around the edge of the tapestry, and Molly pressed her back up against the stone wall.
“What are we going to do?” she whispered. “We'll be in so much trouble.”
He looked back over at her and picked up her hands, giving her fingers a squeeze. “Do you trust me?”
“Of course,” she said without hesitation.
“All right. I'm going to go out first, and draw him away, then I want you to run for Gryffindor tower.”
Molly shook her head. “He'll catch you!”
“No, he won't. Don't worry about me, Molly, I'll be fine. I'll meet you back in the common room.”
Molly stared at him. His face was set, and as he gazed steadily at her, she realized that he meant to be caught if that was what it took to keep her out of trouble. “Arthur-”
“Just, please, do as I ask, Molly.”
Pringle's voice sounded in the corridor again, looking for them, and Molly's stomach contracted. “There must be another way.”
“If you've got a better idea, I'm listening.” His lips twitched a bit into a tiny smile, but she wasn't reassured. She didn't have any other ideas though; they were trapped, and one or both of them were going to be punished.
Pringle was getting closer; his voice sounded harsh in the dark silence of the castle. Molly looked at Arthur beseechingly, silently pleading him not to go.
Arthur put a hand to her cheek and kissed her gently. “I love you, Molly,” he said, and then darted out from behind the tapestry.
She stayed crouched, ready to run, and listened as his footsteps pounded down the corridor, and Pringle followed him, shouting angrily, with Peeves laughing madly as he passed Molly's hiding place. As soon as it seemed safe, she ran out.
Gryffindor tower seemed to take forever to reach, and her pounding heart sounded very loud in the empty corridors, but Arthur must have drawn Pringle away from the quickest route to the common room, and she made it there safely, breathing hard and clutching a stitch in her side.
“Puffapod,” she gasped to the Fat Lady, who was blinking at her groggily.
“What sort of time d'you call this?” the portrait asked in surly tones.
“Let me in, please let me in!” Molly said desperately, looking over her shoulder down the corridor.
“It's almost dawn! What do you think you're doing out of your dormitory at this hour, young lady? You should have been in bed ages ago. I've half a mind to call the headmaster. The school has rules for a reason, you know.”
“Puffapod! Puffapod! Please!”
“I ought to make you sleep in the corridor,” the Fat Lady said huffily. “It would serve you right. Disgusting behaviour, unbecoming to a Gryffindor.”
“Let me in right this minute!” Molly shrieked.
“Oh, all right, there's no need to take that tone,” said the Fat Lady, but she finally swung open.
Molly dashed through the portrait hole and collapsed against the wall. The common room was completely deserted, still dark in the pre-dawn light, and she slid down the wall, tears pouring down her face. He wasn't here. She'd half-convinced herself that he'd have gotten away, would be waiting for her when she got to the common room. He must have been caught after all, Mr. Pringle would do something horrible, she was sure of it. And he'd done it so that she wouldn't be caught as well. She loved that he was so chivalrous, but at that moment she wished he'd been a little less chivalrous and a little more clever instead, and thought up a better plan.
She was too keyed up to even think of sleep, even though she'd been up all night; she didn't think she would even blink until she saw Arthur again. Her heart was still pounding, whether from the frantic run or her terror over Arthur's fate, she wasn't sure. Maybe both.
She sat curled up on the sofa in front of the fire, her knees hugged to her chest, waiting for Arthur. The common room grew brighter as the sun rose, and a few students began to straggle downstairs from their dormitories, but still Arthur did not return. Molly had a sick feeling in her stomach: something had gone wrong, he should have been back by now.
Hattie was the first downstairs of her friends, looking fresh and happy, her brown curls bouncing as she hopped down the last few steps. She saw Molly on the sofa and came over to sit next to her, immediately looking concerned.
“Molly, what's wrong?”
“It's Arthur,” Molly said in a rush, and continued somewhat incoherently, “we were out late last night – and Mr. Pringle caught us – he should have been back by now, even if he was caught, and I'm sure he was, he meant to get caught so I could get away-”
Hattie had her hands over her mouth in horror. “Oh no, poor Arthur!”
“I need to go find him,” Molly said, feeling a little frantic. Her heart was still beating far too quickly.
“Find who?” Reid Akins dropped into the chair next to them with a yawn. “Did you lose Arthur? I don't think he ever came back to our dormitory last night.”
“He got caught, by Mr. Pringle,” Hattie told him. “They were out late-”
“Pringle caught him?” Reid asked sharply.
Molly felt her stomach knot up again in fear. “He must have done, or Arthur would have been back by now.”
Reid rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Arthur's tougher than he seems, he'll be all right.”
“Have you ever been caught out by Mr. Pringle, Reid?” Hattie asked, frightened. “What happened? What did he do?”
“He took his walking stick to me once,” he admitted quietly, with an uneasy glance at Molly, as if he did not want to tell her that.
Molly felt the blood draining from her face, horrified. “He can't do that, can he?”
Reid shrugged. “He has before.”
“It's supposed to just be detentions and points,” Hattie said indignantly. “He can't beat students! I thought it was just empty threats!”
Molly thought she was going to faint. “I have to go find him.”
“I'll come with you,” Hattie said immediately.
“I'd come along, only I've got to wait for Cecilia,” said Reid. “She still won't admit that she secretly loves me.”
“You're an idiot, Reid, she hates you,” Molly said, and dragged Hattie with her toward the portrait hole. Reid waved at them with his fingertips as they left.
“I don't even know where to look,” Molly said, feeling a little hysterical, as she and Hattie walked down the stairs from Gryffindor tower.
Hattie put an arm around Molly and gave her a reassuring squeeze. “I hate to suggest it, but let's check the infirmary, shall we?”
Molly let out a tiny moan, but followed Hattie to the infirmary. Madame Luscinia met them at the door.
“Where does it hurt?” she asked briskly, surveying the two of them.
“It's not us,” Molly blurted out. “We're looking for someone. Arthur Weasley.” She peeked over the nurse's shoulder and could see a bed with a privacy curtain surrounding it.
Madame Luscinia nodded. “He's right back here.” She started for the curtained bed, and Molly's heart leapt into her throat again. What had happened to Arthur?
The nurse drew the curtain aside to let them in, and informed them that they had fifteen minutes to visit. Molly barely heard her. Arthur was stretched out in the hospital bed, shirtless. His shoulders were striped with livid red marks.
“Oh my,” Hattie whispered next to her.
Arthur smiled at them, looking a little embarrassed. “Good morning, Hattie.” He turned his gaze to Molly then, quirking an eyebrow. “Molly.”
“What happened?” Molly cried, rushing toward him to look at his shoulders.
“Pringle almost caught me,” Arthur told them. He leaned forward so Molly could see the marks more clearly. “He did catch me, really, with that walking stick of his, but I got away from him.”
Hattie was staring at Arthur's shoulders. “But if he sees you now, won't you be in trouble again? For running away?”
He shrugged. “I dunno. Maybe not, since I wound up here.”
“Why didn't Madame Luscinia just heal you?” Molly asked in a low voice, so the nurse wouldn't overhear.
“She did,” Arthur said ruefully. “Pringle must have put something on that stick, because it still left marks even after she healed the bruises.”
Molly felt her eyes well up with tears at that, and she looked down, staring at Arthur's hand where it rested on the bed. She couldn't stand to think of him being hurt for her.
“Well,” Hattie said, “I suppose I'll leave you two now. Arthur, I hope those scars aren't permanent.” Her eyes flashed, and Molly knew she was still angry at the idea of the caretaker caning any student. Hattie was not a believer in corporal punishment.
Molly waved to her best friend as Hattie ducked out from the curtain and left the infirmary, then turned back to Arthur.
He changed position and winced a little. Molly couldn't help staring at the vivid red remains of the bruises on his shoulders. She thought the marks must be permanent if they were still there after a healing spell.
“Are you sure you're all right?” she whispered.
“I'll live,” he said, giving her a brave smile that she was sure was purely for her benefit. He really did seem to be all right, just a little sore. Her knees felt a little weak with relief. “I'm supposed to stay here the rest of the day to see if the marks will fade. It is a little sore,” he admitted. “But it's not bad. Don't worry, Molly.”
Molly looked around the edge of the privacy curtain to make sure the coast was clear, then climbed into the bed next to Arthur and laid her cheek on his bare shoulder, curling up next to him. He looked surprised for a moment, then wrapped her closely in his arms and dropped a kiss into her hair.
“You are the most chivalrous man I've ever met,” she said fervently. “You saved me from Mr. Pringle.”
“It's a shame I couldn't save you without getting caught myself,” he said wryly.
She turned so that she could fold her hands together across his chest, resting her chin on them and staring into his eyes. His skin felt hot under her hands.
“I'm sorry you were hurt, Arthur.”
“I'm all right,” he said. He seemed to be mesmerized by her gaze.
“I really do love you,” she said on a sigh.
“I love you too.”
They kissed gently for a moment, then Molly put her chin back down on her folded hands. Arthur lifted one hand to stroke her hair, and she turned her face into it, her cheek pressed into his palm.
“Do you know, I would marry you if you asked me,” she whispered.
His arm tightened around her. “Good, because I wasn't joking about that, you know.”
The curtain drew open with a snap and Madame Luscinia appeared, looking very surprised to find two people in the hospital bed instead of one. Molly slid off the bed quickly, and stood next to Arthur, feeling the blush crawl up her face.
The school nurse frowned severely at Molly. “Shouldn't you be in class, young lady?”
“Oh,” Molly said, then as realisation hit her, “Oh! I've got Charms now.”
“Run along then.” Madame Luscinia made shooing motions with her hands. “You're already late. And you, Mr. Weasley, need your rest.”
“Right. All right then.” Molly wanted to say good-bye to Arthur but wasn't sure what to do in front of the nurse. “I'll come by at lunch, Arthur.”
“See you later, Molly.” He added in a silent whisper as Madame Luscinia examined the marks on his shoulders, Save me!
Molly giggled, and as she was leaving the infirmary, she could hear Madame Luscinia's voice rising sternly from behind the curtain.
“This is a place for healing, young man, not for you to invite girls into your bed.”
She didn't hear Arthur's response, but she could imagine him blushing at the comment, and giggled a little as she started down the corridor toward the Charms classroom. She felt very relieved. If he could joke, then he really was all right. She made it to Charms only a few minutes late. She explained to Professor Flitwick that she'd been in the infirmary with Arthur, and avoided any penalty for her tardiness.
After class, she was accosted in the corridor by her friends, who had heard the story from Hattie and wanted to know how Arthur was doing. She told them about the marks Mr. Pringle's cane had left on his back and shoulders, and wasn't surprised to see the outrage on her friends' faces. Hattie's face was very red when Molly told them Arthur would be spending the rest of the day in the infirmary while Madam Luscinia tried to remove the scars.
“Why, that-” and Hattie called Pringle a name that made even Siobhan blink in surprise.
“You of all people can't possibly think he was right to do that?” Hattie demanded hotly.
“I'm not disagreeing with you,” said Siobhan. “I'm just surprised you knew that word.”
“I can't believe he did that to a student!” Cecilia exclaimed.
“Reid said Pringle had beaten him as well,” Petula pointed out.
“Yes, well, Reid probably had it coming,” Cecilia said waspishly, her brows snapping together in a dark line. “There've been times I'd gladly take a cane to him myself. But Arthur's a good boy. Usually.”
“Well, we were out at four in the morning,” Molly admitted uncomfortably.
Cecilia's mouth dropped open. “Molly Prewett!”
“We didn't mean to be out so late, we lost track of time.” Molly gave her friend a slightly sheepish smile.
Cecilia shook her head disapprovingly. “Out snogging at four in the morning. For the love.”
“I can see I'm the one having an influence now,” Siobhan said, grinning widely.
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