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.
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.
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?
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?”
“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.
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