Chapter 1 : Dark Clouds
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born 8 August 1950
died 21 July 1968
They stood around the grave in silence. Most of the mourners had gone; there was only now the small knot of teenagers standing there. The funeral had been small, attended mostly by Cecilia's friends from school, and by friends of Cecilia's parents, whose bodies rested beside their only child. A few relatives had turned up: one of Cecilia's mother's aunts, and her father's reprehensible relation, Mundungus. There was no official word on who had killed the little family, but the whispers had rippled through wizarding society: Death Eaters, and the wizard whose name was beginning to be too feared to speak aloud...
Molly Prewett was sniffling into her handkerchief, her eyes red from the long days of crying after Cecilia's death. She stood next to her boyfriend, Arthur Weasley, whose long face was sombre, his arm wrapped comfortingly around Molly's shoulders. Hattie Habbershaw, Molly's best friend, stood on her other side, in a black hat and black robes, a pink handkerchief pressed to her nose, her eyes watery. Petula Cordingley stood opposite them on the other side of the fresh grave with her fiancé, Thomas Ockham. Thomas had not known Cecilia very well, but he had come to her funeral to support Petula, who was not holding up well, and stood swaying slightly as she cried. Dunstan Birtwhistle stood solemnly next to Petula, staring down at his hands, clasped together in front of him.
Reid Akins stood next to them, his face raw and lined as he stared at the grave where his girlfriend now rested, his eyes rimmed with red and his dark hair unwashed and unkempt. Molly didn't think he'd showered in days, not since Arthur had gone to him to tell him the news. Siobhan Fitzgibbon, who had been Cecilia's closest friend, stood alone at the foot of the grave, her rusty brown curls wild in the evening mist, her face expressionless. Her gaze was locked on the elegant carving that marked Cecilia's name on her headstone.
“I can't believe she's really gone,” Hattie said softly. “She was just at the pub with us last week, and now... It just... It doesn't feel real.”
Petula let out a little sob, and Thomas pulled her into his arms. Dunstan winced and patted her back a bit.
Molly looked at Cecilia's headstone, feeling as if the world had fallen apart in a few short days. She had felt so safe and happy last week, despite the growing unease in the wizarding community, and it was as if a bomb had blasted everything she knew to pieces. Cecilia had been so full of life; all her capacious energy now channelled into her new job at the Ministry, working for the Council of Magical Law with her father, and into her somewhat tempestuous relationship with Reid, whom she had started seeing at the end of sixth year. She had been boisterous and lively, laughing and flirting and happier than Molly had ever seen her. And now...
Siobhan had found them. She'd come over to get her best friend for a night out with the girls, and discovered Cecilia and her parents dead on the floor of their dining room, their dinner untouched and cold on the table. The house was a wreck, broken furniture and smashed glass everywhere. Mr. Fletcher would not have gone without a fight, a trait he'd passed on to his only child. The whispers said they had come for Cecilia's father, and killed his entire family.
Molly had come to drag Siobhan out of the house while Ministry officials examined the bodies. She'd been filled with a sick dread at the sight of the yawning green skull, its tongue a serpent, floating in the air above the house, and she'd stood frozen in the street outside the front steps for a while, too terrified to go in, tears pouring down her face and heart hammering in her chest with fear and horror. Siobhan had refused to leave, and Molly had been forced to get Arthur there to help. He'd carried Siobhan out of the house while she tried to punch him, screaming that she couldn't leave Cecilia, and all the while Molly had cried and apologized to her friend. It had been the worst night of Molly's life. She had tried not to see Cecilia's body, but a flash of familiar face, pale and still beautiful in death under her glossy dark hair, had seared itself into Molly's mind, and she now saw it every time she closed her eyes.
“They shouldn't have put her middle name on the headstone,” Siobhan said suddenly. “She hated it. She always hated it.”
“It's standard, I think,” Arthur said quietly. “Everyone in our family plot has their full name on their headstone.”
“She hated it,” Siobhan repeated, then lapsed into silence again.
“She did hate it,” Reid agreed in a thick voice, speaking for the first time since they'd arrived at the cemetery. He stared for a moment longer, then turned abruptly and stalked away.
Molly called after him, but he didn't turn around. Arthur gave her hand a squeeze, kissing her temple.
“I'd better go after Reid. I'm sure you girls want your privacy anyway.”
“Thank you, Arthur,” she murmured, looking up at him briefly as he walked away, slowly relinquishing her hand. Across from her, Thomas was whispering in Petula's ear. She nodded, not looking at him, and he followed Arthur, chasing after Reid. Dunstan followed them without a word.
The girls stood in silence around the grave, each lost to their own thoughts, for several minutes. Siobhan was the first to speak.
“It just... it isn't fair, you know?” She stared down at the headstone, shifting her weight back and forth as if she couldn't bear to be still.
Molly sniffed, but didn't say anything. Hattie's hand grasped her arm tightly, her eyes filled with tears. Petula stood alone now across the fresh grave from them, her arms wrapped around herself protectively, her face wet and eyes red.
“It isn't fair,” Siobhan said again. “And I know, life isn't fair. I know that. But it should have been fair for Cecilia.” She was still staring at Cecilia's name on the headstone as she spoke.
Petula gave another little sob, and Hattie's hand shook a little on Molly's arm. Molly watched her friend, feeling heartbroken and a little ill. It seemed so impossible that Cecilia was gone, that a single night could leave so much devastation in its wake.
“It should have been fair for Cecilia,” Hattie agreed, her voice unsteady.
“She should have had more time,” Siobhan said harshly. “She should have had a chance to be really happy. She should have... married that jackass, and had some babies, and gained some promotions at her job. She should have had time.” Suddenly Siobhan's face crumpled and she gave the dirt on Cecilia's grave a vicious kick, shouting, “She should have been happy!”
Hattie put her hands to her mouth, looking stricken, and Molly reached out to Siobhan, pulling her toward them at the same time that Petula stepped forward. They wrapped around Siobhan, the three of them, and held her as she cried desperately, and the outpouring of grief seemed to encompass all the feelings Siobhan had buried for years.
Molly flopped down on her bed, feeling drained. Arthur had accompanied her home to her parents' house and had kissed her good-bye at the door before going back to the Leaky Cauldron. Their parents were all on edge lately, after news of the Fletcher family's death had gotten around. Mr. Fletcher had been a highly-placed Ministry official, his family the first purebloods to be murdered by You-Know-Who's followers. Molly's mother hadn't wanted her out of her sight, had only let her go to the funeral because Arthur and Hattie would be there, and she seemed to seriously consider, for the first time, not sending Molly's little brothers back to school in September.
Molly stared at her ceiling, thinking about Cecilia, and poor Reid, who was drinking himself into a stupor with Arthur keeping watch by his side. He did not seem to know how to cope with Cecilia's death, and was trying to drown his sorrows in firewhisky. Arthur and Dunstan had sat with him for a while, their faces filled with pity as they watched soberly in the Leaky Cauldron, but Reid's continued silence and determined drinking had not shown signs of abating in the near future, so Arthur had brought Molly home and then returned to finish his vigil over Reid.
Siobhan had disappeared after breaking down at the graveside; Molly did not know where her friend had gone and could only hope she was safe. The tiny room that Siobhan occupied, rented from a little old witch who was Hattie's great-aunt on her mother's side, had been empty when Molly and Arthur stopped to check on her. Hattie's aunt had assured them she would Floo a message as soon as Siobhan surfaced, and they had left it at that, not knowing where to look for her. A cold knot of dread had lodged in Molly's stomach; Siobhan was Muggleborn, and wandering about alone these days when one didn't have a wizard family was very dangerous.
A knock at the door broke her from her reverie, and Molly's mother entered with Hattie behind her.
“Are you all right, dear?” Antonia Prewett asked in a quiet voice, searching her daughter's face.
“As well as I can be. Hello, Hattie.”
Antonia closed the door softly behind her after Hattie had sat down on the edge of Molly's bed.
Hattie stripped off her hat and gloves. She was always dressed to the nines, a proper lady, with clever little hats and beautiful travelling cloaks, but her face was sombre and drawn as she looked at her friend. She used the pink handkerchief still in her hand from the funeral to wipe her eyes.
“I went home, but it was so empty,” she said. “I couldn't bear to be alone after this morning.” Hattie lived in a tiny flat above the ice cream shop in Diagon Alley, working in Flourish and Blott's by day and spending her evenings with her friends and lunching with her new stepbrother. The good life, Hattie called it.
“You can stay here tonight,” Molly offered. “My mum won't mind. She doesn't think your flat is safe anyway.”
“Nowhere is, these days,” Hattie sighed. She kicked off her shoes and curled up at the foot of Molly's bed, tucking her feet underneath her. “How are you getting through this?”
“I keep seeing her face,” Molly said in a low voice. “That night... I tried not to look, but I couldn't help it... And now I see her when I close my eyes...”
Hattie shuddered. “I can't imagine how Siobhan must be feeling. To find them like that... It must have been awful.”
“Did she come home yet?”
“If she has, Aunt Adelaide hasn't seen her.”
“I hope she's all right,” Molly said fervently.
“I hope we all are,” said Hattie sadly.