“Your N.E.W.T. results came yesterday,” Antonia Prewett remarked.
“Did you open them?” Molly asked, smiling. She already knew the answer. Her mother's nosiness knew no bounds, and exam results like those would be impossible to resist.
“Four Exceeds Expectations and one Outstanding,” her mother said promptly. “In Defence Against the Dark Arts. The parchment is on your father's desk.”
“Well done, Molly,” Arthur said, leaning over to kiss her temple.
She murmured her thanks, blushing a little at him for kissing her in front of her mother. She supposed he felt very bold now that they were married and everyone knew. Well, nearly everyone. They hadn't told their friends. Molly pictured Hattie's transports of delight and smiled at the thought. Hattie was quite the romantic.
“Did yours arrive yesterday as well, Arthur?” Antonia asked, turning her attention to her new son-in-law.
“I assume they did. I forgot to ask about them when we stopped by my parents' house this morning,” he admitted. “It completely slipped my mind that we ought to be expecting them.”
Molly let out a low chuckle at that, but kept her comments to herself, since her mother was sitting next to her, and it seemed unlikely she would find them at all droll.
Before Antonia could remark further on this subject, a loud bang sounded from upstairs, followed by the muffled sounds of someone dashing about and Gideon shrieking his brother's name.
Antonia heaved a sigh and rose from her chair. “I'm sure something is on fire right about now. Do excuse me while I kill your brothers.”
They watched her go in silence and listened as her footsteps thudded up the stairs. There was a brief pause, and then Molly could hear her mother shouting.
“Well,” said Arthur, staring up at the ceiling, “it was much quieter when we told my parents, surprisingly enough.”
“Yes, but we haven't heard from the rest of your family yet,” Molly pointed out.
“Oh, don't worry about that,” he said. “My mum will throw a little party.”
Molly rolled her eyes. Mrs. Weasley's idea of a small party normally included a guest list of over a hundred people. Arthur had seven uncles, and every time she visited the Weasleys there seemed to be a couple of new cousins Molly hadn't met before, and they all loved to tease her. She couldn't imagine what they'd do for a wedding party.
“I wonder how loud it will be when we tell all our friends,” she said.
“Yes, speaking of that, we ought to do so immediately. Your mum said she Flooed all your friends when she was looking for you. They're probably worried.”
Molly let out a little groan. “Oh dear. We better had. I'll have Hattie arrange a get-together for tonight, and we can tell the lot of them.”
Arthur sat on one of the pink toile chairs in the drawing room (the pink, which had begun in her parents' room, was now spreading throughout the rest of the house, as if her mother were testing how far her father would allow it to get before admitting that he was, in fact, not colour-blind) while Molly went to the fireplace and grabbed a handful of Floo powder. Once the flames were burning brightly green, she stuck her head in and announced the name of the bookstore Hattie worked at. Hattie was immediately visible when the flames stopped spinning.
“Molly!” Hattie dropped the small stack of books she'd been holding and bent down to the fireplace. “Where were you yesterday? I was so worried when your mum said she couldn't find you, I thought I might faint. I've been thinking about you all day, but I didn't know what to do.”
Molly's insides squirmed a bit at the reminder of the worry their absence had caused. “Everything's fine, Hattie. Can you get everyone to the Leaky Cauldron tonight? We'll all have a few drinks.”
“All right, but you'd better tell me tonight what's going on.” Hattie glanced over her shoulder. “I have to get back to work. I'll see you tonight. I'm glad you're all right, Molly.”
Molly sat back on her heels, pulling her head from the flames, which died down almost instantly. A bit of soot clung to her sleeves, and she brushed it off as she looked over at Arthur.
“Lunch?” he said hopefully. “We haven't had a bite to eat since we left the inn this morning.”
She had forgotten entirely, but she might have know that he wouldn't forget about his food. Arthur did like to eat, and since she quite liked feeding him, she led the way to the kitchen to prepare a late lunch for the two of them.
They made their way with the small basket of food out to the orchard on the Prewetts' land, and Molly conjured up a blanket under an apple tree. Arthur sat down next to her and held up his hand, and she laced her fingers with his. They watched the bees flying around the wildflowers in the orchard in silence for a few moments, then Molly spoke.
“Where will we live?”
Arthur started as if she'd broken him out of a reverie. “What?”
“We didn't talk about any of this,” she mused as she began unpacking the food. “We both live at home still, where will we live?”
“I suppose we'd better start looking for a flat,” Arthur said thoughtfully. “We can stay at my parents' house for a while, they won't mind.”
“We'd better ask to be sure,” Molly said, though privately she was sure Mrs. Weasley would happily let them stay for years. “I'm sure we could stay with Hattie, too.”
Arthur bit into a sandwich and gestured a bit, smiling. She took this to indicate his approval of Hattie's generosity, and leaned over to kiss his cheek.
“I think we'd better stay with your parents, on the whole. Hattie's place is quite small.”
He nodded, his mouth finally clear of food. “We won't have much privacy there, though. Hattie would leave us alone more often than my mother would.”
Molly pursed her lips, and Arthur went on, “We'll just have to find a place of our own quickly, that's all. We'll go to my parents' house after lunch, I'm sure Mum's already got Constantine and Glynis over to tell them the news.”
After lunch, Molly went upstairs to pack a small valise, and Arthur chatted with the twins, who seemed to be taking their sister's sudden marriage in stride. Molly wondered if anything would affect the monstrous self-assurance of her brothers. Certainly not their mother's ranting: Antonia Prewett was slamming kitchen cupboards and muttering to herself about the state of her younger children's education and manners when Molly came back downstairs.
“Told Mum about your Hogwarts letters?” she asked.
Fabian rolled his eyes. “Is it obvious?”
“She'll be all right,” Gideon said, then winced at a particularly loud slam.
“I think she cracked the wood on that one,” Fabian said judiciously. “Time to flee the scene, I think.”
The twins dashed up to their room, and Molly poked her head into the kitchen to tell her mother good-bye. She was examining a crack in the wood panelling of the cupboard door. It wasn't the first time she'd cracked one in a fit of temper.
“Bye Mum, we're off to Arthur's house.”
Antonia turned. Her face was still rather flushed. “Are you staying there tonight?”
“Yes. I'll be back for the rest of my things later,” Molly said, stepping fully into the kitchen. It occurred to her that though she was now a married woman, she still owed her parents an explanation of her plans. “We'll probably stay with Arthur's parents until we get a place of our own.”
“I rather thought you would,” Antonia said, but she sighed and held out her arms. Molly went over and hugged her mother, who said in a voice muffled by Molly's curls, “I'll miss you, my dear little girl.”
“I'll miss you too, Mum.” She could feel her throat tightening. She hadn't thought it would be this hard to leave. “I'll be back. I'll come visit you every day.”
“You won't,” Antonia said, releasing her. She was smiling, though her eyes were rather damp. “You'll be busy with being a wife and setting up your own home. But you'd better come every other day.”
Molly smiled, and threw her arms around her mother again. “I do love you, Mum.”
“I know, my darling. Go now. I'll see you tomorrow, shall I?” Antonia shooed her out the door, and waved to Arthur out the kitchen door. “Come tomorrow for dinner, all right?”
He waved back. “Yes, Mrs. Prewett.”
Molly nodded. Her mother went back into the kitchen. Molly heard her muttering a repairing charm.
When they arrived at the Weasleys', Constantine and Glynis were in the living room with Arthur's father. Their young son, Basil, was on his grandfather's lap, tugging at his glasses.
Glynis rushed over to hug Molly, and Molly smiled happily as she held her sister-in-law close. She liked Glynis very much, and was quite pleased at the thought they were now related.
“Congratulations, Molly,” Glynis said, patting her on the back.
Constantine shook his younger brother's hand. “Well, we expected this to happen, but not so suddenly. Well done, Arthur.”
“Thanks,” he said, his ears turning red.
Mrs. Weasley bustled in with Bilius trailing behind her.
“Oh good, you're back,” she exclaimed when she saw them. “How did it go with your parents, Molly?”
Bilius slouched over to the couch and sat next to his father. Basil climbed onto his lap, and Bilius began making faces at him.
“It went...” She tried to think of a word to describe it, and settled for “...well. Mostly.”
“Mostly?” Mrs. Weasley echoed.
“There was some shouting,” Molly admitted.
“We ought to have your parents over for dinner. Perhaps tonight?”
“We've already got plans tonight, Mum,” Arthur said firmly. “Dinner with our friends, you know. We haven't told them the news yet.”
“Oh of course. Tomorrow, then.” Mrs. Weasley didn't wait for agreement before going on, “Arthur, you didn't even look at your N.E.W.T. results this morning. Don't you want to open them?”
“Failed all of it, did you?” Bilius said slyly. Arthur ignored him, but Mr. Weasley slapped him lightly on the back of the head.
Arthur gave his mother a placating smile. “I'll look at them in just a-”
Mrs. Weasley pulled a folded piece of parchment from her apron pocket.
“Oh,” Arthur finished, reaching for the paper. “I'll just look at them now, then.”
Molly leaned over his shoulder as he unfolded the exam results. He'd gotten Exceeds Expectations all around. She smiled proudly at him.
“Five E's,” he announced.
“Not bad,” Constantine said. “No 'Outstanding's, eh? I got six O's,” he added, directing this comment at Molly.
“Shut up, Constantine,” Arthur said easily. “It's better than Bilius did.”
“That wasn't my fault,” Bilius said, though there was no heat to his argument. It seemed they'd been over this topic before. “The exams weren't fair. The professors didn't like me. I was sick at the time.”
Arthur and Constantine rolled their eyes in unison. Molly and Glynis exchanged a look, and Molly had to hide her chuckles behind her hand.
Mrs. Weasley's lips were pressed tightly together as she regarded her middle son, but Mr. Weasley murmured congratulations to Arthur, who quickly changed the subject.
“We'll need a place to stay while we look for a place of our own,” he said with a hopeful glance at his father.
This drew Mrs. Weasley's attention immediately. “You'll stay here, of course,” she exclaimed, looking startled that they had even questioned it.
“Not for long,” Mr. Weasley said, to Molly's surprise.
Arthur looked rather nonplussed as well. “Dad?”
“I've had a word with your uncle Gaius today,” Mr. Weasley said. “As you know, his rheumatism has been getting quite painful lately, and so he's decided he can't manage living alone any longer. His wandwork isn't what it used to be, thanks to the rheumatism.”
“Poor Uncle Gaius,” Arthur murmured. “Where will he go?”
“He's moving in with your uncle Pompey-”
“That should be interesting,” Bilius said.
Mr. Weasley continued as if he hadn't heard his middle son's remark. “-and when I told him that you'd eloped with your Miss Prewett, he offered up his house to the both of you.”
Molly was stunned, and had to make an effort to close her mouth. She could not believe the Weasley family sometimes. They were so generous, even though they weren't by any means wealthy, and after she'd just run off with one of their own. Now they were offering them a house. She couldn't quite take it in.
Arthur's eyes were wide with excitement. “Really?”
“It's over in Ottery St. Catchpole,” Mr. Weasley said to Molly. “I know that's not terribly close to your parents, but you'd be fairly close to us, and of course you can come to visit here any time you like. Cedrella would love to have you for lunch, I'm sure.”
Mrs. Weasley was clasping her hands ecstatically at her breast. “We can invite Glynis as well! Oh, it'll be such fun, I have daughters now...”
Mr. Weasley ignored his wife, and gazed expectantly at his son over the rims of his glasses. “Well? What do you think?”
“A house?” Molly managed weakly.
“It's small,” Arthur said, turning to her. “And we'll have to clean it out.”
“It'll take quite a lot of cleaning,” Constantine remarked. “Uncle Gaius's wife passed away five years ago and it's been a mess since then.”
“He was always a right slob,” said Mr. Weasley tolerantly. “Well, what do you say? Shall we go take a look?”
“Of course,” Molly said, still feeling a bit overwhelmed.
There wasn't much to the house. It had begun, it seemed, as a small stone building, and a second floor had been added on later to accommodate Gaius's brood, for he'd had four sons, all now grown men. Molly examined the interior of the house, which was in a shocking state of disorganization. The kitchen was spacious enough for her, though. She'd been quite cheered when she saw the large oven. Arthur trailed along behind her as she walked from room to room, talking about his cousins and pointing out features of the house. She didn't say anything, just began a mental list of all that would have to be done to make the little house inhabitable again.
Eventually they made their way back outside. Mr. Weasley was sitting on a bench in the garden, puffing on his pipe. The purple smoke curled lazily out of the pipe without forming any of the usual dragons, triple-masted schooners, or centaurs. It did smell oddly of elderberries, though. Arthur went to the broom shed, poking at the lock with his wand, while Molly stood in front of the house, deep in thought.
She chewed on her thumbnail as her eyes catalogued the property. The house was hidden by tall hedges and the hills that enclosed the little valley, giving it a lovely feeling of privacy. A chicken coop stood at the edge of the yard, and an overgrown herb garden was at the back. She could see evidence of gnomes, their little burrows raised in the earth like mole tunnels. There was an orchard on the property, not as large as her parents', but it was obviously still well-kept enough to fruit. She could see plums and quinces on the branches even from where she stood.
Arthur came over to stand next to her, and put an arm around her shoulders. “It's small, but we can add on to it as we need to. And that shed will be handy, plenty of storage. We can make it just like that little cottage in Gretna Green,” he added, pulling her into a hug.
“We really are married,” she said faintly. It was all hitting her quite suddenly: the elopement, the house, the reality of her marriage. Standing there in the overgrown yard, contemplating the run-down little house, the abrupt changes in her life were all suddenly almost too much to absorb.
“We really are,” Arthur murmured.
She could hear the strains of a Celestina Warbeck song faintly on the air, coming from the wireless in the open window. She put her head down on Arthur's chest, and he began to sway gently, dropping a kiss into her hair. Molly let him guide her in the slow dance, and a feeling of contentment stole over her.
She was standing in the yard of her own home, dancing with her husband to her favourite singer. It had all happened so fast, but she was struck by a sudden certitude that they would be happy here, and happy together. She opened her eyes, her cheek still resting on Arthur's chest, and she could almost see the image of their children, little ginger-haired boys running about the yard.
“Tell him we'll take the house,” she said, and felt Arthur's arms squeeze her tightly.
By the time they returned to the Weasleys', it was nearly time to go to the pub to meet their friends. A few more Weasley relatives had turned up, as they often did, and offered their congratulations as Molly and Arthur came inside.
One of Arthur's cousins teased them a bit as they escaped upstairs to Arthur's room, where Molly had left her valise earlier. She washed the grime from Gaius's house off as best she could, made sure Arthur was tidied as well (he didn't seem to see dirt, much like her brothers), and fluffed her hair in the mirror over his dresser.
Arthur sat on his bed and watched this procedure, grinning as Molly searched her handbag for lipstick.
She gave him a look. “What?”
“You're in my room,” he pointed out. “The door is closed. We're all alone. And no one minds.”
She smiled. “Enjoying being married, are you?”
“To you? Of course.” He came over to stand behind her, wrapping her close in his arms. She smiled at his reflection in the mirror, and he added, “You look beautiful, Molly. But we're late. Hurry it up, will you?”
She laughed a bit and finished applying her lipstick quickly, examined her face critically one last time, and then agreed to set off for the Leaky Cauldron.
Mr. Weasley was walking past as they came back downstairs, a chess board in his hands.
“We're going out, Dad,” Arthur announced.
“Have fun. Don't leave without saying good-bye to your granddad,” Mr. Weasley said
over his shoulder as he disappeared into the study.
Molly let Arthur lead the way, holding his hand as they headed for the kitchen. Mrs. Weasley was sitting at the table with Glynis, deep in conversation, but she broke off when she saw them.
“Are you leaving already? You just got back!”
“We're supposed to meet our friends right now, Mum. Where's Granddad?”
Mrs. Weasley's brows contracted. “In the living room. Your grandfather has forgotten his ear trumpet,” she whispered angrily. “And he won't let me charm him to help his hearing. I don't know what to do with him, honestly...” She got to her feet then, and they followed her.
Arthur's very aged grandfather was ensconced in an armchair, his cane clutched in one hand, and gazing irritably at the wireless on the table nearby, where a news program was playing that he probably couldn't hear a word of.
“Does he know I got married?” Arthur asked, not bothering to lower his voice. His grandfather was almost entirely deaf.
“I don't think anyone's told him.” Mrs. Weasley tapped Arthur's grandfather on the shoulder and said loudly, “Arthur is here!”
Arthur's granddad looked up at them both with a scowl. Arthur waved and shouted “Hello!” to him, but Molly wasn't sure the little old man had understood. He didn't answer, only glared at them ill-temperedly.
“Arthur and Molly got married!” Mrs. Weasley shouted into her father-in-law's ear, gesturing to indicate the two of them.
“ARTHUR! MARRIED!” Mrs. Weasley bellowed.
Arthur's granddad was still scowling at her. “Whut?”
“Oh for goodness' sake,” Mrs. Weasley said in exasperation. “Has anyone got a quill and some parchment?”
The elderly Mr. Weasley poked at her with his cane, growling in a raspy voice, “Speak up or leave me in peace, you daft woman.”
“Oh, nevermind,” Mrs. Weasley said, turning away from him.
Arthur grabbed Molly's hand and gave it a tug. “Come on, we're already late for meeting up with everyone.”
“Have fun!” Mrs. Weasley said brightly, giving Molly a quick hug and reaching up to pat Arthur's cheek. “We'll see you tonight. I'll have Bilius switch rooms so you and Arthur can have the bigger room.”
“What?” Bilius spluttered from his seat on the couch. He hadn't troubled to disguise his eavesdropping.
“Mum, you don't have to do that,” Arthur said, eyeing his brother warily.
“You're damn right,” said Bilius. “That's my bloody room.”
“Don't be so silly, you don't need all that space. You haven't got a wife. Or a job.” Mrs. Weasley didn't appear to notice the mutinous expression on Bilius's face.
“Well, bye Mrs. Weasley,” Molly said, the urge to flee the scene giving her a jittery feeling.
“Oh my dear, call me Mum, please. You're a Mrs. Weasley now too!”
Molly smiled and waved at them as Arthur led the way to the door.
“I don't know if I'll ever get used to that,” she said as they stepped out into the cool night air.
“My mother being a complete nutter, you mean?” Arthur grinned as they walked to the front gate.
Molly had to suppress a giggle. “No, I've already got used to that. I mean me being Mrs. Weasley.”
“Well, don't be too impressed with it, there's about five hundred Mrs. Weasleys, you know.”
Molly laughed as Arthur gathered her close and turned over his shoulder.