Author’s Note: This one-shot was inspired and based on the traditional Irish folk song, Molly Ban. It is believed to have been written be Robert Jamieson in 1799, though there are no less than 88 different versions of the song. It is sometimes known as Molly Bawn, Molly Bond, Molly Vaughan and Polly Vaughan, among other titles. In addition, this story was written for Round 1 of the TGS Writathon challenge. I hope you enjoy!
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of J.K. Rowling’s work and the traditional Irish folk song, Molly Ban.
Come all ye young fellas
That handle a gun
Beware of night rambling
By the setting of the sun
There was nothing particularly extraordinary about the town of Greenwood. Nestled in the Yorkshire Dales, it had neither a green wood nor many trees at all. There were, however, a great number of streams that trickled through the moors, disguised by tufts of heather and rocky crags and wide ditches that farmers’ used to shelter their sheep whenever the wind cut unkindly through the countryside.
It was hard for the locals then, some of which had lived in Greenwood for eight decades, to explain the sudden arrival of a flock of swans one summer night. The birds seemed to come in on the edge of a light rainstorm and set about making themselves at home, nesting on the edges of pastures and paddling through the streams, which, up until recently, the townspeople had thought quite shallow. Even the ornithologist who came down from Glasgow couldn’t explain the phenomena, though he spent weeks studying migratory patterns and cataloging as many of the birds as he could. The flock, he concluded, could not be traced back to any of the nearby tributaries or lakes in the region, nor a pair of local, domesticated swans that had a habit of nesting out on the moors.
Some of the older townspeople suggested that they might be the Children of Lir, although the ornithologist refused to include their theory in any of his articles.
It wasn’t until late August that the townspeople recalled the accident. And in thinking of the accident, the residents who had lived in Greenwood for eight decades, forgot about the Children of Lir and instead, remembered poor Molly.
It was a pair of bird watchers who first saw her. They had been standing in a ditch by the side of road one summer morning, attempting take a picture of two nesting swans. And when the shutter clicked and the swans scattered and the bird watchers looked back at their picture, they could not see the nest, but only a girl.
And the girl, as the people of Greenwood knew, had been dead for a year.
And beware of an accident
That happened of late
To young Molly Bán
And sad was her fate
She first met Jimmy at a music festival. On May Day. In the middle of a field in the middle of Gloucestshire, in the middle, as far as she was concerned, of absolutely nowhere. Her camera, which she had been meaning to replace since her sixth year at Hogwarts, was on the fritz and leaning against a weather beaten stile, she fiddled with the strap until it could hang comfortably over her shoulder. It was then that Jimmy, who had been sitting three feet away ironically adjusting the strap on his guitar, decided to pose for a picture.
“Hey, lass, you didn’t get me!” he called and immediately set about propping up his guitar to look appropriately folksy.
Molly looked up into the watery sunlight and frowned. “Can’t. I don’t have any shots left.”
The man was one of many musicians hired to play at the yearly festival. “But your pictures are going to be in the paper, aren’t they?” he asked.
Molly noticed that he was sunburned and had messy brown hair and smelled funny from sweating all day in an unwashed t-shirt. “I don’t get to choose which pictures go in, the editor does. And besides, you wouldn’t have made it anyway. The Morris Dancers always get picked.”
She pointed to the troupe standing around the May Pole, hoping that the young man would see why the dancers were a better choice than him. The Morris Dancers had colorful rags and beribboned sticks and some manner of playful dignity and these were all things that the young man didn’t possess. And although Molly would have gladly put his picture on the front cover of the newspaper she worked for, she knew her editor wouldn’t.
“I’ve never been in the paper before,” the man told her.
His disappointment was infectious and Molly began to remember all of her regrets; how she should have stuck with freelancing instead of tying herself down to one routine job or how she should have given up her obsession with Muggle photography and taken the position her Aunt Hermione had offered her at the Daily Prophet. But Molly had to pay the rent and she also had to take Muggle photographs, because she hated the impermanent nature of wizard pictures, which could not freeze time and therefore, would never be able to capture the subtle gestures and expressions hidden in still frames.
Still, Molly felt bad for the young man and so she pretended to line up a shot, if only to make him feel better.
“What’s your name?” she asked, her finger hovering over the button as the musician swung his guitar around for the perfect pose.
“Jimmy,” he replied and gave her a toothy grin.
“Don’t smile,” she said, “it makes you look goofy.” And then she clicked the button and to her surprise, the shot went off.
Jimmy was so grateful he insisted on walking her back to her car.
“I owe you one,” he said, throwing his long arms over her open window and offering her the same, toothy grin. “I’m sure you know what it’s like to be a starving artist. Any publicity is good. Can I buy you a drink sometime?”
“I’m sorta busy right now,” she said, hoping he’d take the hint and let her drive off back to her motel. But again, Jimmy looked so disappointed that she wrote down her number on the back of a napkin and handed it to him through the window.
“Molly,” he said, reading the name she had scrawled on the corner.
“Don’t call me after ten,” she said. “I don’t keep late hours.”
Jimmy folded the delicate napkin and stuck it in the pocket of his wrinkled trousers. “I promise I won’t,” he said as she put the car into reverse and pulled out of her parking space.
Three days later, Jimmy called at ten thirty and Molly, for all her rigidity, answered the phone anyway.
She was going to her uncle’s
When a shower came on
She went under a green bush
The shower to shun
They had their first fight exactly five weeks after they moved in together. Molly didn’t feel exactly proud of herself when she looked back over the incident. She’d been bitchy. Jimmy had been irresponsible. And the delivery guy got a tip Molly didn’t think he deserved.
Money was tight. When they’d first rented the flat, Molly knew that she’d have to cut back on expenses. The shampoo she used was too pricey and the rent too high and Jimmy wasn’t getting hired for gigs anymore, even though she thought he was a damn good folk musician.
She tried to convince herself that all young couples started out broke, and when her Dad sheepishly offered to pony up the down payment for the lease, Molly went wild.
Just as she went wild when Jimmy tipped the delivery guy from the Chinese restaurant around the corner three pound.
“How much did you give him?” she asked as Jimmy set the plastic bags down on the counter, spilling his measly change next to the paper cups and plates.
“Three pounds. It’s raining out.”
“Three pounds?” Molly felt her ire rising and she tried to swallow it with a swig of beer. “My fried rice didn’t cost three pounds, Jimmy. I needed that money for groceries.”
But Jimmy only shrugged and ruffled his already messy hair and dished up some chow mien. “Well, we won’t starve tonight, anyway.” He had a low, whispering voice. And when he sang about soldiers and maidens and John Baryleycorn, Molly thought of quickly darkening moors. But now she could only think of their too-small flat and her camera that needed mending and the fact that, by the end of month, they might not have enough left over to pay their water bill.
And Jimmy had given three pounds to the delivery guy.
“I’m not hungry.” She tried to toss her dish into the sink, but missed and ended up spilling rice all over the sticky, linoleum floor. “Honestly, Jimmy, do you ever stop to think?” This as she was reaching for the paper towels, because her Muggle boyfriend wasn’t comfortable yet with the notion of magic and Molly always took into consideration his peace of mind.
“Which is more than I can say for you,” she muttered.
And Jimmy just stood there, his hands in the pockets of his stained jeans. Molly was too angry to notice how abashed he looked.
When Jimmy went out, she sat in the bathroom and cried and wished she hadn’t been too independent to accept her parents’ help. Because perhaps she was stupid to think that all couples needed to struggle before they could be worth something. After all, it had only been three pounds and Jimmy was so generous, so kind and she had snapped at him.
Molly held her tongue, then, when Jimmy came back an hour later with a fistful of roses that were still wet from the rain outside.
“I promise,” he said as he reached for a mug to put them in, “they were less than three pounds, Molly.”
But she said nothing and kept the roses on her night table until they dried and died and the petals were swept out their bedroom window.
Her white apron wrapped around her
He took her for a swan
But a hush and a sigh
'Twas his own Molly Bán
In June, they both got the break they’d been waiting for. Molly, who had been putting bits of money aside for months, finally had enough to buy a quality camera. And just in time, too. The editor at the newspaper she worked for was getting fussy. Her pictures were blurry, he said. Unfocused. He couldn’t use a majority of the prints and that really was a shame, because Molly clearly had some talent.
The situation became so desperate that Molly even considered going back to wizard photography. It would take a lot of adjustment and she’d royally hate the work, but one couldn’t expect to take blurry pictures with a Muggle camera and get printed.
About the time she was getting ready to buy a new camera, Jimmy came home with good news of his own.
“I got a recording deal,” he said, stuffing his lanky frame onto the couch beside her.
Molly drew up her knees to give him some room. “Come off it,” she said, barely able to contain a laugh of hysterical joy.
“It’s with one of my brother’s mates,” he continued and she noticed his eyes were moist. “He wants to start up a new collaboration…a band, maybe. And you know I like to work solo but folk music is all about the ensembles these days. We have a really hot idea for our first album and the guy has a recording studio booked. It’s a bit far away, though…don’t know how I’d get there.”
Molly felt her mouth go dry just as Jimmy’s smile faded. “Where is it?”
“All the way up in Yorkshire. Some town called Greenwood. It’s in a barn and all. How’s that for rustic?”
“That’s a long ways away.” And in her mind, Molly pictured a map of England, a narrow red line stretching across the great distance they would have to travel to get from London to Greenwood, in Yorkshire.
Flooing and Apparition was out of the question for a Muggle. “Can someone in the band give you a lift, then?” she asked.
For some reason, Jimmy wouldn’t look at her. “No, they live up there. I’m the odd man out, Molly. I was thinking of renting a car, but, you know…”
Yes, she knew. Molly uncurled her legs and stood. The floorboards creaked and the thrift store rug she had bought six months ago to cover the scarred, wood floor felt grimy under her bare feet.
She hated the knowing and she hated knowing what she had to do.
“We could rent a car,” Molly said. What she didn’t tell him, however, is that she’d have to wait another three months to buy her new camera.
But that was all right, wasn’t it?
He quickly ran to her
And found she was dead
And there on her bosom
Many salt-tears he shed
They left on a Monday and because Molly had no clear pictures to show her editor, she didn’t have to worry about taking time off for work. In fact, she wouldn’t have to worry about taking time off until she found a new job. But Jimmy had already told her he was getting paid for the recording and, maybe, just maybe, he could expect royalties a few months down the road.
They drove all through the night to get to Greenwood, mostly because their rental car was in a questionable state and any prolonged idling might stall it out for good. Also, as Jimmy noted, they shouldn’t waste what money they had on motels and instead, spend it on a nice dinner once they got into town.
Molly didn’t bother to tell him that they had no money left.
But she was in a good mood. A light, pleasant mood that reminded her of fields and valleys and honeysuckle and Jimmy, when he sang that song about the May morning dew.
Her mood didn’t even sour when the rental car stalled three miles outside of Greenwood. They were on a road that cut through the moors and as Molly stepped out to get a bit of fresh air, she noticed the steep ditch just off the right shoulder. A pair of swans were nesting amidst the tufts of heather and as she studied the graceful curves of their necks, the way their eyes shone like black beads in the thin sunlight, she thought they’d make for a great picture.
No, a perfect picture.
If only she could get the shot off.
Her camera hadn’t taken a good set in over a week and Molly was doubtful. But a perfect picture was always worth the trouble. Carefully, she scrambled down the side of the ditch, ignoring how the mud ruined the cuffs of her already frayed jeans and the frantic noises Jimmy was making as he tried to get the car started again.
The swans didn’t start as she slipped closer to the edge of their nest, but looked at her with such frank curiosity that Molly had to bite down hard on her lip to keep from laughing. And because she was trying not to laugh, she didn’t hear the rental car give a roar as it jumped back to life, or Jimmy’s cry of surprise when he mistook the gas pedal for the brake.
Molly had just lined up the shot when the car jumped over the shoulder and into the ditch and without thinking, her finger smashed down on the button, taking a last picture even as the swans flew away.
He ran home to his father
With his gun in his hand
Saying "Father dear father
I have shot Molly Bán"
Jimmy didn’t understand why the constable took him to the police station instead of the hospital. In fact, he hadn’t seen the paramedics at the scene load Molly into the ambulance at all. And the police wouldn’t answer his questions until he had been shown into the Sergeant’s office and given a cup of water. They offered him a tranquilizer, but Jimmy refused. He wanted to be awake and alert when he got to the hospital; the doctors would probably want to talk to him and he needed a clear mind to understand exactly what Molly was going through.
She’d probably need some surgery. Have a broken bone or two. Maybe even a little internal bleeding.
Nothing they couldn’t deal with, though. And as Jimmy sat bouncing his knee, watching as the water from the cup sloshed out onto the tile floor, he kept up that same, secure mantra.
This is nothing we can’t handle. It’s nothing. This is nothing we can’t…
The Sergeant, who had been the first on the scene, the first to usher Jimmy into a cruiser and insist he be whisked away to the station, came into the office with his hat in his hands.
Jimmy thought he had never seen a sorrier looking man. The Sergeant was sweating and his face was pasty, except for the areas around his mouth and nose, which were a suspicious shade of red. He had a thin nose and a narrow chin and Jimmy guessed that this was a man who frequently endured comparisons to rats or other, less notorious rodents. But when the Sergeant spoke, he had a royal voice and Jimmy found himself straining to catch every careful word.
“Would you like another cup of water?” the policeman said. His eyes had dropped to his office floor, which was more than a little damp, but then politely snapped back up to Jimmy.
“No.” Jimmy stood. “Is it really necessary that I answer your questions now? Can’t I do that at the hospital?”
The Sergeant drew his teeth over his lower lip, making him look even more like a white rat. Or perhaps a field mouse. Yes, Jimmy decided he looked like a field mouse. The ones drawn into children’s books and woven into nursery rhymes.
“I think you should sit down.”
Jimmy gestured at him with the paper cup, inadvertently spilling water all over the Sergeant’s shoes. “I said I didn’t want the tranquilizer pills.”
“All the same.” Again, the convulsive twitch of the jaw, teeth dragging over an already chapped lip. “Sir, I’m sorry…your girlfriend, Molly, erm, Molly Wesley, she did not survive the accident. She’s dead.”
Jimmy thought it was funny how the Sergeant couldn’t pronounce Molly’s last name correctly. It was Weasley, like in Weasel, which the Sergeant certainly was.
But it wasn’t until Jimmy could be persuaded to take the tranquilizer pills and sit down and swallow another cup of water that the Sergeant gave him what was left of Molly.
“We found this at the scene,” he said, handing Jimmy a plastic bag. “We think she was trying to take a photo when, when she…”
But Jimmy didn’t bother to listen to the Sergeant. He took the plastic bag in his hands and looked at the object within.
Molly’s camera hadn’t been damaged.
He roamed near the place
Where his true love was slain
He wept bitter tears
But his cries were in vain
The local paper published the picture of Molly taken by the two bird watchers on the front page and it wasn’t long before Jimmy, who was now living in Glasgow with his brother, saw it on the news.
“You never did develop the film that was in Molly’s camera,” his brother said when he saw the ghostly image that had been captured in Greenwood. “I think you should.”
It was true. Jimmy had kept the camera on his nightstand and all throughout the winter, the smell of roses had filled his bedroom. And when he closed his eyes, he saw swans.
But he never thought that Molly was trying to contact him. And he wasn’t even sure of it now.
Jimmy waited until his brother went to London on business before he took the bus down to Greenwood. He traveled with bird watchers and nature journalists and a small film crew that had come from Edinburgh to do a piece on the Greenwood swans.
At the bus depot in town, he asked one of the natives, who was not yet eight decades old, where he could get a cab. But before the man could answer Jimmy remembered that he had spent his last money on the bus ticket and would have to walk out onto the moors. On his way, he saw none of the swans that the reporter on TV had talked about and the people on the bus speculated endlessly on and he was glad to be alone, with the wind cutting unkindly through the countryside.
It was dusk by the time he reached the road and the ditch and the place where the rental car had stalled. The place where Molly, with her artist’s eye, thought it would be nice to take a picture of two nesting swans.
And he remembered hearing once that swans mated for life.
The swans weren’t there now, though. And neither was Molly’s ghost. Jimmy didn’t know what he expected in coming to Greenwood. Perhaps something out of the old songs he sang, the ballads that ended with lovers resting side by side, not in life, but in the cold clay ground, with naught but a rose growing between them.
Jimmy didn’t put much stock in that nonsense anymore. Molly wouldn’t want him to.
Standing on the edge of the ditch, trying not to think of the places in the turf where the skidding wheels had dug deep, Jimmy watched the sun set. He remembered the day when Molly had taken his picture at the May Day festival in Gloucestshire and how later, she had confessed to him that she hadn’t thought the picture would come out at all.
To this day he still had it, once framed and sitting on the windowsill next to his bed, now stuck in the bottom of a drawer in his brother’s flat in Glasgow. Because he had realized, and now understood, that Molly had never been his.
Perhaps for a moment, but never eternally.
Now, she belonged to the world.
Before Jimmy left the ditch, he took Molly’s old camera from his pocket and placed it on the ground by the road. He was tired of carrying it around and thought that she should have what was rightly hers.
As he moved off down the grassy embankment, he thought he heard the shutter click once more and the flash go off with a shrill whine.
But when Jimmy turned and glanced back to the ditch, he couldn’t see Molly’s camera. Only the two swans that had come back to nest.
As he looked on the lake
A swan glided by
And the sun slowly sank
In the gray of sky
Author’s Note: I know, this is HUGELY different from my usual style. I do hope it wasn’t too awkward. I rarely write out-right romance.
Thanks so much for reading! If you have a free moment, please leave a review and tell me what you think. I would absolutely love to hear from you.