Chapter 1 : The Greatest Rewards
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The Greatest Rewards
In the Weasley family, or at least in Percy’s branch of it, lunch dates were quite a formal affair. There was the unspoken rule that all parties in attendance must wear their nicest Ministry robes or, if at a Muggle establishment, their best business wear.
This rule was not one that could be broken either. On one occasion, Molly had made the mistake of showing up at Madame Julitta’s Italian Bistro wearing a pair of jeans and a nice cashmere jumper. Though her mother hadn’t commented on Molly’s outfit directly, she’d gone on a shopping spree the next day. Her casual comment, “I thought you might like this suit,” could have been innocent, but Audrey Lufkin-Weasley never did anything without having an ulterior motive.
Needless to say, Molly had been more careful with her clothing choices ever since.
Today, she was wearing a slate grey pencil skirt, a white blouse and black heels that were too high to be practical. Luckily, Molly wasn’t aiming for practicality. After all, the Senior Under Secretary to the Head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation had limited expectation in the field, thus rendering sensible foot wear obsolete. She had grown quite adept at wearing heels since she’d begun working at the Ministry. But now, as Molly entered the elite Muggle venue known as La Reve, she teetered.
“Are you alright, mademoiselle?” the maître’d asked with genuine concern.
Molly nodded quickly, accepting his offered hand and letting him guide her into the dining area. “Oui, merci,” she thanked him in French.
“Ah, la mademoiselle parle le français,” the man said with a charming smile. The lady speaks French.
Molly wanted to interject, to say that of course she spoke French, but didn’t. How was the maître’d supposed to know that she had practically been raised by a French nanny and could now speak the language quite fluently? This was a Muggle establishment. Here the name Wealsey would not draw gasps or stares. The name Audrey Lufkin-Weasley was more apt to draw odd looks than inspire feelings of awe and fear. Here no one would know who Molly was, who her parents were, or how she had been groomed since birth to hold a top position in the Ministry.
“Do you have a reservation?” the Frenchman asked, opening a huge leather book. “We are very full today, not many seats unless you have reserved a table.”
“It should be under the name Weasley,” Molly said, watching with interest as the man skimmed through the book. Certain could be quite odd in their mannerisms. She knew from her Grandfather that there were much easier ways for Muggles to check on reservations, but this one insisted on relying on a book rather than newer technologies.
After another moment, the man looked up. “Right this way, mademoiselle. Follow me.”
Careful not to teeter again, Molly followed the maître’d to the back of the restaurant, to a small table where a woman already sat.
Lucy looked up from her menu when her sister arrived at the table. “Hello Molly,” she said with a nod.
Molly surveyed her sister, taking in her sleek dark hair, her large diamond earrings and her short black dress. “You look nice,” she commented as she took a seat across from her sister.
“Thank you,” Lucy said with a smile that didn’t bother to expose her pearly teeth. She didn’t return the compliment, but Molly hadn’t expected that she would. Lucy was a rather snob for fashion. If she bothered to comment on clothing, it was only because she was impressed. Of course, only the newest, most expensive styles possible ever impressed Lucy.
Molly tucked a strand of her red hair behind her ears, picking up one of the golden menus. “What are you thinking of ordering?” she questioned as she opened the booklet, which was a work of art in itself.
“The duck,” Lucy said promptly, snapping her menu shut with a loud click.
Their very French waiter arrived promptly, taking their orders with a preciseness that was more suited to the military than to fine dining.
“He seemed rather abrupt,” Molly said, trying to start a normal conversation.
Lucy smiled again, still not showing her teeth. “He’s French, Molly,” she said in a tone that would have been condescending if used by anyone else. For Lucy, it was her norm.
They sat in stinted silence until the soup—tomato topped with a swirl of crème fraiche—arrived in tiny bowls. Molly stared at the red liquid in disgust. While it had looked quite appetizing on paper, it now resembled blood colored porridge. She pushed it aside, taking a sip of water instead and watching her sister eat with surprising gusto.
Twice, she considered starting a mundane conversation. They could talk about work. Their careers were always a default topic, but Molly didn’t know if she could stand to hear Lucy ramble on about her work in the Minister’s office and she certainly didn’t want to discuss her own job. There had been rumors of a promotion for her going around, but Molly didn’t want to tell anyone until she’d heard the news from the boss himself. If the rumors were false, she’d be in for quite a large share of shame.
Molly even thought about mentioning their family; with so many relations, there was always something to talk about. But again, Molly wasn’t in the mood for a long conversation. In reality, she wasn’t in the mood for much of anything, she’d only arranged the lunch because she had news to share with Lucy.
After another awkward moment of silence, Molly finally blurted out her secret, deciding that there wasn’t any use in trying to approach it in a roundabout manner. “I’m pregnant,” she said in as normal a tone as she could manage.
“Mum is really going to kill you,” Lucy said without looking up from her soup.
Molly felt anger welling up in her stomach at the coldness of her response. She’d just confessed to her sister and all she could say was that her mother was going to be angry? Were they still children? “Lucy,” Molly began, trying to sound disapproving, but even to her ears, it was more vulnerable than anything. “Lu, I don’t know what to do, because you’re right. Mum is going to kill me, as is Dad and possibly my boss,” she said in a gush, finally voicing the terror that she’d felt ever since she’d learned the news.
Lucy put down her spoon to stare at her sister. “Who’s the father?” she asked, finally loosing the air of polite interest.
Molly rolled her eyes. “I’m not that much of a slag, Lucy.” When Lucy kept staring, Molly flung up her hands in defeat. “Darren.”
“I knew it,” Lucy said with a rather smug smile. “I knew you two were sleeping together.”
“Very mature,” was Molly’s sarcastic reply as she finally picked up the soupspoon, twirling it round in her fingers.
“What did he say?” was Lucy’s next question. She had decided now that this bit of news was more important than the tomato soup and had too pushed her bowl away. Her attentive stare made Molly worry that this was going to turn into some sort of interrogation session.
That wasn’t a question Molly had really been prepared to answer. She could have told her sister when the baby was due, if she wanted it to be a boy or a girl, she might have even been able to tell Lucy a few baby name possibilities. But she was not prepared to answer any questions about Darren. In fact, she’d tried to put him out of her mind as much as possible. “I haven’t told him,” Molly said in as offhand a manner as she could manage.
That brought a real smile to Lucy’s face, teeth and all. “I’m the first person you’ve told?” she asked almost gleefully. Molly was a bit shocked that this had made such an impression on her sister.
“Um, yes.” The first person Molly had told. She might have told her cat first, and a few other inanimate objects, but those couldn’t talk back and weren’t generally considered people.
“Excellent,” Lucy said, affirming Molly’s suspicions. For someone so uptight, Lucy was reacting with much more well, enthusiasm, than Molly had been expecting. She’d thought she might receive a lecture, not this sort of congratulations. “So when are you?”
“January 24th,” Molly said promptly, citing the due date that she’d calculated at home.
Lucy raised an eyebrow. “That’s months away, Molly,” she said in a very concerned voice.
“Yes, well babies don’t just pop out,” Molly said dryly. “It takes a bit of time before they’re born.” What was with Lucy? She hadn’t even had any wine and already she was acting a bit tipsy.
“I know that,” Lucy said impatiently, drumming her fingers on the table. “But why would the length of a pregnancy stop you from telling Darren?”
Oh. That was an entirely different matter. Nervously, Molly sipped at her water, draining the glass in several gulps. She set it down on the table to see Lucy staring at her intently, waiting for a reply. She wasn’t going to get away by evading. “Lu, I was thinking that I wouldn’t tell him,” Molly said, as if suggesting the venue for their next lunch date.
At that, Lucy’s eyebrows shot up into her hair line. “You can’t do that,” she said firmly. “Darren has a right to know.”
“Does he?” Molly asked, angry that her sister was choosing to argue this point, instead of letting it go. “I’m the one carrying the baby. Anyways, I don’t want to bother him, make him feel obligated to marry me, or something like that.” The prospect made her shiver, possibly in distaste, but more probably in anticipation.
Lucy scoffed, but before she could continue, the waiter arrived with the plat principal, the main dish. Like any real French restaurant, the salad came after the meat, not before. He frowned slightly when he took away Molly’s untouched soup but to his credit made no comment, instead setting down two porcelain plates. One with duck, smothered in some sort of dark gravy. Molly had ordered a steak garnished with green beans and some potatoes.
As soon as the waiter had left, carrying away the uneaten soups, Lucy started talking, not even bothering to touch her meal. “How do you expect to hide it from him?” she asked dryly. “When one is pregnant, they tend to show quite a bit.”
Molly, suddenly famished, cut her steak and had piece or two before responding. “It won’t be that hard to do.” When Lucy still looked quite skeptical, she clarified. “Darren’s in America. As long as he stays there, I won’t even have to see him. I can just have the baby and be done with it.”
A flash of inference lit up Lucy’s eyes. “Is that why the two of you called things off then?”
“Yes,” Molly said quickly. “Well, I suppose. Work was mostly part of it. I had my job here and the Ministry was sending Darren overseas to assist the ambassador.”
Lucy was silent for a while, finally turning her attention to her food and daintily eating the duck. She kept stealing glances at Molly though. Molly pretended not to notice, but Lucy’s piercing stare made her feel like her mind was being read.
At last, Lucy shook her head, “That’s rubbish, Molly,” she said in a harsh whisper. “You can’t keep this from him, that’s just not right. It’ll be his baby too.”
“Not your choice,” was Molly’s petulant reply.
Lucy made a disgusted sound. “That’s just plain selfish. Merlin, what’s the world coming to? People just choose the paths that grant them the greatest rewards for the least amount of effort.”
Molly stood up, pushing her chair back with a clatter of wood on stone. “Well isn’t that pithy?” she said scathingly. “I’m the one choosing to have this damn baby. Don’t you dare suggest that I’m being selfish about it! Not when you’re the most selfish person I know!’
For a moment, Lucy was silent, staring almost immobile across the room, not at her sister, but beyond her. Molly watched as Lucy’s eyes flitted back and forth, as if watching some invisible game. She was tempted to turn to see what had so captured her sister’s attention, but felt that that would be too much like giving in. She’d given Lucy an ultimatum, now she had to await the response.
The pregnant pause ended when Lucy reached under the table, grabbed her purse and stood up. “Well then that’s that, isn’t it Molly?” she said waspishly. “Have fun raising your baby in your little web of lies. You can tell Mum and Dad alone as well. Don’t bother trying to talk to me until you’ve changed your mind,” she added.
“Lu,” Molly begged, suddenly feeling like crying. “I thought you’d understand. I can’t have a relationship right now. What with work and now a baby, it just takes too much time.”
Lucy held up a hand, silencing Molly. “Stop whining,” she ordered as she took several steps to the restaurant’s exit. “Really, maybe you should have thought about that before you got knocked up.”
That was unfair, and both the sisters knew it. Obviously, the baby had been a surprise, not planned at all. Now, tears were starting to fall down Molly’s cheeks. She wiped them away with an angry swipe of her hand. Staring up at Lucy, she silently pleaded that her sister would reconsider, but she knew that wouldn’t happen. Lucy had iron resolve and a Weasley temper. Unless Molly told Darren, she would have to get used to not seeing Lucy.
Never before in her life had Molly felt quite so timid. She considered herself to be a generally forceful purpose, but now, she regarded the black telephone sitting on the table like it was a beast, poised to escape its cage.
She was glad that telephones had become more popular in the Wizarding community, especially for long distance. However, for this occasion she would gladly take the impersonal Owl mail over having this conversation with Darren
She extended her hand towards it, yet again, this time letting her fingers brush the cool metal before they made their hasty retreat. It would be so easy to just get up and walk away, forgetting all about the call, but then the phone would still be sitting there, taunting her. It would speak in Lucy’s voice, of course. It would berate her, chastise her, and cajole her into calling. Its speaker would turn into the mouthpiece of her inner conscience: a mega phone to her deepest thoughts and wishes.
Since their fiasco at lunch, Molly had been practically catatonic. She’d taken her first personal day from work since she’d started the job. There had been no fewer than seven concerned owls waiting for her by lunch time, but she couldn’t respond to them, she couldn’t tell the well-wishers that she was alright. Nor had she hadn’t answered her parent’s owls of concern, or even read them. Molly knew that she was sulking, but didn’t really care. She deserved a day or three to sulk.
The phone was still there the next hour, daring her to pick it up. It would be so simple, to call him. Molly had memorized the number he’d left and had taken to chanting it to herself. One. Five. Five. Five. Eight. Five. Five. Six. One. Eight. Two.
Finally, after much deliberation, she picked up the phone and dialed Darren’s number. The phone rang once, twice, three times, until it picked up. Molly’s breath hitched.
“Hello?” Darren said into the phone. He sounded groggy, his voice muffled by something.
“Hi,” Molly said tentatively. “Darren, it’s me.” Her heart was pounding in her chest an alarming rate. She wondered vaguely if he could hear it through the phone.
“Molly?” he sounded shocked. “You do know that it’s hours past midnight here.”
She blushed, feeling stupid for forgetting the time difference. “Sorry,” she muttered before falling silent, unsure of what to say next.
Darren cleared his throat, “Is there any reason you were calling me?” he asked hesitantly.
“No, no reason at all,” Molly said quickly, before cursing her lack of tact. She’d woke him up to what end? So that she could embarrass herself? That would really make him mad at her.
“I’m missed you too,” Darren said gently, “but we promised to let this go, Molly. I understand if you’re having problems with it, but please, make up your mind. I’m either yours, or I’m not. Things can’t keep going on like this.”
Molly bit her lip, this wasn’t how the conversation was supposed to go at all. It wasn’t even supposed to go anywhere. “Let’s not talk about that,” she said hastily, wanting him to know that she hadn’t called to beg for him to come back. She was over him, utterly and forever. Probably.
“Molly,” he said with a bit more force, “I’m not going to let you evade this. Merlin, you’re the one who broke up with me, you’re not allowed to keep hanging around like a lost puppy!”
At being characterized as a lost puppy, Molly felt a surge of injustice. “First,” she snapped, “I didn’t break up with you. It was mutually agreed upon, if I remember correctly. And second, I haven’t been ‘hanging around.’ I haven’t talked to you in more than a month.” Actually, it had been one month, seven days and three hours since they’d parted ways—not that Molly was counting.
“So you called me to argue?” Darren sounded half amused, half angry. “Honestly, you’d think you’d get tired of arguing, the way you and Lucy go at one another.”
That felt like a stab in Molly’s chest, she would have staggered if she’d been standing. “I—” she began. “Let’s not talk about Lucy,” she managed. That subject was much too close to another subject that Molly had no desire to speak to Darren about.
It sounded like Darren was laughing, somewhere in America. “You’re not talking again?” he guessed jokingly.
“Not funny,” Molly hissed, though she couldn’t stay mad. Darren’s laughter was infectious and still could bring a smile to her lips. It was almost as if he was in the room with her.
Finally, Darren stopped his laughs and sighed, “Look Molly, I meant what I said. We’ve either got to move on or get back together.”
Molly swallowed. She wanted more than anything to say yes, to have him come home, but she couldn’t ask him to sacrifice his job and his happiness for her.
“Well?”Darren asked again.
Feeling tears well up in her eyes, Molly quickly spoke. “I think it’s still best for us if you stay in America.”
The words hung in the air, like arrows caught in midair. “Alright,” Darren said gruffly.
Molly dropped the phone onto its receiver, hanging up. Instantly, tears spilled over, drawing trails down her cheeks that burned like fire. She covered her mouth to hold back sobs, doubling over on the sofa.
Almost unconsciously, her hand groped for the phone.
She picked it up and dialed again, having to start over three times, since her hands were shaking so much.
“What?” Darren said irritably, though he answered before the phone had had time to ring. “Molly, what is going on?”
“I’m pregnant,” she squeaked out before could change her mind.