The pile of boxes in the sitting room of the Burrow was now stacked so high that it had long since passed the stage where Molly Weasley could have seen over it, even standing on her tiptoes. She poked her tongue out pensively from between her lips and opened the flap of the last remaining cardboard box sitting on the hearth rug with a quick motion from her wand. A flurry of dust rose into the sun-speckled room immediately, heading straight for her nostrils, and she sneezed violently at the surprise attack.
It had been several years since Molly had packed up her children’s things, and of course it was only now that Ron remembered he might have had some old toys that he might have wanted to give to Hugo, his one-year-old son. It was a bit exasperating, especially since most of the boxes she’d already gone through had contained things he hadn’t wanted to take away, but she couldn’t be too annoyed – memories were strong, and sometimes she needed to indulge selfishly in them for an hour or two.
“Are you all right, dear?” came a voice from the kitchen, and her husband poked his concerned head around the door frame, brows creasing his forehead – which was saying something, as the added years had turned the once-smooth skin into something that now perhaps more closely resembled sheets that were long overdue for an ironing. As a result of this advancement into age, he had become increasingly health conscious, which explained the slight overreaction to the sneeze.
“Just fine,” she called back, and the seemingly disembodied head disappeared once more. Arthur was probably making tea, Molly thought, another endearing eccentricity of late. Tucking a strand of her graying red hair back behind her ear, from where it had come loose, she peeled back one of the flaps on the box, and promptly sneezed again.
It had been several years since anyone besides Molly and Arthur had lived in the Burrow, the rest of the family scattered all across the country in various veins and occupations, and even further, in Charlie’s case, still residing in Romania as he was. All of her children were now married, as well, or at least close, and Molly had a mother’s intuition that George would propose to Angelina any day now. She was extremely proud of each one of her children, knowing where they had gone, what they had done, and what they had become.
But there would always be a piece of the puzzle forever missing, and as she peered into the box’s dark contents, Molly’s heart gave a painful twinge as she drew out a small striped shirt that had once been Fred’s, its blue and white stripes long since faded. It had been so long since his death, but she knew that not a day would ever go by that she wouldn’t think of him and wonder where he was, what he was doing, and where he might have been today. Somehow, looking at that small shirt that she never brought herself to throw away, it made it seem as though he weren’t so far. She held it to her chest instinctively.
“Molly, dear?” Her eyes flew open as her husband’s voice broke through her reverie; he was clutching a mug of tea in each hand and looked a bit nonplussed, as though unsure whether to leave or comfort her. Molly realized embarrassedly that her cheeks were a bit wet, and figured she had been crying. She wiped her cheeks and managed a sort of watery, wavering smile. Arthur smiled back and, with effort, sat down on the floor next to her, handing her a mug of tea. His eyes fell on the shirt in his wife’s lap.
“That was Fred’s shirt,” he said a bit needlessly, gesturing with his own cup. A soft smile of remembrance creased his face suddenly at a thought. “Do you remember when you found the gnomes wrapped up in it?”
“Swimming around in my dishes,” Molly laughed, only just remembering the incident, and patted the shirt fondly. “It took ages to get the smell out of it, too.” She had never known that gnomes had had a smell until Fred had insisted wearing this shirt before it had properly been washed; he’d smelled of something vaguely mouldy for quite a while.
She laid the shirt aside tenderly on the hearth rug she knelt on, and then turned to the Weasley clock, where it still hung on the small stretch of wall between the kitchen and living room. Ron’s hand was still on ‘home’ – like the good clock it was, it instinctually knew that Ron’s home was no longer at the Burrow – and had not yet switched to ‘traveling’. He was due back any time now, though, to inspect the box’s last contents and make a final decision about bringing things back for Hugo.
As she looked at the clock, her eyes traveled to its corner, and to the almost imperceptible crack that adorned its upper right corner – invisible to the casual eye, but perfectly plain to hers. It was a mark that had been there ever since she’d gotten the clock, when Percy had so desperately tried to organize a proper birthday for her, and – bless him – had failed miserably. The crack had been made to be invisible for a few years during the war, she now recalled, as she hadn’t been able to see it without thinking of Percy, and how he had resolved to withdraw from the family. More than nearly anything in the world, she was so grateful he had broken that promise.
Perhaps it was the boxes and all the memories they carried with them, but Molly felt especially nostalgic today, looking first at the shirt and then the clock. Her family was all here, in bits and pieces, dusty and stored away but never thrown out or forgotten. Arthur looked on as old crayon drawings, crumbling and faded, emerged to be set next to George’s long-broken toy broomstick, which had once careened, along with Ginny, right into the smelly and mossy pond in the garden.
“You’ve saved a lot,” her husband murmured now, looking as the contents of the box piled higher and higher; her Undetectable Extension Charms tended to conceal a lot more of these old items than she ever remembered putting in the box, although she ruminated that the elderly were supposed to forget things now and again – not that she was old, of course.
“I couldn’t bring myself to throw any of it away,” Molly murmured a bit sheepishly, fishing out a collar that once belonged to the cat. The poor thing had been traumatized its entire life at the Burrow – on one rather memorable occasion, she remembered now, George had blocked it in with pillows in trying to recreate one of her husband’s old horrendous bedtime stories. And, if memory also served, Ginny was rather fond of trying to dress it up in her clothes, as well.
Her children – her seven children, so wonderfully different and funny and unique and special. Here were old corn kernels that were forever in Charlie’s pockets after feeding Budgy; there was the old yellow blanket that had wrapped around each child when he or she was brought home from St. Mungo’s, which had been taken out and used for James and Rose and Albus and Hugo. Old sneakers, broken bits of chalk, books with pages missing and covers torn off. It was all here, in these boxes, their entire childhood. How could she ever throw any of it out?
Molly gave a great sniff, trying to hide it in her mug of tea, and Arthur patted her gently, at a seeming loss for words. “We’ve done a good job,” she said thickly, and her husband laughed aloud at the sentiment. His joints creaking only slightly, he shuffled over and laid an arm around his wife’s shoulder.
“We have,” he said solemnly.
At that moment, sudden footsteps could be heard on the steps outside the front door, followed almost immediately by a fist knocking upon it. Through slightly blurred eyes, Molly glanced at the clock and saw that Ron’s hand had pointed to ‘traveling’; she had completely missed the switch. Still sniffling slightly, she climbed to her feet and went to answer the door.
“Hello, Mum,” Ron said happily, giving his mother a long and warm hug. The years had inevitably changed him, although he was still as tall and gangly as he would ever be. His voice was deeper, his eyes a bit softer, his step more measured, but he was still Ron, still her son.
“Have you been crying?” he asked incredulously, having pulled away and been treated to a glimpse of his mother’s red and swollen eyes. “What’s wrong?”
“I just missed you,” she said in a watery sort of voice, and Ron’s brows creased; he evidently did not understand at all where this might have come from.
“I visited you last week,” he said in a hesitant sort of voice, but nevertheless followed his mother through the front hall and into the sitting room, where Arthur still sat stiffly cross-legged, clutching his mug of tea. He too rose to his feet and clapped his son on the back with his free hand, a smile wrinkling the corners of his eyes.
“I was going through the last box,” Molly began again, trying to explain what she hadn’t been able to at the door. “No toys in here yet, I’m afraid – did Hugo like your old wooden hippogriff?”
“He hasn’t stopped gnawing on its head since I brought it home,” Ron grinned ruefully, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “He loves it. Hermione and I were thinking of bringing him and Rose around next week, if that’s all right.”
Molly beamed, no words necessary to convey the happiness she felt at the prospect of seeing two of her grandchildren. Ron’s eyes dropped down to the box at his feet, and, stooping, he withdrew something extremely ragged, covered in brown fur.
Mr. Stuffing had endured more than his fair share of love during his years at the Burrow – countless days of being chewed on, or drooled over, or sat upon, or kicked about, first by Bill, and then by Ron, and then by whomever he happened to serve best at a given moment. He had been taken hostage by a pesky old rooster, and used as a Quaffle, and – perhaps most memorably – turned into a spider. This last fact was why it was so incredible to see her youngest son holding him now, most traces of animosity absent from his freckled face.
“Your old bear,” said Mrs. Weasley gently, petting Mr. Stuffing’s ear, which was now only partially attached to his head. “Poor old thing, he never has been quite the same since your sister took him into the pond with her. Smells a bit odd, I imagine.”
Ron smiled with only the barest trace of apprehension, clearing a speck of dust from the still-glassy black eye that looked complacently up at him. “D’you mind if I bring him to Hugo?” he asked suddenly, and perhaps a bit unexpectedly. Molly glanced instinctively at her husband, standing to her left, and saw reflected there the same surprise and pleasure she felt too.
“Of course, dear,” she said with as much warmth as she could possibly muster. Ron clutched the teddy bear to him only slightly, but it did not pass under his mother’s scrupulous notice. Her heart constricted again, this time with an inexplicable and completely gratifying warmth that only a mother could feel in such circumstances.
“Rose was having a tantrum, so I’ve got to get back,” said Ron, a bit regretfully, his pale eyes scanning the room around him fondly. “I’d just promised to stop off quickly, but we’ll see you next week?” He posed this last as a question, as though he were a bit unsure of its answer, but received confirmation in his mother’s firm nod.
“Next week,” Molly repeated, both she and Arthur following Ron back to the front door. With kisses and farewells, he set off back down the path, walking tall and proud with Mr. Stuffing clamped firmly under his left arm. Beyond the gate, he waved once, turned on the spot, and vanished with a distinctly audible pop.
Molly remained on the threshold, still looking out in the direction where her son had disappeared. A light breeze toyed with the white blossoms on the distant apple trees, not unlike those the Weasleys themselves had in the orchard out back. Scattered bits of grass blew over the hard dirt where the chicken coop sat, abandoned for several years. She closed her eyes a bit as it finally reached her, playing with the frail wisps of hair that framed her face.
“Molly? Should we pack up that last box, then, and take it back to Ron’s room?” Arthur’s voice spoke from behind her, and she opened her eyes. Everything looked exactly the same as it had for so many years.
“Yes, let’s do that,” she said. She turned away from the scene, and closed the door.
A/N: I wrote the very first chapter of this story in March of 2011 -- nine months, almost to the day, of my posting this. I hate writing notes on the last chapters of stories, because I feel a bit like I'm standing on a proverbial soapbox, but this story if any needs a good and proper one. This story is largely dedicated to Sarah (whose name has cropped up here and there, you'll have found; I couldn't do without her); to my sister, whose request for a Ron story began this entire endeavor; to anyone and everyone who might have voted to get this story its Dobby or its Snitch; to every single person who has read, reviewed, and favorited; and to that group of puffins, who know who they are -- some of the best friends a girl could ask for.
And I know some of you have seen by now that I'm starting a new project! I won't keep you waiting any longer -- very soon, before Christmas or perhaps only a little after, keep your eyes peeled for a new story collection. You asked and I answered -- a series of one-shots (I have no idea how many) about all the non-Weasley canon characters as children. So watch out for Growing Up Magical, and I hope to see you there soon! Thank you guys so much!