The room smelled like Mrs. Skower’s. It was overpoweringly repulsive; the strong scent of cleaner lingered long after it had successfully covered up the hospital odor. She was overcome with the urge to go home and throw out her bottle, along with the Madame Glossy’s for good measure. Yet her feet were rooted to the spot.
Her hand fell automatically to his face, smoothing his thinning hair, most of it turned white at this point or gone altogether. The moment her skin touched his, she regretted her move, for he was cold, unnaturally so, freezing as if she were touching a Dementor. The familiar warmth of her husband, lighting up all her years, had evaporated.
“Mrs. Weasley?” The body beneath her fingertips stirred at the voice, coming to life.
She looked over at the young lady with the sympathetic, naïve look on her face.
“Could we speak in the corridor for a moment, please?”
She moved stiffly toward the door, dragging her hand along the railing to steady herself. The chill of his skin should not have frightened her; she was feeling herself turn colder, too, as her bones became more brittle and her muscles began to ache. Still, just like always, she moved forward, pushing along at a steady pace despite her pain.
“Your husband’s condition has deteriorated a bit more this time, I’m afraid,” the trainee Healer was saying. The other woman stared down at the bright green of her robes, imagining little Puffskeins in various pastel hues holding hands and dancing.
“Do you work in the children’s ward?” she asked. She had always loved children.
“No, ma’am,” the trainee replied carefully. “Did you hear me? The Healer-in-Charge for the Janus Thickey ward has asked that you bring him back in a month to do more tests, because there are several promising new potions in development that we’d like to try. I think we should keep encouraging his tinkering, but nothing too dangerous, as well…”
The person she addressed looked at the floor. Drawing a breath, she again inhaled the noxious odor of too much Mrs. Skower’s. Her hand shook. She thought she might vomit.
Molly opened her eyes, slowly realizing that she had fallen asleep sitting at her kitchen table. Bracing herself, she rose to her feet and turned to face the stack of dishes waiting for her in the sink. She withdrew her wand and cast the charm to wash and dry them. As the process unfolded in front of her, she found the familiar sound was comforting, given the stagnant silence that had overtaken her home.
“Arthur will be arriving any minute…” she said to no one, inwardly chiding herself for letting her sleepless nights get the better of her. The ancient stairs, only slightly older than her, creaked under her weight as she climbed up step by step. By her daughter’s recommendation, she would retain the master bedroom for her own use. Arthur would be placed in the bedroom once used by the twins, the one she had always been a little hesitant to lend out to guests, ever since—
Now, one tragedy at a time, dear.
The two twin beds were still unmade from the morning their former residents had hopped out of them to pack for their new flat. Molly moved automatically to Fred’s bed, identifiable by the ‘F’ sweater draped over the end. As she began to strip it of the sheets with slightly gnarled hands, warm, wet tears dripped from her eyes.
One tragedy at a time.
She gave up, letting it stay as he had left it, and moved to the other bed in the room. George wouldn’t mind. Mechanically, Molly removed the sheets and put them in a nearby basket to be washed and hung outside. She replaced them with fresh sheets and a knitted blanket she and her husband had received as a wedding gift, years ago. As she picked up the pillow to fluff it, a small pattering sound reached her ears.
She turned, smiling with deep creases, hoping to see a little boy or girl enter the room. But it was only Dumpy, the house elf gifted to her by Louis, her grandson. He had insisted that she could use the help, but she mostly saw Dumpy as an annoyance. After all, hadn’t she raised seven children without anyone’s assistance?
“Mistress, please, Dumpy can do that.”
“No, I have it.” Molly glanced over at the pile of old sheets. “Take those outside and wash them, please. They will need to be hung on the line to dry.” She didn’t like ordering the elf around, knowing it would bring the ire of her daughter-in-law Hermione and half-expecting that the elf wouldn’t do it as well as she could. Still, she had had enough experience with house elves to know that they were persistent.
Dumpy scooped up the basket, rushing outside to begin his chore.
As Molly looked at the place where the elf had been, she was reminded of Louis. One particular morning rose to the surface in her mind, when three pregnant women were crowded into her kitchen. For Fleur, it was old hat, though she had decided that enough damage had been done to her body to stop after she birthed this one. Molly had asked Bill about it, who reported that he was finally getting a son and saw no reason to quarrel with his part-Veela wife, especially in the middle of pregnancy. At the table, the same one that stood empty downstairs, Ginny had sat and attempted to soothe Hermione, who was two months into her first pregnancy and couldn’t find a single potion to calm her morning sickness. Molly had found it amusing that Ginny, the younger woman, was dishing out wisdom to her sister-in-law, her own little belly swollen with the promise of another son for her and Harry. Molly imagined Rose and Lily and Victoire sitting at that table, sharing secrets.
She blinked back tears. Will I even be alive to see such a day? Arthur—Arthur won’t.
Now she wished she had not sent Dumpy out with the laundry, because she needed to put fresh flowers in a vase and set it in here, by Arthur’s bed, to brighten the mood. She turned from the room, holding tightly to the railing as she slowly, steadily made her way back down the stairs.
In the kitchen, the summer sunshine streamed through the open windows, warming the house considerably. Molly found the sensation comforting upon her wrinkled skin. She looked toward the living room, a symbol of their growing family in the way that it had become stuffed with hodge-podge seating as more children and spouses entered their lives for Christmas and birthdays and weddings. Who knew how much time she had before the room was full again, for the funeral she had yet to plan?
When the room was empty, in the early days of their marriage, it had hosted a makeshift dance floor. Arthur would take her in his arms and spin her around to music of his own making. She would beg him to sing Celestina Warbeck, and then laugh when he butchered it horribly. She loved him for trying; she loved everything about him. How long until I forget you, like you are forgetting your Mollywobbles?
Her lips began to hum of their own accord as her eyes drifted out to the yard.
One thing Molly had always loved about the size of her family was that they didn’t need anyone else to have fun. Even if the other families in the wizarding world looked upon them with derision and pity, they still lived a full life here at the Burrow, with impromptu Quidditch games and parties and Sunday brunches. Now, with no little children running around and only the sound of the dishes and her own heart beating to keep her company, the space was suffocating. The silence hurt her.
Then, something broke it.
It was a car, pulling up to the house. Molly almost laughed at the memory of planning this arrangement. Arthur would have loved being brought to his deathbed in Muggle transport; the method had been chosen by default, given that he was too weak to Side-Along Apparate, the Floo would likely congest his lungs too much, and the Healers could not risk him accidentally falling off a broomstick. Molly watched the doors open. There was the trainee Healer and her superior, and next would be—
She turned away from the window. No, no, I cannot look at you, not like this. How is it that we have done so much, sacrificed our bodies and minds, and are left with nothing?
The door opened, and the trainee Healer helped Arthur slowly get to his feet.
Molly forced herself to look at him. He had not been able to remember her name for several weeks. Generations of children, gone. Spells, lost. But he smiled at her now.
The work is not yet finished, she realized, her heartbeat interrupted momentarily.
As they approached, she opened the door, prepared now to help him up the stairs.
This story was written for Rachel’s Sad Story Challenge, and I will freely admit that it was partially inspired by the end of her story, Growing Up Weasley.
The phrase in the story summary, “Time is making fools of us again,” is a quote by Albus Dumbledore from chapter 13, “The Secret Riddle,” of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Anything and everything that you recognize from canon, including this quote, belongs not to me but to J. K. Rowling.
The title of this story comes from the medical term, which refers to an irregularity of one’s heartbeat. From the Greek, it means a “loss of rhythm.”
Thank you for reading! Please, won’t you take a moment to review?