Chapter 1 : One
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The usual hustle and bustle of the Auror's Office had stilled, and a silence had fallen. Rufus Scrimgeour looked around at the empty room, feeling an uncomfortable prickle at the back of his neck. Every single Auror had been called out to the scene from which he had just returned, such was the devastation. Curses had hummed in the air, blood had streaked the carpets and walls of the house, and yet Scrimgeour was more unsettled by the eerie silence ringing around the office.
More and more frequently, the Auror team had been called out all at once, to increasingly horrific scenes. The perpetrators were infuriatingly elusive, and they had started leaving a mocking sign - a shimmering green skull, entwined with a snake - hovering above their violent handiwork. War was coming; Scrimgeour could see it blazing on the horizon, and the thought made him shiver. He turned to the sound of his name, and saw Alastor Moody striding into the office. The senior Auror looked grim, his mouth set in anger.
'They're getting braver, Rufus,' growled Moody. 'Did you see the scorch marks everywhere?'
Scrimgeour nodded curtly. 'They're attacking people who know how to wield a wand. Wainwright fought back.'
'Of course he did. It looks like his children were being tortured in front of him.' Moody's disgust was visible on his lined face.
Scrimgeour had to suppress another shudder. The attacks had so far mainly been against Muggles; innocent people attacked in their homes and Confunded, tortured and, increasingly, murdered. The Ministry had been working flat-out to try and track down the culprits, as well as work out a way to explain each disappearance and death to the Muggle authorities. If these people were now attacking witches and wizards, they were surely growing stronger. This mysterious army's crimes were growing bolder, and the Aurors hadn't yet found a single useful lead. All they ever found was bodies.
'You're too young to remember Grindelwald's reign,' sighed Moody, leaning heavily against the doorframe. 'We had refugees spilling into the country for decades, fleeing his army. They came with stories of frozen prisons, legions of inferi... It was terrible, Rufus. Terrible. And yet, we knew who they were fleeing. An enemy with a name is one you can fight. These masked wizards, these cowards attacking Muggles, attacking children... they're ghosts, damn them.'
Silence fell as the two Aurors turned their frustrations over in their minds once again. A clerk hurried past the office, a long ream of parchment flying out behind him like a banner. Moody's new glass eye spun around in its socket, following the young man down the hallway.
'You!' he barked, turning to beckon the clerk back towards the Auror Office. 'C'mere, lad.'
The clerk appeared in the doorway a moment later, looking slightly nervous. He was a tall, bespectacled young man, with neatly combed red hair and ink-stained fingers.
'Mr Moody? D-do you need some parchment?' asked the clerk, glancing down at the pile of fresh stationary in his arms.
Scrimgeour's thin lips twitched into a smirk, but Moody's face remained stony. He was surveying the man carefully, as if he was reading words printed across the clerk's face. The clerk looked back at him, with only the mildest look of puzzlement furrowing his brow. Moody seemed to come to a decision, for he nodded tersely, and stepped aside to allow the young man into the room.
'You work in the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts office, correct?' asked Moody sharply. 'Wesley, isn't it?'
The young man cleared his throat. 'It's 'Weasley', sir. Arthur Weasley. And yes, I've been at the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts office for a year.'
'Seen a lot of action, have you?' asked Scrimgeour, glancing at Moody.
Arthur drew himself up, pride shining in his eyes. 'I fought off a particularly vicious pair of oven gloves the other day. And last week, I successfully tracked down a witch who kept enchanting shopping trolleys to roll off to one side.'
Scrimgeour suppressed a snort of laughter as Moody gave the young man a rough clap on the shoulder. 'Well done, laddie. Now, have you ever seen a dead body?'
The smile vanished instantly from Arthur Weasley's face. He swallowed, staring at Moody.
'There's been an attack in Islington,' Scrimgeour supplied. 'Our team are at the scene, but there are a lot of Muggle objects there acting strangely, and we're not certain if it's safe to go near them.'
'An attack?' asked Arthur, looking from Moody's stony face to Scrimgeour's grim, leonine features. 'Another one?'
'Yes,' said Moody curtly. 'The Wainwright family were murdered last night.'
Arthur's face was ashen. 'Not Eddie Wainwright? He was Head Boy when I started at Hogwarts... He has young children, doesn't he?'
'Three girls,' said Moody, watching Arthur closely. 'All dead. Their mother was a Muggle.'
Arthur felt a wave of nausea pass through his body, followed by an unprecedented surge of anger. 'Is that why they were targeted?'
'It seems likely,' Scrimgeour nodded. 'Particularly considering the defacement of the Muggle items in the house. Many of them appear to have been cursed.'
'Which is why we'd like you to accompany us back to Islington,' explained Moody.
Arthur gulped, and looked down at the sheaf of parchment in his arms. He'd just been restocking the office supplies, because nothing ever happened on a Friday, and Mr Perkins had gone home early. Arthur had been planning on having a quiet lunch, followed by writing up his report on a revolving door in Camberley that kept speeding up whenever a Muggle tried to step in. And now, he'd been accosted by two of the most senior Aurors in the Ministry, and they were talking about murder and curses... A sense of foreboding was creeping up on Arthur, and really he wanted nothing more than to turn around and leave.
But he could hardly say, 'No thanks, Mr Moody. I'd rather stay here and eat my sandwiches.' The Aurors needed the expertise of the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts office, and Arthur Weasley, though only twenty years old and barely out of his apprenticeship, was, on that rainy morning, the only man for the job.
He put down the pile of parchment on a nearby desk, and rolled up his sleeves, taking a moment to quietly brace himself before nodding his assent. When he looked up, both Moody and Scrimgeour were watching him with looks of appraisal. He couldn't be sure, for both men were hard to read, but he seemed to have somehow impressed them.
Moody stepped forward and wrapped a large, callused hand around Arthur's forearm. Before Arthur had time to think, they had Disapparated, and he felt his head swim as he tried to focus on the grip anchoring him firmly to Moody's side. As quickly as it had started, the lurching, sickening sensation stopped, and Arthur found himself standing in what appeared at first glance to be a perfectly ordinary hallway.
Brightly coloured children's coats hung from low hooks, beneath which a pile of wellingtons and other shoes was jumbled all together. Arthur could imagine the last minute hurry to find the right shoes for each child whenever the family went out; it had been the same in his own home, as the middle of three brothers.
The doorway, however, was where normality ended. The door into the living room was hanging from its hinges, and splatters and streaks of blood along the walls and floor told their own horrific tale. Moody watched grimly as Arthur, somehow unable to stop himself, followed the blood drops slowly down the hallway and into the devastation of the kitchen. Moving mechanically, he seemed almost heedless of the Aurors hurrying back and forth past him, and regardless of the loud bangs and thuds of cursed objects fighting against the magical law enforcement officers. Arthur took a deep breath and stepped, young face set grimly, into the devastated kitchen, where the bodies lay.
The next morning, a dense fog was swirling so thickly that Molly Prewett could barely make out the long greenhouses in the field behind her house. If she squinted, she could just about imagine that she could see the slow, deliberate movements of her father as he tended to the flowers and plants on which his livelihood depended.
Barnabas Prewett was a kind, gentle man whose world revolved around the yellowing of a leaf, the sprouting of a shoot. The realities of dealing with a world that wanted to buy his plants were quite overwhelming, and it was for this reason that he regarded his enterprising, confident sons as a true gift. Fabian and Gideon handled the business, travelling here and there to meet with potioneers and other botanists, bringing back exotic stem cuttings, and pursuading merchants that they really would not find a better Fanged Geranium in all of England.
Since her mother's death that past January, Molly had noticed that her father was spending more and more time alone in the greenhouses. Every now and then, she would glass through one of the perspiring windows and see Barnaby standing quite still, staring absently at a Dirigible Plum shoot as though his mind was quite elsewhere. Now, Molly resolved to take her father a cup of tea. He always brightened at her visits, and often liked to show her how each of his plant specimens was growing.
Thanks to her dad, Molly knew the English and Latin names of each species, their uses, their antidotes... She knew which were his favourites, and which he grew merely because Fabian insisted, due to their value. Molly allowed her thoughts to flutter down to the baby growing within her, and she gave a little smile as she thought of her father teaching his grandchild, just as he'd taught her. As she turned to fill the kettle, a smudge in the sky outside caught her eye.
As Molly watched, the dark shape grew more and more distinct as it drew nearer to the window, until eventually she recognised Orla, the Weasley family's tawny owl. Molly pursed her lips slightly. Arthur hadn't shown up for dinner the night before, prompting her brothers to joke that he'd probably found himself a nice Muggle girl; her boyfriend's fascination with all things non-magical was another running joke around the Prewett family's kitchen table. Her brothers and father also delighted in treating young Arthur Weasley as though he were some sort of rascal, set on ruining Molly's reputation. She couldn't help but chuckle to herself as she imagined Fabian and Gideon's faces when they found out that their little sister was, indeed, pregnant.
The twin's laughter had stopped quickly with a quelling look from Molly, who, despite her youth, was somehow able to silence her brothers with an angry glance. The silence had turned to anxiety when news had reached them of more attacks in and around London... magical families this time. Fabian and Gideon had been very shaken by the news of Eddie Wainwright's death; they had played Quidditch with him at Hogwarts. The boys both asked to leave the table early, and Molly had pushed away her plate, food uneaten.
Now, she pushed open the kitchen window to allow Orla to swoop in, and grabbed a handful of owl treats from a bowl by the sink. Orla began pecking appreciatively at the treats as Molly untied the parchment and began to read.
I'm so sorry I didn't come over last night - I hope you weren't too upset. I don't know if you heard the news about the attacks in Islington, but I somehow got mixed up in it all. I'm alright! Don't panic. But it was just terrible, and I wouldn't have been good company yesterday - I needed some time to think.
It wasn't until two o'clock this morning that I realised that I should have just come to talk it all over with you. You always know how to make it all better, Mols... I don't know how you do it. Anyway, I hope you're feeling adventurous - "
Molly raised her eyebrows, giggling quietly to herself.
" - because I've got an idea that I'm pretty pleased with, and I hope you will be too. I've got the day off work, and I'll be at your house at ten o'clock this morning. Pack an overnight bag - pyjamas optional, haha - and don't mention anything about this to your folks. Trust me!
I love you.
Molly's mind was racing. Pack a bag? Where were they going? What did Arthur have to think about? And how on earth was he caught up in that awful business in Islington? She looked at Orla, confusion furrowing her brow. The owl merely stared back at her, and hooted softly. Molly glanced at the clock... already nine o'clock... he'd be at the cottage in an hour.
'I don't have time to reply, Orla. You can just fly home when you feel rested,' she said, and the owl gave another gentle hoot and fluttered up to the mantelpiece before tucking her head beneath a wing and falling asleep.
Molly went to run up the stairs to her room and pack a bag, knowing that she'd probably unpack and repack it more than once, as she had no idea of her destination. However, as she turned, she caught a glimpse of her father, short and red-headed, coming out of his greenhouse. He waved cheerily at her through the window, and Molly remembered that she had not made him his cup of tea. She paused for only a moment as she looked from the letter in her hand to the kettle, before moving to the cupboard and retrieving her father's favourite mug.
A little over an hour later, Molly was making yet another cup of tea. Arthur had told her about his experience the day before, although she was fairly sure that he had kept the worst of it from her. A certain anger had shone through the horror on his face, mingled with a sadness that Molly just wanted to kiss away.
She'd settled instead for offering to make a pot of tea, and Arthur had been strangely enthusiastic about the idea. Molly supposed that he had wanted her out of the room so that he could wipe away the tears glistening behind his glasses. Standing on tiptoe, Molly reached for a large tartan tin, and drew it down from the shelf. Peeking inside, she saw that the twins hadn't finished all of the Ginger Newt biscuits, and smiled; they were Arthur's favourites. She hurried back into the living room to ask if he'd like one with his tea.
'We've got Ginger Newts if you want one -' Molly began, before stammering to a halt. 'W-what are you doing, Arthur?'
Her boyfriend was kneeling on the hearth rug and beaming up at her, a small velvet box held in his outstretched hand. Molly's heart seemed to leap into her throat, and she took a small step towards Arthur, biscuit tin still firmly clutched in her hands.
'I was going to ask you anyway,' said Arthur, nervously running his free hand through his hair. 'I just don't know what I was waiting for. I love you so much, and now I'm earning some money, and we're -' he lowered his voice, '- having a baby... And bad things are coming. I've seen them. I want to be married to you.'
Molly's eyes were brimming with happy tears as she looked down at Arthur. She laid down the biscuit tin on the coffee table, and moved closer to him. She'd always wondered how Arthur would ask her, and now that it was here, in her living room, over a cup of tea, it felt strangely perfect.
'Go on then,' she whispered, her voice sticking in her throat. Arthur looked puzzled, and Molly let out a bubble of a laugh. 'Ask me!'
'Oh! Of course!' Arthur opened the little box, and Molly saw his mother's goblin-wrought diamond ring winking brightly out at her. 'Molly Ginevra Prewett,' he smiled self-consciously, 'Will you marry me?'
Molly threw herself at Arthur, and he laughed, bracing himself as she wrapped her arms around him.
'Of course I will!' she squealed delightedly. She planted a lingering kiss on Arthur's lips, then hugged him tightly once again. When she pulled away, and Arthur helped to place the ring on her her shaking finger, she saw that he really was wiping away tears from beneath his glasses. Molly looked at him for a long moment, and then led him over to the sofa.
'Arthur,' she said quietly, 'Is this all because you're afraid?'
Arthur's brow furrowed, and he shook his head. 'No,' he said, and then hesitated. 'I just know that something terrible is coming, and we don't know anymore what tomorrow will bring. I work in Muggle welfare, and I know that could make me a target... Maybe it's selfish of me, reckless really, but I want to know that I will always have you to come home to. I want to be your husband... I want to take care of you. And I want our baby to be part of our family - you and me.'
Molly's eyes were glistening once again. The realities of getting married were suddenly blooming in her mind, like weeds sprouting amongst her father's roses.
'I can't leave my dad...' she began, but Arthur laid a hand over hers. She glanced down and saw the diamond twinkling at her again, and she couldn't help but give a little smile.
'You can't put your life on hold,' said Arthur gently. 'Your dad wouldn't want you to. I mean, your family have been going on at us to get married for years, anyway! And Molly...' he glanced at her tummy. 'We need to get married before your father marches me down the aisle at wandpoint.'
'Listen, getting married doesn't mean you'll have to abandon your family. I'll be able to look after you, like you deserve, and you'll still be able to keep an eye on your dad and the boys.'
Molly's lip wobbled at Arthur's enduring patience and kindness.
'But where will we live?'
'Well, Bilius has leant me a few Galleons, and with my savings I've got enough to buy the old pig barn over the hill,' beamed Arthur, his eyes suddenly alight with excitement. 'Gideon and Fabian can help me fix it up, and you and I can stay here until it's done.'
'Oh, Arthur,' sighed Molly contentedly. 'You've thought of everything.'
'There's only one thing,' he said, interlacing his fingers with Molly's. 'We've only got enough money for either a house, or a big wedding....'
'House,' said Molly instantly. 'We need a home for the baby, and I really don't want Aunt Muriel breathing down my neck about dresses, and flowers, and repeating everything the village gossips have already said.'
Arthur grinned. 'Good. Have you got your bag packed? The train leaves in half an hour.'
'Train?' asked Molly, confused. 'Aren't we Apparating?'
'I thought it might be more of an adventure if we took a Muggle train...' said Arthur, sheepishly. 'There's a place called Gretna Green that Muggles elope to all the time.'
Molly smiled. It was turning out to be Arthur's perfect wedding.
The Muggle train was not at all as comfortable as the Hogwarts Express had been. The compartments were a lot smaller, and the seats were a rough brown velour. It was highly disconcerting to Molly to look out of the window and find that there was no steam coming from the engine; Arthur bracingly informed her that the whole thing ran on something called 'eckeltricity', which was something like magic, except that Muggles could use it, and it could kill you far more easily. Molly spent the rest of the journey curled up on the seat, trying not to touch the walls or the floor.
After a few hours, an elderly lady appeared, pushing a trolley laden with food and drinks. Molly was relieved. She'd been craving a Cauldron Cake all morning... At least, she told herself it was a craving. However, when she'd asked for one, the woman had stared at her in confusion until Arthur leapt up and bought something called a 'jackflap' instead, which didn't sound appetising in the slightest. Molly had been pleasantly surprised when the Muggle treat had turned out to be completely delicious, even if she was still picking it out of her teeth as they crossed the border into Scotland.
When the train stopped in Gretna Green, the drizzling rain that had accompanied them all the way from Ottery St Catchpole became a deluge, and they ran to the tourist information office together, laughing.
Their spirits became nearly as dampened as their clothes when the stern-faced man behind the desk informed them that they needed to have been resident in Scotland for at least three weeks before they could get married. As Molly followed Arthur back out into the rain, she saw his shoulders droop in disappointment.
'I'm so sorry, Molly,' he sighed, leaning against the wall of the information office and wiping the rain ineffectually from his spectacles. 'I guess we'll just have to go home, and do it properly.'
Molly looked up and down the street before pulling out her wand and pointing them at Arthur's spectacles. 'Impervio,' she muttered, and the glass instantly became water-repellent. 'No, Arthur,' she said firmly. 'I intend to be Mrs Weasley by the end of this weekend. Let's go to Hogsmeade. That's where Astrid and Xeno Lovegood eloped to last year, and she said it was fine... Barely any questions asked.'
Arthur looked worried. 'But people will know us there, Molly. We were regulars at The Three Broomsticks in our last two years at school.'
'We won't stay at Rosmerta's,' said Molly simply, picking up her bag and plodding steadfastly through the rain, looking for a secluded area from which they could safely Apparate. 'We'll go to The Hog's Head.'
'That murky old place?' Arthur asked, hurrying to catch up with her. 'Is that really where you want to spend our wedding night?'
'As long as I'm spending it with you, I couldn't care less about the setting,' she replied stoically. 'We could sleep in a cave, for all it matters. Ah, this will do.'
Arthur watched Molly Prewett march into a narrow alleyway, and shook his head, grinning, as he followed her. A moment later, a loud CRACK echoed around the street, and the young couple had disappeared from sight.
As Molly and Arthur splashed through the puddles on the Main Street of Hogsmeade, a bright poster in the window of Madam Puddifoot's tea shop caught Arthur's eye, and he paused for a moment to stare at it, before pulling Molly back to show it to her.
The poster bore a photograph of something he'd seen only the day before; a great glittering skull, formed from bright green stars, hovering in the sky. A huge snake was twisting out of its open jaw... Arthur gulped. The photograph had been cropped carefully, but he knew what death and mayhem lay in the house below the symbol. Large letters emblazoned across the poster bore a stark warning:
IF YOU SEE THE DARK MARK, DO NOT APPROACH.
SEEK LAW ENFORCEMENT ASSISTANCE IMMEDIATELY.
'The Dark Mark?' Molly whispered, slipping her hand into Arthur's. 'It has a name now?'
Arthur squeezed her fingers, but did not speak. A pair of elderly ladies were sitting behind the glass, sharing tea and crumpets, and snatches of their conversation were quite audible. They'd just said the name 'Wainwright', and Arthur edged closer to the window, pretending to re-read the poster.
'...the whole family, they say,' squeaked one of the women, her eyes wide over her teacup.
'Well, he did marry a Muggle, Enid... Some might say he had it coming,' intoned the second woman darkly. Arthur heard Molly gasp. She had never come across the type of anti-Muggle discrimination he heard every day.
'But, the children, Vera!"
'It could be anyone next,' sniffed the woman named Vera. 'You have Muggleborn friends, dear, you might watch your back...'
Molly tugged insistently at Arthur's hand. 'Come on, darling. Don't think about that right now.'
Arthur looked down at the concern on her pretty, freckled face, and let go of the breath he'd been holding. She was right; today wasn't about yesterday. They were planning their tomorrow.
When they burst through the front door of The Hog's Head, drenched from head to toe, it was, unfortunately, just as dingy as Arthur recalled. He tried to look as though he hadn't noticed the cobwebs arcing across the rafters, or the spiders scuttling over the bar, as he smiled politely at the dour landlord and asked for a room.
'Name?' growled the man, eyeing the couple with interest.
'Uh... yes... I'm Wesley...' Arthur cast about for inspiration, and his eyes fell upon a creature in the corner of the bar, who was quite possibly the source of the dank, earthy smell pervading the place. '...Goat. Mr Wesley Goat. And this is my wife, Millie,' Arthur continued, indicating Molly, who was trying very hard not to laugh.
The landlord rolled his eyes. 'Millie Goat,' he said gruffly. 'Well, it's original. Makes a change from the John and Jane Smiths I usually get. Room Three.'
He handed a key to Arthur, and went back to wiping a pint glass with a grimy cloth. Arthur could see Molly looking at the glass with disgust, and knew she was longing to scourgify it. Grabbing her hand, he pulled her along towards the stairs.
'Come along, Millie,' he murmured soothingly. 'We've got a wedding to go to.'
Half an hour later, the owl that they had quickly dispatched to the village priestess had returned with a note saying that she would be able to conduct the ceremony on short notice, but that she wouldn't be able to give them any of the bells and whistles - in fact, it would be quite similar to a Muggle ceremony. And, the priestess's note had added, they'd have to hurry if they wanted to get to the chapel before sundown.
'I'm sorry it won't be a more traditional ceremony,' said Arthur, as he and Molly struggled to dry themselves in the cramped, dusty bedroom. 'I know I love all things Muggle, but...'
'Arthur,' said Molly, stepping forward to place a hand on his chest. 'The promises I'm about to make to you are stronger than any incantation or spell. They mean more to me than any Unbreakable Vow. I'm going to choose to be your wife every day, for the rest of my life.'
She felt his heart pounding against her hand, and let him pull her close. He kissed her deeply, seriously, before stepping back to look at her once again. 'I love you, Molly.'
'I love you too, Arthur,' she said softly. 'Now hurry up, we don't want to miss our wedding.'
When he was sufficiently dry, Arthur put on the deep blue dress robes he'd borrowed from his older brother, Lancelot, and went downstairs to wait for his bride.
Molly didn't want to leave him alone for too long, knowing that the poor boy was sitting in the bar with nobody but the landlord and his goat for company, but she was aware that this was it; her one and only wedding. So, she wanted to look half-decent, because this was a moment that she and Arthur would look back on for the rest of their lives.
Molly jabbed at her hair with her wand, coaxing her unruly red curls into a mass of soft ringlets and braids. Carefully, she reached into her carpet bag and unrolled one of her most treasured possessions, which she had asked Arthur to help her retrieve from the attic before leaving Ottery St Catchpole. Despite the excited pounding of her heart, Molly's movements were smooth as she stepped into the dress and tied the ivory sash around her waist.
'Oh, Mum,' she sighed, as she looked into the dirt-specked mirror. Pointing her wand over her shoulder, Molly felt the tiny buttons dotting up the spine of her mother's wedding dress come together. 'I wish you were here.'
As she cast her eyes downwards, Molly's attention was drawn by the little diamond glittering on her left hand. She'd been admiring it throughout the day, and Arthur had laughed at her more than once when he'd realised he'd been chattering away about ekceltricity or the railway, and she hadn't heard a word. A wave of happiness spread through Molly for the hundredth time that day. She was about to marry the boy she'd loved almost since his name was called during their Sorting and he'd joined her at the Gryffindor table. She thought about the posters they'd seen in the village, about Eddie Wainwright, about a great glittering skull, but no fear thrilled through her body. She felt safe. She felt happy. She couldn't wait to marry Arthur Weasley.
Molly stepped back and gave herself an appraising look in the mirror. Not bad, she thought. Goodbye, Molly Prewett.