Molly stood outside the castle, waiting for the horseless carriages that would bring the students to Hogsmeade Station to catch the train home. All her things were packed neatly in her school trunk, stacked next to Hattie's and Siobhan's trunks (Siobhan's having been packed by Hattie the previous night, since Siobhan never did it herself).
Hattie was telling them all about her flat in Diagon Alley. Molly smiled as she listened to her best friend's raptures. Hattie was so pleased to be out on her own, though her mum was paying half her rent until Hattie got on her feet.
“I need a place of my own,” Siobhan said thoughtfully when Hattie finally paused for a breath. “I could do with some privacy.”
Molly rolled her eyes. She knew exactly what Siobhan wanted with her privacy. “Yes, I'm sure you could.”
“My great-aunt Adelaide has a room to let,” Hattie volunteered. “She lives in London, in an old wizard neighbourhood. It's not very big, but-”
“It sounds great,” Siobhan said firmly. “Can I see it tomorrow?”
“Don't you want to stay with Cecilia?” Molly asked.
Siobhan glanced over at Cecilia, who was approaching with Reid and Arthur beside her, all three of them laughing. Molly smiled at her boyfriend.
“No,” Siobhan said loudly, obviously for Cecilia's benefit. “I definitely don't want to stay with that crazy old harpy. Besides, I think she's got other plans.”
“You're not talking about me, are you?” Cecilia said happily, her laughter still on her face. Molly rather envied them their new jobs at the Ministry. Arthur had been officially hired by Mr. Fletcher just yesterday and was over the moon about it. He'd been practically inseparable from Cecilia since she'd delivered the news. She would be working for her father as well, and Molly felt a little left out.
“Of course we weren't,” Hattie said, shooting Siobhan a quelling glare. Siobhan only grinned.
Cecilia raised an eyebrow at Siobhan, and Molly guessed she knew perfectly well they'd been talking about her. Cecilia didn't seem upset, though. If anything, she was more cheerful than Molly had ever seen her.
“You three look very pleased with yourselves,” Hattie observed neutrally.
“We've all got jobs at the Ministry. When N.E.W.T. results are back, they'll probably give me a promotion,” Reid bragged.
“Yes, but you've only got that job because of your father,” Hattie pointed out. “And Arthur and Cecilia have only got their jobs because of her father.”
“I've only got the job because he's my father,” Cecilia said dryly. “Arthur got the job because he's Arthur. My father is half in love with him already just from a few owls. He says you're going to be his protégé,” she added, smiling at Arthur.
He grinned enthusiastically. “Mr. Fletcher is really brilliant.”
Molly smiled gamely at him, wishing she were involved in something grander than herself as well. She felt rather at loose ends now, taking the summer off and simply living at home. Everyone else had plans, jobs, futures. Everyone was moving on, out on their own, except her. Hattie said there was plenty of time for the future, but Molly didn't like the uncertainty.
“Well, to return the conversation to me, I won't start for another month or two,” Reid said airily. “After this year, I need a rest. My dad agreed it was best. As soon as I start at the Ministry though, I'm moving out. I've already signed a lease. I move in July first. Brilliant, yeah?”
Cecilia smirked a bit at this, but she didn't say anything, and Molly frowned suspiciously. Cecilia didn't normally hold her opinions back on anything Reid did, so Molly rather thought Cecilia had something in mind for Reid's new flat.
Molly turned over her shoulder at the sound of footsteps. Petula was hurrying toward them, looking out of breath, with Dunstan at her heels.
“Sorry,” Petula puffed, coming to an abrupt stop next to Hattie. “I meant to come by earlier, but I was busy with Thomas and-”
“Yes, yes, you and Dunstan are practically Hufflepuffs now, we know,” Reid said, waving her apology aside.
Petula's cheeks turned red, and Dunstan retorted, “It's all over, Reid. None of us are Hufflepuffs or Gryffindors or anything else now. Just witches and wizards.”
“Speak for yourself, Dunstan. I'll always be a Gryffindor,” Arthur said proudly. Molly smiled fondly at him.
“We're riding in Thomas's compartment,” Petula told them. “I didn't want to leave the school without a chat with you lot.”
Siobhan rolled her eyes. “I'm sure we'll see you on the train, Petula.”
“Don't be silly,” drawled Reid, slinging an arm around Dunstan's shoulders. “She's practically tied to Thomas's apron strings, just like Dunstan and Gemma. They'll be too busy for their old mates.”
Dunstan shoved him off, but he didn't look annoyed. Molly rather thought he must be accustomed to Reid's teasing by now.
“Speaking of our former classmates,” Reid said as a handful of Ravenclaw fifth-years walked past them, “Has anyone heard anything else about Twyla Carpenter?”
“Dorothy Sharpe says Twyla's grandmother is taking her to Germany,” Petula volunteered immediately. “Her grandmother grew up there, and she reckons it's safer than staying in England. At least until this... whatever it is, until it's all over.”
“They're calling it a war now, you know, in the Ministry,” said Cecilia. “My father says it doesn't quite fit the legal definition, but he believes it is a war nevertheless.”
“The Death Eaters are getting braver.” Hattie's brows were knitted in concern. “Look at what happened to Twyla's parents. We ought all be careful this summer. Don't let your guard down for a moment. Promise?”
Reid waved a hand and said breezily, “We'll be fine, Hattie. Besides, you'll be around to remind us.”
“You will still be around, won't you?” Petula asked anxiously, looking around at all of them. “We'll all still be friends now school is out?”
“Don't be ridiculous,” Cecilia said briskly. “Of course we'll all be friends after we leave school. I haven't put up with you lot for this long just to give up now.”
Hattie beamed. “We'll get to see each other loads of times, really. We'll have so much free time now we don't have to study any more.”
Petula let out a small sniff, looking up at the castle. “I don't want to leave school. I love it here.”
“You've done nothing but complain for seven years!” Siobhan said in disbelief.
Hattie gave Petula a consoling pat on the shoulder. “It'll be all right, Petula.”
“You're going to be getting married this fall, you'll have a lot to keep you busy. You won't even think about school,” Molly assured her. “All you'll think about is Thomas and the wedding. Don't worry, Petula.”
Reid had taken a step away from Petula when her tears had threatened, but now that there seemed no imminent danger of weeping, he edged closer to the group again.
Cecilia was gazing out across the lake. “I know what you mean, though, Petula. I'm going to miss this place.”
“You hated everyone,” Siobhan pointed out.
“I'm going to miss it, too,” Molly said quietly. She could feel her own throat closing with tears as well. She hadn't really thought of it, but she quite loved Hogwarts as well. She would miss her friends terribly, after living with them for the past seven years, it was going to be very lonely at home with only her brothers and parents for daily company. Suddenly leaving school didn't seem quite as marvellous. She leaned into Arthur and was glad to feel his arm around her, giving her waist a squeeze.
Hattie gave a loud sniff, fumbling in her handbag for a handkerchief, and Dunstan coughed and wiped his nose with the back of his hand.
Siobhan threw her hands up. “You're all bloody ridiculous.”
Reid grimaced, reaching out to give Hattie's shoulder a half-hearted pat. “Don't cry, old girl. You know I hate that.” He glanced at Cecilia askance. “You're not going to start crying too, are you?”
“Shut up, Reid,” Cecilia said. She was dry-eyed, though Molly thought her voice sounded rather more emotional than she normally did.
Reid looked relieved. “I thought I might have to throw you in the lake or something if you did.”
Cecilia gave him a look. Hattie finished mopping her eyes, and smiled tremulously at them all.
“Chop chop, you lot,” she said, shooing them toward the carriages. “We don't want to miss the train.”
Petula waved to them and rushed back over to where Thomas was waiting, and Dunstan gave Reid one of those odd punches to the shoulder that boys often did when they wanted to hug but couldn't bring themselves to burden their male pride with a show of emotion, then shook Arthur's hand vigorously and set off after Petula.
“Abandoning us for the Hufflepuffs,” Reid said, shaking his head in mock sorrow.
“Get in the carriage, Reid,” Cecilia commanded, stepping up into the nearest carriage.
“Bossy, bossy,” he said, but he climbed in behind her anyway.
Arthur gave Molly a hand up into the carriage they were sharing with Hattie. She made herself comfortable as he helped Hattie up as well, then smiled at him and took his hand as he sat down next to her.
“Here we go,” Hattie said, clutching her handbag tightly in her lap.
Molly twisted around in her seat as the carriage set off with a small jolt, and watched the castle until it disappeared around a bend in the road. Arthur squeezed her hand as she turned back around to face the road ahead.
She looked up at him, and he gave her a bright smile. He was so confident, so happy to be out of school. He had a purpose. She wondered what hers would be.
He seemed to realize she wasn't feeling quite herself, and pulled her close. “It'll all turn out all right, Molly,” he whispered, kissing her temple. “I love you.”
Hattie was looking away politely, pretending she didn't see them, so Molly turned her head and kissed him full on the lips. “I love you too, Arthur.”
Author's Note: Thank you to everyone who has stuck with this to the end. Never fear, the Unsinkable-verse isn't over yet. Check back on my author page for the next part of their story, coming very soon (as it's already written and only needs to be posted): “At The Hour”.