“Petula, put that away and pay attention,” Molly said severely, frowning at her friend.
Petula didn't look concerned. “He's not watching. Don't worry so much.”
“That's really funny, coming from you,” Siobhan said.
Petula stuck out her tongue and went back to her book. She had charmed a spoon to stir her potion, which was not at all the shade of green that it ought to be, and was ignoring it and reading a Muggle horror novel under the desk.
Professor Slughorn had dozed off at his desk, his bushy moustache quivering with each breath and hands folded over his large belly, allowing the seventh-years to brew their potions – a Scintillating Solution – unsupervised. No one seemed concerned about this, as Slughorn had taught the potion briefly last year as well. Molly never minded when Professor Slughorn took one of his 'wee catnaps', as it gave her an opportunity for a morning chat with her friends. All five of the Gryffindor seventh-year girls were in N.E.W.T.-level Potions.
“I think I'm turning into my mum,” Cecilia said as she dropped a handful of hellebore into her cauldron. “Only this morning I told a first-year if she didn't stop making rude faces, her face would stick that way, and yesterday I said 'drat'. Any day now I'm probably going to say 'Don't make me turn this broom around!'”
“My mum says we all just become watered-down versions of our parents,” Petula said airily, not looking up from her book.
Molly felt a squirm of discomfort at that statement. She had no intention of turning into her mother, and liked to think they weren't at all alike. “That's... not true.”
“Oh really?” Siobhan said, arching an eyebrow. “I've met your mum.”
“She's got a point,” Hattie murmured, and Molly shot her a glare.
“Well, I wouldn't mind being like my father,” Reid drawled. He had joined their group that year, helping Cecilia to scoot two tables together so all six of them could brew their potions near each other. Slughorn hadn't seemed to mind the irregular classroom formation; Cecilia and Reid were two of his favourite students. “He's quite talented, and very groovy. You know he works for the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad.”
“You are very much like him,” Cecilia told him.
“You didn't really just say 'groovy', did you?” Siobhan asked, gazing askance at Reid. “That's a Muggle word. Where did you even learn that?”
“From Cosmo,” Reid said. “I quite like it. It's very evocative, isn't it? Groovy. I like saying it. Groovy.”
“It amazes me sometimes what an idiot you are,” Cecilia said, smiling fondly at him.
“Groovy,” he said again, grinning at her.
Molly shook her head at them. Siobhan rolled her eyes.
“I heard you got a detention last night,” Reid said then, turning to Petula, who finally put her book away, heaving a sigh.
“Yes, I did.”
“Why?” Molly asked in surprise. Despite Petula's poor marks, she'd never been in serious trouble at school.
“Oh, Acacia Bushby-Ferris caught me with Thomas out after curfew,” Petula said, blushing slightly, though she looked rather proud.
“Well done,” Siobhan said.
“Don't encourage her,” Hattie said severely.
“That stupid cow,” Cecilia muttered. Reid gave her a kiss on the cheek, glancing over his shoulder afterwards to make certain Slughorn was still asleep.
Cecilia had, for some time now, disliked Acacia Bushby-Ferris, who was a year below them and a prefect as well. Acacia had a low tolerance for what she considered 'lewd behaviour' and had taken points from Siobhan last year after catching her in a compromising position with the boy she'd been seeing at the time, causing a row with Cecilia, who'd considered the punishment unjust.
“Sorry you got a detention,” Hattie said sympathetically.
“I got the feeling Acacia really enjoyed giving me a detention,” Petula said. “Honestly, I think she's got it in for me.”
No one looked particularly concerned by this.
“Yes, but you think everyone has it in for you,” Molly said.
“I'm only saying, you lot ought to watch out, because she'll put you in detention as well if she catches you out. She doesn't like any of us,” Petula said, eyeing Siobhan.
When class was over, and Slughorn had been woken gently by Cecilia, Petula split off from the group to go to Muggle Studies, and Reid and Siobhan headed for Care of Magical Creatures. Cecilia declined an invitation for some fresh air with Molly and Hattie and went to the library.
Molly found a spot in the courtyard with a view of the lake, sitting on the low stone wall that separated the open courtyard from the surrounding covered corridors. Hattie said next to her, crossing her ankles and making sure her skirts were smoothed down.
“How are things with you and Silvester?” Molly asked.
“Fine,” said Hattie, but she looked a little distracted.
“How are things with your mother and her new boyfriend?” Molly asked then, and Hattie seemed to deflate a bit.
She looked furtively over her shoulder, for what Molly wasn't certain, and then turned to Molly. “I wasn't going to say anything, but I just have to. Please don't think I'm awful.”
“I would never think that,” Molly assured her, her curiosity piqued.
“I tried to talk to my mother about it this summer, but she simply didn't want to listen to me,” Hattie said. “Molly, I think she wants to marry him!”
“You don't want her to get married again?”
“I want her to be happy,” Hattie said firmly. “He's quite nice. It's just... He's a Muggle.”
Molly frowned sympathetically. “I know.”
“And she's so smart, why would she want to marry a Muggle?” Hattie asked, looking bewildered.
“Plenty of witches marry Muggles,” Molly said, though no one in her family ever had. “I don't think being smart has anything to do with love. Does he know she's a witch?”
“No. He has no idea. She can't tell him she's a witch unless she marries him, otherwise it's breaking the Statute of Secrecy.”
“Isn't that awful,” Molly murmured. “Has he asked her to marry him?”
“I'm sure she would have told me,” Hattie said helplessly. “She's always told me everything. It's been just her and me, since Dad died, you know.”
Molly nodded. “Do you think she would say yes, if he did ask?”
“I hope not,” Hattie whispered wretchedly.
Molly didn't know what to say to that. Hattie looked quite miserable. She thought perhaps Hattie had never even realized she had prejudices against Muggles, until they had been brought out this summer at the introduction of her mother's Muggle boyfriend.
Molly had never actually met a Muggle before. She'd seen them a few times while her family was out and about in London, but she'd never spoken to one. Her family lived in a small village that was all-wizard, and rarely left the village. She knew her cousin who was a Squib had been sent to live with the Muggles, but no one in the family ever talked about him. It was as if he had ceased to exist when his magic never came. She couldn't imagine wanting to date one, much less marry them. It would be like being around one of the alien species in Petula's books.
Was she prejudiced as well? She had never thought about it before.
“You know, I've always thought that rule in the Statute was very silly,” she said abruptly. “How horrible to have to lie to the person you love, about something so important, too, until after it's too late for them to say they don't want to be part of both worlds. What if they hated you for being magical?”
“I suppose you have to choose very carefully what sort of person you marry,” Hattie said.
“You should do that anyway,” Molly said sternly.
“Yes, but you know what I mean.”
They sat looking at the lake for a time in silence, then Hattie said, “Do you ever worry about marrying Arthur?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, because his family has such a reputation, you know...”
Molly stared, unseeing, at the lake. She hated when someone insulted Arthur's family. They were such good people. But the Weasleys had always been known as blood traitors. Did it bother her?
“I don't like when others say those horrible things about him,” she said. “But I don't mind any of that about him and his family.”
“You're braver than I am. I don't want my mother to marry a Muggle,” Hattie said, her voice low and embarrassed, as if confessing a dark sin. “Not because of him, he's nice and all, but because of what people will say. I hate to think I'll be gossiped about. And... I don't want him to take my mother away from me. I'm an awful person, aren't I. How did I ever get to be a Gryffindor?”
Molly put her arm around Hattie's shoulders. “You're not awful or cowardly at all, you're only worried for your mum's well-being, like any good daughter. Muggle-borns are being killed all the time lately, after all. Your mother could be endangering her life by marrying a Muggle.”
“She's a pureblood. She thinks she won't be in any danger.” Hattie closed her eyes, her eyebrows knitted together. “I never thought this would bother me so much. Why does this bother me so much?”
Molly had no answer to that, and could only pat her best friend's hand as the two girls sat in silence, staring at the dark water of the lake.
Arthur was waiting for her in the common room when they returned some time late. Hattie darted past him up to the girls' dormitory with only a brief smile, her face wan.
“What's the matter with Hattie?” he asked after she was out of earshot.
“She's just having some difficulty with the idea of her mother getting remarried,” Molly said in a low voice, sitting down on the sofa next to him.
He frowned. “Why is she upset? Because her mother's seeing a Muggle?”
“Yes, and it's exactly the wrong time for a witch to want to marry a Muggle.” Molly sighed and leaned her head on his shoulder.
“There's never a wrong time for tolerance,” Arthur said in a voice that indicated he was quoting someone. Molly suspected it was one of his father's platitudes.
“Yes, well,” she retorted, feeling rather snappish suddenly. “Hattie doesn't need to hear that right now. Give her some time. She's a good person, she just never had to think about this sort of thing before, and she is a pureblood, you know.”
“So am I, but I wouldn't have a problem with-”
“Arthur,” she said warningly, and he subsided.
“All right, I won't say anything to her. How was class this morning?”
She was in the middle of telling him about the morning's Potions lesson when Cosmo Graham came through the portrait hole with his fellow sixth-year, Levi Pascal, on his heels. He made a beeline for Arthur when he caught sight of him.
“Congratulations, Arthur!” Cosmo said, clapping him on the back. “I just heard.”
“Yeah, well done,” said Levi, grinning at him. “Chaser! This year we're going to win it, I can feel it!”
“All the best of last year's team and new talent as well,” Cosmo said happily. “I heard the new Keeper's very good.”
“Thanks,” Arthur said, grinning at them, a little embarrassedly.
“Got to run, but well done, mate. See you later. Hi Molly,” Cosmo added, seeming to notice her for the first time.
The two sixth-years went off toward their dormitory, and Molly stared at Arthur, whose ears had turned very red. He ducked away from her gaze, but after a moment he looked back up at her, squaring his shoulders.
“I thought you weren't going to try out for Quidditch this year,” she said coldly.
“I decided I would,” he said, sounding a little nervous. “I didn't want you to worry about it unless I made the team.”
“So you lied to me.”
Arthur's cheeks were flushed now too. “I'm sorry, Molly, but you were being unreasonable.”
Her mouth dropped open. She could not believe he had gone behind her back like this, lied to her and then gone and tried out for Quidditch anyway, and now he was defending what he'd done. She got to her feet, leaving her Charms book forgotten on the sofa, and paced in front of the fire, her arms crossed over her chest. How could he keep things from her? He knew she'd be upset, and he'd deliberately hidden it from her!
“You didn't want me to worry about it?”
“You could be pleased that I made the team,” he said, smiling gamely. He looked as if he thought she might shout at him. She rather thought she might, too.
“What about your studies? What about N.E.W.T.s?” she demanded. “How are you going to do well on your N.E.W.T.s if you're wasting time on Quidditch? You could destroy your entire future over a silly game!”
“You just don't understand Quidditch,” he said, and she wanted to scream. There were a handful of fifth and sixth year students in the common room, and she was determined not to shout at him in front of them.
“How will you have time for everything? Do you intend to fail all your N.E.W.T.s?”
Arthur frowned. “You're overreacting, Molly. Thad plays Quidditch, and he's a prefect, and he still manages to have time for everything,” he pointed out, going over to stand in her path, stopping her from pacing. “He's not failing any of his classes.”
“Yes, but he takes one less class than you do,” Molly said, feeling tears rising. She knew she was being silly and selfish; why shouldn't he play Quidditch if he wanted to? He would make the free time for it. It was just that she knew where that free time would have to come from. She wouldn't let him cut back on his studies, so it would have to come from their time together. She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself so he wouldn't see how upset she was about this. The anger was abruptly gone, replaced by an overpowering urge to cry.
She ought to have known better. As usual, Arthur immediately saw to the real reason she was upset, and pulled her close, whispering, “Thad still manages to have time for Cressida, as well. If he can do it, so can I.”
Molly rested her cheek against his chest and tried to blink back the tears. “I'm sorry, Arthur.”
“You can come watch our practices,” he said, sounding excited, as if he'd just solved the problem. “You could come to all of them, and watch me fly. It'll be fun.”
Molly kept her head down, leaning against him, so he wouldn't see her face.
She really didn't like Quidditch. It was so boring. She tried to convince herself that it would be different watching Arthur play it, but somehow that argument wasn't holding any water. This year was going to be awful: less time with Arthur, and more time spent watching stupid Quidditch, not to mention horribly important exams looming the entire time. She decided that mentioning that to him would not be wise.
“It won't be the same,” she sniffed instead. “And I really don't understand Quidditch, you know.”
Arthur chuckled. She could feel it rumbling through his chest, vibrating against her cheek. “Your brothers will be happy to explain it to you.”
Molly let out a groan, and Arthur laughed harder.
Arthur had Quidditch practice that Friday, and Molly promised to come down to the pitch to watch. She really didn't want to go, however, so she dawdled a bit in her dormitory after changing out of her school robes into a knitted skirt and jumper. She gathered up her current knitting project so she'd have something to do while she pretended to watch Quidditch practice. Once she felt she could no longer reasonably justify further delay, she set off for the pitch at a leisurely pace. She didn't know how long Quidditch practices normally lasted. Maybe they would have a short practice and would be done by the time she got there, and she would have missed the entire thing.
Cheered by this thought, she was humming to herself as she headed down the staircase, when a pair of figures ducked out from behind a tapestry on the second floor, splitting apart and heading in opposite directions.
Molly stopped on the landing and the figure headed her way looked up. Molly wasn't at all surprised to see who it was.
“Hi Molly,” Siobhan said, obviously trying to brazen out whatever she'd been up to behind the tapestry.
Molly was craning her neck to get a look at who Siobhan had been with, but the boy in question had quickened his pace. As he turned a corner and disappeared from sight, Molly looked back at her friend. “Was that Roddy Feltham?”
Siobhan frowned at her, crossing her arms tightly. “I don't want to talk about it.”
“I hope you let him down gently this time,” Molly told her severely, taking Siobhan's statement as confirmation that she had in fact been with Roddy. “You broke his heart last year.”
“Mind your own business, Molly,” Siobhan said, pushing past her to head up the stairs toward Gryffindor tower.
Molly watched her go with a frown. What was going on between Siobhan and Roddy? They'd gone out last year, though it had been brief, as all Siobhan's relationships were, and Roddy had spent the rest of the year looking at Siobhan somewhat longingly. Molly had felt rather sorry for him; he was quite a nice boy. Now they were already a few weeks into the school year and Siobhan had yet to turn up with a new boyfriend. Was she going back to Roddy?
Sighing, Molly continued on out of the castle and onto the grounds. She could see small figures flying in the air over the pitch as she approached it, looking tiny in the distance. As she drew closer, she began to make out details.
Thad was flying around in a looping pattern, crossing paths with Julian Kirkpatrick, the other Beater on the team. A boy she didn't know hovered in front of the hoops at one end of the field. She could see Atalanta Weekes up high above the others, though Atalanta didn't seem to be doing anything. In fact – Molly squinted for a better look – Atalanta had her ankles crossed under her broom to steady herself as she sat upright, and was picking at her nail varnish, ignoring the rest of the practice. Molly grinned then. Thad would kill Atalanta when he noticed what she was doing.
The Chasers were flying up and down the pitch, tossing the Quaffle back and forth. Molly assumed this was some sort of drill, but her Quidditch knowledge was limited. It looked very tricky. She watched then as Francine Allen's sturdy little form suddenly shot forward, the Quaffle tucked under one arm, headed straight for the hoops.
The boy defending them missed the shot as it came through the centre hoop, and Thad blew his whistle. Molly set off for the stands as the team returned to the ground and Thad started lecturing the new Keeper.
She made a mental note to ask Arthur what the new boy's name was. If she didn't know what was going on in the game, she could at least know who his teammates were. She was determined to be supportive. After all, she loved Arthur, and if this was how he wanted to waste his time, then she would just have to be one of those Quidditch girlfriends she'd seen in the sport magazines her brothers read.
Arthur had landed next to Francine, who whispered something to him behind her hand, and he grinned at her. Francine said something else and then nudged him in the side with her elbow, both of them laughing. Molly stopped abruptly, staring at them. They looked so... friendly.
An odd feeling crept over her as she watched them laughing together, and she stood frozen for a moment more, her knitting fallen from her nerveless fingers, forgotten.
He talked to Francine a lot, now that Molly thought about it. She'd seen him chatting with Francine any number of times, and had never thought anything of it before. Francine was Muggle-born, and Arthur loved Muggles. She'd thought it was no more than that. She was just being silly, thinking Francine was flirting with him, and he was flirting back. Of course not. She was sure it wasn't anything.
Arthur wouldn't do that.
Anger burst into flame in her chest. She turned on her heel and set off back to the castle, feeling as if her entire body was burning.
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