“Would you look at this?” Cecilia said, her lip curled in disgust as she tossed the Daily Prophet onto the small table in front of the sofa.
Molly leaned forward and grabbed the paper. Hattie read it over her shoulder, and Molly could see the sick feeling in her stomach reflected on Hattie's face. The headline splashed across the front page was 'MUGGLEBORN FAMILY MURDERED IN YORKSHIRE'. A witch and wizard, both Muggleborn, and their two children had been found dead in their home by neighbours. A large green skull with a snake protruding from its yawning jaws had been set over the house. A photo of the floating, ethereal skull was just under the headline. Molly felt a shiver go down her spine at the sight of it. Whatever it meant, it was chilling.
“They're killing Muggleborns now, not just Muggles,” Cecilia said angrily. “Someone's got to stop them! It's only a hop skip and a jump from killing Muggleborns to killing half-bloods, then to purebloods, and then we're all dead.”
“What a cheery conversation. It's worse than you all discussing dementors at the dinner table.”
Molly glanced over her shoulder. Siobhan was standing behind the sofa with Petula, shaking her head at them. Petula had her head cocked to one side and was reading the headlines. Her eyes widened.
“Oh God,” she breathed. “In Yorkshire?”
Molly abruptly remembered that Petula was from Yorkshire. The murdered family had not been named in the article, but they were probably someone Petula knew personally.
“I'm sorry, Petula,” Hattie murmured.
“What's wrong?” asked Siobhan, who had evidently forgotten where Petula was from.
“I have to go write my parents,” Petula said, and bolted for their dormitory.
“D'you think they were friends of hers?” Molly asked.
“Petula hasn't any friends but us,” Cecilia said.
“That's rather harsh,” Molly said severely.
Hattie sighed. “It was certainly someone she knew. A neighbour, perhaps. There aren't that many wizarding families in Yorkshire.”
“What is this skull about, then?” Molly asked, tapping the front page. “I've never seen anything like it before.”
Cecilia glanced around as if making sure no one was eavesdropping on their conversation. Siobhan sat down in the chair across from them to listen better as Cecilia leaned in and said in a low voice, “My father says they're calling it the Dark Mark in the Auror department. It's his sign.”
“Voldemort?” Molly whispered.
“Yes. My father says they've found it set over another Muggleborn murder as well, but they didn't want it in the paper. I suppose the press sent someone down with a camera this time and they couldn't stop them publishing it.”
Siobhan's face was very still. She had the least wizarding blood out of any of Molly's friends. Petula was half-blood, but Siobhan's parents were both Muggles. Molly felt a sudden thrill of fear for her friend. They were killing Muggleborns. She could not bear to think of anything happening to any of her friends.
“We're safe at school,” Hattie murmured, still staring at the photograph of the Dark Mark. “Dumbledore defeated Grindelwald, surely he can defeat this V-Voldemort.”
Molly gave her best friend a pat. Siobhan sat back in her chair suddenly and affected a look of unconcern.
“I'm sure the Aurors will track him down,” she said. “And if not, Dumbledore will stop him.”
Molly wasn't so sure. It had taken several years for Dumbledore to be convinced to go after Grindelwald, and that was over twenty years ago. He wasn't getting any younger. He might not go after Dark wizards as readily as he had in his younger days.
Arthur came in from yet another Quidditch practice then, and Molly was so distracted by the newspaper that she forgot she was angry with him. She waved him over, and he looked rather surprised but came over to sit next to her. She felt a bit safer with him by her side, and took his hand gratefully when he put his hand on her knee. Arthur's face was a bit pinched with exhaustion, but he smiled at her. She tried to tell herself again that she was overreacting, that there was nothing to be jealous over. No reason to mistrust him. It was just that she didn't know if she could trust Francine.
“Did you see the paper?” Cecilia demanded immediately.
He nodded. “Horrible, isn't it?”
“We think they're neighbours of Petula's,” Hattie said quietly.
Arthur rubbed his forehead tiredly. “Let's just hope none of our neighbours are next.”
“You all worry too much,” Siobhan said. “You should be worrying about that test McGonagall's giving us tomorrow. You know she's always deadly with those exam questions.”
“Don't joke, Siobhan,” Molly said with a frown. “This is serious.”
Siobhan rolled her eyes and left. Cecilia watched her go with a brooding expression.
“She doesn't want to think about it,” she said. “I think it frightens her, too. She's Muggleborn herself, after all.”
The next morning, a new notice appeared on the Gryffindor board. Molly pushed past a small second-year boy to get a better look at the bright yellow sign, with Cecilia and Siobhan on her heels, Hattie trailing behind them. Petula had not come down yet; she was running late as usual. The small crowd parted for the seventh-years, and Molly read the notice. Professor Flitwick was supervising the formation and instruction of a duelling club.
It seemed likely that this was in response to the attacks on Muggleborn witches and wizards, and the thought that the staff was willing to teach the students to defend themselves cheered her up quite a bit. The professors wouldn't just ignore a Dark wizard, and surely that meant Dumbledore wouldn't either.
“Brilliant,” Cecilia said when she saw the notice.
“A duelling club...” Molly breathed. It sounded wonderful. Defence Against the Dark Arts was one of her best classes, and she'd never found a club at Hogwarts that had appealed to her before. Duelling sounded perfect. “Shall we go to the meeting?”
“Oh, I'm joining,” Cecilia said confidently. “Be sure of that. Siobhan?”
Siobhan looked interested. She was reading the notice over Molly's shoulder. “Count me in.”
Hattie shook her head. “I'm not going. You girls have fun, though.”
“You don't want to learn to duel?” Cecilia asked in surprise.
“Not really.” Hattie shrugged. “I don't want to hex people.”
“It would be good self-defence,” Molly said.
“I've got enough Defence to be going on,” Hattie said. She had gotten an O.W.L. in Defence Against the Dark Arts and had promptly dropped the class. Hattie preferred Herbology and Arithmancy.
“I've got to tell Reid about this,” Cecilia exclaimed. “He'll love it. I'll meet you all in the Great Hall.” She dashed off, and Molly raised an eyebrow as Cecilia ran up the stairs to the boys' dormitory. A shout a moment later indicated she had probably surprised the seventh-year boys. Dunstan stomped down the stairs a few minutes later and rolled his eyes when he saw the girls.
“Your friend is barking mad, I hope you realize that,” he said, and went out the portrait hole.
Petula came downstairs then and hurried over to them.
“Want to join the duelling club with us, Petula?” Molly asked.
Petula glanced at the new notice and blanched. “I don't even want to take the class, much less add on extra work.”
Molly spent the next few evenings in the library, doing homework with Hattie and avoiding Arthur. He still seemed far too friendly with Francine Allen for Molly's comfort, and she didn't know how to go about addressing it. After a few weeks' stewing on the subject and one blow-out row (was it a row if only she was doing the shouting?), Molly could honestly say that she didn't believe Arthur was interested in Francine as anything but a friend. In fact, he didn't even seem to see that as a possibility, and she could tell that he didn't understand why she was angry.
She couldn't read Francine quite so well, however, and was certain that the girl was trying to poach Arthur away from her. The jealousy was still burning a hole in her heart, and she felt another wash of rage whenever she caught sight of Francine. She didn't feel that she could shout at Francine, however, since she barely knew her. She wasn't sure how long she could hold it in, though, as Francine was on her mind a lot these days.
So when she overheard Francine's name in the library one evening, she didn't feel at all guilty about listening in on the conversation happening on the other side of the shelves.
“Francine is a sixth year, it's not that strange that she should go out with him. If she were a fourth year going out with a seventh year, that would be odd.”
“I still say it's an odd match. He's so much better-looking than her, what does he see in her?”
The voices were moving toward the end of the stacks. Molly crept along the shelves, following them.
“Well, she is good at Quidditch. And he likes Quidditch.”
“Yes, but Francine Allen and Roddy Feltham? She's hardly in his league, is she?”
Molly tripped a bit and knocked a few books off the shelf. The conversation on the other side immediately ceased, and Molly grimaced.
A curly blonde head poked around the edge of the row of shelves. Molly recognized her as a fifth-year Slytherin, but she couldn't think of the girl's name.
“Were you listening in on our conversation?” the girl demanded.
“Not on purpose,” Molly said haughtily. “You were being so loud I could hardly help it, though, could I?”
The Slytherin girl had her arms crossed in front of her now. Her friend had come around the corner of the stacks. She had long brown hair and Slytherin robes, but Molly didn't recognize her.
“Is Francine really going out with Roddy?” Molly demanded without thinking.
“What's it to you?” the blonde girl retorted. “Shouldn't you know? You're a Gryffindor like them."
The dark-haired girl gave her friend's sleeve a tug. “Come on, Rita, let's go.”
The blonde girl gave Molly a sneer and followed her friend down the corridor between the stacks. Molly didn't even notice their leaving. She was suddenly overwhelmed by relief, and let out a small laugh. Francine hadn't been after Arthur. She was going out with Roddy. And just behind the relief came a wave of remorse.
Francine had not deserved the ire Molly had been directing at her for the past month. Molly packed up her books and went back to Gryffindor tower, resolved to apologize to Francine at the first opportunity.
As luck would have it, Francine was sitting on the sofa in front of the common room fireplace with Cosmo Graham, chatting amiably. Francine was still in her Quidditch robes, though the rest of the Gryffindor team did not seem to be around. She looked up at Molly with a tentative smile as she approached.
“Hi Francine,” Molly said.
Francine broke into a relieved grin. “Hi Molly.”
Cosmo gave Francine a pat on the shoulder and took off for his dormitory, and Molly took his place on the sofa next to Francine.
“I heard about you and Roddy Feltham. Congratulations.”
“Thanks,” Francine said, her cheeks a little pink.
“I didn't realize you fancied him,” Molly said then, and Francine let out a little laugh.
“Yes, I'd been trying to drop hints about that to Thad for ages,” she confided in a whisper. “He never did catch on. I was so glad when Arthur joined the team, I thought between the two of them, I ought to get someone to set me up with Roddy. I couldn't seem to catch his eye on my own.”
“Oh my,” Molly said, smiling. She decided to be honest with Francine, and leaned in closer to her. “I thought, when you kept wanting to speak to Arthur, and you seemed to be flirting with him-”
“With Arthur?” Francine looked very surprised, and a little flustered. “Oh no, I wasn't trying to- Molly, everyone knows he's in love with you! Don't be silly, he would never even look at another girl. Certainly not me. I'm sorry that you thought-”
“Oh, it's all right,” Molly interrupted. “I don't know what came over me.” She gave Francine a reassuring smile, relief and happiness bubbling up inside her, and patted Francine's hand. “I would have helped you, if you'd asked me. I got Thad and Cressida together, you know.”
“I thought about asking you,” Francine agreed ruefully. “I didn't think you knew Roddy very well, though.”
“Oh, pish-tosh,” Molly said, waving that aside. “That wouldn't have stopped me.”
“I can play Quidditch, but I'm sort of hopeless with boys,” Francine admitted. “They always act like I'm a boy, they never notice me. I'm not pretty like Atalanta. The only person who's ever asked me out before Roddy is Cosmo Graham, and I think that was only because he felt sorry for me. But we've been friends ever since.”
“Did you go out with Cosmo, or did you turn him down?”
“Only once, to Hogsmeade during fourth year,” Francine said, waving the date aside as if it were unimportant.
“I'm sorry I've treated you unkindly,” Molly said then, feeling a blush crawl up her cheeks. “I was so jealous I could hardly see straight. I thought you fancied Arthur.”
Francine's cheeks were red as well. “Everyone likes Arthur, but – I didn't – well, I couldn't seem to catch Roddy's attention on my own, so I thought I'd try to get closer to his friends so I could spend more time around Roddy, and when Thad said Arthur might want to try for Chaser, it seemed the perfect opportunity. Obviously Arthur's quite good as Chaser, and he's a very nice boy, it's just...” Francine trailed off, turning even redder.
“You really hoped to have a chance with Roddy as well,” Molly said sympathetically. She was thinking of the time when she'd fancied Thad so much she'd been willing to do most anything to make him fancy her in return. She could completely understand Francine's desire for any kind of leverage she could get.
Arthur came in then with Thad Peabody, both still in their Quidditch robes as well, and a very strange look came over his face when he saw Molly sitting with Francine. Thad didn't seem to notice anything, and continued on toward the boys' dormitory while Arthur stopped at the sofa in front of the fireplace.
“Hello,” he said, rather nervously.
Francine beamed at him, and Molly smiled invitingly and scooted over to make room for him to sit next to her. She snuggled back against him and he draped an arm around her shoulders. He still smelled a little sweaty from Quidditch practice, but she didn't care. The universe seemed to have righted itself, and she just wanted to be close to him again. Francine smiled at the two of them and excused herself.
“I was just talking to Francine about Roddy Feltham,” Molly said, and Arthur grinned.
“I set the two of them up, you know,” he said in a low voice, sounding rather proud of himself. “She mentioned that she'd fancied him for quite a while, and so I mentioned it to Roddy, and there you are.”
“It's very sweet of you to do that for her,” she said fondly.
“I thought you didn't care for Francine,” he said then.
“No, I like her just fine.” Molly decided he didn't need to know about her spate of jealousy.
Arthur still looked a little confused. She kissed his cheek and laughed, feeling very free for the first time since Quidditch had started.
The first meeting of the duelling club was held in the Charms classroom. Professor Flitwick was already there when Molly arrived with Cecilia, Reid, and Siobhan. Reid waved at someone across the room as they came in, and Molly caught sight of Cosmo Graham waving back. He was sitting next to Acacia Bushby-Ferris. Cecilia had also noticed them, and scowled heavily at Reid.
“Oh, for the love. Why are you waving at her?” she demanded.
“I'm waving at Cosmo. I don't give a rat's fart about Bushby-Ferris. Don't get your wand in a knot.”
“Shut up, Reid.”
“Shrew,” he said.
“Moron,” Cecilia retorted.
“Ah, love,” said Siobhan brightly.
Molly repressed a laugh, and they sat down in the back of the classroom. Cecilia had always preferred to sit in the front row in every class, and dragged her friends there with her, but this was apparently one of the things she'd conceded to Reid in their relationship. He invariably sat at the back of every class, the better to slide in unnoticed when he was tardy. Molly had noticed his tardiness quite a bit more this year now that he was sitting with her friend. She did not understand why he couldn't seem to make it to class on time, but she assumed Cecilia would knock that behaviour out of him very quickly, and decided not to concern herself about it.
Most of the students who'd come for the duelling club were Gryffindors and Ravenclaws. There were a handful of Hufflepuffs in clumps around the room, and a small knot of upper-year Slytherins sitting by themselves in the opposite corner. There were a few younger students, but the majority seemed to be fourth years and above. Molly thought this was best, as the idea of hexing a first-year did not appeal to her. It hardly seemed fair. She hoped Professor Flitwick would let them pair up with their friends to spar with.
Professor Flitwick spent a quarter hour telling them in his squeaky voice about his past as a duelling champion, and another quarter hour about the general structure of a wizarding duel. There were a lot of rules involved, in how to stand, how to hold one's wand, and where one could legally hex one's opponent.
“Seems unlikely that this is how they duel in the real world, isn't it? Awful lot of rules,” Siobhan murmured, her eyebrows raised.
“Of course not,” Cecilia said. “This is tournament-style duelling. It's a complete free-for-all if you're really fighting. There's no illegal targets. That's just the stupid rules men make up when they're playing war games so they don't get hurt below the belt.”
Reid grinned. “Are you saying you'd hex a man below the belt, Cilia?”
“Don't be ridiculous, of course I would.”
Molly started giggling at that, and once she'd started, she suddenly couldn't stop. Cecilia and Siobhan were shushing her, but that only made it worse. She tried to hide her grin behind her hand, but she was laughing so hard she could hardly breathe.
Professor Flitwick gave her a curious glance, and a few other students had turned to stare at her. Molly jumped suddenly at a sharp pain on her forearm.
Siobhan had pinched her. The pain helped her get control of her laughter again, and she let out one more giggle before subsiding.
Flitwick climbed on top of his desk and cleared the students' desks from the room so the floor was open for them to spar. Two of the sixth-year Ravenclaws were pulling out stacks of pillows from a cabinet at the back of the room. Charms classes often needed something soft to land on and the pillows were always on hand.
Molly paired up with Siobhan, and to her delight, Siobhan was unable to get a single hex past her Shield Charm.
“You're too good at this,” Siobhan said, frowning. “How are you doing that?”
Molly shrugged. “I don't really think about it.”
“All right, my turn. Try to jinx me.” Siobhan held her wand at the ready, and Molly shot a Stunner at her. Siobhan blocked it, and Molly sent a second hex behind it that Siobhan missed. Her wand hand turned bright blue.
Siobhan looked down at her hand and muttered a curse. “How do you reverse that spell?”
“Erm...” Molly wasn't actually sure. She'd never had to remove a colour-changing spell from a person before. She could feel her cheeks turned red. She'd turned her friend's hand blue and had no idea how to turn it back.
“Oh, nevermind,” Siobhan said, and went over to Professor Flitwick.
Molly turned and watched Reid and Cecilia for a moment while she waited for Siobhan. They duelled as if they were really battling each other. It was very strange. She couldn't imagine hexing Arthur, and knew he couldn't bear to hex her. Reid and Cecilia clearly did not have a problem with it. Cecilia broke through Reid's Shield Charm with a Jelly-Fingers Jinx, and his wand clattered to the floor. Cecilia rushed over to cast the counter-jinx, gave him a quick kiss while Flitwick's back was turned, then rushed back to her spot to duel again.
Siobhan returned with her hand back to normal, and Molly shot a few more half-hearted jinxes at her before Flitwick dismissed them all.
“That was pretty good,” Cecilia said as they walked down the corridor.
Reid was rubbing his elbow. “I think that last jinx you hit me with knocked my funny bone. My arm feels odd.”
“I'm sure you're fine,” said Siobhan, rolling her eyes.
Cecilia took a look at Reid's elbow, pushing his sleeve back for a better view. There were no marks on him, but Cecilia clucked over him anyway, and Reid seemed to be enjoying the attention.
A group of Slytherins passed them as they stopped along the side of the corridor while Cecilia examined Reid's arm.
“Did you hear her giggling over there like an idiot while Flitwick was talking?” one of them said, rolling his eyes. “Stupid blood traitor cow.”
It was as though a bucket of cold water had been poured over Molly's head. They were talking about her. Blood traitor, and they meant her.
She suddenly felt tears welling up, and excused herself in a mutter, fleeing to the bathrooms down the corridor. She locked herself into a cubicle, leaning against the wall, and wrapped her arms around herself.
No one had ever called her a blood traitor before, and it hurt more than she could have imagined. The tears were running freely now, and she fought to stay silent. She could hear someone else in the bathroom, and quite suddenly a ghost poked her head through the cubicle wall.
Oh dear. She'd forgotten which bathroom this was.
The ghost that was known throughout the female population of the school as Moaning Myrtle gave her a myopic stare. “Why are you crying?”
“Go away, Myrtle,” Molly said crossly.
Myrtle's eyes were welling up already. “Everyone's always mean to me, just because I'm dead!” she cried, and disappeared back through the cubicle wall. Molly could hear the ghost's sobs coming from the other end of the bathroom, and her annoyance with Myrtle helped her brush off her own tears. She took a deep, ragged breath, wiping the tears furiously from her cheeks.
Footsteps sounded on the tile floor, and someone knocked on the door to Molly's cubicle.
“All right there, Molly?” Cecilia's voice asked cautiously.
She opened the door and let Cecilia in, locking the door again behind her. Cecilia leaned against the wall opposite Molly.
“I heard what they called you,” she said baldly. “You can't let it get to you.”
“No one's ever called me that before,” Molly whispered. "They're only saying it because I'm going out with Arthur."
“What does it matter why? Would you stop going out with him because of what idiots like them call you?"
Molly sniffed. Cecilia had a point. "No, of course not."
"You've seen the papers,” Cecilia said. “Blood status is on everyone's minds these days. It was only a matter of time before the school divided into those who believe purity of blood matters and those who don't.”
“That doesn't make me feel any better,” Molly said quietly.
“It should. It means you're on the side of the angels in all this. Why don't you talk to Arthur about it? He's been called blood traitor dozens of times.”
Molly felt a thrill of fear mixed with embarrassment. Arthur stood up to being called a blood traitor with courage and grace, never complaining, and never wavering in his convictions. It was one of the things she admired most about him. She didn't want him to know she'd cried over the epithet. “Don't tell him, please. I'm just being silly about all this. It doesn't matter.”
Cecilia looked sceptical, but she nodded her agreement. “I won't tell him if you don't want me to.”
Molly wiped her cheeks again, brushing away the last of her tears, and unlocked the cubicle door. “I'll be all right. We'd better catch up to Siobhan, she'll be wondering where we went.”
“She'll be hexing Reid for being annoying,” Cecilia said, and Molly chuckled.
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