When Molly came down to breakfast the morning of the Ravenclaw-Hufflepuff Quidditch game, Cecilia was sitting with Reid and Siobhan, glowering darkly as she stabbed at a piece of ham with her fork. Molly took in Cecilia's scowl as she sat down, and shot a questioning glance at Siobhan, who was calmly eating her eggs.
“Look at Cosmo,” Siobhan said.
Molly glanced down at the other end of the table. Cosmo Graham was sitting very close to Acacia Bushby-Ferris, and as Molly watched, he leaned in and kissed Acacia on the cheek.
“Oh my,” she said. “When did they start going out?”
“Dunno,” said Reid cheerfully. He seemed amused at his girlfriend's anger. “They seem quite friendly, though, don't they?”
“Bloody Acacia,” Cecilia muttered, stabbing at her plate. Reid chuckled, and she shot him a dirty look.
“No wonder we haven't seen much of Cosmo lately,” he said. “He's been busy. Why is it my friends disappear when they get a girlfriend, but yours are still around when they have boyfriends?”
“Obviously women are superior,” said Siobhan. “We can have friends and keep a man around. Men can only think of one thing at a time.”
“Seems a bit harsh,” Reid observed, though he didn't look upset.
“It's what Cecilia says,” Molly said neutrally. Reid grinned at her.
“What does he see in her?” Cecilia asked, still staring at Cosmo and Acacia and clearly not having heard anything that was said.
Molly looked down the table at Cosmo and Acacia. Acacia Bushby-Ferris might have a harsh outlook on students behaving in manners she considered inappropriate, but she was quite pretty, with long dark hair and wide brown eyes. She actually bore a surface resemblance to Cecilia, in both appearance and personality. Molly decided on the spot that this was not an observation that she would ever share with Cecilia.
Petula was heading down the table toward them with Dunstan at her side and Arthur behind him. Petula looked cheered up a bit after spending a few days in quiet sadness after the deaths of her neighbours and her parents had made the decision to cut ties with their Muggle relatives. Mr. Cordingley had sent a letter to Petula telling her not to mention her mother's family again, even to her friends, or contact them 'until this is all over'. The entire situation made Molly feel very sad and very tired. She didn't like the idea of families having to split up simply to stay safe. Safety and strength should lie in being together, not being apart. It went against the grain for her.
Dunstan immediately started making himself egg and bacon sandwiches when he sat down. Petula began doing the same, and Molly gave them a questioning look.
“Quidditch today,” Dunstan told her, wrapping up several sandwiches in a napkin. “We want to get a good seat.”
“I'd nearly forgotten about that,” Reid said, and Dunstan and Petula both rolled their eyes at him. “Who's playing?”
“Ravenclaw's favourite to win,” Petula said. She was tying up a large napkin into a bag to hold her sandwiches. “Hufflepuff lost most of their best players last year, and Ravenclaw's got an excellent new Seeker.”
“Are we going to the game today?” Reid asked, turning to Cecilia. She finally tore her attention from Cosmo and Acacia and glanced at her boyfriend.
“I suppose so, if you like.”
Siobhan pushed her plate away as Petula and Dunstan stood. “I'll come along.”
Arthur had loaded up a plate with food and started into it as the rest of their friends left the hall. Molly didn't care about the match, so she sat and waited for him. Cosmo waved to them as he left with Acacia a bit later, and Arthur glanced around at them in surprise.
“When did they start going out?”
The Great Hall was almost empty by the time they set off for the Quidditch pitch. Most of the school was already down in the stands, bundled up against the cold. Molly strolled through the corridors with her hand in Arthur's and wondered if she could talk him out of watching the game and simply taking a long walk alone with her instead. She reckoned that wouldn't go over well with Thad, who wanted the Gryffindor team to see the other Houses play so they could get a feel for their strategy.
She was about to ask Arthur anyway as they crossed the snow-dusted courtyard when he slowed down, and she suddenly became aware of a voice coming from behind one of the pillars.
“I don't know why the Ministry even allows Mudbloods a wand – they ought to be like house-elves and not be allowed to have one-”
Molly didn't catch the rest of the sentence. Arthur had dropped her hand and was storming toward the source of the voice, his face flushed with anger. She hurried after him, a feeling of dread weighing on her stomach.
She rounded the corner and saw a third-year boy with pale blonde hair holding forth to a small knot of students – mostly Slytherins – under the open-air corridor surrounding the courtyard. He seemed to be enjoying the attention.
Arthur had his arms crossed in front of his chest, glaring at the boy. “What is going on over here?”
“I've just been having a chat with some friends,” drawled the pale boy smugly. He looked Arthur up and down as if he were something scraped off the bottom of a shoe. “Who are you?”
The boy didn't look at all surprised by Arthur's surname, and sneered at him. “Well, I'm Lucius Malfoy. This was a private conversation, I'll have you know.”
“I'm sure you think it was, but you were spouting off your bigotry so loudly anyone could hear you. Why are you telling these people that sort of thing? What's the matter with you, don't you have any morals?” Arthur demanded.
“My father says Mudbloods are no different than Muggles,” drawled Malfoy. “Not like real witches and wizards. All they have is a weak imitation of our magic, sullied by their dirty blood. They shouldn't be allowed wands any more than a house-elf is. If you had any proper wizarding pride, you'd know that.”
The crowd around them was dispersing, people continuing on toward the Quidditch pitch, looking warily at them. Molly sympathized with their desire to avoid the scene unfolding in the corridor. She wished Malfoy would just go away and stop saying such horrible things.
“Your father's obviously deluded, just like you,” Arthur said furiously.
“Arthur, he's only a third year,” Molly pleaded.
Arthur wasn't listening to her, however, and he was red in the face as he retorted, “Muggleborns have just as much magic as any other witch or wizard, and just as much right to a wand, they're no different from pure-bloods.”
Malfoy's lip curled back in disgust. “I might have expected that coming from you. Everyone knows the Weasleys are a bunch of Mudblood-lovers. You're just a blood traitor from a family of blood traitors.”
Molly forgot about stopping Arthur from arguing with the boy, and turned on Lucius Malfoy, drawing her wand. Arthur grabbed her arm, and Molly tried to wrench out of his grasp. Malfoy seemed to finally realize the danger in provoking two seventh years and made his escape, sneering at Arthur again over his shoulder.
“Let me go,” Molly said hotly, still trying to free her wand arm. She might be able to catch him up, the little worm.
“Molly, no, you can't hex him-”
“Oh, so only you can get into it with him?” she cried.
“I was only having words with him, I didn't try to hex him. He's just a little boy.” He finally let her go. Malfoy was long gone now.
“You looked as if you were about to hit him.” Molly stowed her want in her pocket again, still burning with anger. “He called you a blood traitor!”
“He's not the first, and he won't be the last. I know it bothers you, but Molly, I think you're going to have to get used to it.”
“Why should I?” she cried angrily, and Arthur's expression went wooden. She realized how he must have taken her words, and stepped closer to him, putting a hand on his arm. “I only meant-”
“It's all right,” he said mechanically.
“Obviously not.” She moved her hand to his cheek, forcing him to look into her eyes. “I meant that I shouldn't have to get used to insults to be with you, not that I don't want to be with you. You don't deserve to be insulted, and neither do I.”
Arthur didn't say anything, but he seemed to have relaxed somewhat.
“You should have let me hex him for calling you that,” Molly added, feeling rather disgruntled.
He smiled, and she could feel the rest of the tension leave him. “I'll deal with Malfoy, Molly.”
She didn't want to let it go so easily. “Are you sure?”
“Don't worry about me,” he said, kissing her on the top of her head. “Come on, we're going to be late for the match.”
Molly couldn't concentrate on Quidditch after that. She spent the match dwelling on what Malfoy had said, wishing she'd been able to hex him, and feeling bad because Arthur was right: Malfoy was only a third-year and it wasn't right to hex someone several years younger than her, no matter how repellent he was. She didn't even notice as Ravenclaw flattened Hufflepuff, clapping half-heartedly when the game ended.
She discussed the incident with Malfoy with her friends the next afternoon, standing in the snowy courtyard while some second-years had a snowball fight near them. Cecilia put up a charm around them so the snowballs simply flew away whenever they got near the girls. Her friends didn't seem quite as concerned about the incident as she was.
“Well, I don't know why you're so buggered about it, Molly,” Siobhan said briskly after Molly had told them what had happened. “Who cares what people say?”
“Language,” Hattie said half-heartedly.
“I just don't want him getting in a row with a third-year, it's ridiculous,” Molly said uneasily. “And the Malfoys are a powerful family, my dad's always said.”
“Arthur can deal with Little Lucius Malfoy,” Siobhan said.
“That's what he said, but it isn't the point.”
“I can tell him to leave Malfoy alone,” Cecilia offered. “You know, as a prefect?”
“I'm not sure that will help,” Molly said, smiling weakly.
“I'm freezing, can we go inside and finish this conversation?” Petula asked, hugging herself tightly under her thick wool cloak.
The other girls nodded, and Molly stood, but Hattie said, “Just one moment,” and stretched out full-length in the snow on her back, waving her arms and legs.
“What on earth are you doing?” Cecilia asked in bewilderment.
“Didn't you ever make snow angels as a child?” Petula said in surprise as Hattie got to her feet again and began brushing the snow off her clothes.
“No.” Cecilia was staring at the impression Hattie had made in the snow. “That was very odd, you know.”
“All right, I've had my moment of whimsy, now we can go in,” Hattie said cheerfully. She led the way back inside, and they all paused to stomp the snow from their feet just inside the castle.
“You know,” Petula said suddenly as they set off for Gryffindor tower, “perhaps we ought to ask Reid to say something to Arthur.”
“Don't be ridiculous,” Siobhan said. “Reid will only egg him on.”
“I could bully him into it,” Cecilia said, looking thoughtful at this idea.
“No, I'll take care of it myself if I catch them fighting again,” Molly said with finality.
Fortunately there was no more time for fighting with Malfoy, as the Christmas holiday was upon them shortly after that. Molly took the Knight Bus home with her brothers, wishing she could simply Apparate from Hogsmeade as Arthur had done, now that he was of age. She had to keep an eye on her brothers, though. They were remarkably calm as they travelled home, and it occurred to Molly that neither of them had received a Howler for over a month. Surely that meant they were up to something big.
Molly left the worrying about Gideon and Fabian to her mother, however, as she found herself at the Weasleys' almost every day of the holiday. It was far louder than being at home, as various Weasley relatives kept popping over for tea or a good gossip, and far more fun. Arthur's sister-in-law Glynis was always there whenever Molly came by, with baby Basil, who was now crawling and had an adorable crop of ginger curls.
It was hard to think of a reason why the Weasley family wouldn't be well-liked among the wizard world when spending time around them. It was easy to fit right in: everyone was so friendly that she felt she was already one of them. Many of the older Weasley children brought their friends round as often as not, and Molly had met one of Cressida Titherington's younger sisters who came by with the child of one of Arthur's second cousins.
Christmas seemed to come far more quickly than usual that year. She had arranged to spend Christmas afternoon at the Weasleys' and the evening at her parents' with Arthur, something her mother hadn't really approved of but had agreed to anyway.
Constantine and Glynis were already there when Molly arrived, in the sitting room with Arthur. Basil was crawling around in a red and green romper with Christmas baubles on his bib and a bit of brightly coloured paper clutched in one fat little fist. Bilius sat on the floor waving another scrap of paper at the baby.
Arthur leapt to his feet when Molly stepped out of the fireplace, hurrying over to her. She siphoned the soot off her clothes with her wand before hugging him, thinking how good it was to be of age and not have to use a clothesbrush.
It was still very early, and the delicious smell of sausages wafted in from the kitchen. She had arrived early enough to breakfast with the Weasleys.
“Good morning, Molly,” Glynis called out, smiling at her.
Molly smiled back as she sat down on the floor next to Basil, scooping him into her lap and tickling him.
“He said his first word the other day,” Constantine told her proudly. “He said dad. Isn't he brilliant?”
“Of course he is,” Molly said, half-directing her comment at the baby. Basil smiled at her serenely and made a grab for her necklace. She tucked it inside her robes, not wanting him to break the little heart Arthur had once given her, and diverted him with more tickling.
Glynis scooted over so she was sitting next to Molly and gave her son a playful little poke in his rounded belly, then said under her breath to Molly, “I'm fairly sure it was only a belch, but look how happy Constantine is.”
Molly had to duck her head to hide her giggle behind Basil's curls.
Mrs. Weasley stuck her head into the room. “Oh good, Molly, you've arrived. Everyone's here now, shall we eat?”
Molly had never had such a loud breakfast. The Weasleys were playing host that Christmas to several relatives, and the table was crowded with laughter and family. Molly sat next to Arthur and slid her feet out of her shoes under the table. She knocked the slipper off Arthur's foot so their feet could entwine, and he slid her a wink.
Mr. Weasley took out his pipe as breakfast was winding down, but his wife shot him a look and a meaningful glance at the baby sitting on Constantine's lap. Arthur's father rolled his eyes and went out the back door to smoke. This seemed to be the cue for everyone to disperse, and Molly followed Arthur into the sitting room, where several of his cousins were stretching and rubbing their stomachs. Constantine came in with Basil in his arms. The baby's face was covered with egg from the toast soldiers he'd eaten.
“I may never eat again,” Bilius groaned. Basil let out a belch, and Bilius grinned at him. “Well done there, my lad,” he told the baby. “You make Uncle Bilius proud.”
“Anyone up for a game of Quidditch?” asked Hoban, one of the Weasley cousins, with a hopeful expression.
“I'm too full,” Arthur said, still rubbing his stomach. “I might be too heavy for my broom after all that.”
“Oh, don't you want to show off for us?” Bilius asked, grinning at his brother. “New star of the Gryffindor Quidditch team?”
“Shut it, Bilius,” Arthur said, rolling his eyes.
“I forgot you were on the team this year, Arthur,” Hoban said. “Are you any good?”
“He's a right little professional,” Constantine said. He gave Arthur a nudge with his elbow. “Maybe you'll play for Tutshill when you leave school, eh?”
“Maybe you'll play for Pride of Portree,” put in Hoban.
“Portree?” Bilius scoffed. “If my brother's going to play for anyone, it'll be the Chudley Cannons.”
There was a chorus of groans.
“You're not still on about them, are you?” drawled Nestor, another of Arthur's myriad cousins. “Have they ever won a game?”
“They probably won't this year,” Bilius admitted, “But when you're a Cannons fan, you're a Cannons fan for life.”
“My brother's a little mad,” Constantine said to Molly in a loud whisper. “The rest of the Weasleys are quite sane, don't worry.”
“Shut it, Constantine,” Bilius said, though he didn't look upset. He seemed to be accustomed to being teased over his team.
Mrs. Weasley bustled past with Glynis on her heels, and Molly excused herself from the Quidditch conversation and followed them to the kitchen.
“Molly, dear,” Mrs. Weasley said when she caught sight of her. “Would you mind helping out a bit?”
Molly took care of the washing-up while Glynis cleaned the rest of the kitchen with Mrs. Weasley, humming to herself as she supervised the enchanted dishes scrubbing themselves.
The Weasleys had a small pile of gifts waiting for her under the tree. She felt very pleased to be included in the family even though she wasn't yet a part of it. There seemed little doubt among any of them as to her right to be there. She wondered again what Arthur told them about her when she wasn't around. Had he said he'd asked her to marry him? Well, had told her he wanted to marry her, anyway, not actually asked her as such. It was the same thing to her. They would marry, and have lovely little red-haired children, and -
She had let her attention waver, and a dish crashed to the floor. Flushing scarlet red, she hurried to repair it and kept her attention on her task.
Once the kitchen was spotless again, Mrs. Weasley insisted on Molly opening her presents. The extra Weasleys that always seemed to be running about the place had gone home, or to the houses of other Weasleys, so there was only Arthur's immediate family left. It seemed very quiet compared to the normal noise level, even with the loud conversation Bilius and Constantine were carrying on about the Chudley Cannons.
Arthur sat next to her on the floor, his back next to the sofa where his mother sat, her embroidery on her lap. Mrs. Weasley watched them all with a tolerant smile as she sewed, the bobbin of thread floating in the air next to her, following the needle. Molly opened a leather-bound diary from Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, a book about Quidditch from Bilius, and a knitting loom from Glynis and Constantine (though she knew Constantine had no doubt not been involved in choosing it).
“Here's one from you,” Molly said, smiling widely at Arthur as she pulled the next box closer.
Arthur glanced at the box, looking a little confused. “What? But I-”
She had already torn open the ribbon and opened the box. She could see pink satin, but couldn't tell what it was until she pulled it out of the box. It was a very short, very revealing negligee.
“Oh my,” said Glynis, her eyes round as saucers.
Molly dropped the flimsy piece of satin as if it were boiling. She slammed the lid back on the box, clapping a hand over her mouth.
Mrs. Weasley let out a loud gasp and reached over to smack Arthur on the back of the head with her embroidery.
Arthur's eyes were huge, his ears and cheeks bright red as he stared at the box. “It wasn't me, Mum! It wasn't me,” he repeated, staring at Molly. He looked as if he were in the midst of a panic attack.
She believed him. This wasn't reassuring, however, as it meant someone else had given her the negligee. She had a fleeting thought of her brothers, but dismissed it instantly. They would have given it to her at home, where they could see her reaction. She doubted they'd think of it anyway. It must have been one of Arthur's relatives. Her cheeks were so hot they felt as if they would burst into flame.
Arthur seemed to have had an epiphany while she was dying of mortification, and he turned to stare suspiciously at his brother.
Bilius wiped the grin off his face quickly and assumed a horrified expression, but Molly wasn't fooled. She leapt to her feet, the box still in her hand, and rushed over to hit Bilius hard across the head with the box a couple of times. He put his arms up protectively around his head, but he was grinning again.
Molly flounced back to her spot on the carpet, wishing the earth would open up and swallow her. Glynis reached over and patted her on the shoulder.
“Good girl,” she whispered.
“Bilius!” Mrs. Weasley hissed, glaring daggers at her middle son. “Go to your room at once! We'll discuss this later.”
“It was worth it,” he said, and left the room.
Arthur had an ugly look on his face, as if he might follow his brother and thrash him within an inch of his life. Molly had never seen him look quite so angry, and she knew he was jealous. Her heart leaped a bit at the thought.
“I'm going to kill him,” Arthur said darkly.
“It's Christmas,” said Mrs. Weasley. “Christmas is a time for family love. You may kill him tomorrow.”
This seemed to put an end to the present-opening, and Glynis quickly began clearing up the brightly coloured wrappings. Arthur still looked angry, and Molly was wishing she could hex Bilius into next week.
“I'd better get home,” she said, staring down at the leather-bound book. Her name was engraved on it in gold, and her surname seemed to stand out strongly, setting her apart from the Weasleys. What would it be like to see Molly Weasley engraved there instead of Molly Prewett? To truly be one of them – and everything that would bring? Lucius Malfoy's sneering face flashed across her mind. Blood traitor.
“All right, my dear,” Mrs. Weasley said reluctantly, bringing Molly out of her brief reverie. “I suppose we have to give you back to your parents eventually. Arthur, are you going over to the Prewetts'?”
“Yes,” he said, his face clearing a bit. “I'll be back after dinner, Mum.”
“Give my regards to your parents, Miss Prewett,” Mr. Weasley said from the other end of the sofa. He hadn't commented on Bilius's antics, but from the look on his face, Molly rather thought Bilius was going to be hearing his father's opinions on his behaviour as soon as Molly was gone.
They went outside to the front yard to Apparate to Molly's house, her gifts parcelled up in a piece of cloth and tucked under Arthur's arm.
“I'm sorry about my brother,” Arthur said as they walked through the gate. “He's a complete ass.”
“It's not your fault,” she said. “I knew it wasn't from you as soon as I saw it.”
Arthur looked relieved, but there was something underlying that, something she couldn't quite read. “What made you believe that?”
“You wouldn't have given me pink,” she said, and he laughed and pulled her a bit closer.
“Are you going to keep it?” he whispered against her cheek.
“Maybe. If I can change it to another colour. Is that all right?”
He was silent for a moment, and Molly wondered if he was following the same train of thought she had regarding the negligee: It had come from his brother as a rather rude joke, but the idea of wearing something like that in front of Arthur made her feel tingly and warm all over.
“I'd rather you got rid of it,” he said finally, and Molly was surprised at her disappointment, but then he added in a low voice, “I'll buy you one myself.”
She stood on tiptoe to kiss him, but broke away before they got too distracted. She didn't feel comfortable kissing him in front of his parents' house after the gift from his brother. “We'd better get going, we're due at my parents'.”
Arthur took her hand again and turned over his left shoulder, and she let him pull her into the suffocating blackness of Apparition.
They spent a quiet evening with her family. Her little brothers seemed distracted, for which she was thankful after the too-eventful afternoon with the Weasleys. She wasn't up to more of the same from her brothers, so when they immediately retreated to their room after dinner, she didn't even wonder what they were up to now. So long as it didn't involve her or lingerie, she did not care.
Arthur went home after an hour of sitting in the drawing room and chatting, and Molly wandered to the laundry room, where her mother stood sorting a basket of socks.
Her mother looked up when she saw Molly. “Did Arthur go home?”
“He wasn't here long, was he? You were at his family's for most of the day. You spend more time over there than you do here,” her mother said waspishly.
Molly watched her mother attempt to fix a hole in a sock belonging to one of her brothers. Whatever had caused the hole seemed to be resistant to magical repair.
“Mum,” Molly said eventually, watching her mother toss the sock into a waste bin. “Does it bother you that I'm going out with Arthur?”
“What do you mean, dear?”
“Well, the Weasleys are sort of known as...”
“Blood traitors?” her mother supplied calmly.
The now-familiar thread of anger went through her at those words. “Yes, exactly. But the Prewetts have always been respectable. Don't you worry that our family will be tarnished by association?” She wanted her mother to say no, was desperate for her mother to say no. She had never realized how much she needed her mother's approval until that moment. She suddenly had a strong feeling of sympathy for Hattie' agony over her mother's remarriage.
“Don't be ridiculous,” said Antonia Prewett, and her daughter breathed a silent sigh of relief. “If I cared about that, I would have put a stop to your relationship with the Weasley boy a year ago.”
“And Daddy?” Molly asked, already knowing the answer. Her father had never threatened to tear Arthur limb from limb – well, not seriously, anyway – so she knew he liked Arthur. She didn't bother to argue her mother's assertion that she could have stopped Molly from seeing Arthur.
“Your father only cares about his Auror novels and that horrible bloody chair,” her mother said. “He wouldn't let me throw it out, you know. I told him if he bought a new one, I'd charm it to the same colour-”
“Would you really?”
Her mother looked a little shifty. “I might have done. But he says it has to be that chair. It's thirty years old! I've already had to do repairing charms on it dozens of times! It needs to be replaced. Just last week I told him...”
Molly stopped listening as her mother continued to rant about the chair, which had been a bone of contention between her parents as long as she could remember. She was so relieved that her parents didn't mind the gossip about the Weasley family's reputation, she felt a bit weak. Of course they didn't care, her parents had never cared a whit about such things.
She told herself she didn't care either, and tried very hard to believe it.
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