Arthur sat happily in the back of the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, playing hangman with Molly and Petula while they waited for class to start. It was much more enjoyable than playing against Reid, who thought up fifteen-letter words that Arthur had never even heard of, but fortunately, Reid was late again for class and hadn't taken over the game with obscure vocabulary. Unusually, Cecilia was tardy as well.
Siobhan slid into the seat behind Arthur's just as Professor Lloyd-Howell rapped his wand on the blackboard to start class. Petula turned around and whispered, “Where's Cecilia? She's never late.”
Apparently he wasn't the only one who'd noticed. Siobhan leaned forward across her desk.
“Reid's in the hospital wing. Cecilia's with him. She wouldn't tell me what happened to him, though. I don't think she hexed him, but you never know.”
Arthur turned around in his seat to stare at her, but Molly grabbed his arm and jerked him back around to the front. Petula turned to face the teacher again as well, but by her expression, she wasn't paying him much attention.
Molly reached over and scrawled at the bottom of Arthur's notes in her loopy feminine handwriting, There's nothing you can do about it now, so you may as well pay attention.
Arthur sighed and did his best to concentrate.
After Defence was over, Molly split off with Petula and Siobhan to go to Potions, and Arthur set off for the hospital wing to check on Reid.
Cecilia was sitting in a chair next to Reid's bed, sorting through piles of parchment that seemed to be homework assignments for various classes. Reid still looked grey and pinched, and there was a strangely translucent quality about him that reminded Arthur of the little old witch who'd taught Apparition lessons last year. He was stretched out in the hospital bed, watching Cecilia with a tender expression that Arthur had never seen before, but his usual cocky look slid back into place when he looked up and saw Arthur.
“Hello there, old boy. Ridiculous, this, isn't it?”
“If you hadn't been using that damned thing so much, this wouldn't have happened,” Cecilia said waspishly. “If I find out you've been doing hours over to spend time with me, I'll put you back in the hospital wing myself.”
Reid looked completely unabashed. “It was worth it,” he said contentedly, stacking his hands behind his head.
Cecilia narrowed her eyes as she shuffled the sheets of parchment into a large stack.
“Doing hours over?” Arthur echoed. “What do you mean by that?”
“Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies,” Reid said airily.
“He's had a time-turner since third year,” Cecilia said briskly, not looking up from Reid's homework. “It's how he's been getting to all his classes all this time.”
“Oh,” Arthur said in surprise. He'd heard of time-turners briefly from his father, but had never actually seen one before.
“No one's supposed to know, Cilia,” Reid said, frowning at her. “How did you know I had one, anyway? I never told you about it.”
“Do I look stupid to you?” She raised an eyebrow at him. “I knew you must have one, you couldn't possibly be going to all those classes without one. When I took on my O.W.L. classes, I looked into getting one, but my mother thought I'd go mad. You've been overdoing it this year. Maybe I'll chuck you so you don't have to try to fit in extra hours and can concentrate better on your studies,” she added in a threatening tone.
“Don't tempt me, woman,” Reid said, then admitted, “If you chuck me, I won't be able to concentrate on anything.”
“Well then I'll just have to make sure you're staying on task,” Cecilia said, handing him the sheaf of homework papers. “Now they're in chronological order by due date and class period. It will be more efficient to complete them in this order.”
“Bloody hell,” Reid muttered, taking the papers. “Maybe I do want to split up with you.”
“Don't tempt me,” Cecilia said with a grin.
“This will take me all week to finish,” Reid complained. “Is it too late to drop a class?”
“Do you still want eleven N.E.W.T.s?”
“Yes,” he admitted.
“Then you can't drop a class.” Cecilia patted his hand. “We'll have plenty of time later to spend time together.”
Reid grumbled under his breath, and Arthur smiled at the two of them. They rather reminded him of Molly's parents, fighting constantly but with an underlying spark between them that was undeniable. Last year they'd fought over the spark as well, but they'd fallen into what seemed like a steady relationship now. It was a bit odd, but rather nice, too. Arthur was pleased that his friend was happy, particularly because butting heads regularly with Cecilia was tempering Reid's cockiness a bit.
He'd wondered in the past how Reid had been managing to take so many classes, but Reid had always been quite secretive about the whole thing, changing the subject and deflecting questions about his schedule. Arthur had given up on figuring it out ages ago, and finding out now was almost anticlimactic.
“Can I see the time-turner?” Arthur asked.
“No,” Reid said.
Cecilia picked up a small hourglass strung on a long chain from the small bedside table and handed it to Arthur.
“Am I not speaking English here?” Reid demanded, glaring at his girlfriend. “Stop telling him everything! It's supposed to be a secret.”
“Oh, go soak your head,” she told him, unconcerned. “Maybe if you have Arthur policing you as well, you won't abuse the privilege any longer.”
“But I like abusing the privilege,” Reid said forlornly. “It's the only privilege I get to abuse now my girlfriend's a prefect and won't let me have any fun.”
Arthur laughed. “I thought you looked terrible lately, I wondered why. Have you been sleeping at all?”
“A couple of hours, here and there.”
Cecilia let out a loud, disapproving sniff.
“I can make it through the end of the year,” Reid said to her, his expression turning serious. “It's only a few more months. I can do it. Then I'll sleep all summer, I promise.”
“All summer,” she said warily.
“I'll swear by any deity you prefer,” he said solemnly, then added, “I know some really good ones from ancient Egypt.”
Cecilia rolled her eyes at him and then stood, stretching. “Well, I can't sit here all day, some of us can't go back in time and attend the classes we missed. I'm going to need to catch up from Potions and Defence as it is.”
“Molly has notes,” Arthur volunteered. His own notes from today's Defence lesson were half-hearted at best. Besides, Molly took very good notes, and she didn't mind sharing them with him, so why not take advantage of her studiousness?
“But who's going to nurse me back to health if you leave?” Reid asked, attempting to look pathetic. With his wan, tired face, it was a pretty good attempt.
“The school pays someone to do that,” Cecilia told him. “Perhaps you've met her? They call her 'Madame Luscinia'.”
Arthur chuckled, and Reid made an obscene hand gesture at him. Cecilia leaned down to kiss him, and Arthur looked away. A moment later, Cecilia gave him a little push.
“Let's go, Arthur.”
“See you later, Reid,” he said, waving at his friend as he set off with Cecilia.
“Oh yes, abandon me! I can see now how much the two of you care!” Reid called after them, grinning. “Who's going to entertain me? I'm already bored!”
“Mr. Akins, quiet,” Madame Luscinia began severely, bustling down toward Reid's bed as Arthur and Cecilia left the hospital wing and started down the corridor.
Cecilia was smiling fondly to herself. “He's an idiot,” she said when she saw Arthur looking.
“I suppose so,” he said, smiling at her.
Quidditch practice that week was a rather subdued affair. Francine was still quiet and sad over her break-up, and reports of attacks on Muggle-borns had appeared in the Daily Prophet again, so the team weren't quite themselves.
The usual small knot of Gryffindor Quidditch supporters were in the stands. Arthur could see Cosmo sitting with Roddy and Dunstan. Reid was nowhere to be seen. He was out of hospital now, but he and Cosmo had been on the outs ever since Cecilia had hexed Acacia in the middle of the Great Hall. Neither Cecilia nor Siobhan had said a word about the incident, but Reid liked to bring it up regularly. He seemed quite taken with the idea of Cecilia in an actual magical fight. Cosmo, on the other hand, was still angry with Reid for taking the side of his girlfriend, whom Cosmo considered to be clearly in the wrong, rather than that of his friend. Arthur did not want to be involved in any of it, and spent most of his conversations with his two friends in silence, letting them rant and complain unobstructed.
Practice didn't go well. Arthur knew his own playing was choppy, and Swyndlehurst let in every shot thrown at him. Thad called things to a halt after a Bludger snapped his bat in two, and the team gratefully left the field.
Arthur sat on the bench in the changing room afterwards, clipping a few bent twigs from his broomstick and feeling out of sorts. Thad was re-wrapping the newly repaired handle of his Beater's bat next to Arthur, not saying a word. His mood seemed to parallel Arthur's.
Atalanta and Njemile had already left, but Francine was still in the changing room in her Quidditch robes. She was staring at her broom on her lap, and Arthur didn't know what to say to her.
Julian stole a glance over at Arthur and Thad, and then sat down next to Francine. Arthur tried not to overhear their conversation, but it wasn't a large room, and Julian didn't whisper nearly as quietly as he thought he did.
“I was wondering if you fancied a butterbeer?” Julian asked, then added awkwardly, “With me, I mean. In Hogsmeade. I know you don't have a boyfriend any more, so why don't we go out?”
Francine looked up at him in surprise. “You what?”
“D'you want to go out with me?” Julian's voice was a little impatient now.
She stared at him for a moment, then looked back down at her broom. “That's very kind of you. I'm sorry though, I-”
“Nevermind,” Julian interrupted her, his voice back at a normal speaking tone now, though his tone was rougher than usual. “Forget I asked. I'd better go.”
Francine sighed as Julian left the room, banging his way through the door.
“Idiot,” Thad muttered, giving his bat a trial swing.
Arthur grinned and shook his head. Julian wasn't exactly the master of tact.
Francine looked over at them, her cheeks stained pink. “He's only asking me out of pity. And because Atalanta won't go out with him.”
“I think more the latter than the former, actually,” Arthur said apologetically.
“I know.” Francine set her broomstick in the storage cupboard and then gave them a smile, a real smile, and Arthur couldn't help returning it. “Next practice will go more smoothly. At least we're still better than last year.”
Thad chuckled, and Francine waved to them as she left.
“Think she'll be all right?” Thad asked as Arthur brushed a few splinters off his lap and went over to lock his broom in the cupboard.
Arthur glanced over his shoulder at the door. “Yeah, she will.”
“Good. Last thing we need at this juncture is the team messed up.” Thad got to his feet. “Come on, better get back to the dormitory so we can start our homework. Did you see the essay topic McGonagall gave us? It'll take all night to write that.”
The other Gryffindor seventh-years were all in their dormitory when Arthur and Thad made it back to the tower. Reid still looked rather sickly, and there was a large stack of books at the foot of his bed. He was already in his pyjamas, so it didn't appear he was leaving his bed in the near future. Arthur grinned at his friend. Cecilia had probably confined Reid to his dormitory.
“Team's looking bloody awful,” Roddy said cheerfully. “I think you might want to go back to several practices a week, Thad.”
“No,” Arthur said immediately.
Thad frowned at Roddy. “It was a bad day. Everyone has them.”
“All at once?” Roddy asked.
“Shut it, Roddy,” Thad told him, and Roddy laughed.
“Someone's in a good mood now he's back together with Siobhan,” Arthur observed, raising an eyebrow at his friend.
“She really is amazing,” Roddy said with a smile.
“You certainly got together quickly after chucking Francine, that's for certain,” said Dunstan.
“It's no one's business what happened between me and Francine,” Roddy said calmly, though his cheeks reddened.
“Yeah right,” Dunstan said. “After what happened in the Great Hall with Cecilia, it's everyone's business. Everyone's been talking about it.”
“Then let's not, shall we?” Reid rolled his eyes. “I've already had to talk about it with Cecilia and Siobhan about a hundred times, I don't want to talk about it with you lot as well.”
“Are they still angry with Acacia?” Arthur asked.
“I'm sorry, I was under the impression you'd met Cecilia,” Reid said politely. “Remember how long she was angry with me just because I accidentally set her just a wee bit on fire? Acacia called her best friend a tart. She'll be angry for the next five hundred years."
“You know,” Roddy mused, leaning back against his headboard and stacking his hands behind his head, “Cecilia and Acacia are actually quite a lot alike.”
“Please don't repeat that where Cecilia can hear you,” Reid told him. “She'll hex you too.”
Roddy grinned. Arthur hadn't seen him in such a chipper mood in ages. He really was pleased to be back together with Siobhan. It was a shame for Francine, and Arthur felt rather an idiot for setting the two of them up only for Roddy to chuck her shortly afterwards, but he supposed there was nothing he could have done. He thought Siobhan was happy as well, but it was hard to tell with her.
“I just mean, they look rather alike, and they've both got a certain... intolerance about them, don't they?” Roddy went on. “They're both prefects too. And they like to be in charge. It's no wonder they don't get along.”
“Really, shut up now, Cecilia might be able to hear you,” Reid said, feigning terror. “She has strange and eldritch powers. I think she can hear through walls.”
Arthur chuckled, and Dunstan shook his head.
“It's amazing Cecilia manages to get along with Molly, they're very alike too,” Roddy said to Arthur.
“It's amazing she manages to get along with anyone,” Reid said, then winced. “Did I say that out loud?”
“It's through dint of much effort on Hattie's part over the past several years, I assure you,” Arthur told Roddy. “She makes sure everyone gets along.”
“Hattie's a good egg,” Reid said amiably. “She doesn't frighten me nearly as much as Molly and Cecilia do.”
“What about Cressida?” Thad asked, grinning at Reid. “Does she frighten you as well?”
“Not in the least,” Reid said airily. “She's a Ravenclaw, they're not known for being likely to take a Beater's bat to your skull because you said they shouldn't wear orange, are they?”
“Well, you'd better step up practices, anyway,” Roddy said to Thad, apparently done with discussing girls. “If you want to win your next game, that is. The performance today isn't going to scrape a win past the Hufflepuffs.”
Thad's grin had faded. “It's because of those damn articles in the Daily Prophet, isn't it?” he said irritably. “It's not the team's fault they were distracted. We'll do better next time. You chucking Francine didn't help any, either.”
“I just want for one day when I open the paper not to see any mention of any Dark wizards or horrible things happening,” Dunstan said with a sigh. “Just one, and I'd be happy. I don't think that's very much to ask.”
“Yes, well,” said Reid. “Seems unlikely to happen any time soon, does it? Besides, they've mostly been Muggle-baiting, and that isn't illegal. What are they going to arrest them for even if they managed to catch them? Being prats?”
“It's a lot more than being prats, and they're not just Muggle-baiting,” Arthur said hotly. “They've been attacking Muggleborns now too. Don't you remember Petula's neighbours?”
“Yeah, we do,” Reid said. His face was serious at the mention of the murdered family. “I'm just making a point, I'm not saying it's right or that I agree with the way things are, but it's a fact that there's no law against some of what they're doing.”
Arthur felt a flare of anger. There weren't enough laws to protect Muggles from magical abuse, something that had bothered him greatly for a long time. It was more of a gentleman's agreement that wizards would not harass Muggles, but there were no legal sanctions in place if they did. It was a completely unacceptable situation. “Well, I'll make sure I change that.”
“I hope you do,” Dunstan said quietly. “Gemma's parents are Muggleborn.”
“How are you going to change anything, Arthur Weasley?” Reid asked sceptically. “You haven't any power or influence. You're not even out of school.”
“When I'm out of school then,” Arthur said determinedly. “I don't care. Somehow.”
Reid gave him an assessing look. “I believe you,” he said eventually.
Arthur sat up a little straighter. Somehow the thought of Reid having confidence in his ambitions made him feel much better. Reid was bullheaded and sometimes oblivious, but he was also very smart and very cynical. If even Reid believed Arthur could do something, perhaps there was hope it could be done after all.
“You know, it doesn't even matter, so long as we beat Hufflepuff next month,” Thad said doggedly.
“All you care about is Quidditch,” Dunstan said. “There are more important things than Quidditch, you know.”
“Quidditch is important too,” Roddy retorted.
Arthur glanced at Roddy askance. It was quite rare for Arthur to be on the same side as Dunstan in an argument, but he had to agree with him this time. He loved Quidditch as much as anyone, but it paled in importance next to protecting Muggles who couldn't possibly protect themselves. Roddy suddenly seemed very young to Arthur, despite being three months older than him.
“Everyone shut up about Quidditch and girls now, all right?” Reid said loudly, picking up one of his books. “Some of us have a hundred N.E.W.T.s to take, you know.”
The next Hogsmeade weekend fell a few days after Arthur's eighteenth birthday, and Molly assured him she had something wonderful planned, so he'd been quite looking forward to it.
She finally came down to the common room after the older students had already left for the village. A few of the first and second years were sprawled out in the common room, taking advantage of the lack of older students hogging the best seats.
“Are you ready?” Molly asked brightly, adjusting the knitted beret on her red curls.
He'd been waiting for twenty minutes, but that seemed churlish to mention, so he simply took her hand and they set off.
Molly waited until they were outside school grounds, alone on the path to Hogsmeade, before she dragged him to a halt.
“We're not going to Hogsmeade today,” she said, smiling at him. There was a distinct twinkle in her eye that gave Arthur the sudden feeling of butterflies in his stomach.
“Erm,” he said, feeling his ears turn red. “We're not?”
“I have it all planned,” she assured him. “Hattie's going to cover for us if anyone notices we're missing from the school and Hogsmeade.”
Quite suddenly he wondered what exactly she had been planning. He didn't want to force her to ruin the surprise, but he felt rather as if he were being expected to go on the field to play a game whose rules he was not even aware of. He half-hoped his suspicion about her plans was correct, but it couldn't possibly be. Molly would never plan something like that.
Molly took his hand again and he let her lead the way as they Disapparated, still wondering if she'd lost her mind completely and was taking him to do what he now really hoped she was taking him to do.
They reappeared in a deserted and quite dirty alley, and Arthur rather felt his hopes were dashed.
“Where are we, exactly?” he asked, glancing around.
“Not far from Hogsmeade, actually.” Molly gave his hand a tug and led him out of the alley and into the street.
The people on the street looked odd, as did the shopfronts, and he realized they were in a Muggle town. He looked around, trying to take everything in, but his mind was still haunted with images of what Molly might have in mind for an afternoon all alone, anonymous in a town away from the wizarding world, and he couldn't concentrate on the Muggle sights and sounds very much.
Molly came to a stop at a corner and waved her hand at the building across the street. “Here we are,” she announced, smiling widely at him. “Happy birthday, Arthur!”
He'd been picturing her saying those words to him in a much different scenario in his head, with far less clothes on, so it took his brain a moment to catch up with the situation. He stared at the building for a moment, uncomprehending, as the images in his mind's eye evaporated. His hormones had apparently been running away with him.
“It's called a diner,” she said proudly. “I thought we could have lunch here, just like Muggles do.”
“We're having lunch at a diner,” Arthur said, feeling the need to restate the situation for clarity.
“Yes,” Molly said, giving him a look as if she thought he was slow. “A Muggle diner, Arthur. You love Muggles. You'll get to have lunch with real Muggles.”
“What did you think we were going to do?” Molly asked curiously, and he thought he heard a note of censure in her voice. Oh dear, he thought. He had probably offended her by not being properly appreciative of her plan.
“Nothing, nothing.” He gave her a kiss on the cheek. “I'm very surprised, that's all. This is wonderful. I've never eaten at a Muggle restaurant before.”
“Nor have I. I hope it's not too strange, I don't want to look a fool,” Molly admitted uncertainly.
He smiled at her. She was terribly cute, being willing to risk looking silly and embarrassing herself in front of the Muggles just for him.
The diner did sound very fun, but he was just a tiny bit disappointed that she hadn't had anything else in mind for this excursion. He really ought to have known better, of course. Molly, despite her love of what he'd discovered were actually quite graphic romance novels, would never plan something like that without being married first.
He supposed that gave him something to look forward to, anyway, since he'd all but proposed to her and she'd all but agreed. He really would rather have that whole thing resolved, however. It seemed settled that they would marry, but he still had a few worries that she would say no when offered an official proposal. He didn't think he'd sleep easy until there was a ring on her finger.
The diner wasn't crowded. There were only a handful of Muggles at the tables, eating quietly. It seemed to be a place where older people came for their lunch, as they were the only ones there who looked under fifty. Molly didn't seem bothered by this, and they found a table and sat down.
“Isn't this exciting?” she said in a low voice, looking around.
Arthur smiled. She looked more nervous than excited, but he appreciated the effort on his behalf. “It was a wonderful idea, Molly. Erm... How are we going to pay for this?”
“Petula gave me some Muggle money for Christmas,” Molly told him. “She won't be using it, they're going to avoid the Muggle world for a while.” She looked rather sad at that, and Arthur knew it was because she felt sorry for Petula. Molly had a very strong sense of family.
“It'll all turn out right in the end,” Arthur said, hoping this was true.
“I hope you're right,” Molly said sadly, as if echoing his thoughts.
The waitress came over and took their orders – Arthur ordered the House Special, fancying himself quite the Muggle for it – and they spent the rest of the meal discussing their plans for the Easter holiday, since they couldn't talk about school. He'd never realized how much magic permeated their lives until he'd tried to have a conversation without mentioning it.
“Did you get Basil a birthday gift?” asked Molly, forking up the last of her treacle tart.
“Erm, no.” It had never occurred to him that he would need to buy something for his nephew's first birthday. He wondered if that made him a bad uncle. Probably he should get something, but he had no idea what was appropriate for a one year old.
“I thought not,” Molly said briskly. “I'll send him a present from both of us. I saw a very sweet little toy dragon in Hogsmeade. Your mother says Basil loves dragons right now.”
Arthur took a sip of his soda pop – a very strange Muggle drink he'd had to conceal his eagerness to try. It was very strange, and he felt very Muggle, and a little American, drinking it. The fizziness made his tongue tingle. “That sounds all right. I'm sure he'll love it.” He was rather relieved not to have to bother with any of that. Having a girlfriend came in very handy sometimes.
“Shall we start back to school, then?” Molly asked, though from her tone this was a nicely phrased order rather than a suggestion.
“I suppose so.”
He did manage to talk her into a detour in the alley before they returned to Hogwarts, so while it wasn't a very happy birthday, it was still quite a good one.
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