The Sugar Quill
Author: Jill (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Tea and Conversation  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

She had so much to do

Tea and Conversation

a novella set in the Harry Potter universe created by J. K. Rowling

Disclaimers:  This story is set in the world J. K. Rowling created.  I have, in addition, derived characters from sources beyond the borders of Ms. Rowling’s world.  I don’t pretend that they are original to me, and I don’t ever expect to get any money or other compensation whatsoever from this work of  pure-dee fiction.

Molly Weasley had slept late this morning.   She had needed the sleep after all the excitement getting everyone out the door yesterday.  Books, wands, trunks, clothes, and  all the little things that the children insisted on taking to Hogworts for the term had been gathered, mended, labeled, washed, packed, stowed, unloaded, and re-loaded on the Express.  She just hoped she had confiscated all the fireworks, those weezy things, and the order forms from the twins.  (Not like they couldn’t easily make more…)

The trip to London to see them off took up the whole of yesterday, what with returning the cars after the children left on the Express, stopping for a short visit with an old friend in Town, getting home after the visit and finding not one but THREE robes that had failed to make it into the twins’ trunks that she had to send by Errol.  Failed to make it?  No.  She remembered washing those robes and folding them neatly for packing, not stuffing them behind the door of the loo.  She didn’t want to contemplate what had taken the place of those clothes.

Molly had so much to do.  Though the kitchen sparkled – except for the breakfast dishes, and the floors gleamed, in every direction was a pile of clutter; years of accumulation from nine active and imaginative people.  Sitting at her kitchen table, scrubbed to worn undulations, (the surface seemed to dip especially at Charlie’s place – he had always been a messy eater)  she could envision the drawers and cabinets in every room, filled to bursting with Stuff.  She had long promised herself that when Ginny went to Hogworts she would give the house a massive cleaning and throw out half of the things in the house.  She had been threatening to do it for so long that Arthur had stopped listening years ago. 

But why stop there?  Her time was her own!  She was free!  She was free to clean up that mantle! She could work in the “yarden!” (as Ron used to call it.)  She could put the photos in albums!  She could write all of her friends who deserved long-overdue letters!  She could re-organize her recipes!  She could mount an expedition for her beautiful indigo pumps that went missing last month!  She could gather up her Gryffindor courage, march into the twins’ room, and find out what That Smell was!  She could…

She could continue to sit and think about it over another cup of tea.  The soothing astringent aroma, the warm enveloping moisture, and the mild burn on her hands cupping the mug did not perform their usual magic of invigorating her;  she just wanted to huddle into herself this morning.

It was at once overwhelming and empty at the same time.  The unaccustomed stillness gave her brain a chance to start churning.  Why did I yell so much?  Are they really safe at Hogworts with You Know Who on the loose again?  Do they know how much I love them?  Their friends and teachers will answer their questions, now.  I gave everything up – my own father and mother, my budding career at the Ministry, even my name.  Everything for my family and now they are gone.  Would they have listened better if I hadn’t yelled?  I wish they were all safe here with me…are they really safe at Hogworts?

Molly forcibly jerked herself back to reality.  This was getting nowhere but around again.  Busy hands calm fears, she often told Arthur laughingly in those days when she only had six small sons with You Know Who killing right and left.  It was actually true:  anyone with a colicky infant, twin terrorist toddlers, a preschooler, two active older boys, and another baby on the way tends to forget the rest of the world.  Take your own advice, Molly-girl; walk away from the teapot and get to work!

The chickens had already been fed, so she didn’t need to do that, which was a shame.  Molly had loved the chickens since she was a little girl.  She loved the rich plumage, the startling red combs, and the texture of the parched corn she fed them.  She drew comfort from the murmuring clucks they moved about with.  It was riveting to watch them scrabble around for food and water, shelter the chicks under their fluffy, dry-smelling wings, squawk loudly over nothing, and live among each other.  The chickens led such contented, simple lives.  They always reminded Molly of people that she knew.

She thought that Ginny would like them, too, so she gave the job to her when she was eight.  Ginny was always dutiful in feeding the chickens and gathering the eggs, but  Molly didn’t think that she liked the chickens as much as she did.  (Charlie seemed to come closer to her passion for the chickens, but then again, he liked almost all animals.  Just like her Uncle Max.)  Molly missed Ginny when she was at Hogworts, but she enjoyed getting the care of the chickens back again.

Since the chickens had already been fed, there was no reason to linger outside.  Besides, it looked and smelled like rain.  So it was inside work today. 

Her grandmother had been the one to teach her how to wash dishes by hand many years ago – Gran claimed that the dishes were cleaner and the hand-washing gave her a chance to examine each dish for cracks and chips.  Gran also laughingly said that the warm water felt good on her arthritic hands.  Molly did it now in remembrance of her beloved Gran, long since dead, and to fill the long hours until Arthur got home from work.  From the radio, Roberta Rabelais’ smoky voice filled the cramped kitchen, while the dishes clanked along with the silky percussion and the moaning violins.  Roberta’s torchlight crooning was somehow just right this morning.  Gran had always liked the glamorous Roberta, and her voice now strengthened the strong wave of remembrance that Molly was riding now.

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Once the dishes were done, Molly decided to tackle That Smell.  She collected her new bottle of Mrs. Scower’s All-Purpose Magical Mess Remover, the large can of Blast! (“Give those stains a ‘POW!’”), several sturdy rags from the mysteriously diminished rag bag, a rounded green cake of Crystalline Mint Oil soap (“One quick spell for a sharp, clean smell!”), a large bucket of water, an almost-bald scrub brush, the household broom, and the larger of her mops.    She smiled involuntarily at the can of Blast!, reminded of how the children used to be sent into paroxysms of laughter when they watched the powder coalesce into a grainy fist and smack the offending stain, sounding like a slab of meat hitting the kitchen counter.  Ron had once gotten himself spanked when he was small for deliberately spilling ink on the new rug in order to watch the comical fist punch the stain.

She was readying her levitating spell to carry everything upstairs when she remembered her Impenetrable Gloves.  She looked in the usual places: under the sink, in the wooden box by the hall table, in back of the parchments on the writing desk, by the back door with the boots, out in the shed, on the mantle; all to no avail.

They were finally located in a stack by the door under Ginny’s well-worn copy of Witchling Tales of Long Ago, last week’s Witch Weekly, two yellow-y Daily Prophets turned inside-out from last month sometime, an old Gilderoy Lockhart book, a once-garish American Muggle advertising circular from a place called Radio Shack, a forgotten textbook of Ron’s – she would have to send it by Errol when he returned and recovered, a photograph of Ginny taken last summer that showed an uncanny resemblance to Molly’s Auntie Cordelia (Molly loved the way Ginny’s image brushed off the hair that blew across her face), a reference book on lamias from the Magical Library – overdue (who in the world checked THAT out?), a broken quill, a small sheaf of advertising parchments with doodles and mustaches drawn on all the faces – several of them shook their tiny fists at Molly – and behind it all, a plain candy wrapper that looked suspiciously familiar.  She pocketed the candy wrapper.  Molly only used the Locus spell when she knew that something was well and truly lost.  Since she rarely doubted that she knew where everything was in the house, she spent a lot more time looking for things that could have been more easily located with that simple spell.

The gloves were retrieved and the pile neatly re-stacked.

She snapped on the bright vermilion gloves and was picking up her wand again when she stopped a moment and walked quickly outside.  She returned to her pile of cleaning equipment with a small glass jar of worm-looking things.  The Enhanced Leeches would eat any bio-hazard – a fair precaution for the thorny job ahead of her.  Molly got four steps up toward George and Fred’s bedroom when a voice from the kitchen fireplace called,

“Yoo-hoo, Molly!  Are you home?” 

“Coming!” she said loudly.  She was still more down than up, so she Levitated everything back down and walked back to the kitchen.  It was the head of her best friend from Hogworts days, Zelda Tutweiller, suspended in the kitchen fireplace.

“Molly, dear.  How are you?  I called to see if I could come and visit a spell.  I’ve got news.”  she added tantalizingly.

“Oh yes, Zelda!  Pop on over.”

Molly smoothed her dress and started to fix up a tea tray for the two of them.  Within a few minutes Zelda Apparated through the fireplace.  She was carrying a stack of photographs.

“Ah!  That’s better!”  she exclaimed, brushing off her tasteful, navy-blue polka-dot robes.  “Molly,  I’m glad I popped in.

You look like in dire need of a cup of tea.”

Molly laughed ruefully from over her shoulder at the counter.  “Actually, I just finished the pot.”  Her voice became a little wistful.  “The children went off to Hogworts yesterday.  It always takes me a day or two to adjust to their being gone.”  More brightly she added,  “I was on a mission to clean Fred and George’s room.”

“Ah!”  said Zelda, comprehending.  Her toothy smile faded a bit.  She never quite recovered from the afternoon she kept the twins for Molly almost ten years ago.  Since then, Molly’s tales of their wildness only added to Zelda’s apprehension of Fred and George.  “Well, I’ll be quick about it, then.  Gwen had her baby!  We have a new grandson!”

Zelda paused for Molly’s elated reply.

Molly turned again and gave Zelda a broad smile.  “That’s wonderful, Zelda!  That makes…”

“Three!” gloated Zelda.  “Three grandchildren.  Two little girls and now a little boy!  This new one is Gwen and Darian’s second.  Looks just like Darian.  See, here he is right here.”  Zelda started laying out pictures of a pink, squashed-looking lump while Molly set a laden tea tray with a plate of bread and marmalade and another of sliced apples on the kitchen table.  “Of course, they all are the handsome ones, if I say so myself.  And so bright!  Why, just the other day, Belinda’s little Athena…,” and Zelda was off for some minutes about little Athena.  When Zelda took a breath, Molly sighed and said,

“I envy you, Zel.  It would be really nice to have babies in the house again.  Especially the kind you can send home to their parents after a while.”  They laughed.

“They’ll come, Molly.  Just you wait.” reassured Zelda.  “You’ll be waist-high in grandchildren once your boys get started with their families.”

“Well, I better be!” Molly replied firmly.  “But there won’t be any grandchildren if the boys don’t catch wives.”  Zelda’s raised her eyebrows at this, giving Molly a shrewd look.  Molly responded quickly.  “Zelda, there will be wives before there are grandchildren!”  She continued:

“I never mention it to them, of course, but it’s time Bill and Charlie got serious about meeting nice girls from good families.  I keep reminding them all the good ones will be taken, but do they listen?  Nooooo!  I certainly didn’t like that last one Bill had!  I wouldn’t have let her be a mother to a tom cat, much less my grandchild!”  Molly laughed.  “But I honestly don’t know how he thinks he can get a nice girl’s attention with that long straggly hair in his eyes all the time and that horrible earring he seems to think is so dashing.  And he would have to get a promotion to an office job before he could marry.  I mean.  What nice girl wants a husband in such a dangerous job?”

“Bill’s a smart lad,” replied Zelda.  “I’m sure the promotion will come, and he will be glad to get out of field work.  He could work his way up to a Vice Presidency at Gringotts in time!”  She paused to take the teacup that Molly passed her with a murmured, “Ta.”  Zelda resumed.  “And I can’t help you with the earring.  He may have to grow out of that.  But…” she added with a gleam, “I would be disappointed in you, Molly Weasley, if you couldn’t think of some scheme to get Bill’s hair cut.  I daresay that something unexpected just might take a great chunk out of his hair and leave it so uneven that he would have no other recourse but to even it off.”

“Enchanted barber’s shears run amok, hmmmmm?”  Molly mused insincerely.  “Has promise, Zel.”  She switched to a syrupy voice:  “‘Oh my goodness!  Your lovely long hair, Bill!  Whatever shall we do with it snipped to ju-u-u-st above your ear on that whole side?’”  They erupted into raucous cackles that led them to talking over one another with additional solutions to Bill’s ponytail and reminiscences about past misdeeds.

They hadn’t seen each other in a while, so their conversation covered a lot of news, opinions, and delicious gossip that took them through the whole pot of tea.  After Zelda popped back home, Molly got up and took the tea things to the sink. 

She hummed that old Roberta Rabelais song from earlier this morning as she started up the stairs again to the twins’ room, detouring first by the living room clock to check on her family.  Everyone was where he or she was supposed to be.  When she reached the door to the twins’ room, she broke off her humming.  She set everything down with a determined thunk, squared her shoulders, narrowed her eyes, and carefully turned the knob on the scratched and battered door.

She immediately regretted her decision to tackle That Smell when the odd, potently acrid stench hit Molly full in the face.  Through eyes slitted against the miasma, Molly saw that the room looked like it had been ransacked by monkeys.  All these years of reminding them to pick up their things  hadn’t made a jot’s worth of difference.  Why couldn’t they be like Percy?  If he could keep a room clean, so could they.  They had no excuse.  She TOLD them to clean up before they left.  The way they left this place, she would have to clean before she could clean. 

Fuming, Molly pointed her wand over the mess which included crumpled parchments, mysterious chunks of metal with no discernable purpose, a fuzzy and soggy yellow ball, several banana peels, something that looked like a squished sandwich, a goblet, a newly-broken pottery pitcher,  George’s smelly old trainers, the Quidditch set in its dilapidated case, a dented cauldron, a croquet mallet, a half-mended net tangled around some of her old knitting needles, and books left open and facedown.  And that was just the TOP layer.  Underneath there seemed to be small bits of paper, wood shavings, screws and bolts, trails of some dry black powder, and the missing portion of the rag bag, shredded.  Molly imagined that the furniture was looking wavery from the foul air.  She muttered “Alohomora!” to open the window before the stench could bow the glass out and break it. 

She started moving trash; dirty laundry - including the very rumpled sheets, underwear, and some socks that should probably go in the trash; and the odd pieces of oily metal and other paraphernalia into piles.  In the midst of the basic organizing, Molly noticed the old blanket.  It usually lived in the shed, but was now covering something bulky on the room’s worktable.  (She had given up calling it a desk, as no one ever studied there.)

Carefully removing the stained, moldy, threadbare blanket from the worktable, Molly found wooden boxes carefully stacked over half of the surface.  They were locked.  Next to the boxes was a large, unfamiliar, smoked-glass carafe that was on its side.  The unlabelled liquid that used to be in it had spilled onto the table and had dribbled down to the faded, dirty rug.  (That rug, like the rest of this room, had been clean a week ago.) Little tendrils of smoke rose from the gelatinous puddles that had formed from whatever spilled.  Discovering the source of That Smell gave her a grim satisfaction.

Molly righted the carafe and mopped up what she could with a rag.  The rag smoldered for a few seconds and then started sloughing apart into slimy mud-colored clumps.  The smell grew even worse, if possible, and Molly fought down the nausea with an effort.  But after using the Magical Mess Remover and the Blast! and killing three of the Enhanced Leeches, the puddle was removed, though the table surface had a new valley and the rug sported another hole.  Even if they had the money, Molly could never see replacing that rug for the twins to destroy.

The unknown contents of the carafe didn’t appear to have seeped under the boxes, but you never know about these things.   After giving the boxes a long hard look, Molly left them locked, though she Levitated them carefully to clean under them.  They were heavy and they clanked.  She decided that she was happier leaving the contents of those boxes a mystery.

She lifted the manky old blanket off the floor and stuffed it out the open window.   A goodly part of the smell went with it to the garden below.  The jostled curtains were settling after the blanket’s departure, but the left side seemed too stiff and heavy…and it was hanging wrong, too.  Molly slitted her eyes in suspicion, inhaled slowly, and ran her left hand inside the lining, right hand holding her readied wand.  What she found was a dog-eared  magazine.  It had seen some wear since she last saw it. She moaned, “Oh no!  Not again!”

On the Chinese-red cover of the magazine was the word, “Vixen” in a bold black flourish.  Below the title was a fluffy young witch with long, curly blonde hair, white robes artfully torn at strategic places.  They were too small at the top – probably because the little witch’s breasts were bigger than her head.  They were also too short at the bottom by quite a bit.  She was standing on one leg Maasai-style, knitting.  (Molly was immediately put in mind of the sweaters that she had to start this week to get them all made for Christmas.  She needed to knit Zelda’s new grandbaby a little blanket, too.)  The young witch looked up and automatically thrust away the knitting and assumed her sultry pose.  When she saw it was Molly though, she relaxed and gave a familiar wave, much like Zelda would.  Molly gave an exasperated sigh in answer.   

The first time she found the magazine under Bill’s mattress years ago, she was literally sick at her stomach.  By the time of the second discovery – in Charlie’s underwear drawer - she realized that most of her nausea was the acknowledgement that her sons were not children any more, but she still refused to have such trash in her house and she refused to let her sons believe that this sort of thing was acceptable behavior. 

She should do what she did the first two times she found it:  let its owner know that she had found it and let him stew without her comments.  It was Arthur’s solution, back when she wept at finding it the first time. Arthur convinced her that making a big deal about the thing would create more problems than it would solve.  Molly didn’t quite believe him, but she went along.  Arthur had assured her that the boys had talked to him about it later, though she never heard the first thing from either of them.  Of course, Arthur also assured her that Charlie promised him he would destroy it, and here it was again.  Maybe she should send it back to Charlie and ask him how it got in Fred and George’s room after he promised his father that he had destroyed it…

Molly continued to stare at the impish little witch, torn between curiosity, propriety, and righteous anger.  Curiosity won.  She carefully opened the magazine to the middle.  There was a robeless witch in the photograph who was actually…That was Disgusting!  How could any decent parents let their daughter do something like that!? 

Molly slapped the magazine shut, breathing hard.  For about a minute she thought about sending a Howler to Fred and George, but it would probably only make their friends envious.  No, she would stick with the original plan. 

Wait.  When it was found before, it had been summer and the boys weren’t away at Hogworts.  If she sent this filthy thing on to Hogworts would the twins end up sharing the magazine around? Or had they already?  Why didn’t Fred and George take it with them unless they were already finished with it?  No.  She couldn’t send it to Hogworts…the last thing she wanted was for Ron to get hold of it.  And if Ron got hold of it, then so would Harry.  Molly felt responsible for Harry.  This would need more thought.

Briefly Molly wondered if Percy had had the filthy thing in his turn.  He was passionately fond of rules, but Molly knew that Percy would break them if it suited him.  Percy was very, very good at the cover-up; his straight-laced reputation served him well when he did something forbidden. 

Ho-ho!  Maybe the magazine was his…hidden in here in such an obvious place to get Fred caught in retaliation for the exploding mashed potatoes last week.  Molly’s face had hurt trying to keep from laughing at the glops of creamy potatoes obscuring Percy’s fiery hair and dripping off his nose.  His attempt to maintain a stiff dignity made it all the worse.  Fred certainly got him good.  Was this thing Percy’s?  Doubtful, but it could be. This would definitely need more thought.

Molly ruminated about Percy and his recent strange attitude toward the rest of the family as she set back to work.  She never thought that she would have any trouble with him, but she could be in for a nasty shock.  She certainly hoped not.

It took several hours to set the room to rights.  In the process she found not a few things that had gone missing (including her good scissors, the Spell-o-tape, and the smaller ball of string) and some things that were better left unexplained.  When she finished, she collected everything in the hall and surveyed the room. 

The lung-searing stench was replaced with wafts of fresh air and Crystalline Mint Oil Soap.  The heavy curtains barely moved in the gentle breeze coming through the window, unhindered now by rude periodicals.  The furniture had been Levitated and cleaned under – not nearly as easy as it sounds in such a small room, but Molly had mastered that skill long ago.  She had even given the baseboards a long-overdue scrubbing and the rug a thorough beating and cleaning.   The room looked habitable by civilized humans again, even with the burn marks on the wall and the odd splotch above the worktable that had been there for the last several years and wouldn’t come off.  She had turned the rug again so that the new hole didn’t even show.  She smiled at its transformation and at the knowledge that it would remain clean for months.

Molly gathered everything in the hall and Levitated the whole of it down to the kitchen.  Laundry was floated to the wringer washer Arthur set up for her.  Water started pouring in the tub of the washer and warming up with a wave of her wand.  Wash powder followed with another wave.  She would need to come back later and hang up the clean, wet laundry for one big drying spell.   (Those poor Muggles, having to do all their laundry without magic!). The trash went to the trash pile behind the shed; the pile of things that didn’t belong in the twins’ room was set in a box in the corner to be sorted;  the magazine was put on her writing table as a prop for the talk she would have with Arthur later.

As she passed the clock in the kitchen she saw that the hands were pointing to You’re Late!

“And just what am I late for?” she asked, annoyed.  The date book that was wedged in with the cookbooks was trying to say something, but the other books had squashed its yells to a muffled moan.  “Oh, for heaven’s sake!  Who put that there!” she demanded of the empty room, while she freed the date book.  It ruffled its pages, cleared its throat, and announced in a deep, fruity voice,

“Tea, 3:30, Aunt Agatha.”  Molly quickly looked at her reflection in the small mirror above the mantle, which murmured, “You better start now, luv.  It’s going to take you some time.”

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Molly Apparated to Aunt Agatha’s dark, Gothic house, late.   The maid showed her in to the parlor where members of  Arthur’s family were gathered for Monthly Tea.  (Because of deaths and spinsterhood, the gathering was heavy with aunts and female cousins.)  It had been a dying request of Agatha’s mother that she keep the large family intact.  Monthly Tea served to reconnect the sisters and brothers and their families.  Molly believed in family;  she went to represent the “Arthurs” whenever she could.

From her dark upholstered throne by the larger fireplace, Aunt Agatha turned a baleful eye toward Molly when she entered.

“There you are, girl.  It’s about time you showed up.  What,”  Agatha asked, glaring at Molly’s pink hat, “Is that hideous thing on your head?”

Molly knew Agatha well enough not to answer.  She bent and kissed the old harridan’s wrinkled cheek.  “Hullo, Aunt Agatha.  You look lovely as always.”

“Keep your fibs, girl.  We both know that I’m a decrepit old woman and I look dreadful.  How is young Arthur?”  Arthur’s aunts still considered him to be about eight years old.  Molly smiled in amusement and assured Aunt Agatha that her nephew was doing well.

Aunt Cassandra, dressed in her customary shroud-like gray robes, greeted Molly with a skeletal hand laid gently on Molly’s arm.  “I was so sure that something unthinkable had happened to you.  I am glad you made it without mishap.”  Molly dutifully kissed the pale old lady’s cheek.

Aunt Emilie, sitting in a straight chair by the wall, leaned over to Aunt Precious, whose knitting needles had not stopped their gentle motion in the almost thirty years that Molly had been a part of this family.  Emilie whispered loudly in the old lady’s ear, “It’s Arthur’s Molly.”

Precious smiled and said aloud, “Oh, good!  I always liked that girl.  She’s so capable.”  She paused in her knitting long enough to lift her thick, glittering glasses Molly-ward and send her grandnephew’s wife a sweet, slightly goofy smile of welcome.  Molly spared a quick moment fruitlessly trying to recall the name Precious was given at her birth.

Aunt Agatha turned her attention from Molly and started in with Aunt Cassandra about the merits of thin cauldron bottoms.  She was railing to get a rise out of Molly, no doubt.  (Percy’s cauldron bottom report had gotten a lot of coverage in the Daily Prophet’s frantic efforts to ignore rumors of Voldemort’s re-appearance.)  Aunt Cassandra’s murmured replies could barely be discerned above Aunt Agatha’s emphatic sermonizing.

Before Molly could insert her opinion on the matter or could make her way over to see Aunt Precious, Agatha’s improbable daughter, Violet, rose from her sofa and crossed the room to collect Molly.  Violet was wearing floral print robes that strained across her ample bosom, her feet wedged into tiny white pumps that looked like they were about to burst.  Molly noticed that Violet’s faded hair had been dyed to a more palatable shade of salmon than it was last time.  Multicolored bracelets clattered like a tin box of silverware crashing down the cellar stairs as she grasped Molly’s hands in her large plump ones and exclaimed loudly, 

“Molly, dear!  It is so good to see you!  I brought Richard along!  He’s so fond of the shortbread!  Besides,” she added in a loud whisper, “I simply can’t leave him at home alone, you know.  When I do, the house is torn to pieces, and he has done simply nothing while I’ve been away.”  She simpered.  “He needs me.” Arthur once told her that Richard told him that he spent a lot of time in the loo, because it was the only place in the house where his wife wouldn’t harangue him.

Violet guided Molly over and poured tea, chattering loudly the whole time and forestalling Molly’s attempts to answer the questions that Violet herself posed.  Two of the cousins, Annabelle and Adelaide, broke their whispered conversation to murmur greetings to the late arrival, then immediately leaned their heads toward each other and resumed.  Annabelle’s wide hazel eyes bulged as Adelaide’s small freckled hand that was unencumbered with a teacup helped the gossip along.  Violet’s Richard was looking squashed at the far end of the stiff, maroon sofa.  He rallied, though, as Molly approached with his formidable wife; he raised his half-drunk teacup to Molly and smiled quietly.  Molly returned his smile.  Uncle Ernie, who had half-turned when Molly arrived, resumed his perusal of the well-known titles on Aunt Agatha’s bookshelf.  He gave a sub-vocal, “Hmmmm,” and got a better bite on his pipe stem.

Aunt Edina joined them from her place by Aunt Agatha.   Edina greeted Molly like someone who was more grim than happy most of the time.  But for all her abrasiveness, Molly liked Edina’s forthright, unadorned manner.  Molly correctly guessed what she was coming to hear:  Edina also kept chickens.  After a perfunctory greeting, Edina began to speak enthusiastically about her established Leghorn flock and the “Dominickers” that she was starting.  Molly replied in turn about her own Rose-comb Leghorns and Buff Orpingtons, who had crossbred with themselves and some unknown breed long ago.  They even managed to thrash out their opinions of the merits of keeping some of the Asian show breeds before Violet was successful in turning the conversation away from chickens.  According to Violet, talk of chickens should not take place outside the dining table, the kitchen, or the butcher’s.  And conversations about live chickens should be confined to the barnyard, where Violet herself would never be found.

In a conversational lull, Violet offered Molly and Edina a plate of biscuits with a refill of tea.  “No, thank you, Violet,” said Aunt Edina as she looked away slightly.  “I’m trying to reduce.”

“Well, I’m not!” said Uncle Ernie. He strode over and commandeered the plate right out of Violet’s hand.  Richard followed Ernie and the plate to the chairs by the smaller fireplace in the corner furtherest from the ladies. 

There was someone else in one of those chairs.  Even though that Someone’s head and torso was completely obscured behind an unfamiliar newspaper, Molly knew that it was Cousin Rupert from the occasional mutter and from the long, well-trousered legs sticking out the bottom of the paper.  Aunt Agatha obviously persuaded him that it was in his Best Interest to attend this afternoon.  Rupert was ignoring the ladies as hard as he could, but he looked over the top of the paper and grunted politely at Uncle Ernie and Richard, who replied in gentleman grunts.  Aunt Emilie giggled as Violet spluttered at Uncle Ernie.  Even in her seventies, the family considered Emilie flighty.  Agatha merely glared at her brother and floated the ash tray after him with a dismissive wave of her knobbly black wand.

“Mind Richard doesn’t eat too many,” Violet finally bellowed.  She turned from Ernie and the biscuits and began asking Molly about each of the children as if she were checking off a list, youngest to oldest.  Violet’s prodigious memory served her social needs with frightening efficiency.  Molly dutifully responded to each query and asked in turn about Violet’s son who was living with his young family in Vladivostok.

“So you say,” repeated Violet, having dispensed with her Hathaway, “That neither Bill nor Charlie have plans to be married anytime soon.”  (From the chairs where Emilie and Precious sat:  “Married?!  Who’s getting married?  I do love a wedding.”  “No, Aunt Precious, no one is getting married.  Now, I want to hear what Molly has to say about the boys.”  “They are nice boys, aren’t they?  That little Percy brought me flowers just last week.  He’s the sweetest thing!  I only wish Arthur could have had a girl.  Arthur would have so loved to have a little girl.”  Aunt Precious often forgot about the passage of years and about her great-grand niece.)

“Molly, that won’t do,” continued Violet after a glance at Aunt Precious. “Men just need pushing sometimes, so you may have to be Firm.  You are not firm enough, Molly, so I will help you.  There happen to be some nice girls who live near us.  I am sure that they will like your boys.”  Violet paused to bite into the cucumber sandwich in her large hand, bangles sliding down her stout forearm.  She began to gesture with the remainder of the sandwich.  “But is Bill still wearing that low-brow earring and refusing to cut his hair?  You must clean him up before he can meet them, Molly!  These young ladies are cousins to Cornelius Fudge, and I won’t have any of the family making a bad showing to quality people!”  Molly sensibly drowned her hot defense of Bill’s very handsome ponytail in another sip of tea.  Arguing with Violet was a complete waste of time.  Molly also didn’t say anything about the earring that really wasn’t so bad.

Violet stopped only long enough for lubrication from the teacup.  “Men don’t seem to be able to handle these things themselves.  They can’t seem to do the things that are good for them.  They will argue themselves blue in the face, but the truth is, I don’t know of one man who is not better for having married.”  Molly glanced involuntarily at the nondescript Richard, who gave her a deadpan look in return from the relative safety of the wing chair across the room. 

Violet thundered on, heedless of Richard.  “I mean, just think of all that Uncle Ernie could have done had he only married.” 

“Married?!  Ha!  No man in his right mind marries!”  harrumphed Uncle Ernie triumphantly from his lumpy overstuffed chair.  “As I recall, you were stone drunk when you married that hen of yours, Richard!   And young Rupert here looks like he chewed dung beetles for breakfast and lost his toothbrush.  Heh. Heh.”  Uncle Ernie loved laughing at his own jokes.  Violet rolled her expressive eyes at Ernie’s outburst.  When he had stopped his silent laughter he continued: 

“That’s what two years of marriage does to a carefree lad.  Haw!” 

“Feels more like two hundred years,” muttered Rupert.  Ernie snorted with laughter, while Richard, being hit close to the bone with Rupert’s remark, limited his agreement to a polite chuckle.  Aunt Emily’s high-pitched giggle emanated from the wall.  Violet’s eyes rolled again.

Ernie recovered and started waving his short-stemmed pipe in front of his round, red face.  “You’d have to crack me in the head with a German cauldron to get me to marry!  No, Richard, in spite of all that I deserve to be otherwise for my manifold sins, I remain a bachelor by the grace of God.” 

“And women around world give everlasting thanks, indeed,” sniped his sister-in-law, Edina into her teacup.  Edina’s reducing diet was badly affecting her temper. 

Aunt Agatha’s voice pierced the conversation like a needle in a balloon.  “Violet!”  (“My  point,” murmured Uncle Ernie in an undertone.)  “What have you heard of that dowdy friend of yours in the Ministry?  Is she dead?  She looked like a hag the last time I saw her.”  Violet moved over to her mother where she sat in state by the fireplace.  Aunt Cassandra, having been dismissed, glided over and took Violet’s vacated seat beside Molly.  She sighed to Molly,

“There will be no one to carry on the family name at this rate, my dear.  We had such hopes for your family.”  Cassandra’s three thoroughly dull, sickly, homely, unmarried daughters were put aside for the moment.  “Will your boys ever marry or are they…”  Cassandra sipped her tea and clinked the cup gently on the saucer.  “…like…Theodocia’s Marcus?”  Cassandra’s sister’s husband’s cousin Theodocia had not been seen in public since the dreadful revelation 40 years ago.  Adelaide and Annabelle were pretending that they weren’t listening for Molly’s reply. Aunt Edina had no similar inhibitions; she leaned in like a vulture.

“Well, for starters, we have never had sheep, nor have they been overly fond of any barnyard animals.”  Molly was keeping a firm grip on her temper.  She had never liked Cassandra.  She never knew if Cassandra were gloomily oblivious or gloomily vicious.  “I believe that they are just taking their time.  Young people don’t tend to marry so early these days.  They are doing so well in their professions right now.  Charlie is fast becoming an expert in his field…”

Aunt Agatha interrupted from her chair.  “An expert?  In dragons?  Ha!  He could never hold a candle to old Vesta Stonecipher.  Now HE was an expert.  Next to him that little pipsqueak of yours is a mouse!  A mouse, you hear?”  From beside her mother, Violet flashed Molly an apologetic smile and forcefully steered their conversation toward non-existent problems with Violet’s small, painfully immaculate house.

“…an expert in his field,” continued Molly as if there had been no interruption, “And Bill just got a raise.  He is one of their best Curse-Breakers.”

“Oh, my dear Molly,” said Aunt Cassandra in funereal tones, laying the familiar bony hand on Molly’s arm.  “Curse-Breakers die so often in their work.  They never live long do they?”  Sip, clink.  “I don’t know how you sleep at night for worry about poor Bill.  I know that the strain would send me to my grave.”

Molly’s stomach twisted.  More often than not, Aunt Cassandra was a caricature of herself, but sometimes she had an uncanny ability to hit Molly’s own shrieking nightmares spot-on.  But Molly showed her vulnerability with only a small blink, while Aunt Cassandra sipped her tea and replaced the cup on the saucer with another delicate clink.

“I can’t worry about him too much,” Molly lied placidly.  “Bill is obviously happy in Egypt doing what he likes to do and is very good at.  He’s too wrapped up in his work to think about marriage.”  A wicked inspiration that would have done credit to Fred and George flashed suddenly.

“Besides, we wouldn’t want him to marry too hastily, make a bad match, and end up like…” sip, clink.  Molly could play that game, too.  “…Uncle Ferdinand and Aunt Maude.”

Cassandra’s sorrowful eyes widened slightly and brightened minutely with remembered terror.  Edina, never subtle and terribly hungry, accidentally bit her teacup, which yelped in pain, which made everyone except Aunt Precious jump.  Annabelle made a rude noise and had to cover her lipsticked mouth quickly against the involuntary expulsion of Darjeeling.  Molly lowered her eyes quickly and bit down on her lip hard to force herself not to howl with laughter.

At the teacup’s loud protest, Aunt Agatha abruptly interrupted her loud diatribe to Violet.  “Have a care for my china, Edina!” Aunt Agatha said sternly.  The teacup settled itself as Aunt Edina muttered something that Agatha fortunately could not hear.  Actually, it was a good thing that Arthur was seldom able to attend Monthly Tea, Molly thought, because he would be forced to confront Aunt Agatha about the myriad unlawfully enchanted things in the old mansion.  If he dared.

Aunt Cassandra glanced for a moment at Aunt Agatha and then re-addressed herself to Molly, who had herself under control now.  “No, no.  We wouldn’t want that.  Though the Ministry passed all those restrictions on Hands of Glory afterwards....But,”  sip, clink, “I would still worry if I were you, my dear.” 

Cassandra rose languidly and drifted off to talk to Aunt Agatha and Violet again.  Adelaide and Annabelle resumed their whispers.  Aunt Edina ran her tongue over her teeth to make sure they were still there, leaned back, and glared at the sugar pot.  Aunt Precious, in the far corner, smiled her sweet, vague smile at Molly from over her neat knitting, fine yarn becoming, becoming…something under her needles.  Molly returned her smile, though she knew that Aunt Precious could not even see the lovely golden yarn in her lap.  She would go speak to Aunt Precious in a few minutes, once things had settled.

The knitting put Molly’s wandering mind into remembering the young cover-witch she found earlier.  She suppressed a giggle, imagining Fred and George’s faces when confronted with possession of pornography.  Maybe she could pretend that she didn’t know if they understood the talk Arthur had with them a few years ago about those sorts of things, and she could force them to sit through a lecture of the basics.  No, she probably couldn’t keep a straight face.  This needed more thought.  She turned to Adelaide and asked about her flower garden that had been photographed for a magazine recently.

A gentle snore was rising from Uncle Ernie’s comfortable chair.  Uncle Ernie, Richard, and Rupert followed its example and were soon snoring gently as well, cookie and shortbread crumbs rising and falling with the swell as the ladies continued to take their tea and conversation.

-------------------------------------------------------------

It was late when Aunt Agatha declared that Monthly Tea was over and she was ready for them all to leave.  Molly Apparated home, arriving slightly breathless on the doorstep.  Arthur had already made it home from work.  Molly went in quickly, as it was starting to drizzle.

Arthur got up from the table, where he was eating a sandwich, and greeted her with a loud kiss with a hint of brown mustard and onions.  “I found the note about dinner, but I was hungry.  Don’t bother this evening; I’m fine with a sandwich.”  He sat back down.  “The house smells good.”  He resumed chewing.

“Aunt Agatha kept us a bit later than usual,” Molly said, by way of an explanation.  “Arthur!” she said, gesturing to the bottles, jars, knives, smears, onion skins, bread crumbs, and wrappings on the counter.  “Was all this really necessary for one sandwich?”

“Two, actually,” he replied in a muffled voice from behind a largish bite.  She gave him a level look.  “Well, ok,” he amended.  “Three.  But I didn’t have much lunch.”

Molly visibly put aside her annoyance at having to clean up yet another thing.  Arthur did have sense enough to look guilty.  She related all the news of the family to Arthur as she cleaned up the mess he had made.  He was especially glad to hear that Aunt Precious was unchanged.

“I think that she has always been my favorite.  She once took blame for a plate of cookies I stole from Grandmother’s kitchen.  A woman who does that for a man is his friend forever, and I will never forget her loving lies on my behalf.”  Molly smiled at her husband’s comfortable and familiar story as she sat down with him at the table.  He took another bite, washed down with a sip of tea.  He jumped up suddenly and reached for his wand.

“Oh! How selfish of me!  Can I get you a cup?”

“No!  No!”  Molly said quickly, laying a hand on Arthur’s arm.  Arthur eased back down.  “I think, luv, that I have had quite enough tea for today.  In fact, I think I have had enough tea today to last me the week.”

“It’s only Tuesday.  You’ll be wanting a cup before Friday.”

Molly crinkled her eyes in amusement.

Then she jumped up suddenly herself.

“The chickens!  I forgot about the chickens!”  She dashed to the chicken house, pausing long enough to slip into Percy’s mud-splattered wellys at the door. 

By the time Molly made it in the house with the light brown, hen-warm eggs, the drizzle had finally fulfilled its promise of turning into a full-blown rain.  Molly left a wet trail on the clean kitchen floor as she padded over to put the eggs on the counter.  A quick drying spell was all that was needed to clean up the floor and dry herself.

Arthur came down to the kitchen in his old robe and slippers.  He looked like he wanted to talk.  He had been rather superficial with her of late, pretense of normality providing a tattered shield before a dreadful certainty of stress and worry.  He must be near bursting, Molly thought, so she waited patiently while the words he had trouble finding rose to the surface.  The kitchen clock gurgled almost inaudibly. 

“I know you don’t want to hear any of this, Molly, but it is more an unkindness to treat you as if you were one of the children.”  But then he didn’t say anything.  His long fingers twiddled with the now-empty teacup.  The tiny sip that was left in the bottom of the cup dissipated into a thin layer that did not quite cover the bottom.  Specks of tea leaves and undissolved sugar crystals pocked the translucent sheen that tried to regroup along the slightly uneven bottom of the cup.

Molly finally asked,  “It’s You-Know-Who, isn’t it?”  Arthur nodded in reply without looking up.

“We don’t have any concrete evidence beyond Harry’s horrible experience last June – and of course, Cedric Diggory’s death.  But the rumors that are flying about, Molly!  The sorts of things we used to hear back when. 

“Make no mistake.  We are at war with You…with V...Voldemort…and his followers again.”  Arthur had to force himself to utter the Dark Lord’s name.  Molly’s blood went cold at the mention of that name.   “Except this time we are under strict orders from Cornelius to keep things quiet.  He’s refusing to assign the proper resources to protect ourselves - and the Muggles, too!  I mean, what am I doing being given another intern to help with the investigation of shady teapots and disappearing keys when there is most likely a frightening arsenal of surveillance items and Dark Arts components and – more alarming – a veritable small army of Death Eaters gearing up for one crushing assault and preparation for dominion of our world?”  His words were tumbling out at a fast clip by now.  He started to count off on his fingers.

“We desperately need to have Aurors in the field.  We need staff to back them up.  Dumbledore tells me that he has one deep penetration mole, but we need more than one.”

“Are you training moles to dig under their houses, then, or ruin their gardens?” interrupted Molly, puzzled.

Arthur looked quizzically at her for a moment. Then his face brightened.  “Oh. Sorry.  In the spy world, a ‘mole’ is an undercover agent who insinuates himself into the enemy’s camp, digs out information, and gets it back to his own people so they can use it against the enemy.”

“I’ve had girlfriends like that,” murmured Molly.  “Hang on.  When did you become and expert about the spy world?”  He looked back at her blankly.  “This isn’t from one of those silly cloak and dagger novels you keep out in the shed and think I don’t know about, is it?”

“Why, Molly, I have no idea what you are talking about.”  He didn’t look nearly so guileless now, but he continued.

“Besides, I happen to know something about the spy world from when Voldemort was active earlier.  We had several moles back then.  We should not have de-activated them.”

Arthur resumed ticking off points.  “We need surveillance equipment and personnel to watch for Dark magical activity. Experimental Charms needs beefing up.  We need talented Potion-makers to come up with new weapons and preventatives for this fight.  My department needs to be searching out those potential weapons that the Dark Forces already have.  Magical Creatures needs to be breeding and training their own magical creatures for a fight instead of running down unlicensed Kneazles.  We need to beef up diplomacy effort with the non-human species; there are some interesting possibilities with house-elves, I think.  The Treasury needs to be in close communication with Gringotts to maintain money stability and to track down the money behind the Dark Arts.  We need to be in better contact with the Muggle leader, the Prime Minister. We need Magical Law Enforcement to be twice as big as it is, and the Hit Wizard Squad needs so much updating that it would take years just to get them up to speed.   We need…so much!  We need to be fighting this war that has been waged against us.”  He paused for a breath. 

“Cornelius keeps calling for peace and security and not stirring people up.  He’s deeply frightened, Molly.  Frightened badly.  He is not only afraid of…Voldemort…but he is afraid because he doesn’t know what to do, and there is no other reasonable answer to…Voldemort…other than to admit that we are at war.  And war is uncomfortable, and people get killed.  From what Bill told me, Dumbledore was spot-on about Cornelius liking his comfortable little world.  Cornelius is afraid of losing his world.”  Arthur smiled ruefully at Molly.  “I have to admit, that world was nice while it lasted.

“We really shouldn’t be too hard on poor old Cornelius, though.  Leading the fight in this undeclared war is literally an impossible job.  I don’t know who could properly do it.”

I do, thought Molly.  Not that she was eager to see Arthur become a target.

He tipped his teacup back toward himself.  The thin, lonely ring coalesced back along the bottom into a tiny sip, tea specks and sugar left in its wake like a feeble comet trail.

“It’s not as if there is nothing going into preparations for a confrontation.  Dumbledore is doing a lot very quietly, but he has to move carefully;  Cornelius could call for his resignation at any time if he becomes too obvious.  A number of talented witches and wizards have contacted me on the sly, putting themselves at my disposal - Dumbledore must be sending them to me, is my guess.  Several Department chiefs have started to have lunch with me; we chat – informally, you understand – about some quiet strategies that are going in place.  There are a lot of folks who have sense enough to prepare their families against attack.”  Molly’s face went rigid with terror.  “The children are safe at Hogworts,” he added quickly.  She tried hard to believe him.

“But we are not doing enough.  We need to get all our attention focused on this fight.  What’s more, there are changes that need to be made at an organizational level.  Right now, no department knows what the other departments are doing, so that there are both senseless duplications and glaring omissions.  Departmental egos and grudges hinder us in a coordinated effort.  Just this week, Hendricks was ready to walk out because O’Sullivan got a secretary and she didn’t. Maddox and Davies spend so much time Enhancing their offices to best each other that they scarcely have any magical energy left over to do their jobs!  Mattox was in tears the other day when Davies showed him his new Grecian reflecting pool.

“Not to mention my deep suspicions that there are some of Voldemort’s supporters working right in the Ministry passing on information.  Merlin knows I really don’t want to have the job of ferreting out the guilty from among the innocent!  If you think the Daily Prophet has hounded us before, wait until we start investigating long-time Ministry employees for working for Voldemort.  I would have to wear your Impenetrable Gloves to work to open all the Howlers and the Cursed mail I would start getting!”   He grinned and continued.

“Concerns and rumors – I honestly can’t talk about them, Molly, so don’t bother asking,” he added quickly, as she started to open her mouth to do just that.  He continued:

“Concerns and rumors about Voldemort’s whereabouts and doings keep cropping up.  Back fifteen years ago, we would have gone full steam ahead on only half the tales we have now.  But the only thing that Cornelius is adamant about is that there is no threat from …Voldemort.  That deliberate ignorance means that we aren’t ready to fight, we don’t maintain,” he laughed a little, “‘Constant vigilance,’ to quote old Mad Eye, eh?

“Molly, there are a number of uncertainties.  But one certainty is that ignoring Voldemort’s re-appearance will cause innocent people to die.  And if I don’t do something, or if I don’t do enough, I will have as good as killed them myself.  I don’t think I could bear my share of the guilt if obstinate silence causes innocent people to die.”  He paused and swallowed hard.

“Without a doubt he will go for Harry again,” Arthur continued.  Shut up.  Shut up, Molly thought.  Don’t say… “Ron is, of course, constantly with Harry, so I have a bit more of a personal interest than the next man,”  he ploughed on, not looking now at the wail that was rising up through Molly eyes at his having jinxed Ron by mentioning him.  “And Fred and George are with Harry a great deal, too.  They play Quidditch together.”  Molly was about to go mad.  “And then there’s Ginny…”  Mercifully, Arthur couldn’t go on.

A short, bleak silence.  Molly swallowed her raw panic with an effort, because calm was what was needed now.  Not recriminations, and not cowering in the corner.  Arthur needed her support now more than ever.  Arthur would take responsibility for any mishap no matter what she said.  So she asked quietly, “What can I do to help?”

Arthur recovered his usual calm with a small blink at Molly’s confident words.  He looked steadily at Molly.  “I have an idea or two.  Give me a few days to think them through.  I have to be careful to look like I’m working with Cornelius so I can have the resources of the Ministry at my call.  For now, though,” he paused,  “Look to our defenses.  And live.  Just…live.”

He reached out for Molly with his clever fingers she loved so much.  She took them and used them to draw the rest of him into an embrace.  Cornelius Fudge wasn’t the only one frightened, thought Molly, which frightened her in turn, since Arthur was never scared of anything.  She suddenly wondered when Arthur’s boss stopped being “Mr. Fudge” and became “Cornelius.”

Arthur stood, resting his cheek on the top of her head.   She drew comfort from those long, strong arms around her.  She felt his wedding ring on her shoulder bone through her robes and her blue sweater.  Strength flowing out of her into him and back to her again.  Round and round.  They would come through this.  They would. 

“My first instinct is to get all my scattered children to me as quickly as possible and then we would all fly off to…to…Brazil.  Sunny, safe Brazil, far away from You Know Who,” Molly said after a short time.  Her words were muffled against Arthur’s chest.  “I know they’re all as safe at Hogworts as they would be anywhere else in the world.  But I worry that Fred and George will be too impulsive and that Ron and Ginny would be hurt.  And Harry!  Who will take care of him?  Trouble seems to hunt the poor boy down!

“What’s more, I can’t help but be annoyed that I spent half my life raising sons who leave home just when they get useful!  We could use a good curse-breaker and a dragon-tamer right here, not in Romania or Egypt!”

Arthur chuckled.  “And Percy?”

Molly sobered.  “Percy is where I want him to be, doing what he should be doing at the Ministry.  He’ll make Head one day, what with his brains and his hard work and his ambition.”  That left a lot of things unspoken, though.  Arthur nodded without voicing his own concerns about Percy. 

He broke away abruptly.

“Oy! What’s this, then?” Arthur asked, picking up the naughty magazine from Molly’s table.  He opened it up and leered.  “Were you trying to tell me something?”  Molly reached over to snatch it out of his hands, but Arthur was still quick, even if he had grown sons.

“Three guesses,” she said grimly, while attempting to put on a feline show of apathy over not having gotten the magazine.  She was glad to help change the subject.

“Spot me the first two?”  He smiled at her.  “We seem doomed to keep running into this thing, don’t we?  Should we send it to the owner?  Owners?”

“Owners,” she said, laying to rest any doubts about the Percy theory.  “Behind the curtain.”  Molly sat down at the table.  “I should be offended that they think that I am so stupid that I won’t find it.” 

She sighed and lifted her head to face Arthur.  “Fred and George need different handling, I think.  Maybe…”  Was she getting a second wicked inspiration of the day?  “Maybe I could write them a note, tell them that we got inspired by it.  That ought to give them pause.”

“You wouldn’t!” laughed Arthur.  “You can talk all you want, Mrs. Weasley, but I know you wouldn’t do it.”  He stopped and grinned at her.   Gracious!  He looked like Ron when he did that.  “Are you inspired?  I sure am!   Maybe you could, um,…there’s one here who…” he started thumbing through the well-read pages.

“Arthur Weasley! Give that to me now!”

“Oh.  No.  If I let you have it, the boys might get it again, and we can’t have that, can we?  I’ll just…”

“Arthur.”

“I’m only thinking of the boys, Molly.  I would otherwise never have something like this in the house.  But see?  I am willing to nobly sacrifice for the sake of my family.”  The overdramatic hand over his heart and the uplifted chin were nice touches.  “I’ll put it somewhere safe.”  He turned quickly for the door.  Molly could just see the blonde witch on the cover make a teasing moue and wink at him.

“Arthur!”  She was out of her chair now.

“I’ll just be putting it in my shed, then…”

Accio!”  It flew to Molly’s hand.

“Well, Accio to you, too!”  It fluttered wildly back to Arthur.

“Don’t push me!”    Her eyes were slitted.  “Accio!” 

Accio! I’m merely being a helpful husband and a dutiful father.”

“You say this with a magazine called ‘Vixen’ in your hand?  Accio!”

“Molly!  Really!  Accio!”

Accio!”

Accio!”

Accio!  And you better not take it back!”  It flew back to Molly.

“And what would you do if I did?”  They stared at each other for a brief moment.   His eyes were laughing.  “Accio!”  The pretty little cover-witch was looking dizzy.

Molly backed away and raised her wand.  “Incendio!”  The magazine burst into flames as Arthur jerked his hand away.  He sucked a burned finger as a small pile of ash collected on the floor.  Molly dug in the desk drawer and found a small envelope in the back.  She retrieved the broken quill from the stack by the door - which she re-stacked carefully.  She sharpened the quill and addressed the envelope to Fred and George Weasley, Hogworts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  After casting a precautionary chilling spell on the pile of ashes, she slid them into the envelope.

“I’ll just add a note to the boys letting them know I found their stupid magazine behind the curtain.  I will include a promise of an upcoming conversation about this incident.”

Arthur finally spoke.  “You were the image of my Aunt Agatha just then, d’ you know.  Except, of course, that she can burn parchment at twenty paces with only her glare.”

Molly laughed.  “Well, then, you just better watch out, young Arthur.”  Her imitation of Aunt Agatha was pretty bad, but Arthur got the joke and smiled broadly.

He suddenly got an intent look on his face.  “Actually, Molly, there is something you can do for me.”

“What?” she asked, almost dreading his request.  It was sure to auger ill.

“We haven’t had roast beef and Yorkshire pudding in a long time.  Could we have some this week?”

Molly relaxed.  “Of course we can.  I will be glad to arm you withYorkshire pudding against the likes of You Know Who.  He has never been able to penetrate the pure goodness of a pud, has he?”

“Actually, that would be your mother’s Yorkshire pud.  Impenetrable by any set of teeth less than a dragon’s.  Yours is more like a Heroism Potion with gravy.”  Molly basked in the compliment.

Arthur took his book and a folder of parchments from work to his worn chair by living room fireplace.  Molly turned and walked up the stairs, pausing to check the living room clock.  All was well.  When she was halfway up to their bedroom, Arthur’s voice floated up.

“It’s a shame that magazine’s gone.  There was one little red-haired witch in there who was very interesting.  She had her left leg around…”

“Arthur!!!” 

The “Heh!  Heh!” that answered her outburst sounded a lot like Arthur’s Uncle Ernie.

------------------------------------------------------

Later, as she was soaking in her large tub of amber-colored bubbles that smelled of Oil of Bergamot, that old Roberta Rabelais tune she was humming this morning kept running through her head.  She found herself humming the chorus again and getting stuck in the second verse after the part about, “…You drove me out of my mind / And into your arms / How could I find / A man with your charms…”  The Oil of Bergamot was one of Arthur’s favorite scents, one that she chose this evening with a thought toward how he would enjoy snuggling up to it when he came up to bed.  As she soaked, she reviewed all the things that she had wanted to get done today and didn’t.
 

It seemed like I got nothing done.  I wanted to get one of those desk drawers cleaned out…What’s more, I now have that pile of laundry from the twins’ room and all those things from in there to put away…twins…oh yes!  I need to write that note and send it off tomorrow or whenever Errol gets back....I owe Marley Hasenfeldt a long letter…Ginny would like to hear that I’m letting her hen, Penny keep her eggs this time, so I’ll write her, too…and I suppose I have to go to the library tomorrow to return that book…that’s fine, I need to get some new books anyway…Now where did I put those scissors?  I need them so I can start the sweaters for everyone tomorrow…no…I need to start that little blanket for the baby…There’s all that blue yarn, and I could put some maroon with it.  That would make a pretty blanket…Maybe tomorrow, along with some yard-work…and something nice for Arthur…A rum cake would be nice…do we have any rum left?…Oh broomsticks!  Is that blanket still out in the garden getting rained on?  Well, it’s not as if anyone would come in the yard and make off with it.  We have wards around the house…Are the wards strong enough?…

The water suddenly became very cold.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Actually, Molly got her sources confused:   it was my oldest daughter, Miriam, who coined the word “yarden,” not Ron…Jedi Boadicea’s stories hint that Bill might have had good reason to check out the overdue library book on lamias, but Molly doesn’t have any proof…Arthur Weasley’s Aunt Agatha bears a striking resemblance to Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Agatha…Violet and Richard have a British television comedy based on their lives (though the BBC wisely changed Violet’s name to Hyacinthe Bucket)…Hugh Laurie studied Cousin Rupert to create his character in Sense and Sensibility…Uncle Ernie lifted the “bachelor by the grace of God” remark straight from my husband’s bachelor cousin, of all people…Bailey White’s Aunt Eleanor learned the art of “sip, clink” at the same finishing school that Aunt Cassandra attended…I have the urge to attribute the words of Roberta Rabelais’ song, but I’m pretty sure that they are just stereotypical lyrics of a torchlight song.

//
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