Nervously tugging at his robes and with a last minute check to make sure he had everything, Arthur took a deep, calming breath. No sense splinching yourself from nerves, he told himself. Fine how do you do that would be, to arrive without an ear, or worse. Tonight was too important. He smoothed his hair down and patted his chest pocket, closed his eyes, took a breath and felt the now familiar compaction. He opened his eyes to find himself at the magnificent gates of Hogwarts. The school crest of wrought iron sealed the portal. In years past the gates had stood open in greeting, but that wasn’t safe in these dark days. Arthur reached out and pulled on the chain that hung from the gatepost. No bell was heard, but a flock of starlings took to air with chatter. In the distance Arthur could see the thin, tortured frame of Apollyn Pringle limping towards him.
‘Weasley. What do you want,’ he snarled when he reached the gate.
‘I’ve come to visit.’
Arthur offered a roll of parchment through the gate. The caretaker unrolled it, inspecting it myopically. With a grunt of disappointment, he thrust it back at Arthur and grudgingly pulled the gate open just far enough to allow Arthur entrance by slipping sideways. Arthur nodded his head in thanks, but it was lost as the wheezing old man grumbled back up the path back towards the caretaker’s cottage.
This time he knew where to find her.
‘Same as last year,’ she had owled.
His long legs couldn’t get him across the grounds fast enough. In the last dying rays of the weak winter sun he hurried past the doors of the venerable old castle and headed for the row of glassed buildings in its shadow. He pulled open the door and the warmth of the greenhouse wafted a perfume of damp earth over him. Somewhere, in the distance, he could hear the faint strains of music. Hurrying down the rows of plants, he found her, once again, at the potting bench, cooing over a vine that had just begun to climb its trellis.
He stepped behind her silently and slipped his hands around her waist. She spun around, wandless, with her face alight.
‘You’re here,’ she breathed.
He bent down to capture her smiling mouth with his. For what seemed like forever, but not nearly long enough, she welcomed him. ‘I’m here,’ he murmured, as he tasted the soft skin below her ear.
She drew away from him just as he reached for her mouth again.
‘I fixed a Valentine surprise for you,’ reaching down for his hand and pulling him through the doorway to the small tool room.
The room had been transformed. A few torches along the walls lit the small room that had been swept and scrubbed. In one corner stood an old gramophone, from which emanated the music he had heard. Along the far wall was a small table, set for two and candlelit.
‘But I was going to take you….’ Arthur protested quietly.
‘I didn’t want to share you with anyone tonight,’ Molly said, pulling the hand she grasped up to her mouth and kissing it on the knuckles.
Arthur pulled her to him, keeping their clasped hand caught between them and wrapping his other arm around her waist. As they began to sway to the gentle tune playing, she leaned in to rest her head on his chest.
This is just the way I want it to be forever, Arthur thought, as he listened to her breathing and felt her slim figure moving in rhythm with his lanky form.
The song changed. A jazzy tune began. Molly changed her step to match his and soon they were involved in a complicated box step, with Arthur occasionally stepping out to twirl her under his upraised arm, then pulling her back in and catching her tightly once more. By the end of the song, they were both breathless with laughter. Collapsing into a chair, Molly grinned up at Arthur.
‘I think that calls for some refreshment!’
With a ‘pop’, dozens of delicious smelling dishes appeared on a sideboard next to the table.
‘You’ve had the house elves working like mad, I see,’ Arthur winked at her.
‘I’ll have you know, I made this myself!’
‘Hidden talents,’ Arthur teased. He leaned over her. ‘I want to know everything about you,’ he whispered as he caught her in another kiss, which was interrupted by Molly’s giggle.
‘You’re very suave tonight, Mr Weasley.’
Arthur’s ears turned a bright red as he took his seat and ducked his chin. Molly stood up suddenly and chattered nervously as she served up two plates. As she placed one of them in front of Arthur, she leaned over and whispered in his ear.
‘I’m yours to know, Arthur.’
Again his ears flamed, but there was a grin on his face this time.
They ate in comfortable companionship, occasionally relating an amusing anecdote or commenting on the food, but usually surrounded by the quiet clinking of silver on china. When the last of the pudding had disappeared, Arthur leaned back in his chair, groaning in satisfaction.
‘I could learn to get used to that,’ he grinned at her.
‘I enjoy cooking. Mumma insisted that we learn. From the very beginning, she had us down in the kitchen, chopping and measuring as she tended the pots. Essie was put out occasionally when we took over her kitchen, but she got used to it.’
‘Our house elf. She’s a wonder. Mumma says she could never tend to six children and the house without her.’
Arthur had gone quiet. A house elf. He could never give her a home with a house elf. What was he thinking? He couldn’t possible provide for her the way she deserved. Was he being selfish, loving her, wanting her?
‘Arthur?’ Molly’s voice interrupted his thoughts.
He looked up at her, and in that moment he knew. His father had told him something once that struck him with a force he couldn’t explain. Even now, years passed, he could hear his voice. ‘You will meet a lot of lovely girls. You will fall in love with more than one. But when you meet the woman you cannot live without, she will be the one to marry.’
Arthur stood up and reached for Molly’s hand. ‘Dance with me?’
She rose and he welcomed her into his arms. Together they again swayed to the music, closing out the rest of the world. Molly tucked her head against his chest again and Arthur revelled in the feel of her tiny, warm hands in his. He bent his head and rested his chin on the top of her head, occasionally placing a gentle kiss on the crown of her vibrant hair.
‘Molly, I want you to come to London with me.’
‘For a holiday?’
She tilted her head up so she could look at him, questioningly. ‘How long?’
Arthur took a deep breath. ‘Till death do us part.’
She blinked. ‘That’s a long time,’ she whispered. She looked down at their clasped hands. They had stopped dancing, but the music continued to play.
‘I’m asking you to marry me.’
Arthur waited, holding his breath.
‘Arthur, you’re so sweet,’ she hesitated.
His heart fell. She didn’t want him.
She lifted her chin. Arthur saw it in her tear-brimmed eyes. With a shout of laughter and triumph, he bent down and captured her mouth with his lips.
The gramophone continued to play its jazzy tune.
Bewitched, bothered and bewildered am I.