DAMN! I posted the wrong thing. Sorry, people! Anyway, this is Round 4 of my Caerphilly Catapults career.
The prompts this time were:
1. The emotion of surprise, though I can't use the word.
2. The word 'icicle'.
3. The song 'Demons' by Imagine Dragons
4. The quote by the Dalai Lama, 'Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions'
4 January 1999
Arthur was preparing breakfast, humming to himself as he scooped the fried eggs onto two plates. It was early in the morning, but this was the first day he was expected back at the Ministry after Christmas, and he and Molly had only just gotten the house to themselves yesterday, when Ron and Harry had returned to Grimmauld Place and Hermione and Ginny had taken the Hogwarts Express back to school.
To say it had been a hard holiday would have been an understatement. As a matter of fact, Arthur couldn't remember a more difficult one, and that included the first Christmas after Molly's brothers had been killed, the year he had been attacked by a ten-foot snake, and the year that he and Molly had been so short on Galleons that Charlie, Bill, and Percy had gotten only two homemade presents apiece.
This year had had its own spectacular litany of awful experiences, and the absence of so many loved ones was barely the worst of it all; George had tried very hard to avoid attending Christmas dinner altogether, Andromeda Tonks had burst into tears and run from the room in front of the entire household on New Year's Eve, and Molly, who had more strained in the last seven months than Arthur had ever seen her, had fallen ill with a relapse of dragon pox.
Arthur sighed as he set the table; he was just grateful that Christmas was over, and that Molly might now have a chance to rest and relax. Whether or not she took it, of course, was something that remained to be seen—and if Arthur knew her at all, he knew that she would resist it as much as possible, because inactivity meant abundant time for thinking and a little too much remembering.
He sighed and looked out the kitchen window at the snowy garden; it hadn't even properly frosted until Christmas Eve, this year, and then, as if someone were trying to make up for it, they'd had a full week of constant, heavy snow. He was just frowning at a particularly large icicle that was poised to go straight through the window if it snapped off in the right way, when movement in the yard caught his eye.
George, his shaggy red hair luminous against the gray-white of the snowy outdoors, wrapped up in a vibrantly green cloak, was standing at the gate, frowning at the house. Arthur stared at him, and as he watched, George shook his head, turned around, and made to leave—then, a second later, he turned around again, as though he were about to come inside the gate—then he kicked the garden wall in frustration and limped around in circles for a moment or two.
Arthur felt a smile tug irresistibly at his lips, even as he heard hurried footsteps on the stairs in the living room. He stuck an arm out and stopped Molly, who was in her dressing gown, from running straight out the door.
"Arthur, did you see—it's George—what on earth—?" she grabbed Arthur's arm and frowned curiously as she, too, stopped to watch the strange back-and-forth argument George seemed to be having with himself. "Oh," Molly whispered after a moment, covering her mouth with one hand, "He—he doesn't think he should—"
"I'll go get him," Arthur replied gently, squeezing her shoulders as he passed. "I'll just be a minute."
He strode to the kitchen door and opened it wide. "George!"
George, who had been in the act of closing the gate as he left it yet again, spun around in fright. He stared at Arthur, looking a little dumbfounded.
"Shall I bring you a cup of coffee while you give yourself pneumonia?" Arthur called. "Or did you want to come inside?"
George's neck turned red, and he gave Arthur a sheepish look. As he came closer, it was with a pang that Arthur noticed, yet again, his thinned-out appearance and overgrown hair and beard. He clapped George on the back as they walked inside together.
"I didn't think you'd be up yet," George mumbled. "Were you watch—hi, Mum—"
"It's so nice of you to visit!" Molly smiled, flinging her arms around George and kissing his cheek. "Arthur, have we got enough breakfast—?"
"No, Mum, I'm fine—I had breakfast with Angelina," he said, releasing her.
Molly raised her eyebrows and met Arthur's gaze. "Oh, did you?" she asked. Then, when Arthur gave her a look, she added, "That must have been nice, I hope you told her hello from us."
"Yeah," George said, still looking a little pink. "I'll—er—I'll have tea with you, though."
"Molly, I've got tea and a plate for you too," Arthur said, trying to usher them both toward the table.
"Yeah, don't let me keep you," George said, shifting uncomfortably from one foot to the other as he looked at them both. Arthur and Molly sat down, but it was only after a moment or two that George started and removed his cloak, hanging it on one of the pegs beside the door, and sat down with them in front of his tea mug.
"What brings you here so early, sweetheart?" Molly asked, sipping her tea and sharing another look with Arthur, who gave her a small, knowing nod.
"Oh, I—uh, nothing, really," George said. "I just—I wanted to know how you were doing. You weren't feeling great when I was here last."
It was Molly's turn to blush. "I'm just fine, Georgie, thank you."
"Good, good," he nodded earnestly. "That's great, Mum, I'm glad."
Arthur almost laughed; at the exact same moment, and with the exact same mannerism, George and Molly raised their mugs and drank, each carefully looking away from the other. It was a moment before George finally spoke again.
"So…er…I was—I was talking with Angelina about some things," he began. "And…I was feeling—" he gave a heavy sigh, "I was feeling like an idiot for trying to—to avoid you all at Christmas. And not just an idiot," he said, cutting across Molly, who had started to interrupt him, "But I was feeling like—like all I'd really done, by trying to stay out of the way and—and not hurt anybody—was hurt you."
He met Arthur's eyes in a pained sort of way; not for the first time, Arthur saw something behind his eyes—a flicker of the pain and overwhelming darkness and sorrow that he had been trying to overcome. Then, almost instantly, George had it hidden again—he'd become all too good at that, in Arthur's opinion.
And of course, Molly saw it all, perhaps even more clearly than he did; she reached over and gently took Arthur's hand before she spoke.
"George…we understand," she said, and her voice seemed stuck in her throat.
He nodded quickly, staring down at his mug. "Yeah, no, I—I know," he mumbled, clearing his throat. "Anyway, I—I was talking it over with Ange, and—she sort of said something that stuck with me. She reckons that the only way any of us are ever going to be—well, maybe not ecstatic or anything, but something like it—is if we try to do something about how miserable we're feeling."
Now George's chin was trembling with the effort it took him to smile.
"You know, we've got to—we've got to stop thinking it'll just—happen, right? We've got to make it happen."
"What do you mean, son?" Arthur asked softly.
George reached into his pocket, pulled out a sack full of something that clinked like gold coins and a sealed envelope, and placed them on the table.
"You two deserve a holiday," he said. "That—er—that's a reservation at the Olympian Palace, for two weeks. You're meant to check in tomorrow."
Arthur felt his jaw drop in utter shock, and Molly gasped, "What?"
"George, son," Arthur stammered, as both he and Molly drew their hands back from the table like they thought the gold would burn them. "That's just—you shouldn't—"
"It's nice having a few friends in the Minister of Magic's office," George said, with an embarrassed half-grin. "Kingsley's given you the time off already. He said he'd have Ron and Harry escort you out personally if you tried to show up for work today, and he wants you to have a great trip."
Molly's eyes were filling with tears of joy as she looked at Arthur, who seemed to have something lodged in his throat. He rose, and so did George—who for so many months, had refused to let anyone too close to him—and they embraced.
Then Molly hurried forward, laughing and crying.
"I'm really sorry," he told her, with a long sniff as he patted her back. "I hope this makes you—sort of—feel a little better."
"Sweetheart," she said softly, reaching out an arm for Arthur, which he took and came close to hug both of them, "we couldn't be any happier."