BACK! For Round 5 of QLFC, my team got a "Mystery Box" of prompts under the theme of "Weasleys", and I chose the 'object' prompt - Molly's clock. Get your tissues out, o softhearted readers. :) Oof, I am playing fast and loose with the word limit this time. To my judge, the word count is 2988, if you need proof, let me know!
12 May 1998
The Burrow was in sorry shape, but it wasn't nearly as bad as when they'd first come back nine days ago. Today, Molly was sorting out the sitting room; it hadn't suffered as much damage as the kitchen (which, though Molly had insisted that Arthur put it back exactly the way it had been, was seemingly roomier than before) or the garden, which had been reduced to a flat stretch of ashy earth with just a few wilted bushes here and there.
That first night that they'd come to assess the damage at the Burrow, they'd gone back to Shell Cottage to stay the night. Over the dinner table, Bill had said that they were really very lucky, and to the great surprise of nearly everyone, Molly had agreed with him. After all, the Death Eaters who had arrived at the Burrow to take Molly, Arthur, and Ginny hadn't been able to get far enough past the house's defenses to do much more than knock some things over and put a few more cracks in the plaster. It would all be very easy to fix.
Within a day or two, repairs were underway. Arthur and Charlie fixed up the kitchen while Bill, Molly, and Hermione went round the house checking for jinxes or curses that the Death Eaters might have left behind. And, of course, with so many overage witches and wizards to help, it hadn't taken long to replant the garden. Actually, Harry seemed to have taken the sight of the ruined garden as personally as Molly had, and he had made it his mission to get the new flower bushes and vegetable rows to take root before yesterday's service.
Molly had risen early this morning to make headway on her to-do list, with modest success. She had made breakfast for everyone, she had sent Ron, Harry, and Hermione off to Hogwarts to help Minerva McGonagall begin rebuilding, she had washed the breakfast dishes, and she'd prepared lunch for when Arthur and Ginny came back to the Burrow. Then she'd picked up where she'd left off cleaning.
The sitting room, all told, was not in terrible condition. She pointed her wand at a crack in the ceiling, and it sealed itself neatly with a sprinkling of white dust. Then she knelt down on the floor beside a table with a collapsed leg. She lifted the table up and repositioned the leg, but even her strongest Sticking Charm didn't seem to do much good; the table wobbled ominously as she stepped away from it.
Out of habit, Molly glanced at the sitting room wall to check her clock, but it was not there. It took a moment for her to recover from the unpleasant jolt of her stomach and remember that, thanks to Ginny's quick thinking the night they had fled, the clock was at Muriel's. Ginny and Arthur were there now with Bill, collecting their things from the guest rooms.
"Reparo," Molly murmured, and a number of books that had lost pages and covers reassembled themselves onto their proper shelves. She passed her wand over the room once more, and a few more things came back together smoothly, though the table she'd abandoned in the corner gave another threatening wobble as a lamp sailed upward and settled upon it.
Molly stepped back to look around, and her eyes again hit the wall where the clock was supposed to be; the blank stretch of plaster seemed to glare at her unpleasantly. She looked away, trying to regain her focus. Her hand shook for a moment when she raised it to push her hair back, and she closed it into a fist and opened it a few times to make it stop.
"Dear, dear," she said, approaching the fireplace, the last piece of the room she had not tackled. One end of the mantel had fallen so that it sat at an odd angle, blocking the fireplace. All of the ornaments and photographs had slid off into a little pile of broken glass and bent frames.
Molly flicked her wand, and with a crack, the mantel snapped back against the wall. Then she knelt down and began carefully picking up and mending the things that had been crowded upon it. The Floo powder was embedded in the carpet and no good to anybody; she'd have to get more, she thought, putting the empty flowerpot where it belonged on the mantel. The little trinkets—mostly relics from the children, and here and there something Arthur had made—were all mended easily. The only thing that had broken beyond repair was a rather ugly vase that had been a wedding present from Muriel, which Molly decided could be disposed of without much notice.
Then came the photographs. Molly sat down in her flower-patterned chair, carefully lifting the pictures one by one from the hearth. She repaired the glass over hers and Arthur's wedding picture—or, rather, the picture they had made his brother Bilius take when they returned from their elopement. There were a few baby pictures of each of the children, a framed drawing of a dragon that Charlie had sent for Christmas one year, and one photograph of Molly and Bill from the wedding that Apolline Delacour had framed for Molly.
She settled this one beside a particular favorite of Bill as a baby, picked up the next frame—and her heart dropped into her stomach. For a split-second, she hadn't recognized her own brothers, Gideon and Fabian, who were waving up at her with identical, mischievous grins. Molly's heart now seemed to shoot upwards, suddenly constricting her breath.
It had been they who had given her the clock for her birthday, in this very room, when she was pregnant for the fourth time. They had said she needed something to keep track of the boys, if she and Arthur were going to keep filling up all their spare bedrooms; she had told them that night that she was expecting twins.
"Is it another Witch Weekly annual recipe book?"
"I am shocked and appalled that you would even think our gift-giving skills so mundane," Fabian gasped.
"Ten years of Christmases and birthdays aren't reason enough?"
"As if you don't keep them all on a shelf and think fondly of us when you see them," Gideon replied, placing the package in her hand.
"Well, it is bigger than a recipe book," Molly said, admiring the Christmas paper that they had wrapped the gift in. "Let's see." She ripped it open and lifted the lid of the box—then gasped. "What on earth—?"
"That," said Gideon, "we found in Hogsmeade. In Gladrags, of all places. They were selling it secondhand, so we made some modifications, and there you have it."
"Gideon," she breathed. "Fabian…" She lifted out of the box a large clock, which, instead of numbers, had words written on it: Home—Work—School—Travelling—Garden—
"'Mortal Peril'?" Molly read, laughing.
"For when Bill has Charlie dangling out of a tree in the orchard, that sort of thing," said Gideon.
"Wow," said Arthur, who had come over to see, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "Will you look at that? What a great bit of magic…"
Gideon had turned to Fabian. "I think that's the first time I've heard Arthur get excited about something other than a Muggle object in ten years."
"And the hands…oh, Arthur, look," Molly had sighed, running her fingers over the names that were carved into the hands of the clock, all five of which pointed to Home. "It's beautiful, you two—thank you so much. Where are your hands?"
"Are you kidding? We're not letting our older sister spy on us!" Fabian cried, and Molly had laughed again.
Molly had been clutching the broken picture frame too tightly, and a shard of glass had slipped and sliced open her palm, which began to bleed rather badly. "Damn," she muttered, getting up carefully and raising her bleeding hand. She hurried to the kitchen and ran the cut under the tap, wincing as it stung.
Trying to keep her injured hand elevated above her head, Molly fumbled for her wand, and then realized that she had left it sitting by her chair. "Damn," she said again frantically. She rushed back to the sitting room and snatched up her wand, her blood now soaking the tea towel she was holding to the cut, just as the kitchen door opened.
"Molly? We're home!"
"Oh, Merlin's pants," Molly muttered, turning around in time to greet Arthur, who was coming into the sitting room with a box in his arms. She smiled, but he had already seen the red-spotted tea towel.
"What happened?" he gasped, putting his box down on Molly's flowered chair and coming towards her.
"Just some broken glass," she said lightly, sidestepping him and going to the bookshelf she'd just repaired. One-handed, she pulled down and opened up The Healer's Helpmate to "Bruises, Cuts, and Abrasions," consulted the page she wanted, and passed her wand over her palm. The cut sealed itself at once, leaving just a faint pink line behind. Then she turned back to Arthur and smiled, coming close to kiss his cheek. "You're back early. Did it take long to get everything?" She could see it in his eyes; he was not fooled by her cheeriness. She approached the box. "What's all this, then?"
"Some things I thought George might want…for the shop," Arthur said quietly. Molly drew her hands back from the lid, which she had been about to open.
"Oh," she said, her voice sticking in her throat. "Yes, I'm sure he'll appreciate that. Where are—"
Ginny and Bill came into the sitting room at that moment, each holding an end of Ginny's Hogwarts trunk, which obviously held everything they'd managed to take to Muriel's.
"Hi, Mum," Ginny panted, letting her end of the trunk fall with a thud. "Wow. Looks great in here."
"You've got a lot done," said Bill appreciatively, approaching the table with the wobbling leg. "I can probably fix this for you, if you like."
Molly felt her hands starting to shake again, and she clasped them together; they—Arthur, Ginny, and Bill—were handling her. Annoyance was rising in her against her will, and she wished she were alone again.
"That's all right, dear," she said briskly. "There's no need. Ginny, put all the robes in that trunk in the scullery, I'll do the washing this afternoon. And if there's anything else—" her voice cracked unexpectedly, and she felt another rush of irritation when she saw Arthur twitch, almost involuntarily, like he wanted to reach for her. "If there's anything else, mind you put it back where it belongs," Molly said, now turning her back on all three of them and reaching into the pocket of her apron for a rag.
She heard them all shuffling about behind her as she dusted the newly repaired mantel, and then it was quiet; thinking she was alone again, she turned around and gave a yelp of shock.
"Arthur! For Merlin's sake, don't do that!" she snapped. He was still standing behind her, his expression tired and sad. Bill and Ginny had gone, but the trunk still lay on the floor behind the sofa.
"Molly…I've got to show you something," he said softly. He turned from her to open the box that was still sitting on her chair.
"Arthur," she said sharply, "I haven't got time—later, there's so much to do." She trailed off; her heart was painfully constricting her throat again, and she couldn't say anything more. She was filled with a terrible, ominous feeling as Arthur turned back to face her. He was holding her clock.
Molly stared at it for a long moment. In spite of herself, she stepped closer and reached out to touch the hand bearing George's name. "Where—what have you done with—?"
"That's what I'm trying to say," Arthur told her gently. "I couldn't—when we got there, and I fetched the clock—his hand—" His voice trembled. Every word seemed to be an effort. His voice became even softer. "Molly, Fred's hand was gone. I couldn't—find it."
Molly could not tear her eyes away from the clock; the empty space beside George's engraved hand seemed to widen. Somewhere, Arthur was still speaking.
"I'm sorry, I don't know—Molly?"
Molly turned away from him. There was a rushing sound in her ears; she couldn't quite hear herself when she said, "Put it back on the wall, dear."
"Are you sure—?"
"I've just said that, haven't I?" she asked, a bit breathless, like she was about to cry or scream. "I've got a headache. I think I'll have something for it and lie down."
She was moving quickly, heading for the stairs as fast as she could, though she was scarcely aware that she was doing it.
Molly came to a stop with her foot on the first stair and looked back at Arthur, who was still standing beside her chair, now flanked by Bill, who had a hand on Ginny's shoulder.
"Mum?" Ginny said softly, her brown eyes wide with worry.
This was unbearable, to have them all staring at her like she was about to fall to pieces any moment. "I'm going to lie down," she said again, her voice high-pitched but firm. "There's lunch in the kitchen."
Without another word, Molly took the steps two at a time, going as fast as she dared until, at last, she reached the safety of hers and Arthur's small bedroom. She closed the door and took two shaky steps forward, reaching for her end table for support. Her knees gave way and she dropped onto the bed, curled up against her pillow, and let out a sob.
Molly did not know how long she lay there on top of the blankets, but she must have fallen asleep; when she finally became aware of her surroundings once more, the room was dark. The sun had gone down, and the bright sky outside the bedroom windows had subsided into a cool, deep blue that was pricked with just a few stars. She did not feel rested. Her shoulders and neck ached, and her eyes felt raw and painful.
With a soft groan, Molly got herself up from the bed and walked out to the staircase. There was very likely a group of exhausted and hungry teenagers downstairs, waiting for something in the way of dinner; she could not believe she had wasted an afternoon sleeping. She descended the last few stairs at a brisk pace, her practical, problem-solving side starting to take over once again.
It wasn't until she was nearly all the way across the sitting room (she focused her gaze determinedly on the ground, avoiding even an accidental glance at the wall where the clock hung) that she heard low conversation and the clink of cutlery coming from the kitchen.
"Chicken's good, Gin, thanks," said Ron's voice thickly.
"You're welcome," Ginny replied.
There was a murmur of assent from at least two more voices. Molly came to a stop beyond the kitchen doorway and listened; there was silence now, but for the sound of someone pouring something into a glass.
"We'll clear up, if you like," said Hermione's voice. Then she asked, "Where's your Dad gone?"
"He went out to the shed after he told—after Mum went upstairs," said Ginny quietly. "I'll save him something."
"How was Mum?" Ron had lowered his voice even more.
"How d'you think she was?" she demanded sharply. There was a clatter as though Ginny had just dropped her fork on her plate. "That bloody clock. What was I thinking? I should've left it here to get smashed to pieces with everything else. I should've lied and said we lost it at Muriel's. The look on her face when she saw his hand was gone..."
"It's not your fault," said Harry fiercely, speaking for the first time. "You couldn't have–it's not anybody's fault."
There was complete silence from the kitchen now. Molly had heard enough; her brain was screaming at her, insisting that she could not simply stand here and let them continue to believe that she had gone to pieces over a clock, of all things, but she couldn't make her feet move. She was rooted to the spot by a wave of suffocating sorrow that washed over her, taking with it the last of her strength. She leaned against the nearest wall as Ron finally broke the silence.
"She's still asleep, then?"
"I'll take her something later," said Ginny softly. "I don't think she's slept in days."
"I was really worried about her at the memorial yesterday," said Hermione meekly. "She looked ready to faint. And then all this with the clock…"
Molly couldn't listen anymore; she felt numb, tired, and defeated. She was now so suddenly and painfully exhausted that she was sure she could sleep for a month. The frantic energy she had had was all gone. She raised her head just enough to look at her clock; the eight remaining hands were all where they should have been, all taking care of themselves. And if they were all getting along well enough without her, then what was the use of pretending any longer?
Molly sniffed and straightened up; she wasn't needed, and as long as she wasn't needed, she was going to accept this weariness that had taken over her, and sleep until the pain stopped.
"What was that noise?" Harry asked quietly. There was a noise like he had pushed his chair back from the table.
"No, I'll go," Ginny replied.
There came another scrape of a chair and footsteps. Without making another sound, Molly retreated for the stairs as her tears spilled over.