This was written for the Hallowe'en Challenge "Something Wicked This way Comes" at the Reviews Lounge forum. Check out the link in my favourites for the collaboration.
This will probably be the last thing I post for a while, as it's now November and I'm among those mad enough to be doing NaNoWriMo...
If she doesn't think about last year, she will get through this, she will be fine.
(She managed yesterday. She got through her birthday alright. Until the evening, when the flowers arrived. Alice – bless her heart – remembered that Gideon and Fabian used to send her daisies every year for her birthday, and she sent a huge bouquet of them. Molly burst into tears all over the cake the boys had decorated.)
But today it will be different. She will not cry today. Hallowe'en is a happy time, a time for celebration. Gideon and Fabian wouldn't want…
No, don't go there. Don't think about it. Don't think about them. Not today. Not tonight.
She wipes her eyes on the trailing edge of Ginny's shawl, and smiles at Ronnie's efforts to get out of the playpen. Going by previous experience, it will be another month or so before he manages it. He doesn't have the twins' determination, or Charlie's sheer obstinacy. But he will do it earlier than either Bill or Percy. Percy always stayed where he was put ("such a good baby"), and Bill didn't have the incentive of older brothers to try to keep up with.
The boys and Arthur are out in the paddock, finishing off the bonfire. They always have a bonfire at Hallowe'en. It was a Prewett family tradition, and Arthur has been happy enough to go along with it. Particularly as his brothers-in-law were more than enthusiastic about building the bonfire and setting off the fireworks.
But this year, Arthur has to do it. They could do something different, have a more traditional wizarding Halloween with a meal and stories round the kitchen fire, but the older boys at least would feel that was a let-down.
Gideon and Fabian would never let their nephews down.
(Except they had. They had died.)
So it is Arthur who is labouring in the Paddock, building a bonfire, with Bill and Charlie and Percy helping, and (almost certainly) Fred and George hindering. Molly puts the sleeping baby down in the cradle, and goes to the pantry to check that everything is ready.
Potatoes to bake in the embers of the fire (with a bit of magical help if they take too long, and boyish appetites won't wait). Toffee. Popcorn. Sausages. Apples for bobbing. (A Muggle tradition that Arthur found in an old book he picked up Godric-knows-where. The boys love it. Any excuse to get wet without getting told off.) Plates. Cups. Pumpkin juice for the boys. Cider for her and Arthur and… Cider for her and Arthur.
Everything is ready.
There are voices in the yard, and Ginny begins to stir and whimper. Molly makes a dive for the cradle, but Charlie bangs the door open before she can get there, and Ginny begins to cry. Molly picks her up and holds her close.
"Charlie! How many times?"
Charlie looks guilty. "Sorry, Mum. I forgot…"
"Again." But Molly finds she does not have the energy to lecture this evening. Arthur looks at her sympathetically, and comes across the kitchen to kiss her. He knows how she is feeling.
But the boys will not wait.
"Are we going?" Bill demands, while the twins are already heading for the bowl of popcorn with identical wicked grins on their faces. Molly frees herself from Arthur's embrace, and intercepts them fast.
"Fred! George! Don't touch, or you won't have any later. Carry these." She thrusts a pile of plates (unbreakable) at one twin and some spoons and forks at the other. They scowl, but for once don't protest. Molly distributes the food amongst the other boys, and lifts Ronnie out of the playpen and puts him into the huge double pushchair next to Ginny, who is sleeping again – at least for now.
(Last year it was the twins in the pushchair, and Fabian carried baby Ronnie…)
"Have you all got hats and scarves and gloves?"
"Yes, Mum!" comes in a chorus. She does not know why she asks. By the time they get to the Paddock, someone will be complaining he is cold, and admitting he forgot something vital.
She pushes the pushchair, and Arthur walks beside her, carrying the bag of potatoes and the sausages. Bill and Charlie have the bag of apples between them. Percy has the popcorn. (He is sneaking pieces from the bowl, believing his mother doesn't realise. She doesn't have the heart to chide him for it.) Arthur is levitating the rest of the food in front of him.
(Last year, Gideon rigged up a trolley from old wood he had scrounged from a friend to carry everything. It had no wheels, but he made it fly ahead of them, without one spill or breakage.)
They make it to the paddock with only one minor mishap – Bill tripping over and sending the bag of apples tumbling everywhere, to Charlie's disgust. ("That was your fault, not mine, you idiot! Good thing you aren't going to be here next Hallowe'en!") Arthur and the boys pick up the scattered apples, while Molly tends to Bill's cut knees. He is biting his lip and blinking rapidly, and Molly knows it is the realisation that next year he will not be here, that he will be at the Hallowe'en feast at Hogwarts, that is making him cry, not the minor injury. Nearly-eleven-year-olds don't cry about scraped knees. Molly kisses the top of his head before releasing him and letting him scramble to his feet.
(Last year, Percy fell down, and Gideon piggybacked him the rest of the way to the paddock.)
They make it eventually, pile the food on the old trestle table Arthur has set up under a tree, and Arthur uses his wand to light the bonfire. The boys run and yell and chase each other, and Molly tries hard not to think about the races Gid and Fabe organised last year.
"Are we eating yet? I'm starving." Charlie of course, though Bill and Percy aren't far behind him. The twins seem to have disappeared… Arthur runs them to earth digging a hole under the oldest tree in the paddock, gloriously muddy and totally unrepentant. ("We thought there might be some treasure there.")
Molly uses her wand to fill the old bathtub with water for apple bobbing to keep the boys busy while she finishes off the food. They all get very wet, and George manages somehow to fall in, being hauled out by Bill and grinning triumphantly. Fred looks as if he wishes he'd thought of it first.
Arthur waves his wand to dry everyone's soaking clothes, and they all sit under the tree to eat. There is silence for a few minutes, while they all concentrate on the really important matter in hand.
(Last year Fabian regaled them with a story about a wizard a dragon and a ghost on a trek through the Australian Outback while they ate. Molly was sure he was making it up as he went along, but it was an impressive story.)
The silence is broken by Ginny wailing, and Charlie and Fred disputing ownership of the last sausage.
Percy raises his voice above the squabble. "I wish Uncle Fabian and Uncle Gideon were here."
There is a sudden silence, and Molly catches both Arthur and Bill looking at her warily, obviously worried she is about to burst into tears.
She manages to smile. "They'd be happy we're having a good time," she says firmly. "Is it time for the fireworks?"
She catches Arthur's worried look. She knows he thinks he cannot live up to Gideon and Fabian's standards. But he pulls himself to his feet, smiling, and pulling out his wand. "Ready, boys?"
The fireworks may not be quite up to those of previous years, but they are pretty good. The boys "ooh" and "aahh" in all the right places, and seem happy enough. Molly hopes no one will see her wiping her eyes on Ronnie's scarf as she holds the now sleeping toddler against her.
(Last year, Fred fell asleep in Gideon's arms, and had the world's worst tantrum afterwards at having missed the fireworks.)
Finally, the last rocket goes up, and Arthur declares it is bedtime, ignoring the protests from the boys. Fred and George are having a hard time keeping their eyes open, and Percy is not a lot better. Arthur puts out the fire with his wand, and loads the twins into the pushchair, giving Ginny to Bill to carry (with a stern injunction not to fall over again) and taking Ronnie from Molly's arms. They trail back to the house, and Arthur shoos the boys up the stairs to bed, leaving Molly in the kitchen feeding Ginny, who has woken up and is declaring her woes to the world.
When he comes back downstairs, when the boys are finally all in bed, Molly is holding her daughter close, her face streaked with tears. Arthur stands in the kitchen doorway for a full minute watching her before she looks up and realises he is there. She tries to smile, and to say something, but it comes out as a sob.
He crosses the kitchen in two long strides, and kneels beside her chair, holding her close, the now sleeping baby between them.
"It was a good evening, Moll. They'd be proud of you."
He does not need to specify who "they" are. Molly knows.
(Last year, the four of them sat up till three in the morning drinking cider and making plans for what they'd do when the war was finally over. Right now, Molly cannot imagine that day ever coming.)