Author's Note - This is it, the last chapter! I hope you all enjoyed reading this little story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
The Marriage of Molly
"Arthur! We can't be out here," Molly whispered between giggles. "We're going to get caught. I'm the Head Girl! What will people say?"
"No one would believe it," Arthur assured her. "Molly Prewett, who has never even gotten a single House point deducted, out past curfew? Impossible!" Arthur gave her hand a squeeze as the two strolled across the grounds with only the pale, full moon hanging low in the sky to light their way. For a while neither of them said anything until Arthur gave a gentle tug on Molly's hand, pulling them to a stop. "Molly," he began hesitantly. "There's a reason why I invited you out here today. I... What are your plans after you graduate? What do you want to do?"
Molly gave him a puzzled frown at the question. She hadn't really thought much about the future after Arthur began courting her. The life she had always imagined for herself - the wife of a respectable wizard, the mistress of an estate, the mother of many happy and beautiful children - had crumbled before her very eyes. She was reluctant to think about the future, too worried that she was setting herself up for another disappointment. "Why do you ask?" She eventually replied.
Arthur grew nervous; even in the darkness, Molly could see how red his face had grown. "Well, I was thinking that maybe you and I-"
"Who's there?! You kids know you're not supposed to be out here this late!"
Molly felt herself spring into action. She couldn't get caught! They'd probably take her Head Girl badge away for something like this and give it to - ugh - Cecily Burke, the seventh-year Slytherin prefect. Molly couldn't let that happen. "Run!" She hissed at Arthur behind her, who stood there dumbfounded at the empty spot she had been standing in not a second before. Molly wasn't the sort of girl who enjoyed running, but from the way she moved then one would think she had hippogriff blood in her. She was already in the castle, up the staircase, and leaning heavily against the stone wall inside the Gryffindor common room before she even realized that her lungs were burning and her legs were shaking from exertion.
Violet looked up from where she was sprawled across a chair. "Where's Arthur?"
With a startled jump, Molly looked all around her but Arthur was nowhere to be found. "I told him to run," Molly stated defensively while Violet howled with laughter.
"I told you to run!" Molly insisted as Arthur looked at her forlornly. "I can't help it if you've got the preservation instincts of a suicidal lemming. It's your own fault that old Pringle gave you detention."
"But it's the last Hogsmeade trip for the year. Molly, it's the last Hogsmeade trip of our lives." He complained.
"Arthur, you are allowed to visit Hogsmeade even after you've graduated."
"It won't be the same though."
"Leave him to his whining," Violet insisted and tugged on Molly's sleeve. "The carriages are waiting."
Molly gave Arthur a peck on the cheek before allowing herself to be pulled along. Despite how bright and cheerful the sky looked and the burst of color from the flowers paving the road, a certain gloom settled over Molly as she watched the scenery fly past the carriage window. Arthur was right; there was something special about this last trip to Hogsmeade. A sense of finality hung in the air. She would be leaving Hogwarts. It finally hit her for the first time that this chapter in her life was over. What was she supposed to do now? She thought that she might really love Arthur, but could she trust her feelings? She thought she might have loved Augustus as well, or at the very least, grow to love him.
It was different with Arthur though. She had always wanted to keep him, even back when he had just been her friend. She never wanted him to leave, she wanted him to stay in Catchpole forever and remain her lifelong friend and neighbor. And now that everything had changed, now that they were dating, she still found that to be true. She wanted him, but did she want him for a husband? Did she want to scrape by on his little farm, barely making enough to clothe and feed them? Molly frowned at the thought; she had always thought she was destined for something greater. Her mother had always praised her for her beauty and intelligence; Lady Prewett had insisted that her lovely and talented daughter would one day marry a rich and powerful wizard. And Molly believed her.
Violet gave her friend a questioning look as Molly sighed and sunk deeper into the velvet cushioned seat. The carriage came to a rolling stop in the center of town. Molly slid out behind Violet, dragging her feet a little as she took in the sight of all the witches and wizards bustling about, trying to get on with their errands while an endless stream of schoolchildren pushed and jostled them about in their own eagerness. One particular face stood out from all the rest. Even in the dark mood she had found herself in, Molly couldn't help but burst into a smile at the sight of her sister.
Lydia grinned back and opened her arms for a hug as Molly raced up to her, almost jumping up on her before stopping short at the memory of her sister's condition. Molly eyed Lydia's stomach with a touch of envy and pressed her hand against the large bump. "The baby's grown so much! I bet it's a boy!"
Lydia laughed at that. "The baby hasn't grown that much. I've just put on a lot of weight. I'm afraid the only thing you're feeling right now is my fat. Come on, I'll treat you to lunch."
Lydia led her to a small, out of the way pub and as the two settled in Molly gave her sister a suspicious glance out of the corner of her eye. "Ernie not with you?"
"No, just me."
"Not that I'm not glad to see you, but is there any particular reason why you're here?"
Lydia looked up and smiled sadly at her. "Mum has found out about you and Arthur."
"Aunt Muriel is on good terms with the Yaxleys, who heard about it from their son."
Molly rolled her eyes and folded her arms. Of course Augustus would say something when he found out. "I bet Mother just loved hearing that."
"She wanted to come here herself and demand you break it off."
Molly sat up straight, cold fear thrumming through her. "Is that why you're here? To tell me to stop seeing Arthur?" She could handle Lady Prewett. Nothing her mother said could ever make Molly cave in to her demands. But this was Lydia. Sweet, unassuming Lydia and Molly loved her and listened to her and would do anything for her.
In an instant Lydia reached forward and grasped Molly's hands. "I would never say something like that," she insisted. Molly had never heard her sound so forceful in her life. "Nobody approved when I decided to marry Ernie. I'm not going to lie; it was hard. There were many times when I was reduced to tears by some of the things Mum and Aunt Muriel said. Not only about him, but about me and the decision I had made. Sometimes I wanted to give up, but I never did. And if this is what you want, then don't let anyone try to convince you otherwise."
Molly gave her hands a squeeze. She hadn't ever realized how strong Lydia really was. "I don't know if Arthur is what I want. I mean, it's not exactly the future that was planned out for me, is it?"
"I don't know. Loving husband, children, a place of your own. Sure, it'll be a small farm instead of a mansion, but other than that...? If you believe that you need wealth and power to make you happy-" Molly flinched at Lydia's words. When it was put to her like that... "-Then no, Arthur isn't the man you want. But if you want someone loyal and kind and who will love you then I can't think of anyone better."
Molly sighed. She knew that her sister was right, but it was still so difficult. How would she know she was making the right decision? "If we got married all of our children would have red hair," Molly moaned as Lydia giggled.
For the next two months Lydia's words rang through Molly's head like an echo. Over and over again she kept thinking back to what she had said. Some nights she imagined a little cottage for herself and Arthur, a simple, peaceful life and it was nice and sweet and Molly knew she could happy with that. Other times she thought about not having enough to eat, of crops failing, of crying and unhappy children and she was filled with fear. Because there will be hard times, she knew that, and the threat of poverty had hung over the Prewetts for long enough that Molly understood what it meant to be truly poor. But even when she imagined the worst, the thought of Arthur still filled her with a longing.
Molly grasped Arthur's hand tightly as the graduating seventh years broke off from the rest of the students making their way toward the carriages. The year was over and it was time to make their own way through the world. The seventh years were mostly quiet as they walked out in the direction of the lake; there had been riotous parties in the common rooms the night before but now everyone was feeling somber and reflective as they said their last goodbyes.
Before them stood the little boats that they had all arrived on their first year at Hogwarts. They would be leaving the same way they had come in. The only difference was that the gamekeeper was nowhere to be found. It was dark and empty without old Pringle's lantern to light the way. The students began glancing around and whispering at themselves, wondering where he could be. He was supposed to be here. How were they going to make it to the train station in time without him?
Suddenly Professor McGonagall appeared, black strands flying out of her tight bun behind her as she rushed towards them. "I need everyone to go back to their common rooms and wait for further instruction. No one is to leave without permission." Fear and worry was etched across her face, making the slight wrinkles appear more pronounced. She looked far older than Molly had ever seen her before. "Have I suddenly stopped speaking English?" She demanded when the students in front of her refused to budge. "You are all to get back to your common rooms! This instant!"
It was like a shot had rung out. The seventh years immediately sprang into action and began to walk quickly back inside. They were soon joined by the younger students pushing their way through the crowd as well and the buzzing of excited and frightened whispers bounced off the walls. Molly, Arthur, Sebastian, and Violet darted through the sea Gryffindors marching up the stairs before finally making their way to Aurelia's side. "What's going on?" Sebastian demanded. "Do you know why they're not letting us go home?"
Aurelia shrugged apologetically. "Some Ravenclaws were saying there's been some sort of attack in Hogsmeade. I-I don't know if it's true or not."
"What sort of attack?"
Aurelia glanced around, petrified as though she thought a teacher would come rushing up to scold her for talking. "There was some group that call themselves the Knights of Something-or-Another or Death Dealers. I don't know. No one could agree on what exactly their name is. Anyway they created some sort of riot in Hogsmeade. They say there are several dead Muggleborns."
Molly could feel herself clenching Arthur's hand tightly. She knew it must be painful, but he didn't say anything and she couldn't bring herself to loosen her grip. She remembered Fabian and Gideon talking about the Knights of Walpurgis and their ominous predictions. They wanted to overthrow Wizarding society, to banish - if not outright kill - all Muggleborns. Molly felt like she was standing on a precipice. The world she had always known was about to evaporate. Ottery St. Catchpole was no longer hers, she would no longer have the safety of Hogwarts, violence and bigotry had settled over the Wizarding World like a dark cloud. What else could the future hold? She looked at Arthur's face; tall, awkward Arthur with his freckles and flaming hair and fascination with Muggles. If there was only one thing she could keep, it would be him.
"Marry me," she whispered.
Arthur came to a sudden stop, causing several students to cry out that he was blocking the entrance to the common room. With a sudden quick look he pulled Molly to the side, away from the others as they scrambled through the portrait. "What?" He sounded bewildered and terrified and happy. Molly took a deep breath. She knew that The Civilized Witch would never condone such a thing. Wizards were suppose to be the ones to propose, not witches, but Molly couldn't find it in her heart to care.
"When we leave, when the Hogwarts Express arrives in London, let's get married. We'll file our marriage license with the Ministry of Magic and find a priest. Arthur... I don't know what the future is going to be like, but I do know I'll be unhappy if you aren't in it. I don't want our families, or expectations, or bigots to keep you away from me. Marry me."
Arthur kissed her and pulled her in close, burying his head in her thick, curly red hair. "I've been trying to ask you that for months."
Molly hugged him tightly and tried not to think about future.