Disclaimer: Ah, the wild side of copyright. Harry Potter and his world don’t belong to me; it all belongs to Ms. Rowling. This little story is a work of love, and I’m not making any money from it.
Harry padded quietly down the Burrow's staircase, careful to tread lightly on the squeaky fifth stair--Ron had mentioned it had been his constant downfall until Fred and George taught him to jump over it. It wasn't that Harry was off to cause midnight trouble, for trouble found him often enough all on its own. It was just that he had no desire to wake Molly and Arthur Weasley, whose ears were, no doubt, well attuned to that creaking stair, just because he couldn't sleep. He envied Ron, upstairs drooling on his pillow, while Harry's dreams were filled with Horcruxes, and Dumbledore, and guilt. And Ginny.
He had a mind to settle into one of the squashed, well worn, oft-patched chairs in the living room, hoping that the silent echo of nearly three decades of Weasley laughter would lull him to sleep. Other than Hogwarts, the Burrow was the nearest thing he had ever had to a home. He had noticed the love and gentle humor worked right into the walls from the moment he had first arrived, back when Ron and the twins hadrescued him from the Dursleys. To hear Ron talk, the house was just the dumpy old place where he had grown up, but Harry knew better. There was strong magic here--the same kind Harry's mother had used to save his life, and the kind that Mr. and Mrs. Weasley wove around their children to protect them, whether they were conscious of it or not. Officially, Harry was here for Bill's wedding. Unofficially, he knew that the Weasleys hoped it would protect him too, if only for a little while.
That was why, when Harry noticed the light on in the kitchen, and saw Molly Weasley standing in front of the old family clock, with its nine hands pointed straight up at mortal peril, the guilt nearly gagged him. He drew quietly back into the shadows under the stairs, unseen, his heart aching as Mrs. Weasley's fingers hovered tremulously over the face of the clock. Mesmerized by the sight, Harry nearly jumped out of his skin at the sudden thump against the kitchen door, and Molly stifled a little scream, her hand flying to her breast.
"Sorry, Molly," a muffled voice called from outside. "Didn't know you were still up. I'm just trying to remember the bloody charm to open the door."
"I've got it, Arthur," she said, tugging at the handle.
"Dammit, Molly," he said wearily, clearly holding it shut again from his side.
"Airplanes," she hissed in annoyance.
"Mollywobbles," he returned, and let her open the door. "We really should work out new passwords."
"It's four in the morning," she said, leaning into him with a sigh as he wrapped his arms around her.
"Too early for passwords?" he quipped lightly, although no smile reached his bloodshot eyes.
"Arthur …" she said warningly, looking up at him.
"I'm sorry," he said, lowering his head so it rested on hers. "We had a late raid at the Ministry. Then Moody Flooed just as I was finishing up the paperwork. He wanted me to take a look at some nasty artifacts to see if I could help him decide if they'd been planted by Death Eaters. Then Tonks showed up, something about Remus, and I'm not even sure what she was talking about …" he trailed off, and lifted his eyes to stare at the clock. "I should have Flooed. I'm sorry. I forgot that with the clock stuck like that, you couldn't keep track of me, but you should have just gone to bed."
"Hmmph," she said noncommittally, and pulled his head down to kiss him, her hands on either side of his face. From where Harry stood in the shadows, it looked a little desperate. Arthur apparently thought so too, and slowed the kiss as his hands came up to rub her back in comforting circles. It was the kind of display that would have had Ron retching in the corner, but it made Harry want to run into the kitchen and force the clock's hands from mortal peril to safely home, because two people who loved each other like that shouldn't have to worry that the next time they saw each other, one of them might be dead.
"Molly," Arthur whispered against her lips, the word imbued with a question, and solace, and longing. She abruptly pulled away, wiping furiously at her eyes.
"Your chin feels like you haven't shaved in a week," she said reprovingly, turning to bustle around the kitchen in her faded night robe. She couldn't quite meet her husband's eyes. "Have you eaten? We have leftovers from dinner, or I could make you breakfast."
Arthur watched her with a bemused expression, then shook his head. "Leftovers are fine," he said, and sat heavily in his chair, propping his elbows on the table so he could rub his face with both hands.
"Harry's back," Molly said with forced brightness.
Arthur laughed humorlessly, his palms still pressed into his gritty eyes. "And how was his visit with the Dursleys?" he asked flatly.
"I didn't really ask," Molly admitted, warming Arthur's plate with a flick of her wand. "He asked if he could help get ready for the wedding, so I had him de-gnome the garden with Ron and Ginny. Ron moaned about it, but Harry actually seemed rather relieved to be doing something …" she faded off.
"Something concrete and non-lethal?" Arthur filled in, tucking into his dinner.
"That's as good a way to put it as any," Molly said, yawning as she sat beside him. "Any good?" she asked after a moment.
He looked at her quizzically, swallowing a bite. "What? Oh, the food," he said, looking down at the half-empty plate, and then sheepishly back at her. "I think I'm too tired to taste."
"When do you have to be back at work?" she asked.
"Eight," Arthur said shortly, and Molly sighed.
"How is Ginny?" Arthur asked, and it was Molly's turn to blink blankly. "With Harry here, I mean," Arthur clarified, gesturing with his fork. Still hidden under the staircase, Harry stiffened. Somehow, in a life full of hard things, breaking up with her had been the hardest thing he'd ever done
"She's his friend," Molly answered. "She is," she asserted at her husband's disbelieving snort.
"Bit more than that, I'd think," Arthur said.
"Maybe," Molly admitted, "but she cares about him; she understands. She knows he's trying to protect her."
Arthur nodded, then tossed his fork to the table, with perhaps a tad more force than needed. He stood and faced the clock with a grimace before slapping his palm flat on the wall beside it, and bowing his head. "I understand the urge to protect her; to protect all of them. Mortal peril," he sighed. Molly stood slowly and took his other hand. "I don't have any illusions about the odds, love," he whispered.
"Arthur…" she pleaded, squeezing his hand, but he plunged on.
"Eight of us are 'blood traitors,' idealists, members of the Order of thePhoenix …"
"… Ginny and Ron aren't …" Molly interrupted.
"They really are, love," Arthur continued, almost mercilessly. "Members of the Order, supporters of Albus Dumbledore … Merlin keep him … Ministry troublemakers, friends of Harry Potter. And one of us," his voice broke, "is none of those things save an idealist, and is utterly alone. We've been so close so many times in these last years. Ron, in hospital, what? Three times? Six? Ginny, with the Chamber of Secrets and Death Eaters; Bill and the werewolf; and that damned snake Christmas before last. And I wonder: what will this clock say when one of us dies?"
Molly sobbed roughly, once, and turned away.
Arthur followed, looking regretful, and eased her backward into his embrace, dropping his head to her shoulder. After a moment, he murmured something in her ear and kissed the side of her neck. She gasped shudderingly, arching her neck as she reached up and around to pull him closer, while one of his hands traced up her side to the swell of her breast and the other down the curve of her hip.
Still hidden, Harry was beginning to think he might need to find a discreet way to give them some privacy when he heard Mrs. Weasley confess the secret of her boggart, her voice shaking. "I see their empty eyes in my n-nightmares, their b-b-bodies d-d-dead on the ground," she cried. "Merlin help us, Arthur!"
"I know," Mr. Weasley answered heavily. "Which is why I'm grateful to Harry for what he's done. I don't want to think of what You-Know … Voldemort, would do to our little girl if he knew what those kids meant to one another, but here's the thing," he sighed, and turned Molly to face him. Harry jerked upright, suddenly aware that Mr. Weasley was looking over Mrs. Weasley shoulder, directly into the shadow under the stairs where Harry was standing. "Voldemort could kill her, he could kill us all, and he still couldn't destroy what we have. Because what he does not understand, what he cannot ever understand, is that love cannot be taken; it can only be lost if one is foolish enough to let it go."
Molly gave him a watery smile, and Arthur tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear.
"As much as I want to hide Ginny, to keep her safe, she's already in the middle of this, whether Harry or you or I want her to be," he said. "And frankly, I would feel much better if she had Harry by her side, and if he had her in his heart, because love makes men stronger. And maybe, just maybe, if Harry Potter is strong enough…" Arthur caught Molly’s hand in his own, and turned to thump the face of the clock with the other. "Maybe when this is all over, those nine hands will come home."