Molly Weasley was cooking. She hummed softly as she pointed her wand – first at a bowl of scone dough where two knives began busily cutting butter into flour and then at the sink to begin the washing-up. The magical hour glass she used as an egg timer flipped itself over and clucked long enough to get her attention. She opened the oven door and carefully lifted out a treacle tart. She inhaled deeply, savouring its sweet fragrance as she carefully carried it over to the table, where an empty cooling rack waited next to a beautifully iced chocolate gateau.
As she went back to the stove, she plucked a cookbook off the mantle shelf and idly flipped through its pages. She was looking for a recipe spell card her friend Zelda Thomas had given her recently in exchange for Molly's spell for keeping left-overs hot for long periods of time. She found the card and grabbed a sauce pan. A moment later a delicate, lemon-scented custard was flowing into the pan from her wand tip, ready for its turn on the cooker.
Molly moved a cauldron of boiled potatoes out of the way and onto a cutting board to make room for the custard. With a couple of casual flicks of her wand, the cauldron drained itself and then a masher began smashing the tubers in preparation for the next step in her Bubble and Squeak recipe.
Another egg timer sounded, pinged actually, and turned itself over, prompting Molly to open the oven again. This time she extracted a magnificent Shepherd's Pie, its mountain of mashed potatoes rising a fluffy six inches above the rim of the baker. The pie was added to a group of savoury dishes already on the table.
"You're worrying again, Mum," a voice stated quietly from the stairwell.
Molly jumped slightly as she straightened up and looked over to see her only daughter walking into the kitchen. "How can you tell?" she asked.
Ginny chuckled softly and pointed to the table. "It's four in the morning and you've just taken a treacle tart and a Shepherd's Pie out of the oven, Mum. Hermione's favourite chocolate gateau has pride of place in the middle of the table and you're making a double batch of Bubble and Squeak so that there will be left-overs for when Ron wants a snack in the middle of the afternoon." She advanced further into the warm room, looking around. "You're also making Hermione's favourite raisin scones by the looks of the knives busy in that bowl on the counter. The thing is, Mum, it's only you and me and Dad at home now that the wedding's over and everyone's gone their separate ways."
Molly sighed and sank into a chair as Ginny began stirring the lemon custard with one hand and rescued the potatoes from further pulverization with a flick of her wand. "I know, but I can't help it, Ginny," she sighed wearily, then waved her wand in the direction of the scone bowl. The knives ceased their scissor action and clattered noisily onto the counter. "It's either cook or go mad and I've chosen the former."
"Who are you worrying about tonight?" Ginny asked as she stirred.
Molly glanced around the kitchen with a dazed expression on her face. "Harry. I worry about him, Ginny. He has no one but his horrible relatives who chucked him out the moment he came of age." She looked up at her clock, which was perched precariously on top of the stack of cookbooks, hoping to see a change in the position of the hands. She was disappointed, as usual: all of the hands were firmly stuck on "Mortal Peril" as they had been for over a year. It made her wonder if she should just take the clock upstairs to Ron's room to keep the ghoul company.
Ginny's voice stirred her from her morbid musings. "Mum, I'm worried, too. We haven't heard from them in nearly a month, but Ron's note said they would contact us when it was safe for them to send an owl."
Molly smiled sadly. "Ginny, dear, I don't think Ron meant for us to actually find that note. I think he accidentally left it in his bureau because it wasn't completely finished and the three of them left so abruptly when the Death Eaters disrupted the wedding."
Ginny stopped stirring, made a big show of testing the consistency of the custard and resumed her stirring. Molly took her silence as permission to keep up her argument.
"We do know Harry, Ron and Hermione are safe, though. Charlie said he saw a light in one of the back windows at Grimmauld Place when he flew past the other night. And your father did send them a Patronus message that awful night telling them to stay hidden and not contact us in any way."
Her daughter finally looked over at her. "I know, but I can't help hoping that they'll be on the train tomorrow. Hogwarts isn't going to be the same without Harry." She added quickly, "And Ron and Hermione," but her mother knew who her daughter was really missing.
Molly smiled sadly, stood from her chair and walked over to hug Ginny. "I know, Ginny, I know," she murmured into the shining ginger locks. "I just hope it won't be too difficult a year for you."
Ginny pulled away and turned off the burner under the custard. "I'll manage, Mum. I always have," she said, sounding resigned. "Have they picked a successor for Dumbledore yet?" she asked, changing the subject.
"Not that I know of," Molly answered. "No letter has come and I'd think that if a Headmaster had been chosen we'd have been notified by now. Perhaps Professor McGonagall has agreed to take the interim position until someone is found."
"Mum, you know as well as I do she'd never become headmistress with You-Know-Who's puppets running the Ministry," she said with conviction. "She has always guided her students, not intimidated them. From what Dad has said of the changes at the Ministry, I expect Hogwarts to be run in the exact same fashion.
A chill ran through Molly as she thought of all the awful changes Arthur had talked about at the dinner table over the last few weeks. "You'll be sure to send us an owl reporting what you can tomorrow night," she said firmly.
"I promise, Mum," was her daughter's resigned reply. A look of fierce determination settled into Ginny's pretty features, making Molly wonder just what she was thinking.
Ginny shook herself as if to chase away unwanted thoughts and looked about the kitchen. "I'll fill your tart shells with the custard and then I'm heading back to bed," she said.
"Let me help you," Molly volunteered, reaching for her wand.
Together they filled the tart shells, and as Ginny washed the pot, Molly added dollops of whipped cream to each yellow mound and finished her work with a permanent chilling charm to keep the tarts fresh.
A moment later, Ginny headed for the stairs. "Are you coming, Mum?" she asked. "Dad won't like it if he wakes up in the morning and you're not beside him."
Molly sighed and took off her apron. "Yes, I'm coming." Together the Weasley witches climbed the stairs to their rooms, the scones forgotten.
Molly was cooking again. This time it was breakfast.
"Ginny! Arthur! Come down and eat while it's hot," she called as she spooned fried eggs onto three plates and added a stack of toast soldiers to each.
Arthur came down immediately, his big feet clattering on the stairs. "Good morning, Mollywobbles," he whispered in her ear as passed her on the way to his place at the table. He moved the treacle tart to Fred's place at the table and Molly set his plate in front of him.
"Where's Ginny?" Molly asked, frowning. "I thought she was upstairs."
Arthur returned the frown, clearly worrying as well. "She's out flying on Ron's broom again. Should I call her in?"
Molly shook her head. "No, let her be. She'll come in when she's ready. I know for a fact that she's been packed for two days, so she shouldn't have to hunt for too many last-minute items that need to go in her trunk." She sighed and glanced out the window. "I'll call her in if I need to," she said, moving the tarts so she could sit at Arthur's right. With only Ginny at home the three had abandoned their normal seating patterns and clustered together at one end of the table for most meals lately.
Arthur patted her hand. "You know her best, dear," he said with a tender expression on his face.
Molly smiled at her husband's reassurance.
They ate in silence for a few minutes before Molly pulled something small and square from her pocket and enlarged it with a tap of her wand. The object turned out to be the morning Prophet.
"I think Ginny is worried about this," she said, handing him the paper so that he could see the headline, SEVERUS SNAPE CONFIRMED AS HOGWARTS HEADMASTER, which took up most of the front page. Underneath was a photo of a very familiar greasy-haired wizard whose permanently affixed sneer had been the bane of two generations of Weasleys.
While her husband took his time reading the article, Molly cast a warming charm on both their plates and then picked up her tea cup. She did not take a sip, instead preferring to wrap both hands around the cup as if to ward off a chill that had nothing to do with the pleasantly cool morning air.
Arthur put down the newspaper, very slowly picked up a slice of toast, and dipped it into the yolk of his egg. He paused, swirling the yolk absently, as he said, "I doubt she knows who Amycus and Alecto Carrow are. They're the two I'm really concerned about."
A great sigh escaped Molly as she raised her eyes to meet her husband's. "I think she does," she said softly, "or at least she will when she sees them. She and Ronny and Hermione fought them last June the night Dumbledore was killed and Bill—" She broke off and turned away to hide the tears that still threatened when she thought of the damage done to her eldest son by Fenrir Greyback.
Arthur patted her hand. "Then she'll know exactly in whose classrooms she must be the most cautious about stating her opinions. The article doesn't say whether or not Muggle Studies will be compulsory, but with the new regime at the Ministry, I wouldn't be surprised if it was."
Molly picked up her fork and savagely attacked her eggs. "But Ginny's not interested in Muggle Studies, Arthur," she protested.
"Think of who will be teaching the course, Molly," Arthur urged. "One of You-Know-Who's inner circle, from what I hear. And that means she won't be teaching about the wonders of Muggle ingenuity. No, she will be preaching about how inferior Muggles are and how they don't deserve to be treated with respect."
Molly's eyebrows shot upwards. "If you're correct in your assumptions, dear, that goes against everything you've taught our children about Muggles..."
"...and our daughter won't be inclined to stay quiet for very long," Arthur said, finishing her sentence. "Nor will she like being taught to use the Dark Arts instead of defending against them... especially if they are used against the students as I suspect they might."
"Do you think I need to caution her about keeping her opinions to herself?" Molly asked worriedly.
Arthur was quiet for several long moments. Then he said, "Let's see what she says about this news when she comes in."
Silently, Molly nodded and settled down to wait for Ginny.
They didn't have to wait long. Molly was on her third cup of tea and Arthur had just gone back upstairs for something he needed to take to the office when Ginny came through the kitchen door looking windswept and happy.
"Morning, Mum," she said as she closed the door. Her eyes immediately found the newspaper her father had left on the table and Molly watched her daughter's expression become guarded and pensive.
"How could the Governors do that?" she asked, gesturing towards the picture of Severus Snape. "They know he killed Professor Dumbledore! Why haven't they had him arrested?"
Molly walked over to her daughter and stood in front of her. "I don't know, Ginny," she admitted. "Your father seems to think that because You-Know-Who has taken over the Ministry, the school Governors have no say in who is appointed to what post this year."
"That's what happened two years ago when Fudge inflicted Dolores Umbridge on us!" Ginny exclaimed angrily. "They let Fudge and that, that hag walk all over them that year! Professor Dumbledore couldn't even pick his nose without Umbridge writing a decree against it!"
"Ginny, calm down," Molly urged.
"I won't calm down, Mum. How could they do this to us, appointing Death Eaters to teach us? Explain to me how that's going to make Hogwarts a suitable learning environment?" she demanded. "You wait... they're going to try to make us all into carbon copies of themselves with their hateful, prejudiced attitudes! I won't do it!"
Arthur chose to enter the kitchen as Ginny finished. "Ginny, darling, please calm yourself," he pleaded, and Molly could see he was doing his best to placate her. "You have a right to be worried, but I don't think they're going to try to make you become a Death Eater."
"You don't?" Ginny nearly shrieked. "Dad, you weren't in the tower the night Dumbledore died. You didn't hear the things the Carrows called us during the duel. You didn't see what they did to anyone who tried to stop them from going up onto the roof or the damage their spells did to the corridor or us!" She turned away and walked over to the sink and began splashing water over her face. When she turned back to face them, her expression looked fiercely determined. "I'm telling you now that if you make me get on the Express this morning I'm not going to sit idly by and let them terrorize me or any other student. I'm already labelled a blood-traitor, so I might as well become the trouble-maker they think I am."
"Ginny, please don't say things like that," Molly pleaded, glancing between her husband and her daughter. "We're sending you to Hogwarts this morning because the Ministry says we must. We have no choice."
"Then expect this to be a very rough year, Mum," Ginny growled, "because I intend to make this year Snape's worst nightmare as far as student interference goes. If he thought Fred and George were bad when they were there, he and the Carrows will have a fight on their hands that make my brothers look like children! Harry, Ron and Hermione are doing their part to fight You-Know-Who and I intend to do mine!"
Before Molly or Arthur could say anything to try to persuade her to be cautious, Ginny turned on her heel and stomped up the stairs. A moment later her bedroom door slammed, shaking the entire Burrow.
Three hours later a stony-faced Ginny climbed the stairs into the Hogwarts Express and Molly wondered what she was inflicting on her daughter.
Molly wanted to cook again. She was worrying again and the urge to turn to her kitchen for comfort was especially strong. Her hand twitched towards her wand pocket and she grabbed it with the other. She couldn't start cooking again, not with so many left-overs from the last bout of frenzied food preparation yesterday. She was full of pent-up energy needing to be released, so she wandered into the lounge and set up her knitting. When Arthur came home at half six he found her directing not one set of needles, but five!
"Molly, for Merlin's sake, what are you doing?" he asked, grabbing her shoulders to stop her pacing. Immediately, she sagged against him very glad he was finally home.
"WWN said there was an invasion at the Ministry today!" she cried. "It sounded as if Harry, Ron and Hermione were involved. They said something about someone recognizing Harry's stag Patronus and a bunch of Muggle-borns escaping. What happened? I've been so worried. I, I needed to be in the kitchen, but I've run out of flour and sugar and eggs and yeast and there's already so much food on the table that I didn't dare start anything new! I had to do something, so I started knitting." She knew she was rambling, but her tension and anxiety wouldn't let her calm down enough to stop. "Do you know where they are? Were they captured?"
Arthur pulled her into his arms and immediately she felt a little better. Arthur would know. He always knew. He had been at the Ministry today and even if the news was bad, with him here, she knew she could cope with it. Two sets of needles ceased their frantic knitting and dropped to the floor.
"I'm so sorry you worried, Mollywobbles," he crooned tenderly in her ear. He held her a moment more and then guided her to the sofa. She snuggled close to him, her head resting on his shoulder. "I think the broadcast caused more harm than good, especially since it identified Harry as Public Enemy #1 again. Minister Thickness is definitely spreading You-Know-Who's propaganda."
Molly lifted her head. "So what happened?" she asked.
The tale Arthur told her seemed surreal. To think that three teenagers could cause so much trouble for the Death Eaters was nearly unbelievable. Then, she thought of Fred and George. From what Arthur said, the "invasion" was well-planned up to a point, although there hadn't seemed to be any contingency plans for departure from the basic strategy... such as the woman being coerced into helping Dolores Umbridge or the two men being separated with one being sent to clean up a situation that seemed out of his league.
"Molly, I think it was Ron who was impersonating Reg Cattermole. There was a moment in the lift that I thought he started to call me 'dad'. That's what made me suggest that spell that worked for Bletchley. I hope it worked. It was—" Arthur broke off and she heard him sniff. "It felt wonderful to be with Ron again, to know that he was alive and whole, even if we were in the lift together for less than two minutes."
Molly hugged him tightly as she realized her husband missed the children as much as she did.
"Were they able to escape successfully?" she asked, looking up into his face.
Arthur's expression was grim. "I think they did, but with a price. I heard that one of the Death Eaters was able to grab someone's sleeve and was transported out of the toilet. If Harry, Ron and Hermione were living at Grimmauld Place, like Charlie seems to think they are, then that Death Eater knows about headquarters and the children will be in danger if they try to return there."
Molly sat up straight and faced Arthur. "We have to have faith in them, Arthur," she said staunchly, as she tried to convince herself that what she was about to say was true. "All three have good heads on their shoulders. Harry and Ron may be somewhat impetuous, but Hermione is very sensible. We have to trust that the three of them will use their talents to keep each other safe and whole until something can be done about the current political situation."
Arthur drew her into another hug. "Well put, my dear," he said. "I do trust our son and his friends. I just hope they will be alive when the war is over."
Molly shuddered, but did not cry again. "I'm glad," she murmured. Then, in a stronger voice, she asked, "Now how about some more of the Shepherd's Pie and a helping of Bubble and Squeak?"
In answer to her question, Arthur's stomach rumbled loudly. "That sounds fine, Molly, mighty fine."
The letter from Hogwarts lay on the table amidst a platter of Cornish pasties, a cauldron of onion soup, a tureen of Irish stew, a bowl containing her first attempt at Fleur's recipe for ratatouille (which hadn't turned out too badly, Molly thought), a raspberry fool and a log of Spotted Dick made with Ginny's favourite dried cranberries, cherries and apricots. From time to time, Molly glanced at it from her place at the counter and fumed.
The Hogwarts owl had arrived just after Arthur had left for work, and thinking it carried a letter from Ginny, Molly had opened the envelope eagerly. Unfortunately, its contents had been written by none other than the headmaster himself. The letter described an ill-fated night-time sortie to his office carried out by Ginny, Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood who intended to steal the Sword of Gryffindor because they wanted to send it to Harry Potter!
"Why would they want to do such a thing?" she wondered aloud for the fiftieth time that morning.
The thought of her daughter deliberately breaking into the headmaster's office made Molly angry. What was she thinking to try something so stupid, so doomed to fail right from the start? Frustrated that she couldn't do anything more than send Ginny a Howler, she deflated the dough for Ginny's favourite Chelsea Buns by flinging it from the rising bowl onto the floured work surface. The ball of dough landed with a heavy thump, causing a cloud of flour to fill the kitchen. Molly drew her wand and Vanished the cloud, but not before she and every surface had been coated in the white powder. That made her even angrier and she nearly Vanished a bowl of currents and sultanas that were soaking in Firewhiskey in her haste to clean up the kitchen.
However, deep in her heart, Molly knew why Ginny did what she did, why she and Neville and Luna were constantly causing trouble. It was the only thing they could come up with to help with the war effort: she remembered doing similar things after her brothers left home to fight Voldemort. At the time, writing slogans on the walls, cursing Slytherins in the corridors, and generally being one of the disruptive Gryffindors had seemed like the right thing to do since she felt as if she'd been squirreled away like a precious family heirloom until it was safe to bring her out again. Now, she remembered the feelings of frustration and uselessness that made her cross ninety percent of the time, and after her brothers had been killed the anger at the futility of their wasted lives. Yes, she completely understood Ginny's motivations for her actions. She just hoped that her daughter would survive the punishments she was given each time she dared to express her support for Undesirable Number One.
With a sigh, Molly returned to rolling out her dough and as she sprinkled cinnamon and sugar onto its surface, two identical heads popped into view in the fireplace.
"Hello, Mum!" George greeted her cheerily.
Fred added, "May we take a moment of your time?"
Molly smiled, grateful for the twins' cheeky interruption. "Come right through, dears," she called. "What brings you home in the middle of the day?" she asked after they tumbled through onto the hearth.
"We wanted to see our gracious and loving mum," George said, smiling slyly.
"What do you want?" Molly asked suspiciously.
"Nothing," they chorused.
Something was up.
Fred strode towards the table and scooped up three pasties, nonchalantly tossing one to George who caught it and bit into the still-warm meat pie hungrily.
"Gred, have you noticed something?"
"Yes, Forge, I think I have. Our mother is cooking again."
"And most of what she's cooking is Ginny's favourites."
"That could mean she's heard, since..."
"... It's spreading all over town," George continued enigmatically.
"Our sister's causing trouble," Fred added.
Molly raised an eyebrow.
"And Snape isn't happy..."
"... 'Cause You-Know-Who is angry..."
"... that yet again, Harry bleeding Potter, Undesirable Number One, has slipped through his fingers...
"... and was almost aided by a mere school girl and her two friends," George ended with a triumphant grin.
Fred added, "Go, Ginny, Go!"
Molly just stared at her sons. "How on earth did you find that out?"
The twins looked at each other, grinning madly. "Even though Diagon Alley is closed up tighter than a pixie cage, one still hears things," Fred answered. "You live there long enough, you learn whom to go to when you need information."
"We heard you received a letter this morning." George picked up Severus' letter and read it quickly. He then passed it to Fred, pointing to something that made him nod and stroke his chin.
"Mm-hmm," Fred agreed. "Ol' Snape must like our sister, seeing as though he's sent her into the forest with Hagrid. Don't you agree, brother dear?"
"Oh, my, yes," George nodded sagely. "It might be a frightening excursion to some who have never ventured forth into the Forbidden Forest, but she'll be fine with Hagrid looking out after her."
"Maybe he'll take her to see that giant of a brother of his," Fred suggested.
George walked over to Molly and put his arm around her shoulders. "Just think, Mum, isn't a night or two in the forest better than spending a week of evenings gutting grasshoppers or separating dead from living flobberworms?" he asked.
Molly shuddered and stopped pressing currents and sultanas into the cinnamon-covered bread dough. Glaring at Fred and George she said, "No boys, it isn't. I would much rather your sister had stayed in Gryffindor Tower like she was supposed to. Otherwise, she wouldn't be in trouble!"
Fred raised an eyebrow. "What's so terrible about it?"
"All she'll lose is a little sleep," piped up George.
"Or a few hours in the library..."
"...but whom but Hermione would be sad about that when there's mayhem to create..."
"... and pranks to play?"
It suddenly occurred to her that the twins were a little too knowledgeable of their sister's night time wanderings. She levelled her gaze at them causing them to stop their chatter as she asked, "By any chance did you two ENCORUAGE your sister to do this?"
Fred and George remained silent, their faces unreadable. This told Molly more than their guilty faces would have.
"HOW COULD YOU?" she yelled. "Did you know that Ginny's punishment is FOUR nights in the forest with Hagrid?"
The twins stared guiltily at the floor. "No, we didn't," mumbled George. "At least not until we read the letter."
"What did you think she would get as detention?" Molly fumed. "A slap on the wrist?"
"How about the Cruciatus Curse?" she screeched. "Ginny had it used on her the last time she was caught writing graffiti on the corridor walls."
Both Fred and George paled at this news. They obviously didn't know what was going on at Hogwarts under the Carrows' reign of terror.
"She didn't mention that in her last letter," Fred squeaked uncomfortably. "She just said she'd served detention, not what it was."
"She didn't report that because every letter she writes or receives is censured before it enters or leaves the castle!" Molly cried. "The Death Eaters have a committee who reads all the mail and they know everything she writes before we do! Boys, your sister is a prisoner in that school!" Guilt welled up in Molly's heart and she turned away before her sons could see her cry.
"Mum, we're sorry," George said coming up beside her and putting his arm across her shoulders. Molly stood stiffly, she was so angry at them at the moment. "We didn't know about the punishments."
Fred had the grace to sound abashed as he explained, "It started out rather innocently. Before she left for school Ginny told us she wanted some of our products to take with her."
"We sent her some stuff," George admitted, "that seemed to be a hit with the students, so we kept sending what she wanted."
Molly jerked out from under his arm and whirled to face him. "The censors would never let her have any of that stuff!" she hissed. "And even if, by some miracle, your products did get past them, she would have been in trouble faster than you could say—" she froze as someone knocked at the door.
She glanced at the clock. Two o'clock, but the hands on the family clock hadn't budged a fraction of an inch—they never did any more. The enchantments surrounding The Burrow hadn't been sprung either, so that meant the person at the door was family. That must be Arthur, she thought. What is he doing home? Still she knew she must be cautious.
"Fred, go see who that is. Ask the security question if it's someone we know," she directed, trying desperately to keep the fright from her voice. From the looks on the twins' faces, she hadn't been too successful.
Fred quickly strode over to the door. "Who's there?"
A male voice answered, "Arthur Weasley. Who are you?"
"Fred Weasley. If you are my father you'll tell me what your greatest ambition is."
The person on the other side of the door answered quietly, "To know how aeroplanes fly." There was a pause, then he asked, "What product do you regret selling in your shop?"
Fred glanced at Molly, who nodded. "Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder," he answered.
The other man said, "Let me in, Fred. I still know you and George carry that product even though you have reservations about stocking it."
Fred unlocked the door and Arthur entered the kitchen, sniffing appreciably. He looked tired, but his eyes lit up when he saw his sons.
"It's good to see you, Fred, George. How's business?" he asked as he came over to Molly and kissed her gently on the cheek. She returned it, hoping he would understand about the feast already on the table.
The boys replied that business was good and Molly noticed that their eyes were now straying towards the food.
"Arthur, go wash up," she directed, going to the bureau and getting out plates and cutlery. "Boys, are you staying for tea?"
Molly didn't feel like cooking. No one felt like eating. It didn't feel like Christmas at all. No one was gathering except immediate families; most significantly her immediate family wasn't gathering. Molly had expected more people around the Christmas tree this year than just herself, Arthur and Ginny. But the war had taken its toll. Ron was gone. Harry and Hermione were gone. The twins were off Merlin knew where, but had told her that they might come by in the afternoon. Percy hadn't come home for Christmas in years and neither had Charlie... for very different reasons, of course. The one son she'd expected to come home for Christmas was Bill, but he wasn't here either. At the last minute he had suddenly called to tell her that he and Fleur had decided to have a quiet first Christmas together at Shell Cottage. Even Remus and Tonks had declined her invitation, explaining that travelling by Floo made Tonks nauseous—Molly understood that feeling all too well. All in all, The Burrow was empty and Molly just didn't feel like putting the effort into anything but worrying about her wayward brood.
The one child who held pride of place on her worry list, at the moment, was Ginny. Her normally vivacious daughter had been anything but when she had descended the steps of the Hogwarts Express and nearly fell into Molly's embrace at King's Cross Station, sobbing almost uncontrollably about the Death Eaters taking Luna. Neville Longbottom had been with Ginny on the train and looked just as worried and angry as her daughter. As he left with his grandmother, he had embraced Ginny, murmuring something in her ear that had helped to calm her a little. Ginny had clung to him and begged him to be careful over the Christmas holidays. Neville had promised he would. Moments later, Molly had gathered up Ginny's trunk and Pigmy Puff cage and taken her home as quickly as possible.
Upon reaching The Burrow, Ginny had immediately taken her trunk up to her room and hadn't returned downstairs until she was summoned for dinner. The first thing Molly noticed as Ginny approached the table was that her daughter was much thinner than she had been in September. The second thing Molly saw was the frightened but determined look that hadn't left her daughter's eyes. In Molly's opinion, that wasn't a good combination at all.
When questioned about what was bothering her, Ginny had snapped, "What do you think?" and then had sullenly pushed her meal around her plate for a while before asking to be excused.
The ensuing days hadn't been much different. Of course, Ginny had come downstairs when called, but she neither volunteered to help Molly bake—as she usually did—nor did she participate in any of the traditional Christmas activities. Instead, she stayed in her room and sent Pigwidgeon out on numerous flights, all the time pacing until the little owl returned safely from his journeys. How did Molly know? The echo of Ginny's footfalls sent a message as clear as any scream.
Now Molly stood in the kitchen listlessly flipping the pages of her holiday cookbook. Almost every page had annotations on it telling when she had made the recipe and how everyone had reacted to it. Some recipes had so many comments written in the margins they were hard to read. These she knew nearly by heart because she made them every year. Others had comments such as "George's favourite" or "Not as good as promised" or "Turned Bill's ears blue." That last recipe had a Notice-Me-Not Charm on its listing in the index and a large magical X across its title and list of ingredients. Still, after all these years, she wondered if Bill's ear colour had been the fault of the recipe or something the twins had inflicted upon him the moment he began eating...
The handwritten dates also helped Molly remember each Christmas and how old the children were when she'd made the recipe. Unfortunately, this year there would be no entries in the cookbook's margins and the thought of not making her traditional dishes saddened Molly greatly. However, she just couldn't force her meagre family into consuming something they had no desire to eat. She slowly closed the book and replaced it on the shelf, her hand lingering longingly on its spine.
"Molly, dear, come to the lounge," Arthur said quietly as he came up behind her and slipped an arm around her waist. "We still have the presents to open. And Celestina is on the wireless."
Molly turned in his embrace and hugged him tightly, fighting back tears of frustration. "I will in a moment, Arthur. I'm not feeling very festive right now, so it's all right if you and Ginny want to listen to something other than Celestina."
Arthur shook his head. "No, Mollywobbles, listening to Celestina is our Christmas tradition, one that we've observed since before Bill was born. Ginny and I may not be up to eating a huge Christmas feast, but we're not letting this tradition fall by the wayside. At the very least, if you don't want to open your gifts, please come and sit with us while the program is on," he said, gazing into her eyes.
Molly felt their pull, as she did every time he looked at her that way. It was a look that told her how very much he loved and needed her. It was a look she could never resist.
Slipping her hand into his, she acquiesced, "I'll come, dear Arthur."
He smiled and kissed her tenderly. Then, they walked hand in hand into the lounge where Ginny greeted them with a sad smile of her own.
Molly wanted to cook. She wanted to cook so badly it hurt, but the house-elves made such a stink when anyone but Aunt Muriel entered the kitchen that she had given up trying to help them. Oh, how her fingers itched to dive into bread dough or direct her wand to set knives to chopping vegetables and the masher to smashing potatoes! She'd even settle for doing the dishes Muggle-style, she was so desperate to get into a kitchen again.
It had only been a week since Arthur had made them go into hiding and she thought she might be going round the twist because she felt so useless! Normally, she was cooking for guests, not being a guest! It felt so strange to sit idly by and have everything done for her. But when in Rome...
However, there was a price attached to being a guest in Aunt Muriel's house, one that Molly was having a hard time swallowing: the old witch continually griped about the sacrifices she was making to house Molly, Arthur, Fred, George, and Ginny. She loathed the twins' boisterousness and she couldn't let a day go by without making some sort of remark about how unladylike Ginny had turned out to be with her constant broom polishing, her love of Quidditch and the fact that she and Fred and George were in the middle of a prank war.
And then there were the Wheezes. In the last year Molly had come to admire Fred and George's resourcefulness and creativity when it came to their booming business. As angry as she still was at the twins for encouraging Ginny to defy the Death Eaters and Filch at Hogwarts, she couldn't help being proud of the boys; even though they'd had to close their Diagon Alley shop their owl-order business was still going strong... and driving Aunt Muriel batty with the constant stream of owls entering the property. A small, satisfied smile tugged at the corner of Molly's mouth.
This particular afternoon, Molly patted her pocket to make sure her wand was still in its place as an idea formed in her mind. She smiled in amusement as her brain weighed the pros and cons...
What if I... no, they would think you're interfering.
But I excelled at Potions at Hogwarts... No matter how well you cook, it's been ages since you set foot in a potions dungeon.
My medicinal potions always turn out correctly... You don't approve of some of the potions the twins are brewing.
I'm good at wrapping and packaging and Transfiguration... Do you really want to know what Fred and George are sending to their customers?
At least I could open letters... It's none of your business.
In the end, Molly ignored her negative thoughts, snitched an apron from a kitchen drawer before the house-elves knew she was there and determinedly walked down to the room Aunt Muriel had finally given Fred and George for their business.
The boys looked up as she entered, watching her curiously.
She took one look at the ordered chaos of bubbling cauldrons, crowded shelves and a basket overflowing with orders and knew exactly where she was needed. Before her sons could utter a word, Molly strode over to a cauldron emitting clouds of blue smoke and gave it a quick stir. The agitated contents settled down even more when she adjusted the flame.
George smiled at her as he finished packing some bottles of shampoo and night cream into box. "I wondered how long it would take you to come down here, Mum," he said. "We could use your help." He stood up and came over to her. "Here, let me tell you about each recipe..."
Molly was cooking, but this time she wasn't worrying... she was grieving. This would be the last time she cooked for Fred, the last time she made all his favourites, but the first time she prepared his favourite foods without making George's favourites, too. It felt strange to be cooking just for Fred and it made her incredibly sad.
Molly was cooking; she couldn't stop, not until every dish was on the table. She knew she needed to go upstairs to dress, but the blueberry scones hadn't finished baking yet and neither had the pan of Toad-in-the-Hole. She promised herself that she'd go make herself presentable in just a few minutes: she needed to put just one last dollop of clotted cream in a dish for the scones... Then she'd set the dishes to washing themselves. They'd be done by the time she returned to the kitchen.
She picked up her wand and the dish of clotted cream sailed out the door and into its place on the kitchen table that had been moved into the garden. The table looked beautiful covered in Fred's favourite tablecloth, the one with the boarder of Beaters' bats and zooming Bludgers on it. Ginny and Hermione had outdone themselves with the Quidditch-themed centrepiece and arranging the huge variety of dishes from simple kippers and ramekins of shirred eggs at one end to an elaborate Christmas pudding on the other. Fred would have thought it daft that she had directed Ginny and Hermione to add his picture to the centrepiece so he might have added a few Wheezes to liven things up. But he wasn't here, would never be here again, so... Molly reached for her handkerchief and turned to finish the dishes wondering if she still had time to conjure Fred's favourite moulded jelly.
Then she remembered the time. Her guests would be coming soon and the girls had long ago gone upstairs; she needed to head up there, too, but she just wasn't ready. Something wasn't complete, something didn't feel right, someone was missing... Fred. She closed her eyes to keep the tears at bay... she was fretting again.
Bill entered the kitchen. "Hey, Mum," he said. "I can watch what's in the oven for you."
Molly hastily dabbed at her eyes. "Thanks, Bill. I suppose I should go change before the guests arrive, but the scones and another dish are still baking. If I leave now I won't hear the timers and they'll burn."
"Go on upstairs, Mum. It's not a problem for me to watch the timers, really," he said, walking over to the cooker and eying the two egg timers sitting on the shelf above it. "If I have any questions, Fleur will help me."
One of Molly's eyebrows rose a fraction of an inch. "When did you start helping in the kitchen?" she asked, curiosity getting the better of her.
Bill smiled. "About a week after I moved to Egypt," he replied. "You'd sent me a stack of recipe cards with your first letter and by the time I'd read through them I was so homesick for plain English food that I decided to try cooking for myself."
The corners of Molly's mouth twitched. This was good news indeed. "Good for you, Bill."
"So you think I'm qualified to take pans out of the oven?" Bill asked, trying not to smirk.
"Yes, Bill, I think you're definitely qualified," she answered with a watery smile. "I'll be gone only a few minutes. Then you can help me float the last of the platters out to the table."
As she started up the stairs, Bill chuckled, "Yes, Mum!"
Fred's service was very hard for Molly to endure. Her worst nightmare had come to pass and she didn't think she would have survived it had she not been surrounded by her remaining family members, the close friends who came, or the kind and thoughtful reminiscences many people shared of her son. Afterward, she stood a little apart from the crowd of guests, taking comfort in how much they seemed to be enjoying all of Fred's favourite foods.
Arthur came to stand next to her and slid his arm around her waist, holding her close. "Mollywobbles," he said tenderly, "you've outdone yourself today. Fred would be so happy that you created this feast just for him."
Molly shook her head. "No, Arthur, I don't think he would," she answered sorrowfully. "I actually think he'd take one look at that table and ask me what George done to make me omit his favourites." She sniffed and dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief.
Arthur chuckled and hugged her a little more tightly. "You know, I think you're right. But no matter what, the dishes you created today hold special significance to everyone in this garden," he said, sounding amazed. "A few minutes ago I overheard George telling Harry why Fred called shirred eggs 'happy eggs.' Ginny was just reminiscing with Percy about the number of times Fred ended up with the prize in the Christmas pudding. And as I was coming to find you, Neville Longbottom came up to me and asked me to tell him the story about how Fred learned to like Toad-in-the-Hole because Ron was laughing too hard to tell it properly."
Molly smiled sadly as she looked around the garden. As heartbreaking as this day was, the food she had prepared was uniting everyone here. Yes, she was sad, but she also felt a sense of accomplishment because the people who had come to mourn with her and her family were now tucking into the meal and bringing happiness back to The Burrow with their memories and stories.
"That makes me happy," she commented with an affectionate smile. "I just hope that I'm done worrying and fretting for a long time to come. This year has been one I'd much rather not repeat for a very long time, if ever."
"Here, here," Arthur agreed. With that, he tugged at her hand saying, "Now let's go fill our plates before Ron eats everything!"
Molly chuckled. "Oh, Arthur, you're awful! Only a Weasley wizard would think with his stomach!" And she followed him to the table where she allowed him to hand her a plate.
A/N: I started this story several years ago when my son brought a Scooby-Doo costume home from Kindergarten one Friday. There was no note of explanation as to why she had given it to him and he insisted that the costume wasn't supposed to go back to school on Monday... it was "for keeps." I think you can see my dilemma. All weekend I thought about what to do about the costume, especially as I stood in my kitchen preparing meals and helping with the washing up. The result was the first section of this story. The tale is now complete and I hope you will enjoy it and let me know your opinion of it. Happy reading...
Many thanks go to my pre-beta GhostWriter and his encouraging comments and to my beleaguered beta, Aggiebell, who found the time in her unbelievably busy schedule to check for my comma mistakes.