"Weasley, hold this," said Murry sharply.
Far from holding it, Arthur levitated the lamp into a charmed sack that Peters was holding open and let it drop out of sight. He'd seen what the cursed object had done to the poor, helpless Muggle inside the house, all seventeen pieces of him (that had thus far been discovered); he could no more have held it than he could have run for Minister for Magic.
"That'll do it," said Peters, cinching the sack up tight and shrinking it small enough to tuck into a pocket. "Poor bastard."
"Poor bastard," Arthur echoed him, slipping his wand away again. "Are we just about done here, do you think?"
"Anxious to get home, are you? Got plans with Carol? I expect all they've left to do inside is clean up."
It wasn't just Carol, pleasant though she was, that made Arthur want to bolt the scene the moment he was able. It was the bits of blood staining his robes that he hadn't been able to charm away, the sight of the Muggle in pieces about the room, the murmured reaction of the chief Auror that "at least it wasn't one of us".
He'd see a lot of things since joining the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, but never anything so malicious as a Muggle torn to bits for picking up the wrong lamp from a jumble sale, or perhaps unwrapping it on Christmas morning. Happy Christmas indeed.
"You'll come with me, Weasley," said Murry, emerging from the house once again. "We've got to get to Hogwarts straightaway."
"What for?" said Arthur, scurrying to his side. "Has something else happened?"
"That Muggle's son is a student," he said tightly. "He must be told."
"A Hogwarts student?" repeated Arthur. "But that's... but this was a random misfortune, wasn't it?" Murry's look gave him all the answer he needed. "Right then, to Hogwarts."
They Apparated to the gates at Hogsmeade and walked the rest of the way in silence. There was little, at that point, to be said.
"I'll speak with the Headmaster," said Murry once they reached the great doors. "Keep your eyes on the grounds, Weasley. I don't expect any trouble, but..."
Arthur was no Auror, but he knew the right end of his wand. Not that he expected any trouble either. It had just been an accident, after all... and if it hadn't been, it had been executed with enough subtlety that the perpetrator wouldn't be found lurking about the school.
It was the unmistakable sounds of an argument that drew him round the side of the castle to the east tower.
"What are you doing here, dressed in only your nightclothes?" McGonagall's voice was unmistakable, to someone who'd once been in her House. "Miss Prewett, I insist you return to your dormitory immediately."
Arthur couldn't hear what was happening until he moved closer still. "... and then I saw Colin racing past me. What's going on?"
"Mind your business, Miss Prewett!" she said shrilly. "The situation with Mr. Dickson is none of your concern. Just tell me what direction he took, if you would."
"Through those doors," the young lady said, though Arthur could see nothing and couldn't imagine what she was indicating; he couldn't remember ever having been in the east tower during his own time at Hogwarts. "Just a few moments ago. Professor McGonagall--"
"To Gryffindor Tower with you, young lady. I'll deal with you when I return."
A few moments passed with no sound at all, though it was difficult to make anything out when he was on the ground and the only tower window that was lit was several floors higher. He was lucky that sound carried well in the crisp winter air, and he'd heard as much as he had. Arthur was about to leave when an absolute vision appeared in the window: long, red hair, pale skin and a flowing nightgown that was sliding down one shoulder.
He didn't know what it was: that he was all the more susceptible to beauty so soon after seeing such ugliness, that she looked genuinely enchanting, or maybe that she was still standing in the tower window after her Head of House had ordered her away. Perhaps all of those things.
Whatever it was, Arthur was smitten. He felt he shouldn't be looking at all, and at the same time could not look away. She stood there for a long while, looking out at the night -- for a moment, he was sure she had been looking right at him -- then she sighed and turned away.
And the last thing on Arthur's mind anymore was getting home to see Carol.
It was a rude awakening when Arthur realised who the woman in the window had been. The Prewetts were a family that was as far out of Arthur's reach as the stars, and their daughter -- seventeen and on the cusp of leaving Hogwarts -- simply could not be his. He told himself he would have be content with the memory of her standing there, sharp and defiant and lovely.
Despite this, three nights later while forcing down a dinner of undercooked potatoes and overcooked meat that he had prepared himself -- he hadn't seen Carol since that night, and suspected that his rather poorly worded owl had not gone over well -- he decided to return to Hogwarts.
Shortly after the sky grew dark, when he calculated that the evening meal at Hogwarts should be over, he grabbed his broom and Apparated back to Hogsmeade, taking a more discreet route onto the grounds this time.
It took an hour, of waiting and pacing and keeping to the shadows and knowing that he had no guarantee that he would ever find her there again, before she showed up in the tower window once more. Stumbling over a bit of uneven ground in his haste to draw closer, his eyes never leaving the window, Arthur dropped his broom in the hedge.
"What's that? Who's there?"
He winced as he bent down to retrieve the broom. "It's all right, I'm with the Ministry," he said as loud as he dared, and hoped the sound would carry. She didn't leave the window, so he mounted his broom to rise up the side of the tower.
"What are you doing? The entrance is around the other side--"
"I just came to see you," he blurted out, moving in to try to land on the narrow sill. "It's not... official."
"No, you can't come in this way! The Headmaster will know instantly if you do."
"Oh." He moved a few inches away again. "Well. Do you suppose I could hover, then?"
She looked perplexed for a moment, then gave him the barest hint of a smile. "If you like," she said. "Was it... were you here, the other night?"
"I was," he said. "When my colleague went in to talk to the Headmaster, I was out here."
"Yes, I saw you. I saw you down there, after Colin ran through, after McGonagall came to fetch him. What happened?"
"You mean you don't know? I would have thought that the Headmaster... well, I suppose perhaps he thought better of it. It was a private affair after all, more or less."
"More or less? I haven't seen Colin in three days and nobody will tell us what's happened. There wasn't a word in the Prophet about it, and my own father won't answer any of my questions. He thinks it's better that way, that I'm safer at Hogwarts. Safe from what, I ask."
Arthur wished he could reach out to her, reassure her that there was nothing to fear, but the walls of Hogwarts now stood between them. The most he could offer her was honesty.
"A Muggle was killed," he told her, trying his best not to recall the sight in any detail. "Colin's father. Of course the Prophet had no interest, and the Ministry didn't let on that he'd been killed by a cursed Muggle artefact."
Miss Prewett gasped, both hands over her mouth for a moment. "I'd wondered, if it was something like that," she said finally. "Was it an accident?"
"Yes," said Arthur at first, then looked at her again, really looked at her, and thought better of lying to this woman. "I don't know."
"My father talks about The Threat sometimes," she said. "That's what he calls it. He says that something is changing, something is building out there. And with my brothers gone from home now, he hardly lets me out on my own."
"Perhaps he is worried about more that any sort of threat, when he keeps you home," Arthur suggested.
"Yes," she agreed with another small smile. "Perhaps he is protecting me from boys like you, as well. You came here from the Ministry just to see me?"
"I couldn't get you out of my mind," he confessed, reaching out towards her, just short of the window. "May I come again?"
She blushed, her cheeks a soft pink. Though she was fully clothed this time, instead of in a sheer nightdress, she was no less lovely. Not that Arthur had been imagining her unclothed, skin flushed and large, round breasts heaving. Not at all. Nor had he imagined her neck, her wrists, her thighs.
"I only come up here when I need to think," she said, looking behind her for a moment as though expecting someone to appear. "Come again in three days, before curfew. I'm Molly. Molly Prewett."
"Hello, Molly," he said, feeling his insides flutter. "My name is Arthur Weasley."
Never had time flown so fast as when Arthur was making regular visits to Molly's window, high up on the east tower. He had never met anyone quite like her, and was quite sure he never would again. Twice a week, from the first moments after she finished dinner to the last moments before curfew, he hovered outside the window and talked to her about everything imaginable.
If things had been different he would have courted her openly, waited till she was away from Hogwarts and done things the proper way. But her father would never accept a Weasley as a suitor for his only daughter; Arthur knew it and Molly knew it, and it didn't need to be said. This might well be the only time they had.
"I've heard rumours," Molly said one night, hair unbound as it had rarely been, leaning tight up against the windowsill. "Arthur, I've heard rumours that there have been cases of wizards using Unforgivable curses. Are they true?"
"They're.... unconfirmed," he told her, which was exactly as much as he himself knew. He always gave her nothing less. "I wouldn't worry about it overmuch. I would tell you, if there were reason to be concerned."
"I know you would," she said, "but it can't be helped. Rumour is sometimes worse than knowing."
"You can always ask me," he promised her. "You can ask for anything, Molly, and I'll always share with you whatever I have."
She was quiet for a moment, looking past him and out at the sky, then suddenly she smiled. "I have good news," she said. "The Headmaster is going to London, for two days. I heard from Agnes, who overheard McGonagall talking about it."
"Yes, he's meeting with the Minister for Magic," said Arthur. "I received a memo on it just this morning."
"If the Headmaster is not here," stressed Molly, "then he can't possibly know if you come inside...."
"Oh!" said Arthur, staring at the window and seeing it, for the first time since his initial visit, as less a barrier than an invitation. "Oh, my."
"Just this once." Close as she already was to the window, Molly leaned out further, bent right over the sill, and for the first time touched Arthur lightly on the cheek.
In return he reached out and tangled his fingers in her hair, and didn't need to say a word.
"Quietly," said Molly, her touch on his arm dizzying as she helped him through the window and into the tower. Arthur hardly knew what to do first, whether to touch her or hold her or whether it would be the same as always, only without the broom. "I've still only got till curfew, before McGonagall comes looking."
"We're used to that," said Arthur, and after two false starts he lifted his arms and pulled her into them. Or less pulled her than gave her the barest hint of his intentions and let her fling herself into them. It felt just as good as he'd imagined it would. No, better.
"Do you know how many times I've thought about this?" she whispered against his chest. "And in how many ways?"
Not nearly so many as Arthur had, he suspected, but he didn't say so. "This, me holding you?" he asked instead, smoothing her hair back with one hand as he pressed her to him.
"All of this," she said. One moment she was warm and soft and pliant in his arms, the next she was squirming round to plant a kiss on his lips, to tug at the robes covering his shoulders.
"Molly, Molly," he said, after enjoying the kiss for an obscenely long time. "Molly, are you sure about this?"
"As sure as I was when I first thought about it, as sure as I was when I told you of the Headmaster's absence," she said. "Arthur, please. When will our next chance be?"
That was a question he could not answer, except with another kiss. And another. And still another when she let her own robes slip off and he realised she'd arrived with nothing beneath. There was nothing, truly nothing, that Arthur could say to that. There was nothing he could say at all, except one incantation to lock the door, and another to transfigure a dusty old chair into something more comfortable for them both.
His hands rising to her breasts, kicking off his shoes as he went, they moved step by step towards the bed. Her toes tramped on his and his on hers and he hardly noticed at all as her skin, all her skin, from her cheeks to her toes, started to flush a pale pink. His lips met her throat, her collarbone, then just the tip of a nipple as she arched backward and gasped.
She has never done this before, she'd told him as much, but he had no doubt that she knew what it was meant to feel like, what she might expect. Molly was nothing if not a resourceful girl, one of the many qualities that Arthur adored.
Three more steps and he was able to tip her onto the bed, soft and wide as he was able to make it for them. His own robes weren't quite as easy to shed, owing to his underthings, but Molly was patient and Arthur was determined and it was not long, not long at all, before he joined her.
Her hands touched him at once, roaming and exploring those things she hadn't touched before, not on him, not on anyone. Just the idea of touching her skin has been intoxicating; Arthur almost couldn't believe that it was suddenly all real.
He caressed her hair, her face, her shoulders, her breasts, then a long while later explored slowly down her belly to the space between her legs. She was not shy with him and she did not hesitate, spreading her legs and letting him settle between them, playfully caressing him with her toes and her heels. There was nothing to doubt.
"I love you," he blurted out, his skin going as flushed as hers already had.
"I love you back," she said, and he slowly, slowly slid inside her. Molly gasped, surprise mostly, then a softer gasp of pleasure. He was so careful not to hurt her, so careful to make this one moment between them everything it could possibly be. He took in everything in front of him, from her hair to her mouth to her breasts to the curve of her hips, and made himself remember every detail.
And then he moved: too fast, then too slow, then just right, if he was as good at reading her face as he thought he was. She winced a little at first, which was nearly as hard to watch as it must have felt, Arthur thought, then her breath quickened alongside his and she started touching him. Touching him and touching herself and touching him again, over and over.
He braced himself against the bed and quickened his pace, moving with her, back and forth, side to side, over and around, one hand clenching at the mattress and the other continuing to caress her.
"Oh, Arthur!" she cried out suddenly, her fingers scratching hard against his back, and as he let out a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding, he finally let himself go.
No other woman, from that day forth, would ever measure up to Molly Prewett.
For a long while he just lay there with her, his arms encircling her and his lips resting against her shoulder, whispering to each other from time to time. Little things, little endearments, little treasures.
Then finally Arthur glanced at the pocket watch he'd abandoned on the floor and had to let go of her to reach for his robes. "I've got to go," he said regretfully. "I'm sor--"
She silenced him with one last kiss. "I know you do," she said, though she did not move from where she lay sprawled on the bed. "Until next time, Arthur. I'll be right here, just as you left me."
The wait, until the next time he could visit, was suddenly unimaginable.
Arthur rose up the wall of the tower, as he always did, whistling a soft tune and watching for Molly's red hair in the window. That wasn't at all what he found when he arrived. What he found was a very stern looking Minerva McGonagall, Head of Gryffindor House, standing in the centre of the room with tightly crossed arms.
"I suppose," she said finally, when Arthur froze in the window instead of racing away again, "that it could be worse."
"Miss Prewett?" finished McGonagall. "Back in her dormitory where she belongs. When she wouldn't reveal to us who had been in this room with her, I took it upon myself to discover the culprit."
"I love her," Arthur blurted out, moving right into the room. He had nothing to lose now. "If I could just--"
McGonagall had lifted her wand and let loose a hex before Arthur could even finish his sentence; suddenly his arse and thighs felt as though they'd been whipped with a willow switch -- a sensation he was not entirely unfamiliar with.
"You will do no such thing, Mr. Weasley," she said sharply. "This must stop at once. Miss Prewett is a student here--"
"She's of age!" Arthur protested.
"She is a student here," repeated McGonagall, "and you are not. You have no business sneaking into tower windows in the dead of night--"
"It's not yet curfew."
"In the dead of night to visit her. Her family has been informed, of course, and I trust they will do what they feel is appropriate." That, more than anything, had been what Arthur had feared all along. "I trust I have made our position clear?"
"Perfectly," said Arthur, no longer able to meet her eyes.
"Then I suggest you vacate the premises before I am forced to bring the Ministry into this affair," she said. "And you will not be returning, Mr. Weasley. Not like this."
Arthur gave her a quick nod, and with a firm knowledge of when to stand his ground and when to retreat and regroup, he flew back out the window and fled Hogwarts, into the night.
It took two days for the welts to heal, two weeks for a terse letter from Mr. Prewett to arrive -- instructing Arthur, of course, to discontinue the pursuit of his daughter -- and two months before Arthur saw Molly again.
There had been little dark wizard activity -- at least, that Arthur had heard of through official channels -- but there were still the whispers, whispers which grew louder each day. The raid the previous evening, however, that had left him tired and grouchy and not at all in a mood to prepare how own lunch, was on an illegal breeder of Crups. Hardly a noteworthy occurrence.
And suddenly there she was, sitting at the counter at Fortescue's, lovely as could be. Arthur hardly knew whether to flee the temptation or rush straight to her side, and was mercifully spared that decision when she spotted him and beckoned him closer.
"You're... why aren't you at Hogwarts?" he got out, slipping awkwardly into the seat next to her.
"It's Easter," she said, biting her lower lip for a moment. "Didn't you realise?"
He hadn't. The days, after all, had all seemed very dull since he'd last seen Molly Prewett. "Your father told me--"
"I know what my father said to you," she said, "and believe me when I tell you we had words. He cannot protect me from the world and I certainly do not need protection from you."
"Do you mean to say he's come around?"
"He will," said Molly surely. "He will have to. He worries, about the life I'll have with you, but it's not his decision to make."
"I haven't got much to offer you, Molly, not like you're used to, but..."
"I know exactly what you have to offer me, Arthur Weasley. I've always known. And I would choose it over all the galleons at Gringotts."
"You can't mean that--"
"Arthur, I think we should be married."
That interruption silenced him, for a few seconds at least. "Molly Prewett," he said finally, "I love you, and I would marry you in a moment, but are you certain about this?"
She took his hand in hers for a moment, then pressed it flat to her belly and said again, "I think we should be married."
Arthur gaped, then grinned foolishly, then kissed her as thoroughly as if they'd been apart a lifetime. "Married," he repeated, caressing her belly with his thumb. It was not a difficult choice to make. "Then we shall."
While many things happened in the lives of Arthur and Molly Weasley, both good and bad, both joyful and tragic, all in all it's fairly safe to say that they did, in fact, live Happily Ever After.