When she meets Harry Potter, really meets him for the first time, Molly can tell in an instant that he does not trust her. He stands in front of her in her living room, with his hands worrying at the edge of his large faded shirt, hidden partially behind Ron's defiant form. She is preoccupied for a moment, shouting at her children for their reckless thoughtless Gryffindor behavior.
And then from the corner of her eye Molly sees the way Harry's eyes have gone wide and blank, staring at the wall behind and just to the left of her. A split second flash of a glance downwards shows her his hands. They've gone still, and clutch the hem of his shirt so hard she's worried his nails will damage his palms.
In a moment she changes the situation. Softens her furious features, loosens her posture. Makes herself smaller. Takes a near imperceptible step back. Molly looks at the terrified boy with gentle eyes and speaks in a reassuring, calm tone.
“Of course I don't blame you, Harry dear.”
The ensuing expression of surprise and the slight relax of his tightly knotted posture tells Molly everything she needs to know about Harry Potter. That is the moment she makes the second part of the decision she made when her youngest son had written her and told her that his new best friend wasn't expecting any presents for Christmas this year. It isn't the first thing Ron writes home about that ignites white hot anger in her blood. She hears stories through the year of clothes that don't fit, taped together glasses, a boy who wakes in the middle of the night with a sound half gasp half sob.
She makes him a sweater that Christmas and with it goes a half formed promise, to this child she hasn't really met, the one without an adult in the world to take care of him.
And now here he is in her home, and she looks at him, at the fear and resignation in those green, green eyes. She makes the rest of that promise this summer morning.
If nowhere else on the planet, by god is Harry Potter going to be loved in this house.
That night Molly asks him what his favorite food is, and he looks at her like that's the most absurd question he's ever heard in his life. He glances quickly away and mumbles 'I don't know', and she doesn't push him. When he has gone back upstairs, she catches Ron's arm as he is about to follow.
“Ron, you'll be a bit careful with him tonight, won't you?” she asks softly, trying to make him understand what she means. “That poor boy's been through the wringer.”
When he looks evenly back at her and replies that he knows, he looks older than twelve. He looks old and tired. This is a look she is never going to get used to, but one she will see whenever she looks at Ron looking at Harry when the smaller boy is distracted.
How small he is, too. Harry shrinks. Sudden noises and angry voices have a sharp effect on him, drawing a response as if he is expecting a blow. He shrinks back and shrinks down, trying to make himself small and if he thinks nobody is going to notice, he will sometimes slip out of the room.
One night she hears a soft noise downstairs and – being a parent to seven – wakes immediately. She pads down the stairs in old worn slippers, and finds her son's best friend, sitting hunched at her kitchen table, eating an apple in small, hesitant bites. Something in her chest jerks and twists violently. It steals the air from her lungs when the floorboards creak and the kid jumps about a foot in the air, the apple slipping from his suddenly shaking fingers and rolling across the floor. He whips around to face her like a deer caught in the headlights, and she thinks about the nature of 'fight or flight'.
What a lot of people fail to realize is the third option in that equation. She has seen it in her life. When she was in school, she saw it in a friend of hers, who came to school every September with a bruised cheek and a voice that choked before it began.
Harry sits frozen in front of her, and Molly can see the apologies and explanations rising in his skinny, heaving chest. She smiles at him with every ounce of kindness she can and picks up the apple, rinsing it in the sink. Molly says nothing as she rinses it off and slices it methodically into pieces, then sets the plate casually on the table, moving to the stove and softly stirring to life a pan of hot chocolate.
He doesn't trust her. Not yet. But she thinks that after everything this child has been through, he has a right to that. Harry gets to decide when she's earned his trust. All Molly can do is make sure she deserves it.
Over the years she does her best to repair the damage that's been done. The scars the Dursleys have left in Harry run deep, and no matter how she and Ron and Hermione and all of them try and make it better, there are some things that don't just go away. So Molly tries to make his life as good as she can when she can.
She hears one night, making cocoa for Harry in the wee hours again, as if this is a ritual for them now, how he used to live under the staircase, and how even now the sounds of wordless footsteps thudding up or down stairs can make him freeze and hold his breath. After that she calls out when she walks up towards Ron's room, one pretense or another giving her a reason to make her presence known, make that sound the least frightening she possibly can.
When she goes to hug him she makes sure to telegraph her movements, moving carefully and slowly, in full view of Harry's face. Molly makes sure to shower him in as much affection as he can handle, but doesn't catch him off guard with it. One Christmas that she sends him a thick, soft weighted blanket like the one she charmed for Hermione. Harry decides that it's like wrapping himself in a warm, comforting embrace. He sits with the blanket draped across his shoulders while he does his homework, and imagines this is what being held feels like.
Some time between deciding that Albus Dumbledore has a hell of a lot to answer for when it comes to abandoning children to abusers, and the card that comes one Christmas from Remus Lupin reading merely 'thank you', Molly has somehow earned Harry's trust.
Molly touches the picture she has added to her wall of family photos and smiles to herself, straightening the frame so that it fits just perfectly.
She can't wait to see the look on Harry's face when he gets there that summer and sees the picture of her kids – all eight of them, miraculously corralled together into the same dark stained wood frame – hanging proudly on the wall, for all the world to see.
His smile looks like it could light the sun.