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Chapter 19: Chapter 18
14th December 2019: Seb
“You’re quiet,” Molly said one morning as we wandered around the grounds. I took my cigarette away from my lips and shrugged, tapping the ash off on the grass and watching it fade against its green bed. She’d caught me smoking a week or so earlier, by chance, and although she certainly didn’t approve, she hadn’t scolded me for the habit. It had made me feel oddly warm, in fact, like she understood my limits, how far she could push me.
“It’s early,” I said, after another drag. The wind was up and the smoke blew uncontrollably around the both of us. The morning was sharp and the mist was beginning to rise, rolling away from the grounds to the hills that surrounded us.
“Thought you were a morning person?” she said, looking up at me and wrinkling her nose against the burst of smoke from my lips. I threw the cigarette butt on the floor and Vanished it with a quick flick of my wand. I glanced down to her and dug my hands in my pockets.
“Not out of choice,” I corrected, smirking. “Sleeping past nine is prohibited by my mother. Years of habit.”
We slowly looped around, looking back towards the castle. She was walking a foot away from me, arms crossed over her chest and her mind ticking over so loudly that I could almost hear it. Her footsteps were like a shuffle on the long grass and occasionally she gave a light sigh.
“Okay, spill. What’s the problem?” I said after another unbearable two minutes of her ploy for attention. She stopped and turned towards me, and I paused and looked back to her too.
“Happy birthday,” she said, her grin growing from ear to ear and against the pale landscape, it looked enormous, monstrous. I said nothing, turning away and walking back towards the castle at a brisker pace than before. I didn’t have to turn to know she was stumbling after me, stubby legs entwining as the grass slipped beneath her tread. “Hey!”
My resolve broke and I glanced behind me. The wind around us made my hair fly up off my head and in that look, it all fell away, as it always did. Every last drop of contempt that I felt for her for making me insane with whatever it was that overcame me each time she was nearby, it disappeared as though it had never existed. She looked not hurt but determined and it was like she’d changed before me.
“How did you find out?” I asked when, puffing and flushed, she reached my side. We carried on towards the school, our pace matching step for step. She laughed.
“Just because your brother’s settled now, doesn’t mean we don’t speak,” she said, and out of the corner of my eye, caught her running her hands down her arms to warm herself. I stepped up the pace and nodded slowly. “I asked him a while back.”
“Not especially,” she replied with a shrug. “Just one of those things I like to know.”
I looked down at her for any sign of bulges or bumps that would hide an extravagant present, as I was sure she was the type to find lavish gifts, but there wasn’t even a lump for the tiniest of boxes shoved in the deepest of pockets. Satisfied, I relaxed.
We’d reached the doors and the blast of warm air made both of us shiver. As though on instinct, we split at the staircase, me down to my dorm and her down to hers. I stopped first, looking back over to her until my stare made an impact on her and she turned towards me. She looked blank, as though nothing was wrong with the ease with which we had separated and I stumbled over finding words to express what was flying through my mind.
“You can’t expect me to spend my birthday alone,” I said, and coyly, cleverly, she smiled. She moved back so the banister of the staircase wasn’t obscuring her body, and glanced to her watch.
“Give me five minutes. I’ve got some stuff to get. I’ll meet you down there.”
When she disappeared, I made my way to the common room. The way that things were changing between us, the tone of our conversation and the movement of our bodies around each other, made me feel so triumphant. She knew everything – kind of – and still she had not been scared away. She was changing and much to both my horror and my pleasure, so was I. She made me feel calmer, more at home. Around her, I didn’t feel that I’d outgrown myself but that I was a school kid, young and almost carefree.
I sank onto the stone floor outside the common room, knowing that she didn’t know the password, and tapped my hands impatiently on my knees. Although I knew what set her apart from the rest of her family in herself, I still could not place what made her so special to me. To take my mind off it, I made myself run through a series of Runes in my head, rearranging them and trying to make sense of the riddle I had made for myself. Her footsteps shuffled lightly towards me and I glanced down towards her.
I knew I was in shadow and that she would not see me until she was a little nearer. I could hear a faint whisper and her lips moving as though she was reassuring herself, her hands crossed over the books clasped against her chest. I leant my head on my arms and watched her glance around. My smile pulled on my lips as she wrinkled her nose and lifted her glasses higher on her nose. She looked quite pretty, in that light. None of the hideous toothy grin from the grounds now, more of a worried stance – open lips, eyes shifting and her shoulders hunched – and I got to my feet. She started and her eyes flew open wide before her mouth broke into a smile.
“I didn’t see you.”
“I gathered,” I said slowly, turning my back on her and giving the wall the password. It slid aside and I stepped in, the heat of the common room far removed from the chill that had not left me since we stepped back inside the castle. I waited for her to follow and when she appeared, I did not hesitate in hurrying us to my room.
Two of the boys were in there when we arrived but they didn’t say a word. I had spent evening after evening taunted by them for my involvement with not only a blood-traitor but a Hufflepuff at that. Some people said Slytherin had changed. They were delusional.
I knew they wouldn’t prompt either of us, she had too many contacts in high places and it scared them. They had all the talk of a pair of thugs and all the bravery of a couple of lemons, and when we had shut the hangings around my bed and cast a Silencing charm around my bed, I heard them muttering to each other before leaving. Molly tentatively peeked out and seeing they were gone, threw open the hangings; she wasn’t a fan of the darkness that having the curtains shut imposed us in.
“How are you, anyway?” I asked after a few minutes of awkward silence. She stopped flicking through her book and shrugged. Her hair fell over her shoulders and she pushed her glasses up a little higher.
She didn’t return the question. It had already been asked but I rarely showed the courtesy to ask how she was too. I had always found it a little unnecessary. If someone wasn’t content, it usually showed in their body language, their voice, and when she lowered her eyes to her book without another word, I sat up straighter.
“Molly?” I said tentatively, leaning towards her and I saw her eyes fixed on one spot of her page, no sign that she was even attempting to read the book on the bed.
“Don’t lie to me.” I tried to keep my voice level but it was difficult and she looked up.
“It’ll only make you uncomfortable.”
I scoffed, both at how she thought she knew me and how, indeed, she inevitably did. Nonetheless, she read that as a challenge and closed the book, shuffling back against one of the bed posts. She pulled her legs under her, pulling on the fabric awkwardly between her hands.
“Max and I had another fight. He thought I’d promised to spend the day helping him with Charms.”
“And you didn’t?” I said and she twisted her lips as though she was an infant being scolded by a teacher. Her lack of reply told me everything and I sighed. “Go on, go.” She shook her head. “You can’t break a promise.” I stressed the you and she shook her head again.
“Anna can help,” she said, as though it was a simple solution. I opened my mouth to protest but she cut me off. “It’s not like I’ll be much help. He’s never understood the stupid subject anyway, no matter how much help we give him.”
She sounded so unlike herself that I put down my own book and swung my legs off the bed, looking across to her almost fearfully. Perhaps I half-expected to see an incarnation of myself sat there but it was still her, looking small and severe and as though nothing in the world would change her view on it. I didn’t contest but she went on.
“I want to be here. With you.”
I nodded and looked back behind me at the books, at the stack of work due on Monday and the comfort of the bed, and then to my watch. She had cocked her head to the side to question me and I smiled.
“Then let’s not sit here and pretend we’re going to work.” I stood up and without thinking, held out my hand. It wasn’t until she took it that I realised, and too late to let her go and pretend it had never happened, I guided her out of the room.
In a mirror in the common room, cracked and trapped in a corner, I watched her smile grow and I knew in that moment that everything was going to fall into place.
The bell for lunch rang at half-past twelve as it always did, but sat on a hidden staircase between the second and third floors, we barely even heard it. She had grabbed a stack of paper out the back of the Transfiguration classroom after we had found a spot and she had wanted something to do. Now, she sat there trying to draw me and dissolving into fits of hysteric giggles every five minutes in a way that in anybody else, would have brought me to storm away but in her made her laugh become almost visible in the air between us.
After her seventh attempt at my nose, she resigned herself to defeat and leant back against the wall. She looked tired and worn and when she covered a yawn, her hand was pale and ink stained. I smiled without realising and she let out a small laugh.
“What?” she asked. I started and shook my head, brushing it off as nothing. “No, come on. What were you smiling at?”
I stammered for a second, thinking that perhaps I could dig my way out of it but something wasn’t right, wasn’t clicking. I couldn’t lie. I physically could not bring myself to deny it and so I did the only thing that seemed to explain it all without having to express it in words that would not do it justice.
I shuffled towards her, placed one hand on her cheek and kissed her.
A/N: I'm so sorry on the delay on the updates for this. I've got terrible writer's block at the minute. Stick around. I'll get it sorted!