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Chapter 6: Tethered
A/N Hello readers (if I still have any), I know it’s been ages, I know I promised a new chapter an embarrassingly long time ago. I’m incredibly sorry. Real life has been a bit depressing of late and I’m trying to get my life sorted again. Don’t ask.
PLEASE NOTE; I’ve made some quite significant changes towards the end of this chapter, so you may want to reread the altered (and hopefully improved) version. If you’re reading this post September 2011 feel free to ignore this message.
And please, please review. It encourages me to keep writing, knowing that someone somewhere is reading this.
Lastly, I would just like to dedicate this chapter to Inessa, who has been faithfully reviewing every single chapter I have ever written. THANKYOU!!!!!
Sid and Grace were...friends. Not in the 'braid each others hair and tell each other secrets' sense of the word and they were not remotely close. But they did get on well with each other and there was no uneasiness or tension in their exchanges. They had sat together in Transfiguration and Charms all through second and third year, and they worked together breezily.
Sid was friendly and definitely easy to talk to; he didn’t take himself seriously at all. Grace did not worry about saying something foolish or feeling self conscious in his presence, nor did she ever feel as though her stomach was doing cartwheels whenever he so much as looked at her.
So in that sense, he was the exact opposite of Regulus.
So when she had very stupidly told Bertha Jorkins, renowned gossip and troublemaker that they were an ‘item’, she comforted herself with the knowledge that things could have been much, much worse. After all, in her desperation she could have blurted out any old prats name.
And Grace was lucky, so very lucky, that when she explained what she had done to Sid, and told him that she was so very sorry for bringing him into it, the boy had simply laughed it off and assured her it would die down in a couple of days, and that he wasn’t angry in the least.
“Are you sure?” asked Grace for the hundredth time, hardly believing her luck. Breakfast had just finished and they were taking a walk in the weak December sunshine before heading to the greenhouses for Herbology.
“Positive, Grace. I’m not angry. But…” Sid trailed off, looking uncomfortable, “never mind” he said. But now Grace was curious.
“No, go on, what were you going to say?” she insisted, he had been so understanding towards her, she would have to make up for it somehow.
“Well, now that everyone thinks we’re a couple, and Slughorn’s party is the day after tomorrow, even if we say we’ve broken up-”
“-It’ll look weird if you ask someone else out so soon” finished Grace, comprehending.
After all, Bertha had spread their pretend romance so it now resembled some sort of torrid love affair. Grace wanted to vomit. How could people believe such nonsense? Younger girls were actually pointing and whispering in the corridors. Grace had never been gossiped about before and she soon grew sick of it.
“Well yeah, and I hate going alone- none of my mates are invited.”
“ We could go together” suggested Grace, but then quickly added, “Only if you wanted to though, I don’t mind if you don’t” she could feel herself blush slightly. But Sid seemed to like the idea. They decided to meet outside Slughorns office on the night of the party and parted ways at the door to the greenhouse as the bell rang.
It was true that Grace was not a fan of the Slug Club Christmas parties, but unlike the years before, this year she actually had someone to go with. Surprisingly, she didn’t feel nervous at all. Sid was easygoing and friendly and she was almost looking forward to it. It was a far cry from the anxious dread she had often felt when making her way to the potions dungeon hours early, every Friday morning.
After a relaxing Herbology lesson and hectic Charms, and a nerve wracking Transfiguration (Professor McGonagall was shooting out revision questions), it was time for Potions. Grace arrived just in time and slipped into her seat next to Alice the Gryffindor.
They had made Draught of the Living Dead the previous lesson, and were now copying notes from the board about how to avoid common pitfalls, and little tips on how to get the best texture and characteristic smoke spirals. She was engrossed in her work and ignored the Slytherin’s entirely. Veronica turned and smiled gloatingly at Grace from her place next to Regulus, and was rewarded with a perfectly blank expression from her dark haired cousin.
Grace would have loved to gauge Regulus’ expression, but by ignoring him, she had no idea what was going through his head. Not that she had ever had any idea, she scoffed to herself inwardly. Grace decided to stop the ridiculous line of thought and concentrated on her notes. She did just that, until a piece of parchment was slid over her work, with one messily scrawled sentence:
‘Is it true you and Sid Belby are going out?’
Grace resisted the urge to roll her eyes and glanced at a sheepish Alice, she grinned and scrawled back:
‘No, we’re just friends, but we are going to Slughorn’s party together’.
And that was the end of it, no more prying or cajoling. She really did like Alice.
The next morning was hectic. Everyone in her dorm apart from her was going home for the Christmas holidays tomorrow morning. Typically it was only Amber, mother hen, who had packed before hand. They were doing it now as they would have no time this evening what with the party. Eva and Grace were the only two with invites, Amber was going as a plus one and Bertha was hoping to gate crash.
Lessons passed in a blur of excitement for most of the class, either for the holidays or the party and very little work was done, despite the teachers’ feeble remonstration. Luckily Grace didn’t have transfiguration that day, and Potions was spent chatting amicably with Alice and playing hangman.
Getting ready was fun, more fun than the parties themselves usually. Grace had decided to wear her only set of dress robes this time, which showed very little skin (she remembered the last party). They were a little old, but had a classic style that never went out of fashion. She had washed her hair and used sleakeasy potion, getting rid of the perpetual frizz. Other than that, she had done very little else, she was determined to just relax and have a good time. Even so, as she watched the other girls go all out and pull on their fanciest dresses, she felt a tad underdressed.
At 7:50, they left as a group for Slughorns office. Bertha was a sore point for Grace at the moment, and the blonde seemed to know it. In any case she kept her distance from Grace and veered off to join her Gryffindor and Ravenclaw friends as soon as she could. Amber squeezed Grace’s hand and went off to find her date (the Hufflepuff prefect in the year above – Grace could never remember his name) and Eva stalked off into the crowd without a word.
Grace frowned at her retreating back – was she annoyed because of the rumours about Sid and herself, things Grace had told Eva, her supposed friend, nothing about? Grace was about to follow and explain herself, but was stopped in her tracks by someone calling her name.
Sid looked almost transformed, he was an average looking boy in many respects; thin face, long nose, a smattering of stubborn acne on his forehead, but his friendly demeanour and good humour made him very attractive to most people. He had made a special effort tonight though; Grace had never before seen him looking so smart.
“Sid” she cried, pleased “Don’t you look dashing” she said fondly, straightening his bow tie. Just then a tall dark figure stepped past the couple, and Grace held her breath until he had gone.
“Are you alright?” asked Sid, and Grace nodded her confirmation with a tight smile. Sid had noticed, she thought with dismay, she wasn’t being convincing enough, everyone could probably see right through her transparent attempt at indifference. How pathetic. Annoyed, she fixed a smile on her face, determined to work harder, and linked her hand with Sid’s, joining in with the fray, determined to forget about the other boy.
Slughorn had outdone himself; a string quartet was playing in the corner, the office was full to the brim with guests and smoke hung heavy in the air. They mingled for a while, smiling and saying hello to the other guests, mainly listening to the older ones as they talked about anything from fashion to politics.
Grace was surprisingly relaxed. She felt content, happy even. Her problems seemed very trivial and melodramatic to her right now; she couldn’t remember why she had felt so nervous and jittery before arriving. They were crowded around Stubby Boardman (lead singer of the Hobgoblins) who was talking about their latest album success and tour, when Sid was beckoned over by his uncle, Damocles. He was gone for at least 15 minutes before he returned.
“Listen Grace, I’m really sorry, but I need to go now”
“Why? What’s happened? Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, it’s just my Uncle’s here and he’s offered to take me home via apparition, rather than going on the train tomorrow” said Sid, with a slightly sheepish expression.
“Oh” she said, taken back, “Oh alright, well have a good Christmas”
Sid seemed a little relieved, was he worried she’s kick up a fuss?
“Thanks, you too”, he gave her a brief, one armed side hug and left, cutting through the crowd to where his uncle waited.
Grace actually was a little annoyed that he had left, had deserted her awkwardly in the middle of a party. Although, she conceded, they had spent over three quarters of an hour in each others company and she was running out of small talk. Besides, this was longer than she had ever stayed at any of Slughorn’s parties before.
She exhaled a breath and her gaze swept the room, looking for something or someone to catch her attention, and that was when it happened.
They had been watching her for some time from their little alcove, nestled in the corner of the office turned party venue. Mrs. Selwyn registered the shock on the little girls face when she laid eyes on her after so many years and felt the smallest flicker of some forgotten emotion. She suppressed it. She was overwhelmed by repulsion as she looked at it, a living breathing reminder of her disgrace. Oh, how she loathed the brat.
But she had done the child wrong, yes indeed. She had needed to make amends, for her own sanity. Redemption they called it. And then it would be over, and she could rest at last, without the child and the water plaguing her nightmares. Was it her fault the child was too stupid to know what was good for it? Would she really have to approach it?
The child left and Mrs. Selwyn clutched her swollen belly, her true child would enter the world soon. She barely acknowledged Walburga’s son as he rose without excusing himself, instead looking to her beautiful niece, a true specimen of their superior race and felt a small measure of peace, that all was not lost.
The library was dark and chilly. In truth, she was a little frightened to be in there alone. The colossal room was empty save for her and she weaved through the aisles, feeling her way along the gargantuan bookcases, with shelves upon shelves of heavy volumes.
After a while, when she reached the depths of the cavernous room, she stopped and heaved herself onto the edge of a heavy oak table. Her toes barely scraped the floor, and she bent over to lean her elbows on her knees, clutching her hair painfully.
She didn’t want to think. She wanted to forget all about the woman at the party. She fell into her old habits, and focused on the sensations she was feeling rather than the matter at hand; she concentrated on the silken strands of hair in between her fingertips, the slight burn of her scalp as she tugged, the pressure of the hard table under her and the sharp edge digging into her thighs. She smelt the unique mix of dust and old paper only libraries had, and felt the satin material of her robes ghosting over her legs like water.
She closed her eyes and concentrated on her breathing, in, out, in, out. She listened to the heady silence that seemed to envelop her and suddenly her eyes snapped open. Footsteps. She kept completely still. Someone was approaching, someone with measured even steps. Grace felt the table behind her creak with pressure. She knew who it was without having to look.
“Leave me alone” she choked out.
And then she began to cry and his arms were around her in a second. She clung to him, feeling secure for the first time in a long time, with the comfort of a strong heartbeat thudding against her ear, and warm arms encircling her back. She was supposed to be ignoring him, but she was too upset to care about that.
Regulus rested his chin on top of her head, and stroked her hair gently from the top of her head to her waist. She could have been a china doll.
"Shhh," he murmured "It's alright"
“Why does she hate me?” Grace asked in a small voice, once she had calmed down a little, her face still mashed against his robes, “What did I do?”
“You didn’t do anything” he said quietly, “You can’t force someone to love you”
His words seemed to snap her back into herself and the situation. She leaned back a little out of his embrace, some vulnerability gone. She suddenly became acutely aware of him; how tall he was, how hard his chest was against her cheek, how his hips were nestled between her knees...she felt her cheeks heat up and she was relieved the room was too dark for him to notice. Of course, it was also too dark to see his expression.
She wasn't thinking clearly, her mothers appearance had rattled her more than she cared to admit; making her reckless, wild. That was how she justified her actions anyway. Grace slid off the high table, landing on the balls of her feet painfully, but she ignored the sting. She tightened her arms around his waist and waited for him to make the next move, willed him to do something; craved any sort of affection from him. She didn’t know why it mattered to her so much. Regulus stiffened in her arms.
She sensed his hesitation. He was at a crossroads, completely conflicted. He needed a push.
“I thought you didn’t like me” he said, his voice low. Grace knew him well enough to realise he was stalling, putting off the decision, prolonging his time on the precipice that they had both been on for months.
Grace brought her mouth to his ear, “I lied,” she said. She kissed the corner of his jaw languidly, the rough skin tickling her lips. Regulus swallowed.
“I have a girlfriend” he murmured, and Grace froze. Her smile slipped from her face and her arms dropped lifelessly to her sides. He hadn’t moved, though she noticed his eyes were closed, as though defeated.
“Fine,” she hissed, “if that’s the way it is, why don’t you go back to her”, the words felt repulsive on her tongue, “and I’ll find Sid and we can all carry on from where we left off” she smiled bitterly, eyes blazing. Regulus didn’t respond, he just looked at her with that carefully composed expression. The one that made Grace feel sure that he was dissecting her in his head, seeing past her own facades while his own mask was firmly in place. She felt like screaming.
“Urgh, you frustrate me to no end!” she said with feeling, “If you care about Veronica so much, why spend so much time with me? Why follow me in here? And for Gods sake, no more lies about following orders, I’m so sick of your little mind games”.
Despite everything, it felt good to finally speak her mind. It was almost cathartic, as though a poison was being extracted with every word that sprung from her lips.
“I felt sorry for you, that’s all” he shrugged, attempting nonchalance. It stung, but Grace knew him too well to fall for it. She wrapped her arms around his waist once more and felt him inhale sharply. She wanted to see him lose control.
“Oh stop kidding yourself, Regulus”, she said slowly, carefully. “We both know that’s not true”
“Oh do enlighten me then, why?” he said sarcastically, a little irritated. He looked down at the girl wrapped around him, he could barely make her out in the darkness.
Grace hesitated and there was a long silence. She suspected, no, she knew why, but it sounded so horribly egocentric to say it. She would never have been able to do so in any other circumstances, but she knew that if she didn’t push now, she would never have the nerve to pursue this again. It was truly make or break time.
“Because you love me” she stated baldly, as though stating a well known fact.
For a second it was as though he hadn’t heard her. And then he blinked. And then it happened.
It was as though a switch had flipped. Regulus’s face was no longer expressionless, it was contorted into a look of fury that Grace had never seen before. She was startled, she had expected denial and derision, not anger.
Regulus grabbed her arms and roughly pushed her away from him, as though she were no more substantial than a rag doll. Grace stumbled back a few steps but caught her footing. He advanced towards her, and she forced herself to stand her ground.
“You have no idea what you’re talking about” he spat aggressively; this time she did back up as he strode over to her and cringed as her back hit the wall. She closed her eyes, waiting for the blow. It never came, instead a pair of warm lips descended on her own.
She gasped into his mouth, Grace knew she should be shocked, astonished. But another, more inherent part of herself had known that this would happen ever since he had followed her into the library.
For all his anger, the kiss wasn’t rough.
Grace had always thought herself a reasonable girl, and reason told her that for she should push him away and demand an explanation from him. She ignored it, sanity could take a backseat.
Instead she focused on the sensation of her first kiss, committing it all to memory; Regulus’s full chapped lips pressing against her own, her own fists grasping the robes on his back, his hands gently cradling her face.
It burned. It was too much and not enough all at once. She wanted to be alone, so she could think on it again and again. She wanted to keep hold of him, have him in her arms indefinitely. She wasn’t sure where these feelings had come from, this intense longing; but it was tangible and strong. It was as though she had just realized something inherent but hazy, like a dream she had long since forgotten, like a past life.
How silly she had been, for ever thinking that he hated her, for thinking he cared nothing for her. This was Regulus, her Regulus.
Grace disengaged herself gently and moved to see his face, smiling warmly at her troubled, defeated young man. For once, his face reflected what he was really feeling.
“Why so miserable?” she laughed, upon seeing his expression
“Why so smug?”, he sniped back, bad tempered once more, but tightened his arms around her all the same. Before she knew him, she would have recoiled at his tone, but she was learning to understand him now. All the ways he would deflect and evade the things he didn’t want to face.
She hugged him, holding him tightly. Wondering at her own foolishness; why had it never occurred to her, that in all the time she had craved attention and affection from him, that he had craved the very same from her?
Grace smiled sadly when she felt him cling to her embrace.
Things would be different now.