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Seeing Double by Aphoride
Chapter 5: IV
She sat alone, in the green chair in the corner, watching. She was always watching. Not out of necessity but out of choice. She both longed to join the glittering social circles that grouped themselves around the room and shied away from them. So, unable to make up her mind, she sat there, her fingers tapping idly on the armrest of the chair, her eyes scanning the room.
Her eyes stopped moving when they landed on one particular figure. He was there – almost directly across from her – talking to some of his friends, his dark hair cut short after the summer break. She preferred it when it was longer; she thought it looked more dashing. More princely. As she watched, the group burst out into raucous laughter, attracting the attention of many others, and understandably so – the Slytherin common room was hardly famous for its abundance of raucous laughter. Several pairs of eyes lingered on them for a moment longer, glittering with annoyance, before their owners turned back to their own conversations.
Alone of the spectators, she stayed looking, watching the way his face lit up when he laughed, the way he threw his head back. Even though she couldn’t hear what he was now saying to the others, she imagined it was something witty, something funny, something clever. It always was with him.
Blinking, she tore her gaze away from him, feeling a flash of anger.
“Yes?” a quick glance up at the speaker told her it was her younger sister, twisting a piece of black hair around her finger nervously.
“What are you doing?” Medora asked curiously, regarding Malea with a gaze infinitely sharper than a twelve-year-old girl’s should be. Then again, she always was unbearably smart.
Malea didn’t reply, her eyes wandering ever-so-slowly over to where he still sat in the large, black armchair.
“You’re watching him again, aren’t you?” Medora followed her gaze – it was hardly difficult, after all, as her sister’s infatuation with Rodolphus Lestrange wasn’t anything new. “You should stop doing that, you know.”
“Why?” Malea snapped, another irrational bout of anger sweeping over her momentarily.
“Because nothing’s ever going to happen,” Medora replied with a sigh. It was the same old argument, repeated once more in the shadows of the corner of the room. They both knew it would also come to the same conclusion – disagreement. Neither one would back down and neither one would let the matter drop.
Her sister’s words stung Malea. ‘Nothing will ever happen’ – hadn’t she heard it before in so many ways and from so many voices? Her dorm-mates, her sister, her brother; they had all commented, telling her the same thing: she was wasting her time. She refused to give up, though, or to show any kind of weakness. It stood to reason that he wouldn’t have had any interest in her as a girlfriend or potential wife before now, since she was two years younger than him and they hardly moved in the same social circles at school, but now she was older – fifteen – and the difference between them in that respect had been diminished if not removed and she could hope and wait.
“How do you know that? He might. It’s his final year - everyone knows how odd it is to graduate without a girlfriend. It could be me,” she retorted.
“It could also be Emelda, or Bellatrix Black, or Andromeda Black, or Drema Avery, or Arvilla Yaxley,” Medora shot back. “Just because it could be you doesn’t mean it will be you. Besides, there're always other boys to choose from.”
“It doesn’t mean it will be them either,” Malea muttered irritably. “He’s never shown any interest in them, so why should he show any interest now?”
“He’ll show interest because he knows that he has to have someone, eventually,” Medora rolled her eyes. “And he’s never shown any interest in you either, remember.”
“That’s only because Malcolm won’t let me near him,” she complained, glancing over to where her brother sat with the other seventh year boys, all of them deep in conversation about something. She wished she knew what they were talking about – more than that, she wished she could go over and sit there with them. Other girls had, on occasion, if invited, but she knew that she would never be allowed – Malcolm wouldn’t hear of it – unless one of the others invited her expressly. In short, unless she dated one of them, she would never find out. It was an impossible situation. If she never sat with them, it would be nearly impossible to be noticed by Rodolphus Lestrange, yet she couldn’t sit with them unless she dated one of them and the only one she was interested in – the only person she was interested in – was Rodolphus Lestrange.
“Because he knows you’ll just drool all over Lestrange and embarrass him,” Medora smirked. For a moment Malea didn’t know what she was talking about and then it clicked in her mind: Medora thought Malcolm was worried about her embarrassing him in front of his friends. She thought that was the reason for his protectiveness around the Lestranges. Despite the urge to tell her sister she was wrong, to hold her superior knowledge over her, Malea said nothing. They were only rumours, after all, and rumours have a funny way of turning out to be wrong.
Defensively, she glared at her sister and snapped, “I would not drool over him. I have more class than that.”
“Sometimes I’m not sure about that,” Medora replied spitefully, flouncing away. She watched her sister leave, slotting in easily with the other girls in her year, sitting down at a table to get on with some work.
Pensive, she turned her gaze towards the floor, her shoes moving along the dark carpet aimlessly. She would never embarrass Malcolm in front of his friends, certainly not in front of Rodolphus Lestrange – at least, she admitted, not deliberately. Perhaps if she lost control, or forgot where she was, there might be some truth in her sister’s words – but then no proper pureblood lady would ever allow herself to forget where she was, no matter what the distraction was.
The level of chatter in the room dipped for an instant – just an instant, that was all - and Malea glanced up. No surprises there, she thought, seeing the Head Girl and her younger sister walk in. They were chatting about something, and Andromeda, she saw, was carrying another book in her arms. Large, dusty, the very definition of a ‘tome’; it looked like something from one of Malea’s worst nightmares.
She switched her attention from one sister to another, her gaze intent as she watched the eldest daughter of the House of Black. Like every evening, she sauntered straight over to the sofa nearest the fire, stepping over people’s work, bags and bodies – anything that was in her path – to get there. Andromeda trailed behind her, saying nothing and doing nothing. When she reached the sofa, Bellatrix gave the first-years sitting there an imperious look, her Head Girl badge gleaming on her robes, and they scuttled away, one of them faking a smile, grabbing their bags as they went. Tucking a curl behind her ear, Bellatrix took a seat, her expression unchanged – cold, poised and haughty.
Malea wondered how she could do it – keep that same, faintly disdainful expression all the time. It was similar to the one her sisters wore, both Andromeda and Narcissa, and conveyed everything in a single glance. She desperately wanted to know how to do it, how to be so aloof and yet seemingly so very near, how to seem so calm when everyone in the room had seen her temper unleashed at least once. There had to be a trick to it, some sort of code which she just hadn’t worked out, a key of some sorts to make it all work, to make it all fit into the one person.
“Malea?” another voice called to her and she glared, quite without meaning to, at the back of Bellatrix Black’s head.
“I wouldn’t glare at ‘er if I were you,” someone else added, his voice deeper, darker and yet smoother – like black silk or rich, dark chocolate. There was a faint purr to it, something more, and she knew she could listen to it for hours, even if it only spoke meaningless nonsense. “She won’t be ‘appy if she catches you.”
She blushed deeply, her cheeks burning a bright pink, and glanced up through her eyelashes. Her brother and his friends were standing there, all five of them. Avoiding her brother’s frown, her eyes slid almost of their own accord over to Rodolphus’ amused smirk. There was something in his eyes, a spark, that she couldn’t place, but she ignored it. Shaking off the feeling that she was about to get lost, she gave a faint half-grimace, half-smile.
“I wasn’t meaning to glare at her,” Malea replied quietly, the blush remaining, intensifying as she spoke to him.
He just laughed as the others grinned; Malcolm looked torn between amusement and irritation and settled for giving her a half-hearted glare.
“That wouldn’t matter to ‘er,” he told her, glancing over at the girl in question, her head bent over something on the table in front of her. “She is… tempestuous.”
“I’ll say,” Montague laughed. “Did you hear what she did to Longbottom the other day? He tried to defend some mudblood brat – the kid was caught out after curfew and had the nerve to tell Black to leave her alone and that she was a snobby cow – so she turned him into a statue. It wore off sometime the next morning, of course, but he couldn’t run away to tattle to a teacher because that would mean admitting he’d been out after curfew when he wasn’t supposed to be.”
“‘e was lucky,” Rodolphus commented softly. “If that ‘ad been me, I wouldn’t ‘ave ‘eld back. I’d ‘ave made the effects permanent.”
The boys exchanged glances, knowing smirks appearing on all their faces. They laughed, though, loudly and honestly, and, despite feeling like they were sharing some kind of private joke, Malea laughed with them, her eyes still settled on Lestrange’s face, quite oblivious to the looks between the group.
Malcolm cleared his throat, “I wanted to have a talk with my sister – weren’t you lot going somewhere?”
“Oh yeah,” Harper nodded. “We’ll see you in a minute, Mal,” he added as he and Pucey began to walk away. Montague and Rodolphus followed them, and Malea’s eyes followed them all.
“Malea!” Malcolm jerked her out of her thoughts, and she snapped back to see him frowning at her, an oddly disapproving look in his eyes. “Can you stop staring at my mate’s arse for one minute?”
“I don’t stare!” she protested, before deciding to change the subject quickly, if not particularly smoothly: “What do you want?”
“I wrote to mother and father when we got here, to say that we’re all fine and things are going well – the usual things,” Malcolm began. “And they sent one back. They wanted me to tell you to try and pick up your studies this year, to focus on them, because you’ve got public exams in the summer. Also, they want you to socialise more with your peers. They think you’re not spending enough time with them.”
“I socialise often enough with my peers and my studies are fine,” Malea informed him tartly. She knew well enough that neither one of those things were really true. Her studies weren’t bad, but they weren’t good either; she was average in most classes and only classed as ‘better than average’ in Potions, although Slughorn repeatedly told her she was talented. He said that to nearly every Slytherin who showed even the slightest bit of aptitude for the subject, though, so she took it with a pinch of salt. A large pinch of salt. As for socalising with her peers – well, she didn’t like to or want to. She had nothing to say to them and they had nothing to say to her and they were all perfectly content for things to remain that way.
Malcolm said nothing in response, although he did look incredibly sceptical at her claims, and simply waited for her to give the expected reply.
With a sigh, she gave it.
“Tell mother and father I’ll try and be more social – I’ll talk to Emelda more often and I might manage a conversation or two with Andromeda, but nothing more. I’ll try and do better in my studies as well,” she sighed. The worst part wasn’t the socialising – it was easy enough to go home and pretend she’d spoken to Emelda and Andromeda, the former being her cousin and therefore unlikely to ruin her story and the latter being too nice to counter any claims she made of friendship – but the schoolwork. She couldn’t make her grades any better, or claim they were better when they weren’t. Even if she did, everything would come out in the summer when the results of her OWLs came. No, it looked like she might actually have to do double her efforts if she wanted to do better than average.
Her brother looked satisfied with that and gave her a nod and a faint smile.
“Good, I’ll let them know when I write back this evening. I’ll see you at breakfast tomorrow,” he told her before he strode away, disappearing along the corridor to the boys’ rooms.
Malea scowled at the floor, her hands gripping the armrests of the chair tightly. Stupid brother, stupid parents. Why couldn’t they understand that she didn’t like talking to people, unlike Malcolm and Melisandra, and that she wasn’t particularly clever or talented, unlike Medora. They were such simple things to understand, yet it seemed impossible for them to get it. She supposed it wasn’t their fault – pureblood society demanded that of you: to be the ideal daughter, to be social and polite and clever but not a genius or outspoken. She just simply couldn’t manage it.
Rising from her chair, she smoothed down her school robes, rubbing out the faint creases already in them, after only a meagre four days. It didn’t matter too much, though - they would be washed at the weekend.
As she moved towards the corridor to the girls’ rooms, her footsteps invisible with the thick, plush carpet, she was busy bemoaning her situation again mentally. It was good to be able to whine and moan all she liked and be sure that no one would ever know - if she actually said these things to someone, who knows how far around the circles that would go? It would be dreadful. Everyone would hear that Malea Flint is completely and utterly average, a failure of a daughter because she’s not quite good enough at anything, and is – to add insult to injury – worried about it. She’d be the laughing stock of the Slytherin common room. What would be worst, though, was that, should such a thing happen, Rodolphus Lestrange would know. He would never say anything, she knew that – he was far too much of a gentleman - but he’d give her that slight, faintly mocking, superior smile he gave to Joseph Bones, the Head Boy, whenever he passed him in the corridors.
A thought crossed her mind, and she paused just inside the entrance, thanking Merlin that no one else was around to see her pause. Her parents’ wishes, whilst difficult and incredibly irritating, gave her a perfect opportunity. Should she excel academically, become more social and talk to the others in her year and perhaps the year above as well, her chances for catching Rodolphus Lestrange would increase. After all, someone like him was far more likely to end up with someone popular and talented, not someone with no real friends to speak of and who was only average.
With a small, satisfied smile, she made her way down the corridor. Yes, she’d do well this year. Her parents would be pleased.
You blink and glance around you. The room is still the same as you left it – the walls the same shade of light blue, the covers a soft royal blue, the ties on the curtains bronze. Yet, you are so sure that you’d just been in the Slytherin common room. It had seemed so real, but yet so far. Like a daydream or a memory.
While you ponder this, impressed by your own imagination, you close the book, marking the page you’re on by folding over the top corner, and put it on your bedside table. Instinctively, your eyes jump to the clock and you’re surprised to see that it reads ‘21:47’. You’ve been reading for over forty minutes without realising, without looking up. You wonder if anyone came in or popped by to see you – you know you won’t have responded because you don’t remember anyone.
Nevertheless, you decide against wandering out of your room and into the common room to see if anyone did come in, and begin getting ready for bed. Your movements are smooth, perfectly co-ordinated and yet you perform each task – making sure your school bag is prepared for tomorrow, brushing your hair and laying out your uniform for the next morning – mechanically, absently.
“Hi, Molly,” Eleanor smiles at you when she enters the room, closing the door behind her softly. “How was today?”
“It was alright,” you reply, the back of your mind still preoccupied with thinking about the book. “I went to the Ravenclaw Quidditch try-outs,” you add for the sake of trying to make some kind of conversation.
“Oh, how were they?” luckily for you, Eleanor pounces on the offered sentence like a starving man on a loaf of bread. “Do you think we’ll have a good team this year? Merlin knows we can’t do worse than last year – that was just dire. I was almost ashamed to be a ‘Claw.”
“They were good,” you nod, recalling the performances each of the players had put on. “Louis got his spot as Seeker back, one of last year’s Chasers got his spot as well, but I think the rest of the team is pretty new. A couple of them tried out last year, I think.”
“I hope we do reasonably well this season,” Eleanor sighs. “I mean, it’s obvious we won’t get the top spot – Hufflepuff’s team last year was pretty strong and Gryffindor is always a threat, but now that most of Gryffindor’s best players have graduated, we have a chance of coming at least third, possibly second and closing the gap between us and the top, which is always good.”
“We should do. Bell seems to know what she’s doing as captain,” you comment, remembering how in control the girl had seemed at the try-outs. She was certainly imposing, if nothing else, and disinclined to beat around the bush, which was a particularly useful trait for a Ravenclaw captain to have, given that should a captain give an ambiguous comment during training or a match, each player would take from that statement the meaning they wanted to hear, not necessarily the one the captain wanted to give.
“She’s a good player, too, so things should be alright,” Eleanor nods thoughtfully, before giving you an unusually sly grin. “Hey, do you think you could feed your cousin false information?”
You laugh, the question taking you by surprise. No one’s ever asked you to do that before.
“I’m not sure how much good that would do – Fred’s insane about Quidditch. He won’t relax for a minute. I can try, though,” you shrug, making a mental note to talk to Fred, and perhaps ask Dominique how you should go about this. It’s not as if either of you have any practice with feeding people false information – as far as you’re aware – but you’re sure she’ll have far more of an idea about it than you do.
“I’d do it myself, but it would be a little odd – I’ve never spoken to him before, after all,” Eleanor tells you apologetically.
“Yes, Fred might be a bit paranoid if you went up to him and started attempting to tell him supposed Ravenclaw Quidditch secrets,” you agree. In your mind, you can just picture the scene: Eleanor, her short blonde curls bouncing around her head, walking up to Fred, introducing herself with a smile, asking him about Quidditch. He’d probably be pleased in the beginning, and then get more suspicious as the conversation went on.
Giving a light, rueful shake of your head, you sit down on your bed, pulling the covers back. Quidditch makes most of your cousins insane. Fred, James, Teddy (even though he wasn’t really a cousin, but you count him anyway. You all do), Roxanne, Victoire, Louis, Rose, Lily, Hugo. Even Dominique, who doesn’t generally get emotional or excited about things, never has to be persuaded to play Quidditch. She is, in fact, a particularly good Keeper. You suppose that you enjoy Quidditch – it is fun to watch, exciting and enthralling, plus it's a good excuse to dress up in blue and bronze and tease your cousins for being in different Houses - but it doesn’t fascinate you in the same way it does the rest of your cousins. For them it is a matter of life and death, something they couldn’t live without, beyond a hobby or a simple skill; for you it is just a sport, something you like to watch on occasion.
You slip into bed silently, musing things over. Eleanor’s in the bathroom, and you know that it’ll be about another five minutes before she comes out. The tap squeaks when she turns it and you sleepily think that perhaps you should look up a spell to stop that in the morning. ‘Reparo’ might not work, after all, since it’s not really broken.
It’s the last thought of your conscious mind before you gently fall into a state of semi-consciousness. You can feel the room around you: the soft down of the mattress beneath you, the warmth provided by the blankets wrapped around you. If you wanted to, you could picture the entire room from this vantage point: the dark wood furniture in the room, the Holyhead Harpies poster above Eleanor’s bedside table, the way the light from the bathroom trickles out through the cracks by the floor and down the side, casting the room into shades of grey and black.
Slowly, without you noticing, your thoughts drift from the squeaky tap, past Quidditch and onto that golden-haired boy you saw at the Quidditch try-outs. The sculpture of his cheekbones, the deep glitter of his eyes, the casual elegance with which he had leaned against the wall, looking almost like he was a model in a photoshoot. If Hogwarts ever needed a poster-boy, you thought, he should certainly be it. Girls would flock from all over the world just to catch a glimpse of him in real life.
Your mind slips from your Adonis to another boy, equally as dark as Adonis is light. The voice you remember from the book – a soft, sinister purr that sends shivers up your spine just thinking about it – creeps through your mind, gently accented but the slight mispronunciation of words only makes it seem all the more enticing. Amidst the haze, you recall a laugh. Clear, light and ringing, it breaks through the seductive charm your mind’s producing. Even as you lie there, caught somewhere between sleep and consciousness, you feel your lips twitching up into a smile. A small part of you wants to hear it again, but you can’t remember where you heard it.
Eventually, long after Eleanor’s come out of the bathroom, closing the door softly behind her, the last vestige of light in the room extinguished, and has slipped into bed, you fall asleep.
Your dreams, as always, are uncomplicated. You wonder what will happen at Christmas this year – merging memories of past Christmases and your own imagination to produce rather outlandish ideas, even by Uncle George’s standards. Uncle Harry features at one point, his nose bright red and sporting a pair of antlers adorned with paper chains. He smiles kindly at you, opens his mouth and lets loose a strong, realistic bark. In an instant, he has a tail and his eyes gleam yellow.
That dream quickly fades, to be replaced by a darker dream. You’re lying in bed, your cheek pressed against your pillow, but you can hear voices from outside. There’s a light on in the hall – the soft orange glow slides into your room under the door, disturbing you, making things smoulder. The air is thick and heavy, damp almost, and your heart beats loudly in your chest. You recognise the voices in the hallway – you’re sure of it – but you can’t, or don’t want to, put a name to any of them. Nevertheless, you strain to hear what they’re saying, but can’t catch a single word.
Footsteps sound in the corridor outside; shuffling footsteps, as though someone’s scuffing their shoes on the carpet. Making a split second decision, you sit up, throwing your covers back. Your toes touch the carpet hesitantly, before you force yourself up, away from the warmth of your bed and onto your feet. It’s cold without your covers, standing there only in your nightdress, and you shiver. You’re careful to not allow your teeth to chatter: you’re scared, terrified that making even the slightest sound will startle those outside, halting their conversation.
Silently, your footsteps spider-like, you creep over to the door. It’s shut and you feel a momentary bout of annoyance. There’s no keyhole – you can’t peer through at them. With no other option (as opening the door itself would, without question, stop their conversation and possibly get you in trouble), you crouch down on the floor, press your cheek to the carpet and peek up through the gap.
You can’t see much – black leather shoes and the odd trouser hem – but you can hear what they’re saying much more clearly now.
“… you understand, of course,” a voice whispers. It’s female, but quiet enough that you can’t tell whose voice it is. Inside, you’re trembling with glee at the thought of having uncovered something important, something secret and undoubtedly scandalous.
“Of course,” someone else replies, and you recognise this voice. Only moments ago had it been sweetly tormenting you in your dreamy subconscious, playing havoc with your senses. “‘ow long, then? J’ai été assez patient, je pense, et je n’ai aucun intention d’attendre beaucoup plus longtemps.”
You don’t understand a word of what he said – it was too quick, too fluent, the change of language far too abrupt to allow you even the chance to catch anything – but his voice lowers and you realise that this conversation, whatever it is about, is about something extremely private. A sense of profound curiosity and slight anticipation runs through you: you suddenly need to find out what they’re talking about, or at least who the people talking are. The potential for gossip in this situation is huge, gigantic even.
“Not long,” the first voice responds, the tone soothing, but it carries with it a lack of… something you can’t quite put your finger on, which hints that whoever she is doesn’t often attempt to soothe others. “I promise.”
The hallway falls silent for a moment, and then there’s a slight rustling sound, the sound of material rubbing against other material, and you can only wonder what’s happening. The temptation to open the door, to see what’s going on, is stronger than ever, but you resist, keeping your hands by your sides, your cheek pushed against the floor, your eyes straining to see in the dim light.
“You ‘ad better keep that promise,” his voice murmurs, deeper now, husky, but there’s the slight hint of a threat woven into it.
“Don’t worry,” the first voice whispers confidently, and it loses the breathiness from the beginning as it continues, “I will.”
“À demain?” he asks, although it doesn’t sound entirely like a question – much more like a demand.
Sure enough, a heartbeat later, the reply comes,
The difference between the two is clear: his French is perfect, pristine and just right for his voice, whereas hers sounds clumsy, still very English.
You hear footsteps retreating along the corridor – light footsteps, delicate and careful. After a minute or two of waiting, after you’ve heard the mystery girl vanish down the corridor, you open the door. No one’s there. Down the corridor, in the darkness, you can see the silhouette of a tall boy, as he makes his way silently out of the girls’ dormitories.
Closing it with a soft, almost inaudible click, you retreat back to the safety of your own bed and wonder.
In the darkness, your eyes shoot open and you gaze around you. Your breath is quick, coming in short gasps, your chest heaving with the effort. Your forehead is soaked with sweat; you feel sticky and unbearably hot. It’s as if your skin is on fire. Frantically, you try to find what woke you up. Your eyes are darting from side to side, taking everything in, but you feel a strange mix of confusion and fear. As though you don’t know where you are.
Eleanor is fast asleep opposite you, curled up on her side. From where you are, you can’t see the light from the torches in the corridor – you can’t even see the door. Frowning, you try to remember why this is important, why you feel like you should be able to see the door, but nothing comes to mind.
You rest your head back on your pillow, your breathing finally slowing down as you relax, your eyes staring up at the canopy above you. You’re not quite sure what’s happened, but you’re sure that it’ll make much more sense in the morning, that it was nothing to be afraid of. After all, it was only a dream.
A Brief Translation:
J’ai été assez patient, je pense, et je n’ai aucun intention d’attendre beaucoup plus longtemps.” = I have been patient enough, I think, and I have no intention of waiting much longer
À demain = Tomorrow (with the idea of seeing each other then)