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Chapter 9: VIII
Three days after her brief conversation with Andromeda, Malea was sitting, as usual, in the black armchair in the corner of the room, her eyes fixed on a figure someway in the near distance, huddled with another figure over a thick, heavy-looking book.
She wished she was over there. Sitting on his lap, perhaps, or balanced next to him, leaning close. He would smile at her, give her a quick, subtle wink and entwine his fingers with hers, running his thumb over the back of her hand. She would put her head on his shoulder, her hair falling down his back and he’d press a kiss to the top of her head, ignoring the comments from his friends - their teasing would hardly matter.
Apart from that, she was also insatiably curious about the book they were looking at. Pucey and Lestrange seemed to be looking at it quite intently - they weren’t glancing around at all, and were speaking to each other in low voices, an unusual occurrence where they were concerned. That alone told her that it must be something important, maybe something they shouldn’t have at school, something from the Restricted Section which they’d got without permission. Whatever it was, she felt a craving to know, to be included in the group, to be in on the secret.
“Malea?” she turned her head, blinking with surprise as a shadow crossed in front of her, the light from the fire making it flicker gently.
Andromeda Black looked down at her, for once without a book clutched in her arms. In fact, she was without books or her bag, and her robes had clearly been left somewhere else - her room, she guessed.
Malea wondered why Andromeda was talking to her, but responded none the less.
“Yes?” she asked politely, meeting the other girl’s eyes.
“I was just wondering if you’d like to come over there,” Andromeda waved vaguely in the direction of the fireplace, “and sit with us. You seem lonely over here.”
She couldn’t help but blink, surprised. This was the first time anyone had ever come over to her and asked her if she wanted to come and join their conversation, or mentioned that she seemed lonely sitting on her own in a corner of the room. It was odd, that was for sure, but it was also a nice change.
“That would be nice, thank you,” she replied quietly, her tone grateful and respectful as her mother had taught her to be.
Rising, she followed Andromeda across the room, ignoring the glances that people gave her - their gazes curious, interested, wondering why she, of all people, was being invited to sit with the Black sisters and company - as best she could. It was only a short walk, but it felt at least twice as long, the weight of all the eyes on her back slowing her down.
“Ah, Malea, yes?” Bellatrix drawled, glancing up at her from her position, sitting on the sofa opposite the one Andromeda led Malea over to.
“That’s right,” she nodded once, slipping silently into the spot beside Andromeda. From beside Andromeda, Rabastan Lestrange glanced at her once, disinterestedly.
“You seem to like to staring across the room,” Bellatrix commented idly, although her dark eyes were sharp, boring holes into Malea. “Any reason in particular? Or should I ask, anyone in particular?” her lips curved into a smirk, half-mocking, half-amused.
She froze, not even blinking. Bellatrix couldn’t possibly know, could she? Had her brother mentioned anything? Oh Merlin, if Rodolphus knew - if he had heard something - she would die of embarrassment.
“No, no, of course there isn’t anyone,” she replied hastily, shaking her head furiously. “It’s just an interesting bit of the common room, that’s all.”
Andromeda coughed back a laugh and Rabastan didn’t bother to hide his amusement, chuckling quietly on her far left, his face hidden behind his book.
“Oh yes, the décor is very interesting,” he agreed solemnly when the others all looked at him. “Simply fascinating.”
“Indeed,” Bellatrix concurred, glancing over at the corner in question, making no secret that she was looking over there, her eyes roving over the items - and people - there. “The, ah, armchairs are utterly mesmerising.”
Malea felt her face burn and knew that she was blushing. Deep inside, she felt her temper stir. Had they called her all this way over simply to tease her? To mock her and ridicule her for looking in one direction? To think that she had, for a moment, thought that they’d - that Andromeda, really - had actually wanted to talk to her. She wouldn’t, she decided, be foolish enough to make that mistake again.
Opening her mouth, she searched for something to say, something spiteful and cutting that would make them stop, which would make them shut up. She didn’t, however, get the chance and that was probably for the best, as their conversation was interrupted.
“What is going on over ‘ere?” Rodolphus Lestrange asked, standing above them, his hands in his pockets, looking down at the odd group with an amused expression. “Not picking on the younger students again, are we, Bella?”
She barely had time to register that he had called Bellatrix ‘Bella’, the pet name her sisters used for her and no one else used for fear of being hexed out of the country, before the girl in question replied.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Roddy,” she rolled her eyes at him, emphasising the childish nickname. Malea’s lips twitched and she fought back a smile, filing that away for later use. She’d never thought of him as ‘Roddy’ before. It was too sweet, too young and too cute to fit him - but she could imagine his mother using it. Perhaps later she might recognise him by it, once they were together. “I leave the bullying of the younger years to you and your minions. Malea and I are simply having a little chat, nothing more.”
He was worried about her! She felt her heart swell, her cheeks flush and had a sudden desire to leap up and kiss him right there, in front of everybody. He, Rodolphus Lestrange, was worried that Bellatrix was bullying her, Malea Flint! She couldn’t believe it - it was like a fairytale, like a dream come true. She had hoped this would happen for months, had spent so long hoping that he would notice her and he had. She’d barely changed, had barely begun to mould herself and grow into the perfect pureblood daughter and yet, with all her imperfections, he’d still noticed her.
He laughed; a low, dark, throaty sound.
“Of course you do,” he replied to Bellatrix, his eyes lingering on her, not moving from her. “That’s why the Head Boy is terrified of you, and the first years run away if I even mention your name in front of them.”
“Precisely,” Bellatrix purred in reply, giving him a sweet smile. “I’m so glad you understand.”
“I ‘ad better get to detention,” Rodolphus drawled idly, glancing at the clock above the fireplace. “Try not to get too much blood on the carpet, Bella; it’s such a pain to clean, you know.”
Bellatrix only rolled her eyes at his retreating back. Andromeda, Malea noticed, looked incredibly amused, although she wasn’t sure by what. She didn’t know something Malea didn’t, did she? Bellatrix wasn’t really going to hurt her, was she? It was entirely possible, after all - she had witnessed for herself the eldest Black’s explosive temper and impressive duelling skills right here in the common room. She had no idea why Bellatrix would want to curse her, though - she hadn’t done anything to offend her, not that she could think of, at any rate.
“Well,” Bellatrix commented, glancing up at the clock in turn. As she did so, Malea copied her; it was one minute to eight exactly. “I should go and do rounds, before Bones decides to report me to Dumbledore or something equally ridiculous. Flint, we’ll finish this conversation another time.”
Malea nodded dumbly, watching as Bellatrix sauntered out of the common room, her black robes swishing around her ankles, her curls bouncing on her shoulders.
“Do you know why she wants to talk to me?” she asked Andromeda softly, worried and incredibly confused. She had assumed that if Bellatrix were annoyed with her she would have struck already, but perhaps she was biding her time, plotting and planning her revenge.
“I do,” Andromeda nodded. Seeing Malea’s pensive expression, she glanced once up at the ceiling before giving her a slight smile. “Don’t worry, it’s hardly anything you should worry about. She just wants to check something with you, that’s all.”
That didn’t make her feel much better, although she knew it was meant to. Why should she feel better? Bellatrix Black wanted to talk to her about something, Andromeda wouldn’t tell her what it was, Rodolphus Lestrange had seemed worried about her - these weren’t things which happened every day, not to anyone. Certainly not to her.
It all seemed strange, surreal almost, as though it were happening to someone else. Yet, beneath that, there was the hard realistic certainty that this was happening. She was stuck in this impossible situation with, apparently, only one way out.
She looked across the room, back the way she had come, back to her armchair. It seemed so far away from where she was now sitting - so far away and so very lonely. Isolated, cut off from the rest of the seats in the room, it sat in one corner underneath a single torch, positioned to one side of a window. Oddly enough, she had spent so much of her time longing to be over here, sitting and chatting with the popular students, watching them, studying them to try and work out what she could do to get herself over here, but now she was here all she wanted was to be back in her corner, alone and unnoticed.
Standing up, she smoothed down her skirt.
“Where are you going?” Andromeda asked her, glancing up from the book in front of her. She didn’t sound entirely curious, Malea noted, and her tone was little sharper than it really should be. Almost as if she thought Malea was doing something wrong by leaving.
“I’m going to go to my room,” Malea told her truthfully - there was no reason to lie, after all. The sarcastic addition of ‘if that’s all right with you’ balanced on the tip of her tongue, but she forced it down with some effort. There was no need to make an enemy out of Andromeda. She’d only tried to help.
“Oh, alright,” Andromeda nodded, looking a little put out that Malea wasn’t going to stay. “I expect I’ll see you another time, then.”
“Of course,” Malea replied quietly before walking away quickly, noting that now she was no longer accompanied by Andromeda Black (or should that perhaps be the other way round?) she was no longer of much interest to the other Slytherins sitting around.
She walked up the few stairs to the girls’ corridor, and passed the two stone gargoyles without any fuss. They still, if she was honest, scared her a little. In the half-dark, they looked almost alive, as though they might jump out at you any moment. Nevertheless, she continued down the corridor, passing doors on both sides, before reaching her own.
Pushing open the door, she entered, allowing it to close of its own accord behind her. As soon as it had shut, she sat down on her bed.
“What happened? What did they want?” Emelda Nott demanded, bursting into the room less than a second later, flinging the door open, sending it bouncing off the wall. Her pale brown hair was pulled up into a bun behind her head, but several of the strands had come down and were now blowing around her face.
“Who?” Malea asked, startled by her cousin’s sudden appearance.
“The Blacks,” Emelda rolled her eyes irritably. “I saw Andromeda go over to you - well, who didn’t? - and watched you talking to Bellatrix, and then Rodolphus joined you, and then they left, one after another. So,” she took a breath before repeating her questions from earlier. “What happened? What did they want?”
“Nothing much,” Malea shrugged. “Andromeda asked me to go and sit with her, then Bellatrix said she wanted to talk to me. She didn’t get started before Rodolphus arrived,” ignoring the warm blush she was sure was creeping into her cheeks, she carried on, “And then he left, then she left, telling me that she’d talk to me later.”
Emelda sat down on the end of Malea’s bed, nodding as she took in all her cousin had said.
“Bellatrix wants to talk to you?” she repeated, sounding confused. “Why?”
“I don’t know,” Malea shrugged. “Andromeda said there was no need for me to worry, though, so it doesn’t sound like I’m trouble with her or anything.”
“You can never tell with that one, though,” Emelda snorted, an unladylike gesture that Malea wasn’t accustomed to hearing anyone make - and certainly not her cousin. “She does what she likes when she likes, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Not to mention that Andromeda’s her sister - she’s hardly likely to tell you Bellatrix wants to hex you senseless, is she?”
Malea felt faintly sick, her mouth going dry. Swallowing, she pushed her fear down. It was true, though - Andromeda wouldn’t warn her that her sister was out to get her. Family loyalty counted for so much in Slytherin, and they were sisters - you couldn’t get a bond that was closer if you tried. As Emelda had stated (perhaps a little too bluntly, but they were in private, she supposed) Bellatrix never obeyed the rules. She had her own set and no one was allowed to see a copy. Everyone simply had to try and guess and hope that they didn’t break one.
“No, she wouldn’t,” she murmured in response. “Oh Merlin, what should I do?”
“There’s not really much you can do,” Emelda replied flatly. “You can’t avoid her - she knows who you are and she’ll probably have worked out which one’s your room and all the rest of it by now. Besides, even if you did try to do that, she’d find you eventually, and that would be much worse. You might as well let her talk to you, hear what she has to say - if anything - and try your best to pacify her. It might just be nothing, after all.”
“Might?” she asked, her voice coming out much weaker than she had intended it to be. “Might just be nothing?”
“I don’t know - I’m not Bellatrix,” Emelda snapped with a world-weary sigh. “Look, there’s no point you worrying about what’s going to happen because there’s no way to tell or find out what’s going to happen and there's nothing you could do to stop it even if you did find out. Worrying about it will just make it seem worse than it is and stress you out, and you don’t need that. Merlin knows none of us need that.”
Malea ignored the jibe at the end of her cousin’s mini-speech and considered the rest of it. She disagreed with some parts - there were ways to find out what was going to happen, but none of them were legal and also highly dangerous and probably impossible to find in Hogwarts - but the majority of it made sense. Fretting over the possibility of something happening wasn’t going to help the situation at all. It would only mean she wouldn’t sleep.
“You should stop staring at him, you know,” Emelda broke the silence.
She turned to look at her cousin. Emelda was sitting there, looking at her quite seriously, her pale eyes oddly honest.
“Who?” she asked, even though she was almost certain she knew who Emelda was talking about. “Why? I’m not hurting anybody.”
“No, not yet you’re not,” Emelda agreed.
Malea frowned at her and replied, confused, “What are you talking about?”
“It’s dangerous - he’s dangerous,” she explained, glancing at the door nervously. “You don’t know half the things I’ve heard about his family - about him. The spells they practise, the things they study and learn, what they do for fun. Malea, he’s dangerous. He doesn’t care about anyone, it seems, apart from possibly his brother. The only reason he knows who you are is because he knows your brother, not because of anything else. Nothing’s ever going to happen.”
“He’s not dangerous,” Malea retorted, stung, defensive. She shouldn’t be defensive, by rights she had no reason to be, but she was. Emelda didn’t know him - how could she know that? “And maybe he does know me only because of Malcolm, but at least he knows me, unlike you! He doesn’t even know your name!”
“He does know my name, don’t be ridiculous,” Emelda snapped back, her hands clenching around each other in her lap. “Everyone here knows everyone else’s names. As for Lestrange - he is dangerous. You just don’t want to admit it.”
“What, you think he’s going to curse me?” Malea rolled her eyes, highly sceptical. No, he was far too much of a gentleman to ever do that. The idea of him doing so seemed like an alien concept to her. She was a pureblood, a Slytherin and a girl - there was every reason for him not to and none to suggest that he should.
“No, but I think you’ll get hurt eventually,” Emelda replied. “Whether or not he’ll know that he’s hurting you is a different question altogether.”
“What do you mean?” Malea asked, completely confused. “How can he hurt me and not know he’s doing it?” She was quite sure that to cast a curse or a hex or a jinx, for that matter, you had to be conscious while you were doing it, even if just in the back of your mind, behind all the real thoughts.
“If he hurts you emotionally,” Emelda explained patiently, her tone similar to the one you would use when speaking to a five year old child who doesn’t understand something. “Boys are notoriously ignorant of such things.”
“How would he hurt me emotionally?” she could only ask, her mind blank. Briefly, she considered the idea that Emelda was deliberately using this conversation, using her fear and worry to turn her against Rodolphus Lestrange - to make her change her mind about him. It was possible, after all. Then, she realised that Emelda had no designs on Lestrange (she hated him and avoided him in equal parts) and Malcolm would never put her up to such a thing - he would simply come and tell her himself. He had done so, in fact, on several occasions.
Emelda gave her a pitying smile. Malea just frowned in response. She had no idea what it was for, or even what she was missing - because she was obviously missing something - but she didn’t really like it. It made her feel stupid and small, both things she didn’t like being made to feel.
“Malea,” Emelda began, pausing a moment, licking her lips lightly. “It’s hardly a secret that you like him - several people have noticed and I’m willing to bet more have considered it but just never said anything. What if he doesn’t ever look at you - what if he goes out with someone else? It’ll hurt you, but there’ll be nothing you can do about it.”
She just stared at her cousin, frozen in her seat. She’d never considered that before. It had crossed her mind maybe once or twice, but she had never actually thought about what she would do about it if it did come to pass - she’d always assumed that things would somehow work out. They’d break up or something like that, and then he would choose her. The idea that he might decide to date someone else, someone other than her, seemed foreign, almost alien. Her first reaction was to scoff, but she knew it was entirely possible. Immediately, therefore, she resolved to step up her plan to win him over. By Christmas he would be hers - she was quite sure of that.
“I know you’re worried,” she replied eventually, feeling that she should say something. Emelda had been kind enough to mention her worries to her and so it was only right to say something in return - some kind of acknowledgement of that. It was the proper thing to do. “But everything will work out in the end. You’ll see.”
For a moment, Emelda looked as though she was about to say something, but then she caught herself and shook her head. A few more strands fell down from her bun, but she paid them no attention.
“If you’re sure,” she then said. “I should go now - Leitha and I were going to discuss her date for the upcoming Hogsmeade trip.” The end of the sentence was left hanging, an unspoken ‘if you want to come and talk with us’ hovering on the tip of Emelda’s tongue.
“Oh, right,” Malea nodded, somewhat awkwardly. She had never really got on with Leitha Desmond, finding the other entirely too arrogant and haughty to be any measure of friends with. “Well, I’m sure you’ll have fun.”
“I’ll see you later, then,” Emelda stood, her hands dropping to swing by her sides, before she left the room, leaving the door ajar in her wake.
Rising, Malea closed the door behind her, wondering what on earth that had been about. Normally, she and Emelda avoided each other at school, despite being cousins. After all, Emelda was relatively popular within Slytherin House and considered perfectly ‘normal’; she, on the other hand, was not either of those things, and so they moved in different circles. On the rare occasion that their paths at school did cross, it was usually something to do with family loyalty, forcing them to agree and support each other. Emelda had never before come and spoken to her like that - without a solid reason for doing so - and even when they had talked, she’d never encroached on personal topics, like Rodolphus Lestrange. It was odd. Not a bad kind of odd, just odd.
Things were definitely changing. She just wasn’t sure if they were going to change in her favour or not.
You open your eyes and look around. Everything is exactly as you left it - everything is in the same place, positioned just as they always have been ninety-degree angles everywhere. Not a single thing is out of place. The chink in the glass windowpane that neither you nor Eleanor have ever got round to fixing, the creases in the curtains around your bed are exactly the same.
You can feel, though, that something is different. Not necessarily wrong, or bad, or anything particularly dramatic like that, but just different. The kind of feeling you get when you’ve had a conversation with someone and know that something’s changed afterwards.
With a frown, you swing your legs off the bed and stand up, looking around the room. Maybe it’s a small thing, something you’ve overlooked - a trinket in the wrong place, perhaps, or a misplaced necklace?
When nothing turns up on your examination of the room, you move over to your schoolbag and begin rifling through it. You must have mislaid a piece of homework, you think, or forgotten to do one. It’s not usual - highly irregular for you, in fact - but it is definitely possible.
Still, there is nothing.
You tug absently on a lock of hair, rubbing it between your fingers. What could it possibly be? What could be causing this feeling? Was there something you were overlooking, something you were forgetting to check? You know you’ve checked everything in the room and you’ve always known you inherited your mother’s thoroughness in that area, so you’re pretty sure that whatever it is won’t have just slipped you by.
Moving through to the bathroom, you move bottles, toothbrushes, tubes of toothpaste, flannels and towels around, looking, searching for that elusive problem. For that one thing which is out of place, out of sync with the rest of the room.
You glance up at the mirror - a brief glance, only cursory.
Stopping, you look back up, examining your reflection with an odd intensity. You’ve never really been one to study yourself like this before, but now it seems natural, easy. Turning your head from side to side, you take it all in: your pale skin, the gentle waves of your red hair, your plain brown eyes. With your short stature, you look like every Weasley girl should - a replica of your grandmother.
Something is different, you think and frown. Now you’ve found the place where something is different, you have to work out what is different. You don’t, you muse, look any different. Your hair hangs the same as always, your eyes are the same, your lack of make-up is the same, even your expression is the same one which looks back at you everyday when you clean your teeth and wash your face.
Something is different. The feeling won’t leave, won’t go away, won’t retreat. It stays, lingering in your mind, always there, whispering quietly.
Something is different, but you can’t work out what it is.
Twisting the handle of the tap, you watch the water pouring out for a moment, letting it run over your fingers, cold and soothing and numbing, before leaning down. Cupping it in your hands, you splash it over your face, your hands smoothing it into your skin.
Once you’ve dried your face, you leave the bathroom, grabbing your bag and heading for the Library.
You’re halfway there, thinking about nothing and everything all at the same time, wondering about Dominique, about Louis, about Lucy, about O’Leary from your Charms class, your arrogant Adonis and your mysterious seventh year, when it hits you. The realisation is simple, and you wonder why you didn’t realise it before.
Your headache’s gone.