Chapter 38 : Strangers in the Night
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Up to the moment when we said our first hello little did we know
Love was just a glance away, a warm embracing dance away
It turned out so right for strangers in the night
“You know, it's been ages since we had a Gryffindor Girls Council,” Hattie said happily as she arranged her pillow and blankets on the floor. Her brown curls were covered by a pink knitted nightcap with a large pompom on top. Molly had made it for her best friend over the Easter holiday.
Molly frowned thoughtfully. “It has been a while. I don't think we've had once since before Easter.”
“Everyone was busy,” Hattie said, not looking terribly concerned. Molly rather thought this was because Hattie was now one of the busy ones. She'd been spending a great deal of her free time with Silvester Bowbrick.
“I'm not busy any more,” Siobhan volunteered. She was already firmly ensconced under her blankets, stretched out on the floor with her curls spread over her pillow. “I chucked Andrew.”
“I heard,” Molly said dryly. “Right after Cecilia and Icarus broke up. But I thought you liked him because of the Clydesdale Patronus?”
“He was boring.”
“You think everyone is boring,” Cecilia said. She was sitting cross-legged on her blanket, brushing her hair. Molly thought it was about time; Cecilia hadn't brushed her hair since before exams had begun a week ago.
“Not you girls, of course.” Siobhan paused, a devilish smile on her lips. “Well, except maybe Petula.”
Petula was attempting to French-plait her own hair, with little success. She scowled at Siobhan. “Why does everyone always pick on me?”
“Someone's got to be the duffer. So what are we talking about tonight?” Siobhan rolled over onto her stomach and hugged her pillow, looking around at the other girls.
“I think we should talk about Reid Akins,” Petula said, eyeing Cecilia.
The devilish grin returned to Siobhan's lips. “Yes, let's.”
“I don't want to talk about him,” Cecilia said, shooting her best friend a warning look.
“You always want to complain about Reid,” Petula pointed out.
Molly selected an éclair and settled back onto her pillows. “You have been acting very strangely lately, Cecilia.”
“I thought you weren't going to say anything,” Hattie hissed at her.
“Petula brought it up. Besides, I only talked about her behaviour, not about her and Reid.”
Hattie frowned. Apparently this logic did not fly with her. Molly had to admit it was rather weak.
Cecilia scowled at all of them. “I'm fine. I've got better marks in my classes than any of you do. Just because Icarus and I broke up doesn't mean anything is wrong. I'm fine.”
“Why did you break up?” Petula asked. She let out a sigh then and gave up on her hair, running her hands through it to loosen the tangles she'd made.
“It was just... over between us, that's all. Sometimes that just happens.” Cecilia's expression was hunted, and the frantic look was back in her eyes, so Molly took pity on her and changed the subject.
“You know Arthur's scars from Pringle really do seem to be permanent.”
It had been a week now, and the marks on Arthur's shoulders hadn't faded any further. It was no longer paining him though, and he actually seemed to think it was funny at this point. He'd described his escape from Pringle to his friends one evening in the common room, and they'd laughed uproariously. Molly's stomach still knotted up whenever she thought how he'd been hurt so she could escape. She didn't see the humour in the evening's adventure, as he did. Boys were very strange.
Cecilia had latched onto the change of subject gratefully and assumed an outraged expression. “I hope they sack him. How dare he do that to a student!”
Hattie nodded in vehement agreement. “Poor Arthur! Did you write his mum? What did she say?”
“I wanted to,” Molly said, “but I wasn't sure how to explain what he was doing out in the castle at four in the morning. Arthur says she came by the castle yesterday to talk to Professor Dumbledore while we were sitting the Potions examination. Arthur told her he'd been sneaking out early to play Quidditch before the exams started.”
“She believed that?” Siobhan snorted. Molly nodded.
“And is Pringle going to be sacked?” demanded Cecilia.
“That's what Mrs. Weasley wants,” Molly told her. “And I hope he is, but I don't know. Maybe they'll force him to retire. He's getting quite old.” The end of year feast was tomorrow, so she supposed it was too late to have Mr. Pringle sacked now anyway. Pringle was at the top of Molly's enemies list now for what he'd done to Arthur, and she hoped he was gone when they came back next year.
“My mum says he was just as horrible when she was in school,” Hattie said. “And just as old.”
Petula giggled. “Well, I hope the scars aren't really permanent, anyway. Do they look like they've gotten better at all?”
“No, they look just as bad as they did when I saw him that morning,” Molly said, picking at the chocolate on her éclair and feeling guilty again for Arthur getting hurt.
“How often have you been checking his shoulders, Molly dear?” Siobhan asked slyly. “Been getting his shirt off for a good look?”
Molly could feel her cheeks turning red. “I was only looking at the marks.”
“I believe you,” Siobhan assured her with a grin. “And how do his shoulders look? I mean aside from the marks.”
Molly covered her eyes with one hand, but admitted, “They look very nice.”
Siobhan laughed. “I really am having a bad influence on you.”
The Great Hall was decorated in Hufflepuff colours when Molly arrived for the end of year feast. She and Hattie made their way to the end of the Gryffindor table where their friends were waiting. Dunstan and Petula seemed to have put aside their differences in their mutual enmity towards Reid for putting Gryffindor at the bottom of the House standings for the Cup, and were sitting together next to Cosmo, muttering under their breaths bad-temperedly. The entire Gryffindor table seemed very subdued by their loss, and many people were giving Reid black looks.
“Bloody Reid,” Cosmo was saying, shooting a dirty look at his friend as Molly and Hattie sat down. “Couldn't just leave Cecilia alone, could you? If you hadn't lost so many points for Gryffindor, we might have won the House Cup.”
Petula and Dunstan were eyeing Reid as if sizing him up for a coffin. Molly gave Arthur a quick kiss. He didn't seem at all concerned about the black cloud hanging over the Gryffindor table, and smiled at her happily, putting a hand on her leg under the table.
“I can't help it,” Reid said cheerfully. “She loves me.”
Cosmo picked up a forkful of mashed potatoes and dropped them on Reid's head.
“Now who's going to lose us points,” Reid said, but he didn't look terribly concerned. “Hattie, would you mind?” He bent his head slightly in her direction.
Hattie was giving both of them a disapproving look, and didn't look as if she cared to help Reid out. Molly thought her best friend wasn't completely immune to the desire to win the House Cup, but Hattie heaved a sigh and drew her wand to clean the potatoes out of Reid's hair.
“Where is Cecilia, anyway?” Reid asked, looking around. She had not come down for the end of year feast yet. Molly wasn't sure she was even planning to do so.
“She's in our dormitory,” Siobhan said calmly. “Washing her hair or packing her books or brewing a poison for Reid, something like that.”
“Aw, she's thinking of me,” Reid said, grinning at Siobhan, who rolled her eyes. “I bet she misses me this summer.”
“Her father won't, he's a wonderful aim with a crossbow, so you'd better not try anything on her at home,” Siobhan told him.
Reid frowned slightly. “Hmm.”
“Reid, please don't provoke her any more...” Molly sighed and shook her head, giving up. He was completely incorrigible, and completely delusional. Nothing she said was going to make a difference. “Nevermind. Maybe over the summer you'll get a clue.”
“Probably not,” he said cheekily.
The teachers were all looking unusually sombre during the feast. Molly wondered what was going on. Usually the end of year feast was an occasion for festivity among the staff, not solemnity. She scanned the table and noticed someone was missing.
“Where's Professor Ampara?” she asked
Arthur scanned the staff table and frowned. “I don't know. Maybe she's not feeling well.”
No one else seemed to have noticed Professor Ampara's absence, but then, she had frequently been absent from meals over the past few months. Still, normally all of the staff attended the end of year feast. Molly even caught sight of Mr. Pringle, his beady eyes peering into the hall from a side door. She gave him a baleful glare, which he did not notice. Apparently he hadn't been sacked yet. She made a mental note to mention that fact to Arthur's mum in her next letter. Between the two of them, she thought they could bring about Pringle's expulsion from the school fairly quickly.
Professor Dumbledore waited until the students had finished eating to deliver his usual speech for the close of the school year, beginning with congratulating Hufflepuff on their win.
“Bloody Reid,” Cosmo muttered again as he clapped.
Dumbledore paused for a moment after the applause had died out, and his long face was lined with sorrow as he spoke. “I am sorry to inform you that Professor Ampara's body was found in the Forbidden Forest this morning. It appears that she was killed by a werewolf.”
Molly clapped her hands over her mouth in shock and turned to hide her face against Arthur's shoulder. He put one arm around her, looking troubled and a little sick. There was a rush of whispers in the Great Hall as the students reacted to the news.
“Oh my goodness,” Hattie whispered, one hand pressed to her chest in horror.
“I advise all of you once again that the Forbidden Forest is off-limits,” Professor Dumbledore continued gravely, “and remind you to be aware of the dangers that are out there. As a dear friend of mine reminds me, we must practise constant vigilance.”
Molly looked up at Dumbledore's words. Somehow she didn't think he meant only the dangers in the forest, but something bigger. Her stomach was icy with fear. Arthur's face was grave when she looked up at him.
“A werewolf...” he murmured.
“Poor Professor Ampara,” Hattie said tearfully.
“I told you there are werewolves in the Forbidden Forest,” Molly said to Arthur, but she couldn't put the sternness into her words that she would have otherwise. She was too frightened at the thought of the poor Defence professor being killed so brutally.
“I don't think there are normally,” he said, glancing at Professor Dumbledore. “I can't imagine they'd be allowed. We don't have a gamekeeper for nothing, you know.”
“That's true,” Molly allowed. “But how did one get to Professor Ampara?”
Hattie was wiping her cheeks. “I can't believe she's dead. She was such a wonderful teacher.”
“Getting mauled to death by a werewolf has got to be right up there with eaten by a dragon as a top five worst ways to die,” Reid said thoughtfully.
Molly stared at him in shock. Hattie was looking at him with wide, horrified eyes.
“That was a tad insensitive, mate,” Arthur told him.
“What? It was probably just a freak accident, it's not like a werewolf hunted her down deliberately. She was just a teacher, why would they care?” Reid didn't seem terribly upset by the professor's death.
Molly scowled at him angrily, and thought Siobhan spoke for all of them when she said, rolling her eyes at him, “You're a jackass, Reid.”
“Language, Siobhan,” he said, smiling.
“No, she's right,” Hattie said sharply. “You are a jackass.”
Reid turned to her in surprise. Molly thought it was probably the first time he'd ever heard Hattie use a swear word. She could probably count on one hand the number of times she'd heard Hattie swear, but now it had been twice in one week.
Siobhan grinned proudly then. “I'm having a bad influence on everyone.”
The carriage ride to the train home was very quiet that year, with Molly, Arthur, Hattie, and Petula sitting in the horseless carriage together. Siobhan had told them once that winged, skeletal horses pulled the carriages, but Molly had never been able to see them.
Cecilia went ahead onto the train to secure a compartment for everyone, and they milled about on the platform, waiting for the others to join them, while the other students boarded the train. Dunstan soon joined them, and Cosmo with Siobhan on his heels. Reid was nowhere to be seen.
“Where's Cecilia?” Siobhan asked after looking around for her best friend.
“She went in to get a compartment. Shall we?” Molly led the way onto the train, holding Arthur's hand, and they made their way onto the train.
Petula ducked into a compartment at the front of the train to flirt with Thomas Ockham, a Hufflepuff in their year, and Molly continued peeking into compartments as she headed for the back of the train, looking for Cecilia.
“I hope she found somewhere near here, I'm getting tired of lugging this junk around,” Siobhan said, stopping to give her school trunk a kick. “Where the devil did she go?”
“Language, Siobhan,” Hattie said, peering through the glass doors as they walked down the train.
Siobhan ignored her rebuke, as she usually did. “I should have kept Andrew around to carry my luggage.”
“Very sentimental,” Arthur said, grinning at her.
“Well, he had to be useful for something other than snogging. Where is she?”
“Are you looking for Cecilia?” Acacia Bushby-Ferris asked, leaning her head out of a compartment a few doors ahead of them. “She's two doors down.” She smirked at them as she ducked back in with her friends, and Molly frowned as she went down to the appropriate compartment, but when she looked in the open doorway, she stopped in her tracks. She could feel the others behind her, crowding in the doorway, but couldn't find her voice.
Reid and Cecilia were alone in the compartment, wrapped in each other’s arms and kissing passionately.
Molly felt her jaw drop. Perhaps they had fallen into some kind of alternate reality where everything was backward. Perhaps the pod people weren't just a story after all, because the real Cecilia would not be sitting on Reid's lap and kissing him as if she were about to tear his clothes off.
“Why are you lot standing there?” Petula’s voice came from down the corridor. She was hurrying toward them. “Are we not all going to fit in the compartment? What’s going on?” She stood on tiptoe to see over Cosmo’s shoulder and her breath came out in a loud gasp. “Cecilia!”
Cecilia pulled away from Reid and wiped her mouth on the back of her hand. Molly could feel her eyelid twitching at the sight. Hattie let out a tiny squeak. Reid was grinning widely as Cecilia turned around to glare at their gathered friends.
“Can't you see we're busy here?” she demanded.
“Is it cool in here?” Arthur asked judiciously. “It feels cool in here to me. I think hell must have frozen over.”
Dunstan burst out laughing. Cosmo was still goggling at Reid and Cecilia in shock, and Hattie’s eyes were as wide as saucers as she stared open-mouthed at Reid’s hand resting on Cecilia’s knee. Reid looked very smug.
“I think I’m having heart palpitations,” Molly finally managed to say, putting a hand to her chest.
“The next time you ask us if we know what he did to you, Cecilia, I’m going to have an entirely different response,” Siobhan said with relish.
“Bugger off, all of you,” Cecilia said, and turned back to Reid, who smirked at them over her shoulder and then went back to kissing her.
“Oh my God,” Petula exclaimed. “I can't stand it.” She turned and fled down the corridor away from Reid and Cecilia, shoving past a group of third years.
“I can't either,” Molly agreed, and grabbed Arthur's hand as she followed her friend. They couldn't find another empty compartment, but Siobhan ousted a few first years from one and they all sat down together. Molly still felt a little shell-shocked, and everyone else looked quite the same, except Siobhan, who was never surprised much by anything.
“God only knows how that happened,” Cosmo said, shaking his head.
“I really think I might be scarred for life from seeing that,” Petula said. “If I fail all my N.E.W.T.s next year, and I probably will, I'm going to blame it squarely on seeing that.”
Dunstan grinned at Petula, and Siobhan chuckled. Molly narrowed her eyes at Siobhan.
“You knew, didn't you?” she demanded. “You knew they were snogging and you didn't tell us.”
“I shall never reveal my sources,” Siobhan said smugly.
“Oh, Cecilia always tells you everything.” Petula frowned at her friend and sat back in her seat with her arms crossed.
“She hasn't been snogging him,” Siobhan admitted. “He kept trying to snog her whenever they were alone, following her all over, and she kept getting angry and going more and more insane from it. I guess she gave in after all.”
“Reid's going to be impossible to live with next year if he finally wore her down,” Arthur said, shaking his head. “He already thought he knew everything.”
“Oh God, you're right,” Dunstan said, rubbing his hands over his face. “He's going to be even more of a cocky bastard.”
“Language. I suppose that's why she kept taking points from him,” Hattie said thoughtfully. “If he was trying to kiss her and she didn't want him to.”
“I don't think she knew whether she wanted him to or not,” Siobhan said, rolling her eyes.
“Well, at least we won't have to listen to them fighting any more,” Molly remarked, leaning into Arthur's side. He put his arm around her and gave her a casual kiss on the temple.
“Have you met Cecilia?” Siobhan asked, pulling a sceptical face. “They'll probably fight even more now.”
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