September 22nd 2019: Seb
I had never seen the old Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Rackharrow, looking quite so disgusted and unimpressed, except perhaps in fourth-year when Marie Platt claimed Expelliarmus was an Unforgivable Curse. I shrugged when she raised a thin brown eyebrow at me and the room settled down again, after my suggestion that offering your opponent a cigarette might provide a distraction during a duel had caused a small-scale riot.
Regardless, the mention of the word had grabbed me and I hurried past the crowds in the corridors at break to get outside. The air was warm, for September, and as I lifted a cigarette to my lips and lit it with the tip of my wand, I felt quite at ease. The flare of orange as the heat tunnelled through the tobacco was a solitary, incomparable comfort in the light of what had been an altogether rather appalling week.
Aside from the ever mounting pile of work that even I was struggling to cope with, there were a stack of unanswered and unopened letters stuffed under my mattress from my mother, all addressing my brother settling in. After the third one, I'd given up replying and after the fifth, stopped reading. Instead, I stowed them away to burn in the fire the next time I felt like taking something out on someone and being unable to. Petty and pathetic it might be but it was the closest thing I could get to showing them my displeasure in person.
My mind drifted as I took another drag on the cigarette. Siphoning the ash away with a tap of my finger, I exhaled and watched the smoke blow around me in the stern wind. I closed my eyes for a moment against the sting it left in its wake and when I squeezed them gently open, caught a flash of red pass nearby. My breath caught in my throat in a way that I'd never felt before and I dropped my hand to my side, concealing the cigarette from view behind my thigh.
As she got closer, I realised with a jolt that it wasn't even close to being her - half the height and her skin much less fair - and dropped the cigarette on the floor, stubbing it out with my toe. I swung back inside, exhaling as I reached the front doors and hauled myself up to the Charms classroom for what was set to be another hellishly boring class.
Not wrong, I settled down to a lesson on the theory of some animation charm that meant very little to me, already aware of its history and usage. Threading my quill through my fingers and pretending to be taking notes whenever the professor glanced at me, I thought back to the redheaded girl on the grounds. Though it hadn't been the library girl, the way my whole attitude had changed in that split-second of hopeful recognition sent a strange chill down my spine. Change didn't become me. I had always thought I was solid, untouchable.
She'd proven me wrong.
With a stubbornness that I might have admired in someone else, she had stayed firm in her principles, not budging from a seat that she had claimed from me. Without even moving, she had already beaten me and frankly, I found that completely terrifying. Her gentle demeanour, her soft smile and chiming giggle that could have caused a cacophony but actually rang like an echo in a forest, all of it haunted me every night before I went to sleep. My eyes would close and her figure, sat in my chair at my table, would swarm past my eyes over and over until I had to open them just to erase her from my mind, just for a moment.
"Becker, what did I just say?" Elkins barked and my head snapped up to see him standing in front of the class and peering at me over the top of his glasses impatiently.
"'Keep your wand firm in your hand when you flick upwards or it might go too far and prove to be potentially fatal'," I quoted to both the surprise of him and me.
"Very well," he conceded, turning around and looking at his notes. "In pairs, get practising. Chop chop."
He clasped his hands together with a sickening crack and I turned to the poor sod that had ended up next to me. Flora Hodges, Head Girl, was looking daintily up at me and I grabbed my wand and a piece of paper and set to work, focusing on my work so much that the presence of the library girl had flown from my mind.
I welcomed the call from Elkins after the bell rang and tucked my wand away neatly inside my pocket. Slinging my bag over my shoulder, I turned and meandered to the door.
"Becker, come here," he barked after me and I grimaced. Unnecessarily elbowing everyone that passed me, I shuffled to his desk. In the same way that every teacher did, he took off his glasses and leant over the books at his desk, not even looking at me as he spoke. "The headteacher and I would like to meet you in my office at six o'clock this evening, please. I would appreciate it if you could be on time. We're all busy people, are we not?"
"Right. Off you go," he instructed, still not looking up from his work. I turned around and marched towards the door in long strides, the quicker I could get out of there the better. "Oh, and Becker?" I turned to see him squinting at me from the opposite end of the room. "I'd eat a big lunch." He tapped his stomach and then dismissed me with a wave. The door clicked shut behind me and I groaned, heading down to the Great Hall.
Six o'clock came around far too quickly. I'd spent my free afternoon in the library and was contemplating not going until I met the headteacher at the library doors and she personally escorted me to Elkins' office, a playful smile drifting across her aged, wrinkled face. Subtlety was evidently not her strong point.
She knocked lightly and walked in without waiting on a response. She held the door open for me and I nodded a disgruntled thank you towards her. I glanced to Elkins and then to the small figure sat on the other side of the desk. The back of the head gave away my brother and I raised my eyes to the heavens. Silently and without invitation, I took a seat on the near side of the desk and stared blankly at the wall behind the headmistress' head as she took the empty seat opposite me.
"Okay," she started in her slow, West Country drawl. "Sebastian, we have called you here concerning your brother." She gestured to the boy at my side in case I needed reminding that I was, unfortunately, related to him. "Stephen has been having some problems settling in," she added, smiling a sickly peachy smile at him, "and we need your help to integrate him into Hogwarts life."
"No offence, professor," I said before she could carry on, glancing contemptuously at Stephen who was staring straight at Elkins as though looking at me might kill him on the spot, "but I really don't see how I'm going to help."
"Really?" She didn't show her anger in her voice but her eyes narrowed slightly and her lips grew thinner. "Well, I shall tell you," she continued, in the same peaceful, hypnotic voice as usual. "We want to integrate Stephen into school with the help of a senior member of Hufflepuff house," she began and I braced myself. If I had to put up with someone like Flora Hodges telling me all about how I should act towards my brother, I would kill myself. "Problem with that?" I grimaced back at her and the pull of the tips of her mouth showed me that she felt as though she'd made progress. "Excellent."
I tuned out to much of what she said next, hearing 'trouble' and 'boys' and not much more. In fact, it wasn't until I heard the terms, "you understand his situation," that my head snapped across to meet her gaze. Only my parents were aware of what had happened, almost six years ago, and I glanced to my brother who had now deemed it safe to remove his gaze from the teachers and was looking at me blankly.
"I still don't see how it's my business," I shrugged, looking back to the two professors who shared incredulous glances and stared back at me with expressions torn between intrigue and disgust.
"He is your brother," Elkins wheezed in his hoarse voice. I raised my eyebrows as if to say 'and?', watching as their eyes bulged more.
"Unfortunately I'm aware of that," I replied smoothly, dusting the dirt from the knee of my trousers and glancing back up at them with a smile. "I'm not doing it."
"It is not just your brother's social life that is failing here, Becker, it is his academic performance."
"Professor, I can't help having an exceptionally thick brother." Elkins turned a steady shade of mauve before my eyes and I cocked my head to the side slightly. "Now, excuse me." I stood up and turned to leave.
"Sit down. Right. Now."
Graves' bark cut through me and I glanced over my shoulder. She had risen to her feet with me and with two hands braced on the table, leant over it, her eyes and lips looking like they were competing to be the thinnest.
"I will rephrase my request, Becker," she said, standing up and walking slowly towards me, each click of her heels bouncing off the stone floor. "You will meet with the representative of Hufflepuff house and you will be of some form of help and advice to your little brother during this incredibly difficult time for him. Understood?" Her voice had grown steadily louder with each step she had taken and she eventually stopped a couple of inches from me. Though tall for a woman, she only reached my shoulder and I cast my eyes down at her, not quite meeting her gaze. "Now, sit down." She didn't budge from her position and not taking my gaze from her, I moved to sit in my empty chair. It creaked under my weight and I said nothing.
"Stephen, you may go," Elkins murmured, taking his gaze from me and moving it to my brother, who mumbled a reply. His footsteps were gentle and soft on the floor and the door swung open and closed almost silently after him. From behind me, I could feel that Graves had turned around and was staring at the back of my head. I was tempted to turn but refused to give in to her attempts at breaking me. Instead, I waited for her footsteps to restart and watched her settle into the chair again.
"Why am I still here?" I demanded after a minute or two, not quite understanding the point of keeping me there just to have a staring contest with the Head. She broke her gaze first, glancing at her watch.
"You'll be meeting the Hufflepuff that Professor Elkins has assigned to keep an eye on your brother around the common room," she answered. "She'll be here shortly."
I gave no response to that, instead casting my eyes over Elkins' battered old desk. The piles of papers and books were stacked neatly, with more care than I'd have expected from someone as haggard as he was. Elkins himself was flicking idly through one book from the top of a nearby pile and I sincerely doubted he was taking any of it in as every twenty seconds, he cast a sly look to me or Graves out of the corner of his eye, as though he half-expected one of us to have frozen solid from the other's hard stare.
A knock at the door jerked him out of his book and he slipped the volume back onto the stack to his right. Clearing his throat, he called, "Come in," and the door clicked shut behind whichever daft pushover had been lumbered with this task. The footsteps were dainty and I slumped down further in my seat as they got nearer. A gentle puff of air wafted towards me as she sat down in the seat beside me.
"Molly, meet Sebastian Becker," Graves announced, sitting straighter in her chair and plastering a kind smile on her weathered face as she turned to the girl. "Sebastian, this is Molly Weasley."
The sound of the surname made me tense, wondering quite why I hadn't made the association between the surname and the girl from the library before, and I felt my hand flex at nothing as it rested idly on my lap. I cast a downward glance at the girl beside me, a part of me wondering if it was possible to be quite so lucky.
I wasn't disappointed. She sat primly, with a straight back and her fingers laced neatly together on top of crossed legs. Her red hair was tied back in a messy ponytail, stray strands struggling out from behind her ears. Seeing me, her shy smile grew larger and she shuffled in her seat.
"We've met, Professor," Molly said and there was a novelty to thinking her name over and over as she spoke. "Sebastian helped me with some homework last week."
The pair of coughs of incredulity made me smirk as Elkins and Graves shared startled looks. I nodded when the Charms professor gave me a wide-eyed querying glance and Graves laughed gently.
"Well, Miss Weasley, it looks like you've made more progress in three weeks than we have in six years," she commented, keeping her eyes firmly away from me as though I might deny it if she were to look at me. Molly laughed, the sound like a welcome breeze on a humid day, and I fought with myself to hide the smile that was playing on my lips, teasing and tempting me into a land that I did not want to venture into, not yet.
"Since you're already acquainted, I see no reason why you two can't organise something together then," Elkins suggested, glancing to the headteacher for support. She nodded slowly, casting me a suspicious glance, and stood up. "Molly, you know what's required of you. If you give Sebastian a quick explanation when you meet up, all will be set." He glanced to the clock on his desk. "Right, off you go then."
He smiled at the both of us and picked up his book again, leafing idly through it as we stood up. Graves murmured a goodbye and Molly and I rose together, the door swinging closed behind us and the lock clicking into place. Behind it, I was sure a stream of astounded comments were to be exchanged and I glanced down to her, her name still swinging through my mind uncontrollably.
"I've got to run but four o'clock tomorrow, usual place?" she said once we'd grown accustomed to the silence of the corridor. She was already walking away from me and I nodded, knowing exactly where she meant. She twirled on the spot with a last smile and small wave, and disappeared from view.
I gave it a moment and once I was certain that she was definitely gone, let the smile free. Fate or coincidence? It didn't matter. I had her within my grasp. I had her right where I wanted her and I was never letting go.