24th September 2019: Seb
I never thought I’d be ashamed of anything I’ve done. I was always so adamant that what I was doing was right. Right for me, of course, right in my opinion because that was all that ever mattered. That was before, though. Before Molly. Before I cared what someone else thought of me. Just knowing that she could sit there and be so nice to me was quite maddening.
So many times I had wanted to tell her, tell her why I wouldn’t open up, tell her why she should know my name. I found every day I was trying to convince myself that my cowardice was admirable. Perhaps it was, in some convoluted, complicated, completely nonsensical manner. After all, I didn’t want to scare her. I didn’t want her to start doubting her ability to judge a character. It was for her own good, really. It didn’t stop the gnawing reminder of what I was doing creeping over me every time I saw her, though.
I was sat in Charms when the note came. Elkins stumbled down from his desk and placed the envelope on my table, saying nothing and letting no sign of recognition flit across his wizened cheeks. I took it cautiously and unfolded it as quietly as possible, turning it away from the craning eyes of my neighbour.
We need to talk. Your common room, tonight, half seven.
I stared at the note for a moment, my eyes flickering over her looping scrawl and trying to understand something in every single flick of the quill against the coarse parchment. The deep purple ink seemed to seep over my fingers as I gently ran them over the writing, dipping through the dents she’d made where the nib had been pushed too firmly against the paper. Quietly and carefully, I tucked it into my bag and tried to hide the worried downturn of my lips that I could feel pulling at my cheeks. I turned my attention back to the lesson with Molly’s note still playing on my mind.
The rest of the day dragged on and on. I sat myself in the corner of the library that I usually found myself haunting and waited on the hope that she would turn up. The way my mind was fluctuating around her, trying to figure out what she was, who she was, why she was suddenly so important to me, so often hiding in every single thought; it was infuriating, maddening. I hated being so out of control. I hated the amount of control this girl, this tiny little thing, had over me.
Seven o’clock came and went, and as my watch clicked round to half past, I slunk out of the library. I pushed my way through the throng of people who were freshly returned from the dinner that I had missed out on and there she was. She held herself shyly against the wall as passing Slytherins shot her scathing glares. She didn’t flinch but looked out of place, uncomfortable amongst them. I said nothing. I waited, staring at her, and eventually her eyes swooped towards me and she started.
“I didn’t see you,” she muttered stupidly and I cocked an eyebrow.
I didn’t wait for her response, turning back to the open door to the common room and waiting for her to follow. The shuffling footsteps drifted after me and I didn’t bat an eyelid as the eyes in the crowded room turned towards us. In the reflection of a battered mirror, tattooed with cobwebs and scratches, I saw Molly keep her head firmly tucked against her chest and I sped up as a strange blur of protectiveness painted itself over me. I heard her footsteps hurrying faster behind me and once we were lost in the darkened corridor of the boys’ dormitory, she struggled to mask her sigh of relief behind a soft cough.
“I can see why you didn’t end up in Gryffindor,” I quipped, glancing behind me for the first time as I slid the dormitory door open.
I watched her squeeze past me, twiddling one of her earrings gently between two fingers, and she stood idly in the centre of the room as though unsure of what she ought to do now she was finally here. I breezed past her and collapsed onto my bed, pulling myself against the pillows and watching her as she hugged her arms across her body.
“I only bite at the full moon.”
Her head jerked towards me and, after holding my gaze for a minute, she came and perched awkwardly on the foot of the four-poster. She twisted her body towards me and stared blankly at the moss coloured blanket she was sat on.
“I was only kidding, you know? No werewolf blood in me at all.”
“I know,” she said sharply, looking up at me. As I felt my smirk growing, I watched her own cheeks stir in their attempt at suppressing her own smile. “I want to know what’s going on.”
“There’s nothing going on.”
"Please don't lie to me," she said gently, twisting around further on the bed and I looked down at where her hand was clutching a clump of the sheet. "I'm not stupid. There's a reason they asked you to help, something you're not telling me."
I stared back at her blankly. She spoke with such surety, such conviction, and I had to give her some credit for the working of her mind. She was right and she had figured it out alone.
"There's nothing," I said, still holding her gaze. Her confidence surprised me and her eyes glinted such a bright blue that they burned like ice.
"I asked you not to lie to me."
“I know you well enough to – ” I cut her off, swinging off the bed and looming over her. I had known she was small but sat amongst the pile of messy sheets on a bed that made me feel tiny, she seemed like nothing more than an insignificant dot and with a jolt, I remember that that was all she was. A girl. A small, insignificant girl.
“You don’t know me at all,” I said as she swung herself up off the bed too. She barely reached my shoulders as I leant forwards to tower over her and this time she did flinch. I matched each one of her steps as she moved backwards, her hands fumbling behind her as we walked slowly across the room. “Don’t play the high and mighty preaching saint with me because it won’t work. Nobody’s perfect.”
My voice rose as I stepped towards her, the two of us moving at the same time until she found herself colliding with the bed opposite mine and she reached out to grab onto one of its posts to stop from tipping over. I took one more step towards her. My hand jerked of its own accord. It was crossed against my chest, close enough to reach inside my robes and draw my wand. One spell. It would be nothing.
She winced again as I shuffled forwards, an inch between our bodies, and I realised with a jolt that this was the second time I had almost lost it. I reached up and grasped my hair, running my hands back through it, pulling at it like some kind of madman. I backed away until I banged ungracefully into my own bed. I let my hands fall to my side and slid down onto the mattress, which gave a slow groan with my weight. I pulled myself back on the bed, pulled my knees to my chest and rested my chin on my arms. Molly turned her head again, not daring to move but looking at me warily.
"When I was in first-year, I was bullied too," I said softly, knowing that my voice was barely carrying to her. My voice shook with the loss of control, with a mix of the anger and the shame and I didn't know why I was telling her but I couldn't stop. "Two boys in my class. They must have thought I was an easy target. The boy with the big nose and no friends, the one who knew too much."
I wasn't looking at her directly but I heard Molly turning towards me, her face softening and arms loosening from around her waist. She picked nervously at her wrist and her eyes flickered towards me every now and then, as though she wanted to know more but was scared of being caught looking at me.
“I don’t know why I’m telling you all this,” I admitted in a low voice, rubbing a hand over my forehead and staring down at the ground in the vain hope that it might do me a favour and swallow me up before I could continue. “But after Christmas, I was involved in a duel with them. I broke my wrist and three ribs.” I paused. “It changed me."
I waited for her to question what I’d changed from and to but she didn’t utter a word. She pulled on her earring again, smoothing out the creases in the bedsheets beside her, the bed of one of those who had been guilty. I let out a frustrated sigh, looking straight at her now in the hope that she would look back at me. She eventually lifted her eyes, almost prompting me to go on. I opened my mouth a little but I clamped it shut before I could add anything. She would find out eventually. Eventually was not today. Deeming that I’d finished, she leant forwards and propped her head on her hand.
“What happened to them? The boys?” she prompted, looking around the room. I followed her gaze and pointed to one bed by the door and then to the one she was perched on. She stood up quickly and looked down at the bed with an almost pained look of contempt. “Why?”
“I wasn’t going to grass them up,” I responded, standing up and flopping back to the head of my bed. She approached me slowly, cautiously, and leant against one of the posts, her hair ruffling against the hangings. She gave a small nod filled with incomprehension but acceptance. She stirred against her resting point and chewed her lip.
“Seb?” she said after a moment, looping one of her fingers into a pocket of her robes. I looked up, twisting my head to the side so I could see her properly. “Are you telling me you want your brother to end up like you? Do you want him to be so -” she trailed off, her voice crackling a little as she tried to find the right word, “so broken.” I felt my eyes leave hers involuntarily. Broken. Smashed to bits. Torn apart. Not whole. “You might be past help but Stephen isn’t,” she added, her voice rising as she gained confidence in her words. I ran my eyes over her again. She was standing straighter, her shoulders back and colour flushing her cheeks. Confidence made her look strong. Stronger than I’d seen her before.
“I wouldn’t have guessed you were a Hufflepuff,” I muttered. It was her turn to groan and she stood forwards. “Aren’t you meant to be the good lot? Don’t harm a fly, that kind of thing?”
“Stereotypes. There are horrible people in every house. Just because Slytherins are bullying berks, doesn’t mean that all of them are placed there.”
“Now who’s talking about stereotyping?” I replied sharply. “Keep your prejudices out of this.”
“Stop changing the subject,” she snapped, crossing her arms firmly over her chest in a perfect imitation of Graves on a bad day. “Are you going to help or not?”
I watched her eyes shimmering with the shine of passion that I had not seen in anyone before. I saw her chew the corner of her mouth, her cheek pulling inwards as she did so. This was my chance, my opportunity to find out why she had me so enraptured, why she’d made me so weak.
“Fine,” I murmured, picking at a loose piece of cotton on my robes and spinning it round one of my fingers, cutting off the circulation. As the tip discoloured, I released the strand and wrapped it around the next finger. “On one condition,” I warned as the idea came to me. “I want to do it my way. I don’t want you to tell me what I can and can’t say to him, and he doesn’t need to know what I’ve just told you.” I hesitated as she gazed at me with a furrowed brow. “None of it.”
“Deal,” she said with a small smile toying at her lips. She thrust her right hand at me and with a small bark of a laugh that I could not repress, shook it once. Her smile grew a little, her cheeks straining upwards, and I grabbed my book off the bedside table.
“Seb?” she asked, as she began to cross the room, turning back to face me. Her teeth were pulling on her bottom lip and she rocked a little on the spot. “Will you walk me out? It’s just …” She paused and I said nothing, but got up and strode across the room. Yanking the door open, I walked beside her until we’d reached the door.
“I can take you across to your common room, if you like,” I offered as she stepped out into the dimly lit dungeon corridor. She smiled a little but shook her head.
“I’m fine, thank you.”
Without even uttering a goodbye, she turned and walked away. I leant on the door until her footsteps disappeared and hurried back to my dorm. The scent of her shampoo – vanilla, as was to be expected from someone as boring as she ought to be – stained the hangings of my bed and the sheets of the bed opposite were still ruffled where she had sat down. Smoothing out the lines, I crossed back to my own bed and lifted the book up again. For a fleeting moment, I wondered how morally right it was to use my brother’s misfortune to get a girl’s attention. Then again, I added to myself, unable to conceal a smirk, when had I ever been worried by morals?