Her hands shake as she steps down from the train. There is a part of her that wants to stop the crowd behind her from surging forward, that wants to protect her from the idea that now there is no more security, no more expectation. There is only her and her future and there is no going back. She cannot tell her parents to calm down, to stop worrying because there is no more time left. There is only her and her entire life is packed into the trunk by her side, a few clothes and books and photographs; replaceable, breakable, unimportant.
Amongst the chaos that is King’s Cross at the end of term, there is always a level of familiarity that rises above the screams and shouts that fill the air. Sometimes it’s a cousin, sometimes a friend, sometimes the lady that works in the Apothecary and sometimes it is merely the comfort of her parents. When she hears Teddy’s voice roaring above the crowd, she stops. It is not her he is calling. It is not her that is swept off her feet. She sees him, way in the distance, half a foot taller than the group of women he has managed to wangle himself into. He swings Lily into the air and Molly cannot tell if the girl’s screams are really so loud or whether she has tuned into it, but all she can hear is the strangled squeal of a child in intense admiration for her favourite person.
The shout comes from her mother, a few feet away from Teddy and Lily, and she hurries over. They have congregated in a group, her aunts and uncles, and there is a moment where she is showered in kisses from lips she does not take the time to identify. The questions speed past her, the answers rolling off her tongue in the way she has been rehearsing.
“Molly.” Lily tugs Teddy with her and they stand before her, one six inches smaller, the other six inches taller. She plays the middle man well and bends to hug the slither of life that is her cousin, turning her ear towards her so Lily can tell her the secret she is so desperate to divulge. It is a stage whisper, the little girl’s brown eyes glinting up to Teddy who doesn’t look like he’s enjoying himself in the slightest. Molly looks away. “Will you tell Teddy that he must
marry Victoire? Aren’t they perfect? Then he could be a real Weasley –” she glances up with a laugh and Molly follows her gaze to where the subject of her pleading stands. His hair flashes a vibrant red, his skin freckled and eyes the brightest blue, the same shimmering shade as hers. Lily laughs but Molly cannot make herself. “Tell him.”
The older girl stays silent and is grateful when Ginny comes and takes Lily by the hand. They exchange greetings and Ginny asks Teddy if he is coming over for tea tomorrow and then the Potters are gone.
“Hi,” Teddy says as they stand in the middle of a steadily emptying platform and Molly rocks up onto her toes to hug him. Her eyes flutter shut, her ear pressed fleetingly against the curl of his hair to try and block out every noise that does not lend itself to a moment like this, a moment of understanding beyond what anyone else will ever know. When they let go, she stares back up to thick brown hair and clear skin but still his eyes shine that brilliant blue.
“Stop it,” she says and he bows his head, obediently scrunching up his face to turn them back to brown. His apology is small, meek and she shakes her head dismissively. “Vic’s still doing checks of the train.”
“I guessed,” he replies. Behind her, she can hear the smacking of lips as Lucy appears fresh from her second year. She tries her best not to turn. Her sister has a way with people, a way with seeing more in one moment than most thirteen-year-olds notice in a month. She may be young but Lucy is not stupid and Molly cannot take the risk that she will see through the pleasantries and into the warped prism of the truth. Her train of thought is broken by a chorus of girlish screams from somewhere behind them and she knows there are only seconds before the moment will be broken.
“I’d best go –”
“How are you?”
Their apologies come simultaneously, eyes not meeting eyes. They have been alone plenty of times since that night but here, now, it comes back like a bullet. The presence of everyone and yet of no-one crash together, distance meaningless, and she can only think of the slip of his hand down her back, the urgency of every movement, every touch. Her cheeks are heating but she does not hide it.
“I’m fine,” she eventually finds herself spitting out. He nods and glances around. The slamming of the compartment doors come all at once and the way Victoire moves out of the dissipating steam is like a picture on a postcard. Molly watches her in black and white, elegance itself. If the world were to slow down for anyone, it would be her cousin. She is in school robes past their best, her hair is coming out of her ponytail and her gait is weary and ragged but still she catches the eye.
Molly turns around. Her parents are waiting patiently by the barrier and the last thing she feels before walking away is a gentle brush down the back of her arm. She does not look back. She can’t.
She always finds her bedroom small after the holidays but now the walls feel like they’re closing ever tighter around her, the ceiling caving in, the floor undulating beneath her. She can hear the thrum of conversation downstairs, the dainty drone of Lucy telling their parents everything they will already know from their own schooldays, embellished with secrets that only her eye would ever notice. For her sister, life is barely beginning.
She shivers, the ghost of Teddy’s hand across her arm coming back to haunt her deep into the fall of the evening. The lights in the village brighten, those hanging in the sky glimmering in their blind, self-destructive way. She smiles. There’s something eerie about knowing that light-years away they are burning brighter than the human eye will ever know, their existence the plaything of astronomers on Earth and the haunting of children’s nightmares. With a flick of her wand, her curtains draw shut and when her bedroom door opens, she turns her wand on the figure standing between the darkness of the hall and the dim light of her bedroom.
“What are you doing here?” she asks, putting her wand away and hurrying to the door, closing it quietly behind him. He has his hands in his pockets and when his hair falls in his face, he shakes his head to clear his vision. She doesn’t even come up to his shoulder as she passes him, sinking onto her bed and staring blankly. “Did Mum let you in?”
“Yeah,” he says, bending down and sitting himself on the floor in front of her wardrobe. The lamp on her bedside table pulls her shadow across his body; she is not sure how but understanding light and dark has never been her strong point. Lifting a cushion off her bed, she slides to the floor opposite him, her legs stretched out so they lie alongside his. “I’m sorry about Lily. She’s got it into her head that it’s meant to be or something.”
“It’s fine,” Molly murmurs, picking at the tasselled edges of her shield. She hugs it so tightly to her chest that she can feel each carefully threaded bead making a firm imprint on her flesh and she looks up to him. Maybe looking at him will convince him that she means what she says. “She’s only ten. It’d be a dream come true.”
“For her, maybe,” he says and the voice comes from some hidden cavern in his throat, darkened and bitter. It is a little frightening and Molly nudges his leg softly with her foot. His laugh is high but it is underlined by a foreign heaviness that makes him shake his head and sigh as though he is about to admit to something that will change the way the world turns. “Why do I always have to be the Prince Charming?”
When she doesn’t answer, he follows her gaze down to the button he has forgotten to fasten at the bottom of his shirt. His hands, resting an inch or two above it, shift and she glances up with a vibrant flush of pink across her cheeks.
“I don’t know,” she says but she knows as well as he does. He is everybody’s hero. He has stopped bullies and fixed broken hearts. He has made them laugh and stopped them crying and in amongst it all, he has been the guiding light they have all needed. He is the six foot two saviour, the hand to hold when the stars go out and not once have they ever expected him to hate it.
“I don’t want to marry her, Molly.”
“It’s early days.”
“I don’t want to marry her. I won’t ever want to marry her.”
His voice sounds almost frantic now and she looks at him properly; not at his lips or his hands or his stomach but at his eyes, focussed up at the light that streams down upon them. Putting the cushion down, she slides across the carpet without even the hint of elegance that someone, anyone else might bring to the movement and when she is close, hovers one hand gently against his cheek. Her palm barely brushes the bristle on his face, her fingers jerk gently in mid-air but it seems to be enough because his eyes shut and his head tilts just a millimetre to the left and she can feel the scratching of stubble, the smoothness of skin, the shake of a boy not yet a man who wants to escape a destiny spelled out for him every day.
When he looks at her, she wants to turn back time. She wants to tell Victoire in that conversation that seems so distant now that to him, she is just another girl. She wants to tell her that she is nothing special, that he has known her since the day she was born and that she is a childhood friend, not sweetheart. Only it is too late; she has already told her that they would be perfect, that their family would be over the moon, that it was probably written in the stars. It is her fault. She gave Victoire false hope because she thought her own dreams were too fanciful and now, the way he stares at her with the illusion down, she knows she will never trust her instinct again.
“You don’t have to,” she says eventually. “It’s your life.”
“I want to end it.” His voice is so firm that it takes her by surprise. Her hand drops from his face but it only has chance to float in the air for less than a second before he has captured it and pressed it to his lips softly. “I’m never going to love her, Molly.”
“You’ve barely tried.”
She speaks in a voice that is almost convincing but she is aware that he knows better. He releases her hand and sits up, narrowing again the space between them. She lets her hand cup his cheek again and her thumb drifts absently against his skin. His eyes close, his breathing deep and his lips parted and she rocks forward onto her knees to hold him as tightly as she can against her.
His hands ease her away just enough for them to be able to see each other. Her face is painted the perfect picture of concern that stretches past the expectations of friendship and his pleads, begs for what he knows they both want but he fears they may never get.
“Teddy,” she murmurs but any continuation of the sentence is muffled against his lips. Where their first was marred with urgency, this kiss is shared in a mutual disappointment in the world that commands them. Her hope fades but his grows under the impression given by this moment shared in an ever-darkening bedroom in the dip of a valley. Her touch against him is gentle, a broken mess of want and need, of what should be and what shall be. She pushes him away and he pulls her back and in the end, she gives in.
He lays five kisses down her jawline, whispering against her skin. She speaks but there are no words, only the feel of his hands on her waist and hers around his neck. He touches her like she is spun from silk and beneath her, he feels like gold.
The living room door slams and there are footsteps taking the stairs two at a time but this time, the outside is only a fraction of the reality they are sharing. A light flashes off and on, a voice calls, there is a knock and only when the door flies open is the illusion shattered. Molly smooths out her shirt and Teddy wipes his hand across his lips and neither can look the girl’s mother in the eye. She disappears and they sit in silence marked by lost desire.
“You should go.”
She does not sound angry or upset. She sounds serious and that is what she wants. She cannot allow her parents to gossip idly about something that will never be. From the corner of her eye, she sees him nod and stand to his feet shakily.
“You only have to say the word,” he says, fastening the forgotten button and glancing down to her. She cannot bring herself to look at him. “You say the word and we start our own dream.”
He kisses the crown of her head and disappears. His footsteps are light and when he calls goodbye to her parents, they reply brightly, as though nothing has happened.
She locks the door and climbs into bed. She squeezes her eyes tightly shut and when her mother comes in, ten minutes later, and strokes back her hair from her face, she does not stop pretending. She cannot. One dream today has already been crushed. She will hold onto the silence of false reverie for one moment longer. Reality can wait until morning.