Chapter 3 : Three
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She lies against him and shudders at the touch of his hand on the curve of her shoulder, soft and well versed in the shape of her body. Outside, dawn has long broken, a steady current of brutal wind the sign that rush hour is just beginning and that this is the moment that illusions teetering on the edge of hope must shatter against the cold truth of the real world. Only in dreams do nights stretch on into days.
He moves to stop her when she kicks off the sheets but the feel of his skin on hers is now a burning mark of daily routine. He murmurs her name and she looks back. Lying tangled in a mess of honey gold linen, he looks like he could be perfect. Sometimes she thinks he is. He is handsome, shining bronze in the crack of sunlight that her window cannot keep out, and he makes her feel like she is the only thing that matters. Perhaps sometimes it is too much, too unreal for it to ever be a solution to a problem that she denies she has but when she is alone – without him or any of those came before him – she feels hollow.
“What’s the matter?”
Alistair speaks in a gentle Liverpudlian lilt, slipping his arms around her silken waist from behind and kissing her cheek softly. She shakes her head and turns in his embrace so she can lift her lips to his. It is short, sweet, fuelled by a love that is run on lust and prays he does not feel the emptiness that hides beneath the basest of passions. Her desire is a selfish act of self-preservation, a disguise that she has mastered so proficiently that sometimes she even kids herself that this is the man that could make it all better.
And sometimes she kids herself that there wasn’t a disguise to start with.
“I’m fine,” she says, brushing his hair out of his eyes, a golden brown that makes him look childish, young. He doesn’t seem convinced and she presses another simple, chaste kiss to his lips, ducking out of his arms with practised ease. Her smile hovers only for a moment before fading into the shadows of a face that is tired of pretending, tired of being lost, tired of wondering if there is even anything left to be holding onto. “Are you sure you want to come tonight?”
“Of course,” he says, and his gaze falls on her with all the intensity of one who cares too much and knows it. She feels a part of her soaring but she does not know why; she has showcased, flaunted each and every man that has been in her life since she left school in front of her family except for him. Alistair has escaped the invites to family dinners, the parties, the lunchtime catch-ups in The Leaky Cauldron. She didn’t think he would be interested but in front of her, he has come to life. He takes her hand and twirls her into his body and when she laughs, she is not sure where it has come from. “You sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine,” she repeats and finds each word punctuated by a glee that will not fade. His hand slips through her hair with a practised touch and when he tilts her head up to kiss her once again, she almost believes she wants it. He has a power over her that makes him different to Castor and Flynn and Sam. Her pessimism dies when she is with him, her faith in her feelings dissipates to a distant concern and she believes that maybe, contrary to every concern that has ever crossed her mind, this time it could work.
There are questions to answer and she stands by his side like a toy as he charms them into loving him. He has a way with words, a knack for twisting everything he says into a compliment. Her aunts blush and her cousins laugh and people tell her how it took her long enough to find someone so right for her. She smiles and nods and holds his hand tighter because then maybe it would feel as right to her as it does to everybody else.
Her sister stands on the edge of the garden, an awkward bundle of limbs in the height of her adolescence. But she is observant, lurking on the periphery of everything, noticing it all and discounting nothing. Where Rose and Albus and Lily see only the surface, Lucy knows how people work and above all, she knows how Molly works. The older girl – a woman by law but not by mind – watches her cautiously and when the conversation she is nodding and smiling through lulls, she takes it as a cue to venture towards what might just be the end of something that never really began.
“They’re inside,” Lucy says without taking her eyes off Lysander Scamander dancing his way across the lawn. Molly cradles the wine glass in her hand and sips tentatively. Alistair is engaged in what seems a deep conversation with Uncle Charlie, potentially oblivious to the fact that she has left his side, and not a soul pays the silent sisters a glance. “Victoire and Teddy, they’re inside with Aunt Fleur.”
She wants to ask how she knows. She is a tender fourteen, an age when most presume to know more than anyone could ever be capable of without knowing themselves yet but she knows that Lucy is special. There is no bias in her beliefs, no exaggeration because Lucy is her sister and that is only natural. They fight. They argue. They are so alike beneath their claims that everything about them is different and Molly knows that her sister is not throwing assumptions at her. She knows.
“You see too much.”
Lucy smiles; her face is younger than her years yet there is something in the brightness of her eyes that makes her seem wiser. She does not take her eyes from the Scamander boy, watching him waltz his mother around the garden to the rhythm of a song that Molly cannot make out above the swell of the conversation, but she shrugs as though there is an ancient weight resting upon her.
“No,” she says, her voice soft and lips twisting into a smirk painted in scornful amusement. “Other people don’t see enough.” It is haunting and Molly wants nothing more than to walk away but she can tell from the way Lucy stands that this is not the end. The elder sister sips at her drink, bitter and warm on her worn lips, and waits for the other to continue. “Be careful, Molly.” Her head turns ever so slightly now that the crowd has shifted and the Scamanders are hidden from view. Lucy’s eyes do not drift towards her sister, they never do, but the purse of her lips speaks for them. “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
Silence falls so abruptly that Molly barely notices the stem of the wine glass cracked in two in her hand. She has followed the gaze of every other and watches the procession from the house, a funeral march punctuated with irrepressible glee. Dominique is a doll on show and she parts the crowd like an angel come to herald the impossible, climbing to meet the parade. Aunt Fleur leads, her hands hidden beneath the tray on which she holds a cake of virginal white, and in her wake the ice-cold beauty of a girl yet to grow up and the lover who completes the story.
The crowd begins to sing but Molly cannot find the words that will make everything okay. There is a breeze by her side, her sister lost in the shadows of another fable, and she lets the shattered glass drift to the ground. He does not look at her. He does not look at anyone except the girl who becomes a woman, the sister-in-law to be.
Molly hears her sister’s words, a mocking chorus of their hundredth outing in her head: other people don’t see enough. She has watched for years the art of her sister, the silence and the steadiness and the ability to see all whilst looking at nothing and now she makes her first move at putting her study into practice.
His hand is in Victoire’s but their grip is limp, empty. He smiles at Dominique but it does not reach his eyes and every now and then, his eyes flicker in an awkward blink. His body is set, rigid as the storyboard he has drawn himself into, and when they clap Dominique’s wish away, his hands fall back into his pockets, not to Victoire’s grasp.
In him, she sees momentary hope and when she feels her hand taken in another, she falls for the first time in twelve months into the distant belief that it is his. Her gaze breaks and she lets Alistair take her in his arms to dance through downtrodden dandelions to the beat of a song she does not recognise but which will never be theirs. She laughs and smiles as she should and when the music draws to its close, Teddy is gone.
Her excuses are easy to make and she leaves Alistair with a promise kissed across his cheek. It is a betrayal, perhaps, of everything she wants, of everything she could perhaps have if all follows the line of the fate she wishes she could dictate, but promises are there to be broken.
She does not search for long. The house is small and Teddy is too intelligent to stay within the confines of a home that they both know inside out. She follows her instinct to the dip of the next cliff face, a valley hidden by two neatly undulating hills. The only sign of any life, of any form of human touch the steadiness of his breathing catching on the howl of the ocean beneath them.
Her shadow beats her to him, cloaking him in a dark grey cloud. The space beside him is rocky, uneven and there is a small puddle of rain too far out of the sun’s reach to evaporate. She hesitates for only a moment before sitting as quietly as possible by his side.
They say nothing. They do nothing. Their silence is a marker not of having nothing to say but of not knowing where to start. She has her questions as he will have his and she waits for the silence to shatter in the same way it always has before, into conversation heavy with desire, regret, a build-up to a touch too far.
Her resolve breaks first. She has never dealt well with quiet, with a tension so deep that it shakes her to her core with fear of what it could do. “Where have you been?”
He does not flinch or even show a sign that he has heard. If it were not for the way his breathing has slowed, she would be tempted to repeat herself but instead she waits in the way that they are well accustomed to by now.
Alistair, the sixth to be flaunted under Teddy’s nose, and with a nauseating churn of her stomach, she realises they have not been alone since she took the first - Flynn Cross – to Uncle Bill’s birthday meal.
“Jealous?” she asks, her tone as spiteful as she can bring herself to make it but it is meagre, breaking on the wind.
The word is his distress call, she knows that. This is the moment for her to make it somewhat right and he turns towards her expectantly. His eyes hover on her knees, bare and lightly tanned from the unforeseen glory of that summer, but she does not reach out for him.
“It’s a damn sight harder for me to watch you with my cousin,” she says and she knows she is right. Hers have come and gone, proof above all that he is an irreplaceable part of her, but he has stayed Victoire’s obedient partner. Where he goes, so does she and there is a surge of anger through her as he sets his jaw firmly.
Their voices are louder, his gruff and hers shrill, and he opens his mouth to reply but catches his words before he can. His eyes trail up her body, from the caps of her knees to the belt of her waist to the plunge of her neckline before settling on her neck. She does not notice she has done it but her hand clasps around her necklace and when he meets her eyes, finally, he pleads with gentle understanding.
“If I told you I was marrying Victoire tomorrow, would he make you happy?”
In her head, she merges the two together. Teddy – his hair, his eyes, his entire demeanour dark and secretive but with a touch that makes her skin blaze – with Alistair, a never-ending source of something that could be support, bright and sensitive, there to pick her up but never letting her fall in the first place.
“Maybe,” she says because Alistair is all of what she thinks but she is not sure she loves him in the way that everlasting togetherness calls for. She cannot see herself growing old by his side. She cannot see the wedding or the children or the curve of her name against his on a tombstone. “And if I married Alistair, would she make you happy?”
He stares at her, the shadow of evening beginning to colour itself against his pallid skin. She feels as though he is reading her from start to finish, picking at her bit by bit with just one look. She wants to look away. There is guilt in her mind now as she thinks of her cousin with a broken heart when he never gave her his whole one to start with. Molly knows his answer before it comes but still she feels herself overwhelmed by the words, by the gentleness of what he says against the blankness of his gaze. He smiles, just enough to make her want to stop him but she is too vain, too desperate for confirmation to do anything about it. Her hand twists into his, fingers lacing and tightening in the way that they should, a pressured closeness, the wish for two bodies to merge just for a moment into one.
“If you were happy, I’d be content with whatever I could get.”
They say nothing. They do nothing. Their gazes are fixed, eyes meeting eyes and striving to understand. She knows this is her moment. She knows this is when she casts everything else into memory but she cannot bring herself to seal the unspoken promise that they share.
“There you are.” There is a stomping of heavy boots on the ground and their gazes crumble to the dusty recesses of their past. Lily puts her hands on her hips and grins at them. “It’s so pretty.”
Molly glances over her shoulder to where her cousin is pointing. A rolling scene of purple, pink, orange, blue, a rainbow living before their eyes, tangible if you have enough determination. She smiles and from the corner of her gaze, she sees Teddy’s lips turning upwards too. As their hands fall apart as though they never were, the little redheaded girl holds hers out and tugs them to their feet.
As they walk away, they say nothing, they do nothing. There is no need. The moment is gone and Molly knows that it is her fault.
“’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” is that very famous quote from that very famous man, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in that very famous poem, 'In Memoriam A.H.H.' As I’m fairly sure I’m not a 201-year-old man, I can safely assure you that this quote does not belong to me.
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