Her breath is soft against the threadbare fabric of her aged sofa, her head pounding with the weight of a hard week’s work that is not yet finished. Across her lap spill reams of paper, another quill lost down the back of the chair, her wine nestled protectively against the curve of her stomach. Her life has revolved around her job of late, night after night spent sleeping in the living room rather than the emptiness of her bed. There is nothing worse than feeling the coldness of sheets where someone else should be lying, she is sure of it.
She and Alistair lasted one year, four months and two weeks but as much as she tried to convince herself that it was going somewhere, she always knew that it would draw to its close eventually. Unlike the others, unlike Castor, Sam and Riley and the others whose names are jumbled letters in her head, she cannot fill the void with another face. She has tried but each time has ended with an apology as the hands of another featureless figure slip down her back, down her chest, down her legs. They have whispered words that she never wants to hear again – bitch, tease, whore – and watched them disappear from her life as quickly as they came into it.
Sometimes she considers calling into his office, just to say hello, but it would be a step too far. Rumour has it he is seeing Ellie Cattermole now; she’s nothing special but nor is he and she must remember to keep telling herself that when night falls and she cannot bring herself to look at the bed. She has binned the sheets but to this day she does not know why.
At the sound of a phone ringing crudely through the room, she wakes, her head heavy on her shoulders and the way her hair has twisted itself into a small nest above her left ear makes her balance skew just for a second. She fumbles through squinting eyes, the room lit by the streetlamps outside streaming gold beneath the blinds, and when her hand clasps around the telephone, she slumps against the wall as though she has no will left in her.
The voice is unfamiliar, a rough local twang against a tiredness she feels at the moment that she can relate to. Dazed, she leans over and flicks the lamp by her knees on, her eyes tightly shut to block out the throb of her mind against her skull.
“Yes?” she says, distant but inquisitive. There is a steady thrum of conversation in the background, the occasional bang or jeer. Music thumps out and she knows from the way the bass line thuds that it is Muggle. “How’d you get my number?”
There are only a select few people privy to the information; she has very little contact with the Muggle world outside of her mother’s family and that is how she likes it. Her phone rings twice a week, maybe a third time if it is a special occasion, and she always knows the voice. There is something eerie, something that makes the hairs on her neck stand on end and she realises that her hand is shaking.
“Got a bloke here, only one he had on him.”
The displeasure in his voice is more than evident and she straightens up, running her hand back through her hair and opening her eyes. The clock on the opposite wall reads midnight and she pushes herself towards the window. The drop is unfathomable but the shadows of the night time crowds rise and fall nonetheless, their patterns dusted on the ground like smudged charcoal.
“Bloke?” she says and she can tell that at the other end of the line, the man is reaching the end of his tether. The phone crashes to the ground and the footsteps which drift away are heavy. She glances in the mirror and silently Summons her hairbrush from the bedroom, tugging it firmly through her hair.
“Says his name’s Teddy.” She says nothing for a moment, staring back at her reflection and watching herself pale with a morbid fascination. Her make-up has rubbed off, her eyes are watery and small and her lips stained with the evening’s Chianti. “Miss? Listen, either you come and get him or he kips on the streets tonight and looking at the state of him, I doubt he’d last the night without getting himself nicked.”
“Where is he?” she says, grabbing her keys off the table and shrugging her coat on over the top of her work robes, praying anyone out at this time of night on a Friday will be too drunk to notice. Although her pen is poised across the notepad sat by the phone, she does not need to note the address. The King’s Arms, Knight Street – three streets away from where she stands; he has planned it. “I’ll be there in ten.”
The phone clatters to the table, missing its base by a good few inches but she does not notice. Grabbing her handbag and slipping her wand back into her pocket, she darts out of the door and towards the pub where she is to collect the man that turns her world topsy-turvy as she stands by and lets him.
Since Dominique’s birthday, almost twelve months ago, she has found herself doubting everything she thought she felt for him. It has been three years since the night she found herself in a garden, entwined around a friend who in dreams might have been something more, and she has grown up. She no longer fears her family and their words, the threats that have never been spoken to a soul but that linger in the recesses of every mind nonetheless, the threats she knows by heart because she feels them too. She stays away from him because she does not know how to do anything else but now he has come to her and she stands in the street, staring at an olive green door and wondering if it is the start of everything that they should be.
“You going to stand there all night, love?”
She turns and sees a man, not much older than her, leaning against the wall. His hands are dug deep in his pockets, his head tilted towards her with a small smile. He blows out his last breath of wispy cigarette smoke and pushes himself against the door. There is a blast of noise and as he disappears into the crowd, she follows.
It takes her a moment to get her bearings but behind a row of burly men in leather jackets, she sees the bar and squeezes her way as politely as she can to the meek looking man cleaning glasses behind the pumps. He looks her up and down and before she can give him her name, he points to a corner.
“Oh for Christ’s sake,” she says and the barman chuckles as she makes her way towards the mess that is Teddy Lupin. His nose is bloodied and his hands bruised; the woman that sits with him is done up like she’s thirty years younger and she stares Molly down as though she is his own personal bodyguard.
“Molls!” He tries to stand up but the woman at his side pins him back down with a tattooed arm and a burning glare. He doesn’t protest, just throws his head back and grins at her as though he’s on top of the world.
“You going to be okay getting him home, sweetheart?” the woman asks, all yellow teeth and cerise lipstick. Molly adjusts her coat and pulls the table out so she can yank him to his feet. He is heavy, his feet dragging as she tries to turn him in her arms and she gives his chest a shove.
“Whatchu do that for?” he slurs and slumps against her once more. She looks to the barmaid who stands to her feet and hands her the blood-soaked tea towel she was holding to his hands. Like a mother to a child, the strange woman runs her hands through his hair and gives Molly the smallest of smiles.
“Take care of him.”
She is met with silence and when Molly finally gets them into the open air, she yanks herself away from him like he could infect her. She marches ahead and listens blankly to his drunken pleas and shouts and at one point, she almost just gives up and Disapparates until there is an almighty thump and she cannot help but turn.
There are some things she cannot cope with. She hates it when her dad shouts and when her mother calls her ‘babe’ or when people laugh at others’ misfortune. With those things, she knows they will not last. It is a second, a minute, a mere moment in the fabric of each day but when a man cries, she never forgets.
He tries to scramble to his feet but his legs cannot support him and he sits there, on a cold pavement in the obscurity of a midsummer night and cries as her heart breaks on his behalf. She hurries back, her heels tapping primly on the ground and she slips an arm around his shoulders, steadily raising him to his feet.
“It’s just one more street,” she murmurs. Her body aches with the weight of him against her and the throb in her head comes back with a vengeful bang at each heaving sob he makes. He is murmuring but she cannot make out the words and when they finally stumble through her door, he does not even make it to the sofa. He drops to the ground and buries his head on his arms and she stands, an ugly silhouette intruding on a moment meant for closed doors.
Neither moves. He sobs and she stands and it is like they have never known each other at all. He tries to form words and she quiets him with a soft shush that comes from her own inability to stand it anymore. Each heave of his shoulders, each ripping cry tears her memories to pieces and she has the weakest resolve, as always. Her arms envelope him and he doesn’t move as she brushes her lips across his temple, her hands smoothing his hair away from his eyes.
“Let’s get you fixed up,” she murmurs, moving away and pulling out her wand. He winces as his nose crunches back into place and with one more flick, the blood is gone. She tilts his head towards her, delicate hand under unshaven chin and smiles softly. “All better.”
He kisses the curve of her palm and she absently drifts her thumb down his cheek. His tears fall silently now and she shushes him again, her other hand stroking down his arm. There are a thousand questions but she knows to say anything would be to spoil what is to come. Beneath her hands, running on a desire to learn every contour of his figure, he calms. He leans forward just enough to kiss her cheek and the way he hesitates tells her he is not quite as intoxicated as he has led her to believe.
She leans back into him, shrugging off her coat and letting him trace his lips down her neck, kisses short and sharp and eager. He feeds one hand into her hair and lets the other dance its way to the clasp at the base of her neck. Robes are cumbersome things and together they rise to their feet and break their contact just enough for her to pull them over her head. It is at least a practised art and in a manner of seconds, he has his hands on her bare waist and his lips moulded against hers.
He tastes stale, of whiskey and faded peppermint, but there are sacrifices everyone must make for the sake of desire, of fate. She fumbles with his belt, hands shaking in the anticipation of three years gone, and when she feels it loosen in her grasp, her triumph comes out as a groan against his mouth. He lifts her against him, legs hooking through legs and hands pulling and pushing in every which way for that millimetre of extra closeness. She knows she should feel something more – guilt or triumph or disgust – but it is the downside of ecstasy; it overpowers everything of lesser importance and as they find themselves crashing down onto the bed, there is nothing anyone else could ever say or do to stop them.
Mornings are hard. The sun hangs low and Molly wakes first, her legs trapped between his and her lips dry, sore. Next to her, he is at peace. His eyelashes are long and on the tips are the tears dried by her touch. Her hand brushes his hair back softly but she cannot bring herself to wake him. The night before is darkened by the brutal hands of alcohol now and she would rather he leave without a trace than taint her memory of the night that should have been brought to existence long ago.
She is not sure how long she lies there, trailing her eyes down the line of his body from the point of his nose to the curve of his feet, but by the time a knock raps on the front door, she is sure she has never known anyone more perfect. Withdrawing her leg and wrapping herself in the dressing gown on the floor, she glances in the mirror as she passes towards the door. Her hair curls neatly down her back and her eyes are bright and wide, like a girl enlightened. Gently, she shuts the door on Teddy and kicks their abandoned clothes into the kitchen. The knocking is more frantic now and then her name is called with the naïve frustration of her cousin, her one-time best friend.
“About time,” Victoire says, stepping inside without invite and flicking the lights on. “Have I woken you?”
“No,” Molly murmurs, scrunching her hair under her hands and throwing a glance to the bedroom door, beyond which lies the foundations of a night she cannot make herself forget. The blonde follows her gaze and her face rises in understanding. “It’s fine. What’s up?”
“I broke up with him,” she says, sitting herself down as Molly opens the curtains. Now the light shines through, she can see the tiredness of her cousin’s eyes and the same tracks down her face that she kissed from Teddy’s cheeks only hours ago. “We had his huge fight. He reckoned I was cheating on him and we were both so angry and I snapped.” Victoire runs her hands over her face and shakes her head as though debating with herself. “I don’t know where he is.”
“Do you regret it?”
Perhaps it is not a question asked in moments like these but Molly is rarely the first choice candidate in these situations. Nevertheless, Victoire weighs it up for a moment and sighs.
“We’d had a bit to drink.” There is another moment’s silence. Molly knows it is the moment to offer tea and a hug and a promise that it will all be okay but then she feels Teddy’s hands on her thighs, on her neck, in her hair and she cannot make herself a better person, the one she should be. “God, I don’t know, Molly. I love him.”
She says it with a conviction that stabs the younger girl through the heart. She has never heard the words said before, not from Victoire’s mouth, and it is said with such raw belief, such passion that it takes every ounce of Molly’s self-restraint to sit there and keep the silence that she so wished to break last night.
“Go home,” she finds herself saying eventually and when Victoire looks at her as though she has lost her mind, she forces the words out with a gentleness that eats her up. “He’ll come back eventually, and then you can talk it out.” She bites her lip and tastes vintage malt and red wine and everything in her aches. “It’ll be fine.”
She stands and Victoire takes her lead. She goes for a hug but Molly’s arms cross tightly across her chest and instead the blonde places a kiss on her cheek and disappears. The door closes of its own accord and Molly stands lost in a place she knows better than anywhere else; the secret of a man, the confidante of his lover.
She would like to wake him with a scream. She would like to shake him, punch him, feel the crack of his nose beneath her fist and tell him that it is only a fraction of what he has made her feel.
But she doesn’t. She wakes him with a gentle rock of his arm, drops his clothes on the bed and turns around. When he pulls her hair back to kiss her neck, she flinches and when he asks when he’ll see her again, she walks away. When he leaves, he does so quietly and once silence has fallen once again across the flat that was only ever meant for her, she picks up last night’s wine glass and hurls it at the floor.
Barefoot, she gathers her work into her hands and walks towards the bedroom. She curls herself into a ball and waits for the sun to die into another day, the sheets beneath her burning with her blood.