Her hands tangle in his hair, matted against his forehead with sweat, and she watches as the faintest of smiles ghosts across his lips, stained with last night’s lipstick. Outside, the sun streams through the window, the curtains left undrawn and hanging proudly in their ties. He squints as he rolls over to face her and when he traces the edge of her body, down her neck, her arm, the rise and fall of her hip, she lets a small laugh trickle out of her mouth.
It has been nine weeks and six days since they began whatever this might be, the week after he had left her flat a hung-over mess, crawling back to the girlfriend that didn’t and doesn’t deserve him. The sceptical may call it an affair, a lust-fuelled passion driven by the basest of human desires, but in their minds, this is them, testing the water with a toe, a foot, a gentle paddle before venturing out into the endless rise and fall of an ocean that stretches out into what has until now been a dream.
She stares at him like an old picture that she has rekindled her love for, something new amongst the familiarity. It is in his eyes, she is sure, and even if sometimes she says to herself it is merely a trick of his abilities, she cannot make herself believe it. In two eyes of the darkest brown, she sees a glimmer, a shine of light and hope and love that every touch of their bodies makes brighter. She smiles, her tongue catching between her teeth and he moves his hand gently back up her body, smoothing back her hair.
“Do you have to go?” she says, unable to turn to look at the clock that sits behind her. He props himself up just enough to peer over her bare shoulder before flopping back down on the bed, his hand edging away from her body, resting gently on the tangle of sheets between them. She drifts her fingers carefully across his arm, following the contours of every bone, every vein, every scar. He does not pull himself away but he does not respond either.
Sometimes, she wonders if he really means it, the touches and the kisses and the nights stolen from under his girlfriend’s nose. Their lies are so intricately wrapped around them that now she feels like she’s trapped inside the most fragile of webs, the slightest movement able to topple everything and everyone unfortunate enough to be caught there too. Victoire, Lucy, Lily and a never-ending list of other names and faces balanced precariously on the finest lines of satin, they will all be brought down with them. She dreads the day and she is sure that he does too, the maze building itself in so tightly that soon there will only by one way out: down.
“When can you next get away?” she asks eventually, still trailing her fingers mindlessly across his hand and he turns his head as she sits up. The sheets are tucked tightly under her arms, hiding a body she is still somewhat embarrassed of him seeing when the sun is up and the prospect of the end nigh. He straightens up too, swinging himself out of the bed and grabbing his underwear off the floor.
“Saturday afternoon,” he says as he wanders to the window. She picks her dressing gown off the floor and wraps it tightly across her body, following him and relaxing at his arms wrapping around her. His chest is bare, pale in spite of the searing sun that this year’s August has brought and his kiss on the top of her head seals a promise always left unspoken. “I’ve told her I’m going to the Portree match with Will.”
“Don’t know,” he says and this time his smile cracks through his lips. “She never asks.”
They both laugh. It is not intended to be cruel; Victoire is still dear to both of them, still a figure that they fear, but her naivety, her belief in Teddy’s innocence is impossible to ignore. She is twenty-one years old and still she thinks her world impenetrable. She cannot see the threats, the true dangers to the relationship that she does not see falling apart around her. It is almost sad, Molly thinks, to be that age and still see the world in black and white; what is and what isn’t with nothing in between; no cross, no colour, no life.
“Lucy knows,” Molly says when their laughter dies to nothing. She has been wanting, meaning to tell him for days but it has been impossible. The words have melted on her tongue each time, but now she cannot ignore it anymore. Teddy’s face hardens above her and he shakes his head as if to question her. “She said I wouldn’t understand. Something about two sets of cutlery being in the rack, the butter on the knife being on the wrong side or something? I don’t know, I – well, I froze up.”
“You didn’t tell her she was wrong?”
When she shakes her head, her hair brushes his arm and he unhooks his hands from her waist, turning towards the door. He pauses once or twice, glancing over his shoulder to where she stands alone, half-dressed and hair tousled but confident, sure.
“What was I going to say?” she asks, her voice calm but her eyes stony. “Have you met
my sister, Ted? Lying never works, she sees right through it.”
He stares at her as though she is speaking to him in another language, his face just as fixed as hers. She cannot tell if he is weighing up what she has said or merely trying to contain himself but eventually he turns his back and walks away. She releases a breath she had not realised she was holding and when the shower springs into life, finds herself relaxing. Her body sinks back into the comfort of her bed, shaping itself into a ball and she closes her eyes from the sun, brutally bright and unnaturally warm.
When he comes back in, he dresses without saying a word and presses a kiss to her temple. She shifts to face him and he sits gently on the bed beside her. His fingers tickle the side of her face as he cups her cheek and he smiles sheepishly.
“I’m sorry,” he says and she shakes her head. They do not have the time to argue, to fight. Their hours together are precious; they cannot waste them with silence. “She won’t tell anyone, will she?”
“I doubt it,” Molly replies, her voice far more confident than she truly feels. The truth is that Lucy has always been unpredictable. Molly did not make her swear or promise anything, just let her sister leave with her expression of contempt set in stone and hoped, hoped that she would put her feelings above Victoire’s. “You really should go.”
“I know,” he says, teasing his hands into her hair and dipping his head for one last, lingering kiss. They say no more. He stands up and leaves, the echo of the door shutting hanging on the air, and she nestles back into the warmth of her sheets, eyes closed in peaceful oblivion.
She has imagined before that time ought to stop for the woman superior to her in all but wisdom, but as Victoire strides through her living room, Molly is sure that this is the moment when it really, honestly will. Her cousin’s smile is broad, teeth straight, hair dyed a soft caramel that gleams in the light of an infidelity she is unaware of. She is as much a living image of blissful ignorance as ever and swings elegantly into the empty armchair – the chair that her boyfriend and her cousin once sat on together in a moment almost free of guilt, as they kissed their way into the twisted love that now is pulling their nest of lies ever tighter, ever harder to unravel.
“You look like James has just walked through the door in his underwear again,” Victoire says and she is so ridiculously, impossibly jovial that Molly has to gather all of her patience not to throw her out there and then. It is half-past two on Saturday afternoon and there are mere minutes, seconds even, before Teddy is due to stride in. There are only seconds before their worlds get ripped apart. She knows it will be her choice: her family or her lover and in this moment, she feels there is no real choice. “Ted’s gone to the match with some guy from work. Thought I’d pay you a visit.”
It has been weeks now since they last saw each other: Molly swept up in the high of a fledgling relationship, the ecstasy still dwarfing the weight of the lies, and Victoire basking in the relief after Teddy had graced her with a forgiveness that all three of them believed she did not deserve. Today, Molly feels the awkwardness of a secret, an unspoken code silently broken, and words cannot fall quite as easily as before, laced in betrayal of the most hideous form.
“You’re not busy?” Victoire asks eventually and Molly becomes aware of her hands, damp with sweat and smudging the ink off the top piece of parchment. Letting her quill clatter idly to the ground, she sets her work on the table and wipes her hands down the cushions of the sofa, shaking her head.
“No, of course not,” she says and a thousand things fly through her mind. Did Victoire tell Teddy her plans? Maybe he knows, maybe he won’t come after all and all her panicking will have been for nothing. “Is everything okay you with you two now, then?”
“Yeah,” though Victoire’s voice is faint, passionless, “he’s working a lot, you know?” She pauses, licking her lips as she is prone to in moments of worry and Molly feels the weight of the guilt dropping heavier on her shoulders. “It’s better though. Better than the fights.”
Smashed china, splintered doors, blood and bones and hearts ground to nothing more than what keeps them breathing; Molly has heard it all over time, the stories and the tears and the despair. It is the curse of two people who strive to find love in a place that it will never be, but she cannot tell them to give up. If the tables were turned, if she were sat on Victoire’s sofa thinking on the man she knows she must love but cannot work out why, she knows she would keep trying, keep going until nothing around her made sense anymore.
“I saw Lucy last week,” Victoire says and Molly’s head turns perhaps too quickly. “She’s a fourth-year now, right?”
“Fifth,” Molly corrects as time ticks on. She thinks she hears footsteps but they fade into the distance and the conversation around them picks up, talk of Dominique’s job hunt and Louis trying out for Quidditch, whether they saw the article about Aunt Ginny in the paper and when the door flies open, there is a moment when Molly realises she has been so involved in the conversation that all the worries seemed to have died away.
Except now, they have come back with a vengeance and she wonders whether if she just Disapparates, it’ll make things any better.
It takes Teddy a moment to realise that they are not alone, and when he rounds the corner of the kitchen and sitting room, he beelines for Molly, his grin wide on his face and words almost out of his mouth until the flash of dark blonde in the corner of his eye moves. Molly cannot choose where to look – the woman who has given so much or the man who will now take it all away – and so she stares at her fingernails, polish chipped and chewed.
“You’re meant to be at the match,” Victoire says and even in her voice, the confusion is evident. It is almost embarrassing to witness, the way that one and one are not adding up in the naïve brain of one who should know better.
Teddy stumbles on his words and from the silence, Molly can tell that two pairs of eyes are boring into her, waiting on a story that will save them all from a truth that nobody is ready for. She shakes her head and stands, turning her back on both of them and pulling her cardigan tighter around her. There is a chill in the air, unseasonable and vicious and it is shattered by the gentlest whimper that she does not realise has come from her own mouth until she goes to speak and finds the words trapped, the lies a mangled mess of letters smashed to pieces on her tongue.
“You,” Victoire says and her body does not move as she flickers her eyes – a softer blue than Molly’s under ordinary circumstances but burning now – between the two. “And you?”
Neither replies. Where Molly’s head is bowed, Teddy looks defiant and a surge of hope courses through the younger woman, the promise of the end of everything that has held them back tangible now in the solidity of his stature.
“God, I am thick
,” Victoire says, spits. She rises to her feet and in less than five steps finds herself inches from Molly’s face. She is taller but only just and there is something less threatening about her now that she has lost the metallic shimmer to her hair, her features softened by the darkness. “Couldn’t pin a man of your own down for long enough, hey? Had to dig those filthy claws,” she grabs Molly’s wrist in hers and squeezes until she can feel the press of the bone against her palm, “into mine?”
Molly doesn’t struggle, doesn’t resist. She stares at the fine chain of Victoire’s necklace, a seventeenth birthday present from Ron and Hermione, and waits for the wash of anger to pass by. It never lasts. Soon the tears will come and she will let Ted wipe them away whilst Molly stands in the background as though she never existed. She knows how the story will go. Victoire will get her Prince Charming, her fairytale ending and Molly shall be the girl who goes unmentioned, the first to hold the prince’s heart and the last to let it go.
“Coward,” Victoire hisses, her breath wet, warm on Molly’s skin and she does not deny it. She has never told herself that she is brave, that she follows in her parents’ footsteps but she feels the word grasping her, each letter a new stab to a heart tired of hurt.
She turns her head away from her cousin, her eyes flickering for a moment to Teddy stood helpless on the side-lines. It astounds her that Victoire has not yet called him into the fray but it is only a matter of time. Where Molly would be content to let him sit patiently, letting the weight of the decision sink in as he watches on, she knows her cousin expects more: a moment’s notice to choose a side, as though it were as black and white as the dress she wears.
“For Christ’s sake, at least deny it.”
“What do you want me to say?” Molly eventually manages to stammer, the pain in her wrist now deep-set and aching but still she does not struggle. She knows how to deal with these moods, these moments. She will stand firm and wait for it to pass. “Do you want me to lie?”
The silence is marked by a scowl, two eyes filled with disgust, displeasure, disbelief. There is something in Victoire’s stance – the powerful slenderness that Molly contrasts with a meek, almost skeletal body – that makes her chill with anger. Where Victoire is physical, her tongue harsh around the words that Molly thinks make the world beautiful, she is mental, biting, cruel.
“Or do you want me to tell you the truth?”
Her voice is still, calm. It slithers through the air, wrapping itself around their necks, binding them. Her eyes flicker once again over Teddy who has turned his back, his eyes settled on the mirror though his head is tilted towards the conversation.
“Do you want me to tell you that I’ve been fucking your boyfriend for two and a half months?”
She steps an inch closer to the blonde, their noses mere millimetres from each other now, their eyes moving where their heads can’t.
“That whenever you gave him the opportunity, he came running straight to me? Do you want to hear about how we laughed at you every day for being so fucking stupid?”
Victoire’s eyes are glazing now, their focus shifting just a little so that she is no longer drilling her gaze into her cousin’s. Molly can feel the tiny line of tears brimming around her eyelids and when she blinks, she knows that they are marking her bare cheeks but it doesn’t matter. It is not a sign of weakness. It is a mark of passion.
“Or do you want me to tell you that we’ve spent four years pretending there was nothing because we didn’t want to break your heart?” she says, the burning reality of the words scorching her lips as they slide into the open with the bubbling excitement of being voiced for the first time. “Do you want to know how I carried on putting you and everyone else in our perfect little family before me until I just couldn’t do it anymore?”
Her stare is set on Victoire but in the corner of her eye she knows Teddy has shifted again, the shuffle of his feet the giveaway. She cannot bring herself to break the gaze, the moment, and reluctantly turns her thoughts back to her cousin.
“Do you want me to tell you that I l–”
“Stop,” Victoire says and she lets go of Molly’s wrist, stepping backwards until they cannot touch each other anymore. The brunette gazes down at the reddened skin, the pain throbbing now, and she cradles it with her other hand as Victoire blindly fumbles for her bag. Without another look at either, she leaves, the door banging shut with such force that the picture frame in the hall shatters but neither Molly nor Teddy moves.
“We’re so stupid,” she finds herself saying, sinking down into the sofa and feeling something in her warm when he seats himself next to her. Slowly, his arm slips around her shoulders and his lips kiss gently across her hair. He takes her wrist and his sigh brushes past her ear like a breeze that is not all there.
“Let’s fix this up.” He is not the world’s best with healing charms but the pain eases and the marks lighten a little. She tucks her head closer to his chest and watches the tears she silently cries fall onto the hand that is still wrapped around hers. “Molls?” he murmurs, letting go of his grip on her to tuck her hair away from her face. “What were you about to say to her?”
She pulls back from his body so that she can look at him. He has not cried, not yet, but he is shaken. His skin is pale, his hair limp in the way it always goes after a particularly strenuous day. He looks worn and she presses a gentle kiss to his lips.
“You know,” she says.
“Say it.” They are three words that their relationship has never vocalised; it has defined them, they both know it, but never have they managed to find the moment where it won’t hurt to admit to it. She knows that for him, it is now. If she says them, if she tells him that she loves him, he will turn his back on everything except her and it fills her with a thrill she does not want to own up to feeling. “Please say it. Please.”
She searches for a part of her, the tiniest little thought in the very back of her mind that will tell her that it’s okay but this is too early. She wants to know for sure; she cannot throw away her family for nothing and perhaps if he goes back to Victoire, nobody will ever find out.
He lifts his hand and drifts it over her cheek. It takes every ounce of her self-restraint to tilt her head away, her hands wringing together. She stands and shakily walks to the mirror, wiping off the tear tracks with a tissue lying on the dresser. Her hand will not stay still, her hair sticking to the dampness of her cheeks and she gives a low sigh, barely audible.
“I said we didn’t want to break her heart.”
“Would you rather I broke yours?” She watches him stand up and pulls out her wand, hurrying into the hallway and clearing up the mess of glass that Victoire has left in her wake. She places what is left of the frame gently against the skirting board, gently running a finger down the exposed edge of the picture. Her mother and father smile up at her, Lucy mid-laugh, and she knows that off camera, she has just told a joke that she now cannot recall. “Tell me what to do.”
Without looking up, she takes a soft breath and shakes her head. It is not her decision to make and she will not push or pull him in any direction. She cannot make him choose the way she wants him to because in this moment, in the middle of it all, she does not know what that is. Her words are not thought out and she knows as soon as they fall that they are flawed, deeply flawed.
“Do what’s right.”
Lifting the broken photograph, she walks past him to the kitchen. She wants to feel his arm drifting down her back, a kiss against her cheek, a string of irrelevant words mumbled in an ear that is not really listening but she knows that he is better than that. She listens to the door clicking shut and the footsteps fading and she glances back down at her family, cheerfully oblivious to what the fourteen-year-old girl behind the lens is to become in seven years’ time.
Brushing off the last few beads of glass, Molly leaves the picture on the worktop and walks into the living room, her legs dragging and head pounding. She curls up on the sofa, the soft scent of Teddy’s aftershave still distantly imprinted on the arm of the chair and watches time pass ever slower.
She knows he made the right decision. She just isn’t sure who it was right for.