He said yes.
The response lies in the bottom of her desk, shredded into the tiniest of pieces which she still cannot bring herself to throw away. On occasions when it becomes almost like a dream, she puts them back together; at three in the morning when she cannot sleep, every other Sunday when there is nobody to distract her from pointless wishes, and of late, every time the countdown to going home swings one day closer.
On top of the torn note from her sister lie three letters. Three job offers: Cairo, Seoul and Madrid. Each awaits reply but every time she tries, she finds her hand cramping, her eyes prickling, her head banging and so the drawer closes once again and the clock continues to tick.
She wishes more than anything that she might go home in four days’ time in the knowledge that she has found someone better, someone meant for her and only her, someone she can brag of before his eyes and show him what he has lost with a biting smile. Four days is not enough to fall in love, not when your heart still belongs to a tiny pocket of English beauty, over three thousand miles away.
People tell her she looks ill; tired, pale, broken. She paints on a smile that she used to see so often gracing the lips of her older, more beautiful cousin and shakes away their worries. She is not as convincing, she knows that. They wait a day or two but the sentiment is always reiterated. Nobody ever argues with Victoire but Molly is a wall waiting to be knocked down, piece by piece, until it crumbles into dust.
Her bags are packed, her office empty of her family’s piercing stares yet she cannot make it seem real. Everyone around her here knows so little of her life. They tease her for her disinterested looks towards the finest of men: they joke of her Mr Right – tall, dark and handsome – waiting in the gardens of Pemberley and how she will have the perfect life in the perfect cottage amongst the rolling fields of Hertfordshire. Not one of them has ever asked her, unfair though it might be, whether their dreams are in fact her reality. She is not sure whether she even minds.
The camera flashes and Molly does not need to see the picture to know that it is a perfect capture of everything she has been for the past two months: a girl in a woman’s body, lost in a country where she does not belong and forgotten in the one she calls home. Promises break and people change but the throb in her chest, the aching emptiness on her finger, the wrong three words haunting her mind, they are unexpected.
“Not even a smile?”
Molly gives her head the slightest of shakes, a temporary dismissal of every worry she has let herself succumb to, and her lips pull upwards into the largest smile she can muster. She knows it should not be a chore but her cheeks ache with the effort and her eyes shift lifelessly from her desk to the door.
There is a second flash and the woman tucks her camera into its bag. The façade falls. With a flick of her wand, the woman shuts the door and sits primly on the arm of the stiff chair in front of the desk. Molly picks at her nails beneath the desk, flexing her fingers idly and not lifting her eyes from her lap.
“Is he waiting for you? Your guy?”
Valerie is forty, maybe more, and she alone has never pushed the question on her. The rumours have spread from Molly’s silence and this time, even if there are only four days until she takes the Portkey home, she finds the urge to set the record straight streaming through her.
“No,” she murmurs, suppressing an overpowering urge to laugh at the absurdity of it. In her time, she has watched her share of soap operas, dramas, terrible romance films alongside her grandmother, her aunts, her cousins, and none seem quite as ridiculous as this. “He’s not mine.”
“That’s up to him.”
The answer surprises her and she adds nothing to it, no matter how much Valerie probes and teases and begs. It takes only a few minutes for her to give up and accept defeat, and with a tight hug and a promise that she shall never forget her, Valerie leaves.
The sigh that falls from Molly’s lips is gentle, weighed down with confusion. One hand runs back through her hair and she glances to the clock on the wall. It has never worked; she likes it better that way. Regardless, she knows that all the broken clocks in the world won’t be able to prevent the inevitable. Time does not stop because two hands say so. No matter what her dreams dictate, she will not escape that easily.
The four days pass as though they were merely minutes and she finds herself one moment in the chill of the Canadian Ministry, the next standing in the garden of her parents’ home, clutching two bags that hold her life’s belongings. There is no welcoming committee. Her mother waves from the kitchen window but she does not even venture out of the house to welcome home the daughter who cannot stop running away. It is still early morning, the sun dull behind an expanse of grey so grand that she cannot see the end and the grass beneath her feet is thick with last night’s rain. With a sigh that does not make it to her lips, she strides across the garden and through the back door.
“Kettle’s just boiled. Make yourself a cuppa if you want one,” her mother says without taking her eyes off the dishes that are cleaning themselves. With a flick of her wand, Molly sends her bags through the kitchen door and to the top of the spiralling staircase in the hallway, the walls around her closing in with each second she spends standing in the stifling silence.
“I’m alright,” she finds herself murmuring, although her mouth is dry and yearning for the taste of a real English drink slipping down her throat. There are a thousand things more pressing on her mind, the throb in her heart growing ever stronger as she finds herself only moments closer to filling in the gaping hole that has run her life for so long. “I think I’m going to go to Lucy’s, actually.”
“Lucy’s?” It is almost comical, the disbelief in her mother’s voice at the mention of her youngest child. “Why?”
“She’s my sister?”
“Don’t get funny with me.” She has turned around now, the pots draining on the worktop, and there is something darker in her eyes than the happiness a mother reunited with her daughter ought to feel. “You’re going to his, aren’t you?”
“Whose?” She has always been rather good at playing the innocent but even as she says it, she knows she is fighting a losing battle. She may be her father’s girl but her mother still knows her well enough to feel her way through the string of lies that her daughter speaks. “No, I’m going to Lucy’s.”
“They’re happy. Don’t ruin it for the sake of one kiss.”
“I’m going to Lucy’s.”
She will not allow the argument to go any further. Her mother should understand more than anyone the value of a relationship founded on love. Without another word, Molly wrenches open the back door and through the drizzle, hurries back up the garden, just past the enchantments that hold back unwanted guests. Her lips are dry and chapped, her hair thick and sticking against her cheek, and she has never felt more lost but clutching her wand, she twirls on the spot and Disapparates, leaving behind only a line of tiny footprints across the garden.
Her sister will be working; it is little after midday, so she stands upon Diagon Alley and waits for the silence that follows Lucy like a shadow. The rain is thinner in London, trapped between clouds and the smog that hangs above the city, and under the shelter of the silver awning of the little café opposite the bank, she patiently sits.
“I didn’t expect you until tonight.”
The older sister starts, the untouched cup of coffee on the table splattering neatly across the white tablecloth as Lucy stands above her with that infuriatingly smug smirk pulling on her lips. Sliding into the seat opposite and pulling her cloak tighter around her, Lucy skims her eyes across the menu fleetingly, before turning them on her sister. From the roots of her hair to the toe of her shoe poking out from under the table, Molly can feel herself being thoroughly scrutinised, analysed and broken down in Lucy’s mind but for the first time in a long while, she does not feel vulnerable.
“When are you going to see him, then?” Lucy says, raising her eyebrows as if in challenge. Molly shrugs. There is little point in denying her desire to see it for herself: the relationship that never should have been, blossoming into something that could last out all their lives. Yet, she has too many questions to ask and not enough belief in them being answered to make her want to see for the first time the unbearable happiness of her nightmares. “The sooner the better.”
“Yeah,” the older girl murmurs. “You weren’t lying, then?”
“Not your fault.” There is a moment where the rain spitting down on the canvas above them is the only sound either can stand to hear, until the chime of a cuckoo clock inside the shop signals half past the hour. Lucy glances to her watch as if wanting affirmation before picking her bag up from the ground and standing up. “I was thinking tomorrow, maybe.”
They stand together, Lucy an inch or two taller than her sister who places the money for the drink down on the table and cautiously, as though she might explode at any minute, reaches for a hug. It is brief but at the very least relaxed, and Molly watches from beneath the canopy of the café as the sister who sees all disappears behind the heavy bronze doors of Gringotts. Her head pounds and her stomach groans and with a dejected glance to the empty table, Molly Disapparates once again.
Tomorrow comes and goes three times before anything happens. Each morning, she has sat down to breakfast alone in an empty house and willed herself to show the bravery she has never had. Friday comes and she has failed once again, sitting in her father’s battered armchair and watching local Muggle news on her mother’s television. Her fingers absently circle around the arm of the chair, twisting and dancing around each other. Her mind is running like an olden day film, silent and dim, everything around her black except for him and that smile and that touch.
She often wonders if in her absence, she has made him into more than he really is. They have, after all, never had much chance to get to know each other. It could yet all fall apart and even though she knows that is a possibility with anyone, with Teddy it would be so much worse. It would be a heart only ever owned by him, yanked out and smashed into empty memories. She shivers.
To quell the thoughts she knows will tear her apart, she turns her mind to a family yet to be pieced together, scattered across the universe in hopes and dreams. She can see Teddy in his work robes spooning food into the wide mouth of a child with Victoire’s eyes and his nose. She can see the quiet kisses in front of the fire after the kids have gone to bed and the smile the other never sees, irrepressible but never to be shown. In her dreams, she envisages a love between the two stronger than what she has ever seen between them in reality. It makes it easier to bear.
She thinks she imagines the sound of the letterbox rattling on the front door but there is a shadow cast across the windowsill that gives away a visitor she has not invited. Flicking the television off with her wand and running a hand through her hair, shorter now and darker, she slips into the hall and pushes the bolt off the door.
If she is honest, she is not sure who she expected. Perhaps in the back of her mind she knew this was a visit that was inevitable, because she does not show any sign of surprise when her eyes meet Victoire’s. Neither girl – woman now, she supposes, although that gives them an air of maturity they do not deserve – says a word as the blonde crosses the threshold and steps into the warmth of the house. There is something comforting about the neutrality of the ground they stand on; strictly speaking, nothing here belongs to either of them. The playing field has never been so even.
“Coffee?” Molly offers, her voice scratching against her throat with the effort it takes not to ask the barrage of questions that are running through her mind. Victoire sits gently on the edge of the settee and nods. The brunette hovers only for a moment by the door before turning her back and slipping into the kitchen.
She has never known her to be so silent; of all her cousins, Victoire has always been the worst at bottling in her feelings. Ordinarily, she speaks a hundred truths in every sentence in the belief that words are there to be spoken, not bitten back for fear of offending. She has always been strong but now, Molly can see the cracks beginning to show through and she cannot help but wonder if she ought to be hopeful.
Her hands shake as she pours the boiling water into two chipped mugs and as she stirs, her heart races. She is not sure if she can bear the lecture, the warnings, the threats that she is sure are yet to come. She can wish all she likes. They never come true.
With a deep breath, she shuts the kitchen door and slowly sidles into the living room, placing Victoire’s drink in her waiting hands and sipping at her own gently as she sits in the seat the furthest from her cousin.
“Maman told me you were back,” the blonde says, cradling the cup in her lap, her face obscured by curls of unravelling steam. Molly takes another sip of her drink and nods. Neither can bring themselves to look at the woman they know they have betrayed. “Did you enjoy it?”
“Yeah,” she replies, though she knows she does not sound convincing. A gentle cough clears her throat and she brushes her hair out of her eyes. Outside, the wind has picked up, the blossom from the trees sweeps into gentle swirls, looping and floating on the air as if it is a part of it. “I nearly didn’t come home.”
She does not know where the honesty has come from. Close they may have been once, best friends even, but in recent years they have fallen apart. Only a few years ago, she knew every corner of her cousin’s mind but now, she finds herself struggling to read anything from a face tired beyond its years. Victoire places her cup down on the floor and picks absently at her nails, the dark pink varnish failing to disguise the nibbled edges.
Each question is measured, heavy, and although Molly wants to catch her out, wants to ask her why she cares, she cannot. She will not draw attention to the elephant in the room. She will carry on as though Victoire is still in her stupid, splendid ignorance, Teddy still just a name that she says without feeling.
“There’s not much here for me.”
It is as though the answer was expected because out of the corner of her eye, Molly knows the blonde is smiling. It is not triumphant. It is not angry. It is kind, understanding; the smile given to someone who is missing the point. Molly looks away, the urge to throw her cousin out growing monstrous inside her.
“I left him.”
The silence falls again and even though every part of her knows she should be burning, Molly can feel nothing but the coldest chill running down her spine. She knows Victoire is still staring at her but she does not lift her eyes from the steam that unfurls from her mug. She can taste the guilt in the air, sharp and bitter, and her stomach turns uneasily.
“Couple of weeks ago.”
Molly strives to hear the regret, the sadness but there is merely solemnity and the softness of understanding. The questions burst in her brain, a thousand and one reasons fabricated from only a few of her cousin’s words but she cannot make any of them coherent.
“You don’t – you don’t have five fights a week with your soul mate,” Victoire says, her voice now wavering as the words Molly knows she has never spoken pour from her. The guilt only grows, an unsettling bubble floating in her gut, and there is a part of her that wishes her cousin had never said anything at all. “You don’t throw china or…or have an affair if you’re happy, do you?”
She chokes it out and she can see the words hovering in front of her, a golden gilded torment wrenched from her insides. She can see the coffee in her mug sloshing with the force of her shivers and she places it on the fireplace, trapping her empty hands between her knees to still them.
“It wasn’t just him,” Victoire corrects quietly and in a moment of weakness, Molly looks up. The blonde’s cheeks are flushed with shame and softly, without much thought, the brunette nods as though she understands. Her cousin’s eyes flutter shut; trying to calm herself, Molly thinks, but the next three words tell her it is the building of the courage that Victoire needs to speak them. “Go to him.”
Molly's heart beats frantically against her rib cage, so heavy that she thinks for a moment she is going to be sick. Everything in her shakes. Her eyes sting, her throat swells, her breath catches and she rips her gaze away.
“He loves you. You love him. Is it that difficult?”
Molly wants to say no. She wants to grin and laugh and run to him as though this is easy, but she cannot. She does not notice she is crying until a tear hits her bare arm and with a trembling hand, she wipes her cheeks. There is a catch. There has to be a catch. After half a dozen battles, it cannot be so easy.
“You broke your hearts six times for me, maybe more, I don’t know.” There is a shuffling and Molly turns her head again to see the girl she once looked up to bending down beside her. A small, tanned hand slips over hers and Victoire’s rouged lips tilt into a small smile. “It’s not been fair on any of us.”
“Do you love him?”
“What’s the point if he doesn’t feel the same way?”
“He might,” Molly murmurs but before she can finish, Victoire shakes her head. Her thumb drifts softly over her cousin’s hand and the smile does not fade.
“He doesn’t.” There is confidence in what she says and Molly knows her cousin has reached a point where she cannot deny the inevitable anymore. “I’ll get over him. As long as he’s happy -” she pauses and shakes her head, “- as long as you’re both happy, so am I.”
There are another hundred points that she could make but Molly knows that they will not change her cousin’s mind. There is an unselfishness to Victoire that she has never had before and she wonders if that is merely the fact that they have grown up or whether Teddy’s influence has been stronger than they think. Molly stands up, her cousin with her, and for the first time in what feels like forever, they hug.
“You’ll go, then?” Victoire asks as they step away from each other, her eyes glistening with a hope that Molly almost envies her for having. She almost nods but catches herself. There are some things that gestures, movements, offerings are not enough for.
“Tomorrow,” she says, only this time, it is a promise.
When her mother asks her why she is awake so early the next morning, she lies. Lucy will cover for her, this time at least, and even though she does not argue, Molly knows her mother does not believe her. After the clock strikes eleven and her parents leave for their weekly visit to George and Angelina’s, Molly glances one last time in the mirror. Her hair sits in waves around her face, bare but for a lick of mascara and lip balm. She has never made herself out to be more than she is for him and she will not start now. With a heavy breath, she shuts the front door behind her and Disapparates.
As she stands on the pavement outside his house, she feels a horrid sense of déjà vu overcoming her, the promise that lies shattered around her heart cutting into her. Inside, there is silence and when she knocks, a part of her wonders if this hasn’t all been a cruel joke, a test that she has failed. She does not hear his footsteps and when the door opens, it takes him a moment to register that it is her.
It stings but nonetheless there is something inside her that soars at the sound of his voice. She lets her hands drop to her sides and nods.
“Yeah.” It is not the most eloquent of replies and there is a part of her that wonders if this is too much too soon. Perhaps her mother’s reproach was correct, perhaps this is not the time. Perhaps Victoire was wrong and he does love her, more than the girl in front of him now who if Molly is honest with herself, he barely knows by comparison. “Can I?”
He steps back to allow her into the living room, surprisingly neat save a couple of plates and a row of empty beer bottles on the mantelpiece, and gestures for her to sit down. She takes the nearest side of the sofa, the same place she sat the last time they spoke, and waits for him to join her. Although she is careful not to look at him directly, from the corner of her eye she can see him hesitating and once again, her heart sinks.
“When’d you get back?”
She sees him lean against the cabinet on the back wall but still does not look. Time; he needs time and she will give him everything she can. This is the closest she has ever come to having him. The loss will sting even more if she lets him go now.
“Couple of days ago.”
“You didn’t write.”
“You agreed to marry somebody else.” She knows there is bitterness in her voice, a sadness tuned for his ear and the never-ending throb of guilt in her stomach beats on. “Did you think I wasn’t going to come back?”
“I couldn’t keep waiting.”
Sometimes she forgot that time went on in her absence, she knows that, but there is a part of her that screams that three months by comparison is nothing. She has six memories of nothing but her and him to hold onto, and he cherishes the same. Six moments across seven years seems insignificant when phrased so coldly, but in her mind they last forever, a continuous flow of hands and lips and touch and smell and taste.
“That means nothing.”
As ever there is no anger, no rage. He never raises his voice and that makes it a hundred times harder to hear. The disappointment, the confusion, the loss that coats every word he speaks makes the shame shift inside her.
“Why did you say yes?” She responds because it is the least either of them deserves but her voice cracks and she looks to the window, her eyes floating across a row of photographs, Victoire still sitting centre stage upon the ledge. The cushion sinks and she knows from the shallowness of his breath that he has taken the seat beside her.
“Because you said no.”
She turns her head and for the first time, lets herself look at him. His hair is lighter, face thinner, nose straight and lips narrow. Across his jawline lies the mark of a day without shaving and in the corner of his eyes, bluer and rounder than normal, there is the shimmer of a tear he has not allowed himself to shed.
“You never asked me.”
“If I had, would you have said yes?” There is a pause, both knowing that any response will be the wrong one, until Teddy gives a small sniff and adds, “You’ve messed me around just as much as I have you.”
“She left me.”
As the words tumble from her lips, she wonders if it is the right thing to have done. Neither has yet looked the other in the eye but as she says her two words, his eyes fly open, a life to them that their passionless conversation has not yet brought.
“You’ve seen her?”
“She told me to come.” The words have been flying back and forth between them like ripples skimming across a lake and for a moment, it all seems too much. Too much, too soon and they both stop to process everything that has happened, everything it might mean for a future neither has ever had the courage to envisage before. “I’ve never told you, have I?”
She does not need to elaborate. He understands and with a gentle shake of his head, gives her his answer. She knows as well as he does that the question could quite easily have come from him and she shakes her head too. It has been easier to pretend it is all a figment of overactive imagination, of lust and desire and the burning in their throats as they swallow back the words that could make or break them. They have hidden behind other people’s feelings, other people’s hearts, for too long.
“Is it worth it?” he says, twisting his fingers awkwardly on his lap. “You’re not going to just up and leave again?”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
She reaches tentatively to his hands, twitching against his legs and slips one of hers gently over them. It does not even cover them but he knows the sentiment is there and that is all that matters now. There is something liberating about the freedom they can show, the simplest of gestures free from scrutiny. They have been alone before but this, this is different.
He twists his head to look at her and as he frees one of his hands to hold hers with, the other reaches to brush a strand of hair from her cheek, held in place with a tear that has not yet dried. He moves so softly that she wonders if he thinks he may bruise her if he presses any harder, his fingertips tickling her skin, and she lets her eyes close. There is something too good about it, too perfect and when she opens them again, she half expects to have just awoken. She laughs and feels his breath warm beside her lips. Her hand trails down his chest and she lets herself lean forwards just enough for them to meet.
He laughs against her and she draws away, her hand still moving against his body. He catches her eye for a second, just enough to show her his smile, before he leans in again. They drop their joined hands so that she can cup his cheek and his slips perfectly against the curve of her waist. There is something about it, gentle and slow, that is somewhat innocent and when they pull away again, they do not let go of each other.
She watches every part of him, every spark of life that runs through him, and even if she were to have a reason to stop smiling, she does not think she could. In his eyes, dark again as is his hair, she can see herself staring up at him as if he is her gravity and she is not sure she can ever look away from him again. His thumb moves against her cheek and she bites her lip shyly. They have been everything now; they have been urgent and secret and passionate and deceitful and now, they have been perfect.
“I love you,” he says, each letter tracing itself in the air between them as he speaks. Her lips pull again at the words he has never said and she is sure that she is shining in his grasp. She tilts her head forward for one more kiss, one more assurance that this time, this is really it, and laughs.
“I love you too.”
- Fin -
A/N: And so it ends. Thank you so much for reading and even bigger thanks have to go to Marina, for being such a lovely fangirl and friend and person. Without her, this might never have been written and most certainly wouldn't have been finished.
I hope you liked it ^_^