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Chapter 1 : Flowers in December
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I arrived home late from work, but I didn't send an owl home to let Fleur know. As always, she casually asked about my tardiness upon my return, and I told her I got held up in a meeting with an investor. It's a believable excuse, as such occurrences happen more often than necessary, I'm afraid. However, only on the twenty-eighth of December is it a lie, and it's the only time I am ever dishonest to my wife. She'll never know that once a year I go out of my way into Muggle London to buy flowers for someone other than her, or that doing so brings me both complete joy and utter sadness. She'll never know that my coming home two, sometimes three hours late isn't because of a silly meeting with an irritating client.
I'm not keeping my whereabouts from Fleur because I think she'd be mad or ask me to stop my routine outings on this particular day. On the contrary, I think she'd fully understand and be supportive. The very last thing she would be is upset. But despite all of this, I still don't tell her, and I must admit it's for the purely selfish reason that I simply do not want her to know. I'm not hiding it out of shame or embarrassment, but out of the desire to keep this day personal and close to my heart. A man has to have some secrets.
And for me, the secret is the memory of winter. It's wind and snow, ice and smiles. It's warm, flickering flames in abandoned classrooms. It's words of love scribbled on wrinkled scrolls of parchment. It's books, quills, and ink. It's hot tea and cinnamon scones in raging blizzards. It's the feeling of pure enchantment when piercing blue meets angelic green. But above all, it's sunflowers. It's beauty. It's Emma.
She and I were in the same year at Hogwarts. We didn't know each other very well during those first couple of years, what with my being in Gryffindor and her being in Hufflepuff, but I certainly noticed her. She was the only person aside from the Ravenclaws and myself who spent so much time in the library. I didn't know what it was about her that fascinated me so much; at the time, I didn't even know her name. I couldn't understand why I always noticed the way she absentmindedly dragged the feathered tip of her quill lightly against her lips while reading, or why my insides turned to mush whenever our gazes happened to meet for a split second. My preteen self just thought it was completely bizarre. Being the eldest sibling in my family, no one had ever told me about the peculiar, fluttery feeling you get in your stomach when you're around a girl, and how said feeling is completely normal.
It kind of frightened me a bit, knowing that someone who I had never really spoken to had such a strange effect on me. While I was generally a loner by choice, I never had any trouble talking to people, but it was different with her. She was someone I actually wanted to strike up a conversation with, but every time the opportunity presented itself, I chickened out, wanting nothing more than to run away and hide under a rock somewhere. Besides, she seemed to, like me, enjoy the quiet solitude the library had to offer. I hated it when people interrupted me while I was studying, so I wasn't about to do the same to someone else. Instead, I just admired her from a safe distance. I know that sounds a bit creepy, but it honestly wasn't like that. I just really wanted to know more about her and possibly be her friend, but I simply didn't know how.
It was right before Christmas break in our third year when I couldn't avoid her any longer. We were paired to work together for a History of Magic assignment. When the assignment was first announced, I was irritated; I never liked any form of group work, as putting part of my grade in the hands of another just seemed ridiculous to me. When Professor Binns announced who would be working with whom, I frowned and scowled a bit when he told me the name of my partner, not even bothering to pay attention to who it was. It was only at the end of class as I was putting my things back into my bag when I became intrigued.
"William?" a quiet voice said from behind me.
I turned around, and there she was. I had never seen her up close before, and it was then I realized that looking at her from across the library hadn't done her justice. She had a pleasant smile, slightly rosy cheeks, and the prettiest green eyes I'd ever seen. Her light, ash brown hair was left down, and it danced around her shoulders in soft waves. She was pretty. Really pretty.
"Um, hi," was all I managed to choke out. That fluttery feeling had returned in my stomach, and that time, I could feel it in my knees.
"We're working together for the assignment."
She laughed a little; it was adorable.
"I'm sorry. We've never actually met. I'm Emma. Emma Gallagher." She held out her hand to me, and to this day I'm still surprised I managed to shake it without passing out.
"It's nice to meet you," I said sincerely.
"Likewise," she said with a smile. "I was just wondering when you're free. We should figure out a time to get together."
"For the assignment."
"Oh, right. The assignment. Yeah." I mentally smacked myself for being so daft.
"Would you like to get together sometime after the break? I'm staying here for the holidays, so I can get some research done while you're at home."
"I'm staying behind, too, actually," I told her. I had decided at the beginning of the month that I would be spending the holidays at Hogwarts, much to my mother's dismay. I just wanted a quiet Christmas for a change.
"Really? Well, we could meet over the break, if you'd like. I mean, if you don't want to, I understand. I know a lot of people don't like to do schoolwork over the holidays."
I managed to smile and nod. "No, that's fine. I'd like to."
"Okay. How about this Friday night, then? Eight o'clock in the library?"
"Sure. I mean, yeah, great. Friday it is."
"Great! I'll see you then. Have a good week!"
She smiled at me one last time before walking out of the room to get to her next class. I stood rooted on the spot, mesmerized. I finally talked to her. Her name was Emma, and we'd be getting together at the end of the week on a night when nearly the entire student body would have gone home already. We'd most likely have the library all to ourselves. I couldn't decide whether to jump with joy or intentionally land myself in the hospital wing so I'd have an excuse to avoid the meeting and do my nerves a favor.
It was a week filled with both anxiety and excitement and it seemed to go on forever, but Friday finally arrived. I went to the library ten minutes before eight, thinking being there early would make me look good, but Emma was already there. She looked up when she heard me walk in, smiled, and waved me over. As I suspected we would be, we were the only people in the library that night. She greeted me cheerfully as I sat down, and we we began working immediately. Emma had already done some basic research on our assignment topic, so we started by sorting out her notes and went from there. We got a lot of work done, and it was around ten o'clock when we decided to call it a night and head back to our dormitories. I was rather proud of the fact that I managed to get through two hours with Emma without saying or doing something to completely muck up any chance of her liking me.
"So, why are you staying at Hogwarts for Christmas?" she asked me casually as we were packing up the last of our things.
"Oh, um..." I began. Until that point, we had talked about nothing except our work. Schoolwork I could talk about easily, but about myself, especially to a pretty girl? I completely froze.
She blushed slightly. "I'm sorry. That was a rather personal thing to ask."
"No, no, it's fine," I managed to say. "I just don't really want to see my family."
"That came out wrong," I quickly said. "It's just that I'm from a really big family. I'm the eldest of seven, so it gets a bit crazy at home sometimes. I love my siblings, but I just wanted a more relaxed holiday for a change. That's really stupid, isn't it?"
I said all of this really fast and I could feel myself reddening with each word. If Emma noticed, however, she was kind enough not to mention it. If anything, she seemed interested.
"Wow, you're the eldest of seven?" she asked as we exited the library into the dimly lit corridors.
I nodded. "I have five brothers and one sister. Two of my brothers are twins."
"Wow. And I thought it was crazy with just me and my sister!"
"Oh, you have a sister? Does she go here, too?"
Emma shook her head. "No. I'm the only one in my family to ever go here. I'm Muggleborn, you see."
I looked at her inquiringly. "Really?"
She giggled. "You seem surprised."
"Well, it's just...while we were working, you seemed to really know what you were talking about. I just assumed you were from a magical family, too."
She shrugged. "Well, I do a lot of reading. I keep to myself most of the time. I don't really have a lot of friends here."
"It's okay. I don't really mind. I mean, I talk to my housemates and they're really nice, but I wouldn't call them friends, exactly. I've always kind of kept to myself."
"Me too. I mean, as much as I could in a house of nine, anyway."
She smiled and laughed. "Yes, I can imagine how that would be troublesome. Oh, this is me."
Once things got going, Emma was surprisingly easy to talk to, so I hadn't noticed we'd already arrived outside the entrance to Hufflepuff House. I felt a twinge of gloom; I had been having so much fun talking with her, and I didn't want her to go.
"So, would you like to get together after Christmas to finish the project?" she asked.
"Sure. How about next Friday afternoon?"
She nodded. "Sounds like a plan. It was nice working with you, William."
"Oh, please, call me Bill. Everyone does."
She smiled. "Well then, I hope you have a good Christmas, Bill."
"You, too, Emma. I'll see you next week."
I watched her as she disappeared behind the door that undoubtedly lead to the Hufflepuff Common Room before making my way back to Gryffindor Tower. All the way there, and for the rest of the weekend, I just thought about Emma. I thought about her sweet smile, her cute way of laughing, and how she seemed to genuinely like talking with me. Of course, she may have hated me and hid it well for the sake of our assignment, but I was optimistic, something that rarely happened with me. I couldn't put my finger on it, but there was just something about her that made me think we could be friends - not acquaintances, not study-buddies, but actual friends. I hoped to Merlin I was right; I had really enjoyed her company.
Christmas fell on a Tuesday that year. That morning, I woke to the view of a blizzard just outside the window of my unusually quiet dormitory, a fact I most certainly wasn't complaining about. I planned on spending the entire day with a good book in the Gryffindor Common Room, leaving only to snag some lunch from the Great Hall. Everyone would be back by the following week and the common room would return to its obnoxious self, so I wanted to enjoy the peace while it lasted. I headed down to the Great Hall around noon, stopping dead in my tracks at the sight of Emma. She was sitting by herself with a book, drinking tea, and nibbling on a scone of some sort. Until then, I had been determined not to seek her out, something I was sure would have scared her off had I done so, but actually seeing her again just made it so much harder not to. I spent a good minute or two debating over what to do before deciding to just casually walk by, wish her a good holiday, then get my snacks and be on my merry way. Before I could change my mind, I made my way over to her place at the Hufflepuff table.
"Hey, Emma," I said tentatively, not wanting to startle her. "Happy Christmas."
She looked up from her book, and my insides turned to mush when she smiled at me.
"Bill, hello! Happy Christmas! How are you?"
"I'm alright. You?"
"Can't complain, I suppose. Have you eaten yet? Sit down, have a scone. There's plenty here."
I shook my head. "No, it's okay. You're reading. I don't want to interrupt."
"Nonsense. You're not interrupting me. I can read anytime."
My stomach did flip-flops as I weighed my options. I could decline her offer, scurry back to Gryffindor Tower, and spend all day wishing I hadn't, or I could just toughen up and stay with her. I went with the latter, remembering that our previous meeting hadn't gone so terribly. If I made it through an entire study session without mucking things up, surely I could have lasted for a scone and a cup of tea.
"I like your sweater," she said as I sat down across from her.
I looked down at myself, silently cursing at my stupidity and thinking maybe I should have gone back to my dormitory. She was probably just being cordial when she said she liked it, because I must have looked like a damn fool with that giant 'W' on my chest.
"Thanks," I said, blushing furiously. "My mum made it. She makes them for us every year. It's kind of a tradition in our family."
"That's nice," she said sincerely. "I've always wanted to learn how to knit."
"I tried once, and failed miserably."
She giggled. "I probably will, too. Here, eat."
She pushed a plate toward me, which was heaping with frosted cinnamon scones. I gingerly took one and placed it on the empty plate that magically appeared before me next to my teacup. I don't know how it happened or which of us brought it up, but we started talking about the rapidly falling snow outside. Just as it had the other night, talking with Emma just felt so natural. The talk of snow led to talk of childhood memories of winter, which led to more tea and scones. That led to talk of our families and eventually of ourselves. The teacups kept refilling, the pile of scones dwindled, and the blizzard raged on outside as Emma and I got to know each other beneath the enchanted, snowy ceiling of the Great Hall. It was well past five in the evening when we decided to ditch the sugary-sweet pastries and get some real food. The rest of the night was fueled by a delicious plethora of roasted turkey, potatoes, steamed vegetables, and eventually some treacle tart and more tea.
I hated the clock for seemingly moving so fast. We ended up leaving the Great Hall around nine o'clock with our tummies full and our hearts happy. Like I had done a few days prior, I escorted her back to her dormitory, and after we bade each other good night, I walked back to Gryffindor Tower in a blissful trance. The common room was just as quiet and empty as I'd left it, and oddly enough, I hadn't missed it one bit. I would have happily traded in another day alone in the common room if it meant I could have a repeat of the day I'd just had. I went straight to bed and laid awake for a long time thinking about Emma. I fell asleep happy, knowing that after two and a half years at Hogwarts, I finally had someone who I could actually consider a friend.
As planned, we met at the end of the week to wrap our History of Magic assignment. Emma had beaten me to the library again, but I didn't even hesitate to walk over to her that time. The ice had long since broken, and I was finally comfortable around her - well, as comfortable as I could hope to be around a pretty girl, anyway. From that day forward, things just sort of happened on their own. Even when classes resumed and everyone returned to school, Emma and I were still friendly. We met for lunch often, did homework with each other in the library, and sometimes sat together in class. We even started going to Hogsmeade together. Emma had never gone despite having the required permission from her parents, and though I had been, I never stayed for more than an hour or two. It was definitely so much more fun to go with Emma than with the other boys in my year; at least she didn't mind when I wanted to browse in Tomes and Scrolls.
Oh, and that History of Magic assignment? We got an Outstanding.
The brutal cold of winter eventually evolved into the rainy, slightly warmer days of spring, but things didn't change as I feared they may have. It may have been silly of me to do so, but I was always worried Emma would get sick of me once she learned how completely boring I was. I suppose that's why I never bothered trying to establish any sort of concrete friendship with my housemates, because I didn't think anyone would want to associate with the quiet ginger kid who read a lot of books. But Emma...well, she was different. She didn't seem to think I was boring at all. On the contrary, she was always asking me questions about myself. She was fascinated by the fact that I grew up in a wizarding household, always knowing that one day I'd get to buy a wand and attend a magical school inside a castle.
The end of my third year was the first time I was ever disappointed with a school year coming to a close. I hoped Emma would have been able to visit the Burrow over the summer, but she was going to spending nearly the entire break in the south of Spain with her parents and sister. I was disappointed, but we swore we'd write to each other all the time, and we kept our promises. She would write me beautiful letters about boating, dancing, learning local history, and watching the sun set over the ocean. I always felt like my letters were so ridiculous in comparison, because all I really had to write about were things like Ron losing his first tooth or the twins yet again setting something on fire in the garden. But Emma seemed to find these stories amusing, saying that my siblings sounded like a spirited bunch (I certainly couldn't argue with that) and that she couldn't wait to meet them all someday. What really made my heart flutter, however, was how she always signed her letters, "Love, Emma." Sometimes I would run my fingertips over those words, desperately trying to ignore the fact that I was really starting to feel more than just friendship for this girl, and wondering if, by some bloody miracle, the same was happening to her, too.
I was beyond happy when the first of September arrived. I couldn't wait to see Emma. In her last letter of the summer, she told me she would meet me on the platform so we could find a compartment together. Never once had I had a companion for the journey to Hogwarts, except for Charlie the previous year, who had ended up bailing on me halfway through the ride, anyway. I barely said goodbye to my parents and siblings before eagerly bolting through the barrier as fast as I could. It took me a couple of minutes to find her on the crowded platform, but when I finally did, I was positively breathless. The Spanish sunshine had tanned her skin and lightened her hair slightly, and even though she was already wearing her school uniform, she still looked lovely. We got a compartment to ourselves and spent the entire ride back to school sharing stories about our summer holiday. It felt great to talk and laugh with Emma again.
Hogwarts was more or less in the same condition we'd left it in; the Slytherins were still cranky, Peeves was still a lunatic, and Professor Binns was still as boring as ever. The only different thing was how the boys and girls in our year started mingling and actually taking a liking to each other. It wouldn't have been so bad if Emma wasn't included in this. A few of the boys began to notice her, and not in a platonic sort of way. It was understandable why they did – she was bloody gorgeous – but it still made me crazy with jealousy.
This may sound stupid and maybe even borderline possessive, but I didn't like that other blokes were taking notice of her. I didn't want to share her, especially when all those boys saw was a pretty face and curvy hips, completely ignoring the fact that she was kindhearted and smart. I knew I had no right to think like that, as she wasn't my girlfriend and I didn't have the guts to ask her to be, but I simply couldn't help it. However, Emma didn't seem to notice any of this and nothing really came of it, so I started to worry about it less as the year wore on. The first term flew by, and Emma and I once again spent Christmas (and her birthday, which I'd learned fell just three days after the holiday) together at Hogwarts, and we had even more fun than we did the previous year.
It was at the start of the next term in January, though, when my fears and jealousy from the beginning of the year suddenly resurfaced. It started out like any of our other study sessions in the library, but Emma seemed...different. Even though she didn't typically talk too much while we were working, she was still unusually quiet. I even caught her staring off into space a lot, something she rarely did. I tried to ignore it at first, but my curiosity and concern got the best of me.
"Em?" I asked. "Are you alright?"
"What?" she said, snapping out of her trance. "Oh, yes, I'm fine. Sorry."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, yes, of course. Everything's fine."
I raised an eyebrow. "Why do I get the feeling that's not true?"
She gave me a sad smile and sighed. "Because it's not."
"Do you want to talk about it? I'll listen."
"I, er...well..." she stopped, seemingly collecting her thoughts. "Promise you won't be mad?"
"Well, do you know Dylan Reed?"
I nodded. He was a Ravenclaw in the year above ours. I had talked to him once or twice; from what I remembered, he was a decent bloke.
"What do you think of him?"
I suddenly didn't like where the conversation was going, but I answered honestly, anyway.
"He seems nice enough. Why?"
"Well, he...um, he sort of asked me out the other day."
"Like, to be his girlfriend?"
She nodded sheepishly, her cheeks reddening slightly. "Yeah."
"Did you say yes?" I didn't really want to hear her answer, but at the same time, I desperately needed to know.
She shook her head. "I didn't answer him. I wanted to talk to you about it first."
"You're my best friend, Bill," she said, blushing even deeper. "My only friend, really. I just...I don't know. I wanted to know what you thought about it."
Looking back, I can't help but wonder if this was maybe her strange attempt to get my disapproval so she wouldn't have to go out with Dylan, because she really didn't have any other reason not to. Maybe she was giving me an opportunity to tell her I wanted her to be my girlfriend; after all, we did admit to each other in later years that we felt more than just friendship for each other at that point in time. However, my fifteen-year-old self just didn't think that way. All I could think about was that the girl I was falling hard for was asked out by another bloke and she was considering accepting the offer. I couldn't help the anger and jealousy coursing through my veins, both at the fact that she was about to go out with someone who wasn't me and that I couldn't muster up the courage to tell her how I felt. What kind of Gryffindor was I, anyway?
"I think you should just do what makes you happy," I said, faking a smile. "If you like him, go for it."
"Really?" she asked, swallowing hard. "You want, I mean...you don't want me to say no?"
Again, the fact that she was explicitly asking me what I wanted should have caught my attention, but it didn't. I was so unbelievably daft.
"I want you to be happy, Emma." And it was true. I wanted nothing but happiness for her, even if it was at the expense of my own.
"Oh, well...okay," she said. There was a bit of an awkward pause before she got up from her seat. "Well, I should probably get back to my dormitory. I have to...er...I just have to go. Sorry."
I nodded, getting up, too. "Yeah, me too. I'll see you soon, then."
"Yeah. Yeah, I'll see you soon. Good night, Bill."
She scurried away without another word, and regardless of my slowly breaking heart, my hormonal self couldn't help watching her walk away, secretly loving the way her pleated school skirt swished around her hips. In a way, it felt wrong; she was my best friend, and there I was, staring at her bum. But at the same time, it didn't seem so awful because to me, it was so much more than those curvy hips. It was simply everything about her. Those other blokes who looked at her were the ones in the wrong because they were never going to see her in the way I did.
It's amazing how quickly friendships change when one of the friends suddenly has a love interest in their life, and Emma and I were no exception. Luckily for me, Dylan was in the year ahead of us, so I still got to hang out with Emma during class. However, I suddenly found myself quite lonely during mealtimes, study hours, and Hogsmeade trips as Emma began to spend more time with hew new beau. I didn't resent her for this, as I knew it was perfectly normal, but it still made me sad. She really was my only true friend at school, and I didn't realize just how much it meant to have her around until she wasn't as often.
In a strange sort of way, things got better in the following month. I started seeing this girl named Brittany Moran, one of my fellow Gryffindor fourth-years. She asked me to go to Hogsmeade with her one day, and I didn't have a reason to say no, so I went. She was cute and she was a nice enough girl, and it didn't take long for me to start getting butterflies around her the way I did when I was around Emma. She even gave me my first kiss, and I couldn't deny that I really liked it. The only downside about being with Brittany was my friendship with Emma suffered further; unlike Dylan, Brittany was in the same year as us, so I had to start sitting with her in class. I saw it as a good thing, though. While my feelings for Emma were still there, being with Brittany somehow made it easier for me to forget about them, if only for a little while. I realize how awful that sounds, like I was using her or something, but it really wasn't like that. I liked Brittany a lot – she was funny, charming, and sweet – but she simply wasn't Emma. No one ever would be.
In June, a mere two weeks before the school year concluded, this fact hit me like a ton of bricks. With exams right around the corner, I had been staying in the library later than usual, so I didn't expect to see anyone in the corridors when I left for my dormitory late one night. I was halfway to Gryffindor Tower when I saw her, saw them: Emma and Dylan, embracing and sharing a deep kiss. I was instantly surprised, not by the fact that they were snogging, but by how I felt seeing it. The boys I shared my dormitory with occasionally would talk about how much it depressed them to see a girl they liked with another bloke, but seeing Emma kissing Dylan wasn't depressing. It was downright painful. It honestly felt like a dagger was mercilessly plunged deep into my heart. My chest tightened so much that it hurt, literally hurt, and I couldn't breathe. I couldn't move. I couldn't do anything but stand there and watch them as my insides were viciously shredded into nothing.
I don't know how I made it back to my dormitory – quite frankly, I don't even remember walking there – but when I did, I laid in my bed, pulled the drapes around me, cast a silencing charm, and did something I hadn't done since I was a young child. I cried. I cried like it was going out of style. I couldn't help it. It hurt so bad, and as much as it pained me to admit it to myself, I instantly I knew why. I loved her. I wasn't crying because she was my best friend and I cared about her, nor was it due to a silly little schoolboy crush that would go away easily. No, it was so much more than that. I was in love with Emma Gallagher.
I broke things off with Brittany the following morning. I felt bad for doing so, but it wouldn't have been fair to either of us to carry on with the relationship when I would constantly be thinking about Emma. She took it hard initially, but she started dating someone else the very next week, so it didn't last long. I wasn't sure whether to be happy or offended that she found someone else so quickly, but in all honesty, I really didn't care. All I cared about was getting through my exams and getting away from Hogwarts and that prat Dylan Reed as fast as possible. Yes, I know I originally considered him to be a decent bloke, but after realizing just how much Emma meant to me, he instantly became the biggest prat in all of Britain.
On the last day of our fourth year, Emma came to talk to me at lunchtime. She seemed shy when she approached me for some reason, which I found to be odd; even though we hadn't spent as much time together once we began dating people, we had still been friendly.
"Hi, Bill," she said when she walked up to my place at the Gryffindor table. "Mind if I sit with you?"
"You know you don't have to ask, Emma."
She smiled slightly and sat down across from me. "So...another year gone."
"How have you been? I feel like I haven't talked to you in forever."
I shrugged. "I'm okay. Happy to be going home. You?"
"Same for me, well, except for the going home part. I'll be in Morocco for most of the holiday."
"Right." I had forgotten she traveled every summer. Both of her parents were teachers and had summers off, so they always went away.
"Is Dylan going with you?" I really don't know why I asked that; it just sort of slipped out.
She shook her head. "No. He goes to Ireland every summer, apparently. His mum's family lives there."
"Oh. That's nice, I guess."
"What are your plans for the break?"
I shrugged. "Same as always. I'll be staying at home with the family, attempting to stay sane."
She smiled. "At least it makes for good stories, right?"
"Yeah, I guess."
There was a minute or two of silence before Emma spoke again.
"Will you still write to me this summer, Bill?" she asked as she absentmindedly nibbled on her lower lip, a nervous habit of hers.
I looked at her inquiringly. "Sorry?"
She sighed. "I know things have been different this year, what with me being with Dylan and you being with Brittany, and I know you're probably mad at me-"
I cut her off. "I'm not mad at you, Em." It was the truth. Admittedly, I may have been slightly bitter, but never mad.
"Are you sure?"
She smiled a little. "That's good to hear. I was worried you were and we'd never get things back to normal. I've really missed us."
"What do you mean, 'us?'"
"You know. Us. I just miss talking with you like we used to. I don't want us to completely lose touch, that's all. I like knowing what's going on with you." She said that last part sheepishly, looking down as she did so.
I nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, of course I'll write. I always like hearing from you, too."
She smiled. "Thanks, Bill. I'm...I'm sorry things have been so strange this term."
"Me, too. But we can fix it, I think."
"Good," she said with a smile. "But hey, I've got to get back to my dormitory. I'm still not done packing." Then she did something that took me completely by surprise: she reached across the table and took my hand.
"I'll miss you, Bill," she said sincerely. "Don't leave out any details about those zany Weasley stories, okay?"
I smiled. "I won't, I promise. Write to me, too. Tell me all about Morocco."
She nodded. "I will. Have a wonderful summer."
"You too, Emma. Enjoy it."
She smiled one last time before rising from the table and leaving the hall. I looked down the hand she'd been holding with a mixture of happiness and gloom. I was thrilled she wanted to fix things between us just as much as I did, but it saddened me to know that her grasping my hand was nothing more than a friendly gesture. I desperately wished it could have meant more to her like it did to me, but I took what I could.
That summer dragged on even more so than the previous one, but hearing from Emma every once and a while helped move it along. In July, we both received notification that we'd been named prefects, and we excitedly shared the news with each other. Her letters, however, became less frequent as the summer wore on, and then they suddenly stopped for about two weeks' time in August.
I wasn't worried, assuming she was just busy exploring Casablanca, but I did become concerned when she finally wrote to me again. Her note was short, asking me if I'd meet her on the platform on the first day of school and share a compartment with her. I found this strange, as I assumed she'd want to spend the train ride with Dylan, but I didn't question her about it. She said she completely understood if I had plans to share the journey back to Hogwarts with someone else, but I told her I'd definitely meet her and that I hoped everything was okay.
When the first of September arrived, my heart swelled with affection when I saw her. Emma looked more beautiful than ever, and I almost passed out when she threw her arms around me in a tight embrace. Like the hand-holding at the end of the previous term, I knew it was just an exchange between friends, but I still basked in it, loving the smell of her hair and how it felt to have her warm body pressed against mine.
"I've really missed you, Bill," she said when she pulled away. "C'mon, let's get a compartment before they're all full."
We found one at the very back of the train. After securing our trunks on the overhead racks, we sat down across from each other.
"I broke up with Dylan." She didn't waste any time.
I nearly choked on the air in my lungs. "Wh-what? Why? Em, what happened?"
She sighed. "He shagged some girl he met in Ireland."
My jaw dropped open. "You're kidding."
"I wish I was."
"What a prick. He actually told you that?"
She shook her head. "No. But he did brag about it in a letter to one of his friends – a letter he accidentally sent to me."
"Oh, Merlin," I said. Dylan Reed was without question the stupidest bloke on the planet to do such a thing to a girl as amazing and kind as Emma, or to any girl for that matter. "I'm so sorry, Em...I don't know what to say..."
"You don't have to say anything," she said. "But is it weird that I'm not sad about it?"
"Oddly enough, no," she said, shaking her head. "Isn't that strange?"
"I'm afraid you're asking the wrong person. I haven't the slightest clue."
"Fair enough," she said. "Thanks for sitting with me today, Bill. I didn't want to be alone..."
I nodded. "Em, you know I'm always here for you. You're my best friend."
She smiled. "I know." We were silent for a few minutes before she spoke again.
"It did hurt, though, when I saw that letter. The one he meant to send to his friend."
I didn't say anything, but looked at her inquiringly.
"It's not like I was in love with him or anything - far from it, actually - but it still sucks knowing I can be replaced so easily, you know?"
"Emma, no one can replace you," I said honestly. "What he did was really crass, but it's his problem, not yours."
She sighed. "I wish I could believe that."
"Well, try, because it's the truth."
She looked at me with a hint of sadness in her eyes. "Why are you always so nice to me, Bill?"
I couldn't tell her it was because I was head-over-heels in love with her, so I went with a friendly shrug and smile.
"Because you were willing to be the nerdy ginger kid's friend."
She laughed. "You're not a nerd!" When I raised my eyebrow, she laughed some more. "Okay, maybe you're a little bit of a nerd, but I like you anyway."
And just like that, we were back to how we were in our third year, talking and laughing about both the serious and the silly, and it felt great. We were inseparable for the entire first term, sharing lunch hours, study time, and Hogsmeade trips, and laughing through them all. It was so wonderful to have her company again, but it only seemed to strengthen how I felt about her. She was just so stunningly beautiful to me; there were times when I had an overwhelming desire to push her into a broom cupboard and snog her senseless, and every now and then I couldn't help but sneak glances at her chest and bum when she wasn't looking. However, I don't want to give off the idea that such things were all I thought about with her, because it was so much more than the physical attraction. It was how she was so brilliant, so charming, so exceedingly kind, but most of all, she was real. She didn't try to be someone she wasn't, and I loved that.
I wanted to tell her all of this and more, even if only to make sure she knew just how extraordinary she was, but I simply couldn't bring myself to do it. We had finally gotten things back to normal, and I wasn't about muck it all up by telling her I wanted more than just friendship, especially after what she'd gone through with that Dylan prat.
It got harder to hide my feelings once winter showed up. Prefect rounds were broken into threes, and for winter, Gryffindor was paired with Hufflepuff. Four nights a week, Emma and I were to patrol the corridors alone together. After spending the first three months of school patrolling with a surly girl from Slytherin whose name I can't recall, it was a very welcome change. Rounds typically lasted about two hours or more and they were much easier to endure with Emma at my side. I knew the castle slightly better than Emma did, so sometimes I intentionally made us take detours just so I could prolong my time with her. This was probably not the wisest idea as we both had O.W.L.s to prepare for, but it was so tempting at the time. I suspect that Emma caught onto what I was doing at some point, but she never said anything if she did.
Christmas came and went, and the new year brought us a ridiculous amount of snow, ice, and chilly wind. This didn't stop me from dragging Emma to Hogsmeade on the first Saturday of January, though. She was reluctant to go at first, as she despised winter weather, but she finally gave in when I promised her a mug of her favorite hot cocoa in the Three Broomsticks. We didn't stay in the village for too long – we only went to the pub and the bookshop – and we started to make our way back to Hogwarts around two o'clock. It started snowing lightly on our way back, covering the already icy paths in a fresh white blanket. We walked slowly and carefully, but just as we were able to see the tops of the school's towers over the hill, Emma slipped on a patch of ice hidden beneath the snow. She shrieked slightly, but I caught her just in time, looping my arm through hers and holding her up.
"Phew, thank you!" she breathed with a hint of a laugh. "That would have been a nasty tumble."
I just smiled at her, though I bravely kept my arm locked around hers just to see if she would push me away or not. To my surprise, she actually tightened her arm around mine and continued to walk. I reminded myself that it was probably just in case she slipped again, but it made me swoon nonetheless. Even though there was no one around to see us, we were still walking in a public place, huddled close together with our arms linked. The fact that we were so close to holding hands made me dizzy with delight.
Naturally, I was the next one to slip on ice. However, the problem with it being me instead of Emma was that I was bigger than her, and with our arms entwined, I ended up pulling her down with me. We both landed on our backs in the snow, and I was positively mortified. I immediately turned my head so I could apologize, and when I did, she was already looking at me. We stared at each other for a moment before she suddenly burst into a fit of giggles. I couldn't help but laugh, too. Not only was the situation funny, but Emma's hearty laugh was so contagious. We spent a couple of minutes just laying there in the snow, laughing uncontrollably, before we finally forced ourselves up. We were completely covered in snow, but Emma was still giggling a little. She was just too adorable, and suddenly, I couldn't take it anymore. She was such a beautiful person, inside and out, and I don't know what came over me, but in that moment I didn't want to hide it anymore. Something inside of me snapped and before I could stop myself, I gently grabbed her chin and captured her lips with my own.
It was a simple, chaste kiss and only lasted for a couple of seconds, but it was perfect in every way. I was nervous when we pulled apart. I wasn't afraid that she'd hex me – Emma was too kind for that – but I so worried she'd tell me she didn't feel the same way and that the friendship we had would be ruined forever. Every nerve in my body told me to run before she had the chance to break my heart, but I forced myself to stand there in the freezing wind until she said something. I had to know what she thought. We stared at each other for a good solid minute before she spoke.
"How long?" she asked me quietly.
It certainly wasn't the response I was expecting, but I considered her question nonetheless. Yes, I had experienced weird feelings for her early on, but when had I really begun to realize just what those feelings were? I answered as honestly as I could.
"Since the summer before fourth year."
Emma continued to surprise me by smiling. She didn't scowl or frown, but smiled.
"Damn you, Bill Weasley," she said with a hint of happy laughter. "What took you so long?"
Before I knew it, her lips were on mine, and it felt like heaven. I responded enthusiastically, wrapping one hand around her waist while letting the other bury itself into her soft, brown hair. She wrapped her arms around my middle, pulling me closer to her and holding me tight. We stood there for a long time, embracing and kissing, and my heart was erupting with passion and love. The snow swirled around us and the January wind blew viciously, but in that moment, it didn't feel so cold. I was so happy, so elated...I was kissing Emma Gallagher, the girl who I'd fancied, and even loved, for so long, and she was kissing me back. She felt the same way about me as I did about her. That was enough to keep me warm for a lifetime.
We were discrete about our relationship. Sometimes we held hands while walking to class, but for the most part, we acted just as we always had around each other. So many of our classmates felt the need to snog each other senseless while in full view of everyone, almost as if they were trying to show off, but Emma and I weren't those kind of people. We didn't see the point in acting as such and we kept our affection for each other private. Given, there were occasions during class or study hours when it was hard for me to not simply grab her and kiss her, but I restrained myself. We were lucky to have prefect rounds together; all those abandoned classrooms suddenly became our best friends. We technically weren't supposed to have snogging sessions during rounds, especially not for as long as we typically did, but what the professors didn't know wouldn't hurt them. Even prefects have to bend the rules sometimes.
I hated spring for arriving so fast, as mine and Emma's time together was practically cut in half. With the change of season came new partners for prefect rounds. For the remainder of the year, I was to patrol with Kristen Doyle from Ravenclaw, and while she was a very nice girl, she simply wasn't as fun as Emma for obvious reasons. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, though; with O.W.L.s quickly approaching, it wouldn't have been wise to spend all that extra time "doing rounds," and had I still been patrolling with Emma, I probably wouldn't have been able to stop myself from intentionally extending them for an hour or two each night.
By that point, all fifth years had meetings with our heads of houses to discuss careers, and if we wanted to have any chance of pursuing the careers we were interested in, both Emma and I had a lot of studying to do. I always knew I wanted to be a curse-breaker; I wanted to travel, and even though I was a bit on the reserved side, I liked a bit of danger. Emma, however, was interested in working at St. Mungo's. Growing up in the Muggle world, her ambition had always been to become a doctor, so the field of healing really appealed to her. We knew and understood that focusing on our studies was of crucial importance, so we agreed that we would even cut back on studying together, as we often got too distracted by each other.
It was awful to not spend as much time with Emma, whether it was in the library or alone in those deserted classrooms, but it was worth it in the end. We both passed all of our O.W.L.s, putting us on the right track for our futures. We celebrated by spending our last day of fifth year snogging in a locked room on the third floor, making up for lost time. The very next day, we got a compartment to ourselves on the train, cast a charm on the windows to hide ourselves from people who might pass by, and snogged the whole way home.
That summer, Emma went to Paris, and she wrote to me nearly every day, telling me how much she wished I was there with her. I wasted no time and wrote back immediately each time. I would always let her know how much I missed her and how I hoped one day we could spend a summer together, or at least part of one. We were actually able to see each other before school started that year, a fact I was most thrilled about. She and her parents went into Diagon Alley the same day I did with Dad, Charlie, and Percy about a week before school began. We hugged when we saw each other, but we didn't introduce one another to our parents' as boyfriend and girlfriend. As it was our first time meeting each other's parents, we wanted to keep it simple, so we introduced each other as best friends. Her mum and dad were wonderful people and they didn't seem to mind when Dad began to ask absurd questions about Muggle things. The meeting was brief, but it was enough to reawaken my awe of Emma's beauty. It had never actually left, mind you, but just seeing her again was...wow. Let's just say I needed a cold shower once we returned to the Burrow and it had absolutely nothing to do with the summer heat.
Sixth year was, believe it or not, slightly easier on both of us, which was a pleasant surprise. Though we were at the N.E.W.T. level, we each had fewer classes to worry about, making the workload a bit more manageable. It also led to us having slightly more free time than we were used to, so that year, we really began to push our luck as prefects. During the first term, Emma would sneak out on the nights I had rounds with the Slytherin girl and wait in our favorite deserted classroom on the third floor. When I finished rounds, I would meet her there, and we'd spend a good hour or two talking and laughing together. Of course, we did spend a fair amount of time snogging, too, and occasionally we allowed our hands to wander. I let Emma decide what happened during those visits; I never wanted her to feel pressured or obligated to do more, so I would always follow her lead.
I'll admit it was difficult at times to not take things further because she was so beautiful and I loved her so damn much. It got worse when autumn turned to winter. As the weather got colder, so did the castle, so Emma and I began to bring blankets with us. Once rounds were over and we went to our classroom, we would get a small fire going in the hearth and wrap the blankets tightly around our shoulders. The heat from both the fire and her body snuggled up so close to mine drove me insane with desire, but I did my best not to show it. While part of it had to do with worry of how Emma would react, it was also due to my own nerves. I was so hesitant to take things to the next step. I was worried that when the time came I'd be rubbish at it, that I'd do it wrong, and that she wouldn't like it. Yet at the same time, there was no one other than Emma that I could think of who I'd be willing to share something so special with.
And it was special. It happened on a really cold February night in the middle of a blizzard, not unlike the one that occurred on the first Christmas we spent together. It was the first time for us both, and we didn't plan on it. We were just cuddling, kissing, and keeping each other warm, and with the flickering flames in the hearth and the complete solitude, one thing lead to another, and it just sort of happened. We were both nervous, as neither of us had any bloody clue what we were doing, and I'm willing to bet I was even more nervous than she was. I knew it would hurt for her regardless of how slow I went, and that scared me more than anything because I really wanted it to be perfect for Emma. I did everything I could to make it good for her, and my blue eyes never left her green ones. It didn't last long the first time, but that didn't matter in the end. Sharing something so intimate and wondrous with Emma made me feel so complete, and it was what gave me the courage to finally tell her just how important she was to me.
"Em?" I whispered as we laid there beside the fire, our bodies tangled in both the blankets and one another's arms. "I need to tell you something."
"Mm?" she hummed contently, shifting her head slightly so she was looking up at me. Her hair was tousled and her lips were pink and glossy; she was so lovely, I wanted to cry.
"I love you," I said quietly as I gently ran my fingers against her cheek, never tearing my gaze from hers. It was something I had felt for a long time, and it felt so good to say it out loud that I wasn't even worried about how she'd respond.
"Bill," she breathed, a small smile appearing on the lips I adored so much. "I love you, too."
As I listened her say those words, I was overcome with an elation that was completely foreign to me, yet somehow I instinctively knew that nothing would ever come close to the feeling of knowing someone loved me. After we kissed again, she gingerly rested her head on my naked chest, and I held her close to me, determined to never let go. We fell asleep together that night. Allowing that to happen probably wasn't the smartest move, as we would have most likely been expelled if we'd been caught, but we were so wrapped up in the moment that we didn't concern ourselves with such things. When I woke up, Emma was still asleep on my chest, snuggled up close to me. The blizzard from the night before had calmed down and a beam of sunlight streamed through the window behind us, making Emma look like the angel she was. Until she woke a few minutes later, I simply smiled and watched her peacefully sleep, listening to her steady breaths and loving the way her cute little nose twitched every once in a while.
It was easily the most wonderful night I'd ever had until that point, though the ones that followed certainly gave it a run for its money. Sneaking out for a couple hours here and there had been one thing, but spending the entire night together came with an entirely different level of risk and it quickly turned into a bad habit of ours. Even when winter became spring and we no longer shared prefect rounds, Emma and I often spent our nights together, but we did so with caution. With a bit of research in the library, we discovered a spell to create images of ourselves in our beds to fool our housemates when we were away for the night. Emma had a gift for transfiguration, so she turned one of the creaky old desks in the classroom into a bed for us which we covered with the plethora of blankets and pillows we brought along; it was certainly an upgrade from the cold stone floor. Some nights we ended up making love – okay, most nights we ended up making love – but in all honesty, the best part of it all was simply falling asleep with her. I loved waking up to the feeling of her warm body curled up to mine and the sight of her lovely face illuminated by the morning sunshine. I was falling more and more in love with her as the days wore on, and I didn't want the year to end.
By some miracle, the summer months flew by, and when we reunited in September for our seventh and final year of school, Emma and I picked things up right where we left off. The first half of the year is a bit of a blur, really. We continued to sneak out at night to see each other and we spent our last Christmas as Hogwarts students together like we always did. All winter, we studied and laughed by day, and snogged and made love by night, and we wouldn't have had it any other way. We knew our our worry-free days at Hogwarts were numbered, and we were determined to make the most of them before they came to a bitter end.
That end arrived at the very beginning of spring and it came in the form of a double-edged sword. The good news was both Emma and I were accepted into our desired fields. She got an internship at St. Mungo's and I was granted a position as a curse-breaker. I don't mean to brag, but I wasn't surprised they accepted me. Gringotts always had a shortage of curse-breakers because not many people were willing to take on the dangers that came with the position, and with my twelve O.W.L.s, Professor McGonagall had assured me getting the job wouldn't be an issue. The bad news, though, was that I would be working in Egypt and was expected to start at the beginning of July. In a way, I was excited because I was going to be seeing a whole new part of the world as I'd always dreamed of doing, but Egypt was just so far away. I was tempted to turn down the position and stay in England, but I knew Emma would kill me if I did, just like I would have never asked her to give up St. Mungo's. They were both excellent opportunities for us, and even though it would be rough being apart for so long, I was confident things would work out. I loved her so much, and I wasn't going to let a few hundred miles destroy what we had. I was certain she felt the same way.
Imagine my surprise when one night in May she told me she was planning to turn down her internship.
"Wh-what?" I stammered, completely gobsmacked. We were in our abandoned classroom, like we were practically every night by the point, so it didn't matter that I slightly raised my voice in shock. "Em, this is St. Mungo's we're talking about! This is what you wanted. You have to take it!"
"No, I don't," she said defiantly. "I don't want it anymore."
"I'm coming to Egypt with you."
"What? Em, you can't do that! You've been working towards becoming a healer for the last three years. You can't give that up."
"I'm not going to," she said. "There's a wizarding hospital in Cairo. I can train there."
I knew the one she was talking about. It was a decent hospital, but it's reputation wasn't nearly as stellar as the one St. Mungo's had.
"Besides, I've always wanted to see Egypt," Emma continued. "And...well, I just want to do it. I want to be with you, Bill, and if that means turning down St. Mungo's, then I will."
I simply stared at her. The fact that she was willing to give up such an opportunity just to be with me made my heart burst with love, and I have to admit it was tempting. Emma and I, living on our own, exploring the wonders of another country together...it all sounded so magnificent. But nonetheless, I simply couldn't let her do it. Emma was a brilliant witch, and she had earned the privilege to study healing at one of the best wizarding hospitals in the world, not an average one in Cairo. I wasn't going to let her lower her standards for me. That wasn't fair.
"You can't come with me, Emma." The pain in her eyes as the words left my lips tore my heart in two, but it needed to be said.
"Because you can't give up St. Mungo's," I said with a sigh. "It's a great opportunity, Emma, and you deserve to train with the best healers."
"What if that doesn't matter to me anymore?" she retorted.
"It does matter. You know it does."
"But...but I love you!" she choked out, a tear slipping from her eye. "I want to be with you!"
I felt my eyes begin to sting as I pulled her into a tight embrace. She clung to me tightly and buried her face into my neck. I desperately wanted to change my mind, to tell her to come with me. Hell, I even contemplated writing to Gringotts that very instant and telling them I'd be staying in England, but that wouldn't have been any more fair than Emma giving up her dream.
"Emma, I love you, too. I love you so much," I murmured into her hair, holding onto the tears swarming in my eyes with all the strength I had; it broke my heart to see her cry. "If you hadn't been accepted at St. Mungo's, I'd tell you to come with me in a heartbeat, but I can't let you give up something so amazing for me. I love you too much for that."
"I'm scared, Bill," she said. "I'm so scared about everything. What if I'm absolute rubbish?"
"You're going to be fantastic, love. You're one of the smartest witches I know. Don't ever underestimate yourself."
"It's not just that," she said, looking up at me with tears streaming down her beautiful face. "I'm scared about us. What's going to happen?"
My voice was strained when I responded. It hurt so much to think about being away from her.
"It's going to be okay. It'll be hard, but we'll write to each other all the time...I'll visit whenever I can...I love you so much, and I'm not going to let this fall apart...I won't...I won't..."
Before I knew it, I was openly crying in front of the girl I loved. I felt so stupid, as no one had seen me cry since I was a young child, but Emma just held me and cried with me. I know it's odd, but it felt so good to allow myself to be vulnerable in front of someone else. My heart was breaking into a million pieces and I knew hers was, too, but even in one of our darkest moments, there was light. That's what was so amazing about Emma. The world could have been coming to an end (and at that time, it really felt like it was,) but if she was at my side, everything felt okay.
At the end of the year, we shared a compartment on the Hogwarts Express for the final time. It was an unusually quiet ride and consisted of us mostly holding each other, simply savoring being in each other's arms. When the train arrived at King's Cross and we had to say goodbye, we made it as quick and painless as possible. We hugged, shared a kiss, and said we'd write, but nothing more. It may sound cold, but in all honesty, if we had done anymore than that it would have hurt so much more than it already did. It took all of my willpower not to cry as I watched her walk away. I didn't know when I'd see her next, and it was that uncertainty that broke my heart more than anything. If I had an idea of when we'd meet again, at least it would have been something to look forward to, but I had nothing, and it hurt.
When I first arrived in Egypt a mere week later, I resented the place because I had to blame something for being away from Emma, but it didn't take long for me to fall in love with it. The tombs were so exciting and interesting, and the gold was plentiful. I got wrapped up in the colorful, riveting culture rather quickly, too; I started wearing flashier clothes and I grew out my hair a bit. I even pieced my ear. I wrote to Emma all the time about my experiences, and she always wrote back quickly. She was doing wonderfully at St. Mungo's as I knew she would, and I was proud of her.
There was so much work to be done in the tombs that I didn't get to visit England until Christmastime. Of course, I was happy to be back at the Burrow with my family, but it was seeing Emma again that I was the most excited about. We met on her birthday. Unfortunately, it was her only day off during my entire visit, but we made it count. We spent the entire day together, and that night, we went to her little flat in Diagon Alley and made up for lost time. It felt so good to be with her again, both physically and emotionally, and I was tempted to stay there forever and never return to Egypt.
It was fun to think about, of course, but I had to go back after New Year's Day. Emma and I still exchanged letters, but something changed midway through that year. Our letters became less frequent as time went on. While they were once weekly, they eventually dwindled down to biweekly, then monthly, then every once in a while. At first, I didn't notice because I got so engrossed in my work as I'm sure she was, too, at that was my original reasoning for the lessened communication between us. The real reason, though, was the bitter reality that we were inevitably growing apart. It was a difficult truth to swallow, but there came a point when I couldn't avoid facing it any longer. It really hit me when writing to her began to feel like more of an obligation than anything else. I got the vibe that she was feeling the same way, because after a while, her handwriting seemed to lose it's precision, almost as if she wrote every letter as an afterthought. It hurt, but sometimes you simply can't fight against what your heart is telling you.
We talked about it at the end of the year when I once again visited England. I thought it would be an horrible conversation to endure, but it wasn't was bad I'd expected it to be. Truthfully, it seemed like we had already been broken up for a while before it became official, so to talk things through and admit to each other it wasn't working seemed to lift a ton of weight off my shoulders. Don't get me wrong - severing my ties with Emma wasn't a happy occasion by any means. It really saddened me to know the passion and love we once shared was killed by something as trivial as distance, but I took comfort in the fact that we promised to remain friends and keep in touch. That was more important to me than anything, really. Yes, she had been my girlfriend, but she was my best friend, my only friend, long before that, and that bond would have been unbearable to lose.
I really don't know how to describe how the next few years went. I suppose "empty" would be appropriate, because I really didn't do anything special. I became quite the workaholic, and yes, I did go out with a few women. There was only one sort-of serious one, though. Her name was Nailah and we were together for a few months before we called it quits. The others, well...they weren't girlfriends as much as they were temporary comforts, and I'm embarrassed to admit I don't even remember some of their names. I sought their company because I got lonely sometimes, yet I just couldn't tie myself down with any of them because they never measured up to Emma. I know it sounds pathetic, but she had been so special to me that it was hard not to think of her when another woman seemed interested in me. Those flings were fun while they lasted, but when the mornings came and they went home, I thought about my first love. I still met up with Emma to say hello when I was in England for Christmas, but every once in a while, I contemplated paying her a visit out of the blue, wondering if by some chance we could reignite the flame that had died out years before. I'm not saying that these thoughts consumed me, but when they did occasionally wander into my mind, I really began to miss her.
And then, out of nowhere, Fleur happened. The second Voldemort returned, I gave up curse-breaking and transferred to England. I hated leaving the tombs, but helping the Order was more important. It was no more than two weeks after I took a desk job at Gringotts when Fleur and I began seeing each other, and it was a complete whirlwind romance. It was exciting for me, considering the only serious relationship I'd had prior to Fleur was with Emma, and that had taken years to come about. With Fleur, it was instantaneous. She was beautiful and witty, outspoken and adventurous, and the fact that I fell for her so quickly took me completely by surprise.
It was strange to tell Emma about Fleur because doing so actually made me feel a twinge of sadness. We had been apart for years by that point, but by being in a serious relationship with someone else, any chance of the two of us rekindling our romance was lost. It was something I had hoped for for so long that to suddenly not want it anymore freaked me out a little bit; it was like I was officially closing that chapter of my life. Emma was genuinely happy for me, though. She even began to start seeing someone, and for a while, things were okay. We were both happy in our new lives, and we still kept each other in the loop. With me being back in England, we met for tea about once a month to catch up, and it was like old times. Given, we didn't get to hang out and talk nearly as much as we were able to in our younger days, but times change, and we accepted it. I was just glad we were still friends and I could talk to her about everything, even after all that time.
About a month before Fleur and I were to be married, I made an unplanned visit to St. Mungo's. I knew Emma would probably scold me for interrupting her while she was at work, but I didn't care. It was important. Muggleborns were suddenly being slaughtered everywhere, and I was worried about her.
"Em?" I said when I found her in a crowded corridor of the hospital.
"Bill!" she exclaimed when she saw me. "What are you doing here?"
"We need to talk."
"I'm working, Bill. Can't it wait?"
I shook me head. "It's important. Please?"
She narrowed her eyes at me initially, but she seemed to soften a bit when she noticed the urgency in my voice.
"Okay, fine. I still have a break left. Let me just check on a patient, and I'll meet you in the tea shop in about five minutes."
I nodded, and she smiled slightly before we walked in opposite directions. Once I was upstairs, I ordered two cups of plain black tea and got a table in the corner. As promised, Emma arrived five minutes later. She looked frazzled, but she sighed in relief when she saw the tea waiting for her.
"Oh, Merlin's beard, thank you," she said as she sat down. "I really needed this."
"I figured you would."
She smiled. "So, what's this about? I don't mean to rush you, but I only have a few minutes, and-"
I cut her off. "Em, you have to leave the country."
She nearly spit out her tea. "Excuse me?"
"I'm not kidding. You-Know-Who's gaining power fast, and it's too dangerous."
"And what makes you think I can't defend myself?"
"I'm not saying you can't, Emma, but the point is you're a Muggleborn witch who just happens to know me, a member of the Order. That's not a good combination."
"Well, I'll take my chances. I'm not leaving."
"I can't leave my patients."
"There are other healers. They'll be fine."
"Bill, no. I'm sorry, but I'm staying right here."
She was so damn stubborn. "Emma, please. You're my friend. I'm worried about you."
"I'll be fine, Bill, honestly. But I simply can't leave."
She sighed, staring down at her tea cup.
"There's a girl here. She's sixteen. I've been looking after her for a couple of months now."
"I'm sure someone else can take care of her."
"I can't leave her."
"Bill, she's a Muggle and she's pregnant...with a wizard's child."
I stared at her. "You're kidding."
She shook her head. "It's horrible. Her boyfriend's a wizard, but he suddenly disappeared a couple of months ago, just like so many others. Her parents kicked her out, and she can't go to a Muggle hospital when she's pregnant with a magical child. That's the worst part, too. Her body isn't accustomed to the magic, so she's having an incredibly difficult pregnancy. I'm not sure how she found this place – her child's magic probably led her here, actually – but I've been with her ever since she arrived. I'm really all she has right now. I can't leave."
I sighed and ran my hands through my hair. I hadn't realized how sensitive the situation was. I felt terrible for the girl, but I was more worried about Emma.
"Listen," she said after a few moments, "she's due at the end of August. Once she has the baby, I'll leave, and I'll take her with me. Right now, though, she has to stay in the hospital, and there's no way I'm going to abandon her. I remember what it was like to feel like an outcast in this world. I'm...I'm not going to make her deal with this alone."
I nodded, knowing that was as far as I was going to get. Emma was still the same kindhearted person I befriended in third year, and she was still putting others before herself. Some things never changed.
"You promise that's what you'll do?"
"Okay," I said. "I should probably go. You have to be getting back."
"Yeah, I do. But thanks for stopping by. Its means a lot to know that you still care."
"I never stopped caring, Emma, and I never will."
She smiled. "I know."
We stood up and embraced, and she smiled at me one last time before she left the cafe.
That was the last time I ever saw her smile.
It was just a couple of weeks after the fall of the Ministry when the Death Eaters attacked St. Mungo's. From what I was told, the ones who didn't make it were the ones who were doing everything in their power to get the patients out of the hospital, and they succeeded. By means of Vanishing Cabinets and Floo Powder, every single patient in St. Mungo's that day made it out alive, including the girl Emma had been looking after. If they had only been a few seconds faster, they all would have made it. Emma was one of twenty-two healers murdered that night.
Oddly enough, I didn't cry when I learned of her death. I was too shocked to shed any tears. Maybe it was because I wasn't able to attend her funeral, as we were all under such close watch at the time, but it simply didn't seem real. How could Emma, who was so young and bright, possibly be dead? Who in their right mind would have hurt someone so wonderful? It just didn't make sense, so it couldn't have been real.
When her birthday came, I did something completely irrational that probably should have gotten me killed, but miraculously didn't. I simply walked out of the protective wards surrounding mine and Fleur's home, apparated to London, and went to the only open flower shop I could find. The first thing I saw was a bouquet of sunflowers, so I bought those, went back outside, and apparated once more. That time, it was to her childhood street in Coventry. The cemetery was at the end of the snowy road, and when I saw a giant willow tree, somehow I knew that's where she'd be. The snow crunched beneath my feet as I slowly walked toward the polished rock that resided beneath the tree. As I got closer, I was able to make out her name engraved there, and that's when it hit me like a punch in the chest. She was gone. My best friend, one of the most wonderful people I had ever had the privilege of knowing...gone.
I collapsed to my knees when I reached her gravestone and sobbed for a long time. Everything we'd experienced together flashed through my mind at incredible speed. Working together on that damn History of Magic assignment, going to Hogsmeade in blizzard conditions, countless Christmases, kissing in the snow, sharing our first time together, all of our winters...it all broke my heart. She had been so lovely, so wonderful, so beautiful, and it simply wasn't right. She had so much to offer and would never be able to share it. She would never have the chance to get married or be a mum. She would never have another snowy Christmas. It was all so wrong.
I stayed there in the cemetery for a long time, and I regained my composure before I returned home to Fleur in the evening. I was a married man, and that was why I decided I wouldn't mourn for Emma any more than I did that day. It wouldn't have been fair to Fleur for me to be constantly thinking about another woman. But the very next year on Emma's birthday, I visited her again and brought her sunflowers, and I've been doing it ever since.
Today, the twenty-eighth of December, is the day I set aside each year for Emma. I actually just returned home from the cemetery. I spent a couple of hours simply remembering all of the times we shared. I talked to her about how my life is going. I told her how Victoire is the new Head Girl at Hogwarts, how Dominique is interested in becoming a healer, and how Louis' favorite teacher at Hogwarts is Professor McKenna, the daughter of the young Muggle girl she saved all those years ago. I told her about Fleur and myself, and about all of my siblings, their spouses, and their children. I asked her to keep an eye on Fred and to not be afraid to hex him if he gets out of hand. I told her how much I miss her, how I know one day we'll meet again, and that we have a lot of catching up to do when that time comes. And right before I left, I laid the bouquet of sunflowers at the foot of her grave. I'll admit that I cried; it was hard not to. But that's the extent of it. This is the only day I allow myself to cry for her. I have to leave what's happened in the past. I can't allow it to consume me.
Every once in a while, I can't help but think about what my life would be like now if things had happened differently. If she had come with me to Egypt all those years ago, perhaps Emma and I would have stayed together. Maybe she'd be my wife and the mother of my children. It's just something I think about, though. I don't ever wish for it. I wouldn't trade my years with Fleur for anything. She's the love of my life. She's given me three healthy, beautiful children, and our marriage has been happy and fulfilling.
But what they say about never forgetting your first love is true. In a way, I'll always love Emma Gallagher. She had such an impact on my life and she was my best friend, so there will always be a special place reserved for her in my heart. Regardless of everything that happened, she was always so important to me, still is, and always will be. I just hope she knows she'll never be forgotten.
When the winter wind blows and brushes lightly against my face, I think that's her way of telling me she does.
Author's Note: Longest one-shot ever? Probably. A complete joy to write? Absolutely!
If you read this in its entirety, thank you so much. This is a story I've had in mind for quite some time now and it took about a month to complete. I'm really proud of it; it's my favorite thing I've ever written. :)
This has been entered into the Non-Cliche Romance Challenge on the forums. The cliche I attempted to avoid was the fact that in a lot of stories/movies/whatever, the school sweethearts end up together, regardless of where their lives take them.
Please let me know what you think! Thanks for reading! :)
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