Chapter 1 : The Caustic Ticking of the Clock
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The plea you whispered hurriedly, breathlessly, in her ear, replays in your head again and again as you idly sip a drink, watching her with him. You know perfectly well that it will be your last time with her, after what she told you. He -- you rack your brains, trying to match a name to his face, but you come up with nothing -- leans towards her, as if to whisper something (you don't know what -- whatever sweet nothings the betrothed utter to one another). You watch her laugh with her groom-to-be, converse with him, even place her hand lightly on his arm, and you try your utmost to wrench your gaze away from her. But it is impossible.
She finally looks up, smiling wryly at you. No one suspects a thing. She is your colleague and good friend, after all, and you are hers. Yes, you are hers -- but not for much longer.
Her laughing façade, a change from her usual icy demeanour, slips for a second, as if taken aback by the intensity of your gaze. But then it returns, the mask, and with the briefest, most uncharacteristic wink, she turns away, her high-heeled shoes making the tiniest pitter patter on the floor. Your eyes slowly travel up, taking in the dark blue gloves, the black curls flowing down her back, the dress robes, made of intricately woven indigo lace.
The music changes: the slowness of fiddles replaces the quick beat of the drums, and this prompts many couples to dance. Quickly, you step backwards, leaning against a wall, not wanting to be crushed by the gliding couples on the dance floor.
No. You want to watch her dance, even though that crushes you more.
They quickly become the centre of attention as they move perfectly in time, and you cannot help but hope that he steps on her foot, or executes a move clumsily, or that she stabs his toe with her heel. He holds her close to him, fuelling the ignition of green fire in your eyes.
It’s not fair. He can hold her and claim her as his, and he will do just that, and no one would say anything. But you... what can you do with her, in public? Your clandestine relationship, as lovers, is precisely that: clandestine, and after tonight, it will be over.
Your fists clench in anger, a very unladylike gesture, but no one sees. Good. You are, after all, a lady, and so is she. It is funny, you think humourlessly, that everything begins and ends with her, even in your own thoughts. Then you look at her, but she only has eyes for her fiancé. Not you.
Of course not. She does not love you. She never has.
To your relief, your thoughts are interrupted as another relative of hers asks you to dance. You politely decline, shaking your head, and you marvel over the fact that this is the third time you have been asked. You wonder, briefly, if she has put them up to this, and you can't help but smile at her astuteness. But then, she has always surprised you in her shrewdness; from a single, calculating glance in your eyes, almost instantly, she could fathom what you are thinking. After all, she has done so before.
It had been an ordinary Friday evening at Hogwarts. Lessons were over, and you had gone to complain to her about a particularly delinquent pupil of yours -- the usual mundane, school-related talk. You had been staring at her mouth as she replied, with her typical aside about accepting pupils of all backgrounds, and a pointed suggestion to perhaps be more selective of whom you taught. But for you, her words had faded into nothingness, because, suddenly, all you could think about was how beautiful she was, how you longed to wrap your arms around her slender form, how wonderful it would feel to kiss her lips.
No, you had thought. It had not been the first time you had considered another woman in that way; you had long since accepted that you would never be attracted to males. It had certainly crossed your mind about her before, but you had never, ever thought you would be able to act on it. And, with other women, it was different. She was a colleague. There was no possible way you could --
And it was as if you had thought out loud. For, a moment later, there was a strange, unreadable expression in her narrowed eyes, and she asked you what was wrong.
Your answer was on the tip of your tongue, and yet you could not manifest your feelings into words, because they suddenly became twisted and tangled in your mind. And then you leaned forwards, and it seemed only natural when, as if of its own accord, you pressed your lips against hers. She did not pull away, as you expected her to; instead, her hand found your neck underneath your thick mane of hair, caressing your skin smoothly, expertly, as her tongue darted out to lick your lower lip, before it entered your mouth. She tasted sweet and hot and smoky all at once. Had she done any of this before? With a woman, no less? You thought of asking her, but you also knew she would not tell you.
She did not stop or break off the kiss to ask what it was you were doing, or to question the impropriety of your actions. You were not, of course, complaining, as her study door slammed magically shut, and hands and lips began to wander.
It became a routine, for both of you. Each Friday evening, you would retire to your quarters and wait for her there. It would be the only time when her intimidating visage as an aristocratic woman of the most frightening intelligence would disappear. In its place was a woman thirsty for something other than knowledge: she craved, above all, company, and the touches and kisses of another. And you, with your burning desire for her, were only too happy to comply.
Always, however, your encounters would happen behind closed doors. Out in the public, with your pupils, with other teachers, you were nothing more than a colleague to her, a fellow teacher, another great mind -- though, as you were quick to note, not as great as hers, of course.
The clock striking twelve jolts you back to present. Midnight. That is your cue. Heart hammering against your ribcage, you make your way to your usual meeting place. Your quarters are empty and cold, and you shiver, hugging yourself as you sit on your bed and close your eyes, waiting. Eternity passes, and still, she has not turned up, but you do not open your eyes, still hoping that, perhaps, she may arrive. Then you jump in surprise, eyes now wide, as she murmurs your name in greeting.
You rise to your feet as she pulls off her shoes, placing them carefully on the floor in the corner.
Rowena, you say in reply. Her dark eyes meet yours, her perfectly shaped eyebrows raised in a questioning manner as she lifts a gloved hand to cup your cheek. You reach forwards and tug her gloves off so you can feel her soft hands, and all the while, you cannot tear your gaze away from her. You toss them aside; they land soundlessly on the flagstones, and she does not object.
And even after all this time, as you inhale her silky scent, her warm, sweet breath as your noses brush against each other, your lips still feel scorched as they meet hers. When she breaks away, you are breathing heavily, your chest rising and falling, your lips already feeling the absence of hers.
She looks at her bare feet and takes the briefest of breaths, steeling herself before coldly reminding you of her engagement. No more, after today, she says. She’s marrying a good man, and in time, they will have children together. A good man.
You open your mouth to tell her that you love her far more than any man could, that you have always loved her, but the words never come out, because she reaches out and covers your mouth with her hand.
The iciness in her expression has already melted. And for the first time, you can see regret in her eyes as she wordlessly pleads with you. Don’t say it, her eyes beseech.
You can't bear it a second longer; again, you shut your eyes firmly, wanting to erect a dam against your flood of emotions, as if your eyelids can stop the tears that are threatening to fall any second. But then you feel her fingers lightly trace your lips, and you shudder as her lips replace her fingertips. You can't stop yourself from kissing her back, from tasting that-- that need on her tongue, from easing her robes off her, from showering her face and body, her hair and her lips with kisses and kisses and more kisses. Even after she has wounded you so, you simply surrender to her touch, albeit with the knowledge that it is your last time together.