The next morning, you wake up to golden light peeking in even through the soft pink of your eyelids. Your pillow is sticky, your hair plastered to the side of your face. All around you, your blankets lie in spectacular disarray – the thinner blanket is bunched up around your ankles, a corner hanging over the side of your bed, the thicker part wrapped tightly around you, the edge grasped in one hand.
Blinking repeatedly, although the light is gentle to your eyes and you adjust fairly quickly, you reach awkwardly for your alarm clock to check the time. When you finally manage to hold it in front of your face, you almost drop it in shock.
You can only gape, the faint tick of the second hand as it travels relentlessly around the clock face emphasising your shock. You never sleep in - you’re a morning person and you always have been, ever since you were a young child, according to your parents. Even when you’ve been up until half eleven at the family gatherings, you haven’t slept in this late when you’ve had to be up the next morning, and you’ve never done this before when at school.
Realising that you only have forty minutes to be showered, dressed, breakfasted and at your first lesson of the day, you instantly jump out of bed, rushing through into the bathroom. Eleanor’s already gone, her bed perfectly made and curtains tied back with bows, so you have it all to yourself for the fifteen minutes you need.
You rush out, dragging a brush through your hair remorselessly, throwing the books you need in your bag – you forgot to pack it last night before you went to sleep – and making sure that all your homework is in there. Flinging it over your shoulder, you hurry out of the room, shutting the door behind you and out of the common room. You barely have twenty minutes to get something to eat and get to the Arithmancy classroom. The Great Hall suddenly seems very far away.
Dashing down the corridors, you’re grateful that they’re mostly empty – the majority of students are in the Great Hall at this time, either chatting or eating – and reach the grand staircase less than five minutes after you left the common room. You’re pleased, but that doesn’t last long as you know you’ll have to leave in just under ten minutes to make sure you’re on time for lessons.
Nevertheless, you make your way down the Ravenclaw table to your usual seat, sliding in next to Louis.
“Tut, tut, Molly,” he tells you as soon as you sit down, reaching for the jug of pumpkin juice. “Such tardiness this morning. Up late last night?” The look on his face is faintly suggestive, teasing you, and you know that if you were a bolder person - say, Lucy or Roxanne - you would give a deeply evocative reply, causing him to laugh, satisfied.
However, you’re you and not Roxanne or Lucy, so you blush lightly at the insinuation and inform him, quite tartly, “I was reading and didn’t notice how late it was getting.” The strange dream of the people in the corridor and the fright in the middle of the night stay in the back of your mind, briefly brought into the light, but you don’t mention them. You don’t think Louis would be particularly interested.
“I should have known,” Louis sighs, sounding slightly disappointed. Did he really expect you to have been out cavorting with boys in the middle of the night? It hurts you a little to think that he would believe you likely to do such a thing, but at the same time a tiny part of you wonders what it would be like to do something like that - to sneak out of the common room, find an empty classroom or sneak into one of the alcoves to meet up with a boy. You have no doubt it would be thrilling, terrifying and so very romantic.
You say nothing more for the next five minutes, finding no need to say anything as the immediate silence and the buzz of chatter all around you is comforting. A glance over at the Slytherin table tells you that Dominique isn’t there - most likely she’s already been and gone. She’s always up early on schooldays, preferring to be in and out of the Great Hall before most people arrive. You wonder if she noticed your tardiness this morning. If she did - which is likely - she’ll grill you on why, and you’re not too sure about whether or not you should mention the dream and waking up to her.
As soon as you consider the idea, you banish it from your head. What were you thinking? Dominique is sensible, level-headed and rational - logical beyond belief, as Aunt Hermione once said - so dreams and suchlike things aren’t really on her radar. You imagine she’d tell you not to worry, that it was just a dream and that the fact that you woke up is only a by-product of the dream, nothing more. No, you decide emphatically, you’ll keep that to yourself.
Sooner than you expected, it’s time to leave for your first lesson. You’ve barely had enough time to eat two slices of toast before having to jump up and go, the hall already mostly empty and a steady stream of students making their way out of the room. Getting up late is, you conclude, not a good idea. Being able to take your time in the mornings is something you treasure, something that allows you to relax in your otherwise busy day-to-day life at school. You won’t do it again, you know, and the thought that this is only a one-time thing calms your rattled nerves as you climb the staircase, jostling shoulders with a couple of Hufflepuffs.
As always, you reach the classroom on time and, skirting around a trio of Slytherins who are loitering in the hallway, all peering at a page in a book, slip through the open door and claim a seat next to the window. The view isn’t particularly good, but it’s definitely dramatic.
A pile of sharp, jagged rocks jut out into the sky, climbing upwards as though reaching for the stars. They look like teeth - pointed and grey, the odd spattering of dark green moss here and there. Barren and bleak, they sit there, carrying on into the distance, far beyond the castle grounds into the wild Scottish countryside. No doubt somewhere they become mountains.
Above, a pale blue sky washes gently over them, clouds drifting along gently, serenely. A single bird - an owl, perhaps, you think, going to someone’s parents with news of the Quidditch try-outs or informing them of a detention - soars through the sky on a current of air, turning easily, almost lazily, on outstretched wings, a mere black speck to your eyes.
Professor Vector shuffles into the room, a pile of parchment floating along beside her. The door slams shut behind her and you jerk your gaze away from the sky, watching as the ancient professor takes her seat at the front of the room, glancing up at you all. A flick of her wand sets the pile of sheets to giving themselves out, returning each student’s homework to them.
“Where’s O’Leary?” she asks, her voice thin and reedy but still powerful.
“I’m here, I’m here!” a voice calls from the back of the classroom and you look over your shoulder to see who’s been so late to the class, only to find it’s the boy from Charms. His pale blonde hair is messy, sticking up in most places. You know from previous experience with your cousins that he hasn’t brushed his hair that morning, and fight back a strange, fleeing urge to brush his hair for him. He’s fifteen, you admonish yourself mentally; you’re quite sure he can brush his own hair.
He slips into the seat next to you without saying a word, hastily rummaging around in his bag for the textbook, a quill and ink. Less than thirty seconds after he entered the classroom, he’s sitting ready at the desk, looking perfectly attentive and alert. You suspect that’s just a show, to try and make up for the fact that he was late. It certainly doesn’t match with the relaxed attitude he had previously in Charms, you muse.
Your homework lands in front of you, wafting gently down when the spell let go of its hold. Immediately your gaze drops to the bottom of the sheet, and you see an ‘EE’ written neatly in blue ink. It’s not one of your strongest subjects and so you beam at your mark, noting with pleasure that the actual mark (written alongside the grade and out of forty) is only two marks off an ‘O’ grade. That shouldn’t be too hard to pull up, you think happily, sliding the parchment into your bag. As you straighten up, you can’t help but glance at O’Leary’s homework and feel your forehead crease into a frown when you see the nice, shiny ‘O’ on his parchment. You’re impressed, you admit it, as Arithmancy is a hard subject - one you know Lucy struggles with.
Speaking of your sister, you glance across the room to her, seeing her frowning down at her parchment, obviously unhappy with the mark she received. She’s sitting next to another girl - her best friend, you presume, even though it isn't the same person she was with last time you saw her. You find it difficult to keep up with all the drama that surrounds Lucy. Friends, boyfriends, enemies, crushes, cousins - they all flit in and out of her world so fast you barely notice them. There’s something new every week, some new news, some new scandal.
Scandal… the word repeats itself in your mind, a whisper. Malevolent, gleeful, curious. Scandal.
The lesson starts then, and the whisper goes away, retreating into the back of your head, muttering quietly to itself, that same, single word over and over again.
As usual in Arithmancy classes, you keep your head down, working silently and diligently, copying down the notes from the board, adding in the references Professor Vector makes to pages in the textbook for future use. When you come to make your notes for revision, you want your class notes to be as detailed as possible - who knows what they might sneak into the test on exam day?
Every now and then, you glance at the boy beside you, catch yourself and look away. His working style, you notice, is much the same as yours: taking in-depth notes. Once or twice, though, you find that you’re not looking at his work at all, or, really, anywhere near his work. Instead, you’re gazing at his hair or his face. The second time you realise you’re staring at his hair, you shake your head lightly and look away, bending closer to the sheet of parchment you’re scribbling on, focusing intently on what the professor is saying. You’re surprised you’re not blushing - you would have thought that you, of all people, would be fire-engine red by now, but apparently your genes decided to prove you wrong on this occasion and you escape unblushed.
Far too soon for your liking, the bell rings for the end of the lesson. You take your time, therefore, over packing your bag, screwing the lid on your bottle of ink precisely, making sure the writing around the edge of the bottle and the edge of the lid match up exactly. A pointless exercise, but it allows you to watch as he puts his things away, shoving them messily in his bag.
You frown, though, when, as soon as he’s finished, he makes his way over to Lucy and the other Gryffindor leaving the room, his bag slung casually over one shoulder. He doesn’t even look at you. For a couple of moments you just stand there, completely confused, before get a hold of yourself, deciding that it meant nothing - you barely know him, after all - and make your own way out of the classroom, noting that you’re the last to leave. Even Professor Vector has gone.
The rest of the day is spent in relative quiet as you concentrate on work in an effort to push O’Leary and Arithmancy out of your head. You go as far as to put off doing your homework - a thirteen-inch essay on the magical properties of the number 11 - until the next day, skipping over it in favour of History of Magic. All throughout the mundane tasks you perform, you keep coming back to one simple question: why did it bother you that he didn’t talk to you? You’ve never been this bothered before by someone electing to talk to Lucy over you; in fact, there have been times when you’ve considered it a blessing. You suppose it’s just because he sat next to you in Charms and you seemed to get on well then, but in Arithmancy he didn’t even speak to you and barely looked at you (you’re sure you would have noticed, you did keep glancing at him, after all). You’re just not entirely sure what to make of the situation, that’s all.
You repeat that last to yourself as you trot neatly down the stairs to the Arithmancy classroom. The watch on your wrist reads twenty-eight minutes past five and you smile to yourself, satisfied. You’re early.
Despite you being two minutes early, you can see lights on in the classroom. When you push open the door, the familiar smell of dusty marble and stuffy air hits your nose and you breathe it in deeply. You’ve missed this in the holidays. At home, Uncle Ron is your only real opponent, as none of your other aunts and uncles can play well and those cousins who can play are too young to be much competition, and losing repeatedly to him - while it does make him beam proudly at you and boosts his ego to extreme heights, a rare sight in the Weasley clan - doesn’t thrill you.
At the back of the room, you spot Eleanor and Matthew White - the only two other fifth year Ravenclaws in the room - playing a game already. Three white pawns sit next to Matthew’s hand as he taps the tabletop, all lined up, while Eleanor’s frowning, her chin resting on the palm of her hand.
Stepping past chairs and tables that have been pushed to one side, you begin to make your way across the room to them, intending to watch their game, when a voice calls over to you.
Turning your head, you see that it’s Cassius Sadler, a Slytherin in Dominique’s year, and he’s giving you his usual cocky smirk, sitting in front of a table, a chess set already laid out on it, an empty chair waiting opposite him.
“Want a match?” he offers. “I’ve been practising over the summer. Who knows, I might beat you this time.”
You can’t help but let a confident, almost cocky smile take over your face. If there’s one thing you’re sure about your own abilities with, it’s chess. Sadler has been trying to beat you since his first year, when you both discovered that you were almost evenly matched, despite the age difference. He hasn’t beaten you yet, but keeps insisting that he will, one day soon. When you mentioned this to Dominique, wondering if he didn’t believe in your abilities or was just trying to throw you off your game by saying it each week, she simply laughed and told you that it was pure Slytherin ambition and that was all. ‘You’re better than him and he knows it,’ she told you, ‘so he’s always going to be trying to beat you. It’s like a target for him’.
“We’ll see,” you tell him, slipping into the chair opposite him.
“White starts,” he informs you and you roll your eyes - you hardly need reminding, after all.
Carefully, planning beyond this one simple move, you order a pawn to take two steps forwards. With far less hesitation than you, he does the same.
All around the you, the room falls quiet, silent apart from the occasional whispered instruction to a knight or a pawn or a bishop and the rare scrape of a chair on the wooden floor. The silence is peaceful, however, and you feel yourself begin to unwind from the stress of the past week - the confusion, the curiosity and the bout of guilt that struck you on Saturday. Compared to all that, the slow, delicate process of placing your pieces, choosing your strategy and destroying your opponent is like a walk in the park, a gentle breeze perhaps.
Cassius is the first to destroy the little haven of silence you’ve built up around the two of you. His white Bishop, black face impassive, strikes down one of your knights with his crook, smashing him to pieces, before dragging him off the board. Your opponent doesn’t smile, not even a flicker, as he just continues staring at the board, a determined furrow in his forehead.
It was a good move, you acknowledge, and you know that he wasn’t lying or boasting to make himself feel better - he has practised over the summer and he has improved. Nevertheless, you say nothing (there’ll be time after the match to congratulate him or compliment him on his game, after all) and keep going, adjusting your plan in your mind in accordance with his move.
The match continues, dragging on and on, eating away at the one and a half hours the club runs for. At some point, you hear the door creak as it opens and closes, but you don’t look up to see who’s come in or left. It’s irrelevant.
Around you, noise starts to seep back into the classroom. Games are finishing, people are winning and losing, pieces are reforming, being put away back inside their boxes until next week. People start talking - quietly, of course - and you and Cassius start to gather a small crowd. It always happens, though not often to you and him - the last match, the longest, ends up with a crowd of spectators as they all wait to see who’s won, curious about the result of such a struggle.
Eventually, you manage to corner Cassius’ king with a bishop, rook and queen, and pronounce quietly, plainly,
There’s a light smattering of applause around you and you smile, content with your victory. Cassius only scowls at his defeated king, evidently disappointed, and says nothing as you pick up the pieces, watching as they reform themselves, placing them back in the case and strapping them all in tightly.
“You did well,” you offer hesitantly as he helps you carry the case over to the cupboard, the president of the club hovering behind you, the silver key in his hand. “You’ve really improved over the summer.”
He looks up at you, surprised by what you said, before he glances down and away again, scuffing his shoes on the floor.
“Not really. I’m nowhere near as good as you.”
You give him an incredulous look, your reaction genuinely provoked from you. Hearing this boy - younger than Dominique - constantly put himself down is starting to grate on your nerves a little. His constant self-depreciation makes you wonder if there’s something you don’t know about, a brilliant older sibling you’ve never heard of who steals all the glory.
“No, you’re not!” you burst out without thinking. Propelled forwards by sheer momentum and emotion, you continue, “You’re nearly as good as me - Merlin, you’re probably better than me. You do almost as well as me and take half the time to make your moves, you’re confident about what you do, I can never figure out your game plans for the life of me and you’re always, always improving.”
“Really? You can never figure out my game plans?”
You can’t help but feel mildly irritated that that’s the only thing he’s taken away from the entirety of your speech, but when you notice the hopeful, faintly smug look on his face, you give in. You’ll let him win this battle - he won’t win the war.
“No, never. I’ve tried before,” you admit, somewhat reluctant to share news of your failures with him, even if it is to make him feel better. “But I’ve never managed to do it. They seem to change all the time and it throws me off.”
He gives you a small, brilliant smile, his whole face lighting up briefly.
“Well, thanks, Weasley,” he tells you, sounding almost back to his usual cocky self. “I’ll see you next week.”
Cassius leaves the classroom quickly, the Chess Club President having already left the two of you long ago, at the beginning of your conversation, and you, in turn, exit as well, shaking your head to yourself. You can’t help the small, pleased smile creeping over your face nor the warm, glowing feeling in your chest. You’ve helped someone - even if only a little, even if they didn’t seem to take it all in - and you feel good about it. The knowledge that you’ve done this, that you made him smile and boosted his confidence, makes you feel lighter. There’s a slight spring in your step as you make your way down the stairs to the Great Hall.
Entering the hall, you glance about for someone to sit with. After a moment’s pause, you spot Dominique: she’s on her own at the Slytherin table, sipping soup delicately, eyes downcast. Making your way over to her, you see Cassius a little further down the table, talking animatedly with his friends and your smile - which had slipped a little at the sight of Dominique - returns in full force.
“Hey, Dom,” you say brightly when you reach her, sitting down on the bench next to her. “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” she replies, carefully directing her spoon through the thick, orange soup, tilting her bowl away from her as Aunt Fleur repeatedly insists you all should. Apparently it’s the proper way to eat soup, but you’ve never bothered with it - your mum doesn’t really care how you eat it as long as you don’t pour it all over your lap, but Aunt Fleur is fanatical about such things. “How are you? You seem happy.”
“I am,” you reply easily, reaching for the bread rolls. They’re still warm, the outsides slightly crunchy and you already know that the insides will be soft and slightly gooey and soaked in that freshly-baked scent. “I beat Cassius again in Chess Club today - it was close, though.”
“You always beat him, though,” Dominique pauses to look up at you, giving you a faintly quizzical look that reminds you of a little robin you’ve seen sometimes on your windowsill in your room in Ravenclaw tower. “So how has that made you happier than normal?”
Remembering that Slytherins are generally quite private people and your own curiosity about Cassius’ family, you lower your voice and launch into the tale of your conversation with Cassius after your match was over. You repeat his words exactly, word for word, and yours are more or less the same - perhaps a little paraphrased, but it doesn’t make all that much difference to the general theme of your speech - and make sure to include descriptions of his facial expressions. All through your retelling, Dominique just sits there, blowing on a spoonful of soup to cool it before sliding the spoon into her mouth, her gaze contemplative. When you finish, you look at her expectantly, finding yourself smiling again.
“You comforted him, without thinking about it?” Dominique seems torn between being amused and being impressed. “Don’t worry, Molly, we’ll make a real human being out of you yet.”
“What are you talking about?” you frown. You know she’s teasing you - that much is obvious - but you’re not quite sure what she means by ‘a real human being’. Surely you’re a real human being now? After all, if you weren’t a real human being you would be, well, a vampire or a werewolf or something and you’re really quite sure you’re not either of those.
“Molly, you spend all your time reading romance novels,” Dominique explains patiently. “Or doing homework. That’s not normal. It’s not bad, but it’s not normal either -”
“I play chess as well,” you interrupt her, your good mood dampening slightly. You’ve never really thought about how normal the distribution of your time was, and no one’s ever pointed it out to you before like this. This usually only comes up in arguments you have with Lucy, where she tells you that you’re a geek and a nerd and that you spend so much time with your head buried in books that you’re forgetting about the reality around you.
Dominique shoots you a sharp, pointed glare for interrupting her and continues,
“Yes, but you don’t do that anywhere near as often. I’m just saying that you don’t often talk to people you don’t really know, that’s all.”
Immediately, you disagree mentally, even as you nod on the outside, glancing back down at your plate and spreading butter on a bread roll. You do talk to people you don’t really know - the boy from Charms and Arithmancy, for example; not to mention the seventh year you met in the common room. If you’re being honest, you wouldn’t even count Cassius as a friend. For all that you’ve played an extreme number of chess matches with him in the last four years, you know very little about him outside of Chess Club. You know nothing about his family, about his friends, about the subjects he takes, his likes or dislikes or anything. Aren’t you supposed to know that sort of thing about friends?
A small part of you knows that Dominique has a point, but you ignore that part. Yes, she may have a point, but saying it like that doesn’t help - pointing out a problem doesn’t necessarily mean that you can fix it, after all. Not to mention that you’ve heard it all before, from several different sources, but you just don’t care. Being social isn’t your speciality, so to speak. Of you and your sister, Lucy’s the social twin, you’re not.
You’ve heard your parents discussing you before, talking about how you don’t seem to be very social, how you don’t have many friends your age or many hobbies. Your mum was worried - of course she was worried, it’s what mothers do - but more so than usual: she wondered if maybe you didn’t get on with the people in your year, if you were being bullied or something like that. That had hurt you: did she really think, you had thought as you crouched behind the stairs on the landing, that you wouldn’t tell her or your dad if something was going on? On the other hand, your dad had been much more sympathetic towards you. He had recalled that he had been very similar to you when he was at school himself and had concluded that it was just a phase and that you’d grow out of it soon enough on your own, without needing any help from others. All you needed, he said, was time.
It had heartened you, to hear that your dad had been through a similar thing at school, had had the same reserves about talking to people and had been just as focused on schoolwork. You’d heard the jokes before, of course, at family gatherings - your father’s addiction to his work was often the preyed-on topic - but you’d never heard him talk about it before or even admit it. The difference, to you, was startling, and brought it home. You weren’t weird - you were just like your dad, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with that.
You had gone to sleep easily that night, that one thought comforting you as you lay in bed.
Now, though, you found yourself feeling discontented, wriggling in your seat, itching to get away from Dominique and back to your romance novels. Back to your new one, in particular - back to that mysterious, differently familiar world and the darkly gorgeous Rodolphus Lestrange and his fervent admirer. Perhaps, if you read further, you might find out more about that meeting in the middle of the night, that secret rendezvous in the heart of Slytherin territory.
The thought cheers you a little, awakening your curiosity and sending your imagination spiralling off, images of secret lovers entwined together in passionate embraces flitting through your mind. You wonder why the meeting had to be secret, why their romance had to be kept out of sight, and find yourself envisioning centuries-old family feuds, strict cultural laws that keep the lovers apart, rivalry between siblings, schoolboy disputes, a painted façade of hatred covering a deep, yearning love.
You leave Dominique sooner than you anticipated, giving her a hasty goodbye and muttering something about homework and books from the Library. She just rolls her eyes at you and turns back to the dessert, pulling a large bowl of strawberry mousse towards herself. Briefly, your eyes catch on the Ravenclaw table and you spot Adonis, in all his golden glory, sitting at the table, next to his chaser friend, looking bored and haughty as ever. The sight is enough to make you pause for a moment, before you catch yourself, realise what you’re doing, and hurry out of the hall.
It’s a strange feeling, this one that you’re feeling, you muse as you climb steadily up through the bowels of the school. You can’t work it out: sometimes your stomach feels like it’s being stamped on by an angry giant, at others you feel almost faint, a fluttering light-headedness that sends your senses reeling. His image seems to be printed on the back of your skull - every now and then, you find your thoughts slipping away back to the moment you first saw him, every detail memorised perfectly. Despite having ingrained his picture, his stance and every inch of him into your mind, you don’t know anything about him other than that he’s in your house. A greater shame, you think almost shamefully, is that you don’t even see him around that often. Instead of gazing dreamily after him like you’ve seen other girls do to boys, your eyes misting over, your lips parted and your chin resting on the palm of your hand, you can only imagine him - imagine gazing after him, imagine talking to him, imagine seeing him again.
Perhaps, you muse, it’s for the best. You’re not a particularly good conversationalist - and besides, you might have nothing in common. He could turn out to be an arrogant, spiteful, cruel boy with no sense of humour and no appreciation of good literature. Perhaps, you conclude, it’s better if he stays only in your mind, forever immortalised in your dreams as your golden Adonis.
Giving a wistful smile, you trudge up the last few stairs and rap the knocker smartly against the door. The mystical, floating voice rings out, echoing faintly in the stone tower:
“What building has the most stories?”
You bite your lip as you consider the question. Stories… stories… it seems so simple - too simple, almost. Of course, a muggle skyscraper would be the obvious answer, so it’s not that one. There’s a trick somewhere, you know, but it’s eluding you at the moment.
“Are you stuck?”
Turning around, you face the voice and find that it’s your Adonis. With one eyebrow raised in a perfect arch, he looks just as bored as he had been while sitting at the table downstairs and even, if it were possible, more haughty. Now that he’s closer to you, he seems cold and aloof - but beautifully, perfectly so.
“I - er, well,” you flounder, flustered by his arrival. You’re not exactly stuck, per se, but you’re having a little bit of trouble with this one. You don’t want to admit it, though - not to him, of all people.
When you don’t answer, he glances briefly at the ceiling and strolls forwards, tapping the knocker on the door once, firmly.
“What building has the most stories?” the voice asks again, the enunciation exactly the same.
There’s a pause, silence ringing out loud in the corridor and for a moment, one wild hopeful moment, you wonder if he, like you, is stuck. Your hopes are dashed when he answers, his tone plain, as though he’s giving an answer to an obvious question:
Hearing the answer, you feel yourself blush, embarrassed. You, as an avid lover of novels and a frequent visitor of libraries, feel that you should have known that one - that should have been easy, something you could get without thinking. As it is, you follow Adonis meekly into the common room, your eyes fixed on the back of his head. Inside, you can only lament that you didn’t have the first meeting you were hoping to have. Instead of impressing him with your intelligence and charming him with your wit, you’ve appeared like a bumbling, blushing fool who fails to answer the simplest of riddles. Not stopping to speak to anyone - not even Louis, who looks up at you and waves when you enter - you pass straight through the room and head to your own. Maybe if you bury yourself in your book, in another world, you can forget all about the one you inhabit for a while.