It isn’t until the alarm rings for the sixth time that you actually hear it. Drowsily, you poke your head out of your nest and squint over at it. Sleep clouds your eyes, but your arms are buried beneath the covers and you’re too lazy to move them to brush it away. Reading the time on the third try, satisfied that you’re on time, you swing your legs out of bed, sitting up. The curtains are still closed around Eleanor’s bed and you’re glad - it means you won’t have to explain last night, if, indeed, there is anything to explain.
Standing up, you pull your clothes out of your trunk, taking care to shut the lid with only the gentlest of clicks, and vanish into the bathroom. You hurry through your morning routine - wash face, shower, dress, brush hair - and race out of the bathroom, taking care to be as quiet as a mouse in all things. Eleanor doesn’t stir and you flee the room as if a manticore is chasing you. For some reason, the idea of staying and talking to Eleanor - the idea that she might mention last night and ask what happened when you don’t have an answer to give her, the idea that you might be stumped for once in your life - petrifies you.
You jog down the stairs, feeling much more at ease once you’re at the bottom of them. Taking in a deep breath, you begin the walk to the Great Hall, glancing out of the windows as you pass by them. It’s still a clear sky outside, but a light grey rather than blue. Nothing flies in the sky, the trees barely stir.
Moving on, you reach the Great Hall a little later than you expected. Concluding that you walked slowly and remembering your halt by the windows, you take a seat at the Ravenclaw table. As usual, you pour yourself some pumpkin juice, then take two large spoonfuls of scrambled egg and two slices of toast. Glancing around yourself, you check that Louis hasn’t arrived, spot James at the Gryffindor table - a surprise, but you don’t think you should worry even though he’s surrounded by his friends and therefore likely to cause trouble of some kind - and scan the Slytherin table briefly, looking for Dominique. She isn’t there, but your eyes alight on her normal spot, stopping there.
It seems familiar somehow - more familiar than anything else. For a moment, you catch yourself wondering why you’re sitting at the Ravenclaw table rather than the green-and-silver one. After all, you’ve sat at that table every morning for over four years of your life, you’d think you’d know which table you were supposed to sit at.
You feel your body rise of its own accord, your hands curling around the edges of your plate and cup, preparing to take your things over to the other table. The movement is automatic, smooth and practised, thoughtless.
“Molls?” your head turns and you see Louis standing there, Jake by his side, giving you an odd look. “What are you doing?”
You flush a bright red when you realise that several people around are giving you curious looks, wondering what you’re doing. You’re wondering the same thing.
Blinking, you put the plate and cup down, your head suddenly aching. You haven’t had a headache before - not a proper one anyway, not one that was quite this bad - so it comes as a bit of a shock.
“Oh, I was going to go over to the Slytherin table, but then I realised that Dominique isn’t there yet,” you lie hastily. You’re not a good liar, you know that, but you’re not too bad either - not like Fred. He can’t lie to save his life.
Luckily for you, Louis swallows the lie, buying it - hook, line and sinker. With a nod for your explanation and a shrug at the mention of his sister’s whereabouts, he replies,
“Fair enough. Why were you looking for Dom? Need to talk to her about something?”
You sit down, lifting your fork and knife off your plate, preparing to cut into your toast, as he takes the seat next to you, Jake slipping silently into the one beside him.
“I was just wondering where she was - she’s usually here quite early, so it’s a bit of a surprise,” you invent, finding that the lie drips off your tongue easily. You barely have time to think the words before they’re out of your mouth.
In the meantime, your headache seems to have only got worse - it’s pounding at the back of your skull, sending pulses of pain through your head. Every scrape, every laugh, every whisper makes it throb. You imagine it to be an angry red blob on your pink brain, pulsating violently every time there’s a noise, sulking gently when there’s silence. You wonder if this is what a migraine is like. Your mum always used to tell you that you were too young to get migraines, but she might well have been lying to you to make you feel better, or to stop you (or Lucy) from claiming you had them all the time to get out of doing your chores.
“She is,” Louis agrees, completely oblivious to your pain. You’re not sure if you’re masking it well or if he just hasn’t noticed. From the odd looks Jake keeps shooting you every now and then, you suspect that it might be the latter rather than the former. It wouldn’t surprise you, knowing your cousin. “But hey, don’t worry about it. I’m sure she’ll turn up soon enough.”
“Are you alright?” Jake interrupts your conversation, leaning across Louis to talk to you.
Louis, baffled as ever, glances at his mate with a frown before looking at you and raising his eyebrows at you in a look copied exactly off Aunt Fleur that makes you feel incredibly small.
“I’m fine,” you smile weakly, hoping that it will stop them from asking more questions or prying further. It’s only a headache, after all - you don’t want to appear weak or feeble in front of them.
Jake doesn’t look convinced - if anything, his frown deepens as he watches you - but Louis accepts that and turns back to his breakfast, pulling the other boy into a conversation about Quidditch, asking him about the latest league games.
As you eat, you keep an eye on your cousin and his friend, watching what they’re up to, listening half-heartedly to their conversation. It doesn’t interest you, but you continue nevertheless. Within the first five minutes you’re already lost - they’re blathering on about league tables and whether or not Puddlemere United will have a chance of winning the cup if they win the match against the Harpies, but only draw against the Tornadoes, and the Firebolt brooms versus the Nimbus brooms - but you keep an ear focused on them as the words turn into buzzing.
Eventually, once you’ve finished, you see Jake pull a copy of Quidditch United magazine out of his bag. They start pouring over it immediately, flipping through the pages eagerly, devouring the contents like they’ve been starving from any Quidditch-related information for months on end. On one page, Samson Harper-Keely, the Tutshill Tornadoes star Chaser, beams up at you, his teeth flashing white in the light of the camera. You spare him a glance, assessing and judging, but then turn away. He’s good-looking, but lacks that certain something - that je ne sais quoi. There’s none of the dark charisma of Rodolphus Lestrange or the mysterious glow that surrounds your Adonis. Nothing that really makes him stand out in your eyes.
You decide that it’s safe to leave now - without being asked why you’re leaving, if you really feel alright, if you're sure you don’t need to go to the Hospital Wing - and grab your bag, swinging it over your shoulder, the weight of it sitting comfortably beside your hip. Slipping through the gaps in the crowds - most of which are going in the opposite direction to you - you invent a path to the girls bathroom on the fourth floor.
Shutting the door behind you, you close your eyes briefly. The light in here is bright, but it’s dimmer than in the corridors - there’s only three torches hanging at intervals above the sinks, one lone window at the far end letting in pale, grey light.
Dropping your bag on the ground by the sink at the end, you lean against the wall. The silence in here is welcoming, caressing, soothing - but still your headache doesn’t stop aching. It pulses on and on and on, relentlessly pounding into your head, like a drill that’s lost the off switch or an ever-beating drum.
You press a hand to your forehead. You don’t feel hot, or sweaty, or clammy, or any of the other things you normally feel when you’re ill. You can only assume it’s a headache, but, even with a Healer for a mother, you know very little about medicine. She was always there, when she came home or in the morning or was available by floo, to solve every problem, fix every scraped knee and cure every short-lived cold, or bug you and Lucy (and, on the rare occasion, your dad) ever had.
Despite the pain, the intensity and your lack of belief in diagnosing your own illness and problems, you don’t want to go and see Madam Dagnell. Even though you know she could make your headache go away, solve the problem, cure your illness in less time that it takes to synchronise a watch, you feel a strange aversion to going and seeing her. Maybe it’s the way she fusses, clucks over all her patients at the beginning and then delivers both her diagnosis and the solution with military-style grace and about as much leeway as in a military camp, or the way she always gives you a curious look because you’re surname’s Weasley and you look like one but you sure as Circe don’t act like one. Maybe it’s because she knows your mum - they met during training at St. Mungo’s and have remained in contact ever since. If you told Madam Dagnell you had a bad headache, your mum would know by the end of the week for certain, regardless of whether or not you told her, which would mean a letter full of advice on how to avoid getting headaches - and those letters were almost headache-inducing themselves. You know this very well, although not from personal experience, having seen Victoire get one two years previously.
Deep down, you know that’s not the entire truth. You’re also scared that it would be something more. The sign of a serious disease, of something deadly or contagious, which would mean you’d have to be separated from everyone or that you only had six months to live before dying a slow, painful and drawn-out death. Or, perhaps, something worse. Something that you can’t stop, that no one can stop. Something dangerous, but not deadly, which won’t kill you but simply torment you day after day after day, until you’re driven mad from the pressure, from the endless pain.
You’ve heard the story about Professor Longbottom’s parents. You know it’s possible.
Taking two steps, you move over to the sink. Turning the tap on, you splash the cold water on your face. It helps slightly, helps to cool you down, helps to wake you up. Your headache doesn’t lessen at all, or even abate slightly, but you feel more confident. A small victory in the grand scheme of things, but that’s enough for now, you think.
Glancing down at the watch on your wrist, you see that it reads five to nine. Carefully drying your face with the corner of your robe, not caring that it’s going to crinkle or be wet, you pick up your bag, hoisting it over your shoulder. It feels heavier now, but that, you suppose, might be your imagination. Things often do that - feel heavier one moment then lighter the next and vice versa. One of the mysteries of life.
The Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom is, thankfully, only a short walk away - down a flight or so of stairs and around the corner from the bathroom - so you make it in time. You’re early, in fact, arriving just as everyone else is entering the room. Joining onto the end of the line, you slip in amongst them all.
You take your usual seat - by the windows, of course - and look up to the front of classroom as you pull your quill, ink, parchment and textbook out of your schoolbag, placing them on your desk. At the front of the class, Professor Vaisey - one of only two former Slytherin professors on the staff and one of your favourites - gives you a wink, sitting down behind his desk.
The rest of the class settles down, the signal having been given, and you find yourself next to Mahendra. He gives you a polite smile and you smile back, before you both switch your attention back to the front of the class.
Professor Vaisey doesn’t hang about like most other teachers, introducing the topic you’ll be studying that lesson, reminding you of previous principles you studied which relate to this topic. Instead, he just jumps straight into it: studying the Statute of Secrecy and the section on under-age magic, in particular the clause about personal defence.
From hearing your dad and Uncle Harry talk, you know that this is a new section that was only added into the course a few years after the Second Wizarding War and the reformation of a new, stable government. It was added in to benefit those students in the school who had grown up in muggle families or with little knowledge of the wizarding world, so that they understood what they could and couldn’t do outside school - what was and wasn’t classified as ‘personal defence’ and in which situations it would be acceptable to use magic in front of muggles.
It would be a bit of a boring lesson, you think, unlike the majority of the lessons for this class, but it’s necessary. You know that, Professor Vaisey knows that and everyone else in the class knows that. Nevertheless, despite how important this session is, you can’t help but feel sorry for Professor Vaisey - you share this class with the Slytherins and, of course, they will all know this law already. Maybe not some of the finer points, and it could probably do with going over just to make sure you’re all clear on the details and exactly what it says, but most of the students sitting around you already know the basic principle.
Next to you, Mahendra’s quill is poised over his parchment, held just so that the ink on the end of it doesn’t drip into the expanse of cream. His eyes are fixed on the board, dark and intense as he swallows the words the professor writes on the board with a flick of his wrist.
While you watch Mahendra copying the text down, reaching for your own quill and ink to do the same, it hits you - he’s muggle-born. He’s never experienced magic before he came to Hogwarts, he knows next to nothing about this law. This, for him, is all new information - all very pertinent to him, all very useful and possibly confusing.
Sitting there, mindlessly copying down the notes on the board, you try to imagine what it would be like to be like him or Aunt Hermione or your mum and have no idea about magic. To have turned eleven and been told something that seemed so impossible, so extraordinary, so ridiculous as that you were a wizard and possessed magical powers. To have entered this world not knowing the laws, or the customs, or anything really about the school other than what the professor who informed you that you were a wizard or witch had told you. To have to adjust to this life, with parents and siblings and family who don’t understand or won’t understand or can’t understand or ever find out what you are, rather than simply being born in it. It must, you conclude, be difficult. Difficult and extremely confusing.
A nasty voice in the back of your mind sneers that they just have to live with it - there’s nothing you can do, after all. It’s like moving country. You simply have to adapt to the changes, find out the rules and obey them, find out the customs and follow them. Besides, the voice continues irritably, it’s not as if they have to learn a different language, or even dress really differently, or act completely differently. It’s not as difficult as people like to make it out to be. They catch up in the end - a lot of great wizards have been muggle-borns, you muse, and they all started from that same point of confusion.
Focusing back on your work, you notice that Professor Vaisey has stopped writing on the board. The majority of the class is sitting there, in silence, looking up at him and waiting for him to speak. His dark eyes pass over you in a scan of the classroom, then, satisfied that everyone is paying attention, he begins.
“I understand that there are many of you in here who will already know a lot about this law and what it means for all of you,” his gaze flickers briefly over you, and the Slytherin section of the room. “And so I must apologise to you for rehashing things you perhaps already know. Nevertheless, it is important that you pay attention - yes, that includes you, Mr Harper -” The Slytherin student, his head on his arms, shoots up, back becoming rod-straight, eyes wide and alert. Professor Vaisey smirks before continuing, “As you may have forgotten some of the finer points or not heard it explained in such detail before. Even if you have, it’s still good to go over things, to jog your memory.”
His opening speech concluded, he orders you all to turn to chapter thirty-eight in your textbooks - the very last, you note. Then again, Professor Vaisey has never done things in order.
Reading in silence, you scan over the first few pages - they simply outline the law, quoting straight from the act passed by the Wizangamot and the International Statute of Secrecy. It’s not of any particular interest to you - well, none of it really is, since you already know it all, but this bit is of less interest than the rest is - since you’ve heard your dad quote this law on several occasions. You think you could probably manage to quote it yourself.
As the lesson continues on, your headache only continues to get worse. As you stare at the page of the book, the black-and-white dances before your eyes, the little squiggles of type fading, seeming to move about, taunting and teasing you. It’s becoming an uphill struggle to focus, to concentrate on what you’re doing. Even taking notes - the simplest exercise possible that normally you could do with minimal effort - is becoming hard. You keep missing out words, forgetting words and simply not caring. You feel uninterested - you don’t want to do this, you couldn’t honestly care less.
Running your fingers along the soft feather of your quill, you close your eyes briefly, the slight dip in light intensity welcoming. You want to put your head on your hands, to rest for a while, but don’t care. You’re not sure you’d be able to stay awake if you did.
“Molly?” you hear Mahendra speak to you, his voice quiet, as though he’s not supposed to be talking. The pain in your head still spikes and you find yourself wishing that he hadn’t spoken at all. Not if people talking to you will do that to you.
“What?” you ask, your tone harsher than you meant it to be. You regret it almost immediately when he frowns, smooth forehead crinkling. He doesn’t know what he did wrong, what that one word did to you - it’s not his fault, you remind yourself.
“Are you alright?” he enquires, giving you a searching look.
You don’t quite know why he’s asking you this question - you’re not really friends, after all, and haven’t talked that often - but you don’t have long to puzzle this over. He’s looking at you curiously, obviously expecting an answer.
“I’m fine,” you reply after a slight pause, turning your gaze back to your book. His question seems far more dangerous than Jake’s. Perhaps it’s the lack of gullible cousins floating around to turn his attention from you, or perhaps it’s that you don’t really want to lie to Mahendra. You are potential friends, after all.
“Are you sure?” he raises his eyebrows, and it’s clear from his expression that he doesn’t believe you. “You keep rubbing your head and you look like you’re in pain.”
“I have a small headache,” you half-admit, refusing to admit how much it’s plaguing you. “It’ll go away soon enough.” Although you say it, the words don’t ring true. You have no idea if it’ll go away soon - you hope so but simply can’t tell.
“Do you want to go to Madam Dagnell?” Mahendra asks you, glancing once at the head of the room, where Professor Vaisey sits at his desk, leafing through a pile of parchment, occasionally looking up to survey the class. Thankfully, he doesn’t seem to have noticed your conversation.
“No, I’ll be fine,” you shake your head, internally ruing telling him anything. Of course he would have the same response as everyone else, a little voice whispers in the back of your mind, he’s just the same as the rest of them. “It’s not the first one I’ve had.”
“If you’re sure,” he gives a single nod, accepting that, his dark eyes staying on you. “But if you change your mind, or it gets worse, just let me know.”
Opening your mouth, you go to reply, but you’re interrupted before they can even reach the tip of your tongue.
“Miss Weasley, Mr Singh, perhaps you could stop talking and get on with the work I have set you before I decide to take points?” Professor Vaisey’s icy voice cuts in, and your head shoots up to see him looking to you. You’ve attracted the attention of most of the class as well. Flushing deep red, you avert your eyes from his thin face, looking back at your notes, picking up your quill again.
“Sorry, professor,” Mahendra replies.
You say nothing, feeling your face burning, the weight of the stare of the class still on you. Gradually, it recedes as they all, one by one, turn back to their own work. The blush took longer to go, the warm feeling lingering far longer.
“Sorry about that,” Mahendra whispers to you out of the corner of his mouth.
“It’s fine,” you murmur in reply, turning over a page of your textbook, scanning the page. In truth, you’re mildly annoyed - you pride yourself on having a spotless school record, unlike so many of your cousins, and on being a student on whom most of the teachers feel they can rely - but you don’t have the heart to say that. Not to mention that it would be incredibly rude.
“You say that a lot, don’t you?” he mutters, and you catch his small smile out of the corner of your eye. “‘Fine’.”
“I do,” you agree, having never really realised before. You’re sure that now you’ve been told you say it often you’ll pick up on each time you use it, being far more aware of your usage of the word than you were before. It’s hardly a bad thing, so you don’t mind.
The conversation halts there as Professor Vaisey, informing you all that you are to finish making notes on that chapter for the next lesson, flicks his wand, handing out a sheet of questions about the law. They’re not particularly difficult questions, but there are sixty of them and you give a little sigh anyway. You were planning on reading some more of that book this evening, but it doesn’t look like you’re going to get to now.
The rest of the day passes more quickly than you expected it to. Each lesson, each hour, your headache continues. It throbs, pulses and aches, the pain growing when someone speaks to you or in crowded corridors. Still, you never go to see Madam Dagnell - you never even contemplate it - and, luckily for you, no one else comments on it.
On your way to the Great Hall for dinner, you bump into Dominique. She’s without her usual group of friends, and you wonder for a moment why she’s alone but then brush it off. If it’s important, she’ll tell you.
“Hey, Molly,” she smiles at you. It’s slightly different from her usual smile, you notice. It seems bigger, fuller, brighter. “How has your day been?”
“It’s been alright,” you tell her, not being entirely truthful but loathing to lie outright. She’s good at telling lies and can spot one from a mile away - a neat little trick you often used to take advantage of (not to mention her weakness for Nana Molly’s mango and strawberry cheesecake) when you thought your cousins were lying, but not one that would help you now. “How has yours been? Good, I take it?”
“Oh, it wasn’t bad,” she replies airily and you give her an odd look. First she smiles at you as though she’s won the muggle Lottery, and then she tells you that her day has only been ‘not bad’? It’s a strange reply, a strange scenario, but you decide not to push for answers. After all, you’re hiding secrets yourself - even if you’re not entirely sure what the secret is yet.
Dinner passes in a stale, stagnant state - conversation ran dry after about the first ten minutes. You’ve discussed Fred and James’ recent antics, rehashed old ground about Victoire and Teddy’s relationship, commiserated about the amount of homework you both have to do and have found yourselves with nothing to say. It’s odd being in this situation with Dominique, you muse to yourself, as she’s the cousin you get on best with (you would count Louis, but he gets on well with everybody, so no one counts him as a matter of principle). Were you talking to Victoire or Lucy or Fred, this might be more normal, but it’s not. The abnormality of this makes it even worse, as you have no idea how to solve the problem. You don’t want to ask her why she seems so happy - she’ll tell you when she wants to - Quidditch is out of the question, and you don’t have a wealth of funny stories you can share like Fred and James do. In short, you’re stuck.
The problem solves itself a few minutes later, as Dominique, having eaten at the speed of light, rises, picking up her bag, mutters something about going to the Library and vanishes out of the room without looking back. Blinking, confused by her hasty departure, you decide to mention it to Victoire later - perhaps she can get something out of her sister?
Since you’re now sitting on your own at the Slytherin table - not necessarily a good move - you hastily finish yourself and abandon ship, leaving the Great Hall and heading upstairs to Ravenclaw Tower. You feel light - lighter than usual, as though a weight has been lifted from your shoulders - but your headache is still there. If anything, you think it’s got worse after sitting in the Great Hall for fifteen minutes, but it’s difficult to tell.
Rapping the knocker twice, you wait patiently to be asked the riddle.
“Which is the best month for a parade?”
You can’t help but smile at that one. It’s so simple, so easy and so clever - the kind of thing you like. Wordplay has always impressed you.
“March,” you answer and push open the door to the common room, stepping inside.
Just before you’re completely inside, just before you let the door close on it’s own, there’s a shout from behind you.
The voice is familiar - the seventh year from the first week, the one who knew your name even though you’ve never met him before in your memory - and you turn, holding the door open for him. There’s a slight, audible humph from the knocker to the room, but you both ignore it.
“Thanks,” he smiles at you and you’re suddenly reminded of your less than stellar first impression. You will do better this time, you think decisively. “So, how’s the book going?”
You’re surprised he remembers - surely he has more important things to recall than that you were reading a book when you first met him? - but don’t wonder about it for long.
“I finished it,” you admit, forgetting that you’re standing in the doorway to the common room, the door swinging shut behind the two of you. “I’ve got a new one now.”
“Already?” he seems surprised, and you nod, your face lighting up with a blush, but he continues nevertheless, “Is it good?”
“It’s fascinating,” you reply, finding yourself suddenly clamming up about the details of the story. You don’t want to share it - it was your find, your book, so now it’s your secret. Besides, you rationalise, no one else would appreciate it the same way that you do. They wouldn’t understand it. “But different. Anyway,” you breathe out, your mind searching for an excuse to leave. His reference to the book has re-ignited your desire to read it again, to continue the story. “I’d better be going. I’ve got a lot to read for Arithmancy and if I don’t do it, Professor Vector will be furious.”
With one last, small smile, you leave the room, beating a hasty retreat to the safety of your room - and the black book that you know is sitting on your bedside table, one corner folded neatly down, waiting for you. Inside, you’re marvelling at your new-found ability to lie. You’ve never been able to do that before, but it’s the third time today you’ve lied to someone and they’ve bought it at face value. Usually, you would have been sniffed out by at least two of the three. Perhaps, you wonder, it was because you don’t really know two out of the three particularly well - maybe it’s not that obvious to people you don’t know well when you’re lying?
Your mind is completely wiped clean when your eyes land on the book, sitting innocently on your bedside table, the cover gleaming slightly in the light, like snakeskin.
Sitting down on your bed, you pick up the book, opening the cover and turning automatically to the marked page, smoothing it out, your eyes already scanning the page eagerly.