Chapter 15 : Something Real
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After a few minutes, the door opened, but it wasn't her sister standing there. It was her brother-in-law, still in his pale blue Arrows robes. He looked sweaty; he must've just come from training.
“Molly?” Hilarion's eyes widened in alarm. “Is everything all right?”
She didn't want to talk to him. She couldn't stop crying, and she only wanted her sister. “Where's Lucy? I need to talk to Lucy.”
“She's at your parents'-”
Molly started to turn away, but Hilarion grabbed her arm to stop her. “Wait, wait, you shouldn't be Apparating like this, it isn't safe. I'll take you, come on.” He pulled the door closed behind them, still holding Molly's arm, and then turned over his shoulder.
They reappeared in the overgrown grass of her parents' lawn, and Hilarion let her go at once. Molly stumbled inside, with her brother-in-law trailing behind her, and found her sister sitting at the kitchen table with their mother, cups of tea and a plate of biscuits on the table. Audrey was holding Flora, and they all looked round at her, their expressions changing to worry at the sight of the tears streaking Molly's face.
“Molly, what's wrong?” Audrey said at once, getting to her feet.
But she didn't want her mother, either. She couldn't tell her mother about Fitz. Lucy had jumped out of her chair and rushed over. Molly grabbed her sister by the hand and tugged her along to the bathroom, locking the door behind them.
“What on earth is going on?” Lucy demanded, sitting on the edge of the bathtub. “Why are you crying? You never cry.”
“It's Fitz, he came over and... and he said...” Her voice broke on a sob, and she sat down on the floor, burying her face in her hands.
“What did he say?” Lucy sounded outraged. “I'll go and kick him. Dad will go and kick him. Roxy will slap him in the face if you want her to.”
“No, it's not like that.” She wiped furiously at her tears. “He said that I only wanted to fix him, that I didn't want the real him. But it's not true. He wouldn't listen.”
Her sister frowned. “Fix him? What does that mean?”
“Because I tell him not to shout and swear at the team, and I encouraged him to work on getting his arm better, the one that was injured. He – he said he didn't feel angry when we're together, and before that he felt angry all the time. I mentioned it and he... He told me I was trying to fix him up so he would be perfect like me.” His face as he said it, drawn tight with pain, swam in her memory. He really believed she didn't want him unless she'd straightened him up. And she hadn't been able to find the words to tell him he was wrong. A fresh wave of anguish rose up in her.
Lucy looked angry on her behalf. “What a prat. Oh, I could just slap him myself. Do you want me to have the boys get him? Remember what they did to Andrew?”
Molly managed a teary smile. She didn't have brothers, but she did have five male cousins. After her cousin Dominique's husband's cheating and illegal activities came to light, the boys had tracked him down. Whatever they'd done to Andrew, he'd turned up on her uncle Ron's office doorstep, unconscious and covered in green tentacles. The boys had tied him up hand to foot and pinned a sign to him that said Cheating Bastard, Ought To Be Locked Up. Uncle Ron and Uncle Harry were still pretending they didn't know who'd done it.
“I don't think that's necessary,” she told her sister, sniffling. Lucy's outrage had helped her catch her breath, so at least she could speak around the despair choking her.
“I thought he really liked you,” Lucy said then, putting an arm around her. “I don't understand why he would say that.”
Molly understood only too well. Fitz had been willing to toy around with her while no one knew about them, but as soon as their manager had found out, he'd chucked her straight away. Meghan McCormack had brought the truth out of him. “McCormack found out we'd been seeing each other.”
“And he broke up with you because she disapproved?”
“He said it was past time to end it anyway. But I wasn't ready, I don't...” Molly's voice trailed off, and she sniffled, feeling fresh tears gathering. “I still want to be with him. Just last night, he kissed me outside the pub and it didn't feel like he was tired of us. I'm not tired of us, dammit.”
“Oh, Molly.” Lucy gave her a hug. “Are you in trouble with your manager because of this?”
Molly shrugged. McCormack's anger had been the last thing on her mind, but now she thought about it, the silence from the team manager probably meant Molly was not about to get the sack. “She would have come to see me by now, or owled for a meeting or something. McCormack doesn't exactly keep it to herself when she's angry with someone.”
“Well, that's good, anyway,” Lucy said lamely. She didn't seem to know what to do.
“McCormack must have threatened to fire him.” Molly rubbed at her tear-streaked face. She knew Fitz wanted to keep his job. He had nothing else to do, that was what he'd told her. He needed Portree.
“So he chose his job over you?”
She pushed her hair back from her face. She hadn't thought of it in quite those terms. “I never asked him to choose me, I wouldn't expect... It wouldn't be fair. He might not get another coaching job. It's just... I really thought we had something real.”
“You thought it was love,” Lucy whispered.
Molly started crying again, nodding to her sister while she tried to stifle the sobs. Lucy put an arm around her, drawing her close and making soothing noises.
The door clicked open, and through her tears, Molly saw her father step into the room.
“Is that an Extendable Ear?” Lucy demanded, looking outraged. “Dad!”
Percy turned a bit red and stuffed the long, flesh-coloured string in his pocket, but he didn't bother explaining himself. "Come outside, Molly, let's talk."
Still sobbing, she followed him blindly as he led her out the back door and up the hill. Halfway up he sat down, and Molly collapsed beside him, leaning her head on his shoulder.
"So you're in love with your coach," Percy said quietly, and Molly drew in a shuddering breath.
"How much did you hear?" she managed to ask.
Her dad adjusted his glasses. He didn't look embarrassed any more at having been caught eavesdropping. "Well... Did you only want to fix him?"
He had heard everything, it seemed. She would normally never have talked to her father about something like this. It was too embarrassing to contemplate. But now here they were, and he was sitting quietly beside her, knowing everything she'd told Lucy and keeping both the parental judgment and wrath from his face. He looked like he empathized with her, strangely enough. It was comforting, and she found herself answering him honestly instead of dodging the question.
"No, I..." She hadn't, she wanted him, not some perfect version of him. "I just wanted to help him. It wasn't fixing him. He said he was happier when he was with me, and I liked that. I didn't mean for him to think I was trying to change him. I like him." It didn't sound quite right, even to her, but she didn't know how to explain it.
Percy was silent for a few moments while Molly mopped up her tears and tried to push her hair out of her face. She hated crying, hated this sniveling feeling. She never let herself get bogged down by emotions this way, always focusing instead on being proactive, changing what didn't suit her in her life. Sitting around crying about it wouldn't make it better, but this time she couldn't help herself. The tears would not be squashed down, would not let her avoid them.
"It's hard to be the leader," her dad said quietly then. "You get used to feeling you know what's best for everyone. And sometimes you're just so bloody wrong... You've always been so smart and capable, it seemed only natural for you to take charge. With your sister, with your cousins... You were so good at it, and I was so proud. Maybe I spent too much time encouraging it. It's all right not to know how to handle something, Molly. It's all right to make mistakes, and to make amends. Before it's too late." He pulled her close, kissing her on the top of her head while she buried her face in his robes.
She stayed there, wrapped in her father's protective embrace, until her tears were spent. Exhausted, she let Percy draw her to her feet and take her inside, his arm still around her shoulders.
"I haven't seen you cry like this since you were a little girl," he said as they went inside.
Molly gave him a watery smile. "How very helpful of you to say."
"Just thought I'd mention it."
Hilarion was still in the kitchen with Flora in his arms. Lucy was beside him, and from the way their heads were bent toward each other, they seemed to be deep in a hushed conference. They both fell silent when they saw Molly, watching her with worried expressions.
"Here," said Hilarion, thrusting Flora at her. "Hold the baby."
Molly took her automatically, and Flora gurgled at her. She was chewing on one chubby little fist, drool running freely onto her pink embroidered dress. Molly smiled at her niece without thinking, and hugged her close.
"See, holding the baby always works," said Hilarion, looking relieved that Molly was no longer crying hysterically.
"You can't help but smile at such a beautiful baby," Percy agreed, reaching over to tickle Flora's round cheeks.
"Are you all right, Molly?" came Audrey's voice from behind her. She felt her mother's hand on her arm and turned, still hugging Flora tightly, and managed a small smile. Reassurances were in order, even if they didn't feel entirely justified just yet.
"I'll be fine, Mum."
They were obviously all worried for her. Maybe she ought to let some emotions out more often, so it didn't cause this much uproar when she did.
Lucy and Hilarion went home, and Molly slept in her old bedroom at her parents' house. The Quidditch posters that used to line the walls were gone now, but the furniture was the same. Her old prefect badge was still pinned to the lampshade beside the bed. It felt comforting in its familiarity.
The next morning, Molly was up before her mother, making tea and toast for her father while he read the Daily Prophet.
“I need to be back in Portree by seven,” Molly said, handing him a fresh cup.
“Are you sure you want to go?” asked Percy, frowning. “Maybe you should take a sick day.”
“Everyone would wonder what happened to me,” she hedged.
“Let him wonder,” her father said, drinking his tea.
Molly leaned her hip against the counter, considering it. It sounded nice to hide for a day, to put off the inevitable a bit longer. But it was only putting it off. She'd have to see him eventually, and it wouldn't be any easier later than it would be now. She didn't like hiding, didn't like putting off unpleasant things. It was better to deal with them head-on and get it over with. Time to rip off this particular bandage: she was going to the pitch today.
“We don't have a reserve Keeper,” she said aloud. “No one to replace me. I'd better go in.”
Percy drained his tea and got to his feet. “There's my brave girl.” He kissed the top of her head. “I've got to go to work. Will you come home for dinner tonight?”
“Probably not. I'll try to come round on Saturday.” Molly gave her father a kiss on the cheek. “Have a good day, Dad.”
Back in Portree, she hurried to the locker room to put on her robes. The room was empty; for once, she was the last one on the field. She took a few minutes to breathe deeply, staring at her reflection in the mirror, before leaving the locker room. Her face showed nothing of her crying jag from yesterday. It was a hollow victory, but she felt a bit better for it.
She didn't care if the team saw anything, but she didn't want Fitz to see how badly he'd hurt her.
If she didn't care so much for him, she might have hated him for yesterday. She couldn't bring herself to, though she wished she could. Things would be so much easier if she could hate him now. She was angry, yes, but she didn't hate him.
Love, it's love, her heart whispered, and she checked her reflection one last time before heading down to the pitch. She hated being pathetic. It didn't show in the mirror. Her hair was perfect, not a strand out of place. That made her feel a bit better.
The team was already in the air, flying round the pitch at top speed. Fitz was on the ground below them, his broom lying at his feet and his arms folded across his chest. He turned at the sound of her footsteps.
“I didn't think you were coming in today,” he said quietly. His face was expressionless.
“I work here,” she said coolly.
“You were late,” he pointed out. “You're never late.”
“It was five minutes, tops.”
She swung one leg over her broom and kicked off.
Fitz watched her shooting toward the hoops, her hair braided tight to her scalp, and sighed. It hadn't been five minutes, Molly was over half an hour late. He'd been sure she wasn't coming in at all. He wouldn't have blamed her for skiving off today. If he'd had anywhere to go, he might have done the same.
But the Prides were all he had. His eyes tracked Molly as she took up position in front of the hoops. She didn't seem upset. A little paler than usual, maybe. Her face was in profile to him, her chin held high and her eyes clear.
She was all right, he hadn't hurt her too much, he told himself. He hoped it was true.
Mariah flew past, and Fitz's eyes narrowed. She didn't look concerned about the fallout from telling McCormack about the kiss outside the pub. There was no satisfaction on her face, only concentration as she tossed the Quaffle to Sid.
Once again, she'd screwed up his life just because she could. Every time she'd cheated on him, she'd cried and apologized and promised never to do it again. By the fourth go-round, he had stopped caring about her promises. Whatever she'd wanted out of him in their marriage, she had clearly not got it, because she'd gone looking for it elsewhere over and over.
Apparently torturing him during their marriage hadn't been enough. She had to torture him some more now. For the thousandth time, he wished he'd never met Mariah Waldman, much less married her.
His attention was drawn then by Deimos Flint nearly falling off his broom to hit a Bludger that kept dodging away from him. “No,” he roared. “Don't reach like that, you twat, you're going to lose control of your broom, goddammit!” He held a hand out over his own broom, and it leaped into his hand. With much less grace than Molly, he was up in the air and flying toward the Beaters.
Molly blocked a Quaffle from Beathan, tossing it toward Sid as he flew past, and then resumed floating in front of the hoops. Fitz was off shouting at Deimos, not paying her any attention now.
The angry urge to shout at him was mixed with a hopeless feeling she wasn't used to. It sat in the pit of her stomach like acid. He needed his job. No one would hire him to coach if he quit halfway through, when the Prides hadn't shaken their old reputation. There weren't that many coaching jobs to begin with, the League being relatively small. He'd be coaching in the junior leagues, and that would never work. He swore at the players too much, and he'd make them all cry, and get sacked all over again.
She was damn well not going back to her old team. Lyra Brownyard had years to go, decades probably, before she retired. There was no chance of moving up to starting Keeper for the Harpies. That was why she'd left in the first place. The reputation of the Prides was colouring her career now too: if she left to try another team, she might not find anyone willing to take a chance on her. She'd rolled the dice with Portree, and it was time to hold fast to her cards, to mix a metaphor.
Nothing had changed. They both needed their current jobs if they wanted to stay in the League. The relationship had to be over, before it got in the way. She hadn't thought they were doomed to failure together, but apparently he did.
“Dammit,” she whispered, still watching Fitz.
“All right there, Molly?” called Jinks.
She looked up to find him hovering over the center hoop, his face worried. “I'm fine, Jinks.”
“You look a bit pale.”
“I'm a ginger, remember?”
He gave her a look, but flew off anyway. Jesus, she thought. Now even Jinks was worried about her.
After training, Molly finally returned home. The broken glass was still lying under the tables in her living room. She'd left in such a hurry for Lucy's house that she hadn't touched it. It was probably the first time in years that she'd left a mess untidied for longer than a few minutes. It was definitely the first time since she'd been a little girl that she'd lost control of her magic like that.
She sat on the couch, pulling her feet up underneath her, and stared at the shards of glass under the coffee table. Fitz's face was in her mind, telling her all the things she didn't want to hear. I'll still be a mess and you won't want it. I never should have started anything with you when I knew it couldn't last.
“Reparo,” she whispered, and the glass in the coffee table jumped up, sealing back together again into a sheet of glass, good as new. She fixed the side tables as well, still sitting cross-legged in the center of the sofa.
It was so easy to fix these sorts of broken things. Having everything perfectly in order in her house had always made her feel better when she thought of the things she didn't have. Her career had never been exactly what she wanted, but her clothes were perfectly clean and sorted. She hadn't found someone she could really love, but her kitchen was arranged and organized, her bedroom was spotless, and her home was beautifully decorated.
It all seemed so empty now.
The silence ticked in her head, reminding her she was alone again, in her spotless flat with her colour-coded life that left no room for anyone else's imperfections. She wanted Fitz there beside her on the sofa, slouching with his feet on the coffee table and leaving glasses around with no coaster and setting her liquor bottles out of order when he poured a refill.
She had the urge to smash the coffee table's glass top again, to see it shattered all over the floor in sparkling shards. Maybe if she fixed it a few more times, it would make her feel better.
She needed to feel different. She needed to be different. The way she felt now was miserable. Anything had to be better. Her fingers itched to change something, to make things better, more perfect.
Her flat was already immaculate. There was nothing to clean.
Molly went in the bathroom and stared at her hair. The shorn sides were starting to lose their purple, turning back to the characteristic Weasley red. She hadn't bothered to spike it up into a mohawk that morning, instead braiding it into a tight French plait to keep it away from her face while she flew. She pulled the braid out and looked at the purple curls. The tips were turning red again as the spell wore off.
She'd been the Harpy with the mohawk, and the Pride with the mohawk, and she hadn't been entirely happy as either of those things, though for a while there, she'd thought happiness was finally within reach.
Time for a change.
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