The corridor was abuzz with gossiping students when Molly left Potions one day as January drew to a chilly close. Small groups of girls were conferring with each other in whispers. Molly frowned as she looked around. Something big was going on.
“What on earth...?” Hattie asked, looking around.
A hush fell over the corridor then as Cecilia and Siobhan left the Potions dungeon. They didn't appear to notice anything, walking off together toward the main staircase, and the whispering redoubled after they disappeared around the corner.
Petula frowned, looking around. “What was that all about?”
Molly caught sight of a few of the Gryffindor sixth-years, and went over to them, Hattie and Petula trailing behind her. Maribel McQuillen looked a bit nervous at her approach, but she smiled gamely. Acacia Bushby-Ferris, standing next to her, merely looked at the seventh-year girls with her face set.
“What's going on?” Molly demanded.
“Didn't you hear?” Maribel asked in surprise. “She's your friend, I thought you would know.”
“Know what?” Petula asked impatiently. “No one ever tells me anything.”
Hattie sighed. “What did Cecilia do now?”
“Not Cecilia,” Maribel said. “Siobhan.”
“What's going on?” Molly repeated. Siobhan had been the same as ever in Potions; she had not noticed any changes in her friend. Siobhan always mentioned when she got a detention, but she'd been getting those for years. It shouldn't be causing comment from the other students like this.
“Well, I wasn't at all surprised by it,” Acacia said, in a tone Molly found rather offensive.
“Roddy Feltham chucked Francine at breakfast,” Maribel told them. “He's going out with Siobhan now.”
“What?” Molly said in shock. “But...”
“Obviously Siobhan broke them up because she wanted Roddy back once he was with someone else,” Acacia said rather nastily. Acacia had long disliked Siobhan, regarding her as something of a scarlet woman.
“We don't know what happened, Acacia,” Maribel said fairly, then added in a sombre tone, “Francine won't talk about it. She spent all morning shut up in the Quidditch changing room, crying. Missed all her classes.”
“Oh dear,” Hattie murmured.
Molly didn't know what to say. Siobhan had gone out with Roddy last year, and though he'd clearly liked her very much, Molly hadn't thought Siobhan felt anything for him. Siobhan generally didn't feel anything about any of her boyfriends, not that she mentioned anyway. She was very dismissive of them.
But she had never gone out with the same boy twice. Once she chucked them, they ceased to exist to her. Now she was going out with Roddy again?
And poor Francine! She'd fancied Roddy very much and had been so happy when he'd asked her out. Crying in the changing room all morning, Molly thought sadly.
Acacia shot a nasty glare down the corridor where Cecilia and Siobhan had gone. “It's no more than I expected, really. I suppose it was only a matter of time before she began stealing boyfriends. Loose girls are-”
“Don't talk about Siobhan,” Molly snapped. Loose she may be, but she was still Molly's friend. She glared at Acacia, but Maribel grabbed Acacia's arm and pulled her away.
“We'd better go,” Hattie said, tugging on Molly's arm. Petula followed them, her books clutched to her chest and a frown creasing her blonde brows.
They didn't say anything until they were back in the common room. Arthur was sitting on the sofa in front of the fire, surrounded by books and piles of parchment. He smiled at her and began clearing a spot. Hattie collapsed heavily onto an overstuffed armchair with a loud sigh, and Petula sat cross-legged on the rug, still frowning. Molly understood how her friends felt. She had a distinctly uncomfortable and worried feeling herself right now, as if she ought to be doing something but didn't know quite what. She sat next to Arthur, and it suddenly hit her that Roddy and Arthur were roommates.
“Did you know about this?” she demanded.
Arthur looked a little wary, and perhaps just a bit guilty. “Did I know about what?”
“Roddy and Siobhan.”
His expression changed to confusion, and she knew he didn't know what she was talking about. “What do you mean, Roddy and Siobhan?”
“Roddy is going out with Siobhan,” Molly told him.
Arthur's jaw dropped. “He's what? But Francine-”
“He chucked her this morning.”
“Good Lord,” Arthur said, astonished.
“Should we say something to her?” Hattie asked, and Molly knew immediately she meant Siobhan. “Or to Cecilia? She's the only one who has any control over Siobhan.”
“I think we should talk to her. Hear her side. Maybe it isn't the way Acacia makes it sound.” Molly sighed.
“What does Acacia have to do with it?” Arthur asked.
“Who's going to do the talking to Siobhan?” Petula asked worriedly. "She's not going to tell me anything, no one ever does."
“I think it's time for a council,” Hattie said.
Molly nodded. “I believe you're right. I'll let the others know. I know Cecilia's not patrolling tonight, so it's a good night for it.”
“A council?” Arthur asked.
It occurred to Molly that she'd never explained the Gryffindor Girls' Council to him. She opened her mouth to tell him about it, but wasn't sure where to start, and closed her mouth again. She'd have to think of a way to explain it without it sounding silly. Maybe there wasn't one, and they were just a bunch of silly girls, but she still loved their councils.
“I'm glad we're having another council,” Petula said, picking up one of her books and opening it. “I have a few things to talk about anyway. Christmas break was just... Well, we'll talk about it tonight. Arthur, do you have your notes from yesterday's Muggle Studies?”
Arthur still looked rather confused, but began digging through the large stack of parchment he'd set on the floor at his feet.
Siobhan looked a little suspicious of them when she finally turned up, but Molly had a plan. She and Hattie had decided the best approach was an oblique one. Petula had things to discuss, which fitted nicely with their plan. They would open with everyone else's problems – Hattie had agreed to discuss her breakup with Silvester, and they could address whatever Petula had in mind, and Cecilia was sure to have something that annoyed her that she wanted to rant about – and then, Hattie would bring up Roddy Feltham in a non-confrontational manner and they would draw the story out of Siobhan.
Molly wasn't feeling terribly confident about this plan, but at least it was a plan.
Siobhan gave Molly a long stare as she sat down, one eyebrow quirking ever so slightly. Molly smiled brightly at her, determined to brazen it out. Siobhan had never dated the same person twice, and Molly wanted to know what was going on with her friend.
Her certainty that Cecilia would unconsciously help out with her plan to lull Siobhan into quiescence was immediately confirmed.
Cecilia picked up an éclair and announced loudly, “Sophronia Lefeuvre is the worst Head Girl in the history of Head Girls,” and then took a rather vicious bite.
Hattie gave her a wary glance. “What happened?”
“She switched up our patrol schedules again, so now no one has any idea where they're supposed to be. I spent an hour patrolling the dungeons and then it turned out some fifth-year Hufflepuff was doing the same thing, and she was supposed to be up on the seventh floor!” Cecilia gestured wildly with the half-eaten éclair. “And last week Thad didn't patrol for an entire week because she forgot to schedule him! She's completely incompetent.”
“You're just still sore that you're not Head Girl,” Siobhan said, unconcerned.
Cecilia glared at her and took another bite of her éclair.
“You would've made a bloody good Head Girl,” Siobhan went on.
“Language,” Hattie murmured.
Siobhan ignored her. “But you're not. You're a prefect. If you were Head Girl, you'd never have time to see Reid. And I know you've found time to see him, so stop complaining.”
Cecilia stuck out her tongue. Siobhan imitated her, adding crossed eyes.
Molly was inclined to agree with Cecilia's assessment of Sophronia. “She's not a very nice person, is she? She called Arthur a blood traitor.”
“That was a long time ago,” Hattie said. “You have to stop letting this whole blood purity thing bother you.”
“You let it bother you when it's your mother involved,” Molly retorted, stung.
Hattie looked taken aback, and there was some hurt in her eyes. Molly immediately regretted saying anything. It was true, though. Cecilia looked pleased that Molly had backed her opinion, and handed her an éclair.
“Molly, how are things with you?” Hattie asked, clearly trying to get back to their script.
She wished she had something to talk about, but the only thing she could think of was Arthur's brother being an idiot over Christmas, and she didn't want to discuss that with everyone. She knew Arthur wouldn't want them all to know, and she'd already talked about it with Hattie and was ready to put it behind her. As much as she wanted to bring something to the table, she had nothing. “Everything's perfectly fine, actually. Arthur loves me, my brothers haven't had a Howler for months, I'm doing well in my classes...” She shrugged. “It's all lovely. I'm sort of waiting for something awful to happen, honestly.”
Cecilia laughed. “You should just feel lucky that things are going well. Maybe you've moved past all your rough patches.”
“There's no such thing as moving past all your rough patches,” Petula said dourly.
“What was it you wanted to talk about, Petula?” Hattie asked.
“Thomas's family doesn't like me,” Petula blurted out.
Molly blinked in surprise. For all Petula's flightiness and love of melodrama, she was really a nice person. She got along so well with Thomas, and they seemed serious. Molly hadn't expected something like this to crop up for them. Or maybe she hadn't thought of it because she got along so well with the Weasleys.
Hattie gave her a sympathetic pat on the hand. “What makes you think they don't like you, dear?”
“I went to visit him at Christmas and they weren't very friendly to me.” Petula looked truly unhappy. Molly wondered if the Ockhams really hadn't been warm to her or if Petula was simply blowing things out of proportion, as was her wont.
“You visited him at Christmas?” Cecilia said in surprise. “You really are getting serious, aren't you?”
“I think he's going to ask me to marry him,” Petula confided. “And I want to say yes if he does, but what if his family doesn't like me?”
“You ought never marry a man whose family doesn't like you,” Hattie said primly. “It'll only cause you problems later.”
“That's very practical,” Molly agreed, still thinking of how well she got on with her future in-laws, barring Bilius's idiotic behaviour.
“That's bollocks,” declared Cecilia, staring at them aghast. “If you love each other, then hang everyone else.”
Petula seemed to prefer this viewpoint, for she smiled at Cecilia before turning to Siobhan, who shook her head.
“Don't look at me, I don't do 'meeting the family'.”
“But if his family doesn't like you-” Hattie began.
“If you've got him sufficiently under your thumb, that won't matter,” Cecilia said dismissively. “Who needs in-laws? You've got your own family, you don't need his as well.”
Petula looked thoughtful, but Hattie said with disapproval, “You're awful, you've no romance in your soul.”
“I ooze romance,” Cecilia said, her nose in the air.
“You must've caught it from Siobhan,” Molly said.
“I agree with Cecilia,” Siobhan put in, after sticking her tongue out at Molly. “To hell with the lot of them if they don't like you, that's what I always say.”
“Language,” Hattie said helplessly.
Molly decided the conversation wasn't going to go anywhere but down from there, and attempted to get things back on track. “Hattie, what happened with you and Silvester?”
“Don't you already know?” Siobhan asked, a little snidely. “She's your best friend.”
Molly was sure then that Siobhan knew exactly what she was trying to do. They stared at each other as Hattie said lamely, “I thought it was only fair to him. I'd lost interest in the relationship...”
Her voice trailed off as it became clear no one was listening. Petula was nervously looking back and forth between Molly and Siobhan, their gazes still locked. Cecilia was very still, watching her best friend. The silence stretched out in the dormitory, and it seemed there was a ripple of heat in the air between the two girls.
“Go on,” Siobhan said quietly, her face defiant. “Ask. Don't think I don't know that's what this is all about.”
“What happened with you and Roddy?” Molly demanded.
“That's none of your bloody business,” Siobhan told her.
“We're your friends, you can tell us,” Hattie said plaintively.
Siobhan didn't spare her a glance. “I'm not going to talk about it, so you may as well give up.”
“You've never gone out with someone that you already went out with,” Molly persisted. “Why Roddy? What happened?”
Siobhan simply stared at her.
“What happened?” Molly repeated.
“Let it go, Molly,” Cecilia said in a tone Molly had never heard from her before. It was gentle, soft, the sort of tone she was used to from Hattie, not from Cecilia. It broke her concentration, and as she glanced over at Cecilia, some of the tension in the room seemed to dissipate. Siobhan jerked her gaze away, staring down at her lap.
“It's all over the school, you know,” Molly said, unable to let it rest just yet. “You'll have to talk about it eventually.”
Siobhan grabbed one of the purple blankets and settled down into her sleeping bag, pulling the blanket up so it covered all of her but the tips of her rusty curls.
“I think we should all go to bed,” Cecilia said quietly.
There were murmurs of 'good night' from Hattie and Petula, and Molly curled up in her sleeping bag, still watching Siobhan's curls sticking out from under the blanket. She thought she caught a noise like a muffled sob, but she had never once heard or seen Siobhan cry, and couldn't be sure.
By the weekend, it was clear that the rumours about Siobhan had gotten around the entire school. People whispered behind their hands as she passed them in the corridors, and none of the sixth-year Gryffindors were speaking to her. Francine had returned to her classes with her bright and friendly smile only a little dimmed, though her eyes were still red for a few days after her breakup. Molly could only hope the girl would be all right. She felt rather as if she ought not check on Francine because of her friendship with Siobhan, and could only watch her sadly when she caught sight of her in the common room or in the corridors.
Molly had been worried that Arthur would feel torn between loyalty to his teammate and his friendship with Siobhan, but apparently boys didn't think that way, as he behaved just the same toward both Francine and Siobhan as he had before whatever had happened between them and Roddy. None of the Gryffindor boys appeared to register anything different, with the exception of Cosmo Graham.
Cosmo had long been a regular fixture at mealtimes with their group, despite being the only one not in their year. His friendship with Arthur had assured him a place. He'd gone to sit with Acacia Bushby-Ferris a few times since they'd started going out, but mostly had kept to their own group. Dunstan, on the other hand, had completely abandoned them for Gemma Folwell, oddly enough. In all the excitement over Francine and Roddy and Siobhan, Molly hadn't realized Dunstan and Gemma were going out.
When Molly came to dinner Thursday evening a few days after the Siobhan and Roddy news had broken, Dunstan's empty seat at their spot on the Gryffindor table was occupied by none other than Acacia Bushby-Ferris.
Cosmo looked rather nervous, but was determinedly chatting about Quidditch with Arthur when Molly arrived. Acacia had chosen a seat on the fringe of their group, so she seemed apart from them but for the fact she was sitting next to Cosmo. Molly wasn't sure if the message was deliberate, but it was certainly very clear. Acacia did not consider herself a part of their circle of friends.
Hattie was already sitting next to Petula opposite Arthur and Cosmo, her face frozen into the polite smile she often adopted when frightened in a social situation. Hattie liked things to go smoothly, and to play hostess for their group. Molly had a bad feeling that no hostess was going to be able to save this meal. What had Cosmo been thinking?
He was thinking that he had a girlfriend whom he wanted to spend more time with his friends, she reminded herself sternly. Be charitable. Charity and kindness.
This was going to end badly, she just knew it.
Reid turned up next, and didn't blink an eye at Acacia's presence. He joined in the Quidditch conversation as if nothing were wrong. Arthur didn't seem to have a problem with Acacia's presence either, and Molly frowned slightly for a moment at him before remembering that he probably hadn't heard what Acacia had been saying about Siobhan. Arthur didn't listen to gossip, and had been completely absorbed by his Muggle novels lately.
When Cecilia and Siobhan arrived, Molly felt her heartrate accelerating. Siobhan simply ignored Acacia, but Cecilia stopped dead in her tracks when she saw her.
“What the devil is she doing here?” Cecilia demanded of the table at large.
Acacia scowled up at her, and Siobhan sat down, tugging Cecilia's sleeve.
“She's at perfect liberty to sit wherever she bloody well pleases,” Siobhan said.
“Language, both of you,” Hattie scolded them. “Siobhan, you're a terrible example-” Her eyes widened and she cut off her words, looking horrified. Molly knew she hadn't meant to criticise Siobhan in front of Acacia. Siobhan didn't seem to mind, however, and gave Hattie a smile.
Acacia's mouth twisted sourly, and Siobhan poured a glass of pumpkin juice, completely blasé. Molly was both impressed and a bit horrified by her coolness.
“She's been gossiping about you all over school,” Cecilia said, still standing, looking angrier by the second.
“I have not,” Acacia said haughtily. “It's not gossip to tell the truth.”
“I don't care what she says about me, Cecilia,” Siobhan said calmly, ignoring Acacia completely.
Cecilia's nostrils were flaring, her dark eyes wild, always a bad sign where her temper was related, but she sat down and contented herself with giving Acacia a dark glare.
“Well,” Hattie said bravely, looking around the table with wide eyes. “Who would like to come study with me after dinner for tomorrow's Potions quiz?”
Molly was having a hard time concentrating on the conversation. She couldn't stop staring at Cecilia. She hadn't seen quite that look on Cecilia's face since last year when Reid had been tormenting her constantly. She had a very bad feeling about this, and wished she'd stayed in her room instead of coming to dinner. Damn her appetite.
“I wouldn't mind studying,” Reid volunteered. “I'm getting rather behind in that class. Siobhan, are you in?”
“Homewrecking tart,” Acacia muttered under her breath.
Everyone heard her anyway. Hattie let out a gasp, Cosmo turned bright red, and Petula covered her mouth with both hands, looking horrified. Arthur was frozen, as if he didn't know what to do, and Reid put a hand on Cecilia's arm. She shook it off, and Molly realized suddenly that Cecilia had drawn her wand.
Cecilia shot to her feet, aiming her wand at Acacia, and yelled, “Furnunculus!”
Acacia didn't dodge the curse fast enough, and it hit her square in the face.
Siobhan burst into laughter, shaking a bit with it as she tried to pull Cecilia back into her seat. Cecilia brushed off her best friend's hands, her face flushed with rage, and she was still on her feet in an attack position, her wand on Acacia, who had cried out in pain and put her hands to her cheeks as large, horrible boils breaking out all over her face.
Professor McGonagall was hurrying down from the staff table, her narrow face red and eyes wide. Molly shrank a bit in her seat as her Head of House approached.
“What is the meaning of this?” Professor McGonagall demanded as she reached their table.
Cecilia appeared to be so angry she had lost her capacity for speech, and Acacia was now crying as the boils spread to her arms, tears running down her cheeks. She covered her face with her hands. No one else seemed willing to volunteer an explanation.
“Miss Bushby-Ferris, go to the hospital wing at once,” Professor McGonagall said, and Acacia fled the table. McGonagall turned to Cecilia, who dropped her wand on the table and held up her hands in surrender. The wand landed in her goblet of pumpkin juice, and Hattie reached over to rescue it.
“Miss Fletcher, to my office,” Professor McGonagall said tightly, and Cecilia stormed out of the Great Hall ahead of her.
Siobhan was still chuckling, and bit into a chip. “That was bloody marvellous. Did you see Acacia's face?”
“Language, Siobhan,” Hattie murmured as she cleaned the juice off Cecilia's wand.
Cosmo didn't seem to think it was funny. His face was drawn into a frown. “I'm really sorry, Reid,” he said urgently.
Reid didn't look at all upset, however. He had his chin propped up on one hand and a wistful smile on his face, staring at the doors where the two girls had gone. “Do you think they'd wrestle in a mud pit next time? Without their robes on?”
“Reid,” Hattie exclaimed, looking scandalised.
“Acacia doesn't mean anything by it,” Cosmo said.
“What?” Reid's brows snapped together. “Of course she meant something by it, don't be an idiot. Stand up for her if you like, but don't try to say she didn't do anything.”
“Don't call me an idiot,” Cosmo retorted, suddenly furious. “Cecilia needs to learn to control her temper-”
“Acacia needs to learn to control her bigotry,” Reid drawled, seemingly unconcerned, but Molly could see his mouth tightening and was sure he was actually very angry now as well.
Cosmo's hand went to his pocket, and Levi Pascal grabbed the back of his robes and yanked him away.
The sixth-year prefect was glaring at both of them. “Cosmo, go check on Acacia, she'll want you in the hospital wing with her. Reid, go wait for Cecilia outside of McGonagall's office, she's going to need someone to help calm her down.”
“I'll go too,” Siobhan said, still looking very amused by the whole thing. “Make sure Cecilia's all right, and keep these two apart.” She followed Reid out of the Great Hall, with Cosmo behind them shooting dark looks at Reid. Molly rather thought Reid had just solidified his position in Siobhan's eyes by siding with her and Cecilia against Acacia and Cosmo.
Levi sighed. “Am I the only responsible prefect in Gryffindor? Two prefects fighting, and Thad's down there pretending he didn't see anything.”
No one bothered to respond to this. Molly glanced down the table and saw Thad was hunched slightly over his plate, determinedly chatting with Julian Kirkpatrick. Roddy Feltham sat next to them, still staring down the table at where Cecilia had hexed Acacia as if he could not believe what he'd seen.
Molly tracked Cecilia and Siobhan down later that evening, outside in the courtyard. They were sitting on one of the low walls that enclosed the courtyard, and Reid stood near them, leaning against a stone column. They looked up at her approach, and Molly had a sudden sense of being apart from her friends, as if she didn't know them very well. They had always been closer to each other than to the other girls, but now it seemed Reid was part of that inner circle as well, and it gave Molly a very odd feeling.
“Are you all right?” Molly asked, wishing she knew what to say. “Did you get a detention?”
“I got about half a dozen detentions,” Cecilia said, rolling her eyes. “McGonagall wants me to apologise as well.”
“Are you going to?”
She already knew the answer to that, so she wasn't surprised when Cecilia said hotly, “Why the devil should I? Bloody Acacia, why couldn't she just shut her stupid mouth?”
“Obviously because she thinks she's better than homewrecking tarts like me,” Siobhan said, and Cecilia broke into a grin.
“Maybe that will be my next tattoo,” Siobhan added, and Reid laughed.
“I'll get one to match if you do,” he said. “Right across my chest. What do you think, Molly?”
She smiled at them, and looked at Cecilia again. Her face had lost some of its tension, and though Molly was sure her friend was still upset both about what Acacia had said and about her punishment, she thought now that Cecilia would get past it. Reid was surprisingly good for her, and he and Siobhan seemed to complement each other well as friends. They had a cosy little group, Molly thought, and the feeling returned of being outside looking in.
She wondered if they felt the same about her and Arthur; if Siobhan felt the same about Reid and Cecilia. She supposed everyone was a group apart from someone else, and tried not to let it bother her.
“It sounds perfectly lovely,” Molly said. “Do send a postcard when you have it done.”
Cecilia laughed. “You are not allowed to have that,” she told Siobhan, then turned to her boyfriend. “But on you, I think it's a marvellous idea.”
“Are you calling me a tart?” he demanded, feigning outrage.
She took his hand and drew him closer. “You're a damned tart, Reid Akins.”
“I think we'd better go,” Siobhan said playfully, rising gracefully to her feet and dusting the snow off her cloak.
“Yes, I think we better had,” Molly agreed, and she glanced over her shoulder as they walked away. Reid was bending down to give Cecilia a delicate kiss on the tip of her nose, and she was smiling at him with a soft expression Molly had not seen before.
“Shocking, isn't it?” Siobhan said, and Molly looked away quickly, turning to Siobhan as they entered the castle.
“What d'you mean?”
“She really does love that idiot.”
“Well,” Hattie said in Arithmancy the next morning. “That didn't really go as planned, did it?”
Molly smiled ruefully. “I suppose we might've known she'd refuse to talk about it.”
“It can't be just snogging, then. She would talk about it if it was just snogging.”
Molly considered this and decided it had the ring of truth about it. “I think you're right, dear.” She paused for a moment, not sure how to address her next concern. “Hattie...”
Professor Arccos had arrived and was sketching some long strings of numbers on the chalkboard as the students took their seats. Molly decided she'd better just have out with it. “I'm sorry for what I said about your mum-”
“No, it's fine,” Hattie said in a small voice. “You were right. I did let it bother me, and I've been acting very selfish. I'm no better than Sophronia.”
“That's not true,” Molly said staunchly.
Hattie gave her a brief smile, then said determinedly, “I'm not going to let it bother me any more. I'll write him a letter and try to get to know him.”
Molly smiled proudly. “Your mum will be so pleased.”
Professor Arccos rapped his wand on the edge of his desk to draw the classes' attention then, and began lecturing in his thick Greek accent. Molly reached over to give her best friend a pat on the hand, and Hattie smiled at her as she began copying down the numbers on the chalkboard.
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