FIC: "A Cliff in July" for notearchiver Recipient: notearchiver Author: ??? Title: A Cliff in July Rating: Mature (R) Pairings: Marietta Edgecombe/Millicent Bulstrode Word Count: ~ 5000 Warnings/Content Information (Highlight to View): *Characters are 17*. Summary: A chance meeting at a remote Muggle hotel, the summer when everything changes. Author's/Artist's Notes: Thanks so much to my wonderful beta, N.
"Let me look at you, darling," Marietta's mother says and puts her hands on her shoulders.
Marietta allows it, standing still while her mother examines her clothing, her shoes, her hair. The latter falls heavily against the sides of her face, a thick fringe curling over her brow. She does not trust glamours.
"You look lovely," her mother says. The statement is absurd, but Marietta knows she means it. "Let's go down for lunch."
The hotel's restaurant is almost full, despite the grim weather. It's July and England is flocking to the coast, well-dressed couples and noisy families alike. The hotel is a Muggle one - Marietta insisted on this, and her mother did not put up a fight. The lack of magic swirling and buzzing in the air is strange and unpleasant, but Marietta thinks she will get used to it. She has to.
She doesn't know if she can bear to go back.
They have spent the morning indoors, thanks to the rain beating down outside. Her mother picks a table in the corner and leaves Marietta there while going to fetch food. When she returns and Marietta does not get to her feet in turn, there is a worried look.
"Aren't you going to eat something?"
"I'm not very hungry." Marietta can hear the defensive edge in her own voice, sharp and thin like a polished blade. "I ate a lot for breakfast."
"I wouldn't call it a lot," her mother says. "Please, darling." Sad, almost puppyish eyes, as if Marietta's lack of appetite is hurting her. Probably it is. More to escape those eyes than for any other reason, Marietta rises and heads towards the buffet.
There turn out to be too many types of food to pick from, and none of them seems right. She turns away from the steak and the pies: they remind her too much of Hogwarts. All the salads have strange things in them. Gingerly she helps herself to bread and some pieces of fruit. It's not enough, though. Her mother will want her to eat more than that.
"Excuse me," says a gruff voice next to her, and Marietta steps aside automatically, before it hits her that she recognises the voice. She turns her head, and there's a witch her age standing next to her.
Marietta blinks. "Millicent?" she says. "Millicent Bulstrode?"
The witch looks as startled as Marietta feels. A flush is creeping over her broad face; the hand holding an almost-full plate has stopped in mid-air, frozen. "Edgecombe? What are you doing here?"
"Holiday," Marietta says blankly. What else would she be here for? "And you?"
"The same. Of course." She seems to pull herself together, looking down, away from Marietta. "It's just a funny coincidence, that's all."
Marietta shrugs. "It's summer."
"Yeah." Millicent clears her throat. For some reason she doesn't move away, but keeps standing there, holding her plate, not quite looking at Marietta. "Are you here alone?"
"With my mother." It feels like admitting a defeat, though Millicent has no way of knowing how things should have been, had the plans not been thwarted, had the world not seemed intent on tearing itself apart. "And you?"
Millicent still doesn't look at her. "I'm by myself."
"All alone?" Marietta can't keep the surprise from her voice, and Millicent finally looks up at her, brows pulling together in a scowl. "Yes?" she says. Marietta recognises the defensiveness in her tone as if it were her own, though it's blunter, harsher. "Is that a problem?"
"No," Marietta says, and now she's the one to look away. She's not looking for a fight. She's not looking for anything. "Excuse me."
Millicent steps aside, arms hanging by her side. Marietta walks over to help herself to coffee. When she turns, she realises that Millicent is still looking at her.
She clears her throat. "Would you like to come and sit with us?"
The scowl returns. "I'm fine on my own."
"All right, then." The pitiful plate in one hand and the mug of coffee in the other, she nods awkwardly and starts to make her way back towards where her mother is waiting. She thinks she can still feel Millicent's gaze on her back.
They run into each other again the morning after, on their way to breakfast. Their eyes meet, quickly; then both glance away, then back. "Hi," Marietta says, trying not to be too awkward. Millicent nods back. A corner of her mouth moves; it's as good as a smile.
"Is this a friend of yours, Marietta?" her mother asks, looking between them. Of course yes and no are both the wrong answer - the two of them barely know each other - but Millicent introduces herself, shakes hands with Marietta's mother and says, "We go to school together. Or went."
"Oh!" Marietta's mother looks at her knowingly, curiously. "Well, won't you sit with us, then? I'm sure I know who your parents are."
She probably does, that's the worst part. More talk of the Ministry and Hogwarts, in veiled terms so that the Muggles won't be alarmed. Marietta slouches behind them on the way to a free table as her mother interrogates Millicent on her family, their professions, their connections. Every word pulls them back into their world, the world Marietta has grown up in, the world she belongs to, the world she longs to escape, if only for the summer. She wishes she were far away, on the other side of the world. She wishes Millicent were not here. She wishes Millicent hadn't met her mother.
But she notices the way Millicent twitches under her mother's questions, the way her eyes keep darting away, the way her answers are polite but brief, not revealing more than strictly necessary.
"And you are starting your last year in September?" Marietta's mother asks, pouring tea for all of them. Millicent nods.
"Hmm." Marietta's mother lifts her cup to her mouth. There's a line on her brow. "I do hope everything will turn out all right, my dear." She sighs. "To be honest, I'm glad Marietta is safely out of there."
"Mother!" Marietta whispers, casting a look at Millicent, who is staring down into her cup of tea. "Millicent is in Slytherin."
Her mother's mouth opens in an oh. Her cheeks grow pink. She clears her throat. "Well, that is to say... I'm sure there's nothing to worry about. For you."
Millicent looks up at that. "It's all right," she says, voice toneless. "I'm worried too." Her eyes seem to harden. "The alternative would be worse."
Marietta looks at her mother, whose cheeks are still pink. "Well," her mother says. "Let's not worry too early, at any rate." Her smile is shaky. "Perhaps things will still sort themselves out."
Millicent nods, but her gaze is hanging at Marietta's face. Marietta does not meet her eyes.
After breakfast, Marietta's mother suggests the girls take a walk into town. She does so with cheerful friendliness, but Marietta still notices the worry in her puppy eyes. Please, darling, the eyes say, you need more friends. An old conversation, so old they don't need words to have it. She can hardly say no, though, not without making things difficult, so she agrees. Only then does Millicent nod.
As if by some unspoken agreement, they do not head into town. Instead they follow a narrow path behind the hotel, leading towards the cliffs and the sea. They walk in silence for a while, two awkward witches in ill-fitting Muggle clothes. The path narrows and they can't walk side by side. Marietta takes the lead, Millicent's breathing heavy behind her.
They climb the path until it widens again, becomes broad enough for them to walk side by side once more. Finally they reach the cliffs and face the sea, a vast blue-grey blanket. Wind whips their faces, blows around their ears.
At last Millicent says, almost grudgingly, "The view is nice." Marietta nods. Then they stand in silence again, not looking at each other.
Then Millicent says, her voice almost hesitating now, "It must be good to be out of Hogwarts."
Marietta turns at that. "What do you mean?"
"What I said." A hint of defiance cuts through the wind. "It must be nice not to have to see them again."
Marietta laughs at that. She can't help it. "You sound like a Muggle. Of course I will have to see them again. Most of them, anyway. It's not as if our world is large enough to escape them forever."
She pauses, unsure of where the words came from, of whether she and Millicent are even talking about the same them. Perhaps it doesn't matter. The point still stands. Her lips are dry from the wind; she wets them with her tongue. Her mouth keeps talking. "Hogwarts or Gringotts or the Ministry, what does it matter? Everyone will still know who you are, know you're a sneak."
Millicent starts, a flush creeping onto her cheeks. "I'd almost forgotten about that," she mutters, looking away from Marietta.
"Really." Marietta doesn't bother to hide her disbelief.
Millicent's colour deepens, but when she turns her eyes back to Marietta, they are defiant once more. "At least you weren't at the beck and call of some vile old toad."
Marietta opens her mouth and closes it. She looks away. "I suppose not."
There's something like a sigh to her left - or perhaps it's only the wind. Marietta's eyes are starting to sting with the crisp, hard air. She puts her hands to her cold cheeks and sighs in turn. She doesn't know what she's doing here, what Millicent is doing here, why they are having this conversation. Every word said will doubtless render things more awkward. If they stop talking, that will be awkward as well.
They might as well keep talking.
"Why did you come here?" she asks. "Do you like nature so much?"
Millicent, to her astonishment, looks thoughtful rather than irritated at the question. "I suppose. I have some money of my own, now that I'm of age. This place is far from everything. And I wanted to get away, from - well." She makes a grunting noise. "Everything."
"Alone, then," Marietta says. It does not seem so incomprehensible to her.
"It was either alone or with my Gran. She pesters me enough as it is." Millicent's eyes dart toward her. "You know. Old Purebloods."
Marietta thinks she knows. There are expectations, hard to navigate, hard to meet or work one's way around. She doesn't particularly envy Millicent, yet she says, "You're lucky, in a way. My mother would not let me go on holiday alone."
"You're of age, though," says Millicent. "You can do what you like."
As if. "It's not that easy." She bites her lip. "There's money, for one thing." Which is true, though not nearly as important as her mother's puppy eyes. "And besides, I don't mind. She's not the worst person to be on holiday with."
Millicent actually smiles at that. "No, I guess so. She seems nice." Something in her tone makes it sound like she actually means it.
Marietta rubs her hands together. They are cold from the wind, though the sun has come out from its hiding place and is now turning the sky and the sea almost painfully bright. "Perhaps we should go back," she says. "It's lunchtime soon." But she finds that she is smiling as well, glancing over to meet Millicent's eyes. It hasn't been so awkward after all.
For the next couple of days, they meet again: for breakfast, for lunch, for walks to the cliffs and to the beach. They keep talking: of books they have read or plan to read, of places they would like to go, of people they would like to meet. Marietta doesn't mention Cho. Millicent doesn't mention her Slytherin housemates.
On the third evening, Marietta's mother takes them both to a seafood restaurant and insists the meal is on her, which Millicent grudgingly accepts. Among the three of them, they manage to avoid too many uncomfortable silences, even if it's thanks to each of them carefully avoiding any mention of Hogwarts, Professor Dumbledore, or the future. Only occasionally does Marietta notice the lack of magic in the air, and every time she manages to wrench her thoughts over to something else.
When they get back to the hotel, her mother yawns and claims it's too late for old women to be up and about. She smiles at Millicent and thanks her for her company, and Millicent smiles in turn, thanking her again for the meal.
Marietta isn't certain why, but something draws her gaze towards the hotel bar, then towards Millicent, and suddenly she hears herself saying, "Is it all right with you if Millicent and I have a drink in the bar before going to bed, Mum?" Just like that, even without asking Millicent, who makes a surprised noise, and Marietta dares not look at her. She keeps her eyes on her mother's face instead, painfully aware of the heat in her cheeks.
"Well," says her mother, taken aback. "I can't see why not? You're of age, after all." She seems to have forgotten that this is in the eyes of the wizarding world only, but Marietta doesn't contradict her. "Just be careful, both of you." She hands Marietta a couple of Muggle banknotes and wishes them both a good night.
Without her mother there, without the pretense of a shared walk or a shared meal, Marietta finds herself out of her depth. Are they friends now, she and Millicent? Only friends would stay up late to drink together without any good reason. Only friends, or... Well. She turns and heads towards the bar, Millicent following her in silence.
The bartender doesn't ask them about their age or demand any sort of identification. Marietta isn't sure what she wants, but she ends up with something called a White Russian because Millicent orders one. They pay and take their drinks with them to a free table in a corner, still without speaking.
Millicent looks nice tonight, Marietta thinks. It seems like an odd thought to have, but nonetheless true. She isn't pretty, not by any means, but her hair is a shiny black and there is a rosy colour on her cheeks. The Muggle sweater she's wearing can't quite disguise the swell of her breasts - Marietta can't see why it should. She herself is flat as an ironing board, a dry stick. She's complained about it to Cho so many times. Cho.
Cho, who is now on the other side of the world. Without her.
She stirs her drink morosely, then takes a sip. "Ugh," she says, unimpressed. "Why did you order this?"
"Me? You ordered your own drink." Millicent takes a sip and wrinkles her nose. "Uh. I don't know. I liked the name, I think."
They glance at each other, laugh a bit. "I should have gone with Sex on the Beach instead," Millicent murmurs, then flushes even more. Despite her apparent distaste, she takes a deep sip of her drink and avoids Marietta's eyes.
It's like they are always taking turns watching each other, Marietta thinks as she stirs her drink. One is looking, the other looks away. What would happen if they were to look at each other plainly, at the same time? It is an unsettling and intriguing thought.
She says, at last, "I wasn't supposed to be here."
Millicent frowns in surprise. "Sorry?"
"We weren't supposed to go on holiday here. I was supposed to go on holiday with..." She hesitates, the name so precious and so painful in her mouth. "With Cho Chang."
"Ah," Millicent says, still frowning. "I know who she is. Your friend, right?"
"Yes." Her only friend, her friend only. No matter how much Marietta might have wished it otherwise. "We were supposed to travel together this summer, see Europe."
"Why didn't you?" Millicent asks. There's something in her voice besides curiosity, but Marietta can't tell what. "You sound like you really wanted to."
Does she? Probably. It is the truth, after all. A sneak is a sneak, but truth will out. "Yes, well. The things that happened... Her parents thought it wasn't safe. That it would be best to leave Europe altogether. They decided to go to China for a while. She's there now."
"Ah." Millicent leans back in her chair. Her turn to watch. "Not your fault, then. Or hers."
Marietta swallows, remembering Cho's owl telling her about her parents' decision. So apologetic, so obviously sad to disappoint Marietta. As if Marietta was the only one who truly wanted this trip, who had dreamed of it, lying awake at night thinking of it, brimming with anticipation. As if going to China with her parents instead of travelling through Europe with Marietta was all the same to her, an act done out of the kindness of her heart. As if she didn't care about Marietta the way Marietta cared about her, not at all.
Marietta swallows again. The truth always stings. "No," she says. "I suppose not."
"You miss her," Millicent says. The inflection of her voice makes it clear it's not a question. "It must be hard."
Marietta doesn't reply. There are no right words to talk about Cho. Not here, not now. Not with Millicent watching her like that - is she picturing the scars on Marietta's brow, spelling out sneak in her head?
Abruptly she says, "Why are you looking at me?"
Millicent starts, her face almost automatically pulling into a scowl. "I'm not looking. Not more than you are looking at me, anyway." She looks down at her glass and twists her mouth. "This is really bad," she mutters. "We are wasting your mother's money."
"We'll get something else next time." Next time. Marietta suddenly feels dizzy, and it has nothing to do with the drink, or the glass of white wine her mother allowed her for dinner. She isn't sure what is happening, far less whether she likes it.
She gets to her feet. "I need air," she says, not sure whether she wants Millicent to come with her or not. It doesn't matter, for Millicent rises and follows her anyway.
It's cold outside for a July night. They draw their coats together around them and walk for a bit, into the shadows behind the hotel, away from the windows and the lights. "I'm not drunk," Marietta says, just to say something, and Millicent snorts. "I didn't think that."
All of a sudden, her hand comes out to grasp Marietta's arm. Marietta stops dead. The hand on her arm is warm and strong, almost too large to belong to a seventeen-year-old witch. "What are you doing?"
Millicent looks from her own hand to Marietta's face. "I'm not sure."
"You could let go of me, then." She wonders if her mother is asleep yet.
"I could." Millicent's gaze lingers at her face, and Marietta meets it; finally, they are looking at each other. "If you want me to."
They stare at each other. "I don't know," Marietta says. She licks her lips tentatively, and Millicent's eyes dart towards her mouth. "I don't know anything."
"Neither do I." Millicent shakes her head, almost angrily. "Damn," she mutters and bends her head towards Marietta's.
Their lips bump against each other, a shock of a touch that makes Marietta start - but she doesn't pull away, doesn't try to shake free her arm. She stays where she is, and so does Millicent's mouth, pressing against her own, surprisingly warm. It lasts for some seconds, or maybe minutes. Then Millicent pulls away, looking almost frightened. "Damn," she whispers again. "I'm sorry."
Marietta shakes her head. Somehow her free hand moves to touch Millicent's hair, to tug at it - to tug Millicent closer, to make Millicent kiss her again. She doesn't know why she wants it. She only knows she does.
A crashing of noses, then a second touch of lips: fuller than hers, not so chapped. She pushes her mouth against them; she has no idea whether she's doing it right. Millicent makes a strange noise. Her lips open under Marietta's, and then there's a tongue, warm and wet, feeling its way between Marietta's lips - so this is what it's like, Marietta thinks, oddly triumphant. She opens her mouth in turn, dares tangle her hand in Millicent's hair. The taste of the drink is on both of their breaths, and she doesn't mind in the least.
After some minutes, Millicent pulls away. "We should probably go to bed soon," she says. "Your mum might get worried." But there is a dazed smile on her face and her voice is husky. Marietta nods, then kisses her once more before they go back to the hotel, because she can. She doesn't need to know why.
Breakfast next morning happens as usual, except there is the tentative touch of Millicent's foot against Marietta's leg under the table. She presses back and hides her smile behind her cup of tea. Her mother talks about the weather, which is looking up.
After breakfast, Marietta's mother suggests the three of them go into town for some windowshopping. Marietta doesn't dare decline; the prospect of being alone with Millicent again is too wonderful and terrifying. They spend the morning trailing behind Marietta's mother, exchanging quick glances behind her back, quick touches to the arm or on the back when nobody can see, until Marietta thinks she is going to burst.
As soon as lunch is over, she drags Millicent outside, along the path towards the cliff. Millicent, far stronger, comes willingly. As soon as they are out of sight from the hotel, they fall upon each other, mouths and hands and arms in wild and clumsy movements, gasping and grasping and clutching.
"Not here," they babble into each other's mouths. "Anyone could come -" But they can't seem to stop for a second, not long enough to move away from the path, and if anyone sees them at all then they are not the wiser. Millicent pushes the fringe away from her brow and kisses the scars; Marietta buries her face in a thick neck and wishes for nothing more.
They return in the afternoon, careful not to walk too closely as they enter the hotel. Marietta goes to her room and fishes out her wand from where it's stowed away in her suitcase. She removes the marks from Millicent's neck as best she can, and Millicent does the same for her. They both try their best to look rueful, but there is too much laughter in their eyes.
The next days pass in a blur of meals, sun, rain, wind, hands, and kisses.
They go to the cliff more often than not; for some reason not many people walk there. They'll sit on a piece of rock, looking out on the sea, holding hands, their mouths covering each other - sometimes, if the wind is too harsh, Millicent will insist on shielding Marietta from it, even if Marietta insists in turn that it's not necessary. Being able to do such things is the one advantage of being a huge girl, Millicent says, and her smile is so sardonic Marietta has to kiss it away.
One afternoon, her mother wants to attend a poetry reading in town. She doesn't mind going alone, doesn't insist on Marietta coming with her. No more please, darling now that Marietta has finally found a friend who isn't Cho, who isn't on the far side of the world, who is here, solid, warm and willing to be kissed - not that her mother knows the latter. Or does she? Marietta does not ask and does not care, no more than she cares about the why of it all. She only knows that she wants.
They go to Millicent's room that afternoon, quite certain not to be disturbed. Millicent shuts the door and looks at her with nervous eyes. They haven't put it in words, but there is no question as to what is going to happen. There's nothing scary about it, Marietta tells herself. It's more of what they've been doing so far - touching and kissing. What does it matter that they're going to be naked? They've already seen each other for who they are.
She says, "Are you afraid?"
Millicent shakes her head, though she still looks haunted. "Not if you're not."
"We don't have to." Actually, she thinks, they probably do, for their own sakes. "Or we could wait."
"No," says Millicent, and in two long strides she is upon her. "No, I want to, as long as you want... I want to try."
They kiss, not unfamiliar with each other any longer, as they start fiddling with each other's clothing. Muggle sweaters and trousers are more complicated than robes, or perhaps it's just the shaking of their hands, but they do manage to strip down to their underwear, at which point they pause and look at one another. Millicent's belly is large and pale, a thin stripe of hair sprinkled in a stripe down from her navel, disappearing under sensible cotton shorts. Her generous breasts are almost but not quite covered in an equally-sensible sports bra. She flushes, squirming under Marietta's gaze. "I know I'm ugly," she says, her voice full of the old defiance and yet sounding as if it's about to crack.
Marietta shakes her head. "No." If anyone is ugly, it's Marietta, who is a dry stick with pimples on her arms and scars on her brow that will never go away. But none of that matters anyway, she realises as they both gingerly sit down on the bed. They can still kiss each other senseless, and it's still the best thing in the world.
"Can I touch you?" she asks, reaching a hand out tentatively. Millicent closes her eyes and nods. She does not flinch as Marietta touches her left breast, gently feeling the weight of it. "Your tits are fantastic," she whispers and means it. Before her courage can fail her, she bends down to press a kiss against the nipple.
Millicent gasps, so Marietta does it again. Rather than failing, her courage grows stronger. She kisses the breasts, buries her face against them, between them, until Millicent groans and lies down on her back, pulling Marietta with her.
As Marietta thought, it is not so different after all. It's just so much more. Kissing and touching where they still haven't kissed and touched. Smells and tastes that are new. They are both bold now, as brave as any Gryffindor, and neither of them wants to be a coward for the other. In the end, Marietta has her face between Millicent's thick thighs, her sneak's brow pressing against coarse dark curls. Her tongue is working, pushing and circling hot slippery flesh, clumsy and blunt; yet it makes Millicent call tremble under her, and cry out her name, like no one ever has before.
And then it's Marietta's turn, and it's nothing like she ever imagined - nothing like her barely-conscious fantasies, lying awake at Hogwarts, listening to Cho's quiet breathing two beds away - but it's real and it's fantastic and it tears her apart, leaves her breathless and flushed, Millicent's name no longer a stranger in her mouth.
She doesn't know what this is, she thinks as they curl around each other afterwards. She still doesn't know why she wants it. She just knows.
Time slips away: it's almost August, and they have already been like this for a week. It feels longer and shorter at the same time. It warps reality, like a dream where no laws apply.
"We're going home on Friday," Marietta says one morning as they're perched on the cliff as usual, watching the sea. Millicent's arm tightens around her, and Marietta blinks. Friday is the day after tomorrow. "It's Mum's last week of holiday, and..." Anything might have happened at the Ministry while they were away. She doesn't want to think about it.
Millicent presses her mouth to Marietta's hair. "I'm leaving too."
"I thought you were staying until Sunday."
"No point now, is there?" They draw apart a little, look at each other. The old defiance is back in Millicent's eyes, framed by warmth and shyness. "I only stayed for so long because you did."
"You're barmy," Marietta says fondly. "I wish I could go back to Hogwarts."
"You're the barmy one." Millicent pulls her tight once more. "Why the hell would you wish such a thing? Now?"
"I think you can imagine." She closes her eyes. The wizarding world has captured her once more, far from everything and surrounded by Muggles. "I wish you didn't have to go, then."
Millicent doesn't answer, only breathes softly into Marietta's hair. They've had this talk already. Old Purebloods. Expectations. She wonders whether Millicent's Gran has sad puppydog eyes, or whether it's all cold scorn. Probably not. Millicent would be able to steel herself against the latter.
"I'll write," she says at last. "As much as I can. I don't know who is going to be there, though - if they'll even let us..."
"I'll write too." Marietta finds Millicent's hand and squeezes it. "As much as you like."
It's the first promise they have made to each other.
At length, they get to their feet, their hands still clasped together. The view is beautiful, the cliff is beautiful; the two of them are almost beautiful as well, Marietta thinks. Millicent Bulstrode, of all people, has made her beautiful. She wishes she could tell her mother, and then wonders why she can't.
Two awkward young witches far away from their world, finding their way down from a seaside cliff in late July, walking close together on the narrow path, so close nobody can see they're holding hands. It's too early to tell, Marietta tells herself as they come into view of the hotel and Millicent presses her hand once more before letting go. It might not last. It might not be anything, after all.