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Rush by daylight

Format: Novel
Chapters: 9
Word Count: 49,438
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: Humor, Romance, Action/Adventure
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Albus, Hugo, James (II), Lily (II), Rose, Scorpius, OC
Pairings: Other Pairing, Rose/Scorpius, James/OC, Lily/OC, OC/OC

First Published: 10/14/2014
Last Chapter: 03/05/2018
Last Updated: 03/05/2018

Summary:





"We fight crime now, Josie. We'll be wearing catsuits. Ergo, the two of you need to sort out your sexual tension before you jump each other's spandex-clad bones."

Josie Deetrin's universe of daydreams comes crashing into reality in a cracking cacophony of mysteries, madmen (also women, if you count Dom - which Josie absolutely does), and magnificent displays of shameless adolescence.

Josie's story will continue on HPfanfictalk ~


Chapter 1: leap
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I don't own: Alice in Wonderland, Princess Diaries, Heathers, Harry Potter, or anything else you just might recognize.


 







LEAP
 










Have you ever felt - when standing on the roof's ledge of a perilously tall building or when you don't mind the gap on the London Underground - that toe-tingling, stomach-swooshing, tongue-twisting thrill of what's possible?


Like, when you're standing on the ledge of the roof of that perilously tall building and you crane your neck forwards a bit - with your arms held straight out to maintain your concocted notion of balance - not to look at the twinkling vista twisting beyond your beating heart and planted feet, but to look straight down, so you can see the grungy alleyway with the overflowing dumpsters and the fire escapes and the midnight smokers hanging their heads out of windows to ash into their potted plants. And it's not a, oh my god what if I fell right now feeling (though that's there too), but a, oh my god what if I jumped? And your toes don't tingle at the prospect of dying, but at the idea of falling.


Because you've never truly fallen, and the thought of giving yourself up to gravity makes your head spiral in a giddy tailspin. (If only there was a plush mountain of pillows waiting for you at the bottom.)


But the toe-tingling, stomach-swooshing, tongue-twisting thrill lasts only a second before it becomes too much, and you step back away from the edge, much to the nervous relief of your friends who had wanted to come to this perilously tall rooftop to drink and laugh and crow at the moon, and definitely not to scrape your inebriated, whimsical self off of the grungy alleyway pavement.


"Josie!" I turn and grin at Dom's quirked eyebrow and nervous smile, "If you're quite finished flirting with death, we need you as an impartial judge!"


Still smiling, I swivel back to take one last look from my perch. This time not at the dizzying distance to the ground, but out beyond me - us - at the lights that stretch and come together and deviate like veins, surging and swerving like the lifeblood of this bubbling metropolis.


London is undoubtedly alive.


I hop off the ledge with wobbly legs and make my way back over to my friends, skirting around an entwined couple 'stargazing', and come to rest at the edge of the group of my people lounging in a circle of folding chairs and crushed beer cans. I don't know why I don't keep moving forward; why I don't, when realizing there are no more vacant chairs, sit upon Jude Wood's lap and stake my claim for the night as I have since the beginning of the summer. All I know is that my toes are tingling with the thrill of what's possible, and the giddiness of falling into this night - this last night of real summer holiday, of teendom - has me bouncing on the balls of my feet.


I take another step.


Dom giggles at me, twisted around so she can reach her hands out to me over the back of her chair, "C'mere, daredevil. Sit with me."


I feel Jude's eyes on me as I sit sideways on Dom's lap, my arms slung around her neck and my head resting against hers. She wraps her arms around my waist, "Did you have any mind-blowing revelations standing on the edge of the world?"


I smile lazily, "Oh, a few," my eyes slide past Davis, Eloise, and Parker to meet Jude's steady gaze. My smile grows as he gives me his bedroom-eyed half-smile, "What did you need me to judge for?"


Dom sits up straight, bumping her temple against mine, "Oh, that's right!" She twists round again to look over the back of our chair, "Rose, Scorp, stop sucking face for a second so Josie can decide our fates!"


"We are not - we're stargazing!" Rose splutters, hurrying over to us and leaving Scorpius to stroll at his typical leisurely pace.


I smile up at her flustered face - just why she chooses to deny the thick fog of attraction between her and Scorpius is beyond me - and hold my arms out to her, "We're in a city, Rose. It's called light pollution. Come join the love-pile, anyways."


Dom makes a dramatic strangled cry when Rose sits on my lap, "You're going to break me!"


We ignore her as Davis leans forward, "Right, Jose, what's it gonna be?"


I stare at him, "Give me the options and I might be able to tell you."


Eloise laughs and I give her a slight smile. Despite the fact that she's been seeing Davis for the better part of the summer, Eloise has yet to leave a lasting impression on me. She's nice enough, sure, but nice doesn't really seem to jive with our group dynamic. Rose already fills the spot for sugary-sweetness, while the rest of us tap-dance along the lines between perfectly pleasant and facetious. What's the point of being a Ravenclaw, after all, if you have to hold your tongue against every opinion that might cause a stir?


Scorpius crouches down next to our chair, long fingers fiddling with the laces on Rose's trainers as he addresses me, "The group's divided on what to do with the rest of the night, and you're the last to give an opinion."


I roll my eyes, "But there's an even number of us."


Dom pipes up from the bottom of the love-pile, "Exactly! That's why we've decided whatever you say, goes."


"No pressure," Jude drawls with a wink.


"Where does everyone stand, then?" I ask, looking around the group and smiling indulgently when I see Parker with his head lolled back, completely passed out. Parker has a rather impressive ability to fall asleep anywhere, at any time. Alcohol only makes it worse (or better, depending on how you look at it).


"I want to go to Al's end of the summer party like we planned. It's at James and Freddie's new place and it's going to be insanely fun!" Dom pleads, batting her long lashes at me.


I frown. I wasn't aware that we had planned on going to her cousin Al's party at all. But that's totally Dom's modus operandi; whenever she hears of something she wants to do, she instantly assumes everyone else wants to go along too. But, usually, Dom's taste in activities coincides with everyone else's idea of a good time.


"Right, what's the other idea?"


Davis leans forward with a smile, "We were thinking of maybe popping by a few clubs instead."


I cock my head to the side, leaning around Rose's shoulder, "But not everyone's legal yet."


Davis shrugs, "We could confund a few bouncers, no big deal."


Rose sighs, "I don't really like the sound of that."


"Besides," Dom chimes in, "there'll be free alcohol at Al's anyway!"


I shrug, "That settles it for me."


Dom squeals, "Yes!"


Davis scowls, "Well, what if we split up?"


Dom is scandalized. I don't like the idea, either.


"But it's the last night of the summer!"


Davis rolls his eyes, "We'll all see each other on the train tomorrow, you saps."


I smile, "It's because we love you, really." I turn to look at Jude. God, that smile of his holds so many promises. "And you?" I ask him slowly, "What's your opinion?"


Jude leans forward, elbows on knees, and his lips move to betray a promise I had thought they held, "The clubs actually do sound cool."


We observe each other, Jude and I, for a steamy second. And then I cast my gaze downwards and shrug to hide the fact that I'm disappointed Jude doesn't want to spend the last night of the summer - this summer that holds the beautiful grey area of what we're doing and what we are to each other - together.


"I guess we'll split up, then."


Jude frowns. Apparently my lips had betrayed a presumed promise, too. "C'mon, Jose. Come dance with me tonight. I'll even buy you an obscenely priced drink."


Davis whistles his way into a sly grin, "I know I wouldn't be able to turn down that offer."


I nudge Rose so she'll stand, and I follow her up, "Sorry, darlings, I'm going to Al's."


Dom squeezes my waist in excitement as she stands up too. I know she's happy I'm choosing to hang out with her over Jude. Not that she doesn't like the idea of us together, per se, but the fact that she's had to share me this summer, and the fact that the shape of Jude and I is so Undefined, definitely bothers her.


Jude's sultry mood has soured as he pushes a hand through his hair, "Do you really want to babysit Dom all night and hide from James' girlfriend's death glares?"


I frown, "Becca doesn't give me death glares."


Dom grabs me by the elbow, intending to steer me towards the stairwell, "Yes she does, love. But don't think about her. Think about all the fun you and I will have! The laughs! The bonding!"


Rose grabs Scorpius by the hand, "We're coming too!"


"We are?"


"Yes! James' new place has a great balcony for - erm - stargazing."


Scorpius smiles down at her, "Lead the way."


Dom and I simultaneously turn to wrinkle our noses at each other, which leads to single-ladies-girl-power giggling. I wave a goodbye as we skip to the stairs, and I sigh when I see Davis and Eloise already wrapped up in each other, and Jude moodily shaking Parker awake. I hope they end up having fun tonight, regardless of the fact that we're taking most of the fun with us.

 






 

"Dom," I say suddenly, as the tube hurtles towards James and Freddie's place, "why d'you guys think Becca hates me?"


She quits making funny faces at Rose and Scorpius canoodling a couple seats down to fix me with a 'duh' stare, "Because James had the fattest crush on you for, like, years."


I roll my eyes at her, "He fancied me for literally two seconds. And that was well over a year ago!"


She rolls her eyes right back at me before fixing her gaze on her reflection in the dark window across the train car so she can fuss with her hair, "It was not two seconds, Jose. I had to listen to him whinge about you for ages before I finally told him to get a fucking grip."


I sit and contemplate this for a few moments - in the way you only can when you've been drinking, where every thought seems to crawl by and yet you still can't quite catch it entirely - before I conclude, "He intimidated me too much back then for me to think about dating him."


Dom fluffs her hair, "That's what I told him. He just didn't understand that a tall, handsome, sixth year Gryffindor Quidditch Captain was a lot to take on for a sixteen year old Ravenclaw."


I flush a bit as certain flustered memories come to mind, "I'm glad I wasn't around for that conversation."


"So am I." She pauses, before sliding her gaze to me with a saucy grin, "But you're all grown up now."


I push her lightly with a groan, "Don't even think about it. He's got a girlfriend who apparently hates me as it is."


"You forgot to mention that you have Jude."


"Right. And I've got Jude. Kind of. Maybe."


Dom wrinkles her nose in distaste, "You guys have to figure your shit out. And soon. Daniella Dawson was talking about putting the moves on him at the end of last term."


I groan, "Not Double-D! There's no way I can go up against her massive assets."


"Not to mention the alliteration."


"Fucking alliteration."


"This is us," Scorpius calls over, standing up as we slow down.


"Finally," Dom sighs happily, pulling me to my feet, "I need another drink. My buzz is starting to wear off."


I giggle with Rose as Dom slings an arm around Scorpius' shoulders, their beautiful blonde heads leading the charge out of the Underground and into a quieter part of London than where we'd been before. The thought makes me blink up at the tall buildings surrounding us. What if there's someone up there, right now, on one of these rooftops, watching us frolic through the surging lifeblood of London?


The thought makes me shiver.


"Cold?" Rose asks kindly, looping her arm through mine to pull me in the direction our blonde-haired tour guides are taking us.


"I'm just - I get kind of awed by the city, sometimes."


Rose appraises me as we walk, her smile growing, "I do too. One of the perks of growing up in the 'burbs, I guess."


"Don't forget the isolation of Hogwarts. That really throws London into perspective as well."


"Hogwarts has got Hogsmeade! There's lots of varied magical folk who live there -"


"Yeah, but that's not really what I mean," I interrupt, gazing up at the skyline once more, "I'm talking about the - the energy of the city. Can't you feel it thrumming with life, even now, at this hour?"


Rose gazes up at me like I'm some kind of skyline, smiling wistfully, "I love it when you get this way."


I look back down to meet her eyes, puzzled, "What way?"


Rose looks in front of us, picking up our pace to make sure we don't fall too far behind Dom and Scorp, "When you get all - you know, poetic."


I shake my head at her bemusedly, "I'm always this way."


She cuts her gaze over to me, "But you only share it when you've been drinking."


I crack a smile, "No filter this far down the rabbit hole, I suppose."


Rose laughs, "Keep it up, Josie, and I may just ditch Scorpius' company for yours tonight."


I laugh with her, "If I could only be so lucky. Although, I don't really fancy having a sulky Scorpy on my hands."


"Keep up, slowpokes, we're nearly there!" Dom calls over her shoulder as she points at a decent looking apartment building halfway down the street.


"How big is this party supposed to be?" I ask Rose with nervous, pent-up excitement.


"Decently big, I think. They invited pretty much everyone they thought would be able to get out of the house the night before school starts. Some of James' new Auror training friends will probably be here too."


Right. Strangers. Small talk. Alcohol. School tomorrow. Focusing on the now and not the inevitable headache that awaits me in the distant lands of tomorrow (technically today, I suppose, since we're due to board the Hogwarts Express in ten hours), "Right."


"Josie Deetrin!"


"Yes, Dom Weasley?"


"Walk with me. I've got important things to discuss with you."


I blow Rosie a kiss, which she returns, before scampering to where Dom is waiting for me. I look over and see Scorpius immediately envelope Rose in a warm, one-armed hug as they walk ahead of us, heads bent together as they whisper to each other.


Get married, already. Or at least admit you're into each other, for pete's sake.


"So, how do you think he's gonna do it?"


I turn back to Dom, taking a couple big strides to catch up to her, "How's who going to do what?"


"James. How do you think James is going to greet you tonight?"


"Er - normally? Probably along the lines of, 'hello' and 'good to see you again'."


Dom tsks, "No no no, James has way more originality than that. I think he's going to open the front door wide when we knock - which is why you'll be the one doing the knocking, of course - and he'll say 'oh, Jocelyn Marie Deetrin, where have you been all my life?' and then he'll sweep you into this big, foot-popping kiss while the music swells in the background, and a single, crystalline tear will run down my cheek, because I was the one who set you on this collision-course with destiny-"


"He has a girlfriend, you monumental freak."


Dom scoffs, "Like that matters to destiny."


"I'm kind of speechless right now."


She hooks her arm through mine with a sly grin, "Not as speechless as you'll be when James sweeps you off your feet, just you wait and see."

 






 

 


As it turns out, it's Freddie Weasley who answers the door, much to Dom's very vocal dismay.


"Shut the door Freddie, and tell James to come let us in."


Freddie furrows his brow, mouth slightly agape, looking at the rest of us for confirmation.


I roll my eyes and push past Dom, "Hey Fred, good to see you. Ignore Dom, please."


Freddie seems to regain his composure as he gives me a loose hug, "Easily done, Josie-Bean."


I wander into the spacious apartment as Freddie greets the rest of the group, and I look around to see if I know anyone in the jumble of faces chatting and drinking at Albus Potter's End Of The Summer bash. There are a few people taking shots in the kitchen who I know graduated last year with James and Freddie, and I can easily spot Dom's redheaded relations scattered throughout the party. I make eye contact with one redheaded relation in particular, and we make a beeline for each other.


"Josie, my love, my stars, my most favorite subordinate!" Molly Weasley cries as she drunkenly flings her arms around my neck.


I laugh into her wild curls, talking loudly above the music, "Always a pleasure, madam Head Girl."


"I'm not Head Girl anymore, Jose."


"I think you get to keep the title even when you leave office, like the Minister of Magic. Or the Pope."


She releases her tight hold on me, but only so she can hold my face in her hands, "I've missed you. Come work for me when you're done with school."


I laugh and her unsteady, glassy gaze fights to keep me in focus, "I don't think being your favorite prefect qualifies me for a position in your office, Molls."


Molly dismisses my comment immediately, leading me by the crook of my arm towards the kitchen, "Nonsense! I'll be a junior partner at the firm within the year, mark my words, and I'll get to choose who works under me." She sidles up to the black granite kitchen countertop and sloppily pours two shots of Ogden's finest, "Now drink with me. One shot for us, and one for the fallen homies."


She knocks back her shot before I can ask and I quickly follow suit, swiping a finger under my watering eyes. Molly pours again.


"Who's fallen?" I ask as she hands me the glass again.


She glares at the mass of people outside the kitchen like they've all personally affronted her, "Clark Stebbins."


I give a dramatic gasp, "Say it isn't so! Not the former Head Boy?"


"The very same."


"You guys aren't dating anymore, I take it?" I drink the firewhiskey, in honor of the excommunicated former Head Boy, and set my glass on the counter just a moment before Molly does the same.


She shrugs in a would-be casual way, "He couldn't handle 'us' in the real world. Didn't like that I'm doing better professionally than he is."


I give a sympathetic frown, "That's awful. He's in magical law too?"


"At the same firm as me," she grimaces.


"Yikes."


Molly rolls her eyes, "Tell me about it." She sighs and her eyes wander the apartment, "Nice place, isn't it?"


It really is. It's a corner apartment, and two of the walls are made almost entirely of glass, with a balcony that - from what I can see, at least - wraps around the whole length of the two walls. The inside is spacious and open, with an ongoing theme of rich brown leather for the furniture and gleaming modern finishes. The overall effect screams expensive, but it's tastefully done all the same, and I'm absolutely sure their mums have decorated for them.


I look around at the fancy appliances nestled into the kitchen's black granite countertops and observe that they look mostly untouched, "Do they even know how to work these?"


Molly smirks, "They haven't a clue. They order takeout, mostly."


Typical.


I move out of the kitchen and stand in the living room, appraising the hardwood floors with Molly at my side. After a moment I nod in satisfaction, "These look ideal for sock-sliding."


"That was the first thing I said when I saw this place."


I spin around and come face-to-chest with James Potter. I take a quick step back, and note that he looks exactly the same as he did at the end of last term. Same boyish grin and dimpled cheeks. Same strong jaw and slightly crooked nose. Same hazel eyes that look at me with the same amount of keen interest.


I grin up at him as he folds me into a hug, "Sounds like you have your priorities straight, then."


His smile grows, "I'd like to think so."


Molly is all smirks as she gives an awkward cough, and James quickly lets go of me. He shoves a hand through his hair, "Fancy a tour?"


I shrug and look around, "I think I've got the gist of the place. I'm off to look at the view next."


James grins, "It's gorgeous, Jose. You're gonna love it."


A pair of arms slide around James' waist from behind, and Becca's head appears around his side, "Josie, hey! How are you?"


I smile at her, Dom's words ringing in my ears, "Fantastic, thanks. And you? Work going well?"


Becca's smile fades too quickly to be natural and her eyes glance over me with practiced disinterest, "I'm still looking, actually. But I have a promising interview with a potion brewing lab on Wednesday next week."


I nod over-enthusiastically, "Wow, that's great! I'm sure you'll get it, they'd be fools not to hire you."


Becca doesn't appear to be listening to me anymore. Instead, she seems to be having some kind of intense eye-conversation with James. It does not look like a pleasant discussion. There are a lot of narrowed eyes and expressive eyebrows involved.


I clear my throat, "Well, I'm off to look at that view now. Cheers James, thanks for having us over."


James looks over at us and gives me an apologetic grimace, "No problem Josie, thanks for coming."


I wave and quickly turn to loop my arm through Molly's, "Shall we, Molls?"


"Oh absolutely, darling. There's no one I'd rather look at this romantic view with than you."


When we're far enough away, Molly bursts into laughter, "God, that was like watching a car crash. Couldn't look away if I tried."


I shake my head, cheeks flushing.


"Molly! You left me!" We turn in the direction of the desperate cry to see Molly's little sister Lucy sprawled across one of James' beautiful leather couches, her feet dangling over one of the armrests and her hands outstretched in our direction. Her makeup is severely smudged and her shirt looks like it has a bit of sick down the front.


Molly rolls her eyes at me, mouth twisted up in a grimace, "I told her not to take those shots. She's such a lightweight and she never listens to me. I'd better make sure she's alright."


I nod with a smile, "A true friend's work is never done. Come find me later?"


Molly beams, kissing my cheek before weaving her way over to her distraught sister. Speaking of high maintenance siblings, where has Dom gotten to? I haven't seen her since we got here. Standing on my toes, I try to make out her shade of blonde in the crowd, but a particularly popular song has come on and limbs are flailing to the beat. I sigh. This is her family's party, I'm sure she's alright.


Unable to resist another staggering, toe-tingling view, I push open the glass doors that lead to the balcony.


James is right. The view is gorgeous, and I do love it.


As if sleepwalking, I make my way to the very edge and clutch at the glass barrier separating me from a twelve-story fall. The balcony is wide enough to fit quite a few people, and many of them are surrounding a stone fire pit a few meters down from where I stand, but their voices are muted by the pounding of my heart.


"Beer?"


Turning my head to the right, I see Al Potter extending a glass bottle in my direction. It glints in the firelight.


I smile at him and reach out to accept it, "Cheers."


He nods and leans against the glass barrier so his back is to the view. He brings his own bottle to his lips and takes a long drink as he looks at me. The green of his eyes, starkly contrasted against his dark eyelashes, has me staring.


"Having fun?" He asks, his gaze appraising as he tilts his head slightly to one side.


Something in his tone makes me feel like we're in on some inside joke, so I drawl, "Oh, a blast. You?"


Al smiles for the first time since walking over to me, "The time of my life."


The way his eyes crinkle at the corners makes me want to smile, so I turn my head back to look at the view to hide my twitching lips. Al sidles closer and my heartbeat quickens.


"Are you afraid of heights?" He asks suddenly, and I almost laugh.


I turn to meet his gaze, and he's close enough that I could brush my arm against his, if I wanted. I like the fact that he's rolled up his sleeves to just below his elbows. I conclude - abstractedly, unintentionally - that he has nicer arms than Jude.


"Not at all," I reply, looking quizzically into his eyes, "what makes you ask?"


Al smiles, slow and soft, before gesturing at the fire pit behind him, "We've been sitting over there for most of the night, so I've seen a lot of people come and look at the view." He scrutinizes my face in a careful - if a little beer-numbed - way, "No one's looked at it the same way you have."


I try to examine him the same way he's examining me, "So you think I'm afraid?"


His tongue runs along his bottom lip - abstractedly, unintentionally - before he replies with humor in his eyes, "I'm guessing I was wrong, then." He looks up at the sky like he's considering something before moving his gaze back to me, "So if it's not fear, what is it?"


I look out at the view again, contemplative, thoughts dripping like molasses. I decide that Albus Potter - vague acquaintance, schoolmate, fellow human being - is as good as any to share these slivers of myself with.


I speak to the view, "I feel… giddy. Impulsive. Alive. Endless."


He shifts, and I can see his easy smile out of the corner of my eye as he says, "Go on."


I let my eyes wander the twinkling paths of light, and try to get my point across in the way Rose likes best, "I feel like I'm - expanding, or something. Like I'm not really what I think I am. Like - I'm not full of a beating heart and lungs and nerves and all that, but I'm just this - empty container, and I'm filling up on these lights and sounds and… existences."


Silence.


I turn to look at him, "I've been drinking."


Al's face is so full of unexpected warmth, and surprise, and I vaguely realize that I can't recall the last time I've seen such an expression on his face, and his voice holds the same sort of magic, "So have I."


"We'll be drunkards together, then."


"Solidarity."


"Exactly. You get me."


Al looks down at the beer in his hands for a second before lifting his gaze to watch the hubbub of the party. He watches them revel with vague amusement, "It's kind of like they're in a fish bowl, isn't it?"


I turn my back on the view, leaning my elbows on top of the glass barrier, and study the party. I can see what he means; surrounded by glass without a clue that they're being observed.


I cut my gaze to Albus, "Very astute, Mr. Potter."


His lips turn up at the corners, "Just a casual observation, Ms. Deetrin."


We lapse into silence, listening vaguely to the strains of conversation coming from the fire pit and the white-noise enjoyment of those inside the fish bowl.


"Do you think they'll be switching up patrol partners this term? If I have to search broom cupboards with Sally Hanseth for another year, I might just quit."


I laugh, relieved that Al's picked an easy topic for conversation. Talking about Prefect rounds I can handle. His relaxed, confident tone from before is dangerous for me, especially when I feel like this and I've had this much to drink. There's something in his eyes tonight - the same expression I can see sometimes in class when something privately amuses him, and I see it occasionally when we infrequently hang out in the same friend circle - that makes me want to be in on his joke.


"Sally is not that bad," I chide softly with a smile, bringing my bottle to my lips.


Al scoffs, but he's smiling too, "You're only saying that because she doesn't try to snog you in every dark corner of the castle," he cuts his gaze to me slyly, "Or does she?"


I wrinkle my nose at him as I smile, and I watch his eyes take a quick glance down at my lips.


My toes begin to tingle.


I sigh sadly, "I'm not Sally's type, I'm afraid."


"Count yourself lucky, then." My eyes follow the strong lines of his profile as he takes a hearty swig.


Turning back to the cityscape, I rest my arms on the glass barrier and rejoice in the chilled air that refreshes my face and cools my tingling attraction, "Oh, I do. I'm partnered with Rose, and while she may be a stickler for the rules, she doesn't try to sexually harass me."


Albus laughs for the first time, and I try not to grin at what feels like my first triumph in this moment we're harboring together.


He offers me a sympathetic half-smile, "Rose is Head Girl this year, Josie, you'll have to get a new partner anyway."


Of course I already know this, and he knows that I know. Did he say it just to fill a gap in conversation, or to perform some supposed role? Are we not - Albus and I - leaning on this balcony together to be free from the social expectations of the fish inside the glass bowl?


I reply with the response I knew I would say since the words left his lips, "I know. I hope it's not the new Head Boy's old partner, I hardly know him. What's his name? Gallahan?"


I am a steward to convention as much as he is.


Al nods, "Yeah, he's in Hufflepuff, I think. Weird we don't really know him." He frowns, "It's actually kind of crazy how big the student body's gotten recently. My dad said it used to be that they only needed one dorm each - y'know, boys and girls - for each year in every house."


I frown, thinking, "Yeah, that is pretty crazy. I wonder why the sudden influx in magical children?"


Al shrugs, "Maybe more parents are just deciding to send their kids to Hogwarts instead of homeschooling, or any of the other magical schools. We are the school rife with fame, after all."


His tone is deeply sarcastic, and I sigh. A drunk Albus Potter stuck on the issues of his heavily-publicized life cannot be a good thing.


So I try to make him smile again, "You're talking about Nearly Headless Nick, right?"


It works; Al looks at me out of the corner of his eye, his lips tugging up, "Of course. Nick's a legend, isn't he?"


I smirk up at him, "His wobbly head has terrified children for generations."


Al's eyes crinkle at the corners to match his smile, his tone suddenly posh as he says, "Nick's insatiable appetite for real food can never go unmentioned at any respectable dinner party."


"Oh yeah, he can't eat, can he? That's kind of sad."


"It is, isn't it? He also celebrates the day he died every year, apparently."


"That's ultra sad."


Al stares at me for a second before grinning, "How did we get on this topic?"


I grin back, "I haven't the foggiest."


We fall into another silence - this one quite a bit more comfortable than the last - and he turns to face the view too. He puts his arm up next to mine. Our forearms are gently pressed together, and it's definitely on purpose.


My stomach swooshes.


I swallow, focusing my attention on my dangling hands. I feel Al turn to look at me, and I move to look at him. Eyes level with his neck, I slowly crane my head back to meet his gaze. His expression darkens as his eyes slowly travel to my lips, and heat instantly coils in my abdomen, my heart thudding in my ears.


Al breaks our heated stare first, and I remember to breathe.


He clears his throat as he whips his head back to stare at the bottle in his hands, and I stare fixedly at the buildings across the street, my mind racing.


"I hope we get partnered for rounds this year," He says with regained composure after a long pause, smiling and looking at me out of the corner of his eye.


"Yeah?" I say, with a teasing (alright, you got me, flirtatious) lilt to my voice and small smile playing at my lips, "Not afraid I'd try to jump you in dark corners of the castle?"


Al smirks down at me, eyes alight with interest, "You'd never be so bold."


I tut-tut (though he's quite right, of course), "Don't presume to know me, Albus. You know what happens when you assume."


His smirk grows as his expression turns devious, "I goad Josie Deetrin into snogging me in dark corners of the castle?"


I laugh (my head spinning at his boldness), bumping my shoulder lightly against his. He smiles at his hands, and bumps his shoulder back against mine. He sighs, and my stomach lurches at the sound.


After a lifetime of almost-moments, he says, "I can't believe this is our last year."


I shake my head, "I haven't wrapped my mind around it yet. It feels like my entire life has been Hogwarts."


Al nods, "Close enough, anyway. I know I won't want to leave at the end of it."


I smile, "I will. I think I'll be ready for what comes next."


Al shoots me a disbelieving look, forearm warm against mine, "What, the limbo-phase of our twenties? I mean, we won't be in school, but not in a real career or anything yet either," he bites his lip as he thinks for a moment before shaking his head, "Sounds like a decade of waiting in line for something."


I wrinkle my nose at him, "You can't think about it like that! You have to look forward to the little things."


Al smiles, and I can tell what he's going to say before he says it, "Alright. What little things?"


I really think about it - gaze unfocused, lingering somewhere beyond the tangible - feeling a strange zeal to make Al see (he's been everything that I find attractive in a boy, and I can't have him shattering that now), "Think about… the freedom of your twenties. Think about how many risks you'll be willing to take because your whole life is stretching out ahead of you," I look at him imploringly but he needs more, so I hurry on, eyes darting over the backlit cityscape, "I mean, I can't wait for my first shitty apartment in some dodgy neighborhood. I'll love that apartment, down to every last mystery stain on the carpet or - or water spot on the ceiling, because it'll be mine. And I have all these bizarre, irrational desires I'll be able to fulfill on a whim," I can't stop my dizzy smile, "Like, I want to play stand up bass in some random band on someone's crumbling porch on a - on a Tuesday night. And I want to catch a commuter's portkey at 2 a.m., one of those portkeys that takes late night ministry workers back to Paris or Berlin or somewhere far away, just because I feel like it. Doesn't that sound fun?"


His expression is unfathomable, "Yes."


I grin at the potential prospects, "I want to blow a whole paycheck on a night out with Dom and Rose, and not regret a thing. I want to be set up on a hopeless date with one of my future coworkers, and giggle about it with Dom when I get home. And I want to visit art museums on my lunch breaks, and fly my broom overseas to Ireland on a beautiful day. I want to take a magical cooking class because I'm seriously hopeless at household spells. And a dance class. I'd love to learn how to dance. And I want-"


I finally meet Albus' gaze and forget to take that breath I've been needing to take. The look on his face is like the unfamiliarly warm expression from earlier, only magnified and intensified and radiating.


"I want a lot of things," I finish a little breathlessly.


"Me too," Al murmurs.


I clear my throat and speak quickly to dispel the heat spreading between us, "I think our twenties will be uncertain, and exhausting, and, God, so demeaning. But it'll be wonderful."


Al finishes his drink and stares at the empty bottle as if the label says something wholly important, "How'd you get so wise, Deetrin?"


I bite my lip to keep from smiling too big and turn my face to look back at the view, "Someone put a drink in my hand a few hours ago."


I've never felt attracted to Al Potter before tonight. Well, I suppose that's not entirely true; I became a bit of a casual admirer of his good looks and even-better humor last year when he hit that final growth spurt, but it was nothing. Trivial. Fleeting and inconsequential.


But this, this is standing on the edge of a rooftop with a crowd of people screaming for me to jump.


"You get a little pucker in between your eyebrows when you're thinking hard about something." His voice is a murmur in my ear, a stutter in my heartbeat.


I draw in an unsteady breath.


"What are you thinking so hard about, Josie?"


My tongue twists.


I turn my head, achingly slowly, to look at him. He's right there, his lips just inches from mine. I flick my gaze up to meet his, and feel the coiled heat spread from my abdomen and down my legs.


He's moving towards me, a fraction of a fraction at a time. I lift on the balls of my feet ever so slightly, and the memory of earlier tonight - this last summer's night - when I felt myself falling into the limitless as I stood on the precipice of my beautiful, forever friends, comes rushing up to meet me as his lips come falling to meet mine.


Our forearms are still pressed together.


My eyelashes flutter closed as I tilt my face back, my lips parted, breathless -


The tip of a wand presses sharply against the back of my neck, a gravelly voice murmuring in my ear, "Pucker up, princess."

 






Wow. If you're reading this, thank you. I hope you enjoyed reading, because I've so enjoyed writing it!
What did you think of Josie? Al? Dom? Scor/Rose? Everyone else?
And who's got their wand pressed to Josie's neck?!
Please review :)

 

Nora xx

 

 


Chapter 2: fall
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

 






 


Albus Potter and Josie Deetrin

 






 




"Pucker up, princess."










 

 






 

 






 

The point of contact between wand tip and skin feels searingly, blindingly hot.






My body moves of its own accord, the thought of Al's kiss still tingling on my lips even as a gasp catches in the back of my throat. And I'm spinning - whirling, twirling - around fast enough for the lights of the city to become streaks of glowing color, my hands and elbows groping and shoving blindly to push him - this thing - off of me. 






The tinkling sound of a forgotten beer bottle clutched in my grip comes to me slowly, images and noises fragmented in their connection with my adrenaline-spiked, alcohol-soaked synapses. I can see it happening, I can watch the bottle smash against the glass barrier next to me as I turn around fast enough for my arm to go careening off course. And I can see - vaguely, peripherally - that all I'm left holding is the neck of the broken bottle as I stand, dripping, and staring at a boy clutching a Chinese-food-takeout chopstick and guffawing so hard his eyes are shut, his mouth stretching so wide it looks as if the fabric of his face might split in two. 






I'm gaping like a goldfish, chest heaving with indignant huffs. I sway on my feet, fighting to free my thoughts from the sticky murk of alcohol and snuffed-out lust clouding my brain. It was a joke - just a prank.






My heart continues to pound like I'm being held at wandpoint.






And then Albus is moving, almost faster than my disoriented eyes can follow, and he's stepping in between me and this guy - who looks too familiar to be a stranger, and too strange to be familiar - broken glass crunching to dust beneath his feet.






"What is wrong with you, Kline?" Al wants to know, his arms crossed and his brow furrowed in confusion.






Kline. My mind simmers down enough to connect Kline to Charlie Kline, Sixth Year Hufflepuff. I can't remember a time where I've even exchanged words with him, except perhaps a possible excuse me as I passed by him in a busy corridor.






Charlie's struggling for breath, and his eyes dart to me - still regaining control over myself and covered in beer - before he's sent into another laughing fit. But he manages, "It - it's a chopstick, man, and she's about to cry over there like she thought I was going to curse her, my god -" and he dissolves into more giggles.






Al's face clears of confusion, but settles into harder, more irritated lines. "What kind of fucked up joke is trying to scare someone like her? And couldn't you see that we were-"






He stops, the word were hanging in the air between us.






Charlie lifts his hands up in surrender, but his face is still contorted in glee, "Hey, man, chill out. James wanted me to let you know the takeout's arrived…" His voice drifts off as he suddenly cocks his head to one side, his gaze unfocused, as though he's listening closely to something. A slow, cat-like smile stretches across his face as the silence continues - Al and I too baffled and too entranced by Charlie Kline to break it - and he closes his eyes, nodding a little, like there's something to be agreed with.






Charlie heaves a large sigh of contentment, blinking his eyes open slowly, like he's just taken the most satisfying nap. "You really need to get on my wavelength, Potter." 






Concern pulls down at the corners of Al's mouth, and he steps closer to Charlie. He gets right up close to Charlie's face, and even has the nerve to tilt Charlie's chin back, so the light falls more evenly across his features. 






"Kline," Al says slowly, clearly, "I need you to tell me what you took."






Charlie stares right into Al's eyes, just mere inches apart, and he speaks slowly - simply, happily - his chin bouncing in Al's hand, "Life." We just continue to stare at him, so he laughs a loud, cathartic laugh right into Al's face. When the laughter dies from his lips, his eyes lose their sated, sleepy look. He blinks back awake in Al's hands, his voice neutral, "I'm high on life, Potter. Let go of me."






Al lets go of Charlie's face, and steps back a little. 






I step forward, "C'mon, Charlie. Let's get you some water."






Charlie looks at me like he's just noticed I'm here. The ghost of his deranged grin pulls at his cheeks, "Don't worry about me, Josie. I'll be fine. Why don't you take care of yourself, alright? Don't want to run into anymore wayward chopsticks."






I want to laugh. I want to laugh the kind of laugh that would segue into those huge, drunken sobs that wrack your body for no reason at all, other than the fact that the world no longer makes sense. Like the world is speaking a language you don't know now, but you did before -  before the shots and the beers and the forearm-touching with the cute boy on the balcony. Like the world is going in for a handshake while you were raising your arms for a hug. Like a girl who's been reduced to a quivering jumble of similes and metaphors.






And suddenly I'm feeling so profoundly embarrassed that I've freaked out over nothing.






So I awkwardly look away from Al's frown and Charlie's otherworldly smile, and down at the broken bottle in my hand, and notice my palm is slick and dripping with blood. 






Is that my blood? It doesn't even hurt. Carefully, I exchange the broken bottle neck from one hand to the other so I can more closely inspect my palm. How could I not have felt the glass cutting into my skin?





 

A small "Oh," escapes my lips, and Al turns to fully look at me, his gaze cutting down to my upraised palm.






His broad shoulders tense as he inhales sharply, and he makes a couple large strides to take my hand in his. He looks at my palm closely, and my fingers twitch nervously. 






I blow out a slightly shaky breath as I stare down at him, "What do you think, Doctor? Will I make it?"






His eyes crinkle at the corners as he looks at me, and his lips twitch upward, "It's a close call, but I think you'll pull through."






I smile at him, and he smiles back as he leans back up, letting go of my hand. Movement behind Al's shoulder catches my eye, and I watch Charlie turn and run jubilantly back into the apartment, the back of his head so seemingly similar to everyone else's that I soon lose him in the crowd. 






Alarm - soft, and quiet - settles into the back of my mind.






I look back at Al, and see that he's appraising my expression, ever-observant. He reaches up slowly to tuck a lock of hair behind my ear, murmuring, "Let's go get you cleaned up."






Nerves jittering in the wake of Charlie Kline, I shrug, "It's fine, Al. It doesn't even hurt."






Al looks at me dubiously before inclining his head towards the apartment, "C'mon. There's a first aid kit in the bathroom."






I hesitate and he watches me patiently, that look from before on the horizon of his eyes. So I nod and smile shyly - the kind of smile I might have given him the year before if we had caught eyes in passing, or honestly, just a couple hours before this moment - before fifteen minutes ago when his face was hovering above mine and I could count the freckles on the bridge of his nose and catch the tiniest gap between his front teeth.






I turn to look at the view one last time, and let it swell inside me, filling me up and chasing away any lurking demons. 






"Can we go clean you up now, or would you rather do some fingerpainting with your spilt blood instead?" Impatience leaks from Al's tone, but the creases in his forehead and the frown pulling at his lips hint at his concern.






So I smile again to chase away his worries and take a few steps towards him, "I dunno, Al, I've always been a great fan of alternative art."






He rolls his eyes but can't hide his amused smirk as he places a hand on my lower back to steer me inside, "Let's go, Picasso. If we hurry we might get back in time."






"Back in time for what?"






Al doesn't say anything - just smiles a secret smile as we maneuver our way through the crowded living room. I glance around as we go, and I catch Dom throwing her head back in a laugh as she sits in Matthew Belkin's lap in a leather armchair. I smile slightly, before I'm distracted by Al's hand on my elbow as he guides me down the dark hallway that leads to the bedrooms. We squeeze past the line waiting for the guest bathroom, and walk a few doors down to one of the bedroom doors. He pulls out his wand and wordlessly unlocks the door, his hand reaching around the wall for the light switch. He lets go of me as he walks straight for the connected bathroom, and I look around the room absently while I wait.






Quidditch pennants on the walls, complex spell books on the desk. James' room.






I perch on the edge of the bed just as Al comes striding back into the room. He throws the first aid kit on the bed next to me and kneels down in front of me, a bottle of peroxide in one hand and a bandage in the other. 






"This'll sting a bit," he says, looking up at me as he takes my hand in his.





 

I smile down at him cheekily, "Don't worry, Doc. This isn't my first time."






I watch his cheeks tinge pink as he looks back down at my hand, and I want to die and squeal at my audacity. He pours on the peroxide and it does sting a bit, but I'm too focused on watching Al's face as he concentrates to really care. The room is too quiet to ignore his nearness, and my heart is beginning to pick up its pace as I watch him work. 






"There," he says quietly, bandage in place, "All better." He looks back up at me, and his gaze slowly darkens as he takes in my expression.





 

His gaze makes me feel bold, so I hold my hand back out to him, offering up my bandaged palm, "What, no kiss? What kind of doctor's office is this?"






His mouth curls into a smirk as he bends his head down to slowly brush his lips against my palm. Shivers tingle their way down my spine.






"Better?" He asks, amused, but his gaze is heated.






"Much."






A pause follows as we watch each other. I want to say, Get up here, Doctor, my lips need some serious attending to, but I don't. And he doesn't make a move, either. He just stays kneeled in front of me, his eyes on mine and my hand in his. 






"Al?" I say softly.






"Yeah?" He says, his voice gruff.






I swallow, "What's wrong with Charlie?"






He looks down at my hand in his for a long moment, before shaking his head and looking back up at me, "I'm not sure, Josie. I've never seen him like that. I used to tutor him in Potions last year, and he was a pretty normal guy. But I'm going to keep an eye on him when we get back to Hogwarts. Just in case." His hand reaches up to tuck my hair behind my ear again, "I'll make sure he's alright."






And I nod and smile a little because I know he means it. And the fact that I know he means anything is exhilarating and bizarre, for I've never known or felt anything definitive about him before. It's like he and I have always been skimming past each other, just half a degree of separation between us. If I hadn't caught his attention tonight, and if he hadn't handed me a beer as a way to bridge our differences, Al Potter would still be just Dom's cousin, just another cute boy with an enigmatic smile and the world at his feet.






A large bang comes from outside, and an orange glow fills the room.




 

"Fireworks," I say, my voice awed as I walk over to the bedroom window. Vivid colors crackle and sizzle, smoky contrails following their descent. The bang of each explosion sets the tempo of my heartbeat.






Al follows me, his shoulder brushing against mine as we watch firework after firework explode just beyond our reach. "James and Freddie are setting them off on the roof right now," he says.




 

I shake my head, but smile all the same, "They could get in so much trouble."






Al just nods, and we turn to look back at the firework show. He winds an arm around my waist, and I turn my head to look at him. Purples and blues and greens reflect upon his face, and light up his happy expression. I shift to stand in front of him, and he unquestioningly shifts with me, raising his other arm to wrap around my waist, holding me to him. My hands slide up his chest and the side of his neck to clasp at the nape of his neck.




 

He smiles down at me, his heart keeping time with mine, "You're missing the display."






I bite my lip and shake my head, whispering, "No I'm not."






Al smirks as he leans his head down, "Who knew Josie Deetrin could be so bold?"






I smirk back as I lift on my toes, "You did."






He brushes his lips against mine, and it sends hot, molten shockwaves through to my core. Suddenly I'm pressed up against him, my lips molded to his and my hands clutched in his hair. He pushes me against the window and I gasp as he leans against me, his hips pressed into mine with nothing but a pane of glass separating us from this heart-stopping, staggering view.  A groan in the back of his throat sends me over the edge and I'm plummeting, and I'm not me and he's not him but we are us, and it's like I've never felt something so good as his touch or something so addictive as this






The loud, insistent bang of the firework finale finally pulls us apart, and he leans his forehead against mine. We watch each other, and smile similarly bewildered smiles. The air between us crackles and pulses, and I'm left feeling even drunker than before. He leans back, his hands on my waist, and pulls me away from the window. 






We keep smiling goofily at each other until he says, expression full of mischief, "Now I really hope we get partnered for Prefect rounds."





 

And I lean my head back and laugh because it was just the right thing to say, in just the right moment, with just the right person. 






I look up at him from under my lashes, "Will I have to fight Sally Hanseth for you? Because I'm not sure you're worth a black eye."






Al laughs, eyes crinkling, before leaning forward to brush his lips against my forehead, "Don't worry, I'll teach you to throw a mean right hook."




 

I grin up at him and pull away so I can lie back on the bed. I don't want to leave this room just yet - I don't want to let the noise and the people and the realness of the party outside burst this bubble we've made. Al comes to lie down next to me, and we turn our heads to look at each other.





 

"I didn't expect this," he murmurs, his brow slightly creased, "I didn't expect you."






I smile slightly, "Neither did I."






We're still looking at each other when the door bursts open.




 

"Thank god," Dom's loud voice says as she strides into the room, "Josie, c'mon, we've got to go - oh, hello, Al."






Al leans back on his elbows and looks up at his cousin, "Hey, Dom."






Dom looks back and forth between us for a few moments, her face scrunched up as she seems to work something out. Then she just shrugs and holds out her hand for me to take, "Josie, darling, it's time to go. We were supposed to be back at my house, like, an hour and a half ago."





 

I look at Al and he just smiles, leaning towards me to press a brief kiss against my shoulder, "See you tomorrow."






I grin back, "Later, gator."






"In awhile, crocodile."






"Oh for the love of - Josie, this is my head on a spike if we're not home before my father wakes up."






I laugh a little, just because of how much I've loved this last summer's night, and I take Dom's hand, "Lead the way, love."







 








 


"Josie? You awake?" Dom whispers from her bed, her voice floating above the distant sound of waves tumbling into the shore.






"Yeah."






I can hear her roll over to the edge of the bed to look down at me in the little blanket nest I've made on her floor, "Can I ask you something?"






I turn over on my side and look up at her, "Yeah."






In the dim light I can see a frown pulling down at her mouth as she thinks about something, "So, why didn't you tell me?"






A frown pulls at my own lips, "Tell you what?"






She props up her head in her hand, "About you and Al."






A whispered laugh escapes me, "What, you wanted me to say, 'Hold on for just one second, Al, I've got to go and keep Dom in the loop'?"






She blindly reaches behind her and whips a pillow at me, "No you loon, I meant earlier. Like, before tonight."






I add the thrown pillow to the one already beneath my head, "I don't get what you're saying, there really wasn't anything to tell. Literally, I think Al and I exchanged like five sentences in the entire time I've known him. Y'know, before tonight."






She's quiet for so long that I sit up, my heart beating just a little faster.






Dom blows out a long breath, "Well, then I guess I've got to tell you something."





 

"Okay."






She looks at me for a second before flopping back down on her bed, speaking to the glow-in-the-dark stars on her ceiling, "Al's been kind of seeing someone all summer. He's kept her pretty quiet, like, I have no idea who she is. And then I walk in on you two staring lovingly into each other's eyes, and I'm like holy shit it's Josie, what the actual fuck why doesn't anyone ever tell me anything? And then I was like, wait, so Josie's got a thing with Al and Jude? And that just didn't sound right, y'know? I mean, you can barely remember to eat breakfast in the morning, so, no offense, but you don't really seem like you've got it in you to string two guys along all summer. I guess I knew Al's mystery girl wasn't you. But I needed to make sure, right?"






I stare at the side of her face for a long moment, before falling back on my blanket nest, "Right."




 

She shifts so she's looking at me again, "What are you going to do?"






I shrug and try to dissipate the ache in my chest with rational thought, "Nothing. Al and I - tonight was great, okay? But it's not like we exchanged vows or anything. It was - it was just two like-minded people who naturally gravitated towards each other. And we'd been drinking so we got a little carried away. I mean, okay, right now I feel like I'm a little gone on him, but that's just because he's this new, exciting person who gets me, you know? I get excited when I meet anyone on the same page as me. Like Jude. Jude and I have the exact same sense of humor. And now he and I are kind of something, but also kind of nothing. It's the summer holiday, right?" I look over at her and she nods encouragingly, "Things always get a little mixed up in the summer. Oh god, what is happening?" I fling an arm over my eyes, suddenly feeling like I'm the sandy shore and the waves are pounding against me, trying to drag me out to sink me to the bottom.






Dom laughs a little, "Josie, your love life is suddenly so juicy." I groan and she grins, "It'll look clearer in the morning, love. Tomorrow's a new day with infinite possibilities. It is also the day where I avoid Matthew Belkin like he's the plague."




 

I laugh, "I saw that! But only for a second. What was going on there?"





 

She rolls her eyes, "I don't want to relive it right now. I'll tell you about it when we get up in - oh, lovely! Thirty minutes! Sleep tight, Deetrin." She pulls the covers over her head to block out the misty morning light creeping through her windows.




 

I sigh and crawl out of my nest. Quietly, I pad over to Dom's wardrobe and pull a thick, creamy sweater off it's hanger and over my head. I tiptoe past her bed and open the french doors that lead out to the deck that wraps around the oceanside of the cottage. The air is thick with morning fog, the ocean just a white-capped rumble in the distance.The deck is cold against my bare feet, and I walk on my toes to the edge of the deck, leaning my elbows on top of the wooden, salt-kissed bannister. Seabirds caw overhead. The light breeze sends tendrils of my hair spiraling into my face, and I reach to gather my hair into a messy bun. As my hands graze the back of my neck, I feel something different about the skin there. I drop my hair and carefully run my fingers across the back of my neck, and my breath catches and my arms erupt in goosebumps when I feel the raised, smooth scar tissue on the right side of the back of my neck. Shaking fingers trace the shape, feeling out the round edges of the circular scar that had never been there before.






Before last night.






Before Charlie Kline pretended to press a wand to my neck.




 

I can't seem to stop running my fingers over the little raised circle marring my skin. And it could just be the panic, my mind gathering its fear and coiling it into one place, but the scar seems to grow hot beneath my touch.






 

 






 

 





 

 


 




 

Thank you so much for reading.

Nora xx


Chapter 3: tumble
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]











TUMBLE

















My fingers can’t leave the little scar alone, as if by touch I can knead out the truth of it.


My gaze is vacant, my vision crowded with shades of grey, the wet sand vanishing into the heavy fog, the ocean rumbling and rolling and toiling, an inky grey brew. The breeze is an icy finger that chills my dew-damp bones, and I just can’t stop playing with the raised circle on my skin. It’s smooth and warm and perfectly round. Adrenaline is bubbling up from my core to coat my lungs and accentuate my pounding heart. I can hear it in my ears, feel my skittering pulse in my fingertips. My legs are tingling, and as there is nothing tangible to fight, my body is ready to take off in a panicked, fluttering flight.


I drag in lungfuls of the cool, moist air. My mind is playing through the night on fast forward, going through the evening’s events once, then again, then once more in reverse.


Did Charlie Kline try to hurt me? Did he hurt me? Have I been cursed?


I am suddenly seized by a fierce, primal desire to find my mother and have her tell me everything is okay. It doesn’t occur to me in this moment that she is thousands of miles away on her dreaded business trip (the one she moaned and groaned about, the one they had to schedule the week I left for school, the one that they didn’t even need her for, not really, and did I think she could get away with pretending to be ill?), for I am nearly aching with the need for her to take a look at my neck and shake her head filled with motherly knowledge, and coo and fuss my fears away. Oh, that? That’s nothing, Josie. That happens to everyone at this age.


The ocean breeze has me shivering, so I slowly turn to go back inside.


My hand trembles as I reach for the door handle, and I hold the chilled brass knob in my grasp for a shivery moment before turning it. I lean against the door and let my weight quietly push it open. I hover in the doorway on my tiptoes, teetering on the precipice of these next few minutes.


I’ll have to tell her. I’ll have to quietly tiptoe to Dom’s bed and shake her awake. I’ll have to watch her annoyance shift into concern as she takes in my expression - the fear and the surprise and the paranoia taking turns morphing my face - and she’ll ask what’s wrong and I’ll ask her could you take a look at something, and I’m sure it’s nothing but could you check? I’ll turn around and lift my hair with shaky hands and wait, wait while she stares at a little circle on the back of my neck. She won’t know what it is, or why it’s there, and I’ll have to explain Charlie Kline to her. And the thought of trying to sum up Charlie Kline in a neat little box that can be easily opened and examined makes me feel nauseous.


I’m worried she’ll tell me it’s nothing, and I’m worried she’ll tell me it’s something.


I wish my mum were here.


“It’s cold Jose, shut the door,” Dom mumbles from underneath her blankets.


I step into the room and shut the door behind me. I lean against it for a moment with the knob still in my hand. Her room is as light and comfortable as the rest of Shell Cottage. Pale wood floors, cream walls with white trim around the large windows. The furniture is upholstered in pastel blues, creams, and light grey. Shell Cottage is a continuation of the sand and sea themselves, and it calms my fraught nerves.


How could anything be wrong or, or sinister with so much light pouring through the windows, when the happy, airy color scheme makes any dark thoughts about a classmate seem silly and impossible? It’s like waking from a bad dream to find that it’s morning, and everyone knows that monsters can’t be hiding under you bed in the light of day. I am exhausted, and hungover, and nervous for the new school year. If I showed Dom the little circle, she’d probably laugh and say nice zit, Jose, you should have it framed before falling back asleep. Maybe I burned my neck when I was curling my hair. The nice, neat, normal answers are endless.


I take a deep breath before pushing off and softly padding across the floor to her bedroom door, gently easing it open. I can hear the shower running in the bathroom down the hall, so I quickly walk over to Victoire’s old room - recently converted into their mum’s office - and slip inside. I skirt around the treadmill and shimmy past the too-large-but-totally-gorgeous desk to get to the attached powder room. I flip on the light and pause for a moment, before gripping the edge of the sink and staring at my reflection in the porcelain-trimmed mirror.


The monsters-can’t-get-you-in-the-day theory hasn’t stopped my forehead from furrowing, or released the tightness from around my eyes. Aching tendrils of the inevitable hangover headache are coiling inside my skull to squeeze my brain in consistent, dully painful pulses. My eyes don’t display my panic like I thought they would, the mix of grey in my irises swirling over the blue to cover it like a fog. I just look stressed, the sleepless night wearing on the delicate skin beneath my eyes, tinging it a murky purple. My gaze lingers on my lips, studying the frown pulling down at its corners, and suddenly I can’t help but remember Al’s soft, insistent lips against mine, his teeth dragging against my lower lip, that groan in the back of his throat and my responding gasp, lips parting as my hips pressed into his -


My grip tightens around the edge of the sink.


A knock on the door, “Josie, you in here? Louis’ spending a literal lifetime primping and won’t get out of the bathroom.”


“Just a sec,” my voice is shaky, and it’s not from fear.


I hear her move away from the door and then a loud shit! as she stubs her toe on the too-large-but-totally-gorgeous desk.


I give myself one last, determined stare in the mirror, “No one wants to hurt me.”


I might try to hurt you if you don’t wash your face, dear,” the mirror replies in a cool, calm voice, “No one likes clogged pores.”


“Sod off,” I mutter, but turn on the tap to rinse my face anyway.

 

 

 








 

 


"Louis, I swear to god if you hit me with that thing one more time ­- ow, what did I just fucking say?"


"Dominique, could you please not swear right now? It'd be lovely if we could at least pretend like our family isn’t completely abnormal.­”


"Oh, I'm sorry Victoire, I didn't realize we were going for normal, what with that fetching shade of puke you're wearing.”


"It's sage, and it's fucking on­-trend in the muggle world, alright?"


"Oooh, topical. You're so in the know Vic, so cultured, a bona fide lexicon on hipness."


“Okay, rude? What’s wrong with you? And why is Josie drooling into her tea?"


I jerk my head up, my eyes blinking open at the mention of my name. The bustling, overcrowded cafe inside King's Cross station is bright with morning sunlight, and so loud that the noise has become one mass of sound crashing into my eardrums, swirling and churning inside my aching head. Our tiny, rickety table teeters as a swinging briefcase jostles its spindly legs, and suddenly there's more tea outside my cup than in it.


Dom glares at the businessman's back as she mops up the tea with a wad of napkins, "Asshole."


Victoire leans back in her chair, her eyes narrowed at the side of Dom's face, "Seriously. What's up with you two? Josie, you look like you'd rather be dead than here.” She frowns for a moment, “Al’s party a little too exciting last night?”


I nod and Dom elbows me in the side, “We’re fine, we just didn't sleep well because someone snores like a foghorn -­”


Louis stops crunching a newspaper into a ball to throw at Dom's head to glare at her, "Oi, I don't snore."


Dom levels him with her gaze, "How would you know? You're asleep. So listen to your big sister when she says that your room sounds like an active train station as soon as your head hits that pillow."


Louis rolls his eyes and chucks the paper ball at her, “Whatever,” and he gets up to get a refill on his tea.


Victoire closes her eyes for a moment as she shakes her head, fingers massaging her temples, "I can't believe mum and dad had to work. I have so much to do today.”


We’ve arrived an hour early for the train, and we’re all running on very little sleep. I take a moment to study Victoire, and it takes a trained eye to notice that her hair is slightly less shiny than usual, and the area under her eyes is a faint, hardly detectable shade of violet. For Vic, this must mean things are really taking a toll.


“Everything okay, Vic?” I ask.


She sighs, drumming her nails on the table, “Oh, it’s fine, really. It’s just-” She pauses before her face suddenly gets very animated, “okay, my boss is such an ass, a total misogynist who never accepts my drafts on the first round even though they’re impeccable, trust me, and I’m working sixteen hours a day in a field that, now, I’m not even sure I want to be a part of.” She sighs again and shakes her head, “Working in fashion was supposed to be about creating and admiring truly great works of art, but it’s just -” she rubs at her eyes, “consumerism and advertising and sell sell sell.”


Dom rolls her eyes, “I could have told you that. You’re the only one who thought high fashion was about ‘pushing the envelope’ and ‘inspiring future artists’ or whatever.”


Vic narrows her eyes, “And I have a completely unsupportive sister who becomes certifiably cruel when she’s hungover.”


Dom doesn’t even blink, “What a tough life you have, Vic. Tell me, are you aware of the fact that there are actual wars going on in the world? And famine? The Kardashian plague?”


Victoire scoffs and I can tell by the neutral look on her face that this is an argument they’ve had before, “Oh, like you’re going to go and save the world when you graduate? No, you’re going to do something that serves your best interests, just like everyone else. I’m just the only one who’s willing to burst your little ‘golden child hero’ complex.” She stares at her sister’s frown, before frowning herself, “I don’t like saying this to you, Dom, I’m not trying to crush your dreams or whatever. I’m only trying to convince you that saving the world is a very poor-paying job, and a person like you will never get accustomed to the demands of that lifestyle.”


Dom looks as if Vic’s words have had zero effect on her as props up her hand in her chin with a smirk, appraising her slightly ruffled sister, “Classic disenfranchised Slytherin, thinking your cynicism and ‘outsider opinions’ mean you actually know anything about anyone.”


Classic Ravenclaw, thinking she can use big words to beef up her poorly-planned, ill-advised arguments against her fabulous and far more talented big sister.”


“‘Big’ being the operative word.”


“What’s that supposed to mean?”


“Nothing. Just, well, maybe the stress of your job and you being so comfortable with Teddy has caused you to, y’know -”


“To what, exactly?” Vic seethed.


Don’t, Dom,” I cut in, head pounding from all the pettiness, “just stop, alright?”


Dom sighs, “Fine,” she squirms as I look at her and she sighs, “Vic, you’re not fat. You look just as stupidly great as you always do, okay?”


Vic rolls her eyes but smiles, “Yeah, well, I’m sorry your hangover sucks so much. I get the same way. Teddy leaves for the day whenever I’m hungover.”


Dom smirks good-naturedly, “True love.”


The sisters grin at each other, and I shake my head. I’ll never understand siblings.


“Hey,” Louis says on his way back over to us, and nods his head in the direction of the large clock hanging from the ceiling, “It’s twenty till. Might as well go and get good seats.”


We stand up and gather our things, pushing our heavy trunks and precariously perched owl cages on carts towards Platform 9 3/4. I fall a little behind the group as I stop to check on my eagle-owl, Keats.


“Hello, Keats,” I murmur, and he gives me a distinctly disgruntled look. He’s never liked the journey to Hogwarts.


“Keep up,” Victoire calls back to me, and I hurry to push my cart through the crowd after them. Louis is pretending to use the barrier as support to tie his shoe, while Dom and Victoire gaze disinterestedly at the harassed looking Muggles bustling around them. No one spares them a single glance.


“Ready then?” Vic asks as I join them in leaning casually against the barrier between platforms 9 and 10, “Let’s go.” And we gently lean our way through the barrier.


Platform 9 3/4 is bursting, and we push our way through the crowd of sniffling parents and red-faced kids, screeching owls and hissing cats. The platform is just as loud as the crowded cafe, but the energy here is so uplifting and excited that the sounds seem to sweep me up rather than crash against me. The air seems to literally hum with magic - like an orchestra warming up, discordant notes bouncing playfully off one another - and my heart leaps with excitement, my limbs tingling and my lips stretching to accommodate an unwitting grin.


As I skirt around a mother trying desperately to wipe off a bit of dirt from her son’s face, I can feel the tension uncoiling from my shoulders, the innocent promises of Hogwarts reminding me how very safe I am. The scarlet steam engine of the Hogwarts Express is gleaming and full of its own promises, and I can’t wait to curl up on one of the crushed velvet seats and lean my head against the window pane, watching London disappear as I’m steadfastly pulled towards my favorite place in the world. I already feel a bit ripped in two as I think of London disappearing around a corner, leaving half of me behind in this bubbling metropolis.


“Josie,” Dom tugs on my arm, “We’re going to say hullo to my aunts and uncles,” She shoots me a sly smirk, “Want to come or save us a seat?”


I pretend to think about it, “And say, ‘Oh, hello Mrs. Potter, what a fine son you have!’” Dom laughs and I shake my head with a smile, “No thanks. I’ll save us a spot and then I’ll see you after the prefects meeting.”


Dom nods and is off to join the large clump of people standing at the far end of the platform.


Handing my trunk and Keats to one of the porters, I board the train with a giddy smile on my lips. I peak into compartment after compartment as I walk down the train, and each happy and excited face I pass seems to fill me almost to bursting with a joyful, buoyant feeling.


“Josie! Over here!” I look ahead and see Rose waving me over from a compartment several doors in front of me. I grin and run over, catching her in a hug that sends us crashing into the compartment doorframe, laughing all the while.


“It’s almost like they didn’t see each other eight hours ago,” Davis drawls to Scorpius from their seats by the window, and his girlfriend Eloise swats him playfully.


I grin at them both as I let go of Rose, “Shut it, you. I haven’t seen you in nearly twelve hours!”


Davis smiles back in spite of himself, the first-day-back-excitement infecting him too, “Cheers, Josie. Here, have a seat. We have loads to tell you about what we got up to last night.”


Rose shakes her head, “She can’t Dave, we’ve got the prefects meeting, remember?” She pushes her hair back nervously, “Josie, where’s your prefect badge? You haven’t forgotten it, have you?”


I roll my eyes, “No dear, it’s in my pocket, see?” I pull it out and pin it to my Ravenclaw sweater, “No need to fret, it’s all going to go fine.” Movement out the window that looks out on the platform catches my eye, and my stomach drops when I think I see a tall, broad-shouldered boy with dark hair pass by on the platform.


“If you’re looking for Jude, don’t bother,” Davis says carefully, his eyes watching my expression, “he’s not sitting with us today.”


I blink at him, “What? Why?” Davis merely shrugs and Eloise won’t meet my gaze. Scorpius runs a distracted hand through his hair.


Rose tuts, “We don’t have time for this. Interrogate them later, alright? I need your support in keeping the younger prefects in line. What if they won’t listen to me?” She worries quietly as we make our way to the prefect’s compartment.


I laugh a little, “Rose, darling, you’re quite possibly the most intimidating girl in our year. Give them a few biscuits in the meeting and then look at them with your signature disapproving stare - yeah, that’s the one. See? It’s even giving me the collywobbles right now.”


“Oh, shut up,” She mutters, but she’s smiling a little when she pushes open the door to the prefect’s compartment.


We’re not the first to arrive, and I follow her up to the front of the room in case she has more nervous energy to dispel before she starts the meeting. Rose smiles at the new Head Boy, Henry Renner, and he gives her the same queasy grin right back.


“Oh, cheer up you two,” I say in the kind of conspiratorial way you only can when you’ve been working together for this long, “You’re going to do brilliantly. Remember, everyone but the new fifth years voted you in! And all the teachers signed off on it. We’ll all listen to you, honest.”


Henry gives me a grateful smile, “Thanks, Deetrin, but it’s not you we’re worried about though, is it? The Slytherins have never really listened to the Heads, and the student body’s bigger than ever, what if there aren’t enough of us to keep them in line? Christ, I think I’m going to faint -”


“Henry,” I grit my teeth against the pounding in my head and grip him lightly by the shoulders, “You need to chill out. We all know you, we all like you, okay? We can do this. Just have confidence and don’t worry about it too much, alright?”


He and Rose nod and say together, “Right.”


I give them a thumbs up because I’m not certain what else to do and wander over to the food table, taking a biscuit but not having the energy to eat it. I sit down in a seat near the window, and lean my head against the window pane. More people are filing in, and my eyes unconsciously look over every time someone new enters the room. I say hello or smile to most everyone who comes in, and I’m listening to Denise Laineman go on about her holiday in Greece when I see him come in over her shoulder.


He smiles at the people nearest to him who say hello, and his eyes flit over the faces of everyone gathered until they land on me, and he stops where he is. I hold his gaze and watch as, slowly, his eyelids droop a little and his lips curl up at the corner to form that crooked smile, the one that makes me want to be in on his joke. I smile a slow smile back, and his eyes crinkle at the corners. I can’t concentrate on Denise at all, I feel like I’m throbbing, like my pulse is reverberating around the small compartment. I bite my lip to keep from grinning and he swallows, and I want to laugh a giddy laugh. Then someone claps Al on the shoulder and it breaks our stare as he turns to say hello. That single, intense moment - that lasted only a few seconds but seemed to stretch and yawn luxuriously - felt like every excited, thrumming moment I’ve felt since I got onto the platform condensed into one heady, intoxicating gaze.


I didn’t expect that. I didn’t expect him. The urge to laugh hasn’t gone away.


“Okay, everyone,” Rose calls, and the noise settles down as prefects find a seat. Moments later the train lurches into motion, and I watch as the platform gets farther and farther away, until we round a corner and it disappears.


See you later, London.


I don’t pay very close attention to Rose and Henry as they explain to the new prefects what the job entails. Instead, my eyes keep landing on the back of a certain boy’s head. I like the way his hair kind of curls at the nape of his neck and around his ears. I like the forest green sweater he’s wearing today. I especially like the way the sweater fits across his broad shoulders.


“So, now that the Fifth Years have been paired, Henry and I will move on to the Sixth and Seventh Year prefects.” Rose steps back to let Henry have a go at lecturing, and she looks around the room until she spots me, and I give her an encouraging grin. She makes a ‘I’m just glad it’s over’ face and I nod sympathetically.


“Alright, so Rose and I figured that it’d be hell and just overall pretty confusing if we messed with the prefect pairings that Molly Weasley set up last year,” Henry pauses and clears his throat before adding with a wry smile, “and last night the former Head Girl informed me that if I ‘mess with her perfectly calibrated and well-analyzed prefect partnering’s that maximize efficiency and produce sufficient bonding’ she’ll have my head. And she scares me, so,” everyone laughs and Henry’s tense shoulders seem to relax a bit as he carries on, “So thanks for making it possible for her to threaten me at your party, mate,” He directs at Al, who just shrugs good-naturedly with that crooked smile, and people laugh again.


Henry looks down at his notes, “So the only prefects without partners would be my old partner, Eric, and Rose’s partner Josie, and you’ll be partners if you’re alright with that.”


People turn to look at me and Eric so I just nod and smile, trying not to notice Al’s smirk out of the corner of my eye.


“Josie, Eric, wave and say hello,” Henry directs, so I look around until I see Eric Gallahan on the other side of the room and we share an over-exaggerated, sarcastic wave that makes us both grin.


“Brilliant, now that’s settled, let’s talk about who will be patrolling where. Rose, d’you mind?”


Rose steps forward to talk rounds and I tune out a bit again. I’ll either be patrolling my old route or his. I hope we get mine - Eric and Henry patrolled the Entrance Hall floor and the grounds by the greenhouses, which would be pretty to walk through but hell during the winter months. As I’m considering this and absently looking at the back of Al’s head, I can see Eric’s eyes looking over at me. We’ve barely ever spoken, and I’m sure he’s wondering, like I am, if these patrols will be dreadfully boring together or at least a little amusing. I unconsciously meet his gaze, and we share a small smile. I’m just wondering how much longer the meeting will last when the back of my neck suddenly aches with a stabbing persistence, like I’ve just been stung.


Air hisses through my teeth, my hand flying to the back of my neck. The little circle stings sharply and painfully, and my fingers knead at the scar, my mouth curled up in an unpleasant grimace. As it grows warm beneath my touch, the stinging subsides into prickling tingles.


Denise leans over, hand on my shoulder, “Josie? You alright?”


My fingers keep rubbing at the little circle even though all traces of pain are gone. “I’m fine, yeah. Sorry,” I give her a sheepish smile and she smiles back before returning her attention to Rose. What was that? I’ll have to tell someone.


My stomach lurches anxiously.


The meeting ends a few minutes later, and there’s a great shuffling and a lot of chatter as all the prefects attempt to leave the room en masse. I linger at the back of the crowd and watch as Al make his way over to me, a smile tugging at his lips.


My eyes follow his movements as he steps up next to me, my shoulder briefly brushing against his arm, and I can’t help my smile when he says, his eyes alight with amusement as he looks down at me, “Hi.”


My heart rate picks up as I look up at him,“Hi.”


He runs a hand absently against the stubble on his jawline as he sighs dramatically, “So we didn’t get partnered for prefect rounds.”


We shuffle forward a little as the mass of prefects shoves its way through the door and down the hall, and I shake my head sadly, “It’s a great shame.”


“A real tragedy,” Al nods in a would-be serious way, and the giddiness is bubbling up inside me again.


“Should we protest?”


Al places one of his large hands on the middle of back so we don’t get separated, as if it's a totally ordinary thing for him to do, “I’ll lead the revolt. I’ll turn over the food table if you’ll throw around some chairs.”


I look at him mock-aghast - my eyes unconsciously assessing his dark eyelashes and the light freckles on the bridge of his nose - my mood feeling lighter than it has all morning, “You can’t upend the food table! Think of all the perfectly good snacks, just gone to waste because you weren’t allowed to follow me into dark corners of the castle.”


The smile at the corners of his lips is reaching a real grin as he leans in close to me, “You’re right, I hadn’t thought about all the biscuit casualties.”


My grin is surely matching his in size and in brightness when I spot Rose waving for my attention from the back of the crowd. Al follows my gaze, and quickly tucks a lock of my hair behind my ear - something he seems rather fond of doing - and lets his hand fall to trail his thumb lightly down my jawline.


“Later, gator,” He says with his crooked smirk.


I quirk my head to the side to appraise him, and hardly notice the annoyed prefects jostling around our stationary forms, “In awhile, crocodile.”


He gives me one last crinkle-eyed smile before he turns and is carried away by the current of impatient prefects. My heart is skittering in my chest as I turn against the tide to get back to Rose, the feel of Al’s touch on my jaw tattooed on my skin. I bite my lip to keep from grinning too big as I make it back to the prefect’s compartment. I can’t stop the smile even as Rose frets about the success of the meeting, or while I help her tidy up the snack table and stack the chairs against the wall. There’s just no getting around it.


Flirting with Al Potter is such a rush.

 






 










Hello! Thank you so much for reading, I hope you've enjoyed it! Please review with any comments, questions, or concerns you may have! How do you feel about the way Josie's handling the little circle? Do you like the delacour-weasleys? And Al! Always, always tell me how you feel about Al :)

Nora xx


Chapter 4: bolt
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BOLT








 

Li Wei is not having a good day.


I can see it in the hunch of his shoulders, in the way that the sporadic sway of the train brings them closer to his ears, and how each flash of lightning and every corresponding roll of thunder has his neck tucking in, like he can hide himself away in the pristine, starched collar of his school uniform.


His hands are fumbling with the the buckles keeping his school trunk closed, his brow glistening with sweat, the oddness of this top-ranked Ravenclaw Seventh Year fighting with his trunk in the middle of the train corridor apparently lost on him. That, or he just doesn’t care about the Third Year girls two compartments down leaning out of their compartment door, discussing him behind small hands with chipped nail polish.


I point an authoritative finger - burgundy varnish whole and intact - at the girls as I approach, “Back inside your compartment, ladies. You know there’s no loitering in the corridor.”


They cast a disparaging glance at my Prefects badge, and another annoyed glance at Li before they slip back inside, an eruption of giggles like another clap of thunder the moment their door is closed, the sound seeping out through the cracks.


Li has made no sign that he’s noticed my presence. He’s wrestling with the sleeve of another school shirt that’s managed to tangle itself around his telescope as he shoves them haphazardly into the depths of his trunk.


I hover, before slowly kneeling down next to him. The sweat and the struggle has caused his glasses to slip to the very tip of his nose.


“Li?” I say quietly. Something about him has always commanded from me the respect you pay a library or some other sacred space. A timid voice, so as not to disturb the learning happening within.


The rain is pounding against the train, the water running in thick, horizontal rivers across the windows. They’ve turned on the lights inside the train earlier than they usually do, the inky grey clouds shortening the day to bring us a long, stormy night.


Li says nothing, but his hands are busy digging through the trunk, books overturned, delicate instruments cast uncaringly about. The delicate tinkle of metal and glass.


As Prefects, we’re not supposed to touch other students. I mean, in general, you should respect the boundaries of personal space, but they specifically tell you at the outset to try your best to avoid all physical contact when you’re on duty. Or whatever.


But I reach a hand out to Li.


I gently place my hand on one of his hunched shoulders, and the reaction is startling, not just for him but also for me. It’s as if I snuck up on him and shouted boo.


His hands freeze, and the ire in his eyes when he looks at me has my hand flying from his shoulder, the rest of me shrinking back.


It takes a few seconds - and I count them, like I’m counting between a flash of lightning and its thunder - before Li’s eyes catch on the familiarities of my features, and his anger fades into a stoic expression, attention already back on his belongings.


“Oh, Deetrin,” He says to his trunk, “What are you doing here?”


I stare at him, mouth slightly open, before answering quickly, “I’m finishing up my rounds. I was about to head to my compartment to change, we’re nearly there.”


He says nothing, hands digging, digging, digging.


“And well, you - you’re blocking the corridor.”


Silence. I peer through the crack of the door into the compartment I think he dragged his trunk out of. I see legs and shoes, but there isn’t any noise. Perhaps they’re all asleep - maybe that’s why he’s out here looking for whatever it is he needs so ardently (Buried treasure? A love letter? The answers to Flitwick’s first exam?), so he doesn’t disturb his friends.


“Is everything okay, Li?”


He huffs impatiently, eyes flitting to me once before slamming the lid of his trunk shut, “Everything’s fine, Deetrin.” He stands up suddenly, adjusting any wrinkles in his clothing so quickly and efficiently my eyes have a hard time following his movements. The sweat from his brow is gone, his glasses back to perching on the bridge of his nose.


Li steps to one side, allowing enough space for me to pass. I stare at him quizzically, and I stare for so long he huffs again, raising a hand and gesturing it down the corridor in a quick, sweeping after you motion.


I stand up and shoot him a swift, awkward smile before hurrying past him, not stopping to look behind me until there’s a dozen or so compartments between us. When I do, he’s back on his hands and knees in front of his trunk, digging, digging, digging.

 

 

 











 

 

 


Our horseless carriage is making a valiant effort to trudge its way up the dirt road to the castle, but with the deluge of rain the road is more like a muddy river.


Jude - who had joined our train compartment a half an hour before we arrived in Hogsmeade and had barely a glance to pass in my direction - leans his head out of the carriage to take a look at the wheels spinning the carriage deeper into the mud.


His head soaked, he comes back into the carriage, sighing and looking at Parker, Scorpius, and Davis, “Alright lads. Let’s get her unstuck.”


Grumbling, the boys pull out their wands and throw the hoods of their cloaks over their heads before climbing out. I know it would be best to go out and help them, but I’m just so tired. I’ve only slept a handful of hours in the past two days and I am just so ready to collapse in my four poster bed, my mattress made of feathers and clouds and perfect, dreamless sleep.


We don’t say much as the boys try to get us moving again. An eery whinny echoes from the empty space in front of us.


Rose has her head resting against my shoulder, while Dom taps her foot impatiently on the floor. Eloise is anxiously watching Davis slip and stumble around in the mud.


Dom, apparently fed up with the wait, leans out of the carriage to shout, “Oi, big, strong strapping men, could you, I don’t know, hurry it up? I’m wasting away in here!”


Parker shouts back, “You could get your fat arse out here then and help us, Princess!”


“Oh, how chivalrous.”


“It’s the twenty-first century, darling. Chivalry is a two-way street now.”


“How would you know what century it is? You’ve slept through most of it!”


Rose and I cast amused, knowing looks at each other. Parker and Dom’s dynamic has been years in the making.


“How about you both shut the hell up so we can all get out of here, yeah?” Jude shouts, and Dom falls back in her seat, hair wet and dripping.


Dom pushes the wet strands off her face, and makes the pronouncement, “Idiots, the lot of them.”


Rose and I grin at her and she laughs back. Even Eloise offers up a smile.


“Hey,” I say suddenly, “You know Li Wei? He was acting really - odd, earlier.”


“How so?” Rose asks, looking a lot more alert than she was a few minutes ago. She takes her role as Head Girl very seriously.


I cast around for the right words, “He was in the middle of the corridor with his trunk, just searching and searching through it for something, and he looked absolutely manic. Really tightly wound, y’know?”


“Well, yeah, it’s Li Wei,” Dom says.


“Right, but it wasn’t a normal uptightness, it was - he was obsessed with finding this thing, I swear.”


Rose frowns, her fingers tapping absently on her knee, “Did you ask him what he was looking for?”


“Kind of,” I say, thinking back, “But he hardly noticed I was there. It was really weird, honestly. I hope he’s alright.”


Dom smiles at me, “I’m sure he’s fine, love. He probably wasn’t sure if he packed that absurdly long essay for McGonagall and was freaking out. I almost left mine on my desk at home, remember?”


I do remember. She was so panicked that she might have left it this morning that when she saw me packing away my own essay she accused me of taking hers. Stress is a vicious thing.


With a loud squelch and huge jerking motion, the carriage is unstuck, the boys having to run to jump back inside as the carriage continues on its way up to Hogwarts. They all crash in with triumphant grins on their faces, and we cheer and applaud their success. Parker shakes his wet hair like a dog onto Dom, and we positively roar with laughter at the mock rage on her face. Scorpius sits on top of a protesting Rose, and I feel light as air, sleepy and still smiling, and I instinctively look over at Jude to see him looking over at me, his grin still stretching his cheeks.


All at once he jumps over Davis’ legs to wring out his sopping wet cloak over my head, his rich laugh ringing in my ears, my own squeal lost in our sea of sounds as I try to punch him in the stomach, my sides hurting from laughing at my fruitless attempts to push him away.


I’m looking up at Jude through wet eyelashes at his soaked hair clinging to his forehead, water dripping into his eyes, and it’s like I can finally see through all the grey to know for certain that nothing can diminish seven years of friendship, no matter how intense a summer fling can feel.


“You look awful,” He says with a grin.


“Cheers,” I grin back, giving him a light push, and he falls back in his seat, slinging an arm around Dom’s neck. She leans against him without a thought, continuing her argument with Parker, and I feel so completely, undeniably full that I have a sudden urge to tell all of them exactly how much they mean to me.


I won’t though, since they’d all tease me endlessly for being such a sap.

 

 

 











 

 

 

 

“McDougall, Allison!”


Hair tied back in a delicate plait, the blue and bronze bow at the end swings to the tempo of her nervous steps. The glow from the floating candles above catches on the small wisps of blonde hair, giving her frizz a halo effect before the sorting hat falls over her head and shrouds her face, until all you can see is her trembling lower lip and her tight grip on the edges of the rickety stool. It teeters as her feet swing.


“I think we know which house her parents are pulling for,” Parker whispers to our group huddled towards the end of the Ravenclaw table, a sly grin on his pointed face.


“Who cares? I’m hungry,” Dom sighs impatiently, her long fingers tapping a frenetic beat on the delicate edge of the golden plate in front of her.


“Hufflepuff!” The Sorting Hat shouts out for all to hear, and the table to our left explodes in a happy welcoming for little Allison as she runs over to her new badger family.


Davis whistles and Parker laughs, “Bummer. Wonder if she’ll get a howler?”


Allison squeezes into a spot at the table only a first year could fit into, and she smiles tremulously at the seventh years on either side of her, so broad and tall and at ease. Like a field mouse smiling up at a skyscraper.


Eloise stops twisting a lock of hair around her finger to frown over at Parker, “What’s wrong with being a Hufflepuff?”


Parker smirks back, leaning forward on his elbows, his broad Beater shoulders gently knocking into those on either side of him, “Nothing, but - hey, aren’t you supposed to be sitting over there anyway? Great show of house loyalty, El.”


Eloise shrugs, looking bored and sleepy as she rests her cheek against Davis’ shoulder, “They haven’t noticed I’m gone, it’ll be fine.”


The fact that no one would notice her absence makes me frown. Who did Eloise hang out with before she and Davis were a thing? I try to send my sleep-deprived mind back to search for her face over the years, but my first firm memory of her is of her shy smile, her small hand intwined with Davis’ as he smugly introduced us to his new girlfriend at the end of last term. The weather had been warm, and we’d been out sunning by the lake instead of suffocating through Divination class. I could tell Eloise had never ditched a class before, her eyes kept wandering back towards the doors of the castle, as if expecting a professor or an auror or her parents to come after us for committing such a heinous act of rebellion.


Parker had noticed too, I remember. He’d woken up from his nap to see her anxious face, and before even properly introducing himself had looked at her seriously, and said, “Don’t let us lead you astray, darling. Truancy is a gateway crime.” We had all laughed and Eloise had blushed, her eyes darting over to Rose, clearly surprised to see the future head girl with her head in Scorpius’ lap, her shoes off and her oxford untucked and slightly unbuttoned, to allow the sun to warm her stomach.


And then she’d looked over to Dom, who had joined us late, storming over to us from the castle and flinging her bag down and launching into a tirade about the injustices of a patriarchal education system that had resulted in her getting a detention for being five minutes late to Ancient Runes, while Brent Lannerman had been ten minutes late and all he’d gotten was a warning, just because she’s a girl and she’s convinced Professor Kandor is sexist.


And to me, lightly trailing my fingertips over the soft underside of Jude’s arm as he dozed in the sun, my breath catching when he hummed in appreciation, his eyes opening ever so slightly to watch me watch him, his knowing smile igniting a sun-induced, heat-driven crush that I’d never had before.


Davis had thrown his arm over El’s shoulders and whispered in her ear to relax, and she dropped her gaze from our group of friends to smile at him, nodding and leaning against him.


So who was she before she was the girl under Davis’ arm? Maybe that’s why she bothers me a little - the fact that I can’t define her as her own entity, that in my mind her personality is just an addition to someone else’s identity. Davis Part Two.


Davis Part One is enough to deal with as it is.


Parker nods at Eloise and yawns as he scans the faces of those around us, frowning, “Rose didn’t ditch the Gryffindors for us. Rude.”


“Rose is Head Girl, you dolt. How would that look if she can’t even stand to be with the lions for one formal meal?” Davis says with an eye roll, but his lips are twisting and tilting into an amused, uneven curve.


My gaze drifts away from the candlelit faces of my teasing friends, my eyes catching on the glow of gold sparkling all across the Hall.


A floating candle drips wax on the forehead of a Gryffindor boy at the table to our right, and his friends guffaw quietly as he glares up at the candle above him, swatting it away. It bobs and dips, the flame dancing, before settling in its new spot a few feet away. My lips manage a small twitch of amusement, my face heavy with exhaustion.


In an effort to keep my eyes open under the watchful eyes of the professors at the head table, I pull my gaze upwards. The ceiling is a blanket of dark, rolling clouds, the occasional streak of lightning illuminating the dimly lit Great Hall. The rain falling at a steady pace looks so real I can feel the instinctive tug to look for cover from the coming onslaught of weather. Not a year goes by that I don’t look up and sigh at the enchanted ceiling, wondering which founder decided they wanted to eat breakfast under a canopy of endless blue, and dine beneath a veil of candlelit stars.


I’ll bet it was Rowena - I’m sure cleverness did not make her immune to whimsy.


“Willett, Samuel!”


“Oh, come on,” Dom moans, head in her hands, hair spilling through her fingers.


“Should’ve had that pumpkin pasty I offered you on the train,” Parker says knowingly, with a wag of a finger in Dom’s direction.


Dom’s face contorts into a scowl, “It was half-eaten.”


“So?”


So you eat like a barbarian, you animal. It was more slobber than pasty.”


“Wait, so am I an animal or a barbarian? You really need to sort this out before you bring it to my attention, Dom.”


Dom’s hanger burns in her eyes, “You’re -”


“Slytherin!”


The table to the very left of the hall applauds, and finally Professor Longbottom carries the hat and the stool out of the hall before Headmistress McGonagall stands up from her spot at the middle of the head table.


“Welcome, students, to another year at Hogwarts,” Her beady, eagle-eyed gaze scans the hundreds of faces looking up at her behind square spectacles, her wand held to her throat to broadcast her stern, yet caring voice, “New students, I assure you that you will find magic, talent and an education beyond your wildest assumptions within these halls. Returning students, I am sure you will all be helpful guides to our newest additions.” She pauses to cast a stern look at a group of well-known troublemakers at the Gryffindor table before moving on, “Now, please be mindful of the list of banned objects that our caretaker Filch has spent most of his life compiling, and you’d do well to remember that the forest that borders our castle is forbidden for a reason.” Her warning tone sends a shiver down my spine. “Those looking to join their house Quidditch teams should look to their house team captains, who will be meeting with Madame Hooch within the week to schedule try-outs.”


Dom sighs in relief that all the points McGonagall has to go over are finished. The food should be appearing any minute now.


McGonagall clears her throat, and the end-of-speech fidgeting - that is very similar to the five-minutes-to-the-end-of-class-let-me-pack-up-my-shit-so-I-can-get-out-of-here fidgeting - ceases. “There is just one last item to address before we can all enjoy our feast.” Students across the hall perk up, not used to surprises at the typically standard start-of-term feast. My head lifts off of the hand I’d been using to support it. “Our own Professor Sinistra has recently suffered from a bout of ailments that has forced her to retire unexpectedly.” Whispers break out across the hall, and Dom and I share a concerned look. Sinistra has always been a fairly tough professor to impress, but she’s a skilled teacher and always looks the other way when students bring snacks and hot cocoa to her class. “We are currently looking for a worthy candidate to fill her role as Astronomy professor. Until that time comes, all Astronomy lessons will be postponed.”


Sinistra’s empty chair to the right of Professor McGonagall’s - which was before now so uninteresting I hadn’t even noticed it wasn’t filled - suddenly looks a bit ominous. Who will be the next to sit there?


“That will be all for now. Timetables will be passed out at breakfast tomorrow morning. Eat up!” She sits back down, and turns to say something quietly to Professor Flitwick on her left.


“How sad,” I say to Dom as she piles pork chops onto her plate.


“Very,” she agrees, mouth a bit full, “Pass the mashed potatoes?”


I pass the potatoes and absently push food around on my plate, eyelids heavy.


“Wus wron?” Davis asks around an enormous bite of food.


I shrug lightly and smile, “Just exhausted, really.”


He swallows and looks at me shrewdly, “Are you pouting because Jude’s eating with the Quidditch team instead of with you?”


I blink at him, surprised at this illogical leap, “Of course not. He can eat wherever he likes.” Truthfully, I had barely noticed when Jude parted from our group to sit with his other friends. The strong arms and green eyes of another boy have crossed my mind a few times, but I won’t be admitting to that any time soon.


Davis frowns and shakes his head, “You’re a shit liar, Josie.”


I frown back at him, a little offended, “I’m not lying, Davis. Honestly.”


Dom cuts in, and does her best to back me up, “Trust me, Dave, she’s not wasting her time on wishy-washy Jude Wood. I mean, I love the guy and all, but he is not the relationship type. Josie knows that, don’t you Jose?” Dom tosses her sheet of blonde hair behind her shoulder so she can look at me properly.


I shrug in embarrassment - I don’t mind dissecting my love life with my friends, but does it have to be in the Great Hall where anyone can listen in? “It doesn’t bother me, alright? I mean, above all, Jude and I are friends, and I’d be perfectly okay if that’s all we are.”


Davis chews on his lower lip, brows furrowed. “Okay. I believe you.” He pushes his floppy hair off his forehead before nodding his head at me with a lopsided smile, “I’ve gotta say, I’m impressed, Josie. I mean, at the beginning of the summer I was certain you were not going to be able to do the casual thing with Wood. I mean, it’s just, so not you.”


“Yeah, well, thanks I guess. Listen,” I stand up and swing a leg off the long bench, “I’m so exhausted, I’m off to bed. Good luck with the knocker - Rose says it’s thinking up tougher riddles this year to keep out other students.”


“Oh no!” Eloise cries, evidently distressed at having to battle with an eagle-shaped knocker.


“Don’t worry,” Davis says to her, arm around her shoulders, “I’ll come and get the door for you, alright?”


I catch her nod and smile out of the corner of my eye as I turn to walk out of the hall. My cloak feels heavy on my shoulders, my tie too tight around my throat. I can feel the little circle on my neck rubbing against the collar of my shirt, which I don’t think is normal for a scar.


I can breathe easier in the Entrance Hall, the silence and the cavernous ceilings calming my frayed nerves. I lean my face against a nearby pillar, the stone so cool and smooth against my cheeks it raises the hair on the back of my neck. My eyes drift shut, and for a crazy moment I consider falling asleep here, rather than climbing hundreds of steps to square off against the knocker.


“Ditching the feast, Deetrin? I think I’m able to dock points for that.”


My heart skitters in my chest at the light, amused voice, my eyes flashing open to rest on Al Potter’s smiling face. He’s loosened his Gryffindor tie, the first button of his oxford button down is undone. His hands are in his pockets, and I have the intense urge to kiss him, just because I’m pretty sure he’d let me. The thought that I have free access to Albus Potter’s lips is almost enough to make me laugh aloud. Instead I smile goofily at his tousled hair.


“As can I, Potter. You’ve left the feast as well.” I turn against the pillar so my back is pressed against it.


Al steps closer, his hands leaving his pockets to rest lightly on my waist, his grin crooked, “Aye, but I’m in pursuit of a rule breaker. You haven’t seen her, have you?” He looks comically over his shoulders before grinning at me.


I smile back, my hands resting lightly on his hands resting lightly on my hips, “Are you following me?” Being near him is like a large dose of caffeine, deposited directly into my brain and passed along my sparking nerve endings.


How is this so natural? Where did the space between us go?


He nods unabashedly, his eyes scanning my face with a slight smirk. I feel heat rising in my cheeks. Al lowers his face closer to mine, and I’m left to stare up at him, his eyes slightly covered by wayward locks of hair that have fallen over his forehead, like he’s Clark Kent and I’m his Lois Lane. But she was a redhead, wasn’t she?


Al slowly reaches a finger out to smooth out the pucker between my brows, “That’s been there all day. Something wrong, Josie?”


“Am I always going to be the one to find you guys like this? It’s disturbing, honestly.”


I look over Al’s shoulder to see Dom’s smirking face and crossed arms. Al sighs and leans forward so his forehead is pressed against mine, whispering, “I have way too many cousins.”


I grin up at him, and feeling bold under his warm gaze, I lean forward to press my lips against his, just for a moment.


He sighs again as I pull away, “You’re unreal, Josie Deetrin.”


I toss him a smirk as I slide away from him and take a few steps closer to Dom, who’s pretending to study a suit of armor but is so clearly listening, “Maybe you’ll wake up to find this has all been a dream.”


He leans back against the pillar I’d been leaning against, ever-observant green eyes studying me, a slight smile curling his lips, “I really fucking hope not.”

 

 

 











 

 


“Um, Josie?” A voice says behind me, startling me so much I nearly choke on my tea.


I turn from the Ravenclaw table in the Great Hall and squint against the grey-white light of the early morning streaming through the tall windows to see my new partner for Prefect rounds, Eric Gallahan, standing behind me.


“Oh, hi Eric,” I smile at him, feeling very awake from a good night’s sleep and quite pleased to have found out from my timetable that I have a free period first thing Monday mornings. I know that very soon I’ll have to use that time for copious amounts of studying, but hopefully I’ll be able to sleep in and lounge around for the first few weeks.


Eric smiles back and scratches at his neck, “So, did you hear? We’re taking over my old patrol route, starting tomorrow night.”


I groan and he looks at me confused, so I rush to tell him, “Oh, no, it’s nothing. I was just hoping we’d get my old route. You had to go outside to patrol, right?”


He shrugs and smiles again, “Yeah, but it’s actually not too bad. It can be kind of cool, really, to be the only students allowed outside at night.” He can tell by my expression that I’m not convinced, so he goes on, “You don’t go too far outside the castle, either. Just around the greenhouses and far out enough to see if anyone’s in the courtyards or by the lake. You pretty much stick to the perimeter of the castle.”


I nod, “Right, well, I’m sure it won’t be too bad either way. Thanks for letting me know,” I spot Rose entering the Hall over his shoulder so I wave her over before looking back at Eric, “See you tomorrow night, then?”


Eric nods back, “Sounds good. Meet you in the Entrance Hall at 8 o’clock,” and he leaves to sit back at the Hufflepuff table.


“So that’s your new partner?” Dom asks, taking a bite of toast.


I sigh, “Yeah, that’s him. Seems nice enough.”


She smirks, “He’s cute.”


Rose sits down across from me in a whirl of red hair, setting a large stack of textbooks on the table in front of her.


“Hey lady,” I greet her, trying to catch a glimpse of her face behind the wall of books, “I hear that I’m patrolling the dark and dangerous grounds now?”


Rose groans and Dom shoots me a smirk as she reads the Daily Prophet next to me. Rose gives me a pleading look from around the side of her book tower, “Please tell me you don’t have a problem with your patrol route. I’ve been dealing with the Fifth Year Prefects complaining all morning and I’ve only been up for an hour.”


I blink at her, surprised, “No love, I was just giving you a hard time. I can handle a couple monsters and a life-threatening forest, no problem.”


She shoots me an apologetic look, “I am sorry about it, though. It was either your route or his, and Henry and I decided we’d rather have you guys outside than a couple newbie Fifth Years.”


I shrug and offer her what I hope is a serene smile, “Like I said, not a problem.”


She grins, “You’re a doll.”


Rose busies herself with putting together her breakfast, and I see the boys all troop into the Hall together, all sleepy eyed and tousled looking.


Spur of the moment I blurt out, “Hey, Rose,” and I notice Dom’s movements go still next to me, “What do you know about cursed scars? Or, like, scars left behind from magic in general?”


She looks surprised, “Why?”


“Just - no reason,” I finish lamely as the guys fall heavily onto the benches next to us.


“I’m so tired,” Parker moans into the wood of the table.


Rose gets distracted as Scorp drapes an arm around her waist and steals a strip of bacon from her plate. The familiar chatter of my friends, the easy laughs and jibes as they all compare timetables soothes my nerves. Rose seems to have forgotten my question entirely.


But Dom is still staring at me, her gaze burning into the side of my face.

 

 

 

 

 


Chapter 5: roll
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I’ve left my window open so I can hear the thunder.


It’s echoed and boomed all day long, through every class, the sporadic rumble so deep it sounds like a fissure opening up to split the earth in two. And though I tried to pay attention to each lecture (it is the first day, after all), my gaze kept cutting to the windows, my eyes tracing the blurred familiarities of the grounds through the distorted, rain-soaked glass. I was hoping to catch a flash of lightning — a cracking, sizzling burst — that would be faster than my eyes could follow, but I’d know it was real from the glowing imprint that would momentarily stain my retinas, a fiery streak dancing in front of my gaze whether my eyes were open or closed.


It would happen, and my breath would catch, and my vision would dance.


And I’m lying here, tucked away in my four-poster, the curtains around my bed drawn closed only so the wind that finds its way through my open window will make my curtains billow and sway, like a royal blue jellyfish, velvet-finished and stitched together with silver stars.


One arm curled beneath my head, I hold the other up in the dark so I can run my fingers against the flowing curtains, the velvet rolling and ebbing like the softest sea. The fabric glides along my palm before falling away when the wind leaves my bedside.


And then the velvety ocean is parting down the middle, Dom’s silhouette pushing its way past the curtains to climb through the dark, her knee catching my shin, a hissed swear word issuing from me and one back from her, her hands swatting for me to shove over and make room for her.


Dom makes herself comfortable and whispers, “Couldn’t sleep with all the racket outside.”


I frown, “I’m sorry. D’you want me to close the window?”


She shrugs lightly, “Nah, it’s fine. Probably wouldn’t have been able to sleep anyways.”


“How come?”


Dom pauses, her fingers playing with a loose thread on the blanket between us, “What was up with you asking Rose about cursed scars this morning?”


I freeze, and then overheat immediately as I feel like I’ve been caught in something.


She continues, smirking slightly, “What, are you trying to study up on Al’s family history now that you guys are a thing? Think knowing about Uncle Harry’s scar will earn you some points?”


I shove her shoulder lightly (but her comments about her Uncle’s scar has my mind scattering off in several directions), “Al and I aren’t a thing, we’re — I’ve no idea, actually.”


Dom fixes me with such a look I can see it through the darkness, “Josie, c’mon. I’ve already seen the way you look at him. Did you see the way he was looking at you?”


I blush, and I’m thankful that it’s so dark, “I mean, I don’t know. We haven’t really talked since the party. What about that girl you said he was seeing?”


I can hear the mischief in her voice, “That didn’t seem to stop you earlier when you landed a smooch on him in the Entrance Hall.”


I groan quietly, throwing an arm over my eyes, “I wasn’t thinking. I’m terrible.”


Dom snorts, “You are not. Really, Jose, I don’t think Al would be after you if he was already seeing someone. He’s good people.” She pauses, speculative, “Maybe they broke up before the end of the summer, or something. Like you and Jude, apparently.”


“We weren’t ever together. Not really, anyway.”


She gives me another look that makes its way through the dark, “Yeah, okay.”


I try to change the subject from me, “You sure were giving Parker a hard time last night.”


Dom shrugs, unconcerned, “That’s because Parker’s an idiot.”


“Mhm.”


“What?”


“Nothing.”


What?”


Nothing. Hey, you still haven’t told me about how you ended up in Matt Belkin’s lap at Al’s party.”


She groans comically and I giggle as quietly as I can, smiling the whole time as she tells me about how after I ‘unceremoniously ditched her the second we got to the party’, she just had to find a way to keep herself entertained. Dom’s a wonderful story teller, she never leaves out an important detail or forgets to make herself the heroine of the story.


And the night slips by like this, our whispers and laughter mixing in with the wind, discussing everyone and everything we can think of, grinning like loons at the prospect of spending our Seventh Year (the best year yet) together. Our hopes and desires for the coming year being carried out on the back of the wind to churn and scatter through the crisp night air.


Eventually, heavy lidded and throats scratchy from whispering for so long, Dom slips out between my curtains to fall with an audible thump on her own bed, and I sink into my plush pillow and soft blankets, the thunder now sounding a lot like applause for this wonderful, just perfect year we’re about to have.

 

 
 


 








 

 

 

Autumn really seems to have been a stowaway on the Hogwarts Express, for as soon as we settled into the castle, the air turned crisp, the skies blustery and wild, and Dominique Weasley — whose heart beats to the tempo of leaves crunching beneath her shoes, and who has long since established that her Spice Girl name would be Pumpkin — could not have been happier.



“It’s so cold!” Dom squeals as her breath huffs out in a cloud in front of her. She laughs like a lunatic and points at the tendrils of opaque air curling away from her.


Tugging the collar of my cloak closer to my neck, I pull the sleeves of my blue Ravenclaw jumper further down over my hands, bouncing on the balls of my feet a little to keep warm, as fifteen or so of us wait under the arches of the covered walkway across from the greenhouses to stay out of the torrential downpour that’s been drenching the castle on and off for the past week.


“S’great, Dom,” I mumble at her, squinting through the rain at the green-tinted windows of Greenhouse Six, wondering if I can see people packing up their stuff — signaling the end of their lesson — or if they’re moving around wildly to avoid a dangerous plant.


Unable to tell if it’s time to make a mad dash for it, my eyes drift past the edges of the greenhouse, gaze attempting to discern the details of the blurred landscape through the veil of rainwater falling down lazily over the lip of the archway.


I sigh contentedly. The sound of raindrops against cobblestone will forever be associated with stormy days at Hogwarts, patch-worked together with the worn texture of the coziest armchair in Ravenclaw Tower, and the feel of a lazily sipped butterbeer, warming you up from the tip of your tongue to the ends of your toes. Under this archway, with the curtains of rain all around us, I feel insulated, protected, and like I could spend all day leaning against a pillar with my eyes closed, just listening.


“Dani, you idiot,” Davis calls to Daniella Dawson - fondly dubbed Double-D in our Fourth Year, for various reasons - startling me out of my reverie, “Where’s your cloak?” he asks, striding up to our group huddle with his arm around Eloise’s shoulders. She’s wearing his Ravenclaw scarf.


Dom smirks smugly over at me — she’s all bundled up in her cloak, as well as sporting bright blue mittens knitted for her by her grandmother — and Daniella sighs, arms crossed over her Hufflepuff oxford and tie, “I didn’t bring it.”


Denise Laineman looks over from her conversation with Anna Fairchild, her expression sympathetic, “Oh no! You forgot it at home?”


Dom’s smirk get smirkier as Daniella flushes a little, “No, I have it, I just left it in the dorm.”


Davis laughs, and Daniella’s friend Rashida nudges her with her elbow, “Go on, tell ‘em why.”


She huffs, her chin tilting up, “Because, my schedule does not support lugging around a giant cloak all day.” We’re all looking at her with slightly condescending, amused smiles, so she goes on, “See, I started the morning in Charms, which is always stuffy, and then I go to Potions which is literally boiling and bubbling, and — and steaming, so I just figured I could go without —”


Davis shoves her shoulder good-naturedly, an easy grin on his face, “But you need it now, Lazy.”


Daniella keeps her head held high (though the effect is ruined a bit by the wind whipping her hair into her face) as she says, “I’ll make do.”


Davis rolls his eyes and grins at her before turning to whisper something in Eloise’s ear, whose lips twitch up at the corners, her gaze still on her dorm mate. The sounds of an argument echo off the barrel ceilings of the stone walkway, and I can’t help but smile a little at the sight of a very harassed-looking Rose Weasley, striding over to us with half a dozen rolls of parchment tucked under her arm, and an equally distressed Head Boy Henry Renner taking long strides to keep up with her.


Rose is, undoubtedly and irrevocably, the boss.


“Henry, listen, I understand that you’re squeamish about confrontations, but that doesn’t mean —”


Weasley, c’mon, this isn’t squeamishness, this is me trying to stop an all-out war —”


“Really, don’t you think that’s a little dramatic?”


Henry puts an arm out in front of Rose so she’ll stop walking, a few meters away from the rest of us (who are all watching with unabashed interest), “Weasley. Rose. Think about this for a second. You’ve put the Gobstones Club and the Wizarding Chess Club in the same room at the same time, don’t you think that’s bound to get out of hand —”


“It’s chess and gobstones, Henry. The members of those clubs don’t know how to get out of hand.”


Henry puffs up, obviously offended, “You’re generalizing again, Weasley, we’ve talked about this. You can’t use your preconceived notions of ‘geeks’ and ‘jocks’, or whatever other stereotypes you prescribe to, to form your decisions. It’s honestly quite —”


Rose’s eyes are filled with fire, and the six-inch height difference between them seems to shrink by the second, “Well what would you have me do, Renner? There isn’t enough space, alright? We’ve got twenty-two new clubs petitioning to be formed, and those are just the ones we’ve vetted to be safe and unoffensive and studious enough for the faculty to give the okay to, and you’re on me about games that take place on boards, Henry. They’re small and portable, and it’s perfectly reasonable to put two like-minded groups in the same area. Hey, it might liven things up a bit in the otherwise fatally dull world of chess and gobstones. And no,” She says, heaving, finger pointed in Henry’s wide-eyed face, “I am not trivializing the importance of extracurriculars to the health and well being of our students. So,” She takes a moment to calmly tuck her hair behind her ears and to tug the bottom hem of her jumper down slightly, “If you’re so hamstrung on the required space for board games, you can very well put them outside for all I care.”


Rose turns on her heel and leaves a gobsmacked Henry behind her as she walks over to the rest of us, all silent and slightly awed.


“Josie, dear, hold these for me for a second?” She passes the rolls of parchment into my arms before bending down to dig through her bag. I cut my gaze over to Dom, who shrugs bewilderedly. Davis’ mouth is a bit agape as he stares at Rose, his brows twisted in confusion.


“Rose?” I say quietly, as conversation strikes up around us again, “Everything alright?”


“Peachy,” she murmurs distractedly, pulling out her Transfiguration textbook.


Dom scrunches up her eyebrows, “Rose, we’re about to go into Herbology.”


Rose stares down at the cover of A Guide to Advanced Transfiguration with blank eyes before shaking her head, “Of course. Right. Sorry, these first couple of weeks have been more hectic than I expected.”


Dom’s expression softens, “It’ll all smooth out soon, don’t worry.”


Rose smiles up at her as the the door to Greenhouse Six opens, and we all have to quickly move to the side to avoid the Sixth Years darting for cover.


It’s in this chaotic moment that Jude, Parker, and Scorpius sprint over to us, cloaks flapping behind them as their running steps echo loudly in the walkway.


Jude shoves a hand through his hair when he reaches us, relieved, “Thank merlin we weren’t late.”


I smile up at him, “Close call, Wood.”


He winks back at me, pulling the strap of his school bag further up his shoulder.


We all turn to make a run for the greenhouse door when we come up behind Daniella at the very edge of the archway, obviously steeling herself to get soaked in the short distance to Greenhouse Six.


“Dani,” Jude says, confused, “Where’s your bloody cloak?”


Daniella shoots daggers at Jude, and his eyebrows shoot up to his hairline. He’s not used to such treatment from Daniella Dawson.


“I forgot it, okay?” She snaps, before tentatively putting her book bag over head.


Jude shakes his head before grabbing her arm, making her turn around, “Don’t be stupid,” he murmurs, pulling out his wand and tapping Daniella on the forehead, “Impervius.”


She blinks at him, blushing before grinning up at him, “Oh, thanks Jude! You’re a genius.”


Jude lights up under her praise, and the rest of us exchange a look.


Parker taps his foot impatiently, “We get it, Dawson, he saved you from having the whole class see your bra through your white shirt. Huzzah. Can we go now?”


Daniella blushes even further before hightailing it to the greenhouse, and Dom smacks Parker on the back of the head, “Don’t be a prick, Parker!”


Parker rubs the back of his head as we make a break for the door, grumbling, “You were all thinking it.”


The inside of Greenhouse Six is warm and cozy, the rain pattering against the glass roof so pleasantly that most of the Seventh Years are smiling as they sit down at their tables. Vines climb up every wall, the air thick, and it feels sort of like we’re researching in the Amazon or something.


“Okay, gang!” Longbottom claps his hands to stop the chattering and shuffling, “Who’s excited to be back for their second week of NEWT-level Herbology?”


There’s a very half-hearted murmuring in response.


“Great!” Longbottom exclaims, undeterred, “So, I know you’ve all had very exciting summer holidays where you didn’t want to think about Herbology at all, and your first week back’s always a bit distracting, but I’m hoping that at least some of you completed the assigned reading about the Sopophorous plant?” He trails off hopefully, but there’s an embarrassed pause where only a few students nod or murmur that they did. He clears his throat, “Right, well, no matter. I’ll just summarize a bit for you, shall I? It is important to understand the basic anatomy — or phytotomy — of the Sopophorous plant, because if you can harvest the bean it produces, it has just wonderful properties that Potioneers make great use of —”


The door to the greenhouse bangs open, and Al Potter sprints inside.


“Albus!” Professor Longbottom exclaims, surprised and dismayed, “You’re nearly fifteen minutes late.”


Al stands, dripping wet, at the front of the class, and a few students titter, “I know, I’m really sorry Professor. It won’t happen again.”


Longbottom sighs, and gestures down the rows of desks for Al to take a seat, “Come and see me after class, alright?”


Al nods quickly, and makes his way swiftly to an empty chair at the back, his gaze catching mine as he walks by and causing my cheeks to flush instantly. He smiles slightly and I flush even more.


Once Al is settled at his table, Longbottom tries to get back in his rhythm, “Right, so, the Sopophorous plant. It likes to grow in quite dark, marshy areas, and I’ve taken the liberty of growing and repotting several of these plants for you to work with today.” He smiles at all of us like this is a real treat, so I try to smile back, “And as I said, the bean has all kinds of important uses, as I’m sure you’re aware of from your own Potions lessons, and we will be collecting these beanpods today. If your plant doesn’t have any beans ready to be harvested, you’ll be pruning the Sopophorous plant instead. Mind the stems, they’re rather fragile. You’ll find the beanpods near the base of the leaves, alright? Get in groups of three or four, the plants are on the counter along the back.” We all get up, either looking around for a group or making our way back to collect a plant. “Wear your dragonhide gloves!” Longbottom shouts over the din, “They aren’t strictly necessary today, but it’s good practice to always wear your gloves when dealing with magical plants.”


Dom tugs on the sleeve of my jumper, “Want to work with the lovebirds or with Rose and Scorpius?”


I scoff, standing up to gather my things, “Rose. Obviously.”


Dom laughs, calling, “Sorry Davis, Eloise! Josie’s decided she hates you and never wants to see your faces ever again.”


Davis rolls his eyes and ushers Eloise towards Parker and Jude.


Smiling, I thunk my things down on Rose and Scorpius’ table, pulling a chair over to sit across from Scorp, “Hello love. How’re things?”


He smiles, chin propped on his hand, “Lovely, thanks. Rose is off getting the very best plant she can find. She wants the one with the most pods.”


Laughing, I say, “Thank god she did the reading, I totally forgot about it until Longbottom mentioned it.”


There’s a bit of shouting from where the plants are lined up in the back, “Rose, for merlin’s sake, just pick one. You’re holding up the line!”


Scorpius and I grin at each other as Rose and Dom’s raised voices carry them all the way back to our table, Rose’s face mostly hidden by an enormous plant in her arms.


Dom plops down next to me, nose wrinkled, “Let’s hurry this up. This thing smells bloody awful.”


“That’d be the mooncalf dung Longbottom’s used to fertilize it.” Rose says casually, pulling on her gloves.


Dom’s nose scrunches up even more, “Terrific.”


The lesson carries on in this way, with Rose diving bravely into the removal of the pods, while Scorpius collects the beanpods from Rose, I do a bit of pruning, and Dom takes notes on the whole process, leaning her chair back on two legs to put as much distance between the Sopophorous plant and her nose as possible.


“Rose,” I say, a thought just occurring to me, “Do I patrol outside tonight if it’s still pouring rain?”


She shakes her head, “No point, really. You’d just do the Entrance Hall and the surrounding hallways. But if it looks like the rain’s let up, it really would be best for you two to spend a bit of time outside, even if it’s fairly quick.” She bites her lip apprehensively, as if expecting me to be upset with her for wanting me to do my job.


I nod and smile, “Of course, makes sense.”


“How did your patrols with Eric go last week? I don’t think I’ve been able to talk to you about it.”


That would be because Rose has been running around all week like Hogwarts has caught fire and only she can put it out, but that’s not totally unusual. She loves being busy.


I shrug, “It’s been okay. Not as good as patrolling with you, of course,” Rose winks at me with a grin, “But he’s a bit — I’m not sure how to put it, exactly.”


Eric’s a shirker. On our first patrol together, he suggested we split up to finish more quickly, and I gladly agreed. But when our paths crossed again, he was leaning against the side of the greenhouse I’d left him at, smoking. And I’m not much of a stickler about that kind of thing, but I’m not exactly thrilled at the prospect of having to cover our entire route alone while he hangs out by the greenhouses.


I’m not about to snitch, though (Rose would positively destroy him for not taking his Prefect duties seriously), so I finish, “He’s alright. I’m sure we’ll get into a good rhythm eventually.”


Rose nods at me, smiling, “Absolutely. You get along with everyone, Jose.”


“People pleaser,” Dom mutters under her breath, and I shove her so she nearly topples out of her chair. She sticks her tongue out at me, so I do it back, which leads to a few solid minutes of making funny faces at each other before Scorp tells us to knock it off. We dissolve into giggles, but do as we’re told.


I get back to pruning the Sopophorous plant, the gentle sound of rain so relaxing that we all commit to our tasks happily. Rose chatters on a bit about wanting to study later on in the evening, and I glance up a few times to see Al working with Brett Lannerman and Matt Belkin, their smiles easy as they talk and harvest Sopophorous beans.


Dom catches me looking, and I blush before glancing down quickly. I raise my pruning shears to snap off a rather sad looking branch, holding the branch in one hand and the shears poised around the branch in the other, when someone elbows me sharply in the back. My hands around the branch and the shears instinctively tighten, but I’ve been knocked off balance and I end up cutting into my finger rather badly. At first it doesn’t feel like anything as I inspect my finger, just a rather grotesque looking gash cut deeply across the soft underside, but then the blood starts to pool to the surface and spill over, and it stings painfully.


Rose gasps, calling over for Professor Longbottom as I use my other hand to clutch my bloody finger tightly. I look around me to see who could have bumped me, but all I see behind me is Li Wei working alone, his table perfectly tidy and his bowl full to the brim with Sopophorous beans. He doesn’t even look up as Longbottom comes sprinting by him.


“Miss Deetrin! Oh no, where are your gloves?”


I grimace at him, very aware of the class gathering around us as the blood starts to seep through the cracks of the fist I’ve made around my finger, dripping down my wrist and staining the cuff of my jumper. “I forgot to put them on, sorry Professor.” I’m feeling quite embarrassed, but also a little dazed as I look down at all the red covering my hands.


Longbottom’s got a hand to his forehead, looking awkward, “I’d fix it myself but I’ve never been great at healing spells. Erm,” he looks around at all the faces that’ve formed a bit of a misshapen circle around us, and Rose starts to say she can take me to the Hospital Wing when Al lays a hand on her shoulder.


“Don’t worry about it, Rose, I can take her. I’ve already finished.”


Rose opens her mouth to protest, and Dom is uncharacteristically quiet while Al smirks slightly, “Seriously. You’re barely halfway done, and it’ll go even slower now that Clumsy here has gone and hurt herself.”


A few people laugh and I smile as I say, “Rude,” but I’m thankful he’s lightened the tension as Rose’s shoulders relax. "But honestly, I can just go myself. It's just a little cut."

 

But Al's shaking his head with that look in his eyes, "Better safe than sorry. Wouldn't want you to faint or anything on your way there."


Longbottom’s nodding as Al talks, “Yes, that’d be great, thanks Albus. Off you go, quickly now.” He hands me a clean rag and I wrap it tightly around my finger.


Rose smiles sympathetically, “I’ll pack up your stuff for you, alright?”


I grin at her as Al places a hand on my lower back to guide me out of class. Davis, Eloise, Parker and Jude all give me varying degrees of sympathetic smiles as I pass by them. I look behind me to catch a glimpse of Dom, but she’s still just standing there, looking like she’s seen a ghost.

 

 










“What did your poor hands ever do to you?” Al wants to know with a crinkly-eyed smile as we make our way up towards the Hospital Wing.


I laugh, feeling better as I breathe in cool air, “Oh, tons. Spilled coffee, lost quills. Poked me in the eye.”


Al laughs a little, and I feel like grinning. “Be more careful, alright? Broken beer bottles, sharp shears. I’d hate to see what you use against them next.” He’s smiling, but his brows are pulled up a little in concern.


His hand hasn’t left the small of my back, which means we’re walking rather close together. He’s just — so tall, and his shoulders are so broad.


“But if I stop hurting myself, how would you be able to swoop in and save the day?”


Al looks away, and then leans in conspiratorially, smile crooked, “I didn’t volunteer to take you to the Hospital Wing to be the hero.”


“No?”


He shakes his head, and so swiftly I feel like I might’ve imagined it (but would my heart be beating this quickly if I had?), he presses a kiss against my hairline. He pulls away and keeps walking without missing a step.


I look at the side of his face as we walk, but he’s staring resolutely ahead.


“Why’d you come and talk to me at your party?” I ask, the words a relief to be rid of. They’ve been stored underneath my tongue since he handed me that beer on that balcony.


For the first time that I can remember, a slight flush reaches his cheekbones. He shrugs, and tries to say easily, “I guess I’ve just been a bit — curious about you, or something.”


“You’ve been curious?”


“Yeah.” I’m staring at him so intensely I feel like I might bore a hole straight through him, so he goes on, “Well, okay, so,” He uses his free hand to rub at the back of his neck, his lips pressed together for a moment before he goes on, “My brother fancied you for a bit, right?”


I blush so deeply it eases some of his tension and he grins teasingly, “He fancied you for awhile, actually. And I’d kind of thought it was sort of weird, right, my brother fancying this girl in my own year that I didn’t even know. How’d he come to the conclusion he was so into you when I’m not even able to form an idea about who you are?”


I don’t say anything, but I’m feeling mortified to be hearing about James’ silly crush on me through his own brother. So I smirk a little to even the playing field, “You’ve really thought about this, haven’t you?”


He gives me a look, nudging me with his shoulder, “You asked.”


I bite my lip to keep from laughing, “You’re right. Go on.”


My teasing has brought back some of the tightness in his shoulders, but he goes on, “So — So I knew that you’re best mates with some of my cousins, which was also a bit strange for me, y’know? You were kind of everywhere. And then I saw you at the party and you just had this look on your face —” He cuts off, shaking his head with a small smile.


I nudge him, my own lips turning up, “What?”


He shakes his head again, eyes smiling as he looks at me, “Nothing. Anyway. I guess I just realized that I’d never gotten to know you, and I figured that I should. So I did.”


We’ve stopped walking. I can’t help but notice just how handsome he is — and not in a typical way, either. I mean, his face has got great symmetry and it’s angular and all that, but it’s also interesting. Like the light dusting of freckles along the bridge of his nose, and how expressive his eyebrows are. The shocking depths of his green, green eyes.


“And?” I finally ask, my hands still clutched in front of me, the rag splotched with red.


Al reaches up to tuck a lock of hair behind my ear, “I’m glad that I did.”


The air is thrumming between us.


“You’re — you’re just so — ” I can’t finish the sentence.


Al smiles, “So are you.”

 

 







 



The bell rings as we’re in the Hospital Wing, and Al tells me apologetically that he’d better get back to Herbology so he can explain his tardiness to Longbottom. He presses a swift kiss to my cheekbone before loping off, and it doesn’t occur to me until after he’s gone to ask why he had been late.


Madame Pomfrey fixes my finger in an instant, and I’m grateful that she sends me on my way so swiftly as it’s lunch time and I’m positively starved.


I’m halfway to the Great Hall, happy faces of all ages jostling around me to get to lunch, when I spot Dom walking towards me. She looks better, but not exactly normal.


“Dom!” I call, raising a hand above the crowd, and she smiles slightly, just one corner of her lips turning up as she nears me.


“All fixed?” She asks as she hands me my school bag, turning around to walk with me to lunch.


I show her the proof as I sling the bag over my shoulder, my finger held proudly high, “Not even a scratch. Sad, really, I’d have liked something to show off at meal times. A battle wound, if you will.” I’d hoped my lighthearted spirits would brighten her expression, but she just looks at me curiously.


“Dom, what’s wrong with you?”


“Nothing, I — I’m just glad you’re alright.”


I tilt my head to the side as I look at her, barely even noticing the people around us now, “Yeah, it was a close call. Nearly lost the finger, Pomfrey said.”


Dom looks queasy, and I put a hand on her shoulder, “Dom, I’m kidding. Honestly, I’m fine. I should thank whoever bumped me, really, for getting me away from the bloody awful smell of the preposterous Sopophorous.”


Still, she says nothing, her hands kneading the fabric of her mittens.


I stop walking, and so does she. “Hey. I just rhymed two ridiculous words. You love that.”


She nods faintly, starting to walk again, “Yeah. It was funny.”


“Are you — have I done something to upset you or something?”


“No. No, of course not, I’m just confused, I guess.”


“Okay. About what?”


She stops walking again, and we’re nearly at the entrance to the Great Hall, I can see everyone sitting down to enjoy a good meal, and Dom pulls me out of the current, her expression oddly serious.


She looks me dead in the eye, “You said someone bumped you?”


I nod slowly, feeling a little freaked out, “Yeah. Felt like an elbow to my back or something.”


Dom chews on her lower lip, “Well, that’s the thing, Josie. No one bumped you. There wasn’t anyone behind you.”


What she’s saying doesn’t make sense, so I laugh a little, eyebrows furrowed, “What do you mean?”


She steps closer, eyes wide and disbelieving, “I mean, it looked like someone bumped you. Your body jerked forward, like, totally out of your control, and your shears slipped. But there wasn’t anyone walking behind you.”


I just blink at her, and she rushes on, cheeks flushed, “Seriously, it was like you convulsed away from something behind you, but there wasn’t anything there.”


“So, maybe my back spasmed or something?”


“Maybe.”


She doesn’t sound convinced, and I’m standing here, watching her conflicted eyes stare blankly as the happy babble of conversation behind us dies away slowly, the stream of students walking gaily by becoming a light trickle.


Dom’s hair has started to frizz from the moisture in the air, her cheeks rosy from the cold. She looks delicate and small, hidden beneath all her layers of autumn clothes. But suddenly her expression loses its concern, fixing itself into something harder, with slightly narrowed eyes and a chin jutting out, “Or maybe it was Li.”


I choke on a laugh, “What? No.”


Dom crosses her arms, her weight shifting onto one leg, “Why not? He was the only person behind you, and you said he was acting weird on the train, right?”


I’m gaping at her, “Yeah, weird, Dom, not psychotic.”


She shrugs, her eyes taking on a determined gleam, “Maybe he thought you saw something in his trunk and panicked.”


I can’t get my thoughts to run in a straight line, “So — so, what, he waited for the perfect moment to jinx me into slipping with the shears as a — as a warning?”


“Or like a threat.”


Dom has always had a certain flair for the dramatics. I’ve never seen anyone connect dots — that are more like distant points of light, galaxies apart — faster or more bizarrely than her.


I rake a hand through my hair, “Dom, think about what you’re saying. It’s insane. It’s Li Wei, not some — some scary mafia hit wizard or something.”


She’s chewing on her lower lip, not listening to me at all, “I just wish I could’ve seen more when it happened. It was just so fast.” She trails off, gaze darting everywhere before she lights up, snapping her fingers and pointing at me, voice excited, “I’ve got it, a Pensieve! Yes, perfect, then we could slow down what we remember, really be able to tell what’s going on —”


“A Pensieve? What century is this? Where in the world would we even find one?” I shake my head, feeling like I’m in a weird dream, “It doesn’t matter, because this is insane, you’re a psycho, and I’m hungry. I’m also completely fine, Dom, it was just a little cut on my finger.” I put an arm around her shoulders, guiding her towards the Great Hall. I give her a little squeeze, “But thanks for caring enough to want to tar and feather a fellow student for me.”


“I’d do a lot more than that,” She grumbles, and I smile. “I’m still keeping an eye on him, though. Maybe ask around a bit, see if he’s been giving anyone else the creeps.”


I roll my eyes, “Leave the poor guy alone. He doesn’t need you snooping around - he’s obviously stressed out enough as it is.”


Dom scoffs, tossing her hair over her shoulder, “I do not snoop. I detect. I look for clues.”


“Right, right, so when you thought Louis was seeing that girl,” I say as we sit down at the Ravenclaw table, “What was her name again?”


Dom narrows her eyes as she puts food on her plate, “Fiona Barton.”


“That’s right, Fiona Barton.” I pour myself a glass of pumpkin juice, “So when we thought that they were dating, you’re saying you didn’t go through his trunk for evidence?”


Dom huffs, placing a hand to her chest, “I was not snooping. That’s called being a good big sister. Barton could’ve been leading him astray for all I knew.”


“But they weren’t dating, were they?” I ask with a small smile.


She rolls her eyes before mumbling, “No.”


“They were just studying together?”


More eye rolls and mumbling, “Yes.”


“So you’ll leave Li alone, because you’re obviously unbalanced?” I prompt, raising an eyebrow at her.


Dom sighs, “Yes, fine. You never let me have any fun. Why am I even friends with you?”


“Because no one else will have you,” I say helpfully.


She grumbles some more as she eats, but her words are lost as her mouth gets fuller. I shake my head indulgently at her before looking up and down the Ravenclaw table for the rest of our friends. Parker and Jude are sitting with the rest of the Quidditch team up the table, and Davis and Eloise have just walked in, hand in hand. I glance around and see Rose and Henry having a hushed but heated discussion at the Gryffindor table while Scorpius sits awkwardly next to them, and there’s Li Wei, half way down our table, eating alone with a book spread out in front of him.


And though I don’t agree with Dom that Li Wei’s out to get me, as I studiously look him over, I can’t help but shiver as I think back to Herbology, and just how much it had felt like someone had been right behind me.

 

 

 

 


Chapter 6: crush
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I’m meant to be studying, but my mind can’t seem to stop wandering — strolling, ambling, meandering — past any logical thoughts about wand movements and essays in favor of exploring long-forgotten side streets and overgrown avenues, cobbled together with the fragmented tangents of long ago daydreams.


The Great Hall whispers with the scratching of quills on parchment. If I close my eyes, it could almost sound like the wind sifting through tall grass, turning a hillside into a rippling, golden-brown summer sea. And it’s funny, how something so innocuous as a feathered quill can make me tumble back to another time, to a summer’s day when nothing but sheer boredom could have driven me to pick my holiday-leadened limbs up off the couch and into the garage to stare skeptically at the rusted old bike that’s been in my family longer than I have. But the day was unseasonably warm and I was quite certain that if I spent another second in a place that had four suffocating walls and closed doors and latched windows I’d hitchhike somewhere more exciting if I had to.


And it’s true what they say about riding bikes, my legs had not yet forgotten that age-old rhythm, and I skittered my way down my grandparent’s graveled driveway, out onto the paved street and away. Not very far, really, but certainly far enough — far enough to make that house look like it could maybe fit a doll, but definitely much too small to contain me. And my hair whipped behind me while my legs burned, the sky stretching above me like this endless canopy of blue, and this road I’d known my whole life was looking brand new.


My lungs were aching by the time I saw that meadow bordered by that rundown fence, that field of rippling gold, and I squeezed those ancient brakes to send me lurching off the road. I jumped off my bike and threw it to the ground so quickly the back wheel was still spinning while I climbed over the little fence. The tall grass tickled my legs as I walked and I couldn’t help but think how marvelous it was that I’d found this place, this ocean I could lie down in and never drown. And I did it, the tall grass yielding to my shape as I made myself a part of the landscape, the sun warming my face and my arms. And I felt like I was glowing, like if someone could see right through me they’d find that my veins were pumping liquid gold.


I open my eyes and my gaze drifts upwards to see the enchanted sky is not an endless blue like that one I remember so well, but something dark and turbulent, a silent storm swirling overhead. And though I adore cozy, autumn days, the sounds of quills on parchment has me aching for a gloriously uneventful, sun-baked summer’s afternoon.


It's close to dinner time, and those who don't want to be cooped up in the library or shut off in their common rooms have set up camp at the long house tables in the Great Hall. The atmosphere is light — surely a result from our study loads still maintaining a beginning-of-term levity — and there are scattered conversations, laughter bouncing around the hall, lilting high over head until a stern glance from a professor stifles the mirth, along with the occasional sounds of armies clashing from a few different sets of Wizard's chess. The fires in the brackets along the walls glow brightly, the jugs of pumpkin juice sidled up next to trays of biscuits along the Ravenclaw table stay forever full, and I'm just wondering why anyone would want to study anywhere else on this rain-splattered evening when Jude’s annoyed drawl brings me back down to earth,


“Josie, if you kick me in the shin one more time I think they’ll have to amputate the leg.”


I halt my swinging feet and look across the table at Jude, smiling apologetically, “Oops.”


Jude shakes his head, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips before he looks back down at his parchment, muttering, “Head in the clouds, as usual.”


His words take me aback, and I stare at him as he works. Because it’s not like what he said about me was exactly complimentary, but I can’t help that I feel weirdly flattered anytime anyone makes a definitive statement about me. Like they’ve taken the time to look past the generic whole to see my individual patterns, and I can’t remember the last time I looked at Jude as more than just Jude, to really see him, in all his singular, mismatched, wonderful pieces. This boy whose face I’ve probably looked at more than I’ve seen my own.


So I stare at him — at the way he hunches his shoulders so he can lean unnecessarily far over the table to be above his parchment, like he has to stare directly down at it or else get distracted by what’s happening in his peripheries. And how he’s the only left-handed person I can think of off the top of my head, and how it’s causing his elbow to bump every so often against Rose’s as they scribble furiously next to each other. How Rose doesn’t even notice the occasionally jarring contact because she’s so used to it at this point. And at the way he sucks in his cheeks when he pauses to think, and how he loads his quill up with way too much ink every time, but doesn’t seem to mind the too-bold blotches dotting his parchment. And it’s funny, the longer I watch him the more I can see, like how being in such a loud environment is obviously stressful for him when he’s trying to focus, but he’s here anyway. And I like the way he’s leaning his forehead against his free hand as he writes, his fringe slipping through the cracks of his fingers to stick up at odd angles.


His eyes dart up at me momentarily, and return to me when he finds me staring. Jude’s gaze narrows playfully and his quill pauses, “What?”


I smile, “Nothing.”


“You’re looking at me funny.”


“I’m not looking at you funny.”


His grin is lopsided, “Yes you are, you freak. It’s distracting.”


I huff, but I feel a laugh welling up inside me, “You use too much ink.”


“More ink means I can write for longer stretches! It’s efficient.”


I grin, “Buy a pen and be done with it.”


He’s grinning too, “Buy a heart and stop judging me.”


“Stop being so sensitive.”


“Stop using me as a way to avoid your Runes.”


Pouting playfully, I lightly kick him in the shin, “Runes are boring. Bothering you is fun.”


He kicks me back, “Runes aren’t boring, you just suck at them. Like you do at most things.”


I huff and laugh incredulously, “Don’t be so rude.”


He laughs too, “Don’t be so sensitive.”


I kick him again, “Don’t —“


Rose finally bursts, “Oh my god, shut up.”


Jude and I look at each other, and the way he’s screwed up his face to keep from laughing has me laughing, and me laughing causes him to laugh, and I just can’t believe it’s been so long since I last felt a connection like this to Jude Wood.


Once the laughter has faded into tired grins, I call him an idiot — just for good measure — so he calls me an idiot, and with one last smiling glance at each other we look back down at our respective parchments.


The Great Hall slowly fills with more and more people as the hour gets closer to dinner, the noise increasing in volume and size, and I’m just thinking about how much I’ve actually managed to get done on my Runes when Dom pulls on a lock of my hair as she arrives.


I smile up at her as she slides on to the bench next to me.


She looks around at Rose, Jude and I with all our books and papers spread around us and she scrunches up her face, “Have you lot been studying here this whole time?”


Rose barely glances up, “What else would we be doing?”


“Something fun, I don’t know,” She smiles a self-satisfied smile as she pours herself a glass of pumpkin juice, “I was taking a nap. It was delightful.”


“Good for you,” Rose mumbles, head down, hand scribbling.


Dom frowns over at Rose, trying to catch a look at what she’s writing, “What are you working on over there? I thought you’d finished everything that was due.”


Rose looks up and sighs, her paused quill dripping ink over her elegant scrawl, “Henry and I have decided to gather everyone up before Prefect rounds tonight, as a sort of post-first-weeks check-in. We’re meeting at the top of the marble stairs right after dinner, so I’m just trying to gather my thoughts beforehand.” Groaning, Rose falls over on to Jude’s shoulder, “I hate public speaking.”


Jude absently pats Rose clumsily on the head without looking, continuing to write, “There there, love.”


I try to smile at her bracingly, “You’re wonderful at it! Everyone thinks so, I promise.”


She smiles weakly back, “Thanks, Jose. Yeah, I’m sure it’ll be fine, I just get — so nervous.”


Dom and I nod sympathetically, and Rose is looking a little bit better when Davis, Eloise, and Parker climb onto the benches next to us.


“Hello, dear friends,” Parker says jovially, his grin slipping when he looks over at Rose, “Oh, who died?”


Dom smacks Parker in the arm for being so insensitive, and he mutters, “What did I do?”


Their brewing argument is halted by the appearance of dinner, and Rose, Jude and I happily shove our books away in favor of stuffing our faces with roast potatoes, lamb, and stew.


“Oh! So listen to this,” Dom starts, her fork pausing over plate, “I had this dream last night —”


“Oh yes, please tell us about your dream, Dom. Let me guess — you were flying? Fascinating.”


“Shut up, Parker. So I had a dream last night that I was eating a bowl of cereal.”


I look up from my own plate to stare at Dom and find that Rose, Parker, Davis, Eloise, and Jude are doing the same thing. She’s twirling her fork between her long fingers with a very concerned expression on her face.


“That’s it?” I eventually say.


“That’s it. I was just sitting in my kitchen, eating a bowl of cereal.”


Davis frowns, “But what happened after that?”


“I’ve just said, that’s it. What d’you think it means?”


Parker shrugs, attention back on his food, “Probably that you’re a psychopath.”


I stifle a laugh as Scorpius squeezes on to the bench next to Rose, pecking her on the cheek before reaching for a plate, “Sorry I’m late. What did I miss?”


Davis snorts, muttering, “Nothing, trust me.”

 

 






 

 

 

Rose and I depart from the Great Hall together a few minutes before dinner ends, her arm linked through mine, and I let her set our brisk pace as we make our way to the large landing at the top of the marble staircase.


“D’you think everyone will come?” Rose whispers anxiously to me as we reach the top step and find ourselves to be the first to arrive.


I stare at her incredulously, an unwitting smile curving my lips, “Do I think the Prefects will come to a Rose Weasley summons? Yeah, I think they’ll make it.”


Rose looks a little uncomfortable, “It’s Henry’s meeting too. We decided on it together at lunch.”


My mind flashes back to the awkward-looking conversation I saw them have at the Gryffindor table earlier today, and I lightly pat her hand, “Of course it is, dear.”


The first stream of Prefects begin to arrive, and we all have to awkwardly make room for the other students trying to get around us to go to their common rooms. Rose is beet red from the embarrassment of having not thought this all the way through, and I let out a sigh of relief when the last of them have seemingly made their way up to bed.


Rose clears her throat, and we stop shuffling around, “Er, sorry about that. I just — I mean, I thought the staircase would be convenient for everyone, I should’ve realized —“


Henry lays a hand on her shoulder and — very kindly, I think — interrupts her, “Thanks everyone for coming, we’ll try and make this quick. So, we’ve been getting some pretty distressing reports of certain partners either not patrolling together, or not patrolling at all.”


No one is looking directly at me, but I feel my face heat up all the same. How did Rose find out that Eric wasn’t helping with our route? And why didn’t she tell me I was about to get scolded in front of everyone?


“The thing is, there’s a reason you guys patrol in pairs,” Rose cuts in, her eyes flitting from one face to another (but seeming to skip right over me), “You’re there to back each other up, and to make sure no one’s behaving how they shouldn’t. You’re a team, but you’re also each other’s check and balance. Okay?”


There’s a general murmur of agreement, and subtly, everyone glances around at each other to try and suss out who’s been slacking on their patrols. I try not to meet anyone’s gaze straight on, but my eyes find Al’s anyway. He and Sally Hanseth — his prefect partner that’s always trying to get him into dark corners of the castle — are standing together on the other side of the landing. His smile grows as his eyes stay locked with mine, and I know I should be listening to Rose, that this lecture is meant for me in particular, but something about his knowing, ever-observant gaze is calming away the stress that’s been coiling between my shoulder blades.


How does he do that? How can I feel like laughing a giddy laugh just by looking at him?


I feel an urge to slip through this crowd and make my way over to him, to let my weight lean against him and have his arms wrap reassuringly around my waist.


Al winks at me like he knows what I’m thinking, and I blush instantly, my gaze flickering to the floor at my feet.


“Right, thanks everyone,” Henry finishes, “We appreciate all the work you’re doing, honestly we do, so just let Rose or myself know if you come across any trouble tonight, alright?”


The crowd shifts and turns chaotic as partners find each other in the crowd. I feel a gentle touch on my arm and turn to find Eric Gallahan smiling sheepishly at me, “So that was kind of brutal, right?”


I smile back at him, oddly relieved he feels the same way, “Definitely,” I heave a big sigh, “Should we start, then?”


Eric nods, his hand pushing through his hair, and we turn to make our way back to the Entrance Hall. I don’t turn around to see if Rose is watching us go.


We’ve made it down the stairs and through three corridors before we say anything, Eric’s lanky frame a good meter away from me. But then he clears his throat awkwardly, “So, listen, I’m — er, sorry about not really pulling my weight. I know that wasn’t really fair of me.”


I grin in relief that he broached this awkward topic first, “No, it’s fine, thanks. I should’ve said something instead of just pretending I was cool with it.” Eric nods at the floor, a frown on his face, and I stumble over my words, “I didn’t tell them about us not patrolling together, either.”


He finally looks up from the floor and meets my eyes with a smile, “Thanks, Deetrin.” I nod back and we lapse back into silence before he sighs, “I just — kind of hate patrolling. It’s so boring.”


I look over at him incredulously as we pass through the doors leading to the covered walkway by the greenhouses, and try to be nice about it when I say, “Why are you a Prefect, then?”


He shrugs, his gaze on the darkened grounds, “It seemed cool when I got the badge in the mail, and my mum freaked out, she was so excited, so I kind of had to do it. And now it’s like two years later and I’d much rather be doing — anything else, really.”


I nod, looking at the cobbled stone under my feet, “I get that, honestly. But I’ve kind of come to like being in the castle at night.”


Eric looks at me from the corner of his eyes with a smile, “I could see that. You’ve definitely got that vibe about you.”


I cock my head to side and look at him curiously, “What vibe?”


He shrugs his thin shoulders again, “That — I dunno, mysterious vibe, I guess.”


I scoff, “I’m not mysterious.”


“You’re quiet, then, and quiet translates as mysterious.”


“I am not quiet.”


“Well, not now,” Eric counters, and we grin at each other.


We come to a stop at the edge of the walkway, and scrutinize the rain pouring over the grounds.


“Much too wet for patrolling,” Eric decides.


I readily agree, turning back towards the castle quickly, “Definitely.”

 

 

 






 

 


After years of patrolling Hogwarts at night, the dark holds no more monsters for me. I walk the hallways slowly, surely, and with a solace I didn’t expect to find in the vast silence of the sleeping castle. It’s not the stark silence of a deserted place, but the warm kind of quiet I expect parents feel when their toddlers have finally agreed to their naps. Almost as if the castle is grateful for the stillness after all the buoyant clamor that comes with a school day, the fires in the brackets along the walls dance merrily, the suits of armor creak as if getting comfortable, and the chill that typically pervades these stone halls has disappeared. The ghosts floating by on their cosmic tides are always happy to chat as I walk — and they hover — down empty corridors, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve passed a History of Magic exam because of the helpful tips Nearly Headless Nick or the Grey Lady have shared. And though I’m used to having Rose chattering merrily beside me as we patrolled, the occasional conversations with Eric and the comfortable quiet between us as we beat these familiar paths is nice in its own way.


The only real difficulties of our late night strolls are students out after curfew, but even they’ve seemed to understand recently that they’re meant to be in bed, and they depart for their common rooms without causing any trouble. Even Peeves hasn’t wreaked any real havoc this term. The castle, and all its inhabitants, are settling in for winter already.


We round a corner, waving our wands in wide arcs to cast the light across the entire corridor. My glance is simply cursory, the similarities between this hallway and the one we’ve just left so close to identical that my eyes skim swiftly over the grumbling portraits, the closed doors, the suits of armor nestled into their alcoves as the worn carpet muffles our slow, ambling steps. We’re nearly a third of the way down the corridor, chatting happily about the first Quidditch match of the season — Gryffindor versus Hufflepuff — coming up when I finally notice that we’ve veered off course, went left when we should’ve gone right. I’m about to tell Eric we should turn around when I hear shuffling coming from behind a tapestry. Eric hears it too, placing a finger to his lips and wiggling his eyebrows playfully. I have to stifle a laugh as we approach, and I notice the tapestry move a little.


I’m about to announce myself in my typical fashion — something along the lines of Oi, Prefect on her rounds here!’ — as Eric prepares to whip open the tapestry, when I hear a soft voice sigh, “Oh, Al.”


My heart speeds up as time slows down, that soft sigh echoing — reverberating, bouncing, gaining in speed and volume — in my mind.


Eric looks bewildered when I take the tapestry from his grip, slowly letting it fall to the side. We stare at the embraced couple inside the tiny passageway, and I can only see limbs from the girl, but the back of the boy is uncomfortably familiar to me — dark, wild hair, broad shoulders, strong arms. I can see a hint of his Gryffindor tie from underneath his collar that’s gone all askew.


“Al?” I hate how breathless I sound, and I can see Eric’s discerning glance cut over to me from the corner of my eye.


It doesn’t matter anyway, because Al continues to kiss this girl like his bloody life depends on it, like no one interrupted, like he couldn’t stop even if he wanted to. And it’s weird, watching from the outside how his hands grip her waist and tangle in her hair.


It’s strange, knowing that it’s only been seconds since we pulled that tapestry to the side, but it feels like I’ve been standing here all night — like someone carelessly knocked over the universe’s hourglass, so now time is slipping by just one grain at a time.


I quickly avert my gaze to the floor, and see their discarded robes bunched up around their feet. Their Prefect badges glint up at me.


“Hey,” I hear Eric say loudly, although it sounds distorted beneath the pounding of my heart in my ears, “Hey!”


Eric’s booming pitch catches their attention, and they pull apart. Al leans his forehead against Sally Hanseth’s, his Prefect partner. The one that’s always trying to catch him in dark corners of the castle.


I guess she finally caught him.


They breathe heavily, staring at each other, completely elated. He murmurs something to her and she grins up at him. My stomach feels heavy, twisted. Oh, Al. I can’t get her voice to stop repeating in my head.


Sally finally peaks over Al’s shoulder to look at us, to see me loosely clutching the tapestry in one hand, with my lit wand pointing uselessly at the floor in the other. I wonder if my face is as raw and open to her as it feels.


“Deetrin?” She says, winded, her eyes glowing and her cheeks flushed. She glances over and catches a sight of Eric’s uncomfortable expression, “This isn’t your route.”


“No,” I agree, and I’m surprised at how even my tone is. My eyes are glued to Al’s back, to his rumpled shirt untucked from his trousers, and his hair, wilder than ever. My eyes seem to trace the shape of his arms wrapped around Sally’s waist. Why hasn’t he turned around? “We spaced out a corridor or two back and ended up here.”


Sally clears her throat, and stands on her tiptoes to lean her chin on Al’s shoulder. The last of her lipstick is smudged on one end of her lips, and I imagine if Al turned around I’d find the rest on him. “Well. Obviously we’d appreciate it if you didn’t spread this around or anything. Al hates it when his private business is splashed across the papers. You know how it is.” She rolls her eyes good-naturedly and squeezes his bicep.


Oh, Al. “Right.”


A long, hollow pause echoes between us. Sally’s starting to look annoyed. “Could you, y’know —“ She flutters her hand in the air, in a shooing motion.


“Right.” I take a step back, willing Al to turn around, to just look at me.


Eric’s face settles into a disgruntled grimace, “Look, just so you know, we’re gonna have to tell the Head’s about this. It’s, like, wildly unprofessional.”


Sally rolls her eyes, her face turning away to hide in Al’s shoulder, and along with Sally’s breathless sigh inside my head is another mantra — just look at me. Look at me, Al.


But then he’s moving, shifting towards me, and I realize that the very last thing I want to see is her lipstick on his face, so I whip the tapestry shut and spin around, walking as fast as I can — though it really could be considered an awkward, muddled run at this point — with Eric loping confusedly behind me until we arrive at the fork in the hallways, where we went left when we really, really should have gone right.


Oh, Al.

 

 






 

 

The rest of our patrol creeps by, leaving me in this heavy purgatory, an endless quagmire of deserted hallways keeping me from my bed where I can lie still and think. And hurt. And forget.


Oh, Al.


My legs feel like lead, this stroll I used to cherish turned into a shuffling march, the seconds ticking loudly — and slowly — by from the watch on my wrist.


You weren’t exclusive, I have to remind myself, You weren’t anything.


“So I’m guessing you and Potter were a thing, then?” Eric finally asks, his cheeks splotched with red. And though Eric seems like a decent enough person, I have next to no desire to analyze what just happened with him in this corridor.


“Sort of,” I mumble, “Not really, I guess. Just a bit of a shock.”


“Look,” He goes on, hand rubbing at the back of his neck, gaze in front of his feet, “For what it’s worth, Potter must be insane. I mean, Hanseth’s the worst.”


Despite myself, I feel a warmth towards Eric and his awkward, bumbling steps, and I smile up at him, “Cheers, Eric.”


His whole face flushes red and he smiles back at the floor.


One hallway bleeds into the next as this last hour melts by, my feet on autopilot, my gaze not focused on this corridor, but fixed on a hidden passageway behind a tapestry, two floors above.


We finally come to a stop in the Entrance Hall and Eric gives me a searching look, “You gonna be alright?”


I wave a hand around and try to say airily, “Oh, fine. Just planning what jinxes I’ll be using on Potter tomorrow.”


Eric smiles, but we both know I’m not really fooling anyone.


He jerks his head towards the staircase, “You go on up. I’ll let Rose and Henry know what happened.”


I feel like hugging him, but thankfully I haven’t entirely lost my mind yet, and instead just grin up at him, “Thank you. Really.”


Eric nods shyly and I turn to jog up the staircase, feeling utterly exhausted.


I’m nearly back to the common room, that eagle-shaped knocker just one corner away, when I hear a voice call out.


“Excuse me!”


My stomach drops twelve stories when I turn and find Al Potter jogging over to me. A few of the buttons have ripped off his shirt, and her lipstick is definitely on his face. My heart is somewhere inside my churning stomach, my face burning. God, I feel hot all over.


Why is he looking at me like that? So — so normally?


I swallow, heart thumping, my voice incredulous, “What could you possibly want?”


His eyes are wild, bright, glassy. He startles me by putting his hands on my shoulders, “You haven’t seen her, have you?”


I gape at him, at his face hovering above mine. And though his grip on my shoulders is tight, his gaze is frantic and faraway, and it’s like he can only see me in parts — eyes shifting restlessly from my nose to my forehead to my right eyebrow, like his mind can tell that I’m a person but can’t make that final leap of recognition, to assemble me as a whole instead of just familiar pieces.


His face is glistening with sweat, a high flush staining his cheeks, the rest of his face very pale, and it occurs to me that he looks sickly. His hair is sticking to his forehead, his dark eyelashes blinking rapidly.


Finally I manage, “Who? Sally?”


His whole being lights up when I say her name, “Yes, Sally! Merlin, I love that name. I love her.” He stares off into the distance before snapping to me, “Anyway, have you seen her? I’ve lost her, and I’ve got to find her.”


I stare into his glassy eyes, the usually brilliant green seemingly dimmed, and take in his dopey, ridiculous grin. My heart pounds even harder than before, and I struggle to take a normal breath.


Could it be? Is Sally Hanseth really crazy enough to spike him with love potion?


Or am I only wildly hoping that’s the case? What if she’s his summer girlfriend?


“Al,” I say in a slow, clear voice, and his gaze focuses on the tip of my nose, “What’s my name?”


“Does that matter?” He says breezily, and I try not to let that cut into me, “I’m just trying to find Sally. I have to find Sally.”


I take in a shaky breath and give him a queasy smile, “Luckily for you, I know where she is.”


Al’s grin is huge, it’s stretching at his cheeks so much his face looks like it might split in two, and for the first time in a fortnight, I think of Charlie Kline. “You do?! Oh, thank you, really. So where is she?”


I pull his hands from their clutched grip on my shoulders and guide him by the elbow, “She’s, er — in the Hospital Wing. She’s not feeling very well, I’m afraid.”


Al looks stricken, “Is she going to be alright? Why are we walking so slow? I have to get to her!”


He tries to tug out of my grip but I hang on to his arm tighter, “She’ll be fine, Al, don’t worry. In fact, she’s expecting you.”


Al grins, “She is?” I nod and he sighs, “She’s wonderful, isn’t she?”


A lump that’s more like a boulder is lodging in my throat, and I pick up my pace, practically dragging Al behind me, “She’s the best.”

 

 

 






 

 


“Back so soon, Ms. Deetrin?” Madame Pomfrey inquires when we arrive at the Hospital Wing, my hand like a claw on a squirming Al.


“It’s — It’s Al,” I pant, trying to stop him from sprinting through the Hospital Wing, “Love potion, I think.”


“Where is she?” Al whines, hopping on his toes, “I can’t see her!”


I look beseechingly at Madame Pomfrey, and she gives me a knowing — and a little amused — smile, “I’ll take it from here, Ms. Deetrin.”


With gentle, practiced hands, Pomfrey guides Al to the nearest bed, soothing his frantic movements.


“But where is she?” He asks Pomfrey’s forehead.


“Who, dear?” Pomfrey says blithely, mixing and matching different potions on the cart next to her.


Al huffs, “Sally, of course!”


“Oh yes,” Pomfrey replies, “How silly of me to forget! She told me to tell you she’ll be here in a minute.”


He grins up at her, “She did?” Pomfrey nods and Al sighs, “She’s wonderful, isn’t she?”


“Absolutely, dear. Here, Sally wanted you to drink this while you wait,” Pomfrey deftly tips Al’s head back and forces him to sip from the antidote she’s made. As soon as it hits his tongue, his bright expression dims, slowly turning bleaker and bleaker. His whole body hunches in, his head bowed.


“There there,” Pomfrey soothes, pushing on his shoulders so he’ll lie down, “Rest now. You’ll feel better in the morning.”


Al curls up in a ball, his eyes on the floor, expressionless except for the abject pain furrowing his brows.


It’s bizarre, seeing him like this. This tall, broad, beautiful boy reduced to this small shape. This boy who’s got my heart beat thumping to irrational beats when he smiles at me. And this tangled mass of confused hurt that I’ve felt since I saw him wrapped around Sally Hanseth — that set my wild, overgrown attraction to him suddenly and cruelly ablaze — hasn’t gone away, even now. But it doesn’t matter now, does it? God, my head is spinning.


Pomfrey turns away from him and walks quietly back over to me.


“He’ll — he’ll be alright, won’t he?” I murmur, eyes fixed on his sorry state.


“Right as rain in the morning,” She says briskly. Pomfrey eyes me shrewdly for a moment before placing a gentle hand on my shoulder, “You’ll feel better in the morning too, dear.”


Oh, Al. 

 

 

 

 

 


Chapter 7: blink
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BLINK



 

It’s dawn, and I’m awake.


Awake and wandering slowly down through the castle’s corridors, wrapped up in my softest, coziest layers, the warmest cup of coffee cradled between my hands. This early morning silence is so different from the castle at night — where the quiet feels like an exhale of relief — and this stillness is feeling like a breath held in anticipation, in serene suspense for the discordant, musical clamor of a new day. The rain has finally let up, and pearly, brilliant light is filtering in through stained glass windows, projecting their colors onto the ancient floorboards of these well-worn hallways. Portraits along the corridors wince and shuffle out of their frames when the rays of sun creep up the walls and into their painted faces.


My quiet steps echo in the empty entrance hall as I make my way down the marble staircase and out through the castle doors that lead to our sprawling grounds.


The air is crisp and refreshing, the taste of rain lingering in the light breeze. A low layer of fog clings to the grassy hills and creeps across the surface of the black lake, the water so still and smooth its surface looks like dark, fathomless glass. My breath curls out in front of me, the steam rising from my cup of coffee in lazy spirals. I make my way across the empty courtyard, brilliant leaves of orange and yellow and red crunching beneath my feet and dancing around my legs. The ends of my hair tickle my face and I tuck them securely behind my ears. I sit on a low stone wall facing the lake, the rough stone surface a little damp, and bring my knees up to hug them closely to my chest.


It’s hard to believe that I’m a part of this breathtaking, utterly still landscape, that this much beauty could be extending in every direction in front of my eyes. As I watch, the fog slowly dissipates as the sun’s steady rays break through the clouds, creating dazzling, dancing patches of light on the lake’s surface. Black birds startle out of nearby trees and alight from the barren branches, their small black silhouettes flying close together, their patterns of flight impossible to discern or predict to anyone who isn’t them.


And I just adore this time of day, when the low morning light softens out every harsh edge, smooths away the stark shadows of the night before. I exhale slowly, carefully, as a way to refocus myself before I begin to approach this sure-to-be chaotic day. As I take another life-affirming sip of coffee, I decide that I won’t worry about how I’m feeling or what happened last night until later today, when the sun has secured its spot high above me, and the school wakes up as one, shouting and laughing and loving and living their days with a kind of carefree blindness that’s singular to this time in our lives.


For right now, it’s just me and the birds, and my cup of coffee.

 

 

 




 

 

 


It’s unfortunate, really, how closely embarrassment likes to cling to you.


It shivers over your shoulders and melts across your chest and down your arms, a second, blush-driven skin that burns like a fever. And why is it that the happiest of memories are remembered fondly but sparingly, yet one mortifying moment — a stumbling fall in front of your crush, a well-meaning sentence gone horribly awry — plays over and over again, its repetition more consistent than your heartbeat?


With a groan, I roll over in my four-poster bed, feet kicking off my blankets as fast as I can. After my early morning stroll, I came back here to catch an hour or two more of rest. I’m warm, way too warm, and I know that Kelsey must have gotten up and turned up the heat. She loves being cozy, but the heat is stifling for me.


My skin is coated in a sticky layer of overheated-sleep-sweat, and the first thing I think of when I open my eyes is Albus Potter’s face.


That wild, drugged gaze that looked right through me. And my haughty indignation when he ran over to me — what could you possibly want? — god, why did I have to say that?


With another groan, I turn my face into my pillow. There’s no one to see me, no one to judge me — no one to know what I said or how I acted in front of Al Potter when I thought he was choosing to kiss Sally Hanseth instead of me — but my cheeks burn at the thought of it, at all of it.


The serenity I felt not two hours ago has been replaced with an all-consuming amount of mortification and discomfort — why did it have to be me that found them wrapped around each other? Why couldn’t I have just heard about it at breakfast this morning with everyone else?


And it’s just — odd, and disconcerting, that I’m so overwhelmed by this. All Al and I have together is a handful of these brilliant, shining moments of mutual understanding and — at least on my part — an electric kind of attraction. What do I know, really, of his intricate, singular inner workings, of the cogs and gears that make him tick and go? I couldn’t say what his biggest fear is, or what he wildly hopes for. I couldn’t pick out his favorite food or listen to his favorite song. All I have is a feeling when I’m with him, and what is that worth stacked up against the things that make him who he is?


And if I don’t know those things, don’t know him, what ownership do I have over this discomfort — this sad, jealous, tangle?


I can hear the creak of Dom’s bed as she gets up, and her shuffling steps as she moves closer to me. The rings at the top of my curtains clink together as she yanks them aside, and I finally remove my face from my pillow to squint up at her.


She blinks down at me, “You look gross.”


I roll over on my back and fling an arm over my eyes, “I feel gross.”


Dom sits down on the edge of my bed and is silent for so long that I move my arm to get a look at her expression. She’s looking a little devious, a small smile curving her lips unevenly. And even with pillow creases pressed into her cheeks and her eyes all droopy and tired, her hair a wild mess on top of her head, Dominique Weasley is beautiful. Evil, but beautiful.


I narrow my eyes at her, “What?”


Her amused smile grows and the glint in her eyes gleams brighter, her hands raking through her tangled hair, “Will you please tell me again what Sally said when you caught her molesting my cousin?”


Groaning loudly, I turn back over, burying my face back into my pillow, “No.”


Dom tugs fruitlessly at my shoulder, whining, “Pleeease? Josie, doll, babe, listen, I know you’re scarred for life and everything, but people are going to talk about this forever. I need to know.”


Voice muffled, I say with a sigh, “I already told you.”


She tugs at my shoulder again, “Yeah, but, it was so late last night and I’m worried I dreamt some of it.”


Shaking my head, I turn back over, and I try to give her a distinctly unimpressed look, “Do you regularly dream about your cousins getting spiked with love potion?”


Dom waggles her eyebrows, “Only on Tuesdays.” When I don’t smile, she gives me a little shove, “Lighten up, love. It’s not like he, y’know,” She hesitates, and I can tell from the frown furrowing her brows that she doesn’t want to hurt my feelings, “It’s not like he cheated on you or something.”


I feel my shoulders creeping towards my ears defensively, cheeks flushing, “I know that. It was just — I don’t know, I can’t get it out of my head.”


Dom’s nodding in fervent agreement, “Yeah, I’m sure it was insanely gross.”


“That’s one way to put it,” I mumble.


Dom pats my arm with a smile, “Like I said, people are gonna talk about this for awhile. I mean, when was the last time someone was stupid enough to give their crush a love potion?”


I try to think back to a time when the castle was set that ablaze with gossip, “Didn’t someone give Thatcher Price one?”


Dom rolls her eyes, “That was back in our first year, and it was not the same thing. It was some third year obsessed with a seventh year, who cares? This, though,” Dom’s eyes glow with the taste of genuine scandal, “This is wild. This is full-blown, Sally-better-call-her-lawyer insanity. She drugged my world-famous cousin.”


I stare at the faded stars stitched into the canopy of my four-poster with blank eyes, “I think I’m gonna go back to sleep.”


Dom looks at me like I’m crazy, “What? No way, huh-uh, get up,” She tugs on my arms and I grumpily sit up, “Take a shower and do your hair, we’ve got to see what happens.”


I can hear the shower running from the bathroom, steam rising like a lazy fog from the crack beneath the door, and Anna Fairchild — another one of our dorm mates — is in front of the mirror that hangs on the inside of the door of the armoire, trying without much luck to get her freshly cut bangs to cooperate.


I sigh, rubbing my eyes with the back of a hand, “What’s the time?”


“Nearly eight, I think. I didn’t wake you sooner since you have a free, right?”


I smile at her thoughtfulness as I sit up, grateful that I have a free period and don’t have to rush to class, “I do, thanks.” Stretching, I slip off the side of my mattress and shuffle to the bathroom door, knocking, “Kelsey? You decent?”


“No,” she hollers back, “Come in anyways.”


I ease open the door and enter the clouded bathroom, using the sleeve of my jumper to wipe clean a stretch of the fogged mirror, “It’s almost eight, Kels,” I call over the sound of the shower.


Shit!” The water cuts off abruptly and I hold a towel out behind me with one hand as I brush my teeth with the other.


Her hand reaches from the shower and takes the towel before retreating back, “Cheers, Jose! I cannot be late to Arithmancy again.”


I smile at my own reflection, toothpaste grin lilting unevenly, “It’s the beginning of term, loser. How’re you already on Vector’s bad side?”


Kelsey laughs as she steps out, wrapped up in her towel, “She’s keeping a running tally of tardies from last term, I swear.” She shivers as she dries her hair with her wand, “Christ, it’s cold. It’s September, how is it icicle season already?”


“It’s boiling hot in the dorm,” I say lightly, digging through my toiletries bag for the few tubes of makeup I can be bothered to put on my face in the morning.


Kelsey rolls her eyes at her reflection, “It’s just toasty!”


“Very toasty,” I say with a smile, “I was nearly burnt to a crisp.”


Kelsey laughs, her curly brown hair bouncing around her face, “Fine, sorry I like to be comfortable and you like to be frozen.”


I shake my head at her with a roll of the eyes and a smile, “Close enough.”


There’s a comfortable silence as we both finish our morning routines, but I can see Kelsey glancing at me every so often in the mirror.


She finally works up the nerve to awkwardly say, “Hey, um, did I hear you and Dom talking about that love potion thing with Albus Potter?” Her cheeks flush when she says his name, and my stomach sinks.


I stare blankly at my own reflection, at the gloomy grey color swirling over the blue in my irises. The freckles that the summer brings out, the ones that dot the bridge of my nose, haven’t faded away yet.


Kelsey’s tone turns even more awkward when I don’t respond, “You were like, there, weren’t you?”


I nod slightly, and her eyes light up.


“That’s what I thought! My friend Declan was in the Hospital Wing with the stomach flu and saw you bring Albus in!” Her dark brown eyes have the same gleam that Dom’s had had, and her voice lowers conspiratorially, “So like, what happened?”


Today is going to be a very long day.

 

 

 




 

 


It’s barely ten in the morning, and Sally Hanseth is everywhere.


She’s in the halls, whispered behind delicate hands, and in the girl’s loo, her name melting in with peals of laughter as it bounces off tiled walls. She’s scribbled on parchment, the details of her indiscretions passed from hand to hand behind the backs of unsuspecting professors. She’s been dissected, everything from her blue eyes to her strawberry-blonde hair and the way she walks falling under intense review.


She’s the first scandal of the new term, and the student population of Hogwarts couldn’t be more delighted.


“ — and I mean, I know it’s funny and everything,” a fourth year Hufflepuff is saying seriously to her friends as they leisurely stroll in front of me to their next class, their group too large for me to pass in this small corridor, “But Albus was like, completely taken advantage of. She drugged him and then snogged him —”


I heard they shagged —”


No, Sylvie, they just snogged. Callie was telling Benji who told me that they were caught out in a secret passage, talk about classy —”


“Okay, I completely agree with what you’re saying, it’s absolutely awful —”


Absolutely —”


“But honestly, Albus Potter?” The girls share significant looks and a giggle, “At least she has good taste.”


They veer to the left to take the stairs down to the dungeons, their carefree laughter leaving an almost tangible trail behind them, and I finally feel like I can breathe once they’ve gone.


I round the last corner before reaching the Ancient Runes classroom, and find the small group of students taking Runes at NEWT-level clumped together, the grins on their faces matching the ones I just saw on the Hufflepuff girls.


Dom breaks out from the group once she spots me, her cheeks still red from recent laughter, her hands reaching out for me, “Josie! There you are. So have you heard?”


I fix her with a flat look, hitching the strap of my bag further up my shoulder, “Are you serious?”


She rolls her eyes and flaps her hand, “No no, not that. Well, sort of,” Dom’s eyes are gleaming with excitement, “Hanseth’s got two months of detentions. And she’s had her Prefect badge taken away.”


I’m gaping at her when Brett Lannerman calls over, “She also lost us about a hundred house points, the idiot.”


Dom rolls her eyes back at him, “Who cares?”


Brett walks over, his dark blond hair still slightly damp from his morning shower, “As a very proud Gryffindor, I’d say I care.” He looks at our unimpressed expressions and shakes his head, “If we lose the house cup to you sodding Ravenclaws —”


“Again,” Dom cuts in, an amused smile on her face as she watches his annoyance.


Again, just because Al’s a magnet for crazy girls…” He trails off with another shake of his head, and I’m saved from having to make any kind of response by Professor Babbling opening the door to our classroom. The wild pitch everyone’s voice has been reaching this morning — that only Grade-A gossip can bring about — quiets down as we file into the room and find our seats, but the salacious, giggle-filled rumors are traded in for significant glances and sure-fire smirks.


Sally’s supposed to be in this class, and her seat is still empty.


I stare at the back of her vacant chair, at the cracks that split the wood of her backrest, and wonder where she is.

 

 




 

 

 

“Is your neck hurting?”


I startle out of my blank-eyed reverie, blinking idiotically at Scorpius, “What?”


His mouth quirks up in a tiny smile, “Your neck. You’ve been rubbing at it. Is it hurting?”


My hand flies off the little circle on the back of my neck, my cheeks flushing hotly, “Oh, er — yeah, I think I must’ve slept funny. It’s alright, really.”


How often have I done that while I’ve been spacing out? How many times have I traced the perfectly circular shape of my scar?


Taking a deep breath to focus myself, I look around the greenhouse, our Herbology class bustling as partnered students warily retrieve pods from their Snargaluff plants. With the rain finally having let up and sunlight filtering through the greenhouse roof, various shouts and conversation have replaced the gentle pattering of raindrops. Rose and Dom are busy arguing over who should retrieve the pods for our group — Longbottom had come by our table not too long ago and he lightly scolded Dom for not participating, so, more than a little embarrassed, Dom’s now trying to take charge — while Scorpius and I sit back and let them figure it out.


My eyes glance over — again — at Al’s table, but his back is turned to me. We haven’t made eye contact yet. My stomach swoops at the thought.


“Listen,” Scorpius starts, his face a little awkward, “I heard you were there last night. When it all — happened.”


I nod, my gaze on my hands, and he goes on, “I hope you don’t mind, but Dom kind of told us what’s been going on with you and Potter.”


I shoot a scandalized look at Dom, but she’s too busy yelling at Rose to notice.


“What do you mean, us?” I ask warily.


Scorpius shrugs, his expression kind, “I mean, all of us. Me, Rose, Parker, Davis, and Jude. Oh, and Eloise.”


My eyes dart over to the table where Parker, Jude, Davis and Eloise are working together. Parker meets my gaze and shoots me an easy, unaffected smile.


“What, did you all have a meeting to discuss it or something?” I say a little hotly, that feeling of embarrassment creeping up my neck again.


Scorp shoots me a look, his white-blond hair falling into his eyes, “Don’t be stupid, she mentioned it in Divination earlier.”


“Can’t believe you’re all taking that stupid class,” I mumble, absently tearing apart a leaf that fell off our Snargaluff plant.


He smirks, his hand raking his hair back, “You could’ve been getting an easy O with all your best mates, but no, you chose to ditch us.”


I smile back, “Yeah, but now I have free periods that I can use for sleeping.”


Scorpius rolls his eyes, his attention momentarily focused on the agitated way Dom’s retrieving pods from our plant, her expression disgruntled, clearly because of how closely Rose is hovering over her.


Eventually he turns back to me, his gaze following my quill as I sketch out a rough depiction of our plant, “I just, I mean, I know she told us because she didn’t want us bugging you if you were acting a little off today, or whatever. She had noble intentions.”


“She always does,” I grumble, and he smiles.


Scorpius says softly, looking a little uncomfortable, “I just wanted to say that this a pretty shitty situation, and I’m sorry about it. I know in awhile you’ll find it funny, but it’s got to be a weird thing when you’re in the middle of it, right?”


I study his expression, at the kindness softening his angular face. Scorpius and I have a very easy-going friendship, we study well together and I don’t — usually — bother him about why he’s not properly dating Rose (something Dom loves to pester him about). Out of everyone, I wouldn’t have expected Scorp to make a big deal out of this, but the fact that he is actually means a lot more to me than I thought it would.


“Thanks, Scorp,” I say softly, and then smile, “It is pretty weird, right?”


So weird,” Scorpius nods and grins.


We fall back into an easy silence, my shoulders less tense, and my attention focused on drawing the leaves just right.


I almost don’t hear him when he says quietly, “Potter’s not the worst choice you could’ve made.”


I shoot him a look, “Shut up.”


He grins again, “I mean, he’s just so dreamy, isn’t he?”


I flush, “I’ll punch you.”


“Those eyes, my gosh, aren’t they like, to die for?” He fake-gushes, his voice wavering as he tries not to laugh.


“Are you done?” I ask flatly.


He finally laughs, “Not even close.”


“Terrific.”


“I mean, your wedding pictures will be all over the news! Can you imagine? The fame! The fortune!”


“Get away from me.”


“Your kids are gonna be beautiful.”


“I hate you.”


Scorp's grin is splitting his face as leans forward and gently pats my hand, “Sure you do, darling. Sure you do.”

 

 




 

 


“Josie,” Rose starts seriously, her hands steepled together in front of her as I sit down across from her at the Ravenclaw table for lunch.


“Rose,” I say, mirroring her tone as I ladle soup into a bowl.


“Here’s the thing,” She starts to say, before Jude interrupts her.


“Rose, are you breaking up with her? I think she’s already had all the heartbreak she can handle today.”


My mouth falls open as I glare at his huge, amused grin, “You’re the worst.”


Jude winks, his smile growing, “I am not.”


“You are too.”


“I am not!”


I can’t help my smile, “You really are.”


He laughs back, “I’m really not.”


“You —”


Anyway,” Rose cuts in, looking a little annoyed, her long fingers pushing the errant strands that have fallen out of her ponytail behind her ears, “Henry and I really need to talk to you and Eric about what happened last night, and what that means for your patrols from now on.”


I blink in surprise at her, “Didn’t you talk to Eric last night?”


She nods as she pours herself a glass of pumpkin juice, “We did, and we’ve made some serious decisions based on that conversation. It’s important that you follow up on what you report to the Head’s, don’t you think?”


Jude blinks at Rose before removing himself from the situation, his gaze and his attention on the food in front of him. I frown down at my own bowl of soup. It’s like, I know how much being Head Girl means to Rose, but can’t she balance being her typical, sugary-sweet self with her responsibilities?


I nod back at her with a small sigh, “Okay. When did you want to discuss things?”


“Tonight, after dinner. Your patrols can start after we talk, okay?”


“Okay.”


Dom plops down next to me in that moment, tossing her hair over her shoulder, “Sorry I’m late, Longbottom wanted to talk to me about ‘my level of participation’, or whatever.” She rolls her eyes and catches a look at my expression, “What?”


I make a face at her, “Thanks for telling everyone about Al and I. Even though there is no Al and I, given the fact that we’ve only ever kissed twice.”


I don’t miss the frown that furrows Jude’s brow for a moment before it smooths over.


Dom looks surprised as she tosses her hair over her shoulder, “I didn’t tell everyone, I told our friends. Also you and Al are definitely something, don’t give me that.”


I’m about to protest when she holds up a finger, “Besides, I only told them about it to protect you.”


I roll my eyes and throw my hands up in exasperation, “Great job there, Dom! Scorp and Jude have been teasing me all day, and Rose is acting all weird, and what if it gets back to him that I’m telling people we’re a thing?”


Everyone talks all at once.


“Okay, Josie, sweetie, calm down, everything’s fine —”


“I’m not acting weird —”


“Who cares what he thinks —”


“What’s all the fuss?” Professor Flitwick squeaks as he walks by us on his way to his own lunch.


“It’s nothing, Professor,” We mumble, eyeing each other warily before turning back to our food.


“I’m sorry, Josie,” Dom eventually says quietly, her fingers twisting together, her blue eyes remorseful, “I really was trying to help.”


I wrap my arm around her shoulders, “I know you were, love. And I don’t really care if they know, I’m just — annoyed at everything today, I guess.”


She’s smiling bracingly at me, “It’ll get better, Jose. It always does.”

 

 




 


It feels like a long march up to the head’s office on the fifth floor after dinner.


Rose left before I did, and she didn’t offer for us to walk up together. Dread is beginning to uncoil in the pit of my stomach.


I hear footsteps behind me and turn to see Eric walking a few meters back, his hands in his pockets. He gives me a nod when he notices me looking.


“Hey Eric,” I say, a little shyly as I wait for him to catch up.


“Hey, Josie,” He says back, equally as shy.


“Any idea what this meeting’s really about?” I ask him once he’s caught up and we start climbing the next set of stairs.


Eric shrugs, “Maybe they want to double check that your story matches mine?”


I frown, “That sounds kind of weird though, right? I mean, we’re prefects. Why would we lie about what happened?”


Eric shrugs again, but there’s an uncomfortable expression on his face that I can’t really work out.


“We’ll find out soon enough, I guess,” He says, his gaze in front of his feet.


I nod vaguely, my gaze blank as my mind races. What exactly is about to happen?


We reach the fifth floor and turn left, both of us awkwardly saying ‘oh, sorry’ when our hands accidentally bump. Eric shoves his hands back in his pockets.


Silently, we arrive at the door to the Head’s office, and we take a moment to collect ourselves before opening the door.


“Ready?” Eric asks eventually.


I’m just starting to nod when an achingly familiar voice says, “Josie?”


I turn around so fast I bump into Eric again, but I don’t apologize this time. I’m too distracted by the fact that Al Potter is standing five feet from me, his hair dark and wild, his cheekbones tinged a light pink, the way they looked when he was explaining why he decided to talk to me at his party. I take in his loosened tie and his rolled up sleeves, his green eyes surrounded by those, dark, long lashes. The way his brow is a little furrowed as I stand there, staring at him.


“I’ll just — meet you inside, shall I?” Eric says, and I nod faintly, barely noticing when he knocks and enters the office. He closes the door behind him.


Al’s eyes darken a little as I take a step closer to him, one corner of his lips turning up the littlest bit.


“Hi,” He says, and he sounds so normal, his voice rich and humorous, and his eyes are looking so intently at my face, his gaze back to being ever-observant.


“Hi,” I say back, and my heart’s beating so fast it’s made my voice go a little breathless.


Al looks at the ground in front of his feet, at the space that’s between us, and he says, “I — I’m really — god, this fucking sucks. You’re — look, you’re so — and I’m really — and I just can’t believe —”


He can’t get the words out, his mind getting stuck on every raging thought, and when he finally looks up at me I can see the conflict and frustration in his eyes and on his face.


And even though he’s said so little, I know what it is he wants to say, and it warms me up from my toes to my fingertips.


Each beat of my heart is a thunder clap shaking my ribcage, but I move closer to him. He raises his arms, and I fall into his chest, my face tucked into the side of his neck. I can feel his heart beating and his chest rising and falling with every breath. He smells so good — fresh and clean, a little woodsy and a lot like Al.


My nearness seems to dislodge whatever was stuck in his throat, and he murmurs, “I’m really embarrassed.”


Hearing this one admission — this one thought that’s been plaguing me all day — makes me smile sadly, and I finally say, “Do you want me to fight Sally Hanseth? I’m pretty sure I could give her a black eye.”


His laughter rumbles through his chest, and he holds me a little tighter. After a moment he says quietly, “We should go in.”


I pull my head back to look at his face, confused, “What?”


Al smirks down at me, one hand reaching up to tuck a lock of hair behind my ear, “Didn’t Rose tell you? I’m a part of this mysterious meeting too.”

 

 

 

 




 


Chapter 8: alight
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

I can’t stop studying the freckles that dot the tops of Rose Weasley’s arms.


Those tiny brown smudges, contrasted against the palest skin, each one a reminder of some gloriously hot day — as if the sun didn’t want to be forgotten on its way back to space. And it’s funny, even though this situation is serious, and Rose has pushed up the sleeves of her jumper as part of a nervous habit that she hasn’t quite kicked, I can’t help but stare at those little dots, those personalized constellations, galaxies tattooed on her skin.


“Josie, are you listening to me?”


I jump a little in my seat, the unyielding wood of the back of my chair digging into my spine. My eyes cut upwards to meet Rose’s gaze, “Yes, of course. Sorry.”


I can feel their eyes on me. Feel Eric’s gaze from one side, and Al’s from the other. I fidget, crossing my legs again, pulling down at the knot of my tie around my neck.


Rose looks me over quickly, her gaze filled with both the friendly concern I’ve grown up seeing from her, and a new, slightly suspicious glint that’s brand new to me. Something her position as Head Girl has instilled in her — some steel casing that’s hardened around her spine.


If this didn’t feel like I’m about to be put in detention by my primary school principal, I’d actually be feeling quite proud of her.


I look around the tiny office, the air too warm, the walls too close, the ceiling too low. The only decorations adorning this dark stone space clutter the wall behind Rose and Henry’s heads, with every inch covered by the moving photographs of Head Girls and Boys of years long past. All of them sat behind this very desk, smiling stiffly, a moment frozen in time again and again in this ridiculously small room.


“Right,” Henry says, leaning forward and clasping his hands on the scuffed wood of the Head’s desk, his pose mirroring Rose’s, “We just want you all to know that we’re on your side, yeah? We trust you implicitly as Prefects. I just want to make that clear from the start.”


Al makes a noise in the back of his throat that sounds a little like a scoff, his expression a mix of condescending amusement and a little suspicion. He leans forward, elbows resting on his knees, and looks between Rose and Henry, “Guys. C’mon. What’re we doing here?”


Rose rolls her eyes at her cousin’s tone, “We’re trying to be as fair as possible in this situation. Don’t you think that’s the right thing to do?”


Al rolls his eyes right back, “Of course I do. But you haven’t told us anything — we’ve been sitting in this shoebox of a room for at least twenty minutes, the two of you looking like someone’s died and not saying anything.” Henry and Rose flush under Al’s steady gaze, and as their silence stretches on, Al’s face darkens and his tone has an edge, “Like, seriously, what the fuck are we doing here Rose —“


Rose finally snaps out of her ‘professional’ face, the ties that bond cousins and old habits that die hard filling the air, “Okay, god, Al, you don’t have to swear at me. I thought you were working on the whole impatience thing.”


Al shrugs, leaning back, “I am. Like I said, it’s been twenty minutes.”


Eric and I exchange a look, a slight widening of the eyes and a twisting of the eyebrows that causes the makings of a nervous laugh to bubble up in my chest.


“It has not been that long—“ Rose starts, the coloring in her cheeks starting to match her hair, but Henry places a hand on her arm — a touch that isn’t inappropriate at all but has me staring anyway. And I’m suddenly analyzing how closely they’re sitting, noticing with a start how she responds to his gentle touch, her shoulders collapsing in a huff, her flushed cheeks settling down.


“Listen, we’re not supposed to say anything until McGonagall gets here, alright?” Henry says, his expression a little flustered behind his glasses, “I don’t know what’s taking her so long, I’m really sorry about the wait.”


Eric swallows, “McGonagall’s coming? Why?”


“You’re not in trouble,” Rose says, her fingers tapping an uneven beat on the tabletop, “She just wants to observe and listen to our discussion, okay?”


I nod quickly, my heart thumping a little too fast. I can’t remember the last time I was within six feet of the Headmistress.


Al rakes a hand through his hair, “Sorry I snapped at you, Rose. That was rude. It’s just — the past couple days have been tough.”


Rose softens, “I know. I’m just trying to help.”


Al nods back, smiling, and I wonder for the hundredth time why he doesn’t spend more time with his cousins.


The silence stretches on, my gaze cutting over to Al, and he looks over at me. His lips lift up to form that smile, the one that makes me feel like we’re in on some private joke. I smile back, wishing I could scoot my chair closer to his.


There’s a short rap on the door before it opens swiftly, Headmistress McGonagall sweeping into the tiny room with a swish of billowing robes. Her presence is even more intimidating in the small space.


“Sorry I’m late,” she says, perching stiffly on the edge of the only spare chair — a tiny stool in the corner that’s usually the home of a potted plant. “Peeves thought it would be amusing to stuff the bedsheets of the Second Year Slytherin boys down the toilet.”


I stare at her, wanting to laugh but not sure if I’m allowed to. McGonagall’s silver hair is pulled back in a severe bun, glasses perched on the bridge of her nose, her gaze steady and inscrutable. Al has no such qualms, however, his lips stretching into a broad grin.


“How unfortunate,” He says, eyes crinkling at the corners.


McGonagall gives him a look that’s a cross between disapproval and amusement, “Quite. Now, shall we begin?”


Rose gives McGonagall a sharp nod before turning towards us, her eyes scanning each of our faces in turn. “I’m sorry about all the secrecy, but what we’re about to tell you is fairly serious, and we really need you guys to work with us, okay?”


The three of exchange sidelong glances, the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. For some reason, my mind jumps to a wild conclusion and I can’t stop thinking of Charlie Kline’s deranged grin. Something’s happened to Charlie, I can’t help but think in a panic, He’s done something, maybe hurt someone and I never said anything about my scar oh god


Rose takes a deep breath, “Sally Hanseth is claiming she never gave Al a love potion.”


I’m left reeling at this news that would have felt so huge this morning, but now feels utterly mundane in the wake of thoughts on Charlie Kline. Have I seen him here, at Hogwarts, at all this term?


I don’t think I have.


Al scoffs, his expression irritated, and I expect him to make a retort to Sally’s claim, but to all of our surprise, it’s Eric who speaks up first. “Well of course she’s saying that, she’s up to her neck in it, isn’t she?” My wide-eyed gaze turns to look at him, and he’s beet red with his adam’s apple bobbing, but he goes on, “I mean, she’s in pretty big trouble here, right? Makes sense she would lie about it.”


Henry’s nodding, “It does make sense, but we have to treat this fairly, and consider every avenue. Potter, did she personally give you anything to eat or drink?”


Al shifts in his seat uncomfortably, and I can tell by the way his eyes dart around the room at all of us that he doesn’t like having to talk about this in front of so many people. “No. She didn’t.”


Rose and Henry share a significant look before Rose turns to me, her eyes gleaming with a determined look that I expect detectives get when they’re on the trail of something, “What did she say to you, Josie? When you found her in the passage?”


I flush, feeling Al’s eyes on the side of my face, “She — she, well, she talked about wanting to keep their relationship private, because of the er — press, I guess.”


I cut my gaze over to Al, inhaling quickly at the dark expression on his face. “Of course she did,” Al mutters to his hands in his lap, “It’s always about the press, isn’t it?”


Rose holds up a hand to interrupt, “Anything else? Anything that pointed to her knowing that Al was under the influence of a love potion?”


I think back, sifting through the memories of a secret passage hiding the actions of a couple wild teenagers. I cut my gaze nervously over to Al before speaking again, “It seemed - normal enough, I suppose. Honestly, they seemed like any other couple caught out by Prefects, really.”


Henry’s nodding, “Eric said the same thing when he came to talk to us. He reported Potter and Hanseth were abusing their power as Prefects, and it wasn’t until we spoke to Madame Pomfrey later that it all came together.”


I look over at Headmistress McGonagall to gauge her opinion on all this, but she looks as impassive as ever, her gaze slowly scrutinizing each of us in turn. And I can’t help it - I cast my eyes down to my lap when she turns to look at me.


“Are there any other details you think we should know?” Rose presses.


I shake my head, “Not that I can currently think of.”


McGonagall nods her head once, “Very well, then. Ms. Hanseth’s punishments will stand for now.” She turns to look at Rose and Henry as she rises, “I trust the two of you can handle the rest of this business?”


“Yes, Professor,” they say at the same time.


Headmistress McGonagall nods at the rest of us before sweeping out of the room, the door gently shutting behind her.


Rose releases a huge breath I hadn’t realized she’d been holding, her face relaxing in relief. Her eyes seek out mine, a little beseeching, “I really am sorry for all the secrecy and weirdness, guys. It’s the first time we’ve had to deal with a punishment of this magnitude. I mean, stripping someone of their badge, and two months of detentions - ” She cuts off with a shake of her head, and tucks her hair behind her ears. She’s transformed back into the Rose I know so well.


“I get it,” I nod sympathetically, smiling at them both. It’s a relief to have them smile back at me.


Eric starts fidgeting in the chair next to me, and Rose sits up straight again. “Right,” She begins, looking over at Henry before continuing, “There’s one other thing to go over.”


Henry cuts in, clasping his hands on the desk, “So, Potter, you’ve surely realized that you’re without a partner.” Al nods slowly, looking between the two Head’s as Henry goes on, “And last night, during our discussion with Eric, he expressed an interest in leaving his position as a Prefect.”


Even though I know how much Eric hates being a Prefect, and the fact that he’s sort of a lousy partner, I can’t help but shoot him a scandalized look. He’s done with being my patrols partner?


Eric sinks a little lower in his chair under my gaze, his attention focused on his knees.


I can’t stop myself from saying, “So you’re just done, then, Eric?”


He shoots me a sheepish look, “I’m sorry, Deetrin, I just - I’ve told you before. It isn’t for me.”


My annoyance evaporates. I just can’t hold it against him when he looks so embarrassed about it all.


Rose clears her throat, going a little red in the cheeks, “Josie, I know you and Al have some - history - ” I could just about die, oh god - “But if you’re willing to accept the fact that you’ll have to patrol twice the amount of routes, yours and Al’s, we trust the two of you will make capable Prefect partners.”


The only sound, for what feels like an eternity, is the ticking of the clock on the wall.


Al finally clears his throat, “So - so you’ve fired Hanseth, Gallahan’s quitting, and Josie and I have to double the lengths of our patrol routes? Is that right?”


Henry nods, “Yeah, that’s right. We realize this is a bit of a shake up, and twice the work. But under the circumstances, we would really appreciate it if the two of you could step up and take on the extra responsibility as we sort out a better, long-term plan.”


Al and I shoot a look at each other, both nodding slowly, “Er - sure, then. That’s fine.”


Henry exhales with a smile, “Great. Thank you, both of you. This will be a huge help.”


Rose pushes her chair away from the desk with a smile, “I think that’s everything, then. Josie, Al, you can start your routes, and Eric, thanks for the time you’ve put in, I suppose.”


Eric nods vigorously, seemingly pleased no one appears too upset, and gets to his feet quickly. Al, Henry and I also get up and gather our things.


Rose scoots around the desk, nearly upending the potted plant on her way to throw her arms around me in a tight hug. “You’re the best, Josie, you really are. Can we please catch up soon?” She pulls back to look at my face and I nod, smiling.


“Of course, love. We miss you! Your fancy new position has stolen you away.” I smile at her.


My teasing causes a real frown to tug at her features, “I know. I feel like I’m sort of - drowning in all of this, honestly.” She waves a vague hand at the tiny office and all the papers stacked against the walls. The boys have made their way out into the hall, chatting idly.


“Oh, lady,” I say, squeezing her shoulders, “You don’t have to do it alone. We can help you! Ravenclaws love busywork, y’know,” I wink at her, and she laughs. I guide us out of the office, and feel like I can breathe easier under the high ceilings of the corridor.


“Right, Deetrin,” Al says, clapping his hands together, his face full of amusement, “Shall we?”


I turn to make a face at Rose in farewell, and she makes one back at me, and I laughingly turn away to head down the corridor with Al.


We can’t quite seem to work out what to say to each other once we’ve turned the corner and find ourselves alone. The torches along the hallways have dimmed as time has carried us deeper into the evening, and we light our wands to peer into empty classrooms and dusty broom cupboards. Every so often I cut a look over at Al, at his wild hair and strong jawline.


“The stars have aligned,” Al finally says after several hallways of semi-comfortable silence, “We’re actually Prefect partners.”


“So it seems,” I reply, grateful he’s the first to say something. The quiet between us had felt dense, like a semi-opaque veil I couldn’t quite get through. It stretched on for so long I was almost wishing for the small talk with Eric back.


“Fate has a weird sense of humor,” he sighs dramatically, shaking his head, and I laugh.


“The weirdest,” I agree. The scar on my neck suddenly gives the tiniest twinge, and as I rub at it, a thought occurs to me. “Hey,” I say, “Have you seen Charlie Kline at all since we’ve been back?”


Al looks a little surprised, but thinks it over, running a hand over the shadow stubbled along his jaw. “I did a few weeks ago, at the start of the term. He seemed fine,” He says slowly, “Why?”


I shrug, trying for casual, “Just wanted to make sure he was doing okay, is all.”


Al shoots me a warm smile, and I try to smile back. I must not have gotten it quite right, and his smile falters, his eyes shooting to the furrow that’s settled between my brows. For a moment it unnerves me just how observant he is, how apparently attuned he is to his surroundings and the littlest details of others. He swallows, putting his hands in his pockets as he looks at the ground, and I can tell he wants to ask what could be wrong. I’m thankful that he doesn’t — I can’t really explain, even to myself, why the little scar on my neck has become such a closely guarded secret.


The slightly tense moment forgotten, the following hallways pass with easy conversation, neither of us particularly interested in deep discussions as we patrol familiar passages. Al and I keep catching each other’s eyes, offering awkward smiles before we glance away. The situation we’re in is new, and a little strange to introduce to the delicate balance we’ve constructed with each other. I’m sure we’ll eventually find our sea legs, but right now, my knees are a little wobbly.


The castle is quiet, restful, and though the route is now twice as long, the hours don’t feel particularly painful with my present company.


The only other person we come across throughout the many twists and turns of the castle is Matt Belkin exiting the library, his arms laden with huge textbooks.


“Oi,” Al calls out genially to his dorm mate, “Just what do you think you’re doing out of bed?”


Matt rolls his eyes, obviously exhausted from a long bout of studying, “Bugger off, Al, you know we’ve got Vector’s essay to finish.”


Al claps him on the shoulder with an easy smile, “I do, Matty. Don’t worry about it.”


Matt shoots me a tired smile as he shuffles off, “Deetrin.”


I nod back at him with a smile, noticing the bags under his eyes before Al and I turn the opposite direction down the hall, heading towards the Great Hall.


“And now to finish up your route,” Al announces, shooting a smirk in my direction.


Our route, now,” I grin back.


We pass by a bank of windows that showcase the grounds below, and I can see through the old glass that freshly shed leaves are being carried by a sizable breeze. The moon hangs heavy and full above the Forbidden Forest in the starlit sky.


I frown as we descend the marble staircase to the Entrance Hall, “I suppose the wind’s pushed away all the rain, then.”


Al looks down at me, his expression amused, “And that makes you sad?”


He holds open the door for me, and he follows me out onto the covered walkway by the greenhouses. I sigh, “No, it just means we’ll be patrolling the grounds tonight.” I cast a wary look at the tall trees of the forest, like dark sentinels against the horizon.


“What’s wrong? Scared?” Al’s grin is crooked and sure of itself, and the glint in his eyes spells out every way he is making fun of me. 


I fix him with a look, but unfortunately - and it’s one of those misfortunes that makes a girl want to roll her eyes and sigh alas - Albus Potter is the worst in the best way, and my withering stare loses its potency when diluted with that smile. And it’s a tragedy, it really is, for what’s this girl to do - when faced with a statement that holds too many embarrassing truths - without an effective glare?


Alas.


The back of his hand brushes against mine as he shakes his head, still amused, “I never thought I’d see you afraid of something.”


I’m taken aback by this, but it still feels like he’s teasing me, so I scoff, “Oh, I’m sorry, brave, valiant Gryffindor - ”


Al’s gaze is steady, “I’m serious. You have a dangerous streak in you, Deetrin.”


A shiver works its way down my spine when he says my surname. I shouldn’t like the way he says it so much.


The wind whips through my hair and slaps my cloak around my legs, the whole world condensed to the glowing circles cast upon the ground from our lit wands. Al’s foot kicks out at a rock in our path, and for a moment its skittering trajectory across the cobblestones is the only sound between us.


“Can’t believe you were the one to walk in on it,” Al finally mutters to the darkness, his head shaking, “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad someone found Hanseth at it, but the fact that it was you -” he cuts off with another disgusted shake of his head. “Can’t imagine what it must’ve looked like.”


I try not to picture the ripped buttons from his shirt, or the lipstick stained upon his face, or the glazed look in his eyes.


“Can you remember it at all? How it felt to be in love with Sally?” I ask, the darkness around us providing an avenue for bravery, this strange, suspended place where I can ask this boy I fancy the questions I’ve always wondered about love potions.


Al pauses, and I can feel his gaze on me, “Why do you ask?”


My heart starts to beat faster, just like it always does when I’m on the edge of saying something personal, “Well, I’ve never really been in love. At least, I don’t think I have. Not in the way that people describe it, anyway.” His silence spurs me on, his gaze like a hot brand on my burning cheeks, “And I’ve just always kind of wondered if a love potion provides that answer for you. Like, here it is, this is what love is supposed to feel like. Like it shows you that you’re supposed to look at a person you love this way, and think about them this much, and just the mention of their name does this to your heart - ”


“It’s not love.” He interrupts, his voice taking on this edge that I can’t quite define, can’t exactly catch what whetstone I’ve said that sharpened his tone. “What a love potion does to you. It’s - it’s not like that. It’s more of a synthetic kind of obsession. An addiction. Like - like someone’s injected you with a type of drug that’s taken a physical form in a specific person.”


I think about this as I stare with blank eyes at the ground in front of me, only vaguely registering the distance we’ve managed to cover, and how very deserted the perimeter of the castle is on this brisk, blustery evening. And it catches my notice, as we take the measure of each other in this cloaked silence, how his feet don’t shuffle along like Eric’s had, his heels scuffing the ground with every step. Al’s footsteps are solid, the sound unmarred. I can’t exactly figure out why this difference in their gaits feels like it carries more meaning for me than it probably should.


“So that’s probably why you remember so little from that night,” I guess aloud, “Like a drug, it clouded your mind, focused your attention on Sally and that addiction to her.”


Al nods, though his gaze is far away, his eyes following the moonlight cast upon the lake. “Something like that, sure.” He seems to shake away an errant thought, his tone taking on an affected, breezy air, “I don’t blame her, of course. Tabloid rags like Witch Weekly have been filling people’s heads for years that my brother and I are these - these Prince Charming types.” His smile is wry, his free hand reaching up to rake through his hair, “What they don’t seem to understand is that we’re still so young, and genuinely the stupidest people I know sometimes. There is no perfect sunset waiting at the end of the Potter surname, unfortunately.”


My eyes trace what I can make out of his profile in the moon-touched darkness, and tug my cloak closer around my waist. Al is, of course, totally right that he’s not a perfect person. From what I know of him — what I can say with the smallest degree of confidence — he’s got an impatient streak in him, and he tends to mask his concern for a person in a gruff sort of way. But Al really is so charming, and quick-witted and observant. He’s also so warm, so kind and bold and a little brash.


Al cuts his gaze over to me while I’ve been studying him, and his lips quirk up in the tiniest smile, “What? Disappointed that I’m not a fairytale?”


I flush, tucking my hair behind my ears as I look straight ahead, “Not at all. In fact, I always found Prince Charming to be a little bland, really.”


I can see his grin from the corner of my eye, “Good.”


We’ve almost made our way back to where we started, the greenhouses just a little ways off in the distance. I trace the silhouettes of various exotic plants through green-tinted glass, an ethereal glow cast within the transparent buildings. “So you really think she did it, then?” I ask.


“Who? Sally?” He asks, surprised. I nod, and he goes on, “You don’t think she gave me the love potion?”


“Well,” I say, measuring my words carefully, “I just think it’s smart to consider all the possibilities, like Rose and Henry said.”


“Let’s consider them, then,” Al says, his footsteps slowing to a halt next to Greenhouse Three, his voice carrying a renewed energy. “Why would someone else do it, and make it about Sally?”


I shrug, leaning against the side of the greenhouse, looking up at him, “To cause trouble? Or, maybe to get back at Sally for something we don’t know about?”


Al nods, leaning against the wall beside me, his shoulder brushing mine. “Okay. But what about the simplest option usually being the correct one - I mean, Sally made it no secret that she was interested.”


“Yes,” I agree, getting into the discussion, turning to face him and speaking with a vigor that any Ravenclaw would have in an interesting conversation, “But, like you said, it was obvious she was into you. Anyone with a pair of eyes could see it. So if someone wanted to make a fool of Sally, or maybe even a fool of you -”


“Then why make it a spectacle for after dinner?” Al asks, also animated by the discourse, our bodies naturally gravitating towards each other, “If the purpose of the action was to cause a scene, then why wait until the end of the day when everyone’s off to bed? Surely, they would have slipped me the potion sooner. Sally, on the other hand, would have wanted as little attention as possible, so the end of the day during patrols was perfect timing -”


“Maybe the person didn’t get the opportunity until the end of the day,” I interrupt, “You’re a popular guy, Al. You’re not on your own very often. But, in the window of the shuffle at the end of the meal, but before you’ve finished the dregs of your pumpkin juice - ”


“That’s the thing,” He says eagerly, his eyes alight with interest, “I didn’t have pumpkin juice. I didn’t drink anything at all.”


“Nothing?” I ask, as we eye each other.


“Nothing.”


“You should really drink more water.”


“I know. One of my fatal flaws.”


“Huh,” I say, leaning my head back against the wall, thinking, “In your food, then…”


“Then why didn’t it kick in sooner?”


I turn to look at him, at the way our conversation has animated his face, and loosened his lips into an easy smile. “You love a good mystery,” I surmise.


“I really do,” He agrees, his smile crooked, “Not necessarily at my expense, though.”


I laugh, “That’s fair.”


“Should we head in?” Al asks after a moment, cocking his head towards the castle.


“Oh,” I say, surprised that for a second I’ve forgotten my surroundings, “Yes. Yeah. Let’s.”


Al, as he so often does, places a steady hand on the middle of my back as we head inside the doors to the Entrance Hall. I study the high ceilings, the stone pillars, the golden glow from the torches that paint long, dancing shadows upon the walls, lost in thought. I’m still stuck on how quickly I lose myself to the pleasure of being in his company — like the unconscious way I seem to take in his movements, or notice the way he notices things. His thought process is fascinating to me, and I kind of adore the way he speaks — a mixture of boyish charm, intelligence, and a maturity I’m not sure he’s quite aware of.


I’m just not used to him — he’s just so… unexpected.


“I have to say,” Al starts, looking at me with mischief in his eyes, “You really are a much better Prefect partner.”


“Is that so?” I say, bringing myself back to the present, my voice lilting in a teasing (fine, yes, flirtatious) tone.


“Absolutely. Very professional.” His eyes are so green, the corners crinkled to match his smile.


I laugh with delight, our footsteps echoing up the marble staircase, “Why thank you, Mr. Potter. I take my role as Prefect very seriously.”


“It shows, Ms. Deetrin.”


We find ourselves at the landing where the pathways to our common rooms split, and I turn to him with a grin and a hand outstretched for a handshake.


He laughs, and takes my hand in his, his grip warm and firm.


“Mr. Potter,” I say as seriously as I can, trying not to laugh.


“Ms. Deetrin,” He replies, his smile equally as stupid. I can’t stop myself from studying the smattering of faded freckles upon his nose, or appreciating that his ears are the littlest bit uneven.


“Sleep tight.” I finally say, a little breathlessly from the fact that we’ve stopped shaking hands but are still holding hands in the space between us.


“Sweet dreams.”


“Later, alligator.”


“In awhile, crocodile.” He winks at me in a way that makes me roll my eyes and grin as we take a step away from each other, and I will myself to be the one to turn away first.


I only take one look over my shoulder as we go our separate ways.


Okay, fine, maybe two.

 

 

 

 

 





 

Thank you all for your patience, and to those of you who have reviewed - your amazing encouragement has brought me back to my favorite plot and cast of characters.

 


Chapter 9: stagger
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

  Do you ever find yourself in a crowded place — like a bustling cafe on a Saturday, with the sidewalk out front cluttered with tiny tables and people amiably knocking elbows as they sip their lattes, or maybe sitting in a popular courtyard on the sunniest day of the week— and just want to close your eyes? Not because you’re tired or anxious, but because sometimes you realize you look around too much without really seeing, and it hits you that there are so many other ways to take in where you are.


So you find your corner of that populated place and turn your face upwards so the sun can paint swirling, vivid colors upon your closed eyelids, with spots of color dancing beneath that thin membrane. You feel so warm, even on a brisk day where Spring feels ages away, and the sounds are all so crisp and new, the clashing conversations feeling less cumbersome and much closer to comforting.


And if you find yourself in that busy courtyard on the sunniest day of the week, and you’ve managed to find an empty bench — a bench that must’ve been waiting for you specifically, because what are the chances that, in such a happily happening place as this, that a bench in such a prime location with views of all the action and just the right amount of sunlight, would remain unoccupied? It’s feeling like fate — you can recline back, with your head resting on one arm and your feet upon the other, and just exist in that space.


You’ll notice the sounds of the birds chattering in the eaves of the covered walkway behind you, and the breeze sending crunchy leaves to scrape and twist upon the cobblestones, and students of varying years laughing, chatting, shouting as they soak up their personal rays of sunshine. If the arm of this bench were just the littlest bit softer against your neck, you’re quite sure you could stay right here until the sun sinks behind the castle, and you would happily forgo whatever is on the agenda for the day until those creeping shadows came to collect their territory. But for now, with the sun still high above you, and a light doze settling across your relaxed form, you know there’s nothing that could rouse you from this perfect, fated bench, not even —


“D’you reckon she’s dead?”


“Nah, not dead. Look, she’s breathing.”


“What do you think she’s doing?”


“Hm. Hard to say. Realigning her chakras, perhaps?”


“Restoring her chi?”


“I hope so, her aura was really getting quite murky —”


With a sigh, I crack an eye open, having to squint against the brightness of the light, and analyze the towering figures partially blocking out my sun. Jude, Scorpius, and Parker smile idiotically down at me.


“Done with Divination, then?” I ask, holding a hand above my eyes to see them properly.


“Yep!” Parker says happily, “Last class of the day, and it’s Friday, hallelujah.” As if acting in some coordinated effort, Parker picks up my legs and sits down, with Jude and Scorpius budging up on either side of me so we’re all squished in, knocking shoulders and hips.


“This is very upsetting,” I say with a frown.


“How can you be upset on a day like this?” Jude cries, thrusting out an arm to point out the crowded courtyard, and knocking Parker on the chin in the process.


“Yeah!” Scorpius agrees, slinging an arm along the back of the bench to get more comfortable, “It’s so sunny!”


“Besides,” Parker adds in a chiding tone, “It was quite selfish to claim this bench for yourself. Think of everyone else, totally seatless because of you.”


“And this is a great bench,” Jude puts in.


“It’s in a prime location,” Scorpius agrees.


“Just the right amount of sun —”


“Okay!” I laugh, “Yes, it’s the perfect bench on a perfect day and I’m a monster for hogging it.” They nod and I scoff, flinging a hand in Parker’s direction and narrowly missing poking Jude in the eye, “It’s not like you can talk! How often do you nap in the evenings on that couch in the common room, the one directly in front of the fire? Very uncharitable behavior,” I tsk tsk at Parker.


“Un-chair-itable,” Jude says with a grin, his blue eyes catching the sunlight as he looks at me, “Great pun.”


“Well done.”


“She’s right though,” Jude says, turning to face Parker.


Scorpius nods, “It does get very crowded in the evenings —”


Parker holds his hands up in surrender, smiling, “Fine, I agree, we’re all flawed. Some more than others.”


I’m about to protest when Jude puts his sweaty hand on my face to stop me from talking, “Alright, we’re off track here,” he takes a moment to deal with my squirming, squawking fuss as I try to bat him off my face, “We came to find you because we wanted to know — well, we know already, even if you’ll take some convincing — she bit me!”


He releases me, holding his hand high above his head and shouldering Parker in the jaw.


I wipe my face on my sleeve, “You deserved it.”


Jude narrows his eyes at me, and says after a long pause, “Alright.”


Scorpius huffs with impatience, “Do you wanna go down to Hogsmeade tonight or not?”


“Hogsmeade?” I repeat, surprised, turning to look at Scorpius. I readjust my position so I can comfortably lean against Jude on my other side. Scorp nods, a smirk on his face, like he already knows I’m about to say, “But it’s not a Hogsmeade weekend!”


Scorpius rolls his eyes, “Yes, we know.”


“C’mon, Jose,” Parker cajoles, “You know it’ll be fun. We’re all of age! Just think of us all down in the pub, having a jolly ol’ time together, having a pint and a laugh —”


“But,” I frown, trying not to admit how great it actually does sound, “I’m a Prefect. I mean, my route is the perimeter of the castle. Like, my actual job would be stopping us from doing what we’re doing.”


“It’s perfect,” Jude says with a grin, “A beautiful irony.”


“Corruption,” I correct.


“Semantics,” He argues genially.


“Well,” I draw out slowly, “What did Dom and Rose say?”


They glance furtively at each other, and I know I’ve caught them in something. “Aha!” I point a finger accusingly at them, “Rose won’t do it, will she?”


“She will if you’re going!” Scorp argues, “She’ll always go along with you.”


“That was last year,” I shrug, “New year, new Rose.”


“Yeah,” Parker agrees with a frown, “She has gotten a bit more — intense, since becoming Head Girl.”


“It’s a lot of responsibility,” Scorpius bristles.


Parker holds up his hands again, “No arguments there.” He looks at me, “What d’you say, Josie? Wanna run wild for a bit?”


I bite my lip against a grin, saying the answer I know I shouldn’t, “Always.”

 

 

 






 

 

 


“I’m a terrible Prefect,” I sigh, leaning against a worn tabletop at The Three Broomsticks, “They should fire me.”


“Nah, you’re not so bad,” Jude says over the din of the crowded pub, grinning. The atmosphere inside is festive and jovial, the warmth and spirits drawing in a varied, lively crowd. Instruments playing of their own accord in the corner have started up an energetic jig, and couples have paired up along the worn, scuffed floorboards in front of the giant stone fireplace to leap and laugh and spill their drinks on one another.


Smiling, I feel small in the crowd and happy to be just another face in the mix. “It’s lovely here at night,” I say, and Dom looks over, her cheeks rosy from laughter.


“Cheers to that,” she cries, and it draws a shout from the boys as we clink and slosh our drinks together.


The relief of another school week finished has us all feeling buoyant, like we’ve been temporarily unmoored from our responsibilities. And the thrill of doing something out of the ordinary, and not technically allowed, has us feeling giddy, high, unstoppable.


“No way, the Falcons have got it this year, I’m telling you —” Davis announces loudly to Jude, and Eloise next to him looks a bit startled at his volume.


“You’re mental. The Falcons have been utter shit since Lupo blew out his shoulder mid-season —” Jude argues, and Scorpius nods along fervently. He’s been drinking the quickest out of all of us since we arrived, windswept and delighted at our successful escape, about an hour ago.


“— And I just can’t believe that she said that to me, can you?” Dom wants to know, pushing her hair behind one shoulder.


“Astonishing, truly,” Parker drawls, but I can tell she has his full attention, with the way his eyes follow her energetic gestures and his cheeks haven’t been without a grin.


Dom swats at his arm, “Josie’ll back me up, won’t you darling?” She turns to me, her silver hair swishing over her shoulder again.


“Absolutely,” I say, without a clue what they’ve been talking about. The pints have warmed me up completely, and I am utterly content to sit here and let their conversations drift over and around me.


The coziness of being surrounded by my best friends, in this dimly lit, happy place, makes me excited for what’s to come, for the future discussions and laughter to be found in cities around the world, in pubs like this, with these people in tow. I can’t tell them this, though, because I always do when I’ve had a drink, and they’ll invariably laugh at me.


Dom’s eyes crinkle in delight that I’ve blindly agreed with her, and she leans her head on my shoulder for a moment before turning back to Parker, his hands reaching for her arm. I watch them together as I cradle my pint between my hands, and smile at the way they grab onto each other’s forearms when something excites them, their faces always so expressive. Dom throws her head back in a peal of laughter, and Parker takes her in with warmth and affection.


After a moment she turns to me, her expression trying to convey a message I’m not picking up, so she says, “Come with me to the bathroom?”


I nod instantly and we stand up together, Dom grabbing for my hand as we weave our way through tables and dancers to the loo. The line for the women’s is long when we reach the dingy hallway that houses the restrooms, and we lean against a wall while we wait our turn.


“So,” Dom starts, as I expected she would, “Parker.”


I feel a laugh coming, but I suppress it as I lean my head to one side, “Yes?”


“He’s…” She squints her eyes and makes a face as she tries to put her thoughts together, “Like, he’s cuter than last year, right?”


I can’t help but grin a little, lightly pushing Dom’s waist so she’ll move forward as the line shortens, “Sure. I hadn’t thought about it much, but sure.”


Dom shoots me a look, “You must’ve noticed. He’s like, so tall, and his hair is doing this swishy thing —” She pauses for a second as we enter the crowded, tiled bathroom and her voice echoes. But once we’re in neighboring stalls, she continues, “And his skin is like, glowing. Is he moisturizing? Is it a new exfoliator? I need to get in on his morning routine.”


I laugh as I finish up and push open the door to my stall, “Maybe he’s just showering regularly? You never know with these guys.”


Dom pulls a face at herself in the cracked mirror above the sink as she washes her hands, the terrible lighting casting shadows upon our expressions. She’s had enough to drink that she doesn’t care who else in the bathroom could be listening, “I’m just saying, like, objectively, he’s cuter this term.”


I nod as I dry off my hands, doing a final check in the mirror, and taming some strands that have gone a little wild by tucking them behind my ears.


“Oh,” Dom says as she applies a new layer of lipstick, as if something’s suddenly occurred to her, “I invited Al to come tonight.”


My stomach swoops and I gape at her, “You what?”


“Yeah,” She nods, looking satisfied as she snaps the lid back on the tube of lipstick, before stowing it away to do a final fluff of her hair, “We were catching up and I mentioned our adventure, and told him he should come! Think about it Josie,” she grabs for the crook of my arm as she leads us out of the bathroom, “He’ll come waltzing in here, right, and see you having this magnificent time with your friends, and he’ll think to himself, wow, that Jocelyn Marie Deetrin is really something —”


“You’re mental,” I tell her, astonished, though I really shouldn’t be, “Absolutely mental.”


“You’ll see,” She says with a wink, looking for all the world like she’s taken one too many Divination classes.


“I’ll see that you’re crazy,” I counter with a smile, and she rolls her eyes before stopping short by the dancing couples.


“Don’t tell Parker I said that he’s cute, okay?” Dom says with her voice lowered, and I scoff.


“Would I ever?”


She beams at me and slings her arm around my shoulders, which makes it even harder to navigate the floorpan of the pub when we’re two-across, but we manage.


Dom slides back onto the bench next to Parker, and he turns to her instantly.


“Took you long enough,” He says with a raised brow and a smirk, “What, get lost?”


She rolls her eyes, but there’s a smile she’s hiding in her glass as she takes a sip.


I drain the last of my beer while standing up, and I take a look at the commotion around us, everyone’s movements blurring together, becoming one mass of gaiety. And for a second I’m reminded of that night on the balcony, standing with Al Potter, and watching everyone coexist through that pane of glass.


Is he really coming here tonight?


Will he want to see me?


My thoughts are starting to run together, and it takes a moment for me to arrange them in an order that I like. But I raise my voice enough to say, “Another, anyone?”


“Yes please!”


“Cheers, Jose, you’re a doll.”


I wave away their thanks with a smile and weave my way back through the crowd to sidle up against the bar.


“What’ll it be, dear?” The woman behind the counter shouts as she points her wand at a pile of dirty glasses to wash up in the sink.


“Three beers, please.” I shout back, leaning against the sticky countertop so she can hear me better.


“Any kind?”


“Yeah, whatever’s on tap, thanks,” I call back as she walks away. I lean back, and for a second I trace a finger around the outlines of years of wet glasses left to sweat on this ancient wood countertop, ring upon ring traced over each other. I turn and rest my back against the counter, and watch my friends from a distance. It’s like looking at them through fogged glass, or as if they’re a silent movie — their movements and expressions are all that convey their conversations, and it kind of gives me chills that I can get the gist of their discussions without catching a word they’ve said. I smile as I watch Davis and Scorpius grab at each other’s shoulders, practically doubled over in silent laughter. Not exactly silent, though — more like each sound has been replaced by a hundred voices, all talking at once and never about the same thing.


“Staring again, Deetrin?”


I barely hear him above the clamor, but his presence is electric. My eyes seem to trace over him in rapid movements, like I need to take in Al Potter all at once or I might not be able to process that he’s standing right there. It takes a few extra seconds to distinguish the reality of things, for it feels like perhaps I’ve conjured him by thinking about him.


But he’s really real, and he’s smiling that crooked smile as he leans against the bar next to me, his hair wild, his shoulders very broad in that royal blue sweater. He’s pushed the sleeves up to just below the elbows. He’s close enough that I have to tilt my head back to look into his eyes.


“Are you following me?” I ask, and I can’t stop my voice from sounding as delighted as I feel to be standing next to him again.


Al laughs, and points to the drinks behind me that the bartender has just set down.


“Oh!” I turn around, fumbling in my purse for the correct change before passing it over, “Thanks!” She nods, turning to another customer.


I feel like laughing a giddy laugh as I turn back to look at Al and his observant gaze. “Well?” I prompt.


He tilts his head to one side as he considers the question, his eyes on the crowd behind us, “I’m not following you, but I knew you’d be here.”


I squint up at him, trying not to smile, “That’s cryptic, Potter.”


Al’s lips tug up at the corners as he takes a sip from his own drink, and he looks at me over the rim of the glass, “That’s life, Deetrin.”


“Tell me,” I huff impatiently, uncertain as to why I need to hear it from him when I already know the answer. Al and I have never played games with each other before now — not when we’ve convinced ourselves and each other that we’re above all that.


I reach for my glass behind me, and Al laughs, raking a hand through his hair.


“Alright,” he finally concedes, “Dom told me you all were sneaking out tonight. I’m here with some friends.” He points to a table in the corner, crowded with seventh year Gryffindors. I can see Matt Belkin and Brett Lannerman talking with Jackie Erickson and Hannah Stead.


“I’m glad you’re here,” I admit, and I watch the surprise, and then the warmth, transform his face.


Al looks down for a second before meeting my gaze again, “Yeah,” he murmurs, “I’m glad I’m here too.”


His green eyes, the irises ringed by that dark blue, observe me a for a moment while I look up at him, at the way his lashes curl away from those eyes and the tug of his brows as he thinks. His steady gaze makes me feel warm all over.


For a moment I don’t know what else to say, for that felt like an enormous confession to make. But his hand reaches up to tuck those errant strands back behind my ear, and my stomach swoops, and I can’t help but smile up at him.


“I’ve been drinking,” I tell him, and we’ve danced this dance before, but it feels new.


He grins like he can tell what I’m thinking, “So have I.”


“We’re terrible Prefects,” I tell him.


“Oh, the worst.”


We grin at each other for a second, and then he looks over my shoulder and then back at me, “Two hands and three drinks, Deetrin,” he shakes his head like he’s disappointed, but his eyes are looking merry, “Want some help carrying those?”


I nod after a second, the idea of bringing this boy to my friends — who they’ve known most of their lives but also not in this context — alarming and exciting all at once, “Sure. Thanks.”


I grab two glasses, careful not to spill the one that’s still full, and wind my way back to my raucous group of forever friends, Al Potter following in my wake.


“Did you go to a pub across the street?” Davis asks as we arrive at the table, his eyes full of mischief.


“Took her way longer than that,” Jude counters, giving me a sly look, “She left the county, didn’t you Jose?”


I roll my eyes, my cheeks burning with them all looking at us, “Hilarious,” I cast my gaze over at Al, who’s looking perfectly at ease, “I recruited some extra hands.”


“You came!” Dom squeals, leaping up to hug her cousin, who quickly sets down the full glasses, “I didn’t think you would, honestly.”


Al laughs a little as he hugs her back, “Yeah, I’m with some friends, they’re over there.” He gives her a look that clearly says he’s about to tease her, “In fact, Matt Belkin was quite keen on coming, once he heard you were here. What’s that about?”


Dom flushes a deep red as she elbows Al in the side, before turning to face the rest of us, “Anyway, who did these beers belong to?”


Jude and Scorpius each claim one, and I slide onto the bench, with Al following to sit next to me. I don’t know why, but I can’t help but feel unbelievably thrilled that he’s here, sitting with my friends, when he could be back over with his.


That means something, doesn’t it?


“Hey,” Eloise starts, and I turn to look at her, surprised that she’s getting our attention. She’s usually a listener in big groups, seemingly happy to let others lead the conversation. She plays with the end of her braid, her cheeks a little flushed, “I heard they’ve hired a new Astronomy professor.”


“Really?” Al says, his eyebrows shooting up a little, his elbows resting on the table.


Eloise nods, looking up at Davis once before turning back to us, “Yeah, I heard Flitwick and Vector talking about it outside the teacher’s lounge.”


“And what were you doing outside the teacher’s lounge?” Parker wants to know with that devious smile of his, “Spying, were we?”


“What? I — no —”


“It’s okay, El,” Jude soothes from next to her, patting her shoulder, “We don’t mind. What’s a little spying gonna hurt anyone?”


Davis rolls his eyes, “Alright, cut it out —”


Dom makes a shushing motion at him, leaning across the table towards Eloise and nearly knocking over her glass, “What did you learn?”


Eloise blinks back at her, looking a little lost, “I - I’ve just said, there’s gonna be a new Astronomy prof —”


Dom flaps her hand around impatiently, “Yes, yes, what about the new Astronomy professor?”


“Oh,” Eloise blushes again, her body seeming to sink even further into Davis’ side, “Well, I think he’s younger, or he’s been abroad for awhile or something, because Vector was kind of talking like perhaps he didn’t have much experience teaching, I think.”


“A young male professor?” Dom sighs with a smile, “Excellent.”


Parker rolls his eyes, “So what if he’s young? He could still be bald with warts and poor hygiene.”


“Well you’d know all about that, wouldn’t you?” Dom shoots back sharply.


“Are you insinuating that I smell?”


“I don’t have to insinuate anything, I’ve been sitting next to you all night —”


“Yeah, poor me, having to listen to you gripe about what’s-her-name saying whatever it is that’s offended you today —”


“I’m just trying to share what’s going on in my life with you, like a good friend —”


At this point we begin to tune the two of them out, so used to their spats that it feels nearly routine. Davis has his arm wound around Eloise, murmuring something into her ear, and Jude and Scorpius have wandered towards the bar, the word shots drifting almost tangibly behind them.


I look over at Al — who’s been surveying this new set of friendship dynamics with his typical observant interest — and grin, “Weird, right?”


“Your friends?” He asks, eyebrows slightly raised.


I nod as I take a sip, and he grins crookedly, “Well, you’re best mates with Dom, so I knew you lot were gonna be strange.”


I try to look appalled but I can’t help but laugh as Dom turns around and says, “Um, rude.”


Parker grins from next to her, their argument completely forgotten, leaning forward to get a better look at Al, “Hey, Potter, are you guys ready for the match coming up?”


Al’s face lights up, and he leans closer to me as he animatedly discusses the upcoming Gryffindor vs. Hufflepuff match with Parker, and it doesn’t take long for Davis to throw his opinions into the mix.


Jude and Scorpius come back, proudly presenting a tray laden with several shot glasses filled with amber liquid.


“Firewhiskey?” Dom complains, her hand reaching for a glass nonetheless.


“Yeah,” Scorpius says excitedly, passing out the remaining glasses to the rest of us, “It’s a special occasion,” Scorp shoots me an awful smirk, “Josie’s brought a boy home.”


This statement brings out shouts of laughter and shoving of my shoulders and terrible, knowing looks from the people who are supposed to be my friends, and I swear my face has never been this red before. Al laughs along from next to me, the crooked smile he gives me and the look in his eyes spelling out the ways he’ll tease me later.


I don’t know why it had felt like this was going to be a big deal, my friends interacting with Al, but it had. Perhaps it’s because what Al and I are is very close to nothing at all, and so the concept of bringing him into my group of friends when he could be just another face in the hall in a few weeks, felt strange. But here he is, his smile easy and his laughter as bright as every one else at this old wooden table, and it feels so — comfortable.


I just — I didn’t expect this, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get over that.


“Alright,” I sigh with a smile, holding up my glass, “Cheers.”


“Cheers!”


“Love you guys!”


“Congrats on your engagement, Josie!”


I set my glass down on the table, swiping a finger underneath my watering eyes, “That never gets any easier.”


Al’s expression is amused as he looks down at me, and I’m starting to smile goofily up at him, when Dom tugs on my arm, “Josie!” she shouts merrily, “Let’s dance!”


Laughing, I follow her up off the bench, hardly having time to even look behind me as Dom pulls me to the throng of people dancing wildly, their feet stomping an uneven beat on the floorboards. Dom pulls us right to the center, into the nucleus of this sweaty, joyous creation.


And I’m a terrible dancer — a fact I’ve always stated with pride, for I learned years ago that if I take ownership over my hips that always hit the wrong beat and my awkward arms (what am I supposed to do with my hands), then I — probably — won’t be teased for it.


Dom’s face is flushed from laughter, her cheeks pulled wide with her untamable smile as we jump and twirl and bump into everyone around us. There’s something about being completely stupid with your best friend that can’t be replaced — some utter comfort in your shared idiocy. And your eyes always half-shut when you’re dancing, the vibrations from the music trying to reset the rhythm of your heart. It’s wonderful, really, the way the harsh edges in the world have taken on this soft focus, the lights dazzling, the people twirling by us too fast to make out as anything greater than happy blurs.


But something is glaringly different, outlined in stark contrast behind Dom’s shoulder, a figure standing perfectly still almost at the edge of the crowd. My eyes widen as I stop moving, too, trying to catch who this person is and why seeing them out of the corner of my eye drove a sliver of fear — something with jagged edges, and a sharp, needle-like point — into my heart. People are moving too much, the flailing limbs and swishing hair too dense for me to see clearly, my stationary position jostled around excessively. And when the song ends and people take a moment to clap and mop their brows, there’s nothing scary to see at all.


I try to calm my heart and steady my breath, smiling weakly at Dom. She smiles back, her blue eyes flashing around at all the faces near us, trying to put them in focus. Her expression is a little dazed, and when she starts leaning on me too heavily, I guide us out of the crowd.


“Why are we leaving?” She wants to know as she runs into the corner of a table.


I put my arm around her waist and she leans against me as I guide us back to our table, “C’mon dancing queen, let’s see what everyone’s up to.”


“Yes,” Dom agrees, one of her hands raking up through her crazy hair to push it behind one of her ears, “Let’s see if they’ve missed us!”


Our walk back to our group is slow going, with me having to support most of Dom’s weight as we weave between people and chairs. And I can’t help but repeatedly look over my shoulder, my mind trying to memorize who it was that I saw, and unable to put together details in an order that looks anything close to a real person.


Like, the second I’m sure whoever it was had on dark clothing, my memory seizes up, and I couldn’t say what kind of clothing it was. And I’m certain he had a face, for all people do, but that’s as definite as I can be. It’s like trying to remember the details of a nightmare, and only coming up with flashes, edges, a shout of noise and a deep, dark sense of dread that lances through you. A shiver works its way methodically up my spine and across my shoulders, tickling at my hairline. I shake out my shoulders and try to pull myself together.


Nightmares aren’t real, and someone standing still at the edge of a crowd is not a monster.


Feeling a little better, I look towards our group and see the Gryffindors have joined our table in our absence, the bridge between houses comfortably gapped in this spirited atmosphere where the laughs are easy and drinks have been over-served.


“Parker,” I call out as we approach, and he looks up from a conversation with Matt Belkin and Hannah Stead.


“My my,” Parker calls out jovially as we arrive, his expression amused but very kind as he climbs off the bench to take Dom’s weight as she leans against him instead of me, “Are we all danced out?”


Dom scoffs as she rests her head on his shoulder to look up at him, “I could dance forever, Ashcroft.”


Parker nods seriously, “I see. Do you think you could dance all the way to the castle, Weasley?”


“I could dance to the moon,” She pronounces, but her eyes are beginning to shut the littlest bit.


“Well, you’ll have to prove it, then,” He tells her, but he guides her to sit down on the bench, “Right after you drink some water.”


I sit down next to Dom and she rests her head on my shoulder as Parker moves off to the bar to fetch a glass for her.


“Hey, Dom, Josie,” Hannah says, smiling sympathetically at Dom, “Did you have fun tonight?”


“Tons, thanks,” I smile back at her, “I feel like I haven’t seen you at all this term.”


Hannah nods with an eye roll, her hands reaching to twist her hair back in a bun, “I know, I’m taking like, no classes this term. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life.”


I laugh and she smiles, and I say, “Who needs to take boring classes when you’re a Quidditch star?”


Hannah beams at me, her cheeks going red, “As if. I’ll be lucky to make reserves with the way I’ve been playing.”


“You’re too hard on yourself!” I cry, the drinks I’ve had making me more assertive, and very interested in the lives of others, “Seriously, you’re great.”


She shrugs, smiling, the shorter layers of her golden hair falling gently out of her messy bun and into her face, “We’ll see.”


And it’s funny, sitting and chatting and laughing with the seventh year Gryffindors, for even though there isn’t a real popular crowd at Hogwarts (how can there be, when you’ve seen each and every awkward phase of each other’s adolescence), these are the people that most students will remember when they look back on their Hogwarts years. Big personalities, a natural ease, some kind of sparkling essence — they just have it a little bit more than the rest.


“Ah no, Dom!” Jude cries from across the table, just noticing that we’d arrived and taking in her nearly-asleep state, “Another one bites the dust, eh?” He puts his arm around Scorpius’ shoulders, and I see that he’s barely able to keep his eyes open either, “We’re about to put this one to bed — if we ever make it.”


“It’ll definitely be an interesting walk back to the castle,” I agree with a smile.


Dom makes a disgusted sound in her throat, her eyes still closed, “It’s going to take years to walk back.”


I laugh and look around at who’s still left — Davis and Eloise have disappeared, and Matt Belkin and Jackie Erickson have just waved their vague, sleepy goodbyes. Al’s sitting on my other side, talking with Jude and Brett about something Longbottom did in class the other day, their voices broken up with laughs. I notice Hannah looking at Jude as he laughs, her expression appreciative, like she hasn’t quite looked at him before.


But Al is looking down at me a moment later, his cheeks still wearing a fading grin, and he says quietly, “Hi.”


I look up at him, and he’s sitting so close that I can smell his woodsy, Al scent, and I smile sleepily up at him, “Hi.”


“Tired?” He asks, and I nod, and I don’t know what it is about making eye contact with Al Potter, but it feels so electric, and like there’s some kind of understanding between us.


And it’s overwhelming, the thought of being understood by this handsome, clever person.


Al wraps a big, warm arm around my shoulders, and it heats me up instantly, my heart pounding like every cliché I’ve secretly wanted to be. And it feels safe against him, the noise around us muted, the lights in the bar dimming to a sweet twinkle in the background. It’s a heady feeling, being welcomed into someone’s personal space like this — like everyone has these shimmering, molten borders that we instinctively allow each other to have, a perimeter carefully guarded by indoctrinated etiquettes, and Al Potter just put his arm around me in front of everyone.


I know my cheeks are red, but I can’t help but smile as I lean my head against his shoulder, refusing to meet anyone’s gaze as Al turns back to his conversation. I listen to his voice rumble in his chest against his steady heart beat, and I try to imitate his ease, like this is no big deal, like the way his fingers are gently clasping my upper arm is an every day thing, as if his thumb brushing ever so lightly against my skin isn’t causing my breath to hitch and my hands to shake.


I close my eyes and it feels like it did before, earlier today, when I was in that sun-kissed courtyard and every sound was composed of the sweetest notes, only this time the heat radiating across my upturned face is coming from this boy — this enigmatic, warm boy with the greenest eyes and these rare, crooked smiles that make me feel like I’ve won a prize.


“Alright ya goons,” Parker says, and I open my eyes to see him clapping his hands and looking around at us, “How about we settle our tabs and head home?”


Finally,” Dom exclaims, getting up to stand on wobbly legs, “I thought this night would never end.”

 

 

 






 

 


“I’m hungry,” Dom’s loud pronouncement drifts back to us as we make our way out of a dark, near-deserted Hogsmeade, the music from the pub just a faint noise in the distance. Dom and Parker lead our brigade up the cobbled lane, his arm around her waist and her arm slung around his shoulders. Jude, Scorpius, Brett, and Hannah follow in a disorderly clump behind them.


The shopfronts look sad and deserted without the usual twinkling lights and steady stream of rosy-cheeked students, and the silence of the outside world after many hours among the shouts of the Three Broomsticks is loud in my ears.


Al and I smile at each other as we walk quietly behind the rest. We’ve been listening to the strains of different conversations in front of us, different ideas and lives mixing together as this new dynamic of our friends make their drunken way home together. My arms are wrapped tightly around my middle, a frigid wind tunneling through the empty streets. Al steps a little closer so our sides brush against each other as we walk, and I feel just the littlest bit warmer from his nearness.


“It’s weird being here at night,” Al finally says as we pass through the outer streets and head for the winding, open lane back to the castle. “Like all the life has gone out of the place.”


Nodding, my gaze on the ground in front of me, I say, “I was just thinking something similar.”


I see his slight smile out of the corner of my eye, “Of course you were.”


I look up at him, at the way the wind has pushed his hair across his forehead, “What does that mean?”


Al shrugs, his hands in his coat pockets, “Nothing gets past you. You’re just — very observant.”


You’re the observant one,” I say, surprised.


Al looks at me, and I notice that our pace has slowed, our friends getting farther ahead of us, “Can’t we both be?”


“Sure,” I agree after a moment, “But maybe we notice things in different ways.”


He nods as we amble up the path, my hand reaching out to skim along the top of the low stone wall that borders this part of our walk.


“I’d like to think that I see things as they are,” Al says slowly, his contemplative expression visible in the blue-black of the night, “And you like to see things as they could be.”


I stare at him, and he looks right back. “That was poetic,” I finally say.


“True, too, I think,” He says back, and his smile looks a little sad, “I just wonder if maybe you look at things in this idealistic way because you don’t like how they are now.”


I’m taken aback by this, and honestly kind of offended, so I tuck my windswept hair behind my ears before saying, “I think that’s a pretty negative way to view me.” Al looks a little startled, and I can tell by the way his lips part he wants to interject, but I’m drunk and suddenly mad as hell, “Just because I’m able to look beyond the present, and see the potential of something — or someone — doesn’t mean I’m not rational, or capable of appreciating things as they stand. Honestly, I don’t know where you got that conclusion from, that I’m romanticizing life because I’m, like, incapable of accepting my reality or something —”


“Whoa whoa,” Al says, his eyes a little wide and his brow furrowed, “I think you’re the one taking a negative spin on this, all I was saying is that —”


“No,” I interrupt, my mind fogging over and every emotion feeling utterly huge and confusing, and every second passing by increasing the anxious upset inside my mind by a hundred, and I suddenly wish desperately I hadn’t come out tonight. Al and I have stopped in the moonlit lane, three feet between us that feels like three oceans. Our friends are way off in the distance, their laughter twisting its way back to us, and it feels like they’re in a place I’ll never reach. Without warning, the scar on the back of my neck starts to burn as badly as it had that night on the balcony, so badly my vision blurs with unshed tears and I gasp aloud. I stumble back, my legs hitting the stone wall behind me and I sit down hard.


“Josie,” Al says, alarmed, taking a step towards me with his hands outstretched, his mouth turned down in concern, “Are you okay?”


I look up at him, my gaze meeting his, and the pain disappears in an instant, without a trace. I rub at my neck as I stare at his increasingly worried face.


He comes right up to me and kneels down in front of me, “Josie?”


After a second I nod, feeling more clear headed, and look at him, “Yeah. Sorry I yelled at you, I — I don’t know what that was. I never —” I shake my head in confusion, trying to understand the panic I felt just moments before, “I never freak out on people like that.”


Al’s eyes trace over my face with a frown, and he nods after a long moment, “It’s okay. I’m sorry that I upset you.”


I shake my head, “You didn’t —” but he had, hadn’t he? It’s all feeling unclear now. “Let’s just get back.”


Al stands and places a hand on my arm as I get to my feet, but I’m feeling incredibly sober and steady. I smile up at him, “I’m fine, really.”


He nods and takes a step back, his hands returning to his pockets as we turn once again towards the castle.


“So how mad do you think Rose is gonna be at us for abusing our Prefect power?” I ask him after what felt like a few long minutes of silence.


Al’s gaze is far away and his brow is still furrowed, but his voice sounds normal when he says, “Oh, catastrophically, I’d say.”


“Astronomically,” I counter.


“Apocalyptically,” He says back, his smile returning, his eyes crinkling at the corners.


“Cataclysmically,” I laugh, feeling light and happy again.


He shakes his head with a smirk, “Such a Ravenclaw.”


“Face it,” I tease, leaning towards him, and we’re back to walking with our sides brushing, “You’re just mad I won.”


He scoffs, “I didn’t realize this was a competition.”


“Everything’s a competition. And you’re a sore loser.”


Al laughs as he jokingly pushes me away, before instantly pulling me back in and wrapping his arm around my shoulders. “A sore loser,” He repeats with a shake of his head, “First you yell at me, and then you insult me —”


I elbow him in the side, “This sounds a lot like the whinging of a sore loser.”


Al huffs but I can see his grin when I look up at him, “You’re ridiculous.”


We’ve made our way up the hill and through the gates, the sprawling grounds cloaked in darkness, the pale moon casting glittering light upon the lapping waters of the black lake.


“Yeah?” I say, smiling, “Well you’re —”


My words are cut off as Al stops short, his arm going tight around my shoulders. I look up at his face, confused, and see the terror etched into his features.


“Al?” I say, alarmed, panic painting my voice, “What’s wro—”


“Red sparks,” He says urgently, his voice hoarse, his wide eyes glued to a single spot, “In the Forbidden Forest.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 






 


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