Warm, orange light flooded the corridor, the shadows of the elaborate stained glass windows drawing intriguing patterns on the stone floor. People didn’t seem to notice the swirls and colours that draped the entire hallway, stepping over them carelessly as they moved in tight-knit clusters towards their various dormitories. A tinge of excitement lingered in the air and it seemed to inspire more whispering and giggling than usual.

                “Hey Seth!” Someone yelled behind me and I turned my head to find Tarquin Digby jogging along the brilliantly light corridor, dodging a group of chattering girls. With his skin-tight jeans and brightly patterned T-shirt, he looked slightly out of place in the ancient hallway, yet it suited his gangly frame.

                “Long time no see,” he panted as he caught up with me, “I almost didn’t recognize you since you- well, um…”

                “Don’t look like a boy anymore?” I couldn’t help grinning as Tarquin’s slender face turned a violent shade of pink, standing out against his light brown hair. “Relax, Quin. I’m just kidding.”

                “Right,” he grinned broadly, pushing the black-framed glasses further up his nose. “How are you? How was your summer?”

                “Good.” It wasn’t entirely true but I didn’t feel like elaborating on how I had spent the majority of my holidays hiding from my family. It didn’t quite make for a jolly summer story. “Yours?”

                “Great. Listen,” he furrowed his brows, which slightly distorted his glasses, “Sam Henderson asked me if you were going to the back-to-school party tonight.” He gave me a long, curious look and this time, it was my cheeks that blushed. “I had no idea the two of you were so chummy.”

                “We’re not chummy,” I mumbled lamely in an attempt to sound cool. I had successfully avoided Sam ever since my rather awkward exit at dinner yesterday, hoping that he would somehow just stop acting all flirty with me. The simple truth was that flirting with boys was not only out of my comfort zone but also I just wasn’t any good at it, which mortified me.

                “I said I didn’t know.” Tarquin went on, either elegantly bridging my awkwardness or actually not noticing it. “Are you going?”

                We had reached the bottom of the sprawling staircase in the entrance hall, stopping at the first step. The heavy wooden doors were opened wide to admit the golden light of the setting sun that poured into the castle, dipping everything into a warm glow. A few students were just now trickling back in from the grounds, just in time to get ready for the biggest official party of the year.

                “Well, Katie really wants to.”

                “Oh, yeah Katie,” Tarquin’s whole body language had changed entirely all of a sudden: His long, thin arms were suddenly restless as though he wasn’t sure what to do with them and his ears had turned a deep magenta. “How, um, is she?” His voice had cracked at the word ‘she’ and he quickly cleared his throat.

I tried hard not to grin and looked down to my shoes, pretending to examine my laces. Tarquin Digby had had the biggest crush on my best friend since our fourth year, which was so painfully obvious that even I had noticed it. Unfortunately for the poor bloke, Katie was not interested and she didn’t exactly try to conceal it.

“Well, you know Katie. She’s always good,” I paused shortly before I said as casually as possible: “She broke up with John.”

“Oh, did she?” He tried hard to sound unaffected by the news but the slight quaver in his voice gave him away. Even when we said our goodbyes he was still positively beaming at me, his walk fairly springy as he ambled off to the Hufflepuff common room.



"There you are!" There was a hint of accusation in Katie's voice, as she watched me put down a pile of books on my night stand. She was sitting on my bed quite naturally, her legs crossed and her curls wrapped into a fluffy towel turban, smelling distinctly of coconut. "I already thought you'd been slain by a big-ass book."

I only gave her a sarcastic grin that had to suffice as reply and leaned against the windowsill that divided our beds. It was slightly ajar, letting in a rather crisp breeze that seemed to contradict the glistening light of the setting sun. "I met Tarquin just outside the library."

"Oh great. You didn't tell him about John, did you?"

"No, of course not." The moment I said it, I knew that my voice had been far too stiff and sing-song-y to sound even the slightest bit natural. Even someone who knew me less well than Katie would have probably seen right through my feeble attempt at lying.

"You know I can tell you're lying when you start sounding like a bitter Shakespearean king, right?"

"I know," I sighed as I drew my legs up onto the sill to wrap my arms around them. As a matter of fact, the Woodleys were exceptionally gifted liars. Everyone in my family had the literal 'poker-face'; an imperturbable control over their facial muscles as well as voice that made it practically impossible for anybody to call their bluff. It was yet another lovely family trait that somehow eluded me.

"Well, it doesn't really matter now, does it?" Katie jumped up from my bed, sounding immensely chipper all of a sudden. "I'll just have to put up with having him run after me like a lost puppy all year."

"Which is absolutely terrible!" I cried out in a mock-dramatic manner, earning a drastic eye-roll from my best friend. "I mean, the shame! How can you even bear it?"

"Oh shut up Macbeth!" She had picked up my pillow, throwing it so hard that I lost balance and canted towards the ground; but not without taking Katie down with me.

"You idiot!" She cried as we both collapsed on the hardwood floor in a heap of giggles and snorts, rolling around like complete loons. It was only when I spotted a pair of dirt-caked brown boots in front of me that I finally stopped laughing and looked up.

"I didn't mean to interrupt." The burley frame of Bernice Claville was looming at the foot of my bed, staring down at us in all her broad-shouldered glory. Just like her voice, the expression on her round face was sober, not allowing for any sort of interpretation of her mood. I had never actually seen her smile; she wasn't even smiling when she told a joke, which was probably what put most people off about her. I had been thoroughly scared of her throughout my entire first year, until the day she had saved me from a horde of bullies by throwing her books at them; it had also been the day she had been discovered as a beater for the Ravenclaw Quidditch team.

"No, of course not. How was practice?" I nodded towards the sapphire blue ensemble that covered her tall body. There were visible streaks of dirt on her cheeks and strands of strawberry blonde hair stuck to her sweaty forehead.

"Good," she deadpanned, "We might finally beat Gryffindor this year. They didn't even have tryouts yet."

"Awesome." I nodded approvingly but the truth was that I actually didn't care all that much about Quidditch. It was alright to watch but I just hated the fuss everyone made about it. This was an impossible thing to say at Hogwarts, of course, where people flying about on broomsticks enjoyed privileges that others could only dream of; so I only protested in silence whenever the team members were exempted from doing homework yet again.

"Um, well," Bernice suddenly looked stiffer than usual, her hands knotted behind her back. "I was just wondering, if, um, well – Ursula said she heard you talking about the party tonight?"

"Yup, we're going," Katie piped up before I even had the chance to protest. Actually I would have preferred slipping into my most comfortable pajamas and cuddling up in bed with a nice cup of tea and one of the new books I had procured from the library; however, I also knew I would eternally feel bad for skipping out on my best friend just because I was a socially awkward, lazy bum with the exciting lifestyle of an 80-year-old cat lady.

"Oh great! I um, I wondered if maybe you would mind if I, like, join you?" Bernice looked as inexpressive as always but the hopeful glimmer in her eyes gave her away. Like Katie and I, she didn't really fit into the social scene at Hogwarts; her sheer size – though advantageous on the Quidditch pitch – and her inability to smile seemed to scare people off. The only person she really hung out with was the other girl in our dormitory room, Ursula Mussegros, who was affiliated with probably every single club in Hogwarts and therefore rarely had time for anything else.

"Of course not! Come with us," I said quickly although I could practically feel Katie moan next to me. It wasn't anything personal, really. After all these years, Katie just still had the ridiculous idea in her head that somehow, miraculously, we would suddenly strike up a friendship with the popular crowd and shed our eternal loser images. Showing up with a girl most people only knew as Bulky Bernie probably wasn't that beneficial to her plan.

"Oh come on," I groaned at Katie's reproachful look after Bernice had left for the bathroom with an almost happy expression on her face. "Did you see how excited she was?"

"No," Katie growled in response, "because her face always looks the same, Seth."

"Oh rot!" I waved my hand in the air like I was swatting at an invisible fly, deliberately ignoring my friend's argument as I pushed her towards her wardrobe. "Chop chop! The party starts in fifteen minutes!"

"Yeah, alright," Katie gave me one of her most dramatic eye-rolls before turning to the colorful assortment of clothes that inhabited her closet. "At least we're going."



The Great Hall – a construction that was already impressive by itself – looked even more awe-inspiring than usual with a blanket of glittery stars hanging underneath the bewitched roof like they had actually fallen from the sky. The light was soft and the music loud though nobody was dancing; they all seemed to scramble around the elf-run bars that offered snacks and, most importantly, butterbeer.

"That's so cool!" Katie was bouncing excitedly, her glittery blouse reflecting the light like a genuine disco ball. Her thick, curly hair was held in place by a velvet bowtie barrette that matched her bright pink lipstick and the converse sneakers on her feet. She had led the way into the Great Hall with Bernice and me trailing behind a little awkwardly; I wasn't sure where to look and my arms suddenly felt weird just dangling next to my body. What the hell did I usually do with them?

"Right," Katie beamed, "Let's get a drink." She pushed ahead through a group of girls and again, completely overwhelmed by the situation, Bernice and I were left to follow her lead. We weaved clumsily through the chattering mass of students – Bernice accidentally knocking a few people over in the process – until we finally reached one of the busy bar counters.

"Alright!" Katie thrust a bottle of butterbeer into my hand before letting her gaze wander across the room, her light blue eyes shining with anticipation. "Let's do this!"


Exactly two hours and twelve minutes; that was the amount of time I had been standing against the exact same stretch of wall, nursing the exact same bottle of butterbeer that had turned disgustingly lukewarm in my hands. By now, people were dancing trance-like to Muggle hip hop, holding their cups and bottles up to the enchanted ceiling like they were constantly toasting each other. In the darkness, the mass seemed to move as one, almost like a giant, multi-colored creature.

"You know, maybe we should just go to bed," Katie sighed as she watched the pulsating crowd in the middle of the Great Hall. She looked thoroughly disappointed by the way the evening had turned out and I couldn't help feeling bad for being such a lame party companion. Bernice wasn't much help either; she hadn't said anything for more than an hour and I wasn't entirely sure that she hadn't fallen asleep with her eyes open.

"No!" I cried out firmly, "We're not going home. We're going dancing!"

Katie blinked, looking fairly startled by my suggestion. "Seth," she finally said with a small smile on her lips, "you don't have to do this. You hate dancing."

She was right; I did hate dancing. It was one of the things I was absolutely rubbish at and I hated being rubbish. I liked to be in control of what I was doing; however, for Katie, I was prepared to let go for once.

"I'm serious, let's go." I grabbed my best friend's arm determinedly before whirring around. "Bernice, what do you say?"

Bernice didn't even stir but just sat on her chair, staring into space with quite glassy eyes.

"Right. Just the two of us, then." Ignoring her protests, I pulled Katie with me until we had reached the edge of the throbbing cluster of people that was now shoving against us as they winded their bodies. The air felt hotter and more humid all of a sudden and the beats vibrated in my ears, dulling everything else around me. Katie had begun to move quite expertly and I nodded my shoulders along to the rhythm with as much tact as I could muster.

Next to us, a group of Hufflepuff boys with ties around their heads had started dancing along; one of them held out two brightly orange colored drinks, willing us to take them. He grinned and showed us his thumbs-up as Katie yelled a thank you over the music, toasting him with her cup. She looked positively radiant as she raised her eyebrows at me, her mouth forming the words Oh my god. We had never before been supplied with drinks by random guys; that usually only happened to girls like Demeter Notte and her friends.

"I wouldn't drink that if I were you," a voice suddenly said right next to my ear and I turned a little too abruptly, spilling gooey orange liquid all over someone's lovely white button-down shirt.

"Oh shit! I'm so –" I actually wanted to say sorry, but the shock of finding Albus Potter's face looming so close to mine, put me off completely. Even in the dim light I could see that his eyes were indeed green like his father's.

"No problem," he said with a smile, his cheeks blushing slightly, "It's good you didn't drink it, it's got Crapula in it."

"What?" I looked at the cup with the remaining drink in my hand and took a careful sniff; the treacherous smell of honey mingled with a definite acidic note left no doubt; the drink was indeed interspersed with the highly intoxicating Crapula potion.

"Do you mean to say," Katie asked with wide eyes, "that those boys wanted to drug us?"

Albus ran a hand through his untidy, black hair. "Well, yeah."

"Oh my god," Katie just stared at her drink in awe like she had never seen such a wondrous thing. She didn't look exactly happy about the fact that someone had tried to drug us, but she definitely didn't look appropriately repulsed.

"Thanks for the warning," I said to Albus as I took Katie's glass out of her hand. She didn't protest, but a deep frown appeared on her face as she stared at the drinks that were emitting thin streams of smoke by now.

"Yeah, no problem." Albus grinned sheepishly; he lifted his hand to his hair but suddenly stopped in midair, dropping it awkwardly again. "Um, your name is Elizabeth, right?"

"Seth," I supplied quickly and, after feeling Katie's elbow jabbing into my ribs, I added, "and this is my friend Katie."

"Hi," she gushed, giving Albus a brilliant smile that I had rarely seen on her before, "I'm Katie."

"Um, yeah," Albus grinned, "so I've heard."

Katie didn't seem to notice her mistake and simply nodded enthusiastically. I wasn't sure how much butterbeer she had had already, but it definitely must have been more than one bottle.

"So, um," Albus smiled slightly embarrassed, "You're in Ravenclaw, aren't you?"

"Yeah, how'd you know?" The moment I had opened my mouth, someone had turned up the music and I had to properly scream my answer. A booming voice proclaimed that McGonagall had left to go to bed and a loud whooping echoed through the Hall, momentarily drowning the thick beats.

"Books!" Albus yelled back, leaning in a little bit closer. The gooey stain on his shirt gave off a sour smell by now that was biting in my nose. "You always carry around loads of books so I just guessed."

"Yeah, Seth's a total nerd!" Katie suddenly cried so loudly that the people around us began to snicker. She was swaying oddly to the music and her face had gone a shocking shade of pink. It looked like she was literally glowing; but not in a healthy way. "And she used to look like a boy!" A sputter of giggles that was most unnatural for Katie erupted from her mouth, leaving a dim smile on her face.

Something definitely wasn't right here.

"Katie, look at me," I spoke firmly, feeling a sudden uneasiness crawl up my spine. Her eyes couldn't focus on me and she began to giggle wildly again.

"You look funny." Her fingers had started kneading my cheeks as a curious expression spread across her face. Instinctively, I looked down to the poisoned drink I had taken from her just minutes ago; at the edge of the glass was a faint pink stain.

Oh no. This wasn't good.

A/N: Hello there awesome reader! If you read this, you proabbly made it through this chapter and I would absolutely LOVE to hear what you think! Reviews make my day so feel free to drop me a line or two :) Thank you for reading!

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