Chapter Three: Mei

Mei was comfortable in her unicorn onesie and nothing anyone said would make her change out of it. She lounged on top of her duvet and vaguely watched Lyra get ready for the night.

Lyra had spent the last half an hour painting her face with foundation and shimmering gold eyeshadow. She was wearing a gold sequinned vest, tucked into a tight leather skirt, and had finishing sticking on her false eyelashes. She looked beautiful and exhilarated, and now that she’d finally decided she was ready to leave she had turned her attention to Mei.

Mei kicked her legs up, rolling into a shoulder stand and then dropping her feet back down on to the mattress.

“I don’t know why you want to go anyway,” she told Lyra. “You’ve never minded staying here before.”

Lyra shook her head, red hair swishing against her shoulders.

“We’ve never been invited before, Mei.”

Mei shrugged. “We’ve never wanted to be invited. What’s different this year?”

“Lily said she’d like to see us there. It’s an opportunity for us. To make this year different.”

“But why does it need to be different? I’m happy.”

Lyra sighed. Mei knew she was annoying her but wasn’t sure what Lyra wanted from her. She’d always made it clear that she had no interest in turning up to the parties the rest of their year seemed so obsessed with.

“He’ll be there,” Lyra said quietly, a wistful expression gliding over her face.

Mei frowned. “You’re not still thinking about him? I thought we were past that.”

“I can’t help it,” Lyra shrugged. “He makes me feel...squiggly.”

Mei wanted to laugh, but it was Lyra and she was trying to be honest and, frankly, it would be cruel to make fun of her.

“You know he’s not interested,” she said gently. “He’s with Lily Potter.”

Lyra shook her head. “That’s what I thought too, but, I don’t know, I think things have changed a bit, you know? He wrote to me over the holidays.”

Mei sat up and watched Lyra carefully. Lyra’s cheeks were flushed and she was clearly trying to hide her smile.

“There’s something you’re not telling me,” Mei said, pointing a finger at Lyra.

Lyra chewed her lip, looking uncertain, and then her face cleared and she sat down on the mattress next to Mei.

“Okay, I’ll tell you. But you have to promise to keep it between us, okay? Nobody can know.”

Mei nodded and turned to face Lyra, crossing her legs and leaning her elbows against her knees. Lyra stayed sitting bolt upright, probably not wanting to crumple her top, but she looked excited and leaned a little closer to Mei.

“Lysander and I met up over the summer. Twice,” Lyra whispered. They were alone in the dormitory but Mei didn’t blame her friend for keeping her voice low.

“Met up…” Mei cocked her head to one side and gave Lyra a look. Lyra’s cheeks darkened.

“I really like him,” Lyra confessed. “And I really think he likes me too. When we were together...I can’t explain it. It was special.”

Mei took a slow, deep breath and then let all the air rush out of her at once in a loud puff.

“He’s been with Potter for over a year now,” she said. “And I really don’t think you want Lily Potter as an enemy.”

Lyra shrugged. “I know. But he doesn’t want to stay with her. And he can’t really love her, can he? I mean, if he really cared about her he wouldn’t have been sleeping with me. But she’s really intense. It isn’t easy for him to tell her how he really feels.”

Mei suppressed a groan. She didn’t know what to say. Lyra was so obviously happy but so obviously foolish.

Lyra shook back her hair and grinned. “Anyway, I don’t know where this is going but I feel really good about it, you know? And now I’m invited to the welcome back party for the first time ever. I feel like this year could be amazing.”

Mei gave a supportive nod, still trying to figure out whether it was worth explaining to Lyra all the reasons why Lysander Scamander shouldn’t be trusted.

“I get it if you don’t want to come, though,” Lyra said, giving Mei’s shoulder a squeeze. “I just thought it would be nice to start the year together.”

Mei watched Lyra stand up, staggering a little in the tall heels she wasn’t used to wearing. She really, really didn’t want to go. But as Lyra swayed towards the door, Mei felt a rush of guilt that she knew wasn’t going to disappear unless she did something.

“Wait. I’ll come too. Just give me a sec to put some jeans on.”

Lyra beamed. Mei hadn’t been sure about her decision to change her hair and had been suspicious of the striking resemblance Lyra now bore to Lily Potter, but she couldn’t deny that it suited her.

“Do you want to borrow a dress?” Lyra sounded hopeful.

Mei laughed and shrugged off her onesie, pulling on black jeans, a grey jumper and her doc martens. Lyra looked disappointed but grinned and linked her arm through Mei’s, clearly excited about having company for the party.

“Don’t expect me to have a nice time,” Mei told her.

Lyra giggled. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”

Mei tried not to feel insecure as they walked down to Hogsmeade. She didn’t want to care about the party but she couldn’t help but feel very aware of how underdressed she was compared to everyone else. Two seventh year Slytherin girls sashayed past them, both zipped into tight black dresses, and Mei felt her boots stop moving without meaning to halt.

“I don’t know, Lyra,” she muttered, tugging one hand through her cropped hair, feeling her cheeks get hot.

Lyra frowned, glanced around them, and pushed Mei into a narrow alleyway.

“Don’t do this,” she hissed. “This is important to me.”

Mei gazed into Lyra’s eyes. Lyra looked fierce; determined. It was beautiful. Mei looked down at the floor.

“I won’t fit in.”

Lyra rolled her eyes and put one hand on Mei’s chin, tilting her face up to scrutinise her skin.

“Hold on,” she said, reaching to rummage into her bag.

Mei waited while Lyra pulled out several small bottles and then tried to stay still as her friend smoothed various liquids over her skin.

When Lyra had finished, she wrinkled her nose and looked at Mei.

“I wish you’d let me do something with your hair,” she said, not unkindly. “It’s hard to style it when you keep it this short.”

Mei shrugged. “I like it. It’s easy.”

“I know.” Lyra bit her lip and then smiled. “You look lovely. Come on. Let’s go.”

“Fine. Where is it?”

“’s around here somewhere. The invite just said ‘the usual place’. But we saw everyone walking down here so we must be close.” Lyra pulled her out of the alley.

The main road was suddenly empty. The excited trails of students they’d been following had disappeared in the time it had taken Lyra to paint Mei’s face. It was now dark and cold and empty.

Lyra kept her expression smooth but her eyes flitted from side to side, clearly trying to find somebody who could help them.

“Maybe we should just wait here?” Mei suggested tentatively.

Lyra was chewing her lip again, starting to look anxious.

Mei took a step out into the road and breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the familiar figure sauntering towards them. They’d never spent much time with Hugo Weasley but they were in the same year and the same House, and that had to count for something.

Hugo slowed when he saw them, one eyebrow curling into an unspoken question. He was wearing his leather jacket over a loose white shirt and had a long, unlit muggle cigarette tucked behind one ear. His skin was eerily pale and the hollows of his cheekbones stood out, dark against the rest of him. He didn’t smile.

“Hugo,” Lyra said breezily. “You heading to the party?”

Hugo nodded and then jerked his head towards a building across the road. The door was boarded up and there was no sign of light or life inside, but he walked with purpose and the girls followed him.

When they reached the door, Hugo stopped and put a hand on each of their arms.

Mei gave Lyra a questioning glance and Lyra responded with a tiny shrug.

Hugo took a step forward, pulling them with him, and the door melted away, revealing an archway into a large, open hallway. They were suddenly surrounded by colour and light and the space around them was busy with dancing bodies.

“You’re late.” A whirlwind of red hair spun into Hugo, pale arms looping around his shoulders and pulling him forward.

Lily didn’t acknowledge Mei or Lyra as she grabbed her cousin. She looked her usual impeccable self, wearing a tight green top over shiny black leggings, lips painted a deep, berry red that should have clashed with her hair but somehow just made her look more striking.

Lysander Scamander stood behind her, one hand at the small of her back. Mei tentatively placed a hand on Lyra’s elbow, willing her not to do anything that might get her hurt.

“Come, Hugo,” Lily said, her words an obvious command. “I’ve been experimenting with cocktails.”

Lily dragged Hugo away. Neither of them looked back at Mei and Lyra, and Mei couldn’t help but feel slightly shaken by the encounter. She turned to look at Lyra to see if her friend was equally uncomfortable, but Lyra’s eyes were fixed on Lysander, who hadn’t followed his girlfriend.

Lysander gave Mei a slow, deliberate wink, and then let his eyes drift over Lyra, who took an eager step forward.

“Lyra…” Mei whispered, unsure what she was trying to accomplish.

Lyra lifted one shoulder into a half shrug and smiled excitedly.

Mei watched Lyra for a moment longer and then muttered something about going to get a drink. When she looked back at Lyra and Lysander, they had already stepped closer to each other.

Not wanting to think about what kind of mess Lyra was getting herself into, Mei decided she might as well follow through with what she’d said and make her way to one of the makeshift bar across the hallway.

Mei hadn’t been to any of the real parties before, but she had expected there to be more going on at the bar. Nobody was making drinks and there didn’t seem to be much choice. Instead, the whole table was lined with tiny glasses, each one filled with a different, brightly coloured liquid. No partygoers were crowded around the bar. Occasionally somebody would swoop past, tip a drink down their throat, and continue through to another room.

Mei reached for a thick, canary-yellow drink, and looked at it uncertainly.

“I wouldn’t go for that one if I were you,” a singsong voice called into her ear. “Gives you a killer headache the next day.”

Paige Parsons took the yellow drink out of Mei’s hand and replaced it with a bright, shimmering silver liquid.

“This one’s better. Pure joy.”

Paige took a silver drink for herself, clinked her glass against Mei’s, and flicked her wrist to empty it into her mouth. Mei waited for a moment and then copied her.

“Of course, if you’re really looking for pure joy, you want one of these.” Paige lifted a tiny fist and uncurled her fingers to reveal a scarlet pill.

Mei turned to look at Paige properly. Her eyes were wide and she looked like she was somewhere faraway. She had the kind of face that always looked friendly and relaxed, but her gaze was unfocused and she had a thin sheen of sweat across her forehead.

“Are you okay?” Mei put her empty glass down and held out a hand to Paige.

Paige took Mei’s hand and slumped forward, unexpectedly letting Mei take her weight.

“I don’t feel great,” she confessed.

“Do you want me to take you home?”

Paige laughed a silvery laugh and shook her head, clouds of blonde shimmering around her face.

“I just need to throw up.”

She gave Mei a vague pat on the head and staggered out of the room and into a small, walled garden. Mei followed her, not sure what the protocol was when dealing with somebody so distinctly un-sober.

Paige bent down over a flowerbed and daintily pulled her hair back from her face as she leaned down and retched. Mei took a step back, wanting to give her some space but not wanting to leave her alone while she vomited.

When Paige was finished she stood up and stumbled back over to Mei. She leaned forward and kissed Mei’s ear before wandering back into the party.

Mei watched as Paige drifted across the hall and into her brother’s arms. Robin caught her and twirled her around, laughing as she reeled around him. Mei wasn’t sure what she thought of the fact Robin was here a few hours after insisting that the prefects be on alert for drug use at Hogwarts, but she did trust him to look after his sister.

Shaking her head, Mei headed back to where she’d last seen Lyra, stopping to swallow another silver drink on her way.

Lyra and Lysander were no longer where Mei had left them, but she found Hugo leaning against the wall, breathing heavily with his chin dropped down against his chest.

Where Paige had looked confused but cheerful, Hugo looked miserable and ill.

Mei sighed and hooked an arm around Hugo. She didn’t know where Lyra had gone but Hugo was obviously in a state and she’d seen enough of the party to know that she didn’t want to stay there anymore. She steered Hugo back through the secret door and out into the crisp night air.

Hugo mumbled incoherently into Mei’s neck and kept lurching forwards.

“Alright,” Mei said. “It’s alright. I’m taking you home.”

She managed to get Hugo a few steps further forward before he collapsed onto his knees. He knelt on the ground, fingers splayed in front of him, and took deep, jagged breaths.

A giggle sounded from behind them and Mei spun round to the door to see Lysander and Lyra slip through. Their lips were glued together and Lysander was edging his fingers under the hem of Lyra’s top even as they clumsily dragged themselves down into the alley Lyra and Mei had stopped in earlier on.

Mei felt like she could hear Lyra’s giggles long after her friend had disappeared. She sat down heavily beside Hugo and rubbed his back.

“Chang?” Hugo’s voice was hoarse and quiet.

Mei waited for him to continue.

“Can you get Lily?” Hugo gasped.

Mei sighed. She didn’t want to get Lily. She didn’t want to even be here anymore. She’d only come for Lyra, and now Lyra had disappeared off with Lily’s boyfriend. But Hugo looked at her with dark, desperate eyes and she found herself nodding.

“Stay here,” she told Hugo, even though he looked like he was probably incapable of moving. “I’ll be right back.”

The party suddenly felt busier than it had before. Someone bumped into Mei, spilling a tall, blue drink that hadn’t been available at the bar she’d found. They didn’t apologise. Mei pushed through the crowd, keeping an eye out for red hair.

She found Lily in the walled garden, smoking a cigarette and talking to Isidore Flint. She didn’t turn around when Mei called her name.

“Lily,” Mei tried again, this time tapping her shoulder.

“What?” Lily spat, turning around to glare. Behind her, Isidore smirked.

“Um, can I talk to you?” Mei wished her voice sounded stronger.

“I’m busy.” Lily turned back to Isidore, rolling her eyes and lifting her cigarette back to her lips.

“It’s about Hugo,” Mei said.

This time, Lily spun round more quickly.

“He’s asking for you,” Mei explained.

They left Isidore in the garden and hurried back to the street. Now that Mei was with Lily, it was easier to get through the crowds. People parted for them without even seeming to register that they were doing it, and they were soon outside with Hugo.

Lily knelt down next to her cousin and slid one hand into his hair, running her fingers down the back of his neck and frowning at him in obvious concern.

“I want to go home,” Hugo mumbled.

Lily nodded. “Okay. Okay, let’s get you back.”

Mei took a step back, planning to give them some space, but Lily stopped her.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

Mei raised her eyebrows. “Erm, back inside?”

“How am I going to get him back without any help? Even if I manage to get him to the castle, there’s no chance I’ll figure out the riddle to your stupid common room by myself. And Hugo’s hardly going to be much use.”

Lily lifted Hugo to his feet and swung her hair back over her shoulder, keeping one arm around Hugo’s waist.

“Are you coming or what?” She looked pointedly at Mei.

Mei sighed and took her place at Hugo’s other side, putting her arm around him above Lily’s. He was so thin that it was easy to support his weight but his height made it difficult to keep him upright.

Lily didn’t thank her but she gave her a sharp nod as they started the journey back to school.

They didn’t talk. Mei didn’t think she minded. She wouldn’t really have had anything to say to Lily Potter anyway. Together, they dragged Hugo into the castle and Lily led them through a small passageway that opened up outside Ravenclaw Tower.

The riddle was an easy one - what gets broken without being held? - and Mei held the door for Lily and Hugo.

Once inside Ravenclaw Tower, Lily immediately dragged Hugo to the stairs up to his dormitory. She somehow managed to get him up the stairs and through his door, not once looking back at Mei.

Mei watched as they disappeared and then made her way back to her own dormitory.

Nivetha and Collette were fast asleep and Lyra, as expected, wasn’t back yet. Mei didn’t turn the light on, not wanting to wake her roommates, and rummaged through Lyra’s cupboards in the dark. She dug out some pyjamas for her friend and left them out on top of Lyra’s pillow. Judging by the state Lyra had been in when Mei had last seen her, she’d probably need more help than just having her pyjamas ready for her, but for now it was the most Mei could do.

When she’d folded Lyra’s pyjamas and filled a glass of water to leave beside her bed, Mei calmly tugged off her own clothes and dropped onto her mattress. She pressed her face into her pillow for a moment, yawning into the softness, and then sat up to put her unicorn onesie back on.

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