I waited outside the house for an uncomfortably long time. I’d decided to go straight there instead of finding a hotel, but now I was tempted to give up and try again tomorrow. I was surprised by how difficult it felt to take the last few steps to the front door and ring the bell, but I’d been standing there for at least five minutes and couldn’t make myself move.
Every so often, a burst of laughter rang out from inside the house. I couldn’t work out who was there, but it obviously wasn’t just Ollie and Albus. I wasn’t sure I could handle seeing anyone else.
I took a deep breath, ready to turn around and give up, but was stopped by the front door swinging open.
A tall boy with messy blonde hair stumbled out through the door and I winced. I’d been struggling to pick up the courage to see Ollie. I definitely wasn’t ready to see Scorpius Malfoy. But then the boy turned to face me and I relaxed: it wasn’t Scor.
The boy’s face cracked into a delighted grin when he saw me and he staggered down the steps to stand beside me. He smelt like whiskey and didn’t seem able to stand still. He rummaged in his pocket and brought out a crumpled pack of muggle cigarettes and a lighter. I watched him in silence as he lit a cigarette and tucked it between his lips.
“Want one?” He held the pack out towards me.
I shook my head. If I was going to stand out here and smoke with Louis Weasley, I might as well head inside and brave seeing the rest of them.
“Suit yourself,” Louis said, leaning back against the garden fence. “Can’t say I expected to see you any time soon.”
“I came to visit Ollie. Is she here?”
“Yeah, she’s inside,” Louis said through a cloud of smoke. “It’s Al’s birthday.”
I winced. I hadn’t meant to turn up to a Potter birthday party. And that probably meant his whole family was in there.
“So, I heard you were fucking my cousin,” Louis said conversationally.
“That was seven years ago. I think it’s about time you got over it.”
Louis laughed, smoke spilling out through his lips with the sound. He took the cigarette out of his mouth and held it in the air so he could cough.
“Different cousin this time, love,” he grinned.
I raised an eyebrow and waited for him to keep talking.
“Arielle,” Louis explained. “She’s a Delacour. You didn’t know?”
I thought of Arielle’s glossy hair and flawless skin. Now that Louis had told me they were cousins, it seemed obvious. They had the same sulky pout and the same confident glow that came with veela heritage.
“Gave me a nice little bit of deja vu, that did,” Louis laughed. “Cassandra Selwyn having an illicit affair with one of my cousins.”
He looked delighted. I scowled at him.
“So...you’re back. You here for the wedding next week?” He yawned, blurring his words together.
“I think so.”
“Bold,” he said. “I’m impressed by your courage. Aunt Ginny might hunt you down.”
“I don’t have a lot of allies in your family.”
“With good reason,” he said, his voice suddenly colder. And then he seemed to shake it off and laughed again. “Nah, you’ll be alright. James is hiding away at the moment anyway and Ginny will be too excited about Al getting married to care much about you. As long as you can avoid Lily you might stay alive.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I muttered. “How are you anyway?”
Louis leaned forward, frowning at me. His eyes were huge and the same shade of turquoise as Arielle’s. I took a step backwards.
“I’m alright. I had to move out of Rose’s place because she kept trying to make me get a real job. Living with Lucy now. Remember her?”
“In the wheelchair?”
“That’s the one. She’s my least judgemental cousin.”
“Still no job?”
“Nah…” Louis paused. “Look, I’m happy to keep up the smalltalk if you want, but it seems to me that you’re just putting off going inside.”
He stubbed his cigarette out on the fence behind him and then let it slip through his fingers to the floor.
“I should get back inside. Liv threatened to do the birthday cake without me if I took another smoking break. She’s trying to get me to quit.”
I laughed. “She used to smoke more than I did when we were at school.”
“Yeah but now she’s a responsible grown up and doesn’t approve.”
“How boring,” I said.
Louis snorted with laughter and shoved the rest of his cigarettes back into his pocket.
“Come on. I want to witness their reaction when they see your face.” He beamed.
“I despise you,” I told him.
“All the best people do.”
He walked up the steps ahead of me. He was wearing distractingly tight jeans and an oversized pink jumper that he’d rolled up to his elbows. He had the same kind of easy confidence as Arielle.
I hesitated when we reached the door and Louis grabbed my hand to pull me forward.
I stopped him.
“Exactly how bad is this going to be?” I pulled my hand away from him and stayed still on the top step.
Louis shrugged. “Depends how much of a coward you are.”
“I’m serious. I’m exhausted and, frankly, a little bit hungover.”
“Not too bad. James is refusing to leave his house at the moment so he won’t be there. And usually the rest of the family would come, but given that Al’s got the wedding next week they’ve kept tonight quiet. It’s just his close family and Rose and me.”
“Come on. The Cassie I remember was ruthless. She wouldn’t be scared of crashing a little birthday party.”
“Fine. Let’s do this.”
Soft voices greeted us in the hallway, singing ‘Happy Birthday’. Louis swore under his breath and sped up. I dawdled behind him.
I hadn’t been to Ollie and Albus’s house before, but it felt oddly familiar as I walked down the corridor. The walls were painted turquoise and covered with framed drawings from the children’s books Ollie illustrated. The ceiling was a deep blue and twinkled with glittering stars. It reminded me of Hogwarts, but where the enchanted ceiling at school had shown the real sky outside, this ceiling was thick with oil paint.
Once upon a time, Ollie and I had planned to live together. I wondered whether I would have thought to fill the house with her artwork. Albus had always been better than I was at recognising the things that made her happy.
I stopped my thoughts before they could make me feel guilty, and hurried to catch up with Louis.
The kitchen door was wide open and we stood in the doorway for a moment as the song finished. Albus was sat at the table with an enormous cake in front of him. It was iced in gold with tiny red lions padding their way across its top, and candles flickered in different colours. Ollie stood behind him, her hands on his shoulders, leaning in towards him as she sang.
Lily and Rose were sat either side of Albus, and his parents were sat opposite them with their backs to us. There was no sign of James.
The song finished and Albus leaned forwards and blew the candles. They quivered and shifted into a shade of bright green before disappearing completely.
Albus laughed. “I thought there was a lack of Slytherin colours on the cake. Should have known they’d turn up at some point.”
Ollie laughed and lifted one hand to stroke his hair back from his forehead. He caught her hand and kissed the inside of her wrist, holding it against his lips for long enough that it felt like the kind of moment they shouldn’t have an audience for. She blushed and pulled away but she was smiling.
I felt a sudden burst of love for her, so strong that it surprised me.
Albus grinned at Ollie. “Thank you so much for tonight. I didn’t really expect anything, what with the wedding so soon. But this has been great.”
He looked around the table at the rest of his family to thank them, but his eyes landed on Louis and I, still standing in the doorway and watching in silence.
“I thought you were joking when you said you’d do the cake without me,” Louis pouted.
Everyone around the table turned to look at him. When they saw me beside him their expressions shifted pretty much unanimously into dislike.
“Fuck’s sake, Louis. Take the trash back outside,” Lily said coolly.
“Honestly,” Rose said, shaking her head at Louis. “It’s Al’s birthday. What were you thinking?”
“I missed you too,” I told her.
Both Rose and Lily glared at me, and then Rose turned her glare back to Louis.
Louis rolled his eyes. “It’s not like I invited her. I just ran into her outside.”
“Well, you should have sent her away,” Lily said. “Every time she’s here she just fucks everything up for everyone.”
“Language, Lily,” Harry said, as if he’d only just noticed the conflict brewing in the room. “Be nice.”
“No, don’t be nice,” Ginny cut across him. “You don’t owe her anything.”
“That’s not a reason to be unkind,” Harry said. He looked tired. I was fairly sure he didn’t like me any more than the rest of them did, but I guess being the saviour of the wizarding world might make you feel like you have some obligation to be decent all the time.
“Do I need a reason to be unkind? I thought you loved my brutal character assassinations,” Ginny smirked.
“I love everything about you,” Harry told her earnestly.
“Especially my character assassinations,” Ginny insisted.
“Well, if you’re going to assassinate someone's character, you might as well do it to the bitch that broke James’s heart,” Lily said, baring her teeth.
“Lily…” Albus said reproachfully.
I looked back at Albus, wondering why he sounded like he might come to my defence. And when I looked at him, I couldn’t help but stare at Ollie.
Ollie was biting her lower lip so hard that it looked painful. She held on to Albus’s shoulder with one hand and her fingers were obviously digging into the skin under his collarbone. He had reached up so he could hold on to her wrist and was running his thumb over the skin on the back of her hand, but it didn’t seem to be helping her relax. When she noticed me looking at her, she dropped her gaze to the floor and blinked slowly.
She looked like she was in pain and it was definitely my fault. A moment ago, when Albus had been blowing out his candles, Ollie had looked calm and happy and like she had nothing to worry about. Now she was suddenly a different person. It was like all the times I’d let her down were scrawled across her expression.
I took a step backwards. Louis frowned at me and half lifted his hand towards me. I shook my head and he dropped his arm back to his side.
Albus tilted his head up so he could look at Ollie. They looked like they were having some kind of telepathic conversation. Every so often, one of them would make a slight gesture and the other would give a tiny nod. Eventually, Albus turned back to me.
“Cassie,” he said, his voice steady and kind but not exactly warm. “Welcome back. Would you like to sit down?”
I saw Lily narrow her eyes at her brother, but nobody argued with him. Rose actually stood up to pull out the chair beside her so I had space to join them.
I stayed frozen in the doorway until Louis coughed and shoved me forwards, and then I grimaced.
“I’m sorry. I have to go.”
I ignored their calls for me to come back and pushed past Louis to flee.
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