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I didn’t think much of Lily Potter but I couldn’t deny that she knew how to throw a good party. We gathered in the little Knockturn Alley flat she shared with Hugo. It was artsy and edgy: all exposed brickwork and battered leather armchairs, with soft amber light from antique lamps and scattered fairy lights.

Lily owned the apothecary downstairs and served us all cocktails out of large, battered copper cauldrons. She laughed when Rose asked her if she’d cleaned the cauldrons properly. Rose looked apprehensive. I swallowed my drink without questioning it.

“Okay, okay. We’re going to go out soon,” Lily said, after several hours and too many drinks to count. “But one more game first.”

“If she tries to make me participate in another game then I’m leaving,” Divya said darkly, downing the drink she was holding and leaning towards me to speak.

I laughed. “Not enjoying yourself?”

Divya shrugged. “I’m not loving the hen party humour.”

She waved a hand at the inappropriately shaped ice cubes floating around my drink. I laughed and scooped one up onto my tongue. It was cold and I spat it back out.

“Charming,” Divya said.

I stuck my tongue out at her and turned back to the rest of the room. All of the female Weasley cousins were there, as well as lots of the girls from our year at Hogwarts. I hadn’t properly spoken to any of them. Esther Montague had given me a hug when she arrived, and Amethyst Twine managed a small nod, but I’d spent most of the night by Divya’s side. Her bitter humour made her easy company in a room full of people that despised me.

“We asked Al some questions about you,” Lily said, her voice loud and commanding enough that people stopped having their own separate conversations so that they could listen. “We’re going to see how many of them he was right about.”

Ollie looked delighted. “He’ll be right about absolutely all of the questions.”

“Yeah?” Lily sounded amused.

Ollie staggered over to her and swung an arm around her shoulders.

“Yes. Because he’s extraordinarily lovely. He knows all of the things.”

“Shall we listen to his answers?” Lily was obviously helping Ollie stay standing upright.

“Mmm.”

Ollie abruptly sat down on the floor, suddenly looking distraught.

“What’s wrong?” Lily put down the drink she’d just picked up and crouched down next to Ollie.

“I miss him,” Ollie pouted.

“What? My brother?” Lily wrinkled her nose.

Ollie nodded, wide-eyed and earnest.

“Take me to find him,” she instructed, punching one hand up into the air.

“You are drunk, my love,” Lily laughed.

“All the more reason to follow all of my instructions and deliver me to Albus Severus Potter,” Ollie said.

Rose, who had been sitting awkwardly on the edge of the circle during Lily’s games, now got up to kneel beside Ollie. Ollie leaned into her and Rose put an arm around her.

“Shall I take you home?” She murmured.

Ollie shook her head violently. “Not home. Take me to Albus. He’s my favourite.”

Rose frowned and exchanged a glance with Lily. Lily shrugged.

“The boys are out somewhere on Diagon,” Lily said. “We could go and find them?”

“Yes,” Ollie said, immediately cheering up. “This is a marvellous idea. Let’s go and find them.”

Rose rolled her eyes. “I think they’re at Pumpkin Carriage. Scor walked me here on his way there.”

Lily and Rose stood either side of Ollie and helped her up, each linking an arm through hers to hold her upright. The rest of us filtered out through the door behind them.

Divya lit a cigarette as soon as we left the building. She offered one to me. I shook my head.

“Well, Liv’s lucky they decided to have the Hen a few days before the wedding. I don’t think she’d manage too well if this was the night before.” Divya chuckled.

I grinned, watching Ollie trying to force Rose to dance with her as they walked ahead of us.

“That would be a complete disaster. Lily definitely made the right call with the date.”

“She knows what she’s doing, Lily does. I mean, she’s a crazy bitch, but she adores Liv,” Divya said through a ring of smoke. “You alright with going to meet the boys?”

I shrugged. “I guess.”

Divya narrowed her eyes. “Because from what I’ve heard, your history with some of them isn’t ideal. I could imagine you might find this difficult.”

“Maybe. But I told Ollie I’d be here.”

“Yeah. You’re a good friend.”

I bit my lip. I’m not a good friend. But maybe Divya didn’t know that.

We walked past my brother’s flat on the way to Pumpkin Carriage and my breath caught in my throat. The light was on in the upstairs window and I could see Martin, Andreas’s boyfriend, back turned to the window while he cooked. Not so long ago, it was my home too. Andy would probably welcome me back if I asked to come in. He was the only person I’d actually warned before running away. But going to see him would still involve answering a lot of questions about my life choices, and I didn’t think I could face it.

I looked away from the window, hoping Martin wouldn’t look down and see me. Divya didn’t seem to notice that I was uncomfortable.

There was a long queue outside Pumpkin Carriage, but Lily swanned over the Bouncer, kissed his cheek and said something that made him laugh, and then beckoned us all through the front doors.

Ollie waited for me and clung to my arm when I reached her, laughing manically and bouncing up on her toes.

“We used to come out here. Remember? At school.” She sounded delighted. “We must dance later. We’re so good at it.”

“Sure.” I smiled. Knowing she was pleased to have me there felt nice.

“Look!” Ollie pointed. “It’s Scorpius!”

She waved, jumping up and down, and Scorpius looked over from the bar. A flash of something unfriendly crossed over his face when he looked at me, but then his mouth rearranged itself into an exasperated smile and he pushed through the crowds to reach us.

“You’re here! What a fabulous coincidence,” Ollie said, letting go of me to fling herself into Scor’s arms.

“It’s not a coincidence. You knew we were here. That’s why you came,” Scor said, rolling his eyes. “Hello, Cassie.”

He didn’t look at me when he said my name, but his voice wasn’t unkind.

“Hi,” I said, looking down at my toes.

“Shall we dance, Ollie?” Scor laughed.

I looked back up and grinned. Ollie was hand jiving and looking over at the dancefloor. She seemed to have forgotten how desperately she’d just been missing Albus, and was instead just enjoying being there.

“Yes. Yes, we must dance. Come on.”

She dragged him out towards the dance floor. Scor looked back at me and gave me a small nod. I smiled back.

I was surprised by the lack of feeling my encounter with Scor had generated. I’d expected it to feel difficult. We had a long, complicated history and I’d caused him a lot of pain. I’d sort of assumed that we’d still have the same bitter, painful chemistry. But maybe we’d finally grown up.

I watched Scor spin Ollie round, keeping one hand at her waist so she didn’t fall over, and laughed to myself.

“You alright?” Divya came up behind me.

“Yeah. Let’s get drinks?”

I took her hand and pulled her over towards the bar. When we got close, Divya shook her head and dragged me round the corner towards the toilets instead.

“I brought stuff with me,” she shouted over the music. “Never worth spending the money.”

She pulled me onto a bench outside the men’s loos, and took her hip flask out of her bra.

“You are a crazy genius,” I told her.

She smirked and offered me the flask.

It was the same smoky, burning liquid we’d shared at the dress shop. We passed the flask back and forth, sitting cross legged on the bench and facing each other. When it was nearly empty, we both edged a little closer.

My head was feeling foggy but in a good way. The music was loud, pumping into my head and my heart, and the wooden bench was vibrating beneath us.

“I’m glad I met you,” Divya said. “You’re fun.”

I’m not sure who moved first, but the next moment we’d closed the gap between us and her tongue had slipped into my mouth.

She brought one hand up to my cheek, fingers cool against my skin, and I rested my hand on her knee so I could lean further into her. Her lips were soft and she tasted like rum and sugar. We stayed there for a minute, both lost in the kiss, and then I remembered where we were and pulled away.

We were no longer alone in the corridor.

James stood about three feet away from us, his good arm still holding the door to the toilets open. His face was stony and he stared straight at me.

I opened my mouth, trying to find the right thing to say to him, but he turned away and walked back into the main club.

I didn’t apologise to Divya, just jumped straight to my feet and followed him.

It wasn’t hard to see where he was. Crowds parted for James Potter, and by the time I reached the dancefloor he was nearly at the exit. I started to push through the pulsating bodies and shrieking dancers, but found my way blocked by another familiar face.

“What did you do to him?”

I’d thought that Jason had been unfriendly the previous day, when he’d sent me away from his house. But that was nothing compared to the way he was speaking to me now.

“I didn’t realised he’d be here. Why isn’t he home with Cadence?” I was surprised by how panicked my voice sounded.

“It’s his brother’s stag do. Of course he’s here,” Jason spat, then sighed. “Cadence is with Ginny and Harry.”

“Oh.”

“What did you to him?” Jason repeated, this time more calm.

“Nothing.”

“Well, that’s just not true. Something happened to make him storm out with you following him like an anxious child.”

“Why do you care so much?”

“Because I love him.” Jason looked furious. “I love him. And you don’t get to keep messing him up. If you’ve hurt him again you need to go and talk to him right now and make it better.”

I think it was the desperation in his voice that made me unable to say no, because as soon as he finished speaking I pushed past him and followed James out of the door.

The cold outside was shocking after the heat of the club, and I was shivering immediately. Sweat still clung to my skin, but now the tiny beads of water were cold against my forehead and in my hair. I pulled my jacket, wrapping it tightly around my chest, and started to look for James.

It didn’t take me long to find him. He was standing at the street corner looking lost.

“James?” I walked slowly towards him, thinking if I moved too quickly he might just run away.

He turned to look at me. He had tears in his eyes. It made me feel like a terrible human.

I stopped a few paces away from him and watched him. He looked like he was waiting for me to speak. I wasn’t sure what to say.

“I know that I owe you an apology,” I said quietly. “A lot of apologies. But I just don’t even know how to start.”

He kept listening, looking down at me. His shirt was stuck to his chest with sweat from dancing. It made me want to move closer to him, but I kept my feet firmly on the ground.

“I am sorry,” I said. “I wish I knew how to explain myself. And tonight...I don’t know. She’s fun. I don’t know what I was thinking. I don’t know what I’m doing here and I don’t know how to be around you and I know I’m getting everything wrong.”

Now the words were tumbling over each other in their rush to get out.

“I’m making all the wrong choices and I thought I was doing the right thing by coming back but I didn’t mean to make any of this harder for you. I didn’t want to hurt you again. I just...I read the newspaper article about your accident and I couldn’t stop thinking about you and I had to come back. I had to see you. I…”

He gave me a strange look that made me stop talking. I wasn’t sure whether he was even listening to me.

And then he stepped forward, put his arm around me, and crushed his lips into mine.

It was the kind of kiss that made it impossible to imagine ever moving away. He ran his hand up my back and into my hair, tangling his fingers through my hair and twisting it away from my neck. He smelt like citrus and smoke and I wrapped myself up in him. I rested one hand on his chest, feeling his heartbeat thud through my palm, and lifted the hem of his shirt with my other hand, resting my fingers on the smooth strip of warm skin above his waistband.

The longer we kissed, the more tightly we held onto each other, and the more we lost ourselves in each other. It was like so many kisses we’d shared before, but still different, somehow, more desperate, more urgent.

It felt like the rest of the world had disappeared.




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