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 —”
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”
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.”
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