chapter image by me
Priyanka is stretched out across the black leather sofa in her and Alice’s living room. Her feet dangle over the end, hovering about an inch above the floor and she’s nonchalantly swinging them back and forth. She’s still staring up at the ceiling, her dark eyebrows furrowed and her lips slightly parted as though she’s in an ongoing disagreement with her brain as to what to say. After a few minutes of silence, she sits up, propping her body up with her elbow, and her long, black hair falls in a sheet against her face.
“What the fuck, Is?” she spits.
Glad to see all that thinking time has produced such eloquent sentiments. Although, I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting her to say. First and foremost because I’ve just finished explaining to her and Alice (who’s sitting on the floor leaning up against the sofa) where I’ve been for the past week, and, of course, who I’ve been with. Secondly, while she has the face of a goddess, her airs and graces leave little of her crude thoughts to the imagination. The girl once pushed in front of a wheelchair bound pensioner to get on the tube first because her heels hurt. But, right now, I suppose, she’s not exactly being unreasonable.
“I know,” I groan, dragging my hands over my face in despair yet again. I look to Alice to see whether she has anything more sympathetic to offer and she shrugs a little.
“It’s a toughie,” she suggests. Coming from Al, that’s a solid confirmation that my life is a shit-show. She’s perhaps one of the most optimistic and chirpy people I’ve ever encountered. She twists a strand of blonde hair thoughtfully round her finger and bites her lip. “You could just write a letter to the Potters explaining and then, like, move away or something.”
“Yeah, you know, to Australia or something. It’s well out of apparition range from here, they probably wouldn’t bother to look for you for very long.” I half-expect her to burst out laughing, but the solemn look in her wide blue eyes is suggests that this is an actual solution she’s considering.
“Right, yeah, not leaning towards that one at the moment, Al, but I’ll bear it in mind,” I tell her and she nods at me seriously.
Priyanka shakes her head. “Nah, you can’t run away to the other side of the world because of boys. That’s stupid.” I’m about to point out that she dropped out of NEWT Potions just because she didn’t want to sit next to Scorpius Malfoy anymore after they broke up, but she continues. “What you should do is pretend you got hit by some jinx that’s completely fucked up your memory. That way, you just never have to acknowledge anything that happened.”
“Yeah, but she doesn’t want to do that,” Alice interjects, “because she thinks she might like James. If she does that then she’ll never have a chance with him.” I’m pretty sure I never said that.
“Oh yeah, because James Potter was going to be visiting Australia on the reg if she’d gone with your plan, was he?” Priyanka scoffs.
“I never said she had to stay there forever!”
“Guys!” They both turn from glaring at each other back towards me. I raise my eyebrows and Alice mouths, ‘Sorry’ at me, and leans back up against the sofa, bringing her knees in towards her chest. Priyanka flicks her long hair over her shoulder and pouts. “Anyway,” I continue, “the ‘James’ issue isn’t the main thing. What am I going to do about this internship?” They both look blankly up at me. “Al hates me, I mean like hates me. He must do! And now I’m just supposed to take advantage of his mum being so lovely?” I sigh heavily and throw myself back against the armchair. It creaks under me.
“Listen, Is,” Alice says, “my dad’s friends with Luna too, I’m sure he could talk to her for you.”
“But Ginny’s bound to hear, isn’t she? And then I look even more pathetic.” Even Alice can’t project her usual optimism onto this and she sinks back down.
“Fuck the internship,” Priyanka says suddenly. “Seriously, you’re smart, Issy. You don’t need this to prove that to other people.” I know she means well, but I can’t help thinking that it’s easy enough for her to say that when she’s been settled into her job at the Ministry dealing with muggle-wizarding relations for well over a year.
“No, I think I’ve got to do it. I haven’t had an opportunity like this since… well, I don’t know when to be honest.” Which is true. My adult life thus far seems to have been moving from settling on one ‘something not quite right’ to another.
Priyanka shrugs. We fall into a tense silence again. Alice is twisting her hair around her finger so fervently that I’m scared she might accidentally rip it out of her head and Priyanka is picking the non-existent dirt out of her fingernails. Then she looks up. “You know what pisses me off most about this whole situation?” She doesn’t wait for us to answer. “That bloody Mark bastard.”
My stomach pulls into the sickening knot that it does every time his name is brought up and my fingernails dig into my palms. Alice nods and mutters, “I always knew he was a piece of shit.” Her eyes widen as though she can’t believe that she’s actually sworn and she claps a hand over her mouth.
“Couldn’t have said it better myself, Alpal,” Priyanka laughs and claps Alice on the back approvingly.
I frown. “So neither of you guys actually liked Mark?”
Priyanka cocks her head. “Well, he was alright, I suppose…”
“But?” I prompt. Priyanka raises her eyebrows and looks pointedly at Alice who purses her lips and glances nervously up at me.
“It’s not that we didn’t like him, Is. It’s just that we always knew that you could do better, you know?”
But I’m not sure I do know. Because I was with Mark for such a fucking long time. It’s not as if he was a one-time or even ten-time meaningless shag. For all they know, I could have harboured huge dreams of building the rest of my life together with him. And they didn’t even like him? But, more importantly, they didn’t even bother to tell me this?
Clearly my distaste of their silence has registered on my face because Alice leans over to my armchair and takes my hand in hers. Her fingers are cool against my warm palm.
“Don’t be mad, Is. I think we both knew that it was never going to be forever between you.”
“Because he was always a bit of a prat,” Priyanka scoffs.
I’m having a hard time stomaching her nonchalance. “Well thanks a bloody lot for sharing those particular thoughts with me,” I mutter bitterly.
Alice shoots me an apologetic look. Her pale cheeks are reddening and she’s biting the corner of her pink lips so hard that I’m scared she’ll break through the skin in a minute. Al has never been one to handle any kind of confrontation particularly well. The girl cried when she was made captain of the Gobstones Team in her sixth year at Hogwarts because she was scared of being too harsh on the second years.
So I heave a sigh and squeeze her hand, which is still resting limply in mine, back. “It’s fine, I suppose. I guess you guys were right in the end.”
“It’s not like we wanted to be,” Al murmurs and Priyanka nods effusively, which sends her black hair rippling around her face. “Besides, my judgement is hardly the best either.”
I furrow my brow, silently telling her to explain herself. She retracts her hand and leans back against the sofa. Priy reaches down and rubs her shoulder consolingly while Alice begins to bite her nails, a habit she’s had since we were twelve years old. It means that something is wrong.
“What’s going on?”
“Louisa and I broke up,” Alice says, her voice barely more than a whisper and the sound being reduced further by her hands muffling her mouth. But the tears making her blue eyes look even more glassy and her quivering lip leave no doubt as to what she’s said. My heart sinks and I slip down from my chair to wrap my arm around her. Louisa and Alice have been together for almost as long as Mark and I were; they met at a magi-zoologist in Canada, where Louisa is from, and the rest was history. And I suppose while a part of me did never expect Mark to be my ‘forever’, I know that Al was absolutely smitten with Louisa.
She tells me what happened, how her and Lou just seemed to be drifting apart, and how, when they were leaving the reservation in Wales, where they had been working together for almost a month, last week, Louisa had announced that she couldn’t face coming back to London again. She’d returned to her flat, just down the road from Al and Priyanka’s in what’s known as the ‘Wizarding Quarter’, and packed up all her things to be sent back to Canada.
“It was just like one second, I had everything, and then the next I just didn’t, you know?” Al says. She’s not crying anymore, and there’s almost a bitterness to her voice that sounds so foreign coming from her.
I sigh and tighten the grip of my arm around her, my thumb caressing her arm just below where her t-shirt cuts off. “Yeah,” I whisper. “I do.”
I’m not sure how long exactly we sit like that. Al and I on the floor, leaning up against the black leather sofa that Priyanka found at a muggle car boot sale for a fiver, and Priy herself draped across its arm, her head resting on Al’s shoulder. It grows darker and darker outside until eventually the only light in the living room of their apartment is coming from the lamps of the flats in the building opposite. From where I’m sitting, I can see the silhouettes of the people inside; regular people getting on with their regular lives, most likely dealing with their own problems, because everyone is, I suppose. My best friend was, and I had no idea because I was too absorbed in my own personal dramas.
“Right,” Priyanka says suddenly, however long later, sitting up and clapping her hands together, “enough wallowing.”
Alice and I both open our mouths to protest that, since we’re the ones currently experiencing vast emotional trauma, surely we should be the ones to dictate when the wallowing has, in fact, been enough. Or, at least, that’s what I’m going to say. Al probably would have been less dramatic.
But Priyanka presses a long finger to her lips and raises her dark eyebrows. “It’s not going to make you feel any better!” Actually, I think listening to Taylor Swift’s entire discography while consuming my body weight in chocolate cauldrons might take the edge off. “But you know what might?” I’m about to put forth my fantastic suggestion but Priyanka doesn’t leave any time to actually hear the answer to her question. “Alcohol.”
And that’s really not something I’m ever going to argue with.
Two hours later, instead of the aforementioned consumption of my body-weight in chocolate, I have instead, saturated my blood with alcohol. I told you I was a grown-up. And it turns out that firewhiskey and Sainsbury’s Basics vodka do do wonders for dragging one out of the depths of self-pity. Who knew?
We’re sitting at Priy and Al’s kitchen table, which is barely big enough for us all to squeeze around. Not starting off at a huge size (just big enough for two people to comfortably eat a meal at), Priyanka had shrunk it further by attempting to magically expand it, but getting her words muddled after one too many shots of the vodka. Cue the three of us descending into fits of laughter and seeing whether we could all stand on the table at the same time with only mildly disastrous consequences (I’m pretty sure Alice hasn’t really sprained her wrist).
I’m suddenly overcome with an emotion for my two beautiful best friends that I’m sure is only partly derived from intoxicating substances. Al is hiccuping to herself and running the ends of her soft, blonde hair against her nose, giggling slightly as she does so, while Priyanka is busy pouring us all yet another shot, lowering her head to make sure that the level of the clear liquid is exactly the same in each of the three small glasses. From where I’m sitting opposite her, when she appears behind the glass, her eyes are magnified and her thick eyelashes appear even more voluminous. For a second, I’m transfixed by the blurry image of my beautiful friend.
“You’re so gorgeous!” I cry suddenly. Both Priyanka and Al look up at me and I reach out and hold each of their hands. I lower them into the the centre of the table (not a far stretch considering how small its become) and press all of our fingers together. The colours are so pretty that it almost makes me cry; my olive-toned fingers intertwined with Al’s pale pink and Priyanka’s dark brown ones. “It’s art.”
Priyanka snorts. “You’re drunk, Issy-Bissy.”
“So are you, Priya-Wiya,” I retort and stick my tongue out. Priyanka shoots me a look that’s somewhere between disbelief and thoroughly amused.
“I don’t know how I managed to end up friends with the world’s two biggest light-weights,” she says, as she shakes her head and downs her own meticulously poured shot. For a second, she seems to go through some internal debate as to whether to pass the other two in mine and Al’s direction, but then she downs them too, gagging slightly as she slams the final glass back on the table.
“Hey!” Al says, frowning suddenly at Priyanka. “That’s infair!”
“What do you call someone who goes to the fair? Infair!” I giggle and Alice bursts out laughing. Priyanka doesn’t look like she gets the joke so I tell it again but she still doesn’t laugh.
“Anyway,” she says firmly over our continued giggles, “you two definitely seem to be in better spirits.”
“Hey! She’s right,” Al squeals excitedly. She reaches her hand out for a high-five and I lean over and try to return it. On my third attempt, I hit her in the nose a little too enthusiastically so Priyanka makes us stop trying.
“Personally I can’t even remember what I was sad about personally,” I say, nodding seriously. In the back of my mind, I remember that there are several things I’m very sad about, but right now, all I can focus on is the nice fuzzy feeling in my head.
“I think it was about heartbreak,” Alice says, clapping her hands dramatically over her chest.
There’s a pang in my own chest right where Al’s hands are. “Oh yeah.” Without telling it to, I feel my bottom lip start to tremble a bit, but before it can really get a good vibration going, Priyanka cuffs her hand on my back.
“Nope,” she starts, “I swear to Merlin if either one of you starts crying, I’ll put a ban on either of you having anything else to drink tonight.” That shuts me up. “Both happy?” We nod. “Right, so my aunt Parvati sent me these special tea leaves from Kashmir which are supposed to help you predict your love life.”
Alice gasps. “Can we try them?” she practically whispers.
“No, you utter cretin, I was just going to tell you about them and not let you use them,” Priyanka deadpans.
Al tilts her head towards me. “I’m confused,” she says, in the same stage whisper.
I mimic her actions. “Me too.”
Priyanka rolls her eyes and then gets up, dashing across the living room into her bedroom, and appearing a few seconds later brandishing an ornate purple box, with flecks of gold weaving across it. She sits back down and uses her wand to summon three teacups from the kitchen, which come flying towards us. Al’s mouth forms a perfect ‘o’ as this happens. It’s just like magic, she murmurs. Ignoring her, Priyanka takes a sprinkle of the dried leaves from the box and places a small amount in each of our teacups. She then uses her wand again to produce a jet of hot water into them so that the leaves float back up to the surface and dance around each other in swirling patterns. For a minute, we all sit silently, staring at the surface of the rippling water. I feel like we’re back in NEWT Divination again, the three of us crowded around a tiny table, my head slightly fuzzy from the incense burning, desperately hoping that our leaves give good enough readings to write a three foot analysis about.
“Right, drink up, ladies,” Priy says once the leaves begin to settle back towards the bottom of the cup, disappearing into the shadows of the now purple water.
I gulp back mine tea perhaps a little too quickly, and then slam my cup back down on the table. The tea has gotten rid of some of the fuzziness in my head and I squint down into the depths, trying to remember anything from NEWTs which might help me to decipher the mess that is my current love life.
“I’ve got something here that looks a bit like a shoe,” I say, twisting my teacup round to see whether the blob of leaves might actually start to resemble anything remotely recognisable. This is definitely like Hogwarts Divination lessons.
“Pass it here,” Priy says. She was always the best at Divination. Professor Trelawney said that ‘the possession of the Sight ran in her family’, Priyanka maintained that she was the best at making up ‘complete and utter bollocks’. “I think that’s a stallion actually, which means,” she consults the back of the purple box, running her finger down the list of symbols, “that your future suitor will be ‘dark, brooding and with an air of mystery’.” She snorts. “Well that really narrows things down, doesn’t it?”
I grab my cup back and look at it intently. In my humble opinion, it still looks like my Nike trainers. “Wait, what do you mean?” I ask her.
“Well,” she says, looking up from her own teacup, “that could describe any of them really, couldn’t it?” I raise my eyebrows so she continues. “Well, you’ve got Mark. He’s definitely ‘brooding’, a complete twat admittedly, but definitely a brooder. Then there’s Albus: he’s got dark hair too, and well, he’s a Slytherin, isn’t he? They’re just a bit broody by definition. Right, now James, dark too, obviously, and the way he keeps having a strop whenever you try to talk to him, that qualifies as at least slightly mysterious.”
She’s not wrong. “He also works in the Department of Mysteries,” I admit. I’m annoyed that I know that, I bet he wouldn’t know where I worked, if I, you know, worked.
Priy’s eyes widen. “Well then.” She’s starting to sound like a bloody mystery.
“But it’s only some crappy Divination, right?” I’m trying to keep the desperation out of my voice but the fuzziness keeps letting it back in.
“Right,” Priyanka nods, but she’s smirking.
This whole time, Alice hasn’t said anything, instead staring with an unprecedented intensity at her teacup. “Mine looks like a horsey too, P,” she says. Clearly, the tea didn’t have the same sobering effect as it did on me.
Priyanka gives her a disbelieving look but takes her cup from her and, again uses the chart to match Al’s symbol. “Hm, I think you’re actually right.”
I can vaguely hear them having a detailed discussion of everyone she’s recently encountered who could possibly fit that description, but I tune it out. I don’t really know what to make of this, and the vodka and whiskey still sloshing about in my stomach isn’t exactly helping matters. This could all just mean that I have a type. I mean, everyone does, don’t they? I know when we were at Hogwarts, Priyanka refused to give boys a second look unless they had an ‘rough accent’ because she said it made them ‘indescribably sexier’. Although, I doubt Scorpius Malfoy could ever really be considered to fit under the bracket of ‘rough’, so maybe that was just a fad. But this could be too, surely? Maybe I just need to find a dark-haired man who’s not a complete dick to get this all out of my system, and them I’m good to go. And for some reason my thoughts keep circling back to James. I don’t know that he’s not a dick, but I also don’t know that he’s not not a dick, if that makes sense. I don’t think it does.
“You alright, Is?” Al’s voice breaks through my thoughts and I look up to find her and Priy looking at me, concerned.
“Absolutely great. Another shot anyone?”
Two hours later, we’re stumbling down a London side street towards Diagon Alley. The November air has become so cold that it stings my nostrils as I inhale, and my breath leaves misty clouds that swirl up towards the dark sky when I breathe out. As usual for London, there’s only a couple of stars visible in the sky, the rest obscured by the bright lights of the city, I stare up at them anyway. We’d left their apartment a couple of minutes earlier leaving behind a hundred-and-one discarded potential outfits and probably a thousand-and-one cotton buds used to clean up shakily done eyeliner. We, well mainly Priyanka, decided that what Al and I really need is a good night out to get all of the heartache out of our system. So here I am, wearing a tiny black dress that barely covers my arse cheeks and Priyanka’s leather jacket tottering through the cold night towards ‘Goblinz’, a club on Diagon Alley that opened in March earlier this year.
You can see the neon side and hear the thumping of the bass from half-way down the street. As we approach the club, I can also see the huge line that’s snaking across the whole building, as at least a hundred other young witches and wizards wait to get past the bouncers. We fall into the back of the line, Priyanka impatiently tapping her foot on the ground and checking her watch every three minutes with an exaggerated sigh and a flick of her long hair.
I’ve only been here a couple of times before, and both of those were when Mark had been managing the music, so we didn’t have to wait out front. For a second, I’m panicked that he might be here, but I remember he had a huge bust up with the manager after the last time he scouted a band to play. Apparently them snorting dried dragon blood in the toilets hadn’t gone down too well- that’s a use for the stuff Albus Dumbledore apparently never picked up on. Anyway, after that Mark vowed he would never do any work for them again. I was pretty disappointed because the times I had gone, I’d had a great time. I throw my hair over my shoulder and pull Priyanka’s jacket up, I can go here again now. Without fear of either running into Mark or having him chastise me for wanting to go somewhere so ‘basic’.
The line moves pretty quickly, and within twenty minutes we’re approaching the bouncers. I reach into the black clutch which Al leant me and pull out my Ministry approved ID. The bouncer I’m directed to looks like he must be at least half-ogre, with a spotty, balding head, no neck and some serious B.O. Still, I don’t want to give him a reason to turn me away so I smile brightly as I hand him the card.
He stares at it for a second and then shakes his head. “Sorry, love. I’m gonna need another form of ID. It don’t look enough like you.”
I bite my lip. “I don’t think I’ve got one,” I mumble. This has never happened before and I don’t know what to do. I mean, I know the smokey eye that Priyanka did on me before we left probably made me look a bit different, but I only got the picture on the card taken last year, I can’t have changed that bloody much.
He shrugs at me, which reduces the size of his neck even further, you’d barely even know he had one. “Not a work ID or anything, love?”
Pang. “Uh I… no. I’m not working at the moment.”
“Look, love,” he says gruffly, “You picture don’t look nothing like you, you ain’t got any other ID, you don’t work. You sure you’re actually of age?”
“What?” I splutter. “Of course I’m of age! I’m bloody twenty-two!” I don’t know whether to be flattered or offended that he thinks I could be some twatty sixteen-year-old whose snuck away from school to have a night out. The alcohol in me decides that we’re going to be offended. “Look,” I say, not bothering to keep the annoyance out of my voice, “I’ve been here loads of times before, and I actually know the owner-“ almost true, he came to drop off a letter for Mark at our apartment once- “and I’m sure he wouldn’t be best pleased if he knew that you were treating me like-“
I’m midway through a perfectly timed stamping of the foot (just to underscore my spiel and reaffirm how pissed off I am) when a voice cuts across me.
“Issy, what are you doing here?”
I look up and my stomach twists. Mark is striding past the other bouncers towards me. He’s quiffed his dark hair up and he’s wearing a three-quarter sleeve white shirt, and neither of these things are helping me to feel less emotional right now.
“Failing to get in,” I say, glaring at the bouncer. Mark walks over to him and throws an arm jovially round his shoulder (not something I envy, I have to say).
“She with you?” the bouncer asks, not looking best pleased to have Mark draped over him.
Mark lets out a chuckle. “Yeah,” he says, dropping his arm and coming towards me, “yeah she is.” He links his arm through mine and takes my ID card back from the bouncer. “Sorry for the confusion, Kirk.” Kirk, characteristically, doesn’t say anything but turns back towards the throng of people waiting to be let in.
Mark laughs again and drags me through the main entrance. He flashes a smile at the witch whose collecting the entry fees and she lifts the red rope, allowing us to pass straight into the club. I glance over my shoulder before we turn the corner and see Priyanka and Alice, both shooting me confused looks. I grimace back but I don’t know whether they catch it before Mark pulls me into the main room. The music is blaring and the lights are flashing but somehow I can still see him smirking down at me.
“What the hell was that about?” I snap, smacking him round the back of the head.
“Um, ouch?” I raise my eyebrows. “What’s your problem? I just got you free entry! And entry at all, to be fair.” He’s laughing again.
“Shut it,” I growl and he holds up my ID card.
“You do look a bit different,” he says, squinting his eyes at the picture. “You don’t even have sparkly eyelids in this one.”
I snatch the card back and shove it into my bag. “What are you even doing here?”
“Well, you’re very welcome, Isadora.” There’s still a pang when he says my name. “I’m working here. The manager called and said they wanted someone a little less ‘clean-cut’ to play, and I was the first person he thought of to provide that.”
“Right, well if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go and find my friends.” I move to walk away but he catches my wrist. I yank it back but he holds tight. “What?”
“Relax,” he says, mimicking my tone. “What have you been up to?”
Well, Mark, let me tell you. “Nothing, I suppose.”
He smirks. “No. No, me neither.” He loosens his grip a little. “Look, I reckon I should apologise-“
“Yes, really.” I roll my eyes. “No I mean it, Is. I shouldn’t have let you down like that. It wasn’t cool.”
“It… wasn’t… cool?” I repeat slowly. I seriously cannot believe this man.
“What I mean is, if you ever could, you know, forgive me, then that might be cool.” I frown at him. He just doesn’t get it, does he? “We were great together, Is. We shouldn’t let that all go to waste just because I’m a bit of an arsehole.” Actually, I think that’s exactly what we should do. But for some reason my brain isn’t connecting to my mouth so I stand there silently. Then, before I can even think about what’s happening, Mark’s lips come crashing down onto mine. For a second, or maybe its longer, I let myself fall into the familiarity of it, feel the way his tongue finds its way into my mouth and the powerful way his lips caress mine. But then I think about the fact that they were doing exactly that with Ella and Merlin only knows who else. The thought of it is enough to flip my stomach and a sudden wave of nausea washes over me.
I pull away from him. “Excuse me, I think I’m going to be sick,” I splutter before I run towards the toilets, pushing through the hoards of people on the dance floor.
Once the contents of my stomach has been emptied into the toilet bowl, I push myself off my knees and lean up against the cold tiling of the stall wall. I hate him, I whisper to myself over and over again. I have to, because otherwise there’s a part of me that might pick myself up off this cold floor and go to find him. I hear the door to the toilets bash open and footsteps clatter across the white tiles.
“Issy?” a girl’s voice says. I can’t place it straight away, but it doesn’t sound like Alice or Priyanka, it’s far too sober.
I stand up and slide the lock across to open the door. Standing in a scarlet dress that somehow manages to not clash with her dark red hair, her brow furrowed in concern, is Lily Potter.
“Lily?” I manage, before she’s flung her arms around me, pulling me into a suffocating embrace that makes me glad I definitely have nothing still lingering in my stomach.
Pulling away, she clasps my face in her hands. “I’m so glad you’re okay! I saw you with that man and it didn’t look good so I shouted for you but I don’t think you heard and then the next thing I know you’re running into here looking like death warmed up and it took me forever and a day to get here to you and I’m just so glad that you’re okay.” She stops and finally takes a breath. “You are okay, right?”
“I’m fine yeah. Can’t speak for the toilet I just chundered all over, on the other hand.” Lily wrinkles her nose. “Anyway, what are you doing here?”
She looks at me blankly. “It’s a Friday night.”
“So I’m out with my friends? Isn’t that what Friday nights are for?”
“Right, yeah, of course. You’re making me feel old.”
Lily grins. “But you are old.”
“Not too old to leave a nice Explosion Potion down the bog.”
“Yeah,” I say, gesturing to the toilet. “Explosion Potion, like, you know, your sick. Do the kids not call it that anymore?”
Lily gives me a look that makes me feel like my Great Aunt Susan when she asked whether anyone wanted to go to the Celestina Warbeck concert with her last Easter.
“Old as you may be,” she says and I shoot her a warning look, “you’re not going to spend the whole night in here. So let’s get going shall we? We might be able to catch the end of the band’s set…”
With a gut-wrenching feeling, I remember who’s out there, and exactly what happened before the ‘Explosion Potion’.
“Look, Lil, thanks for everything, but I think I’m just going to head home.”
“What? No, just because you thr-“
“It’s not that,” I interrupt. She looks confused and I don’t really know what to say without sounding totally pathetic. “Mark’s out there. That was him.”
Then she shakes her head. “Nope. Boys are all shit, Issy. But you can’t live your life in fear of them.” Easy for her to say. “Come on, stick with me the whole night and I promise, if he gets within twenty feet of him, I’ll punch him right on the nose.”
And for some reason, I let her take my hand and guide me out of the girls’ toilets, back towards the dance-floor.
One hour and several violently pink cocktails later, Lily is still holding my hand and swirling me around to something that only vaguely resembles the beat of the song. She’s introduced me to her friends, who all sort of blend into one, and her cousin Hugo, who kisses me on each cheek and asks me what product I have used to make my brows look ‘that bloody bushy, darling’. When I tell him that I haven’t put anything in them, he screams and kisses me again. I haven’t seen Priyanka and Alice since we came in, but thankfully I also haven’t seen Mark and I’m hoping that he’s left now that the band’s stopped playing. They’re onto a DJ now, who keeps using his wand to amplify his voice to tell us that we’re about to ‘get lit’. Whenever this happens, Lily and her gaggle all scream, and by the third time, I’m screaming too. In fact, for a few minutes, I can understand why Lily does this every weekend. Don't get me wrong, I’m always game for a good night out, but since I turned twenty-one, it’s been a sort of once a month affair. But hey, I’m having such a good time that you might just catch me here again next Friday.
Lily and I are mid-way through a very complex hand-jive routine that we’re trying to perfect, when a group of guys approach us. At first, I’m so wrapped up in the dance that I don’t actually notice who it is.
“And what is my favourite little sister doing at a nightclub?”
It’s Albus. My heart skips a beat and I try to merge more into the group of Lily’s friends as he pulls her into a headlock, but Hugo rushes forward to kiss his cousins on the cheeks and I’m left feeling very exposed. I’m backing away when my foot accidentally lands on somebody else’s.
“Shit, I’m so sorry,” I say, spinning around to find myself face-to-face with, of course, James Potter. “Oh, hi.”
“Hey,” he says, but I don’t actually hear it over the music. I’m pretty sure he then says, “You alright?” To which I nod and give him a half-smile. I want to say something, to find anything to talk to him about, but before I can, he’s turned back around to say hi to Lily.
I try to catch her eye, but she’s too busy hugging her brothers, so instead I tell one of her friends, I think her name is Imogen, that I’m going to find my friends. Imogen doesn’t seem to care, but I wouldn’t want to just disappear on Lily.
I’m walking towards the staircase that leads up to a second floor to search for them up there when I feel a hand tap my shoulder. I jump around, half expecting it to be Mark. But it’s not. It’s Albus.
He leans forward so that he’s whispering into my ear. “Can I talk to you for a second?”
I don’t know what to say. I’m scared of what he might want to say, to be perfectly honest. But I also don’t have the faintest idea where my friends might be, and I’d rather not wander round looking like a complete loner until I do. So I just nod and Al beckons me towards an outside smoking balcony. The fresh air and harsh light hits me and I blink hard.
“Look,” he starts, “I just need to talk to you about everything that happened. Particularly, well, between us.” He looks up at me for approval and I just nod, unsure of what else he would want me to say. I just hope that he’s not about to have another confession of feelings because my stomach is still feeling delicate and I’m not sure it could take that. “In no fancy terms, I was bang out of order, Issy, and I’m really sorry.”
That’s sure as hell not what I was expecting. “What?”
“I feel awful. I shouldn’t have put you in that position, it was such a dick move after everything you’d been through with Mark.” I’m not sure exactly which position he’s talking about, but I’ll take it anyway. “I guess with Emily and everything, I don’t know, I think it was just my way of dealing with it. But everything feels a bit clearer now, and I just needed to tell you that I’m sorry.”
His green eyes are alive with emotion and his lips look raw with being bitten. He’s resting his hands on the balcony and I don’t know why, but I lean over and rest mine on top of his. The railing is cold and slimy under my fingers. “It was probably just the sea air,” I say and he laughs.
“So we’re good?”
I nod. “We’re good.”
“And I promise we’ll sort this whole mess out, Issy. Maybe not right now, but soon.”
“Not right now is probably a good call,” I grin and he smiles back then pulls his hand away from mine and walks back towards the door.
But I know that I can’t leave it like that. “Wait, Al, there’s something you should know.” He peers at me quizzically. “Your mum’s helping me get an internship. That’s part of why I didn’t want to stop pretending on the second day. I’m sorry, it’s super fucked up and-“
“Issy, I know.”
He shrugs. “My mum told me.”
“Oh.” I don’t know what to say. I mean, it wasn’t exactly a secret, but it was a big part of why I’ve been feeling so awful about the whole thing, and he knew. “Well, would you hate me if I still did it? The internship, I mean?”
“Why would I hate you?” he asks, moving back towards me.
“I don’t know, if you thought I was using you or something?” Even I’ll admit, it sounds more stupid now that I’m saying it out loud.
“For fuck’s sake,” he spits. “I brought you out here to tell you that I’m not some pathetic little boy who needs you, a girl I frankly barely know, to look after me, okay? Do the internship, I literally could not care less.”
I’m a bit taken aback by his outburst and Sober Me would know that the best thing to do is to walk away. Drunk Me doesn’t possess that maturity. “Well, you weren’t looking at me like a girl you ‘frankly barely know’ when you were asking me to move in with you, were you?”
“You’re the one who bloody suggested this in the first place!” he counters, his hands clenched. “Has it ever occurred to you that I only agreed because I felt fucking sorry for you?”
It feels like I’ve been slapped across the face. “Yeah, well don’t think I regret it any less.”
He rolls his eyes. “Whatever, Isadora. You have a good life now.” And he storms back into the club.
“Fuck,” I growl and kick the balcony railing. Hard. It hurts. With tears stinging the corners of my eyes, I lean across the door and take several deep breaths of the cold November air in. Then the door pushes open and I’m shunted forward. I spin around, ready to deliver a right bollocking to whoever’s unlucky enough to be there. But it’s James.
Why is my life just a crap version of Eastenders?
“Why is it your mission in life to make my brother miserable?” he snaps at me, slamming the door behind him.
“Every time he finishes a conversation with you, he looks like he’s about to cry. Why do you do it to him?” James is shaking his head and giving me a look that makes me want to cry myself.
“Look, James, this whole situation is completely fucked, okay? I’m not the only one at fault here.”
“What do you mean it’s fucked?” He doesn’t sound as angry anymore. More concerned. “Are you guys still getting married?” Fuck. Fuckity fuck. I forgot that he still doesn’t know that we’re not actually engaged.
“No.” His eyes widen. “I mean, yes. I mean… look, please just ask Albus.”
“Ask him what?” It’s the concern, I can’t say no to the concern.
I take a deep breath and hope that this won’t make Albus hate me more than he already does. “Al and I aren’t engaged.” I can hear James breathe in sharply. “We never were. Al and I both got dumped on the morning that he was supposed to be meeting you guys in Penzance and we ran into each other on the train there, and for some godforsaken reason, we decided that pretending to be engaged would be a good way of fixing our problems.”
“You took the train to Penzance?”
“That’s what you took from that?” I say, and I meet his eye. And then we’re both laughing suddenly, and I feel a sense of relief like all the tension has physically packed up and travelled out of my body.
He then, obviously, asks me approximately seventy-eight questions about why and when and how everything happened and, for once in my life, I try to answer honestly, despite it making me sound like an utter twat.
“Well, I guess it makes sense,” he says slowly after a while. “Why you were always trying to ‘explain’ something to me.”
I smile. “Yeah, imagine how much easier everything would have been if you’d have just shut your gob for five minutes and let me tell you before everything got too messy.”
He gasps in mock horror. “Cruel and unfair.”
“Oh, please, that’s just the story of my life by this point.”
He nods. “It does all sound a bit messy. And, for the record, can I just point out what a pillock that Mark bloke sounds like.” I’d filled him in on that as well, reasoning that I may as well go all out on the honesty.
“Amen to that,” I say, raising my hands up in appreciation. And I know I shouldn’t be, but a part of me is so happy that James and I are finally getting to have our conversation, free of guilt or the overwhelming worry that someone might walk in on us. But then it hits me that, just because he knows now, the whole situation is barely any closer to be sorted. “James?”
“Yeah?” he says, his voice tinged with worry. It’s cute. Sorry, not allowed to think that. (Yet.)
“What am I going to do about Al?”
James pauses, musing it over. “I’d say just give him time,” he reasons. “It sounds like it’s both of your mess, so both of you have to sort it out. Tonight, it’s just our old friend alcohol making everything more intense.”
I nod. “It does that, doesn’t it?”
He grimaces. “‘Fraid so. Leads to very poor decisions sometimes.” He’s moving closer towards me, his face just inches from mine.
“Oh really?” I nudge closer too, his hazel eyes meet mine and butterflies fill my stomach.
“Very,” he whispers as he brings his mouth down on mine.
Kissing Mark was familiar but in the same way as coming back to your house after a holiday. There’s a slightly funny smell and it’s cold and you can’t help but wonder whether things have changed since you left. Kissing James is like jumping into a swimming pool. Sudden, dramatic and different, but just overwhelmingly fun. It’s the feeling of being on a holiday you never want to come home from.
“You kissed him? Like you two actually kissed? Five minutes after you told him that you weren’t, in fact, engaged to his brother at all?”
“Better that than kissing him when he did think they were engaged.”
“And what about Albus?”
“Oh yeah, was James just suddenly not concerned about him?”
“Talk about brotherly love.”
“Too right. I’m pretty sure Akash would punch me if I went after his sloppy seconds.”
“Hey! I am not Albus’s ‘sloppy seconds’,” I yell, speaking for the first time, and making everyone in the muggle chip shop glare over at me.
“It talks,” Priyanka whispers to Alice, her eyes wide.
“Oh ha ha,” I deadpan. Then I sigh and turn back to my styrofoam container of cheesy chips and gravy, the only proper way to end a night out, of course. James and I had stayed out on the balcony for a while longer until eventually Priyanka came out there looking for me because her and Alice wanted to leave. I’m not sure whether I would have told them about everything that happened had she not practically walked in on us. But, alas, here we are having a classic debrief at four o’clock in the morning over some soggy chips.
“So, are you and James like a ‘thing’ now?” Alice asks, swirling one of her own chips round in a pool of gravy.
I shrug. “I have no idea. I don’t even know whether I would want to be, even if he did.”
Priyanka frowns. “Why not? I thought that’s what you wanted?”
“It is! I mean, I think it might be. I just don’t know because there’s the whole Al situation.”
“Toughie,” Alice says. It feels like my life is just moving in circles.
“The way I see it, right,” Priyanka says, laying down her plastic fork, so you can tell she’s getting serious. “Is that James has a everything you want in a man. He’s fit, funny, and you can tell he’s got a thing for you.” I nod. It all sounds pretty great so far. “But Al has everything you need. He takes the time to try to get to know you. He knew about the internship and didn’t say anything because it might have swayed your decision, so you know he cares about your future. So it’s a question of this: do you go for want, or necessity?”
I falter, trying to make sense of what she’s said. And then I throw my head down onto the plastic table. Priyanka’s leather jacket groans underneath me. It probably wasn’t real leather at all.
Disclaimer- I don't own 'Eastenders', it belongs to the BBC.
A/N- Hello, it's me risen from the dead. I'm so sorry that this has taken me so long to get up. I had the last of my exams and then I've been on three holidays and basically life has been very busy. But I'm back now and (potentially) better than ever. I hope you enjoyed this update- very character focussed but there'll be a lot more plot coming your way soon! And I hope the length makes up for my lengthy (haha) absence!
As always, I would love to hear what you think! It means the world!
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