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  Do you ever find yourself in a crowded place — like a bustling cafe on a Saturday, with the sidewalk out front cluttered with tiny tables and people amiably knocking elbows as they sip their lattes, or maybe sitting in a popular courtyard on the sunniest day of the week— and just want to close your eyes? Not because you’re tired or anxious, but because sometimes you realize you look around too much without really seeing, and it hits you that there are so many other ways to take in where you are.


So you find your corner of that populated place and turn your face upwards so the sun can paint swirling, vivid colors upon your closed eyelids, with spots of color dancing beneath that thin membrane. You feel so warm, even on a brisk day where Spring feels ages away, and the sounds are all so crisp and new, the clashing conversations feeling less cumbersome and much closer to comforting.


And if you find yourself in that busy courtyard on the sunniest day of the week, and you’ve managed to find an empty bench — a bench that must’ve been waiting for you specifically, because what are the chances that, in such a happily happening place as this, that a bench in such a prime location with views of all the action and just the right amount of sunlight, would remain unoccupied? It’s feeling like fate — you can recline back, with your head resting on one arm and your feet upon the other, and just exist in that space.


You’ll notice the sounds of the birds chattering in the eaves of the covered walkway behind you, and the breeze sending crunchy leaves to scrape and twist upon the cobblestones, and students of varying years laughing, chatting, shouting as they soak up their personal rays of sunshine. If the arm of this bench were just the littlest bit softer against your neck, you’re quite sure you could stay right here until the sun sinks behind the castle, and you would happily forgo whatever is on the agenda for the day until those creeping shadows came to collect their territory. But for now, with the sun still high above you, and a light doze settling across your relaxed form, you know there’s nothing that could rouse you from this perfect, fated bench, not even —


“D’you reckon she’s dead?”


“Nah, not dead. Look, she’s breathing.”


“What do you think she’s doing?”


“Hm. Hard to say. Realigning her chakras, perhaps?”


“Restoring her chi?”


“I hope so, her aura was really getting quite murky —”


With a sigh, I crack an eye open, having to squint against the brightness of the light, and analyze the towering figures partially blocking out my sun. Jude, Scorpius, and Parker smile idiotically down at me.


“Done with Divination, then?” I ask, holding a hand above my eyes to see them properly.


“Yep!” Parker says happily, “Last class of the day, and it’s Friday, hallelujah.” As if acting in some coordinated effort, Parker picks up my legs and sits down, with Jude and Scorpius budging up on either side of me so we’re all squished in, knocking shoulders and hips.


“This is very upsetting,” I say with a frown.


“How can you be upset on a day like this?” Jude cries, thrusting out an arm to point out the crowded courtyard, and knocking Parker on the chin in the process.


“Yeah!” Scorpius agrees, slinging an arm along the back of the bench to get more comfortable, “It’s so sunny!”


“Besides,” Parker adds in a chiding tone, “It was quite selfish to claim this bench for yourself. Think of everyone else, totally seatless because of you.”


“And this is a great bench,” Jude puts in.


“It’s in a prime location,” Scorpius agrees.


“Just the right amount of sun —”


“Okay!” I laugh, “Yes, it’s the perfect bench on a perfect day and I’m a monster for hogging it.” They nod and I scoff, flinging a hand in Parker’s direction and narrowly missing poking Jude in the eye, “It’s not like you can talk! How often do you nap in the evenings on that couch in the common room, the one directly in front of the fire? Very uncharitable behavior,” I tsk tsk at Parker.


“Un-chair-itable,” Jude says with a grin, his blue eyes catching the sunlight as he looks at me, “Great pun.”


“Well done.”


“She’s right though,” Jude says, turning to face Parker.


Scorpius nods, “It does get very crowded in the evenings —”


Parker holds his hands up in surrender, smiling, “Fine, I agree, we’re all flawed. Some more than others.”


I’m about to protest when Jude puts his sweaty hand on my face to stop me from talking, “Alright, we’re off track here,” he takes a moment to deal with my squirming, squawking fuss as I try to bat him off my face, “We came to find you because we wanted to know — well, we know already, even if you’ll take some convincing — she bit me!”


He releases me, holding his hand high above his head and shouldering Parker in the jaw.


I wipe my face on my sleeve, “You deserved it.”


Jude narrows his eyes at me, and says after a long pause, “Alright.”


Scorpius huffs with impatience, “Do you wanna go down to Hogsmeade tonight or not?”


“Hogsmeade?” I repeat, surprised, turning to look at Scorpius. I readjust my position so I can comfortably lean against Jude on my other side. Scorp nods, a smirk on his face, like he already knows I’m about to say, “But it’s not a Hogsmeade weekend!”


Scorpius rolls his eyes, “Yes, we know.”


“C’mon, Jose,” Parker cajoles, “You know it’ll be fun. We’re all of age! Just think of us all down in the pub, having a jolly ol’ time together, having a pint and a laugh —”


“But,” I frown, trying not to admit how great it actually does sound, “I’m a Prefect. I mean, my route is the perimeter of the castle. Like, my actual job would be stopping us from doing what we’re doing.”


“It’s perfect,” Jude says with a grin, “A beautiful irony.”


“Corruption,” I correct.


“Semantics,” He argues genially.


“Well,” I draw out slowly, “What did Dom and Rose say?”


They glance furtively at each other, and I know I’ve caught them in something. “Aha!” I point a finger accusingly at them, “Rose won’t do it, will she?”


“She will if you’re going!” Scorp argues, “She’ll always go along with you.”


“That was last year,” I shrug, “New year, new Rose.”


“Yeah,” Parker agrees with a frown, “She has gotten a bit more — intense, since becoming Head Girl.”


“It’s a lot of responsibility,” Scorpius bristles.


Parker holds up his hands again, “No arguments there.” He looks at me, “What d’you say, Josie? Wanna run wild for a bit?”


I bite my lip against a grin, saying the answer I know I shouldn’t, “Always.”

 

 

 






 

 

 


“I’m a terrible Prefect,” I sigh, leaning against a worn tabletop at The Three Broomsticks, “They should fire me.”


“Nah, you’re not so bad,” Jude says over the din of the crowded pub, grinning. The atmosphere inside is festive and jovial, the warmth and spirits drawing in a varied, lively crowd. Instruments playing of their own accord in the corner have started up an energetic jig, and couples have paired up along the worn, scuffed floorboards in front of the giant stone fireplace to leap and laugh and spill their drinks on one another.


Smiling, I feel small in the crowd and happy to be just another face in the mix. “It’s lovely here at night,” I say, and Dom looks over, her cheeks rosy from laughter.


“Cheers to that,” she cries, and it draws a shout from the boys as we clink and slosh our drinks together.


The relief of another school week finished has us all feeling buoyant, like we’ve been temporarily unmoored from our responsibilities. And the thrill of doing something out of the ordinary, and not technically allowed, has us feeling giddy, high, unstoppable.


“No way, the Falcons have got it this year, I’m telling you —” Davis announces loudly to Jude, and Eloise next to him looks a bit startled at his volume.


“You’re mental. The Falcons have been utter shit since Lupo blew out his shoulder mid-season —” Jude argues, and Scorpius nods along fervently. He’s been drinking the quickest out of all of us since we arrived, windswept and delighted at our successful escape, about an hour ago.


“— And I just can’t believe that she said that to me, can you?” Dom wants to know, pushing her hair behind one shoulder.


“Astonishing, truly,” Parker drawls, but I can tell she has his full attention, with the way his eyes follow her energetic gestures and his cheeks haven’t been without a grin.


Dom swats at his arm, “Josie’ll back me up, won’t you darling?” She turns to me, her silver hair swishing over her shoulder again.


“Absolutely,” I say, without a clue what they’ve been talking about. The pints have warmed me up completely, and I am utterly content to sit here and let their conversations drift over and around me.


The coziness of being surrounded by my best friends, in this dimly lit, happy place, makes me excited for what’s to come, for the future discussions and laughter to be found in cities around the world, in pubs like this, with these people in tow. I can’t tell them this, though, because I always do when I’ve had a drink, and they’ll invariably laugh at me.


Dom’s eyes crinkle in delight that I’ve blindly agreed with her, and she leans her head on my shoulder for a moment before turning back to Parker, his hands reaching for her arm. I watch them together as I cradle my pint between my hands, and smile at the way they grab onto each other’s forearms when something excites them, their faces always so expressive. Dom throws her head back in a peal of laughter, and Parker takes her in with warmth and affection.


After a moment she turns to me, her expression trying to convey a message I’m not picking up, so she says, “Come with me to the bathroom?”


I nod instantly and we stand up together, Dom grabbing for my hand as we weave our way through tables and dancers to the loo. The line for the women’s is long when we reach the dingy hallway that houses the restrooms, and we lean against a wall while we wait our turn.


“So,” Dom starts, as I expected she would, “Parker.”


I feel a laugh coming, but I suppress it as I lean my head to one side, “Yes?”


“He’s…” She squints her eyes and makes a face as she tries to put her thoughts together, “Like, he’s cuter than last year, right?”


I can’t help but grin a little, lightly pushing Dom’s waist so she’ll move forward as the line shortens, “Sure. I hadn’t thought about it much, but sure.”


Dom shoots me a look, “You must’ve noticed. He’s like, so tall, and his hair is doing this swishy thing —” She pauses for a second as we enter the crowded, tiled bathroom and her voice echoes. But once we’re in neighboring stalls, she continues, “And his skin is like, glowing. Is he moisturizing? Is it a new exfoliator? I need to get in on his morning routine.”


I laugh as I finish up and push open the door to my stall, “Maybe he’s just showering regularly? You never know with these guys.”


Dom pulls a face at herself in the cracked mirror above the sink as she washes her hands, the terrible lighting casting shadows upon our expressions. She’s had enough to drink that she doesn’t care who else in the bathroom could be listening, “I’m just saying, like, objectively, he’s cuter this term.”


I nod as I dry off my hands, doing a final check in the mirror, and taming some strands that have gone a little wild by tucking them behind my ears.


“Oh,” Dom says as she applies a new layer of lipstick, as if something’s suddenly occurred to her, “I invited Al to come tonight.”


My stomach swoops and I gape at her, “You what?”


“Yeah,” She nods, looking satisfied as she snaps the lid back on the tube of lipstick, before stowing it away to do a final fluff of her hair, “We were catching up and I mentioned our adventure, and told him he should come! Think about it Josie,” she grabs for the crook of my arm as she leads us out of the bathroom, “He’ll come waltzing in here, right, and see you having this magnificent time with your friends, and he’ll think to himself, wow, that Jocelyn Marie Deetrin is really something —”


“You’re mental,” I tell her, astonished, though I really shouldn’t be, “Absolutely mental.”


“You’ll see,” She says with a wink, looking for all the world like she’s taken one too many Divination classes.


“I’ll see that you’re crazy,” I counter with a smile, and she rolls her eyes before stopping short by the dancing couples.


“Don’t tell Parker I said that he’s cute, okay?” Dom says with her voice lowered, and I scoff.


“Would I ever?”


She beams at me and slings her arm around my shoulders, which makes it even harder to navigate the floorpan of the pub when we’re two-across, but we manage.


Dom slides back onto the bench next to Parker, and he turns to her instantly.


“Took you long enough,” He says with a raised brow and a smirk, “What, get lost?”


She rolls her eyes, but there’s a smile she’s hiding in her glass as she takes a sip.


I drain the last of my beer while standing up, and I take a look at the commotion around us, everyone’s movements blurring together, becoming one mass of gaiety. And for a second I’m reminded of that night on the balcony, standing with Al Potter, and watching everyone coexist through that pane of glass.


Is he really coming here tonight?


Will he want to see me?


My thoughts are starting to run together, and it takes a moment for me to arrange them in an order that I like. But I raise my voice enough to say, “Another, anyone?”


“Yes please!”


“Cheers, Jose, you’re a doll.”


I wave away their thanks with a smile and weave my way back through the crowd to sidle up against the bar.


“What’ll it be, dear?” The woman behind the counter shouts as she points her wand at a pile of dirty glasses to wash up in the sink.


“Three beers, please.” I shout back, leaning against the sticky countertop so she can hear me better.


“Any kind?”


“Yeah, whatever’s on tap, thanks,” I call back as she walks away. I lean back, and for a second I trace a finger around the outlines of years of wet glasses left to sweat on this ancient wood countertop, ring upon ring traced over each other. I turn and rest my back against the counter, and watch my friends from a distance. It’s like looking at them through fogged glass, or as if they’re a silent movie — their movements and expressions are all that convey their conversations, and it kind of gives me chills that I can get the gist of their discussions without catching a word they’ve said. I smile as I watch Davis and Scorpius grab at each other’s shoulders, practically doubled over in silent laughter. Not exactly silent, though — more like each sound has been replaced by a hundred voices, all talking at once and never about the same thing.


“Staring again, Deetrin?”


I barely hear him above the clamor, but his presence is electric. My eyes seem to trace over him in rapid movements, like I need to take in Al Potter all at once or I might not be able to process that he’s standing right there. It takes a few extra seconds to distinguish the reality of things, for it feels like perhaps I’ve conjured him by thinking about him.


But he’s really real, and he’s smiling that crooked smile as he leans against the bar next to me, his hair wild, his shoulders very broad in that royal blue sweater. He’s pushed the sleeves up to just below the elbows. He’s close enough that I have to tilt my head back to look into his eyes.


“Are you following me?” I ask, and I can’t stop my voice from sounding as delighted as I feel to be standing next to him again.


Al laughs, and points to the drinks behind me that the bartender has just set down.


“Oh!” I turn around, fumbling in my purse for the correct change before passing it over, “Thanks!” She nods, turning to another customer.


I feel like laughing a giddy laugh as I turn back to look at Al and his observant gaze. “Well?” I prompt.


He tilts his head to one side as he considers the question, his eyes on the crowd behind us, “I’m not following you, but I knew you’d be here.”


I squint up at him, trying not to smile, “That’s cryptic, Potter.”


Al’s lips tug up at the corners as he takes a sip from his own drink, and he looks at me over the rim of the glass, “That’s life, Deetrin.”


“Tell me,” I huff impatiently, uncertain as to why I need to hear it from him when I already know the answer. Al and I have never played games with each other before now — not when we’ve convinced ourselves and each other that we’re above all that.


I reach for my glass behind me, and Al laughs, raking a hand through his hair.


“Alright,” he finally concedes, “Dom told me you all were sneaking out tonight. I’m here with some friends.” He points to a table in the corner, crowded with seventh year Gryffindors. I can see Matt Belkin and Brett Lannerman talking with Jackie Erickson and Hannah Stead.


“I’m glad you’re here,” I admit, and I watch the surprise, and then the warmth, transform his face.


Al looks down for a second before meeting my gaze again, “Yeah,” he murmurs, “I’m glad I’m here too.”


His green eyes, the irises ringed by that dark blue, observe me a for a moment while I look up at him, at the way his lashes curl away from those eyes and the tug of his brows as he thinks. His steady gaze makes me feel warm all over.


For a moment I don’t know what else to say, for that felt like an enormous confession to make. But his hand reaches up to tuck those errant strands back behind my ear, and my stomach swoops, and I can’t help but smile up at him.


“I’ve been drinking,” I tell him, and we’ve danced this dance before, but it feels new.


He grins like he can tell what I’m thinking, “So have I.”


“We’re terrible Prefects,” I tell him.


“Oh, the worst.”


We grin at each other for a second, and then he looks over my shoulder and then back at me, “Two hands and three drinks, Deetrin,” he shakes his head like he’s disappointed, but his eyes are looking merry, “Want some help carrying those?”


I nod after a second, the idea of bringing this boy to my friends — who they’ve known most of their lives but also not in this context — alarming and exciting all at once, “Sure. Thanks.”


I grab two glasses, careful not to spill the one that’s still full, and wind my way back to my raucous group of forever friends, Al Potter following in my wake.


“Did you go to a pub across the street?” Davis asks as we arrive at the table, his eyes full of mischief.


“Took her way longer than that,” Jude counters, giving me a sly look, “She left the county, didn’t you Jose?”


I roll my eyes, my cheeks burning with them all looking at us, “Hilarious,” I cast my gaze over at Al, who’s looking perfectly at ease, “I recruited some extra hands.”


“You came!” Dom squeals, leaping up to hug her cousin, who quickly sets down the full glasses, “I didn’t think you would, honestly.”


Al laughs a little as he hugs her back, “Yeah, I’m with some friends, they’re over there.” He gives her a look that clearly says he’s about to tease her, “In fact, Matt Belkin was quite keen on coming, once he heard you were here. What’s that about?”


Dom flushes a deep red as she elbows Al in the side, before turning to face the rest of us, “Anyway, who did these beers belong to?”


Jude and Scorpius each claim one, and I slide onto the bench, with Al following to sit next to me. I don’t know why, but I can’t help but feel unbelievably thrilled that he’s here, sitting with my friends, when he could be back over with his.


That means something, doesn’t it?


“Hey,” Eloise starts, and I turn to look at her, surprised that she’s getting our attention. She’s usually a listener in big groups, seemingly happy to let others lead the conversation. She plays with the end of her braid, her cheeks a little flushed, “I heard they’ve hired a new Astronomy professor.”


“Really?” Al says, his eyebrows shooting up a little, his elbows resting on the table.


Eloise nods, looking up at Davis once before turning back to us, “Yeah, I heard Flitwick and Vector talking about it outside the teacher’s lounge.”


“And what were you doing outside the teacher’s lounge?” Parker wants to know with that devious smile of his, “Spying, were we?”


“What? I — no —”


“It’s okay, El,” Jude soothes from next to her, patting her shoulder, “We don’t mind. What’s a little spying gonna hurt anyone?”


Davis rolls his eyes, “Alright, cut it out —”


Dom makes a shushing motion at him, leaning across the table towards Eloise and nearly knocking over her glass, “What did you learn?”


Eloise blinks back at her, looking a little lost, “I - I’ve just said, there’s gonna be a new Astronomy prof —”


Dom flaps her hand around impatiently, “Yes, yes, what about the new Astronomy professor?”


“Oh,” Eloise blushes again, her body seeming to sink even further into Davis’ side, “Well, I think he’s younger, or he’s been abroad for awhile or something, because Vector was kind of talking like perhaps he didn’t have much experience teaching, I think.”


“A young male professor?” Dom sighs with a smile, “Excellent.”


Parker rolls his eyes, “So what if he’s young? He could still be bald with warts and poor hygiene.”


“Well you’d know all about that, wouldn’t you?” Dom shoots back sharply.


“Are you insinuating that I smell?”


“I don’t have to insinuate anything, I’ve been sitting next to you all night —”


“Yeah, poor me, having to listen to you gripe about what’s-her-name saying whatever it is that’s offended you today —”


“I’m just trying to share what’s going on in my life with you, like a good friend —”


At this point we begin to tune the two of them out, so used to their spats that it feels nearly routine. Davis has his arm wound around Eloise, murmuring something into her ear, and Jude and Scorpius have wandered towards the bar, the word shots drifting almost tangibly behind them.


I look over at Al — who’s been surveying this new set of friendship dynamics with his typical observant interest — and grin, “Weird, right?”


“Your friends?” He asks, eyebrows slightly raised.


I nod as I take a sip, and he grins crookedly, “Well, you’re best mates with Dom, so I knew you lot were gonna be strange.”


I try to look appalled but I can’t help but laugh as Dom turns around and says, “Um, rude.”


Parker grins from next to her, their argument completely forgotten, leaning forward to get a better look at Al, “Hey, Potter, are you guys ready for the match coming up?”


Al’s face lights up, and he leans closer to me as he animatedly discusses the upcoming Gryffindor vs. Hufflepuff match with Parker, and it doesn’t take long for Davis to throw his opinions into the mix.


Jude and Scorpius come back, proudly presenting a tray laden with several shot glasses filled with amber liquid.


“Firewhiskey?” Dom complains, her hand reaching for a glass nonetheless.


“Yeah,” Scorpius says excitedly, passing out the remaining glasses to the rest of us, “It’s a special occasion,” Scorp shoots me an awful smirk, “Josie’s brought a boy home.”


This statement brings out shouts of laughter and shoving of my shoulders and terrible, knowing looks from the people who are supposed to be my friends, and I swear my face has never been this red before. Al laughs along from next to me, the crooked smile he gives me and the look in his eyes spelling out the ways he’ll tease me later.


I don’t know why it had felt like this was going to be a big deal, my friends interacting with Al, but it had. Perhaps it’s because what Al and I are is very close to nothing at all, and so the concept of bringing him into my group of friends when he could be just another face in the hall in a few weeks, felt strange. But here he is, his smile easy and his laughter as bright as every one else at this old wooden table, and it feels so — comfortable.


I just — I didn’t expect this, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get over that.


“Alright,” I sigh with a smile, holding up my glass, “Cheers.”


“Cheers!”


“Love you guys!”


“Congrats on your engagement, Josie!”


I set my glass down on the table, swiping a finger underneath my watering eyes, “That never gets any easier.”


Al’s expression is amused as he looks down at me, and I’m starting to smile goofily up at him, when Dom tugs on my arm, “Josie!” she shouts merrily, “Let’s dance!”


Laughing, I follow her up off the bench, hardly having time to even look behind me as Dom pulls me to the throng of people dancing wildly, their feet stomping an uneven beat on the floorboards. Dom pulls us right to the center, into the nucleus of this sweaty, joyous creation.


And I’m a terrible dancer — a fact I’ve always stated with pride, for I learned years ago that if I take ownership over my hips that always hit the wrong beat and my awkward arms (what am I supposed to do with my hands), then I — probably — won’t be teased for it.


Dom’s face is flushed from laughter, her cheeks pulled wide with her untamable smile as we jump and twirl and bump into everyone around us. There’s something about being completely stupid with your best friend that can’t be replaced — some utter comfort in your shared idiocy. And your eyes always half-shut when you’re dancing, the vibrations from the music trying to reset the rhythm of your heart. It’s wonderful, really, the way the harsh edges in the world have taken on this soft focus, the lights dazzling, the people twirling by us too fast to make out as anything greater than happy blurs.


But something is glaringly different, outlined in stark contrast behind Dom’s shoulder, a figure standing perfectly still almost at the edge of the crowd. My eyes widen as I stop moving, too, trying to catch who this person is and why seeing them out of the corner of my eye drove a sliver of fear — something with jagged edges, and a sharp, needle-like point — into my heart. People are moving too much, the flailing limbs and swishing hair too dense for me to see clearly, my stationary position jostled around excessively. And when the song ends and people take a moment to clap and mop their brows, there’s nothing scary to see at all.


I try to calm my heart and steady my breath, smiling weakly at Dom. She smiles back, her blue eyes flashing around at all the faces near us, trying to put them in focus. Her expression is a little dazed, and when she starts leaning on me too heavily, I guide us out of the crowd.


“Why are we leaving?” She wants to know as she runs into the corner of a table.


I put my arm around her waist and she leans against me as I guide us back to our table, “C’mon dancing queen, let’s see what everyone’s up to.”


“Yes,” Dom agrees, one of her hands raking up through her crazy hair to push it behind one of her ears, “Let’s see if they’ve missed us!”


Our walk back to our group is slow going, with me having to support most of Dom’s weight as we weave between people and chairs. And I can’t help but repeatedly look over my shoulder, my mind trying to memorize who it was that I saw, and unable to put together details in an order that looks anything close to a real person.


Like, the second I’m sure whoever it was had on dark clothing, my memory seizes up, and I couldn’t say what kind of clothing it was. And I’m certain he had a face, for all people do, but that’s as definite as I can be. It’s like trying to remember the details of a nightmare, and only coming up with flashes, edges, a shout of noise and a deep, dark sense of dread that lances through you. A shiver works its way methodically up my spine and across my shoulders, tickling at my hairline. I shake out my shoulders and try to pull myself together.


Nightmares aren’t real, and someone standing still at the edge of a crowd is not a monster.


Feeling a little better, I look towards our group and see the Gryffindors have joined our table in our absence, the bridge between houses comfortably gapped in this spirited atmosphere where the laughs are easy and drinks have been over-served.


“Parker,” I call out as we approach, and he looks up from a conversation with Matt Belkin and Hannah Stead.


“My my,” Parker calls out jovially as we arrive, his expression amused but very kind as he climbs off the bench to take Dom’s weight as she leans against him instead of me, “Are we all danced out?”


Dom scoffs as she rests her head on his shoulder to look up at him, “I could dance forever, Ashcroft.”


Parker nods seriously, “I see. Do you think you could dance all the way to the castle, Weasley?”


“I could dance to the moon,” She pronounces, but her eyes are beginning to shut the littlest bit.


“Well, you’ll have to prove it, then,” He tells her, but he guides her to sit down on the bench, “Right after you drink some water.”


I sit down next to Dom and she rests her head on my shoulder as Parker moves off to the bar to fetch a glass for her.


“Hey, Dom, Josie,” Hannah says, smiling sympathetically at Dom, “Did you have fun tonight?”


“Tons, thanks,” I smile back at her, “I feel like I haven’t seen you at all this term.”


Hannah nods with an eye roll, her hands reaching to twist her hair back in a bun, “I know, I’m taking like, no classes this term. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life.”


I laugh and she smiles, and I say, “Who needs to take boring classes when you’re a Quidditch star?”


Hannah beams at me, her cheeks going red, “As if. I’ll be lucky to make reserves with the way I’ve been playing.”


“You’re too hard on yourself!” I cry, the drinks I’ve had making me more assertive, and very interested in the lives of others, “Seriously, you’re great.”


She shrugs, smiling, the shorter layers of her golden hair falling gently out of her messy bun and into her face, “We’ll see.”


And it’s funny, sitting and chatting and laughing with the seventh year Gryffindors, for even though there isn’t a real popular crowd at Hogwarts (how can there be, when you’ve seen each and every awkward phase of each other’s adolescence), these are the people that most students will remember when they look back on their Hogwarts years. Big personalities, a natural ease, some kind of sparkling essence — they just have it a little bit more than the rest.


“Ah no, Dom!” Jude cries from across the table, just noticing that we’d arrived and taking in her nearly-asleep state, “Another one bites the dust, eh?” He puts his arm around Scorpius’ shoulders, and I see that he’s barely able to keep his eyes open either, “We’re about to put this one to bed — if we ever make it.”


“It’ll definitely be an interesting walk back to the castle,” I agree with a smile.


Dom makes a disgusted sound in her throat, her eyes still closed, “It’s going to take years to walk back.”


I laugh and look around at who’s still left — Davis and Eloise have disappeared, and Matt Belkin and Jackie Erickson have just waved their vague, sleepy goodbyes. Al’s sitting on my other side, talking with Jude and Brett about something Longbottom did in class the other day, their voices broken up with laughs. I notice Hannah looking at Jude as he laughs, her expression appreciative, like she hasn’t quite looked at him before.


But Al is looking down at me a moment later, his cheeks still wearing a fading grin, and he says quietly, “Hi.”


I look up at him, and he’s sitting so close that I can smell his woodsy, Al scent, and I smile sleepily up at him, “Hi.”


“Tired?” He asks, and I nod, and I don’t know what it is about making eye contact with Al Potter, but it feels so electric, and like there’s some kind of understanding between us.


And it’s overwhelming, the thought of being understood by this handsome, clever person.


Al wraps a big, warm arm around my shoulders, and it heats me up instantly, my heart pounding like every cliché I’ve secretly wanted to be. And it feels safe against him, the noise around us muted, the lights in the bar dimming to a sweet twinkle in the background. It’s a heady feeling, being welcomed into someone’s personal space like this — like everyone has these shimmering, molten borders that we instinctively allow each other to have, a perimeter carefully guarded by indoctrinated etiquettes, and Al Potter just put his arm around me in front of everyone.


I know my cheeks are red, but I can’t help but smile as I lean my head against his shoulder, refusing to meet anyone’s gaze as Al turns back to his conversation. I listen to his voice rumble in his chest against his steady heart beat, and I try to imitate his ease, like this is no big deal, like the way his fingers are gently clasping my upper arm is an every day thing, as if his thumb brushing ever so lightly against my skin isn’t causing my breath to hitch and my hands to shake.


I close my eyes and it feels like it did before, earlier today, when I was in that sun-kissed courtyard and every sound was composed of the sweetest notes, only this time the heat radiating across my upturned face is coming from this boy — this enigmatic, warm boy with the greenest eyes and these rare, crooked smiles that make me feel like I’ve won a prize.


“Alright ya goons,” Parker says, and I open my eyes to see him clapping his hands and looking around at us, “How about we settle our tabs and head home?”


Finally,” Dom exclaims, getting up to stand on wobbly legs, “I thought this night would never end.”

 

 

 






 

 


“I’m hungry,” Dom’s loud pronouncement drifts back to us as we make our way out of a dark, near-deserted Hogsmeade, the music from the pub just a faint noise in the distance. Dom and Parker lead our brigade up the cobbled lane, his arm around her waist and her arm slung around his shoulders. Jude, Scorpius, Brett, and Hannah follow in a disorderly clump behind them.


The shopfronts look sad and deserted without the usual twinkling lights and steady stream of rosy-cheeked students, and the silence of the outside world after many hours among the shouts of the Three Broomsticks is loud in my ears.


Al and I smile at each other as we walk quietly behind the rest. We’ve been listening to the strains of different conversations in front of us, different ideas and lives mixing together as this new dynamic of our friends make their drunken way home together. My arms are wrapped tightly around my middle, a frigid wind tunneling through the empty streets. Al steps a little closer so our sides brush against each other as we walk, and I feel just the littlest bit warmer from his nearness.


“It’s weird being here at night,” Al finally says as we pass through the outer streets and head for the winding, open lane back to the castle. “Like all the life has gone out of the place.”


Nodding, my gaze on the ground in front of me, I say, “I was just thinking something similar.”


I see his slight smile out of the corner of my eye, “Of course you were.”


I look up at him, at the way the wind has pushed his hair across his forehead, “What does that mean?”


Al shrugs, his hands in his coat pockets, “Nothing gets past you. You’re just — very observant.”


You’re the observant one,” I say, surprised.


Al looks at me, and I notice that our pace has slowed, our friends getting farther ahead of us, “Can’t we both be?”


“Sure,” I agree after a moment, “But maybe we notice things in different ways.”


He nods as we amble up the path, my hand reaching out to skim along the top of the low stone wall that borders this part of our walk.


“I’d like to think that I see things as they are,” Al says slowly, his contemplative expression visible in the blue-black of the night, “And you like to see things as they could be.”


I stare at him, and he looks right back. “That was poetic,” I finally say.


“True, too, I think,” He says back, and his smile looks a little sad, “I just wonder if maybe you look at things in this idealistic way because you don’t like how they are now.”


I’m taken aback by this, and honestly kind of offended, so I tuck my windswept hair behind my ears before saying, “I think that’s a pretty negative way to view me.” Al looks a little startled, and I can tell by the way his lips part he wants to interject, but I’m drunk and suddenly mad as hell, “Just because I’m able to look beyond the present, and see the potential of something — or someone — doesn’t mean I’m not rational, or capable of appreciating things as they stand. Honestly, I don’t know where you got that conclusion from, that I’m romanticizing life because I’m, like, incapable of accepting my reality or something —”


“Whoa whoa,” Al says, his eyes a little wide and his brow furrowed, “I think you’re the one taking a negative spin on this, all I was saying is that —”


“No,” I interrupt, my mind fogging over and every emotion feeling utterly huge and confusing, and every second passing by increasing the anxious upset inside my mind by a hundred, and I suddenly wish desperately I hadn’t come out tonight. Al and I have stopped in the moonlit lane, three feet between us that feels like three oceans. Our friends are way off in the distance, their laughter twisting its way back to us, and it feels like they’re in a place I’ll never reach. Without warning, the scar on the back of my neck starts to burn as badly as it had that night on the balcony, so badly my vision blurs with unshed tears and I gasp aloud. I stumble back, my legs hitting the stone wall behind me and I sit down hard.


“Josie,” Al says, alarmed, taking a step towards me with his hands outstretched, his mouth turned down in concern, “Are you okay?”


I look up at him, my gaze meeting his, and the pain disappears in an instant, without a trace. I rub at my neck as I stare at his increasingly worried face.


He comes right up to me and kneels down in front of me, “Josie?”


After a second I nod, feeling more clear headed, and look at him, “Yeah. Sorry I yelled at you, I — I don’t know what that was. I never —” I shake my head in confusion, trying to understand the panic I felt just moments before, “I never freak out on people like that.”


Al’s eyes trace over my face with a frown, and he nods after a long moment, “It’s okay. I’m sorry that I upset you.”


I shake my head, “You didn’t —” but he had, hadn’t he? It’s all feeling unclear now. “Let’s just get back.”


Al stands and places a hand on my arm as I get to my feet, but I’m feeling incredibly sober and steady. I smile up at him, “I’m fine, really.”


He nods and takes a step back, his hands returning to his pockets as we turn once again towards the castle.


“So how mad do you think Rose is gonna be at us for abusing our Prefect power?” I ask him after what felt like a few long minutes of silence.


Al’s gaze is far away and his brow is still furrowed, but his voice sounds normal when he says, “Oh, catastrophically, I’d say.”


“Astronomically,” I counter.


“Apocalyptically,” He says back, his smile returning, his eyes crinkling at the corners.


“Cataclysmically,” I laugh, feeling light and happy again.


He shakes his head with a smirk, “Such a Ravenclaw.”


“Face it,” I tease, leaning towards him, and we’re back to walking with our sides brushing, “You’re just mad I won.”


He scoffs, “I didn’t realize this was a competition.”


“Everything’s a competition. And you’re a sore loser.”


Al laughs as he jokingly pushes me away, before instantly pulling me back in and wrapping his arm around my shoulders. “A sore loser,” He repeats with a shake of his head, “First you yell at me, and then you insult me —”


I elbow him in the side, “This sounds a lot like the whinging of a sore loser.”


Al huffs but I can see his grin when I look up at him, “You’re ridiculous.”


We’ve made our way up the hill and through the gates, the sprawling grounds cloaked in darkness, the pale moon casting glittering light upon the lapping waters of the black lake.


“Yeah?” I say, smiling, “Well you’re —”


My words are cut off as Al stops short, his arm going tight around my shoulders. I look up at his face, confused, and see the terror etched into his features.


“Al?” I say, alarmed, panic painting my voice, “What’s wro—”


“Red sparks,” He says urgently, his voice hoarse, his wide eyes glued to a single spot, “In the Forbidden Forest.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 






 

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